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Chapelmaster Kreisler
by [?]

Poor Chapelmaster Kreisler! He has long been forgotten by the world in general, and even those few that still are acquainted with his weird portrait, smile at it as at a relic of a far distant time, when life and art and all other things looked strangely different from how they look now. Yet the crazy musician of Hoffmann is but the elder brother of all our modern composers. With the great masters of the last century, Haydn, Mozart, Cimarosa, who were scarcely in their graves when he improvised his great word fantasia, he has no longer any connection with our own musicians, born half a century after his end, he is closely linked, for, like him, they are romanticists. They do not indeed wear C sharp minor coloured coats, nor do they improvise in the dark on pianos with broken strings; they are perfectly sane and conscious of all their doings; yet, all the same, they are but Kreisler’s younger brothers. Like the poor chapelmaster of Hoffmann, music itself has a fantastic madness in it; like him, it has been crazed by disappointment, by jealousy, by impotent rage at finding that it cannot now do what it once did, and cannot yet do what will never be done; like Kreisler it deals no longer with mere sequences of melody and harmony, but with thoughts, feelings, and images, hopes and fears and despair, with wild chaotic visions of splendour and of ghastliness. But the position of our music differs from that of Kreisler in this much, that no friendly pair of snuffers crashes on to the strings and makes them fly asunder; that, while Kreisler spoke, our music can only play its fancies and whimsies; and that, instead of hearing intelligible spoken words, we hear only musical sounds which are gibberish and chaos.

For the time when men sought in music only for music’s own loveliness is gone by; and the time has come when all the arts trespass on each other’s ground, and, worst of all, when the arts which can give and show envy poetry, the art which can neither give nor show but only suggest, and when, for the sake of such suggestion, they would cheat us of all the real gifts–gifts of noble forms of line and colour, and sweet woofs of melody and harmony which they once gave us. The composer now wishes to make you see and feel all that he sees and feels in his imagination, the woods and seas, the joys and sorrows, all the confused day-dreams, sweet and drowsy, all the nightmare orgies which may pass through his brain; the sound has become the mere vehicle for this, the weak, vague language which he can only stammer and we can only divine; the artist breaks violently against the restraint of form, thinking to attain the unattainable beyond its limits, and sinks down baffled and impotent amidst ruin.

We are apt to think of music as of a sort of speech until, on examination, we find it has no defined meaning either for the speaker or for the listener. In reality, music and speech are as different and as separate as architecture and painting, as wholly opposed to each other as only those two things can be which, having started from the same point, have travelled in completely opposite directions, like the two great rivers which, originating on the same alp, flow respectively to the north, and to the south, each acquiring a separate character on its way–the one as the blue river of Germany, ending amidst the tide-torn sandbanks of the North Sea; the other as the green river of Provence, dying amidst the stagnant pools and fever-haunted marshes of the Mediterranean. As long as the Rhine and the Rhone are not yet Rhine and Rhone, but merely pools of snow-water among the glaciers, so long are they indistinguishable; but as soon as separated into distinct streams, their dissimilarity grows with every mile of their diverging course. So as to speech and music: as long as both exist only in embryo in the confused cries and rude imitations of the child or of the primitive people, they cannot be distinguished; but as soon as they can be called either speech or music, they become unlike and increase in dissimilarity in proportion as they develop. The cry and the imitative sound become, on the one hand, a word which, however rude, begins to have an arbitrary meaning, and, on the other hand, a song which, however uncouth, has no positive meaning; the word, as it develops, acquires a more precise and abstract signification, becomes more and more of a symbol; the song, as it develops, loses definite meaning, becomes more and more a complete unsymbolical form, until at length the word, having become a thing for use, a mere means of communication, ceases to require vocal utterance, and turns into a written sign; while the song, having become an object of mere pleasure, requires more and more musical development, and is transported from the lips of man to the strings of an instrument. But while speech and music are thus diverging, while the one is becoming more and more of an arbitrary symbol conveying an abstract idea, and the other is growing more and more into an artistic form conveying no idea, but pleasing the mind merely by its concrete form–while this divergence is taking place, a corresponding movement accompanies it which removes both speech and music farther and farther from their common origin: the cry of passion and the imitative sound. The Rhone and the Rhine are becoming not only less like each other, but as the one becomes green and the other blue, so also are both losing all trace of the original dull white of the snow water. In the word, the cry and the imitation are being effaced by arbitrary, symbolical use, by that phonetic change which shows how little a word as it exists for us retains of its original character; in the song they are being subdued by constant attempts at obtaining a more distinct and symmetrical shape, by the development of the single sounds and their arrangement with a view to pleasing the ear and mind. Yet both retain the power of resuming to a limited extent their original nature; but in proportion as the word or the song resumes the characteristics of the cry or of the imitation does each lose its own slowly elaborated value, the word as a suggester of thought, the song as a presenter of form. Now, in so far as the word is a word, or the song a song, its effect on the emotions is comparatively small: the word can awaken emotion only as a symbol, that is, indirectly and merely suggestively; the song can awaken emotion only inasmuch as it yet partakes of the nature of the brute cry or rude imitation. Thus, while language owes its emotional effects to the ideas arbitrarily connected with it, music owes its power over the heart to its sensuous elements as given by nature. But music exists as an art, that is to say, as an elaboration of the human mind, only inasmuch as those sensuous brute elements are held in check and measure, are made the slaves of an intellectual conception. The very first step in the formation of the art is the subjection of the emotional cry or the spontaneous imitation to a process of acoustic mensuration, by which the irregular sound becomes the regular, definite note ; the second step is the subjection of this already artificial sound to mensuration of time, by which it is made rhythmical; the third step is the subjection of this rhythmical sound to a comparative mensuration with other sounds, by which we obtain harmony; the last step is adjustment of this artificially obtained note and rhythm and harmony into that symmetrical and intellectually appreciable form which constitutes the work of art, for art begins only where the physical elements are subjected to an intellectual process, and it exists completely only where they abdicate their independence and become subservient to an intellectual design.