London Office: 10a Soho Square London. W.1



Edited by

Gerrard 2136. 2137



Vol. XVI

MAY 1939

No. 192


THREE months ago I was writing that FurtwangIer , had woken with a m,agic baton that sleeping beauty, the Sixth Symphony of Tchaikovsky. I wish I could write as much of Constant Lambert's handling of the Fifth Symphony and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on five plum-coloured H.M.V. discs. Somewhere I was reading recently Mr. Lambert's opinion that Beethoven's successors had fonowed the odd numbers of his symphonies instead of the even numbers to what in effect was the destruction of the symphony as perfected by Mozart. To some extent this is true, but i t is only true if we except Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, for surely that completely smashed symphonic form. Liszt, who by writing symphonies like the Dante and the Faust with a stated programme wherein movements were called by such names as Inferno and Gretchen, developed the symphony later into the symphonic poem which Strauss used to such purpose. I am not going to take up space arguing now whether the use of the symphony during the nineteenth century denoted musical vitality or decay, because such an argument would involve a philosophic examination of what we mean by progress. Nor do I propose to argue about the amount of subjective emotion that can legitimately be allowed! expression in music. For better or for worse music has become the medium for as direct an expression of individual emotion as lyric poetry, and the reaction of the neo-classicists at present shows as few signs of permanent vitality as nearly the whole of modem verse.

Perhaps i t was because I had been reading those remarks by Mr. Lambert that I seemed to detect in his handling of the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky a deliberate attempt to put i t in its place. Sometimes I could almost have vowed that he had rapped with his baton the knuckles of the first violins to warn them against indulging in the slightest display of emotion. The regularity of his beat was such that I could not help fancying that he had forgotten he was conducting the Fifth Symphony as a symphony and was supposing he was conducting the ballet founded upon it.

Now Les Presages may have been an excellent banet, but Tchaikovsky himself wrote music as a symphony, and though he was not satisfied with i t none of the criticisms he himself levelled against i t suggested he thought he had chosen the wrong form for the ideas and emotions he desired to express. It was 1888. Tchaikovsky had visited his brother Anatole down at Tifiis, and no doubt inspired by th luxuriance of the sub-tropical vegetation in that warm, damp climate he had come back to his own little bungalow at Frolovskoe, fired with ambition to become a gardener. Frolovskoc was not Tillis. Tchaikovsky lay awake on those cold nights in early June worrying about his seedlings in the frost, and during his insomnia trying to construct his new symphony. He wrote to his friend, Nadejda von Meck :

" I shall work very hard now for awhile, I want terribly to prove not only to others but to myself that I am not yet played out. Very often, doubt seizes me and I ask myself: Isn't i t time to stop writing music, haven't I overstrained my imagination, hasn't the wellspring itself dried up? This must happen somet ime if I live on for ten or twenty years, and how do I know that the t ime has not arrived when I should lay down my arms. . . . I don't remember if I told you I have decided to write a symphony. When I began i t composition came hard, now i t looks as if inspiration had come. . . ."

The exhaustion which overtakes the creative artist after the conception of the whole and before he ha~ begun to work on the parts is difficult to convey to the vast majority who are not creative artists. The layman can imagine the fatigue of actual writing or painting or composing, but the exhaustion of the preliminary process is beyond him. In fact i t is so obscure a mental process that the creative artist himself is frequently misled by the exhaustion i t induces in him into supposing that he is a finished man. Hence Tchaikovsky's belief that he had overstrained his imagination, but already by the end of the letter quoted above he has started practical work and is beginning to think inspiration is on the way. Actually, of course, inspira-