They Shall Have Music

Part of the charm of Eine kleine Nachtmusik lies in our awareness of who wrote it, and when, and among what circumstances. Had it emerged suddenly as a graduate’s composition at the Juilliard School last year, it might still have been a success (if it were not too slightingly described as Antiquarian), but not such a success as it was from the hands of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the imperial Vienna of 1787.

It is, of course, worth while to read about music, as about any art. But the question people ask is, what? I would have quite a collection of letters on this matter if I had kept them all, but I did not. Some were too specific for a general answer. Some were too humble for my taste (there are always some folk convinced in advance that they will not understand what they read, a wretched attitude likely to involve one with writers who call themselves popularizers and who make a lot of money without doing any good at all).

The general tenor, however, in recent years has been heartening. Most of the people who want to read about music want to read about it in either of two very good ways. One is historical, the other encyclopedic. Readers of the latter bent want to know, for instance, what cantus farmus means, and what a baryton was, and whether or not Richard Strauss was ever de-Naztfied. The historically oriented arc more interested in why Purcell couldn’t have been Handel and what put Brahms in opposition to Wagner, what cut Haydn off from the course promised in the fierce Fist symphony (Number 39) and why the paths of Debussy and Ravel diverged.

My own tastes beguile toward the historical area, but let us deal with the encyclopedic first. Readers who want references easily found, and well written, have at hand four choices: Grove, Thompson, Scholes, and Apel.

GEORGE GROVE’S DICTIONARY OF MUSIC on MUSICIANS was put together first in 1879 and was last reviM*d a half-dozen years ago — and made into nine volumes, from the original four — by the SwissDanish-English scholar Eric Blom. It is a tremendous and very expensive work. Grove was a sort of studious crank whose three fields of research were geography, the Old Testament, and music. He wrote as pontifically on one matter as on another and, astonishingly, very well. His essays on the great Viennese composers are so perceptive as to be almost definitive. But he left many things out of his original Dictionary, and so has Blom in the revision. For $127.50 one could expect better than the news that Toscanini quit conducting in 1936, when he departed the New York Philharmonic. Indeed, so far as concerns Mr. Blom and the late Sir George, Columbus was wasting his time when he discovered America; the place has hardly been heard from since.

OSCAR THOMPSON, in his onevolume, 2397-page INTERNATIONAL CYCLOPEDIA OF MUSIC AND MUSICIANS ($20.00; revised and enlarged two years ago by Nicolas Slonimsky), has been kinder to the New World, though not quite kind — or careful — enough: it is all very well to know that Adolf Jensen of Königsberg wrote an unfinished opera called Turandot in 1878; but what about a finished opera called The Mother of Us All, written by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein in 1945, which is not even listed? Still, he has put out the most usable musical encyclopedia that one can buy nowadays, and in most parts it is written with scholarly devotion and well edited to boot.

The most entertaining musical encyclopedia is PERCY SCHOLES’S OXFORD COMPANION TO MUSIC i $21.50). This is 1195 pages long, and every page has its peculiar charm. So saying, I do not imply that it is satisfactory. Far from it; it is infuriating. The reader curious about the Mozart Quintet in A is directed in parentheses, when he has hardly got started, to “See lari net Family.” When he attempts to sec “Clarinet Family,” he finds himself reading instead about a seventeenth-century Nuremberg family named Denner, all woodwind craftsmen, and about sundry obsolete instruments named the chalumeau, the Heckelclarina, and the tarogato. The awful thing is the near impossibility of stopping, once one has begun, so that eventually one becomes a font of grotesque erudition on the obscurer facets of music. (Anybody for the semantic relationhip connecting the basset horn, pêche Melba, and Hotel Astoria? Very veil, but it’s on page 190, if the urge strikes you.) Scholes is mad about instruments and gadgets, also about opera plots, which he can condense more tidily and appealingly than almost anyone else, and about illustrations, including positively gruesome portraits by a man named Oswald Batt, who used to draw pictures for the Radio Times. Just the same, and despite its whimsical and phantasmagorial aspects, the Companion is a most informative as well as an endearing book.

Last among the encyclopedias, and most prosaic, is WILLI APEL’S HARVARD DICTIONARY OF MUSIC ($9.50), which is just what its title conveys. A word of caution: a shorter version Of this —THE HARVARD BRIEF DICTIONARY OF MUSIC by Apel and Ralph T. Daniel ($3.95) —contains nearly all the musical detinitions and identifications in the long edition but omits all entries about composers, Thus, one can read in it about the Coffee Cantata but not about J. S. Bach.

If i were going to pay out $9.50, I would pay $10.00 instead and get what I think is the most enthralling book in print about music: PAUL HENRY LANG’S MUSIC IN WESTERN CIVILIZATION. A music-critic friend says he always envisions the book’s having been written at a desk buried in history tomes bristling with bookmarkers. So do I, but my contention is that I cannot think of a belter way to plot the 1107-page tale of Western humanity’s greatest art, provided, of course, that the writer’s head holds enough imagination to give the story color, and Lang’s does. He has also an extraordinary mastery of English, for a born Hungarian, and an engrossing narrative style, not unlike that of Gibbon. When he tells of eleventh-century musical monks’ efforts to force the Gregorian inode on all European music, “obliterating the indigenous,”hr can make the story exciting: no small feat. And he brings in the art’s environment, from St. Ambrose’s edicts about hymnody to the effects of gypsy migration. Lang is critic for the New York Herald Tribune and a former Columbia professor. The solitary serious lack in his rich book is that the story stops almost where the nineteenth century did. In his index there are, one above the other, entries for Bartered Bride and Bartolino of Padua. Missing person: one Béla Bartók. I dare say Lang told his publishers (W. W. Norton) that he would need more time and space to evaluate twentieth-century music, and that they thought 1107 pages and 27 centuries were enough for one book.

There are terser histories of music, only one of which much appeals to me. That is A SHORT HISTORY OF MUSIC, by the late ALFRED (no relation) EINSTEIN, available in hard

cover ($5.00) from Knopf and in paperback (95^) from Vintage. It reads a bit Teutonically, even in translation, but is not ineloquent. Something Einstein and Lang have in common is a proper emphasis on early music, meaning really early music. Einstein does not get to Bach until page 130, and Lang does not deal with him until page 489. There is a wealth of heritage to discover in the time pictured preceding Bach.

Between Lang and Einstein comes CURT SACHS, with OUR MUSICAL HERITAGE, 340 pages ($7.35), which is very valuable for quick historical reference. It was obviously well written in German, but was not so well translated. And there is an extremely useful — if not quite irresistible — music chronicle for students, published by American Book Company, called MUSIC IN HISTORY ($6.75). It is written by H. D. MCKINNEY and W. R. ANDERSON and may be the most nearly complete thing of its kind, 904 pages of musical fact.

Permit me a sort of cadenza on behalf of Mr. Lang, since he purveys the kind of fact that makes a joy of musicology: in the early 1700s, the Josephine Opera Theater in Vienna had a real lake as part of the scenery, and real boat fights took place in it. And Lang points out, as I do not recall anyone clsc’s doing, that the laist chorus of the Si. Matthew Passion is a lullaby, which it is, a delightful fact to notice. What I am bringing out is that some facts are choicer and brighter than other facts, and that are the ones that make the best history.

Here there has been room to deal, this time, only with writings attrmpting to survey music as a whole. There also exist volumes and volumes of collected essays, critiques, analyses, and lectures, many profound, on separate aspects. But these, it seems to me, are for later discussion, when we shall all have passed our entrance examinations.

Record Reviews

Brahma: Concerto No. 1

Cary Graff man, piano; Charles Munch conducttng Boston Symphony Orchestra; RCA victor LSC-2274 (stereo) and LM-2274

this merits mention because Graffman and the Boston instrumentalists make such beautiful sounds It is not quite up to the London (Katnen-Monteux) or Epic (FleisherSzell) renditions as either a recording or a musical performance, but n conveys the special effect that sinuosity has, even when it dot s not entirely succeed.

Chopin: Ballade No. 1; Scherzo No. 1, Polonaise No. 6; Mazurkas 2, 31, 32, Nocturnes 5, 8, 17

Charles Rosen ,piano;Epic BC-1090 (stereo) and LC-3709 Charles Rosen, a man of so many talents that he doesn’t know what to do (he has held an endowed chair in history at M.I.T., among other achievements), is steeped in the musical culture of France, where much of his study has been done, and his main musical bent is toward French impressionism. He is surely the lead ing young pianist in the territory of Debussy and Ravel. This lenth a peculiar interest to his playing of Chopin. His touch is not ungentle, but what comes forth is bright, dry and analytical, quite unlike the lingering liquidity we have come to expect of Chopin players I do not know which texture is proper, but I rather like Rosen’s, especially since Chopin stands the lest very well.

Liszt: A Faust Symphony; Orphcs, a Symphonic Poem

Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Ben ham Choral Society and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Capitol SGBR-7197 (sterco) and GBR-7197: two records

Liszt being profound is one of the musical experiences that I tend to skitter away from, much to the contempt of my hardier friend. How - ever, I will admit that with Beaches running things, and HMV-Capitol’s brilliant engineers disposed to catch the sonorities, this vast (hour and a half) quasi-Gocthian tone drama is something not to be missed I still find in it interludes of going nowhere, but its high points really are high points, especially in trrim of volume. It consists of musical portraits of the three main characters the drama. By the time you’re through with Mephistophclrs, poor ; Orpheus may sound a little tame.

Nielsen: Quintet for Wind*

Barber: Summer Mu*ir

Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet; Columbia MS-6114 {stereo) and MR 5441 Carl Nielsen (born 1865) was one of

the must purely self-made composers there ever have been. He grew up in the lime of Brahms, Straus, and Wagner, yet heard almost nothing of what they were doing until his middle years. He made his own way, building on dir older classical marten. The fantastic stylistic progress he achieved shows in his quintet here; it sounds like a Danish Charles Ives or Virgil Thomson. He had profundity when he wanted to call it forth, hut with it a broad Scandinavian bonhomie and a deadly wit — witness the hymn-tune monkey business here, a wonderful touch of humor. Samuel Barber everybody knows for his Adagio for Sirings, but how waggishly charming hr can he perhaps he could show only with the help of a small wind ensemble, which lends itself to such matters One of the ladle* of the Detroit Chamber Music Society, for wlioiu he wrote the Summer Music, was to entranced that she bakes! him a chocolate cake, with the first bars of the piece written on the top in vanilla icing. The Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet, virtuosos equal to any anywhere, play with effortless pleasure through the two writings, anti the Columbia engineers have diown once more how effective chamber music is in stereo.

Still sahdji Ballet Ginastera; Crcole Faust Guarnieri; Three Dances

flouatd Hanson conductiong EastemanRochester Orchestra and Chorus; cury 90257 (arm) and 50257 Latest in the Eastman-Mercury series of recordings from our hemisphere, this record in a sense transposes latitude and longitude, for on opposite sides are Africa and South America Of course, William Gram Still is an American, but Sahdji is about as African as he can make it, which is quite Afrtran enough tor me It is a tribal drama cantata, most skillfully done, and tielped no little by Dr. Hanson’s invincible percussionists. Guar turn is a Brasilian, and his music bangs and crooru in a familiar way, albeit with great vanety. Gmastera’s contribution is cleverest of all It is a short story about a gaueho (Gtnastera is an Argentine) who goes to town, attends an opera, and goes bark to the ranch to retell it to his (cllow cowboys. Not deep, maybe, but very entertaining. Mercury’s sound leaves nothing out.