OUR distinguished countrywoman, Miss Charlotte Cushman, who has so long lived in Rome, became interested, some time since, in a Danish sculptor, a fellow-worker of Thorwaldsen, Willhelm Matheiu by name, who, though he has created real works of genius, lives there, poor and old, and comparatively unknown. Several years ago he designed and executed for the Grand Duchess Helena, of Russia, busts of three great musical composers. Miss Cushman, captivated by the beauty of the work, and wishing to help the artist and to make his merit known, and at the same time pay a graceful compliment to her native city, ordered casts of these works, which she has sent as a gift for the adornment of the Music Hall, with which she had associated her name by her recital of the Ode written for the inauguration of its Great Organ. The casts have arrived uninjured, and, before they are formally presented and displayed, a brief description of the designs may not be uninteresting.
They are busts of three great musical composers, as we have said, upheld by brackets ornamented with allegorical figures suggesting the distinctive genius, style, and place in musical history of each. The heads are modelled in heroic or more than life size. The brackets are some five feet long by three feet wide. The figures stand out in full alto rilievo.
The first bust is that of Palestrina, a very noble head, high, symmetrical, and broad, with features regular and finely cut, giving the impression of rare purity and truth of character, fine intellectuality, the calm dignity of a soul well centred, — a beautiful harmony of strength and delicacy. The artist has been guided by a portrait painted from life, (as well as by a bust made from the painting,) which he found in the Barberini Gallery in Rome. We venture to say that there is not a more simple and harmonious portrait bust in Boston than the Danish sculptor has here produced.
As Palestrina was the great reformer of church music, the master in whom pure religious vocal music first attained to perfect art, there stands forth from the centre of the bracket a figure representing “ the Genius of Harmony,” as it is called by the artist,—or say Saint Cecilia,—holding an open music-book of large, wide pages, between two angels, who are placed a little higher in the background ; one of them, with folded hands, and lost in devotion, reads over her shoulder from the book; the other, pointing to the notes, appears to ask her whence the music came, and the Genius, whose eyes are upturned, indicates that it is given by inspiration from above. The three forms and faces are instinct with a divine beauty; the central figure is one of unconscious dignity and grace, and is the loftiest ideal of pure womanhood. The whole grouping of the figures,—the rich folds of the drapery made so light and flowing by harmonious arrangement with the wings and halos of the angels, — is the most free and graceful that can be imagined. Above and behind this group, for the immediate support of the shelf which holds the bust, there is a choir of little cherubs, with sweet faces, nestling eagerly together, and with little arms encircling each other’s necks, who are singing over the shoulders of Cecilia, and seem to be trying the new heavenly music in the open book below. It needs no argument to show the fitness of the allegory ; it speaks for itself as instantly as the poetic beauty and consistency of the execution.
The next bust is Mozart’s, type of all that is graceful and spontaneous in music, and of perpetual youth ; the purest type of genius, perhaps, that ever yet appeared in any art,—or in literature, if we except Shakespeare. Not that there has been no other composer so great, but that there has been none whose whole invention and processes were so purely those of genius. Learned and laborious though he was, yet he created music as naturally as he breathed; music was very atmosphere and native language with him. The busts and portraits which we see of Mozart differ widely, almost irreconcilably. This one adheres mainly to the portrait from life by Tischbein, with aid from several sculptures. Of all the busts that we have seen, it seems to us the worthiest to pass for Mozart. It has the genial, beaming, youthful face, with nothing small or weak in any feature, — the full eyes ; square eyebrows ; broad, large, thoughtful forehead ; the full, compact head; the long nose withal. Altogether it is very winning.
Mozart was the complete musician ; his genius did not wholly run in one direction ; like the other greatest modern masters, he was master in all kinds, — in symphony as well as in song. But wherein he lives preeminent, the best type of a kind, if we would speak of only one, is in the lyric or dramatic union of orchestra and human voices, best shown in his operas, but shown also in his sacred compositions ; for masses, requiems, oratorios, in full modern form with orchestra, are man important sense dramatic, and without the drama they had never been. Accordingly, to symbolize at once the most graceful minister that Music ever had, as well as his peculiarly lyrical province, the artist has given for a central support to the bust the trunk of the German oak, about which, under its umbrageous canopy, circle the three Graces, with flying feet and flowing skirts, linked hand in hand, sisterly, in mutual guidance,—though in truth the middle one guides the other two, for cause which shall appear. In these three Graces he has represented the three characters of music,—the joyous, the sacred, and the tragic. The foremost in the dance, with full open face and open breast, all sunshine and delight, with the right arm thrown up and holding a bunch of grapes over her head, is joyous in the sweetest sense; her other hand is gently detained by her religious sister, — the unspeakably lovely one between us and the oak, whose shoulders thrown back and intent head in half profile, slightly bent in serious, blissful meditation, reminds us not a little of Jenny Lind, save that in beauty it exceeds her as far as she exceeded herself when she rose in song. Her left arm sustains, and seems to lead forward, her drooping sister Tragedy, whose head, deeply bent, looks off and downward to the left, and takes the shadow of the picture, while the left arm is gracefully thrown up to balance the raised right arm of the joyous one. At their feet, the masks of Tragedy and Comedy lean against the tree, grouping with the pineapple of a thyrsus stick. The whole group is exquisite, — so rhythmical, so fluid, free, exhaustless in its movement, that it becomes fugue and music to the eyes, —drapery and all accessories in perfect keeping. Around the top of the oak stem is carved the word “Requiem,” — the last, unfinished work and aspiration of the composer,—below which a wreath of laurel rests upon the oakleaves.
The Mozart seems to us the happiest conception of the three. This one design should be enough to make its author famous.
Beethoven is the subject of the third bust, which also is extremely interesting; and yet to many it will prove the least satisfactory of the three. Indeed, Beethoven is naturally far more difficult to symbolize in art than either of the others. The head, however, modelled mainly from a good bust made in Vienna, and from a drawing on stone, is doubtless far more true to actual life, if not a stronger head, than Crawford’s noble, but only ideally true, statue. Whether a better bust of Beethoven exists we know not; but certainly none nearly so good has found its way before to America, unless it be in Story’s little statuette. It is not, perhaps, so agreeable a face as an admirer of his music and of so grand a character could wish ; and one may well doubt whether his best expression, — the only one at all fair to the real man within, which may sometimes have shone out through the rough exterior, — has ever been caught in bust or portrait.
But how to symbolize the genius of Beethoven ? — one so many-sided, so profound, struggling with untoward fate, yet full of secret hope and joy beyond the cloud, of glorious aspiration for the human race ? one born into the new era, with the hope of universal liberty and sanctity and brotherhood? It is easy to think of his power, and how he wields the thunderbolts and smites in the climax of his harmonies, and how Jove-like and all-conquering, cloudcompelling, he is. The Germans sometimes call him the “ Thunderer,” and so our artist has chosen for support of the bust Jupiter Tonans himself sitting throned upon his eagle, which clutches the thunderbolts in its talons, and soars through immensity. Above the god’s shoulders appear two winged genii, holding up the bracket. This is one side of Beethoven, no doubt. Still, this counterfeit presentment is not just; Beethoven is no heathen, and it is no brutum fulmen which he wields. Jove is the type of just that kind of majesty, that Old World might-makes-right, against which Beethoven’s whole humanity and genius were a protest. Prometheus, heaven-storming Titan, were a fitter emblem. Still, in the best sense he is, we grant, Olympian. There is a fine truth, too, to the glorious, uplifting sense his music gives us, in the idea of being borne aloft by Jove’s strong eagle. The same image has occurred to us while listening transported to one of his symphonies.
But the sweetness, the tenderness, the frolic fancy, are quite as characteristic as the strength and kingliness of Beethoven ; and our artist has made the thunderer relax his gravity, and listen with inclined smiling face to a little urchin of a Cupid, seated on the eagle’s wing, who, with upraised looks and hands, is telling merry stories to the god of gods, — clearly in allusion to the humorous passages, the scherzos, in Beethoven’s music. The thought is a happy one. Nevertheless, the design as a whole is far from giving us the whole of Beethoven ; as allegory it is hardly so complete a success — how could it be?—as the two others, though not less admirable as art.
These admirable and most suggestive sculptures, works of art in a high sense, will soon be placed upon the walls of the Music Hall, already rich in artistic adornment, to be seen of all. Just how and where to place them is not so easy a question to settle. The two galleries, running round three sides of the hall, leave no light, open space sufficient except at a great height, between the upper balcony and ceiling. The stage end is filled by the organ and the Beethoven statue. On the opposite wall, far up, each side of the Apollo Belvedere, are panels which would hold them if they were but two ; the third might come as a pleasant surprise upon one wandering through the corridors. But which two shall go up ? Beethoven and Mozart, historically and every way, are far more nearly related to each other than either is to Palestrina; yet the Palestrina and Mozart, as sculptures, in design and treatment balance each other more perfectly, while the Beethoven is in quite another spirit, and, moreover, would behold his double (how unlike!) across the hall below. But there is a relation, suggested above, between the three, which would seem to outweigh all others, and to dictate that all three should be displayed, if possible, together in one row. For they mark (whether the artist thought of this or not), as the artist has treated them, the three great stages in the development of music. In Palestrina we have the pure harmony of voices carried up to perfect art. In Mozart we have the dramatic union of vocal and instrumental music. In Beethoven we have the highest expression of pure instrumental music, — music completely emancipated from words, music self-sufficient, leaning upon no other art, the genius of the symphony par excellence ; for therein is he greatest, beyond all others, though he too has written a Missa Solennis which is sublime, and an opera with which one other only can dispute the palm.
Palestrina, highest type of vocal harmony, complete in itself, without instruments; Mozart, type of vocal and instrumental music blended in dramatic forms ; Beethoven, pure instrumental music, ideal, soaring beyond human limitations. It is, perhaps, only stating the same relation in another way to speak of Palestrina as the representative of pure Italian art in music ; of Mozart as the union of the Italian and the German genius, — he woos the Italian graces to dance around the German oak, — of Beethoven, as pure German of the Germans.
We trust our citizens will feel such active pride in the possession of these fine works of art as shall lead, not only to their being put some day into marble, but to the enlargement of the group by ordering from the same sculptor similar busts of two or three more great representative composers. The noble gift should be a noble impulse to us in the same direction.