History of Music – Later Composers And Performers

BEFORE summing up the remaining names of musical history, a brief retrospect over the present century may be in place. The first quarter of the nineteenth century was distinguished by two composers of the first order Beethoven and Schubert; and by a large number of highly gifted lesser artists, some of whom, such as Spohr and Weber, bid fair to remain long enrolled in the list of immortals. The second quarter of the century was made memorable by the rise and blossoming into full glory of the romantic school, all the works of this school (excepting a few of the earlier of Mendelssohn) having been produced during this period. Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin and the young Wagner were the active spirits of this time, and their productions not only enriched the store of the world’s tone poetry, but changed the general direction of musical ideals in many ways.

The great feature of the third quarter of the century was the conception and execution of the Wagnerian music-drama, with its wealth of sense incitation and its somber appeal to accumulated experiences of the race. The ” Ring of the Nieblungen ” was completed during this period and received its first performance at Bayreuth in 1876. During the same period Franz Liszt had conceived a modification of the symphony form, bringing its four movements into a single one, or uniting the different movements (if such there were) by means of motives common to all or several of them. In this way a certain novelty was attainable in the most important province of instrumental music; and while the new compositions generally acknowledged their indebtedness to external incitation by titles, such as: ” What One Sees from a Mountain,” the ” Battle of the Huns,” “Romeo and Juliette,” and the like, there was nothing to prevent them being in the fullest sense musical works, having a musical life as such wholly independent of the suggestion given by the title. Berlioz had been the founder of pro-gramme music, and his leading works had been produced during the second quarter of the century, but their full force was not recognized until later. It was a follower of Liszt, the brilliant Frenchman, Camille Saint-Saens, who stated the central thesis of the whole romantic school, when he said that a composer had the same right to affix a title to his work, in order to give a pleasing standpoint for judging it, as a painter liad to name his picture. And in the case of music, he added, as in that of painting, the real question finally was not whether the suggestion of the title had been fully satisfied, but whether the picture were good painting and the composition good music. If it were good music, no flaw in the title and no disagreement between the title and the work could impair its value and lasting quality.

When carefully scrutinized, the progress of music during the present century has been governed by certain leading principles which are not contradictory, although at first glance they might appear so. Since the time of the Netherlandish contrapuntists, the primary impulse in musical creation has been the musical ideal the creation of tonal fancies, novel, inspiring, musical, satisfactory. Out of this desire has arisen the entire fabric of fugue, sonata, symphony and the whole world of free music. And at every period there have been those also who sought to connect these tonal fancies with the inner life of the spirit — to awaken feeling, inspire imagination, deepen dramatic impression; in short, to give us in place of irresponsible tonal crystallizations a poetically conceived discourse, operative upon the feelings and stimulative to the entire mind. This was the ideal of the new movement in Italy at the-beginning of the seventeenth century, and opera has steadily worked along this ideal. Sebastian Bach had moments when he himself attempted the programme music; and Beethoven made many attempts of the same kind, some of which are significant and lasting. Hence the romantic impulse was not something new in the history of music, but the blossoming of buds from seeds planted long before. The programme music of Berlioz was simply larger and more flamboyant than the little exercises of Bach in the same direction. Wagner’s idea of bringing together the entire resources of musical, dramatic and scenic art into a single highly complex work was merely the idea of the unity of all the arts, upon which AEschylus worked two thousand years earlier, and upon which Jacopo Peri and Claudio Monteverde worked at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In short, the art of music, while in this century being enriched by a multitude of new creations representing a variety of subordinate ideals, is nevertheless still a unity, constantly becoming more elaborate and masterly upon the tonal side, and continually more and more in touch with the deeper springs of duration in art, the intuitively realized correspondence between certain art forms and modes of expression and human feeling.

The composers of the last quarter of the century are very numerous; indeed, so numerous that a catalogue even of their names would occupy too much space. Moreover, their proximity to our own times brings them too near for successfully estimating their places in the pantheon of art, or even for the much simpler task of deciding upon certain names which undoubtedly should occupy places in the list. For present purposes it will be more convenient to notice them by nationalities, since every racial stock has certain individualities and ideals which the national composers eventually bring into art, as we see brilliantly illustrated in the case of the Russians, both in music and in painting.

There are, however, certain names which stand out above all others and at the present writing appear destined for place among or very near the immortals of the first order. These great names are those of Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saens, Peter Iltitsch Tschaikowsky, Antonin Dvorak and Edvard Grieg.