Schola Cantorum

The Lamoureux Concerts had served their purpose, and, in their turn, their heroic mission came to an end. They had forced Wagner on Paris ; and Paris, as always, had overshot the mark, and could swear by no one but Wagner. French musicians were translating Gounod’s or Massenet’s ideas into Wagner’s style ; Parisian critics repeated Wagner’s theories at random, whether they under-stood them or not—generally when they did not understand them. A reaction was inevitable directly Paris was well saturated with Wagner ; and it came about in 1890, among a chosen few, some of whom had been, and were even still, under Wagner’s influence. It was at first only a mild re-action, and showed itself in a return to the classics of the past and to the great primitives in music.

There had been several attempts in this direction before, but none of them had succeeded in making any impression on the mass of the public. In 1843, Joseph Napoléon Ney, Prince of Moszkowa, founded in Paris a society for the performance of religious and classical vocal music. This society, which the Prince himself conducted in his own house, set itself to perform the vocal works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1853, Louis Niedermeyer founded in Paris an Ecole de musique religieuse et classique, which strove ” to form singers, organists, choirmasters, and composers of music, by the study of the classic works of the great masters of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.” This school, subsidised by the State, was a nursery for some real musicians. It reckoned among its pupils some noted composers, conductors, organists, and historians ; among others, M. Gabriel Fauré, M. André Messager, M. Eugene Gigout, and M. Henry Expert. M. Saint-Saëns was a professor there, and became its president. Nearly five hundred- organists, choir-masters, and professors of music of the Conservatoire and other French colleges were trained there. But this school, serious in intention, and a refuge for the classic spirit in the midst of the prevailing bad taste, did not trouble itself about influencing the public, and, in fact, almost ignored it.

Lamoureux attempted in 1873 to perform the great choral works of Bach and Händel ; and in 1878 the celebrated French organist, M. Alexandre Guilmant, ventured to give concerts at the Trocadéro for the organ and orchestra, which were devoted to religious music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But the deplorable acoustics of the concert-room had a prejudicial effect on the works that were performed there ; and the public did not respond very warmly to M. Guilmant’s efforts, and seemed from the first only to find an historical interest in the masterpieces, and to miss their depth and life altogether.

Then a pupil of Franck’s, M. Henry Expert, who began his admirable works on Musical History in 1882, laid the foundation of the Société J.-S. Bach, in order to spread the knowledge of ancient music written between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries. And he succeeded in interesting in his under-taking, not only the principal French musicians, such as César Franck, Saint-Saëns, and Gounod, but also foreigners, such as Hans von Bulow, Tschaikowski, Grieg, Sgambati, and Gevaert. Un-happily this society never got farther than arranging what it wanted to do, and only sketched out the plans that were realised later by Charles Bordes.

The general public were not really interested in the art of the old musicians until the Association des Chanteurs de Saint-Gervais was founded in 1892 by Charles Bordes, the choirmaster of the church of Saint-Gervais. The immediate success and the noisy renown of the Society were due to other things besides the talent of its conductor, who combined with a lively artistic intelligence both common-sense and energy and a remarkable gift for organisation—it was due partly to the help of favourable circumstances, partly to the surfeit of Wagnerism, of which I have just spoken, and partly to the birth of a new religious art, which had sprung up since the death of César Franck round the memory of that great musician.

It is not my intention here to write an appreciation of César Franck’s genius, but it is not possible to understand the musical movement in Paris of the last fifteen years if one does not take into account the importance of his teaching. The organ class at the Conservatoire, where in 1872 Franck succeeded his old master Benoist, was for a long time, as M. Vincent d’Indy says, ” the true centre for the study of Composition at the Conservatoire. Many of his fellow-workers could never bring themselves to look upon him as one of themselves, because he had the boldness to see in art something other than the means of earning a living. Indeed, César Franck was not of them ; and they made him feel this.” But the young students made no mistake about the matter, ” At this time,” M. d’Indy also tells us, ” that is to say from 1872 to 1876, the three courses of Advanced Musical Composition were given by three professors who were pot at all fitted for their work. One was Victor Massé, a composer of simple light operas and a man with no understanding of a symphony, who was very frequently ill and had to entrust his teaching to one of his pupils ; another was Henri Reber, an oldish musician with narrow and dogmatic ideas ; and the third was François Bazin, who was not capable of distinguishing in his pupil’s fugues a false answer from a true one, and whose highest title to glory is derived from a composition called Le Voyage en Chine. So it is not surprising that César Franck’s teaching, founded on that of Bach and Beethoven, but admitting, as well, imagination and all new and liberal ideas, did, at that time, draw to him all young minds that had lofty ambitions and that were really in love with their art. And so, quite unconsciously, the master attracted to himself all the sincere and artistic talent that was scattered about the different classes of the Conservatoire, as well as that of his outside pupils.”

Among those who received his direct teachings were Henri Duparc, Alexis de Castillon, Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Pierre de Bréville, Augusta Holmes, Louis de Serres, Charles Bordes, Guy Repartee, and Guillaume Lekeu. And if to these we add the pupils in the organ classes, who also came under his influence, we have, among others, Samuel Rousseau, Gabriel Pierné, Auguste Chapuis, Paul Vidai, and Georges Marty ; and also the virtuosi who were for some time intimate with him, such as Armand Parent and Eugène Ysaye, to whom Franck dedicated his violin sonata. And if one thinks, too, of the artists who, though not his pupils, felt his power—artists such as Gabriel Fauré, Alexandre Guilmant, Emmanuel Chabrier, and Paul Dukas—one may see that nearly the whole musical generation of Paris of that time took its inspiration from César Franck. And it was largely with the intention of perpetuating his teaching that his pupils, Charles Bordes and Vincent d’Indy, and his friend, Alexandre Guilmant, founded in 1894, four years after his death, the Schola Cantorum, which has kept his memory alive ever since.

“Our revered father, Franck,” said Vincent d’Indy, in a speech, ” is in some ways the grand-father of the Schola Cantorum ; for it is his system of teaching that we apply and try to carry on here.”‘

The influence of Franck was twofold : it was artistic and moral. On the one hand he was, if I may so put it, an admirable professor of musical architecture ; he founded a school of symphony and chamber-music such as France had never had before, which in certain directions was newer and more daring than that of the German symphony writers. And, on the other hand, he exercised by his own character a memorable influence over all those who came into contact with him. His pro-found faith, that fine, indulgent, and calm faith, shone round him like a glory. The Catholic party, who were awakening to new life in France just then, tried, after his death, to identify his ideals with their own. But this was, as we have said elsewhere, to narrow Franck’s mind ; for its great charm lay in its harmonious union of religion and liberty, which never limited its artistic sympathies to an exclusive ideal. The composer’s son, M. Georges César-Franck, has in vain protested against this monopoly of his father, and says :

” According to certain writers, who wish to reduce everything to a dead level and deduce all things from a single cause, César Franck was a mystic whose true domain was religious music. Nothing could be wider of the mark. The public is given to generalisations, and is too easily gulled. They will judge a composer on a single work, or a group of works, and class him once and for all. . . . In reality, my father was a man of all-round accomplishments. As a finished musician, he was master of every form of composition. He wrote both religious and secular music—melodies, dances, pastorales, oratorios, symphonic poems, symphonies, sonatas, trios, and operas. He did not confine his attention to any particular kind of work to the exclusion of other kinds ; he was able to express himself in any way he chose.”

But as what was really religious in him found itself in agreement with a current of thought that was rather. powerful at that time, it was inevitable that this one side of his genius should be first brought to light, and that religious music should be the first to benefit by his work. And also one of the early manifestos 2 of the Schola Cantorum dealt with the reform of sacred music by carrying it back to great ancient models ; and its first decision was as follows : ” Gregorian chant shall rest for all time the fountain-head and the base of the Church’s music, and shall constitute the only model by which it may be truly judged.” They added to this, however, music â la Palestrina, and any music that conformed to its principles or was inspired by its example. Such archaic ideas would certainly never create a new kind of religious music, but at least they have helped to restore the old art ; and they received their official consecration in the famous letter written by Pope Pius X on the Reform of Sacred Music.

The achievement of an artistic ideal so restricted as this would not have sufficed, however, to assure the success of the Schola Cantorum, nor establish its authority with a public that was, whatever people may say, only lukewarm in its religion, and that would only interest itself in the religious art of other days as it would in a passing fashion. But the spirit of curiosity and the meaning of modern life began to weigh little by little with the Schola’s principles. After singing Palestrinian and Gregorian chants at the Church of Saint-Gervais during Holy Week, they played Carissimi, Schütz, and the Italian and German masters of the seventeenth century. Then came Bach’s cantatas ; and their performance, given by M. Bordes in the Salle d’Harcourt, attracted large audiences and started the cult of this master in Paris. Then they sang Rameau and Gluck ; and, finally, all ancient music, sacred or secular, was approved. And so this little school, which had been consecrated to the cult of ancient religious music, and had made so modest a beginning,’ developed into a School of Art capable of satisfying modern wants ; and in 1900, when M. Vincent d’Indy became president of the Schola, it was decided to move the school into larger premises in the Rue Saint-Jacques.

The programme of this new school was explained by M. Vincent d’Indy in his Inauguration speech on 2 November, 1900, and showed how he based the foundations of musical teaching upon history.

” Art, in its journey across the ages, is a microcosm which has, like the world itself, successive stages of youth, maturity, and old age ; but it never dies—it renews itself perpetually. It is not like a perfect circle ; it is like a spiral, and in its growth is always mounting higher. I believe in making students follow the same path that art itself has followed, so that they shall undergo during their term of study the same transformations that music itself has undergone during the centuries. In this way they will come out much better armed for the difficulties of modern art, since they will have lived, so to speak, the life of art, and followed the natural and inevitable order of the forms that made up the different epochs of artistic development.”

M. d’Indy claims that this system may be applied as successfully to instrumentalists and singers as to future composers. ” For it is as profitable for them to know,” he says, ” how to sing a liturgic monody properly, or to be able to play a Corelli sonata in a suitable style, as it is for composers to study the structure of a motet or a suite.” M. d’Indy, moreover, obliged all students, without distinction, to attend the lectures on vocal music ; and, besides that, he instituted a special class to teach the conducting of orchestras—which was something quite new to France. His object, as he clearly said, was to give a new form to modern music by means of a knowledge of the music of the past.

On this subject he says :

” Where shall we find the quickening life that will give us fresh forms and formulas ? The source is not really difficult to discover. Do not let us seek it anywhere but in the decorative art of the plainsong singers, in the architectural art of the age of Palestrina, and in the expressive art of the great Italians of the seventeenth century. It is there, and there alone, that we shall find melodic craft, rhythmic cadences, and a harmonic magnificence that is really new—if our modern spirit can only learn how to absorb their nutritious essence. And so I prescribe for all pupils in the School the careful study of classic forms, because they alone are able to give the elements of a new life to our music, which will be founded on principles that are sane, solid, and trustworthy.”

This fine and intelligent eclecticism was likely to develop a critical spirit, but was rather less adapted to form original personalities. In any case, however, it was excellent discipline in the formation of musical taste ; and, in truth, the École Supérieure de musique of the Rue Saint-Jacques became a new Conservatoire, both more modern and more learned than the old Conservatoire, and freer, and yet less free, because more self-satisfied. The school developed very quickly. From having twenty-one pupils in 1896, it had three hundred and twenty in 1908. Eminent musicians and professors learned in the history and science of music taught there, and M. d’Indy himself took the Composition classes. And in its short career the Schola may already be credited with the training of young composers, such as MM. Roussel, Déodat de Séverac, Gustave Bret, Labey, Samazeuilh, R. de Castéra; Sérieyx, Alquier, Coindreau, Estienne, Le Flem, and Groz ; and to these may be added M. d’Indy’s private pupils, Witkowski, and one of the foremost of modern composers, Alberic Magnard.

Outside the influence that the School exercises by its teaching, its propaganda by means of concerts and publications is very active. From its foundation up to 1904 it had given two hundred performances in one hundred and thirty provincial towns ; more than one hundred and fifty concerts in Paris, of which fifty were of orchestral and choral music, sixty of organ music, and forty of chamber-music. These concerts have been well attended by enthusiastic and appreciative audiences, and have been a school for public taste. One does not look for perfect execution there, l but for intelligent interpretations and a thirst for a fuller knowledge of the great works of the past. They have revived Monteverde’s Orfeo and his Incoronazione di Poppea, which had been forgotten these three centuries ; and it was following an interest created by repeated performances of Rameau at the Schola that Dard anus was performed at Dijon under M. d’Indy’s direction, Castor et Pollux at Montpellier under M. Charles Bordes’ direction, and that in 1908 the Opera at Paris gave Hippolyte et Aricie. Branches of the Schola have been started at Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Avignon, Montpellier, Nancy, Epinal, Montluçon, Saint-Chamond, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. A publishing house has been associated with the School at Paris ; and from this we get Reviews, such as the Tribune de Saint-Gervais ; publications of old music, such as the Anthologie des maîtres religieux primitifs des XVe, XVIe, et XVIIe siècles, edited by Charles Bordes ; the Archives des maîtres de l’orgue des XVIe, XVIIe, et XVIIIe siècles, edited by Alexandre Guilmant and André Pirro ; the Concerts spirituels de la Schola, the new editions of Orfeo, and the Incoronazione di Poppea, edited by M. Vincent d’Indy ; and publications of modern music, such as the Collection du chant populaire, the Répertoire moderne de musique vocale et d’orgue, and, notably, the Edition mutuelle, published by the composers themselves, whose property it is.

And all this shows such a marvellous activity and gives evidence of such whole-hearted enthusiasm that I cannot bring myself to join issue with the critics who have lately attacked the Schola, though their attacks have been in some degree merited. Pettiness is to be found even in great artists, and imperfection in every human work ; and defects reveal themselves most clearly after a victory has been won. The Schola has not escaped the critical periods that accompany growth, through which every work must pass if it is to triumph and endure. Without doubt, the sudden illness and premature retirement of the founder of the work, M. Charles Bordes, deprived the Schola of one of its most active forces—a force that was perhaps necessary for .the school’s successful development. For this man had been the school’s life and soul, and retired, worn out by the heavy labours which he had borne alone during ten years.

But M. d’Indy, like a courageous apostle, has continued the direction of the Schola with a firm hand and unwearying care, despite his varied activities as composer, professor, and Kapellmeister ; and he is one of the surest and most reliable guides for a young school of French music. And if his mind is rather given to abstractions, and his moods are sometimes rather combative, and certain prejudices (which are not always musical ones) make him lean towards ideals of reason and immovable faith—and if at times his followers unconsciously distort his ideas, and try to dam the stream which flows from life itself, I am convinced it is only the passing evidence of a reaction, perhaps a natural one, against the exaggerations they have encountered, and that the Schola will always know how to avoid the rocks where revolutionaries of the past have run aground and become the conservatives of the morrow. I hope the Schola will never grow into the kind of aristocratic school that builds walls about itself, but will always open wide its doors and welcome every new force in music, even to such as have ideals opposed to its own. Its future renown and the well-being of French art can only thus be maintained.