Page 9, 27th August 1937

27th August 1937
Page 9
Page 9, 27th August 1937 — Music

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Organisations: Catholic Social Guild
Locations: Hamlet


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By ERNEST MOSS Last week we saw the apparent contradiction that Gluck wanted his operas to be natural and passionate, and yet his music was stiff and statuesque. He maintained that while he was composing he considered himself poet and painter, not musician.

But, in fact, the drama itself, when independent Of music, is not primarily natural and passionate. The ancient Aristotelian red-herring of mimesis will keep cropping up. Yet no natural human being, at any rate without preliminary composition, would, on being overwhelmed with melancholy, pour forth the superb soliloquies of a Hamlet.

Where Emotions are " Seen"

The trath is that the drama, as distinct from the contemporary West End play, enables us to " sec rather than to feel the emotions.' That is how we get pleasure from misery, which would otherwise involve a contradiction in terms.

The drama itself, then, is already a highly artificial thing. But when the words and action are underlined by song which is supported by an orchestra of strings, wind and drums, then the whole thing is quite obviously altogether outside the bounds of:natural possibility.

Those people who claim that Gluck made opera natural instead of artificial talk nonsense. He substituted one sort of artificiality for another.

What does happen is that throughout operatic history there has been an everchanging balance of power between the dramatic foundation of words and action and the symbolisation of this foundation in suitable music. But it is clear that if the Gluckian " reforms " of emphasising words and action are carried to their logical conclusion,.there is no room for opera at all. Music is best left out altogether.

Triumph Over Theories

Gluck triumphed over his theories. That is why his operas are stiff and statuesque when he wanted them to be natural and passionate. Of course, there is plenty of

passion in ahem. But it is passion symbolised in a highly artificial manner, so that we see it, do not feel it.

What compassion we do feet for the misery of lphigeneia is a somewhat unimportant overflow of emotion (due to the knowledge of what is symbolised) secondary to our primary pleasurable intuition of lphigencia's misery. The tears which were apparently plentiful at the early performances of Gluck's great operas were either crocodile, or more probably due to an exquisite happiness giving relief to a body overwrought with the inevitable inhibitions of life.

No Revolution of Principle

There was, finally, no real revolution of principle involved in Gluck's reforms; merely a re-balancing of emphasis between what is conveniently called the "drama" and the music" of opera. There is no "conflict " between the two, as critics are loudly reasserting; for in a good opera each one illuminates the other. The continual shifting of emphasis is simply due to the fact that music and drama can be pleasur: ably related in a variety of ways.

The case against Italian opera was by no means won. Even in his German opera, Mozart gave effective colatura to the Queen of the Night. But Goossens is typical of contemporary emphasis on " drama." founded, as I believe, on the conviction that controversy should be unnecessary— has no rhyme or reason.

Platform, Yes; Pulpit, No

But here the B.B.C., if it wishes to be consistent, finds itself in a difficulty. Controversy, which is kept out of the pulpit (so far as the ban can manage it) is permitted and indeed encouraged on the plat form. Rope is given to the critics of Christian truth on week-days that would be altogether denied them on Sundays.

There is no suggestion that it ought to be possible to devise an address on the relations between capital and labour which would be as acceptable at a Communist summer school as at a study-class of the Catholic Social Guild. No profes.sor has yet been told to discuss the simple truths of the population problem in a way that will satisfy the moral theologian and the advocates of birth-prevention alike.

It is impossible to examine carefully the programmes for the last two or three years without seeing that criticism of the Christian standpoint, and in certain glaring instances statements offensive to the Christian standpoint, and false at that, have been permitted in the name of debate. Nor do we regret the freedom of debate; indeed we welcome it.

The sad thing is to find how seldom in these debates, these talks-series or whatever they were, the Christian standpoint has had an advocate to match with equal vigour its more vigorous critics. The fields through which such criticism ranges are

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