MUSIC to-day has become so complex and abstruse a science that the modern audience needs a thorough coaching before presuming to pass the threshold of a concert-hall.
"Music to hear. why hear'st thou music sadly" is but a prophecy of the conditions which beset us to- day, with the confusion of tongues and sounds of battle which accompany every new musical production in this country. The warfare waged over Parsifal and Strauss last winter was only a general engagement on a larger scale than the petty skirmishes to which the musical critics accustom us on the morrow of the performance of any novelty. And meantime the poor public are in the case of the sufferer " where doctors disagree." Mr. W. l. Henderson, whose stimulating book on " Modern Musical Drift" has just been published by Longmans, is frank enough to say that music is just at present in a transitional state, and "for the fleeting present we must hang pendulous between two positive extremes." Either Strauss (for it is Strauss who occupies the prominent position in the music world to-day for Mr. Henderson as for nearly all music lovers) is " a dreamer of grandly grotesque visions," or else his music is all "a monstrous joke."
The central question of music to-day to Mr. Henderson is, "How far can music go in the direction of depicting things which lie outside itself?" Programme music is no new thing-the question is, how far can it go? Can we accept Strauss's attempt "to put into music the sensuality of a libertine, his final satiety, his utter coldness of heart," as in Don Juan, or his effort to "portray with an orchestra the horrors of dissolution, the gasps, the struggles, the death-rattle, the tremor mortis," as in "Death and Apotheosis"? Are these things legitimate in music? Mr. Henderson thinks not, but that in them Strauss displayed a talent which makes Strauss one of the forces to be reckoned with, and that in "Heldenleben" he entered upon a clearer vision. Mr. Henderson feels convinced.
-"The Literary World: A Monthly Review of Current Literature," Volume 35 show more