PP. 33-57

In 1886, the year in which Richard Strauss, with his Symphonic Fantasia, Aus Italien, made his first decided step away from the classical tradition, to which he had hitherto been a loyal and convinced adherent, the world of music presented an interesting and at the same time problematic aspect. The long and bitter struggle which had been waged for a whole generation between the partisans of Liszt on the one hand and those of Brahms on the other had practically been decided in favour of the former. The musical campaigns of Berlioz from London to Moscow, Paris to Budapest, which he himself had likened to those of Napoleon; the dazzling career of Liszt, and the irresistible magnetism of his personality; the almost legendary existence of Wagner, with its final triumphant apotheosis-all these things had at last completely conquered the sympathy and admiration of their contemporaries. But with the death of Wagner in 1883, followed by that of Liszt three years later (Berlioz had, of course, died some time before), the movement seemed to have come to a sudden and premature close. There was no figure of sufficiently outstanding eminence to give, a fresh impetus or a new direction to it, and the apostasy of von Bülow and other distinguished followers of the romantic banner seemed to have given the neo-classic school of Brahms a temporary ascendancy for the first time, from which it was not slow to profit.
It is a curiously ironical circumstance that von Bülow should have been the first to draw attention to and encourage the future leader of the movement on which
he himself had so decisively turned his back. But certainly he might well be excused for not having discerned a potential rebel in the quiet young man with the high ingenuous forehead, fair curly hair, baby-blue eyes, receding chin, and hesitant demeanour which the portraits of the period reveal: whose orthodoxy, amply attested by his symphony, sonatas, and quartets, must have seemed, even to the most acute and penetrating observer, beyond suspicion or reproach. Even to-day in full knowledge of his subsequent career, there is something not readily explicable in his sudden conversion. Strauss himself, surprisingly enough, attributes it to the influence of one Alexander Ritter, a nephew and enthusiastic admirer of Wagner, with whom he came into contact in the course of 1885. «It is to Ritter alone», he remarks, «that I am indebted for my knowledge of Liszt and Wagner; it was he who showed me the importance of the writings and works of these two masters in the history of art. It was he who by years of lesson and friendly counsel made me a Zukünftsmusiker, and set my feet on a road where now I can walk unaided and alone.»
This and similar assertions of his indebtedness to Ritter have often been quoted by Strauss's critics and biographers, but none of them seem to have realized what a very extraordinary admission it is. It is true that Strauss has recently been reproached with a lack of interest in contemporary developments, and he has perhaps always been comparatively indifferent to any other music but his own; but what are we to make of a young musician of twenty-one - i. e. at the most receptive and speculative period of his life - who, in spite of having already written a considerable number of works, was yet so little interested in the unprecedented controversy which had been raging for some twenty years or more in the musical world, that he had never even taken the trouble to make himself acquainted with either the personalities or the works Which had caused it? Is there in the history of any art a recorded instance of a similar psychological development?
However that may be, Wagnerians and Lisztians alike were both so frankly delighted at his appearance that his credentials and antecedents were not too closely scrutinized. He certainly seemed to be a most eligible young man who could be relied upon to maintain the honour of his house. Consequently, his first advances in Aus Italien were favourably received, and the romantic orthodoxy of his next work, Macbeth, was so unimpeachable, so irreproachable, that without further ado the widowed muse of Liszt and Wagner bestowed her hand and estates upon him, and he was at once proclaimed as the long awaited and predestined successor of the great triumvirate, Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner. But before we go on to consider his administration of the romantic estate it will first be necessary to devote a few words to a survey of its nature and extent.
Although it is no longer customary to speak of musical form in an absolute sense, there are nevertheless two abstract principles of design, two definitely conflicting formal tendencies in music, represented concretely by the sonata and the fugue. The former evolves from diversity to unity; its essential characteristic is to be found in the clash of opposing forces and of sharply contrasted ideas or moods. Two themes are postulated, and the subsequent course of the movement is spent in bringing them into mutual relation and equilibrium. Fugal form, on the other hand, progresses from unity to diversity, expanding and branching out into infinite complexity from a single germ or seed, like the oak from the acorn, relentlessly, inevitably, fatally. A fugue is indeed, in the words of Sir Thomas Browne, «a shadowed and hieroglyphical image of the whole world».
The main point of interest in the sonata lies in what we may term the plot, the intrigue, the action, in the picaresque adventurings of two themes through different keys, exciting situations, hairbreadth escapes, miraculous encounters, and unexpected 'dénouements' - in the pathos, to use the language of Aristotle. There is no plot in the fugue; there we are concerned only with the revelation of implicit possibilities, with the unfolding of what is already latent in the theme itself - in a word, with the ethos. Given the two themes of a sonata, no one could possibly hope to be able to determine, even approximately, the course of the drama which is impending, or to foretell with any degree of accuracy the triumphant unravelling of the knot, or the solution of the problem set forth ; everything is arbitrary and depends wholly on the element of the incalculable. The composer can at will change the whole current of events, can interfere despotically in the action like the Deus ex machina of Greek drama. But given the subject of a fugue, we can to a very great extent foresee its ultimate development if we have sufficient musicianship, because nothing can happen which is not preordained, as it were, predetermined, predestined, latent in embryo in the thematic germ. Fugue is not a problem, but a solution, a kind of square root, a deduction from evidence withheld. The composer can only develop what is there already. He is the slave of his own creation, as Frankenstein of his monster; like Wotan, he is controlled by forces greater than himself.
Now, the classical spirit, in whatever art it may happen to manifest itself, is primarily one of action, movement, and incident; consequently sonata form and its derivatives constitute the formal direction to which the classical mind inclines. The romantic spirit being essentially one of unity-of mood, subjectmatter, and thematic material-lyrical rather than dramatic, contemplative rather than active, it follows inevitably that the fugue is the romantic form par excellence. Hence we find that the great romantic composers were impelled by the very nature of their thought towards the formal principle embodied in fugal rather than in sonata form - i. e. the principle of unity rather than that of diversity of thematic material; the Berlioz idée-fixe and the Lisztian representative theme are both attempts to create a form more in accordance,with their requirements than the classical form, more suited to those conceptions which we call romantic.
Now let us return to Strauss. As I have already said, he adheres closely to the formal implications of the romantic ideal in the first of his series of symphonic Poems. In Macbeth there is nothing of the stress and aramatic conflict which characterizes the play; the whole work, with the exception of a few passing allusions to Lady Macbeth which are similar in character to the episodes of a fugue, consists in the delineation of the personality of the principal protagonist. In other words, the drama is purely psychological; the place of action is the hero's mind.
In Don Juan, which follows closely upon it, the tragedy is similarly enacted in the hero's soul. All the determinant factors in his downfall are to be found in his character, not in the more or less fortuitous incidents of his career. Anna, the Countess, the village maiden, the carnival scene, are all in the nature of intermezzi. The women are only gracious phantoms from the outside world, or, more accurately, mere projections of his own mind which flit across the surface of the work without shaping its course or exerting any influence in the final catastrophe. Nevertheless there is infinitely more diversity and action in Don Juan than in Macbeth. The episodes are of greater frequency and importance, and tend consequently to impair the unity of the work.
Tod und Verklärung, on the other hand, is again obviously modelled upon Lisztian prototypes. It is, in fact, only a thinly disguised variant of the most primitive and characteristic of that master's formal conceptions, as exemplified in Mazeppa, Prometheus, and Tasso-Lamento e trionfo. It is no mere coincidence that it should be, on the whole, quite apart from the question of its purely musical qualities, the most formally satisfying of all Strauss's larger orchestral works, because there is nothing in the poetic basis to interfere with the musical development which is of a quite remarkable continuity.
In Till Eulenspiegel, the next of the series, the Lisztian form is discarded in favour of the classical rondo, a choice which, it is both instructive and significant to observe, is largely dictated by the nature of the subject which Strauss has selected for treatment; indeed, it has frequently been said that one of his most noteworthy characteristics is his fine instinct for choosing the form which is best suited to his conception. Here, for example, the rondo form is peculiarly apposite to the nature of his programme. It is true that Till remains the central figure in the drama, but the action no longer takes place within his own consciousness, as in Don Juan or Macbeth. His personality undergoes no similar psychological change or development ; the main interest of the work lies precisely in the episodes, in his exploits and adventures ; consequently the romantic form would have been wholly unsuitable. This work constitutes a definite break with the old form.
In Also sprach Zarathustra Strauss reverts to the romantic conception. It conforms structurally to the principle of the transformation of a single theme which runs throughout the entire work, dominating it like a leitmotiv. This is again largely determined by the choice of subject. There is more of Faust in the character of the principal protagonist than of Nietzche's Zarathustra.
With Don Quixote, however, Strauss finally abandons the romantic symphonic poem form, and adopts in its place the classical variation, which, despiteits superficial similarity, is a very different thing. In the former the aim is to preserve and to emphasize the close relation between the transformations and the original theme which engenders them, and to reveal and affirm their essential underlying solidarity. In the latter, on the contrary, the object is rather to accentuate the difference between the successive variations, and to conceal, as far as possible, their common origin; and as the most remarkable characteristic of Don Quixote was the discrepancy between his fundamental sanity and his fantastic delusions, so the most striking feature of Strauss's work consists in the ingenious and extravagant distortions to which the theme. naturally so grave and knightly, is subjected.
Ein Heldenleben, although called a symphonic poem by the composer, is really nothing of the kind. Both in form and programme it is more in the nature of the first movement of a symphony, magnified and distended out of all proportion, and consists in strongly contrasted sections and in the conflict of opposing forces. The first three parts constitute the exposition, the battle section is the working-out, and the final sections are a recapitulation, not only of the work, but also of the hero's - i. e. his own-lif e and achievements.
Finally, the Sinfonia domestica, which follows at a distance of five years, is wholly classical both in form and programmatic intention, while the Alpine Symphony is again, like Heldenleben, a kind of gigantic first movement.
This necessarily brief exposition of Strauss's purely formal career reveals, first, a fluctuating alternation between the romantic and the classic forms, and a steady recession from the former, ending in the complete triumph of the latter ; secondly, a definite relation between this progression and his constantly growing predilection for pictorial and literary suggestions. It will be noted that the works in which they predominate are the farthest removed from the symphonic poem. This is no mere coincidence either, as we shall see if we reflect a little. The best symphonic poems will invariably be found to be those which contain the least amount of illustrative intention, and, as was shown in the preceding chapter, Liszt was very well aware of this. The reason is, of course, that the romantic form must evolve out of itself, must unfold itself by the force of its initial momentum. It cannot develop satisfactorily in accordance with the dictates of some extraneous literary intention. The symphony, on the other hand, can very much more easily be mapped out in accordance with some preconceived scheme; it is a far more architectural form, and as the architect is largely governed in his work by external considerations, such as the amount of space at his disposal and so forth, so the symphony lends itself much more readily to the realization of some preconceived literary scheme than does the symphonic poem. Consequently, Strauss's increasing tendency to sacrifice musical continuity and organic development to some illustrative purpose inevitably led him away from the romantic back to the old classic form. In his later works he builds in sections, according to some ground-plan, which he then brings into co-ordination and balance; the music does not grow spontaneously from bar to bar.
In short - and this is the point I wish particularly to make-Strauss, so far from being, in his orchestral works, as most critics suppose, the successor of Berlioz and Liszt, the master who extended and perfected their formal innovations, giving satisfactory shape to what were only, in their hands, tentative and imperfect experiments, was, on the contrary, directly opposed to them and their ideals ; so far from continuing and perfecting their achievement, he turned his back upon it.
His operatic sequence presents analogous features. The first opera, Guntram, which falls between Tod und Verklärung and Till Eulenspiegel, is, like Macbeth, essentially romantic in tendency and derivation, full of long soliloquies and entirely lacking in dramatic interest. Feuersnot, written some ten years later, after Heldenleben, is in the nature of a transition work. The action is much swifter, and is no longer, as in Guntram, held up in order to give vent to a purely musical impulse.
But it is not until we reach Salome, after his virtual abandonme ' nt of the concert hall for the theatre - i.e. after the Sinfonia domestica - that Strauss finally attains the goal towards which he had all the time
been perceptibly striving. - The pictorial element in his music which had been gradually assuming greater importance with each successive work had now finally gained the upper hand. The music is completely unintelligible without reference to the text; no opportunities are taken for the purposes of purely musical development. Not merely is the music illustrative of the action, but every bar is crowded with the most minute and graphic word-painting. Hardly an image contained in the text is allowe to pass without its musical equivalent, the texture of the score being made up almost entirely of a rapid and unending succession of literary images transposed into musical synonyms. In this work and in Elektra Strauss reached a terminal point beyond which it was manifestly impossible for anyone to go. They are the logical conclusion towards which all his works, from Aus Italien onwards, inevitably tend.
It is a curious and instructive paradox that the composer who most insistently proclaimed the, aesthetic falsity of the symphonic poem as a form, and the inability of programme music to make itself intelligible without the elucidatory aid of stage action, namely, Richard Wagner, should have achieved his most complete and homogeneous artistic success with a work which is to all intents and purposes a symphonic poem to which voice parts have been not too skilfully added; while Strauss, who had always upheld the legitimacy of the symphonic poem and had always been a convinced believer in the power of music, alone and unaided, to express practically anything, came ultimately to the music-drama as the most appropriate form for the realization of his artistic aims. Salome and Elektra are the logical outcome of Wagner's theories; Tristan is the most eloquent vindication of the Listzian ideals. The theories of both Wagner and Strauss are diametrically opposed to their practice.
And so we find that in the end Strauss is no more the successor of Wagner than of Liszt and Berlioz, and although he did unquestionably fall heir to the romantic heritage as regards orchestral technique, harmonic vocabulary, and idiom generally, he applied them to wholly different ends. His avowed object of bringing music into direct relation with daily life, and of developing its descriptive scope to such a pitch that it would be possible to depict a teaspoon in music, is at the opposite pole from the aim of the romantic composers, who sought to depict vague intangible moods and ideas rather than concrete realities, and are more attracted to the exotic, the strange, and the remote than to the commonplace actualities of everyday existence.
But, singularly enough, it is not this aspect of Strauss's art thgt has caused most controversy, but his endeavour to extend the graphic capacity of music to include abstract ideas as well. For example, a great deal of ink has been spilt over Zarathustra and the alleged inability of music to express philosophical conceptions. It is all the more curious because there is less actual illustration in this work than in almost any of his others. The misunderstanding probably originates in the mistaken idea that Nietzsche's work is an abstruse and highly recondite essay in metaphysics. Actually Nietzsche was not a philosopher at all, and only a very superficial though brilliant thinker. On the other hand, he was a great poet, and Zarathustra is really nothing but a magnificent prose poem. In what, one would like to know, does the inherent unsuitability for musical treatment of such suggestions as 'Religious Ideas', ' Joys and Passions', ' Of Knowledge', ' Dance Song, etc., consist? Ideas such as these-if indeed we can dignify them by the name of ideas - are the very stuff of which music has always been made, and probably always will be made. It is strange to find a critic of Mr. Newman's gifts swallowing whole Strauss's representations of wind-mills and bleating sheep, and yet objecting to his attempts at expressing abstract emotions. For example he instances a theme which Strauss introduces in Zarathustra, complaining that 'It no more suggests disgust than it does the toothache; and when at a later stage he (Strauss) brings in the theme in diminution and asks us to see in this the partly convalescent Zarathustra making sport of his previous depression of spirits we can only say that we are unable to oblige him'. This is very naïve and illogical. After all, does the aggregation of the seven letters in the word disgust convey any idea of the sensation of disgust, or does even the sound of the word? On the contrary the word only suggests it to us by virme of our tacit acceptance of an association.
Ultimately, no words express their meaning in the strict sense except onomatopocics such as 'hiss' or 'hush', but that is no reason why we should restrict our literature to the limited sphere of action to which they give access. All art depends on our acce tance of certain conventions; their artificiality does not necessarily invalidate the use which we make of them. In the Moscow Art Theatre, we are told, a strip of hanging drapery was employed. to represent the tower in Pelléas et Mélisande. It is beside the point to complain that it does not look in the least like a tower ; we are only asked to suppose for a moment that it is a tower, for the purposes of the play. Euclid would have been the first to admit that AB no more suggests a straight line than it does an able-bodied seaman, but without such elementary assumptions he is unable to prove his propositions. The fact that Strauss's theme might represent toothache just as well as disgust is wholly irrelevant.
The point is that once you admit the capacity of music to represent actualities and are prepared to justifly its employment for the purpose, it becomes impossible to draw the line at any definite place and say, 'This cannot be allowed'. In the same way that language originated in the formation and employment of words imitative of natural sounds and writing in pictorial representations of the object which was to be denoted, so the earliest and most primitive employment of music as a means of description is naturally to be found in the representation of more or less readily identifiable phenomena, such as the sound of running water, the rustle of leaves in the forest, or the songs of birds. It would be difficult to find any one to-day who was prepared to deny the power of music to suggest such things or to dispute the legitimacy of using it for that purpose. Yet it would be at least a logical position to take up, though in actual practice Mozart is probably the only composer of the highest rank who seems never to have exploited this resource of his art. But once you admit the validity of the procedure, you musi accept its logical implications. For as there are only a very limited number of phenomena which lend themselves to such direct and recognizable transcription, a convention or symbolic representation is employed in language and ideographic writing to correspond to a second group of concepts. In the Mexican pictographic writing, for example, the idea of famine or starvation was represented by a human figure with protruding ribs, eternity by a serpent with its tail in its mouth, and so forth. Similarly one can find in music innumerable attempts at giving a symbolic rendering of such ideas, particularly in the work of Wagner, whose sword, swan, and ring motives belong to this category.
Finally, there is the ideographic stage, in which there is no definite relation between the idea expressed and the characters which are used to express it. The connexion is purely arbitrary. It is this that Strauss has so often attempted to do, and in associating a more or less arbitrary sequence of notes with some particular idea he is not necessarily making music perform a task of which it is fundamentally incapable, or one which is outside its legitimate sphere of action. It is as well to remember that Bach, in his setting of the Credo in the great B minor Mass, has clearly shown - to quote the admirable words of Schweitzer - that the dogma of the Trinity 'can be expressed much more clearly and satisfactorily in music than in verbal formulae. His exegesis of these passages in the Nicene Creed has resolved the disputes that excited the Eastern world for generations and finally delivered it over to Islam; his presentation of the dogma even makes it acceptable and comprehensible to minds for whom dogma has no attraction.' In view of this and many similar instances in the work of the master, who would be bold enough to challenge the ability of music to express, with a mathematical precision surpassing even that of Spinoza, even the most abstract and metaphysical conceptions in philosophic thought? There is nothing music cannot be made to do in the hands of a man of genius; the fact that Strauss frequently, perhaps generally, fails to convince us, is not a consequence of the inherent disability of music to express his ideas, but simply because the majority of his ideas are not worth expressing, his intentions not worth realizing. Moreover, he is perpetually seeking to express in terms of music ideas which have already received complete and satisfactory expression in some other medium. The music of Salome and Elektra is largely a mere reduplication of what has already received dramatic and literary form, and these works are, in fact, a kind of artistic Rosetta stone expressing identical thoughts in two languages, literary and musical. Strauss does not, as Bach nearly always does, achieve something which could not just as well be achieved in any other artistic medium. It is the fault of Strauss, not of music; in a word, he has not sufficient genius.
The sudden volte-face which Strauss executed after Elektra has mystified and disconcerted many people, although in reality there is nothing at all extraordinary in it - indeed, it was only to be expected. Theexplanation of it is that Strauss never was a revolutionary artist or an innovator, either of the kind of Berlioz or Moussorgsky, who were instinctively and fundamentally in opposition to existing traditions from the very outset of their respective careers, nor of the type of which Wagner and Schönberg are examples, who only attain to their end after years of ceaseless endeavour to express themselves, and after countless doubts and hesitations. Psychologically Strauss is the very type of the conventional musician; in a less stormy and critical period the chances are that he would have continued to work contentedly and unquestioningly in the traditional forms of his time. His sudden and dramatic conversion to the aims and ideals of the romantic faith was due to circumstances and to environment rather than to natural inclination or inward conviction; besides, it was always more apparent than real.
Once this simple fact is grasped there is no mystery about Strauss ; it explains him and everything about him entirely. It explains, in the first place, the suspicious alacrity with which he suddenly became a Zukunftsmusiker after having been a docile follower of Brahms. For immature as the early works of a man of genius may be, one can always trace some kind of mental development or at least some kind of artistic connexion between them and the works of his maturity. This one cannot do in the music of Strauss. They seem, and are, totally unrelated to each other. It is only at the end of his career that the Kapellmeister shows himself again unmistakably.
It explains too the complete lack sincerity which every intelligent or sensitive student of his work cannot fail to recognize. He may sweep us off our feet for a moment, but he never convinces us. More than that even ; we feel that he is perpetually offering violence to his artistic conscience. In his heart of hearts he probably rather dislikes modern music, dislikes even his own, in the same way that Byron despised his own poetry, preferring that of Pope and Dryden. One finds in both musician and poet the same almost insulting insouciance and perversity, the same insatiable desire to startle and shock-always a sure symptom of spiritual discord and inner conflict.
Strauss's admiration of Mozart has often been regarded as a mere pose ; it never seems to have occurred to anyone to suspect that in reality it is his 'modernity' that is the pose, his love of Mozart the only genuine and sincere thing about him.
Above all does this explain the undercurrent of weariness and disgust, of satiety and disillusion which runs throughout his entire work like the idée fixe in the Sympbonie fantastique of Berlioz. As M. Romain Rolland'has said so admirably in his essay on Strauss, «Guntram kills Robert, and immediately lets fall his sword. The frenzied laugh of Zarathustra ends in an avowal of discouraged impotence. The delirious passion of Don Juan dies away in nothingness. Don Quixote in dying forswears his illusions. Even the Hero himself admits the futility of his work and seeks oblivion in an indifferent Nature.»
The ancient Greek dramatists were fond of depicting their heroes triumphing even in adversity, maintaining their spiritual integrity in the face of overwhelming disaster and irremediable defeat ; Strauss's heroes invariably prevail over their adversaries, but are defeated through some fatal weakness, some spiritual flaw within themselves. And so with Strauss himself; he has gained the whole world, but he has lost his soul. His whole career is symbolically mirrored in his own Don Juan - in the splendid vitality and high promise of the beginning, the subsequent period of cold and reckless perversity, the gradual oncoming of the inevitable nemesis of weariness and disillusion, until at last, in the words of Lenau, on whose poem the work is ostensibly based, «ergreift ihn der Ekel, und der ist der Teufel der ihn holt»; and the theme of disgust that is blared out triumphantly in Don Juan reappears in Zarathustra. In place of the arrogant triumphant figure conceived and portrayed by Nietzsche we are shown a man tormented by doubts and disillusion, desperately seeking relief in religion, passion, science, and intellectual ecstasy, and finally ending up where he began, in doubt and disillusion. Strauss's Zarathustra is, in fact, only an intellectual Don Juan-himself. A strange kind of a Superman, this; one wonders what Nietzsche would have to say to it.
Finally, what could be more natural, more understandable, than that this artistic Don Juan, this intellectual Faust, satiated with the exotic charms of Salome, and nauseated by the hate-drunken ravings of Elektra - his Donna Elvira, his Countess - should at the last turn back to the little country maid - his Mozart? «I have always wanted to write an opera like Mozart's,» he is reported to have said after the first performance of Der Rosenkavalier, «and now I have done it.» Never was a man more pathetically, grotesquely mistaken. One cannot spend most of one's life in a kind of spiritual debauchery, in pursuit of a false or unworthy ideal, as Strauss has done, even with the intention of ultimately achieving the work for which one is fitted, without fatally, inevitably killing something within oneself. Unfortunately, one only finds it out too late, and Strauss, in trying to achieve his long-deferred, long cherished, and secret ambition, failed hopelessly, miserably, tragically even. He was no longer capable of it. The divinely innocent and virginal Mozartean muse cannot be wooed and won like an Elektra or a Salome; all we find in Der Rosenkavalier is a worn-out, dissipated demi-mondaine, with powdered face, rouged lips, false hair, and a hideous leer. Strauss's muse has lost her chastity. Does he himself actually believe that Der Rosenkavalier is like Figaro? Are we to regard this declaration as a pathetic self-deception, or as the last crowning perversity? It would be difficult to say, and it is perhaps more charitable to infer the former.
It is unnecessary to devote much space to the consideration of Strauss's subsequent works. It is sufficient to say that they bear witness to the gradual degeneration and final extinction of his creative powers. There are still many happy moments in Der Rosenkavalier, but there are fewer and fewer in each successive work. Such as they are, it is the craftsman and not the artist who is responsible for them. From being a man of possibly unequal genius he has become a man of second-rate talent. His faculty of self-criticism, though never his strong point, has completely deserted him. The impurity of style and juxtaposition of dissimilar idioms which was always one of his outstanding faults is carried to a disconcerting extreme in Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten. In the first, Mozart dances a minuet with Mascagni, and Händel with Offenbach; in the second, Wagner is reconciled to Brahms, and Mendelssohn to Meyerbeer. Needless to say, this admixture of styles is not effected with any deliberate satirical intention, but from sheer lack of taste, and cynical indifference. He has manifestly no longer the desire to write a fine work, let alone the capacity. Even the workmanship in his later period is no longer distinguished, but slipshod, flaccid, and slovenly. Not only is the artist in Strauss dead, but even the craftsman has lost his conscience and integrity.
Music, it has often been said, is more subject to the law of change and to the caprices of fortune than any other art; the idiom of to-day is obsolete to-morrow, and the popular idol of one generation is almost invariably a subject of execration to the next. To become a leader of musical opinion is almost as invidious a distinction as to be elected president of a South American republic ; more poetically, each composer, like the priest of Nemi in Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough, slays his predecessor, and is fated to be himself in his turn slain by his successor.
It would be difficult to find a more striking example of this than Richard Strauss. Hailed on his appearance as the successor of Wagner - Richard the Second - only some ten years ago still, for most people, the most commanding figure in modern music, he is to-day, apart from Germany and Austria, almost ignored by the leaders of progressive musical opinion. No composer of such formerly unquestioned eminence has ever suffered such a startling change of fortune, such a sudden and decisive reversal of a favourable verdict.
That this is not due merely to the progressive deterioration of his talents - a fact readily admitted even by the rapidly dwindling and wellnigh extinct race of his admirers - is certain, although it may have helped to accelerate his downfall. For in this respect Strauss is by no means an isolated instance. Lack of staying power, inability to develop steadily from strength to strength, is one of the most familiar and alarming characteristics of the modern composer, who, to all intents and purposes, might-just as well be dead after his fortieth year for all that he subsequently achieves artistically. But with Debussy, whose fallingoff is no less painfully evident than that of Strauss, the comparative inferiority of this later work only serves to accentuate and to bring into higher relief the finer qualities of his earlier period. Strauss's decline, on the contrary, has thrown a searchlight upon the defects and failings of even his best work.
Again, it may be true that every artist who has achieved some degree of eminence must inevitably pass through a transition period of temporary neglect, indifference, and even contumely, preliminary to his final definitive assumption into the ranks of the immortals, but the sudden and dramatic eclipse of Strauss is of a very different order. Mortification has already set in before death, so to speak. His work is dead beyond the hope of any ultimate rehabilitation or triumphant resurrection. It has suddenly gone grey from the breath of a few brief years and even what had formerly seemed to be his most brilliant and radiant pages are already spotted by the phosphorescence of decay. In spite of his many great qualities, in spite even of a strain of real genius, he seems clearly fated to survive as a figure of only historical interest or significance, as a mummy artificially conserved in the museum of musical history - a melancholy prospect which should give pause to the more impassioned and unreflecting adherents of more recent idols, for whom, in all probability, the same fate is in store.
There are a few other specimens similarly embalmed to whom he bears a distinct resemblance - Spontini, for example, and Meyerbeer perhaps even more. It is curious to note incidentally that their careers present several striking analogies. All three, for example, held the same official post of Court Kapellmeister at Berlin, and were alike the musical dictators of their respective periods. Meyerbeer, it is interesting to note, was hailed as the successor of Beethoven in precisely the same way that Strauss was regarded as the heir of Wagner, and with as little justification. It Was the megalomaniac and exorbitant mechanical requirements of Spontini and the revelation of the simpler, purer art of Weber that was the immediate cause of the former's downfall-strikingly analogous in its suddenness and completeness to that of Strauss - and there is little doubt that the primary reason for Strauss's lapse from enlightened favour is to be sought in the recognition of the delicacy, subtlety, and economy of means which characterize the art of Debussy. The art of Strauss, whatever its qualities, is essentially, like that of Spontini and Meyerbeer, a synthesis of previously existing terms, a regrouping and reconstruction, however skilfully or carefully concealed, of elements previously exploited by others. The art of both Weber and Debussy, on the other hand, with all its limitations and serious defects, contains the element of novelty, the powerful enchantment of new horizons, the suggestion of a whole world of infinite and fascinating possibilities.
Meyerbeer has often been wrongly reproached with insincerity ; he simply lacked entirely any very strong or definite convictions. He was an artistic opportunist from want of a clear sense of direction rather than from a lack of moral integrity or conscience. One does not feel that he was in any way sacrificing his ideals and convictions by writing the kind of music which the public wanted him to write. But with Strauss, as we have already observed, one always feels the inner conflict between his conscience and his ambition, between his aspiration and his achievement. The source of all Strauss's perversity is to be found in the fact that whenever he has written a thoroughly sincere and deeply felt work, unspoilt by bravado and the wish to 'épater le bourgeois', he has invariably failed to achieve a popular success; the more rein he gave to his perversity, the more he was appreciated. «One should hear him speak in cold disdain of the public», writes Romain Rolland in the assay from which I have already quoted, «to know the sore that this triumphant artist hides.» We can well believe it; but unfortunately the only result of the failure of Guntram and Macbeth was to make him court by sensationalism the favour and appreciation which had been denied to his more musicianly qualities. For Strauss achievement had never been a sufficient reward in itself. With all his scorn for the public he has not hesitated to become its abject slave in return for applause and recognition.
Wagner undoubtedly loved riches, luxury, fame, applause, the homage and admiration of the public as much as any man, perhaps more than most. But these things were always incidental; they did not constitute the motive power behind his art. With all his faults as a man, with all his shortcomings as an artist, he worked 'ad majorem Dei gloriam'. Ultimately nothing else matters; it is the essential test of an artist's greatness. And with all his great gifts Strauss fails in this test. For it would be idle to deny him the possession of many, even of most, of the highest qualities we demand in a musician, and certainly of more than almost any of his contemporaries. He is one of the very few composers of to-day who have shown themselves capable of constructing works on a monumental scale, of holding our attention for long stretches at a time. There is a nervous energy and exuberance, particularly in his earlier work, a vitality and fertility of invention, which one may seek in vain elsewhere at the moment, and he is admittedly unsurpassed in the art of handling the modern orchestra. It is true, of course, that with such resources at one's disposal, anyone with only a very small modicum of talent can frequently achieve effects of quite surprising beauty.
But Strauss has much more than that; he has, or rather he had, real genius. The tragedy lies precisely in the fact that he might have been a very great artist. But as it is, one can only speculate as to which works, if any, stand a chance of surviving him. Always a difficult problem, it is more than usually so with Strauss, whose most interesting and characteristic achievements are nearly always the least satisfactory as whole works; when they are irreproachable from the point of view of form and are not spoilt by lapses of good taste, they are generally somewhat uninteresting. However much we may dislike Don Quixote, we would rather go to hear it than Macbeth; we would rather put up with the aesthetic monstrosities of Elektra than be compelled to sit out a performance of Guntram.
But this is probably only because Don Quixote and Elektra still sound comparatively novel and unfamiliar to us; their manifest imperfections must inevitably tell against them in the long run, and posterity will in all probability solve the problem by performing none of them. The same remarks apply equally to all the early and late works; they are either undistinguished or imperfect. But if one had to make a choice, it would be of Feuersnot and Salome before any of the other stage works and before all the symphonic poems, except, perhaps, Don Juan. The former is singularly free from any blemishes without being immature or commonplace. It possesses great charm and great vitality, and is more expressive of the 'echt deutsch' aspect of Strauss than any other of the larger works - it is in fact the real Strauss. It is just possible that it may in time return to the stage from which it has been banished by the more flamboyant charms of its successors.
But on the whole it is Salome which, despite all its faults, stands the best chance of ultimate survival. In the first place, one's critical sense is neither so alert nor so exacting in the theatre as in the concert-hall. On account of their dramatic felicity, we tolerate faults in Salome which we would condentn in the symphonic poems, and minor errors of taste disappear from sight in the magnificent continuity, nervous energy, and onward sweep of the whole. No one who walks down Unter den Linden can fail to be struck by the impressive effect of the street as a whole ; when he examines each building separately, however, he is repelled by the blatant vulgarity of the individual conceptions and the tastelessness of the detail. It is the same with the music of Strauss. The music of most other modern composers, whether good or bad, is generally more satisfactory in detail than in mass ; the part is greater than the whole. In the music of Strauss, on the other hand, the work as a whole is better than any of its constituent parts viewed separately. Almost alone to-day Strauss possesses the architectonic quality of mind.
In this and in many other things besides there is a more than superficial resemblance between him and the French novelist Zola. The latter's architectural power is remarkably impressive, his detail tasteless and vulgar. His style also, like that of Strauss, is a jumble of the most heterogeneous and dissimilar elements, from Chateaubriand to the de Goncourts. Both artists excel in the delineation of the horrible and the repulsive, and both similarly fail when they attempt the sublime, the tender, or the passionate. Strauss is at his best in portraying the ravings of Klytemnestra, the death agonies of Aegistheus, or the amorous perversities of the daughter of Herodias. In such things there is a sinister grandeur which is both convincing and impressive; but when he has instead to depict the tender womanliness of Chrysothemis or the love of Elektra for her brother the result is very little different from what one would expect from Puccini or Mascagni. In Tod und Verklärung the first section is admirable ; it is full of the very stench of death and the menace of approaching dissolution. The transfiguration section, on the other hand is cold, sophisticated, effusive, shameless, reminding one irresistibly of the café in Montmartre representing Heaven, in which one is served by waiters dressed as angels in white robes and holding harps.
Zarathustra is one of his weakest works, mainly because the conceptions which he has set himself to realize in music are of great sublimity. The world of religious aspirations is represented by a sanctimonious passage reminding one of the worst effusions of the Rev. John Bacchus Dykes in Hymns Ancient and Modern; the idea of science suggests nothing more original to him than an and fugue; the ecstatic Dionysian dance of the Superman is the kind of thing one would expect to hear in a Viennese night-club.
Salome, on the other hand, is his masterpiece, because he has very few opportunities of perpetrating such offences, and the music assigned to the prophet is the only blot of this kind on the work. In it he has come nearer than any other artist to realizing that strangely fascinating and repulsive conception which has haunted modern art and possessed the thoughts of so many painters, musicians, and writers, like a succubus ; far more than Wilde or Gustave Moreau has he succeeded in portraying in Salome - to quote the words of Huysmans in À Rebours : «the symbolical deity of indestructible Lust, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the accursed Beauty, chosen among many by the catalepsy that has stiffened her limbs, that has hardened her muscles ; the monstrous, indifferent, irresponsible Beast, poisoning like Helen of old all that go near her, all that she touches.»
«In these pages of À Rebours», writes Mr. Arthur Symons, «the art of Moreau culminates, achieves itself, passes into literature.» And so one may say that in Strauss's score the cold, mechanical preciosity of Wilde's prose culminates, achievet itself, passes into music.