Woman's Work in Music Part 5

More serious was his feeling for the lovely young Countess Giulietta Giucciardi, one of his pupils. "Life has been made a little brighter to me lately," he writes, adding later, "This change has been brought about by a dear, fascinating girl, whom I love, and who loves me. After two years, I bask again in the sunlight of happiness, and now, for the first time, I feel what a truly happy state marriage might be." But, unfortunately, she was not of his rank in life, and later on we find her, too, marrying another. Beethoven would certainly have married her if he could have done so, and his epistles to her are full of many fervid expressions of love. At his death, some letters of the most pa.s.sionate description were found in his desk, and for a time it was thought they were addressed to her, but they are now ascribed to the influence of her successor.

The Countess Therese von Brunswick, who next received Beethoven's devotion, had been one of his pupils, and had once been rapped over the knuckles by him for inefficiency. Twelve years later, in 1806, pupil and teacher were actually engaged,--secretly, to be sure, but with full knowledge and consent of her brother. Yet after four years of varying conditions the match was broken off, and the composer again forced to take refuge in the lonely comfort of his art.

But he found other consolation in the charms and the companionship of Bettina von Brentano, whom he met at this time. According to his letters, she was no whit behind any of the others in being his "dearest friend," "dearest girl," and "dearest, fairest sweetheart." Soon Beethoven was to see her, too, married to another, and, if he never succeeded in taking the fatal plunge himself, he could at least have the melancholy satisfaction of knowing that all the objects of his adoration had entered safely into the holy state of matrimony.

In 1811 he met Amalia Seebald, and soon afterward inscribed in her alb.u.m the sentiment:

"Ludwig von Beethoven, Whom if you ever would, Forget you never should."

His feeling for her was not exactly the effervescent feeling of youth, but the quieter, deeper sentiment of personal esteem and affection, which comes later in life, and is therefore more lasting. Her influence is visible in much of his later music, and the seventh and eighth symphonies were inspired by her.

That Beethoven took a friendly interest in other love-affairs besides his own is shown by an incident taking place in Toplitz, where the actor, Ludwig Loewe, was in love with the landlord's daughter of the "Blue Star," at which Beethoven used to dine. Conversation was usually impossible because of stern parents and a mult.i.tude of diners. "Come at a later hour," said the girl; "only Beethoven is here, and he cannot hear." This answered for a time, but at length the parents forbade the actor the house. Despite Beethoven's serious reserve, Loewe had often noticed a kindly smile on his face, and now resolved to trust him.

Finding the composer in the park, he begged him to take charge of a letter for the girl. Satisfied with the honesty of the young man's intentions, Beethoven did this, and next day brought back the answer, keeping up his role of messenger during the whole of the five weeks that he remained in the town.

Franz Peter Schubert was a true son of Vienna. Sprung from the lower cla.s.ses, he never felt wholly at ease among the aristocracy, and made no such deep impression upon them as Beethoven did. He was most at home in the informal society of his few chosen friends, all men of talent in some direction, whom he drew about him by his own genius and good-fellowship. His very nickname, "Kanner-was," taken from his usual question about newcomers, bears witness to the fact that he would have nothing to do with any one who did not show intellectual ability in some direction,--poetry or art, if not music.

Schubert's brief schooling, where his natural gifts were left to flourish by themselves, was succeeded by three years of musical drudgery in the shape of school-teaching. But his genius was restless, and he threw up that post. How he existed during the next few years is a complete mystery. He lived for a while rent-free, and his wants were never many, but for some time he apparently got along with no income whatever. His fertility in composing songs showed itself already. His later feat of writing "Hark, Hark, the Lark" on the back of a bill of fare, finishing it within half an hour of his first seeing the poem, is well known. It seems that he could forget as easily as he invented. At one time he sent a set of songs to his friend Vogl for inspection, but the latter was unable to look them over for two weeks. On finding one of especial interest, Vogl had it transposed to suit his voice, and gave it to Schubert to play. The composer, after trying it, cried in admiration: "I say, that's not bad; whose is it?"

At last he obtained the post of private teacher in the family of Count Esterhazy. It was the Countess Caroline, younger of the two daughters, who was to become the object of Schubert's later adoration. On the first visit, however, she was only nine, and we find Schubert, with his usual promiscuous taste, more at home with the servants than in the drawing-room. "The cook is a pleasant fellow," he writes; "the ladies'

maid is thirty; the housemaid very pretty, and often pays me a visit; the nurse is somewhat ancient; the butler is my rival; the two grooms get on better with the horses than with us. The count is a little rough; the countess proud, but not without heart, and the two young ladies good children."

Eight years later he spent another period of six months at the chateau, and at this time felt the pa.s.sion for the young countess that has been so often alluded to in his biographies. According to Bauernfeld, she inspired an ideal devotion that sustained and comforted him to the end of his life. There can be no doubt that etiquette and their difference in position prevented much intercourse between the two, but his devotion was apparently as lasting as it was unselfish. According to Kreissle, it found expression once, on her asking him, in jesting reproach, why he never dedicated anything to her. "Why should I," came the reply; "everything I ever did is dedicated to you." One of his posthumous works bears her name, which would hardly have been printed unless found on the ma.n.u.script in the handwriting of this greatest of tone-poets.

Mendelssohn came of a family that boasted an eminent intellectual leader of Judaism in the shape of Moses Mendelssohn, the composer's grandfather. Abraham, the father, brought up his two children, f.a.n.n.y and Felix, in the Lutheran faith. Between the brother and sister there existed the most intimate understanding and affection, lasting through their entire lives. Both were musically gifted, possessing delicate hands and taper fingers that were often spoken of as if made expressly for playing Bach fugues.

Growing to maturity in the delightful family atmosphere that characterizes the better cla.s.s of Jews and their descendants, f.a.n.n.y Mendelssohn met and loved the young painter, Wilhelm Hensel. Her mother would not hear of an immediate engagement, but, after five years of art study in Rome, Hensel returned to become f.a.n.n.y's betrothed. Felix, now launched on his professional career, produced an organ piece especially for the wedding. Another work for family use was his cantata, or opera, "Son and Stranger," composed for the silver wedding of his parents. This was prepared without their knowledge, and in order that the non-musical Hensel might take part with the rest of the family, Mendelssohn wrote for him a number consisting wholly of one note repeated. Even with this aid the Muses were unpropitious in the performance, and Hensel could not hit the right pitch for this note, while all his neighbours tried to prompt him, and the young composer sat at the piano convulsed with laughter.

f.a.n.n.y Hensel led a life of happy activity. She and her brother drew around them a circle of celebrities that included scientific as well as artistic leaders. Like her brother, she was a composer. At first, however, he objected to her publishing her works, on account of her s.e.x, and half a dozen of her songs without words were brought out among his own. In 1846 she ventured at last to issue some piano melodies and vocal works, in compliance with flattering offers from Berlin publishers. Then her famous brother sent his blessing on her becoming "a member of the craft," and hoped she would taste only the sweets and none of the bitternesses of authorship. Her greatest work is a piano trio,[5] which was not published until after her death. Among other compositions, she wrote several choruses for Goethe's "Faust," and a number of part-songs.

Her life came to an untimely close. In the year 1847, while conducting the little choir that she led on Sundays, she met an end as sudden as it was unexplained. Her hands dropped in an instant from the keyboard of the piano, and fell limp at her side. In spite of medical aid, death came after a short interval. It is highly probable that the early exertions of herself and her brother, which made their talents so wonderful, resulted in lessening their vital strength.

Mendelssohn himself was married. After his father's death he had wedded Cecile Jeanrenaud, daughter of a French pastor, and with her he pa.s.sed a life of happiness. f.a.n.n.y speaks in admiration of her beautiful eyes and expression, and praises her constant gentleness, which so often soothed her brother's nervous and irritable moods. But not even her kindness could make Mendelssohn forget the death of his sister, who had been a second self to him. When he first heard of it, he uttered a shriek, and fell senseless to the ground. His own death came directly from this fall, for it caused the breaking of a blood-vessel in his head, according to his physician. A holiday in Switzerland did some good, but the sight of f.a.n.n.y's rooms on his return more than neutralized this effect. He grew weaker and weaker, until he met his death, less than six months after that of his sister. The bereaved wife, who had given such bright domestic charm to the home circle, lingered on for six years, but drooped in her loneliness until at last consumption carried her off.

In direct contrast to the clean and sunny happiness of Mendelssohn is the pa.s.sionate and morbid aestheticism of Chopin. Like Beethoven, the Polish pianist never married, but, unlike Beethoven, he was not actuated by the highest of ideals. The first object of his devotion was the young soprano, Constantia Gladkowska, who was just ready to graduate from the Warsaw Conservatory when he was attracted by her. He became her champion in criticism, and his letters are full of emotional outpourings about her. He gave concerts with her, and found some moments of real bliss in her society, but she finally married another.

A second affair was his love for Marie Wodzinski, whom he had known in childhood and met at Dresden. She was just nineteen, and endowed with charming beauty. The pianist-composer spent many an evening with her at the house of her uncle, and often joined the family in their walks. But this affair, too, came to no result. The hour for farewell struck, she gave him a rose, and he improvised a _valse_ for her. This waltz, which he afterward sent her from Paris, was the one called "L'Adieu."

That Chopin was fickle in his pa.s.sions is shown by an anecdote of George Sand's. According to her, he was in love with a young _Parisienne_, who received him very kindly. All went well until one day he visited her with another musician, who was at that time better known than Chopin in Paris. Because the young lady offered this man a chair before thinking of asking Chopin to be seated, he never called on her again, and apparently forgot her immediately. George Sand avers that during all this period he was considering a marriage in Poland, but other acquaintances do not confirm this part of the story.

During the ten years pa.s.sed together by Chopin and George Sand, in Majorca, Genoa, Nohant, and Paris, Chopin produced most of his important works. How much they were inspired by her, no one can say. But it is certain that her care of him in his usually ailing condition must have been of great aid to him. It is certain that she became an integral part of his life, for he did not survive their separation longer than two years. This separation at any rate, was responsible for some of the Polish master's compositions, for he comforted his wounded spirit by pouring out his emotions in such works as the great A flat Polonaise.

[Ill.u.s.tration: SYBIL SANDERSON]

A figure of lesser though more recent prominence was Sybil Sanderson.

Her fame on the operatic stage is a matter of the present, in spite of her death. She inspired the composer Jules Ma.s.senet to produce many of his best works, notably the opera, "Esclarmonde," which was written with her in view as performer. Another tribute to her is found in the song, "Femme, Immortelle ete." These are but a few of the more important instances in musical history, which go to show that woman's influence is responsible for many works in connection with which her name does not appear at first glance. The actual women composers, however, form a long and honourable list, and are by no means confined to the present period of female emanc.i.p.ation.



England's period of musical greatness has been said to be the past and the future. During the contrapuntal epoch her music flourished as never before or since, and side by side with the Shakespearian period in literature came an era of musical glory scarcely inferior to it. During the Restoration, too, music still held its own, thanks to the genius of Purcell in opera. But no names of women are recorded, and it is only in the eighteenth century, and the latter half at that, that they begin to appear on the roll of fame.

The year 1755 witnessed the birth of two women who were gifted enough to leave worthy works behind them,--Maria Parke and Mary Linwood. The former was the daughter of a famous oboist, who gave his child an excellent training. She became well known as a pianist and singer, and among other works produced songs, piano sonatas, violin pieces, and even a concerto for piano, or rather harpsichord. Miss Linwood devoted herself more entirely to vocal compositions, and published a number of songs and the oratorio, "David's First Victory." Two operas by her were left in ma.n.u.script.

Mrs. Chazal, who flourished at a still earlier date, won reputation as an orchestral conductor. This work is hardly deemed to come within woman's sphere, but the many choral and orchestral festivals of England offered her a better chance in this direction than her sisters in other lands could obtain. Mrs. Chazal's works included overtures and an organ concerto, as well as piano and violin music. Organ compositions seem to have been fairly numerous in England a hundred years ago, and we find Jeanne Marie Guest, daughter and pupil of a well-known organist, writing a number of voluntaries and other selections, also some ma.n.u.script concertos and some piano music. Other instruments were not neglected, as may be seen from Ann Valentine's "Ten Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin," published in 1798. Another good organist was Jane Clarke, who issued a setting of psalms, as sung at Oxford, in 1808.

Coming nearer to our own times, Elizabeth Stirling, who died in 1895, was considered one of the very best of English organists. Her works for that instrument include two grand voluntaries, a half-dozen excellent pedal fugues, eight slow movements, and many other pieces. She has done much unselfish labour in arranging selections of Bach and the other great organ masters, besides publishing songs, duets, and piano works of her own. In 1856 she tried for a musical degree at Oxford, presenting an orchestral setting of the 130th Psalm; but, although the work won high praise, no authority existed for granting a degree to a woman. Marian Millar, a composer of songs and orchestral-choral works, met with more success in hunting for the coveted "Mus. Bac." and obtained it by applying to Victoria University. Augusta Amherst Austen, another organist, has written songs and hymn tunes, while Elizabeth Mounsey, also a performer, has published songs and piano pieces as well as organ works.

Ann Shepard Mounsey (1811-91), afterward Mrs. Bartholomew, a sister of Elizabeth, is mentioned by Spohr as a child prodigy. She was a friend of Mendelssohn, who wrote his "Hymn of Praise" for her sacred concerts in London. A set of "Thirty-four Original Tunes and Hymns" may be cla.s.sed as organ work, but her greatest effort took the shape of an oratorio, "The Nativity." She also wrote a sacred cantata, and many lesser vocal works, including excellent solo and ensemble songs. Emma Mundella (1858-96) received an education both long and broad, and brought forth part-songs, piano pieces, church music, and an oratorio, "The Victory of Song." Elizabeth Annie Nunn (1861-94) also produced religious works, and, besides songs and various church music, published a Ma.s.s in C.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, the mechanical skill of Sebastian Erard made the harp extremely popular. At that time English households contained harps much as they do pianos at present.

Excellently adapted as it was for women's performance, it is not surprising to find women composing for it also. Elizabeth Anne Bisset, Hannah Binfield, and Olivia Dussek, afterward Mrs. Buckley, were three famous examples of female skill in writing for the instrument.

Of song composers there have been a mult.i.tude. Among the early ones, Ellen d.i.c.kson (1819-78), under the _nom de plume_ of Dolores, won a wide reputation. Her works are still sung, the most popular being her setting of Kingsley's brook song, "Clear and cool." Frankly simple in style, but full of pretty melodies, were the songs of Mrs. Charles Barnard (1834-69), who became widely known under the pseudonym of "Claribel."

With her may be cla.s.sed the ballad writers, such as Mrs. Jordan (Dora Bland), who composed the "Blue Bells of Scotland," or Lady Scott (Alicia Anne Spottiswoode), the author of "Annie Laurie" and other well-known songs. Mary Ann Virginia Gabriel (1825-77) was best known by her many tuneful songs, but wrote also part-songs, piano pieces, and a number of cantatas and operettas. Charlotte Sainton-Dolby (1821-85), the famous singer and friend of Mendelssohn, was also most widely appreciated because of her songs, though her cantatas, "The Legend of St.

Dorothea" and "The Story of the Faithful Soul," were often performed.

Sophia Julia Woolf (1831-93) won fame by her piano pieces and her opera, "Carina," as well as through her songs.

Kate f.a.n.n.y Loder, not content with songs and the opera "L'Elisir d'Amore," has composed an overture for orchestra, two string quartettes, a piano trio, piano and violin sonatas, minor piano pieces, and some organ works. Caroline Orger (1818-92) was another talented composer whose work possessed sincerity and artistic value, and was above the merely popular vein. Among her productions, which have been often performed, are tarantellas, a sonata, and other piano pieces, a 'cello sonata, a piano quartette and trio, and a piano concerto.

Alice Mary Smith (1839-84) seems to have been on the whole the foremost woman composer that England has yet produced. A pupil of Sterndale Bennett and Sir George A. Macfarren, she devoted herself wholly to composition, and made it her life-work. Her music is clear and well balanced in form, excellent in thematic material, and endowed with an expressive charm of melodic and harmonic beauty. Among her orchestral works are two symphonies, one in C minor and the other in G; four overtures, "Endymion," "Lalla Rookh," "The Masque of Pandora," and "Jason, or the Argonauts and Sirens;" a concerto for clarinet and orchestra, and an "Introduction and Allegro" for piano and orchestra.

Her chamber music is also successful. It consists of four quartettes for piano and strings in B flat, D, E, and G minor, also three string quartettes. With the orchestral works should go two intermezzi for "The Masque of Pandora," finished later than the overture. Her published cantatas include "Rudesheim," "Ode to the Northeast Wind," a strong work, "The Pa.s.sions" (Collins), "Song of the Little Baltung" (Kingsley), and "The Red King" (Kingsley). Her many part-songs, duets, and solos are imbued with rare melodic charm, as may be seen from the famous duet, "Oh, that we two were maying." Her career, though none too long in years, was one of constant creative activity.

There are a number of English women who have done excellent work in the large orchestral forms, if we may count festival performances as a measure of success. Edith Greene has composed a symphony, which was well received at London in 1895. To her credit may be placed many smaller works of real merit, among them a worthy violin sonata. Amy Elsie Horrocks, born in Brazil, brought out her orchestral legend, "Undine,"

in 1897. She has also composed incidental music to "An Idyl of New Year's Eve," a 'cello sonata, variations for piano and strings, several dramatic cantatas, a number of songs, and many piano and violin pieces.

Besides doing this, she has won fame as a pianist. Mrs. Julian Marshall, born at Rome, has produced several orchestral works, as well as several cantatas, an operetta, a nocturne for clarinet and orchestra, and a number of songs. Oliveria Louisa Prescott, a native of London and a pupil of the Royal Academy of Music, is responsible for two symphonies, several overtures, a piano concerto, and some shorter orchestral pieces, besides vocal and choral work.

Dora Bright, born at Sheffield in 1863, another student of the Royal Academy, is one of England's most gifted musicians at the present time.

She became a.s.sistant teacher of piano, harmony, and counterpoint, and won many prizes, being the first woman to obtain the Lucas medal for composition. Her two piano concertos are praised by critics for their "bright and original fancy and melodious inspiration of a high order, coupled with excellent workmanship." The orchestral colouring is said to be thoroughly exquisite. A fantasia for piano and orchestra was given at the London Philharmonic Concerts in 1892, the first instance of a woman's composition being given by that orchestra. Her string quartettes have won notice, also her piano duos, a violin suite, some flute and piano pieces, and several piano solos and songs.

Alice Borton has published an "Andante and Rondo" for piano and orchestra, as well as several piano works (suite in old style) and a number of songs. Edith A. Chamberlayne has composed two symphonies, as well as a ma.n.u.script opera, a s.e.xtette for harp, flute, and strings, and various harp, organ, and piano music. Edith Swepstone has had some movements of an unfinished Symphony performed, also an overture, "Les Tenebres," at London in 1897. She has written a piano quintette and a string quartette, besides short cantatas and the usual lesser pieces for violin, piano, and voice. Marie Wurm, born at Southampton in 1860, is a successful pianist as well as composer. Her concerto in B minor is highly praised for excellent workmanship, originality, and melodic strength and charm. Among her other works are a concert overture, a string quartette, violin and 'cello sonatas, some five-voiced madrigals, with various piano pieces and songs.

Rosalind Frances Ellicott has won a place of honour among women composers. She was born in 1857, and is a daughter of the Bishop of Gloucester. Her music is not especially ecclesiastic in vein, but includes many notable secular compositions. Among her important works are dramatic, concert, and festival overtures, and a fantasia for piano and orchestra, all given at various English festivals. Of her various cantatas, the "Birth of Song," "Elysium," and "Henry of Navarre" have met with the most success. She has written two piano trios, a string quartette, and much music for 'cello, piano, and voice.

Ethel M. Smyth, who recently was brought into notice in America by the performance of her opera, "Der Wald," is one of England's talented musical women. In purely orchestral vein she has produced a serenade in D and the overture "Antony and Cleopatra," both being given at the Crystal Palace in 1890. She has shown originality in other than operatic fields, and her greatest work is a Ma.s.s in D. This is a composition of decided merit, and is full of sustained dignity and breadth of style. It is intensely modern in quality, and its expressive feeling is somewhat reminiscent of Gounod, but it is not in any sense an imitation of the great Frenchman. Her string quintette has been performed at Leipsic. She has written a violin sonata and the usual number of minor pieces and songs. Her opera has received much praise, but the final verdict rates it as rather confused and undramatic, in spite of much good music in the score.

Many women have attempted opera, but none have met with more than temporary success. In England, owing to the example of Gilbert and Sullivan, light operas and operettas have flourished to a considerable degree. Mary Grant Carmichael met with some success through her operetta, "The Snow Queen," but like Miss Smyth gave the world a more important work in the shape of a ma.s.s. Ethel Harraden, sister of the novelist, had her opera, "The Taboo," brought out at the Trafalgar Square Theatre, London, with excellent results. She has composed an operetta, "His Last Chance," besides vocal, choral, and violin pieces.

Harriet Maitland Young has completed several operettas, of which "An Artist's Proof" and the "Queen of Hearts" were successfully performed.

Annie Fortescue Harrison witnessed the production of her "Ferry Girl"

and "Lost Husband" at London. Louisa Gray's "Between Two Stools" has been given at many places. Ida Walter's four-act opera, "Florian,"

received a London performance in 1886. Florence Marian Skinner has made Italy the scene of her work. Her "Suocera," in serious vein, appeared at Naples in 1877, while her "Mary, Queen of Scots," after being given at St. Remo and Turin, received a London hearing.

England is preeminently a land of musical festivals, at which choral work plays an important part. London and the larger cities have their regular series of concerts, and the size of the capital attracts outside artists, but many of the smaller towns have annual occasions, at which local talent is sure to receive a full appreciation. This accounts for the prevalence of cantatas in the English musical repertoire. Subjects of all sorts are used, and dramatic, romantic, or even simple pastoral themes appear to delight the British ear when set to music and given by some singing society.

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»

Novel »
Next  »