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BRAHMS,

JOHANNES

four books of Hungarian Dances arranged for pianoforte duet. Brahms has been often called the last of the great classical masters, in a sense wider than that of his place in the long line of the great composers of Germany. Though only the most superficial observers could deny him the possession of the qualities which distinguish the masters of the romantic school, such as warm imagination, originality of thought and expression, deep emotional tenderness, and the like, it is as a classicist that he must be ranked among modern musicians. From the beginning of his career until its close, his ideas were clothed by preference in the forms which had sufficed for Beethoven, and the instances in which he departed from structural precedent are so rare that they might be disregarded, were they not of such high value that they must be considered as the signs of a logical development of musical form, not as indicating a spirit of rebellion against existing modes of structure. His practice, more frequent in later than in earlier life, of welding together the “ working-out ” and the “recapitulation” sections of his movements in a closer union than any of his predecessors had attempted, is an innovation which cannot fail to have important results in the future; and if the skill of younger writers is not adequate to such a display of ingenuity as occurs in the finale of the fourth symphony, where the “passacaglia” form has been used with an effect that is almost bewildering to the ordinary listener, that at least stands as a monument of inventiveness finely subordinated to the emotional and intellectual purport of the thoughts expressed. If Brahms’s music is not appreciated by every one on a first hearing, this, if it be a defect, is one in which it has been anticipated by the work of every great master since music was a conscious and definite art. His themes are always noble, and even from the point of view of emotional appeal their deep intensity of expression is of a kind which grows upon all who have once been awakened to their beauty, or have been at the pains to grasp the composer’s characteristics of utterance. His vocal music, whether for one voice or many, is remarkable for its fidelity to natural inflexion and accentuation of the words, and for its perfect reflexion of the poet’s mood. His songs, vocal quartets, and choral works abound in passages that prove him a master of effects of sound; and throughout his chamber music, in his treatment of the piano, of the strings, or of the solo wind instruments he employs, there are numberless examples which sufficiently show the irrelevance of a charge sometimes brought against his music, that it is deficient in a sense of what is called “tonecolour.” It is perfectly true that the mere acoustic effect of a passage was of far less importance to him than its inherent beauty, poetic import, or logical fitness in a definite scheme of development; and that often in his orchestral music the casual hearer receives an impression of complexity rather than of clearness, and is apt to imagine that the “thickness” of instrumentation is the result of clumsiness or carelessness. Such instances as the introduction to the finale of the first symphony, the close of the first movement of the second, what may be called the epilogue of the third, or the whole of the variations on a theme of Haydn, are not only marvels of delicate workmanship in regard to structure, but are instinct with the sense of the peculiar beauty and characteristics of each instrument. The “ Academic Festival” overture proves Brahms a master of musical humour, in his treatment of the student songs which serve as its themes; and the companion piece, the “ Tragic ” overture, reaches a height of sublimity which is in no way lessened because no particular tragedy has ever been named in conjunction with the work.

As with all creative artists of supreme rank, the work of Brahfns took a considerable time before it was very generally appreciated, but the number of his admirers has been constantly increasing, and nowhere has his music found a warmer welcome than in England. The change in public opinion is strikingly illustrated in regard to the songs, which, once voted ineffective and unvocal, have now taken a place in every eminent singer’s repertory. In the other branches of music in which he worked, the structure of the composition is of such enormous importance that its appreciation by the general mass of musical amateurs is of necessity slow. The outline in his greater works must be grasped with some definiteness before the separate ideas can be properly understood in their true relation to each other; and while it is his wonderful power of handling the recognized classical forms, so as to make them seem absolutely new, which stamps him as the greatest musical architect since BSethoven, the necessity for realizing in some degree what musical form signifies has undoubtedly been a bar to the rapid acceptance of his greater works by the uneducated lovers of music. These are of course far more easily moved by effects of colour than by the subtler beauties of organic structure, and Brahms’s attitude towards tonecolour was scarcely such as would endear him to the large number of musicians in whose view tone-colour is preeminent. His mastery of form, again, has been attacked as formalism by certain superficial critics, blind to the real inspiration and distinction of his ideas, and to their perfection in regard to style and the appropriateness of every theme to the exact emotional state to be expressed. In his larger vocal works there are some which treat of % emotional conditions far removed from the usual stock of subjects taken by the average composer; to compare the ideas in the “ German Bequiem ” with those of the “ Schicksalslied ” or “Nanie” is to learn a lesson in artistic style which can never be forgotten. In the songs, too, it is scarcely too much to say that the whole range of human emotion finds expression in noble lyrics that yield to none in actual musical beauty. The four “ Ernste Gesange,” Brahms’s last composition, must be considered as his supreme achievement in dignified utterance of noble thoughts in a style that perfectly fits them. The choice of words for these as well as for the “ Bequiem ” and others of his serious works reveals a strong sense of the vanity and emptiness of human life, but at least as strong a confidence in the divine consolations. It is the misfortune of the musical world in Germany that every prominent musician is ranged by critics and amateurs in one of two hostile camps, and it is probably due in the main to the misrepresentations of the followers of Wagner that the idea is so generally held that Brahms was a man of narrow sympathies and hard, not to say brutal manners. The latter impression was fostered, no doubt, by the master’s natural detestation of the methods by which the average lionizer seeks to gain his object, and both alike are disproved in the Recollections of J. V. Widmann, an intimate friend for many years, which throw a new light on the master, revealing him as a man of the widest artistic sympathies, neither intolerant of excellence in a line opposed to his own, nor weakly enthusiastic over mediocre productions by composers whose views were in complete sympathy with him. His admiration for Verdi and Wagner is enough to show that the absence of any operatic work from his list of compositions was simply due to the difficulty of finding a libretto which appealed to him, not to any antagonism to the lyric stage in its modern developments. How far he stood from the prejudices of the typical pedant may be seen in the passionate love he showed throughout his life for national