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'elix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, whose :nt death is still a matter of regret, not y to those who enjoyed the peculiar i pin ess of his personal friendship, but ill who loye the art of music, is reded, in Europe, as one of the great uni*al geniuses of our time. Although v a few of his compositions are known e, it may still be presumed that a re>> of the labors of such a man will be nd neither uninteresting nor uninstruc
it was perhaps not in his lifetime, not il now, that we can review the whole his works collectively, regarding them her as one chain of ideas that develops '■ progress and the entirety of his gea, than as so many separate composing, that the world is capable of assign; to Mendelsshon his true rank as a muian; but, now that we have before us a mplete panorama of his mind in the iole of its productions, we feel justified the impression so long entertained, that i grade is with the highest, and that we ost own in him the true associate of ich, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beeoven. His claims to this eminence lie the purely classical character of all his riting, by which is to be understood not erely cold correctness, but irresistible auty in the highest style of musical exession; and in the striking originality at so obviously manifests itself in all his orks as to give them an individuality hich, it is not too much to say, is not » be found in the music of any of the 'eat composers with whose names his is ire classed, and which, devoid of mansrism, can hardly be attributed to the Elected works of any other musician. This assertion is so strong, and includes > much, that it may require some explaation to justify it; and, as this individulity forms a most important characteristic f Mendelssohn's genius, it may not be sulerfluous to enter somewhat at length into a discussion. Let it then be first underbid what is here meant by originality in
music. A composer is by no means to be charged with a want of originality who may have written a phrase that is more or less like, or even identical with, some phrase that has been written by another. Of such accidental coincidences examples are innumerable in the works of the most esteemed masters; for instance, one of the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues of Bach, the chorus "And with his stripes" in the Messiah of Handel, the second movement of the Requiem of Mozart, and the Adagio in the Overture to Faust of Spohr, are all constructed on the same subject; the chorus " Happy we" in Handel's Acis and Galatea is a popular Welsh national air; the Page's song, " Voi che sapete," in Mozart's Figaro, is unmistakably like the Sicilian hymn "Adeste fideles;" the trio "Zitti, zitti," in Rossini's Barbiere, is note for note the same with the air "With joy th' impatient husbandman" in The Seasons of Haydn; and the introductory chorus, "Light as fairy foot," from Weber's Oberon, opens with the same melody, and the same, somewhat remarkable, harmony, with a principal passage in the first movement of the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven : but for all this we surely condemn not Handel, Mozart, Weber, Spohr, Rossini, as plagiarists and imitators.
Style may be said to consist rather in general characteristics than in particular ideas; in a composer's habits of thought, and the forms of construction and elaboration in which such thought is developed, than in any peculiar, pwrhaps exceptional, passage. It is the unlikeness of the style of an author to any archetype that constitutes his originality, and not the resemblance of any one or more of his phrases, however originally treated, to some phrase previously known, that constitutes his want of it. There may not exist a parallel passago in the works of two authors, and yet what is seen to constitute the style of both may be so similar as to deprive him who wrote second of a claim to originality, at least to such originality as will distinguish his music from all that preceded it. Thus we find the colossal masses of elaboration, in which the genius of Bach declares itself to the wondering student of the present day, are composed in the form, and made up of the passages which were conventional in his time. The same thing is more noticeable in the works of Handel, as with his contemporaries we are more familiar; and although this composer founded that grandest of musical works, the Oratorio, and in his Messiah and Israel in Egypt, produced in it a degree of sublimity that can never be exceeded, if indeed ever approached in this form of composition, and in the matter with which that form is filled up, he but extended and surpassed what was prevalent before and about him. In Haydn, again, we find the phraseology of his age; his first violin quartets are nothing more than so many series of minuets and other dance tunes, less pretensive, indeed, than the suites de pieces, sonatas, and other instrumental compositions that preceded them: by degrees he modified his form, until in his later quartets and symphonies he produced what the adoption of all his great successors and the opinion of all the world prove to be the perfect model of instrumental composition, which, as there will always be the example, not only of his own orchestral and chamber works, but also of those no less imperishable of Mozart, Beethoven, Spohr, and Mendelssohn, cannot but remain, like the division into five acts, and the other accepted rules of construction in dramatic poetry, the approved form and classical model of instrumental music. Mozart, with all his excelling beauty, walked but in the footsteps of Haydn; he may indeed be said to have overtaken his illustrious friend, who was both his predecessor and his follower; for though Haydn founded the form of instrumental composition, and so set Mozart the great example, himself wrote all his best works after Mozart had shown him of what extreme beauty that form was capable. It was with Mozart equally with his predecessors, not only in the mould in which his great works are cast that his likeness to his age is observable; in his phraseology, in the idiom, so to speak, which he employed, we trace the same habit of thought as is expressed in |
Handel, Gluck, the classical Italian *ers, and that host of composers wh.->, t cause Mozart has so entirely exe#ltai" in their own manner, having little of • cellence but this manner in their work.: now wholly or nearly forgottea. fc thoven—to proceed chronologically k: examination of musical greatness—»cc pletely adopted the style of Mozart, a his compositions for the first third' career may be mistaken for produce t this great original, and even what e i garded as peculiar in them is evident i development of a portion of the srrk this master, which was by himself a exercised; so that when we find exsaji of it in his own works, such as in tk i movement of his great Pianaforte Soa in C minor, we are forced to describe: the expression Beethovenish. In ii critics designate the second and third a riods of the expansion of Beethoven s? nius, there is a striking breaking :« from this style of his predecessors, vhis early self, which, were the presets 4 ject an analysis of this composer's *-'i would afford matter for much discus?' as it is, however, it will be sufficient the purpose to advance that it is lj means a single opinion, that the peeM ity which pervades his later works a" ther the result of a wilful endeavor to I unlike others, which, with a less ei^J mind, could but have produced a W failure, than the involuntary outpocfl of an original invention. These gres: Eh all individual in their greatness, and <"» unlike the others, as separate from ail d world in their surpassing excellent.; each like all in their phrases and in ih forms, both being gradually modified t: the progress of the art, and even • fashion of their respective periods. A-'enlarging so much upon the want of ginality, in a certain sense, of these p1 masters, it is necessary for the entire >'■ planation of what is meant by the ~-"1 characteristic here attributed to Mend'" sohn, to adduce some instances of mE composers that have also possessed Before all then must be mentioned rV'rwho, as being the first to break thw*? the purely scholastic trammels of tfc: cient diatonic school to enter upon ikc! haustless field of the beautiful thtt * open to the modern musician is ll*1*1 mstible resources of chromatic harmony, id as the first to apply musical sounds to le poetical expression of words, and to le delineation of the wildest of the pasons, is to be considered as the most truly -iginal composer the world has known. , must be granted, indeed, that his speclat ions, as they must be esteemed, in the reviously unattempted combinations of iromatic harmony, are occasionally failres, producing effects equally harsh, unitisfactory, and inexplicable; and that his tpression sometimes degenerates into luicrous word-painting: but with all the xperience that has intervened, the same lings are to be remarked in the most aproved writers that have succeeded him; ad that his genius was not always at its ftppiest power, detracts not from the inoite honor that is due to him for the many xquisite beauties he has left us, and for le incalculable services he rendered to the rt by the new direction he gave to its ultivation. Let us lastly instance Weber, rhose peculiarity of phraseology, singular pplication of certain harmonies, and novel onduct of his dramatic pieces, decidedly onstitute a style—one that cannot be imiated, (since all who have attempted its doption have fallen into the most vapid lusical bathos,) and one that was in no repect anticipated. Most fascinating has >roved this Weberish style, no less to the lublic than to the host of composers who iave failed in the attempt to write in it; iut, in spite of its irresistible charms, an avestigation of all its peculiarities could ead only to the conclusion, that however eeming with originality, it is greatly wantng in what may purely be termed closicality.
This long digression is important to the subject, insomuch as it goes to explain the application of a term which is meant to xravey the chief idea of Mendelssohn's exsellence, and as it may serve to illustrate ■he position that this composer takes in •elation to those who have preceded him. It will be now to demonstrate, so far as Jie want of musical examples leaves it possible to do so, what are the peculiar ilaims to originality that Mendelssohn's music possesses. First, then, his phraseology is quite his own, but, while it is made up of such particular progressions as make A always recognizable as his, it has the
general clearness, fluency and force that associate it with all our ideas of what is beautiful. This phraseology is rendered the more powerful and striking by the support of harmonies which, though not unusual in themselves, are peculiar in their rhythmical distribution and sometimes in their progression and resolution. It is a favorite practice of Mendelssohn sometimes to continue one note through a long succession of chords—sometimes to continue one chord through a long succession of what can only be described as passing notes, but which are of such importance as entirely to influence the effect of the harmony: to select at random two striking examples, reference may be made to the opening of the ottet for string instruments, and to a passage in the chorus "Ye Spotted Snakes," in the Midsummer NUjht's Dream.
A more general remark upon his harmonies will be perhaps more to the purpose, which is, that he produces a peculiarly novel effect by the frequent introduction of the combinations, or, more particularly, the progressions of Bach and his era, as the basis and accompaniment of his own original phraseology, or of less individual modern passages; and it is not only that he employs these ancient progressions, but, entering into the spirit of them, he extends its exercise beyond even what Bach himself with all his infinity of contrivance ever practised.
More striking in itself, and far more important to the art, is his resolution of certain chromatic discords upon a principle occasionally hinted at in the middle and later works of Beethoven, but never carried to such an extent as it is by Mendelssohn in his earlier works; such for instance as the chord of the minor ninth on the tonic to the chord of the seventh on the dominant, with the progressions of the intervals of the seventh and ninth of the first chord to the third and fifth of the second, and many others which it would be here tedious to describe. There is the more merit in these innovations—discoveries they would be better named—on account of their being in direct violation of all pre-existing rules of harmony; and they evince the greatness of his genius as a philosopher no less than as a musician, by showing him capable of penetrating through the obscurity and prejudice of the schools to the truth of nature, and by his most successful practice to lay the foundation of a theory which in intelligence, in usefulness, in comprehension, and in what constitutes true philosophy, surpasses all that had ever before been advanced in musical and (so far as connected with music) acoustical science—a theory which translates the province of music from art to nature, and so dignifies its investigation in the scale of human study and research from the learning by rote of the arbitrary trammels of bygone times and obsolete schools, to the examination and comprehension of a subject the principles of which are as deeply rooted as those of perspective or of light itself.
Mendelssohn is again remarkable for great originality of construction; and this, while he preserves the general outline, or certainly its chief features, to which in what has been said of Haydn and his influence on the art allusion has already been made, manifests itself in the novelty of detail with which this classical outline is filled up. The Intermezzo or Scherto of Mendelssohn is a form and style of movement entirely his own. To illustrate that his originality was identical with his genius, and not, as was the case with Beethoven, a gradual modification of the style of others, we find an example of this novel conception in his very first published work, the set of Pianoforte Quartets dedicated to Goethe, that were composed and printed at a very early age while he was yet in his pupilage to Zelter, whose correspondence respecting him with Goethe contains such highly interesting particulars of the development of his extraordinary mind. Those who are acquainted with Mendelssohn's music will recognize the originality alluded to in the Scherzo of the Ottetto for string instruments, which, when he produced his symphony in C minor for the first time in London, he arranged for the orchestra, and introduced in the place of the original minuet and trio; the first of his instrumental movements in his dramatic music for A Midsummer Night's Dream; in the third movement of his symphony in A minor, and in the Scherzos of both his pianoforte trios ; of all which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to point out the happi
est example. The ceaseless excitement, not only of continually springing beauties that each flashes upon the hearer before his attention is released from that which precedes, but also in the intrinsic passion of the music itself that characterizes these movements, produces an effect more irresistibly captivating than anything that can be compared with it in the whole treasury of the art, and more completely carries one out of oneself, out of the world around, out of the cares, the thoughts, the very passions of the inward heart, identifying one's whole consciousness with the feeling it engenders, in a manner that only a work of highest genius cai affect the human sympathies—more completely and unanimously unites an audience with the author than perhaps any on* course of thought, or habit of thinking, how variously developed soever, that hi ever found expression in musical composition.
Another brilliant originality of Mendelssohn is the purely poetical overture, tie intention of which is to achieve more s musical than a dramatic effect, and 10 convey an impression more comprehensrff than the critic can .receive from the notfc alone, without the will so far to meet thf author in his meaning as to incline his mind to the suggestiveness which cooso tutes the chief feature of the wort Something to the same purpose had previously been accomplished in that mv vellous masterpiece, the Pastoral Symph' ny of Beethoven, at least in so far as tii. purpose is to convey the musical expression, without words, of the influence up>: the mind of actual things, and aeuc characters; but in the manner of effects that object, and in their method of appealing to the sympathy of their hean--the overtures to A Midsummer Sifi. Dream, the Isles of Fingal, and the Sofc« Melusine, may be said to stand qc alone.
Mendelssohn again exhibits an orisisstyle in his oratorios, which is manrcin the generally more dramatic chanw* they possess than the previous wortthat class, in the effect of contrast to — other pieces, and solemn repose in ti^ selves, which be produces by the introd-tion of his chorales ; and more partird*-" in Elijah, in his avoiding all the easr' tional, and one may almost say, tbe, in these days, pedantic parade of fuguewriting, which, by long acceptance, had begun to be recognized as an essential and unexceptional part of the constitution of an oratorio; retaining all of contrapuntal elaboration and ingenious and effective imitation that were necessary to show the earnestness of intention by giving solidity of character to the work, to produce the massive and imposing effect that the subject required, and to give that important musical interest to the composition which was to rank it with the grandest things of its class, rejecting all the mere forms of school-learning that fetter the genius of a composer and encumber the effect of his work.
In lighter music Mendelssohn has originated a great source of delight, to all who have true musical feeling, in his Songs without Words, for the pianoforte, which is elegant, nay more, often highly impassioned and always exquisitely melodious ,rifles, have nothing to exceed, and scarcely to parallel them; their form is quite "heir own, and their matter wholly their luthor's.
To the Concerto Mendelssohn has given .11 entirely original character; in the first jlace by the omission of the first Tutti, khich, albeit in a great number of instanes of the previous Concertos of some of he best writers for their various instruments, the most interesting portion of the omposition, and always the most impormt, as containing the proposition or anouncement of the subjects of which the smainder of the movement was constitute!, was still always felt to be a somewhat nomalous delay of the commencement of le Solo, in which, and in the performer, tust rest the chief attention and interest f the audience; and in the next place by le joining together of the three moveicnts, reserving the only complete and .tisfactory termination of the work until ie entire conclusion. This second feaj-e of Mendelssohn's Concertos, which ilongs also to his Symphony in A minor, us partially anticipated by the occasional lion of the Adagio and Rondo in the ,>iks of the same class of other comj.sers; but in these instances the slow iivemcnt may generally be said to form tlier a somewbat extended introduction
to the last than an entirely developed, self-interesting portion of the composition, as is the case in the Concertos of Mendelssohn, and in the separated movements of bis predecessors: there is closer example for it in the Symphony in C minor and the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, and in several of this composer's chamber works, where the Scherzo and the Finale, each being in itself complete as a separate movement, are so connected, the one so entirely growing out of the other, that they cannot be detached in performance. This is the sort of connection that Mendelssohn makes between his different movements; but what Beethoven does with the two last, Mendelssohn does with the whole work. To Beethoven may also be traced the idea of opening the Concerto with the introduction of the solo-player, of which we find examples in his pianoforte Concertos in E flat and in G; but only in so far as the idea was to draw at once the attention of the audience to the principal executant, can it be referred to this original, for in the examples alluded to, the introductory Solo for the pianoforte is purely preludial, and leads to the usual Tutti, which is of the length and importance to the rest of the movements as a sort of proem or argument to the whole, that it was and always had been the custom to make it, whereas in Mendelssohn's Concertos the solo instrument at once announces the chief subject of the movement, and so not only awakens the attention, but excites the interest of the audience at the very outset. Before quitting this branch of our subject, particular mention must be made of the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture; which, as an example of originality, must always be a perfect marvel of the human mind. A careful examination of all its features, and a comparison of them with all that had previously existed in the writings of other composers, must establish the conviction that there is more that is new in this one work than in any other one that has ever been produced. In the first place, it is a complete epitome of its author's style, containing the type of all the peculiarities of idea, character, phrase, harmony, construction, instrumentation, and every particular of outline and detail for which his style is remarkable; in the second place it presents many novelties, more