Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music

Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music

Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music

Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music

Excerpt

(1928)

LIKE most classical terms, chamber music has meant different things at different periods, and has developed by evolution. It is a mistake to try to reduce early and late products of an evolutionary process to a common definition. There are theoretical objections to any limit that can be proposed. These may be removed by a statement which clearly shows the relation of what is excluded from the main scope of this essay to what is included.

The great change which came over the whole art of music after the middle of the eighteenth century affected chamber music no less profoundly than it affected opera. Nobody would quarrel with a history of opera for beginning with Gluck, so long as it did not wholly ignore his antecedents, archaic, prophetic, and decadent. But the kind of operatic art from which Gluck revolted rested on principles so radically and, to our notions, so obviously wrong, that all attempts to revive it must savour of antiquarianism. This is not the case with the chamber music of the earlier eighteenth century; its principles, though now obsolete, were consistent and true to the nature of the instruments, and its masterpieces can never become antiquated. And their quantity is enormous. The whole mass of the chamber music of Bach, Handel, the Italian violin masters, and the French clavecinists must be far more voluminous than the sum-total of important chamber music from Haydn onwards, even if vocal music be excluded. And to review it, or even to read a review of it, is a task at which librarians might quail.

Fortunately for the reader, though it cannot be ruled out on artistic grounds, it is all based on two principles which are radically opposed to those of the later classical chamber music. Accordingly, my first part is devoted to illustrating the theory and practice of the continuo in the earlier chamber music, with occasional remarks on the other archaic principle, the mechanical use of 4-foot and 16-foot stops on the harpsichord and organ, the instruments to which the continuo was entrusted.

Though much has been written about the continuo, no writer has hitherto shown its relation to the aesthetics of later chamber music. But unless this relation is clearly understood, we cannot properly understand the revolution effected by Haydn and Mozart, nor fully appreciate the qualities of purity and euphony in chamber-music style. The continuo and the use of 4-foot and . . .

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