A Musical Motley

by Ernest Newman. London and New York: John Lane. 12mo, xii+ 328 pp. $1.50.
MR. ERNEST NEWMAN, now of Birmingham, England, attracted the attention of those intelligently interested in music by his Gluck and the Opera (1895), the first biography of Gluck in English, and still the most critical and authoritative in any language. He has commanded attention ever since. His Study of Wagner, published in 1899, enlarged his reputation by the acumen and sanity of his judgment. Then followed an excellent short life of Wagner; a study of the unfortunate Hugo Wolf, with a bold dissertation on the art-song and composers of it; and later volumes in which Richard Strauss, Elgar, and others have been shrewdly and fearlessly discussed.
A Musical Motley is a collection of articles recently published by Mr. Newman in newspapers and other periodicals; but they do not betray haste, even when they are lightest; they are not flippant. Mr. Newman, having a high regard for style, does not fall into ‘journalese.’ His everabiding sense of humor prevents him from taking himself, not the art of music, too seriously. Often when he jests and is amusing, he is most serious in his praise or blame. Some may think him too witty; some may suspect him of being ironical, and shudder, forgetting that Sir Thomas More on the scaffold — surely a solemn occasion — jested with ‘a touch of the old sad irony.’
Mr. Newman has decided opinions, but he is not dogmatic. With him a hint, a suggestion, has more force and carries greater conviction than a knock-down statement. His literary expression is flexible, graceful; happy in the choice and significance of words. He is not detected in the act of hunting laboriously the purple phrase; yet, considering the music of death, he finds that the apotheosis of Strauss’s ‘Tod und Verklärung’ is ‘too brilliantly lit, too full of the pageantry of a crowd, whereas this is a journey one must make very quietly and alone.’ Hearing Ravel’s ‘Pavane for a dead Infanta,’ he is conscious of a ‘ curious pathos struggling through the deliberate restraint of the slowly moving music, as if hearts were breaking beneath the heavy brocade of those ceremonial Spanish robes.’
Thus he often tempts quotation; but he is rich and does not borrow from others. (There are essays on music like unto a catalogue raisonné.) An audacious writer, — long ago he characterized George Borrow as a ‘ bounder,’ — he has the courage not to be dull, although he must know that a large amount of gravity, that is, dullness, is expected of anyone discussing an æsthetic question.
His subjects in A Musical Motley are various: critics and criticism; putting the classics in their place — an essay that should be given to every pupil in a music-school; how a villain should be portrayed in tones; Brahms, Tschaikowsky as pessimists, the ‘Weary Willies’ of music; the originality and beneficent work of the amateur; the poets’ misuse of musical instruments; the music of felicity—the purest expression of it being Gluck’s Orfeo; etc., etc.
Sometimes fantastical, sometimes paradoxical, occasionally exquisite fooling, this volume deserves rereading, and a permanent place on a library shelf. A heavier, more stolid book may well give way to it, for it is surely less stimulating, probably less informing.
P. H.
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