Programme Music in the Last Four Centuries: A Contribution to the History of Musical Expression

By Frederick Niecks | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV.

FIFTH PERIOD CONTINUED: MENDELSSOHN.

Like Beethoven, MENDELSSOHN ( 1809-1847) cannot but be regarded by the opponents of programme music as an extremely inconvenient fact. Both are classicists and producers of unexceptionable absolute music (or what is supposed to be such), and yet have not recoiled from touching the unclean thing. Indeed, by what they have done these great masters have conclusively testified to the legitimacy of programme music. Mendelssohn is even a more inconvenient fact than Beethoven. For we have of him not only many pieces of acknowledged programme music, but we have also authoritative information about unacknowledged programmes, and various utterances by himself defining clearly his attitude towards the question. With regard to the last point, it should be noted that, although he disliked and shunned æsthetical discussions, he had considered the problems of his art, and knew how to express on occasion the conclusions he had come to. But what were these utterances First of all we have his remark that since Beethoven had taken the step he took in the Pastoral Symphony, it was impossible for composers to keep clear of programme music. Then we have his reply to the question of a correspondent who wanted to know what some of the Songs without Words meant. The composer declined to give the desired information; and he did so, not because of the indefiniteness of music, but because of the definiteness

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