DaveGeorge Bernard Shaw wrote:Goetz Über Alles, by George Bernard Shaw
The World, 22 November 1893
I continue to be amazed at the way in which the younger generation plays the fiddle. Formerly there were only two sorts of violinists: the Paganinis or Sivoris, and the bad amateurs whose highest flight was an execrable attempt to scrape through a variation or two on The Carnival of Venice. The orchestral players I leave out altogether; for the trade knack they picked up under stress of breadwinning had nothing to do with violin-playing, as one found out when they got promoted to the leader's desk, and had to play an obbligato occasionally. Nowadays all that is changed in the most bewildering manner. Europe appears to be full of young ladies between twenty and thirty who can play all the regulation concertos -- Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruch, and Saint-Saëns -- and throw in Bach's Chaconne in D minor as a solo piece at the end of the concert.
And yet they are not geniuses, though they do with apparent ease the things that only geniuses used to do. I should be tempted to put it all down to the terrific determination with which women are qualifying themselves in all branches for an independent career, were it not that the improvement is discoverable in the young men also -- though, of course, no male can hope for such chances of shewing his mettle as are offered readily enough to young women. The fact is, people do not like concertos for their own sake. A concerto must have a hero or a heroine; and every plucky and passably pretty feminine violinist under thirty is a heroine in the imagination of the male audience; wheras a callow young man is not anybody's hero, having no touch of that art of personal beauty and dignity at which every woman with grit enough to face the public at all is at least a passable amateur. He can only play the hero if he is a real genius, wheras his female rival will be heroine enough for the public if she has worked hard enough to be able to play the concerto as her master tells her to play it. Hence we have half a dozen young ladies getting first-rate chances every season, whilst young men who can play as well, or better, languish for years unheard.
Take the case of Mr August Manns, for instance. His generosity to young gentlemen with unperformed orchestral scores is the theme of all our praises at present; and he is a second father to Miss Mary Cardew, Miss Frida Scotta, Miss Beatrice Langley, and the rest of our young lady violinists. But may I suggest to him that as all young gentlemen compose very much alike, and all young ladies play very much alike, it would be a relief if he were to transpose the sexes next season, and treat us to a series of compositions by young women and violin concerto performances by young men.
The fact is, I am getting tired of ladylike versions of Bruch's Concerto in G minor -- very agreeable and skilful, certainly, but utterly unmemorable. I was greatly pleased with Miss Beatrice Langley's playing of it at the Crystal Palace the other day: her youth, her dexterity, and her quick and delicate musical feeling would have earned her a handsome tribute of praise and encouragement from me a few years ago; but today, somehow, my mind keeps going back to that note at the end of the program: "This concerto was last played at the Saturday Concerts on February 25th, 1893, by Miss Mary Cardew." I was at that concert; and I remember being "greatly pleased" by Miss Mary Cardew's performance -- quite astonished, in fact, by her execution of the Bach chaconne.
But I had completely forgotten the concerto when the paragraph re-informed -- not reminded -- me of it. That may be my own fault, or Max Bruch's; and yet I do not forget Ysaÿe's performances of Bruch. Anyhow, I plead for a chance for the young male fiddler. However unattractive his sex might be, it must at least produce some small percentage of the beginners who deserve a chance with a concerto at our leading orchestral concerts.
The concert at which Miss Langley made her success, and, let me add, shewed some spirit and commonsense by giving the eternal Saint-Saëns a rest, and introducing a welcome novelty in the shape of a capriccio for violin and orchestra by Niels Gade, also gave a lift to Mr Granville Bantock, whose Caedmar, produced by Signor Lago, made us all curious about his overture, The Fire Worshippers. Unluckily, The Fire Worshippers turned out to be an earlier work than Caedmar, mainly occupied with a six-eight movement which was as pure Mendelssohn as Caedmar was pure Wagner. It explained why Mr Bantock got the Macfarren Scholarship at the R.A.M.; but it threw no new light on his development. The Mendelssohn Worshippers was followed by a performance of the Lohengrin prelude in A, finely executed by the wind, and very poorly indeed by the strings. The gem of the concert was Goetz's Symphony, which has fallen into neglect because, I suppose, it is the only real symphony that has been composed since Beethoven died. Beside it Mendelssohn's Scotch symphony is no symphony at all, but only an enchanting suite de pièces; Schubert's symphonies seem mere debauches of exquisitely musical thoughtlessness; and Schumann's, though genuinely symphonic in ambition, fall short in actual composition. Goetz alone among the modern symphonists is easily and unaffectedly successful from beginning to end.
He has the charm of Schubert without his brainlessness, the refinement and inspiration of Mendelssohn without his limitation and timid gentility, Schumann's sense of harmonic expression without his laboriousness, shortcoming, and dependence on external poetic stimulus; while as to unembarrassed mastery of the material of music, shewing itself in the Mozartian grace and responsiveness of his polyphony, he leaves all three of them simply nowhere. Brahms, who alone touches him in mere brute musical faculty, is a dolt in comparison to him.
You have to go to Mozart's finest quartets and quintets on the one hand, and to Die Meistersinger on the other, for work of the quality we find, not here and there, but continuously, in the Symphony in F and in The Taming of the Shrew, two masterpieces which place Goetz securely above all other German composers of the last hundred years, save only Mozart and Beethoven, Weber and Wagner. Of course, if Goetz were alive this would be an excellent reason for opposing him tooth and nail, for the same reasons that moved Salieri to oppose Mozart. A very little Goetz would certainly spoil the market for Festival symphonies; but now that the man is dead, why may we not have the symphony made a stock-piece at the London Symphony and Richter concerts, and performed oftener than once in four years at the Crystal Palace?
There is that beautiful Spring Overture, too, which the lamented Macfarren denounced as containing unlawful consecutive sevenths. Are we never to hear those consecutive sevenths again? Is it to be always Brahms and Bruch and Liszt, until our rising generation loses all sense of the subtle but immense difference between first-rate and second-rate in contemporary symphonic music?
From Goetz's Symphony to the second edition of Morocco Bound is one of those violent transitions which steel the critic to all reverses of fortune. Morocco Bound is not bad fun: its success, as I shall presently shew, is by no means undeserved. But it has certain defects which must be as objectionable to nine out of ten of the people in the theatre as they are to me. Take the orchestration, for example. Does anybody really enjoy music of which every alternate four bars or so is played fortissimo on two comets in unison, one trombone supplying a bass, two horns filling in the middle parts, and a side-drum rolling all the time con tutta la forza. The stridency and frequency of this exasperating noise at the Shaftesbury would try the endurance of an agricultural laborer, much less a nervous Londoner. I am prepared to put up with it at a circus or a second-rate music hall; but in a West End theatre, where a stall costs half a guinea, I protest against the marrowbones and cleaver. I find the same kind of fault in the performance of Mr Charles Danby as Higgins. He has plenty of fun in him; and he works hard and successfully to keep the piece going; but he makes an intolerable noise with that brazen voice of his, which at last begins to jar worse than the comets, horns, trombone, and side-drum all together. Mr Danby may imagine that since he represents a retired costermonger he must bawl through his part as if he were crying the contents of a barrow; but I can assure him, as a critic with a wide and catholic circle of acquaintances, that costermongers do not talk like that, even when they are crying their wares. Persuasiveness is the note of the coster in private conversation; and though in addressing the public he may be stentorian, he is not necessarily unmusical even then. If Mr Danby were a real coster, and were to rasp his customers' ears as he rasped mine nearly all the evening except when he was singing the plantation song, he would go home a bankrupt. Mr Shine, with an equally prominent part, makes fun quietly and with a certain grace and handsomeness which, even in the thinnest parts of the play, protect the audience from being worried. Mr Danby should take the edge off his voice, and provide his grotesque humor with a background of human feeling and expression, however superficial. At present he discounts his fun and amusing feats of activity by that callousness to gratuitously harsh sounds and ugly sights which makes all the difference between the style of an opera comedian like Mr Rutland Barrington, for instance, and that of a music hall "comic."
There is another feature common to Morocco Bound and most entertainments of its class against which I venture to protest. The authors of these works are nothing if not preternaturally smart. It is their boast that there is nothing heavy or Shakespearean about them. Why, then, are they licensed to bore us with elaborate plots and "expositions" thereof which would not be tolerated for a moment from Shakespear or Goethe? In Morocco Bound there is a plot involving the most complicated family relationships. It is of no use, of no interest: it is tedious, inept, unpardonable; and yet the characters stand there fruitlessly trying to explain it for five minutes at a time as if it were the most succulent dramatic poetry, or the most incandescent comedy. Even if the explanation were successful, and left me in complete command of the fictitious reasons for the presence of Miss Agnes Hewitt, Miss Jennie McNulty, and the rest, I could quite well dispense with them, as I am perfectly willing to accept the company of those ladies without asking any questions. But when the explanation is totally unintelligible, the last excuse for pestering me with it vanishes. If the management must have an "exposition," they had better employ Ibsen or some other reasonably lively person to contrive it for them.
The success of Morocco Bound centres round a single artist -- Miss Letty Lind. Sarasate's playing is not more exquisite than her dancing: it is a delight to see her simply march across the stage in time to the music. She is no mere skirt-dancer: if she were invisible from the waist downwards, the motion of her head and wrists would still persuade me to give her anybody's head on a charger -- and this is the test of the perfect dancer as distinguished from the mere step-dancer. She gives us all the grace of classical dancing without its insufferable pedantry and its worn-out forms. Her caricatures of academic dancing and amateur dancing are most delicately touched; even the wrestling trick by which Mr Danby throws her heels over head does not disturb her grace and simplicity one jot.
I can quite understand that people go again and again to Morocco Bound to see her; and as she manages to sing very prettily and ingeniously without the formality of a voice, and acts humorously to boot, I do not think I need hesitate to credit her with practically the entire success of the piece, though I must duly allow that young Mr Grossmith, Mr Cohn Coop, and the others kept matters at a very lively pitch between whiles, with Mr Templar Saxe and Miss Maggie Roberts to throw in an occasional drawing-room ballad as a concession to the claims of high art.
David Stybr, Engineer and Composer: It's Left Brain vs. Right Brain: best 2 falls out of 3
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http://www.SibeliusMusic.com/cgi-bin/sh ... reid=74514
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Penguin Putnam ~ Signet, New York, NY