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 There is one field of culture—namely, music—in which Great Britain has played so small and negligible a part that it would seem impossible, even for the passionately patriotic editors of the Encyclop?dia Britannica, to find any basis on which an impressive monument to England could be erected. Great Britain, admittedly, possesses but slight musical significance when compared with other nations. The organisms of her environment, the temper of her intellect, her very intellectual fibre, are opposed to the creation of musical composition. This art in England, save during the Elizabethan era, has been largely a by-product. No great musical genius has come out of Great Britain; and in modern times she has not produced even a great second-rate composer. So evident is England’s deficiency in this field, that any one insisting upon it runs the risk of being set down a platitudinarian. Even British critics of the better class have not been backward in admitting the[123] musical poverty of their nation; and many good histories of music have come out of England: indeed, one of the very best encyclop?dias on this subject was written by Sir George Grove.
To attempt to place England on an equal footing with other nations in the realm of music is to alter obvious facts. Name all the truly great composers since 1700, and not one of them will be an Englishman. In fact, it is possible to write an extensive history of music from that date to the present time without once referring to Great Britain. England, as the world knows, is not a musical nation. Her temperament is not suited to subtle complexities of plastic harmonic expression. Her modern composers are without importance; and for every one of her foremost musical creators there can be named a dozen from other nations who are equally inspired, and yet who hold no place in the world’s musical evolution because of contemporary fellow-countrymen who overshadow them.
As I have said, it would seem impossible, even for so narrowly provincial and chauvinistic a work as the Encyclop?dia Britannica, to find any plausible basis for the glorification of English musical genius. But where others fail to achieve the impossible, the Britannica succeeds. In the present instance, however, the task has been difficult,[124] for there is a certain limit to the undeserved praise which even a blatant partisan can confer on English composers; and there is such a paucity of conspicuous names in the British musical field that an encyclop?dia editor finds it difficult to gather enough of them together to make an extensive patriotic showing. He can, however, omit or neglect truly significant names of other nations while giving undue prominence to second- and third-rate English composers.
And this is exactly the method followed by the editors of the Britannica. But the disproportionments are so obvious, the omissions so glaring, and the biographies and articles so distorted, both as to space and comment, that almost any one with a knowledge of music will be immediately struck by their absurdity and injustice. Modern musical culture, as set forth in this encyclop?dia, is more biased than any other branch of culture. In this field the limits of the Britannica’s insularity would seem to have been reached.
I have yet to see even a short history of modern music which is not more informative and complete, and from which a far better idea of musical evolution could not be gained. And I know of no recent book of composers, no matter how brief, which does not give more comprehensive information concerning musical writers than does that[125] “supreme book of knowledge,” the Encyclop?dia Britannica. So deficient is it in its data, and so many great and significant modern composers are denied biographical mention in it, that one is led to the conclusion that little or no effort was made to bring it up-to-date.
It would be impossible in this short chapter to set down anywhere near all the inadequacies, omissions and disproportions which inform the Britannica’s treatment of music. Therefore I shall confine myself largely to modern music, since this subject is of foremost, vital concern at present; and I shall merely indicate the more glaring instances of incompleteness and neglect. Furthermore, I shall make only enough comparisons between the way in which British music is treated and the way in which the music of other nations is treated, to indicate the partisanship which underlies the outlook of this self-styled “international” and “universal” reference work.
Let us first regard the general article Music. In that division of the article entitled, Recent Music—that is, music during the last sixty or seventy-five years—we find the following astonishing division of space: recent German music receives just eleven lines; recent French music, thirty-eight lines, or less than half a column; recent Italian music, nineteen lines; recent Russian[126] music, thirteen lines; and recent British music, nearly four columns, or two full pages!
Regard these figures a moment. That period of German musical composition which embraced such men as Humperdinck, Richard Strauss, Karl Goldmark, Hugo Wolf, Gustav Mahler, Bruch, Reinecke, and von Bülow, is allotted only eleven lines, and only two of the above names are even mentioned! And yet modern British music, which is of vastly lesser importance, is given thirty-five times as much space as modern German music, and ten times as much space as modern French music! In these figures we have an example of prejudice and discrimination which it would be hard to match in any other book or music in existence. It is unnecessary to criticise such bias: the figures themselves are more eloquently condemning than any comment could possibly be. And it is to this article on recent music, with its almost unbelievable distortions of relative importance, that thousands of Americans will apply for information. Furthermore, in the article Opera there is no discussion of modern realistic developments, and the names of Puccini and Charpentier are not even included!
In the biographies of English composers is to be encountered the same sort of prejudice and exaggeration. Sterndale Bennett, the inferior British[127] Mendelssohn, is given nearly a column, and in the criticism of him we read: “The principal charm of Bennett’s compositions (not to mention his absolute mastery of the musical form) consists in the tenderness of their conception, rising occasionally to sweetest musical intensity.” Turning from Bennett, the absolute master of form, to William Thomas Best, the English organist, we find nearly a half-column biography of fulsome praise, in which Best is written down as an “all-round musician.” Henry Bishop receives two-thirds of a column. “His melodies are clear, flowing, appropriate and often charming; and his harmony is always pure, simple and sweet.”
Alfred Cellier is accorded nearly half a column, in which we are told that his music was “invariably distinguished by elegance and refinement.” Frederick Cowen also wrote music which was “refined”; and in his three-fourths-of-a-column biography it is stated that “he succeeds wonderfully in finding graceful expression for the poetical idea.” John Field infused “elegance” into his music. His biography is over half a column in length, and we learn that his nocturnes “remain all but unrivaled for their tenderness and dreaminess of conception, combined with a continuous flow of beautiful melody.”
Edward Elgar receives no less than two-thirds[128] of a column, in which are such phrases as “fine work,” “important compositions,” and “stirring melody.” Furthermore, his first orchestral symphony was “a work of marked power and beauty, developing the symphonic form with the originality of a real master of his art.” The world outside of England will be somewhat astonished to know that Elgar took part in the development of the symphonic form and that he was a real master of music. John Hatton, in a two-thirds-of-a-column biography, is praised, but not without reservation. He might, says the article, have gained a place of higher distinction among English composers “had it not been for his irresistible animal spirits and a want of artistic reverence.” He was, no doubt, without the “elegance” and “refinement” which seem to characterize so many English composers.
But Charles Parry evidently had no shortcomings to detract from his colossal and heaven-kissing genius. He is given a biography of nearly a column, and it is packed with praise. In some of his compositions to sacred words “are revealed the highest qualities of music.” He has “skill in piling up climax after climax, and command of every choral resource.” But this is not all. In some of his works “he shows himself master of the orchestra”; and his “exquisite”[129] chamber music and part-songs “maintain the high standard of his greater works.” Not even here does his genius expire. Agamemnon “is among the most impressive compositions of the kind.” Furthermore, The Frogs is a “striking example of humor in music.” All this would seem to be enough glory for any man, but Parry has not only piled Pelion on Ossa but has scaled Olympus. Outside his creative music, “his work for music was of the greatest importance”; his Art of Music is a “splendid monument of musical literature.” ... There is even more of this kind of eulogy—too much of it to quote here; but, once you read it, you cannot help feeling that the famous triumvirate, Brahms, Bach and Beethoven, has now become the quartet, Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, and Parry.
The vein of William Shield’s melody “was conceived in the purest and most delicate taste”; and his biography is half a column in length. Goring Thomas is accorded two-thirds of a column; and it is stated that not only does his music reveal “a great talent for dramatic composition and a real gift of refined and beautiful melody,” but that he was “personally the most admirable of men.” Michael Costa, on the other hand, was evidently not personally admirable, for in his half-column biography we read: “He[130] was the great conductor of his day, but both his musical and his human sympathies were somewhat limited.” (Costa was a Spaniard by birth.) Samuel Wesley, Jr.’s, anthems are “masterly in design, fine in inspiration and expression, and noble in character.” His biography runs to half a column. Even Wesley, Sr., has a third of a column biography.
The most amazing biography from the standpoint of length, however, is that of Sir Arthur Sullivan. It runs to three and a third columns (being much longer than Haydn’s!) and is full of high praise of a narrowly provincial character. Thomas Attwood receives a half-column biography; Balfe, the composer of The Bohemian Girl, receives nearly a column; Julius Benedict, two-thirds of a column; William Jackson, nearly two-thirds of a column; Mackenzie, over three-fourths of a column; John Stainer, two-thirds of a column; Charles Stanford, nearly a column; Macfarren, over half a column; Henry Hugo Pierson, half a column; John Hullah, considerably over half a column; William Crotch, over half a column; Joseph Barnby, nearly half a column; John Braham, two-thirds of a column. And many others of no greater importance receive liberal biographies—for instance, Frederic Clay, John Barnett, George Elvey, John Goss, MacCunn,[131] James Turle, and William Vincent Wallace.
Bearing all this in mind, we will now glance at the biographies of modern German composers in the Encyclop?dia Britannica. Johann Strauss, perhaps the greatest of all waltz writers, is given only half a column, less space than that given to John Field or William Crotch; and the only criticism of his music is contained in the sentence: “In Paris he associated himself with Musard, whose quadrilles became not much less popular than his own waltzes; but his greatest successes were achieved in London.” Hummel, the most brilliant virtuoso of his day, whose concertos and masses are still popular, receives less space than John Hatton.
But what of Brahms, one of the three great composers of the world? Incredible as it may seem, he is given a biography even shorter than that of Sir Arthur Sullivan! And Robert Franz, perhaps the greatest lyrical writer since Schubert, receives considerably less space than William Jackson. Richard Strauss is allotted only a column and two-thirds, about equal space with Charles Burney, the musical historian, and William Byrd; and in it we are given little idea of his greatness. In fact, the critic definitely says that it remains to be seen for what Strauss’s name will[132] live! When one thinks of the tremendous influence which Strauss has had, and of the way in which he has altered the musical conceptions of the world, one can only wonder, astounded, why, in an encyclop?dia as lengthy as the Britannica, he should be dismissed with so inadequate and inept a biography.
After such injustice in the case of Strauss, it does not astonish one to find that Max Bruch, one of the most noteworthy figures in modern German music, and Reinecke, an important composer and long a professor at the Leipsic Conservatory, should receive only thirty lines each. But the neglect of Strauss hardly prepared us for the brief and incomplete record which passes for Humperdinck’s biography—a biography shorter than that of Cramer, William Hawes, Henry Lazarus, the English clarinettist, and Henry Smart!
Mendelssohn, the great English idol, receives a biography out of all proportion to his importance—a biography twice as long as that of Brahms, and considerably longer than either Schumann’s or Schubert’s! And it is full of effulgent praise and more than intimates that Mendelssohn’s counterpoint was like Bach’s, that his sonata-form resembled Beethoven’s, and that he invented a new style no less original than Schubert’s! Remembering the parochial criterion by which the[133] Encyclop?dia’s editors judge art, we may perhaps account for this amazing partiality to Mendelssohn by the following ludicrous quotation from his biography: “His earnestness as a Christian needs no stronger testimony than that afforded by his own delineation of the character of St. Paul; but it is not too much to say that his heart and life were pure as those of a little child.”
Although Hugo Wolf’s biography is a column and a half in length, Konradin Kreutzer gets only eighteen lines; Nicolai, who wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor, only ten lines; Suppé, only fifteen; Nessler, only twelve; Franz Abt, only ten; Henselt, only twenty-six; Heller, only twenty-two; Lortzing, only twenty; and Thalberg, only twenty-eight. In order to realize how much prejudice, either conscious or unconscious, entered into these biographies, compare the amounts of space with those given to the English composers above mentioned. Even Raff receives a shorter biography than Mackenzie; and von Bülow’s and Goldmark’s biographies are briefer than Cowen’s.
But where the Encyclop?dia Britannica shows its utter inadequacy as a guide to modern music is in the long list of omission. For instance, there is no biography of Marschner, whose Hans Heiling still survives in Germany; of Friedrich Silcher,[134] who wrote most of the famous German “folk-songs”; of Gustav Mahler, one of the truly important symphonists of modern times; of the Scharwenka brothers; or of Georg Alfred Schumann—all sufficiently important to have a place in an encyclop?dia like the Britannica.
But—what is even more inexcusable—Max Reger, one of the most famous German composers of the day, has no biography. Nor has Eugen d’Albert, renowned for both his chamber music and operas. (D’Albert repudiated his English antecedents and settled in Germany.) Kreisler also is omitted, although Kubelik, five years Kreisler’s junior, draws a biography. In view of the obvious contempt which the Encyclop?dia Britannica has for America, it may be noted in this connection that Kreisler’s first great success was achieved in America, whereas Kubelik made his success in London before coming to this country.
Among the German and Austrian composers who are without biographical mention in the Britannica, are several of the most significant musical creators of modern times—men who are world figures and whose music is known on every concert stage in the civilized world. On what possible grounds are Mahler, Reger and Eugen d’Albert denied biographies in an encyclop?dia[135] which dares advertise itself as a “complete library of k............
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