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other form of musical art, I deny that it represents the highest use to which music can be put, or the one which appeals most to the imagination. It is inferior in this sense both to Symphony and to Oratorio; but the comparison with Oratorio is the more obvious one to make, since both that and Opera depend on the spoken word as their basis; both undertake to give musical illustration, by means of vocal and instrumental music combined, to a story in which characters and situation are illustrated and partly described by music. In Oratorio we depend entirely on the characterisation given by the music; the aspect of the scenes and personages, the nature of the incidents in the narrative, is only suggested to the imagination by the music. In Opera the scenes and the personages are represented to the sense of sight by artificial means of which the artificiality is always obvious enough. In consequence, music in Opera is no longer a purely abstract art addressed to the imagination; it is clogged with the accompaniment of an inadequate and rather tawdry realism. The result, be it admitted, is brilliant and captivating to the senses, especially of those whose imaginative faculties are somewhat sluggish; but, as already suggested, the loftier the quality of the music, the less it seems to blend with or to require the pasteboard and tinsel art of the scenic setting.
And it is rather curious to consider, in this connexion, that with all the popularity of Opera in the London musical world, it does not after all appear that it is the best and finest operas, in a purely musical sense, that are wanted. If it were, their production would pay; and if it would pay, they would be produced. How is it that there are only two operas of Mozart's that we ever hear of at all, and those two, and Beethoven's one opera, only at long and uncertain intervals; that Die Zäuberflöte might almost as well never have been written; that Il Seraglio, which surprised everyone by its beauty some thirty years ago, has been shelved ever since; that Cherubini's monumental work, Medea, has never been attempted since about the same period of time; that no attempt is ever made at Euryanthe (a far greater work than Der Freischütz); that Rossini's Barbière can be produced, while Guillaume Tell, which, whatever we may think of its school, is in its way a great work, is almost entirely neglected; that we needed the example of the Paris Opéra to bring about a kind of grudging recognition of Gluck's Armide, while we see announced the frequent repetition of the lighter work of Puccini, and others of the modern school? If the great classic operas mentioned were dear to the public, they would be frequently given, for it would be profitable to give them. Obviously they are not in demand. Oratorio is thought dull. Evidently classic Opera is dull also. What is wanted is amusement and novelty. It is a perfectly
legitimate want; only it must not be mistaken for a craving for what is highest and most serious in musical art.
And, after all, can Opera best supply such a craving where it exists? The drawback to all serious Opera, professing to represent the tragedy and pathos of human life, is that feeling of unreality which is inseparable from it, arising partly from the incongruity in the representation of men and women expressing their feelings in a medium so far removed from the realities of human life; partly from the puerile suggestiveness of stage machinery. Hence the most unqualified successes of Opera, as Opera, have lain either in comedy or in supernatural legend. In comedy we are content to enjoy the humour of the musical characterisation without being called upon to take it seriously; in supernatural legend the whole thing is so far removed from real life that we cease to feel the incongruity of its terror or pathos. In Don Giovanni, the greatest of operas, we have both elements. Nothing in the way of humour could be more subtle and intellectual than Mozart's treatment of such scenes as that in which Leporello banters Elvira on the subject of her lover's infidelities, or that of Don Giovanni's mock serenade, with its spirituel contrast between the passionate beauty of the voice part and the mocking piquancy of the accompaniment (what a contrast to Wagner's elephantine attempts at humour over Beckmesser !); and in the statue scene at the close we have that kind of picturesque supernaturalism which perhaps could only be adequately treated in Opera; which at any rate presents nothing incongruous with serious musical treatment and with scenic effect. But with the musically highest class of serious Opera, dealing ostensibly with human life, it comes really to this, that we go to it for the sake of the music, and accept the costumes and the stage machinery as something incidental which does not affect us much, and which we feel in many cases to be below the level of the music. We can hardly help feeling, in some portions of Mozart's operas, as in the second finale in Don Giovanni, and in the final scene in Figaro, that he has lavished splendid music on situations that are not worth it, and that the divine art is, if not degraded, at any rate misplaced in connexion with them. Wagner, though he had not an ounce of humour in his composition, recognised rightly that legend was the real atmosphere for serious Opera, and his music in its stronger as well as in its weaker elements just suits his libretti and his stage machinery; even the vulgar blaring of the ' Ride of the Walkyrie,' which has absurdly been transferred to the concert-room, is quite good enough to accompany the passage of a string of spectacular rocking-horses. But when one hears people talking of this kind of production as if it had a
deep moral and poetic significance, one can only regard them as so many grown-up children.
When we quit legend and comedy, and come to the problem of the musical treatment, by voices and instruments combined, of epic or dramatic narrative of serious significance, it is here that Oratorio comes to the rescue, and furnishes the opportunity for the painting of incident and the expression of character, freed both from the disproportionate costliness of the operatic stage, and from the prosaic and yet incomplete realism of stage machinery and scenery in two dimensions. Oratorio, speaking not only through the lips of the 'blest pair of Sirens, Voice and Verse,' but with the added colour and emphasis derived from orchestral accompaniment, appeals far more to the imagination than any opera, provided the hearer brings imagination of his own to meet its suggestions. And it has, in a purely musical sense, this great advantage over Opera, that its conditions can allow of the full development of an air or a chorus in complete musical form, without raising that question of the logical inconsistency of checking the course of acted drama at a critical moment, in order to allow the hero or heroine to express their feelings in a lengthened solo, which has been the constant stumbling-block of the higher criticism in regard to Opera. Not that the treatment of Opera in recitative commensurate with the progress of the wording is necessarily more dramatic, in the higher sense of the word, than Opera in which characters and situations are illustrated by the interpolation of complete compositions in extended form. All Opera is a convention; the Mozart form is one convention, that of Wagner and of the contemporary French Opera composers is another; we have only to settle which convention we prefer to abide by; and dramatic power, in the characterisation of a personage by music, may be just as well shown in the one form as in the other. Mozart, as a matter of fact, is ten times more dramatic than Wagner, in that the music he writes for a character seems to be the natural and spontaneous expression of that character, as by a kind of inspiration, while Wagner's leit-motiv labels produce rather the impression of having been arbitrarily chosen; they do not in themselves express character, they only notify the presence or the entrance of a special personage to whom a special phrase belongs, by which he is, as it were, hall-marked. Still, the discrepancy between the assumed progress of the action, and the arresting of it at intervals for the delivery of a long musical composition, in the old school of Opera, does afford a handle for criticism, and is a stumbling-block to those who would have all art geometrically logical. Now from this dilemma the Oratorio form sets us free. Since there is no represented action, but only poetic narrative, generally speaking rather epic than dramatic in
its nature, the musician is at liberty to develop his art fully in formal composition of chorus and air, without exposing himself to the criticism that he is arresting the action in doing so, since there is no action to arrest. As to the frequent repetition of the same words in the course of an air or chorus, if any reader is really so befogged in his mind as to the respective functions of music and poetry as to think it worth while to raise a question on the subject, it would perhaps be useless to argue with him, but he had better read Matthew Arnold's Epilogue to Lessing's Laocöon, where the philosophy of the matter is as convincingly expressed and illustrated, in a few lines, as it well could be.
Under the head of 'Oratorio' I am including not merely the generally recognised sacred oratorios, but all compositions of considerable length, and in various movements, for chorus, solo voices, and orchestra, whether supposed to be sacred or not; cantatas, motets, etc.; and also the concert-room performance of Masses by the great composers, for these come in a musical sense under the same head, and are performed with the same object. Devout Catholics, I believe, rather object to this transference to the concert-room of music for what they regard as the most solemn rite of their worship; but as no religious rite is simulated or travestied in the performance of the music of a Mass in the concertroom, and it is listened to and regarded as sacred music, it does not seem that Catholics have any right to demonstrate against such performances, further than by declining to attend them, if their conscience is uneasy on the subject.
The fact that the class of production entitled 'Oratorio' probably first derived its name from the performances of sacred music in the oratory of a church, has rather stamped it by tradition as a form of composition dealing especially with sacred subjects, but there is no reason in its nature for such a limitation. Handel, indeed, in his Alexander's Feast, Hercules, and other works, has shown how successfully it may be used for the treatment of purely secular subjects; and Judas Maccabeus, in spite of its Hallelujah Chorus at the end, and its frequent references to the Almighty as the Protector of the chosen people, is rather a martial than a religious oratorio. It is, however, in the treatment of sacred subjects that Oratorio composers have risen highest. Whatever the fluctuations of religious opinion and belief in different generations, subjects which deal with religious history and with the spiritual side of human life have had the power to evoke the highest and most serious efforts of the great composers of Oratorio, just as religious enthusiasm in the Middle Ages evoked the greatest triumphs of architecture, insomuch that one may say that without religion mediæval architecture would hardly have existed. And as the cathedrals still impress us, in days of a very different
religious creed, with something of the spiritual aspiration out of which they arose, so the religious oratorios of the great composers, however out-of-date, in some sense, the creed which they illustrate, still impress us as efforts to give expression in music to the spiritual aspiration of humanity. For the greatest of these works were not written in any merely perfunctory spirit of composition. Handel, of whose genuine religious fervour there is abundant evidence, is nowhere so great as in the two oratorios taken entirely from the words of the Bible-Israel in Egypt and Messiah. Bach's St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion, and of course his Mass (the greatest work of the three), were actually written for religious services. Mozart put the most serious and pathetic work of his lifetime into the Requiem which he believed he was writing for himself. Mendelssohn unquestionably wrote Elijah and St. Paul with a feeling which came from the heart, or he could never have had such inspirations as ' O great is the depth ' and ' Be thou faithful ' in St. Paul, or the Holy, Holy,' in Elijah. And religious aspiration in a new and wider form might still be the moving spirit of new productions in Oratorio:
Why, where's the need of Temple, when the walls
O' the world are that? What use of swells and falls
That one face, far from vanish, rather grows,
Become my universe that feels and knows.
There is no need, however, to regard Oratorio as necessarily dealing with sacred subjects. As already suggested, it can treat poetic narrative of a high class, whether sacred or secular, with more musical completeness and more freedom than is possible in Opera, and without the cost and the often absurd realism (or failure of realism) of the stage machinery. There is also, it must be admitted, a danger in taking too religious a view of Oratorio-that of letting the religion get the better of the music; as has beenillustrated of late years in the instance of Gounod's Redemption, the work of a devout Catholic, who regarded the sacred significance of the sentences set as sufficient in itself to carry off a very bald and feeble musical rendering; and in consequence his oratorio is dead already. Whether the same fate may await the religiousoratorios of another devout Catholic musician it is too soon at present to prophesy; but I cannot help recording the opinion I heard in regard to them from an able professional musician. It seemed to him, he said, that anyone who had mastered the difficulties of part-writing and orchestration, and who had very fervent religious feelings, might go and do likewise. Whether he was