Musical Studies #295893

di Ernest Newman


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Two or three years ago Richard Strauss was practically unknown in this country. A few people had heard works of his abroad; a few more had bought his complex scores and worried through them as best they could, mostly deriving from them only the impression that Strauss was getting madder and madder every year. From other and happier climes, where the demand for music is almost as great as the supply, there came weird stories of this new art. One thing was universally admitted as being beyond dispute—that Strauss was a master of orchestral effect such as the world had never seen; but all the rest was pure legend. In 1897 Also sprach Zarathustra was played at the Crystal Palace; old Sir George Grove, in a private letter, expressed what was probably the opinion of most of the people who sat it out: "What can have happened to drag down music from the high level of beauty, interest, sense, force, grace, coherence and any other good quality, which it rises to in Beethoven and also (not so high) in Mendelssohn, down to the low level of ugliness and want of interest that we had in Strauss's absurd farrago...? Noise and effect seems to be so much the aim now." It was the old, old story. The man who listens to a new art and is momentarily revolted by it never thinks that the deficiencies may be not in the art but in himself; with sublime arrogance he disposes in half-an-hour of a work that perhaps took a brain three times the weight of his own half a decade to write.
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Ernest Newman