IN May, 1905, the first musical festival of Alsace-Lorraine took place at Strasburg. It was an important artistic event, and meant the bringing together of two civilisations that for centuries had been at variance on the soil of Alsace, more anxious for dispute than for mutual understanding.
The official programme of the fêtes musicales laid stress on the reconciliatory purpose of its organisers, and I quote these words from the programme book, drawn up by Dr. Max Bendiner, of Strasburg :
” Music may achieve the highest of all missions : she may be a bond between nations, races, and states, who are strangers to one another in many ways ; she may unite what is disunited, and bring peace to what is hostile. . . . No country is more suited for her friendly aid than Alsace-Lorraine, that old meeting-place of people, where from time immemorial the North and South have exchanged their material and their spiritual wealth ; and no place is readier to welcome her than Strasburg, an old town built by the Romans, which has remained to this day a centre of spiritual life. All great intellectual currents have left their mark on the people of Alsace-Lorraine ; and so they have been destined to play the part of mediator between different times and different peoples ; and the East and the West, the past and the present, meet here and join hands. In such festivals as this, it is not a matter of gaining aesthetic victories ; it is a matter of bringing together all that is great and noble and eternal in the art of different times and different nations.”
It was a splendid ambition for Alsacethe eternal field of battleto wish to inaugurate these European Olympian games. But in spite of good intentions, this meeting of nations resulted in a fight, on musical ground, between two civilisations and two artsFrench art and German art. For these two arts represent to-day all that is truly alive in European music.
Such jousts are very stirring, and may be of great service to all combatants. But, unhappily, France was very indifferent in the matter. It was the duty of our musicians and critics to attend an inter-national encounter like this, and to see that the conditions of the combat were fair. By that I mean our art should be represented as it ought to be, so that we may learn something from the result. But the French public does nothing at such a time ; it remains absorbed in its concerts at Paris, where everyone knows everyone else so well that they are not able and do not dare to criticise freely. And so our art is withering away in an atmosphere of coteries, instead of seeking the open air and enjoying a vigorous fight with foreign art. For the majority of our critics would rather deny the existence of foreign-art than try to understand it. Never have I regretted their indifference more than I did at the Strasburg festival, where, in spite of the unfavourable conditions in which French art was represented through our own carelessness, I realised what its force might have been if we had been interested spectators in the fight.
Perfect eclecticism had been exercised in the making up of the programme. One found mixed together the names of Mozart, Wagner, and Brahms ; César Franck and Gustave Charpentier ; Richard Strauss and Mahler. There were French singers like Cazeneuve and Daraux, and French and Italian virtuosi like Henri Marteau and Ferruccio Busoni, together with German, Austrian, and Scandinavian artists. The orchestra (the Strassburger Stadtische Orchester) and the choir, which was formed of different Chorvereine of Strasburg, were conducted by Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Camille Chevillard. But the names of these famous Kapellmeister must not let us forget the man who was really the soul of the concertsProfessor Ernst Munch, of Strasburg, an Alsatian, who conducted all the rehearsals, and who effaced himself at the last moment, and left all the honours to the conductors of foreign orchestras. Professor Munch, who is also organist at Saint-Guillaume, has done more than anyone else for music in Strasburg, and has trained excellent choirs (the ” Choeurs de Saint-Guillaume”) there, and organised splendid concerts of Bach’s music with the aid of another Alsatian, Albert Schweitzer, whose name is well known to musical historians. The latter is director of the clerical college of St. Thomas (Thomasstift), a pastor, an organist, a professor at the University of Strasburg, and the author of interesting works on theology and philosophy. Besides this he has written a now famous book, Jean-Sébastien Bach, which is doubly remarkable : first, because it is written in French (though it was published in Leipzig by a professor of the University of Strasburg), and secondly, because it shows an harmonious blend of the French and German spirit, and gives fresh life to the study of Bach and the old classic art. It was very interesting to me to make the acquaintance of these people, born on Alsatian soil, and representing the best Alsatian culture and all that was finest in the two civilisations.
The programme for the three days’ festival was as follows :
Saturday, May 20th.
Oberon Overture : Weber (conducted by Richard Strauss).
Les Béatitudes : César Franck (conducted by Camille Chevillard).
Impressions d’Italie : Gustav Charpentier (conducted by Camille Chevillard).
Three songs by Jean Sibelius, Hugo Wolf, Armas Järnefelt (sung by Mme. Järnefelt).
The last scene from Die Meistersinger : Wagner (conducted by Richard Strauss).
Sunday, May 21st.
Cinquième Symphonie : Gustav Mahler (con-ducted by Gustav Mahler).
Rhapsodie, for contralto, choir, and orchestra Johannes Brahms (conducted by Ernst Munch).
Strasburg Concerto in G major, for violin (played by Henri Marteau; conducted by Richard Strauss) .
Sinfonia domestica : Richard Strauss (conducted by Richard Strauss).
Monday, May 22nd.
Coriolan Overture : Beethoven (conducted by Gustav Mahler).
Concerto in G major, for piano : Beethoven (played by Ferruccio Busoni).
Lieder : An die enfernte Geliebte : Beethoven (sung by Ludwig Hess).
Choral Symphony : Beethoven (conducted by Gustav Mahler).
M. Chevillard alone represented our French musicians at the festival ; and they could have made no better choice of a conductor. But Germany had delegated her two greatest composers, Strauss and Mahler, to come to conduct their newest compositions. And I think it would not have been too much to set up one of our own foremost composers to combat the glory which these two enjoy in their own country.
M. Chevillard had been asked to conduct, not one of the works of our recent masters, like Debussy or Dukas, whose style he renders to perfection, but Franck’s Les Béatitudes, a work whose spirit he does not, to my mind, quite understand. The mystic tenderness of Franck escapes him, and he brings out only what is dramatic. And so that performance of Les Béatitudes, though in many respects fine, left an imperfect idea of Franck’s genius.
But what seemed inconceivable, and what justly annoyed M. Chevillard, was that the whole of Les Béatitudes was not given, but only a section of them. And on this subject I shall take the liberty of recommending that French artists who are guests at similar festivals should not in future agree to a programme with their eyes shut, but have their own wishes considered, or refuse their help. If French musicians are to be given a place in German Musikfeste, French people must be allowed to choose the works that are to represent them. And, above all, a French conductor must not be brought from Paris, and find on his arrival a mutilated score and an arbitrary choice of a few fragments that are not even whole in themselves. For they played five out of the eight Béatitudes, and cuts had been made in the third and eighth Béatitudes. That showed a want of respect for art, for works should be given as they are, or not at all.
And it would have been more seemly if in this three-day festival the organisers had had the courteousness to devote the first day to French music, and had set aside one whole concert for it. But, without doubt, they had carefully sandwiched the French works in between German works to weaken their effect, and lessen the probable (and actual) enthusiasm with which French music would be received in the presence of the Statthalter of Alsace-Lorraine by a section of the Alsatian public. In addition to this, and by a choice that neither myself nor anyone else in Strasburg could believe was dictated by musical reasons, the German work chosen to end the evening was the final scene from Die Meistersinger, with its ringing couplet from Hans Sachs, in which he denounces foreign insincerity and foreign frivolity (Walschen Dunst mit walschen Tand). This lack of courtesythough the words were really nonsense when this very concert was given to show that foreign art could not be ignoredwould not be worth while raking up if it did not further serve to show how regrettable is the indifference of French artists who take part in these festivals. And this mistake would never have occurred if they had taken care to acquaint them-selves with the programme beforehand and put their veto upon it.
I have mentioned this little incident partly because my views were shared by many Alsatians in the audience, who expressed their annoyance to me afterwards. But, putting it aside, our French artists ought not to have consented to let our music be represented by a mutilated score of Les Béatitudes and by Charpentier’s Impressions d’Italie, for the latter, though a brilliantly clever work, is not of the first rank, and was too easily crushed by one of’ Wagner’s most stupendous compositions.
If people wish to institute a joust between French and German art, let it be a fair one, I repeat ; let Wagner be matched with Berlioz, and Strauss with Debussy, and Mahler with Dukas or Magnard.
Such were the conditions of the combat ; and they were, whether intentionally or not, unfavourable to France. And yet to the eyes of an impartial observer the result was full of hope and encouragement for us.
I have never bothered myself in art with questions of nationality. I have not even concealed my preference for German music and I consider, even to-day, that Richard Strauss is the foremost musical composer in Europe. Having said this, I am freer to speak of the strange impression that I had at the Strasburg festivalan impression of the change that is coming over music, and the way that French art is silently setting about taking the place of German art.
” Walschen Dunst und wàlschen Tand.” How that reproachful speech seems to be misplaced when one is listening to the honest thought expressed in César Franck’s music. In Les Béatitudes, nothing, or next to nothing, was done for art’s sake. It is the soul speaking to the soul. As Beethoven wrote, at the end of his mass in D, ” Vom Herzen . zu Herzen ! ” (” It comes from the heart to go to the heart”) . I know no one but Franck in the last century, unless it is Beethoven, who has possessed in so high a degree the virtue of being himself and speaking only the truth without thought of his public. Never before has religious faith been expressed with such sincerity. Franck is the only musician besides Bach who has really seen the Christ, and who can make other people see him too. I would even venture to say that his Christ is simpler than Bach’s ; for Bach’s thoughts are often led away by the interest of developing his subject, by certain habits of composition, and by repetitions and clever devices, which weaken his strength. In Franck’s music we get Christ’s speech itself, unadorned and in all its living force. And in the wonderful harmony between the music and the sacred words we hear the voice of the world’s conscience. I once heard some-one say to Mme. Cosima Wagner that certain passages in Parsifal, particularly the chorus ” Durch Mitleid wissend,” had a quality that was truly religious and the force of a revelation. But I find a . greater force and a more truly Christian spirit in Les Béatitudes.
And here is an astonishing thing. At this German musical festival it was a Frenchman who represented not only serious music moulded in a classical form, but a religious spirit and the spirit of the Gospels. The characters of two nations have been reversed. The Germans have so changed that they are only able to appreciate this seriousness and religious faith with difficulty. I watched the audience on this occasion ; they listened politely, a little astonished and bored, as if to say, ” What business has this Frenchman with depth and piety of soul ? ”
” There is no doubt,” said Henri Lichtenberger, who sat by me at the concert, ” our music is beginning to bore the Germans.
It was only the other day that German music enjoyed the privilege of boring us in France.
And so, to make up for the austere grandeur of Les Béatitudes they had it immediately followed by Gustave Charpentier’s Impressions d’Italie. You should have seen the relief of the audience. At last they were to have some French musicas Germans understand it. Charpentier is, of all living French musicians, the most liked in Germany; he is indeed the only one who is popular with artists and the general public alike. Shall I say that the sincere pleasure they take in his orchestration and the gay life of his subjects is enhanced a little by a slight disdain for French frivolitywalschen Tand
“Now listen to that,” said Richard Strauss to me during the third movement of Impressions d’Italie ; ” that is the true music of Montmartre, the utterance of fine words.Liberty ! . . Love ! . , . which no one believes.”
And on the whole he found the music quite charming, and, without doubt, in the depths of his heart approved of this Frenchman according to conventional notions that are current in Germany alone. Strauss is really very fond of Charpentier, and was his patron in Berlin ; and I remember how he showed childish delight in Louise when it was first performed in Paris.
But Strauss, and most other Germans, are quite on the wrong track when they try to persuade themselves that this amusing French frivolity is still the exclusive property of France. They really love it because it has become German ; and they are quite unconscious of the fact. The German artists of other times did not find much pleasure in frivolity ; but I could have easily shown Strauss his liking for it by taking examples from his own works. The Germans of today have but little in common with the Germans of yesterday.
I am not speaking of the general public only. The German public of today are devotees of Brahms and Wagner, and everything of theirs seems good to them ; they have no discrimination, and, while they applaud Wagner and encore Brahms, they are, in their hearts, not only frivolous, but sentimental and gross. The most striking thing about this public is their cult of power since Wagner’s death. When listening to the end of Die Meistersinger I felt how the haughty music of the great march reflected the spirit of this military nation of shop-keepers, bursting with rude health and complacent pride.
The most remarkable thing of all is that German artists are gradually losing the power of understanding their own splendid classics and, in particular, Beethoven. Strauss, who is very shrewd and knows exactly his own limitations, does not willingly enter Beethoven’s domain; though he feels his spirit in a much more living way than any of the other German Kapellmeister. At the Strasburg festival he contented himself with conducting, besides his own symphony, the Oberon Overture and a Mozart concerto. These performances were interesting ; a personality like his is so curious that it is quite amusing to find it coming out in the works he conducts. But how Mozart’s features took on an offhand and impatient air and how the rhythms were accentuated at the expense of the melodic grace. In this case, however, Strauss was dealing with a concerto, where a certain liberty of interpretation is allowed. But Mahler, who was less discreet, ventured upon conducting the whole of the Beethoven concert. And what can be said of that evening ? I will not speak of the Concerto for pianoforte, in G major, which Busoni played with a brilliant and superficial execution that took away all breadth from the work ; it is enough to note that his interpretation was enthusiastically received by the public. German artists were not responsible for that performance ; but they were responsible for that fine cycle of Lieder, An die entfernte Geliebte, which was bellowed by a Berlin tenor at the top of his voice, and for the Choral Symphony, which was, for me, an unspeakable performance. I could never have believed that a German orchestra conducted by the chief Kapellmeister of Austria could have committed such misdeeds. The time was incredible : the scherzo had no life in it ; the adagio was taken in hot haste without leaving a moment for dreams ; and there were pauses in the finale which destroyed the development of the theme and broke the thread of its thought. The different parts of the orchestra fell over one another, and the whole was uncertain and lacking in balance. I once severely criticised the neo-classic stiffness of Weingartner ; but I should have appreciated his healthy equilibrium and his effort to be exact after hearing this neurasthenic rendering of Beethoven. No ; we can no longer hear Beethoven and Mozart in Germany today, we can only hear Mahler and Strauss.
Well, let it be so. We will resign ourselves. The past is past. Let us leave Beethoven and Mozart, and speak of Mahler and Strauss.
Gustav Mahler is forty-six years old. He is a kind of legendary type of German musician, rather like Schubert, and half-way between a schoolmaster and a clergyman. He has a long, clean-shaven face, pointed skull covered with untidy hair, a bald forehead, a prominent nose, eyes that blink behind his glasses, a large mouth and thin lips, hollow cheeks, a rather tired and sarcastic expression, and a general air of asceticism. He is excessively nervous, and silhouette caricatures of him, representing him as a cat in convulsions in the conductor’s desk, are very popular in Germany.
He was born at Kalischt in Bohemia, and became a pupil of Anton Bruckner at Vienna, and afterwards Hofoperndirecktor (” Director of the Opera “) there. I hope one day to study this artist’s work in greater detail, for he is second only to Strauss as a composer in Germany, and the principal musician of South Germany.
His most important work is a suite of symphonies ; and it was the fifth symphony of this suite that he conducted at the Strasburg festival. The first symphony, called Titan, was composed in 1894. The construction of the whole is on a massive and gigantic scale ; and the melodies on which these works are built up are like rough-hewn blocks of not very good quality, but imposing by reason of their size, and by the obstinate repetition of their rhythmic design, which is maintained as if it were an obsession. This heaping-up of music both crude and learned in style, with harmonies that are sometimes clumsy and sometimes delicate, is worth considering on account of its bulk. The orchestration is heavy and noisy ; and the brass dominates and roughly gilds the rather sombre colouring of the great edifice. The underlying idea of the composition is neo-classic, and rather spongy and diffuse. Its harmonic structure is composite : we get the style of Bach, Schubert, and Mendelssohn fighting that of Wagner and Bruckner ; and, by a decided liking for canon form, it even recalls some of Franck’s work. The whole is like a showy and expensive collection of bric-à-brac.
The chief characteristic of these symphonies is, generally speaking, the use of choral singing with. the orchestra. When I conceive a great musical painting (ein grosses musikalisches Gemälde),” says Mahler, ” there always comes a moment when I feel forced to employ speech (das Wort) as an aid to the realisation of my musical conception.”
Mahler has got some striking effects from this combination of voices and instruments, and he did well to seek inspiration in this direction from Beethoven and Liszt. It is incredible that the nineteenth century should have put this combination to so little use ; for I think the gain may be poetical as well as musical.
In the Second Symphony in C minor, the first three parts are purely instrumental ; but in the fourth part the voice of a contralto is heard singing these sad and simple words :
” Der Mensch liegt in grôsster Moth ! Der Mensch liegt in grôsster Pein ! Je Lieber môcht’ ich im Himmel sein I”
The soul strives to reach God with the passionate cry : “Ich bin von Gott and will wieder Zu Gott.”
Then there is a symphonic episode (Der Ruler in der Wüste), and we hear ” the voice of one crying in the wilderness ” in fierce and anguished tones. There is an apocalyptic finale where the choir sing Klopstock’s beautiful ode on the promise of the Resurrection :
“Aufersteh’n, ja, aufersteh’n wirsi du, mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh ! ”
The law is proclaimed with :
“Was entstanden is! dass mus vergehen, Was vergangen, auferstehen !”
Man lies in greatest misery; Man lies in greatest pain ;
And all the orchestra, the choirs, and the organ, join in the hymn of Eternal Life.
In the Third Symphony, known as Ein Sommermorgentraum (” A Summer Morning’s Dream “), the first and the last parts are for the orchestra alone ; the fourth part contains some of the best of Mahler’s music, and is an admirable setting of Nietzsche’s words :
“O Mensch! O Mensch! Gib Acht! fib Acht! Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?”‘
The fifth part is a gay and stirring chorus founded on a popular legend.
In the. Fourth Symphony in G major, the last part alone is sung, and is of an almost humorous character, being a sort of childish description of the joys of Paradise.
In spite of appearances, Mahler refuses to connect these choral symphonies with programme-music. Without doubt he is right, if he means that his music has its own value outside any sort of programme ; but there is no doubt that it is always the expression of a definite Stimmung, of a conscious mood ; and the fact is, whether he likes it or not, that Stimmung gives an interest to his music far beyond that of the music itself. His personality seems to me far more interesting than his art.
This is often the case with artists in Germany ; Hugo Wolf is another example of it. Mahler’s case is really rather curious. When one studies his works one feels convinced that he is one of those rare types in modern Germanyan egoist who feels with sincerity. Perhaps his emotions and his ideas do not succeed in expressing themselves in a really sincere and personal way ; for they reach us through a cloud of reminiscences and an atmosphere of classicism. I cannot help thinking that Mahler’s position as director of the Opera, and his consequent saturation in the music that his calling condemns him to study, is the cause of this. There is nothing more fatal to a creative spirit than too much reading, above all when it does not read of its own free will, but is forced to absorb an excessive amount of nourishment, the larger part of which is indigestible. In vain may Mahler try to defend the sanctuary of his mind ; it is violated by foreign ideas coming from all parts, and instead of being able to drive them away, his conscience, as conductor of the orchestra, obliges him to receive them and almost embrace them. With his feverish activity, and burdened as he is with heavy tasks, he works unceasingly and has no time to dream. Mahler will only be Mahler when he is able to leave his administrative work, shut up his scores, retire within himself, and wait patiently until he has become himself againif it is not too late.
His Fifth Symphony, which he conducted at Strasburg, convinced me, more than all his other works, of the urgent necessity of adopting this course. In this composition he has not allowed himself the use of the choruses, which were one of the chief attractions of his preceding symphonies. He wished to prove that he could write pure music, and to make his claim surer he refused to have any explanation of his composition published in the concert programme, as the other composers in the festival had done ; he wished it, therefore, to be judged from a strictly musical point of view. It was a dangerous ordeal for him.
Though I wished very much to admire the work of a composer whom I held in such esteem, I felt it did not come out very well from the test. To begin with, this symphony is excessively longit lasts an hour and a halfthough there is no apparent justification for its proportions. It aims at being colossal, and mainly achieves emptiness. The motifs are more than familiar. After a funeral march of commonplace character and boisterous movement, where Beethoven seems to be taking lessons from Mendelssohn, there comes a scherzo, or rather a Viennese waltz, where Chabrier gives old Bach a helping hand. The adagietto has a rather sweet sentimentality. The rondo at the end is presented rather like an idea of Franck’s, and is the best part of the composition ; it is carried out in a spirit of mad intoxication and a chorale rises up from it with crashing joy ; but the effect of the whole is lost in repetitions that choke it and make it heavy. Through all the work runs a mixture of pedantic stiffness and incoherence ; it moves along in a desultory way, and suffers from abrupt checks in the course of its development and from superfluous ideas that break in for no reason at all, with the result that the whole hangs fire.
Above all, I fear Mahler has been sadly hypnotised by ideas about powerideas that are getting to the head of all German artists to-day. He seems to have an undecided mind, and to combine sadness and irony with weakness and impatience, to be a Viennese musician striving after Wagnerian grandeur. No one expresses the grace of Landler and dainty waltzes and mournful reveries better than he ; and perhaps no one is nearer the secret of Schubert’s moving and voluptuous melancholy ; and it is Schubert he recalls at times, both in his good qualities and certain of his faults. But he wants to be Beethoven or Wagner. And he is wrong ; for he lacks their balance and gigantic force. One saw that only too well when he was conducting the Choral Symphony.
But whatever he may be, or whatever disappoint-ment he may have brought me at Strasburg, I will never allow myself to speak lightly or scoffingly of him. I am confident that a musician with so lofty an aim will one day create a work worthy of himself.
Richard Strauss is a complete contrast to Mahler. He has always the air of a heedless and discontented child. Tall and slim, rather elegant and supercilious, he seems to be of a more refined race than most other German artists of to-day. Scornful, blasé with success, and very exacting, his bearing towards other musicians has nothing of Mahler’s winning modesty. He is not less nervous than Mahler, and while he is conducting the orchestra he seems to indulge in a frenzied dance which follows the smallest details of his musicmusic that is as agitated as limpid water into which a stone has been flung. But he has a great advantage over Mahler ; he knows how to rest after his labours. Both excitable and sleepy by nature, his highly-strung nerves are counterbalanced by his indolence, and there is in the depths of him a Bavarian love of luxury. I am quite sure that when his hours of intense living are over, after he has spent an excessive amount of energy, he has hours when he is only partially alive. One then sees his eyes with a vague and sleepy look in them ; and he is like old Rameau, who used to walk about for hours as if he were an automaton, seeing nothing and thinking of nothing.
At Strasburg Strauss conducted his Sinfonia Domestica, whose programme seems boldly to defy reason, and even good taste. In the symphony he pictures himself with his wife and his boy (” Meiner lieben Frau und unserm Jungen gewidmet”). ” I do not see,” said Strauss, ” why I should not compose a symphony about myself ; I find myself quite as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander.” Some people have replied that everybody else might not share his interest. But I shall not use that argument ; it is quite possible for an artist of Strauss’s worth to keep us entertained. What grates upon me more is the way in which he speaks of himself, The disproportion between his subject and the means he has of expressing it is too strong. Above all, I do not like this display of the inner and secret self. There is a want of reticence in this Sinfonia Domestica. The fireside, the sitting-room, and the bedchamber, are open to all-comers. Is this the family feeling of Germany to-day ? I admit that the first time I heard the work it jarred upon me for purely moral reasons, in spite of the liking I have for its composer. But afterwards I altered my first opinion, and found the music admirable. Do you know the programme ?
The first part shows you three people : a man, a woman, and a child. The man is represented by three themes : a motif full of spirit and humour, a thoughtful motif, and a motif expressing eager and enthusiastic action. The woman has only two themes : one expressing caprice, and the other love and tenderness. The child has a single motif, which is quiet, innocent, and not very defined in character ; its real value is not shown until it is developed. . . . Which of the two parents is he like? The family sit round him and discuss him. ” He is just like his father ” (Ganz der Papa), say the aunts. ” He is the image of his mother ” (Ganz die Mama), say the uncles.
The second part of the symphony is a scherzo which represents the child at play ; there are terribly noisy games, games of Herculean gaiety, and you can hear the parents talking all over the house. How far we seem from Schumann’s good little children and their simple-hearted families ! At last the child is put to bed ; they rock him to sleep, and the clock strikes seven. Night comes. There are dreams and some uneasy sleep. Then a love scene. . . . The clock strikes seven in the morning. Everybody wakes up, and there is a merry discussion. We hear a double fugue in which the theme of the man and the theme of the woman contradict each other with exasperating and ludicrous obstinacy ; and the man has the last word. Finally there is the apotheosis of the child and family life.
Such a programme serves rather to lead the listener astray than to guide him. It spoils the idea of the work by emphasising its anecdotal and rather comic side. For without doubt the comic side is there, and Strauss has warned us in vain that he did not wish to make an amusing picture of married life, but to praise the sacredness of marriage and parenthood ; but he possesses such a strong vein of humour that it cannot help getting the better of him. There is nothing really grave or religious about the music, except when he is speaking of the child ; and then the rough merriment of the man grows gentle, and the irritating coquetry of the woman becomes exquisitely tender. Otherwise Strauss’s satire and love of jesting get the upper hand, and reach an almost epic gaiety and strength.
But one must forget this unwise programme, which borders on bad taste and at times on something even worse. When one has succeeded in forgetting it one discovers a well-proportioned symphony in four partsAllegro, Scherzo, Adagio, and Finale in fugue formand one of the finest works in contemporary music. It has the passionate exuberance of Strauss’s preceding symphony, Heldenleben, but it is superior in artistic construction ; one may even say that it is Strauss’s most perfect work since Tod and Verklarung (” Death and Transfiguration “), with a richness of colouring and technical skill that Tod and Verklärung did not possess. One is dazzled by the beauty of an orchestration which is light and pliant, and capable of expressing delicate shades of feeling ; and this struck me the more after the solid massiveness of Mahler’s orchestration, which is like heavy unleavened bread. With Strauss everything is full of life and sinew, and there is nothing wasted. Possibly the first setting-out of his themes has rather too schematic a character ; and perhaps the melodic utterance is rather restricted and not very lofty ; but it is very personal, and one finds it impossible to disassociate his personality from these vigorous themes that burn with youthful ardour, and cut the air like arrows, and twist them-selves in freakish arabesques. In the adagio depicting night, there is, though in very bad taste, much seriousness and reverie and stirring emotion. The fugue at the end is of astonishing sprightliness ; and is a mixture of colossal jesting and heroic pastoral poetry worthy of Beethoven, whose style it recalls in the breadth of its development. The final apotheosis is filled with life ; its joy makes the heart beat. The most extravagant harmonic effects and the most abominable discords are softened and almost disappear in the wonderful combination of timbres. It is the work of a strong and sensual artist, the true heir of the Wagner of the Meister-singer.
Upon the whole, these works make one see that, in spite of their apparent audacity, Strauss and Mahler are beginning to make a surreptitious retreat from their early standpoint, and are abandoning the symphony with a programme. Strauss’s last work will lose nothing by calling itself quite simply Sinfonia Domestica, without adding any further information. It is a true symphony ; and the same may be said of Mahler’s composition. But Strauss and Mahler are already reforming themselves, and are coming back to the model of the classic symphony.
But there are more important conclusions to be drawn from a hearing of this kind. The first is that Strauss’s talent is becoming more and more exceptional in the music of his country. With all his faults, which are considerable, Strauss stands alone in his warmth of imagination, in his unquenchable spontaneity and perpetual youth. And his know-ledge and his art are growing every day in the midst of other German art which is growing old. German music in general is showing some grave symptoms. I will not dwell on its neurasthenia, for it is passing through a crisis which will teach it wisdom ; but I fear, nevertheless, that this excessive nervous excitement will be followed by torpor. What is really disquieting is that, in spite of all the talent that still abounds, Germany is fast losing her chief musical endowments. Her melodic charm has nearly disappeared. One could search the music of Strauss, Mahler, or Hugo Wolf, without finding a melody of any real value, or of any true originality, outside its application to a text, or a literary idea, and its harmonic development. And besides that, German music is daily losing its intimate spirit ; there are still traces of this spirit in Wolf, thanks to his exceptionally unhappy life but there is very little of it in Mahler, in spite of all his efforts to concentrate his mind on himself ; and there is hardly any at all in Strauss, although he is the most interesting of the three composers. German musicians have no longer any depth.
I have said that I attribute this fact to the detestable influence of the theatre, to which nearly all these artists are attached as Kapellmeister, or directors of opera. To this they owe the melodramatic character of their music, even though it is on the surface onlymusic written for show, and aiming chiefly at effect.
More baneful even than the influence of the theatre is the influence of success. These musicians have nowadays too many facilities for having their music played. A work is played almost before it is finished, and the musician has no time to live with his work in solitude and silence. Besides this, the works of the chief German musicians are supported by tremendous booming of some kind or another : by their Musikfeste, by their critics, their press, and their ” Musical Guides ” (Musikführer), which are apologetic explanations of their works, scattered. abroad in millions to set the fashion for the sheep-like public. And with all this a musician grows soon contented with himself, and comes to believe any favourable opinion about his work. What a difference from Beethoven, who, all his life, was hammering out the same subjects, and putting his melodies on the anvil twenty times before they reached their final form. That is where Mahler is so lacking. His subjects are a rather vulgarised edition of some of Beethoven’s ideas in their unfinished state. But Mahler gets no further than the rough sketch.
And, lastly, I want to speak of the greatest danger of all that menaces music in Germany ; there is too much music in Germany. This is not a paradox. There is no worse misfortune for art than a super-abundance of it. The music is drowning the musicians. Festival succeeds festival : the day after the Strasburg festival there was to be a Bach festival at Eisenach ; and then, at the end of the week, a Beethoven festival at Bonn. Such a plethora of concerts, theatres, choral societies, and chamber-music societies, absorbs the whole life of the musician. When has he time to be alone to listen to the music that sings within him ? This senseless flood of music invades the sanctuaries of his soul, weakens its power, and destroys its sacred solitude and the treasures of its thought.
You must not think that this excess of music existed in the old days in Germany. In the time of the great classic masters, Germany had hardly any institutions for the giving of regular concerts, and choral performances were hardly known. In the Vienna of Mozart and Beethoven there was only a single association that gave concerts, and no Chorvereine at all, and it was the same with other towns in Germany. Does the wonderful spread of musical culture in Germany during the last century correspond with its artistic creation ? I do not think so ; and one feels the inequality between the two more every day.
Do you remember Goethe’s ballad of Der Zauberlehrling (L’Apprenti Sorcier) which Dukas so cleverly made into music ? There, in the absence of his master, an apprentice set working some magic spells, and so opened sluice-gates that no one could shut ; and the house was flooded.
This is what Germany has done. She has let loose a flood of music, and is about to be drowned in it.