Music

IT is something so unusual to find anything coming from a German that bases its whole worth upon the simple element of charm and fascination that, when we actually do find it, we must look upon it as a discovery of exceptional value, were it only for its very rarity. Carl Tausig’s set of piano-forte pieces, published under the title of Soirées de Vienne,1 is almost without a parallel in musical literature. We are not quite sure whether it should be called an admirable or an unfortunate fact that a man of Tausig’s reputation and colossal power as a pianist and interpreter of great music should have written as little as he did. His creative sterility is sure to be cast in his face as a reproach, by his antagonists in theory and Opinion, with how much or how little justice we will not consider here; but we rather incline to the belief that it was the result of this keen artist’s appreciation of the world-wide difference between reproductive and creative power, a comprehension which grew to be an efficient part of his nature as soon as his own honest introspection recognized the fact that his was rather a reproductive than a creative genius, and that Ids transcendent reproductive faculty, when rightly weighed in the balance, stood in no danger of injury from having the creative undeveloped. Indeed, it would be stretching a point to say that he has ever given anything of great importance to the world. His most important work is no doubt, his piano - forte score of Wagner’s Meistersinger ; yet, even when we take into account the immense knowledge of both piano-forte and orchestra, the delicate æsthetic sensibility which enabled him to find a more than respectable piano-forte equivalent for the varied orchestral coloring of Wagner’s score, and the wonderful dexterity with which he made a practicable piano-forte transcription of such a complex musical web as the Meistersinger, we must yet admit that even the most remarkable transcription imaginable is but a poor guaranty of a man’s creative genius. No, Tausig cannot be called a composer, in any high sense of the word ; he lacked tlie virile power of creation. But once let some vital musical germ be sown in his mind, and we stand astonished at the development the seed undergoes, at the wondrous fascination with which his own individuality invests it. The Soirées de Vienne are two series of piano-forte fantasias, capriccios, what you will, upon themes taken from Strauss waltzes. Strauss, the darling of ball-rooms, the tabooed of soi-disant earnest concert-rooms, had the rare good fortune to create something. He presented the world with a new rhythm. After this creative feat, he contented himself with repeating that rhythm over and over again, without variation, and so became monotonous, and dragged out an easily melodious existence, stamping all his compositions with a peculiar rhythmic physiognomy as with a trademark. But the rhythm of the syncopated waltz was his invention.

Tausig felt the irresistible fascination of this rhythm as few others have felt it. A man of Hector Berlioz’s great rhythmic sensibility could not well remain untouched by this charm, and he was one of the too few musicians of a higher order in whose writings we find any adequate recognition of Strauss’s musical worth. Tausig, no doubt, felt the monotony of the Strauss waltzes quite as much as he did the fascination of their rhythm, and in the Soirées de Vienne he has given us something that, but for the peculiar rhythm and the identity of the themes, bears as little resemblance as possible to a Strauss waltz. These piano-forte pieces are in no wise transcriptions of Strauss waltzes. Tausig has taken some of Strauss’s themes, and worked them out (if such a term is at all applicable to Tausig’s very loose and capricious handling of them) wholly in his own way. In some cases he has taken a phrase of considerable length bodily out of the original, changing the harmony somewhat, and bringing the peculiarity of the rhythm still more strongly into the light than Strauss did.

A good example of this is the following passage from the Immer heiterer : —

STRAUSS.

TAUSIG.

tranguillo il basso

But in most cases the treatment of the theme is entirely his own, and utterly different from Strauss’s. The elaborate ornaments with which he at times embellishes his work are exceedingly beautiful, and in a style wholly his own. They are in no way like things of a similar sort by Liszt or Thalberg. As far as musical form is concerned, these pieces have little that approaches it. They are perhaps the most freely and loosely constructed bits of fascination that ever were thrown upon paper. Tausig seems to have felt an almost childlike delight in harmoniously slipping from key to key, and in some instances a beautiful modulation seems to have so taken his fancy that he could not refrain from repeating it several times, swinging backwards and forwards over the pretty spot, utterly regardless of any rational progress toward a definite goal. Take, for instance, this passage from the Wahlstimmen, where he makes two bites at a distant key, from no earthly reason but his pleasure in hearing an effective juxtaposition of two f'oreign harmonies.

This sudden cropping up of the chord (A-flat, D-flat, F, B-flat) would seem to announce an intended change to the key of D-flat; but no, he calmly continues in his original key of G major, as if nothing had happened. Such flirting with keys is noticeable throughout these pieces. The appearance of a foreign chord is no more an indication that the key to which it belongs is coming than the appearance of a lion’s head in an Oriental arabesque is a necessary proof that a lion’s body will accompany it. We know that many wiseacres will prick up their long ears and dolefully bray against such frivolity. We are perfectly content to hear that consistent form is the bone, gristle, flesh, or anything you please of music (except the soul), and would no more think of disputing it than we would dispute the tolerably well-known fact that two and two are four. But why should the musical imagination be fettered by laws, the breach of which we daily approve in the other arts ? An arabesque in which we see a horse’s head growing on a grape-vine, instead of on its natural equine body, is not pounced upon to furnish the text for a sermon on the inalienable rights of natural history. Professors of the physical sciences do not rise in rebellion when a pumpkin is unaccountably metamorphosed into a glass coach in a fairy tale (which, rightly considered, is one of the most poetical forms of prose). But the composer who does not turn out a work that is distinctly either fish, flesh, fowl, or good red-herring, and not a mixture of the four, is frowned down on the spot as an iconoclast or an untutored savage. Did it ever occur to the champions of form and consistent thematic development that composers may at times intend to produce something irregular, something wholly imaginary ? Tausig’s Soirées de Vienne can claim to be nothing but arabesques. That correspondence between head, tail, and limbs which the earnest pilgrim to the shrine of high art looks upon as the sine qua non of his creed is certainly not to be found in them. But all the fascinating coquetry of which music is capable, all the enchantment of an unshackled imagination, they do possess. We are not sure that they do not belong to the class of music that can hardly outlive its composer. The engraved notes are the merest spectre of the music itself. Yet, though we never heard Tausig himself play them, we read between the lines by the light of what we remember of the inexpressible charm of Tausig’s general style of piano-forte playing. Tausig was a man of the most astounding technique as well as of great musical comprehension, and even he acknowledged that he found much of his own music immensely difficult to play well. His personal charm when seated at the pianoforte was beyond description, for he was a most refined and fascinating player, and, as one of the first musical authorities in the world has said of him, “ without a trace of charlatanry.” If these pieces are to be played at all, let not their charm, humor, and grace be spoiled by vulgar exaggeration ; above all, let them not be played with French chique, but with French esprit. They are echoes not from Mabille, but from the ball-room, and their elegance is one of their greatest charms. Their humor is often very spicy, sometimes even approaching the burlesque, but the fun is ever delicate in quality, the rollickings of a Puck or Ariel, not of our modern yellow-wigged stage-epicenes. But the prime difficulty in playing them adequately is, after all, to preserve the waltz-rhythm, and make it unmistakable to the listener. The rhythm of the Strauss waltz is one of four bars (di quattro battúte), each bar having three beats. This rhythm is strongly marked in the accompaniment (played by the left hand in the piano-forte arrangement), but the syncopation of the melody virtually superimposes another totally different rhythm upon the first.

To show this in the clearest manner possible, we will refer the reader to our first quotation, on page 636, which may be analyzed as follows (leaving out the initial seven eighths of a bar, which stand in the same relation to the rhythmical phrase as the prosodical anacrusis does to the metre of a verse of poetry) : —

It will be seen that we have here a phrase in 2-4 time (following the dotted bars) accompanied by a phrase in 3-4 time ; or, more properly (following the bars marked by lines), a phrase in 4-2 time, accompanied by one in 12-4 time, three bars of the 4-2 time corresponding to two bars of the 12-4 time. Now the rhythm of the waltz is 12-4 (i. e., 3-4, ritmo di quattro battúte), the first beat of each measure being strongly accented ; the 4-2 rhythm of the melody also has a strong accent upon the first beat of each measure (marked in the example a); but the rhythmic accent of the two phrases comes at the Same time only in every three bars of the melody and every two bars of the accompaniment. To keep these two rhythms distinct, and yet give a slight predominance to the essential 12-4 rhythm of the waltz is no very difficult task for a player whose sense of rhythm is well cultivated, as long as the regular pulsation of the 12-4 rhythm in the accompaniment is as strongly marked as it is in a Strauss waltz, by a bass-note falling regularly upon every beat of the measure ; but the difficulty is greatlv increased when this bass-note (always the most naturally prominent one in a measure of piano-forte music, and the one that the ear most instinctively accepts as marking the rhythm) does not fall upon a beat, as is the case in Tausig’s arrangement of the above-quoted phrase. Tausig has in many places let the accompaniment practically reënforce the rhythm of the melody, and, unless a player has great rhythmic security, he will make the latter so prominent that the essential 12-4 rhythm of the waltz will be obscured, and the listener’s ear will grasp only the 4-2 rhythm. Now this would be utterly foreign to the purpose of the music ; a waltz is a waltz, and the smooth flow of its rhythm of four triplets to a phrase must be distinctly impressed upon the ear. The passage we have quoted from Tausig is one of the easiest to render well in this respect (although it will be readily seen to be more difficult than the original Strauss version), but in some passages in the Soirées de Vienne the rhythm is so bejuggled by cross accents and unexpected syncopations that only a player of the most absolute rhythmic security (a Von Büllow, for instance) can succeed in making their waltz character recognizable by the listener.

— We have before us several songs by Francis Korbay, the most important of which is evidently Loch Ness.1 It is by no means the easiest part of a critic’s hard task to look at a composition from the composer’s point of view; in this no rules will help him; nothing but careful and respectful study of the work will lead him to a correct appreciation of its value or worthlessness. After a thorough examination of this undoubtedly remarkable song, we are compelled to believe that Mr. Korbay’s ideal is rather a poetic than a purely musical one. It is difficult to prove by incontrovertible argument that Loch Ness is very defective in consistent musical form. The regular recurrence of the principal theme at the beginning of each verse, and its persistent appearance in one shape or another in the accompaniment, point rather to consistency than vagueness of musical plan. But, nevertheless, we cannot help feeling that the form of the song is not musical. Although the tonality of C minor, with its relative, E-flat major, predominates throughout, there is such a constant flying off into distant keys that the impression left on the mind is one of great tonal insecurity. The music is full of brilliant kaleidoscopic effects, but they succeed each other so rapidly that the mind can hardly grasp one before another comes to command its attention; we have rarely seen a composition in which the different phrases were so ill amalgamated into a consistent whole. Musically considered, this cannot but be called a defect. But when we look upon it as a piece of tone-painting, as an illustration of the text in tones, it is often truly wonderful, though perhaps too elaborate, for the flow of the verse is often unduly interrupted, at times even to the extent of making the meaning of the words obscure. But it certainly shows great descriptive power. The opening theme is really grand.

How we hear the waves dash against the rocks! Farther on, at the words, “ The white caps sparkled, blithesome and gay,” the music positively glitters like diamonds. The song ends as strongly as it begins. We only wish that the genuine power displayed in this song could have been utilized to more musical advantage. We will not quarrel with the often exceedingly difficult intonation, for, although difficult, it is by no means impossible, and the composer very evidently did not set himself to write a song that everybody should be able to sing ; but greater artistic unity is much to be desired. It may seem as if we tempered our sincere admiration for the great qualities of this song by too much fault-finding, but, as has been well said, it is the nearly perfect that enrages us, whereas we let the absolutely faulty pass by unnoticed.

— Resignation 2 has not the fault of incoherence that Loch Ness has, neither has it its power and originality. It is a most smoothly-written, singable melody, by no means without beauty, but wanting in the striking qualities one would expect from the composer of the other song.

— Thou hast Broken the Heart3 completely baffles our comprehension. It is gloomy enough, certainly, but . . . Even taking the last sixteen bars in 3-2 time, instead of in 6-4 time, as they are marked, does not do much towards solving the enigma, and the first part of the song seems irredeemably ugly. We wish we could hear the composer sing it, for in spite of its desperate obscurity we cannot help feeling that there is something in it which an un derstanding performance might make clear and even admirable. At present it is little better than a nightmare to us.

— Julius Eichberg’s Sing, Little Bird 45 is thoroughly charming in its quasi-mediæval quaintness. It is one of the songs that the much-abused term “ pretty ” perfectly applies to. It is a gem of its kind.

— Equally lovely, though in a very different vein, is George L. Osgood’s The Sunshine of thine Eyes.5 The composer has studied Franz to good purpose. The little thrill that runs through the music at the last repetition of “ Though I be but a mote of the air, I could turn to gold for thee,” the quivering of the discord (D-flat, B-flat, F, G) at the word ‘'thee,” reminds one of Browning’s

“ thrilled conscious, — like a rose Throughout its hundred leaves at that approach it

knows

Of music in the bird.”

— F. W. Henzel’s Memorial Song6 has a certain genuine Volkslied swing, that saves it from being wholly commonplace. It is fully equal to many good songs for the people that chance has favored with renown.

1 Resignation. Song. German words by T. STURM. English version and music by FRANCIS KORBAY. NeW York : Curl Henser.

3 Thou hast Broken the Heart, Song. Words by THOMAS POULTNEY. Music by FRANCIS KORBAY. New York: Carl Henser.

3 Sing, Little Bird. Words by CELIA THAXTER.

Music by JULIUS EICHBERG. Boston : Oliver Ditson & Co.

4 The Sunshine of thine Byes. Words by G. P. LATHROP. Music by GEORGE L, OSGOOD Boston ; G. D. Russell & Co.

5 Memorial Song. Words and music by FREDERIC W. HENZEL. St. Louis: H. Bollman.

  1. 7Nouvelles Soirées de Vienne. Valses-Caprices d’après J. STRAUSS, pour le piano par CHARLES TAUSIG. Suite premiere ; Cahier 1, Nachtfalter; Cahier
  2. 8Man lebt nur einmal; Cahier 3, Wahlstimmen. Suite deuxième: Cahiers 4 et 5. Leipzig and New York : J. Schuberth & Co.
  3. Loch Ness. Song. Words by DAVID C. ADEE. Music by FRANCIS KORBAY. New York: G. Schiriner.