POST 4: SHAW ON MUSIC

THE POCKET SHAW

POST 4: SHAW ON MUSIC

By Neil Titley

‘MUSIC FOR DEAF STOCKBROKERS’

 

POST 1: SHAW ON FILM

+ Introduction and the FILM. + Timeline: The Life of Bernard Shaw + Bibliography (1200w)

POST 2: SHAW’S REMINISCENCES

The Reminiscences: ‘Guff and Bunk and Bugaboo’. (20,400w)

POST 3: SHAW’S SOCIALISM

The Ideas: ‘P.P.E. and G.B.S!’ (11,600w)

POST 4: SHAW ON MUSIC

Ten Talks on Music: ‘Music for Deaf Stockbrokers’. (24,700w)

POST 5: SHAW’S QUOTES

GBS Quotations: ‘A Shavian Scrapbook’. (15,100w)

POST 6: SHAW – THE EXTENDED PLAY

The Play: ‘The Intelligent Golfer’s Guide to Bernard Shaw’ (11,500w)

POST 7: SHAW – THE ABRIDGED PLAY

The Abridged Play ‘Shaw’s Corner’ (4,300w)

THE POCKET SHAW

POST FOUR: SHAW’S TEN TALKS ON MUSIC

By Neil Titley

‘MUSIC FOR DEAF STOCKBROKERS’

 

CONTENTS

 

THE FIRST TALK

MUSIC CRITICISM AND THE ORIGINS OF HIS NON DE PLUME

HOW NOT TO WRITE MUSIC CRITICISM

GBS REGARDED AS MUSICAL IGNORAMUS

THE NEED FOR A CRITIC TO REMAIN INDEPENDENT

MADAME PATTI

THE BAYREUTH HUSH

 

THE SECOND TALK

HOW TO WRITE AN OPERA

WAGNER AS A CONDUCTOR

CONDUCTING STYLES

LONDON CONCERT HALLS

MARIE LLOYD

 

THE THIRD TALK

FRANZ LISZT

THE BURNS NIGHT CONCERT

DEALING WITH THE SUPERNATURAL AT COVENT GARDEN

JULES MASSENET AND APPLAUSE

BRAHMS

 

THE FOURTH TALK

MOZART AND WAGNER

INCONGRUITIES IN OPERA

THE BRITISH CARMEN

THE POLITE COVENT GARDEN CHORUS

BOUQUETS

PADEREWSKI

 

THE FIFTH TALK

THE 789th PERFORMANCE OF ‘DOROTHY’

MR AND MRS GRIEG

ASSOCIATING WITH THE GREAT

THE CONCERT FOR THE SHAH

INFANT PHENOMENA

DVORAK

 

THE SIXTH TALK

TRAVELLING THROUGH GERMANY

PARSIFAL AT BAYREUTH

 

THE SEVENTH TALK

THE OPERA ‘BRINIO’ BY VAN MILLIGEN

THE TEMPTATION OF SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN

THE SIAMESE BAND

THE CHARITY CONCERT

 

THE EIGHTH TALK

THE DEFICIENCIES OF PARIS

SAINT-SAENS’ NEW OPERA

SARAH BERNHARDT AS JOAN OF ARC

SARAH BERNHARDT AS THE VIRGIN MARY

A GREAT DANCER

DANCING ON FITZROY SQUARE

MOZART ON CONCERTINAS

INFANT PHENOMENA

 

THE NINTH TALK

AMATEUR ORCHESTRAS

THE AMATEURS AT RICHMOND

SCHUMANN AND SOPHY

SHEET MUSIC

NORTHUMBERLAND PIPES

EGG TIMING

 

THE TENTH TALK

BEETHOVEN

THE OPERA ‘NADESHDA’

OLE BULL

A MUSICAL JOKE

LINDPAINTER’S OVERTURE

 

 

THE FIRST TALK

MUSIC CRITICISM AND THE ORIGINS OF HIS NON DE PLUME

HOW NOT TO WRITE MUSIC CRITICISM

GBS REGARDED AS MUSICAL IGNORAMUS

THE NEED FOR A CRITIC TO REMAIN INDEPENDENT

MADAME PATTI

THE BAYREUTH HUSH

 

MUSIC CRITICISM AND THE ORIGINS OF HIS NON DE PLUME

I have decided recently to take up the art of musical criticism in the columns of the Star, partly out of a desire to eat occasionally and partly because whatever my shortcomings in the kingdom of the deaf the one eared man is king. You could chain a terrier to the conductor’s podium at the Albert Hall and force it to listen to all the symphonies of Beethoven without changing its opinions one jot as to the relative delights of classical music and rat hunting – and the same thing is true in its degree of the British public.

Why this should be so, I don’t know. Maybe it is the fault of the schools.

Forced learning of music can produce a rooted loathing of it and a vindictive hope that Mozart may be expiating a malevolent life in eternal torment. However, I will try to remedy this ignorance and help Britain out of the melodic Stone Age.

As a pen name I have chosen Corno di Bassetto, as it sounds like a foreign title and nobody knows what a corno di bassetto is. Right, then – to the criticism.

HOW NOT TO WRITE MUSIC CRITICISM

Now, do not be alarmed. I am not going to perpetrate an ‘analysis’. If you wish for that sort of monstrosity, you will have to go elsewhere. You know the sort of thing I mean:

‘The principal subject, hitherto only heard in the treble, is transferred to the bass (Ex.28), the violins playing a new counterpoint to it instead of the original mere accompaniment figure of the first part. Then the parts are reversed, the violins taking the subject and the basses the counterpoint figure, and so on till we come to a close on the dominant of D minor, a nearly related key (commencement of Ex.29), and then comes the passage by which we return to the first subject in its original form and key.’

How succulent this is. How full of Mesopotamian words like the ‘dominant of D minor’. I will now, ladies and gentlemen, give you my celebrated analysis of Hamlet’s soliloquy on suicide, the ‘To be or not to be’ speech, in the same scientific style.

“Shakespeare, dispensing with the customary exordium, announces his subject at once in the infinitive, in which mood it is presently repeated after a short connecting passage in which, brief as it is, we recognise the alternative and negative forms on which so much of the significance of repetition depends. Here we reach a colon; and a pointed pository phrase, in which the accent falls decisively on the relative pronoun, brings us to the first full stop.”

I break off here because, to tell the truth, my grammar is giving out. But I want to know whether it is just that a literary critic should be forbidden to make his living in this way on pain of being interviewed by two doctors and a magistrate and hauled off to Bedlam forthwith: whilst the more a musical critic does it, the deeper the veneration he inspires.

GBS REGARDED AS MUSICAL IGNORAMUS

But by refusing to write this sort of bugaboo I have opened myself to the accusation of ignorance. The other evening I was looking into a shop window in Oxford Street when a gentleman accosted me modestly and, after flattering me with great taste into an entire willingness to make his acquaintance, began with evident misgiving and hesitation but no less evident curiosity, to approach the subject of these columns. At last he came to his point with a rush by desperately risking the question:

“Excuse me, Mr. G.B.S., but do you know anything about music? The fact is I am not capable of forming an opinion myself but Dr Blank says you don’t – and Dr Blank is such a great authority that one hardly knows what to think.”

Now this question put me in a difficulty because I had already learnt by experience that the reason my writings on music and musicians are so highly appreciated is that they are supposed by many of my greatest admirers to be a huge joke, the point of which lies in the fact that I am totally ignorant of music, and that my character of critic is an exquisitely ingenious piece of acting undertaken to gratify my love of mystification and paradox.

From this point of view every one of my articles appears as a fine stroke of comedy, occasionally broadening into a harlequinade in which I am the clown and Dr Blank the policeman.

At first I did not realise this and could not understand the air of utter disillusion and loss of interest in me that would come over people in whose houses I incautiously betrayed some scrap of amateurish enlightenment. But the naive exclamation: “Oh! You do know something about it, then” at last became familiar to me and I now take particular care not to expose my knowledge.

When people hand me a sheet of instrumental music and ask my opinion of it, I carefully hold it upside down and pretend to study it in that position with the eye of an expert. When they invite me to try their new grand piano I attempt to open it at the wrong end; and when a young lady of the house informs me that she is practising the cello, I innocently ask her whether the mouthpiece did not cut her lips dreadfully at first. This line of conduct gives enormous satisfaction in which I share to a rather greater extent than is generally supposed. But after all the people whom I take in thus are only amateurs.

THE NEED FOR A CRITIC TO REMAIN INDEPENDENT

One thing that the critic has to do is maintain his independence. Somebody has sent me a cutting from which I gather that a proposal to form a critics’ club has reached the very elementary stage of being discussed in the papers. Clearly a critic should not belong to a club at all. He should not know anybody: his hand should be against every man and every man’s hand against his.

Artists made insatiable by the richest and most frequent doses of praise; entrepreneurs greedy for advertisement; people without reputations who want to beg or buy them ready made; the rivals of the praised; the friends, relatives, partisans and patrons of the damned; all these have their grudge against the unlucky Minos in the stalls who is himself criticised in the most absurd fashion.

People have pointed out evidences of personal feeling in my notices as if they were accusing me of a misdemeanour, not knowing that a criticism written without personal feeling is not worth reading. It is the capacity for making good or bad art a personal feeling that makes a man a critic. The artist who accounts for my disparagement by alleging personal animosity on my part is quite right. When people do less than their best and do that less badly and self-complacently, I hate them, loathe them, detest them, long to tear them limb from limb and strew them in gobbets about the stage or platform.

In the same way really fine artists inspire me with the warmest personal regard which I gratify in writing my notices without the smallest reference to such monstrous conceits as justice, impartiality, and the rest of the ideals. When my critical mood is at its height, personal feeling is not the word – it is passion. The passion for artistic perfection – for the noblest beauty of sound, sight, and action – that rages in me. Let all young artists look to it and pay no heed to the idiot who declares that criticism should be free from personal feeling.

The true critic, I repeat, is the man who becomes your personal enemy on the sole provocation of a bad performance and will only be appeased by good performances.

However, enough philosophy. Let us get to the meat.

MADAME PATTI

Madame Patti kissed hands last night in her artless way to a prodigious audience come to bid her farewell before her trip to South America. It always amuses me to see that vast congregation from the squares and the villas listening with moist eyes while the opulent lady from the celebrated Welsh castle fervently sings: ‘Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again.’

The concert was a huge success. There were bouquets, raptures, effusions, kissing of children, graceful sharing of the applause with obbligato players – in short, the usual exhibition of the British bourgeoisie in the part of Bottom and the prima donna in the part of Titania.

There is in Madame Patti an Adelina Jekyll and an Adelina Hyde – two very different sides to her public character. There is Patti the great singer, Patti of the beautiful eloquent voice, so perfectly produced and controlled that its most delicate pianissimo reaches the remotest listener in the Albert Hall; Patti of the unerring ear with her magical roulade soaring to heavenly altitudes; Patti of the strong pure tone that made ‘God Save The Queen’ sound fresh and noble at Covent Garden; Patti of the hushed, tender notes that reconcile rows of club-loving cynics to ‘Home, Sweet Home’. This was the famous artist who last night sang ‘Bel Raggio’ and ‘Coming through the Rye’ incomparably.

But there is another Patti – a Patti who cleverly sang and sang again some pretty nonsense from Delibes’ ‘Lakme’. Great was the applause even after it had been repeated. And then the comedy began. The conductor Mr Ganz, whilst the house was shouting and clapping uproariously, deliberately took up his baton and started Moszkoweki’s Serenata in D. The audience took its cue at once and would not have Moszkowski. After a prolonged struggle Mr. Ganz gave up in despair – and out tripped the diva, bowing her acknowledgements in the character of a petted and delighted child.

When she vanished there was more cheering than ever. Mr. Ganz threatened the Serenata again but in vain. He appealed to the sentinels of the greenroom and these shook their heads amidst roars of protest from the audience, and at last with elaborate gesture conveyed in dumb show that they dare not, could not, would not, must not, venture to approach Patti again. Mr. Ganz with well-acted desolation went on with the Serenata, not one note of which was heard.

Again he appealed to the sentinels and this time they waved their hands expansively in the direction of South America to indicate that the prima donna was already on her way thither. At this the audience showed such sudden and unexpected signs of giving in that the diva tripped out again, bowing, wafting kisses, and successfully courting fresh thunders of applause.

Will not some sincere friend of Madame Patti’s tell her frankly that she is growing too big a girl for this sort of thing which imposes on nobody. No, the queens of song should leave the coquetry of the footlights to the soubrettes.

THE BAYREUTH HUSH

The first packed audience of the year at St. James Hall was drawn on Thursday last by the Wagner programme plus the Eroica at the London Symphony Concert. Wagner nevertheless failed to get the room settled by half past eight. I was late but that would have made no disturbance worth mentioning had not about a hundred other people been late too. Our struggle, or rather scrimmage, to get into the room when the doors were opened after the first piece and our persistence in wandering in search of our seats in the wrong direction when we did get in, necessitated a longish interval between the first and second numbers.

Later on it became evident that the concert could not be finished by half past ten without cutting the customary interval between the two parts very short indeed. This Mr. Henschel accordingly did with the result that when, by dint of repeated rappings, he succeeded in getting a perfect ‘Bayreuth hush’ for the Parsifal prelude, he was paralysed by the discovery that the tuba was missing. After a period of intensifying suspense the artist duly appeared and took his place with the solid calm of a man who knew that we could not start without him.

Up went Mr. Henschel’s stick again. We were once more breathless with expectation when the fresh discovery was made that the orchestra lacked its apex in the familiar and conspicuous person of the eminent drummer, Mr. Smith. Hereupon the Bayreuth hush, overstrained, broke into ripples of laughter and a chatter of questions from those who did not understand the delay and explanations by those who did.

Finally, Mr. Smith hurried in and was received with an ovation which took him aback for the first time in the experience of the oldest concert-goer. Somehow the Bayreuth hush seems to be an unlucky institution, even in St. James Hall. In the Bavarian Festspielhaus of course it is, and always has been, quite hopeless. Somebody inevitably drops an opera glass or slams a seat or rushes in out of the sunshine outside and remarks before the solemn influence has had time to operate:

“Oh my, ain’t it dark. However are we to find our seats?”

But hitherto I have been able to boast that there is never any difficulty in getting the London hush. After last Thursday I fear I shall have to confess that the malign influence of Bayreuth has reached out and corrupted us at last. What used to be a spontaneous piece of good sense and good manners has now become when Parsifal is in question, a ‘put up’ solemnity. Naturally, the Powers that rule over Art are angered by this and have made Mr. Smith, formerly the most punctual of drum players, their scourge and minister to bring the ways of Bayreuth to confusion.

On Saturday evening the Lord Mayor of London invited me to the Mansion House to meet three hundred and forty representatives of Art and Literature. Music, the art for which England was once famous throughout Europe, was represented by myself and the police band.

 

THE SECOND TALK

HOW TO WRITE AN OPERA

WAGNER AS A CONDUCTOR

CONDUCTING STYLES

LONDON CONCERT HALLS

MARIE LLOYD

 

HOW TO WRITE AN OPERA

The other day an actor published a book of directions for making a good play. His plan was a simple one. Take all the devices which bring down the house in existing plays; make a new one by stringing them all together; and there you are.

If that book succeeds, I am prepared to write a similar treatise on opera composition. I know quite a lot of things that would be of great use to any young composer. For instance, when two lovers are on stage together be sure you make them catch sight of the moon or stars and gaze rapturously whilst the violins discourse ravishing strains with their mutes on. Mutes are also useful for spinning wheel business and for fires, as in Marta and Die Walkure.

For dreamy effects, tonic pedals as patented by Gounod and Bizet are useful. When large orchestras are available, broad melodies on the fourth string of the violins may be relied on for a strong and popular impression. When the heroine is alone on stage, a rapid, agitated movement expressive of her anticipation of the arrival of her lover and culminating in a vigorous instrumental and vocal outburst as he rushes on to the stage and proceeds without an instant’s loss of time to embrace her ardently, never fails to leave the public breathless.

The harmonic treatment of this situation is so simple that nobody can fail to master it in a few lessons. The lady must first sing the gentleman’s name on the notes belonging to the chord of the dominant seventh in some highly unexpected key. The gentleman then vociferates the lady’s name a peg higher on the notes of a more extreme discord. Finally the twain explode simultaneously upon a brilliant six-four chord leading, either directly through the dominant chord, or after some pretty interruption of the cadence, to a flowing melody in which the gentleman either protests his passion or repeatedly calls attention to the fact that at last they meet again.

The whole situation should be repeated in the last act with the difference that this time it is the gentleman who must be alone at the beginning. Furthermore he must be in a gloomy dungeon, not larger at the outside than the stage of Covent Garden Theatre, and he must be condemned to die next morning. The reason for putting the gentleman rather than the lady in this situation is to be found in the exclusion of women from politics, whereby they are deprived of the privilege of being condemned to death, without any reflection on their personal characters, for heading patriotic rebellions.

The difficulty has nevertheless been successfully got over by making the lady go mad in the fourth act and kill somebody, preferably her own child. Under these circumstances she may sing almost anything she pleases of a florid nature in her distraction, and may take the gentleman’s place in the prison cell in the next act without forfeiting the moral approval of the audience.

Florid mad scenes, though they are very pretty when the lady’s affliction is made to take the playful turn of a trial of skill with the first flute which should partly imitate the voice and partly accompany it in thirds, is now out of fashion, and it is far better in dramatic opera to be entirely modern in style.

Fortunately the rule for modernity of style is easily remembered and applied. In fact, it is one of the three superlatively easy rules, the other two being the rules for writing Scotch and archaic music. For Scotch music, as everybody knows, you sustain E flat and B flat in the bass f or a drone, and play at random in some Scotch measure on the notes which are black on the piano.

For archaic music, you harmonise in the ordinary way in the key of B major but in playing you make the four sharps of the key natural, reading the music as if it were written in the key of C, which of course simplifies the execution as far as the piano is concerned. The effect will be diabolical but nobody will object if you explain that your composition is in the Phrygian mode. If a still more poignant effect be desired, write in B natural, leaving out the sharps as before, and calling the mode hypo-Phrygian.

If as is possible the Phrygian is more than the public can stand, write in D without sharps and call the mode Dorian, when the audience will accept you as being comfortably in D minor, except when you feel that it is safe to excruciate them with the C natural. This is easy, but not more so than the rule for making music sound modern.

For compositions in the major, all that is necessary is to write ordinary diatonic harmonies and then go over them with a pen and cross the t’s, as it were, by sharpening all the fifths in the common chords. If the composition is in the minor, the common chord must be left unaltered; but whenever it occurs some instrument must play the major sixth of the key loud enough to make itself heard rather distinctly. Next morning, all the musical critics will gravely declare that you have been deeply influenced by the theories of Wagner; and what more could you desire if modernity is your foible?

WAGNER AS A CONDUCTOR

I must take this opportunity to discuss conductors and in particular Herr Richter. Herr Richter’s popularity as an orchestral conductor began, not in the auditorium, but in the orchestra. It dates from his first visit here in 1877 to conduct the Wagner festivals at the Albert Hall. At these concerts there was a large and somewhat clumsy band of one hundred and seventy players, not well accustomed to the music and not at all accustomed to the composer, who had contracted to heighten the sensation by conducting a portion of each concert.

It is not easy to make an English orchestra nervous but Wagner’s tense neuralgic glare at the players as they waited for the beat with their bows poised above the strings was hard upon the sympathetic men, whilst the intolerable length of the pause exasperated the tougher spirits. When all were effectively disconcerted, the composer’s baton was suddenly jerked upwards as if by a sharp twinge of gout in the elbow and, after a moment of confusion, a scrambling start was made.

During the performance Wagner’s glare never relaxed: he never looked pleased. When he wanted more emphasis he stamped; when the division into bars was merely conventional he disdained counting and looked daggers – spoke them too sometimes – at innocent instrumentalists who were enjoying the last few bars of their rest without any suspicion that the impatient composer had just discounted half a stave or so and was angrily waiting for them. When he laid down the baton it was with the air of a man who hoped he might never be condemned to listen to such a performance again.

Then Herr Richter stepped into the conductor’s desk and the orchestra, tapping their desks noisily with their bows, revenged themselves by an ebullition of delight and deep relief. This scandalised Wagner’s personal admirers but set the fashion of applauding the new conductor whose broad, calm style was doubly reassuring after that of Wagner.

Wagner himself meanwhile sat humbly among the harps until he could no longer bear to listen quietly to his own music when he would rise, get into the way of the players, seek flight by no thoroughfares and return discomforted, to escape at last into the stalls and prowl from chair to chair like a man lost and friendless. As it is difficult to remain in the room with the greatest living composer without watching his movements even at the risk of missing some of his music – which after all you will have other chances of hearing – you perhaps paid less attention to Herr Richter than he deserved.

CONDUCTING STYLES

Might one venture to suggest the establishment of a prize for conducting to be awarded by a committee of deaf men? We in London do not lack variety and picturesque-ness in the action of our favourite conductors. As practised by Mr. Augustus Mann, conducting is a vigorous broadsword exercise. Herr Richter fingers his baton as delicately as a fine fencer fingers his foil or a fine violinist his bow, moving his arm gently and evenly from the elbow joint.

Mr Carl Rosa slashes from the wrist. Sir Michael Costa also struck from the wrist but he did not slash. He was cool, precise and steady – almost uncomfortably so. Signor Arditi flourishes his baton and keeps time by flexure of his knee joints. The restrained war dance of Herr Edward Strauss was not conducting but as it was intended as such, it may be mentioned here as an unfavourable specimen.

A week ago it seemed safe to say that all possible varieties of baton-handling were familiar to London. But the conductors who appeared at the Albert Hall this week introduced several new styles to us, one or two of which might be appropriately called the Whirling Dervish style, or even the Private Madhouse style.

There were conductors with vertical action who prodded at the firmament, horizontal action conductors who seemed to be frantically waving their singers further back from them, elongating and collapsing conductors, ambidextrous conductors like drowning swimmers catching at straws right and left, and stiff one-handed conductors like semaphores.

Their emotions were as varied as their actions. Some conducted imploringly, others threateningly, others pompously or pedantically, a few persuasively, a great many in a sudden manner extremely disconcerting to strangers. The non-conductor was there, as he is everywhere, but the prevalent fault was fussiness.

One gentleman who brought up a suburban Tonic Sol-fa choir was demonstrative to a degree that would have brought his sanity in question had he not been a musician and therefore a privileged gesticulator. His choir did him credit and did not deserve to be treated as if they were a flock of errant sheep in a bewildering network of streets and he their drover.

The best conducting ploy I ever saw was Sir Michael Costa’s. He once dealt with a hitch in the ball scene in Don Giovanni by putting down his stick with ineffable contempt, freezing the whole stage and orchestra by refusing even to look at them, and then quietly resuming after an awful pause.

LONDON CONCERT HALLS

I must make some comment on the ventilation of most of the London concert halls. From the point of view of breathing my most outstanding experience recently has been the concert of the Handel Society, a hospitable body which takes the St. James Hall once a year and invites an overwhelming audience without reservation of seats.

When I entered the temperature was about two hundred and fifty in the draught; and I deemed myself fortunate in securing an angle of the wall to lean against.

Augustus Mann, in the centre of a sort of Mahometan paradise of lady violinists, was bringing off a very creditable performance of the overture to Cherubini’s ‘Lodoiska’.

After this, we had an admirable little cantata for band and chorus called ‘The Storm’ by old Father Haydn who, if he had given it to his children (the public) indulgently as a piece of claptrap, certainly took good care that it should do them no harm. The instrumentation and the vocal harmony sounded much fresher than they would have done half a century ago and I waited for the last note before I fled, gasping for air, into Regent St.

I am not a very regular frequenter of the students concerts at the Guildhall School of Music. They begin at the unreasonable hour of half past six and the surroundings always give me an uneasy sense of having been summoned before the Lord Mayor’s Court for some misdemeanour. Nevertheless I looked in on one last week and found the huge room, as usual, crowded.

There was the inevitable child violinist performing prodigies. There was the regulation young lady with the flexible voice, the high range and the un-awakened artistic sense, mechanically using the mad scene from ‘Lucia’ as a stalking horse. There was the intelligent young gentleman cautiously playing the flute obbligato. There were the harmless assortments of students’ original compositions, the pretty first fruits of they that are Corporation Exhibitionists. And of course there was the champion pupil who, after setting every muscle in her neck and jaws as if she wanted to crack a walnut with her glottis, turned on a blast from her lungs sufficient to whirl a windmill.

I was unable to stay very long and the most enjoyable thing I heard was a Mendelssohn prelude and fugue played by Miss Ethel Barnes who showed before she played six bars that she had been stimulated artistically as well as finger trained mechanically. That prelude and fugue consoled me inexpressibly after ‘Lucia’. As the next thing on the programme was Il Segreto, I fled into the night lest a worse thing befall, leaving Ms. Barnes mistress of the situation.

MARIE LLOYD

One other performer must not go unnoticed. Miss Marie Lloyd, like all the brightest stars of the music hall, has an exceptionally quick ear for both pitch and rhythm. Her intonation and the lilt of her songs are alike perfect, her step dancing is pretty, and her command of coster girls’ patois is complete. Why then does not someone write humorous songs for her? ‘Twiggy-vous’ is low and silly and ‘Oh, Mr. Porter’ though very funnily sung, is not itself particularly funny. A humorous rhymester of any genius could make it so.

I am greatly afraid that the critics persisted so long in treating the successes of music hall vocalism as mere impudent exploitations of vulgarity and indecency (forgetting that if this were more than half true managers could find a dozen Bessie Bellwoods and Marie Lloyds in every street) that the artists have come to exaggerate the indecent element in their songs and to underrate that of the artistic element in their singing. If music hall songs were written by Messrs. Rudyard Kipling, W.S. Gilbert. etc., our best music hall singers would probably be much more widely popular than they can become now. Twiggy-vous, Miss Lloyd?

One last afterthought on opera writing. Sterndale Bennett, when asked to write an opera, is said to have stipulated that there should be no Soldiers Choruses in it. I warn composers that in future, if the curtain goes up on “Act One – Village Inn, with sign, benches and practicable door L; village lads and lasses discovered singing”, I shall presently be discovered making my way home.

 

THE THIRD TALK

FRANZ LISZT

THE BURNS NIGHT CONCERT

DEALING WITH THE SUPERNATURAL AT COVENT GARDEN

JULES MASSENET AND APPLAUSE

BRAHMS

 

FRANZ LISZT

The foreboding that many of us must have felt last spring when Liszt left England with a promise to return has been verified by the news of his death at Bayreuth. Such news always comes too soon but in this case Time has exacted less than his traditional due. Three score and fifteen years were allowed to Liszt to work out what was in him. He had twice as long to utter himself as had Mendelssohn who was only two and a half years his senior, or Mozart who might have done things quite unimaginable in their effect on modern music if he had been allowed another thirty years of life.

Of Liszt, we at least know that he had his say fully, such as it was. He was a Hungarian, born at Raiding in 1811, with the pianoforte at his finger ends. His career as a public player began when he was nine years old and his success led him to Vienna and then to Paris where he was excluded by his nationality from the Conservatoire and Cherubini’s instruction.

Of his plunge into the romantic movement, his Saint-Siminianism, his Roman Catholicism, his connection with Daniel Stern, his career in his middle age at Weimar where he did for the opera what Goethe had done before for the theatre, his championship of Wagner who became his son-in-law, and whose widow is his sole surviving child, his unique position as the idol of all the pianoforte students in the world – all of these we have lately been put in mind by the great overhauling of his history, which took place when he revisited us this year after nearly half a century’s absence.

He first played here at the Philharmonic Concerts in 1827. Fifteen years later, he gave us another trial out of which we did not come with perfect credit. That was perhaps why he stayed away forty four years before he came again, and as an old man, half priest, half musician, stirred up all the hero worship in our little world of music and all the lionising in our big world of fashion.

That little world will grieve a little to learn that his third absence must be the longest of all. The big world will probably feel none the worse for having had something to talk about at breakfast this morning. Between it and the dead artist there was little genuine love lost. He cared so little for even dazzling it that he adopted the profession of pianist with repugnance, and abandoned it for that of conductor and composer as soon as he could it.

It was as a composer that Liszt wished to stand high in the esteem of his contemporaries or – failing their appreciation – of posterity. Many musicians of good credit think that he judged himself rightly. Mr. Bache for instance has given us concert after concert of his favourite master’s works with a devotion that has extorted applause from audiences for the most part quite convinced that Liszt and Mr. Bache were quite mistaken.

Wagner, who spoke very highly of Liszt as a conductor, declared that his playing of Beethoven’s greater sonatas was essentially an act of composition as well as interpretation. He did not however commit himself on the subject of the Dante symphony or Mazeppa.

There is a consensus of opinion in favour of Liszt as a player. His songs too have affected many musicians deeply and, though they are not generally familiar, their merit has not been at all emphatically questioned. His studies and transcriptions, if not wholly irreproachable in point of note, show an exhaustive knowledge of the pianoforte and, unplayable as they are to people who attack a pianoforte with stiff wrists and clenched teeth, they are not dreaded by good pianists.

The brilliancy and impetuous fantasy of his Hungarian Rhapsodies are irresistible as Herr Richter has proved again and again at St. James Hall. But his oratorios and symphonic poems – especially the latter – have not yet won the place which he claimed for them.

A man can hardly be as impressionable as Liszt was and yet be sturdy enough to be original. He could conduct Lohengrin like Wagner’s other self, and could play Beethoven as if the sonatas were of his own moulding. But as an original composer he was like a child, delighting in noise, speed, and stirring modulation, and indulging in such irritating excesses and repetitions of them that decorous concert-goers find his Infernos, his battles, and his Nazeppa rides first amusing, then rather scandalous, and finally quite unbearable.

THE BURNS NIGHT CONCERT

A pleasanter idea of the man can be derived from his many eulogies, some of them mere schoolgirl raptures, others balanced verdicts of great composers and critics which, whether the symphonic poems live or die, will preserve a niche for him in the history of music as a man who loved his art, despised money, attracted everybody worth knowing in the nineteenth century, lived through the worst of it, and got away from it at last with his hands unstained.

When I received an invitation to a Grand Scotch Festival at the Albert Hall on the Burns anniversary I was a little staggered, but I felt that a man should have the courage of his profession, and went.

The population of the Albert Hall was scanty and scattered, probably through crofter emigration. I had no sooner entered when bang went two saxpences for a programme.

I cannot say that the concert was particularly Scotch in anything but name. The part songs given by Mr. Carter’s choir were so primly British in their gentility as to suggest that the native heath of the singers must be Clapham Common at the very wildest. Perhaps the highest pitch of emotional excitement was reached in that well known Caledonian piece, the ‘Miserere’ from ‘Il Trovatore’, with military accompaniments from the band of the Scots Guards, in which Madame Giulia Valda expressed the distraction of the heroine by singing convulsively out of tune. The effect of the entry of the organ and side drum ad lib on the concluding chord was sublime; and the idea of having Manrico imprisoned in the cellar instead of the tower was not unhappy in its effect but, on the whole, I should not like to answer for Verdi’s unqualified approval of the performance.

Most of the songs were in the last degree unlike themselves. I presume Mr. Dalgety Henderson is a Scotchman, for only a Scotchman could have been so bent on making the vengeful ‘Macgregors’ Gathering’ into a sentimental English ballad. When Sims Reeves sang it the song was memorable – almost terrible. But when Mr. Henderson sang ‘Give their roofs to the flame and their flesh to the eagles’ with his most lackadaisically pathetic nuance on ‘eagles’, I felt that the whole Macgregor clan might be invited to tea with every confidence in the perfect propriety of their behaviour.

Miss Rose Williams’ nationality is unknown to me. She is a contralto of the school of Madame Antoinette Sterling, singing very slowly and with a steady suffusion of feeling, physically a steady pressure of chest voice which only admits of the most mournful expression. Her song was ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’ and she sang it exactly as if it were ‘The Three Fishers’. It was pretty; but it would have dampened a whole revolution had there been one in progress at the moment.

The only singer who hit the mark in the first part of the concert, (I did not wait for the second), was Mr. Norman Salmond who, having nothing Scotch about him, sang – and sang to perfection – what a cockney printer next morning described as ‘Green grow the rashers O’.

The only other item in which any sense of the beauty and romantic dignity of Scotch folk music was shown by the artist was a movement from Max Bruch’s Scottish Violin Fantasia, finely played by Mr. Sieffert, a Dutchman. On the whole I would not ask to hear a less Scotch evening.

DEALING WITH THE SUPERNATURAL AT COVENT GARDEN

‘The Light of Asia’ by De Lara at Covent Garden was, as usual, bedevilled by over-spending and under-thinking. Mr. De Lara’s opera was stifled with goodwill and hundreds of pounds worth of silks and precious looking metals, when it was perishing for two pen’north of skill and fancy. His feelings in the fourth act must have been particularly unenviable.

The persons who appeared therein were mostly supernatural and this immediately brought out the superstitious side of the Covent Garden stage management. Sir Augustus Harris has been imbued from his earliest years with the belief that the vital distinction between the inhabitants of the other world and of this is that the latter move horizontally and the former vertically. Enter his room through the door and walk across to his chair and he will recognise you as human. Remove a square piece of the floor and rise slowly into the room on a lift, and he will believe you to be a demon as firmly as if you were a musical critic and had found fault with the Royal Italian Opera. You cannot get this out of his mind: it is part of the faith of his childhood.

No fair minded critic can doubt that when the lead tenor Signor Miranda was hoisted on to a lift, shot up like a Jack-in-the-box out of a neutral-tinted canvas cloud resembling a photographer’s background of monstrous size, and bathed in the fiery glow of a red limelight, Sir Augustus was convinced that only a hardened atheist could refuse to believe and tremble. And yet everybody laughed except Mr. De Lara and Signor Miranda – who was standing giddily on the brink of a precipice some twelve or fourteen feet high.

As to the siren’s cave business which followed I really have not the patience to describe it, further than to say that it was as like a kitchen fireplace as usual, and that nobody was surprised at the insensibility to its seductions displayed by the hapless hero of the opera, no less than the Buddha.

When he had tripped over on his way off stage and the curtain came down for a long pause just at the wrong time, the fortunes of the ‘Light of Asia’ reached their lowest ebb. Will no friend of Sir Augustus Harris’s open his mind gently to the fact that all this machinery of traps and visions is as dead as Queen Anne?

JULES MASSENET AND APPLAUSE

On Wednesday last week, at about half past ten at night or thereabouts, the inhabitants of Covent Garden and the neighbourhood were startled by a most tremendous cannonade. It was the beginning of ‘La Navaraise’ by Massenet, and it did heavy execution among the ladies and gentlemen who cultivate their nerves on tea and alcohol.

As one who has relieved the serious work of musical criticism by the amusement of dramatic authorship, I can testify to the great difficulty of getting artillery and musketry fire of really good tone for stage purposes. I can compliment Sir Augustus Harris unreservedly on the thundering amplitude of sound and vigorous attack of his almost smokeless explosives.

They gave the piece a magnificent send-off. Madame Calve had no need to shake a ladder behind the scenes, according to the old receipt, in order ‘to strike twelve at once’; for before the curtain had been up thirty seconds, during which little more than half a ton of gunpowder can have been consumed, she was a living volcano, wild with anxiety, to be presently mad with joy, ecstatic with love, desperate with disappointment, and so on in ever culminating transitions through mortification, despair, terror and finally – the mainspring breaking at the worst of the strain – silly maniacal laughter.

The opera, which lasts less than an hour, went like lightning and when the curtain came down there was something like a riot both on stage and off. All sorts of ridiculous incidents crowded upon one another. Plancon, fetching bouquets for Calve, turned to present them to her with stately courtesy and found himself bowing elaborately to the curtain which had just descended behind him and cut him off from the main body of the stage army. When it went up – and stayed up, there being no prospect of the applause stopping – it became evident that Massenet was bashfully concealed in the wing.

Calve rushed off to fetch him but returned empty-handed, breathless, and conveying to the audience by speaking gestures that the composer had wrestled with her victoriously. Then the stalls, forgetting the decorum proper to indispensable evening dress, positively yelled for Massenet. Calve made another attempt and again returned defeated. The tumult thereupon redoubled and she, resolving in her desperation to have somebody out, made a fresh plunge and came up with Flon of Brussels, the conductor. But the house would not be satisfied with Flon and finally Sir Augustus himself had to appear.

As he stepped forward to the footlights a deep hush fell on the assembled multitude. He looked for a moment at some person behind the scenes. But Jules Massenet still would not appear and Sir Augustus, looking the audience in the face with that steadfastness to which the mere truth can never nerve a mortal man, explained that M. Massenet had left the theatre to smoke a cigarette, and that the gratifying news of the success of his work should be communicated to him by telegraph or otherwise, as soon as possible.

I immediately withdrew, feeling that I could no longer lend the moral sanction of my presence to the proceedings; and for all I know, the audience may be there calling for Jules still.

This applause business is getting absurd. Madame Patti will get up and bow to you in the very agony of stage death if you only drop your stick accidentally. Fie upon the whole business!

BRAHMS

There are some sacrifices which should not be demanded twice from any man, and one of them is listening to Brahm’s Requiem. On some future evening perhaps when the weather is balmy and I can be accommodated with a comfortable armchair, an interesting book, and all the evening papers, I may venture. But last week I should have required a requiem for myself if I had attempted such a feat of endurance.

 

THE FOURTH TALK

MOZART AND WAGNER

INCONGRUITIES IN OPERA

THE BRITISH CARMEN

THE POLITE COVENT GARDEN CHORUS

BOUQUETS

PADEREWSKI

 

MOZART AND WAGNER

On Wednesday, I went to the Princess hall to hear their latest programme. To my delight, they began with Mozart’s pianoforte quartet in G minor, as all my musical self-respect is based on my keen appreciation of Mozart’s works. It is still as true as it was before the Eroica symphony existed, that there is nothing better in art than Mozart’s best. We have had Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Goetz and Brahms since his time: we have even had Dr Parry, Professor Stanford, Mr. Cowen, Dr Mackenzie, and Sir Arthur Sullivan; but the more they have left the Mozart quartet or quintet behind, the further it comes out ahead in its perfection of temper and refinement of consciousness.

In the ardent regions where all the rest are excited and vehement, Mozart alone is completely self-possessed. Where they are clutching their bars with a grip of iron and forging them with Cyclopean blows, his gentleness of touch never deserts him. He is considerate, economical, and practical under the same pressure of inspiration that throws your Titan into convulsions. This is the secret of his unpopularity with Titan fanciers. We all in our native barbarism have a relish for the strenuous. Your tenor whose B flat is like the bursting of a boiler always brings down the house, even when the note brutally effaces the song.

With Mozart you are safe from inebriety. Hurry, excitement, eagerness, loss of consideration, are to him purely comic or vicious states of mind. He gives us ‘Monostatos’ and ‘the Queen of the Night’ on the stage, but not in his chamber music. Now it happens that I have, deep in my nature which is quite as deep as the average rainfall in England, a frightful contempt for your Queens of the Night and Titans and their like.

The true Parnassian air acts on these people like oxygen on a mouse. It first excites them and then it kills them. Give me the artist who breathes it like a native, and goes about his work in it as a common man goes about his ordinary business.

Mozart did so – and that is why I like him. Even if I did not, I should pretend to, for a taste for his music is a mark of caste among musicians and should be worn like a top hat by the amateur who wishes to pass for a true Brahmin.

There is no shadow of death anywhere in Mozart’s music. Even his own funeral was a failure. It was dispersed by a shower of rain and to this day no one knows where he was buried or whether he was buried at all or not. My own belief is that he was not. Depend on it, they had no sooner put up their umbrellas and bolted for the nearest shelter, than he got up, shook off his bones into the common grave of the people and soared off into universality.

It is characteristic of the British middle class that whenever they write a book about Mozart, the crowning tragedy is always the dreadful thought that instead of having a respectable vault all to himself to moulder in for the edification of the British tourist, he should have been interred cheaply among the bodies of the lower classes.

Mozart came at the end of a development, not at the beginning of one. Although there are operas and symphonies, and even pianoforte sonatas and pages of instrumental scoring of his, on which you can put your finger and say:

“Here is final perfection in this manner and nobody, whatever his genius may be, will ever get a step further on these lines” you cannot say:

“Here is an entirely new vein of musical art, of which nobody ever dreamt before Mozart”.

Haydn, who made the mould for Mozart’s symphonies, was proud of Mozart’s genius because he felt his own part in it. He would have written the E flat symphony if he could and though he could not, was at least able to feel that the man who had reached that pre-eminence was standing on his shoulders. Haydn would have recoiled from the idea of composing – or perpetrating, as he would have put it – the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’, and would have repudiated all part in leading music to such a pass.

Many Mozart worshippers cannot bear to be told that their hero was not the founder of a dynasty. But in art the highest success is to be the last of your race, not the first. Anybody, almost, can make a beginning. The difficulty is to make an end –to do what cannot be bettered.

For instance, if the beginner were to be ranked above the consummator, we should in literary fiction have to place Captain Mayne Reid (who certainly struck a new vein) above Charles Dickens, who simply took the novel as he found it and achieved the feat of compelling his successor (whoever he may be) either to create quite another sort of novel, or else to fall behind his predecessor as at best a superfluous imitator.

Surely, if so great a composer as Haydn could say out of his greatness as a man:

“I am not the best of my school, though I was the first”, Mozart’s worshippers can afford to acknowledge with equal gladness of spirit that their hero was not the first, though he was the best. It is always like that. Praxiteles, Raphael and Co., have great men for their pioneers, and only fools for their followers.

So far everybody will agree with me. This proves either that I am hopelessly wrong or that the world has had at least half a century over which to think the matter. And, sure enough, a hundred years ago Mozart was considered a desperate innovator. It was his reputation in this respect that set so many composers – Meyerbeer, for example – cultivating innovation for its own sake.

Let us therefore jump a hundred years forward, right up to date, and see whether there is any phenomenon of the same nature in view today.

We have not to look far. Here, under our very noses, is Wagner held up on all hands as the founder of a school and the arch musical innovator of our age. He himself knew better, but since his death I appear to be the only person who shares his view of the matter. I assert with the utmost confidence that in 1991 it will be seen quite clearly that Wagner was the end of the nineteenth century or Beethoven school, instead of the beginning of the twentieth-century school – just as Mozart’s most perfect music is the last word of the eighteenth century, and not the first of the nineteenth.

It is none the less plain because everybody knows that ‘Il Seraglio’ was the beginning of the school of nineteenth century German operas of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber and Wagner, and that Die Zauberflote is the ancestor not only of the Ninth Symphony but of the Wagnerian allegorical music drama, with personified abstractions instead of individualised characters as dramatis personae. But Il Seraglio and Die Zauberflote do not belong to the group of works which constitute Mozart’s consummate achievement – Don Juan, Le Nozze di Figaro, and his three or four perfect symphonies. They are nineteenth century music heard advancing in the distance, as his Masses are seventeenth century music retreating in the distance.

And similarly, though the future fossiliferous critics of 1991, after having done their best without success to crush twentieth century music, will be able to show that Wagner made one or two experiments in that direction, yet the world will rightly persist in thinking of him as a characteristically nineteenth century composer of the school of Beethoven, greater than Beethoven by as much as Mozart was greater than Haydn.

And now I hope to have saved my reputation by saying something at which everybody will exclaim: “Bless me! What nonsense!’

Nevertheless, it is true and our would-be Wagners had better look to it. All their efforts to exploit the apparently inexhaustible wealth of musical material opened up at Bayreuth will prove only that Wagner used it up to the last ounce, and that second hand Wagner is more insufferable than even second hand Mozart used to be.

Mozart was possessed by a greatness of spirit that is indefinable. We are apt to deify men of genius exactly as we deify the creative force of the universe by attributing to logical design what is the result of blind instinct. Mozart, asked for an explanation of his works, said frankly: “How do I know?”

INCONGRUITIES IN OPERA

I must be getting old – the staging of opera is beginning to irritate me. The development of English opera at the Savoy, Prince of Wales, and Lyric theatres has accustomed the public to have dramatic music served up to them daintily in houses of moderate size and sung by prima donnas on the right side of forty five and considerably under nineteen stone in weight, supported by tenors free from any appearance of gaining their livelihood precariously between one engagement and another by retailing penny ices.

There was a time when I did not greatly mind seeing Violetta laid up with consumption in a small bed in the middle of an apartment rather larger than Trafalgar Square, and consequently worth about £6000 a year in a fairly good neighbourhood in Paris. I accepted it, as I accepted her going to bed in white kid boots with high heels, or getting up in the middle of a faint to acknowledge the applause, or retaining all her vocal powers with her lungs in ribbons, or any other trifle that might save trouble.

As for the prison doors that will not shut, and the ordinary doors that will not open, I do not complain of that. It is the stage way of such apertures. One gets at last to quite look forward to Valentin attempting a dashing exit through an impracticable door and recoiling, flattened and taken aback, to disappear ignominiously through the solid wall at the next entrance. I would not now accept any house as being that in which Rigoletto so jealously immured his daughter, unless the back door were swinging invitingly open before every onslaught of the draughts which ventilate the stage of Covent Garden.

But as I get on in life my powers of make-believe fail. After seeing ‘La Dame aux Camelias’ on a well-appointed stage of the proper size, ‘La Traviata’ in the Brobdingnagian salons of Covent Garden suddenly becomes ridiculous.

Esmeralda’s broad acres of garret; poor Gretchen’s gigantic cell, into which the Tsar’s Government would think nothing of putting four hundred prisoners down with Siberian fever; the Count’s bedroom in ‘La Somnambula’, three times as large as the inn which contains it appeared in the first act – all these things stuck in my throat last season as they never did in times past.

THE BRITISH CARMEN

Apropos of ‘Carmen’, which now shares with Gounod’s ‘Faust’ the position of the most popular of modern operas, it would be interesting to learn how many of the artists who appear in it at Drury Lane have read the admirably told story by Prosper Merimee on which the opera is founded.

It seems safe to guess that Mr Ben Davies has not. As Don Jose, he is the sturdiest, most good humoured and least jealous of British brigadiers. His aspect does not recall the Satan of Milton. A man less likely to stab any woman than Don Jose a la Ben Davies never trod the stage. This, cheerful as it is, mars the interest of the drama, in which Jose is the only character who greatly moves our sympathy. The entanglement of the unlucky soldier by the evil fascination of Carmen loses much of its pathos in the hands of a jolly and rather stolid Britisher of the frankest Tommy Atkins type.

THE POLITE COVENT GARDEN CHORUS

There was also trouble with the chorus, as there so often is with Drury Lane. Their problem is that they do everything to perfection except sing. Their timing, their tone, their enunciation, their observance of light and shade, testified to the pains taken with them by their conductor. But not even he could get any considerable volume of sound out of them.

Over the past year, as the roaring drunkards of Auerbach’s cellar, they were polite and subdued; as bragging soldiers they were decent and restrained; as convivial students chanting at night they did not forget that there might be a sick person in the neighbourhood; and as devils in Pandemonium their voices were sweet and low. On this occasion, in this full throated and blooded Latin epic, the chorus summoned about as much enthusiasm as the inhabitants of a remote Icelandic fjord would, after listening to a speech by Lord Salisbury.

BOUQUETS

I would suggest also that in future the persons who kindly undertake to throw bouquets should study the score beforehand and offer their tributes at the proper opportunities. At Wednesday’s performance of Faust, bouquets dropped promiscuously throughout the opera and one, bearing a message of peace and charity, fell most inappropriately into the hands of Mephistopheles.

Also on the topic of bouquets, I must mention Mrs. Hiemenbacher, the American singer. After the manner of her countrywomen, she travels with enormous wreaths and baskets of flowers which are handed to her at the conclusion of her pieces. And no matter how often this happens, she is never the whit less astonished to see the flowers come up.

They say that the only artist who never gets accustomed to his part is the performing flea who fires a cannon, and who is no less dismayed and confounded by the three hundredth report than by the first.

Now I may be ungallant, coarse, brutal even, but whenever I see a fair American thrown into raptures by her own flower basket, I think of that flea.

PADEREWSKI

And lastly. By the time I reached Paderewski’s concert on Friday, his concerto was over, the audience in wild enthusiasm, and the piano a wreck.

 

 

THE FIFTH TALK

 THE 789th PERFORMANCE OF ‘DOROTHY’

MR AND MRS GRIEG

ASSOCIATING WITH THE GREAT

THE CONCERT FOR THE SHAH

INFANT PHENOMENA

DVORAK

 

THE 789th PERFORMANCE OF ‘DOROTHY’

Last Saturday evening, feeling the worse for want of change and country air, I happened to voyage in the company of Mr. William Archer as far as Greenwich. Hardly had we inhaled the refreshing ozone of that place for ninety seconds when, suddenly finding ourselves opposite a palatial theatre gorgeous with a million gaslights, we felt that it was idiotic to have been to Wagner’s Theatre at Bayreuth and yet be utterly ignorant concerning Morton’s Theatre at Greenwich.

So we rushed into the struggling crowd at the doors, only to be informed that the theatre was full. Stalls full; dress circle full; pit, standing room only. As Archer, in self-defence, habitually sleeps during performances and is subject to nightmares when he sleeps standing, the pit was out of the question. Was there room anywhere we asked? Yes, in a private box or the gallery. Which was the cheaper? The gallery, decidedly.

So up we went to the gallery where we found two precarious perches vacant at the side. It was rather like trying to see Trafalgar Square from the top of an omnibus halfway up St. Martins Lane but by hanging on to a stanchion, and occasionally standing with one foot on the seat and the other on the backs of the people in the front row, we succeeded in seeing as much of the entertainment as we could stand.

The first thing we did was to purchase a bill which informed us that we were in for:

‘The entirely original pastoral comedy-opera in three acts, by B. C. Stephenson and Alfred Cellier: – ‘DOROTHY’ – which has been played to crowded houses at the Lyric Theatre, London, 950 times and still playing in the provinces 788 times’.

This playbill, I should add, was thoughtfully decorated with a view of the theatre showing all the exits, for use in the event of the performance proving unbearable.

From it we further learnt that we should be regaled by an augmented and powerful orchestra; that the company was ‘Leslie’s No. I’; that O.J. Francis believes he is the only hatter in the County of Kent who exists on the profits arising solely from the sale of hats and caps; and so on. Need I add that Archer and I sat bursting with expectation until the overture began.

I cannot truthfully say that the augmented and powerful orchestra proved quite so augmented or so powerful as the composer could have wished, but let that pass. I disdain the cheap sport of breaking a daddy-long-legs on a wheel (butterfly is out of the question, it was such a dingy band).

My object is rather to call attention to the condition to which 788 nights of Dorothying have reduced the unfortunate wanderers known as ‘Leslie’s No. I’.

I submit to Mr. Leslie that in his own interest he should take better care of No.1. Here are several young persons doomed to spend the flower of their years in mechanically repeating the silliest libretto in modern theatrical literature set to music which, pretty as it is, must pall somewhat on the seven hundred and eighty-eighth performance.

As might have been expected, a settled weariness of life, an utter perfunctoriness, an unfathomable inanity pervaded the very souls of ‘No. I’. The tenor, originally I have no doubt a fine young man, but now cherubically adipose, was evidently counting the days until death should relieve him from playing the part of Wilder. He had a pleasant speaking voice, and his affability and forbearance were highly creditable to him under the circumstances; but Nature rebelled in him against the loathed strains of a seven hundred-times repeated role. He sang ‘Though Born a Man of High Degree’ as if with the last rally of an energy decayed and a willing spirit crushed. The G at the end was a vocal earthquake. And yet methought he was not displeased when the inhabitants of Greenwich, coming fresh to the slaughter, encored him.

The baritone had been affected the other way. He was thin and worn and his clothes had lost their lustre. He sang ‘Queen of my Heart’ twice in a hardened manner, as one who was prepared to sing it a thousand times in a thousand quarter hours for a sufficient wager.

The comic part, being simply that of a circus clown transferred to the Lyric stage, is better suited for infinite repetition. The gentleman who undertook it addressed a comic lady called Priscilla as Sarsaparilla with a delight in the rare aroma of the joke and in the roars of laughter it elicited which will probably never pall.

But anything that he himself escaped in the way of tedium was added tenfold to his unlucky colleagues who sat out his buffooneries with expressions of deadly malignity. I trust the gentleman may die in his bed – but he would be unwise to build too much on doing so. There is a point at which tedium becomes homicidal mania.

The ladies fared best. The female of the human species has not yet developed a conscience. She will apparently spend her life in artistic self-murder by induced Dorothitus without a pang of remorse provided she be praised and paid regularly.

Dorothy herself, a beauteous young lady of distinguished mien, with an immense variety of accents ranging from finest Tunbridge Wells (for genteel comedy) to the broadest Irish (for repartee and low comedy), sang without the slightest effort and without the slightest point, and was all the more desperately vapid because she suggested artistic gifts wasting in complacent abeyance.

Lydia’s voice, a hollow and spectral contralto, alone betrayed the desolating effect of perpetual Dorothy, Her figure retains a pleasing plumpness akin to that of the tenor and her spirits were wonderful, all things considered.

The chorus, too, seemed happy but that was obviously because they did not know any better.

A pack of hounds darted in at the end of the second act evidently full of the mad hope of finding something new going on, and their depression when they discovered it was Dorothy again, was pitiable. The R.S.P.C.A. should interfere. If there is no law to protect men and women from Dorothy, there is at least one that can be strained to protect dogs.

I did not wait for the third act. My companion had several times all but fallen into the pit from sleep and heaviness of spirit combined – and I felt as if I were playing Geoffrey Wilder for the millionth time. As we moped homeward in the moonlight we brooded over what we had seen. Even now I cannot think with composure of the fact that they are playing Dorothy tonight again – will play it tomorrow – next year – next decade – next century?

I do not know what the average lifetime of a member of ‘No. I’ may be, but I do not think it can exceed five years from the date of joining. So there is no question here of old men and old women playing it with white hair beneath their wigs and deep furrows underlying their makeup. Doubtless they do not die on the stage, they first become mad and are removed to an asylum, where they incessantly sing: ‘One, two, three, one, two, three, Oh Phyllis is mine’ etc. until the King of Terrors mercifully seals their tortured ears for ever.

I have always denounced the old-fashioned stock company and laughed to scorn the theorists who fancy that they saw in them a training school for actors, but I never bargained for such a thing as this 789th performance of Dorothy.

It is a criminal waste of young lives and young talents and, though it may for a time make more money for Mr. Leslie, yet in the end it leaves him with a worn-out opera and a parcel of untrained novices on his hands when he might have a repertory of at least half a dozen works and a company of fairly skilled artists able to play them at a day’s notice. We exclaim at the dock employers’ disregard of labourers’ bodies, but what shall we say of the managers’ disregard of artists’ souls.

Ti, rum ti ty, rum ti ty, rum, tiddy um tum tum – Malediction. And I hear Dorothy is off to ravage the provinces next week. Ho hum.

MR AND MRS GRIEG

Hitherto I have not been a great admirer of Edward Grieg. He is a ‘national’ composer and I am not to be imposed on by that sort of thing. I do not cry out ‘How Norwegian!’ whenever I hear an augmented triad, nor ‘How Bohemian!’ when I hear a tune proceeded by intervals of augmented seconds.

All good ‘folk music’ is as international as the story of Jack the Giant Killer, or the Ninth Symphony. Grieg is very fond of the augmented triad but his music does not remind me of Norway, perhaps because I have never been there. And his sweet but very cosmopolitan modulations and his inability to get beyond a very pretty snatch of melody do not go very far with me for I despise pretty music. Give me a good, solid, long-winded, classical lump of composition, with time to go to sleep and wake up two or three times in each movement, say I.

However, let us be just. The pretty snatches are not only pretty, but both delicately and deeply felt by the composer. And they are, at least, long enough to make exquisite little songs, which Madame Grieg sings in such a way as to bring out everything that is in them. There is a certain quaintness about the pair. Grieg is a small, swift, busy, earnest man, with the eyes of a rhapsode, and in his hair and complexion the indescribable ashen tint that marks a certain type of modern Norseman.

For Madame’s appearance I cannot answer so fully as I have had no opportunity of observing her quite closely. But she holds herself oddly and sings with unrestrained expression. The voice unluckily does not help much. I know half a dozen commonplace young ladies with better, fresher, more flexible voices, but they will not take Madame Grieg’s place yet awhile. Most of them, too, would regard a habit of musical composition on their husband’s part as one of those conceited follies to which men are subject. It is really a stupendous feat, this of making your wife believe in you.

ASSOCIATING WITH THE GREAT

I have often brooded on the effect that great personages have on their associates and have come to the conclusion that it must be quite small. I am not talking about the equally great who know everybody, but other worthy citizens whose very names are unknown to history. The servant who opened Balzac’s door to his visitors, and who must have been no mean connoisseur in creditors, was perhaps more interesting in this respect than someone like, say, Liszt.

As to the gentlemen who turn over the leaves for the pianists at St James Hall, is there a great virtuoso with whom they are not familiar? What exciting tales they could tell of their breathless efforts to follow incredibly swift prestos and what pleasant reminiscences they must enjoy of delicious naps stolen in the midst of dreamy adagios with a nice long repeat included within one open folio.

For they sleep, these men. I have seen one of them do it at the elbow of a great artist, and have forgotten the music in contemplating the unfathomable satiety of the slumberer, and in speculating on the chances of his waking up in time for the volte subito. The eyes did not fail to open punctually and their expression, unmistakably that of the sleeper awakened, relieved me of the last doubt as to whether he had not been ecstatically drinking in the music with his eyes shut.

What are Liszt’s experiences compared to these of a man so prodigiously blasé that not Madame Schumann herself can fix his attention for the brief space of two pages?

THE CONCERT FOR THE SHAH

I must apologise to the Shah of Persia for my failure to appear at Covent Garden on Tuesday. He will cut rather a foolish figure on his return to Persia, when he confesses – if he has the moral courage to admit it – that he saw the opera without Corno di Bassetto. But if Mr. Harris chooses recklessly to select the night of the major Socialist debate of the year for the reception of Persian majesty, he has only himself to thank for my absence. Possibly however Mr. Harris acted out of consideration for me. Of the programme, I can only faintly convey the truth by saying that it was the most extravagantly Bedlamite hotch-potch on record, even in the annals of State concerts.

It was evidently the work of a committee on which conflicting views had to be reconciled. Thus, View No. I was that the Shah is a gentleman of ordinary and somewhat vulgar European musical taste – therefore let him hear the overture to William Tell.

View No.2: the Shah is an idiot – therefore ply him with the mad scene from Lucia.

View No. 3: the Shah’s artistic culture is deep, earnest, severe and German – therefore strike up the great Leonore overture by Beethoven.

View No. 4: it does not matter what the Shah is, we are going to let him see what Covent Garden can do – therefore let us put on the fourth act of Faust, which is one of our big things.

View No. 5: the Shah is a savage and a voluptuary – therefore treat him to the Brocken corobbery from ‘Boitos Mefistofele’ as the most unseemly thing we can do under the circumstances.

How beautifully the Pall Mall Gazette’s own critic summed it up as ‘a scene of brilliancy, tempered by ladies’.

INFANT PHENOMENA

Other points for the week include a further outbreak of Infant Phenomena. A composition by Jensen, full of octaves and chords, was assaulted and vanquished after an energetic bout of fisticuffs by a juvenile pianist, who will not be able to reach the pedals for years to come.

DVORAK

Also, Dvorak’s Requiem bored Birmingham so desperately that it was unanimously voted a work of extraordinary depth and impressiveness, which verdict I record with a hollow laugh and allow the subject to drop by its own portentous weight.

Besides, I do not wish to belie that steward who introduced me to his colleague on Thursday morning (when I was looking for a seat) as ‘one of these complimentary people’.

 

 

 THE SIXTH TALK

 TRAVELLING THROUGH GERMANY

PARSIFAL AT BAYREUTH

 

TRAVELLING THROUGH GERMANY

I was writing under difficulties this week. I am not a good sailor. After being rocked in the cradle of the deep all night, I am at present being rocked in a Dutch railway carriage. I have been at it for five hours and I assure you that if an express were to come in the opposite direction on the same line of rails and smash the whole affair, Bassetto included, into pulp, I should make no unmanly complaints. After all, there is something grand in being able to look death in the face with a smile of welcome but I should enjoy it more if I could look life in the face without feeling so poorly…..

It is later in the day – and I think life is, perhaps, worth living after all. To drive up the Rhine from Bonn to Coblenz whilst the hours advance from afternoon to night is better than a dozen press views of different schools of landscape. Cologne Cathedral too has affected me. I am extremely susceptible to stained glass and the old glass there transports me, although the new glass makes me long to transport it – with bricks.

Yes, I confess that I am enjoying the evening. I wish I were undressed and in bed with twelve hours sleep before me. I wish that when that terrific shower caught me in Cologne, my mackintosh had not split up the back like a trick coat in a farce, throwing the younger elements of Cologne into derisive convulsions. I wish I knew whether that very genial market woman really gave me as she implied, an enormous bargain for the sake of my beaux yeux (one and eleven pence for half a pound of grapes and six little hard pears), or whether she swindled me And I wish I could go back by Channel Tunnel. But still, for the moment, I do not regret having been born.

Some hours have elapsed, and I now distinctly do regret having been born. Imagine reaching Wurzburg at two in the morning and being told to wait two and a half hours for a train to Bamberg. Imagine a wilderness of a German waiting room – a place like a cafe running to seed for want of a little paint – crowded with people in various grades of wakefulness. The young what’s-their-names wearing badges and carrying military paraphernalia wrapped up in umbrella cases, are very wide awake indeed. They are continually breaking into Lorelei or some other popular air, only to break out of it in quite British fashion the next moment. The men who are stretched on the two broad forms in the middle of the room and on rows of chairs in the background, might be supposed asleep if a man could really sleep with the back of his neck pillowed on the handle of a travelling bag and his nape taking an impression of the catch.

The seated slumberers, with their arms folded on the table and their faces hidden upon them, are probably less miserable, especially those who are not at marble tables. I tried this plan for a moment myself but it was a failure, After killing ten minutes by the familiar process of making them appear ten hours, I have taken to writing as the best way I know of making time seem too short (ars longa, vita brevis, you understand).

The fearfully weary woman with the fretful child has just got up and tried a walk, after addressing to me a remark which I do not understand but which I accept as a commission to see that nobody steals her luggage during her promenade.

Pshaw! Describing a scene like this is like trying to draw one of the faces you see in a cloud. Already the noisy youngsters are gone, and the horizontal figures have transferred themselves during their vertical intervals to the trains which an official with a brutal bell and an undistinguished delivery enters to announce from time to time.

There are but twelve of us now including the two waiters, myself, and the child who has, I am happy to say, left off worrying its mother to stare at the tremendous spectacle of Corno di Bassetto writing his sparkling Star column, and looking more melancholy and jaded over it than any infant’s mind could have conceived.

But hark! Methinks I scent the morning air. The shunter’s horn – a silly child’s affair with a harmonium reed in it – takes a bustling tone. A passing engine shows against the sky no longer as a bright gleaming mass of metal against a dead darkness, but as a black shadow on a dim grey galanty-sheet. And it is beginning to strike cold and raw.

Ugh! What an idiot I was not to go on to Nuremberg and what fools they were to give me tickets via Bamberg! I feel that I shall slate something presently – Parsifal, probably.

All the same, Bamberg has its merits. It was worth coming to see. That affable young German gentleman at Thomas Cooks who sold me my tickets knew a thing or two. How Bamberg manages to have so many rivers and bridges and yet to be on top of a group of hills I do not know. It is only another proof of the worthlessness of the commonplace idea that water will find its own level.

The town has such an odd air of being built by persons with artistic instincts, but with the temperament which usually earns for its possessor the title of rum customer. The climb up from the vegetable market, strong in marrows and carrots, under the Bridge House decorated with frescos exactly like the ones I used to produce on white-washed walls with penny paints when I was a boy, and then up to the Cathedral, freshened me more than all the naps I had snatched in the train from Wurzburg. More even than the delightfully musical German of the two young ladies en route for Kissingen who were my fellow-travellers to Schweinfurth. Really a perfect ante-Gothic cathedral of the plainest and most reasonable beauty, looking its best in the morning light.

PARSIFAL AT BAYREUTH

Glancing through Baedeker as I bowl along Bayreuth-wards I perceive that the chief feature of the Wagner district is a great lunatic asylum. At Neumarkt, an official railway porter thrusts into my hand a great red placard inscribed with a WARNUNG! (German spelling is worse than indifferent) against pickpockets at Bayreuth. This is a nice outcome of Parsifal.

In the town an enterprising tradesman offers ‘the Parsifal slippers’ at 2 marks 50 describing them as ‘the height of novelty’. It is a desperately stupid little place, this Bayreuth. I was never in Bath but once – and then they were trying to make it exciting by a meeting of the British Association which I addressed for a solid hour in spite of the secretary’s urging me to be brief. Trying to make Bayreuth lively by a Wagner Festspiel is much the same thing.

However, there are hills with fine woods to wander through, and blackberries, raspberries, and other sorts of edible berries, about the names of which no two persons agree, to be had for the picking. On the top of the hill on which the theatre stands is a tower erected to the sons of Bayreuth who fell in 1870-71.

I will describe the theatre area itself. Recently there was some kerfuffle in the London newspapers about the suggestion that Parsifal should be played at Covent Garden. I leave out of the question the old-fashioned objection, founded on the theory that all playhouses and singing-halls are abodes of sin. But when a gentleman writes to the papers to declare that ‘a performance of Parsifal, apart from in the really religious surroundings of the Bayreuth Theatre, would almost amount to profanity’, and again that ‘in the artificial glare of an English opera house, it would be a blasphemous mockery’, I must take the liberty of describing to him the ‘really religious surroundings’, since he admits that he has never seen them for himself.

In front of the Bayreuth theatre then, on the right, there is a restaurant. On the left there is a still larger restaurant and a sweet-stuff stall. At the back, a little way up the hill, there is a cafe. Between the cafe and the theatre there is a shed in which ‘artificial glare’ is manufactured for the inside of the theatre. The sound of that great steam engine throbs all over the Fichtelgebirge on still nights.

Between the acts the three restaurants are always full, not of devout Wagnerites (the Meister advocated vegetarianism), but of beefy gentlemen who behave just as they do at the Star and Garter in Richmond. The little promenade in front of the theatre is crowded with globetrotters, chiefly American and vagabond English, quite able to hold their own in point of vulgarity, frivolity, idle curiosity, and other perfectly harmless characteristics, with the crowd in the foyer at Covent Garden or the Paris Opera.

When they have seen every celebrity present pass or re-pass some twenty times, they become heavily bored and are quite excited at seeing a small contingent from the orchestra, with the familiar German band equipment of seedy overcoat and brass instrument, assemble under the portico and blare out a fragment of some motive from whatever music-drama is ‘on’ that evening. This is the signal for entering the theatre but nobody moves, as everyone knows that it is only the third blast that means business. What sanctity there is in all this that is not equally attainable at Boulogne or Bayswater remains to be explained.

The theatre itself is genuinely impressive. I should know, having spent long enough in it. You must realise that it is desperately difficult work, this daily scrutiny of the details of an elaborate performance from four to past ten. Yet there are people back at the Star editorial offices who think I am taking a Holiday!

Anyway, you pay your pound entrance fee and gain admittance to the theatre. Your hinged seat, though of un-cushioned cane, is comfortably wide and broad, and your view of the striped curtain perfect. The highly esteemed ladies are requested by public notice obligingly to remove their hats and those who have innocent little bonnets, which would not obstruct a child’s view, carefully remove them. The ladies with the Eiffel hats, regarding them as objects of public interest not second to any work of Wagner’s, steadfastly disregard the notice; and Germany, with all its martinets, dare not enforce discipline.

You open your libretto and immediately the lights go out and leave you in what for the moment seems all but total darkness. There is a clatter of cane seats turned down – a great rustle, as of wind through a forest, caused by 1300 skirts and coat tails coming into contact with the cane – followed by an angry hushing and hissing from overstrained Wagnerians who resent every noise by adding to it with an irritability much more trying to healthy nerves than the occasional inevitable dropping of a stick or opera-glass.

Then the prelude is heard. You at once recognise that you are in the most perfect theatre in the world for comfort, effect, and concentration of attention. You inwardly exclaim that you are hearing the prelude played for the first time as it ought to be played.

And here, leaving you to enjoy yourself as a member of the analytical public, I strike in with the remark that the perfection is not in the performance, which does not touch the excellence of the one which Richter conducted at the Albert Hall, but in the conditions of the performance. And I may say here, once for all, that the undiscriminating praise that is lavished on the Bayreuth representations is due to the effect of these conditions before the curtain and not behind it.

Some of the singers here are more like animated beer casks. The much boasted staging is marred by obsolete contrivances which would astonish us at the Lyceum as much as a return to candle lighting or half price at nine o’clock. Mr. Mansfield playing Richard III in the dress of Garrick would seem modern and original compared with the unspeakable ballroom costume which Madame Materna dons to fascinate Parsifal in the second act.

The magic flower garden would be simply the most horribly vulgar and foolish transformation scene ever allowed to escape from a provincial pantomime, were it not recommended to mercy by a certain enormous naiveté and a pleasantly childish love of magnified red blossoms and trailing creepers.

As to the canvas set piece and Gower Street sofa visibly pulled on to the stage with Madame Materna seductively reposing on it – the steam from a copper under the boards which filled the house with a smell of laundry and melted auxiliary gutta-percha linings – the indescribable impossibility of the wigs and beards – the characterless historical-school draperies of the knights – the obvious wire connection of the electric light which glowed in the ruby bowl of the Holy Grail – and the senseless violation of Wagner’s directions by allowing Parsifal to walk off stage, whilst the panoramic change of scene was taking place in the first act – all these faults show the danger of allowing any theatre, however imposing its associations, the ruinous privilege of exemption from vigilant and implacable criticism.

The performance of Parsifal on Sunday last suffered additionally from Herr Gruning executing a hornpipe on the appearance of Klingsor with the sacred spear. This was introduced not as an act of whimsical defiance but under pressure of the desperate necessity of disentangling Parsifal’s ankle from the snapped string on which the spear was presently to have been thrown at him.

Now if you, my Wagnerian friends, wonder how I can scoff thus at so impressive a celebration, I reply that Wagner is dead and the evil of deliberately making the Bayreuth Festival Playhouse a temple of dead traditions instead of an arena for live impulses, has begun already. It is because I too am an enthusiastic Wagnerite that the Bayreuth management cannot deceive me by dressing itself in the skin of the dead lion.

The life has not quite gone out of the thing yet. There are moments when the spirit of the master inspires the puppets and the whole scene glows into real life. From the beginning of the Good Friday music in the last act after the scene where the woman washes Parsifal’s feet and dries them with her hair – the moment at which Parsifal’s true character of Redeemer becomes unmistakably obvious to the crassest Philistine present – the sacred fire descended and the close of the representation was deeply impressive.

However finally I do have to add that some sections might just as well have been conducted by Buffalo Bill.

 

 

 THE SEVENTH TALK

THE OPERA ‘BRINIO’ BY VAN MILLIGEN

THE TEMPTATION OF SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN

THE SIAMESE BAND

THE CHARITY CONCERT

 

THE OPERA ‘BRINIO’ BY VAN MILLIGEN

Last night I visited the new Dutch opera ‘Brinio’. It is a grand opera in four acts by S. Van Milligen. The libretto is by Flower of the Snow, a memorable name. The characters include William Tell and Ophelia in the relation of brother and sister, our old friend Orveso the Druid from ‘Norma’, Pollia from the same opera, and an unpopular Roman general who is addressed throughout by the Ethiopian title of Massa, and who may possibly have been suggested by Pontius Pilate. The action takes place in Batavia during the ascendancy of the Romans.

Brinio (W. Tell) is a patriotic Batavian with two sisters, one of whom is mad and the other sane, although I am bound to add that there is but little to choose between them except that the one called Rheime overdoes the makeup of her eyes and plays hysterically with straws and poppies.

Ada, the uncertified one, is beloved by Aquilius, a Roman officer, and by Massa, both of whom accordingly cultivate Brinio’s acquaintance. Massa however is out of the question, for he not only drinks – he emptied a large goblet seven times in the course of one act without turning a hair – but he seems to have had something to do with Rheime’s mental affliction.

Consequently Brinio invites Aquilius to dinner and shuts the door in Massa’s face. In the second act Massa further exhibits his sybaritic nature by reclining on a couch while a bevy of maidens sing a chorus and strew flowers on him. Then comes an amazing scene in which Vulpes, the confident of Massa, conducts a sort of conscription among the Batavians much as Falstaff did at Justice Shallow’s house on the way to Coventry.

The rest of the act I totally forget except that Massa ordered the Roman soldiery to arrest Aquilius which they refused to do on any terms.

The third act takes place at night in the depths of a medieval forest. Ada and Rheime happen to be strolling there in their ordinary indoor costume. Rheime sings to a tambourine accompaniment which indicates that she is distraught. Ada sings then without the tambourine and finally the two repeat their parts simultaneously in the manner much affected by Sir Arthur Sullivan in his operas.

Massa then enters unobserved with two villains in cloaks to whom he laboriously points out Ada. Mind! Ada – not Rheime – because the villains of course subsequently get hold of the wrong woman. Massa and his hateful hirelings then retire in order to give a chance to Aquilius who comes in and has a love duet with Ada. Rheime meanwhile sits on a stump in a dumb paroxysm of flower and straw mania.

Aquilius and Ada then elope, leaving Rheime an easy prey to the two villains who re-enter and approach her by a series of strategic movements from tree to tree as if she were a regiment of sharpshooters. At last, they bear her off, wrapping her head in a veil, lest they should recognise her and spoil the last act.

Brinio then comes in with Ada and Aquilius – at least, I think it happened this way. Anyway, Orveso the Druid comes in with a lot of mistletoe worshippers and, after declaiming unintelligently at insufferable length in a colourless bass voice, appeals to the heavenly powers who ring a bell which causes the spotlight man to cast a dazzling ray on Brinio, thus unmistakably pointing him out as the saviour of his country.

In the last act, Massa is found with his bevy of maidens drinking like a Roman Rabelais and inviting everybody to hail his approaching bride. The bride herself appears with her head wrapped up but even before she is unveiled, the frisking of the tambourine convinces Massa to his entire disgust that, in spite of his clear instructions, the two villains have mistaken the two sisters.

Vulpes now announces the advance of the foe who come charging cautiously over the battlements preoccupied with the real danger of breaking their necks, rather than with the illusory perils of a stage battle.

Massa, after a tremendous draught of Dutch courage, takes his sword with which to the utter amazement of the audience and in flat defiance of poetic justice, he kills Brinio – whereupon most of the Mistletonians fall down dead.

Suddenly however Aquilius appears and the Roman soldiery in turn fall down dead – apparently of heart failure precipitated by excitement. Massa is disarmed and removed in custody, and Ada and Aquilius are happily united. Rheime’s reason is perhaps restored by the sight of her brother’s mortal pangs, for the tambourine is heard no more. On this point I cannot, in the present stage of my acquaintance with sung Dutch, speak with certainty.

The opera was received with a considerable show of enthusiasm. At the end of the first act Rheime rushed to the conductor’s desk and shook hands impulsively with Herr Van Milligen amid cheers.

When the forest scene was over the poet and the theatre manager came upon the boards. Vast trophies of laurel and national bunting were handed up and hung upon the arms of the manager who peered through the greenery like Dunsinane amidst Burnham Forest, and made a glowing speech about his heart, about the Amsterdam public, about the Netherlands public, about the public of the whole universe, about the triumphant establishment of a great national school of opera, about the inspiration of somebody called Della Neve, the genius of Van Milligen, and Heaven knows what not.

When he had finished he began again, as public speakers will, and repeated his speech at least twice. Finally he handed over the accumulated greenery to Van Milligen, the applause broke out afresh, the trumpets blared forth victorious fanfares, and the audience dispersed in quest of refreshments.

THE TEMPTATION OF SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN

Last week Sir Arthur Sullivan conducted three overtures. Under his baton orchestras are never deficient in refinement. Coarseness, exaggeration and carelessness are unacquainted with him. So unfortunately are vigour and earnestness. The No.1 Leonore overture, one of Beethoven’s most impetuous compositions, would not have hurt a fly on Wednesday evening. It is well for Sir Arthur to be fastidious but one cannot help thinking that he would get a firmer grip sometimes if he would take his gloves off.

I am now in a position to understand the tragedy of Sir Arthur Sullivan. He was a Mendelssohn Scholar. He was an organist (St. Somebody’s, Chester Square). He wrote a symphony. He composed overtures, cantatas, and oratorios. His masters were Goss and Sterndale Bennett himself. Of Magnificats he was guiltless but two Te Deums and about a dozen anthems are among the fruits of his efforts. He has shown his reverence for the classics in the usual way by writing ‘additional accompaniments’ to Handel’s ‘Jephtha’; and now he has five columns in Grove and is a knight.

What more could a serious musician desire?

Alas, the same question might have been put to Tannhauser before he broke out with his unholy longing for Venus. Offenbach was Sullivan’s Venus as Mendelssohn was his St. Elizabeth. He furtively set ‘Cox and Box’ to music in 1869 and then, overcome with remorse, produced ‘Onwards, Christian Soldiers’ and over three dozen hymns besides.

As the remorse mellowed, he composed a group of songs – ‘Let Me Dream Again’, ‘My Dearest Heart’, etc. – all of the very best in their genre, such as it is.

And yet in the very thick of them he perpetrated ‘Trial by Jury’ in which he outdid Offenbach in wickedness, and that too without any prompting from the celebrated cynic, Mr W. S. Gilbert.

He rose to eloquence again for a moment in setting ‘The Lost Chord’. But no retreat was possible after ‘A Nice Dilemma’, not even a visit from the ghost of Sterndale Bennett could have waved him back then. ‘The Sorcerer’ belongs to 1877 as well as ‘The Lost Chord’ – and everybody knows Pinafore and The Gondoliers and the rest of them.

So now the first of the Mendelssohn scholars stands convicted of ten godless mockeries of everything sacred to Goss and Bennett. They trained him to make Europe yawn and he took advantage of their teaching to make London and New York laugh and whistle.

A critic with no sense of decency might say out loud that in following Offenbach, Sir Arthur has chosen the better part. The Mendelssohn school – with all its superficiality of conception, its miserable failure to comprehend Beethoven or even Weber, and the gentleman-like vapidity which it deliberately inculcated as taste, discretion, reticence, chastity, refinement, finish, and what not – did undoubtedly give its capable pupils good mechanical skill. Their workmanship is plausible and elegant – just what it should be in comic opera. And the workmanship of our comic operas is often abominable.

The question remains – would the skill that produced Patience and Pinafore have been more worthily employed upon another oratorio, another cantata? When all our musicians are brought to their last account, will Sullivan dissemble the score of the Pirates with a blush and call on the mountains to cover him, whilst Villiers, Stanford and Hubert Parry table the Revenge, Prometheus Unbound, and Judith with pride? With which note of interrogation let us pass.

THE SIAMESE BAND

No musician in search of a new sensation should miss the Siamese Band at the Inventions Hall. The audience crowds about the orchestra to look at these grave foreigners squatting cross-legged before their strange instruments, clad in the court dress of Siam which in delicate compliment to western habits in general and our great railway companies in particular, is closely copied from the uniform of the English ticket collector.

Most of us laugh at the music and can find no whistle-able tunes in it but it is by no means impossible for a western European to enjoy it and even partly appreciate it, and the players are unmistakably skilful and artistic. The instrumental effects are of considerable variety. The scoring, if one may call it so, of the ‘Sweet Melody’ would have delighted Berlioz who might have imitated it by a combination of muted violins, trills on the low notes of two flutes playing in thirds, an inverted pedal sustained by an English horn, and a kitchen clock out of order and striking continuously in consequence.

Much more brilliant and sonorous effects are produced in airs of bolder design such as the ‘Sorrow Parting’ and the Siamese national anthem, during which it is the fashion at South Kensington to stand.

Unfortunately, the national anthem is nothing but Auld Lang Syne powerfully treated as a declamatory recitative. Several solos are introduced, notably one on the Siamese Stradivarius, and one on the Takhay which resembles in tone the reeds one cuts from a stalk of standing corn. The strokes of the kitchen clock instrument – the Siamese triangle – are phrased into groups of two notes by letting the metal vibrate freely only on the first note of the group, and damping it for the second.

The band has evidently been informed that when the foreign devils clap their hands after a piece, they desire to hear it again. To this barbaric custom the Siamese gravely conform and the foreign devils consequently have to submit to encores which they did not quite intend to insist on.

The Siamese scale appears to contain an approximation to every note on our scale with the conspicuous exception of the leading note, the absence of which not only gives an oddly inconclusive air to the tonic at the end of a piece when it is approached by an ascending passage, but renders God Save the Queen impossible.

Nevertheless the Siamese play it without the leading note, substituting the minor seventh. The excruciating effect of this in the second bar may be imagined. Some of their chords are smoother than ours and as their thirds sound very flat to our corrupted ears, they are probably justly tuned, as the thirds in our system are very sharp.

THE CHARITY CONCERT

At present, the programme of choral concerts often reminds me of an old Drury Lane playbill of the days when the entertainment was opened by a melodrama, continued by one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, relieved by a good Christmas pantomime and concluded by a screaming farce.

I looked in on one last Monday at the Queens Hall. It was a charity performance for something or other. I found the band of the Coldstream Guards desperately playing one selection after another to keep the audience amused until the arrival of the artists who were first on the bill.

The missing philanthropists did finally arrive led by Mr. Bertram Latter who greatly distinguished himself by singing a duet with a baby. His intention was to sing Sullivan’s ‘Thou’rt Passing Hence’ as a solo but the baby joined in at the end of the first line and continued to a little before the end when it collapsed, leaving Mr. Latter like Orpheus, master of the situation.

He was followed by several distinguished vocalists in a guest appearance potpourri of song.  Melba, De Rezke, and Lassalle sang in French – Ciampi and the chorus sang in Italian – and Miss de Lussan sang in whatever language seemed to have the best of it for the moment.

Some glee singing was provided by the London Vocal Union. These gentlemen, despite an occasional tendency to get out of tune and glare reproachfully at each other, acquitted themselves quite fairly.

Colonel North wound up the concert by a blunt and warrior-like speech in which, after remarking that this classical music was all very well but that we wanted something that we knew something about, he called upon Madame Remenige to give us ‘Home Sweet Home’.

Our millionaire compere could hardly conceal his emotion at the line “Be it ever so humble” of his favourite air. Unfortunately some of the audience expressed their appreciation of the ballad’s sentiments in the most practical way – and I have to admit that Corno di Bassetto was amongst them.

 

 

THE EIGHTH TALK

 THE DEFICIENCIES OF PARIS

SAINT-SAENS’ NEW OPERA

SARAH BERNHARDT AS JOAN OF ARC

SARAH BERNHARDT AS THE VIRGIN MARY

A GREAT DANCER

DANCING ON FITZROY SQUARE

MOZART ON CONCERTINAS

INFANT PHENOMENA

 

THE DEFICIENCIES OF PARIS

I am strongly of the opinion that the Channel Tunnel should be proceeded with at once. There are worse things than foreign invasions, worse things even than foreign conquest, worse things than the extinction of England as a nation if you come to that. I came over yesterday morning from Calais and – but enough! The subject is not dignified and it is hackneyed. All I will say is that never again whilst I live – and yet I have made the same vow before and broken it. Still, do not suppose that that silver streak of water of which you are so proud does not cost you something in the way of Continental musical news in the course of the year. But for it The Star would be as great a musical power in Europe as it is in England.

Paris is as usual imposing on American greenhorns and British Philistines as a city artistic before everything, with specialities in cookery and well dressed women. I am not an artistic novice, English or American, and I am not to be taken in. Paris is what it has always been – a pedant-ridden failure in everything that it pretends to lead. Mozart found it so more than a hundred years ago. Wagner found it so half a century ago. Corno di Bassetto regrets to say that he finds it so today.

In music, it prides itself on its Opera which is about twenty years behind Covent Garden – and Covent Garden as everybody knows is thirty years behind time, even New York leaving it nowhere.

SAINT-SAENS’ NEW OPERA

I went to the Paris Opera on Monday to fulfil my mission of hearing Saint-Saens new opera ‘Ascanio’. I need not waste many words on the music of it. There is not an original phrase in it from beginning to end. The tragic scenes are second-hand Verdi, the love scenes are second-hand Gounod, and the ‘historic’ scenes are second-hand Meyerbeer. A duller pot-boiler I would not desire to hear anywhere. The orchestra is hardly better than the Covent Garden orchestra was in the seventies, before we got rid of those managements that learned nothing and forgot nothing. And when we passed the conductor Vianesi on to Paris where his immense industry, his cleverness, his ostentation, and his thorough superficiality enabled him to take root at once.

Vianesi looks younger than ever and is still on the alert for opportunities of turning conspicuously to the woodwind and the brass and offering them superfluous leads to show how completely he has the score at his fingertips. The men have cultivated his slapdash, noisy style – or want of style – to the highest imperfection.

As to the singers, there is Lassalle who brings down the house in a roaring duet with the tenor in the second act and moves it to sentimental admiration in a mock pathetic passage in the fourth, beginning ‘Enfants: je ne vous en veux pas’. Lassalle can hardly believe in the part of Benvenuto Cellini but he believes immensely in Lassalle and so manages to make things go with an effective air of conviction.

Madame Adiny is undeniably what we call a fine figure of a woman but her tremolo and her superb screaming power leave in the shade even the lady who played Verdi’s Otello in the role of Desdemona at the Lyceum last year.

Plancon, as Francis I, and Madame Eames, as Colombe, sang pleasantly enough and I have no right to find fault with Madame Bosman as a capable if not highly distinguished representative of the old fashioned type of ‘dramatic’ singer merely because I object to the whole species.

The acting was the old impossible strutting and swaggering, pitiful to see; and the libretto, like the music, was a string of commonplaces.

On the whole I am afraid I must dismiss ‘Ascanio’ as an elaborate and expensive tomfoolery and applaud the wisdom of those frequenters who came only for the ballet which, though artificial as it well could be (classical, in short), was good of its kind.

SARAH BERNHARDT AS JOAN OF ARC

Yet ‘Ascanio’ bored me less than Barbier’s ‘Joan of Arc’ at the Porte St Martin, with Gounod’s music and Sarah Bernhardt in the title part.

Barbier as everybody knows is the man to go to if you want a great subject debased for operatic purposes. He can turn a masterpiece by Shakespeare or Goethe into a trashy melodrama in the twinkling of an eye. He fell on Joan of Arc years ago and fixed her up (no other expression conveys the process) for the Gaieté. Now she is dragged to light again with considerable excisions – all heartily welcome – for Madame Bernhardt. In the music, Gounod imitates himself almost as mechanically as Saint-Saens and more exclusively. The best number is the vision of St. Margaret and St. Catherine. Even now when his fount runs drier than in the last decade, Gounod can always write heavenly music.

But Sarah is really too bad. We all know her way of pretending to act when there is no part for her – how sweetly she intones her lines and poses like a saint. This is what she does in Joan. There is no acting because there is no play but she sends the lines out in a plaintive stream of melody throughout which only a fine ear can catch the false ring. You would almost swear that it meant something and that she was in earnest. Not until the final scene at the stake does the affair become thin enough for even the American and British tripper to see through it. Sarah did not wink once. Perhaps because she did not catch my eye, perhaps because she was in no humour for making fun of herself. It must be wearisome to keep up that make-believe night after night, knowing all the time that her serious work is going on without her at the Francais.

SARAH BERNHARDT AS THE VIRGIN MARY

However my main business here is not with the Comedie Francais but with a certain ‘Soiree Musicale et Litteraire du Vendredi Saint’ at the Winter Circus. The sensation here was the appearance of the divine Sarah in a divine character – that of the Virgin Mary, no less. She did more than this however: she doubled her part with that of Mary Magdalene. Phillippe Garnier confined himself to the leading character of Jesus, while Paul Bremont compendiously undertook Pilate, Annas, Caiaphus, Peter, and Judas Iscariot.

The work was described as ‘a mystery in five parts’ by Edmond Haraucourt and was entitled The Passion. A large dose of Berlioz, Beethoven and Wagner was administered first to get us into the proper frame of mind – and then the mystery began. Sarah in a dress of purest, softest white, and with her complexion made up with really exquisite delicacy into a faint blush that could hardly have been more virginal, was well received.

The Passion began amid a hush of expectation and soon proved to be fully equal in depth of thought and novelty of illustration to our finest specimens of modern oratorio libretti. Sarah sang as usual, holding the book in the right hand and waving her left in the air with a rhythmic persuasiveness that did wonders in soothing the distressing cough that soon became epidemic. On the whole the audience bore up bravely until Garnier rose to deliver a sort of Sermon on the Mount some forty minutes long.

In a quarter of an hour or so the coughing took a new tone. It became evident that the more impatient spirits were beginning to cough on purpose though their lungs were as sound as Garnier’s own. Then came a voice crying: “Music, music”, followed by applause, laughter and some protest. Garnier went on, as if deaf.

Presently another voice in heartfelt appeal cried: “Enough, enough”. The reception of this was unmistakably sympathetic, and Sarah’s shoulders gathered themselves expressively. But Garnier held on like grim death and again the audience held their hand for a moment on the chance of his presently stopping; for it seemed impossible that he could go on much longer. But he did and the storm broke at last all the more furiously because it had been so long pent up.

In the midst of it a gentleman rushed down the grades of the ampitheatre, crossed the arena, and shook hands demonstratively with Sarah, then Garnier, then with Bremont. This turned out to be Haraucourt himself and he capped his protest by shaking his fist at the audience. They reiterated their fundamental disagreement with him on the merits of his poem by yells of disapproval. Hereupon, exasperated beyond endurance, he took the extreme step of informing them that if they persisted in their behaviour, he would there and then leave the room.

The threat prevailed. An awestruck silence fell upon the multitude and the poet was moving loftily towards his seat when a lady, presumably his wife, threw herself on his neck and rained kisses on him. This affecting spectacle moved the gentlemen in the neighbourhood to offer him their hands which he took in an impressive attitude. Then he sat down – and the imperturbable Garnier started again. But soon the conviction spread that even at the risk of Haraucourt fulfilling his terrible threat, the speech must be stopped.

Garnier, whose demeanour throughout was a model of perfect taste, at last exchanged glances with his colleagues and then with the politest deprecation, began: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t wish it?” Whereupon the people in the arena expressed their opinion that the conduct of the five franc snobs was disgraceful and the snobs in question gave Garnier to understand that there was no ‘if’ to it – that they didn’t wish it and wouldn’t have it. Sarah in lively pantomime conveyed her thanks to the arena, but I could not help suspecting that she was privately of the gallery’s opinion.

At last, the three artists held a consultation at the end of which Garnier sat down and Sarah started at a scene only a few pages from the end. The audience accepted the compromise. Haraucourt made no further protest except by applauding occasionally – and the remainder of The Passion was dispatched without further interruption.

A GREAT DANCER

Before I left London, I was tempted to the ballet – and to something quite delightful. At the Alhambra the dancer is a man, Vincenti, an intelligent and cultivated artist and an admirable pantomimist. I leave our dance correspondent to chronicle the perfection of his pirouettes and entrechats, and the public to encore his amazing revolution about the centre of the stage combined with rotation on his own longitudinal axis like an animated orrery. I should prefer to illustrate his excellence in pure dancing by an instantaneous photograph taken at the height of his bound into the air with the crutch in his hands, at the beginning of his first solo. Nothing could be more graceful.

Yet Vincenti’s figure is by no means heroic and he has a prodigious head. Signor Albertieri at the Empire is a prettier man but he is comparatively no dancer at all, but only an acrobat and wrestler who throws his partner, Madame Palladino, half over his hips and holds her there in an attitude (any pugilist will show you the trick), as if that were dancing. But Vincenti’s partner, Bessone, is complete from top to toe, a superb, passionate dancer, strong, skilful and abounding in sensuous charm.

With two such artists as she and Vincenti and a happily arranged ballet by Casati on an ever popular legend, the Alhambra now offers between nine and ten every evening an entertainment of high artistic rank to which everybody should go and bring their daughters, in spite of the abominable atmosphere of tobacco smoke.

DANCING ON FITZROY SQUARE

When I arrived at my door after this dissipation I found Fitzroy Square, in which I live, deserted. It was a clear, dry, cold night and the carriage way round the circular railing presented such a magnificent hippodrome that I could not resist trying to go just once round in Vincenti’s fashion.

It proved frightfully difficult. After my fourteenth fall I was picked up by a policeman.

“What are you doing here?” he said, keeping fast hold of me. “I bin watching you for the last five minutes”.

I explained, eloquently and enthusiastically. He hesitated a moment and then said:

“Would you mind holding my helmet while I have a try. It don’t look so hard”.

Next moment his nose was buried in the macadam and his right knee was out through its torn garment. He got up bruised and bleeding but resolute.

“I never was beaten yet” he said “and I won’t be beaten now. It was my coat that tripped me”.

We both hung our jackets on the railings and went at it again.

If each round of the square had been a round in a prize fight, we should have been less damaged and disfigured but we persevered and by four o’clock the policeman had just succeeded in getting round twice without a rest or a fall, when an inspector arrived and asked him bitterly if that was his notion of fixed point duty.

“I allow it ain’t fixed point” said the constable, emboldened by his new accomplishment, “but I’ll lay a half sovereign you can’t do it”.

The inspector could not resist the temptation to try (I was whirling round before his eyes in the most fascinating manner) and he made rapid progress after half an hour or so.

We were subsequently joined by an early postman and by a milkman who unfortunately broke his leg and had to be carried to hospital by the other three. By that time I was quite exhausted and could barely climb into bed. It was perhaps a foolish scene but nobody who has witnessed Vincenti’s performance will feel surprised at it.

MOZART ON CONCERTINAS

For an enjoyable musical evening, we are indebted to Mr. Richard Blagrove whose fourth concert took place last Thursday at the Royal Academy of Music. The concert room at Tenterden St. is so comfortable and the surroundings so quiet that it forms an agreeable refuge for those who are curious to hear something novel in music and are tired of the blaze and crush of the opera. The idea of a quintet by Mozart played on concertinas varying in size from a small oyster keg to a large hatbox may seem alarming; but the result is thoroughly enjoyable and proves Mr. Blagrove is an enthusiast and not a speculator.

INFANT PHENOMENA

Finally.

Infant phenomena have been rife lately but I managed to avoid them until last week when, at Mr. Strelitski’s concert at the Portman Rooms, a bright, nimble, sure fingered boy pupil of his in the usual black velvet tunic and antimacassar rattled off Mendelssohn’s violin concerto. He evidently did not think much of it and no doubt deemed us fools for wanting to listen to it – in which he had my hearty agreement.

 

 

 THE NINTH TALK

 AMATEUR ORCHESTRAS

THE AMATEURS AT RICHMOND

SCHUMANN AND SOPHY

SHEET MUSIC

NORTHUMBERLAND PIPES

EGG TIMING

 

AMATEUR ORCHESTRAS

Last week Mr. James Brown, the conductor of the Richmond Orchestral Society, had the gumption to surmise that a stroll out to Richmond Hill to hear what his Society can do might seem to me at least as tempting a way of spending an evening as a visit to Steinway or Princes Hall to hear the annual concert of Miss Smith or Miss Brown, aided by more or less distinguished artists singing exactly what they have sung on similar occasions for a whole generation of miscellaneous concerts.

I accepted his invitation and arrived at sundown on the terrace where I mused over the site of that Wagner Theatre which as yet remains unbuilt until it was time to go into the Star and Garter and get to business.

The programme was of the usual amateur kind: that is to say it would have taxed the finest qualities of the best band in the world. Mozart’s G Minor symphony, the ‘Lohengrin’ prelude, Mendelssohn’s ‘Athalie’ overture and his violin concerto, only such works as these can inspire the mighty craving and dogged perseverance which carry a man through that forlorn hope, the making of an orchestra out of nothing.

When you start you are received with enthusiasm by men who can play the post horn, the banjo, the concertina, and every other instrument not used in the orchestra. You enlist trombone players only to find that though they can ‘vamp’ they cannot read, and propose to assist you by improvising a bass continuously to whatever may be going on. You can choose the two least execrable out of twenty cornet players at the cost of making eighteen bitter enemies in the neighbourhood, but you are lucky if you can find one horn player although you require four. Flutes too are comparatively plentiful, whilst clarinets are scarce, oboes all but unknown, and bassoons quite out of the question.

In the string department the same difficulty arises. Young ladies who can play much better than the average professional ‘leader’ of twenty years ago are discoverable with a little research in sufficient abundance nowadays (chiefly because Madame Neruda proved at that time that the violin shows off a good figure). The violincello for some less obvious reason fascinates tiny women sufficiently to keep itself fairly alive in amateur circles.

But no-one will touch the double bass and the viola comes to grief almost as signally as it used to do in the professional band of the old days when only worn-out violinists scraped the tenor, and when such viola parts as those in ‘Tristan’ or ‘Harold’, and such players as Hollander condescending to the instrument, were unknown.

When trying to get an orchestra together, the conductor stops at nothing confronted at houses whence comes sounds of practising on an orchestral instrument. I have known a man on catching this doleful noise at midnight on his way from rehearsal, listen at the area-railings, take a note of the address, and call next day to kidnap the practiser by reckless flatteries.

I have known valuable appointments involving the transfer of learned professors from the Metropolis to provincial towns decided by frantic efforts of a local conductor to secure the election of a candidate who was said to be a proficient player on one of the scarcer instruments. But it is when the orchestra is actually formed and set to work that its creator tastes the full bitterness of his position.

The unredeemed villainy of the amateur nature is not easy to describe adequately. Its outrageous frivolity to which no engagement is sacred, and its incredible vanity to which art is nothing and the lower self is everything, baffle my powers of description, and make me for once regret that I do not wield one of those bitter, biting pens which were made to lash offenders on whom mercy is thrown away. For instance, on those two amateur extremes – the man who never attends a rehearsal but always turns up at the concert, and the man who attends all the rehearsals and blenches from the concert.

Even your leader will miss a rehearsal to go to a dance, or will coolly tell you on the morning of the concert that he cannot play because his father is dead, or some such frivolous excuse. Then there is the incompetent wind player who has a bit of solo which he cannot execute, and who at the last moment must have his part doubled by a professional to save public disgrace and breakdown.

On such occasions the professional, regarding all amateurs as blacklegs, is offensive. He objects to having his part doubled, says:

“Look here. Who’s going to play this? Me or you?” etc, etc.

The amateur sulks, broods over his injuries, leaves the orchestra, and probably tries to establish a rival society for the performance of wind instruments chamber music. The difficulties are endless and the artistic results agonising since the progress made by people who stick to the rehearsals is always spoiled at the last moment by the backwardness of those who don’t.

THE AMATEURS AT RICHMOND

I will not pretend that the concert at Richmond did not bear the marks of these hard conditions. It began short-handed especially in the horn department. At the end of the overture a gentleman in irreproachable evening dress, smiling and carrying a black bag presenting the general outline of a French horn, appeared and climbed up on the platform with a sort of ‘Here I am, you see, safe and sound – never say die’ air about him. As he mounted there was a crash of breaking wood, from which I gathered that he had succeeded in completing the sensation by shattering the platform.

The conductor received him with grim patience concealing all signs of the murderous thoughts that must have raged within him. I wonder did it occur to the gentleman that money had been obtained from the public with his consent on the strength of his being in his place to play one of the horn parts in the overture?

If it is too much to expect an ordinary English gentleman to be artistically conscientious, surely we can call on him to be commercially honest. However, justice forbids me to urge too harshly the offence of the man who came in after the overture since I must perforce say nothing of the worse offenders who did not come at all.

Almost immediately after the beginning of the Lohengrin prelude the band divided itself into two resolute factions, one maintaining that the bar in hand was the sixth bar, and the other equally convinced that it was the seventh. So they agreed to differ and I listened with a drunken sensation of hearing the prelude double until the wind instruments rushed into the fray and, mostly taking the side which the conductor had supported from the first, made the opposition waver and finally come over one by one, the fortissimo being played with almost entire unanimity.

In the accompaniment to ‘O Star of Eve’ from Tannhauser, the tremolando was ruined by the shirking of some lady violinists who, with faces expressive of the most shameful irresolution and fear of being heard, rested their bows helplessly on the strings and sat quivering – an extremely amateur way of tremolando-ing.

In some sections I was reminded of the Irish fiddler who, when asked if he played by ear or from notes, replied that he played ‘by main strength’.

But in spite of these and similar mishaps, I felt throughout that the thing was well worth doing. The conductor was always right in what he was driving at and in some instances he had used that enormous advantage of the amateur – the unlimited rehearsal which is commercially impossible to the professional – to obtain graces of artistic treatment which were fresh and convincing. In fact, he snatched from that atmosphere of inevitable nervousness, blundering, and ineptitude, successful moments which I have too often missed from the performances of conductors with the best players in the world at their disposal.

The leader, Mr. J. S. Liddle, stood up to Mendelssohn’s violin concerto and dealt faithfully to the height of his powers. Mr. Charles Phillips, a robust baritone, manfully shouted a most patriotically orchestrated ballad of Agincourt. But as the first bar and a half led us to expect that what was coming was ‘The Old Kent Road’, the disappointment was rather severe.

 Miss Florence Hudson got a tremendous encore for a harp solo, and Miss Emily Squire received a similar compliment for the Mignon gavotte which she sang with a spirited facility which was none the less pleasant because of her thorough belief in the universality of the British vowel.

SCHUMANN AND SOPHY

To this week’s other main matter; I have fallen in love with the wondrous Sophy Menter. The superb Sophy, solid, robust, healthy, with her mere self-consciousness an example and sufficient delight, playing Schumann was like bringing a sensitive invalid into the fields on a sunshiny day and making him play football for the good of his liver.

You could hear Schumann plaintively remonstrating in the orchestra and the piano coming down on him irresistibly, echoing his words with good-natured mockery and whirling him off in an endless race that took him clean out of himself and left him panting.

Never were the quick movements finished with less regard for poor Schumann’s lungs. The intermezzo delighted me beyond measure. Ordinarily no man can put into words those hushed confidences that pass in it between pianos and orchestra, as between a poet and a mistress. But I can give you what passed on Saturday, word for word, here it is:

Sophy: Now, then, Bob, are you ready for another turn?

Schumann: Yes. Just half a minute, if you don’t mind. I haven’t got my wind yet.

Sophy: Come on. You feel all the better for it, don’t you?

Schumann: No doubt, no doubt. The weather is certainly fine.

Sophy: I should think so. Better than sticking indoors at that old piano of yours and sentimentalising, anyhow.

Schumann: Yes, I know I should take more exercise.

Sophy: Well, you have got wind enough by this time. Come along, old man, hurry up.

Schumann: If you wouldn’t mind going a bit slower…..

Sophy: Oh, bother going slow. You just stick to me and I’ll pull you through. You’ll be all right in a brace of shakes. Now: one, two, three, and…….

And it really did Schumann good.

SHEET MUSIC

The music publishers of London owe me their acknowledgements for having devoted an entire day to examining sundry parcels of song music with which they have from time to time favoured me of late. It was a rare way of enjoying a holiday. I cannot say with Shelley that: ‘I sang of the dancing stars: I sang of the daedal earth’ but I certainly sang of the love of yore, and the coming years, and the whispered prayer, and the twilight shadows, and the sweet long ago, and the parting tear, and the distant bell, and the old cathedral, and the golden gates, and the moon shining o’er Seville, and the hour before the battle, and the eager eyes looking out for Jack, and the floating home on the world of foam being the home of homes for me, and goodness knows what else.

Most of them had waltz refrains, except ‘Seville’ which was a bolero, and the pious ones with harmonious obbligato culminating in shouts of ‘Hosanna’ or ‘Miserere Domine’.

When I finished it was late in the evening and I came to wonder why on earth these ditties had been sent to me. At the first blush it seemed as if the publishers expected me to review them, and yet how could any sane man of business suppose that there was the faintest chance of my recommending the public to sing:

‘Will he come? Will he come? O, my heart,

I am waiting and watching in vain

Ere twilight’s soft shadows depart

O, come to me, come once again!’

NORTHUMBERLAND PIPES

A lecture was given on Thursday afternoon by the Rev. J. Collingwood-Bruce on the Northumberland small pipes and the ballad music of the north of England. Dr Bruce, scholar, divine, antiquary, enthusiast, and in his way a bit of a wag, gave a quaint lecture illustrated by songs and pipe tunes. The latter were played by the Duke of Northumberland’s piper, William T. Green, and by a very skilful unattached artist named Thomas Todd. Todd’s pipe was the sweeter instrument of the two and there was something bardic about his appearance; he looked more the harpist than the piper.

Green, on the other hand, is a typical piper and was evidently impatient of his new metropolitan boots which creaked when he marched up and down the platform playing, and pinched him when he sat still.

A small choir sang the songs very fairly, winning an encore for Bobby Shaftoe. As Dr Bruce observed, the north country music ‘amuses the fancy and pleases the ear, without exhausting the intellect’. He did not gain quite so ready assent when he remarked that the pipes are to be valued chiefly as a domestic instrument. It may be as he said that ‘domestic joys are better than those of the public assembly’.

But to a Middlesex householder, a public assembly, or even of the Clerkenwell Vestry, would be a welcome refuge from a home haunted by more than a very little and very occasional performance on the Northumberland bagpipes.

EGG TIMING

At the Princes Hall on Tuesday, Mozart’s Figaro Overture was played inside of three and a half minutes and in order to do it makes all play of artistic feeling impossible. However, the overture so treated is undeniably useful to boil eggs by, though I prefer them boiled for four minutes myself.

 

 THE TENTH TALK

 BEETHOVEN

THE OPERA ‘NADESHDA’

OLE BULL

A MUSICAL JOKE

LINDPAINTER’S OVERTURE

 

BEETHOVEN

Fifty years ago a crusty old bachelor of fifty seven, so deaf that he could not hear his own music played by a full orchestra yet still able to hear thunder, shook his fist at the roaring heavens for the last time and died as he had lived, challenging God and defying the universe. He was Defiance Incarnate. He could not meet even a Grand Duke and his court in the street without jamming his hat tight down on his head and striding through the very middle of them.

He had the manners of a disobliging steamroller and he was rather less particular about his dress than a scarecrow. In fact, he was once arrested as a tramp because the police refused to believe that such a tatterdemalion could be a famous composer much less a temple of the most turbulent spirit that ever found expression in pure sound. It was indeed a mighty spirit but if I had written the mightiest, which would mean mightier than the spirit of Handel, Beethoven himself would have rebuked me. And what mortal man could pretend to a spirit mightier than Bach’s.

But that Beethoven’s spirit was the most turbulent is beyond question. The impetuous fury of his strength which he could quite easily contain and control but often would not, and the uproariousness of his fun, go beyond anything of the kind to be found in the works of other composers. Greenhorns write of syncopation now as if it were a new way of giving the utmost impetus to a musical measure, but the rowdiest dance music sounds like the Maiden’s Prayer after Beethoven’s third Leonore overture, and certainly no negro corobbery that I ever heard could inspire the most agile dancer with such diable au corps as the last movement of the Seventh Symphony.

And no other composer has ever melted his hearers into complete sentimentality by the tender beauty of his music and then suddenly turned on them and mocked them with derisive trumpet blasts for being such fools. Nobody but Beethoven could govern Beethoven – and when, as happened when the fit was on him, he deliberately refused to govern himself he was ungovernable.

It was this turbulence, this deliberate disorder, this mockery, this reckless and triumphant disregard of conventional mariners that set Beethoven apart from the musical geniuses of the ceremonious seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He was a giant wave in that storm of the human spirit which produced the French Revolution.

He called no man master. Mozart, his greatest predecessor in his own department, had from his childhood been washed, combed, splendidly dressed, and beautifully behaved when in the presence of royal personages and peers. His childish outburst at Madame Pompadour:

“Who is this woman who does not kiss me? The Queen kisses me” would be incredible of Beethoven who was still an unlicked cub even when he had grown into a very grizzly bear.

Mozart had the refinement of convention and society as well as the refinement of nature and of the solitude of the soul. Mozart and Gluck are refined as the court of Louis XIV was refined. Hadyn is refined as the most cultivated country gentlemen of his day were refined. Compared to them socially Beethoven was an obstreperous Bohemian, a man of the people. Haydn, so superior to envy that he declared his junior Mozart to be the greatest composer that ever lived, could not stand Beethoven. Mozart, more far-seeing, listened to his playing and said:

“You will hear of him some day’ but the two would never have hit it off together had Mozart lived long enough to try.

Beethoven had a moral horror of Mozart who in Don Giovanni had thrown a halo of enchantment round an aristocratic blackguard and then, with the unscrupulous moral versatility of the born dramatist, turned round to cast a halo of divinity around Sarastro, setting his words to the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God.

Beethoven was no dramatist. Moral versatility was to him revolting cynicism. Mozart was still to him the master of masters (this is not an empty eulogistic superlative – it literally means that Mozart is a composer’s composer much more than he has ever been a really popular composer). But he was a court flunkey in breeches whilst Beethoven was a Sansculotte, and Haydn also was a flunkey in the old livery. The Revolution stood between them as it stood between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

But to Beethoven Mozart was worse than Haydn because he trifled with morality by setting vice to music as magically as virtue. The Puritan who is in every true Sansculotte rose up against him in Beethoven, though Mozart had shown him all the possibilities of nineteenth century music. So Beethoven cast back for a hero to Handel, another crusty old bachelor of his own kidney who despised Mozart’s hero, Gluck, though the pastoral symphony in the Messiah is the nearest thing in music to the scenes in which Gluck in his Orfeo opened to us the plains of Heaven.

What Beethoven did and what made some of his contemporaries give him up as a madman with lucid intervals of clowning and bad taste, was that he used music altogether as a means of expressing moods, and completely threw over pattern-designing as an end in itself.

It is true that he used the old patterns all his life with dogged conservatism (another Sansculotte characteristic, by the way), but he imposed on them such an overwhelming charge of human energy and passion including that highest passion which accompanies thought and reduces the passion of the physical appetites to mere animalism, that he not only played Old Harry with their symmetry, but often made it impossible to notice that there was any pattern at all beneath the storm of emotion.

The Eroica Symphony begins by a pattern (borrowed from an overture which Mozart wrote when he was a boy), followed by a couple more very pretty patterns, but they are tremendously energised and in the middle of the movement the patterns are torn up savagely. Beethoven, from the point of view of the mere pattern musician, goes raving mad, hurling out terrible chords in which all the notes of the scale are sounded simultaneously just because he feels like that and wants you to feel like it.

And there you have the whole secret of Beethoven. He could design patterns with the best of them. He could write music whose beauty will last you all your life. He could take the driest sticks of themes and work them up so interestingly that you find something new in them at the hundredth hearing. In short, you can say of him all that you can say of the greatest pattern composers but his diagnostic, the thing that marks him out from all the others, is his disturbing quality, his power of unsettling us and imposing his giant moods on us.

THE OPERA ‘NADESHDA’

Elsewhere this week, ‘Nadeshda’ – a romantic opera in four acts, the libretto by Julian Sturges, the music by A. Goring-Thomas – was performed for the first time by the Carl Rosa Company at Drury Lane Theatre on Thursday. The action takes place in Russia in the middle of the last century. Not this time however in the Russia of sledges, eternal snows, and Astrakhan trimmings. In glowing summer the serfs of the Princess Natalia, sufficiently warmed by the northern sun and the frequent knoutings administered by order of their mistress, are celebrating in their gayest attire the accession of Voldemar, the Princess’s eldest son, to the lordship of the estate.

They, confident after the manner of serfs that a change of masters must put an end to all their troubles, revile the knouting Princess who is abdicating and praise the Prince who is succeeding her.

Ostap, a sentimental socialist of the period with a scowl and a prodigious knife, endeavours to awaken them to the probability, as he puts it, of the cub wolf growing fiercer than the dam. In vain – his views are too advanced for them. They chafe him about a girl called Nadeshda and he retires clutching his knife and scowling.

From the tenor of the general conversation it appears that this Nadeshda is regarded by her neighbours as somewhat fanciful but gifted with an excellent disposition and considerable personal attractiveness. She presently appears laden with flowers. Ostap intimates that he has something particular to say to her if she will allow him. She holds out no hope to him of a satisfactory reply to his communication and begs him to think no more of her. He expresses his desire to knife the whole universe first and withdraws.

Then Nadeshda, left alone, anticipates Wordsworth in an impassioned address to the beauties of nature, more particularly to a river which has been for a long time the sole confidante of her vague aspirations. The distant voices of her companions recall her to common sense and she disappears but not before she has conveyed quite definitely, if a little periphrastically, that she is now in want of a lover.

Voldemar and his brother Ivan now come out for a walk. Voldemar’s virtue and heroism are apparent from his fair complexion, powdered wig, and tenor voice – but Ivan, being dark and a baritone, is at once recognised as a villain.

Voldemar speaks jubilantly of their boyhood and the games they used to have together. Ivan remembers that period very well but hints that the games included schoolboy lickings of which he received the main share. Voldemar soothes him by promising to give him whatever he asks for ‘tomorrow’ and seeing that Ivan does not believe him in the least, confirms his promise by a solemn pledge.

Nadeshda, still looking for a lover, returns just then and thinks that Voldemar will suit her very well. Both brothers fall in love with her on the spot and the matter drops for the moment.

Now comes the festival in the hall of the castle where the serfs present an address in Russian fashion to their new master. There are songs, processions, pantomimes full of edification for unruly wives (who, it is inculcated, should be soundly thrashed by husbands desirous of domestic bliss), hunt the slipper with a gold ring instead of a slipper, and finally the presentation of an offering of bread and salt by Nadeshda. Everybody is delighted except Ostap who still clutches his immense knife and scowls.

Voldemar cannot turn his eyes from Nadeshda. Ivan now steps forward and begs to remind his brother of his promise. He will not abuse such princely generosity by an exorbitant demand. All he requires is the serf Nadeshda.

Voldemar is confounded. Nadeshda, terrified, implores him to refuse. But Voldemar is a man of honour and will keep his word at all costs. Still as he reminds Ivan, his promise is not due till ‘tomorrow’ when Nadeshda will not be his to give away.

“How so?” says Ivan.

“Because I set her free now” says Voidemar.

Shylock’s discomfiture is nothing to that of Ivan. He draws his sword on his brother, who promptly puts him out of the house.

Ostap meanwhile scowls jealously and sings ‘Have I a Knife?’ That he can for a moment overlook the existence of the three feet long, nine inches wide object strapped to his waist, shows the extent to which his mind is disturbed.

Strange to say the Princess Natalia, though on the premises and not indisposed, takes no part in the proceedings. For this, the librettist Mr Julian Sturges is much indebted to her as she would have been very much in his way throughout the entire scene.

Now that the festivities are over, Ostap’s socialism though sentimental proves to have been economically sound, for the serfs are toiling exactly as before and the knout is apparently as active as ever.

To Nadeshda’s cottage comes, after sunset, Voldemar. Nadeshda, having anticipated Wordsworth by half a century, now with the help of Voldemar anticipates the garden scene from Gounod’s Faust by a full century. The lovers part at last but Voldemar, foreseeing that Mr Sturges will want him later on, announces that he will spend the night strolling near at hand.

The Princess Natalia with a retinue of knouters now appears, guided by Ostap, and attended by Ivan, who has roused her family pride by telling her that Voldemar intends to marry a serf. Nadeshda is dragged from her dwelling and Ostap is ordered to knout her.

Horrified, he takes to his heels and the Princess’s favourite corrective is about to be applied by a stalwart retainer when Voldemar rushes in, loses his temper, and declares his intention of marrying Nadeshda forthwith.

A family quarrel ensues and Voldemar goes off in search of a priest whilst the Princess retires in high dudgeon. Ivan then proposes to Nadeshda that she should fly with him. This being wholly unreasonable, she declines, and Ivan resorts to violence. Her cries bring Ostap to the rescue. He knifes Ivan and to save further trouble (the librettist having no further occasion for him) commits suicide.

Nadeshda then offers to suffer banishment for Voldemar’s sake. The Princess compliments her on her pluck but accepts her offer. Nadeshda is going straight away into exile in her bridal dress when Voldemar returns and declares his intention of going with her. The Princess disinherits him then and there and sends for Ivan.

Ivan, mortally knifed, is not in a position to profit by his succession to the estate. He is brought in only to profess his regret for past deviations from the path of virtue and to make a comparatively pious end. The Princess, broken down by her bereavement, relents. The serfs, delighted at the death of Ivan and the defeat of the Princess, sing: ‘Yet, whilst we wail, still may good prevail’.

And on that optimistic pretext finish the opera merrily with an epithalamium before presumably returning to the knout.

OLE BULL

A few other notes have accumulated this week. We have been visited by the great Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull. His appearance has finally cured the London audience of the misapprehension that he was an octogenarian Negro.

A MUSICAL JOKE

One concert this week by the way began with a young gentleman trying a musical joke. He first played ‘Home Sweet Home’. Then in a series of insane variations he mixed it up with the ‘Tannhauser March’, Gounod’s marionette march, ‘The Harmonious Blacksmith’, and the ‘Prayer from Moses in Egypt’. Not a soul laughed – and a man near me voiced the impression of the audience by hoarsely whispering:

“He ain’t got it off right”.

Britons axe exceeding ill to joke with on a pianoforte.

LINDPAINTER’S OVERTURE

Lastly, Lindpainter’s overture at St. James Hall but for its thinly veiled conventionality, might suggest an asylum with a number of lunatics rushing up and down stairs and slamming the doors but occasionally stopping to listen to a melancholic patient learning to play the flute on his own in the drawing room.