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MUSIC OF TO-DAY AND
BY JAMES HUNEKER
ESPITE the fact that he played the flute and ranked Rossini above Wagner, Arthur Schopenhauer said some notable things about music. "Art is ever on the quest," is a wise observation of his, "a quest, and a divine adventure"; though this restless search for the new often ends in plain reaction, progress may be crabwise and still be progress. I fear that "progress" as usually understood is a glittering "general idea" that blinds us to the truth. Reform in art is not like reform in politics; you can't reform the St. Matthew Passion or the Fifth Symphony. Is "Parsifal" a reformation of Gluck? This talk of reform is only confusing the historical with the esthetic. Art is a tricksy quantity and, like quicksilver, is ever mobile. As in all genuine revolutions the personal equation counts the heaviest, so in dealing with the conditions of music at the present time one must study the temperament of our musicmakers and let prophecy sulk in its tent as it may.
If Ruskin had written music-criticism, he might have amplified the meaning of his once-famous phrase, the "pathetic fallacy," for I consider it a pathetic fallacy --though not in the Ruskinian sense-in criticism to be overshadowed by the fear that, because some of our critical predecessors misjudged Wagner or Manet or Ibsen, we should be too merciful in criticizing our contemporaries. This is the "pathos of distance" run to sentimental seed. The music of to-day may be the music of to-morrow, but if it is not, what then? It may satisfy the emotional needs of the moment, yet to-morrow be a stale formula. But what does that prove? Because Bach and Beethoven built their work on the bases of eternity (employing this tremendous term in its limited sense), one may nevertheless enjoy the men whose music is of slighter texture and “modern.” Nor is this a plea for mediocrity. Mediocrity we shall always have with us:
mediocrity is mankind in the normal, and normal man demands of art what he can read without running. Every century produces artists who are forgotten in a few generations, though they fill the eye and the ear for the time being with their clever production. This has led to another general idea, that of transition, of intermediate types. After critical perspective has been attained, it is seen that the majority of composers fall into this category, not a consoling notion, but an unavoidable. Richard Wagner has his epigones; the same was the case with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. Mendelssohn was a delightful feminine variation on Bach, and after Schumann came Brahms.
The Wagner-Liszt tradition of musicdrama, so-called, and the symphonic poem have been continued with personal modifications by Richard Strauss; Max Reger has pinned his faith to Brahms and absolute music, though not without a marked individual variation. In considering his "Sinfonietta," the "Serenade," the "Hiller Variations," the "Prologue to a Tragedy," the "Lustspiel Overture," the two concertos respectively for piano-forte and violin, we are struck not so much by the easy handling of old forms, but by the stark emotional content of these compositions. Reger began as a Brahmsianer, but he has thus far not succeeded in fusing form and theme so wonderfully as did his master. There is a Dionysian strain in his music that too often is in jarring discord with the intellectual plan of his work. But there is no denying that Max Reger is the one man in Germany to-day who is looked upon as the inevitable rival of Richard Strauss. Their disparate tendencies bring to the lips the old query, Under which king? Some think that Arnold Schoenberg may be a possible antagonist in the future, but for the present it's Reger and Strauss, and no third in opposition.
The Strauss problem is a serious one.
In America much criticism of his performances has contrived to evade the real issue. He has been called hard names because he is money-loving, or because he has not followed in the steps of Beethoven, because of a thousand and one things of no actual critical value. That he is easily the greatest technical master of his art now living there can be no question. And he has wound up a peg or two the emotional intensity of tone. Whether this striving after nerve-shattering combinations is a dangerous tendency is quite beside the mark. Let us register the fact. Beginning in the paths laid out by Brahms, he soon came under the influence of Liszt, and we were given a chaplet of tone-poems, sheer program-music, but cast in a bigger and more flexible mold than the thrice-familiar Liszt pattern. Whatever fate is reserved for "Death and Transfiguration," "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche," "Also Sprach Zarathustra," "Hero's Life," and "Don Quixote," there is no denying their significance during the last decade of the nineteenth century. For me it seemed a decided step backward when Strauss invaded the operatic field. One so conspicuously rich in the gift of musicmaking (for the titles of his symphonies never prevented me from enjoying their coloring and eloquence) might have avoided the more facile triumphs of the stage. However, "Elektra" needs no apology, and the joyous "Rosenkavalier" is a distinct addition to the repertory of musical comedy. Strauss is an experimenter and no doubt a man for whom the visible box-office exists, to parody a saying of Gautier's. But we must judge him by his own highest standard, the standard of "Elektra," "Don Quixote," and "Till Eulenspiegels," not to mention the beautiful songs.
"Ariadne on Naxos" was a not particularly successful experiment, and what the newly composed Alp Symphony may prove to be one can only surmise. Probably this versatile tone poet has said his best. He is not a second Richard Wagner, not yet has he the charm of the Liszt personality, but he bulks too large in contemporary history to be called a decadent, although in the precise meaning of the word, without its stupid misinterpretation, he is a decadent inasmuch as he dwells with emphasis on the technic of his composition, sacrificing
the whole for the page, putting the phrase above the page, and the single note in equal competition with the phrase. In a word, Richard Strauss is a romantic, and flies the red flag of his faith. He has not followed the advice of Paul Verlaine in taking eloquence by the neck and wringing it. He is nothing if not eloquent and expressive, magnifying his Bavarian songbirds to the size of Alpine eagles. The newer choir has avoided the very things in which Strauss has excelled, for that way lies repetition and satiety.
HOWEVER, Strauss is not the only member of the post-Wagnerian group, but he is the chief one who has kept his individual head above water in the welter and chaos of the school. Where is Cyrill Kistner, Hans Sommer, August Bungert, and the others? Humperdinck is a mediocrity, even more so than Puccini. And what of the banalities of Bruckner? His Wagnerian cloak is a world too large for his trifling themes. Siegfried Wagner does not count, and for anything novel we are forced to turn our eyes and ears in the direction of France. After Berlioz, a small fry, indeed, yet not without interest. The visit made by Claude Debussy to Russia during his formative period had consequences. He absorbed Moussorgsky, and built upon him, and he had Wagner at his finger-ends; like Charpentier he cannot keep Wagner out of his scores; the Bayreuth composer is the King Charles's head on his manuscript. "Tristan und Isolde" in particular must have haunted the composers of "Louise" and "Pelléas et Mélisande." The "Julien" of Charpentier is on a lower literary and musical level than "Louise," which, all said and done, has in certain episodes a picturesque charm; the new work is replete with bad symbolism and worse music-spinning. Debussy has at least a novel, if somewhat monotonous, manner. He is "precious," and in ideas as constipated as Mallarmé, whose "Afternoon of a Faun" he so adequately set. Nevertheless, there is magic in his music at times. It is the magic of suggestiveness, of the hinted mystery which only Huysmans's ten superior persons scattered throughout the universe may guess. After Debussy comes Dukas, Ravel, Florent Schmitt, RogerDucasse, men who seem to have caught
anew the spirit of the eighteenth-century music and given it to us not through the poetic haze of Debussy, but in gleaming, brilliant phrases. There is promise in Schmitt. As to Vincent d'Indy, you differ with his scheme, yet he is a master, as was César Franck a master, as are masters the two followers of D'Indy, Albert Roussel and Theodat de Sévérac. Personally I admire Paul Dukas, though without any warrant whatever for placing him on the same plane with Claude Debussy, who, after all, has added a novel nuance to art. But they are all makers of anxious mosaics; never do they carve the big block.
It is hardly necessary to consider here the fantastic fashionings of Erik Satie, the "newest" French composer. He seems to have out-Schoenberged Schoenberg in his little piano pieces bearing the alluring titles of "Embryons desséchés," preludes and pastorales. Apart from the extravagant titles, the music itself is ludicrous qua music, but not without subtle irony. That trio of Chopin's "Funeral March" played in C and declared as a citation from the celebrated mazurka of Schubert does touch the rib risible. There is neither time signature nor bars. All is gentle chaos and is devoted to the celebration, in tone, of certain sea-plants and creatures. This sounds like Futurism or the passionate patterns of the Cubists, but I assure you I've seen and tried to play the piano-music of Satie. That he is an archhumbug I shall neither maintain nor deny. After Schoenberg anything is possible in this vale of agonizing dissonance. I recall with positive satisfaction a tiny composition for piano by Rebikoff, which he calls a setting of "The Devil's Daughters," a mural design by Franz Stuck of Munich. To be sure, the bass is in C and the treble in D-flat, nevertheless the effect is almost piquant. The humor of the new composer is melancholy in its originality, but Gauguin has said that in art one must be either a plagiarist or a revolutionist. Satie is hardly a plagiarist, though the value of his revolution is doubtful.
The influence of Verdi has been supreme among the Verists of young Italy, though not one has proved knee-high to a grasshopper when compared to the composer of that incomparable masterpiece, "Falstaffo." Ponchielli played his part,
and under his guidance such dissimilar talents as Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo were fostered. Puccini stopped with "La Bohème," all the rest is repetition and not altogether admirable repetition. That he has been the hero of many box-offices has nothing to do with his intrinsic merits. Cleverness is his predominating vice, and a marked predilection for time-serving; that is, he, like the excellent musical journalist that he is, feels the public pulse, spreads his sails to the breeze of popular favor, and while he is never as banal as Humperdinck or Leoncavallo, he exhibits both these qualities in suffusion. Above all, he is not original. If Mascagni had only followed the example of Single-Speech Hamilton, he would have spared himself many mortifications and his admirers much boredom. The new men, such as Wolf-Ferrari, Montemezzi, Giordano, and numerous others are electics; they belong to any country, and their musical cosmopolitanism, while affording agreeable specimens, may be dismissed with the comment that their art lacks pronounced personal profile. This does not mean that "L'Amore dei Tre Re" is less delightful. The same may be said of Ludwig Thuille and also of the Neo-Belgian group. Sibelius, the Finn, is a composer with a marked temperament. Among the English Delius shows strong
He is more personal, therefore more original, than Elgar. Not one of these can tie the shoe-strings of Peter Cornelius, the composer of short masterpieces, "The Barber of Bagdad"—the original version, not the bedeviled version of Mottl.
In Germany there is an active group of young men; Ernest Boehe, Walter Braunfels, Max Schillings, Hans Pfitzner, a gifted composer, F. Klose, Karl Ehrenberg, Dohnány, H. G. Noren. The list is long. Fresh, agreeable, and indicative of a high order of talent is a new opera by Franz Schreker, "Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin." Schreker's earlier opera, "Der ferne Klang," I missed, but I enjoyed the later composition, charged as it is with fantasy, atmosphere, bold climaxes, and framing a legendary libretto.
Curiously enough, the Russian Moussorgsky, whose work was neglected during his lifetime, has proved to be a precursor to latter-day music. He was not affected in his development by Franz Liszt, whose
influence on Tschaikovsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakof, Glazounof-he less than the others was considerable. Like Dostoyevsky, Moussorgsky is ur-Russian, not a polished production of Western culture, as are Turgenieff, Tschaikovsky, Tolstoy, or Rubinstein. He is not a romantic, this Russian bear; the entire modern school is at one in their rejection of romantic moods and attitudes. Now, music is preeminently a romantic art. I once called music a species of emotional mathematics, yet so vast is its kingdom that it may contain the sentimentalities of Mendelssohn, the old-world romance of Schumann, the sublimated poetry of Chopin, and the thunderous epical accents of Beethoven.
Moussorgsky has been styled a "primitive," and I fancy it is as good an ascription as another. He is certainly as primitive as Paul Gauguin, who accomplished the difficult feat of shedding his Parisian skin as an artist and reappearing as a modified Tahitian savage. suspect there was a profounder sincerity in the case of the Muscovite. Little need now to sing the praises of Boris Godunoff, though not having seen and heard Chaliapine, New York is yet to receive the fullest and sharpest impression of the rôle. "Khovanchtchina" is even more rug ged, more Russian. Hearing it after Tschaikoysky's charming, but weak, setting of "Eugen Onegin," the forthright and characteristic qualities of Moussorgsky were set in higher relief. All the old rhetoric goes by the board, and sentiment, in our sense of the word, is not drawn upon too heavily. Stravinsky is a new man not to be slighted, nor are Kodaly and Bartok. I mention only the names of those composers with whose music I am fairly familiar. Probably Stravinsky will be called a Futurist, whatever that portentous title may mean. However, the music of Tschaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakof, Rachmaninof, and the others is no longer revolutionary, but may be considered as evolutionary. Again the theory of transitional periods and types comes into play, but I notice this theory has been applied only to minor masters, never to creators. We don't call Bach or Handel or Mozart or Beethoven intermediate types. Perhaps some day Wagner will seem as original to posterity as Beethoven does to our generation.
WASN'T it George Saintsbury who once remarked that all discussion of contemporaries is conversation, not criticism? If this be the case, then it is suicidal for a critic to pass judgment upon the musicmaking of his day, a fact obviously at variance with daily practice. Yet it is a dictum not to be altogether contravened. For instance, my first impressions of Schoenberg were neither flattering to his composition nor to my indifferent critical acumen. If I had begun by listening to the comparatively mellifluous D-minor string quartet, as did my New York colleagues, instead of undergoing the terrifying aural tortures of "Lieder des Pierrot lunaire," I might have been as amiable as were the critics I mention. But circumstances were otherwise, and it was later that I heard the two string quartets -the latter in F-sharp minor (by courtesy, this tonality), with voices at the close the astounding "Gurrelieder" and the piano-pieces. The orchestral poem of "Pelléas et Mélisande" I have yet to enjoy or execrate; there seems to be no middle term for Schoenberg's amazing art. If I say I hate or like it, that is only a personal expression, not a criticism. standing foursquare. I fear I subscribe to the truth of Mr. Saintsbury's epigram. It may be considered singular that the "new" music hails from Austria, not Germany. No doubt that Strauss is the protagonist of the romantics, dating from Liszt and Wagner; and that Max Reger is the protagonist of the modern classicists, counting Brahms as their fount (did you ever read what Wagner, almost a septuagenarian, wrote of Brahms: "Der judischen Czardas-Aufspieler!"). But they are no longer proclaimed by those ultramoderns who dare to call Strauss an intermediate type. So rapidly doth music speed down the grooves of time. From Vienna comes Schoenberg; in Vienna lives and composes the youthful Erich Korngold, whose earlier music seems to well as if from some mountain spring, although with all its spontaneity it has no affinity with Mozart. It is distinctively "modern," employing the resources of the "new" harmonic displacements and the multicolored modern orchestral apparatus. Korngold is so receptive that he reveals just now the joint influences of Strauss and Schoenberg. Yet I think the path
lies straight before this young genius, straight and shining. He ought to go far, Hugo Wolf was a song-writer who perilously grazed genius, but he rotted before he was ripe. Need we consider the respective positions of Bruckner or Mahler, one all prodigality and diffuseness, the other largely cerebral? And Mahler without Bruckner would hardly have been possible. Those huge tonal edifices, skyscrapers in bulk, soon prove barren to the spirit. A mountain in parturition with at mouse! Nor need we dwell upon the ecstatic Scriabine who mimicked Chopin so deftly in his piano pieces, and "going" Liszt and Strauss one better,-or ten, if you will,-spilt his soul in swooning, roseate vibrations. Withal, a man of ability and vast ambitions.
More than a year ago I heard in Vienna Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder," a setting to a dramatic legend by Jens Peter Jacobsen. The December previous (1912) I had undergone a hearing of his "Pierrot lunaire," said to be in his latest manner— at that time; he may have evolved a new one since then. The choral and orchestral work, "Gurrelieder," was composed in 1902, but it sounds newer than the quartets or the sextet. In magnitude it beats Berlioz. It demands five solo singers, a dramatic reader, three choral bodies, and an orchestra of one hundred and forty, in which figure eight flutes, seven clarinets, six horns, four Wagner tubas. Little wonder the impression was a stupendous one. There were episodes of great beauty, dramatic moments, and appalling climaxes. As Schoenberg has decided both in his teaching and practice that there are no unrelated harmonies, cacophony was not absent. Another thing: this composer has temperament, I mean musical temperament. He is cerebral, as few before him, yet in this work the bigness of the design did not detract from the emotional quality. I confess I did not understand at one hearing the curious dislocated harmonies and splintered themes ---melodies they are not-in the "Pierrot lunaire." I have been informed that the
ear plays a secondary rôle in this "new" music; no longer through the porches of the ear must filter plangent tones, wooing the tympanum with ravishing accords. It is now the "inner ear," which is symbolic of a higher type of musical art. A complete disassociation of ideas, harmonies, of rhythmic life, of architectonics is demanded. To quote an admirer of the Vienna revolutionist, "The entire man in you must be made over before you can divine Schoenberg's art." Perhaps his æsthetik embraces what the metaphysicians call the Langley-James hypothesis; fear, anxiety, pain are the "content," and his hearers actually suffer as are supposed to suffer his characters or moods or ideas. The old order has changed, changed very much, yet I dimly feel that if this art is to endure it contains, perhaps in precipitation, the elements without which no music is permanent. But his elliptical patterns are interesting, above all bold. There is no such thing as absolute originality. Even the individual Schoenberg, the fabricator of nervous noises, leans heavily on Wagner. Wagner is the fountain-head of the new school, let them mock his romanticism as they may.
Is all this to be the music of to-morrow? Frankly, I don't know, and I'm sure Schoenberg does n't know. He is said to be guided by his daimon, as was Socrates; let us hope that familiar may prompt him to more comprehensible utterances. he must be counted with nowadays. He is significant of the reaction against formal or romantic beauty. I said the same over a decade ago of Debussy. Again the critical watchmen in the high towers are signaling Schoenberg's movements not without dismay. Cheer up, brethren! Preserve an open mind. It is too soon to beat reactionary bosoms, crying aloud, Nunc dimittis! Remember the monstrous fuss made over the methods of Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy. I should n't be surprised if ten years hence Arnold Schoenberg would prove quite as conventional a member of musical society as those other two "anarchs of art."