WE have seen that the process of art is a gradual evolution which is the result of a clearer perception of ideals. This process may be divided into three periods, the symbolic, the classic and the romantic, corresponding to similar periods in the development of man. Symbolic art is limited and its meaning is not always clear. It is often incoherent and formless.
Classical art has as its ideals symmetry, proportion, and unity, and results in a formal beauty, but slightly affected by the workings of the inner spirit.
Eventually, however, the soul of man succeeded in asserting itself, regardless of form, and the consequent free expression of the emotions ends in romanticism.
The works of Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven form what is generally termed “the Classic School,” while those of Weber, Marschner, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann are usually designated as belonging to the ” Romantic School.”
This new phase of musical art, resulting from the trend of current thought and a deep emotional unrest, began in Europe towards the close of the eighteenth century, and was, like the Renaissance of the sixteenth century, antagonistic to those things which, though once new, had become conventional. The revolt against tradition, the longing to return to what was conceived to be the natural, the untrammeled, was so far-reaching, that it extended even to the prevalent angular landscape gardening, and caused a return to the exhibition of the natural tendencies of plants and trees.
It was this same antagonism to tradition that caused the revolt against the aristocracy in France. The question was freely asked; “Should a man be king because his father was a king?” and the prompt answer was, “No, a man should be king only if he is a king.”
This questioning, emotional unrest found expression in literature and art, through the revelation of individual thought and feeling, and the fearless investigation and description of all that related to man’s mental and emotional life.
The contemplation and expression of truth rather than of beauty was the aim of these writers. They boldly declared their point of view, and expressed a self-sufficient motive for their deeds, by their statement that “everything belonging to life and its experiences was a fit subject for art, so that the soul might learn to understand itself and come to complete self-consciousness.” Their motto therefore was, “Nothing that is human will I consider as foreign to me,” and this idea became the basis of the romantic movement. Music, the most subjective of all the arts, became the medium for the expression of the composer’s individual emotions or moods, of what he himself thought or felt. Romanticism thus enlarged the realm of music by the acquisition of a portion of the domain that originally belonged to poetry and especially to painting.
The student of pictorial art reciprocated by the appropriation of terms belonging originally to musical art, and hence-forth spoke of the “tone” of a. picture, just as a musician now speaks of the “color” of orchestration or harmony. The romantic composers then endeavored to represent in music a picture or a story, both originally deemed foreign to its province.
This purpose in itself was not new, having already been practised to a degree by several composers of the Italian Renaissance and by some masters of the Flemish school, such as Gombert and Jannequin, both of whom in their vocal compositions described scenes and occurrences. The latter composer is undoubtedly the first who exhibited tone-painting tendencies to a marked degree, and may well be called the earliest Romanticist. To be sure, many of his works of this class are but imitations of nature, but even as such they are representations of occurrences outside the domain of music. His choruses, introducing the cries of the street-venders of Paris (“Cris de Paris”) and the approach of the troops with their bugle-calls and clanking of swords (“La Bataille”), are excellent examples of tone-painting, though the medium at his command was entirely vocal and they were written in the a cappella song-style. Among many similar works we might also mention his “Songs of War and the Chase,” “Bird Songs,” “The Lark and the Nightingale,” “Jealousy,” “The Gossiping Ladies” (a five-part song), and “The Stag-hunt” (a seven-part song). All these compositions belong to the class that is now called “Program music,” an outgrowth of the romantic spirit.
The antagonism to things traditional may thus be said to have begun in France, whose littérateurs and poets toward the close of the eighteenth century caused the equilibrium of society to be disturbed by their radicalism. They preached “liberty, equality, fraternity” and enthroned reason above all things terrestrial.
Their antagonism to conventionality was so rabid that they even changed the names of the days of the week and the months of the year, as being reminiscent of mythology, and instituted a new era dating from the beginning of the great revolution.
It was because of this antagonism to the artificial that the “opéra bouffe,” which dealt with human foibles and follies, and burlesqued everything conventional, found such a con-genial home in France during that period.
This revolt against the conventional quickly spread to England and Germany, whose bold literary spirits almost immediately adopted the new motto and began to express themselves in the new manner.
Exponents of the art of music, such as Weber and Marschner and their librettists, being naturally very sensitive to the emotional atmosphere of their environment and in close sympathy with the general public, exhibited their appreciation of the new mode of thought in their operas, which at once met with public favor.
During this period of emotional unrest was born, in 1797, Franz Schubert, usually called the father of romanticism in music. He was one of nineteen children whose father was a school-teacher in Lichtenthal, a suburb of Vienna, where the family lived. The pay of a schoolmaster was then, as now, comparatively small, and insufficient for the needs of a large family. Therefore, as soon as they were old enough, the sons of the house also taught school and helped to eke out the slender paternal income. From his father Schubert received his first lessons in playing the violin and piano, and from the choir-master of the parish school some superficial instruction in theory. Having a very good voice, he was entered as chorister in the boys’ school connected with St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the same where Haydn had been so unhappy. As chorister, he was entitled to a home in the school and a general education, which included instruction in singing and in playing the piano and violin, and practice in the school orchestra which he occasionally was permitted to conduct. His music-lessons were rather limited in scope, and, to the eager youngster, unsatisfactory because they did not include information regarding theory, harmony and composition. As he had youthful dreams of following in the footsteps of Beethoven, whom he revered, he bought Mattheson’s “Complete Music-Director” and a text-book on harmony and taught himself as far as he was able. Romantic stories were his delight, and at the age of 13 he wrote a musical setting of “The Lament of Hagar in the Wilderness,” and a “Corpse Fantasy” in which he attempted to depict the ghostly, shadowy effect produced by the light, of the candles around the bier of death. Everything fantastic, supernatural, unexplainable or highly emotional, appealed to him as demanding musical expression. His youthful opportunities for hearing music were limited to those furnished by the church services, for he never heard a first-class secular work until he was fifteen, and no opera until he was seventeen.
Nevertheless, as soon as he left this choir-school, at the age of sixteen, to assist his father in teaching, his genius for composition began to manifest itself. At seventeen he had written his first Mass, which, despite his lack of musical training, is one of the greatest ever written and is generally conceded to be excelled only by that of Bach in B minor and that of Beethoven in D major.
A sort of rage for composition seems to have possessed him, and, as Schumann has said, almost everything he touched he turned into music. As an example of this, we might cite the accredited story of an occurrence at the home of a certain court official in Vienna. One morning, while waiting in an anteroom of the office, where he had been sent on an important errand, Schubert found on the table a new volume of poems by Müller. Upon opening the book, he became so interested in its contents that he forgot his mission, left the anteroom, took the book home with him, and before night composed that splendid series of songs entitled the “Müller-Lieder,” sometimes called “Die scheme Müllerin,” which usually begins the first volume of Schubert’s songs. That his desire for composition amounted almost to a mania is proved by the fact that although he died when but 31, he left be-hind him several masses and symphonies, many piano works, a number of choral works and more than six hundred songs. His genius so clarified his thoughts that scarcely an erasure is found in his hundreds of manuscripts, which are so clear and distinct as to be a delight to the eye. His inspiration was so continuous that the music came as fast as he could write. As a consequence, many of his compositions sound like improvisations.
The songs, especially, seem to have been conceived in one flash, a lightning-like understanding of the text. Immediately after his reading of a poem, his genius produced a suit-able melody, with its harmonic coloring of accompaniment, from the beginning to the end, so that his songs were what the Germans call “durchkomponiert” (composed straight through), and are, therefore, the first examples of the “art-song,” a form of which he is called the father. The real folk-song, as we know, consists of several stanzas, each with the same melody and accompaniment, but in the art-song, though the musical settings of the stanzas may resemble each other, they are not alike, but individually follow the varying moods of the text.
Constant poverty during Schubert’s childhood and manhood, continuing even to his death, premature hard work and lack of public recognition, and a naturally retiring disposition, made him self-conscious and bashful, and because of the lack of proper instruction in his youth under recognized masters, he had no abiding faith in his own gifts and powers. At one time he visited Beethoven, with some of his quartets, hoping to receive corrections, suggestions or criticisms. Knowing of the great master’s deafness, he timidly wrote his request on Beethoven’s ever-present tablets. The great symphonist looked through some of the works presented, was much impressed, and began to compliment the bashful young man, but he, awed by the near presence of the master whom he revered, and unable to imagine that he had done anything which deserved commendation, fled from the house, leaving his quartets behind him. The same timidity, added to the consciousness of his poverty, prevented him from declaring his love to a young lady of noble birth of whom he became deeply enamoured.
He was very short of stature, being but five feet and one inch in height, very broad and stout, and, because of much youthful writing, very round-shouldered. He had thick, broad fingers, black hair, bushy eyebrows, all combining to make him a rather insignificant-looking man. His eyes, however, were very brilliant and deep-set and when he spoke of his art, his face became transformed. He always wore glasses and was so helpless without them that he is said to have slept in them. He was so poor, that when, after his death, which occurred November 19, 1828, his household effects, including his piano, were sold at public auction, they brought the incredibly small sum of $120.
The second of the great German romantic composers was Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, born in 1899. As the son of a wealthy philosopher-banker, his life presents a vivid material contrast to that of Schubert. He was brought up in an atmosphere of artistic and literary culture, in which he enjoyed the friendship of Weber, who adored him, of Goethe and of Herder. He was given every opportunity afforded by a thorough education, general as well as musical. Time and space forbid anything but a cursory view of his life, and we shall only endeavor to fix his place in the world of musical art by a comparison of his works with those of others.
Like Schubert, he had a sort of mania for composition, though not in the same degree. At twenty he had written two symphonies, several quartets and operas, and the immortal overture to Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which is romantic and fantastic in the extreme and in which he paints with an exquisite brush. His works, compared with those of Beethoven, are as those of an extraordinarily gifted young man, whom we know personally, compared with those of a sorrowing god, whose intellectual and emotional domain is difficult of approach and almost impossible of entrance. Beethoven is like a wild, almost impenetrable forest, in which are heard sounds primeval; while Mendelssohn is like a handsome park easy of entrance, and full of beautiful cultivated flowers.
His musical instincts were those of a man whose culture united refined taste, consummate knowledge and great artistic gifts. If we except his “Midsummer Night’s Dream” music, his was a slow, steady growth without the spontaneous outbursts of a Schubert or the titanic flashes of a Beethoven. He was taught the technique and form of his art in a most thorough manner, and he was also taught a deep reverence for law, duty and order, which, however, did not deter his impressionable soul from a free entrance into the field of romanticism which Schubert, Weber and Beethoven had explored and adorned.
Nature, environment and education combined to give him a fine appreciation of plastic beauty and musical form, and this is visible in all his works, whatever be their emotional content.
His various travels, and the physical and emotional impressions thus obtained, are reflected in many of his works, such as his “Italian” and “Scotch” symphonies, and his overtures, “Melusine,” the “Hebrides,” and “Fingal’s Cave.” His visits to England and his consequent hearing of Handel’s great oratorios resulted in St. Paul, Elijah, and the “Hymn of Praise.”
Recognizing his lack of power to emulate Schubert’s immortal songs, he wrote his “Songs without Words,” which reflect various moods engendered by poetry or environment, and which are charming contributions to piano literature.
In spite of his Antigone, OEdipus and Athalie, written by royal commission, it must be conceded that most of his works show a lack of epic force. But the exuberance of his lyric faculty, blended with emotional variety, enabled him to express himself in the most charming plastic forms. To appreciate this we need but listen to his happy dissertation on Die schône Melusine, and the delightful introduction to his “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” which in itself is a fairy tale expressed in tones.
A German writer has said, “He had not only a genius for living but also for dying.” His last work, Elijah, was also his greatest, and he died when his fame had reached its zenith, at the age of 38.
Of the romantic opera-writers in the first part of the nineteenth century, Weber, Marschner, Spontini, and Spohr, we have spoken previously. Berlioz will be considered later; but we must now take up the life of the third of the three great early romanticists, Robert Schumann.
Born at Zwickau, Saxony, in 1810, the son of a bookseller, he was brought up chiefly on the intellectual food furnished by the exponents of romantic literature. Even while in school, he gave evidences of his ability to express as much in a few notes as a cartoonist can with a few lines.
His biographers have given so many interesting details of the man, that we will occupy ourselves only with the musician and his art. We shall, therefore, consider only his works and their principal characteristics.
In these he has glorified every phase of life from youth to manhood. His “Kinderscenen” lead us back into the days when we believed in fairies and kobolds, into the days of children’s games and the bright blossoms of springtime, and our first dreams of “castles in Spain.” He transports us through these scenes and memories into early student-life with its fantastic ideas and associations, expressed in the “Kreisleriana” and the “Davidsbiindlertanze;” through the scenes of early manhood with “Carnaval” and ” Liebesfrühling; ” into the pure joys of wedded bliss with “Frauenliebe and -Leben,” and brings us to mature reflection in his “Dichterliebe,” “Romanzen and Balladen,” perhaps the greatest of all his song-cycles.
Even in his earliest works we note his gift of condensed thought, of expressing much in few tones. Every stroke of his musical brush creates a small domain. In ” Warum? ” he asks more questions in a few measures than many have asked in pages upon pages. Schumann is the creator of this miniature form of musical utterance. All his early works are full to the brim with warm enthusiasm, vigorous idealism, and the romantic desire to wander from the beaten path into self-chosen solitude, peopled only with the creatures of his fancy. His “Intermezzi,” “Papillons,” “Fantasie-Stücke,” “Nacht-Stucke,” and “Faschingsschwank,” are fine examples of this spirit, and these alone would make his name immortal, not only for their inherent excellence but also because they made the piano an instrument for the expression of poetry, of tone-painting. As he passed into robust manhood, his genius required broader forms of expression, such as are to be found in the “Fantasie” and G-minor Sonata, as well as in his earlier songs, all of which show a deepening of the emotional life. Most of the songs and song-cycles mentioned above were written at or before the age of thirty. He had in even greater measure than Schubert the gift of absorbing the “locale” of a poem and of describing it as if it were a personal’ experience. This gift is nowhere in greater evidence than in “In der Fremde,” where he paints with a few chords the “lovely forest solitude,” and in the “Mondnacht,” where he depicts the “silent kiss of Heaven given to Earth.” Familiar poems, already popular as songs, received at his hands a setting quite new and apparently strange, but often revealing what the poet had left unspoken.
When, after several years of waiting, he had secured Clara Wieck as his bride, he began the composition of his greatest works, which include the Piano Concerto, the quartets and symphonies, as well as the “Frauenliebe und -Leben” and the “Dichterliebe.” In these he shows maturity, and the conclusion of his musical thought. The B Symphony, though his first effort in this form, is like the fragrant breath of a pine forest in which sunbeams are at play. It is, as it were, the musical embodiment of a honeymoon.
His greatest piano works are undoubtedly the Piano Concerto and the “Variations,” both full of a delightful romanticism that charms at the first hearing.
In middle life he began to exhibit an unaccountable moodiness that was manifested in various ways, and was really the prophetic foreshadowing of the catastrophe that overtook him before the end. That he lived much within himself is well known. It is related of him that he often visited friends in the evening, and that on such occasions he would some-times sit for more than two hours in silence, oblivious of his surroundings, and would then rise and express the pleasure he had received from his call. This moodiness to which we have referred was undoubtedly the first symptom of that insanity which later caused him to attempt suicide on two different occasions and finally necessitated his confinement in an asylum, where he died in 1856.
His art and the spread of his ideas caused an upheaval, not only in Germany, but in all European music, such as we can hardly realize. The younger generation of musicians enthusiastically followed in his footsteps, and there resulted a real Schumann style of composition, which was distinctly a new type of emotional utterance.
As a picturesque writer, a critic-composer, cultivated in literature, philosophy, poetry and music, he was a new force in the musical world. Shy and reserved, and there-fore not fond of society, he talked little, but observed and wrote much. His musical criticisms are models of that form of writing, and his articles on serious young composers and their early works, collected in his “Music and Musicians,” aided materially in their public recognition and appreciation.
Schumann still has many followers, and his influence is visible in many of the works of modern composers.
Through the romantic movement the art of music acquired not only new material but new forms of expression.
Schubert’s creative genius, unhampered by his limited knowledge of the academic rules of music, gave an imperishable legacy to the musical world. Realizing his imperfect training in the larger forms, he expressed himself in the more modest styles of the short piece for the piano and the song, where his abundance of poetry and imagination had free rein in a wholly new field. The effect of his labors in the romantic field and especially in the creation of the art-song is inestimable, and it has been truly said, “There has never been one like him and there never will be another.”
Mendelssohn, with his superb classic training, adhered more to that form of expression; and his variety of emotion, though apparently limited, is clearly visible in his earlier works and his smaller pieces, which are essentially lyric.
Schumann, the admirer and follower of Schubert, although he wrote much in the sonata-form, is at his best in his later songs, and in the romantic shorter piano pieces, where he shows a variety of original and free expression that is ex-celled only by Chopin.