The Art-song - Oratorio After Mendelssohn
( Originally Published 1905 )
Development of the Art-Song Idea. —A most si phase of musical activity is that centred around song for solo voice. In the period before the oper singing was the principal medium for vocal musi the Opera came a style of composition from which veloped the principle of the Aria, the latter dominat Opera and Oratorio for many years, as the for art-song for a solo voice. In this form, as we h the production of vocal effects, the making of a melody, and the opportunity for virtuosic displ sought first of all. It was not until the beginnin 19th century, when Schubert's peculiar genius assert that we meet what can be truly called the art-song of composition without the artificiality of the oper and with higher musicianly and artistic qualities th that mark the people's song. Several tendencies co to bring this about. Gluck's theories and practice composers and people to pay closer attention to and to its delivery. The development of instrume sic, particularly the principles of thematic treat composers to the inventing of new melodic and figures that should serve as the basis of accomp of higher artistic quality than those founded on so tion of the Alberti bass figure. Piano technic ha .I improved, and so had the instrument. And it ma said that the verse of this period was better suit dramatic musical setting than the formal, often sti artificial lyrics of earlier days, with their sheph shepherdesses and constant reference to pastoral and classical life.
Italian, French and English Forms.—A study of musical conditions in Italy, France, Germany and England shows a different style of the solo song in each country, each having some distinctive feature that maintains today, and one that may be said to characterize the song-idea of that people. The Italians were so taken with the opera and in the course of its development it so fully embodied the national love for sweet, graceful melody that a species of art-song apart from the opera had little or no chance to shape itself. The French Chanson has never yielded place to the methods which distinguish the modern art-song. The French language has certain qualities which seem to call for a treatment that centres the attention in the voice part rather than on the song as a whole, according to the German idea. Yet French composers have produced and still make most beautiful and charming songs which unmistakably embody the national characteristics, clearness, polish and an effective singing melody. The old English Ballads are pieces of narrative verse; but the term has been used so freely and for almost every kind of verse that it is not possible to give it a precise definition. Thomas Morley, in a work on music, which he published in 1597, mentions "songs which, being sung to a dittie may likewise be danced"; in 1636, in a book called "The Principles of Musicke," the author, Butler, refers to "the infinite multitude of Ballads set to sundry pleasant and delightful tunes by cunning and witty composers, with country dances fitted to them." The principles of musical construction and the character of the text are such that we do not find in the English ballad the true germ of the art-song.
The German "Lied," a poem intended for singing, as it came from the hands of the great poets, such as Goethe and Heine, seems to have afforded to composers the inspiration to the making of a style of song that should have the value of a musical setting in full consonance with the character of the text. As instrumental music developed, the Volkslied, the people's song, the natural medium for expression, gradually disappeared. Yet composers made use of it as a medium, such masters as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Weber giving attention to it, although the dema ~ d for a simple, clear melody, due to the dominance of th- Italian opera, and for an accompaniment that was alwa s much subordinated, prevented the art-song (Kunstlied) f om taking a high place. Since then the accompaniment as been given more and more prominence, less attention bring paid to pure melody and more to the value of har ony and rhythm as the means for characteristic color an. expression. Melody, which is made up of a succession of phrases, cannot furnish a sequence of sharp effects so radily as can well contrasted chords ; hence the Old idea of tune changed as harmony became better understood. T e methods of song composers vary, and a classification is ade by German writers: A song that has simple form . nd tune akin to that of the Folk-song is called "Volksth"mlich"; one that has the same tune to the different stanzas is called strophic ; one that is carefully worked out, the mu is illustrating every shade of meaning and emotion s called "Durchcomponirt"; a narrative song is called a `Ballad" or "Ballade." The great masters in song compos tion are Schubert, Schumann, Franz and Brahms.
Schubert as a Song Writer. —A consideration of Schubert's education and his general make-up shows cle. rly why he should seek outlet for self-expression in song rata er than in the large instrumental forms. We find that he was not systematically educated in musical science, like Mozart, Beethoven or Weber, and that he was by nature ve y spontaneous and amenable to external influences. Suc a composer is particularly open to the effect of a poem : nd will turn to the small song form rather than to the elaborate instrumental forms. Many of Schubert's songs wer: written on the spur of the moment in response to an impu se from reading a chance bit of verse. The first reading of t e poem usually gave the complete idea, both tune and ac.ompaniment; whether it should have the simple folk-so g character, a more declamatory style, strophic or the mire elaborate form, depended upon the character of the to it. It is fortunate for music that he was brought into contact with some of the finest lyrics in the field of poetry, such as called forth his highest powers in melody, harmony, rhythm, modulation, declamation and recitative, for he aimed to the very fullest extent possible to heighten the thought of the text by the emotional power of music. It is a phase of Schubert's genius that some of his finest songs were written before he had reached his majority.
Schumann and His Songs.—Schumann brought to song writing a different type of mind from that of Schubert, more poetic, more gloomy, more emotional, a fine literary training, a faculty for expression in word as well as in tone, a fund of new forms of expression in instrumental music, particularly the piano, so that we find in his songs certain elements that indicate development toward a more highly organized structure. 'Schumann was highly intellectual, hence we find in his songs a close union of voice and instrumental parts in working out the fundamental conception of the poet's meaning; and so deeply does he carry out this plan that the accompanist must enter most thoroughly into the singer's part, and vice versa, that the full effect be brought out; as compared with the songs of Schubert and Mendelssohn we can say that the latter are the "verses set to tunes, while Schumann's songs are poems in music." The piano part of a Schumann song contains the atmosphere of the poem, is an attempt to heighten the meaning by suggesting thoughts and feelings which the words, spoken or sung, cannot express; sometimes it is an entirely independent composition, and carries out to a final close the thought left unfinished by the voice, thus avoiding the conventional ending, by the singer, on the tonic chord. Schumann's effort was to express his own reading of the poet's lines by the musical means that seemed to him best suited to the purpose. To this end he refused to allow himself to be bound by conventional treatment, either of voice or instrument.
Robert Franz (1815-1892) combined in his songs the romanticism and general methods of Schumann, with a polyphonic treatment inspired by his deep study of Bach. He wrote to various styles of verse, hymns, to e-songs, lyrics of the field, the forest, the hunter, the solsier, and though his songs lack the tender, passionate, elodious quality of Schubert's and the deep poetic feeling of Schumann's, they are nevertheless models of perfect, e en elaborate workmanship in which the composer folio s with great faithfulness the mood of the poet; Schuman , on the contrary, seems to project his own interpretatic of the poem into his music, while Schubert seems to g asp the emotion at its highest moment and the song pour out as the spontaneous expression of the singer.
Three Modern Writers.—Of modern writers, those who contributed most to the development of the art-Song are Wagner, Brahms and Richard Strauss, the first-n med by his style and treatment of the voice and the instrumental part rather than by his songs, which are few in number. Brahms wrote nearly two hundred songs, varying in character and quality, and using a highly-developed ac+ompaniment, often intricate in its construction, compli ated in rhythm and restless in harmonic support, employing all the resources which his mastery of chromatic harmon, placed at his disposal. He frequently wrote in the stylĎ of the Folk-song, making use of its simple melodic quality, enriching it, however, by his great skill in elaboration in the accompaniment. Brahms' songs are great favorites on concert programs. Richard Strauss (b. 1864) is the leading composer of today, and has used in his songs the p inciples that distinguish his large works. These songs are very difficult, both for voice and accompaniment, and are full of tonal coloring, for Strauss has adapted to the i iniature form of the song the means of harmonic and hythmic effects which he uses so powerfully in his orchestral scores. When well sung and well played, the hearer canno but be absorbed by the wealth of musical effects of the highest emotional and picturesque quality displayed in Richard Strauss' songs. In a full study of songs and song writers, many more names would be mentioned; those selected for consideration in this lesson represent those who have contributed most significantly to the development of the modern art-song.
Oratorio Composers after Mendelssohn.—The later history of the Oratorio requires some consideration at this point. After Mendelssohn, many of the leading composers of Europe turned their attention to this form of composition, influenced, in many instances, by the splendid opportunities for production offered by the strong choral organizations and festival associations of Germany and England, as well as by the great advances made in orchestral playing, which gave to composers resources far beyond those at the hand of Mendelssohn and his predecessors. We may mention, among the Germans, Schumann, whose "Paradise and the Peri" was produced in 1843; Liszt, who was much attracted to sacred subjects, wrote two oratorios, "The Legend of St. Elizabeth" and "Christus"; Rubinstein, who used his great skill in tone painting with orchestral masses in "Paradise Lost" and in his sacred opera "The Tower of Babel" ; Brahms, whose "German Requiem" is a standard work to be done well only by thoroughly disciplined vocal and instrumental forces ; and Dvorâk, who has shown great power in his "Stabat Mater." Among the French writers most prominent in this form of composition are Berlioz, whose "Requiem" is a colossal work in which he drew upon all the resources of the orchestra to heighten the powerful, dramatic character of the text; Gounod, who wrote his remarkable works, "The Redemption" and "Mors et Vita" for English production; Saint-Saëns, whose "Noël," a Christ-mas work, is oratorio in style and construction, although small in dimensions; and César Franck, the most modern of all, whose "Beatitudes" has been made the subject of much discussion. English composers, following the lead of Handel and Mendelssohn, have given great attention to this form. Bennett, the friend of Mendelssohn, produced a beautiful work, "The Woman of Samaria"; Costa, an Italian by birth, spent a great part of his professional life in England; hence his oratorio, "Eli," may be classed with English works ; Sullivan wrote two oratorios, "Th Prod igal Son" and "The Light of the World"; Macfarr:n's "St. John the Baptist" and Mackenzie's "Rose of Shar.n" can -be classed among oratorios. The most eminent in t gis form at the present day is Elgar, "The Dream of Geronti s" and "The Apostles." Young Italy has lately shown in serest in this form, the most noteworthy being the Abbé Per i si, who is under the patronage of the Pope. In the United States the leading representatives are !. K. Paine, of Harv. rd University, with the oratorio "St. Peter," Dudley Buck, 'Golden Legend," and. H. W. Parker, "Hora Novissima."
The Cantata.—More popular even than the Orato io with choral societies is the Cantata, both sacred and secuar, and the great increase in strong choral organizations, particlarly in England, Germany, France and the Unite. States, nas resulted in the production of a number of plendid works which show dramatic power and the highest skill in handling voices and instruments. These works con ain opportunities for the use of the finest quality of elody, variety of rhythm, solid harmonic or the more fluet poly-phonic style, richness of harmonic coloring and e ery accessory in the way of tone painting by the orchestr. which such masters as Berlioz and Wagner pointed out. he important works are too many to be mentioned here; only the composers' names can be given. In Germany, S rahms, Bruch, Dvorak, Gade, Goetz, Hiller, Hofmann, Rheinberger; in France, Berlioz and Massenet; in gland, Bennett, Corder, Cowen, Macfarren, Mackenzie, Smart, Sullivan, Coleridge-Taylor among the younger men, in the United States, Buck, Foote, Chadwick, Gilchrist, Paine, H. W. Parker, and Carl Busch.
Finck.—Songs and Song Writers.
Grove's and Riemann's Dictionaries.—
Articles o composers mentioned, on Song, Lied,
Volkslied, Chanso , Oratorio and Cantata.
Parry.—Evolution of the Art of Music, Chapter XIII.
Upton.—Standard Oratorios. Standard Cantatas.