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Music And Supermusic
by [?]

Popularity is scarcely a test. I have mentioned Mendelssohn. Never was there a more popular composer, and yet aside from the violin concerto what work of his has maintained its place in the concert repertory? Yet Chopin, whose name is seldom absent from the program of a pianist, was a god in his own time and the most brilliant woman of his epoch fell in love with him, as Philip Moeller has recently reminded us in his very amusing play. On the other hand there is the case of Robert Franz whose songs never achieved real popularity during his lifetime, but which are frequently, almost invariably indeed, to be found on song recital programs today and which are more and more appreciated. The critics are praising him, the public likes him: they buy his songs. And there is also the case of Max Reger who was not popular, is not popular, and never will be popular.

Can we judge music by academic standards? Certainly not. Even the hoary old academicians themselves can answer this question correctly if you put it in relation to any composer born before 1820. The greatest composers have seldom respected the rules. Beethoven in his last sonatas and string quartets slapped all the pedants in the ears; yet I believe you will find astonishingly few rules broken by Mozart, one of the gods in the mythology of art music, and Berlioz, who broke all the rules, is more interesting to us today as a writer of prose than as a writer of music.

Is simple music supermusic? Certainly not invariably. Vedrai Carino is a simple tune, almost as simple as a folk-song and we set great store by it; yet Michael William Balfe wrote twenty-seven operas filled with similarly simple tunes and in a selective draft of composers his number would probably be 9,768. The Ave Maria of Schubert is a simple tune; so is the Meditation from Thais. Why do we say that one is better than the other.

Or is supermusic always grand, sad, noble, or emotional? There must be another violent head shaking here. The air from Oberon, Ocean, thou mighty monster, is so grand that scarcely a singer can be found today capable of interpreting it, although many sopranos puff and steam through it, for all the world like pinguid gentlemen climbing the stairs to the towers of Notre Dame. The Fifth Symphony of Beethoven is both grand and noble; probably no one will be found who will deny that it is supermusic, but Mahler’s Symphony of the Thousand is likewise grand and noble, and futile and bombastic to boot. Or sai chi l’onore is a grand air, but Robert je t’aime is equally grand in intention, at least. Der Tod und das Madchen is sad; so is Les Larmes in Werther…. But a very great deal of supermusic is neither grand nor sad. Haydn’s symphonies are usually as light-hearted and as light-waisted as possible. Mozart’s Figaro scarcely seems to have a care. Listen to Beethoven’s Fourth and Eighth Symphonies, Il Barbiere again, Die Meistersinger…. But do not be misled: Massenet’s Don Quichotte is light music; so is Mascagni’s Lodoletta….

Is music to be prized and taken to our hearts because it is contrapuntal and complex? We frequently hear it urged that Bach (who was more or less forgotten for a hundred years, by the way) was the greatest of composers and his music is especially intricate. He is the one composer, indeed, who can never be played with one finger! But poor unimportant forgotten Max Reger also wrote in the most complicated forms; the great Gluck in the simplest. Gluck, indeed, has even been considered weak in counterpoint and fugue. Meyerbeer, it is said, was also weak in counterpoint and fugue. Is he therefor to be regarded as the peer of Gluck? Is Mozart’s G minor Symphony more important (because it is more complicated) than the same composer’s, Batti, Batti ?