Music Criticism in Vienna, 1896-1897: Critically Moving Forms

By Sandra McColl | Go to book overview

5
The 'Canon' in the Concert Hall

I admit that in matters musical it is quite difficult, indeed an impossibility, to demonstrate the justification of a favourable or unfavourable opinion to newspaper readers in black and white. One critic says calmly, 'This quartet or this orchestral piece does not please me; it lacks unity, the art of coherence, contrast, development, etc.' The other, filled with inspiration, holds the score in front of his eyes and contends, 'But don't you see how here, just after the introductory bars, the violins (triplets! D minor!!) intone the first subject? Then the woodwinds come and take it up; then the brass enters in contrary motion while the double basses build up their rumbling. Now a small subsidiary theme that leads forward to the second subject. This is pp--what a pp! The oboe wails, the viola melts in melancholy, then suddenly a pair of shattering drum beats--general pause--tremolo--a sense of impending catastrophe! At last a third main motive enters (bar 250!), like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, armed and victorious. Just look at these note-heads, how they march in like a regiment of grenadiers. Now the masses join battle in counterpoint. And what do you say to this diminished seventh, in which the three themes collide? Is it not as if Wagner himself had put it in this place? At length the brutal power of the ophicleides and trumpets is defeated and the spirit soars aloft in the form of winged semiquaver passages on violins and clarinets. It ends in brilliant D major, ethereally dying away. What have you got against it?'--And perhaps the answer could sound like this: 'Against the accuracy of your analysis nothing; but the music still makes the same impression on me as it did before; its entirety, so beautifully explained, does not please me.'1

It would not require prior knowledge that Hofrat Woerz, the author of the above, was a 'conservative' to lead to a conclusion that of the two critics characterized--or caricatured--in this passage, he intended himself to be associated with the one to whom he gave the first and last word. The first critic attempts to justify his failure to like the work by referring to aspects of form and coherence which he assumes to be necessary and which he finds lacking. As if to prove that value-judgements based on musical form are not the sole province of his opponent, the second critic appears to be undertaking an analysis, but he is simply demonstrating his ability to erect the signposts at points of demarcation in a sonata-based musical structure. The real substance of his 'analysis' is to be found in the adjectives describing mood, the anthropomorphizing verbs, the emphasis

____________________
1
WSMZ 16 Nov. 1896, 3.

-169-

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Music Criticism in Vienna, 1896-1897: Critically Moving Forms
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Contents xii
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Papers, Critics, and Events 9
  • 1- The Papers and the Critics 11
  • 2- The Richness of Everyday Life 33
  • Part II- Politics, Civil and Artistic 85
  • 3- Civil Politics and Musical Opinion 87
  • 4- The Politics of Art In The Aftermath of Wagner 108
  • Part III- Beneath the Rhetoric 167
  • 5- The 'Canon' in the Concert Hall 169
  • 6- Opera, Drama, and The Artwork of the Future 199
  • Conclusion 223
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 233
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