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Symphonies and Their Meaning Part 28

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[Music: _Quietly and simply_ (Woodwind and horns) (With sustained chord of cellos)]

and seal to the whole. The rest is a final happy refrain of all the strains, where the husband's themes are clearly dominant.

CHAPTER XIX

ITALIAN SYMPHONIES

The present estate of music in Italy is an instance of the danger of prophecy in the broad realm of art. Wise words are daily heard on the rise and fall of a nation in art, or of a form like the symphony, as though a matter of certain fate, in strict analogy to the life of man.



Italy was so long regnant in music that she seems even yet its chosen land. We have quite forgotten how she herself learned at the feet of the masters from the distant North. For music is, after all, the art of the North; the solace for winter's desolation; an utterance of feeling without the model of a visible Nature.

And yet, with a prodigal stream of native melody and an ancient passion of religious rapture, Italy achieved masterpieces in the opposite fields of the Mass and of Opera. But for the more abstract plane of pure tonal forms it has somehow been supposed that she had neither a power nor a desire for expression. An Italian symphony seems almost an anomaly,--as strange a product as was once a German opera.

The blunt truth of actual events is that to-day a renascence has begun, not merely in melodic and dramatic lines; there is a new blending of the racial gift of song with a power of profound design.[A] Despite all historical philosophy, here is a new gushing forth from ancient fount, of which the world may rejoice and be refreshed.

[Footnote A: In the field of the _Lied_ the later group of Italians, such as Sinigaglia and Bossi, show a melodic spontaneity and a breadth of lyric treatment that we miss in the songs of modern French composers.

In his Overture "_Le Baruffe Chiozzote_" (The Disputes of the People of Chiozza) Sinigaglia has woven a charming piece with lightest touch of masterly art; a delicate humor of melody plays amid a wealth of counterpoint that is all free of a sense of learning.]

In a SYMPHONY BY GIOVANNI SGAMBATI,[A] IN D MAJOR, the form flows with such unpremeditated ease that it seems all to the manner born. It may be a new evidence that to-day national lines, at least in art, are vanishing; before long the national quality will be imperceptible and indeed irrelevant.

[Footnote A: Born in 1843.]

To be sure we see here an Italian touch in the simple artless stream of tune, the warm resonance, the buoyant spring of rhythm. The first movement stands out in the symphony with a subtler design than all the rest, though it does not lack the ringing note of jubilation.

The Andante is a pure lyric somewhat new in design and in feeling. It shows, too, an interesting contrast of opposite kinds of slower melody,--the one dark-hued and legend-like, from which the poet wings his flight to a hymnal rhapsody on a clear choral theme, with a rich setting of arpeggic harmonies. A strange halting or limping rhythm is continued throughout the former subject. In the big climax the feeling is strong of some great chant or rite, of vespers or Magnificat. Against convention the ending returns to the mood of sad legend.

The Scherzo is a sparkling chain of dancing tunes of which the third, of more intimate hue, somehow harks back to the second theme of the first movement.

A Trio, a dulcet, tender song of the wood, precedes the return of the Scherzo that ends with the speaking cadence from the first Allegro.

A Serenata must be regarded as a kind of Intermezzo, in the Cantilena manner, with an accompanying rhythm suggesting an ancient Spanish dance.

It stands as a foil between the gaiety of the Scherzo and the jubilation of the Finale.

The Finale is one festive idyll, full of ringing tune and almost bucolic lilt of dance. It reaches one of those happy jingles that we are glad to hear the composer singing to his heart's content.

_GIUSEPPE MARTUCCI. SYMPHONY IN D MINOR._[A]

[Footnote A: Giuseppe Martucci, 1856-1911.]

The very naturalness, the limpid flow of the melodic thought seem to resist analysis of the design. The listener's perception must be as nave and spontaneous as was the original conception.

There is, on the one hand, no mere adoption of a classical schedule of form, nor, on the other, the over-subtle workmanship of modern schools.

Fresh and resolute begins the virile theme with a main charm in the motion itself. It lies not in a tune here or there, but in a dual play of responsive phrases at the start, and then a continuous flow of further melody on the fillip of the original rhythm, indefinable of outline in a joyous chanting of bass and treble.

A first height reached, an expressive line in the following lull rises in the cellos, that is the essence of the contrasting idea, followed straightway by a brief phrase of the kind, like some turns of peasant song, that we can hear contentedly without ceasing.

[Music: (Cellos) (Lower reed, horns and strings)]

Again, as at the beginning, such a wealth of melodies sing together that not even the composer could know which he intended in chief. We merely feel, instead of the incisive ring of the first group, a quieter power of soothing beauty. Yet, heralded by a prelude of sweet strains, the expressive line now enters like a queenly figure over a new rhythmic motion, and flows on through delighting glimpses of new harmony to a striking climax.

[Music: (Flute and oboe, doubled below in clarinet) (Horn) (Strings)]

The story, now that the characters have appeared, continues in the main with the second browsing in soft lower strings, while the first (in its later phase) sings above in the wood transformed in mildness, though for a nonce the first motive strikes with decisive vigor. Later is a new heroic mood of minor, quickly softened when the companion melody appears. A chapter of more sombre hue follows, all with the lilt and pace of romantic ballad. At last the main hero returns as at the beginning, only in more splendid panoply, and rides on 'mid clattering suite to passionate triumph. And then, with quieter charm, sings again the second figure, with the delighting strains again and again rehearsed, matching the other with the power of sweetness.

One special idyll there is of carolling soft horn and clarinet, where a kind of lullaby flows like a distilled essence from the gentler play--of the heroic tune, before its last big verse, with a mighty flow of

[Music: _dolce e tranquillo_ (Horn) (Two horns) (Clarinet)]

sequence, and splendidly here the second figure crowns the pageant. At the passionate height, over long ringing chord, the latter sings a sonorous line in lengthened notes of the wood and horns. The first climax is here, in big coursing strains, then it slowly lulls, with a new verse of the idyll, to a final hush.

The second movement is a brief lyric with one main melody, sung at first by a solo cello amidst a weaving of muted strings; later it is taken up by the first violins. The solo cello returns for a further song in duet with the violins, where the violas, too, entwine their melody, or the cello is joined by the violins.

Now the chief melody returns for a richer and varied setting with horns and woodwind. At last the first violins, paired in octave with the cello, sing the full melody in a madrigal of lesser strains.

An epilogue answers the prologue of the beginning.

Equally brief is the true Scherzo, though merely entitled Allegretto,--a dainty frolic without the heavy brass, an indefinable conceit of airy fantasy, with here and there a line of sober melody peeping between the mischievous pranks. There is no contrasting Trio in the middle; but just before the end comes a quiet pace as of mock-gravity, before a final scamper.

A preluding fantasy begins in the mood of the early Allegro; a wistful melody of the clarinet plays more slowly between cryptic reminders of the first theme of the symphony. In sudden _Allegro risoluto_ over rumbling bass of strings, a mystic call of horns, harking far back, spreads its echoing ripples all about till it rises in united tones, with a clear, descending answer, much like the original first motive.

The latter now continues in the bass in large and smaller pace beneath a new tuneful treble of violins, while the call still roams a free course in the wind. Oft repeated is this resonation in paired harmonies, the lower phrase like an "obstinate bass."

Leaving the fantasy, the voices sing in simple choral lines a hymnal song in triumphal pace, with firm cadence and answer, ending at length in the descending

[Music: _Allegro risoluto_ _deciso_ (Strings, with added wood and horns)]

phrase. The full song is repeated, from the entrance of the latter, as though to stress the two main melodies. The marching chorus halts briefly when the clarinet begins again a mystic verse on the strain of the call, where the descending phrase is intermingled in the horns and strings.

There is a new horizon here. We can no longer speak with half-condescension of Italian simplicity, though another kind of primal feeling is mingled in a breadth of symphonic vein. We feel that our Italian poet has cast loose his leading strings and is revealing new glimpses through the classic form.

Against a free course of quicker figures rises in the horns the simple melodic call, with answer and counter-tunes in separate discussion. Here comes storming in a strident line of the inverted melody in the bassoon, quarrelling with the original motive in the clarinet. Then a group sing the song in dancing trip, descending against the stern rising theme of violas; or one choir follows on the heels of another. Now into the play intrudes the second melody, likewise in serried chase of imitation.

The two themes seem to be battling for dominance, and the former wins, shouting its primal tune in brass and wood, while the second sinks to a rude clattering rhythm in the bass. But out of the clash, where the descending phrase recurs in the basses, the second melody emerges in full sonorous song. Suddenly at the top of the verse rings out in stentorian brass the first theme of all the symphony to the opening chord of the Finale, just as it rang at the climax in the beginning.

A gentle duet of violins and clarinet seems to bring back the second melody of the first movement, and somehow, in the softer mood, shows a likeness with the second of the Finale. For a last surprise, the former idyll (of the first Allegro) returns and clearly proves the original guise of our latest main melody. As though to assure its own identity as prevailing motto, it has a special celebration in the final joyous revel.

CHAPTER XX

EDWARD ELGAR. AN ENGLISH SYMPHONY[A]

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