WE notice with great pleasure the appearance of the “ Fourth Music Reader.” The want of good books of this sort, adapted to general musical instruction in our public schools, has long been felt in this country. Now that music has become one of the regular branches of our public-school education, the importance of having some systematically arranged text-book in which the simplest rudiments, not only of vocal culture and solmization, but also of harmony and the general theory of music, should be set down in a clear and compact form, cannot be overlooked. Of late years there has been no lack of musical instruction books of greater or less excellence; but they have been for the most part written on the self-sufficient, “ music-without-amaster ” plan, and have thus contained much that was superfluous, even embarrassing to both teacher and pupils, where used as ’ text-books for class instruction. Moreover the literary value of these various “Methods,” “Systems,” etc., has often been more than questionable ; and their authors, ambitious of forming general rules of an exhaustive and comprehensive nature, have been too prone to sacrifice clearness and exactness of expression to epigrammatic brevity and compactness of style ; or else, fearful of the possibility of being misunderstood, they have clothed their teachings in that ingeniously involved diction so much affected by classical school-grammars, and which, in spite of its almost legal exactness of expression, fails to convey any very definite idea to the average school-boy or school-girl mind. But the “ Music Reader ” in question is, as it professes to be, a text-book, not a self-acting “instructor,” and is well adapted for schools and classes. The theoretical part contains all that it is indispensable for the average music-lover to know, and the rules are set down clearly and briefly. Of course the book is only valuable in the hands of a competent teacher, as there are many points that require more explanation than is found in its pages. We are sorry to see that it adopts the melodic minor scale, in which the leading note is dropped a semitone in descending. The explanations of the minor scale given in Chapter XXV. are for the most part excellent, although the statement in § 3, “A scale is said to be relative to another when it is composed of the same identical sounds,” is not strictly true. No two scales can consist of “ the same identical sounds,” or they become one and the same scale. In iact § 8, of the same chapter, directly contradicts the statement by saying, “ Every diatonic scale must have a leading note, consequently the G ” (in the scale of Aminor) “must be sharped,” thus at once introducing a sound foreign to the scale of C-major, its relative. We would strongly oppose the idea that the leading note is a change introduced into the minor scale merely for the sake of euphony (like the sharpened sixth, for instance, in the ascending melodic scale). We cannot but look upon the leading note as a necessary and organic part in the structure of the minoras well as of the major scale ; without it every scale immediately loses its identity. § 11 says: “The upper semitone of the minor scale is variable ” (thus in turn contradicting § 8), “and the descending scale differs from the ascending.” It may indeed be urged with some show of reason that the leading note is not so important in a descending scale as in an ascending one, but on the other hand, the scale, as aforesaid, completely loses its identity, and from being in A-minor, we suddenly find ourselves in C-major if the G# is put down to G#. The long step of three semitones from the leading note to the sixth degree of the descending minor scale has indeed a certain ungainly appearance, but more to the eye than to the ear, and the best masters have found nothing disagreeable in it. In fact the descending minor scale with the flattened leading note is of very rare occurrence in music, whereas the descending scale with the long step between the leading note and the sixth degree is almost invariably used by classical composers. The exercises in the book for class practice are most excellent, not only for singing but for cultivating the pupil’s musical taste. Especially useful are the exercises intended to be sung in canon by dividing the class into two, three, or four parts. The collection of music in the latter half of the book is the best of its kind that we have yet seen, although we should be glad to see such things as “ The Bird let loose in Eastern Skies ” left out of this or indeed any collection. These arrangements à la Lowell Mason from instrumental works of the great masters are of very questionable value, educational or otherwise. In an exceedingly unmusical community these dilutions of fine music may possibly have some good effect in creating a kindly feeling toward the great composers in the tunefully disposed masses ; but there is in music enough good milk for babies as well as meat for strong men, without converting the works of great masters into ignoble pap for the bringing up of our sucklings. But by far the larger proportion of the duets and part-songs in the “ Reader” are most admirably adapted to their intended use, and the book can well bear comparison with many similar collections in use in the schools in Germany.
Two Morning Services. Composed by DUDLEY BUCK. Op. 58 and 60. Boston : G. D, Russell & Co.
St. Peter, an Oratorio. The Words selected from the Bible, and the Music composed by JOHN KNOWLES PAINE. Boston : Oliver Ditson & Co.
Of two quite interesting Morning Services by Dudley Buck, we have before us a Te Deum in B-minor, with Benedietus in E and a Te Deum in C. Although they indubitably belong to that rather questionable class of compositions which long-established custom has forced us to accept as church music, they have excellences which place them above many compositions of their order. The Protestant church-service of to-day (always excepting the music of the German Lutheran Church) is, in its way, almost as much a hybrid form of composition as the modern parlor ballad, the mongrel character of which we have tried to point out in a previous number of this magazine.2 From the time of Sebastian Bach, and even before then, down to the present day, the greater proportion of the music written especially to be used in Protestant churches has been the work of organists, and the prevailing style of organmusic of the day has had a strong influence upon the character of vocal church compositions. An organist lives in a somewhat different musical atmosphere from that of any other musician ; from the nature of his special department of musical labor he is continually under some of the best and highest, as well as some of the worst musical influences. An organist, worthy of the name, is a man of high if perhaps onesided musical culture ; he is brought into daily contact with many of the finest inspirations of the great masters, clothed in the highest and purest musical forms; the music that he instinctively looks to as his daily aesthetic food is of the highest intellectual and purely artistic character. But, on the other hand, his relations to the public are, especially in our own times, of the most perplexing nature, and he is forced in his professional work to cater to a far lower, or we should perhaps say a more perverted or undeveloped, musical taste than any other musician of equal culture and artistic good-will. One of the most perplexing features of the case is, that he is almost inevitably forced down from his artistic pedestal by much higher, at all events by much more amiable motives than induce other musicians to cater to an uncultivated public taste. An organist has to furnish music for a public who has no claims or even pretensions to being musical, but who are, nevertheless, capable of receiving pleasurable and even elevating musical impressions, and have firmly fixed musical likings and dislikes. A large proportion of the people who compose the congregations in our churches have never given music a thought unless it was directly forced upon them, never think of going to a concert, or of taking any pains whatever to hear music; yet when music comes to them in any form, they are quite as anxious to be pleased by what they are hearing as are people more distinctly musically disposed. An organist’s business is to furnish music which these people can enjoy just as much as it is to appeal to higher musical organizations, and the church is just the place of all others in which the unmusical have equal claims with the musical. Other artists can always in a greater or less degree control their public ; an organist is to the fullest extent the servant of his public. Thus an organist is forced to play and conduct much music that he does not in the least enjoy or even respect ; and however high his motives may be in doing so, the constant playing of music which to his own perception is intellectually and artistically unworthy of its office cannot but end in degrading his æsthetic sense, and all the more so, if his artist’s instinct — as in every wholesomely æsthetic nature it necessarily must — leads him to look for beauty even where there is in fact little but ugliness, until he at last persuades himself that ugliness is beauty. The same influence that forces an organist to cater to a low musical taste in his playing and choir-leadership will also be felt in his compositions for church use ; it is only the few “ original men,” as Carlyle has it, who write music or anything else for themselves and posterity, and he who writes for the present market must to some degree try to meet the popular demand. Thus it comes about that the church compositions of most organists, though they show more or less the genuine culture of the composer and the sound influences he has been under in his musical studies, yet also bear unmistakable marks of the poorer side-influences that he lives among. In most of the Episcopal Church music of to-day, which, by the way, is far the best, although we can trace the influence of the older classical English writers, of Handel, Haydn, and others, sometimes even ofSebastian Bach, we can yet almost invariably find touches of Lefébure Wély, battiste, and others of the modern French sentimental organ school, not to mention other men and styles which have as little as possible to do with anything sacred. That wondrous, cosmopolitan mongrel, the modern ballad, has also some part in giving shape to our church music ; and we have no doubt that, if things run on in their present course for some years more, we shall find touches of Offenbach, Hervé, and the like, in the sacred music of the time. But this last is as yet purely prophetic. Mr. Buck’s compositions have the advantage of well-defined and often sympathetic melody, and easilyflowing, scholarly harmony. Their besetting fault is a certain sentimentality, which at times suggests the Wély-Battiste organmusic, and which, to distinguish it from the would-be passionate sentimentalism of the modern love-ballad, we will characterize as religious sentimentalism, for want of a better epithet. SENTIMENTALISM ! Violà le grand mot lâche ! All the bad influences to which an organist is exposed tend after all to this : sentimentalism, which in the end is but diluted sentiment. A great genius, one of the few elect of art, appeals to those who are below his own artistic level, by simplicity of form and expression ; all lesser geniuses and talents seem to find it necessary to dilute their ideas to bring them within the comprehension of the multitude. This dilution is by no means necessarily voluntary, but is undoubtedly in a great measure the result of the composer’s habitual relation to his public. That Mr. Buck has ideas, even of the large, inspiring sort, has been abundantly proved by his “Festival Hymn,” a composition which, in spite of some blemishes in style, especially in the contrapuntal figuration of the accompaniment, has nevertheless a flavor of real grandeur in its melody, harmony, and rhythm ; and its sentiment, though it may strike some as a shade too sensuously intense, is still genuine and refined. Whatever we have said at all depreciating Mr. Buck’s Church Services must not be understood to apply to them alone, but to the whole grade of compositions to which they belong. If music of this sort is to be sung in our churches, we know of no recent publications whose incontestible merits recommend them more strongly than these very things of Mr. Buck’s.
Before fulfilling our promise of last month, of saying something about Monsieur Wieniawski, we must notice, for the present only cursorily, the most important original composition that has appeared in America for a long time, namely, Mr. John K. Paine’s Oratorio of St. Peter, just published by Ditson and Company. It is impossible to give an adequate criticism upon a work of such importance, after only three or four days’ acquaintance, and we must postpone all further notice of it to a future number,
In Monsieur Wieniawski we have the greatest violinist who has yet been heard in America. Of all violinists now living, Joachim alone can claim superiority over him. Of his executive ability it is needless to speak. His quality of tone, intonation, management of the bow and fingers, are all as absolutely perfect as we can imagine. His playing is characterized by the most admirable grace and refinement of style, grandly broad and delicately finished phrasing, that power of expression which makes every note tell upon his hearers, and above all, the perfection of artistic good taste. Of depth of sentiment, passion, and that absorption in the music which makes his hearers forget him in what he is playing, we see little in him. In whatever he is playing, Wieniawski himself is ever before us. We feel that every note is as he intended it should be, and that what he intended is right, but we also feel that his playing is as perfect as it is because he knew what was right and was able to do it, not because he was irresistibly impelled to do it and could not help it. In this respect he stands in strong contrast to Rubinstein. Weiniawski’s playing is as perfect as faultless technique, artistic culture, great aesthetic sensibility, and perfect mastery over himself and his instrument can make it. It reminds us of Goethe’s lines,—
Who first perceives and then performs.” 3
But with all its perfection, we cannot but feel that the great, original, heavenand - earth - moving master - soul is wanting.