Friday, June 12, 2015

Why The Masters Died Poor

By Chas. Doran

It has been said that the great composers, with few exceptions, have left the world no other inheritance than their compositions, and yet many of them received princely sums for their latter works and fabulous gifts from crown heads, to say nothing of the generous provisions made for them from the the treasuries of the states in which they lived. Yet they died poor.

Perhaps Chopin's words to a lady admirer, in reply to her question as to whether he was wealthy: "My only wealth is in the richness of my musical notes," may shed some light upon the subject, if we interpret the remark to mean that most of the noted composers cared not for any other kind of riches than that in which they could endow their works. We know that Verdi gave away much of his earnings to the poor of his native city, and that Schubert was so good to others that he was frequently reminded of his too great consideration of the needs of the poor by his bankers returning to him his order upon the bank with the words "No funds to your credit" written across the face of the paper. Schubert's generosity was proverbial and once caused him to write to a friend: "I suppose you are right, my charity to others has made a mendicant of myself."

One of Mozart's highest aims in life was to live to see the day when he had dipensed in philanthropic works a hundred thousand florins, and we are told by one of his biographers that before the great maestro closed his eyes in death he had given away three times this sum to the poor of the country of this birth. Beethoven loved money, and was very exacting with his publishers in the payment of royalties due him, holding them to account for the last penny, and his earnings must, too, have been very great, for like Verdi he was the idol of the hour, yet he left to his heirs but little money.

He wrote to one of his pupils who asked him for some advice: "Love money, but only for the good you can do with it, and save every mark you can until you have accumulated enought money with which to do some substantial good." Mendelssohn dreamed of the good he could do with the money he received from the royalties upon his compositions, and it is said carried out many of his dreams. He, like other great composers, left to the world little inheritance besides his marvelous musical creations.

Donizetti died poor, yet he could have gone to his grave a weathly man for his time. Liszt gave away money, but never without seeing first wherein it would accomplish the greatest good, and when he was on his deathbed he turned to his spiritual comforter and said: "I have given away my silver and leave to the world as an inheritance but the works that have brought me the silver."

Gounod classed composers among dreamers. "They live in an atmosphere laden with music, to them the world is either a waltz or a dirge, gladness or sorrow," and Gottschalk wrote of his own life: "A dream, the air about which has been music, today the softness and sweetness of a nocturne, tomorrow possibly the power and majesty of a requiem." And the composer of the "Last Hope" was no exception to the rule, he died a poor man, leaving to the world much wealth, but like other great composers a wealth of sublime music. He is said to have earned a fortune and yet he left not enough money with which to raise a fitting monument over his grave. Great musicians, like poets, have nearly all been very visionary; "they have lived in the world and yet been no part of its material advancement," as Von Bulow put it, when writing of the lives of two of his fellow composers.

The world has been a beautiful dream in which they have produced the music with which to enchant the forms that have appeared in it. Money, worldly possessions have been but as the means to sustain the body while the mind dreamed and the fingers penned the sublime notes that inspirations brought forth from the heart.

Fame seems to have had no other meaning to the most of the world's greatest composers than as the wherewith, so to speak, with which they were to meet the physical needs, while the spiritual, seemingly, was given sway that the world might be endowed with a riches of song and melody for which it was forever after to pay its tribute of gratitude to their creators.

One has but to read the biography of a great composer to see that his life was a living proof of the saying, "Music makes man love man," and agree with Liszt when he wrote of Chopin: "He was kind, noble and generous, Chopin, giving to his fellow man whatever he could spare of his earthly goods and leaving to the world no other inheritance than his music." Yet one endowed his name with as much love as the other has endowed his name with and endless fame.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Music Lovers Digest

George Bernard Shaw on the Growth of Harmony

The technical history of modern harmony is a history of the growth of tolerations by the human ear of chords that at first sounded discordant and senseless to the main body of contemporary professional musicians. By senseless I mean, in the case of a discord, that you cannot forsee its resolution or relate it to a key. Great composers anticipate the rank and file of us in this sort of perception, and consequently in the toleration of combinations which seem unbearable in the absence of any such perception.

Musicians had to confine themselves to thirds and fifths until somebody - we used to say it was Monteverde - ventured to pile a minor third on top of the fifth in a very cautious way, introducing the new note first as a third, fifth, or unison in the previous chord, and letting it sweeten itself into a concord again in the following one; preparation and resolution, as we call it.

It took quite a long time before the battle over the toleration of this discord of the seventh was so thoroughly won that it could be expelled without preparation on an audience in any position. I can still remember the time when its last inversion - with the seventh in the bass - sounded strange and dramatically momentous, as in the first finale in Don Giovanni, and especially in Beethoven's early Prometheus overture, which opens with an abrupt third inversion of the seventh, fortissimo.

By that time, however, minor ninths, then called diminished sevenths, were familiar; and Wagner's battle began with unprepared major ninths, which, joyously blared forth in the second act of Tannhauser, sounded as scandalous as anything in Richard Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica does today.

Who cares about an unprepared major ninth now, or an eleventh, or a thirteenth? Yet when you have accustomed people to these, you have conquered the whole diatonic scale, and may sound every note in it simultaneously, leaving nothing for future generations to discover but the art of making chords out of combinations of different keys, an art in which we are already making experiments.

- From the Proceedings of the London Musical Association

How the Fake Composer Works

The procedure of the fake composer illustrates very well the fable of "The Ass in the Lion's Skin." I can only speak of him as far as my personal experience goes.

A man, whom I afterward recognized as one of the most successful popular song writers of his day came to me some years ago and told me that he had heard of me as a good musician, at which I bowed gratefully. He then proceeded to tell me that he had composed a song. I asked him, with polite interest, to play or sing it for me, at which he looked at me with blank amazement, telling me that if he had been able to do this he would not have required my services.

It was then my turn to gaze at him with surprise, until he explained that he had invented (!!) a melody, which he had learned to whistle almost without a mistake, and all that he wanted me to do was to jot it down as he whistled it and to harmonize it. For this he would magnanimously pay me the fee of five dollars. I answered that even if I could be induced to do this work for him, I would like to adopt a nom de plume. He then became quite indignant, stating that as he was the composer, he would have only his own name used. I leave to the reader's imagination the termination of the interview.

This is not by any means the only case of its kind that has come to my notice, and in fact, this man very frankly told me that he only came to me, because the regular staff of "drudges" who performed this ask at his publisher's for him, were too busy that day taking down the inventions of other "composers."

- Andre Benoist in Musical America (New York)