« VorigeDoorgaan »
could scarcely fail to be the better for entering.* But in private life, as in public, he never shrank from the task of rebuking, when rebuke seemed to him called for; and this would be whenever anything was said or done which implied disbelief in the Divine government of the world or maintained principles in antagonism with the Divine law. There were some to whom he so spoke,' his son tells us, 'who never forgave him. The marvellous thing, considering the depth to 'which he sometimes cut, is that there were so few.' He lived, in short, and he died, emphatically a servant of God. He felt himself from the first charged with a mission as full, direct, and solemn as any that was ever entrusted to the prophets of the Hebrew Church; and his powers of body and mind were unstintingly and unflinchingly spent in the fulfilment of it. Whatever judgement some might pass on his words or his acts, he achieved a work not merely vast in its extent, but far-reaching in its consequences. He fought for the most part single-handed: he was certainly not supported by any school of partisans. But his influence, so far as it went, was exerted in opposition to the most powerful and attractive school of his day; and there can be but little doubt that, in arresting its progress and crippling its strength, his influence was stronger even than the influence of the Oxford party against the form of thought and belief which that party was seeking to supplant.
*We regret that Colonel Maurice should have felt himself called upon to set down some details illustrating his personal devoutness, which we find in pp. 285-554 of his second volume, and more particularly in p. 205 of vol. i. We say nothing as to the call which a man may or may not feel to spend a whole night in prayer; but we deprecate the haste which infers this from the fact that a bed shows no sign of having been slept in. There are some other points which we might note, but we content ourselves with saying that these are matters which are best treated sub silentio. The contents of all hagiologies consist to a very large extent of materials which ought never to be given to the world, and which never can be given without violation of seemliness and reverence. We do not believe that anything can be gained by these contributions in Mr. Maurice's Life towards furnishing matter for an Anglican hagiology.
ART. VIII.-Johann Sebastian Bach: his Work and Influence on the Music of Germany, 1685-1750. By PHILIP SPITTA. Translated from the German by CLARA BELL and J. A. FULLER-MAITLAND. 8vo. London: 1884.
HE whole history of Art, taking the word in its widest meaning, affords no spectacle more remarkable or, it may be added, more instructive from certain points of view, than that presented by the slow but progressive extension of the fame and influence of the works of Bach during the period which has elapsed since their earnest, studious, singleminded author passed away from among living men. Most of the small band of the greatest musical composers passed a portion at least of their lifetime amid the blaze of popular applause, and were crowned with laurels won in the face of an admiring concourse, and amid the heat and tumult of conflict. Bach alone presents the unusual phenomenon of a composer of great original genius, and of almost unparalleled mastery over the materials and conditions of his art, passing a quiet domestic life in diligent but unobtrusive study and production; apparently undisturbed by ambition, except the ambition to do as well as possible the work which he set himself to do, and to realise his own artistic ideal; producing with unwearied diligence compositions in which deep and earnest feeling is expressed through tonal construction of the most elaborate technical character; doing great things as a part of his daily business, hardly himself aware of their greatness; composing cantatas which are now of world-wide fame, for the prim religious functions' of congregations whose pastors and masters regarded him merely as the church organist, talented but self-willed and rather troublesome-a person to be called to order for his musical liberties in accompanying the psalmody; dying with the reputation, even among the initiated, of an organ-player and contrapuntist of unusual powers, merely that and nothing more,' and passing soon into an obscurity into which his works followed him. It is hardly possible to realise at this moment, when Bach is a name hallowed on all musical tongues, that there was half a century during which, not only in England (which never knew him till recently) but in his Fatherland, his name and his productions had passed nearly out of recognition. But wonderful is the innate vitality of a work of genius. Let no one who has produced a great poem, in whatever medium, despair of its surmounting all obstacles to fame short of the
VOL. CLX. NO. CCCXXVII.
actual destruction of its material embodiment.
'O'er that wide plain, now wrapt in gloom,
Rise slowly up into the sky,
To shine there everlastingly
Like stars over the bounding hill.'
So it has fared with the genius of the man who was once Cantor of the Thomasschule at Leipzig, and wrote anthems for the church service and taught the little boys Latin.* Slowly the conviction of his greatness has broadened and deepened, till at the present moment he seems not so much a man as an influence; not a mere musical composer, but a kind of source and fount of musical achievement and inspiration.
The temporary obscuration of his star of course explains to some extent the scarcity of biographical notice of Bach till recently; Forkel's short and dry little book, published in 1802, which ignored the composer's vocal works almost entirely, having been the first attempt at a consecutive Life, and the only one of much importance till the appearance of Dr. Spitta's truly exhaustive' work, the greater portion of which has now been rendered accessible to general English readers by the translation to which the names of Miss Bell and Mr. Fuller-Maitland are appended. As to the translation, it is necessary merely to express grateful recognition of the labours of those who have gone patiently through the task of translating into English three portentously thick volumes of mostly very dry and laboured writing. Perhaps the translators have not quite succeeded in giving to their work that air and style of original writing which, if combined with accuracy of rendering, is the highest achievement of translation. There is a slightly cramped and foreign character about some of the sentences, very likely arising from the desire to be conscientiously accurate; but the work seems to have been done with great care. In repeatedly turning it over we have only noticed one obvious error, Mozart's Sym
* This was a portion of the Cantor's official duty.
phony in C minor with the fugue,' which should, of course, be C major.' But the book itself, as an example of biography, is a success rather in regard to quantity and presumable accuracy than literary quality. Dr. Spitta has aimed at doing what Jahn did in his admirable Life of Mozart (unique among musical biographies)—at giving an insight into and a critical review of the music and musical life of the period in which the composer lived, and tracing the connexion between his art and the circumstances and influences under which it arose. Of course no biography of a great artist is really complete except on some such scheme as this; but Dr. Spitta has not the shaping power which alone can render such a biography in itself a work of literary art and a pleasure to the literary sense. The author gives us a great deal of information which is of interest in regard to early German music and the generation of musicians preceding Bach; but all that is of real value might have been compressed into a shorter space with much advantage to the book and to the reader, and might certainly have been arranged in a far more intelligible and coherent manner. But Dr. Spitta, in the language of an old proverb, leaves nothing in his inkstand; ' he has amassed a great amount of information of a more or less vague character about the organists and church composers of the ante-Bach period, some of which refers to names of no interest now, and which is immensely spun out, and he can find it in his heart to bestow all his tediousness on the reader without even lightening the labours of the latter by lucid arrangement of the voluminous materials used. You never know where to have him; every few pages he is off on some fresh scent, and in many cases it requires careful comparison of opposite pages to find out whom he is talking about at any particular moment, and to unravel the intricacies of his personal pronouns. We read a paragraph, for instance, commencing 'The appointment to Weimar was an auspicious cir'cumstance,' &c.; this is the first intimation to the reader that Bach had received such an appointment; there is a passing remark, a few pages previously, to the effect that he had applied for it, but nothing more. The first hint of the most important change in Bach's official life, his appointment to the cantorship at Leipzig, is dragged in in the same kind of shambling and allusive manner, and then quitted for twenty pages for a criticism on the Wohltemperirte Klavier. Biographical details and criticism are all jumbled together in almost inextricable confusion, and each chapter seems a labyrinth without either beginning, middle, or end. In short,
Dr. Spitta has shown immense diligence and enthusiasm in collecting facts, without any notion how to put them together or recount them in readable form. But there is, we think, another reason why, even under better literary management, a voluminous biography of Bach would not in any case have the interest which a really good biography of others of the great composers could not fail to have. In the first place, we are very poorly supplied with personal traits of the man, and all that Dr. Spitta gives us (which is probably all that will ever be available now) goes but a little way towards enabling us to realise his personality and manner. But it must be admitted, also, that however we may admire Bach's patriarchal domestic life of peaceful industry, and his apparent freedom from the last infirmity of noble minds,' it is, after all, the brilliant struggling life, passed in the great world and in open fight for fame, which furnishes the material of greatest interest for writers and readers of biography. Bach was a great genius and an evidently loveable man, but the personal traits of him are few, and those few are really not of much interest, except as they concern his art and his views in regard to it. As far as we can judge he was, apart from his music, a staid, quiet man with a certain degree of temper (more easily stirred by artistic than by social annoyances), and deficient in humour-a characteristic in which his biographer more than emulates him. Consequently the whole 'Life' has not so much the human and social interest of a biography as the artistic interest of an extended musical criticism, containing much that is valuable and suggestive, but withal prosy, diffuse, and ill-constructed, to an extent that makes the consecutive perusal of it a toil rather than a pleasure.
Bach the musician being then of so much more interest to us at present than the little we know or can know of Bach the man, we may confine our remarks mainly to the artistic side of the subject; only giving a glance in the first place at what is known of the composer's family history and antecedents, for this also bears to some extent upon his musical position. In almost all cases eminent composers have furnished practical arguments in favour of the theory of heredity; seldom has there been a musician of eminence who could not point to one or more musically gifted persons among his immediate progenitors; but in the case of Bach the hereditary descent of genius is so remarkably exemplified that he seems almost to stand as a typical instance of the truth of the doctrine referred to. Mr. Galton, the apostle of