Music: An Art and a Language

By Walter Raymond Spalding | Go to book overview

Chopin's works are so instinct with genius and have proved to be so immortal that they may well be considered as ideal witnesses to the triumph of quality over mere quantity or sensational display. To-day, when we suffer from musical bombast, their refined message is of special significance.


CHAPTER XV
BERLIOZ AND LISZT. PROGRAMME MUSIC

THERE is no doubt that Hector Berlioz ( 1803-1869), however varied the appeal of his music to different temperaments, is an artistic personality to be reckoned with; one not to be ticketed and laid on the shelf. Although a century and more has elapsed since his birth the permanent value of his music is still debated, often amusingly enough, by those who seem unaware that, whatever the theoretical rights of the case, in practice his principles are the reigning ones in modern music. As Berlioz stands as the foremost representative of program music and never wrote anything without a title, it is certain that before his music or influence can be appreciated, the mind must be cleared of prejudice and we must recognize that modern program music is a condition -- an artistic fact, not a theory -- and that the tendency towards specific, subjective expression (whether manifested in song, opera or symphonic poem) is a dominant one among present day composers. It is true that all music is the expression in tones of the imagination of the composer; true, also, that music must fulfil certain conditions of its own being. But imaginations differ. That of Berlioz, for example, was quite a new phehomenon; and as for the working principles of musical composition, they are as much subject to modification as any other form of human experimentation. Berlioz, himself, says that he never intended to subvert the laws of music, only to make a new and individal use of them. As he was no abstract maker of music, his autobiography -- one of the most fascinating in the history of art, only to be compared with that of Benvenuto Cellini -- should be familiar to all who would penetrate the secrets of his style. Berlioz's compositions, in fact, are more specifically autobiographic than those of any other notable musician. Both in his music and his literary works are the same notes of passionate insistence on his own point of view, of radical

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