And His Qualities Are Underestimated
BIZET, whose centenary we are celebrating at this time, would no doubt afford an excellent instance to the type of musical criticism which, with spacious generalisation, gathers music into great racial or national classes of the champagne qualities of lightness, airiness and delicacy commonly associated with France. So widely associated with France, in fact, that Frenchmen and Englishmen were particularly concerned as to whether the decorations put up for the recent visit of the
King and Queen to that country exhibited the appropriate " taste." And the writers in the Radio Times cannot help comparing the work of a young contemporary French composer like Jean Frangaix to " the lightest of wines."
That such a delicacy is one of the qualities of Bizet's music (particularly in the orchestration) no one familiar with L'Arlesienne can doubt. The charming slow movement of the Symphony in C, discovered by Mr. Parker, and written by Bizet when he was only 17, is the tenderest music for oboe imaginable.
But it is a legend (which ignores Berlioz and Gluck, to mention only two names) that lightness and slightness are the principle qualities of French music or the only side to Bizet's.
Mr. J. W. Klein, in a stimulating article in this quarter's Music and Letters, has gathered the opinions They See Only of Bizet's admirers One Side and detractors. I think it will be found on examination that most of them admire or dislike what is in reality only one aspect of Bizet's work. Parts of Carmen are at times too rich to stomach. I doubt whether you could say this of anything of Debussy's. He was never in an unbuttoned mood.
This possibly accounts for the fact that " fanatical Debussyists have been foremost in their attacks on Bizet "; and for Jean Cocteau's assertion that " Nietzche praised in Carmen the crudity that the present generation finds in the music-hall."
On the other side we have Bernard Shaw, who, " after expressing his horrified amazement at Nietzche's infatuation for Carmen, summarily disposes of Bizet's masterpiece as ` at best, only a flimsily delicate little opera.' " Berlioz, that giant among musicians, takes the comprehensive view. In what some have considered terms —But Berlioz of excessive praise he Saw All Round calls attention to Bizet's fire and originality in The Pearl Fishers. But he does not hesitate to condemn the finale of the first act as being " of a vulgarity that is no longer permissible nowadays."
For pure musical enjoyment (as apart from interest in orchestral technique or solo virtuosity or contemporary " developments ") the best of any series of concerts this winter are the London Theatre Concerts on Sunday evenings.
On Sunday the works were Schubert's Fifth Symphony, Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466,* London Theatre some German dances, Concert a concert aria, and Haydn's Symphony No. 98. Betty Humby's piano playing was crystal clear, and Heddle Nash's singing, though inclined to breathiness, was appropriately dramatic. The orchestra was in * For a new recording of this Concerto see Gramophone Notes on this page.
excellent form, though at times the woodwind might have been more snappily off the mark.
In view of Mozart's obvious progressive maturity as a composer the late German dances were probably more illuminating than his greater works. It is amazing that any man could thus transform such trifling material by the sheer impeccability of its handling.
suspected, before I went to hear him at the Aeolian Hall last week, that Terence Beck le s, assistant Terence music master of Beckles's Beaumont, would be Recital a pianist out of the It is a rarity at these recitals to be promised a simple and sensible programme like Bach's English Suite, No. 3, in G minor, Beethoven's A major Sonata (Op. 101) and Schubert's B flat major Sonata (Op. posth.). Still rarer is such steady and tranquil playing of Bach's slow movements. The Courante, though steady, was not so crystalline, and in general I should have thought a more precise relationship of the speed of trills to their context an improve
ment. The Beethoven suffered a little, perhaps, from too genteel an approach. Beethoven is one of the composers with whom courtesy doesn't pay. In any case, this great sonata is over-rated.
I found in Mr. Beckles's playing what I always look for in a good pianist, and what many pianists with the highest reputations lack—an extremely accurate synchronisation between the two hands.
But besides being the possessor of a sound technique, which counts for almost everything in music, I should imagine Mr. Beckles' temperament is one which instinctively shrinks from any breach of an aristocratic taste.