In 1911 the poet, author and musician Filson Young’s book “More Mastersingers – Studies in the Art of Music” was published. This was the second volume, following “Mastersingers – Appreciations of Music and Musicians”. The reference to Mastersingers is in the wider sense of musicians, though it is clear that Young has some interest in the works and traditions of Wagner.
This volume contains an interesting section on conductors, and considers three broad types of conductor. To exemplify the three types, Young choose Hans Richter (68 at the time, and just retiring – he made no recordings), Henry Wood (42, and knighted in 1911) and Landon Ronald (38, but already perceived as an important figure.) Wood had made no orchestral recordings at this time, having made only a few records as accompanist to his wife Olga. Ronald had recorded extensively as piano accompanist to singers such as Melba, Patti and Ancona, and had conducted orchestral accompaniments for Melba in 1904 and 1910. He had also recorded some sections of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite and a very abridged Grieg Piano Concerto with Backhaus in July 1909. It is clear however that at the time that Young wrote this book, the conducting of Ronald and Wood was known mainly to those who had attended their concerts, and not from records.
I reproduce the relevant section of the book in full below. Please be aware that the paragraph on the competing Jewish and English aspects of Landon Ronald’s character is a product of its time, but does emphasise the positive aspects of his Jewish heritage.
I – THE DISCIPLINARIAN (Henry Wood)
II – THE EMOTIONAL (Landon Ronald)
III – THE INTELLECTUAL (Hans Richter)
THE ART OF THE CONDUCTOR
Conducting as we know it to-day – that is to say, the interpretation of complex symphonic music by one man – is an entirely modern art. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven never heard their works as we can hear them. In one sense they wrote entirely for the future; when they looked at their scores they no doubt realised and heard with the inner ear all the delicate effects and possibilities of which the music was capable; but they never heard it with their outward ears. Even at the time of Beethoven’s death orchestral performances were extremely rough; there was no such thing as a really trained professional orchestra, accustomed always to play together, available for the interpretation of symphonic music; but small permanent orchestras were on such occasions reinforced by amateurs, with such results as we know. And even when Mendelssohn, who did so much to draw attention to the great music of the past and to secure its adequate interpretation, came to conduct symphonies and large orchestral works, his sole advice to conductors was to take everything at a fairly brisk tempo, so that faults of execution should not be too prominent. And this was his own method.
The modern art of conducting was invented by Richard Wagner. In saying this I do not forget Hector Berlioz, who at the same time and by different means had arrived at profound dissatisfaction with the existing methods, and laboured to improve them ; but Berlioz founded no school of conducting, while Wagner sent out disciples all over the musical world to spread the good news that the “pigtail” school, as he called it, was at an end, and that orchestral performance was a thing as capable of variety and contrast and delicacy in the range of its expression as any other form of musical interpretation. This art arose entirely from his own works. He had indeed, by long and patient study of Beethoven, Mozart, and Weber, arrived at the conclusion that the orchestral works of the great masters had hardly ever been properly heard, and his essay on conducting marked an epoch in the history of music. But when his own scores came to be examined, they were pronounced unplayable. By the old methods, moreover, they were unplayable, and ghastly indeed must have been some of the performances of opera orchestras in Germany at their first rehearsal of his scores. No amount of merely beating one, two, three, four in a bar could produce melody and harmony out of the chaos presented by the score. The thing seemed hopeless.
Like every creator or originator, Wagner had to begin at the beginning and form the tools with which his work was to be done. Liszt and Von Billow, the greatest contemporary masters of the technique of the pianoforte, were the first to realise that there was at least a possibility of the performance of Wagner’s works; they had learned from him how to conduct Beethoven, and the knowledge thus gained was applied to the interpretation of his own scores. And after them he trained a whole band of disciples in the interpretation of his operas – Richter, Seidl, Levi, Richard Strauss, Mottl, Weingartner, and Nikisch were the chief of them; all these became great exponents of the new art of conducting.
These men had many varieties of quality and talent, but it will be seen that one thing was common to the equipment of all of them: they were all trained in the interpretation of one set of works – Wagner’s own operas. And that fact gives us the key to the new art of conducting as compared with the old art of beating time; for they had these scores absolutely in their heads. They lived with them; their lives were spent in rehearsing and copying and drilling until every note was as much their own as if they had themselves composed the score; thus when they came to conduct they were not merely reading the music of the printed page a bar in advance of the orchestra; they were leading the orchestra in something that was within themselves, something that came from their own inner being. They knew every note of every part, often knew it better than the player himself; and if he stumbled or made a mistake they could sing the right note for him through all the maze of other parts.
This kind of familiarity with the score on the part of the conductor had been practically unknown before, and it is one of the chief features of modern conducting. Before the conductor to-day confronts an orchestra with a new score he has probably spent hours in silent study of it, reading it to himself as you read a book of which you wish to master the contents, and being already familiar with the sound of every part of it when he takes his place at the first rehearsal. The first band of Wagner’s disciples, realising the enormous mastery which this familiarity with the music gave them over the orchestra, applied it to other works which they had to interpret; applied it in time to every piece of music laid on the desk before them; with the result that in the chaos of a first “running-through” they could recognise the relation of the orchestral players’ efforts to the true results intended by the composer.
The interpretation of the Wagnerian scores was also a great training ground for conductors in the actual instrumental technique of the orchestra; and in the extension of this, and the first modern definition of it in the form of an authoritative monograph, the work of Hector Berlioz is pre-eminent. It was of old the invariable excuse of the lazy orchestral player to pronounce a passage presenting any unusual difficulties “unplayable”; and the ignorant conductor, hesitating to contradict the player on a matter concerning the technique of his own instrument, was obliged to accept his verdict. But Berlioz and the disciples of Wagner changed all that. They armed themselves with an exact knowledge of what was and what was not possible for every instrument in the orchestra; they were careful not to write anything physically impossible. They thus abolished a great piece of bluff with which orchestral players had hitherto been able to oppose the exacting conductor ; for composers had often written without any regard to the construction of the instrument employed, had even written notes which did not exist on the instrument; so that the conductor who should have demanded their execution would have been laughed at by his band, which would not fail to take advantage of this state of affairs when presented with a passage which was merely difficult and not impossible. But under the new regime the conductors very often knew as much about the technique of the instrument as did the players themselves; they were firm in demanding the execution of passages which were only difficult because they were unusual; and the natural pride of the artist, responding to the challenge, was found equal to the new demands. The old phrase “I can’t do impossibilities,” or “I can’t play notes that are not on the instrument” gave way to “If the instrument can play it I can play it.”
The first result of this was a great increase in the efficiency of orchestral players, who began to find that their work was not a mere dull, slovenly, and rhythmic scraping and blowing, but a new and intricate art in which their artistic pride was challenged, a task arduous indeed and involving hitherto unheard-of labour and study, but rewarded, as all true artistic labour is, by the new interest and intrinsic joy found in the doing of the work. Thus the conductors improved the orchestras; the orchestras reacted on the conductors; the public found new pleasure in listening to orchestral performances; composers found a limitless field of possibilities in orchestration, and the whole art of music, borne high on this great wave, was swept forward to a new stage in its development.
The secret of conducting is domination. That can be achieved in various ways; sometimes by magnetism, as in the case of Nikisch and Landon Ronald; sometimes by intellectual weight and assurance and calm majestic grasp of the whole artistic material, as in the case of Hans Richter; Sometimes by unflinching strictness and discipline, as in the case of Henry Wood; sometimes by sheer native enthusiasm for the work, as in the case of that unique person among conductors, Thomas Beecham. We shall consider the chief of these methods in the persons of their exponents; but we must bear in mind that the domination thus exercised must also be founded on absolute technical equipment. The man who stands up before an orchestra with a baton in his hand stands before a most formidable array of expert criticism, compared with which the criticism of the audience behind him is as nothing. Every member of the orchestra is in a sense the conductor’s examiner in a branch of art of which the player has made himself a master; and the slightest failure or the smallest lack of grasp will not go unnoticed. And orchestras are very like a collection of schoolboys in some ways; although they may consist of serious and responsible artists, they will at once take advantage of any lack of firmness and any lack of knowledge on the part of their conductor, and, according to the circumstances, be impish, mulish, stupid, or perverse. If they think that their conductor is trying to impose upon them in any way, they will put up one time-honoured bluff after another; and equally, if the bluff fails or is seen through by the conductor, they will smilingly give it up and either try another or set to work in serious earnest. Unless the conductor holds them in the hollow of his hand, he is entirely at their mercy; they can ruin his performance if they choose; or, if he has won their sympathy, they can help him over the awkward places in which any conductor may find himself, and never give him away to the audience. Therefore the first thing which the conductor has to achieve is absolute mastery of his forces. Let us study this mastery as revealed in three personalities.
I – THE DISCIPLINARIAN
If Sir Henry Wood had no other claim to consideration he would be famous as the man who had made good orchestral music on a large scale popular and possible in London. There were pioneers before him, of course ; the names of Manns and Henschel, for example, should never be forgotten in England; there were societies and orchestras subsidised by associations of rich amateurs; there were a few enthusiastic musicians who gave orchestral concerts willingly, not hoping that they would pay, but content if the concert-giver could get out without serious loss. How the association of Henry Wood and Mr. Newman came about which changed all that is an old story now; but it is a story that has brought great and deserved credit to Henry Wood and great convenience to the London public. Among other things, it has raised Henry Wood from the position of a City organist to that of the chief of English conductors; I do not think that any one could seriously and justly deny his right to the title. For a long time, indeed, he was the only English conductor equipped with a modern technique and modern methods; for brief as the history of the art of conducting is, it has already passed through two phases – the school of Wagner and Bülow and Richter, who were its authors and beginners, and whom most of the great German conductors have followed, and the school of Nikisch, who, although originally one of Wagner’s young men, has carried the art of conducting a stage farther than that to which his masters brought it, and whose influence on the modern French and English schools is strong. Henry Wood was the first conductor in England to realise that a very perfect manual technique is as important for a conductor as for a pianist; he was also the first to acquire it. For a great many years his prestige was unchallenged, his position unthreatened; no one else had a chance. But like all great pioneers he sowed more than he could reap himself, and other men have come up to share the harvest with him. It is inevitable, and he will be the last to regret it; for time and the seasons cannot be bound to the ploughshare of one man, nor are those his only harvests which he gathers with his own hand. In a way Henry Wood has had a great part in preparing the success of some of the younger men who are now becoming his rivals. For a long time their rivalry was not serious; but a few years ago a wave of new life went over orchestral music in London, and instead of one conductor and one orchestra there were half a dozen. Henry Wood’s position was no longer unchallenged; one felt that the time had come for him either to make good his position by further energy and advance, or to prepare for that slow process of retiring into the background, which is the ultimate fate of every successful man, however brilliant he may have been.
He held his own. The summer seasons of Promenade Concerts rouse an increasing degree of enthusiasm among their frequenters, who have excellent value for their money, and hear an unusual number of new works as well as all their old favourites; and to carry through a season like this, with a long concert every night conducted in a stifling atmosphere, as well as going through all the work incidental to other orchestral engagements, is a feat in which no living conductor has achieved so much success as Henry Wood. It is true that of the new works produced by Henry Wood there are more foreign than English compositions ; he has always shown a preference for foreign music, notably for that of the Russian and Slav schools; in fact, we owe a great deal of our knowledge of such music here to him. I am delighted that he should continue on this line; there are plenty of other people looking after English music – in fact, we are in for something like an orgy of it, and that also is an excellent thing and a sign of native artistic life. But modern English music has many grave disadvantages from the conductor’s point of view, and Henry Wood is a conductor who has always above all things played for his own hand. He has not the rehearsal time to spare for a complex work unless it is likely to take a permanent place in his repertoire and to add to his own credit as a conductor – a perfectly comprehensible point of view. Such works are almost always difficult and require serious rehearsing to make anything of them; they are generally scored for a large and therefore expensive orchestra, and the box-office receipts show quite clearly that the economic response to them is not commensurate with the artistic enthusiasm which produces them. Often works like these, which have cost time and money to produce, become practically obsolete after their first performance; in other words, every penny spent in producing them has to be written off; whereas the same money could often be invested in the preparation of other new works which would almost certainly prove popular. I think this state of things will gradually change, but in the meantime the guarantors of concerts, and often the members of the orchestra themselves, have to bear the losses incidental to musical patriotism.
But from Henry Wood’s point of view there is another reason why he leans so much to music of quite a different school – because it particularly suits his genius as a conductor, and music of the English school, with rare exceptions, does not. And what is the nature of this genius? I am told that Henry Wood is nicknamed by members of his orchestra the “Band-Sergeant,” and the name indicates the direction in which a great part of his successes and a certain part of his defects lie. He is a great organiser, a great disciplinarian, a great business man, a great showman; he undertakes to produce a certain effect on the public, and he produces it. His rehearsals are more like barrack-yard parades than the easy-going, pipe-smoking, just-run-it-through-gentlemen-please conversaziones of the old days; programmes are mapped out like time-tables of a great railway system; it is pure business from first to last. That is a great strength; let no one think that any kind of excellence, artistic or otherwise, is achieved by loose and slipshod methods. Yet there remains in the art of interpreting music an entirely intangible, ethereal quality that cannot be bound or scheduled or reduced to a departmental system; and sometimes from amid all Henry Wood’s perfect organisation and perfect discipline that wayward spirit escapes and flies away, and the result is hard and mechanical and soulless. That it should be so is not wonderful; that it should so seldom be so is to me very wonderful indeed.
I have spoken of Henry Wood’s technique and of his sympathy with Slavonic music. It has indeed moulded him, moulded his mind, and affected even his appearance, so that now he looks more like a foreigner than an Englishman – an effect to which the flowing tie and rugged beard contribute. Henry Wood is a great master of savage rhythm and of extreme nuances, but not of those subtler dynamic variations which make their balance and contrast within a much smaller range; he is great at the thunder and the whisper, but not at that steadier and more human diapason that is the body of life and art in this world; he can always produce an effect, but he is not so good at interpreting a condition or a mood. Perhaps this is little more than saying he is, like most of us, imperfect; that the upper part of his face, with its fine brow and magnetic eyes, is not matched by the lower part; that he is a god with feet of clay – or, say, Orpheus in peg-top trousers.
He has certain mannerisms with which the world is familiar – a fixed routine of gesture which personally I think tiresome and unworthy. I would not like to say that my opinion is shared by the majority of his public, or that the performance which he goes through when conducting a great work is not carefully calculated to assist his personality. But it is a melancholy thing, after listening to a really fine interpretation of a noble work, full of fire and rhythm, passion and tenderness and understanding, to see the interpreter posturing before the audience, with gestures comparable only to those of a trapeze performer who has just alighted on the canvas, bending on this side and that, and describing, between bearded lips and the utmost reach of his arm, arcs in the air which Ruskin might have described as “curves of beauty,” but which for my part I find merely disconcerting and disagreeable. Yet it would be easy to exaggerate the importance of these defects of Henry Wood’s qualities – qualities which have raised him where he is, high above most of us who criticise him. Forget his antics and gestures in the moment of applause ; watch his right wrist when he is at work – that most wonderful wrist in the world of conducting; watch the left hand, which talks to the horns and the wood-wind and ‘cellos like a familiar spirit; watch that glance which is always ready to look up from the score a second or two before some unimportant entry to reassure the player that the master’s eye is on him and the master’s mind controlling his work – look at these, and you will be studying the elements of a technique which is in many ways unrivalled in the world, and marks in England the greatest height to which we have so far attained in this art.
II – THE EMOTIONAL
The greatest master of the emotional method was Nikisch; but his emotion is becoming worn out, spent, exhausted; and his mantle has fallen on his disciple, Landon Ronald, who is the chief exponent of this method in England. Ronald as a conductor is one with the musicians and composers of the young English school who, although themselves the reverse of academic, are really the true musical progeny of the more academic generation which preceded them, and which some of them affect to despise. One of the soundest characteristics of this young English school – the best of them, I mean – is their extreme technical accomplishment; a quality which they owe almost entirely to the despised contrapuntists. They are all aware that the contrapuntists were woefully lacking in inspiration; and they feel, no doubt, that the contempt that they entertain for their methods can best be justified by a younger generation that shows itself not inferior to the old in technical ability.
Nothing could be less academic than Landon Ronald; nothing could be more accomplished or more modern. He does not affect the antique in any way, nor believe that in order to be great it is necessary to be old-fashioned. He is as up-to-date as his own motor-car, and as commercially formidable as a Jersey city land agent or Dr. Richter. He is entirely typical of his own time, as any man who proposes to do great things must be. But he is a product of something much greater than his own time. He has the blood of a great race in his veins, which, mingling with his English blood, gives to his wide and solid ability that additional quality of imagination and emotionalism, of excess even, that has carried the Jews so very far on the two open roads of imagination of modern times – art and finance. Of course in this racial admixture lie also such snares and pitfalls as are likely to be encountered in Landon Ronald’s career. The Englishman in him desires to be like other people; the Jew in him insists on an individuality of its own. The Englishman thinks of prosperity and a safe success; the Jew in his dreams of greater things, of a hazardous but splendid pre-eminence, and devises means for its attainment. The Englishman says, “Be like other people, but appear to be different”; the Jew says, “Appear to be like other people, but be different.” And in Landon Ronald the Jewish characteristics, seen in him at their very best, are winning everywhere because they are the greater. They represent the stronger, the more soaring side of his nature; and though their English partner works well in harmony with them, it is the negative part that he plays; it is they who lead and determine, they who are the dark, unknown, implacable Mr. Jorkins, and the Englishman who is the bland and deprecating Mr. Spenlow, of Dickens’s famous partnership.
Landon Ronald, though far from being the greatest, is probably the most accomplished all-round musician at present (to use a delectable phrase) before the public. If he had not determined to be a great conductor he would certainly have been a great pianist; and if he had not been a great pianist he would probably have been a great violinist. The one thing in music that he probably would not have been is a great composer; instead, he is one of the most accomplished composers in his own line that one can imagine. Composition, oddly enough, represents the commercial side of him. The shop is filled with Compositions – well written, always interesting, always acceptable to his public ; and in the shop he serves for so many hours a day, handing you out songs, overtures, suites – what you will; all honest value for your money. But the dwelling-house behind the shop is full of dreams and poetry. It is there that what is great in him lives and matures; comes to itself a little more every day; and comes not by idle waiting for the hour, but by the closest study, the hardest work, the most unsparing effort. It is to that element in this double personality of Landon Ronald which he must pin his faith; it is that element that inspires his orchestra; it is that element which, if he gives it fair play, will penetrate to a wider and more discerning world of taste than that rather inferior circle that buys, sings, and adores his sentimental compositions.
Since he has had an orchestra of his own he has advanced enormously in technique and in certainty of touch. No one can really judge him who does not hear him at his own symphony concerts. The New Symphony Orchestra, which he has made entirely his own, is certainly one of the best orchestras in London, and will in time be a great orchestra; but like all young and more or less struggling organisations it is often heard under disadvantages of place and rehearsal. You cannot, for example, judge any orchestra by hearing it in the Albert Hall, where it and Landon Ronald perform every Sunday afternoon. Yet his work there is quite admirable; whatever you hear there, whether it is a great or trivial work, you may be sure that it will be done with care, with trouble taken to make its good points tell and to bring out whatever interest there may be in it; in a word, whatever Landon Ronald does he takes trouble to do as well as he can. But to realise how thoroughly well he can do you must go to his symphony concerts at Queen’s Hall. There even an uninstructed amateur cannot fail to realise some of his most striking qualities – his splendid grip of the orchestra, his quite unusual concentration, and (what follows from it) that almost psychic quality of magnetic control without a little of which no one can be a good conductor at all, but of which Landon Ronald has almost as much as Nikisch at his best.
His methods, were they not entirely his own, are based on those of Nikisch. He is frankly an imitator, but of the right kind. He knows what he is trying to develop in himself, and whenever he sees something that will help in that development, a missing fragment of the pattern he is building within himself, he steals, begs, borrows, or imitates it. The result is not a patchwork of other men’s methods; the result is Landon Ronald, because the thing towards which he is striving is not external, but within himself. The two most typically fine interpretations of his that I know owe practically nothing to any conductor that I have ever heard; they are the Elgar Symphony in A Flat and Weber’s “Oberon” overture. I have heard the Elgar Symphony conducted by Richter, by Wood, by Nikisch, and by Elgar himself; but I have no hesitation in saying that the broadest, loftiest, and most sympathetic interpretation of that work is Landon Ronald’s. And in the “Oberon” overture he displays a poetic sense quite startlingly unlike what only a casual appreciation might have led one to expect. The remote, dreamy entrance of the horns at the beginning, floating in as from another world, the light and rapid series of crescendi at the end, are wonderful; they have a true quality of fairy music such as I have not found so happily achieved in the rendering of any other conductor. His style is perfectly quiet, and free from antics or disagreeable affectations. Perhaps he is a little too much addicted to an undulating movement of the lower arm, wrist, and hand invented by Miss Maud Allen; but undoubtedly he means something, communicates something, when he uses it. The small, dapper figure expresses little; it is the striking head and powerful physiognomy, the burning, commanding, compelling eyes, the wide forehead, frowning or serene, and, above all, the changeless, unwinking attention to what is going on in the world of sound about him that brings his orchestra, and through them his audience, so completely under the power of his personality. There is brain dominating the sentiment, and intellect controlling the emotion; and as a result there are outline and proportion, those valuable qualities that are so rarely allied with a temperament so sensitive and volatile as his.
Emotion is at once the power and the snare of a temperament like this. Emotion is no friend to judgment; overthrows judgment, in fact, and drags it along in its wake. Landon Ronald can do nothing about which he is not enthusiastic; and as one cannot always be in an enthusiastic mood, he must either batter himself into enthusiasm for a neutral subject or do it flatly and badly. The thing that he does best is the newest and the latest thing that has attracted his personality; he pours the whole of himself into every new mould that attracts him. His personality is thus always fluent and ductile; but this continual emotional expenditure is rather like that of a man who is living up to every penny of his income and putting nothing by in the bank against the day when the springs of emotion shall have run dry; who reinvests his capital every day, moreover, with a little wastage in the process. I do not say that at present this is a fault of Landon Ronald’s; I say that it is a danger. He will have to beware of the defects of his qualities; of temptation to deviate from the main certainty to follow the main chance; of letting his vitality stream off in other directions than from the end of his baton; of exercising, in his impatience with other people’s incapacity, the commercial side of his faculties at the expense of the artistic; of caring too much for the applause of the crowd so long as it is large enough, without considering of what elements the crowd is composed. If he avoids these dangers he will go far and fare well, and stand at last in the company of the great.
III – THE INTELLECTUAL
It is very far from being a complete description of Hans Richter as a conductor to say that he is intellectual; but he stands among the exponents of this art as the supreme type of domination by mind, by force of knowledge, by all-embracing comprehension of the whole matter in hand. His work is done now; he has lived to see the second generation of conductors spring up, and the art of which he is the living head develop possibilities which even Von Bülow and Wagner never realised. Richter is so great that he can never become obsolete; but it is probably true that his method in any other hands than his own would already be regarded as old-fashioned, and those who should imitate his technique would find themselves taking up a wand that in their hands was lifeless.
A great many adjectives have been used in the attempt to fix and define the peculiar quality of Richter’s genius as a conductor. The statement that he is a past master at his business is not sufficient; for although his immense experience and the numberless resources for meeting an emergency which are always at the command of an “old hand” would in themselves be enough to give him a unique position of authority among orchestral players, they would not account for his power over audiences often ignorant of the technicalities in which he works. It is his personality which accounts for that. There is a massive plebeian impassiveness in the very round of his back that suggests the peace and security, not only of the individual, but of a whole race of men. One might find grander terms for it, and yet do him less justice than by describing his principal attribute as an immense stolidity – stolidity allied to a prodigious slow momentum or power of going unsensitively on to the goal he has in view. Thus he not only arrives himself, but he sees that those under his command arrive with him.
His technical methods in conducting are wonderfully different from those of the ultra-modern school, although to many of them he has been the chief inspiration. The large wadded pole which he wields is not more different from the slender wand of Nikisch than is the ponderous stability of the one man from the volatile energy of the other. It is a saying attributed to Richter that he never makes two beats where one will do, never beats four in a bar where he can hold his rhythm together by beating two ; and this is characteristic of the man and of his interpretations. This method means often the sacrifice of some very fine detail, or rather it means the necessity of trusting for it entirely to the player. For where a detailed phrase occurs on the fourth beat of a bar in which the conductor is only beating two or even one, it is impossible that he should control the player’s phrasing. But it also makes for a large simplicity and coherence in the outline of the whole piece; and it is in the achievement of that outline that Richter is supreme and never fails. He often seems to miss fine points, phrases the value of which has been discovered and exhibited by conductors whose minds are bent on detail; but you never, in any performance conducted by Richter, fail to obtain a definite impression of the composition as a whole. Your impression may be right or wrong, or, let us say, more right or less right according as the music is of the kind that Richter himself understands and sympathises with; but it will never fail of a meaning of some kind, consequently it will never bore you or seem dreary as the same work might if presented by another conductor in a long series of brilliant episodes, each interesting in itself, but all remaining detached and incoherent to the end.
Among the great discoveries made by Wagner in the art of conducting, and of which Richter became undoubtedly the greatest exponent, his power of achieving an outline, or due balance of proportion, among the component parts of a movement, is probably the chief. And other arts of the conductor which are not half a century old are the achievement of a long crescendo or diminuendo; the building up of a long climax by a series of pianissimos working up to mezzo fortes, which thus produce the effect of fortissimos without anticipating or forestalling the effect of the grand fortissimo at the climax; the securing of pure cantabile tone in the inner parts of the orchestra; the achievement of a real pianissimo and real fortissimo instead of the commonplace mezzo tone of the pre-Wagnerian orchestra; the effects to be obtained from fermata when prolonged to the right extent, and the melodic use of many sections of the orchestra formerly regarded as valuable only for rhythmic purposes. These things are now the heritage of every conductor, but it is really Richter who developed them, expounded them and added them to the resources of modern music.
Undoubtedly the best place to study his methods, and the place in which his qualities were most splendidly exhibited, was the opera. The “old hand” reigned there in all his glory; of all the disconcerting accidents that could happen in the performance of an elaborate Wagnerian opera, there was not one that had not happened to him already; there was not one that could disconcert him or for a moment disturb his phlegmatic security. The most nervous player could hardly fail to be reassured by that heavy, motionless figure and grave incurious countenance; in the most tempestuous moments of musical storm and dramatic commotion he sat at his desk controlling it all, like an old scholar reading in a lamp-lit room. Nothing moved but the arm, except that occasionally the grave countenance and beard slowly revolved in a half-circle to left or right; but behind the spectacles were eyes, weary-looking at all other times, that could be trained upon defaulting players with gimlet sharpness. He was utterly indifferent to applause; at the end of a great performance of “The Ring” he would step down from his desk, and look up at a house shouting with enthusiasm for him alone, with a countenance no more expressive of emotion than that of a cow looking over a fence. It was at once comic and grotesque and sublime, but it was much more sublime than anything else.
And if the opera was his kingdom, Meistersinger was his throne in that kingdom. He is a part of Meistersinger as much as Pogner or Eva or Sachs; when he took up the stick the whole of that great music seemed to flow out spontaneously, inevitably, like a banner unrolled at his bidding. That was the place to study his method and his power of achieving an outline; that was the place to observe his peculiar methods of obtaining a climax, his manner of treating a long crescendo or diminuendo so that there was always a sense of something kept in reserve at the end of it; there, in a word, was the place to make a study of artistic achievement and mastery, of what could be done by work and enthusiasm and simplicity of purpose in this world of dissipated forces.
The supreme conductor of the future will have to add to all the technical accomplishments and emotional magnetism of his age the dignity, the simplicity, and the humbleness of this great man Hans Richter; and it will be a task worth attempting.