ONE of the most fortunate personalities among modern composers was Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847), who was born in Berlin, the grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the famous Jewish philosopher. The father of Felix was a banker, and his mother a woman of a very sweet and amiable disposition. The children of Abraham Mendelssohn were baptized in the Christian faith in order to escape in some degree the prejudice against the Jewish race. Felix, having a strong inclination to music, at an early age made great progress in it. His first concert appearance was made at the age of ten, in which he played the piano part in a trio by Woelfl, and was very much applauded. As early as his twelfth year he began systematically to compose, and being naturally of methodical habits, which were still further encouraged by his father and mother, he kept an accurate record of his works, which at the last filled forty-four folio volumes, the most of the pieces being dated, and the place given where they were written. In the year 182o he composed between fifty and sixty movements, of almost every sort, songs, part songs, pieces for organ, piano, strings and orchestra, as well as a cantata, and a little comedy for voices and a piano. In the summer of 1820, the whole family made a tour of Switzerland, and a very large number of pieces were composed at this time. In this same year he made a more important concert appearance with Aloys Schmitt, in which he played with Schmitt a duet for two pianos. This continued exercise in composition was not entirely of an abstract nature, for the Mendelssohn family were accustomed to have reunions on Sunday evenings, when these pieces were played. For occasions like this he wrote several small operas, and his talent was encouraged in every way by his parents, and by his very judicious teacher, the celebrated Zelter. When he was scarcely more than twelve years old, Zelter had him play before Goethe, and a trio of the boy’s was also played, after which he was sent to play in the garden while his seniors discussed his prospects. Thus the boy grew up under the most favorable circumstances possible, his father being a wise and careful man, who, although not a musician, thoroughly sympathized with the artistic aims of his son; and his mother also encouraged him to more serious efforts. Even at this early age he was a prolific composer of orchestral music, the year 1824 being that of the composition of the symphony in C minor, now known as No. 1, but in Mendelssohn’s catalogue marked the thirteenth of his compositions. In this year Moscheles passed through Berlin on his way to London, and made the acquaintance of Mendelssohn. At the Sunday morning music in the Mendelssohn house, Moscheles recalls the performance of Felix’s C minor quartette, D major symphony, a concerto by Bach, played by Fanny, and a duet for two pianos. In the same year Spohr came to Berlin, and a little later Hiller, both of whom speak of Mendelssohn’s playing as something very remarkable. His celebrated octette for strings, Opus 20, was composed in 1825. This was the first of his works which has retained its popularity. The year following he composed the overture to ” The Midsummer Night’s Dream,” one of the most remarkable pieces of the early romantic school. In this the fairy-like music of Titania and her elves is charmingly contrasted with the folk songs and the absurb bray of the transformed Bottom. He had already written an opera “Camacho,” which had been submitted to Spontini, the musical director of Berlin, but it was never performed. He entered at the University and attended the lectures of Hegel and Carl Ritter, the geographer, but for mathematics he had no talent. Two folio volumes of notes of the lectures of Hegel and Ritter are preserved from the years 1827 and 1828. His overture to “The Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage” was written in 1828. In the year following he started on a long journey of three years, carefully planned by his father, in which all the countries of Europe were to have been visited successively, and observations made on civilization and society. His first appearance before an English audience was at a Philharmonic concert, May 25, 1828, when he conducted his symphony in C minor and improvised on the piano. He was received with the utmost applause. Five days later he played the Con-certstück of Von Weber, and, which was a great innovation at that time, with no music before him. His letters from London are very charming indeed. At a concert later, his overture to ” The Midsummer Night’s Dream” was performed with great success; this was the beginning of his English popularity, lasting all the rest of his life.
The first of his “Songs without Words” was published in 1830, having been originally composed for his sister Fanny. In this simple act he opened a new chapter of the literature for the piano. The form of the song with-out words had already been given in Field’s nocturnes, the first of which were published in 1816; but Mendelssohn, by giving it the title, “Song, without Words,” put the hearer in a different relation to the composition that of seeking to find in the work a poetic suggestion in addition to pleasing melody and finely modulated harmony. This, also, is extremely characteristic of the romantic epoch, in which music has its origin in poetry. He had already written a number of those charming capriccios, in which the piano is treated with light staccato changing chords, such as Von Weber had suggested nearly twenty years earlier in his “Moment Capriccio,” but which no writer brought to such perfection as Mendelssohn. These two styles of pianoforte writing the fairy-like scherzo, and the “Song without Words,” are Mendelssohn’s specialties, in which no other writer can be compared with him. He also wrote a number of concertos for piano and orchestra, and one for violin, in which these two elements are very strong features. Without having the effective passage work of Thalberg, Liszt or Chopin, or the bold originality of Schumann, Mendelssohn was an extremely original and pleasing pianoforte writer. During his life, especially in the later part of it, he was somewhat over-estimated; but at the present time, through the emergence of Schumann from the obscurity into which Mendelssohn’s reputation cast him, the works of Mendelssohn are often under-estimated. He opened a new chapter in tone-poetry, popularizing pianoforte sentiment.
The famous G minor concerto for the piano was first produced in Munich in 1831. In the same year he went to Paris, where many of his works were performed and others were composed. The next year he was in Lon-don again, when the Hebrides overture was produced and the first book of Songs without Words ” was published. He also played the organ at several of the churches, and excited general admiration by his vigorous style. He is said to have been the first to play a Bach pedal fugue in England, certainly the first to play any of the important ones. In 1833 he was settled at Düsseldorf, as musical director of the church and two associations. There he immediately instituted a reform in the music of the church, and in the character of the selections for con-cert. In the church there were masses by Beethoven and Cherubini, motettes by Palestrina, and cantatas by Bach. The next year his oratorio of ” St. Paul” was begun. In 1837 he was married to a very charming lady Miss Cecilia Jeanrenaud, daughter of a clergyman of the Reformed Church at Frankfort. Very soon after the wedding he was in London and Birmingham, where he conducted ” St. Paul” and commenced to prepare the libretto for his oratorio of “Elijah.” Among the Bach fugues which he played in London on the organ at this time were the D major, the G minor, the E major, the C minor and the short E minor. His pedal playing was very highly esteemed.
In 1835 he commenced to conduct the Gewandhaus concerts at Leipsic, and the celebrated conservatory there was founded in 1843. The first professors were Hauptmann, David, Schumann, Pohlenz and C. F. Becker. Ferdinand David (1810-1873) was the greatest master of the violin during the third quarter of the century.
Moritz Hauptmann (1792-1868), originally a violinist, was one of the most original theorists of this century. His greatest work, “Harmony and Meter,” was published in 1853. Soon afterward Moscheles became associated with them. The city of Leipsic remained his home during the remainder of his life. The founding of the conservatory may have been hastened by certain plans which Mendelssohn had endeavored three years before to get adopted in Berlin, where there was a project for founding a royal music school. upon a different basis from any at that time existing. From some change in the ministry, or temporary political disturbance, the plan fell through, but in Leipsic it was carried out. This famous school from that time forward, for nearly fifty years, exercised an influence greater than that of any other music school in the world. Among its graduates are a very large number of the most successful teachers and celebrated professional musicians. They had been drawn to Leipsic by the reputation given the conservatory by the possession of such masters as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Hauptmann, Moscheles, Plaidy, Dr. Paul, Becker, Brendel, Reinecke and others. After Mendelssohn’s death, indeed, the tradition of his ideas hampered the efficiency of the school to some extent, but very thorough work has always been done there. During his four years’ connection with the conservatory Mendelssohn conducted the Gewandhaus concerts and superintended the’ entire educational operations of the school. In addition to this he conducted a succession of important festivals in all parts of Europe, producing new works of his own, and the greatest works of the masters before him. He made a great reputation as concert pianist, playing his own concertos and those of Beethoven, as well as the Concertstück of Von Weber. Everywhere he improvised upon the organ or the piano, and through all the admiration which he received remained the same simple, unaffected, sincere artist that he was when a boy. His home life was very happy. In Ferdinand Hiller’s reminiscences many charming pictures of it are given.
The greatest of Mendelssohn’s works was ” Elijah,” which was produced at Birmingham, August 26, 1846. Staudigl, the famous baritone of Vienna, was Elijah. The work went extremely well at the first performance better, Mendelssohn says, than any former work of his. The continual anxiety of producing the hew work, the travel and the many responsibilities belonging to his position finally undermined his health, and at length, November 4, 1847, he died at Leipsic. It is doubtful whether any musician ever left a warmer or a more distinguished circle of friends than Mendelssohn. In all parts of the musical world his death was regarded as a calamity.
In “Elijah” and in the first part of “St. Paul” Mendelssohn made an addition to the world’s stock of oratorios scarcely second to any other works, excepting Händel’s ” Messiah.” ” Elijah,” in particular, had the advantage of an extremely dramatic and picturesque story, and a text well selected from the Scriptures. There are many moments in this work of rare and exquisite beauty. The choruses when contrapuntally developed, have themes somewhat too short, whereby the effect of the words is lost in the intermingling of voices coming in at later moments, but there are other parts of the work which are extremely beautiful. There is a lovely chorus, “He Watching over Israel,” in which the gentle Mendelssohnian melody is accompanied by soft triplets in the strings, whereby a most delightfully light and spirituelle effect is produced. Near the end of the work there is a very graphic recitative to the words, ” And One Cherub Cried to Another “; then a soprano voice with grand phrase sings ” Holy, Holy Is God, the Lord,” three other soprano voices joining in the last words. These are very lightly accompanied. Immediately thereupon, the entire chorus, orchestra and organ, with the utmost power, come in with the same melody, ” Holy, Holy Is God, the Lord.” This antiphon between the full chorus and the female quartette continues in varying style throughout the chorus, and the result is thrilling in the extreme. Extremely dramatic, also, is the great chorus “Thanks Be to God, for He Laveth the Thirsty Land.” There are many solo numbers in the work, all of them remark-able for the care with which the text is treated, and the clearness with which the musical utterance expresses the words. The famous tenor song, If with All Your Hearts Ye Truly Seek Him,” the alto song, ” Oh Rest in the Lord,” the angel trio, ” Lift Thine Eyes,” the great soprano song, ” Hear Ye Israel,” and the bass aria, It Is Enough,” and especially the prayer of Elijah, ” Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel,” are scarcely surpassed in the entire range of oratorio music. There is very remarkable instrumentation also in the scenes on Mt. Carmel, and especially at the series of choruses where ” God, the Lord, Passed By.”
During his life, Mendelssohn was very highly esteemed as a composer of orchestral music, symphonies and overtures. While his works in this department contain many beauties, and are carried out with elegant clearness of form, and with that refinement and taste which characterized everything which Mendelssohn did, they have not maintained their reputation at the high level where it formerly stood. It was Mendelssohn’s fortune to be one of the masters instrumental in introducing the romantic school; but upon principle and education he was classical in his taste and instincts, and while his works had a very important use in cultivating an appetite for novelty, whereby the other masters of the romantic school profited later, he went so short a distance in the new path that the march of events has since left him somewhat behind.
If it were asked to name the two masters most representative of the nineteenth century, one could scarcely go amiss, the names of Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner immediately occurring. Robert Schumann (1810 -1856), the son of a very intelligent book seller, was born at Zwickau, in Saxony, and was intended for the law. He received lessons in music at an early age, and his talent was unmistakable. When he was about eleven he accompanied a performance of Frederick Schneider’s ” Weltgericht.” At home, with the aid of some musical companions he got up performances of musical compositions, and had a small orchestra. He entered at the Leipsic University as a student of law, but devoted the most of his time to playing the piano, and to reading Jean Paul, for whom he had a great fondness. He immediately attached himself to the musical circles, entering himself as a pupil with Wieck, the father of his future wife. A year lated he transferred his attendance to the University of Heidelberg, attracted thither by the lectures of the famous teacher Thibaut, the same whose work upon the ”Purity of Musical Art,” had only recently been published. Here, as in Leipsic, his principal occupation was practicing upon the piano, which he did to the extent of six or seven hours a day. Not-withstanding his fondness for music, his mother was violently opposed to his entering the musical profession, and as his father was now dead, her wishes naturally had much weight. He had already commenced to write songs, quite a number of which belong to the year 183o, when he was living in Heidelberg.
He made a tour to the north of Italy, and heard the Italian musician Paganini, which fired him with so much ardor, that he immediately set himself to transcribe his Caprices for the piano, and to accomplish upon this instrument similar effects to those which Paganini produced upon the violin. At length, after much difficulty with his guardian and his mother, it was agreed that he might fit himself for a musician, so in 1830 he was back again in Leipsic studying diligently with Master Wieck. In his ardor for great results in a short time, he undertook some kind of mechanical discipline for the fourth finger of his right hand, the effect of which was that the tendons became overstrained, the finger crippled, and for a long time he was utterly unable to use it in piano playing. In composition he now entered upon regular instruction with Heinrich Dorn, at that time conductor of the opera in Leipsic. Dorn recognized the greatness of Schumann’s genius, and devoted himself with much interest to his improvement. In 1832 a symphony of his was produced in Zwickau, but apparently with little success, for the work was never heard of afterward. At this same concert Wieck’s daughter, Clara, who was then thirteen years of age, appeared as a pianist, and Zwickau, Schumann says, ” was fired with enthusiasm for the first time in its life.” Already he was very much interested in the promising girl, and expresses himself concerning her with much ardor. He seems to have been singularly slow in composition. At this time, 1833, he had written the first and third movements of the G minor sonata, had commenced the F minor sonata and completed the “Toccata,” which had been begun four years before. He also arranged the second set of Paganini’s caprices, Opus io. He found a faithful friend in Frau Voigt, a pianist of sense and ability. Schumann usually passed his evenings in a restaurant in company with his friends, after the German fashion, but while the others talked he usually remained silent. Frau Voigt told W. Taubert that one lovely summer evening after making music with Schumann, they both felt inclined to go upon the water. They sat side by side in the boat for an hour in silence. At parting Schumann pressed her hand and said, ” Good day, we have perfectly understood one another.”
The immediate result of the musical associations of Schumann, in Leipsic, was the project for a musical journal, devoted to progress and sincerity. In opera Rossini was then the ruling force. At the piano Herz and Hünten ; and musical jonrnalism was represented by the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, published by Breitkopf & Härtel, which praised almost everything, upon general principles. In 1834, the first number of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik saw the light. The editors were Robert Schumann, Friedrich Wieck, Ludwig Schunke and Julius Knorr. Schumann was the ruling power, and he proceeded to develop his literary faculty in a variety of forms. He writes under many pseudonyms, and has much to say about the ” David league against the Philistines,” a society existing in his imagination only. One of the famous early articles in this paper was that upon Chopin’s variation “La ci Darem,” greeting the work of the talented young Pole as a production of rare genius. Schumann himself thought so well of this article that he placed it at the beginning of his collected writings. It will be impossible within available limits to define the influence of this journal. During the ten years when Schumann was editor, many of the most important productions of the modern school first saw the light, and all come in for discussion, from a point of view at the same time sympathetic and intelligent.
As an example of the musical life at Leipsic in this time, Moscheles mentions an evening in 1835, when Mendelssohn conducted his first concert in the Gewand-haus; the day before this there had been a musical gathering at Wieck’s, at which both Mendelssohn and Schumann were present, perhaps the first time that these two great geniuses were brought together. The next day Mendelssohn, Schumann, Moscheles and Banck dined together, and the next day there was music at Wieck’s house Moscheles, Clara Wieck and L. Rakemann from Bremen, playing Bach’s D minor concerto for three pianos, Mendelssohn putting in the orchestral accompaniments on the fourth piano. With Mendelssohn he contracted quite an intimacy. In 1836 he found himself very much devoted to Clara Wieck, and in order to secure a more favorable opening for his career, resolved to transfer himself and the paper to Vienna, but after a year he returned again to Leipsic, and then the course of true love became more difficult, for Papa Wieck was resolutely opposed to the match ; but after some months his consent was given, and they were married in 184o. During this year he had an extraordinary activity as a song writer. The ” Woman’s Love and Life,” the ” Poet’s Love,” and various other cycles of song, were all produced under the stress of his happy prospects with Clara. It is not easy to ascertain the order of his compositions, since, as we have already seen, the sonatas and some of the other works appearing late in the list of opus numbers were composed very early.
The romantic tendency is the most marked of all of Schumann’s characteristics as a composer. He is above all others the composer of moods, His long pieces are invariably aggregates of shorter ones. The typical forms of Schumann’s thought are two, and two only, the Song and the Fantasia. He made diligent efforts to master counterpoint and fugue, and manly attempts in these provinces can be found among his writings; but counter-point and fugue remained to him a foreign language. The smoothness of Mendelssohn, the readiness of Bach, of Beethoven, or even Mozart, are impossible to him. On the other hand, when he follows his own inclination, he creates forms that are clear, concise and original. One scarcely knows which to admire more the graphic correspondence of the music with the suggestive title placed at the head, or the original style of the music itself, which is entirely unlike anything by any former composer. His Opus 2 is a set called Papillons, “Butterflies,” or “Scenes at a Ball,” consisting of twelve short movements in different style, without explanatory titles. Some are fantastic, others are sentimental, all original and striking. The eleventh number of this is a short but magnificent polonaise in D major, an extremely spirited and beautiful movement which has since been very popular. The transcriptions of the Paganini caprices were undertaken as studies for the composer himself in the direction of unexplored pianoforte effects, but Schumann had also the intention of providing in music new discipline for piano students. In my opinion the technical value of these works has not yet been realized, and it is quite possible that a later generation may esteem them more highly than the present. How-ever this may be, the practice of writing gave Schumann a greater freedom, the effect of which is seen upon the next set of pieces, the six Intermezzi. These, however, are vague and mystical, rather than clear. With the David’s League Dances ” the Schumann nature appears more plainly. The style is freer, and these new combinations are very charming, although they must undoubtedly have been fatal stumbling blocks to the fingers of a pianist trained in Dussek and Hünten. “The Carnival,” a series of fanciful scenes, belongs to an earlier period, having been composed’ in 1834 and 1835. The different numbers, of which there are twenty-one, are provided with explanatory titles, such as “Pierrot,” “Harlequin,” “Valse Noble,” “Eusebius,” ” Chopin,” etc. Of all the earlier works the Fantasy-Pieces, Opus 12, are the most successful. These eight pictures, “In the Evening,” ” Soaring,” ” Why,” ” Whims,” In the Night,” ” Fable,” “Dreams,” and ” The End of the Song,” or peroration, are extremely characteristic and beautiful, and it is not easy to assign the pre-eminence of one number over the others. Of the same general class, only upon a smaller scale, are the Scenes from Child-hood,” Opus 15, of which there are thirteen little pieces, each with an explanatory title, such as ” Playing Tag,” “Happy Enough,” “Dreams” (Traumerei). In this direction Schumann often composed at a later period of his life. There is the “Album for the Young,” Opus 68, containing forty-three short pieces, all with titles; the twenty “Album Leaves,” Opus 124, and the “Forest Scenes,” with titles like “The Entrance,” “The Hunter on the Lookout,” “Solitary Flowers,” “Prophetic Bird,” “Hunting Song,” etc.
Schumann’s greatness as a composer for the piano-forte, both from a technical and poetic standpoint, is shown in such works as the “Etudes Symphoniques,” the “Kreisleriana,” and the concerto in A minor. The first of these works is regarded by many as the most satisfactory of any of this author’s works. It consists of an air, nine variations and a finale which is in rondo form. The variations, however, are fantasies rather than variations, the theme itself appearing very little in any of them, and in some of them not at all. It would be impossible to find within the same compass a similar number of pages covering so wide a range of beautiful pianoforte effects, and highly suggestive and poetic music. In the fantasia in C, Schumann’s fancy takes on a more serious mood. He treats the piano with great freedom, requiring of the player a powerful touch and much refinement of tone-color, as well as a style of technique which he himself has largely created. The second movement of this, the march tempo, represents Schumann’s imagination in a forcible light in two directions its bold, strong moods, and its deeply subjective, meditative activity. The ” Kreisleriana ” consists of eight fantasies named after an old schoolmaster near Leipsic, noted for his eccentricities. This work was coldly received when first produced, but later has become very popular. The best movements are the first and second, but the entire work is strong. The concerto in A minor is by no means a show piece for the piano, but an extremely vigorous and poetic improvisation, in which the solo and orchestral instruments answer each other, and work together in a furor of inspiration.
The entire art of modern piano playing is indebted to Schumann for some of its most impressive elements. He was fond of playing with the dampers raised, and might well contest the honor with Liszt of having originated the modern style of pedal legato as distinguished from the finger legato of Chopin and all the early writers. He seems to have discovered the touch which Mason called elastic; that made by shutting the hand and at the same allowing the wrist to remain flexible. In quite a number of his pieces this effect is very marked, as the first number of “Kreisleriana,” the first of the ” Night Pieces,” and especially the fourth of these, where the chords are purposely spread beyond the octave, in order to necessitate their being struck with the finger and arm touch combined, in the same manner as that illustrated on a larger scale in the eleventh study of Chopin’s, Opus 10. Indeed, if one were to attempt to characterize the Schumann technique by some one of its more prominent features, the free use of the arm would be, perhaps, the one best representing the depth and sonority of tone required for these effects. But while Schumann demands broad, deep, elastic tone color for the stronger moments in hi? work, there is no other writer so desirous as he of the soft, full, mysterious tone representing what he was fond of calling Innigkeit (” inwardness “). There are many minor mannerisms which have been diligently cultivated by later composers, the most prominent among them being perhaps what might be called the accompaniment upon the off beat. In many of his works Schumann occupies the middle ground of the piano with soft chords which are felt rather than heard, and which always come in upon the half beat or the quarter beat, and rarely or never upon the full accented part of a measure. The differentiation of the melody from its harmonic and rhythmic background is accomplished by this great master in a beautiful manner. Take for instance, the romanze in F sharp, Opus 28, No. 2. The melody of the first strophe of this exquisite music might have been written for Church. It is a duet for baritones, the voices being represented by the thumbs of the player. Against this melody in quarter notes and eighths, there is an accompaniment in sixteenths, covering two octaves and a third, the entire effect being soft and distant. In the second strophe the soprano voice takes the melody, which is supported by rare harmonies and a lovely figuration in the alto. The third strophe brings back again the principal subject, and a splendid climax is made, after which an elaborate coda concludes the work. It is impossible to play this lovely piece with good effect without the Schumann technique. Played with the Mozart technique it would be simply insipid, and with a Beethoven technique it would still be dry and harsh. It is only by the combination of the arm touch for the melody, the very obscure, unobtrusive finger touch for the accompaniment, and the constant use of the pedal for promoting blending of tones, that the vague and poetic atmosphere of this piece can be realized.
Schumann might also be credited with the invention of a new style of composition, or of music thinking. The element of canonic imitation occurs in his works in wholly new form. A single phrase or motive is repeated through nearly an entire movement, in a thousand different forms, and transformations, so that the whole movement is made up from this single germ; and yet with such mastery of rhythm and of harmony as to conduct the thought to a powerful climax, without any impression of monotony interfering with it. One can hardly go amiss in the large works of Schumann for illustrations of this style of composition. Take, for example, the Novelette in B minor, Opus 99 ; the Novelette in E major, Opus 21, No. 7 ; the first of the “Kreisleriana,” and many other parts of the same work. This style I have elsewhere called the Thematic,” as distinguished from the ” Lyric,” in which a flowing melody is a distinctive trait. Beethoven, in a number of cases, employs a style of thought development somewhat similar, but the results accomplished are tamer than with Schumann. One of the most striking examples is found in the finale of the sonata in D minor, Opus 31, No. 2, and in the first movement of the sonata in C minor, Opus In, this point of view Schumann appears as the predecessor of Wagner, who almost certainly took his departure for thematic work from Schumann.
If it were not for these numerous, highly poetic and masterly compositions for pianoforte solo, and for the chamber pieces, the symphonies and other large works, Schumann would have been entitled to a very eminent place among composers by his songs alone. These are as different as possible from those of previous writers, excepting Schubert, and the voice itself is not always well considered in them ; but there are no other works in this department in which the poetic sentiment is so thoroughly reproduced in the music as Schumann has done it in his “Woman’s Love and Life,” and in “Poet’s Love,” and in many single songs of other sets, “The Spring Night” being a very marked example. If the future should chance to produce a race of poetic and intelligent singers, these songs will be found among the most effective which the whole literature of music can show. Some of them are already well and favorably known in all parts of the world.
The excellencies of Schumann as a song writer are only in part reproduced in his larger works in the form of cantatas, and in the opera of “Genoveva.” He was without the technique of chorus construction, and writes injudiciously for voices in mass. His instrumentation, although graphically conceived, is not cleverly worked out, in consequence of which we find in such works as the ” Pilgrimage of the Rose,” “Paradise and the Peri,” the Faust ” music, and the opera of “Genoveva,” some extremely brilliant suggestions and contrasts, and occasionally fine moments, intermingled with many others which fail for want of technical skill in the use of the performing material.
The same restriction may be applied to the orchestral and chamber works, in spite of the inherent force and beauty of the ideas they contain. In the symphony, for example, he writes badly for the violins, the very soul of the orchestra. The phrases are short, staccato notes abound, and scarcely in an entire score have the violinists the long sustained phrases, where the singing power of this beautiful instrument appears. The best of the chamber pieces are those in which the piano is the principal instrument, especially the great quintette. This is a master work of a very high order, and while the strings do not have the consideration that belongs to them, the pianoforte is treated with so much freedom and power as in a great measure to compensate for this lack.
Of the Schumann works as a whole the most striking characteristic is the spontaneous, improvstic effect. Every Schumann piece that is to say, every successful Schumann piece has the character of an improvisation, in which the power and fancy of the composer are as marked as his deep tenderness and sentiment, fine instinct for poetic effect and a delicate ear for tone-color. For this reason the popular appreciation of the Schumann works upon a large scale is only a question of an educated generation. There are many indications of progress in this direction on the part of musical amateurs the world over. In Schumann’s lifetime, and immediately after his death, the neglect of his compositions was extreme. Dr. Wm. Mason narrates that when he visited Leipsic in 1850, one of the first symphonies he heard was Schumann’s in B flat, the first composition of this writer he had ever heard. The beauty and force of the work took complete possession of him. A new world of tone was opened to him. He dreamed of the Schumann symphony all night, and at early morning went down to Breitkopf & Härtel’s to inquire whether this man Schumann had written anything for the piano. The salesman laid before him a few dusty compositions off the shelves. The young American asked, Is that all? ” More were produced. ” Is that all? ” he asked again, whereupon the salesman, discovering that he had a Schumann enthusiast to deal with, took advantage of the moment and in the cellar showed him whole editions of Schumann pianoforte pieces tied up in bundles, exactly as they had come from the printers. Liszt in some of his earlier concerts attempted to patronize the Schumann compositions. Their style, however, was so different from the sensationalism of his own pieces or the sentiment of Chopin, that the public failed to appreciate them, and the pianist dropped them. Nevertheless, there were reasons why Liszt ought to have played these works. The Schumann technique is not sensational, like that of Liszt, but it has with it one element in common, already referred to the pedal legato–and no pianist of that time was so well prepared to recognize and interpret this element as Liszt if he had realized his opportunity.
In person Schumann was of medium height, inclining to corpulency, with a very soft and gentle walk and a most invincible habit of silence. Old residents of Leipsic remember his visits to the rehearsals at the Gewandhaus, where for a whole evening he would sit with his hand-kerchief held over his mouth, never speaking a word to any one from the beginning to the end, and going away as silently as he came. Nevertheless, it was universally recognized that upon these occasions Schumann heartily enjoyed himself, and to use his own words again, he and the music “perfectly understood one another.” His mind was intensely active and fanciful. This is seen in all his pieces. The rapidity of the musical thought, the strong contrasts of mood, the proximity of remote chords and modulations, are all indications of this mental trait. It was this, also, which finally destroyed him. His mind became unbalanced, and after intermittent attacks of melancholy his life ended with two years’ almost entire oblivion of reason. In spite of his comparative unpopularity in his own day, no one of the romantic master’s has left so strong an impression upon the composers who came after him. In my opinion, the four great names which have been most operative in establishing forms of musical thought and in creating wholly original and highly poetic and masterly tone-poems by means of those forms, are Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Wagner, and each one of the earlier masters has in his work the prophecy of most of the qualities of those who come after, while each of the later reflects the characteristic traits of his predecessors.