« VorigeDoorgaan »
not gain by being treated dramatically? I once heard the opening scene of Das Rheingold sung as a cantata, and very ineffective it was; but I would not affirm on that account that Oratorio is a less worthy form of music than Opera.
(d) That there is a dearth of first-rate Oratorio singers at the present day, with the inference that Opera has swallowed
Mr. Statham deplores the absence of worthy successors to Sims Reeves, Santley, and Madame Trebelli. According to him there are now no Oratorio singers who are worth their salt. Now of course it goes without saying that the history of every art will record periods of mediocrity, and a retrospect of the annals of music affords no exception to the rule. It would be strange indeed if it were otherwise; nay more, it would be undesirable. A perpetual golden age would inevitably tend to eliminate the stimulating influences of competition and appreciative interest; or, in other words, if every man were six feet high and as strong as a horse the world would be a dull place. And yet, without seeking to detach one laurel from the crowns of the above-mentioned artists, there are still a few names that rise to my mind-Robert Radford, Andrew Black, Ada Crossley, to instance only a few—which should not, perhaps, be entirely overlooked; and if others, again, have drifted into Opera may one ask why not? If Opera suits their artistic needs; if they feel that their ability to express themselves, their power of using their gifts to the best advantage, lies in that direction, in heaven's name why should they resist the inclination ?
(e) That, while Oratorio is the highest form of music, Handel is its greatest exponent.
It will be obvious to anyone who has perused Mr. Statham's article that he is as rabidly pro-Handel as he is anti-Wagner, but I doubt whether he would not have made out quite as good a case for his idol without being at such pains to eliminate any possible rival claims for the first place. In a somewhat extravagantly written page of eulogium Mr. Statham, after placing Handel above Mozart and Rossini, proceeds to say:
As a writer for solo voices Bach, whatever his ardent worshippers of to-day may believe, has no claim to be named with Handel. His moral tone, his intent, is indeed of the highest, but his style was all formed on the organ, and he writes for solo voices as if he were writing for a solo stop on the organ. People cannot see this at present because they are under the influence of a fashionable cult of Bach; they will possibly find it out presently.
Precisely; when they possess Mr. Statham's enlightened vision. But what about the intellectual appeal which Mr.
Statham has upheld as the requisite attribute of music, and the one which Opera so sadly lacks? Can one conceive a purer, sterner, more sincere intellectuality than is to be found in Bach's music?
Mendelssohn, be sure, has not escaped Mr. Statham's uncompromising blue pencil. His claims to the highest honours are swept away with a ruthless band. Even the inclusion of one item from his pen in a Handel Festival programme is a serious cause of offence. We are told, in fact, that Mendelssohn cannot be considered on the same plane as Handel; but since he shares this indignity with Mozart, Rossini, and Bach, he appears to be in tolerably good company!
Now all this may be very edifying and instructive; it may even be to some extent true, but surely there is only a very small minority that seeks to deny Handel his rightful place in the list of choral music writers. To extol him at the expense of others-more especially of those who have excelled in an entirely different branch of the art-is pure waste of time. As our trans-Atlantic cousins happily put it, it ‘cuts no ice.' Why must Wagner, for instance, be held up to ridicule because Handel wrote Messiah? It would seem at first sight a hopelessly impossible task to compare the two men. Yet Mr. Statham finds it quite easy. Not content with his disparaging reference to Die Walküre, he attacks in turn Wagner's sense of humour, his leit-motiv system, and finally his libretti. Now, that the Teutonic humour is apt to be heavy I readily admit; but if Mr. Statham really fails to find the elements of a very genuine and spontaneous comedy in Die Meistersinger, I fear he has allowed his prejudice to stifle whatever sense of humour he may himself possess. Perhaps he has never seen the opera really well performed. But he should remember that it is in the score, rather than the libretto, that the humour should be sought. A musical sense of humour, moreover, is not everyone's gift, and it is just possible that Mr. Statham has got out of his depth. But with regard to these libretti. Has Mr. Statham any right to say that he does not know how absurd they may be in German' because in a bad translation he considers them 'portentous claptrap'? I think I am safe in a'sserting that Wagner's rhythmical verse is far and away above the average standard of opera libretti. A very cursory acquaintance with the German language should be sufficient to establish this fact if one has any ear worth mentioning.
Over the leit-motiv question our critic is, as ever, sternly censorious. These labels,' he remarks, '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.' Let me beg Mr. Statham to reconsider this ill-advised assertion. To begin with, the leit-motiven depict not only personages but incidents and things as well. They represent, in fact, a very intricate and delicate system which only a thorough Wagnerian student can adequately comprehend. To dismiss them airily as 'labels' is not only childish but unfair. Has Mr. Statha'm studied Parsifal? Has he grasped, or attempted to grasp, the extraordinary poetic sequence of the Trauermarsch in Götterdämmerung, where each separate incident of Siegfried's life is expressed in musical form, yet never once loses its symphonic continuity? Is there no character in the Brünbilde motiv, in the themes associated with the God of Fire, the dwarfs and the Rhine maidens, or in the incomparable love-phrase which opens the Vorspiel to Tristan und Isolde? The leit-motiv is the very foundation-stone of the whole fabric of operatic reform which Wagner spent his life in effecting. But since musical reform and progress are the last things Mr. Statham seems to desire, this argument will scarcely appeal to him. His dislike for the 'modern school is apparent in every line he has written. Doubtless the old recitative and aria methods in Opera are more to his taste, although they surely 'impeded the action' far more than the Wagner system of music-drama. Yet whyone feels impelled to ask-why this strenuous and singleminded devotion to the antique? Veneration for the monuments of past ages is all very well in its way, but may it not be carried to excess? There is, one ventures to hope, such a thing as progress, room for improvement in every art. The ancients were modern in their day.
It may be that I have wandered from the point; but, if this is so, I must be excused on the ground that Mr. Statham wanders from it so frequently that I cannot criticise his statements thoroughly without following whither he has led. It is no mission of mine to defend modern Opera, nor indeed the Opera of any particular age. The real point at issue is the comparative merit of Oratorio and Opera, and I say again that I fail to see where Mr. Statham has adduced any convincing arguments to prove his point. He has plenty of grievancesI have endeavoured as accurately as I can to enumerate thembut in what exact relation these grievances stand to each other it is extremely difficult to discover. Whether it is the supposed waning of Handel's popularity that weighs most heavily upon his mind, or the present 'cult of Bach '-he assures us that it exists-or the meretricious attractions of the Wagnerian legends with their dragons' and 'rocking-horses,' I leave the
readers of his article to decide. But I should prefer to believe that the real cause of his revolt against the music-lovers of the day is a temperamental one. For he says, it will be observed : ‘What is wanted is amusement and novelty; a perfectly legitimate want, only it must not be mistaken for a craving for what is highest and most serious in musical art.'
And herein, I fancy, must be the secret of Mr. Statham's distress. It is the spirit of the age he is inveighing against : that trivial condition of mind which prompts the public to nibble at the dainty tit-bits of The Ring rather than test the more solid and nutritive properties of the Hallelujah Chorus. But may there not be ample room for both? That is the final question I would ask Mr. Statha'm. If he had laid less stress on this point, if he had eliminated that little word versus from his title and from his mind, I should have had fewer bones to pick with him. For, although the waning popularity of Oratorio may conceivably be a debatable point, I maintain that the notion of Opera' coming into direct opposition to it is one on which there cannot possibly be two opinions.
THE ACTION OF WOMEN IN THE
A GOOD deal has been written and said lately on the subject of women and politics, but little or no allusion has been made to the most important occasion on which they have exercised political power, and the object of this article is to enquire into the former position of women on that score in France, the arrangements which were made to increase their influence at the time of the Revolution, and the results of their action on public life. The authorities consulted have been chiefly Aulard and Taine, Acton and Morley. The valuable article written by the first of these in the Revue Bleue (March 19, 1898) is most interesting and informing.
As a matter of fact, the participation of women in the suffrage in France was not a new idea in 1788 when first referred to by Condorcet. Women possessing fiefs had votes in the provincial and municipal assemblies. In the 20th article of the royal mandate of January 24, 1789, it is said : Women, including unmarried women and widows, and minors of noble birth, provided that the said women, unmarried women, widows, and minors possess fiefs, can be represented by representatives of noble birth.' And the 12th article of the same mandate authorises a similar representation for regular ccclesiastical communities of both sexes, also for chapters and communities of unmarried women. Under these arrangements the deputies of the nobility and the clergy to the States-General owed their election partly to the votes of women. From this time onwards there were many pamphlets and petitions on this subject not, however, very radical or socialistic in their tendency. These have been mentioned by M. Cha'nin in his Génie de la Révolution, and by M. Amédée de la Faure in a small work called Le Socialisme dans la Révolution, both published in 1863.
It is perhaps difficult to write of the influence of women at this period without mentioning Marie Antoinette, who was a prominent factor in the great struggle, and whose personal charm and the perplexities of whose character have awakened as much contention and romance as those of Helen of Troy or Mary