"Music has learned the discords of the State, And concerts jar with Whig and Tory hate."
Retiring in 1722 with a fortune of ten thousand pounds, Margarita married the learned Dr. Pepusch, who was enabled by her means to pursue with ease his scientific studies. In his library she found Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book, and being a skilled harpsichordist, she so well mastered its intricacies that people thronged to her home to hear her play.
London was divided by another pair of rival queens of song in 1725-6. One of these, Francesca Cuzzoni, a native of Parma, had created such a furore on her first appearance, three years earlier, that the opera directors who had engaged her for the season at two thousand guineas were encouraged to charge four guineas for admission, and her costumes were adopted by fashionable youth and beauty. Although ugly and ill-made, she had a sweet, clear dramatic contralto with unrivalled high notes, intonations so fixed it seemed impossible for her to sing out of tune, and a native flexibility that left unimpeded her creative fancy. Handel, in whose operas she sang, composed airs calculated to display her charms, but she, confident of her supremacy, rewarded him with conduct so capricious that, finding her at last intolerable, he sent to Italy for the noble Venetian lady, Faustina Bordoni. She was elegant in figure, handsome of face, had an amiable disposition, a ringing mezzo-soprano, with a compass from B-flat to G in altissimo, and was renowned for her brilliant execution, distinct enunciation, beautiful shake, happy memory for embellishments and fine expression.
However pleased the directors may have been at first to have two popular songstresses, they were soon dismayed at the fierce rivalry that sprang up between them and was fanned to flames by Master Handel himself, who now composed exclusively for Faustina. By increasing the salary of her more tractable rival they finally disposed of Cuzzoni, who thenceforth through her exaggerated demands, managed to disgust her patrons wherever she appeared. Her reckless extravagance left her wholly destitute after losing her voice and her husband, Signor Sandoni, a harpsichord-maker. She passed her last years in Bologna, subsisting on a miserable pittance earned by covering buttons.
Faustina married Adolphe Hasse, the German dramatic composer, and at forty-seven sang before Frederick the Great, who was charmed with the freshness of her voice. The couple lived until 1783, the one eighty-three, the other eighty-four years of age. Dr. Burney visited them when they were advanced in the seventies and found Faustina a sprightly, sensible old lady, with a delightful store of reminiscences, and her husband a communicative, rational old gentleman, quite free from "pedantry, pride and prejudice."
Gertrude Elizabeth Mara, Germany's earliest noted queen of song, began her public career in 1755 as a child violinist of six, traveling with her father, Johann Schmaeling, a respectable musician of Hesse-Cassel. In London her musical gifts proved to include a phenomenal soprano voice, which developed a compass from G to E altissimo, unrivalled portamento di voce, pure enunciation and precise intonation. She became skilled in harmony, theory, sight-reading and harpsichord playing. When she sang, her glowing countenance, her supreme acting and the lights and shades of her voice made people forget the plainness of her features and the insignificance of her form and stature. Her rendering of Handel's airs, especially "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth," was pronounced faultless.
Frederick the Great, who as soon expected pleasure from the neighing of a horse as from a German songstress, vanquished on hearing her, retained her as court singer. While in his service she became the wife of Jean Mara, a handsome, dissipated court violoncellist, whom she loved devotedly, but who led her a sorry life. Returning to London later she taught singing at two guineas a lesson. Upon fear being expressed that her price, double that of other teachers, would limit her class, she said her pupils having her voice as a model could learn in half the time required for those who had only the tinkling of a piano to imitate. Though she believed singing should be taught by a singer, a tenderness for her own experience made her insist that the best way to begin the musical education was by having the pupil learn to play the violin. When she heard a songstress extolled for rapid vocalization she would ask: "Can she sing six plain notes?" This question might afford young singers food for reflection. Madame Mara passed her declining years teaching singing near her native place, and died at Reval, in 1833. Two years earlier, on her eighty-third birthday, Goethe offered her a poetic tribute.
At a London farewell concert given by Madame Mara in 1802, she was assisted by Mrs. Elizabeth Billington, who has been ranked first among English-born queens of song. Her pure soprano had a range of three octaves, from A to A, with flute-like upper tones. She sang with neatness, agility and precision, could detect the least false intonation of instrument or voice, and was attractive in appearance. Haydn eulogized her genius in his diary, and in the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was painting her portrait as St. Cecilia, exclaimed: "You have represented Mrs. Billington listening to the angels, you should have made them listening to her." It was she who introduced Mozart's operas into England. She only lived to be forty-eight, breaking down in 1818, from the effects of brutal treatment of her second husband, a Frenchman, named Felissent.
Last of the eighteenth century queens of song was Angelica Catalani, born some forty miles from Rome in 1779, destined by her father, a local magistrate, for the cloister, and borne beyond its walls by her magnificent voice, with its compass of three octaves, from G to G. She is described as a tall, fair woman with a splendid presence, large blue eyes, features of perfect symmetry and a winning smile. So great was her natural facility she could rise with ease from the faintest sound to the most superb crescendo, could send her tones sweeping through the air with the most delicious undulations, imitating the swell and fall of a bell, and could trill like a bird on each note of a chromatic passage. She dazzled her listeners, but left the heart untouched.
Her domestic life was a happy one, and her husband, Captain de Vallebregue, adored her, although he knew so little about music that once when she complained that the piano was too high he had six inches cut off its legs. Surrounded by adulation at home and abroad, her self-conceit became inordinate, tempting her to the most absurd feats of skill. Her excessive love of display and lack of artistic judgment and knowledge finally led her so far astray in pitch that she lost all prestige. After seventeen years of retirement, she died of cholera in 1849, in Paris. A few days before she was stricken with the dire epidemic Jenny Lind sought and received her blessing.
A queen of song who profoundly impressed her age was Giuditta Pasta, born near Milan in 1798, of Hebrew parentage. For her Bellini wrote "La Sonnambula" and "Norma," Donizetti his "Anna Bolena," Pacini his "Niobe," and she was the star of Rossini's leading operas of the time. Her voice, a mezzo-soprano, at first unequal, weak, of slender range and lacking flexibility, acquired, through her wonderful genius and industry a range of two octaves and a half, reaching D in altissimo, together with a sweetness, a fluency, and a chaste, expressive style. Although below medium height, in impassioned moments she seemed to rise to queenly stature. Both acting and singing were governed by ripe judgment, profound sensibility and noble simplicity. She died at Lake Como in 1865.
So many queens of song have reigned from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present time that only a few brilliant names may here be mentioned. Among these Henrietta Sontag was the greatest German singer of the first half of the century. A distinguished traveler tells of having found her when she was eight years old, in 1812, sitting on a table, where her mother had placed her, and singing the grand aria of the Queen of the Night from the "Magic Flute," her voice, "pure, penetrating and of angelic tone," flowing as "unconsciously as a limpid rill from the mountain side." At fifteen she made her regular debut, and we are told that she sang "with the volubility of a bird." During her four years at the Conservatory of Prague she had won the prize in every class of vocal music, piano and harmony.
Acquitting herself with ease in both German and Italian, and being exceedingly versatile, she won equal renown in the operas of Weber, Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti. Paris, in special, marveled at the little German who could give satisfaction in Grand Opera. Her voice, a pure soprano, reached to D in alt., with upper notes like silvery bell-tones, and its natural pliability was cultivated by taste and incessant study. She was of medium stature, elegant form, with light hair, fair complexion and soft, expressive blue eyes that lent an enchantment to features that were not otherwise striking. In demeanor she was artless, unaffected and ladylike. Romantic stories were continually in circulation regarding suitors for her hand. As the wife of Count Rossi, an attache of the Sardinian legation, she retired to private life in 1830, and passed many happy years with her husband in various capitols of Europe. When, in 1848, owing to financial shipwreck, she returned to the stage her voice still charmed by its exquisite purity, spirituelle quality and supreme finish. In 1852 she came to America and created an immense furore in the musical and fashionable world. She died of cholera in Mexico in 1854.
Born the same year as Madame Sontag was Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient, one of the world's noblest interpreters of German opera and German Lieder, although surpassed by others in vocal resources. She grew up on the stage, and was trained by her father, Friedrich Schroeder, a baritone singer, and her mother, Sophie Schroeder, known as the "Siddons of Germany." Her dramatic soprano was capable of producing the most tender, powerful, truthful and intensely thrilling effects, although it was not specially tractable and was at times even harsh. It was she who by her magnificent interpretation of Leonore, in Beethoven's "Fidelio," first revealed the beauty of the part to the public. In Wagner's operas she appeared as Senta, in the "Flying Dutchman"; Venus, in "Tannhaeuser," and actually created the role of Adriano Colonna, in "Rienzi." Goethe, who had earlier failed to appreciate Schubert's matchless setting to his "Erl King," when he heard Madame Schroeder-Devrient sing it, exclaimed: "Had music instead of words been my vehicle of thought, it is thus I should have framed the legend." She died in 1860.
Full of caprice, radiating the fire of genius, wayward and playful as a child, Maria Felicita Malibran swept like a dazzling meteor across the musical firmament. M. Arthur Pougin thus epitomizes her story:
"Daughter of a Spaniard, born in France, married in America, died in England, buried in Belgium. Comedienne at five, married at seventeen, dead at twenty-eight—immortal. Beautiful, brilliant, gay as a ray of sunlight, with frequent shadings of melancholy; heart full of warmth and abandon; devoted to the point of sacrifice; courageous to temerity; ardent for pleasure as for work; with a will and energy indomitable. A singer without a peer, and a lyric tragedienne capable of exciting the instinctive enthusiasm of the masses and the reasonable admiration of connoisseurs. Pianist, composer, poet, she drew and painted with taste; spoke fluently five languages; was expert in all feminine work, skilled in sport and outdoor exercises, and possessed of a striking originality. Such was Malibran in part, for the whole could never be expressed."
Her genius developed under the iron control of her father, Manuel del Popolo Garcia, who compelled to submission her seemingly intractable voice until it became sonorous, superb, a brilliant and fascinating contralto, with a range of over three octaves, reaching E in alt. Her own indomitable will and exceptional artistic intelligence were prime factors in the training. In her heart-searching tones and passionate acting her glowing soul was felt. When she was but seventeen, her father, seeking an ideal climate, started with his family for Mexico. In New York she contracted her unfortunate marriage with the French banker, M. Malibran. She soon returned to Paris and the stage, and later having obtained a divorce, married the famous violinist De Beriot, with whom she had a brief but happy union.
Madame Malibran was said to be equally at home in any known school of her time. Mozart and Cimarosa, Boieldieu and Rossini, Cherubini and Bellini were all grasped with the same sympathetic comprehension. Sontag was her rival, Pasta was yet in the height of her fame, but no contrasts whatever dimmed the glory of Malibran. A rare personal charm added to her artistic graces. Mr. Chorley describing her, in his recollections, said that she was better than beautiful, insomuch as a "speaking Spanish human countenance by Murillo is ten times more fascinating than many a faultless face such as Guido could paint." When her death was announced, in 1836, Ole Bull, who had known her well, exclaimed: "I cannot realize it. A woman with a soul of fire, so highly endowed, so intense. How I wept on seeing her as Desdemona! It is not possible she is dead."
Pauline Garcia, thirteen years younger than her remarkable sister, and with a voice similar in quality, also did justice to her father's rigorous discipline and became famous. She married M. Viardot, opera director and critic, and after a brilliant career as a singer, gave long and valuable service as a vocal teacher in Paris. She remained in the full tide of her activity until she was long past the allotted threescore years and ten. It is an interesting fact that Madame Mathilde Marchesi, author of a noted vocal method, 24 books of Vocalises, a volume of reminiscences, and other works, and once famed as a singer, is only five years younger than Madame Viardot-Garcia, but at seventy-six is still teaching—still shining as an authority on the art of song. Singers seem often to have been long-lived. In truth, there is that in music which is life-giving.
A songstress whose name will always be mentioned in the same breath with that of the tenor Mario, who became her husband, and with whom she toured the United States in 1854, was Giulia Grisi. She was born in Milan in 1812, made her debut at sixteen, and had an undisputed reign of over a quarter of a century. Her voice, a pure soprano of finest quality, brilliant and vibrating, spanned two octaves, from C to C. She possessed the gift of beauty, and was said to unite the tragic inspiration of Pasta with the fire and energy of Malibran. A favorite role with her was that of the Druid priestess in "Norma." Her delivery of "Casta Diva" was said to be a transcendant effort of vocalization.
Living to-day in London at the advanced age of ninety-seven is the elder brother of Malibran and Viardot-Garcia, Manuel Garcia, the inventor of the laryngoscope, author of the renowned "Art of Song," and teacher of Jenny Lind. It was in 1841 that the ever-beloved Swedish Nightingale, then twenty-one years old, sought him in Paris, with a voice worn from over-exertion and lack of proper management. In ten months she had gained all that master could teach her in tone production, blending of the registers and breath-control. Her own genius, her splendid individuality, her indefatigable perseverance, did the rest in investing her dramatic soprano with that sympathetic timbre, that power of expressing every phase of her artistic conception, that bird-like quality of the upper notes, that marvelous beauty and equality of the entire range of two octaves and three quarters (from B below the stave to G on the fourth line), that exquisite sonority, that penetrating pianissimo, that unrivalled messa di voce, that mastery over technique of which so much has been written and said.
Jenny Lind was to Sweden what Ole Bull was to Norway, the inspirer of noble achievement. The faithful interpreter of the acknowledged masterpieces of genius in opera, oratorio and song, she also freely poured forth in gracious waves the poetic, the rugged, and the exquisitely polished lays of the Northland, making them known for the first time to thousands of people. It was through her pure and noble womanhood, quite as much as through her artistic excellence that she swayed the public and left so deep and enduring an impression. True to the backbone in her artistic allegiance, she believed that art, the expression and embodiment of the spiritual principle animating it, could not fail to elevate to a high spiritual and moral standard the genuine artist.
She had lived thirty-five happy years with her husband, Mr. Otto Goldschmidt, pianist, conductor and composer, who still survives her, when death overtook her at their home on the Malvern Hills, November 2, 1887. When the end drew near, one of her daughters threw open the window shutters to admit the morning sun. As it came streaming into the room, Jenny Lind uplifted her voice, and it rang out firm and clear as she sang the opening measures of Schumann's glorious "To the Sunshine." The notes were her last. A bust of her was unveiled in Westminster Abbey in 1894.
A Swedish songstress with a powerful, well-trained voice, who before Jenny Lind won operatic laurels in foreign lands, was Henrietta Nissen-Saloman, also a pupil of Garcia. Later, the brilliant Swedish soprano, Christine Nilsson, with a voice of wonderful sweetness and beauty, reaching with ease F in alt., with the most thorough skill in vocalization, with dramatic intuitions, expressive powers and magnetic presence, charmed the public on two continents in such roles as Marguerite, Mignon, Elsa, Ophelia and Lucia. She, too, bore through the world with her the northern songs she had learned to cherish in childhood.
Still another delightful dramatic soprano from the land of Jenny Lind is Sigrid Arnoldson, who has a beautiful voice, winning personality, and pronounced musical intelligence. She is still in her prime.
When the name of Adelina Patti is mentioned, we always think of long enduring vocal powers, many farewells and high prices. Catalani, in her full splendor, earned about $100,000 a season. Malibran's profits for eighty-five concerts at La Scala ran to $95,000. Jenny Lind received $208,675 for ninety-five concerts under Barnum's management. Patti has had as much as $8,395 for one performance, and long received a fee of $5,000 a night. In coloratura roles she has been pronounced the greatest singer of her time, both in opera and concert. Her voice, noted for its wide compass, exceeding sweetness, marvelous flexibility and perfect equality, has been so wonderfully well cared for that even now, in her sixtieth year, she enjoys singing, although she rarely appears in public. Her sister, Carlotta, was also a coloratura vocalist of exquisite technique.
Queens of song now pass in swift review before the mind's eye. We recall Marietta Alboni, the greatest contralto of the middle of the last century, with a voice rich, mellow, liquid, pure and endowed with passionate tenderness, the only pupil of Rossini; Theresa Tietiens, with her mighty dramatic soprano, whose tones were softer than velvet, and her noble acting; Marie Piccolomini, a winning mezzo-soprano; Parepa Rosa, with her sweet, strong voice and imposing stage presence; Pescha Leutner, the star of 1856; Louisa Pyne, the English Sontag; Parodi, pupil of Pasta; Etelka Gerster, whose beautiful soprano could fascinate if it could not awe; Pauline Lucca, whose originality, artistic temperament and intelligence placed her in the front rank of dramatic sopranos, and many others.
Amalie Materna, dramatic soprano at the Vienna Court Theatre from 1869 to 1896, with great musical and dramatic intelligence, with a voice of remarkable compass, volume, richness and sustaining power, vibrant with passionate intensity, and with a noble stage presence, proved to be Wagner's ideal Bruennhilde and introduced the role at Bayreuth in 1876. She was also the creator of Kundry at the same place in 1882. She aroused unbounded enthusiasm as Elizabeth in "Tannhaeuser," and as Isolde in "Tristan and Isolde." She is not forgotten by those who heard her in various cities of this country.
The same may be said of Marianne Brandt, who sang the part of Kundry at the second "Parsifal" representation at Bayreuth, having been Frau Materna's alternate in 1882. With her superbly rich, deep-toned voice and her splendid vocal and dramatic control she thrilled her audiences in her Wagnerian roles, in Beethoven's "Fidelio," and in all she attempted, whether in opera or concert. She was a magnificent horsewoman, and was perhaps the only Bruennhilde who was able to give full play on the stage to her Valkyrie charger. It is told by an eye witness that before a first appearance in a German city she was borne furiously on the stage at rehearsal by her spirited, prancing steed, and when she drew him up suddenly, rearing and pawing the air, near the footlights, the members of the orchestra dropped their instruments and fled affrighted. It was not long, however, before she succeeded in winning their confidence, and all went well at the evening performance.
Six more radiant queens of song whose reign belongs to these modern times must be mentioned in conclusion: Sembrich, Nordica, Calve, Melba, Sanderson and Eames. These are but a few of the many present day rulers in the realms of song.
Marcella Sembrich, a coloratura soprano from Galicia, has a light, penetrating, marvelously sweet, and exceedingly flexible voice, with an almost perfect vocal mechanism. As one of her admirers has said, her tones are as clear as silver bells, and there is something buoyant and jubilant in her mode of song. With her genuine art and engaging personality she holds her audiences entranced and, being wise enough to keep within her special genre, she always succeeds as an actress. She is a pupil of the Lampertis, father and son, studied the piano with Liszt, becoming an excellent interpreter of Chopin, and is no mean violinist.
An American, born in Farmington, Me., Lillian Nordica pursued her vocal and musical studies at the New England Conservatory, in Boston, and after much experience in church, concert and oratorio singing, studied for the opera in Milan, under Signor Sangiovanni. She made her operatic debut at Brescia in "Traviata," and in Paris as Marguerite, in "Faust." Her superb, liquid soprano is pure, smooth and equal throughout its entire large compass. She combines feeling with that artistic understanding which regulates it, and has been pronounced one of the most conscientious and intelligent singers of the day. An admirable actress and extremely versatile, she has been successful in Mozart's operas, and has won high renown in her Wagnerian roles.
Emma Calve, a Spaniard, possessed of all a Spaniard's fire, thrills, bewilders, her hearers, though the more thoughtful among them wonder if they were not moved rather by her tremendous passionate force and powerful magnetism than by her vocal and histrionic art. Her voice is superb, yet she often loses a vocal opportunity for dramatic effect, often mars its beauty in the excitement that tears a passion to tatters. Withal there is a charm to her singing that can never be forgotten by those who have heard it. Her first triumph was won as the interpreter of Santuzza, in "Cavalleria Rusticana," Mascagni himself preparing her for the role. She next created a furore as Carmen, and with her fascinating gestures, complete abandon, grace, and dazzling beauty made the part one of the most original and bewitching impersonations on the stage.
The Australian, Nellie Melba, who takes her stage name from Melbourne, her birthplace, has been compared to Patti as a vocal technician. Her voice is divine, but she seems powerless to animate her brilliant singing with the warmth that glows in her eyes. As an actress she completely veils whatever emotions she may feel, and while her marvelous vocalization overwhelms her audiences, she meets with her greatest triumphs in operas that make the least demands on the dramatic powers.
Massenet wrote the title roles of his "Esclarmonde" and his "Thais" for a California girl, Sybil Sanderson, and himself trained her for their stage presentation. Her success was assured when she made her debut in the first-named opera at the Opera Comique, in Paris, in 1889. She has a voice of that light, pure, flexible quality so characteristic of our countrywomen, and is an admirable actress. She is a pupil of Madame Marchesi.
Another distinguished pupil of the same teacher is Emma Eames, who was born in China of New England parents, and was educated in Boston and in Paris. Her voice too is exceedingly flexible, is fresh, pure and clear, her intonations are correct and her personality most attractive. She has been very successful in Wagnerian roles, makes a superb Elsa, and, in the "Meistersinger," an ideal Eva. During her early years on the stage her extreme calmness amounted almost to aggravating frigidity, but with time she has thawed. She may well be considered a conscientious artist endowed with rare musical intuition.
There is no possession more perishable, more delicate, than the human voice. When one considers the joy it is capable of shedding about it, the blessings that may follow in its train, it seems sad to think of the reckless waste caused by its neglect and mismanagement. Its life is brief enough at best. Let it be cherished to the utmost.
In America where there are to-day more fine voices among women than in any other country and where time and means are so freely expended on the musical education of girls, the twentieth century should produce nobler queens of song than the world has yet known. First, the American girl must learn that the real things of life are more to be prized than false semblances, and that genuine musical culture resting on a foundation built with painstaking care and consecrated artistic zeal, is of far higher and more enduring value than the most dazzling feats of display which lack solid, intrinsic support.
The Opera and Its Reformers
The evolution of the drama is intimately associated with that of music and both are inseparably entwined with the unfolding of the spiritual life of the human race. Man is essentially dramatic by nature, and both history and tradition show it to have been among his earliest instincts to express his inner emotions by action and song.
From this tendency arose the Greek religious drama. We find it in legendary times at the altar of Dionysus, master of the resources of vitality, in whose train followed the Muses, actual leaders and conductors of human existence. At seed-time and harvest festivals a rude chorus, grouped about the altar, told the story of the god's wanderings and adventures, in simple words, accompanied by gesture, dance and music. This expression of thought and feeling mirrored the emotions of the worshipers, kindled the imagination, and strengthened the innate instinct for freedom. Gradually the narrative detaching itself from the choral parts fell to individual singers, the acting became more and more a distinct feature of the occasion, ever increasing dramatic quality characterized the song, and the materials were at hand for the Greek drama so fruitful to us in its results.
Greek poetry, in its matchless beauty, may still be enjoyed by all who have powers of literary appreciation. Of Greek music we know little beyond the theories which form the basis for modern musical science and the fact that it was highly esteemed. Aristotle tells us that it was an essential element in Greek stage plays and their greatest embellishment. Both AEschylus and Sophocles were practical musicians and composed music for their dramas. Euripides, less musician than poet, was at least able to have the music for his works prepared under his direction. Indeed, words, music and scenic effect were inseparably connected in the Greek dramas.
The enthusiasm these aroused is indicated by the fact that travelers from distant lands undertook perilous journeys to attend the famous performances at Athens, often remaining in their seats twenty-four hours before the play began in order to secure desirable places. Fully fifty thousand spectators could be accommodated in the Lenaean Theatre, whose stage machinery would make ours seem like a toy model. Many of its theatrical exhibitions cost more than the Peloponnesian War.
In Greek life, at the period of its glory, music and the drama were esteemed elevating factors in culture. The supreme things of human existence were pictured in them. They expressed the world-view of an entire people. Under Roman dominion, with its corrupting slavery, they degenerated into mere sources of diversion, and finally became associated with evil and degrading practices.
For this reason and because at best they represented pagan ideals, theatrical representations were discouraged by the fathers of the primitive Christian Church. The dramatic instinct was not condemned, and its imperative needs were appealed to in the church service, which early set forth in symbols all that was too mysterious and awe-inspiring for words. In order further to reach the mind through the senses, scenes from the Scriptures were read in the churches, illustrated with living pictures and music. Gradually the characters personated began to speak and to move. The drama rose anew at the foot of the altar. Christian priests were its reformers, its guardians and its actors. Designed for the amusement as well as the instruction of the gaping multitudes, it was necessarily a pretty crude affair. Satan was introduced as the clown, and laughter was provoked at his discomfiture when routed, or at the destruction of those who wilfully cast themselves into his clutches. It is not strange that the pious and learned St. Augustine, in the fourth century, regretted the polished dramatic performances at Alexandria that in his youth had afforded him so much genuine enjoyment. Among the people the church play became so popular that in the course of time it was found necessary to erect more spacious stages in the open air.
Thus arose the Mystery, Miracle, Morality and Passion Plays, the direct progenitors of the Opera and the Oratorio. The descent of the Opera may be traced also to another source, to the secular play which persisted in the face of ecclesiastical disfavor and the ban that excluded its players from the church sacraments.
Strolling histriones, jongleurs and minstrels passed from court to court, appeared in castle yards, market places or village greens, recited, acted, sang, danced and played on musical instruments. They afforded a welcome means of communication with the outside world; they broke up the monotony of life when events were few. As modern music rests on the two pillars of the Gregorian chant and the folk-song, so the opera rests on the two pillars of the religious drama and the people's play.
During the high tide of the revival of Greek learning in Italy, late in the sixteenth century, a group of the aspiring young nobility of Florence, gentlemen and gentlewomen, adopting the dignified name of the "Academy," resolved to recover the much discussed music of the Greek drama. The place of rendezvous was the palace of Count Bardi, a member of one of the oldest patrician families in Tuscany. Edifying discourse and laudable exercises were indulged in by the guests, among whom were several persons of genius and learning. The meetings were presided over by the host, himself a poet and composer, as well as a patron of the fine arts.
The culture of the times demanded a higher gratification for man's dramatic cravings than either rude religious or secular plays afforded. Other music was required to depict the emotions than that of the contrapuntist, with its puzzling intricacies. So thought these ardent Hellenists, and a burning zeal possessed them to mate dramatic poetry with a music that would heighten and intensify its expression and effect. They who seek are sure to find, even if it be not always the object of their search. In the earnest quest of these reformers for dramatic truth an unexpected treasure was disclosed.
Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo Galilei, opened the way. He was the active champion of monody, in which a principal melody was intoned or sung to the accompaniment of subordinate harmonies, believing that in music designed to arouse personal feeling individualism should predominate. The art music of the time was polyphonic, that is, constructed by so interweaving melodies that harmonies resulted. Of solos in our modern sense nothing was known beyond the folk-songs, instinctive outpourings of the human heart, and these learned composers had merely used as pegs on which to hang their counterpoint. Not content with giving his ideas to the world in the form of a dialogue, Galilei composed two musical monologues, between 1581 and 1590, one to the scene of Count Ugolino, in Dante's "Inferno," and one to a passage in the Lamentations of Jeremiah. These the chroniclers tell us he sang very sweetly, accompanying himself on the lute. He was also a fine performer on the viola.
A dramatic representation at a court marriage, in 1590, in which the artificially constructed ecclesiastical music illy fitted the text lauding the bride's loveliness, gave a new impulse to the "Academy" efforts. Soon there was produced at court, by a company of highborn ladies and gentlemen, two pastoral plays: "Il Satiro" and "La Disperazione di Fileno," so set to music that they could be sung or declaimed throughout. The author of the text was Signora Laura Guidiccioni, of the Lucchesini family, renowned in her day for her poetic gifts and brilliant attainments. Signor Emilio del Cavalieri was the composer, and he triumphantly announced his music as that "of the ancients recovered," having power to "excite grief, pity, joy and pleasure."
These two "musical dramas," as they were called, contained the germs of modern opera, despite their crudities of harmony and monotonous melody. That noble songstress, Vittoria Archilei, known as "Euterpe" among her Italian contemporaries, greatly enhanced the success of the new venture with her superb voice, artistic skill, musical fire and splendid intelligence. She "whose excellence in music is generally known," as we are told, and who was able to "draw tears from her audience" at the right moment, also aroused enthusiasm for a third work of a similar nature by the same authors, "Il Giuco della Cieco," that appeared in 1595.
Besides being the first to tell the entire story of a play musically and to utilize the solo, Cavalieri introduced various ornaments into vocal music and increased the demands on instrumentation. He did not succeed, however, in satisfying the Academicians with his attempt to grasp the medium between speech and song, and his choruses were thought tedious because of their employment of the intricate polyphonic style. Further reform was desired.
This came through Jacopo Peri, maestro at the Medician court, and after 1601 at the court of Ferrara. In studying Greek dramas, as he states in one of his writings, he became convinced that their musical expression was that of highly colored emotional speech. Closely observing diverse modes of utterance in daily life, he endeavored to reproduce soft, gentle words by half-spoken, half-sung tones, sustained by an instrumental bass, and to express excitement by extended intervals, lively tempo and suitable distribution of dissonances in the accompaniment. To him may be attributed the first dramatic recitative. It appeared in his "Daphne," a "Dramma per la Musica," written to text by the poet Rinuccini and privately performed at the Palazzo Corsi, in 1597. This was actually the first opera, although the term was not applied to such compositions until half a century later. Several solos were added by the court singer, Giulio Caccini, who composed a number of songs for a single voice, "in imitation of Galilei," as a contemporary stated, "but in a more beautiful and pleasing style." Invited three years later to produce a similar work for the festivities attending the marriage of Henry IV. of France with Maria di Medici, Peri wrote his "Eurydice," and once more Signora Archilei interpreted the leading role, greatly to the composer's satisfaction. It was the first opera performed in public. The singing had a bald accompaniment of an orchestra placed behind the scenes and consisting of a clavicembalo, or harpsichord, a viola da gamba, a theorbo, or large lute, and a flute, the last being used to imitate Pan-pipes in the hands of one of the characters.
Seven years afterward, for another court marriage, a musical drama was written by a man of genius who completely broke the fetters of ancient polyphony. This was Claudio Monteverde, then in his thirty-ninth year, and chapel master to the Duke of Mantua. He was the first composer to use unprepared chords of the seventh, dominant and diminished, and to emphasize passionate situations with dissonances. He invented the tremolo and the pizzicato, and originated the vocal duet. His keen dramatic sense enabled him to arouse interest through contrasts, conspicuously characteristic passages, and independent orchestral preludes, interludes and bits of descriptive tone-painting.
His opera, "Orfeo," 1608, had an orchestra of two harpsichords, two bass viols, two violas di gamba, ten tenor viols, two little French violins, one harp, two large guitars, three small organs, four trombones, two cornets, one piccolo, one clarion and three trumpets. In "Tancredi e Clorinda," produced in Venice, in 1624, a string quartet indicated the galloping of horses, a prototype of the "Ride of the Valkyries." Like Abbe Liszt, he took holy orders late in life, without ceasing to compose. At seventy-four years of age, when the fire of his genius burned brightly as ever, he wrote his last opera "L'Incoronazione di Poppea." It may truly be said that Monteverde was the great operatic reformer, the Wagner, of the seventeenth century, as Gluck was of the eighteenth.
An epoch-making event in opera history was the opening, in 1637, of the first public opera house in commercial Venice whose wealth afforded her citizens leisure to cultivate art. Soon popular demand led to the erection of many Italian opera-houses. At the same time growing taste for magnificence of stage setting and brilliant, dazzling, even extravagant song effects, caused neglect of Academician principles. The learned and gifted Neapolitan composer, Alessandro Scarlatti, father of the famous harpsichordist, gave an impulse in his operas, during the last quarter of the century, to sensuous charm and beauty of melody. He invested recitative with classic value, enlarged the aria, and devised the da capo which became a menace to dramatic truth.
In France, the troubadours had borne melody into the domain of sentiment, and laid a solid foundation for musical growth. Adam de la Halle's pastoral, "Robin et Marion," was an actual prototype of the opera. During the seventeenth century Corneille and Moliere refined the dramatic taste of their compatriots. Attempts to introduce Italian opera only resulted in arousing a desire for an opera in accord with French ideals.
This was gratified by Jean Battiste Lully, who had come to the French court from Italy in boyhood, and had risen, in 1672, from a subordinate position to that of chief musician. Undertaking to make reforms, he succeeded in giving his adopted country a national opera. He established the overture, gave recitative rhetorical force, added coloring to the orchestra, and introduced the ballet. New life was infused into the traditions he left when Jean Philippe Rameau, in 1733, at fifty years of age, wrote his first opera. He was well-known as a theorist and composer, and was the author of a harmony treatise in which were set forth the laws of chord inversions and derivations, a stroke of genius that hopelessly entangled him in perplexities. His instrumentation was more highly colored, his rhythms more varied than those of his predecessor, and his sincerity of purpose more evident. In common with other reformers he was accused of "sacrificing the pleasures of the ear to vain harmonic speculations." Some of his many operas were written to works of Racine. He died in 1764, in his eighty-first year.
A century earlier the English reached the culmination of their Golden Age of musical productiveness in Henry Purcell, known as the most original genius England has produced. His dramatic powers were fostered by the popular masques with their gorgeous show of color and rhythm, and in mere boyhood he wrote music for several of them. In 1677, when only nineteen, he produced his first opera. He attempted no reform, but his instinct for the true relation between the accents of speech and those of melody and recitative seems to have been unerring. Saturated with native English melody, tingling with fertile fancy and controlled by education, whether he wrote for stage, church, or chamber, he evinced a freshness and vigor, a breezy picturesqueness and a wealth of rhythmic phrases and patterns, and many new orchestral devices. In 1710, fifteen years after his early death, the giant Handel began to dominate musical England, flooding the stage with operas of the Italian type and finally ushering in the reign of the oratorio. The delicate plant of English opera never took root.
Italian influence had almost caused the decline of French opera when Christopher Willibald Gluck turned to Paris, in 1774, as its regenerator. In Vienna, twelve years earlier, he had already produced his "Orfeo," whose calm, classic grandeur seemed the embodiment of the Greek art spirit. His choice of subjects indicates the enterprise on which he had embarked. He sought simplicity, subjugation of music to poetic sentiment, dramatic sincerity and organic unity. His operatic version of Racine's "Iphigenie en Aulide" called forth unbounded enthusiasm in the French metropolis directly after his arrival, and led to the warfare with the brilliant Italian Piccini, which was as hot as any Wagner controversy.
The homage of all time is due this man of genius for the splendid courage with which he attacked shams. He claimed it to be the divine right of the dramatic composer to have his works sung precisely as he had written them, and protested against the innovations that had been permitted to suit the caprices and gratify the vanity of singers. It was his idea that the Sinfonia, in other words the Overture or Prelude, should indicate the subject and prepare the spectators for the characters of the pieces, and that the instrumental coloring should be adapted to the mood of the situation, thus anticipating modern procedure. He prepared the way for the work of Cherubini, Auber, Gounod, Thomas, Massenet, Saint-Saens and others.
In Germany, Italian opera, early introduced, long remained fashionable. Native dramatic tastes, once fostered by minnesingers and strolling players, were kept alive by the "singspiel," or song-play, composed of spoken dialogue and popular song, which furnished the actual beginnings of German national music drama. The threshold of this was reached, the sanctuary of its treasures unlocked, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who, without thought of being a reformer, unconsciously infused German spirit into Italian forms. It was during the last five years of his brief life, from 1786 to 1791, that he produced his operatic masterpieces, "The Marriage of Figaro," "Don Giovanni," and "The Magic Flute." His marvelous musical and poetic genius, supported by profound scholarship, led him into hitherto untried regions of expression, and to him it was given to bring humanity on the stage, splendidly depicting the inner being of each character in tones. Wagner said of him that he had instinctively found dramatic truth and had cast brilliant light on the relations of musician and poet.
Ludwig van Beethoven, the great tone-poet, guided by his profound comprehension of the deep things of life and his active sympathies to absolute truthfulness in delineating human passions, made the next advance in his one opera, "Fidelio," written in 1805. Ranked, though it is, rather as a symphony for voice and orchestra than as the musical complement of a dramatic poem, there is nevertheless infused into some of its chief numbers more potent dramatic expression than is found in any previous opera. Thoroughly cosmopolitan in subject, it is nevertheless German in that its lofty earnestness of tone offers a protest against all shallowness and sensationalism. The entire story of the opera is told in tones in the overture.
The next German to write overtures with a deliberate purpose to foreshadow what followed was Carl Maria von Weber, whose greatest opera, "Der Freischuetz," appeared in 1821. The initial force of the German romantic school, he founded his operas on romantic themes, and depicted in tones the things of the weird, fantastic and elfish world that kindled his imagination. He has been called the connecting link between Mozart and Wagner, and in many of his theories he anticipated the latter. National to the core, he embodied in his music the finest qualities of the folk-song, and noble tone-painter that he was he excelled his predecessors in his employment of the orchestra as a means of dramatic characterization.
Richard Wagner was long regarded as the great iconoclast whose business it was to destroy all that had gone before him in art, but no one ever more profoundly reverenced Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Weber than he. The public was persistently informed that his compositions were beyond ordinary comprehension, and yet designed, as they were, to picture man's essential life, they have slowly but surely found their way to the popular heart. It was the very essence of his musical dramatic creed that to have blood in its veins and sincerity in its soul art must come from the people and be addressed to the people. He chose the national myth and hero tradition as the basis of his music-drama because of the universality of their content and application, and because he believed they reflected the German world-view. Himself he regarded as the Siegfried whose mission it was to slay the dragon of sordid materialism and awaken the slumbering bride of German art.
Bach and Chopin had anticipated him in some of his most startling chord progressions. The motives of Bach's fugues and Beethoven's sonatas and symphonies, and the so-called "leading motives" of the Frenchman, Hector Berlioz, had preceded his "typical motives." Moreover, the orchestration of Berlioz had been a precursor of his orchestral tone-coloring. Nevertheless, everything he touched was so characteristically applied by him as to produce new impressions, and to emphasize the idea of music as a language. So peculiarly were music and poetry blended in the delicate tissue of his genius that one seemed inseparable from the other. United, he believed it to be their mission to inculcate high moral lessons of patriotism and love.
He gave the death-blow to an opera whose sole aim is to tickle the ear. Many an exquisite melody of Rossini and other Italian composers will long continue to live, but their productions as wholes have mostly ceased to be satisfying to those of us who have Teutonic blood in our veins. The Italian opera composer who holds the highest place to-day in the heart of the serious musician is that grand old man of music, Giuseppe Verdi, whose genius enabled him to yield four times to the spirit of the age, during his long career, and who in his ripe old age endeavored to give Italy what Wagner had given the German nation.
Certain Famous Oratorios
About the middle of the sixteenth century, San Filippo Neri, a zealous Florentine priest, opened the chapel, or oratory, of his church in Rome, for popular hours with his congregation. His main object being "to allure young people to pious offices and to detain them from worldly pleasure," he endeavored to make the occasions attractive as well as edifying, and supplemented religious discourse and spiritual songs with dramatized versions of Biblical stories provided with suitable music. Associated with him in his labors for a good cause, was no less a composer than that great reformer of Catholic church music, Giovanni Pierluigi Sante da Palestrina, whose harmonies were declared by a music-loving Pope to be those of the celestial Jerusalem. The laudable enterprise proved successful. People flocked from all quarters to enjoy the gratuitous entertainments, and a form of sacred musical art resulted that derived from them its name.
Roswitha, a nun of the Gandersheim cloister, in the tenth century, made the earliest attempt recorded to invest church plays with artistic worth. Her six religious dramas, written in Latin for the use and edification of her sister nuns, were published in a French setting, in 1845. It was a woman, too, Laura Guidiccioni, a brilliant member of the Florence group of aristocratic truth-seekers in art, who wrote the text of the first religious musical dramatic composition to which the name oratorio became attached. It was set to music of a declamatory style by Emilio del Cavalieri, the author's collaborator in the pastoral plays that were really embryo operas. The title of the piece, "The Representation of the Body and the Soul," indicates the allegorical nature of the subject.
Its initial performance occurred at Rome, February, 1600, in the oratory of San Filippo's church, Santa Maria della Vallicella. The composer had died some months earlier, but his minute stage directions were accurately observed. Behind the scenes was placed an orchestra comprising a double lyre, a harpsichord, a large guitar and two flutes, to which was added a violin for the leading part in the ritornels, that is, instrumental preludes and interludes. The chorus had seats assigned on the stage, but rose to sing, employing suitable movements and gestures. Time, Morality, Pleasure, and other solo characters bore in their hands musical instruments and seemed to play as they acted and declaimed their parts, while the playing actually came from the concealed instruments. The World, the Body and Human Life illustrated the transitoriness of earthly affairs by flinging away the gorgeous decorations they had worn when they appeared on the stage, and displaying their utter poverty and wretchedness in the face of death and dissolution. The representation ended with a ballet, danced "sedately and reverently" to music by the chorus.
Some idea of the oratorio in its infancy may be gained from this description. Except that the subject had a religious bearing, it differed little from the opera. With Giacomo Carissimi, director of music at San Apollinare, Rome, from 1628 until his death, in 1674, the paths of the two diverged. He laid down lines that have been followed in the oratorio ever since. Dancing and acting were excluded by him, and the role of narrator introduced. His broad, simple treatment of chords enhanced the purity and beauty of everything he wrote, and in his hand recitative gained character, grace and musical expressiveness. Only a small portion of his epoch-making work has been preserved, but quite enough to make clear his title "Father of Oratorio and Cantata."
His pupil, Alessandro Scarlatti, founder of the Neapolitan school and practically the musical dictator of Naples, from 1694 to 1725, was an incredibly prolific composer in almost every known species of musical form. His many improvements in vocal and instrumental music operated greatly to the advantage of the oratorio. Possessing feeling for orchestration to an unusual degree for his time, he grouped musical instruments of different timbres with marked boldness and skill, and was the first specially to orchestrate recitative. His genius and knowledge enabled him to restore counterpoint to its rightful place, and his oratorios show great gain in elasticity and form.
Another Alessandro, he who bore the surname Stradella and was the hero of Flotow's opera of that name, has figured so freely in romance that it is not easy to separate truth from fiction in accounts of his life. Dr. Parry says of him that he had a remarkable instinct for choral effects, even piling progressions into a climax, that his solo music aims at definiteness of structure, that, in 1676, he used a double orchestra whose principal instruments were violins, and that his oratorios were specially significant, as he cultivated all the resources of that form of art. His most celebrated composition is an oratorio, "San Giovanni Battista," and one of the airs attached to it "Pieta Signore," a beautiful, symmetrical, heart-searching melody, is sung to-day, although it is by no means as well known as it deserves.
According to tradition, its tender, worshipful strains sung in the church of the Holy Apostles, at Rome, by the composer himself, once stayed the hand of an assassin whom jealousy had prompted to slay the "Apollo della Musica." So Alessandro Stradella was called, because of his great gifts as singer and composer, and his manly beauty. A jubilant multitude surrounded him in life, and loud lamentation arose, when, at length, he fell a victim to envy and malice. Thus the graceful legend runs. Recent writers are trying to make us believe that the famous "Pieta Signore" was a later interpolation in "San Giovanni Battista," and that it may be attributed to this or that composer, a century or more after the death of Stradella, in 1681. Unless absolute proof be afforded us, let us forbear from plucking this gem from his crown.
Composer of fifty operas and many other works, magnificent organist and harpsichordist, with musical genius of a Titanic order, intellect that was swift, sure and keen, an indomitable will, a lofty philosophy, and a lordly personality, George Friedrich Handel, seemingly defeated by outrageous fortune, wheeled about like some invincible general whose business it was to win the battle and entering the field of the oratorio gained a colossal victory. He had for some time passed the half century milestone of his life when he scored his greatest achievements in this line, and with magic touch transformed existing materials into the art-form we know to-day. His "Messiah," which alone would have sufficed to immortalize him, was produced, in one of his herculean bursts of power, within twenty-three days, when he was well-advanced in his fifty-seventh year. It was first given to the public, in Dublin, April 13, 1742, seven months after its completion. The enthusiasm it awakened was repeated when it was performed later in London. Here, indeed, the audience became so transported that at the opening of the Hallelujah chorus every one present, led by the king, rose and remained standing, a custom we follow to-day.
Herder calls the "Messiah" a Christian epopee, in musical sounds. It is certainly written in the large, grand style of a noble epic, for it had large matters to express, and its composer regarded music as a means of addressing heart and soul. The theme is treated with reverence, delicacy and judgment, and the leading tone is that of a mighty hymn of rejoicing. Following an overture that is in itself a revelation, the opening tenor recitative, "Comfort Ye, My People," has a convincing ring that all is and will be well, mingled with infinite tenderness, and the succeeding aria, "Every Valley," is pervaded with the freshness of earth newly arisen amid great glory. The heart-rending desolation of selections like the contralto air, "He was Despised," only serves to accentuate the triumph of other portions. Throughout there is a warmth, a contrapuntal splendor, a breadth, an elasticity, a richness of orchestration, unknown in previous oratorio, unless in parts of some of the master's own works. Even in the duet and choruses remodeled from his chamber duets, there is that jubilant character that makes them blend perfectly with the great whole.
Born and educated on German soil, steeped during his wanderer's years in the spirit of the Italian muse, and finally nourished on the cathedral music of England, Handel became thoroughly cosmopolitan, appropriating what he chose from the influences that surrounded him. The English regard him as one of their national glories, call him the "Saxon Goliath," the "Michael Angelo of music," a "Bold Briareus with a hundred hands," and have carved his form in enduring marble above his tomb in Westminster Abbey. Nothing they have said can equal the tribute paid him by the dying giant Beethoven, who pointing to Handel's works exclaimed: "There is the truth."
Another lofty, yet wholly different personality, born also in 1685, is found in Johann Sebastian Bach, whose Passion Oratorios, a direct outgrowth of the Passion plays of old, furnish materials and inspiration for all time. Handel worked in and for the public and fought his battles in the great world. Bach was the lonely scholar who lived apart from outside turmoil and unabashed in the presence of earthly monarchs, reigned supreme in the tone-world. A typical Teuton, his music, intensely earnest, highly intellectual, contains the essence of Teutonism, and gives full, rich, copious expression to the inmost being of humanity. The spirit of Protestant Germany is embodied in his religious tone productions which have proved to Protestantism a tower of strength. His service in developing the choral alone is inestimable. Nothing that he has written, better represents the majesty and sublimity of his style than his "Saint Matthew Passion" with its surpassing utterances of human sorrow and infinite tenderness.
In the year 1790, when Joseph Haydn had accepted an invitation to make a professional visit to London, his young friend, Mozart, endeavored to dissuade him from going on account of his age, but Haydn persisted, declaring that he was still active and strong. Eight years later, at sixty-six years of age, he wrote his celebrated oratorio "The Creation," with all the vigor and sparkle of youth. The rambles of years in the beautiful grounds of Esterhazy had attuned his soul to communion with nature, and this work plainly shows his power of putting into tones the secrets nature revealed to him. Blissful joyousness and child-like naivete are among its characteristic features.
The style of Beethoven as a composer of sacred music is reflected in his single oratorio "Christ on the Mount of Olives," that like his single opera stands apart, amply sufficient to prove what he was capable of accomplishing. Mendelssohn, in his "St. Paul" and his "Elijah," embodied a high ideal, building on his predecessors and attaining, especially in the latter, an eclectic spirit that manifests keen discrimination. The oratorios of Liszt, the "Christus," "St. Elizabeth" and some lesser works, reveal high purpose and original treatment of a revelation in tones of sacred events. In the oratorios of the Frenchman Gounod, preeminently in his "Redemption," it is interesting to find modern chorals based on those of the German Bach, and, in fact, as it has been aptly said, a modernized treatment of Bach's passion form.
What may be the next step in the evolution of the oratorio it were difficult to estimate. Whether modern efforts can ever surpass, or even equal, the sublime productions in this field, or whether creative genius will be turned into wholly new channels, the future alone may determine.
Symphony and Symphonic Poem
That adventurous spirit, Claudio Monteverde, who nearly three hundred years ago made himself responsible for the first feeble utterances of an orchestra that tried to say something for itself, divined the possibilities of expression in varying combinations of tone-quality and gave vigorous impulse to the germ of the symphony already existing in the formless instrumental preludes and interludes of his predecessors among opera-makers. His revelation of the charm that lies in exploring the resources of instrumentation led to ever increasing demands on the orchestra. The prelude developed into the operatic overture whose business it became to prepare the spectator for what followed. That music was capable of conveying an impression in her own tone-language was apparent, and in due time the symphony rose majestic from the forge of genius.
Prominent among the materials welded into it was the dance of obscure origin. As the vocal aria was the result of the simple folk-song combined with the intense craving of song's master molders for individual expression, so instrumental music striving to walk alone, without support from words, gained vital elements through the discovery that various phases of mental disposition might be indicated by alternating dance tunes differing in rhythm and movement, according to Nature's own law of contrasts. That unity of purpose was essential to the effectiveness of the diversity was instinctively discerned.
The touch of authority was given to this kind of music, during the last two decades of the seventeenth century, by Arcangelo Corelli when he presented in the camera, or private apartment, of Cardinal Ottoboni's palace, in Rome, his idealized dance groups, thoroughly united by harmony of mood, yet affording a wholly new tone-picture of this mood in each of several movements. These compositions were usually written for the harpsichord and perhaps three instruments of the viol order, the master himself playing the leading melody on the violin. He called them sonatas from sonare, to sound, a name originally applied to any piece that was sounded by instruments, not sung by the human voice. They prefigured the solo sonata, the entire class of chamber music named from the place where they were performed, and the symphony which is a sonata for the orchestra. Absolute music was set once for all on the right path by them. They ushered in a new era of Art.
Purcell, in England, Domenico Scarlatti and Sammartini, in Italy, the Bachs, in Germany, and others continued to fashion the sonata form. It ceased to be a mere grouping of dances, the name suite being applied to that, and struck out into independent excursions in the domain of fancy. The prevailing melody of its monophonic style proved suitable to furnish a subject for the most animated discussion. Three contrasting movements were adopted, comprising a summons to attention, an appeal to both intellect and emotions, and a lively reaction after excitement.
A German critic has jocosely remarked that the early writers meant the sonata to show first what they could do, second what they could feel, and third how glad they were to have finished. Time vastly increased its importance. Two subjects, a melody in the tonic, another usually in the dominant, came to set forth the exposition of the opening movement, leading to a free development, with various episodes, and an assured return to the original statement. The prevailing character being thus defined, the story readily unfolds, aided by related keys, in a slow movement and perhaps a minuet or scherzo, and gains its denouement in a stirring finale, written in the original key. Each movement has its own subjects, its individual development, with harmony of plan and idea for a bond of union.
The name symphony, from sinfonia, a consonance of sounds, applied originally to any selection played by a full band and later to instrumental overtures, was given by Joseph Haydn to the orchestral sonata form inaugurated by him. His thirty years of musical service to the house of Esterhazy, with an orchestra increasing from 16 to 24 pieces to experiment on, as the solo virtuoso experiments on piano or violin, brought him wholly under the spell of the instruments. Their individual characteristics afforded him continually new suggestions in regard to tone-coloring, and he rose often to audacity, for his time, in his harmonic devices. Grace and spirit, originality of invention, joyous abandon, a fancy controlled by a studious mind, a profusion of quaint humor and a proper division of light and shade, combine to give the dominant note to his music. His symphonies recall the fairy tale, with its sparkling "once upon a time," and yet like it are not without their mysterious shadows. In everything he has written is felt that faculty of smiling amid grief and disappointment and pain that made Haydn, the Father of the Symphony, exclaim in his old age, "Life is a charming affair."
With Mozart, whose life-work began after, but ended before that of Haydn, influencing and being influenced by the latter, the symphony broadened in scope and grew richer in warmth of melodious expression, definiteness of plan and completeness of form. His profoundly poetic musical nature, with its high capacity for joy and sorrow and infinite longing, was reflected in all that he wrote. By means of a generous employment of free counterpoint, in other words a kind of polyphony in which the various voices use different melodies in harmonious combination, he gained a potent auxiliary in his cunning workmanship, and emphasized the folly of rejecting the contrapuntal experiences, of, for instance, a Sebastian Bach. Musical instruments, as well as musical materials, were his servants in developing the glowing fancies of his marvelously constructive brain. The crowning glory of his graceful perfection of outline and detail is the noble spirit of serenity which illumines all its beauty.
Beethoven further advanced the technique of the symphony, and proved its power to "strike fire from the soul of man." Varying his themes while repeating them, adding spice to his episodes and working out his entire scheme with consummate skill, he was able to construct from a motive of a few notes a mighty epic tone-poem. He translated into superb orchestral pages the dreams of the human heart, the soul's longing for liberty and all the holiest aspirations of the inner being. He discussed in tones problems of man's life and destiny, ever displaying sublime faith that Fate, however cruel, is powerless to crush the spiritual being, the real individuality. His conflicts never fail to end in triumph. Well may it be said that the ultimate purpose of a symphony of Beethoven is to tell of those things from the deepest depths of which events are mere shadows, and that as high feeling demands lofty utterance his tonal forms are inevitably worthy of their contents.
Twenty-six years younger than Beethoven Schubert lived but a year after he had passed away and died in 1828, two years later than Weber, and felt the glow of the spirit of romanticism. From the perennial fount of song within his breast there streamed fresh melodious strains through his symphonies, the ninth and last of which, the C major, ranks him with the great symphonists. Intense poetic sentiment, dreamy yet strong musical individuality, romantic fulness of plan to embody in tones the passionate emotions of a storm and stress period, and much originality of orchestral treatment characterize the symphonies of Schumann. He rises to towering heights in some passages, but in his daring explorations through the tone-world he is often betrayed into a vagueness of form, largely traceable perhaps to lack of early technical discipline, as well as to lack of mental clarity. Ultra romanticism was foreign to the nature and repulsive to the tastes of the refined, elegant Mendelssohn, yet in spite of himself its influence crept gently into his polished works. As a symphonist he displayed fertility in picturesque sonorities, facility in tracing the outlines and filling in the details of form, keen sense of balance of orchestral tone, thorough scientific knowledge of his materials, and, as some one has said, became all but a master in the highest sense. His overtures are unquestionably romantic, and as their histrionic and scenic titles indicate, partake of the nature of programme music.
This brings us to Hector Berlioz, the famous French symphonist, the exponent par excellence of programme music, that is, music intended to illustrate a special story. He lived from 1803 to 1869, and because of his audacity in using new and startling tonal effects was called the most flagrant musical heretic of the nineteenth century. He was the first to impress on the world the idea of music as a definite language. His recurrent themes, called "fixed ideas," prefigured Wagner's "leading motives." His skill in combining instruments added new lustre to orchestration. The personal style he created for himself was the result of his studies of older masterpieces, above all those of Gluck which he knew by heart, and of his philosophic researches. His four famous symphonic works are: "Fantastic Symphony," "Grand Funeral and Triumphal Symphony," "Harold in Italy" and "Romeo and Juliet." In a preface to the first he thus explains his ideas: "The plan of a musical drama without words, requires to be explained beforehand. The programme (which is indispensable to the perfect comprehension of the work) ought therefore to be considered in the light of the spoken text of an opera, serving to lead up to the piece of music, and indicate the character and expression."
From programme music came the symphonic poem of which Franz Liszt was the creator. Although he found this culmination of the romantic ideal in the field of instrumental music in his maturer years, he displayed in it the full power of his genius. His great works in this line are a "Faust Symphony," "Les Preludes," "Orpheus," "Prometheus," "Mazeppa" and "Hamlet." Symphonic in form, although less restricted than the symphony, these works are designed to give tone-pictures of the subjects designated, or at least of the moods they awaken. "Mazeppa," for instance, is described as depicting in a wild movement, rising to frenzy, the death ride of the hero, a brief andante proclaims his collapse, the following march, introduced by trumpet fanfares and increasing to the noblest triumph, his elevation and coronation.
Camille Saint-Saens, without doubt the most original and intellectual modern French composer, who at sixty-seven years of age is still in the midst of his activity, and who has made his own the spirit of the classic composers, owes to the symphonic poem a great part of his reputation, and has also written symphonies of great value. His orchestration is distinguished by its clarity, power and exquisite coloring. The orchestral music of Tschaikowsky, who died in 1893, symphonies and symphonic poems, are saturated with the glowing Russian spirit, are intensely dramatic, sometimes rising to tempestuous bursts of passion that are only held in check by the composer's scholarly control of his materials. A strong national flavor is also felt in the work of Christian Sinding, the Norwegian, whose D minor symphony has been styled "a piece born of the gloomy romanticism of the North." Edward Grieg, known as the incarnation of the strong, vigorous, breezy spirit of the land of the midnight sun, has put some of his most characteristic work into symphonic poems and orchestral suites. The first composer to convey a message from the North in tones to the European world was Gade, the Dane, known as the Symphony Master of the North, who was born in 1817 and died in 1890.
It is impossible to mention in a brief essay all the great workers in symphonic forms. One Titanic spirit, Johannes Brahms, (1833-1897) who succeeded in striking the dominant note of musical sublimity amid modern unrest, is reserved for our final consideration. Of him Schumann said, "This John is a prophet who will also write revelations," and he has revealed to those who can read that high art is the abiding-place of reason, that it is moreover compounded of profundity of feeling yoked with profundity of intellectual mastery. Dr. Riemann writes of him, "From Bach he inherited the depth, from Haydn, the humor, from Mozart, the charm, from Beethoven, the strength, from Schubert, the intimateness of his art. Truly a wonderfully gifted nature that was able to absorb such a fulness of great gifts and still not lose the best of gifts—the strong individuality which makes the master."
Wonderful is the power of instrumental music, absolute music without words, that may convey impressions, deep and lasting, no words could give. All hail to the memory of Johannes Brahms, who has reminded us of its true mission and delivered a message that will ring through the twentieth century.
[Transcriber's Note: In the caption for the illustration featuring Ms. Nordica, the spelling of her first name was corrected from "Lilian" to "Lillian."]