The Early Symphonists
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE development of orchestral instruments, and the skill obtained by their players, paved the way for the arrival of the early symphonists. The first of these was Franz Joseph Haydn, sometimes called the father of the modern orchestra. While Handel and Bach, except in rare cases, treated the orchestra as a collection of instrumental voices, Haydn generally treated it as though it were a single organ-like instrument, with many varying stops, thus producing a more massive tone-coloring, the greater variety of combinations of instruments in large numbers resulting in a greater volume of complex sound. While it is true that in later life he learned much from his pupil, Mozart, about the use of solo instruments and their grouping, his is the honor of being the pioneer in the orchestral world. He was the first great tone-painter, all preceding efforts being but preparatory steps to the results obtained by his genius.
The orchestra is the preferable medium of the tone-poet for the expression of lofty conceptions and emotional moods wherewith he would move the hearts and minds of his hearers.
This, to be sure, had been done to a degree in vocal composition by some of the Netherlanders and early Italian masters, such as Willaert, Palestrina, and the Gabrielis, but they were limited by the apparatus at their disposal.
Bach, Handel and Gluck had a keen insight into the individuality of sound of such orchestral instruments as reached artistic excellence in their time, and had written obbligato solos for them, and used them for characteristic accompaniments, but these were merely incidental to their works. In the accompaniments of his Israel in Egypt Handel gave suggestions of the "plague of flies" and the "plague of frogs," but Haydn's orchestral representation of chaos makes us realize the "earth without form and void" in a most impressive manner. The praises of Spring had been sung by many composers in various manners, but no one had given such a picture of its arrival, accompanied by birds and flowers and balmy breezes, as the genial "Papa Haydn," as he was affectionately called by those who knew and loved him. In his Seasons he not only paints the spring in all its primitive beauty, but also the shady woods and bubbling brooks of summer, the melancholy days of fall, and the fierce and blustering winds of winter, each with its own special delights which are clearly set forth before us.
He was also the creator of the Sonata-form, upon which is based so much of the best modern orchestral and chamber music. With him, as with the later masters, the strings are the backbone, nay, the whole framework of the or chestra, and Beethoven would be difficult to conceive without the works of Haydn.
Receiving from Ph. E. Bach the sonata with a single theme, in his hands it lost its stiffness and conventionality and, transmuted by his genius, assumed the classical art-form of today, with its two contrasting themes, a duality that is the very foundation of the sonata and the symphony.
The predominantly ,religious spirit of Bach originated in his devotion to the Lutheran church; Handel depicted the heroes of the Israelites and other ancient nations; Gluck's themes all dealt with Greek heroes and heroism; but Haydn presents before our imagination the humble farmer with his daughter, her sweetheart, and their friends, in their homely duties and pleasures.
He was an intense lover of Nature and keenly susceptible to all her varying moods, and above all was genuinely Austrian in his love of life, of poetry and of humor, qualities that made him readily understood by the public, and find vivid expression in his minuets, which breathe the folk-spirit, in his orchestral rondos, which bubble over with the joy of life and its humor.
Genius is usually accompanied by simplicity, but rarely by humor. We get an occasional touch of humor in some of Bach's works, such as his "Coffee Cantata," the first D-major Prelude in the "Well-tempered Clavichord," and the Fugue on the "Postilion's horn;" we also see it peep out occasion-ally in Handel's works, as in the utterance of the giant Polyphemus in Acis and Galatea; in the works of Haydn, however, it is very prominent, and of the most ingenuous kind, both delicate and refined. His music enters the heart, and is thoroughly human in its expression.
That this was largely due to his environment, as well as to his natural gifts, is indisputable, and we will therefore briefly glance at a few pages of his life-history.
Franz Joseph Haydn was born on the 31st of March, 1732, the second child of a family of twelve, whose father was a humble mechanic. At the evening family gathering there was always music, a common trait among the laboring classes of Germany and Austria. On one of these evenings the village schoolmaster, noticing the boy's ability to learn songs, urged that he be sent to the near-by city of Hainburg to enter the school-choir. There he was noticed by Reutter, precentor of St. Stephen's cathedral at Vienna, who promptly engaged him as one of his choristers. As such, the boy lived in the parish-house, where he should have been happy and where he was entitled to receive a proper general education as well as superior musical instruction in return for his services. For some reason, however, Reutter came to dislike Joseph, and treated him badly, often chastising him without cause. After his voice broke, and having been found guilty of some boyish prank, Reutter turned him out into the street on a cold, rainy November night in 1749, without money or a place to sleep. After roaming around all night, he met one of the tenors of the choir, who took him home to his attic. The two years that followed were full of hardship and poverty for the boy, who managed, however, to make a precarious living by playing in bands, or at weddings and baptismal festivities, for the latter of which he occasionally wrote special music.
He also played the violin in street serenades for which he sometimes wrote the music, and at one of these, given in honor of the wife of Kurtz, the actor, he was noticed by this man, who, after some questioning, gave him some verses to be set to music for use in one of his comedies.
In 1750, desiring to live alone, he rented a garret in the house where Metastasio, the poet and librettist of the Italian opera, lived. There he practised on an old harpsichord which he had somehow acquired, wrote his first mass, and attracted the attention of his Italian poet-neighbor, who sought him out and secured him a pupil, Haydn receiving free board in payment for the lessons. He also introduced the young man to Porpora, the singing-teacher, whose valet and accompanist he soon became, for which services he received a small salary in addition to board at the upper servants' table, besides a home and instruction from his employer in singing and composition. The relationship between the director of Italian opera in Vienna and the struggling young musician are graphically described in George Sand's "Consuelo," both appearing, of course, under other names.
During the next few years he had various employers, wrote the music for a comic opera The Crooked Devil, which was an immediate success, and, in 1759, his first symphony in D major. At the age of 29 he entered the service of the noble family of Esterhazy, whose members had long been known as patrons of music and art. With them he remained thirty-three years, the greater part of that time as director of music, and not only received a handsome salary, but had an admirable opportunity for creative work, with a body of competent musicians at his command for testing and producing his compositions.
Under his direction the orchestra gradually increased from 17 to 24 members, who, as they loved their genial leader, played for him con amore, and this friendly relation, added to a life free from the cares of existence, bred in him the contemplative attitude so necessary to the creative artist. Having married a veritable Xantippe when but a youth, his life was not altogether calm and sunny; finally he refused to live with his wife, whom he nevertheless continued to support.
It was during his service with the Esterhazys that he perfected the form of the sonata and the symphony. He wrote a great many symphonies, which gradually came into favor elsewhere and made his name widely known.
It is, therefore, not surprising that in 1790 he was invited to come to London, whose musicians and musical public had expressed their appreciation of his quartets and symphonies. After some hesitation, Haydn accepted, and, after bidding an affectionate good-bye to friends and admirers, and especially to Mozart, who joked with him regarding his inability to speak the English language, departed for England. The twelve "Salomon" symphonies written during his visit there are considered his greatest works in that form, and earned him the admiration and esteem of all. While in London he heard some of Handel's oratorios, and was so impressed by their grandeur that he determined to write similar works.
After his contract had expired, Haydn returned to Vienna, laden with honors and riches. In 1794, after repeated invitations, he made another visit to England, which was even more successful than the previous one, the enthusiasm of the court and the musical public being extraordinary. The financial results of this visit, added to the salary as musical director which he still enjoyed, made him a wealthy man, free from worldly anxiety, and gave him the time and freedom for his two most important works, The Creation and The Seasons, ° which met with unprecedented and instantaneous success.
The genuine enthusiasm exhibited by the English, not only awakened in the aged musician a consciousness of his own value and musical powers, but aroused his countrymen and the Emperor, who began to appreciate the greatness of the modest man who had lived so long in comparative obscurity.
During the last years of his life his fame continued to in-crease, and he received honors and recognition from all sides. But the greatest were those showered upon him by the city of Vienna, which had a gold medal struck in his honor, presented him with "the freedom of the city," and through the nobility and art-patrons arranged for a gala performance of The Creation in celebration of his seventy-sixth birthday. The court and the leading musicians then living in Vienna, including Beethoven, were present at this performance, and the whole audience rose to its feet to do him honor when the aged Haydn was carried to his seat, surrounded by the noblest of the land, the ladies of the court vying with one another in making "Papa Haydn" comfortable.
One stirring incident which gave evidence of his patriotism, occurred shortly before his death. When the French under Napoleon entered his beloved city in 1809, and paraded through the streets, he caused his piano to be moved to the open window, and in his quavering voice sang his own setting of what is now the Austrian national hymn. So great was his renown, that when the French soldiers wished to silence the daring singer, their officers placed a guard of honor around the master's house. The excitement, however, was too much for him, and he died on May 30th.
The numerous symphonies preceding the final ones written for London, were but so many steps in the development of that art-form, which required much time and effort in the upbuilding and attainment of his ideal. In the Salomon symphonies, the period of experimentation was past, the idea of dual themes and their relation and contrasts fixed, and they therefore deserve to rank beside those of Beethoven and Mozart. In perfecting the sonata-form he established the technique of the form of the string-quartet as well as that of the symphony.
The content of his works .reflects the man in all his moods. He was an affectionate son, bore without complaint his union to a woman of violent temper, was ever ready to help the needy with hand, or pen, or purse, and was always sympathetic to the sorrowful and distressed.
His relations with Mozart are beautiful to contemplate. He was not only proud of his pupil, but did all he could to secure the young man public opportunity and favor, and early declared to the elder Mozart, "As an honest man I assure you before God that I consider your son the greatest of all composers."
Haydn's religion was a part of the man. His sacred compositions exhibit a lightness and gayety that is best ex-pressed in his own words: "When I think of the Divine Being my heart is so full of joy that the notes fly off as from a spindle; and, as I have a cheerful heart, He will pardon me if I serve Him cheerfully." No wonder he said to Mozart, who worried about the aged master's going to England without knowing the language, "My language is understood by all the world."
The second of the early symphonists was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg on Jan. 27th, 1756. His father, an excellent musician, was a wise guide and friend to the sensitive boy who often used to ask him, "Do you love me?" and whose tears came instantly if a negative answer was returned, even in fun. His inborn humility kept him modest and serious, especially in the practice of his art.
In considering Mozart's career, which presents one of the most brilliant phenomena known to musical history, we must not lose sight of the fact that, although extraordinarily precocious and endowed with most unusual natural gifts, he owed his wonderful artistic success in no small measure to his father's strict and thorough discipline and to the stimulating musical environment in which his life from earliest youth was spent. He was one of the rare geniuses of the world. Had some of the stories told of him not been so thoroughly authenticated by reliable witnesses, we might well think them vagaries of some fantastic brain. We know that, at the age of seven, he went with his sister and father on a concert-tour to the courts of Europe, being received everywhere with enthusiasm. We are told that even be-fore that time, at a string-quartet rehearsal at his home, he asked for a violin and permission to join in, and that when both requests were granted he began to play the second violin part, and soon with such skill that the regular player laid aside his instrument and allowed the boy to finish the quartet. We know of his feat of writing from memory, after one hearing, the celebrated Miserere of Allegri, that was always sung on Ash Wednesday at St. Peter's church in Rome. We know of the surprise which he gave the learned brethren of the monastery of Bologna, when he finished their allotted task of musical composition, which usually required hours from other candidates, in less than forty-five minutes.
We know that he wrote the violin-part of a sonata for violin and piano on the day that it was performed, and played the piano-part from the blank page. We know that he wrote and scored the overture to Don Giovanni in one night and the following morning, rehearsed it in the afternoon, and performed it that evening.
Being musically an exceedingly receptive child, he was given his first clavier instruction at the age of four, and after two years acquired not only considerable skill in playing the instrument, but wrote some small pieces for it, including a little sonata. The series of concert-tours, covering three years, made by the boy and his sister under their father's management, began with a trip to Munich and Vienna in 1762. The playing of the children created a sensation in these cities. This was followed in 1763 by a visit to France, where they gave two brilliant concerts at the court of Versailles; four sonatas for violin and harpsichord, published in Paris, were his first printed works.
They proceeded to England, where they remained for more than a year, and where the boy gave astonishing exhibitions of prima vista reading which secured him the favor and admiration of George III and his court.
Upon his return home at the age of ten, he composed his "Missa Solemnis" (which was performed under his own direction), his first symphonies and his first opera.
At the age of seventeen, still accompanied by his father, he visited Italy, where his genius was promptly recognized, the Pope conferring honors upon him, the Philharmonic Society of Bologna admitting him to membership after an examination which had deterred many musicians, and the city of Milan giving his opera Mitridate a number of performances under his own direction.
During a second visit to Paris, hoping to secure operatic recognition, he witnessed the war between the Gluckists and Piccinists; but, finding no opportunity to be heard, and saddened by the death of his mother, who had accompanied him on this journey, he returned to his home, and resumed the position of concertmeister (leader of the orchestra) to the Archbishop which had been conferred upon him in previous years. His salary here being quite insufficient, he decided to take up his abode in Vienna, where in 1782 he wrote the opera Die Entfuhrung aus den Serail, and married Con-stance Weber, an opera-singer.
All his concertizing and operatic labors, while securing him universal artistic recognition and beautiful presents, failed to bring him the financial rewards necessary to relieve his constant struggles against poverty. We have already spoken at some length of his later operas, which brought upon him the envious animosity of Italian composers, who were then still in operatic control in Vienna, and made his life a burden. Finally discouragement, incessant work and poverty resulted in his death on December 5, 1791.
Had he, during life, received but a small portion of the artistic recognition showered upon him after death, we can scarcely conceive what he might have accomplished in later years, especially when we remember that the greatest works of Bach, Handel, Haydn and Beethoven were written after they had passed their fortieth year, while Mozart died at the age of thirty-nine.
While Mozart adopted the sonata-form as designed by Haydn, his genius and individuality enabled him to imbue it with new elements, partly suggested by his close affiliation with the Italian operatic style, thus giving, especially to his "second themes," a more graceful cantabile character.
As early as 1789 he abandoned the use of the harpsichord for concert purposes and adopted in its stead the piano-forte, then manufactured by Stein of Augsburg. The form of scale-fingering fixed by Bach and his son, Philipp Emanuel, enabling the performer to play scales with agility, coupled with the light action of the piano, no doubt prompted Mozart to make florid scale-passages the basis of his keyboard virtuosity.
His compositions, especially in the slow movements, exhibit an expressive song-style even greater than that of Haydn. He had no sympathy with most contemporary pianists on account of their tendency toward velocity, and although his piano works, owing to the development of the instrument, have long been surpassed as such, their value as pure music will always remain.
The third of the three great masters responsible for the extraordinarily rapid development of instrumental music as a separate division of the art, was Beethoven. Having received the musical forms with their classic simplicity and artistic finish from the hands of Haydn and Mozart, his colossal genius enabled him to fill them with the characteristics of his own individuality in thought and expression. While the intention of the French and Italians had been the "combination of sounds in a manner agreeable to the ear," with Beethoven the art of music became the vehicle for the expression of every emotion.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born at Bonn on the 16th of December, 1770, of humble parentage, his mother being a domestic and his father a tenor singer in the Electoral choir.. His musical education was taken in hand in his fourth year by his father, a strict and stern master, who taught him until 1779. At the age of eight he had learned to play both the piano and violin very well, and at twelve had mastered Bach's "Well-tempered Clavichord." At fourteen he be-came assistant court organist at Bonn, and in 1787 made a visit to Vienna, where he met Mozart, who, after hearing him extemporize, exclaimed, "He will give the world some-thing worth listening to!"
Like Haydn, Beethoven was a great lover of nature, and it was during his country walks that he made the sketches of themes for future works. (These "sketch-books" have been gathered together and published by Nottebohm.) In 1792 he settled permanently in Vienna, where he received instruction from Haydn, who praised his work highly, and also from Albrechtsberger, whose verdict was, "He will never do anything properly."
At Vienna he soon became a member of the highest circles of artists and art-lovers, andwas in constant demand for musicales and soirées, where he displayed his originality in extempore playing. It was thus he met the Breuning family in Bonn, through whom he became acquainted with the best German and English literature, and also Count Waldstein, who became one of his best friends. Appearances as a concert pianist soon followed, the first taking place in Vienna in 1795, when he played his first piano concerto, and another shortly after-ward in Berlin, before Frederick William II, to whom, in appreciation of favors received, he dedicated two sonatas for 'cello and piano. He also met and defeated a number of rival pianists in public contests, all of which helped to spread his reputation as a musician and virtuoso.
About the year 1800, he began to have difficulty in hearing. As early as 1816 he was obliged to use an ear-trumpet, and by 1822 he had become totally deaf. In addition to this heavy misfortune, he had domestic troubles with an ungrateful nephew, left in his care by his brother Karl, who died in 1815. These unfortunate circumstances helped to create within him a feeling of distrust that was visited even upon his best friends, and, being very ignorant of business affairs, he was continually in financial trouble. In his music he rose above all this worry and affliction, for most of his compositions of that time, extending to Op. 90, express either exuberant joy or serene contemplation. The sonata-form in his hands received new life and became the vehicle of his emotions instead of a mere technical system. Sometimes his works reflect the joy of living, at other times they express the most in-tense passion, but they are always full of the virility of the man who fights fate and fights alone. The years extending from 1800 to 1815 are usually called his second period of activity and were productive of six of his nine symphonies, beginning with the "Eroica," his only opera, Fidelio, several overtures, an oratorio, some of his best chamber music, his piano concertos in G and E flat, and many sonatas. The later years of his life, spent in Vienna, were full of all sorts of worries, resulting in a despondency which nothing seemed able to remove. Although his financial difficulties had practically ceased some time before, he thought himself constantly in poverty and became almost unapproachable even to his friends. He labored unceasingly on his compositions, and his later works undoubtedly reflect the mental struggles of this period. In December, 1826, he caught a severe cold which developed into pneumonia, from the effects of which he died in March, 1827, surrounded by many friends and mourned by the entire world of music.
His greatest works, written during this final period, include the matchless "Ninth Symphony," with its choral Finale, the "Mass in D," and the later piano sonatas, all of which are full of the most daring flights of the imagination. His musical progress was marked by much abuse from contemporary dilettanti and musicians who decried his unconventionality of expression, but whose own works are now forgotten.
Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven stand on an equal plane, in their labors for the establishment and development of the symphony, the highest musical art-form, for, although their ideals were quite different, they all endeavored to express the beautiful, and each succeeded in his own way.
Haydn created the form of the symphony, with the idea of a second theme contrasting with the first, and of a "Durchführungssatz " or " working out," as it is called, and thus established a permanent model for future composers. Mozart accepted the form as received from Haydn, but his themes are more vocal and in the slow movements of his work he rises to the very heights of refined, exquisite song — a refinement like that of the face of Apollo, free from passion and toil.
Beethoven was -also capable of soaring into the heights of beautiful song, but he has a deeper pathos and is more forcible and impassioned in expressing his emotions. His was a strong soul, storm-tossed but always finally triumphant, and this characteristic stands out prominently in all his works. He often approaches the romantic, for he lived at a time when romanticism had begun to stir abroad, and when the soul-life of man was beginning to receive recognition.