Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

restricted part hitherto. On a sufficient acquaintance with the work this would probably have revealed the essential nature of the instrument to a hearer unacquainted- with technicalities, and revealed it rather as a characteristic than as a limitation. A -still more remarkable instance will be found in the third statement of the theme of the finale of the 9th symphony: When the trumpets take it up they make a remarkable change at its I rth bar, for no other reason than that one of the notes, though perfectly within their scale, and, indeed, already produced by them in the very same bar, is so harmonized as to suggest the freedom of an instrument with a complete scale. This passage shows that if Beethoven had had the modern trumpet at his disposal, while he would no doubt freely have used its resources, he would nevertheless have maintained its character as an instrument founded on the natural scale, and would have agreed with Brahms that the -nobility and purity of its tone depends upon its faithful adherence, at least within symphonic limits, to types of melody suggestive of that scale.”

This brings us to the latest radical change effected in instrumentation, the change from symphonic to dramatic principles. It will be convenient to take one supreme composer asvthe artist who has dealt so consistently with the .essentials of the new style that he may be conveniently regarded as its creator. Even with this limitation the subject is too vast for us to enter into details. T

-Dramatic Instrumentation.-There is hardly one of Wagner'S orchestral innovations which is not inseparably connected with his adaptation of music to the requirements of drama; and modern conductors, in treating Wagner's orchestration, as the normal standard by which all previous and contemporary music must be judged, are doing their best to found a tradition which in another hfty years will be exploded as thoroughly as the tradition of symphonic additional accompaniments now exploded in the performances of Bach and Handel. The main difference between symphonic and modern dramatic orchestration depends on this: that in a symphony any important incident will probably be heard again within five minutes, in every circumstance of formal symmetry and preparation that can attract the attention. This being so, it is absurd in a symphony to use only such orchestral colours as would be fit for dramatic moments which are not likely to recur for an hour or two, if they recur at all. Such a passage as bars 5 to 8 in the first movement of Beethoven's 8th symphony is as unintelligible from the point of view of Wagnerian opera as the opening of the Rheingold is unintelligible from the point of view of symphony. But both are quite right. The modern Wagnerian conductor is apt to complain that Beethoven, in his four-bar phrase, drowns a melody which lies in the weakest register of the clarinet by a crowd of superfluous notes in oboes, horns and flutes. The complainer entirely overlooks the fact that this is the kind of music in which such a phrase will certainly be heard again before we have time to forget it; and as a matter of fact the strings promptly repeat it forlirsimo in a position which nothing can overpower. A crowd of instruments that seemed at first to overwhelm it in sympathetic comments is perfectly dramatic and appropriate on the symphonic scale. On the operatic scale established by Wagner such detail is simply lost. Far greater polyphonic detail of another .kind is no doubt possible, but it requires far longer time for its expression. It cannot change so rapidly. It engages the ear more exclusively, and therefore it needs an accuracy and an elaboration of paraphernalia quite irrelevant to symphonic art. The accuracy and the paraphernalia are equally exemplified in all Wagner's additions and alterations of the classical orchestral scheme, for these all consist in completing the families of instruments so that each timbre can be presented pure in complete' harmony. But the greatness of~ Wagner is shown in the fact that with all the eilect his additions haveiin revolutionizing the resources of orchestration, he never regards his novelties as substitutes for the natural principles' of instrumental effect. His brass instruments have lost nothing of their ancient nobility. In his gigantic designs it inevitably happens that instrumental resources are strained to their utmost, and there is, perhaps, hardly anything which the makers and players of instruments can be trained to do which is too remote to be demanded by some extreme dramatic necessity in Wagner's scheme. But it is always some such extreme necessity that demands it, and never an .appetite too jaded for natural resources. The crucial example of this is what Richard Strauss has ingeniously called the “al fresco” treatment of instruments in large orchestral masses (Berlioz-Strauss, Instrumentatizmslehre, edition Peters). Experience shows that in the modern orchestra there is safety in numbers, and that passages may with impunity be written for thirty-two violins which no single player can execute clearly. Whether this justifies Wagner's successors and.imitators in showing a constant preference for passages of which not even theigeneral outline is practicable; whether it justihes a state of things in which the normal compass of every instrument in an advanced zoth-century score would appear to be about f a iifthihigher than any player of that instrument will admit; whether it proves that it is artistically desirable that when there are eight .horns in the orchestra their material should be indistinguishable from pianoforte writing, and that, in short, the part of every instrument should look exactly like the part of every other-~such questions are for posterity to decide. At present we can only be certain that the criterion according to which Brahms, being a symphonic writer, has no mastery of orchestration whatever, is not a criterion compatible with any sense of symphonic style. It is therefore not a criterion which can do justice to the principles of Wagner's non-symphonic art, for its appreciation thereof is inevitably one-sided. Least of all can it conduce to the formation of sound critical standards for the new instrumentation which is now in process of development for the future forms of instrumental music. These, we cannot doubt, will be as profoundly influenced by Wagner as the s0nata-style was influenced by Gluck.

Finally it must be remembered that musical euphony and emotional effect are inseparable from considerations of harmony and polyphony. T imbre itself is, as Helmholtz shows, a kind of harmony felt but not heard. Not even the imagination and skill of Berlioz could galvanize into permanent artistic life an instrumentation based exclusively upon instruments, however suggestive his wonderful orchestral effects may have been to contemporary and later artists, who realize that artistic effects must proceed from artistic causes.

Chamber-music-The instrumentation of solo combinations is one of the largest and most detailed subjects in the art of music. Something has been said above as to its earlier aspects in the time of Haydn. Before that time it was based exclusively on the use of the harpsichord either as a means of supporting the other instruments or as also contributing principal parts to the combination. Thus there were no string-quartets before Haydn-at least none that can be distinguished from symphonies for string-band.

Richard Strauss, in his edition of Berlioz's works on Instrumentation, paradoxically characterizes the classical orchestral style as that which was derived from chamber-music. Now it is true that in Haydn's early days orchestras were small and generally private; and that the styles of orchestral and chamber music were not distinct; but surely nothing is clearer than that the whole history of the rise of classical chamber-music lies in its rapid differentiation from the coarse-grained orchestral style with which it began. Orchestral wind-parts have been discovered belonging to Haydn's string-quartet Op. r, No. 5; his quartet in D minor, Op. 9, No. 4, is already in a style which not even the most casual listener could mistake for anything orchestral. On this differentiation of styles rests the whole aesthetics of chamber-music; but the subject is very subtle, and there is much, as for example in Schubert's quartets and his C major quintet, that is inspired by orchestral ideas without in the least ~ vitiating the chamber-music style; though, judged by its appearance on paper, it seems as unorthodox as the notoriously orchestral beginnings of Mendelssohn's quartet in D and quintet

in Bb. The beginning of Mendelssohn's F minor quartet is,