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[Illustration: M. Camille Saint-SaŰns]




ON THE EXECUTION OF

MUSIC, AND PRINCIPALLY

OF ANCIENT MUSIC

BY

M. CAMILLE SAINT-SA╦NS


_Delivered at the_

"_Salon de la PensÚe Franšaise_"

_Panama-Pacific International Exposition_

_San Francisco, June First_

_Nineteen Hundred_

_& Fifteen_


DONE INTO ENGLISH

WITH EXPLANATORY NOTES BY

HENRY P. BOWIE

SAN FRANCISCO:

THE BLAIR-MURDOCK COMPANY

1915

_Copyright, 1915_

_by M. Camille Saint-SaŰns_




ON THE EXECUTION OF

MUSIC, AND PRINCIPALLY

OF ANCIENT MUSIC

MUSIC was written in a scrawl impossible to decipher up to the
thirteenth century, when Plain Song[1] (_Plain Chant_) made its
appearance in square and diamond-shaped notes. The graduals and introits
had not yet been reduced to bars, but the songs of the troubadours
appear to have been in bars of three beats with the accent on the feeble
note of each bar. However, the theory that this bar of three beats or
triple time was used exclusively is probably erroneous. St. Isidore, in
his treatise on music, speaking of how Plain Song should be interpreted,
considers in turn all the voices and recommends those which are high,
sweet and clear, for the execution of vocal sounds, introits, graduals,
offertories, etc. This is exactly contrary to what we now do, since in
place of utilizing these light tenor voices for Plain Song, we have
recourse to voices both heavy and low.

In the last century when it was desired to restore Plain Song to its
primitive purity, one met with insurmountable obstacles due to its
prodigious prolixity of long series of notes, repeating indefinitely the
same musical forms; but in considering this in the light of explanations
given by St. Isidore, and in view of the Oriental origin of the
Christian religion, we are led to infer that these long series of notes
were chants or vocalizations analogous to the songs of the Muezzins of
the Orient. At the beginning of the sixteenth century musical laws began
to be elaborated without, however, in this evolution towards modern
tonal art, departing entirely from all influence of the antique methods.
The school named after Palestrina employed as yet only the triads or
perfect chords; this prevented absolutely all expression, although some
traces of it appear in the "Stabat Mater" of that composer. This music,
ecclesiastical in character, in which it would have been chimerical to
try to introduce modern expression, flourished in France, in Flanders,
in Spain at the same time as in Italy, and enjoyed the favor of Pope
Marcellus, who recognized the merit of Palestrina in breaking loose from
the grievous practice of adapting popular songs to church music.

In the middle ages, as in antiquity, the laws of harmony were unknown;
when it was desired to sing in two parts, they sang at first in
intervals of fifths and fourths, where it would have seemed much more
natural to sing in thirds and sixths. Such first attempts at music in
several parts were made in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries, when they were hunting for laws, and such music was
discordant. It bore the name of Diaphony. The real Polyphony came in the
sixteenth century with the school of Palestrina.

Later on, little by little, laws were established, not arbitrarily, but
laws resulting from a long experience, and during all the sixteenth
century admirable music was written, though deprived of melody, properly
speaking. Melody was reserved for dance music which, in fact, was
perfectly written in four and even in five part scores, as I have been
able to convince myself in hunting for dance music of the sixteenth
century for my opera "Ascanio."

But no indication of movement, nuances or shading, enlightens us as to
the manner in which this music should be interpreted. At Paris the first
attempts to execute the music of Palestrina were made in the time of
Louis Philippe, by the Prince of Moscow. He had founded a choral society
of amateurs, all titled, but gifted with good voices and a certain
musical talent. This society executed many of the works of Palestrina
and particularly the famous "Mass of Pope Marcellus." They adopted at
that time the method of singing most of these pieces very softly and
with an extreme slowness so that in the long-sustained notes the singers
were forced to divide their task by some taking up the sound when the
others were out of breath. Consonant chords thus presented evidently
produced music which was very agreeable to the ear, but unquestionably
the author could not recognize his work in such rendering. Quite
different was the method of the singers in the Sistine Chapel when I
heard them for the first time in Rome in 1855 when they sung the "Sicut
Cervus" of Palestrina. They roared in a head-splitting way without the
least regard for the pleasure of the listener, or for the meaning of the
words they sang. It is difficult to believe that this music was ever
composed to be executed in such a barbarous manner, which, it seems to
me, differs completely from our musical conceptions; and it is a great
mistake also in modern editions of such music to introduce delicate
shadings or nuances and even employ the words "very expressive."

Palestrina has had his admirers among French literary writers. We recall
the scene created by Octave Feuillet in "M. de Camors." M. de Camors is
at his window; a lady is at the piano; a gentleman at the cello, and
another lady sings the Mass of Palestrina which I have referred to
above. Such a way of playing this music is simply out of the question.
Feuillet had obtained his inspiration for this from a fanciful painting
which he had seen somewhere.

Expression was introduced into music by the chord of the dominant
seventh, the invention of which is attributed to Monteverde. However,
Palestrina had already employed that chord in his "Adoremus," but
probably without understanding its importance or divining its future.

Before this invention the interval of three whole tones (Triton) was
considered an intolerable dissonance and was called "the devil in
music." The dominant seventh has been the open door to all
dissonances and to the domain of expression. It was a death blow to that
learned music of the sixteenth century; it was the arrival of the reign
of melody--of the development of the art of singing. Very often the song
or the solo instrument would be accompanied by a simple, ciphered bass,
the ciphers indicating the chords which he who accompanied should play
as well as he could, either on the harpsichord or the theorbe. The
theorbe was an admirable instrument which is now to be found only in
museums,--a sort of enormous guitar with a long neck and multiple
strings which offered great opportunities to a skilful artist.

It is curious to note that in ancient times there was not attributed to
the minor and major keys the same character as is assigned them
to-day.[2] The joyous canticle of the Catholic church, "O Filii et
FiliŠ," is in the minor. "The Romanesca," a dance air of the sixteenth
century, is equally in the minor, just like all the dance airs of Lully,
and of Rameau, and the gavottes of Sebastian Bach. The celebrated
"Funeral March" of Haendel, reproduced in many of his works, is in C
Major. The delicious love duo of Acis and Galathee, which changes to a
trio by the addition of the part of Polyphemus, is in A Minor. When
Galathee weeps afterward over the death of Acis, the air is in F Major.
It is only recently that we find dance airs in the major mood or key.

From the seventeenth century on, music entered into everyday life, never
again to be separated from it. Thus music has remained in favor, and
we are continually hearing executed the works of Bach, of Haendel, of
Hayden, of Mozart and of Beethoven. How are such works executed? Are
they executed as they should be? That is another question.

One source of error is found in the evolution which musical instruments
have undergone. In the time of Bach and Haendel the bow truly merited
its Italian name of "arco." It was curved like an arc--the hairs of the
bow constituted the chord of the arc, a very great flexibility resulting
which allowed the strings of the instrument to be enveloped and to be
played simultaneously. The bow seldom quitted the strings, doing so only
in rare cases and when especially indicated. On this account it happens
that the indication of "legato" is very rare. Even though there was a
separate stroke of the bow for each note, the notes were not separated
one from the other. Nowadays the form of the bow is completely changed.
The execution of the music is based upon the detached bow, and although
it is easy to keep the bow upon the strings just as they did at the
commencement of the nineteenth century, performers have lost the habit
of it. The result is that they give to ancient music a character of
perpetually jumping, which completely destroys its nature.

The very opposite movement has been produced in instruments of the key
or piano type. The precise indications of Mozart show that "non-legato,"
which doesn't mean at all "staccato," was the ordinary way of playing
the instrument, and that the veritable "legato" was played only where
the author specially indicated it. The clavecin or harpsichord, which
preceded the piano, when complete with two banks of keys, many registers
giving the octaves and different tone qualities, oftentimes like the
organ with a key for pedals, offered resources which the piano does not
possess. A Polish lady, Madame Landowska, has studied thoroughly these
resources, and has shown us how pieces written for this instrument thus
disclosed elements of variety which are totally missing when the same
are played upon the piano; but the clavecin tone lacked fulness, and
shadings or nuances were out of the question.

Sonority or tone was varied by changing the keys or register just as on
the organ. On the other hand, with the piano one can vary the sonority
by augmenting or diminishing the force of the attack, hence its original
name of "forte piano,"--a name too long, which was shortened at first by
suppressing the last syllables; so that one reads, not without
astonishment, in the accounts given of young Mozart, of the skill he
showed in playing "forte" at a time when he was playing on instruments
of a very feeble tone.



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