Program note by Philip Hale for the Boston Symphony Orchestra performances by concertmaster Anton Witek (formerly concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic) conducted by Dr. Karl Muck, November 24 & 25, 1916.
CONCERTO IN D MAJOR, FOR VIOLIN, OP. 77 . . . JOHANNES BRAHMS
(Born at Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died at Vienna, April 3, 1897.)
This concerto was written, during summer and fall of 1878, at Pörtschach on Lake Wörther in Carinthia for Joseph Joachim, dedicated to him, and first played by him under the direction of the composer at a Gewandhaus concert, Leipsic, on January 1, 1879. The first performance in Boston was by Franz Kneisel at a concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on December 7, 1889, when Mr. Kneisel played a cadenza of his own composition. It has since then been played at these concerts by Messrs. Brodsky (November 28, 1891) and Kneisel (April 15, 1893, February 13, 1897, with a cadenza by Charles Martin Loeffler, and at the concert in memory of Governor Wolcott, December 29, 1900); by Miss MacCarthy, November 15, 1902, December 19, 1903; by Mr. Kreisler, March 11, 1905; by Mr. Heermann, November 25, 1905; by Mr. Wendling, October 26, 1907; by Mr. Berber, November 26, 1910; by Mr. Witek, January 20, 1912; by Mr. Flesch, April 3, 1914.
The orchestral part of this concerto is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, kettledrums, and strings.
Brahms, not confident of his ability to write with full intelligence for the solo violin, was aided greatly by Joachim, who, it appears from the correspondence between him and Brahms, gave advice inspired by his own opinions concerning the violinist’s art.
The concerto was originally in four movements. It contained a Scherzo which was thrown overboard. Max Kalbeck, the biographer of Brahms, thinks it highly probable that it found its way into the second pianoforte concerto. The Adagio was so thoroughly revised that it was practically new.
The violin part was sent to Joachim on August 22, 1878. There was talk of a rehearsal with the Hochschule Orchestra in Berlin in October; to produce it in Vienna; afterwards Joachim was to play it in other cities. Clara Schumann had already heard Joachim play a movement of the concerto in Hamburg, when the two and Brahms were attending a music festival. She wrote to Levi: “You can easily imagine that it is a concerto in which the orchestra and the solo player are wholly blended. The mood of the movement is very similar to that of the second symphony, and the tonality is the same, D major.” On December 13, 1878, Elisabet von Herzogenberg in a letter dated Leipsic asked Brahms if the violin concerto was really not completed. “We heard a wail to that effect from Utrecht, but refuse to believe it. It looks so unlike you to promise more than you can carry out; and you did promise us the concerto at Arnoldstein—dear old sleepy Arnoldstein, where we had so much time for counterpoint!” Brahms replied two days afterwards: “Joachim is coming here, and I should have a chance of trying the concerto through with him, and deciding for or against a public performance. If we do that, and are fairly satisfied with it, you can still hear it afterwards.” On December 21 he wrote: “I may say that Joachim is quite keen on playing the concerto, so it may come off after all. I am against having the symphony” (the one in C minor) “on the same evening, because the orchestra will be tired as it is, and I don’t know how difficult the concerto will prove. I expect to be in Berlin by the 28th to rehearse it on the piano with Joachim. . . . The concerto is in D major, which should be taken into consideration in arranging the programme.” Now Brahms had written in the fall that he hated to think of Joachim’s playing in Austria, while he “stood there doing nothing,” and the only alternative was to conduct. The middle movements had been discarded; “they were the best of course,” but he was inserting a “feeble Adagio.”
Herzogenberg wrote to Brahms that at Leipsic he would need only five first violin parts, five second, three violas, and eight basses, “or, if these are copied separately, five ‘celli and three double basses. . . . I am not going to bother about the keys; the concerto may be in G-sharp minor, for all I know!”
Was the delay in producing the concerto the fault of Brahms or of Joachim? Brahms did not send the new “beautifully written” manuscript of the voice part to Joachim until the middle of December. Joachim’s letters were, to quote Kalbeck’s characterization, strikingly stiff, cool, and forced. Was he vexed because Brahms was so long in sending him the manuscript; or was he disappointed in the music itself; or was he afraid lest Hugo Heermann might play it, for Brahms purposed to stop over at Frankfort on his way to Berlin. He complained, at any rate, of the “unaccustomed difficulties.” Even as late as April, 1879, when he had played the concerto in Leipsic, Vienna, Budapest, Cologne, and London, he wrote to Brahms concerning some changes in the score which the composer had accepted: “With these exceptions the piece, especially the first movement, pleases me more and more. The last two times I played without notes. That a solo composition has been performed in two London Philharmonic concerts in succession has happened in the history of the society only once, when Mendelssohn played his piano concerto in G minor (manuscript).”
The programme of the Gewandhaus concert in Leipsic on January 1, 1879, was as follows:—
Franz Lachner, overture from Suite No. 4; Mozart, Aria from “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (Mme. Marcella Sembrich); Brahms, Concerto for the violin (new, manuscript, led by the composer, played by Joseph Joachim); Chopin, Songs with pianoforte: Notturno, Mazurka (Mme. Sembrich); Bach, Chaconne (Joseph Joachim); Beethoven, Symphony No. 7.
Miss Florence May in her “Life of Johannes Brahms” quotes Dörffel:” Joachim played with a love and devotion which brought home to us in every bar the direct or indirect share he has had in the work. As to the reception, the first movement was too new to be distinctly appreciated by the audience, the second made considerable way, the last aroused great enthusiasm.” Miss May adds that the critic Bernsdorf was less unsympathetic than usual.
But Kalbeck, a still more enthusiastic worshipper of Brahms than Miss May, tells a different story. “The work was heard respectfully, but it did not awaken a bit of enthusiasm. It seemed that Joachim had not sufficiently studied the concerto or he was severely indisposed.” Brahms conducted in a state of evident excitement. A comic incident came near being disastrous. The composer stepped on the stage in gray street trousers, for on account of a visit he had been hindered in making a complete change of dress. Furthermore he forgot to fasten again the unbuttoned suspenders, so that in consequence of his lively directing his shirt showed between his trousers and waistcoat. “These laughter-provoking trifles were not calculated for elevation of mood.” When the concerto was played in Vienna at Joachim’s own concert on January 14, 1879, Hellmesberger conducted. Hanslick, whose admiration for the music of Brahms is well known, praised highly the workmanship of the concerto, but found the music shy in invention and fancy with half-set sails. He was the first who found a resemblance between the chief theme of the first Allegro and the beginning of the “Eroica.” The twelve-year-old Mozart in “Bastien and Bastienne” anticipated the two. Quoting Andreas Moser’s remark that Brahms demanded an intelligence and a sense of style that are not always found in the performances of the greatest virtuosos, Kalbeck relates the story of Brahms embracing and kissing the little Bronislaw Hubermann “whose genius for the violin had comprehended immediately the concerto with the fingers of his naturally trained hand.”
In spite of Leipsic Brahms soon recovered his spirits. He wrote to Elisabet von Herzogenberg from Vienna in January: “My concert tour was a real down-hill affair after Leipsic; no more pleasure in it. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, though, for friends and hospitality are not everything on a concert tour. In some trifling ways it was even more successful; the audiences were kinder and more alive. Joachim played my piece more beautifully with every rehearsal, too, and the cadenza went so magnificently at our concert here that the people clapped right on into my coda. But what is all that compared to the privilege of going home to Humboldtstrasse and being pulled to pieces by three womenkind—since you object to the word ‘females’?”
The composition is fairly orthodox in form. The three movements are separate, and the traditional tuttis, soli, cadenzas, etc., are pretty much as in the old-fashioned pieces of this kind; but in the first movement the long solo cadenza precedes the taking up of the first theme by the violin. The modernity is in the prevailing spirit and in the details. Furthermore, it is not a work for objective virtuoso display.
The first theme of the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, D major, 3-4, of a somewhat pastoral character, is proclaimed by violas, ‘cellos, bassoons, and horns; and the development is carried on by the full orchestra in harmony. In the course of the introduction this theme is pushed aside by other motives; and it first becomes again prominent through wood-wind and strings in the highly developed introductory cadenza of the solo violin. The free fantasia begins with an orchestral tutti in A minor, and for some time the orchestra carries it on alone; then the working-out is continued between orchestra and violin. In the coda, after the orchestral fury, Brahms has given opportunity for the violinist to introduce an unaccompanied cadenza. The second movement, Adagio, F major, 2-4, is in the nature of a serenade movement. It may be called a romanza. The chief song is played first by the oboe, which is accompanied by wind instruments; then it is played in changed form by the violin, which also plays a more emotional second theme, and ornaments it in the development. After frequent modulations in the development of the second theme there is a return to F major and the first theme, which is sung by the solo violin.
The Finale, a rondo in D major, 2-4, is built on three themes. There is brilliant work for the solo violin,—double-stopping, florid running passages, arpeggios, technical demands on the player.
It may be here added that Brahms had an intense admiration for Viotti’s violin concerto in A minor. He wrote from Pörtschach in May, 1878, that the people as a rule did not understand and did not respect “the very best compositions as Mozart’s pianoforte concerto in D minor and the violin concerto of Viotti,” alluded to above.
Mr. ANTON WITEK, violinist, was born at Saaz, Bohemia, January 7, 1872. He studied the violin under Anton Bennewitz at Prague, and in 1894 was chosen concertmaster of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Berlin. Mr. Witek commanded attention in Germany in 1895 by his performance in one evening of three violin concertos (by Beethoven, Brahms, and Paganini). Since 1894 he has given concerts in all the European countries with the Danish pianist, Vita Gerhardt, who is now Mrs. Witek. In 1903 Mr. and Mrs. Witek, with Mr. Joseph Malkin, who was then solo violoncellist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, formed the Berlin Philharmonic Trio. (Mr. Malkin became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in October, 1914.) In 1907 Mr. Witek played in Berlin the newly discovered violin concerto in A major of Mozart, for the first time, and in 1909 in the same city the newly discovered violin concerto in C major of Haydn, also for the first time.
Mr. Witek was engaged as concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1910. He has played in Boston at concerts of this orchestra the following concertos:—
Beethoven’s Concerto in D major, October 29, 1910; November 14, 1914; Brahms’s Concerto in D major, January 20, 1912; Bruch’s Concerto No. 2, Op. 44, January 18, 1913; Tschaikowsky’s Concerto in D major, Op. 35, January 24, 1914; Beethoven’s Concerto in D major, November 14, 1914; Joachim’s Concerto in the Hungarian manner, February 11, 1916.
He has given several chamber concerts in Boston, with Mrs. Witek and Mr. Malkin. Mr. Witek has also given chamber concerts in New York.
Riezler, Bruno. “Ein Geigerkönig.” Die Gegenwart. Wochenschrift für Literatur, Kunst und öffentliches Leben, (Berlin, Theophil Bolling, ed.) 54, no. 47 (November 26, 1898): 324-27.
Literatur und Kunst _______
Ein Geigerkönig Von Bruno Riezler.
Paganini, Spohr, Joachim sind die großen Meister der Violine — der italienische Wundermann, der classische deutsche Geiger und der Berliner Professor, der der Erste gewesen, der die Geigerei nicht um ihrer selbst Willen betrieben, sondern sie in den Dienst einer idealeren Sache, in den der Kunst, gestellt und damit seinen Beruf von einem handwerksmäßig körperlichen zu einem innerlich geistigen emporgehoben hat. Sehr schön hat sein Schüler Andreas Moser neuerdings sein Spiel zu schildern und analysiren versucht. “Der erste Factor ist das schönste Erbtheil von Felix Mendelssohn, der seinen jungen Schützling beim gemeinschaftlichen Musiciren stets darauf hingewiesen hatte, die alten Meister zu respectiren, keine Note in ihren Werken zu ändern, immer zuerst an die Musik und dann erst an sein Instrument zu denken, niemals um der bequemeren Spielbarkeit die Intentionen des Componisten zu opfern. Diese Lehren sind bei Joachim auf so fruchtbaren Boden gefallen, daß ihn schon als Jüngling sein Schönheitssinn und ein merkwürdig früh gereifter Geschmack davor bewahrt haben, Extravaganzen zu Gunsten unmittelbarer Wirkung zu begehen. Vielmehr war
er stets bestrebt, sich innig mit dem auszuführenden Kunstwerk vertraut zu machen , es in seiner ganzen Tiefe zu erfassen, um es, nachdem es durch das Medium seines künstlerischen Empfindens hindurch gegangen, in ganzer Reine und Schönheit vor dem Zuhörer wieder erstehen zu lassen. Das hat seinen Vorträgen die sprichwörtlich gewordene Vornehmheit und Vollendung, die abgeklärte Ruhe und poetische Weihe gegeben wie sie in gleichem Maaße bei keinem anderen ausübenden Tonkünstler vorkommen. Immer sehen wir den Blick des Meisters auf den geistigen Gehalt, die charakteristischen Merkmale, den Stil des Werkes gerichtet, das unter seinem Bogen zur Wiedergabe gelangt; niemals stellt er sein Ich zur Schau oder kokettirt mit Aeußerlichkeiten. Joachim ist ein so wenig zur Reflexion geneigter Künstler, daß ihm in dieser Hinsicht nur noch Anton Rubinstein an die Seite zu stellen ist. Wie dieser bei seinen Darbietungen hauptsächlih inneren Impulsen folgte, den Eingebungen des Augenblicks freien Zulaß gewährte, so sind auch die Kunstleistungen Joachim’s nur der Ausdruck tiefsten musikalischen Empfindens, das mit der eigentlichen Gehirnthätigkeit in so gut wie gar keinem Zusammenhange steht. Mit dem Unterschied freilich, daß Rubinstein sich manchmal von seinem Temperament zu Uebertreibungen fortreißen ließ, deren sich Joachim niemals schuldig macht. Eine wahrhaft ethische Kraft und ein idealer Schönheitssinn lassen ihn auch bei den leidenschaftlichsten Stellen die Linie niemals überschreiten, wo das Charakteristische aufhört, schön zu sein. Und endlich seine großartige Technik, an die man während seines Musicirens zunächst gar nicht denkt. Seine Darbietungen genießen sich so mühelos, daß sie stets in dem Zuhörer ein wohlthuendes Gefühl der Befriedigung hinterlassen. Wollen und Können sind bei ihm eins. Wie er unbeschränkter Herr ist über das Griffbrett und die raffinirtesten Schwierigkeiten spielend zu überwinden weiß, die die größten Virtuosen aller Zeiten ausgeflügelt haben, so verfügt er über eine Bogenführung, die an Unabhängigkeit und Geschmeidigkeit im wahrsten Sinne einzig ist. Ihr vor Allem verdankt er sein Ausdrucksvermögen und die modulationsfähige Tonangebung, die, bald hell, bald dunkel, verklärt und duftig, üppig und strahlend — je nachdem es der Augenblick erheischt —, uns den unerschöpflichen Farbenreichthum ahnen läßt, den er auf seiner Palette zur Verfügung hat.”
Dieser feinsinnige Beurtheiler hat nun seinem Lehrer und Meister ein schönes biographisches Denkmal *) gesetzt, auf das wir heute unsere Leser warm empfehlend hinweisen wollen. Er schildert darin mit liebevollem Verweilen den Werdegang des großen Künstlers als eine von den seltenen glücklichen Naturen, deren ganze Entwickelung von hellem Sonnenschein bestrahlt und erwärmt wurde. In seiner Jugend schon wurde er durch die Fürsorge verständnißvoller Verwandter vor den leidigen Existenzsorgen beschützt, — er der arme Judensprößling aus Kitsee bei Preßburg, das die deutschenfresserischen Ungarn in ihr für jeden gebildeten Mitteleuropäer unaussprechliches Halbtürkisch “Köpcseny” magyarisirt haben. Natürlich wird auch Joachim, der längst deutscher Staatsbürger ist, wie Liszt und Munkacsi (Lieb) von den Magyaren als eigenste Nationalgröße gefeiert, obwohl er kein Wort ungarisch versteht. Moser erzählt eine hübsche Anekdote: Nach den glänzenden Triumphen, die Joachim im Februar 1861 in Wien geerntet hatte, gab er auch einige Concerte in Pest, wo natürlich der Enthusiasmus, den er erregte, noch weit größer war: feierte man doch in ihm nicht nur den genialen Künstler sondern eben so sehr den berühmten Landsmann, auf den der “ungarische Globus” alle Ursache hatte, stolz zu sein. Bei einem Bankett, das die Studenten dem damals hannöverschen Concertdirector zu Ehren veranstalteten, verstieg sich einer der Redner im Ueberschwang hunnischer Begeisterung zu dem Ausspruch, es sei eine Schande für die Nation, daß einer ihrer größten Söhne in Diensten eines Staates stehen, der nicht einmal so groß sei wie manches ungarisches Comitat. Darauf erhob sich Joachim entschuldigte sich, daß er in deutscher Sprache antworten müsse, der das Ungarische inzwichen verlernt (?) habe, und gab dem Redner zu bedenken, daß es doch nicht gerechtfertigt wäre, von Deutschland so geringschätzig zu reden. Nirgend wo Anders habe man der ungarischen Literatur so warme Sympathien entgegengebracht wie gerade in Deutschland, und er selber habe Petöfi nur durch deutsche Übersetzungen kennen und lieben gelernt. Da er aber ein zu schlechter Redner sei, um seinen Dank für die dargebrachten Ovationen in Worte zu kleiden, wolle er der Versammlung lieber Etwas auf der Geige vortragen. Mit jubelnder Begeisterung begrüßten die Studenten den Vorschlag Joachim’s, der dem Primas der für das Bankett engagirten Zigeunercapelle die Geige aus der Hand genommen hatte, um seinen Worten die That folgen zu lassen. “Ich werde Ihnen einen deutschen Tanz vorspielen, von Bach,” rief er der Versammlung zu, indem er die Geige an’s Kinn setzte. Wie ein kaltes Sturzbad wirkte dieser Zuruf auf die Anwesenden, von denen die Meisten keine Ahnung von der Existenz des großen Thomascantors gehabt haben mochten. Sie waren vielmehr der Meinung gewesen, der von Joachim vorgetragene Tanz wäre von Bach, dem verhaßten österreichischen Polizeiminister unter dessen absolutistischem Regime das ungarische Volk zo lange geschmachtet hatte. Erst nachdem sie eines Besseren belehrt worden waren, erbrauste ein solches Eljen=Rufen durch den Saal, wie es Joachim nicht leicht wieder vernommen haben dürfte.
Aber auch Joachim’s späteres Künstlerwallen war ohne die sonst üblichen Dornen und Enttäuschungen. Doch geht Moser zu weit, wenn er behauptet, daß Joachim in seiner Laufbahn niemals einen Schritt gethan, den er hat rückgängig machen müssen. Man denke nur an seine Stellung zu Liszt und Wagner, deren begisterter Anhänger und Bewnderer er anfänglich war, bis er mit Johannes Brahms und anderen Freunden den berühmten Absagebrief schrieb, der wie Moser versichert, durch eine Indiscretion in die Oeffentlichkeit gelangte und die Unterzeichner ganz ohne Zweifel unsterblich — blamirte. Um wie viel würdiger und klüger war nicht Joachim’s Privatbrief an Liszt. “Ich bin Deiner Musik gänzlich unzugänglich; sie widerspricht Allem, was mein Fassungsvermögen aus dem Geist unserer Großen seit früher Jugend als Nahrung sog. Wäre es denkbar, daß mir je geraubt würde, daß ich je Dem entsagen müßt’, was ich als Musik empfinde, Deine Klänge würden mir nichets von der ungeheuren, vernichtenden Oede ausfüllen. Wie sollt’ ich mich da mit Denen zu gleichem Zweck verbrüdert fühlen, die unter dem Schild Deines Namens und in dem Glauben (ich rede von den Edlen unter ihnen), für die Gerechtigkeit der Zeitgenossen gegen die Thaten der Künstler einstehen zu müssen, die Verbreitung Deiner Werke mit allen Mitteln zu ihrer Lebensaufgabe machen? Vielmehr muß ich darauf gefaßt sein, mit dem, was ich mich bescheide für mich zu erstreben, immer mehr von ihnen abzuweichen, und das, was ich für gut erkannt, was ich für meine Aufgabe halte, auf eigene Verantwortung, wär’s noch so still, zu üben. Ich kann Euch kein Helfer sein und darf Dir gegenüber nicht länger den Anschein haben, die Sache, die Du mit Deinen Schülern vertrittst, sei die meine.” Das ist gewiß männlich und tapfer gesprochen. Wer zwischen den Zeilen zu lesen versteht, wird merken, welche Ueberwindung Joachim die Formulirung seiner Absage and Liszt gekostet hat. Man mag über den Inhalt des Briefes denken, wie man will — auch seine Nothwendigkeit ist von Manchen angezweifelt worden —, aber Niemand wird leugnen können, daß es die That eines ehrlichen Mannes war, der ein künstlerisches Glaubensbekenntniß ablegt und sein Verhalten vor
falschen Deutngen schützen will. Was die sonstige Schärfe dieses Briefes wesentlich mildert, das ist die wahrhaft rührend Art, mit der Joachim dem älteren Meister seinen Dank ausspricht für alles Andere, was er von ihm gelernt hat. Auch hier wieder unterscheidet er haarscharf zwischen dem Componisten Liszt und seinen übrigen verehrungswürdigen Eigenschaften. Das hat Liszt sehr wohl empfunden, und wenn ihm auch Joachim’s Absage wehe gethan, so hat er doch in seinem ganzen zukünftigen Verhalten ihm gegenüber stets das versöhnende, nicht das trennende Moment in den Vordergrund gestellt. Nicht so seine Anhänger, die diesen Brief als ein Attentat auf ihren Führer bezeichneten, das nicht ungesühnt bleiben durfte. In unglaublichem Durcheinander warf man die Sache Liszt’s mit der Wagner=Frage in einen Topf und behandelte Beide als voneinander unzertrennlich. Aus jener Zeit her datirt schon der unheilvolle Einfluß der “Wagnerianer”, die, mit Raff zu reden, der Sache ihres Meisters mehr geschadet als genützt haben. Das hat auch Joachim an sich selber erfahren. Vom Tage der ersten Aufführung des Lohengrin in Weimar an war er ein enthusiastiscer Verehrer Wagner’s gewesen, und die intime Bekanntschaft mit dem Tannhäuser konnte seinen Respect vor der gewaltigen Persönlichkeit des Meisters nur noch steigern. Schon fünf Wochen nach seiner Anstellung in Hannover, am 5. Februar 1853, dirigirte er zum ersten Mal die Tannhäuser=Ouverture in einem Symphonieconcerte der königlichen Capelle. Moser schildert überdies den großen Eindruck, den das Textbuch der Nibelungen auf Joachim gemacht hat. Die erste Einschränkung der großen Bewunderung für Wagner ist auf seine Bekanntschaft mit Weber’s “Euryanthe” zurückzuführen, die er erst in Hannover unter Marschner’s Direction kennen gelernt hatte und, was das Musikalische anlangt, weit über den Lohengrin stellte. Er war durch sie zu der Einsicht gekommen, daß Wagner mit seinem Lohengrin und Tannhäuser doch nicht so absolute Neuerungen vollbracht hatte, als er bisher angenommen, daß er vielmehr in Weber einen Vorgänger gefunden, dessen eminentes Vermögen, Personen und Situationen musikalisch=dramatish zu charakterisiren, nur insofern von Wagner übertroffen wurde, als dieser Alles dicker auftrug und unterstrich, was Weber’s feinerer musikalischer Sinn in maaßvollen Grenzen gehalten hatte. Die weitaus größere Abschwächung aber erfuhr sein Enthusismus durch die rücksichtslose Propaganda, die die “Wagnerianer” auf Kosten der Meister in’s Werk setzten, denen Joachim persönlich nahe gestanden hatte. Ueberdies witterte er Unheil in den Bestrebungen der Nachtreter Wagner’s, die sich anschickten, die Principien ihres Abgottes auch auf das Gebiet der reinen Instrumentalmusik zu übertragen, eine Absicht, die übrigens Wagner selbst auf das Scharfste mißbilligt hat. Von der ferneren Entwickelung unserer Musik hängt es ab, ob die Kunstgeschichte für oder gegen Joachim zeugen wird, meint Moser. Wir sind freilich der Ansicht, daß Joachim’s Widerwillen vor dem Componisten Liszt schon heute von allen wirklich Einsichtigen im Sinne Joachim’s nachgefühlt wird. Nur sein Urtheil über Wagner dürfte nicht ratificirt werden. Uebrigens gerieth Joachim noch einmal mit Wagner zusammen, als dieser im Hinblick auf ihn die Geiger als Dirigenten abfällig beurtheilte. Natürlich wird Joachim auch hierin von seinem Biographen energisch in Schutz genommen. “Ein flüchtiger Blick in die Musikgeschichte belehrt uns ohne Weiteres, daß es zu allen Zeiten Dirigenten — auch solche allerersten Ranges — gegeben hat, die von Haus aus Geiger waren. Es ist auch gar kein Grund, einzusehen, weßhalb gerade Geiger nicht im Stande sein sollten, sich ein Kunstwerk geistig so vorzustellen und innerlich zu verarbeiten, daß sie demselben an der Spitze von Chor und Orchester eine künstlerisch abgerundete Wiedergabe sichern können. So sind Spohr und Habeneck sicherlich Geiger gewesen, und doch fingt Wagner an mehr als einer Stelle in seinen Schriften deren begeistertes Lob als Orchesterleiter. Weitaus natürlicher ist es vielmehr, Musiker, die mit den Orchesterinstrumenten von Haus aus vertraut sind und die nöthigen Fähigkeiten zum Lesen und Verstehen von Partituren mit sich bringen, an das Dirigentenpult zu stellen, als Clavierspieler, die in der Regel keine Ahnung von dem complicirten Apparat des Orchesters haben. Und wenn auch in letzter Zeit mehrere Clavierspieler hervorragende Dirigenten geworden sind — wie beispielsweise Bülow einer der glänzendsten des Jahrhunderts –, so verdanken sie das nicht etwa ihren pianistischen Antecedentien, sondern besonderen Anlagen, mit denen sie von der Natur ausgestattet waren. Auf alle Fälle aber ist es besser, wenigstens ein Instrument – gleichviel welches — gründlich zu beherrschen, als, wie es bei Wagner der Fall war, keines!”
Der Enkomiast, denn ein solcher ist Moser, bespricht auch Joachim’s Thätigkeit als Director der Berliner Akademischen Hochschule für Musik. Es dürfte schwer fallen, für die hingebende Treue und gewissenhafte Pflichterfüllung, mit der Joachim vom Tage der Gründung bis auf die heutige Stunde dem Ausbau und der Entwickelung der Hochschule seine besten Kräfte gewidmet hat, ein auch nur annäherndes Beispiel an die Seite zu stellen. Nur der lauterste Idealismus und das freudige Bewußtsein, Gutes und Segenbringendes zu stiften, können die aufopfernde Mühewaltung erklären, die er an seine Schöpfung gewendet hat. Sie hat ihm in der Freiheit seiner Bewegung und der unbeschränkten Verwerthung seiner Zeit solche Fesseln auferlegt, daß selbst nahestehende Freunde und Kunstgenossen kein genügendes Verständniß dafür gewinnen können. Während andere Künstler den größten Theil ihrer Muße zu productivem Schaffen oder weit ausgedehnten Concertreisen benützten, die ihnen Ruhm und Geld in schwerer Menge eintragen, ist Joachim den größten Theil des Jahres an seine Stellung in Berlin gebunden und verwerthet bloß seine drei winterlichen Urlaubsmonate zu Concertzwecken. Von den berühmtesten Pädagogen des Violinspiels kann keiner auf eine solche Reihe trefflicher, zum Theil ausgezeichneter Schüler blicken, wie Joachim. “Wie er durch sein persönliches Wirken im Concertsaal vorbildlich geworden ist für jeden ausübenden Tonkünstler, der seinen Beruf von einem höheren, id(e)alen Standpunkt auffaßt, so hat er der Kunst des Violinspiels im verflossenen halben Jahrhundert geradezu den Stempel seiner Individualität aufgedrückt. Durch seine Schüler hat er überdies für einen Nachwuchs gesorgt, der seine Lehren bis tief in’s nächste Jahrhundert hinein weiter vererben und auch späteren Geschlechtern noch zum Bewußtsein bringen wird, daß sie seines Geistes einen Hauch verspürt haben”. Daß Moser seinen Meister auch als Componisten schätzt, ist begreiflich. Er überschätzt ihn geradezu, denn Bleibendes hat Joachim doch nur in der Violin=Literatur geleistet. Seine übrigen Compositionen sind auch immer rasch vorübergegangen. Immerhin hat Joachim mit seinen Variationen die Geiger mit einem Werke bedacht, das auch späteren Generationen noch erzählen wird, daß er nicht nur einer der größten ausübenden Tonkünstlre aller Zeiten, sondern auch einer der bedeutendsten componisten für sein Instrument gewesen ist.
Dagegen sind wir ganz einverstanden mit Moser, wenn er unseren Geigerkönig als Beethovenspieler und Quartettisten überaus hoch stellt. Zwar haben Vieuxtemps und David lange vor Joachim auch schon das Concert von Beethoven und andere classische Werke in der Oeffentlichkeit gespielt, aber sie machten es wie Liszt; auf den Vortrag eines gehaltvollen Werkes ließen sie ihre faden, aber blendenden Phantasien über beliebte Themen folgen, gleichsam als ob sie das Publicum um Verzeihung bitten wollten, daß sie es vorher mit ernster Musik behelligt hatten. Andererseits war ihnen bei der unausgesetzten Beschäftigung mit hohlem Virtuosenkram die ethische Kraft verkümmert worden, ein Kunstwerk in seiner ganzen Tiefe zu
Erfassen, und die Fähigkeit, es um seiner selbst willen in voller Reine darzustellen. Die schlichte Vornehmheit und geschlossene Einheitlichkeit, mit denen nun Joachim die Concerte von Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Spohr und Viotti, Sätze aus Bach’schen Werken für Violine allein, Sonaten von Tartini, die Schumann’sche Pahntasie u.s.w. zum Vortrag brachte, wirkten geradezu wie eine Offenbarung und führte den Zeitgenossen bisher unbekannte Begriffe von der Aufgabe eines ausübenden Tonkünstlers zu. Kein Wunder also, daß Joachim aller Orten glühende Verehrer hat. Wie groß z. B. die Bewunderung war, die Moltke seinem Geigenspiel entgegenbrachte, ist allbekannt. Der gewaltige Schlachtendenker hatte, wie Moser erzählt, eine besondere Vorliebe für getragene Sätze von mildem Ausdruck, die zu andachtsvoller Stimmung anregen. Hatte ihn Joachim durch den empfindungsvollen Vortrag eines langsamen Stückes erst einmal in eine solche versetzt, so wollte er den ganzen Abend hindurch nichts hören, was ihn aus seiner Beschaulichkeit herausgerissen hätte. Das Lieblingsstück des großen Strategen war der Mittelsatz des Bach’schen D-moll-Concertes für zwei Geigen.
Der Andrang zu den Quartettabenden, die Joachim vom Herbst 1869 ab in Berlin mit seinem Schüler Schiever als zweitem Geiger, de Ahna als Bratschisten und Wilhelm Müller, dem früheren Cellisten des jüngeren “Müller=Quartetts”, veranstaltete, war von vornherein ein so gewaltiger, daß sie lange Zeit unter dem Zeichen “Ausverkauft!” standen. Aber auch später blieb der Besuch dieser Concerte immer noch ein so glänzender, daß man sagen kann, kein zweites künstlerisches Unternehmen habe sich einer auch nur annähernd so hohen Gunst Seitens der musikliebenden Kreise Berlins zu erfreuen, wie das nunmehr seit dreißig Jahren bestehende Joachim=Quartett. Und wenn auch Joachim’s mitwirkende Genossen im Laufe dieser Zeit einige Male wechselten, so hat das die Qualität der Leistungen niemals beeinflußt. Der geniale Führer hat für den Ausscheidenden stets vollwerthigen Ersatz zu finden gewußt und den Neueintretenden in so kurzer Zeit mit dem künstlerischen Geiste vertraut gemachet, der von ihm ausgeht, daß auch Schwankungen im Ensemble selten oder kaum zu bemerken waren. “Was zunächst auffallen wird,” schreibt Moser, “ist das fein abgetönte Ensemble. Die vier Spieler verstehen einander so vollkommen, als ob ihre verschiedenen Functionen von einem gemeinsamen Willen ausgingen. Handelt es sich um accordische Harmoniefolgen wie beispielsweise im Thema der Variationen des D-moll-Quartetts von Schubert, so muß man erstaunen über die dynamische Gleichmäßigkeit, mit der sich die vier Stimmen zu einem Ganzen verschmelzen. Hat aber eines der Instrumente etwas Besonderes, im Vergleich zu den Uebrigen Wichtiges zu sagen, so ist es ebenso bewunderswürdig, wie sich die Anderen unterzuordnen wissen, der Hauptsache Platz machen, ohne in ein bedeutungsloses Säuflen oder Geflüster zu versinken.” Moser verweist auf die geschickte Art, mit der die vier Spieler sich gegenseitig die Pizzicati im ersten Satz des Beethoven’schen Quartetts, Op. 74, abnehmen und so vollständig die Illusion hervorrufen, als ob eine Harfe die Ausführung der dem Stück den Namen gebenden Stelle besorgte. Dann erinnert er an das Scherzo des Cis-moll-Quartetts, wo die vier Instrumente sich gegenseitig die kleinen Bruchstücke der dem Hautthema zu Grunde liegenden Begleitungsfigur zuwerfen, als ob ein Spieler das ganz allein bewerkstelligte; und dann, wie sie jedes Mal nach dem Ritardando ds Presto wieder einzuleiten wissen, ohne da der geringste Ruck zu spüren wäre! “In den schnellen Sätzen der Rasoumowsky=Quartette ist es wieder die rhythmische Präcision, mit der die schwierigen Taktverschiebungen und =Rückungen zu vollendet klarer Ausführung gelangen, die imponirend wirkt; und so ist des Bewunderswerthen hier kein Ende. Nach dem Gesagten leuchtet es ohne Weiteres ein, daß Joachim nicht etwa immer “die erste Geige” spielt und von seinen Partnern unterthänige Dienstverrichtungen fordert. Vielmehr gehen alle Vier so in dem vorzutragenden Kunstwerk auf, daß stets gerade das zur Geltung gelangt, worauf es ankommt.” Die Mission, die das Joachim’sche Quartett erfüllt hat und immer noch ausübt, gipfelt in zwei Punkten: in der Verbreitung des Verständnisses für die letzten Quartette Beethoven’s und in dem Eintreten für Brahms. Denn während noch vor dreißig Jahren es nur ein kleines Häuflein wr, das sich für späteren Beethoven interessirte, kann man nun sagen, daß, Dank der unermüdlichen Ausdauer und Hingabe Joachim’s, die Gemeinde welche für “die letzten Quartette” schwzärmt, eine recht stattliche goworden ist. Diese Wahrnehmung gilt nicht nur für Berlin und London, wo Joachim seine standigen Quartette hat, nucht nur innerhalb der Grenzen unseres Vaterlandes, sondern weit hinaus, bis in den fernsten Westen Amerikas. Ueberall, wo Joachim’sche Schüler leben, wird der Versuch gemachte, das Beispiel des Meisters nachzuahmen und in seinem Sinne weiterzuwirken. Aber nicht nur seine Unmittelbaren und seine Schüler im Geiste hat er in dieser Hinsicht beeinflußt, sondern gar viele andere Künstler, die mit Joachim in keinem anderen Zusammenhange stehen, als daß er ihnen für ihr eigenes Wirken zum Vorbild geworden ist. Der Ruhm des Joachim’schen Quartetts ist selbstverständlich nicht auf das Weichbild der Stadt Berlin beschränkt geblieben. IN der gesammten musikalischen Welt steht es in dem unbestrittenen Ansehen, daß seine Darbietungen den Höhepunkt dessen bezeichnen, was in der vollendeten Wiedergabe der Kammermusik überhaupt geleistet werden kann. Schließlich gedenkt Moser auch noch des musikalischen Handwerkzeugs, dessen sich das Joachim=Quartett in der Oeffentlichkeit bedient. Seit einer Reihe von Jahren schon spielen die vier Künstler nur auf Instrumenten, die von der Hand des größten Geigenbauers aller Zeiten, des Antonio Stradivari in Cremona (1644—
1737), angefertigt sind. Die Viola, auf der Meister Wirth spielt, gehört zwar nicht der Genossenschaft, der kunstsinnige Besitzer derselben, Herr Robert von Mendelssohn, stellt sie aber dem Quartett bei seinem öffentlichen Auftreten stets in munificenter Weise zur Verfügung. Der Werth der vier Instrumente, die sämmtlich allerersten Ranges sind und aus der Blüthezeit Stradivari’s stammen, repräsentirt das hübsche Sümmchen von rund einmalhunderttausend Mark!
Ueberblicken wir zum Schlusse nochmals Joachim’s künstlerischen Entwickelungsgang, so müssen wir seinem Biographen Recht geben, daß sich hier Alles harmonisch und stetig entwickelt, „wie ein breit angelegtes Crescendo, das schließlich in einen majestätischen Orgelpunkt aufgeht.“ Auch das Geschenk ewiger Jugend scheint ihm der gütige Genius in die Wiege gelegt zu haben. Frisch und munter kann er demnächst ein goldenes Jubiläum feiern: im Februar sind sechzig Jahre seit seinem ersten Auftreten in der Oeffentlichkeit verflossen. Möge er noch lange seines künstlerischen Priesteramtes walten!
*) Joseph Joachim. Ein Lebensbild. Berlin, B. Behr.
Thanks to David Brodbeck for calling my attention to this article. — RWE
In the language of their own age the greatest artists speak for all time; which is as much as to say that they do not speak merely for posterity, and that they may be as far beyond the comprehension of a later age as they were beyond that of their own. The works of Palestrina and Shakespeare (to take the most widely different examples) were greeted by their contemporaries with an intelligent sympathy of which hardly a trace appeared in posterity until comparatively recent times; and even in cases like that of Beethoven, where there seems to have been a century of steady progress in the understanding of his work, it is rather humiliating to reflect how much of our superiority over our ancestors is merely negative. Beethoven was surrounded by brilliant musicians who worked for their own time and had not a word to say to us. Our ancestors had to single Beethoven out from that dazzling crowd; but we have little more than vague ideas as to who was in the musical world a hundred years ago besides the venerable Haydn, then penning his last compositions, and Schubert, Weber, Cherubini, Spohr; in short, precisely those men who are too great and typical to be compared with each other. And in so far as we are thus incapable of realising what it was in these great artists that was too new for their contemporaries to understand, we lose a certain insight which their comparatively few intelligent supporters possessed in an eminent degree, and we fall into the error of greatly under-estimating the difficulty of classical art for ourselves. Indeed, an intelligent sympathy with great art is a privilege that is in all ages hardly won and easily lost. It is not the privilege of experts, nor even of remarkably clever people; it probably needs nothing beyond the sensibilities necessary for the enjoyment of the art, controlled by such clearness of mind as will save us from the unconscious error of setting ourselves above the greatest artists of the present in the past. It is astonishing how many disguises this error assumes; and it often has no more connection with conceit than bad logic has with fraud. The expert is always in danger of reasoning as if his fund of recent technical and aesthetic knowledge had raised his intellect to a higher plane than that of the great men of an earlier generation; the student is constantly mistaking the limitations of his own technique for laws of art, and doubting whether this or that in a great work is justifiable when he ought simply to realize that it is a thing he cannot possibly do himself; and (most insidious of all such confusions of thought) many persons of broad general culturre allow their own legitimate pleasure in a work of art to be spoilt by the consciousnes that there is so much that they do not understand; as if it were an insult to their intelligence to suppose that any work of art should be too great for them to grasp at once.
These very obvious considerations seem to be more neglected in the criticism of performances than in that of compositions; yet it would seem that the very great performer must be almost as far beyond his own age as the very great composer, with the disadvantage that his playing cannot survive him to meet with more justice from posterity. The object of the present sketch is to describe the permanent element in the life-work of one whom most persons of reasonably wide musical culture and knowledge believe to be probably the greatest interpreter of music the world has ever seen. It may seem a strained figure of speech to call the greatness of Joachim’s playing a permanent quality, except in the sense that it has more than stood the test of time as measured by his own career of over sixty years of unbroken triumph; but there can be no doubt that the influence of such playing on subsequent art, both creative and interpretive, must continue to be profound and vital long after the general public can trace it to its source in the personality of the great artist who originated it. The immortality for which the greatest artists work is a thing of fact rather than of fame. Bach wrote his two hundred odd cantatas, sparing no pains to make them as beautiful as only he could understand music to be; yet he not only knew that there was no prospect of their becoming known outside his own circle during his life-time, but he cannot even have a consoled himself with the hope of an immortality of fame for them afterwards; unless we are to suppose that he foresaw such a glaringly improbable thing as their publication by the Bach-Gesellschaft on the Centenary of his death! To such minds facts are facts even if the world forgets them, the artist aims at nothing but the perfection and growth of his art. He cheerfully uses it to earn an honest living, and nothing of human interest is too remote to be material for his art; but he remains undeterred by all that does not affect the matter in hand. The desire for fame, contemporary or posthumous, as an end in itself, can no more explain the cantatas of Bach or the playing of Joachim than the desire for wealth or popularity. All men desire these things, for ulterior purposes, and many great men attain them; but to an artist the actuality of artistic production will always override all considerations of what the world will say or do when the work is finished. In extreme cases the artist is even blameworthy in his indifference to the fate of his work, as when a great painter is heedless in the use of his colors that are not permanent.
Joachim’s unswerving devotion to the highest ideals of the interpretation of classical music is a striking illustration of this rigorous actuality in the true artist’s guiding principles. A composer must have more serious purpose than the normal man of talent if he persists in doing far more careful and copious work than practical purposes demand, while he is all the time convinced, as Bach must have been, that this work will never become known. And this is yet more obviously true of a player; even if it be happily the case, as it certainly is with Joachim, that his efforts have met with the warm gratitude of the public throughout the whole musical world. Indeed, Joachim’s success is as severe a test as his playing could possibly have had; for popular success cannot encourage an artist not absorbed in the realisation of pure artistic ideals to maintain his playing at a height of spiritual excellence far beyond the capacity of popular intelligence. At the present day it is as true as it always has been, that a student of music can measure his progress by the increase in his capacity to enjoy and learn from the performances of the Joachim Quartet: just as a scholar can measure his progress by his capacity to appreciate Milton. Here, then, we have work perfected for its own sake; work that must have been even so perfected if it had never been rewarded as it has been, or surely of all roads to popularity that which Joachim chose—the road of Bach and Brahms—was the most unpromising. The immortality of fact, not of name, is the only principle which will explain Joachim’s career; indeed, it is the only explanation of his popular success. , For, as it is sometimes pointed out with unnecessary emphasis, he has attained his threescore years and ten; so that it is absurd to suppose that his present popularity can still spring either from the novelty of scope, which was once the distinguishing feature of his as of other remarkable young players’ technique, or from that capacity for following the fashion which he never had and never wanted. It is the permanent and spiritual element that makes his playing as profoundly moving now as it was in his youth, and that would remain as evident to all that have ears to hear, even if what is sometimes said of his advancing age were ten times true. As a matter of fact, Joachim’s energy is that of many a strong man in his prime. I believe it cannot be generally known in England what an enormous amount of work he continues to do every day, apart from his concert-playing As the original director of the great musical Hoch-Schule in Berlin, he continues to fill out his working-day with teaching, conducting, administering, and examining; while his numerous concerts, which we in England are apt to regard as the chief, if not the only, demand on his energy, are given in the intervals of this colossal work of teaching by which he has become a maker of minds no less than of music. His concert season in England—those few weeks crowded with engagements that leave barely time to travel from town to town to fulfil them—is in one sense his holiday; and while there are no doubt plenty of young artists who would be very glad of a fixed position in a great musical Academy as a kind of base of operations for occasional concert tours, there are probably few who would not shrink from devoting themselves in old age to both these occupations as Joachim continues to devote himself at the present day. And his vigour seems, to those who have followed his work during the last eighteen months or so, to have increased afresh; certainly nothing can be less like the failing powers and narrowing sympathies of old age than his constant readiness to help young artists not only with advice and encouragement, but by infinite patience in taking part with them in their concerts. If all that he has done in such acts of generosity could be translated into musical compositions, the result would be like Bach’s “fünf Jahrgänge Kirchen-cantaten,” five works of art for every day in the year. In the presence of such an age it is the failings of youth that seem crabbed and unsympathetic. In boyhood the friend of Mendelssohn, whose wonderful piano-forte playing he can at this day describe to his friends as vividly as he can interpret Mendelssohn’s violin concerto to the world at large; in youth the friend of Schumann, to whom he introduced his younger friend, Brahms; throughout life the friend of Brahms, whom he influenced as profoundly as Brahms influenced him; and in middle age one of the very first and most energetic in obtaining a hearing for the works of Dvoràk: a man of such experience might rather be expected to become in the end a laudator temporis acti, with little heart to encourage the young. But Joachim was not born in 1881 that his experience might be useless to those who begin their work in the twentieth century: and there is no man living whose personal influence on all young artists who come into contact with him is more powerful or leaves the impression of a deeper sympathy.
It is not my intention to repeat here the glorious story of Joachim’s career; his leading part in the building up of practically the whole present wide-spread public familiarity with classical chamber-music, including that of Schumann and Brahms; the remarkable history of his early relations with Liszt and Wagner at Weimar, so will set forth in Herr Moser’s recent biography of Joachim, and so entirely different from the crude misunderstandings of the typical anti-Wagnerian; or even the list of illustrious pupils who prove that Joachim’s labour of love in the Hoch-Schule is not in vain. On the other hand, of Joachim the composer I have something to say, more especially as that is a capacity in which he has met with very scanty recognition; perhaps chiefly because his works are as few as they are beautiful, for music is not, like precious stones, famed in proportion to its rarity. Three concertos, five orchestral overtures (of which two are still unpublished, while the exquisitely humorous and fantastic Overture to a Comedy by Gozzi, though composed in 1856, has only just now appeared); these, with a moderately large volume of smaller pieces, such as the rich and thoughtful Variations for viola, and the later set for violin and orchestra, and several groups of pieces in lyric forms, are a body of work that is more likely to escape to preoccupied attention of the present age than that of the posterity that will judge of our art by its organization rather than by its tendencies. Perhaps we may hope for a more immediate recognition of the beauty of the newly published Overture to a Comedy by Gozzi; for its humour and lightness are a new revelation to the warmest admirers of Joachim’s compositions, while it is second to none in perfection of form.
But let us turn from this subject for a moment to consider what is the real attitude of the public with whom Joachim as an interpreter is so popular. It is absurd to suppose that the public can completely understand the greatest instrumental music; that there is not much in the works of the great classical composers that is at least so far puzzling to them that they would prefer a course or one-sided interpretation to such a complete realization of the composer’s meaning as Joachim gives. But fortunately the typical representative of the intelligent public is not the nervous and irritable man of culture who is always distressing himself because he cannot grasp the whole meaning of a great work of art. The inexpert, common-sense lover of music, who represents the best of the concert-going public, never supposed that he could. All that he demands is that on the whole he shall be able to enjoy his music, and, unless it is exceptionally unfamiliar to him, he can generally enjoy a great part of it almost as intelligently as a trained musician, and often far more keenly, since he is less likely to suffer from over-familiarity with those artistic devices that mean intense emotion in great art and mere technical convenience in ordinary work. No doubt, the ordinary inexpert listener often fails to understand what is it once great and specially new to him; otherwise Bach would have been recognised from the outset as a profoundly emotional and popular composer. And, on the other hand, without the experience of constantly hearing the finest music even an intelligent man may easily be deceived into admiring what is thoroughly bad: indeed, it is a common place of pessimistic critics to point out that the audience the crowds a great hall to hear Joachim has been known in the very same concert to encore songs of a character altogether beneath criticism. But we often over-rate the importance of such things. The public does not claim to be able to tell good from bad; it simply takes considerable trouble to enjoy what it can, being in that respect far more energetic and straightforward than many of those who would improve its taste. And if it often shows that it enjoys many things merely because it is not found out how horribly false they are, that is no proof whatever that its enjoyment of great art is spurious. No doubt it is sad to be victimised by false sentiment; but surely it is good to be stirred by true enthusiasm; and that the public can be so stirred without the smallest concession being made either to its ignorance or its sentimentality the whole of Joachim’s career triumphantly testifies. Since the time of Handel it is probable that no musician devoting himself exclusively to the most serious work in his art has approached Joachim’s record of a continuous popularity rising yet, after more than sixty years, to new triumphs that excite the wonder of many whose interest in music is of too recent growth for them to remember what enormous influence he has always had on his contemporaries and juniors, or to realise that many things now regarded as of quite a new and even anti-academic school owe their vitality to the tradition which he has established. Surely the public that has learnt so well to recognize and testify to the greatness of such a life deserves forgiveness for many temporary errors of taste. It is more important to love good art than never to be deceived by bad.
In the face of Joachim’s universal popularity, the accusations of “cold intellectuality” which of been every now and then directed against him by those whose ideal of art is the greatest astonishment of the greatest number, are not only signs of second-rate criticism but libels on the public. If there is one thing in which the public is almost infallible in the long run, it is in detecting a lack of warmth in work that claims to be serious and solid. No assault on the public’s feelings is too brutal (as Stevenson said of “Home, sweet Home!”), in other words, no sentiment is too false for popular success; but on the other hand no apathetic solidity is imposing enough to interest the public which suspects that it has not interested the artist himself. Indeed, the public is severe in its sensitiveness to the difference between things done as the direct result of an intimate knowledge and love of the work in hand and the very same things as done simply because So-and-so does them. But, on the other hand, it does not readily fall into the error of demanding that no two artists shall have the same “reading “of a composition. When a man of good sense without musical training troubles to think about “readings” at all, the idea that a “reading” is the worse for occurring to a dozen great artists in different generations is the last thing to enter his head. There is no reason why pupils should fail to become great artists because they have learnt all that they know of the interpretation of great music from such a man as Joachim; what art needs, and what the public has the sense to demand, is that they shall so play because they so understand and feel. It does not then always follow that the public will give such work its due; but it is certain that where the artist has not thus made his master’s knowledge and feeling his own, the public will not be deluded into believing that he has. Even the mere virtuoso must have some pleasure in his own virtuosity, or the public will have none. And it is probably sheer tenderness of conscience that causes the universal popularity a false settlement; no one feels comfortable in refusing to respond when his feelings are appealed to by those his claims he has no means of refuting, and this is precisely the position of the inexpert listener with regard to sentimental music.
Much has been written in praise and illustration of Joachim’s playing and that of his quartet; and from most points of view it has been so well and so recently described, both in England and abroad, that to say more here would be impertinent. One point of view has, however, been somewhat neglected. I am not aware that Joachim’s playing has been expressly reviewed as the playing of a composer; and I therefore proposed to devote the rest of the sketch to a few observations on the largest and best known of his works, the Hungarian Concerto, drawing some parallels between it and his playing, and thus illustrating how his sympathy with the great composers has come from a share in their creative experience.
The concerto is on an enormous scale; the first and last movements are, if I am not mistaken, the longest extant examples of well-constructed classical concerto form. And that the form is of classical perfection no one who has carefully studied the work can deny; indeed, so convincing and natural is the flow, and so are the contrasts, that the length of the work remains quite unsuspected by the attentive listener, and would probably never be discovered at all but for the necessity of sometimes timing the items of concert programmes. One may imagine that the composer who shows such colossal mastery of form, would see to it that his playing of classical music revealed the proportions of all that he played, and that he would never dream of “bringing out the beauty” of this or that passage by playing it as slowly as if it belonged to quite a different movement from that in which it occurs. This is, indeed, a tempting short cut to impressiveness of effect; in fact, many fine artists have spared no pains or thought in the search for fresh passages in classical music that can be so revealed to the public; and at all times there has been a definite school of criticism that regards such a method as the true way of artistic progress. It must also be candidly confessed that the higher criticism ruins its own cause when it accuses such artists of false sentiment or vulgarity, or anything more reprehensible than the failure to recognise how much of the greatness of art lies in proportion and design. A sense of form, such as is shown in the Hungarian Concerto, is almost the rarest thing in art, and is incomparably the highest of technical faculties. If Joachim had not been capable of composing a work thus worthy to take a place among the great classical concertos, he would not have been able as a player to found that great tradition of interpretation that has made the last quartets of Beethoven on the whole better understood by the musical public than Shakespeare is by the average reader. The tradition, once founded, can be nobly carried on by players who have no thoughts of composition; but to originate such a work requires an essentially creative mind. No amount of exploration from point to point, or loving care in the delivery of each phrase, no genius for breadth and dignity of musical declamation would ever have sufficed to make these works, so unfathomable in detail, grandly intelligible as wholes. And unless the whole is grasped, the details remain undiscovered.
Of course this grand quality of form is not directly recognisable by the public, either in compositions or in performances. It is a cause rather than an effect, and it is absolutely unattainable by mere imitation. Nor is a school-knowledge of the general facts of classical form equivalent to this true grasp of musical organisation, either in playing or in composition; for these general facts, just in so far as they are general, are accurately true of no one classical work. They are not the principles that make classical music what it is; they are the average phenomena that enable us to define and classify art-forms: and that kind of playing that carves the music joint byjoint, that treats a fugue as if nothing but the fugue-subject were fit for the public ear, and that always plays a specially beautiful phrase louder and slower than its context, —— such playing is as far removed from Joachim’s method of interpretation as the form of a bad degree-exercise is from that of the Hungarian Concerto.
There is nothing scholastic or inorganic in Joachim’s form; perhaps in the first movement one has a temporary impression of rather cautious symmetry of rhythm, just as one has with the first movement of Beethoven’s Concerto in C minor, a work that in formal technique and proportions is remarkably akin to Joachim’s and probably influenced it more powerfully than the entire absence of resemblances in external style and theme would suggest. But, like the Beethoven C minor, the Hungarian Concerto soon shows that it is not of such matter as can be cast in a merely academic mould. Though in both works the opening tutti, with its deliberate transition from first subject to second, is more like the beginning of a symphony than either Beethoven or Brahms allowed in the tuttis of their later concertos to be, yet the treatment of the solo instrument, its relation to the orchestra, and the grouping and development of the themes, are in both works as mature and highly organised as pollible, and as surely the work of a great composer in Joachim’s case as in Beethoven’s. The very outset of Joachim’s first solo, where the violin passes from the impressive first theme to allude to the tender sequel of the second subject, a phrase originally uttered in the major mode by the oboe in its poignant upper register, but now given in the minor mode with the solemn tones of the violin’s G-string; this is just such a freedom of form as only a true tone-poet can invent. Classical music is full of such things; ordinary formal analysis cannot explain them, since, as we have seen, it is concerned with averages, not with organic principles; and these passages have no external peculiarity to call the attention of the inexperienced to their significance. If there is much of this kind in classical music that is now of common knowledge, if it is possible to point out such things here, this is mainly due to the fact that the most influential musical interpreter of modern times can reveal the meaning of such traits because he has experienced them In his own creative work.
All that has been said here as to the form of the Hungarian Concerto and its analogy with the architectonic quality of Joachim’s playing may be repeated in different terms as to the more detailed aspects of the work. The score is so full of detail that it is very difficult to read; not that there is anything startlingly “modern” about it; those who would seek in it the “latest improvements of modern orchestration” are doomed to disappointment. For one thing, it was written within two years of Schumann’s death, eighteen years before the appearance of Brahms’ first symphony, and twenty years before Dvoràk came to his own (largely through the united efforts of Brahms and Joachim themselves). The only modern influence that could possibly affect a work in so classical a form at the date of this concerto was to be found in Brahms, to whom, in fact, the work is dedicated. But at that time Brahms was twenty-four and Joachim was twenty-six; and the history of the opening of Brahms’ B♭ sextet and many things in his first pianoforte concerto will bear witness that the influence was about equally strong on both sides. However, all such historical matters are beside the mark. Joachim, both as composer and player, is an immortal whose work is so truly for all time that it cannot be measured in terms of the present or any age. The Hungarian Concerto may perhaps seem, to some who put their trust in symphonic poems, almost as antiquated as Bach’s arias and recitatives seemed to most musicians in the ‘fifties just a century after Bach’s death; but a time always comes, even though centuries late, when it is recognised that in art all “effects” must have their causes no less than in logic and nature; and that the work in which the effects come from sufficient and deep-rooted causes has more vitality than that which depends merely on brilliant allusions to the latest artistic discoveries of its day.
When the time comes for the verdict of history as to the instrumental music of the last sixty years, Joachim will still be known as a purifying and ennobling influence of a power and extent unparalleled in the history of reproductive art; but I cannot believe that historians will ascribe this influence merely to the violinist; and they will see in the enormous wealth of a harmonious detail that crowds the score of the Hungarian Concerto that very completeness and justness that we know so well in his playing. When they admire the art with which the solo violin is made to penetrate the richest scoring with ease, they will understand, perhaps better than ourselves, that true balance of tone and perfection of ensemble with which the Joachim Quartet quietly and simply discloses all essential points without reducing the accompaniment to a dull, disorganised mumble. When they see the wonderful burst of florid figuration that accompanies the return of the theme of the slow movement, or the freedom and subtlety of its coda, they will hear what it was in Joachim’s playing that showed us the true depth of expression in Bach’s elaborately ornate melody, which our fathers thought so antiquated and rococo. And they will long to have heard Joachim’s violin-playing as we long to have heard Bach at his organ: not from curiosity to verify an old record of technical prowess, but from the desire to recover the unrecorded manifestations of a creative mind.
J.— Josef Joachim. Ein Lebens= und Künstlerbild. Festschrift zu seinem 60. Geburtstage, am 28. Juni 1891, von Dr. Adolph Kohut. Mit einem Bildniß Josef Joachim’s. Berlin, 1891, A Glas, Musikalienhandlung. Preis brosch. M. 1,20. — Das vorstehende Schriftchen, eine Huldigung für unsern größten Geiger, gehört zu den besseren Arbeiten des Verfassers. Hat es auch auf Selbständigkeit keinen Anspruch — denn die eigenen Zuthaten beschränken sich im Wesentlichen auf einige Zeitungsreferate, Briefe und Anekdoten — so schöpft es doch aus gute Quellen. Sehr ausgiebig benutzt der Autor Otto Gumprecht’s Joachim=Skizze aus den “Neuen musikalischen Charakterbildern” (Leipzig, Hässel, 1876). Auch Charles’ “Zeitgenössische Tondichter” und Wasielewski’s “Die Violine und ihre Meister” werden viel citirt. Den genannten Werken entnimmt Dr. Kohut auch die Urtheile über Joachim’s Künstlerschaft. Er thut wohl daran, den Leuten von Fach das Wort zu lassen; er ist selber doch kein Musikschriftsteller, auch wenn er noch so viel über Musik schreibt.
[…] We have all heard with feelings of great disappointment that Dr. Joachim is not to visit us this spring; and it is with far deeper feelings than disappointment that we learn that it is the state of his health that deters him. While we anxiously wait in the hope of learning that his appearance here is perhaps only delayed until the summer’s warmth and brightness bring him back to us in May or June, our duty to him, to ourselves, and to all whom we may influence is as plain as ever. We must try to realise what it is that we miss during this spring concert-season, and we must use that realisation as a touchstone by which to criticise other players and performances, not so much by revealing their shortcomings as by trying to find out how often and how far they have a share in that greatness which we call to memory. And when he returns to us after this delay we must welcome him with an admiration and sincerity so much the deeper as it is more definite; we must cease to be content with the vague and lofty phrases about “breadth” and “tradition” and “intellectuality,” and other beautiful but indefinite terms which we are so apt to join without sense of incongruity to such frigid and patronising encomiums as “masterly,” “well-nigh faultless,” &c. The gravest defect of our present-day musical criticism is surely the vagueness of our praise, a vagueness from which the lightest word of blame stands out with startling blackness, and makes whole columns of unimpressive superlatives read almost like sarcasm. Let us try to use this somewhat melancholy opportunity that is now open to us — the opportunity of searching our memories for an impression dim enough for us to analyse, while the dazzling reality that dims our vision and paralyses our utterance is absent.
That Dr. Joachim was in my mind last December when I tried to describe the ideal great veteran, has long ago been obvious to every reader. That being so, let us proceed to add further details to the portrait. One of the first questions that suggest themselves when we try to estimate the greatness of a player is: What is the range of his sympathies? Can he enter into the spirit of all the great music in which he can possibly take part; and if not, what are his limitations? In answering these questions we must bear in mind the important fact that it is one thing to live through the whole growth and rage of a stormy artistic controversy, and a very different thing to grow up in a period when that controversy has almost entirely died out. And when such a controversy lies very largely outside one’s one special sphere of activity, and when it is as clear as noon that during the height of the controversy to take the “progressive” side means utter distraction and ruin to one’s own work, while to continue aloof working on the old footing means a sure growth in mastery, sympathy and ideality with no less certainty of becoming quite as unpopular and beyond the ordinary intelligence of critics as the most violent partisans of the “new school;” why, then, this latter course is surely the only courageous and sensible one for a great artist to take. We surely do not regret that he has not thrown his energies into work which would only swamp them without gaining from them anything like what they will yield us if allowed to develope in their own way. Still less dare we imagine that he might have shewn broader sympathies by taking a course of vague compromise. An artist is not great if the discovery that certain tendencies are fatal to his work does not thoroughly estrange him from those tendencies; and he is not honest if, when asked his opinion, he does not boldly proclaim his estrangement.
These considerations should help us to understand that Dr. Joachim’s uncompromising repugnance to the art of Wagner is a matter for which apology would be an impertinence. Whether we hold with Wagner or not (I for my part write as a Wagnerian, if a sound appreciation of Brahms and older classics is not a disqualification), we cannot reflect on the mental and artistic wreckage caused by the rabid Wagnerianisms and Anti-Wagnerianisms of the past without deepening our reverence for the great violinist who, in the height of the storm and while yet at a time of life when violent enthusiasms are apt to hurry the mind away to lose itself in one or the other extreme of barren pedantry, boldly chose to concentrate his energies on a progress none the less rapid that it was not the progress of the Music Drama or the Latter-Day Programme Music. Let us sum up the problem (such as it is) of Dr. Joachim’s attitude to Wagner by stating once for all that those whose admiration for Wagner is inconsistent with a deep reverence for Dr. Joachim’s artistic aims and achievements are precisely as foolish as a man who professes a great insight into the highest forms of drama, while he sneers at the entire range of art covered by painting, sculpture and architecture.
Having brushed away this cobweb (which some people seem to take as quite a formidable obstacle), it is difficult to trump up anything else that one can regard as a limit to Dr. Joachim’s insight. True, I once heard an interesting young man charge him with being able to play “nothing but Bach, Beethoven and Brahms,” which at first seemed to me a compliment — though a very badly expressed one — and under that impression I elicited from him the admission that he had forgotten to mention Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, the old Italians, Spohr and a few other miscellaneous writers, after which I began dimly to realise that the interesting young man had meant to make strictures on Dr. Joachim’s range of expression, while the interesting young man began dimly to realise that he had made a fool of himself. The reader will probably ask in wonder: “Why quote such foolish opinions? Are they not so insignificant that to notice them at all is like a confession of weakness?” It would be so if our object in writing and reading this article were to compliment and apologise for Dr. Joachim — but it is devoutly to be hoped that no musical person in the civilised world is so impudently stupid as to conceive any such idea. Our object is simply to bring before ourselves some dim notion of the actual differences between a great artist and the ordinary run of experts, amateurs, and Philistines, and for this purpose it is really important to meet the tomfooleries of “the man in the street,” with something more definite and more argumentative than the bare assertion : “You, an ordinary man, are talking nonsense about a great man.” The best compliment we can pay the great man is to shew that we differ from more foolish members of the crowd in our appreciation of his work — not merely in the orthodoxy of our catch-words.
The range of Dr. Joachim’s power as an interpreter is (when we give the matter a moment’s thought) obviously co-extensive with all that is called “classical” music together with the so-called “Romantic” schools of Germany, and the “neo-classical” work of Brahms — a range of art which we may challenge any actor or opera singer to represent in their respective spheres. And there is not one single thing within that vast range which Dr. Joachim does not make his own; nor one single point in which his sympathies are not in full touch with the most exhaustive musical scholarship. As it is grievously disappointing that the title of an article should contain the word “personality” while the article itself contains not one word of gossip, I beg leave to illustrate the last observation by certain details of Dr. Joachim’s intellectual and artistic feats as shewn casually in private. These details have been communicated to me by a friend in whose veracity I have absolute confidence, but whose name I, unfortunately, am not at liberty to divulge. I am told that on one occasion Brahms copied out an interesting movement from a very early manuscript symphony of Haydn and sent it to Dr. Joachim as being some thing he could not possibly know—only to find that Dr. Joachim had known it before him. Again, my friend informs me that on his asking Dr. Joachim whether Brahms’ B flat major concerto was not the only one on classical lines that contained a scherzo, Dr. Joachim replied : “Of course — oh, I forgot! I think there is one by Litolff.” Many other little anecdotes of this kind may be vouched for; trivial, you will say, in themselves, but so thoroughly exhausting the whole ground of instrumental and choral music, and pointing to such absolute accuracy and certainty that from them alone we might form a picture of wide and deep musical scholarship in its highest form.
To turn now to the more important factor of quick sympathetic insight. My friend mentioned above furnished me with another piece of gossip which, perhaps, may not at once strike the reader as being so astonishing as it really is. Not long ago Dr. Joachim was playing in private a manuscript violin sonata with its composer, an ambitious student who wrote a handwriting which was an object of scorn and wrath to all who tried to read it. Neither the obscurities of the manuscript nor those of the composition seemed to have the slightest effect on Dr. Joachim, who, according to the account the composer afterwards gave, brought out every nuance, written or unwritten, exactly as it had been in the composer’s mind at the time of writing, including minute felicities of interpretation felt while the work was being planned, but forgotten as soon as it was written. To complete the picture, it appears that Dr. Joachim began his criticism by saying that “of course one hearing was not enough for such a difficult work” — not in any sarcastic spirit, for that seems almost unknown and completely unnatural to him, but in simple good faith as a piece of scientific caution! In order to appreciate this story we must bear in mind that students’ compositions and other dull works are not, as is sometimes supposed, easier to interpret than great classics. On the contrary, dull and ambitious works are vastly more difficult than the most complex of classics, because the dull work is always vague, partly in intention and partly in execution, producing irrelevant complexities by methods at once inadequate and redundant, whereas the complexity of a great classic, though often far more alarming, is the logical outcome of many consistent and supremely simple and intelligible principles, and long before it is unravelled wins the sympathy of the interpreter and gives his activities the right direction. The intellectual feat just described is by far the greatest tour de force I have ever read or heard of any player; and if ever a time comes when names may be revealed my readers will find that it is one of the best authenticated.
Some people will remember another extraordinary feat of intellectual sympathy publicly performed by Dr. Joachim in London a good many years ago. He was playing a violin sonata (I believe I am correct in saying that it was a work he did not like) by an extremely successful composer — who was playing the pianoforte part himself. The extremely successful composer came to the most beautiful theme in his work, really a very happily turned phrase. He threw it off carelessly as one might say “a poor thing, sir, but mine own.” Dr. Joachim took it up and it sounded as it might to the imagination of its composer in the first thrill of creative impulse. Some people have argued that the composer showed a charming modesty in playing it superficially himself. He showed nothing of the kind. The man who does not take himself and his work seriously must be either very conceited or in the lowest depths of despair. When we accuse a man of “taking himself too seriously” we mean that he expects others to take him more seriously than he or they take the rest of mankind: and our inaccurate language sometimes saddles us with the awful responsibility of having caused clever young people to sink into permanent nincompoopery because they have taken our shallow advice seriously and ceased to take themselves so. If the modest artist ever says “a poor thing, sir, but mine own,” there is much weight in the “but.” “A poor thing, sir, to you: but half the world to me when I found it was mine.” The modesty lies in cheerfully assuming that half one’s own world is a drop in the ocean of a great man’s thoughts. The great man never fails to take everything as seriously as it can be taken, jokes included. That is to say, if it is seasonable for him to make a joke he will simply and straightforwardly make the best joke in the world, just as a good athlete will simply and straightforwardly play the best possible game. To hear and see Dr. Joachim over a Haydn quartet is a lesson which should drive the superciliousness and precosity out of the most hardened of prigs, old or young. Haydn’s numberless jokes and drolleries tumble out helter-skelter with the absolute spontaneity and grace one sees in a kitten running after its tail; while throughout the most light-hearted tomfoolery one is carried away by the grand spirit and life of Haydn’s immensely broad and terse melodic and structural organisation. There is no tone of patronising acknowledgment that “old Papa Haydn” is “wonderfully clever for the time in which he lived”; if one wants a parallel for such a hideously inartistic attitude, those who have the happiness of knowing what it means to be a good athlete may realise some sort of parallel by trying to imagine their resentment if their fellow-players played frivolously during an exciting match.
Dr. Joachim’s treatment of Haydn is altogether in line with his treatment of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, and everything else that he has to do, from teaching to making a speech. While playing Haydn’s most extravagant frolics with precisely that simple thoroughness with which Haydn wrote them, it is no effort to Dr. Joachim to go with Haydn in his sudden plunges into the sublime and mysterious; nor is it an unexpected change for him to turn from the last note of the Haydn quartet to Beethoven’s quartet in A minor — one of the two or three most profound and mysteriously emotional utterances in all art. The epigrammatic and thoughtful genius of Schumann has influenced him with the influence of a personal friend, and would have influenced him hardly the less if, like the influence of Haydn and Beethoven, it had been merely that of works and not direct and mutual from man to man. The mutual influence between him and Brahms is now no less historic, and it is deeply thrilling to note that it has been the mutual influence of two composers. The subject of Dr. Joachim’s compositions is a large one, and I hazard the guess that its importance will grow as the century proceeds. At present we are too much occupied with the latest fashions of musical cleverness to appreciate the real originality and power of a scanty collection of works whose brilliance is not that of the clever young man, and whose intellectual difficulty is not that of the latest application of Wagnerian Leit-Motif to the symphony; but when time shews the difference between the clever and the great men of the present day, then the nobility of style and firmness of aim which characterize Dr. Joachim’s works will reveal their vitality and secure them their place among the works of the last classical period in musical history. Those who are curious for further details as to Dr. Joachim’s influence on Brahms cannot do better than read Herr Andreas Moser’s deeply interesting work “Joseph Joachim Ein Lebensbild” (Berlin, 1898), wherein will also be found an account of his relations with Wagner and Liszt, which cannot fail to inspire the most violent and one-sided enthusiasts to a deeper respect, or rather reverence, for both Dr. Joachim and Liszt. One word more, suggested by the above work, which was prepared for Dr. Joachim’s “Diamond Jubilee” in Berlin. We still have in its freshness the recollection of that little ceremony performed at the London Philharmonic, when Dr. Joachim was presented with a golden wreath and congratulatory speeches were made; and many felt compelled to regret that the inevitable references to Dr. Joachim’s increasing age were not tinged with something more of a note of triumph. Critics who detect a slight increase in frequency of slips of intonation which show that the great violinist is a man and not a machine, have been known to assign this increase (doubtless a fact, but not an important one) to “failing powers.” Such critics have absolutely no business to exist, and are mentioned here merely because they mistake a dignified silence for a respectful fear of their opinions. Dr. Joachim retains to the full his unsurpassable power of presenting great musical compositions as wholes, and preserving the vitality and purport of their every detail in the light of the vividly presented whole. His tone can be overpowered only by coarse playing on the part of others; it remains absolutely pure and clear in pianissimos so light that the ordinary player’s pianissimos sound elephantine in comparison; and in fortissimos there is neither strain nor thinness. It is absolutely impossible to detect any sign of obscurity or uncertainty in his execution of such monstrously difficult works as Bach’s C major solo violin sonata, or his own splendid Hungarian Concerto. And no one has ever dreamt of hinting that there is any diminution in that unrivalled intellectual vigour which he has used for more than sixty years in the service of Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms. No note of sadness, then, in speaking of his age! Rather let us remind ourselves of the triumphant philosophy of Browning’s “Rabbi ben Ezra” and let the thought of Dr. Joachim’s age only make us long to have been born to “grow old along with him” — to have heard with our own ears his whole life-work in the art of music, and now to have reached with him that “best which is yet to be” —
“The last of life for which the first was made”
The generalities of the two former articles make it possible for us now to enter into more definite details as to the qualities that make a performance at once faithful, individual, and great; and I propose, accordingly, to attempt a very cursory description of a few scattered salient points in Dr. Joachim’s playing. To those who have read my former articles such points will, I hope, seem to arrange themselves into their places in the great whole I have attempted faintly to illustrate; while for those who have not read the former articles, these points may at least help to stimulate thought.
The keystone to Dr. Joachim’s interpretation is, as we have already been led to believe, his grasp and presentation of musical compositions as wholes. To illustrate this directly would necessitate an exhaustive aesthetic analysis of some complete composition; and such an analysis would cover more than twice the bulk of the present three articles before it was finished in sufficient detail for comparison with the main features of an “ideal” (or real) rendering of the work. I propose, instead, to take a few typical cases of the great player’s treatment of one of his main means of expression, showing how he appreciates the essential aesthetic principles it involves. After that I shall conclude with a description of Dr. Joachim’s playing of a difficult episode in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.
Let us consider Rhythm. Everybody feels that rhythm must not be expressed stiffly and mechanically; but few except very great players know how to make their rhythm free without making it weak and vague. These are platitudes; but their weakness as such arises mainly from our taking for granted that we know exactly what we mean by “stiff and mechanical rhythm.” We usually take it to mean rhythm that is mathematically exact, or that fits in with the tick of a metronome. If we try a few experiments in the way of doing what so few people have the remotest notion of doing, viz., listening accurately to our own or another’s unfinished playing, we shall probably find that the rhythm which strikes us as “stiff” is really very inaccurate indeed. And a moment’s reflection ought to convince us that, however infallible a metronome may be as to the position of the beats to which it is set, it has absolutely no control over what happens between the beats. Practising with metronome may be very good for an instrumental student, if it is not regarded as relieving one of responsibility for listening to one’s own rhythm; but in nine cases out of ten it simply means that one sinks into a blissful feeling of industry, and a coincidence of every fourth note with a tick of the metronome. Meanwhile one is playing a scale like this (if the printer will kindly so space the notes that the imaginative reader may take the gaps and commas as representing the facts of the rhythm so played): —
Every group begins on the beat, but no group properly fills out the beat. If the reader will accept a dogmatic statement which time and space prevent me from supporting by logical evidence, I will sum up all I need to say on this point by saying that “stiff rhythm” is always smaller than its own main beats; — infinitesimally so, of course, or all “stiff” players would discover and correct it at once. The reader must not imagine that these and the following observations will enable every player with a feeble rhythm to become great and vigorous by learning to drag.
Take an ordinary “intelligent” musician, of the kind that thinks Mozart an interesting but superseded precursor of Beethoven, and make him play you the following theme from the Andante of Mozart’s C major sonata for four hands: —
In a tolerably good case it is just possible that all the beats may be equal to one another ; but it is far more likely that the third beat in the first bar will come too soon; and if the demisemiquavers in that beat do not arrive with some touch of haste after the dotted notes, and if they do not descend with a prosaic little click that should indicate a more rapid movement than the player’s own tempo warrants, and if the final turn does not sound a little like an irrelevant remark in six grace notes without rhythmic ictus and without connexion from the long note before them: if none of these petty slovenlinesses occur, why then either your player is a remarkable man and you wrong him in taking him for the ordinary intelligent musician, or at least he is a wide awake person who listens to his own playing. In any case I believe that few who have not habitually thought of rhythm in this way or listened systematically to their playing and practising, will fail to be struck by the unexpected largeness of the above theme if they play it at an almost too flowing Andantetempo (about = 116) and carefully put not only the main beats into their places but also the demisemiquavers.
If “stiff rhythm” is smaller than its own beats, then true artistic rhythm must be at least equal to its own beats. But as true artistic rhythm is as rare as any other true art, it follows that to us, who are so much more accustomed to stiff rhythm, and therefore take it as normal, true artistic rhythm always seems unexpectedly large for its pace. Taking players of real rhythmic power, it is astonishing to notice how, when they follow Dr. Joachim’s reading of a work (as players of real greatness and personality may well submit to do), they are forced to play actually slower than he does in order to produce an analogous impression of breadth and detail. If they tried to play at his pace their expression would become breathless and coarse. Among those who do not play much it is firmly and widely believed that Dr. Joachim’s tempi are unusually slow; because few people are sufficiently cool during his playing to observe such prosaic facts as the contrast between the actual rapid pace, and the breadth and detail of expression. But those who have had the thrilling experience of accompanying him have testified that while he can play extraordinarily slowly without losing swing and coherence, his quicker tempi are really unusually fast. Obviously a lively movement gains immensely in directness and vigour of expression, if while played with this extraordinary breadth it is also really very rapid, so that its changes and climaxes surprise one, no less by their swift onrush than by their strength and dignity; and obviously the player who cannot attain the breadth without losing the rapidity must be far inferior to the greatest in those most essential qualities of vividness and thrill, — but surely it is equally obvious that a player so limited is immensely superior to the man who attains rapidity and brilliance at the cost of breadth.
This largeness of rhythm must be looked for in the interpretation of all classical music however small or light-hearted it may seem. The giving of full measure is a primary quality in all great art, both productive and reproductive, and in all great personality. The finale of Haydn’s quartet in E flat, Op. 64, No.6: —
both shows it and demands it in performance, and exposes the littleness of a little player’s personality as mercilessly as does the finale of Beethoven’s A minor quartet.
So far we have been assuming no more than if true artistic rhythm were mathematically exact. The question will be eagerly asked, “Where does it diverge from strict time?” From the above considerations it might at first seem as if true rhythm could differ from exact rhythm only in being larger than its main beats; but this is obviously an unsatisfactory answer, because if some part of the rhythm is to be larger the remainder must clearly be smaller, so that the distinction we have made so much of between true and stiff rhythm would become valueless or at all events extremely difficult.
One part of the probable solution is that here another rhythmic principle is involved, viz., accent. Where true rhythm is free it expresses in accent all that it obscures in proportion (or quantity, as a student of prosody would say), and vice versa. There is an enormous amount of accent in Dr. Joachim’s playing; but we are not too much aware of it because, as with the length of the smallest notes, so with the least accented notes, full measure is given. But the amount of accent that there is normally on the beats is a thing that few realise who have not either accompanied him or screwed themselves up (or, rather, down) to listen to him with a prosaic and statistical mind. The passage in the first movement of Brahms’ B flat string quartet beginning —
and ending —
is played by Dr. Joachim and his Berlin colleagues with the utmost smoothness and in an intense pianissimo; yet the accents, unimaginably delicate and unobtrusive as they are, are so strong that after all that rhythmic swing, there is no mistaking the fact that the tied notes at the end are on the sixth, and not the first beat of the bar. I have met with a friend who detected this from the Berlin quartet’s performance before he saw the score.
What with accent and breadth, we may say, as before, that true rhythm always expresses the main rhythmic facts, without slurring over the less salient features. For instance, if there is a cross accent, true rhythm will show that it is not an ordinary accent; the ordinary accent will be felt in some way, while the cross accent is unmistakeably overriding it. Or if there is a phrase the point of which lies in its being rhythmically and expressively broader than its surroundings, true rhythm may make it larger than the main beats of its context, without making the context sound perfunctory, and without anything resembling a change of tempo such as the composer could indicate by a verbal instruction.
Of course the danger always is that ordinary imitators will find out “how these things are done,” and reproduce them in a stiff and coarse travesty. Herr Wirth, in the Berlin quartet, plays a certain group in the second variation of the finale of Beethoven’s E flat quartet, Op.74, thus (if the printer and reader will again take spacing as a representation of those rhythmic subtleties that transcend notation)—
Every note is large, but the pause on the upper D is quite extraordinary in length; yet the passage does not, in Herr Wirth’s hands, suggest another rhythm than Beethoven’s. But just now every young viola player of average intelligence and superior attitude plays it “as they do in the Berlin quartet,”
And the effect is vulgar beyond words. The actual prosaic difference between it and Herr Wirth’s enormous swing and suspense is, that the vulgar imitation suggests a different and coarser group than Beethoven’s, and reels drunkenly over the least emphasized note of the group instead of giving it its place in the bar as a thing delayed but not curtailed. True rhythm is far too delicate a thing to be attained by imitation.
To take another point (though we have only touched on the outskirts of the subject of rhythm) — that of the portamento or slide from one note to another. A device so natural to the violin and the voice cannot be condemned off-hand as inartistic; but the great principle involved in its proper use is this, that it must not detract from either of the notes between which it is made. Dr. Joachim, like all violinists, will make a portamento in the following phrase in the recapitulation of the first movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto
but whereas the ordinary player will begin caterwauling down long before one can possibly take that highest note for a minim, the supremely great player will hold it for two good beats, and then swoop deliberately but swiftly down the great drop on to the equally large lower note. The mathematical result may be that that bar is a little larger than the normal; but that will be reconciled with the context by imperceptible gradation and swing.
Turning to more protracted freedoms of tempo we shall find the same principles at work. If the composer does not intend a movement to be broken into sections at different tempi, no increase of breadth or of swing or onrush will in Dr. Joachim’s hands sound as if it were a thing possible to measure by metronome, even though actual metronome measurement should, as a fact, show a difference of double tempo between the extremes. How this is done is beyond analysis; it is a subtle question of accent, probably — accent by which the feeling of rhythmic ictus is kept at the same level through all variations of breadth and flow: much as the Meiningen orchestra contrives to make Brahms’s Tragic Overture sound as in bars of two beats, though it is playing it no faster than the great choral theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony where the beats are unmistakably four.
Of nuance there is neither space nor other possibility of saying much. A large part of the ground is already covered by the great principle we have observed as to rhythm — the expression of broad and salient features without loss of accuracy and largeness in subordinate places — while much of the rest is contained in the obvious inferences to be drawn from the extraordinary definiteness and delicacy of Dr. Joachim’s accent, as illustrated by such passages as the one above quoted from Brahms. Obviously such feats of rhythmic expression imply the most amazing range and gradation of tone; and it is not thinkable that such gradation should not serve other noble purposes as well as rhythmic ones. However, to discuss these would lead us into endless detail, and I must pass on with one brief remark to a shorts ketch of one of Dr. Joachim’s best-known passages of interpretation (if one may be pardoned for hastily coining such an absurd phrase), by way of conclusion. The reader may find out most of what I would wish to say of nuance by reading the above remarks on rhythm once more, mutatis mutandis. I will only pause to observe that, like rhythm and everything else, nuance organises whole phrases and whole works, not merely one note after another. I have heard a violinist of excellent intelligence and culture give out the theme of the slow movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, thus—
Every note was pure in tone and thrilling in expression, but the deadly dulness of the result simply passed belief. (This error is worth special mention, as there is no precise parallel for it in the case of rhythm.) Nuance must cover large surfaces, as well as details, if it is to mean anything.
Let us fly off at a tangent from this point to our final illustration of the effect and purport of truly great playing. Let us first imagine that we have heard a performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto, in which the orchestra has played the opening tutti simply and straightforwardly, but the soloist has devoted his entire self to the delivery of every phrase singly in the most dignified imaginable way. Let us imagine that the soloist (whose name I do not intend to mention) manages this by playing obviously much slower than the orchestra, and that when he comes to the latter part of the development the orchestra has to subside almost to inaudibility and entirely to rhythmic stagnation while he delivers each phrase as beautifully as a single phrase can be delivered (one in particular will always remain in my mind as a living embodiment of true rhythm and nuance, as far as such truth can be found in isolated phrases)—
Yet the whole episode remains a mystery. What on earth have these beautiful pieces of non-thematic declamation to do with the rest of the movement, and why does the orchestra suddenly romp in with the opening theme fortissimo in the ordinary tempo of the tutti? The man dominates the orchestra, but he does not make us understand either himself or it.
Now let us hear Dr. Joachim’s interpretation. On his entry the rhythm becomes as much more free as the phrases become more declamatory; but still he is evidently not playing in a different tempo from the tutti. Page after page he takes the theme from the orchestra, and transfigures but never obscures it, and when we come to the wonderful declamatory episode at the end of the development, what do we hear? First, the horns with that all-pervading rhythm with which the movement began. The violin, with its pathetic and entirely independent melody, rules the harmonic structure, while this rhythm persists, always clear, always recognisable as in something like the general tempo of the movement. The violin’s melody moves from G minor to E flat, and at once the full round tone of the horn gives place to the hollow, reedy moan of bassoons. The significant rhythm still persists. The violin’s declamation reads the tonic E flat as flattened supertonic of l) (the main key of the work), and at once on the dominant of that key solemn trumpets and drums take up the momentous rhythm, and continue it in a quiet, steady tread while the violin’s phrases (amongst them that quoted just above) become at once more flowing, shorter and tranquil.
Suddenly there is a feeling of life newly astir, the violin rises in a short passage of confident matter-of-fact activity— an almost instantaneous crescendo, and the opening tutti theme (so long anticipated by the rhythm in horns, bassoons, trumpets, &c., and at the last moment, pizzicato hints on the strings)— the opening tutti theme bursts forth as simply and inevitably as the sun at day break. Who has dominated the orchestra most— Dr. Joachim or the other player described above? Dr. Joachim has not only dominated but permeated the orchestra from beginning to end. He has made all its doings his own, as the great man always absorbs and employs his environment. By the way in which he has played that wonderful independent declamation in the development, he has made us feel that he himself is in those horn-notes; at Joachim’s call the horn tone changes with the tonality to the more mysterious bassoon-tone; Joachim is playing those trumpets that breathe anticipation, such as Milton sings when—
“—kings sate still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their Sovran Lord was by.”
It is often said (with less truth in the case of the greatest than one is apt to imagine) that the art of the actor and the player perish with the individual life. The world will not let the compositions of Joachim die; but, even without these, a man who has his share of the Götterfunken, and is such a power in others’ lives, might be content to be forgotten. The preservation of names is the only means by which the greatness of an age can formally acknowledge its debt to the greatness of the past; but that debt remains as real and tremendous a fact whether the names are preserved or not; and it is the fact, and not the name, for which the great men work.
To the Editor of the “Musical Gazette.”
Dear Sir, — Much as I agree with your contributor, “Tamino,” I cannot say that he has been very lucky in his anecdotes of Dr. Joachim’s “musical scholarship.” I venture to send you the subjoined specimen as an addition to “Tamino’s” article, as I believe it may convey to some musical students that definite impression that “Tamino’s” anecdotes seem to me to lack.
In Bach’s A minor sonata for unaccompanied violin there is a difference of reading as to the second note: —
Some authorities read G sharp, which at first sight seems obviously right. But G natural really makes a much better sense as a step in a downward scale (A G F E D), the descend being disturbed into the upper octave by the limited downward compass of the violin.
I happened a few years ago to mention to Dr. Joachim that I had been looking at an arrangement by Bach himself of this sonata for Clavier, transposed to D minor, a little-known though interesting piece of work, then recently published or reprinted, and only known to me by the merest accident. I hardly had time to mention it before Dr. Joachim said, “And was the second note in the bass natural?” and then explained to me why he asked the question.
It may be said that this was a violin composition constantly on his repertoire; but how many actors are there, or how many have there ever been, who could show such an absolutely ready familiarity with varied readings in, say, “Hamlet”? It is the scholarly attitude of mind that is so significant in this case; and it would seem still more significant to one who could have observed the startling promptness of Dr. Joachim’s question. —
William Henry Hadow: “In a Hungarian Coffee-House,” The Musical Gazette, (December, 1899), pp. 10-13.
William Henry Hadow
IN A HUNGARIAN COFFEE-HOUSE
LONG, low, irregular room, the walls painted a dull green, the vaulted ceiling rudely frescoed with skies and flying birds. On either hand are ranged the little white tables, which one never sees except in a coffee-house; each surrounded by a circle of guests, each bearing an appropriate array of glasses and a match-box with an economic receptacle for cigar ends. The whole place is full of men: officers from the garrison, employes of commerce or the law, casual visitors on a voyage of discovery: there must be over a hundred in all, and the only woman among them is Madame, dark-haired, buxom, and affable, directing her noiseless army of waiters from the counter.
To the Hungarian middle-class the coffee house is generally the centre of social life. Men use it for making appointments, for paying calls, for all the commonplace of daily intercourse: and the abundant evening’s leisure is spent pleasantly enough in talk that alternates with the click of the billiard balls, and the rustle of innumerable journals. Tonight, however, there is better entertainment than the most artistic cannon or the most eloquent denunciation of British policy: and talk itself is hushed, as the musicians at the far end of the room take up their instruments and prepare to begin. A few more rapid orders are given, a few silent figures flit across with beer or slivovitz or tumblers of strange coloured “grog,” and then everyone turns comfortably in his chair and settles himself to listen.
The band consists of some eight or nine performers: a few violins, a ‘cello, a doublebass, a clarinet, and, of course, the cimbal. Its leader, — here as always, a violin player, — stands in the middle: the rest sit watching him, ready to follow every change of tone or tempo that he may choose to prescribe. Now and again, one catches a short sharp word of command, some injunction as to speed or expression, but for the most part a look is amply sufficient, and the players pass from phrase to phrase, and even from melody to melody, as though they were improvising in concert. They are, indeed, the Rhapsodists of musical art, drawing for inspiration upon the rich store of national ballad, and trusting for method to a free tradition, or an impulse of the moment. Very few of them can read; none of them play from note; the whole character of their music is direct, natural, spontaneous, giving voice to a feeling that speaks because it cannot keep silence. They start very softly, so softly that one can hardly catch the opening sounds, and then of a sudden the music swells and rises with a passionate intensity that strikes to the heart like a cry of pain. It is some ballad of past suffering and oppression, some echo of “old unhappy far-off things,” so expressive, so poignant, that in a moment the tragedy has become intimate and personal. There is no stranger experience than to hear one of these preludes for the first time. The effect is totally unlike that of other music: there is little sense of metre, little even of rhythm ; the long wailing notes have become words, the quivering scale-passages have become gesture, and one can no more appraise or criticise than one can think of style when some orator at white-heat of revolution is calling men to the barricades. Here is some thing which never stops to consider whether it is artistic, which pays no heed to our aesthetic canons and laws, a pure outburst of emotion as irrepressible as a river in flood. Even our cold Western natures are stirred almost beyond control, and it is easy to imagine what answer would rise to the appeal when the time is big with crisis and men’s hearts are burning with the memory of wrong.
The prelude ends on a throbbing minor cadence, and the music passes into a plaintive, caressing melody, sad, like so many Hungarian tunes, but without despair, without defiance, crying not for vengeance but for redress. The form is of the simplest; a plain melodic stanza, free of ornament, perfect in curve and shape, and strongly marked by two characteristic features of Magyar idiom, the sharpened intervals of the scale, and the graceful rhythmic figure that flutters and poises through every bar.
There is an astonishing charm about these folk-songs: something strange and exotic in the phrase, yet something beneath the phrase which touches us on the side of our common humanity. No other nation could express itself precisely in this manner, for every land has its own language in music as it has its own language in speech, but the joys and sorrows of mankind are much the same, and they have usually found their simplest utterance in national melody. And so in hearing the tunes of another people we gain a double pleasure — a pleasure which is only lost if the language be too remote for our comprehension. Fully to enjoy Hungarian music demands no doubt a sympathy which can pass a little beyond our western limits — we must prepare ourselves for a new phrase and for idioms that are not our own — but, that once conceded, there is no national art in Europe which has more power to move and to delight.
Again, the music draws to an end, leaving us soothed and quieted after the storm of passion from which it emerged. The leader stands for a moment with his bow on the strings; his forces turn to him in ready expectation; there is a hasty word of direction, a look of intelligence, and off they plunge into a wild dance-measure that whirls and eddies in a very rapture of unrestraint. The hammers skim across the cimbal like swallows over a stream, the violins are racing the wind, faster and faster they fly, faster again and faster yet, until one grows breathless and exhausted by the bare effort of listening. Surely no one, even in Hungary, can dance to a tune like this; no muse of the many-twinkling feet could press so unruly a following into her service. And yet if it were not for the sheer physical impossibility, the call is simply irresistible; a bright vivid melody with a flicker of semiquavers across the cadence, clear and strong in accent, entrancing in rhythm, a melody to quicken the pulse and set the blood leaping in the veins. One has no time to wonder at the dash and brilliance of the playing, at the precision of attack, at the tone that never loses its quality; one is conscious only of swift movement and tingling nerves, until at last the music flashes to its close, there are three triumphant chords, and all is over.
After a short pause for recovery, one of our party who has a little Hungarian, goes up and asks permission to inspect the cimbal. A courteous gesture invites us to follow him and in another moment we are all examining the queer trapezoid-shaped box, with its strings of steel wire twisted in and out like basket-work, and its padded hammer notched in the shaft to fit the performer’s finger. They say that it is an easy instrument to learn, but this seems hardly credible; the strings look bewilderingly alike, and the higher octaves are tuned to a scale that has no name and no classification. In any case it must take a good deal of sedulous practice to attain the dexterity of those swift runs and arpeggios. Struck lightly the strings have something of a pianoforte quality; a harder blow brings out a resonant metallic clang which is admirably suited for filling a chord, and giving it body and substance. It is for this reason that the cimbal has allotted to it the lion’s share of the accompaniment. The clarinet and half the violins play in unison with the leader, the second violins add such harmonies as lie within their compass, and all the rest is an arrangement of “Basso e Cembalo” like that of the old Italian concerti.
The chief defect of the cimbal is the heavy strain which renders the strings constantly liable to slip and flatten. In this matter it is as bad as the lute, “which,” says Matheson, “if a man possessed it for eighty years he would have spent sixty in tuning.” And though enterprising makers have enriched the instrument with borrowed luxuries — pedals, dampers — I have even seen one with the indignity of a key-board — yet nothing has yet been invented which can obviate its characteristic fault. A single performance is sufficient to set it out of pitch, and then the music must needs stop while the player wrests the pins and taps gently on the offending notes and gradually coaxes the strings back into compliance. Yet after all the defect has something human about it: a scene of a quarrel and reconciliation, a moment of bad temper passing away into fresh sympathy and agreement. These men look upon their box of wires with a feeling as personal as that of a violinist for his Stradivarius, and a relation so close is lightly purchased at the cost of a few vagaries.
Our curiosity satisfied, we turn back and find the waiter hovering by our table, evidently anxious to converse with the strangers. His first question: “Are we German or Hungarian?” is a little startling, and we notice a look of suspicion on the part of our friend who has been endeavouring with modest success to act as interpreter. We answer that we are English, and the statement, passed audibly through the room, at once draws upon us an embarrassing amount of attention. Even Madame leaves her calculations for the moment to bend a look of enquiry on the remote foreigners, and we find ourselves surrounded by something like an audience as the waiter again returns to the charge. “England we suppose is a very long way off from here?” “Yes.” — Though our conjecture of twelve hundred miles is received with polite incredulity. — “And what language, now, is habitually spoken in England? Hungarian?” Another look of suspicion, but there is no trace of irony in the tone. “Not Hungarian? German then?” “Not that either?” “Indeed, only English?” And it is evident that we have sunk a little in his estimation. On this question of language the oddest views seem to prevail. I remember an old country curé who once sat next me at Budapest and informed me that Englishmen spoke a dialect of French — a dialect, he added, which he found some difficulty in understanding. Yet it may be rejoined that we are little better. We have grown out of our forefathers’ belief that all Continental nations would understand English if you spoke it loud enough; but we should be hard put to it if we were asked to enumerate the languages of Hungary and still more if we were required to tell them apart.
Our profession of nationality has aroused the interest of the band. The cimbal is once more in tune, the violins are lifted from the table where they have been lying among cigars and glasses of Pilsener, and, with a friendly nod to our interpreter, the leader marshals his force and begins afresh. Our feelings may be imagined when, in place of another rhapsody, we hear Yankee Doodle, followed by a couple of music-hall songs, that have floated on some ill wind to Ronacher; and thence, through the streets of Vienna, into Hungary itself. The worst is that the musicians are evidently conscious of offering us a special pleasure, they turn furtive glances in our direction, they watch for our expression of acknowledgment and
delight. Nothing is further from their thoughts than the idea that we should prefer Hungarian poetry to English doggrel; and they heroically do violence to their own principles in order to give us an appropriate welcome. It may be stated at once that the whole fault of this lies with foreign tourists. For a decade past they have been overrunning the country and demanding that the bands should play not only German and English music, which is a crime, but bad German and English music, which is an enormity. For the Hungarian melodies and the Hungarian musicians have grown up together; they are part of the same stock; they are of one family and one kindred. The quick, eager, nervous playing is absolutely unsuited to German thought or bluff English manhood: it is wedded to a style of its own from which no divorce should be sanctioned. And when it is added that the Hungarian music is magnificent, while the foreign music comes at best from the ball-room and at worst from the off-scourings of the streets, it will be seen that a heavy responsibility rests with visitors who are not only denationalising the art, but vulgarising it in the process.
Yet the process goes on unashamed. I possess a copy of a “Sentimental Journey” in Hungary by an Austrian gentleman called Woenig, who expresses the tourist’s point of view with extreme candour. Nothing seems to have moved him so deeply as the performance, by a native band, of a song from Von
Suppe’s “Boccaccio.” “Ein deutsches Lied im fremden Lande!” he cries, “Ich sprang freudig überrascht empor dem schwarzhaarigen braunen Zauberer die Hande zu driicken” — and so forth. We mock at the English traveller who demands a beefsteak and the “Times” in an Italian village, but, at least, he is not doing any harm, only inuring himself to disappointment. But these men get what they want, and get it at a sacrifice which in another generation’s time may be irreparable. At Budapest the case is still worse. There the most famous bands play at restaurants during dinner: a fact which, if once realized, requires no further comment. Even their truest and most genuine musicans, men like Berkecs, Rádics Béla, and Bánda Marciz, have submitted in some degree to the prevailing influence, while others, not less gifted, have deliberately degraded their talents and have descended from the level of the artist to that of the street conjuror. There is, however, one consolation left. With scarcely an exception these men still play their own music in their own unapproachable fashion — their visits to Spindler and Waldteufel are episode, forgotten as soon as they are over—and then once more the sallow faces light up and the dark eyes glow, and the great tragic strain rises as though the impertinences of Art had no existence. The two styles, in short, are kept entirely separate, and the taint of the one has not yet infected the other. The tawdry music annoys for the few moments of its duration, but the few moments are soon past and one returns again to the gold and the jewels.
For see, the musicians are once more in readiness, and the opening notes strike true and passionate as at first. It is surely some sorrow of disappointed love that the strings are uttering : some overwhelming disaster that has swept across a life and left it desolate. Now they rise into a cry of denunciation, now they fall to a low broken murmer, now they surge onward in an impetuous torrent of reproach. And when the storm has burst, and the sad tender melody follows, the leader comes slowly down, playing the while, until he stands at our side and sets the music floating round us like an atmosphere. It is not music but enchantment; the violin pleads and whispers and entreats, the air is full of voices, the melody surrounds and penetrates us until it is breath of our breath and lip of our lip. We are oblivious of all except the charm, the strange potent influence that is binding us to its will: every tone and cadence finds an echo in our own thought, every note has a summons which we cannot choose but obey. At last it recedes again, softer and more remote, fading back into the land of dreams from whence it came; there is a moment of spell-bound silence; and we start from a trance to hear the Csardas leap into sound and scatter our visions with its joyous dance-measure. And so the evening wanes, and the company begins to disperse, and we, rather shamefaced as Englishmen who have been betrayed into unwonted emotion, pass out to sober ourselves under the cool night and the quiet stars.
W. H. Hadow
William Henry Hadow (*1859 — †1937) was a leading British musicologist, composer, and educational administrator. From the Oxford Dictionary of NationalBiography:Hadow’s “two small volumes of Studies in Modern Music (1893–5) opened a new era in English music criticism, and while they evince certain Victorian prejudices they remain interesting reading at the end of the twentieth century. For the second volume, Hadow was able to visit both Brahms and Dvořák when compiling his biographical material. By setting music against a background of general culture, he made music criticism more accessible and helped to give music its rightful place in a liberal education. Sonata Form (1896, 2nd edn 1912) is ostensibly a textbook, but it is presented in simple terms and in flowing prose typical of Hadow. In 1897 cameA Croatian Composer, in which the Slavonic origin of Joseph Haydn is asserted (this allegation was also included in his revision of Pohl’s article in the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary, 1904–10). His conclusions were later disproved, but the value of his work on Haydn’s melodic style remains. One of his most acclaimed works, The Viennese Period (vol. 5 of the Oxford History of Music, of which he was general editor from 1896), was published in 1904 (2nd edn 1931). Between 1906 and 1908 he joined with his sister Grace Eleanor Hadow in producing the three volumes of the Oxford Treasury of English Literature. As part of his desire to improve the repertory of songs, and in particular national or folk-songs in schools, his Songs of the British Islands appeared in 1903, the choice of the English material foreshadowing Stanford’s The National Song Book(1906). In 1906 he publishedA Course of Lectures on the History of Instrumental Forms, and in later years he published short books on Music (1924), Church Music (1926), English Music (1931), and Richard Wagner (1934) as well as a volume ofCollected Essays(1928). He was an enthusiastic admirer of the Tudor music brought to light by Dr Edmund Horace Fellowes and others. ‘They call William Byrd the English Palestrina; I shall not rest until Palestrina is called the Italian Byrd!’, he once remarked.”