Critical and Historical Essays: Lectures Delivered at Columbia University

By Edward MacDowell; W. J. Baltzell | Go to book overview

XV
THE DEVELOPMENT OF PIANOFORTE MUSIC

UP to the time of Beethoven, music for the pianoforte consisted mainly of programme music of the purely descriptive order, that is to say, it was generally imitative of natural or artificial externals. To be sure, if we go back to the old clavecinists, and examine the sonatas of Kuhnau, sundry pieces by Couperin, Rameau, and the Germans, Froberger, C. P. E. Bach and others, we find the beginnings of that higher order of programme music which deals directly with the emotions; and not only that, but which aims at causing the hearer to go beyond the actual sounds heard, in pursuance of a train of thought primarily suggested by this music.

To find this art of programme music, as we may call it, brought to a full flower, we must seek in the mystic utterances of Robert Schumann. It is wise to keep in mind, however, that although Schumann's piano music certainly answers to our definition of the higher programme music, it also marks the dividing line between emotional programme music without a well-defined object and that dramatically emotional art which we have every reason to believe was aimed at by Beethoven in many of his sonatas, and which, in its logical development and broadened out

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