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, Vol. 66, No. 988 (Jun. 1, 1925), pp. 503-505 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/912827 Accessed: 04/12/2009 14:00
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from being really simple, except perhaps in a few of the Mazurkas ?-the part of his work which is so little in general favour as to justify the conclusion that it is not deeply characteristic of the composer. One might ask the same question of Liszt if one could be sure that as a composer he was a true genius. Can it be that to the fastidious Chopin some secret was withheld which was revealed to the bourgeois Schubert; and can this have happened precisely because the one was fastidious and lived in salons and the other was bourgeois and drank beer? FRENCH COMPOSERS: A NOTE ON MAURICE RAVEL'S LATEST WORK
By SCOTT GODDARD
It is no longer to be doubted that the time has come when the attention of musicians which has been so long focussed on things French is being turned elsewhere. The change has taken place so gently as to be almost imperceptible. It will certainly remain incomprehensible to the sectional musician for some time to come. But the fact remains that Paris has ceased to be in the vanguard of musical evolution. It has given up that place which it so clearly seemed to hold at the time of the Versailles Treaty. Since then the music that has come from Paris-with the exception of what Stravinsky, who is not very French, has put forth-has shown a pre-occupation with questions of style, with the perfection and elaboration of what has already been attained, but not at all with fresh endeavour. It is not as yet easy to see where the forward movement in music will most definitely show itself. Possibly in Spain, where de Falla continues to strengthen his position as a poetic craftsman. More probably among the Austrians, who acknowledge Schonberg as their source of inspiration. But wherever it goes, it has already left France, and the time is not far distant when a critical survey may be made of the achievements of the Parisian school (or schools) of composition. Within the last few months two outstanding and widely-different examples of modern French music have been heard in London. One of them is in connection with the season of ballet that M. Diaghilev produced at the Coliseum when 'Le Train Bleu,' by Darius Milhaud, was given. The other important occurrence is the first performance for many years in this country of Vincent d'Indy's Pianoforte Sonata in E minor, by Mr. Angus Morrison at Wigmore Hall on January i2 last. Between these two aspects of modern French music a gulf is fixed. The distance between the two is greater than that which exists between Ravel, to take a single instance, and either of them. For it is undeniable that if M. Cocteau, the spokesman of the young group, just delicately sneers at Ravel and his work, he ignores d'Indy and his output altogether as being negligible in their effect upon the onward march of
French music. And, conversely, if d'Indy holds out the hand of friendship to Ravel with a dignified condescension, he will have nothing to do with these younger people or with their Maitre d'Auteuil, M. Satie. And thus the chasm widens year by year, work by work. All d'Indy's predilections start from the point where Cesar Franck placed him during the years in which he learnt from that master. Added to this there is the vieille noblesse of his ancestry which fitted him for the romantic classicism of Franck and his circle. He underwent that schooling to the utmost extent of his, and of its, powers; wrote a remarkable reminiscent, critical biography of his master; and now-head of the Schola Cantorum that he and Charles Bordes founded, itself a tangent from the Franck circle -sustains the position of leader of the classicist section of French composers. The Pianoforte Sonata in E minor is classical in shape: its economy of material is very stern. Two themes dominate the whole work. They are the germ from which springs every melodic outline that appears as the work goes forward. This economy is managed with great subtlety. The common relationship is never so insisted upon as to become obvious. At the opening a theme and four variations are combined into what approximates closely to the form of the first movement of a classical sonata. The last movement of the three passes in review the thematic material of the preceding ones. As might be expected, the strongest influence that is felt in this work is that of Cesar Franck. In shape of phrase, in technique of pianoforte writing, in many moments of lofty expressiveness, Franck's example is the motive force. From this affinity d'Indy goes forward, however, farther than Franck ever dreamed of going. He is less detached, spiritually, than his master, and is awake to sensations more mundane. Franck studied fairly deeply, or, at least, read far, into Beethoven, and in passing on to his pupils the result of that attachment, transformed the Beethovenic ideas and ideals into something quite other than those Beethoven himself stood for. In Franck the late Beethoven found a resting-place that was all softness and suavity, where angularity was rounded off and roughness planed down. The curious thing is, however, that without the later Beethoven Franck could not have written his pianoforte pieces as they now stand, and that the influence, though so tempered, is still so strong. D'Indy seems, for once, to have been chary of accepting his master's readings of Beethoven, and to have gone himself to the original source. There he has found more than Franck ever allowed for, and in this Sonata the influence of Beethoven, enlarging the bounds of form and procedure, making use of the virtuosity of the pianoforte in a ruthlessly masterful way, surpasses the less virile methods of the Franck school. To the ample design of Beethoven and the graceful phrases of Franck, other influences are joined. The work is, in fact,
a historian's composition. Now it is the rhythm of the Russian composers, now the harmonies of Debussy. The work as a whole is a massive conglomeration of affinities, a comprehensive oversight of the attainments of the last hundred years or more. And yet when all this has been said, there remains over sufficient vitality in the conception, enough personality in the workmanship of phrases and movements, to give the work a reasonable existence of its own apart from questions of extraneous sources of inspiration. Above all, the Sonata is deeply and sincerely felt. It is also very soundly constructed. It will hardly appeal at first hearing even to the most receptive audience. There is a terse severity surrounding its melodies, and there is not much in it that pleases instantaneously. Familiarity with the score brings to light an increasing number of examples of fine thought and delicate appreciation of the values of tone and line. The Sonata can be 'placed with Ravel's 'Gaspard de la Nuit' (written in I908, a year later than d'Indy's work) as one of the highest achievements of contemporary French pianoforte music. The differences between the two works are obvious. The things expressed, and the method of their expression, are both dissimilar. The works are alike in the way in which they both succeed in doing things on the pianoforte that could not have been done with the same amount of effectiveness on any other instrument or combination of instruments. They are pure pianoforte music, both slightly tinged with the influence of Liszt's technique of pianoforte playing. A comparison of the two compositions instantly reveals divergence of outlook, but shows as clearly the perfection of form that French music always possesses, strengthened by a depth of meaning that is perhaps more unusual. Between d'Indy and the 'PEcole d'Auteuil' there stands the now solitary figure of Ravel. In the retirement of a country existence Ravel pursues with undisturbed composure a way that is hidden from all. Having early been exalted into a sort of enfant terrible of his art, he has now come to be considered a kind of Don Quixote. (In this signification it may be allowed to consider M. Roland Manuel as his Sancho Panza.) Suspected alike by the classicists and by the younger groups, uneasily acknowledged to be yet as full of vitality as ever, he occupies a position above the battle. From time to time he throws out a fresh work to be worried at by the opposing factions. He is as difficult to label as ever. It is as impossible as ever it was to foresee his next move. He does not shrink from holding the view that it is not needful to hold any view at all. It may even be that he does not clearly see whither he is going or what his goal is. In that case he would assuredly be the first to plead guilty to the charge. He shares with Schonberg this gift of the tentative explorer's humble-mindedness. None the less it can hardly be said with justifica-
tion that because of this uncertainty he will not go ahead of the point that he has already reached. His purely technical gifts are undeniably serviceable. The road he is travelling seems to be an arduous an,d circuitous one. In the meantime, while the 'Ecole d'Auteuil' feels itself superior to him, he removes himself ever farther away from it and what it stands for. It is probable that he it is who will effect a junction between the Parisian and Viennese idioms. Already in the Duet Sonata (for violin and 'cello) he seems to be directing his work towards that point. Maurice Ravel's latest work, produced at Monte Carlo in March, is a 'Lyric Fantasy' in two parts with no break between. The libretto is by Colette, the authoress who has made it her aim to interpret the state of mind of animals, giving them an almost human impress. At the same time she seems to have tinged her really human characters, such as Claudine in ' La Retraite Sentimentale' and Renee in 'La Vagabonde,' with a curious and disquieting animalism. In this little play which Ravel has set, 'L'Enfant et les Sortileges' ('The Child and the Enchantment'), Colette has taken animals for the larger number of characters. And though the child is certainly a little beast, he is a ' beast' in the school-boy sense of the word, not at all an animal like Colette's other heroes and heroines. The play represents the chastisement and eventual repentance of this beastly little boy, who has always delighted in pulling the wings off flies, pinning live dragon-flies to the wall, pulling the cat's tail, poking the caged squirrel with a pin, and cruelly annoying all that surround him. The scene opens with the entry of his Mother into the nursery, and his refusal to 'be a good boy.' She leaves him with his punishment-rations, and he exults in his naughtiness, pouring water on the fire, slashing the hangings with the poker, until suddenly the old easy-chair starts to move across the room and, to the child's horror and amazement, starts a colloquy and dance with the little Louis XV. chair. The two tell each other of the bad treatment they have received at the hands of the horrid little boy, and in turn the other pieces of furniture move and talk, all vowing vengeance. The pieces of torn tapestry rise up, and the figures of shepherds and shepherdesses dance sadly. The torn fragments of a picture-book stir, and from out of the midst of them there comes a Fairy Princess who mourns her broken life. The child goes to the fire, in his fright. The fire spits at him. The cats come in and make love before his eyes. He finds himself in the garden (the second part of the opera), and hears the tree moan over its bleeding bark cut by a knife. The animals threaten him-bats, owls, squirrels. (It is like the scene in the forest in Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows,' where the animals get lost in the winter dark.) Suddenly all the enraged beasts fall on the child and start rending him. In the fight he manages to creep to a corner, and there finds a little squirrel with a wounded paw. He has a moment in which to
LISZT'S attempt to bind up the wound before he faints away. The animals are filled with consternation. 'DANTE' SYMPHONY AND TONE-POEMS They bear him to the house. His mother comes By M.-D. CALVOCORESSI out just as he awakens,and the curtainfalls as he There can be no question that the 'Dante' cries out 'Maman!' Such a tale should make a good opera. It is Symphony ranks foremost, together with the among Liszt's orchestralworks. sufficiently far-fetched for operatic presentation. 'Faust' Symphony, There is no strainingafter an impossible realism. I must confess to being even fonder of the 'Dante' The whole thing is so frankly make-believe that Symphonythan of the 'Faust' Symphony. I find all the operatic conventions can be accepted it more compact in texture; I find the interest throughwithout hindrance. Ravel has filled the score moresustainedand moreevenly distributed with lovely music. All the little dances are out, as regardsthe ideas and their treatment. distinctly characterised. The harmonic colouring The most remarkablefeature of the first movevehemence. The music is very varied. The rhythmic basis is ever- ment is its extraordinary changing,there being such unusual measures as a grips the listener at once, and holds him spell'Valse Americaine'and a kind of music-hall-songbound until the end. The form may be described, Fox-trot, which are balanced by an old French roughly,as that of a triptych: for there is a middle dance for pipes and tabors. There is much fine section, lyrical and tender in character-it is coloratura for ' Fire' and for the 'Nightingale.' inspired by the episode of Paolo and FrancescaAnd the whole work ends with a piece of delicate that stands in strong contrast with the seething choral writingin the style of ' Ma Mere l'Oye,' as turmoilof the first and third sections. But apart finely expressedas anything Ravel has done. In from the reliefwhichthis contrastaffords,the music the score there are pages which show a certain does not lag a single instant, nor give the listener likeness to the methods of the Duet Sonata. The breathing space. rhythmsof ' La Valse' are used with more rapid There is a good deal of insistent repetition, but it is never felt that Liszt is repeating himself modificationsand with increasingeffect. Of the orchestration there is as yet no chance otiosely. The hypercritical reader of the scoreto judge, though this may be taken for granted though not, I believe, the listener-may perhaps as adequate, it being the one province of the art make an exception in the case of a few bars in which even those who can see no good in him (seventeen in all) in the Andante Amoroso of the as regards general ability as a composer agree middle section, which it is possible, a la rigueur, to cut if one considers things from the purely that Ravel never fails. The circle of young composersthat is at present formal point of view, at the expense of the most acceptable to the general public consists of psychological. But apart from that. the pace is those who at first were placed together under the sustained and the substance never thins out. misleading title of 'Les Six,' and now are labelled Another noteworthy point is that the dramatic as the 'tcole d'Auteuil,' a designation as vague grandeur is marred by no single trace of histrionic, as the former one. CertainlyM. Satie does live melodramatic over-emphasis. There is no single at Auteuil, and it is of course to him that instance of meretricious facility. And a third MM. Poulenc and Auric owe the definition of point is the perfect homogeneity and compactness their undoubted talent. The simplicity that of the texture. Although a reading of the score M. Satie shows forth in his compositions is may suggest that Liszt indulges too freely upheld by these young composers. Each of in purely chromatic patterns and trains of their works reaffirms this attitude. It is too diminished sevenths, the music does not ramble early to say whether this return to a pre-Bach nor convey the impression of holding together simplicityis more than mere attitudinising. After loosely or precariously. Here is a purely chromatic all, not a few great movements in art started in theme from the introduction in the first section: some such way. Time must be allowed these Ex. I. A young Frenchmen in order that they may show 4 &? ^ I more fully the amount of truth that is in them. 4--L They may also be able at the same time to show t: L. how much there ever has been in M. Satie. It is just the kind of thing which, used as
The Aberystwyth Musical Festival, which takes place o June 26, 27, 28, and 29, promises to be an interestin event. Modern writers will be represented by works fror the pen of Gustav Holst (' St. Paul's' Suite and Balle music from 'The Perfect Fool'), Vaughan William ('Pastoral Symphony' and Mass in G minor), Coleridge Taylor (' Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast '), Rimsky-Korsako (Sinfonietta), Sinigaglia ('Le Baruffe Chiozotte '), an Delius ('On hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring'). Th conductors will be Dr. Vaughan Williams, Mr. Gusta Hoist, Dr. Adrian C. Boult, Dr. David de Lloyd, Sir Hug Allen, and Sir Walford Davies. Welsh choral items will b included in the programme,and on Sunday evening a singin,; festival will take place.
extensively as it happens to be, might lead to a mere see-saw or turning in a circle. But nothing of the kind occurs. The other-two main themes of the first sections are:
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