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Its Progress, Present State, and Prospects.
the veteran Louis Spohr. The European celebrity of this fine artist has been nobly earned;-it has been the reward immense and very successful application to composition, with an uncompromising fidelity to the ideal of his classical predecessors. It compensates somewhat for the inferiority of our own times in point of musical invention, that the improved condition of artists enables them to dispense with those popular considerations and appeals, from which Mozart and Haydn were never entirely free. Hence, in the finales to certain of their instrumental works, trios, quartets, &c., we see the obvious necessity of composers who must please to live,' exhibited in a condescension to the favour of the majority, to which the artist of the present day would not give an instant's admittance. All that he has now to do, is to follow out his fancy, write the best he can, and commit it fairly to the public-let who will admire or not. It is true that, with this severe standard of chamber music, and this entire absence of triviality and commonplace, we miss the fascination of Mozart's pen: the charming vivacity, the entire new face on every composition, and that most characteristic art, by which a mean or vulgar theme is suddenly represented under an aspect the most surprising and delightful to the connoisseur. It suits well with the qualities and condition of modern genius to be free from these difficult necessities of self-vindication. Spohr and Mendelssohn differ from the great founders of the modern school in nothing more than in the obvious mould of their composition: their new works seldom or never disclose entirely new scenes, free from reminiscences of themselves or others. With Mozart and Beethoven it was not thus; the physiognomy of their works is of an inexhaustible variety, and it must have been utterly impossible to the most gifted auditor of any new sonata, trio, or quartet, by them, to infer from one what would be the appearance of the next.
If, however, intellectual novelty be not the prevailing feature of modern composition, we have reason to admire the industry with which its place is supplied by new designs, new combinations and effects. Spohr, at an age when most men are not indifferent to repose, and when, by one of his approved good service to music, it might be most honourably enjoyed, has entered upon a new path in his art as a pianoforte composer. His first sonata in A flat, dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn, contains, in the opening allegro, one of the loveliest effusions of vocal style that the art has known since the days of Dussek. A designed compliment to the author of the Lieder ohne Wörte' seems to have excited all his powers of song, while the new medium of expression, a keyed instrument, and not a violin, has been favourable to his ideas, and corrected a vicious mannerism and monotony, into
which his figures,* for the latter instrument, have a tendency to run. His three new concertante trios for pianoforte, violin, and violoncello, are characterised by a great superiority in the writing and effects of the stringed parts over those made by mere pianoforte writers, and supply that mixture of refinement of style, and difficulty of execution, which is the main requirement of the chamber music of the day. The master is evident in the handling of every thing of Spohr's, from the two-part exercises of his admirable violin school, to the profound counterpoint of his double quartets. And yet, such is the peculiarity of Spohr-his predilection for a certain chromatic harmony-for the enharmonic change, for sundry closes and cadences, which are at once recognised as his, and give an unmistakeable air to his music, that though he has attempted nearly all the styles of the art, he has completely succeeded only in a part of them. What he produces from the energy of his own nature is truly admirable; his feeling being profound and his taste exquisite; but when it becomes expedient that he change the style, he is not so happy. For this reason his operas, with the exception of the pretty and naïve 'Azor and Zemira,' will be remembered chiefly for isolated beauties and single scenes of merit, rather than for connected and condensed interest, as entire works. The same defect of fancy which militates against the success of his dramas, also places his orchestral symphonies, in the aggregate, at a distance from those of Mozart and Beethoven, which will not permit us to consider them very successful. Even the two last, The Power of Sound,' and the "Historical Symphony,' descriptive of the various epocha of the art, seem neither in England, nor on the continent, to have realised the new effects that the programme promised. The most complete successes of Spohr relate to branches of composition, in which his mannerism has been less sensibly conspicuous as an impediment to gratification. His oratorios, 'Die letzten Dinge,' and its successor, the Crucifixion,' have a sweetness, gravity, and depth of religious feeling, to which nothing, in modern music, can make equal pretension; their feeling flows entirely from the author's breast, without reviving any idea of model or exemplar. Let us recall his numerous quartets, quintets, and double quartets, for violins, his concertos for violin, clarionet, &c., his magnificent overtures-of which that to 'Faust' will always remain a striking example; the sacred music above-mentioned-his nonetto, and other pieces of harmony; his separate songs and dramatic scenes, constructed somewhat on the model of Mozart,—and we have a coup d'œil of the available services to music, public and private,
* Figures (figuren), so the Germans term the form of certain bravura passages, or the motion of certain subjects.
Its Progress, Present State, and Prospects.
of this celebrated master. By his side we may now place for a moment one or two memorable artists deceased during the present century. Hummel, though limited in the range of his compositorial endowments, had a most pleasing warmth of fancy, and an air of inspiration in his composition, with a total absence of mannerism; he was also first rate in two styles-concerted pianoforte music, and in the masses of his own church. Since the death of Haydn, Catholic music has scarcely received any contribution so effective and splendid as the masses of Hummel, —whether clearness of the fugues, brilliancy and richness of the orchestral accompaniments, or a certain ecclesiastical gusto, are considered. The fault of the classical Hummel was a treacherous memory, which betrayed him into the unconscious appropriation of many good things, originally belonging to Mozart and Beethoven. It is remarkable, that neither Hummel nor Cherubini, another acknowledged master of the orchestra, contributed a single symphony to vary our slender stock of first-rate works of that class; Clementi was the only man of their rank of inventive genius, who had the courage to signalise his incapacity by an attempt. If the abstinence of musicians from any style in which perfection has been achieved, with numerous examples of the failure in it of the most redoubted talents, be any criterion of the difficulty and honour of the path, this retrospective glance certainly elevates Spohr as a symphonist. But, though interest and amusement are sustained by the productions of modern pens, we recede farther and farther from the poetical gusto of the style; the art, in its present condition, desiderates a revival-an entire freedom from the magical and absorbing influence of the past-a new pen, in which the dead shall not speak, as they do ever and anon in the novelties of Spohr and Mendelssohn. This, too, has been attempted by Berlioz, in Paris, with ludicrous failure; and it seems to be the fate of symphony that, from the time of Holzbauer and Vanhall, the predecessors of Haydn and Mozart, to that of our contemporaries, Berlioz and Potter, whole reams of paper should have been blotted to no other purpose, than to establish the indisputable pre-eminence of some thirty or forty classical works.
In justice to Mendelssohn it should, however, be observed, that his symphonies, of which a very respectable family is by this time accumulated, show progressive interest: his last in A, heard here during the late Philharmonic season, is rich in the newest and most impressive orchestral effects, and though he has certainly attained the period of life at which the artist has generally reached his culminating point—the vivid fancy of youth being in him now tempered with the judgment and experience of considerable practice-it would still be hazardous to attempt to set bounds to his
The individuality of this most interesting master is not less striking than that of Spohr, though manifested in a totally dissimilar manner :—while the one is wedded to the peculiarities of his own elegiacal style and graceful turn of harmony and cadence -the works of the other are characterised by an adroit fusion of all the classics of the art. Of the composers from whom Mendelssohn has most liberally borrowed, the principal are certainly Bach and Beethoven. We speak this in no dishonourable sense; for his charming and most discriminative reminiscences have not only been highly conducive to the gratification of the amateurs of the day, but have consolidated the principles of true taste, and awakened new faith in the classics-we allude to it, therefore, rather as a fact in connexion with his compositions, which imparts to them their strongest character and colouring. To catch the tone and style of the greatest musicians without suffering them to degenerate or awaken mean comparisons, could only be accomplished by great native power, profound science, and varied resources, blended with a principle of combination as rare. cannot, and would not, separate Mendelssohn from those of his musical idols with whom his entire intellectual and sensitive being is involved, to ascertain the exact merit and extent of his originality. It is for him to pursue rejoicingly the path that he has selected, and for the public to enjoy.
Seated at the piano as solo or concerto player, Mendelssohn certainly realises the most complete idea of the accomplished artist. Trusting much to his impulses, and capable of great emotion and enthusiasm, he is yet never transported in the improvisation of his cadenzas into any combinations of the difficult, the surprising, or the eccentric, which his execution imperfectly masters. There order reigns throughout; and the hearer has only leisure to admire the uncommonly forcible and polished execution when he has dismissed his surprise at the far-sighted calculation of effect, the keeping maintained with the composition in hand, and the fine extravagance of fancy manifested. The extempore cadences of Mendelssohn to Bach's triple concerto, performed by him, Thal-' berg, and Moscheles, at the morning concert of the latter, and to Beethoven's pianoforte concerto in G, performed by him at a concert of the Philharmonic Society, were certainly the most memorable things of the last London musical season. On the former occasion it was extraordinary to notice the diminished lustre of that professed master of effect, Thalberg, when required to illustrate Bach by the side of Mendelssohn-not only were the ideas destitute of the true character, but even the touch seemed inferiorand so powerful and appropriate was the form of cadence selected by Mendelssohn (an unison passage in double octaves which recalled
Its Progress, Present State, and Prospects.
the fantastic style of the pedal solos in Bach's organ fugues), that when once heard each previous attempt was forgotten, and this alone seemed to stamp truth and conviction on the mind of the connoisseur.
As a composer for the pianoforte, Mendelssohn has effected a large opening for the best music in his 'Lieder ohne Wörte,' which from being gently attractive at first, through pleasing melody and novelty in the harmonic disposition of the hands, has gradually extended itself in designs of greater elaboration that demand a first-rate execution to express them, and revealing many fine combinations and new effects peculiar to the author's style of playing, at length interested the whole body of musicians. This new form of composition, which originated with Mendelssohn, seems happily designed to give local habitation and a name to certain little jets of fancy and effect, probably not worth the development of a sonata, and yet too good to be lost. Accompanying these lighter effusions we have concertos, pianoforte quartets, and trios-and sonatas, chiefly of late, with violoncello obligato-a combination in which the composer has worthily followed up what Beethoven long since most admirably began. In all his chamber music for the pianoforte and stringed instruments, there is reason to admire the broad and open style-the masterly accompaniments and the fine contrast of effects. Some of the solos of his pianoforte quartets (of the one in B minor for instance), may be distinguished as the finest specimens of brilliant harmonic figures-combining the utmost clearness in the progressions with rapidity of movementthat modern times have produced. In his quartets for stringed instruments, of which we are sorry to say we have heard but few, he appears to us less successful-seeking effect at the expense of greater difficulties than belong naturally to that refined style of chamber music, and often employing more counterpoint than fancy or feeling.
An organ performer and a devoted student of that sacred instrument, Mendelssohn, is found naturally in his element in fugues ⚫ and church performances. St. Paul' is a sombre and severe specimen of the modern oratorio-its science and elevation of style extend at times to the characteristics of Bach and Handel; but the ariose beauty of the latter is wanting; and though the hearer is often exalted in the course of the performance, his final sensations are those of weariness. Vocal melody is certainly not the forte of the composer, correct as is his theory with regard to the style--the simplicity and purity of sacred song. The interest of the well-known air Jerusalem'-if air it can be truly called-is purely harmonic. Herein is the deficiency which may prevent our receiving any numerous collection of extensive