MoboReader > Literature > Chopin and Other Musical Essays

   Chapter 2 No.2

Chopin and Other Musical Essays By Henry Theophilus Finck Characters: 67595

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


HOW COMPOSERS WORKToC

Forty years ago Robert Schumann complained that the musical critics had so much to say about singers and players, while the composer was almost entirely ignored. To-day this reproach could hardly be made, for although vocalists still receive perhaps a disproportionate share of attention, compositions, new and old, are also discussed at great length in the press. Nevertheless, I believe that the vast majority of those who attend an operatic performance in New York, and are delighted with "Siegfried" or "Faust," have but vague and shadowy notions as to the way in which such an opera is composed. My object here is to illustrate the way composers work, and to prove that the creating of an opera is perhaps the most difficult and marvellous achievement of the human intellect.

Professor Langhans notes, in his history of music, that in the Middle Ages, as late as Luther's time, it took two men to compose the simplest piece of music: one who conceived the melody, and the other who added the harmonic accompaniment. The theoretical writer, Glareanus, deliberately expressed his opinion, in 1547, that it might be possible to unite these two functions in one person, but that one would rarely find the inventor of a melody able to work it out artistically. We have made much progress in music within these three hundred years, and to-day every composer is not only expected to invent his own harmonies and accompaniments to his melodies, but, since Wagner set the example, composers are beginning to consider it incumbent on them to write their own librettos; and, what is more remarkable, if we examine biographies of musicians carefully we find that, even before Wagner, not a few composers assisted in the preparation of their operatic texts; and this remark applies even to some of the Italian composers, who were proverbially careless regarding their librettos. Rossini was, perhaps, too indolent to devote much attention to his texts, and he was apt to postpone even the musical work to the last moment, so that he sometimes had to be locked up in his room by his friends, to enable him to finish his score by the date named in his contract. Yet it is worthy of note that during the composition of what Rossini's admirers commonly regard as his best and most characteristic work-the "Barber of Seville"-he lived in the same house with his librettist. "The admirable unity of the 'Barber,' in which a person without previous information on the subject could scarcely say whether the words were written for the music or the music for the words, may doubtless," as Mr. Sutherland Edwards suggests, "in a great measure be accounted for by the fact that poet and musician were always together during the composition of the opera; ready mutually to suggest and to profit by suggestions."

"Donizetti," the same writer informs us, while at the Bologna Lyceum, "occupied himself not only with music, but also with drawing, architecture, and even poetry; and that he could turn out fair enough verses for musical purposes was shown when, many years afterward, he wrote-so rapidly that the word 'improvise' might here be used-for the benefit of a manager in distress, both words and music of a little one-act opera, called 'Il Campanello' founded on the 'Sonnette de Nuit' of Scribe. Donizetti also arranged the librettos of 'Betty' and 'The Daughter of the Regiment,' and of the last act of 'Lucia' he not only wrote the words but designed the scenes."

Concerning Verdi, Arthur Pougin says: "It is not generally known that, virtually, Verdi is himself the author of all his poems. That is to say, not only does he always choose the subject of his operas, but, in addition to that, he draws out the sketch of the libretti, indicates all the situations, constructs them almost entirely as far as regards the general plan, brings his personages and his characters on the stage in such a way that his collaborateur has simply to follow his indications to bring the whole together, and to write the verses."

One of Verdi's poetic assistants was Francesco Piave, who supplied the verses for "La Traviata," "Ernani" and several other of his operas. He was, Pougin informs us, "a tolerably bad poet, quite wanting in invention," but he had the most important quality (from Verdi's point of view) "of effacing himself completely, of putting aside every kind of personal vanity and of following entirely the indications and the desires of the composer, cutting out this, paring down that, shortening or expanding at the will of the latter-giving himself up, in short, to all his exigencies, whatever they might be."

A question having arisen some years ago, as to the origin of the libretto of "Aida," the author of it, M. du Locle, wrote to a Roman paper that the first idea of the poem belongs to the celebrated Egyptologist, Mariette Bey. He adds: "I wrote the libretto, scene by scene, phrase by phrase, in French prose, at Busseto, under the eye of the maestro, who took a large share in the work. The idea of the finale of the last act, with its two stages, one above the other, belongs especially to him."

The libretto for Verdi's last work, "Otello," was prepared by Bo?to, who had previously assisted him in rearranging his "Simon Boccanegra," and who also wrote the poem of "La Gioconda" for Ponchielli. Bo?to is a thorough believer in Wagner's doctrine that every composer should write his own opera books, and he followed this rule in his interesting opera "Mefistofele."

Mozart was altogether too careless in accepting librettos unworthy of his genius. Yet occasionally he took the liberty to improve the stuff that was submitted to him. As the learned librarian, Herr Pohl, remarks, "In the 'Entführung' it is interesting to observe the alterations in Bretzner's libretto which Mozart's practical acquaintance with the stage has dictated, to the author's great disgust. Indeed, Osmin, one of the most original characters, is entirely his own creation, at Fischer's suggestion."

Weber resembled Wagner, among other things, in the habit of carrying plans for operas in his head for many years. Thus we read that while on the look out for a subject for an opera he and Dusch hit upon "Der Freischütz," a story by Apel, then just published. At the time, however, it did not get beyond the beginning; and not till seven years later did Weber begin the work which made his reputation, a work which in Dresden, where it was first produced, has had already more than a thousand performances, and which even in London was at one time played simultaneously at three theatres. When he finally did begin his work on the "Freischütz" the libretto he used was by another author, Herr Kind, a man of considerable dramatic ability, but who-perhaps for that very reason-was subsequently so mortified by the fact that Weber's superior genius caused his music to receive the lion's share of the public's attention, that he refused to write another libretto for him. This was unfortunate, for, as ill luck would have it, Weber fell into the hands of a Leipsic blue stocking, Wilhelmine von Chezy, whose literary gifts were not of the most brilliant order. She submitted several subjects to him, from which he selected "Euryanthe;" but her sketch proved so unsatisfactory that he altered it entirely and compelled her to work it over nine times before he was sufficiently satisfied with it to set it to music. The libretto for his last opera, "Oberon," was prepared for him in London, but the subject, as usual, was his own choice and was based on Wieland's famous poem of that name. Weber's rare artistic conscientiousness is indicated by the fact that at this time, although he felt that his end was approaching, he set to work to learn the English language in order to avoid mistakes in adapting his melodies to the accent of the words and the spirit of the text.

Having now caught a glimpse of the manner in which the great composers find subjects for their operas, and elaborate them, with or without the assistance of poets, we may go on to consider the sources of the musical inspiration which provides appropriate melodies and harmonies for these texts. Experience shows conclusively that the most powerful stimulant of the composer's brain is the possession of a really poetic and dramatic text. To take only one instance-it surely cannot be a mere coincidence that the best works of four great composers-Spohr, Berlioz, Gounod, and Schumann, are based on the story of "Faust." And Schumann, in one of his private letters, indicates very clearly why his "Faust" is such an inspired composition. Speaking of a performance of this work he says: "It appeared to make a good impression-better than my 'Paradise and Peri'-no doubt in consequence of the superior grandeur of the poem which aroused my powers also to a greater effort."

More significant still are the words which Weber wrote to Fran von Chezy when she was writing the libretto for "Euryanthe;" which he intended to make better than all his previous works. "When you begin to elaborate the text," he wrote; "I entreat you by all that is sacred to task me with the most difficult kinds of metre, unexpected rhythms, etc., which will force my thoughts into new paths and draw them out of their hiding-places."

In one of his theoretical essays, Wagner emphasizes the value of a good poem in kindling the spark of inspiration in a composer's mind by exclaiming: "Oh, how I adore and honor Mozart because he found it impossible to compose for his 'Titus' as good music as for his 'Don Juan,' or for his 'Così fan Tutte' as good music as for 'Figaro.'" Mozart, he adds, always wrote music, but good music he could only write when he was inspired, and when this inspiration was supplied by a subject worthy of being wedded to his muse.

No doubt Wagner was right in maintaining that Mozart's operas contain his best music. Where among all his purely instrumental works is anything to be found as inspired as the music in the scenes where the ghostly statue nods at Don Juan, and subsequently where it enters his room and clutches his hand in its marble grasp? I venture to add that even Beethoven, although he is not generally regarded as an operatic composer par excellence, and although his fame chiefly rests on his symphonies and other instrumental works, nevertheless composed his most inspired music in connection with his one opera "Fidelio." I refer to the third "Leonora" overture, and to the music in the prison scene, where the digging of the grave is depicted in the orchestra with a realism worthy of Wagner, and where the music when Leonora levels her pistol at the villain reaches a climax as thrilling as is to be found in any dramatic work, musical or literary. Obviously, it was the intensely dramatic situation which here inspired Beethoven to the grandest effort of his genius.

It has often been asserted that the best numbers in "Fidelio" were directly inspired in Beethoven by the emotional exaltation resulting from one of his unhappy love affairs. Mr. Thayer doubts this story, because he could not find anything in Beethoven's sketch-books corroborating it; but even if it should be a myth, there are many well authenticated facts which show that Beethoven, like other composers, owed many of his best ideas to the magic influence of love in stimulating his mental powers. He dedicated thirty-nine compositions to thirty-six different women, and it is well known that he was constantly falling in love, had made up his mind several times to marry, and was twice refused. Female beauty always made a deep impression on him, and Marx relates that "even in his later years he was fond of looking at pretty faces, and used to stand still in the street and gaze after them with his eyeglasses till they were out of sight; if anyone noticed this he smiled and looked confused, but not annoyed. His little Werther romance he had lived at an early age in Bonn. In Vienna, he is said to have had more than one love affair and to have made an occasional conquest which would have been difficult if not impossible to many an Adonis."

Weber's "Freischütz" doubtless owes much of its beauty to the fact that it was written but a few months before the composer's marriage. In one of his letters to his betrothed he writes, "Yesterday I composed all the forenoon and thought of you very often, for I was at work on a scene of Agatha, in which I still cannot attain all the fire, longing, and passion that vaguely float before me." And his son testifies that Weber's love influenced all his work at the time. "It was the reason," he says, "that Weber took to heart, above everything else, the part of Aennchen, in which he saw an embodiment of his bride's special talent and characteristics, and it was under the fostering stimulus of this warm feeling that he allowed those parts of the opera in which Aennchen appears to ripen first. The first note which he wrote down for the 'Freischütz' belongs in the duo between Aennchen and Agatha." He adds that his father, while composing, actually saw his bride in his mind's eye, and heard her sing his melodies, and accordingly as this imaginary vocalist nodded approval or shook her head, he was led to retain or reject certain musical ideas.

Schumann's letters contain a superabundance of evidence showing how love suggested to him immortal musical thoughts. "I have discovered," he writes to his bride, "that nothing transports the imagination so readily as expectation and longing for something, as was again the case during the last few days, when I was awaiting a letter from you, and meanwhile composed whole volumes-strange, curious, solemn things-how you will open your eyes when you play them. Indeed, I am at present so full of musical ideas that I often feel as if I should explode." This was in 1838, two years before his marriage. "Schumann himself admits," as Professor Spitta remarks, "that his compositions for the piano written during the period of his courtship reveal much of his personal experiences and feelings, and his creative work of 1840 is of a very striking character. In this single year he wrote over a hundred songs, the best he ever gave to the world, and," as Professor Spitta continues, "when we look through the words of his songs, it is clear that here, more than anywhere, love was the prompter-love that had endured so long a struggle, and at last attained the goal of its desires. This is confirmed by the 'Myrthen,' which he dedicated to the lady of his choice, and the twelve songs from Rückert's 'Springtime of Love'-which were written conjointly by the two lovers."

The gay and genial Haydn appears to have been as great a favorite of women as Beethoven, and he doubtless owed some of his inspirations to their influence upon his susceptible heart. "He always considered himself an ugly man," Herr Pohl writes, "and could not understand how so many handsome women fell in love with him; 'at any rate,' he used to say, 'they were not tempted by my beauty,' though he admitted that he liked looking at a pretty woman, and was never at a loss for a compliment."

Everybody has heard of the marvellous effect produced on Berlioz's ardent imagination by the Juliet of Miss Smithson. He relates in his memoirs that an English critic said that after seeing Miss Smithson in Juliet he had cried out, "I will marry that woman, and write my grandest symphony on this play." "I did both things," he adds, "but I never said anything of the sort." It is in "Lelio" that the story of his love is embodied; and other compositions of his might be mentioned which were simply the overflow of his passions.

Poor Schubert, who enjoyed little of the fame and less of the fortune that were due him during his brief life, and who was as unattractive in personal appearance as Haydn and Beethoven, does not seem to have cared as much for women as most other composers. Nevertheless he fell deeply in love with a countess, who, however, was too young to reciprocate his feelings. But one day she asked him why he never dedicated any of his compositions to her, whereupon he replied, "Why should I? Are not all my compositions dedicated to you?" This was as neat a compliment as Beethoven once made Frau von Arnim-an incident which also gives us a glimpse of his manner of composing. One evening at a party Beethoven repeatedly took his note-book from his pocket and wrote a few lines in it. Subsequently, when he was alone with Frau von Arnim, he looked over what he had written and sang it; whereupon he exclaimed: "There, how does that sound? It is yours if you like it; I made it for you, you inspired me with it; I saw it written in your eyes."

Many similar cases might be cited, showing that although women may have done little for music from a creative point of view, they are indirectly responsible for many of the most inspired products of the great composers. And the moral of the story is that a young musician, as soon as he has secured a good poetic subject for a song or an opera, should hasten to fall in love, in order to tune his heart-strings and devotions to concert pitch. And a patriotic wag might, perhaps, be allowed to maintain that, as America has more pretty girls than any other country in the world, it is easier to fall in love here than elsewhere, and that there is, therefore, no excuse whatever for American composers if they do not soon lead the world in musical inspiration.

Feminine beauty, however, is not the only kind of beauty that arouses dormant musical ideas and brings them to light. The beauty of nature appeals as strongly to musicians as to poets, and is responsible for many of their inspirations. When Mendelssohn visited Fingal's Cave, he wrote a letter on one of the Hebrides, inclosing twenty bars of music "to show how extraordinarily the place affected me," to use his own words. "These twenty bars," says Sir George Grove, "an actual inspiration, are virtually identical with the opening of the wonderful overture which bears the name of 'Hebrides' or 'Fingal's Cave.'" And an English admirer of Mendelssohn, who had the honor of entertaining him in the country, notes how deeply he entered into the beauty of the hills and the woods. "His way of representing them," he says, "was not with the pencil; but in the evenings his improvised music would show what he had observed or felt in the past day. The piece which he called 'The Rivulet,' which he wrote at that time, for my sister Susan, will show what I mean; it was a recollection of a real, actual rivulet.

"We observed" he continues, "how natural objects seemed to suggest music to him. There was in my sister Honora's garden a pretty creeping plant, new at that time, covered with little trumpet-like flowers. He was struck with it, and played for her the music which (he said) the fairies might play on those trumpets. When he wrote out the piece he drew a little branch of that flower all up the margin of the paper." In another piece, inspired by the sight of carnations, they found that Mendelssohn intended certain arpeggio passages "as a reminder of the sweet scent of the flower rising up."

Mozart, as many witnesses have testified, was especially attuned to composition by the sight of beautiful scenery. Rochlitz relates that when he travelled with his wife through picturesque regions he gazed attentively and in silence at the surrounding sights; his features, which usually had a reserved and gloomy, rather than a cheerful expression, gradually brightened, and then he began to sing, or rather to hum, till suddenly he exclaimed: "If I only had that theme on paper." He always preferred to live in the country, and wrote the greater part of his two best operas, "Don Juan," and "The Magic Flute," in one of those picturesque little garden houses which are so often seen in Austria and Germany. In one of these airy structures, he confessed, he could write more in ten days than he could in his apartments in two months.

Berlioz relates somewhere that the musical ideas for his "Faust" came to him unbidden during his rambles among Italian hills. Weber's melodies are so much like fragrant forest flowers that one feels sure before being told that he came across them in the woods and fields. His famous pupil, Sir Julius Benedict, relates that Weber took as great delight in taking his friends to see his favorite bits of landscape, as he did in composing a fine piece of music; and he adds that "this love of nature, and principally of forest life, may explain his predilection, in the majority of his operas, for hunting choruses and romantic scenery."

Richard Wagner conceived most of his vigorous and eloquent leading melodies during his rambles among the picturesque environs of Bayreuth, or the sublime snowpeaks of Switzerland. How he elaborated them we shall see later on. Of Beethoven's devotion to nature many curious anecdotes are told by his contemporaries. A harp manufacturer named Stumpff met him in 1823 and wrote an account of his visit in "The Harmonicon," a London journal, in which occurs this passage: "Beethoven is a capital walker and delights in rambling for hours through wild, romantic scenery. I am told, indeed, that he has sometimes been out whole nights on such excursions, and is often absent from home for several days. On the way to the valley [the Hellenenthal, near the Austrian Baden] he often stopped to point out the prettiest views, or to remark on the defects of the new buildings. Then he would go back again to his own thoughts and hum to himself in an incomprehensible fashion; which, I heard, was his fashion of composing."

Professor Kl?ber, a well-known artist of that period, who painted Beethoven's portrait, relates that he often met Beethoven during his walks near Vienna. "It was most interesting to watch him," he writes; "how he would stand still as if listening, with a piece of music paper in his hands, look up and down and then write something. Dont had told me when I met him thus not to speak or take any notice, as he would be very much embarrassed or very disagreeable. I saw him once, when I was taking a party to the woods, clambering up to an opposite height from the ravine which separated us, with his broad-brimmed felt hat tucked under his arm; arrived at the top, he threw himself down full length and gazed long into the sky."

Another contemporary of Beethoven, G.F. Treitschke, gives us an interesting glimpse of Beethoven's manner of creating and improvising. Treitschke had been asked to write the text for a new aria that was to be introduced in "Fidelio" when that opera was revived at Vienna in 1814. Beethoven called at seven o'clock in the evening and asked how the text of the aria was getting on. Treitschke had just finished it, and handed it to him. Beethoven read it over, he continues, "walked up and down the room, humming as usual, instead of singing-and opened the piano. My wife had often asked him in vain to play; but now, putting the text before him, he began a wonderful improvisation, which, unfortunately, there were no magic means of recording. From this fantasy he seemed to conjure the theme of the aria. Hours passed but Beethoven continued to improvise. Supper, which he intended to share with us, was served, but he would not be disturbed. Late in the evening he embraced me and, without having eaten anything, hurried home. The following day the piece was ready in all its beauty."

This anecdote appears to indicate that Beethoven sometimes composed at the piano. Meyerbeer, it is said, always composed at his instrument, and there is a story that he used to jot down the ideas of other composers at the opera and concerts, and, by thinking and playing these over, gradually evolve his own themes. It is rather more surprising to hear, from Herr Pohl, that Haydn sketched all his compositions at the piano. The condition of the instrument, he adds, had its effect upon him, beauty of tone being favorable to inspiration. Thus he wrote to Artaria in 1788: "I was obliged to buy a new forte-piano, that I might compose your clavier sonatas particularly well." "When an idea struck him he sketched it out in a few notes and figures; this would be his morning's work; in the afternoon he would enlarge this sketch, elaborating it according to rule, but taking pains to preserve the unity of the idea."

Weber's son relates that it was his father's habit to sit at the window on summer evenings and jot down the ideas that had come to him, during his solitary walks, on small pieces of music paper, of which a large number were usually lying on his table. "No piano," he adds, "was touched on these occasions, for his ears spontaneously heard a full orchestra, played by good spirits, while he wrote down his neat little notes." And Weber himself remarks in one of his essays that, "the tone poet who gets his ideas at the piano is almost always born poor, or in a fair way of delivering his faculties into the hands of the common and commonplace. For these very hands, which, thanks to constant practice and training, finally acquire a sort of independence and will of their own, are unconscious tyrants and masters over the creative power. How very differently does he create whose inner ear is judge of the ideas which he simultaneously conceives and criticises. This mental ear grasps and holds fast the musical visions, and is a divine secret belonging to music alone, incomprehensible to the layman."

Mozart had already learned to compose without a piano when he was only six years old; and, as Mr. E. Holmes remarks, "having commenced composition without recourse to the clavier, his powers in mental music constantly increased, and he soon imagined effects of which the original types existed only in his brain."

Schumann wrote to a young musician in 1848: "Above all things, persist in composing mentally, without the aid of the instrument. Turn over your melodic idea in your head until you can say to yourself: 'It is well done.'" Elsewhere he says: "If you can pick out little melodies at the piano, you will be pleased; but if they come to you spontaneously, away from the piano, you will have more reason to be delighted, for then the inner tone-sense is aroused to activity. The fingers must do what the head wishes, and not vice versa." And again he says: "If you set out to compose, invent everything in your head. If the music has emanated from your soul, if you have felt it, others will feel it too."

Schumann had discovered the superiority of the mental method of composing from experience. In a letter dated 1838 he writes concerning his "Davidst?nze:" "If I ever was happy at the piano it was when I composed these pieces;" and it was well known that up to 1839 "he used to compose sitting at the instrument." We have also just seen how Beethoven practically composed one of his "Fidelio" arias at the piano. Nor was this by any means an isolated instance. To cite only one more case: Ries relates that one afternoon he took a walk with Beethoven, returning at eight o'clock. "While we were walking," he continues, "Beethoven had constantly hummed, or almost howled, up and down the scale, without singing definite notes. When I asked him what it was, he replied that a theme for the last allegro of the sonata had come into his head. As soon as we entered the room, he ran to the piano, without taking off his hat. I sat down in a corner, and he had soon forgotten me. For at least an hour he now improvised impetuously on the new and beautiful finale of the sonata [opus 57]." Another of Beethoven's contemporaries, J. Russell, has left us a vivid description of Beethoven when thus composing at the piano, or improvising: "At first he only struck a few short detached chords, as if he were afraid of being caught doing something foolish; but he soon forgot his surroundings, and for about half an hour lost himself in an improvisation, the style of which was exceedingly varied, and especially distinguished by sudden transitions. The amateurs were transported, and to the uninitiated it was interesting to observe how his inspirations were reflected in his countenance. He revelled rather in bold, stormy moods than in soft and gentle ones. The muscles of his face swelled, his veins were distended, his eyes rolled wildly, his mouth trembled convulsively, and he had the appearance of an enchanter mastered by the spirit he had himself conjured."

Russell was probably one of the witnesses of whom Richard Wagner remarked, in his essay on Beethoven, that they have testified to the incomparable impression which Beethoven made by his improvisations at the piano. And Wagner adds the following suggestive words: "The regrets that there was no way of writing down and preserving these instantaneous creations cannot be regarded as unreasonable, even in comparing these improvisations with the master's greatest works, if we bear in mind the fact, taught by experience, that even less gifted musicians, whose written compositions are not free from stiffness and inelegance, sometimes positively amaze us by the quite unexpected and fertile inventiveness which they display while improvising."

A similar remark was made by De Quincey, in pointing out the spontaneous origin of some of his essays: "Performers on the organ," he says, "so far from finding their own impromptu displays to fall below the more careful and premeditated efforts, on the contrary have oftentimes deep reason to mourn over the escape of inspirations and ideas born from the momentary fervors of inspiration, but fugitive and irrevocable as the pulses in their own flying fingers."

By way of illustrating this thesis a few more cases may be cited. Mozart used to sit up late at night, improvising for hours at the piano, and, according to one witness, "these were the true hours of creation of his divine melodies," a statement which, however, we shall presently see reason to modify somewhat. Schubert never improvised in public like Mozart, but only "in the intervals of throwing on his clothes, or at other times when the music within was too strong to be resisted," as Mr. Grove remarks. What an inestimable privilege it must have been to witness the spontaneous overflow of so rich a genius as Schubert! And once more, Max Maria von Weber writes that his father's improvisations on the piano were like delightful dreams. "All who had the good fortune to hear him," he says, "testify that the impression of his playing was like an Elysian frenzy, which elevates a man above his sphere and makes him marvel at the glories of his own soul."

In reading such enthusiastic descriptions-and musical biographies are full of them-we cannot but echo De Quincey and Wagner in regretting that there has been no shorthand method of taking down and preserving these wonderful improvisations of the great masters. Future generations will be more favored, if Mr. Edison's improved phonograph fulfils the promises made of it. For by simply placing one of these instruments near the piano it will be possible hereafter to preserve every note and every accent and shade of expression, and reproduce it subsequently at will. And not only will momentary inspirations be thus preserved, but musicians will no longer be compelled to do all the manual labor of writing down their compositions, but will be able to follow the example of those German professors, who when they wish to write a book, simply engage a stenographer to take down their lectures, which they then revise and forward to the publisher. True, the orchestration will always have to be done by the master's own hands, but in other respects musicians of the future will be as greatly benefited as men of letters by the new phonograph which, it is predicted, will create as great a revolution in social affairs as the telegraph and railroad did when first introduced.

The charm of improvisation lies, of course, in this, that we hear a composer creating and playing at the same time. This very fact, however, ought to make us cautious not to overestimate the value of such improvisations. For we all know how a great genius can invest even a commonplace idea with charm by his manner of expressing or rendering it. It is probable, therefore, that in most cases these improvisations, if noted down and played by others, would not make as deep an impression as the regularly written compositions of the great masters. It is with music as with literature. Schopenhauer says that there are three classes of writers: The first class, which is very numerous, never think at all, but simply reproduce echoes of what they have read in books. The second class, somewhat less numerous, think only while they are writing. But the third class, which is very small, only write after thinking and because their thoughts clamor for utterance.

If we apply this classification to music we see at once that improvising comes under the second head: improvising is thinking or composing while playing. But the greatest musical ideas are those which are conceived entirely in the mind, which needs no pen or piano mechanically to stimulate its creative power. Of this there can be no question, whatever. With an almost absolute unanimity we find that the greatest composers conceived their immortal ideas in the open air, where there was no possibility of coaxing them out of an instrument. And not only is the bare outline thus composed mentally, but the whole composition with all its involved harmonies and varied orchestral colors is present in the composer's mind before he puts it down on paper. The composition of "Der Freischütz" affords a remarkable confirmation of this statement. Weber began to

compose this opera mentally on February 23, but did not write down a single note before the second of July. That is, he kept the full score of this wonderful work in his brain for more than four months, and, as his son remarks, "there is not a number in it which he did not work over ten times in his mind, until it sounded satisfactory and he could say to himself 'That's it,' and then he wrote it down rapidly without hesitation and almost without altering a note."

This power of elaborating a musical score in the mind, and hearing it inwardly, is a gift which unmusical people find it difficult to comprehend, and which even puzzles many musical people. Yet it is a power which all students of music ought to possess; and, like other capacities, it can be easily cultivated and strengthened.

A comparison with two other senses will throw some light on the matter. Most of us can, by thinking fixedly of some appetizing dish, recall its flavor sufficiently to start a nerve current and stimulate the salivary glands. The image of the flavor, so to speak, makes the mouth water. What do we do when we go to a restaurant and look over the bill of fare? We simply, on reading the list, recall a faint gastronomic image, as it were, of each dish, and the one which is most vivid, owing to the peculiar direction of the appetite, decides our choice.

The sense of sight presents many curious analogies. Mr. Galton, in his "Inquiries into Human Faculty," gives the results of a series of investigations which show that there are great differences among persons of distinction in various kinds of intellectual work in the power of recalling to the mind's eye clear and distinct images of what they have seen. Some, for instance, in thinking of the breakfast table, could see all the objects-knives, plates, dishes, etc., in the mental picture as bright as in the actual scene, and in the appropriate colors; others could recall only very dim or blurred images of the scene, or none at all; and all stages, from the highest to the lowest visualizing power, were represented in the letters he received on the subject.

Sometimes these mental images are as vivid as the actual images, or even more vivid. Everybody has heard the story of Blake, who, when he was painting a portrait, only required one sitting, because subsequently he could see the model as distinctly as if he were actually sitting in the chair. Mrs. Haweis wrote to Mr. Galton that all her life she has had at times a waking vision of "a flight of pink roses floating in a mass from right to left," and that before her ninth year they were so large and brilliant that she often tried to touch them; and their scent, she adds, was overpowering.

Much has been written regarding the remarkable feats of Zuckertort and Blackburn who can play as many as sixteen to twenty games of chess at once, and blindfolded. Of course the only way they can do this is by having in the mind a clear picture of each chess-board, with all the figures arranged in proper order.

Mr. Galton says he has among his notes "many cases of persons mentally reading off scores when playing the pianoforte, or manuscripts when they are making speeches;" and he knows a lady, the daughter of an eminent musician, who often imagines she hears her father's playing. "The day she told me of it," he says, "the incident had again occurred. She was sitting in her room with her maid, and she asked the maid to open the door that she might hear the music better. The moment the maid got up the music disappeared."

It is obvious that this case, like that of the eminent painter just referred to, borders closely on the hallucinations of the insane, and Blake did become insane subsequently. But usually there is nothing abnormal or pathologic in the power of mentally recalling sights or sounds, and it would be well if everybody cultivated this power. Mr. Galton mentions an electrical engineer who was able to recall forms with great precision, but not color. But after some exercise of his color memory he became quite an adept in that, too, and declared that the newly-acquired power was a source of much pleasure to him.

In music most of us have the power of recalling a simple melody; and who has not been tormented at times by an unbidden melody persistently haunting his ears until he was almost ready to commit suicide? But to recall a melody at will with any particular tone-color, i.e., to imagine it as being played by a flute, or a violin, or a horn, is much less easy; and still more difficult is it to hear two or more notes at once in the mind, that is to recall harmonies. It is for this reason that people of primitive musical taste care only for operas which are full of "tunes." These they can whistle in the street and be happy, while the harmonies and orchestral colors elude their comprehension and memory. Consequently they call these works "heavy," "scientific," or "intellectual;" whereas if they took pains to educate their musical imaginations, they would soon revel in the magic harmonies of modern operas, with their infinite variety of gorgeous orchestral colors.

Every student of music should carefully heed Schumann's advice. "Exercise your imagination," he says, "so that you may acquire the power of remembering not only the melody of a composition, but also the harmonies which accompany it." And again he says, "You must not rest until you are able to understand music on paper." I remember that, as a small boy, I used to wonder at my father, who often sat in a corner all the evening looking over the score of an opera or symphony. And I was very much surprised at the time when he informed me that this simple reading of the score gave him almost as vivid a pleasure as if he heard it with full orchestra. This power of hearing music with the eyes, as it were, is common to all thorough musicians, and is, of course, most highly developed in the great composers. Schumann even alludes to the opinion, which some one had expressed, that a thorough musician ought to be able, on listening for the first time to a complicated orchestral piece, to see it bodily as a score before his eyes. He adds, however, that this is the greatest feat that could be imagined; and I, for my part, doubt whether even the marvellously comprehensive mind of a musical genius would be able to accomplish it.

These facts illustrate the manner in which composers, being virtuosi of the musical imagination, are able to elaborate mentally, and keep in the memory, a complete operatic or symphonic score, just as, for example, Alexander Dumas, when he wished to write a new novel, used to hire a yacht and sail on Southern waters for several days, lying on his back-which, by the way, is an excellent method of starting a train of thought-and thus arranging all the details of the plot in his mind.

The exact way in which original ideas come into the mind is, of course, a mystery in music as in literature. Every genius passes through a period of apprenticeship, in which he assimilates the discoveries of his predecessors, reminiscences of which make up the bulk of his early works. Everybody knows how Mozartish, e.g., Beethoven's first symphony is, and how much in turn Mozart's early works smack of Haydn. Gradually, as courage comes with years, the gifted composer sets out for unexplored forests and mountain ranges, attempting to scale summits which none of his predecessors had trod. I say, as courage comes, for in music, strange to say, it requires much courage to give the world an entirely new thought. An original composer needs not only the courage that is common to all explorers, but he must invariably come back prepared to face the accusation that his new territory is nothing but a howling wilderness of discords. This has been the case quite recently with Wagner, as it was formerly with Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart, the early Italian composers, and many others, including even Rossini, who certainly did not deviate very far from the beaten paths. Seyfried relates that when Beethoven came across articles in which he was criticised for violating established rules of composition, he used to rub his hands gleefully and burst out laughing. "Yes, yes!" he exclaimed, "that amazes them, and makes them put their heads together, because they have not seen it in any of their text-books."

Fortunately for their own peace of mind, the majority of the minor composers never get beyond a mere rearrangement of remembered melodies and modulations. Their minds are mere galleries of echoes. They write for money or temporary notoriety, and not because their brains teem with ideas that clamor for utterance. The pianist Hummel was one of this class of composers. But whatever his short-comings, he had at least, as Wagner admits, the virtue of frankness. For when he was asked one day what thoughts or images he had in his mind when he composed a certain concerto, he replied that he had been thinking of the eighty ducats which his publisher had promised him!

Yet even the greatest composers cannot always command new thoughts at will, and it is therefore of interest to note what devices some of them resorted to rouse their dormant faculties. Weber's only pupil, Sir Julius Benedict, relates that Weber spent many mornings in "learning by heart the words of 'Euryanthe,' which he studied until he made them a portion of himself, his own creation, as it were. His genius would sometimes lie dormant during his frequent repetitions of the words, and then the idea of a whole musical piece would flash upon his mind, like the bursting of light into darkness."

I have already referred to the manner in which Weber, while composing certain parts of the "Freischütz," got his imagination into the proper state of creative frenzy by picturing to himself his bride as if she were singing new arias for him. Now, in one of Wagner's essays there is a curious passage which seems to indicate that Wagner habitually conjured his characters before his mental vision and made them sing to him, as it were, his original melodies. He advises a young composer who wishes to follow his example never to select a dramatic character for whom he does not entertain a warm interest. "He should divest him of all theatrical apparel," he continues, "and then imagine him in a dim light, where he can only see the expression of his eyes. If these speak to him, the figure itself is liable presently to make a movement, which will perhaps alarm him-but to which he must submit; at last the phantom's lips tremble, it opens its mouth, and a supernatural voice tells him something that is entirely real, entirely tangible, but at the same time so extraordinary (similar, for instance, to what the ghostly statue, or the page Cherubin told Mozart) that it arouses him from his dream. The vision has disappeared; but his inner ear continues to hear; an idea has occurred to him, and this idea is a so-called musical motive."

As this passage implies, and as he has elsewhere explained at length, Wagner looked on the mental process of composing as something analogous to dreaming-as a sort of clairvoyance, which enables a musician to dive down into the bottomless mysteries of the universe, as it were, thence to bring up his priceless pearls of harmony. According to the Kant-Schopenhauer philosophy, of which Wagner was a disciple, objects or things in themselves do not exist in space and time, which are mere forms under which the human mind beholds them. We cannot conceive anything except as existing either in space or in time. But there is one exception, according to Wagner, and that is harmony. Harmony exists not in time, for the time-element in music is melody; nor does it exist in space, for the simultaneousness of tones is not one of extension or space. Hence our harmonic sense is not hampered by the forms of the mind, but gives us a glimpse of things as they are in themselves-a glimpse of the world as a superior spirit would behold it. And hence the mysterious superterrestrial character of such new harmonies as we find in the works of Wagner and Chopin-which are unintelligible to ordinary mortals, while to the initiated they come as revelations of a new world.

Without feeling the necessity of accepting all the consequences of Wagner's mystical doctrine, which I have thus freely paraphrased, no one can deny that the attitude of a composer in the moment of inspiration is closely analogous to that known as clairvoyance. The celebrated vocalist, Vogel, tells an anecdote of Schubert which shows strikingly how completely this composer used to be transported to another world, and become oblivious of self, when creating. On one occasion Vogel received from Schubert some new songs, but being otherwise occupied could not try them over at the moment. When he was able to do so, he was particularly pleased with one of them, but as it was too high for his voice, he had it copied in a lower key. About a fortnight afterwards they were again making music together, and Vogel placed the transposed song before Schubert on the desk of the piano. Schubert tried it through, liked it, and said, in his Vienna dialect, "I say, the song's not so bad; whose is it?" so completely, in a fortnight, had it vanished from his mind. Grove recalls the fact that Sir Walter Scott once similarly attributed a song of his own to Byron; "but this was in 1828, after his mind had begun to fail."

There is no reason for doubting Vogel's story when we bear in mind the enormous fertility of Schubert. He was unquestionably the most spontaneous musical genius that ever lived. Vogel, who knew him intimately, used the very word clairvoyance in referring to his divine inspirations, and Sir George Grove justly remarks that, "In hearing Schubert's compositions, it is often as if one were brought more immediately and closely into contact with music itself, than is the case in the works of others; as if in his pieces the stream from the great heavenly reservoir were dashing over us, or flowing through us, more directly, with less admixture of any medium or channel, than it does in those of any other writer-even of Beethoven himself. And this immediate communication with the origin of music really seems to have happened to him. No sketches, no delay, no anxious period of preparation, no revision appear to have been necessary. He had but to read the poem, to surrender himself to the torrent, and to put down what was given him to say, as it rushed through his mind."

Schubert was the most omnivorous song composer that ever lived. He could hardly see a poem-good, bad, or indifferent, without being at once seized by a passionate desire to set it to music. He sometimes wrote half a dozen or more songs in one day, and some of them originated under the most peculiar circumstances. The serenade, "Hark, hark, the lark," for instance, was written in a beer garden. Schubert had picked up a volume of Shakespeare accidentally lying on the table. Presently he exclaimed, "Such a lovely melody has come into my head, if I only had some paper." One of his friends drew a few staves on the back of a bill of fare, and on this Schubert wrote his entrancing song. "The Wanderer," so full of original details, was written in one evening, and when he composed his "Rastlose Liebe," "the paroxysm of inspiration," as Grove remarks, "was so fierce that Schubert never forgot it, but, reticent as he often was, talked of it years afterward."

These stories remind one of an incident related by Goethe, who one day suddenly found a poem spontaneously evolved in his mind, and so complete that he ran to the desk and wrote it diagonally on a piece of paper, fearing it might escape him if he took time to arrange the paper.

In a word, Schubert improvised with the pen, and he seems to have been an exception to Schopenhauer's rule, that the greatest writers are those whose thoughts come to them before writing, and not while writing. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that much of the music which Schubert composed in this rapid manner is poor stuff; and although his short songs are generally perfect in their way, his longer compositions would have gained very much had he taken the trouble to think them out beforehand, or to revise and condense them afterward, which he very rarely did.

With a strange perversity and persistency, musical students and the public have been led to believe that the surest sign of supreme musical inspiration is the power to dash off melodies as fast as the pen can travel. Weber relates in his autobiographic sketch that he wrote the second act of one of his early operas in ten days, and adds, significantly, that this was "one of the many unfortunate results of the wonderful anecdotes about great masters, which make a deep impression on youthful minds, and incite them to imitation."

Mozart has always been pointed to by preference to show how a really great master shakes his melodies from his sleeves, as it were. Yet, on reading Jahn's elaborate account of Mozart's life and works, nothing strikes one more than the emphasis he places on the amount of preliminary labor which Mozart expended on his compositions, before he wrote them down. It appears to be a well-authenticated fact that Mozart postponed writing the overture to "Don Giovanni," until the midnight preceding the evening when the opera was to be performed in public; and that at seven o'clock in the morning, the score was ready for the copyist, although he had been drinking punch and was so sleepy that his wife had to allow him to doze for two hours, and kept him awake the rest of the time by telling him funny stories. But this incident loses much of its marvellous character, when we bear in mind that Mozart, according to his usual custom, must have had every bar of the overture worked out in his head, before he sat down to commit it to paper. This last labor was almost purely mechanical, and for this reason, whenever he was engaged in writing down his scores, he not only worked with amazing rapidity, but did not object to conversation, and even seemed to like it; and on one occasion when at work on an opera, he wrote as fast as his hands could travel, although in one adjoining room there was a singing teacher, in another a violinist, and opposite an oboeist, all in full blast!

Mozart himself tried to correct the notion, prevalent even in his day, that he composed without effort-that melodies flowed from his mind as water from a fountain. During one of the rehearsals of "Don Giovanni," at Prague, he remarked to the leader of the orchestra: "I have spared neither pains nor labor in order to produce something excellent for Prague. People are indeed mistaken in imagining that art has been an easy matter to me. I assure you, my dear friend, no one has expended so much labor on the study of composition as I have. There is hardly a famous master whose works I have not studied thoroughly and repeatedly."

Jahn surmises, doubtless correctly, that the reason why Mozart habitually delayed putting down his pieces on paper, was because this process, being a mere matter of copying, did not interest him so much as the composing and creating, which were all done before he took up the pen. "You know," he writes to his father, "that I am immersed in music, as it were, that I am occupied with it all day long, that I like to study, speculate, reflect." He was often absent-minded and even followed his thoughts while playing billiards or nine pins, or riding. Like Beethoven, he walked up and down the room, absorbed in thought, even while washing his hands; and his hair-dresser used to complain that Mozart would never sit still, but would jump up every now and then and walk across the room to jot down something, or touch the piano, while he had to run after him holding on to his pigtail.

Allusion has been made to the fact that it was almost always in the open air that new ideas sprouted in Mozart's mind, especially when he was travelling. Whenever a new theme occurred to him he would jot it down on a slip of paper, and he always had a special leather bag for preserving these sketches, which he carefully guarded. These sketches differ somewhat in appearance, but generally they contained the melody or vocal part, together with the bass, and brief indications of the middle parts, and here and there mention of a special instrument. This was sufficient subsequently to recall the whole composition to his memory. In elaborating his scores he hardly ever made any deviations from the original conception, not even in the instrumentation; which seems the more remarkable when we reflect that he was the originator of many new orchestral combinations, the beauty of which presented itself to his imagination before his ears had ever heard them in actuality. These new tone-colors, as Jahn remarks, existed intrinsically in the orchestra as a statue does in the marble; but it remained for the artist to bring them out; and that Mozart was bound to have them is shown by the anecdote of a musician who complained to him of the difficulty of a certain passage, and begged him to alter it. "Is it possible to play those tones on your instrument?" Mozart asked; and when he was told it was, he replied, "Then it is your affair to bring them out."

Beethoven's way of mental composing appears at first sight to differ widely from Mozart's. But if we had as many specimens of Mozart's preliminary sketches as we have of Beethoven's, the difference would perhaps appear less pronounced, and would to a large extent resolve itself into the fact that Beethoven did not trust his memory so much as Mozart did, and therefore put more of his tentative, or rough sketches, on paper. He always carried in his pockets a few loose sheets of music paper, or a number of sheets bound together in a note-book. If his supply gave out accidentally, he would seize upon any loose sheet of paper, or even a bill of fare, to note down his thoughts. In a corner of his room lay a large pile of note-books, into which he had copied in ink his first rough pencil-sketches. Many of these sketch-books have been fortunately preserved, and they are among the most remarkable relics we have of any man of genius. They prove above all things that rapidity of work is not a test of musical inspiration, and that Carlyle was not entirely wrong when he defined genius as "an immense capacity for taking trouble." In the "Fidelio" sketch-book, for example, sixteen pages are almost entirely filled with sketches for a scene which takes up less than three pages of the vocal score. Of the aria, "O Hoffnung," there are as many as eighteen different versions, and of the final chorus, ten; and these are not exceptional cases by any means. As Thayer remarks: "To follow a recitative or aria through all its guises is an extremely fatiguing task, and the almost countless studies for a duet or terzet are enough to make one frantic." Thayer quotes Jahn's testimony that these afterthoughts are invariably superior to the first conception, and adds that "some of his first ideas for pieces which are now among the jewels of the opera are so extremely trivial and commonplace, that one would hardly dare to attribute them to Beethoven, were they not in his own handwriting."

On the other hand these sketch-books bear witness to the extreme fertility of Beethoven's genius. Thayer estimates that the number of distinct ideas noted in them, which remained unused, is as large as the number which he used; and he refers to this as a commentary on the remark which Beethoven made toward the close of his life: "It seems to me as if I were only just beginning to compose." And Nottebohm, who has studied these sketch-books more thoroughly than any one else, thinks that if Beethoven had elaborated all the symphonies which he began in these books we should have at least fifty instead of nine.

The sketch-books show that Beethoven was in the habit of working at several compositions at the same time; and the ideas for these are so jumbled up in his books that he himself apparently needed a guide to find them. At least, when ideas belonging together are widely separated he used to connect them by writing the letters VI over the first passage and DE over the second. He also used to write the word "better" in French on some pages, or else the figures 100, 500, 1,000, etc., probably, as Schindler thinks, to indicate the relative value of certain ideas.

When his mind was in a creative mood, Beethoven was as completely absorbed (or "absent-minded," as we generally say) as Mozart. This is illustrated by an amusing trait described by his biographers. "Beethoven was extremely fond of washing. He would pour water backwards and forwards over his hands for a long time together, and if at such times a musical thought struck him and he became absorbed, he would go on until the whole floor was swimming, and the water had found its way through the ceiling into the room beneath" (Grove). Consequently, as may be imagined, he not infrequently had trouble with his landlord. He was constantly changing his lodgings, and always spent the summer in the country, where he did his best work. "In the winter," he once remarked to Rellstab, "I do but little; I only write out and score what I have composed in the summer. But that takes a long time. When I get into the country I am fit for anything."

On account of his deafness, Beethoven affords a striking instance of the power musicians have of imagining novel sound effects which they never could have heard with their ears. In literature we blame a writer who, as the expression goes, "evolves his facts from his inner consciousness;" but in music this proceeding is evidence of the highest genius, because music has only a few elementary "facts" or prototypes, in nature. Beethoven was deaf at thirty-two. He never heard his "Fidelio," and for twenty-five years he could hear music only with the inner ear. But musicians are in one respect more fortunate than painters. If Titian had lost his eyesight, he could never have painted another picture; whereas Beethoven after losing his principal sense still continued to compose, better than ever. Mr. Thayer even thinks that from a purely artistic point of view Beethoven's deafness may have been an advantage to him; for it compelled him to concentrate all his thoughts on the symphonies in his head, undisturbed by the harsh noises of the external world. And that he did not forego the delights of music is obvious from the fact that the pleasure of creating is more intense than the pleasure of hearing; and is, moreover illustrated by the great delight he felt in his later years when he read the compositions of Schubert (for he could not hear them) and found in them the evidence of genius, which he did not hesitate to proclaim.

In considering Beethoven's deafness, it is well to bear in mind the words of Schopenhauer: "Genius is its own reward," he says. "If we look up to a great man of the past we do not think, How fortunate he is to be still admired by all of us; but, How happy he must have been in the immediate enjoyment of a mind the traces of which refresh generations of men." Schumann, Weber, and others, repeatedly testify in their letters to the great delight they felt in creating; and at the time when he was arranging his "Freischütz" for the piano, Weber wrote, more forcibly than elegantly, that he was enjoying himself like the devil.

I have already stated that Weber, like Beethoven, generally got his new ideas during his walks in the country; and riding in an open carriage seems to have especially stimulated his brain, as it did Mozart's. The weird and original music to the dismal Wolf's-Glen scene in the "Freischütz" was conceived one morning when he was on his way to Pillnitz, and the wagon was occasionally shrouded in dense clouds.

A curious story is told by a member of Weber's orchestra, showing how a musical theme may be sometimes suggested by incongruous and grotesque objects. He was one day taking a walk with Weber in the suburbs of Dresden. It began to rain and they entered a beer garden which had just been deserted by the guests in consequence of the rain. The waiters had piled the chairs on the tables, pell mell. At sight of these confused groups of chairs and tables Weber suddenly exclaimed, "Look here, Roth, doesn't that look like a great triumphal march? Thunder! hear those trumpet blasts! I can use that-I can use that!" In the evening he wrote down what his imagination had heard, and it subsequently became the great march in "Oberon."

Some psychological interest also attaches to the remark with which Weber's son prefaces this story-namely that Weber was constantly transmuting forms and colors into sounds; and that lines and forms seemed to stimulate his melodic inventiveness pre-eminently, whereas sounds affected his harmonic sense.

My subject is by no means exhausted, but for fear of fatiguing the reader with an excess of details I will close with a few facts regarding Richard Wagner's method of composing. I am indebted for these facts to the kindness of Herr Seidl, of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, who was Wagner's secretary for several years, and helped him prepare "G?tterd?mmerung" and "Parsifal" for the press.

Like his famous predecessors, Wagner always carried some sheets of music paper in his pocket, on which he jotted down with a pencil such ideas as came to him on solitary walks, or at other times. These he gave to his wife, who inked them over and arranged them in piles. In these sketches the vocal part was always written out in full, while the orchestral part was roughly indicated in two or more additional staves. Frau Cosima has preserved most of these sketches, and they will doubtless some day be reproduced in fac-simile, like some of Beethoven's.

Whenever Wagner was in the mood for composing he would say to Herr Seidl, "Bring me my sketches." Then he would retire to his composing room, to which no one was ever admitted, not even his wife and children. At lunch-time, the servant would bring something to the ante-room, without being allowed to see the master in his sanctum. How Wagner conducted himself there is not known, except that strange vocal sounds, and a few passionate chords on the piano would occasionally reach the ears of neighbors. Wagner appears to have used his piano just as Beethoven did his, even after he had become deaf:-as a sort of lightning-rod for his fervent emotions.

Much nonsense has been written concerning the fact that Wagner used to wear gaudy costumes of silk and satin while he was composing, and that he had colored glass in his windows, which gave every object a mysterious aspect. He was called an imitator of the eccentric King of Bavaria, and some went so far as to declare him insane. But in truth, Wagner was simply endeavoring to put himself into an atmosphere most favorable for dramatic creation. We all know how much clothes help to make a man, in more than one sense; and any one who has ever taken part in private theatricals will remember how much the costume helped him to get into the proper frame of mind for interpreting his r?le. This was all that Wagner aimed at in wearing his medi?val costumes; and the wonderful realism and vividness of his dramatic conceptions certainly more than justify the unusual methods he pursued to attain them.

After elaborating the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic details of his scores, Wagner considered his main task done, and the orchestration was completed down-stairs in his music room. In his earliest operas Wagner did not write his scenes in their regular order, but took those first which specially proffered themselves. Of the "Flying Dutchman," for instance, he wrote the spinning chorus first, and he was delighted to find on this occasion, as he himself says, that he could still compose after a long interruption. He used a piano but rather to stimulate and correct than to invent. In his later works the piano is absolutely out of the question. He wrote the music, scene after scene, following the text; and the conception of the whole score is so absolutely orchestral that the piano cannot even give as faint a notion of it as a photograph can give of the splendors of a Titian. Wagner, as he himself tells us, was unable to play his scores on the piano, but always tried to get Liszt to do that for him.

It is possible that some of my readers have never seen a full orchestral score of "Siegfried" or "Tristan." If so, I advise them to go to a music store and look at one as a matter of curiosity. They will find a large quarto volume, every page of which represents only one line of music. There are separate staves for the violins, violas, cellos, double basses, flutes, bassoons, clarinets, horns, tubas, trombones, kettle-drums, etc., each family forming a quartette in itself, and each having its own peculiar emotional quality. In conducting an opera the Kapellmeister has to keep his eye and ear at the same time on each of these groups, as well as on the vocal parts and scenic effects. If this requires a talent rarely found among musicians, how very much greater must be the mind which created this complicated operatic score! No one who tries to realize what this implies, and remembers that Wagner wrote several of his best music dramas among the mountains of Switzerland, years before he could dream of ever hearing the countless new harmonies and orchestral tone-colors which he had discovered, can deny, I think, that I was right in maintaining that the composing of an opera is the most wonderful achievement of human genius.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares