Nun gibt es Fälle, wo ein Mann so von einem Erlebnis erfüllt ist, dass er gedrängt füllt es darzustellen... er greift zur schriftlichen Mitteilung--als Beichte; zur übertragenen Form des gestalteten Bildes als Spiegelung. Mag es Klarheit für ihn, Aufklärung, Bereicherung für die Freunde, für Gleichfühlende bringen, Werbung oder Verteidigung sein, es reinigt und entlastet ihn.
JACOB WASSERMAN in Der Literat
On 19th January this year, the Society of the Friends of Music, conducted by Oscar Fried, honoured me by devoting one of their programmes exclusively to my compositions. For me, the evening was important; the performance was brilliant, the public attentive and receptive, and the subsequent criticism on the whole conveyed much respect and goodwill, and was agreed in the opinion that I want the New with emphasis on the "want". I forestalled this reproach once already (but in vain!) when I wrote the following sentence: "The creator really only strives for perfection. And as he brings this into harmony with his individuality a new law arises unintentionally."
The "new" is included in the idea of "Creation"- for in that way creation is distinguished from imitation.
One follows a great example most faithfully if one does not follow it, for it was through turning away from its predecessor that the example became great.
It was in this sense that Arnold Schönberg spoke when, to a small community of people, he showed what little help can be got from the theory of composition, for it only teaches what is known. Creativeness, however, wants the unknown.
But the unknown is existent.
The only question is, how to produce it. There is no new and old. Only known and not yet known. Of these, it seems to me that the known still forms by far the smaller part.
A Fantasia Contrappuntistica was the first item on the programme of 19th January. This work grew out of the attempt to complete J. S. Bach's last unfinished fugue. It is a study. (Every self-portrait of Rembrandt's is a study; every work is a study for the next one; every life's work a study for those who come after.) The Bach fragment is planned on four fugue subjects, of which two are complete and the third commenced. The fragment breaks off when the three themes meet together for the first time, but the "development" of these three themes is lacking.
A fugue with three subjects is always a much dreaded task. The three subjects, however, were given, and the way in which they fitted together had been made clear and the themes are productive contrapuntally.
The fourth subject, on the other hand, had to be a completely new creation; there was no clue as to its character. There was the inevitable stipulation that this fourth subject had to sound simultaneously with the three earlier ones and must also suit them. As the principal theme of the Art of Fugue (of which the "Fragment" forms the close) was not one of the three subjects already worked out it was easy to guess that this principal theme should step in (as fourth) and thus close the circle of the whole work. Bernhard Ziehn, in Chicago, gave an affirmative and conclusive answer to my question on this point, and I was able to begin this part of my work on sure ground.
From Bach's intervals I built, on these four, yet a fifth (distinctly contrasted) theme, so that my ship now moved over the difficult waters with five taut sails.
A five part counterpoint admits of 120 changes of position of the voices. Without including the possibilities of inversion, augmentation, diminution, and transposition. One single form of the Stretto alone, also admits of 120 new "inversions". To these time-honoured resources from the armoury of the school I added from my own store, the alteration of intervals, of the rhythm, and the variation of the theme. In this way the possibilities of combination became as vastly numerous as those of chess playing. With such a number of them, it was possible to continue this very important masterly score and to finish it.
Since early childhood I have played Bach and practised counterpoint. At that time it was a mania with me and at least one Fugato actually comes into every one of my youthful works. Now I found myself a contrapuntalist again although from a completely new standpoint. Nature's unbroken and hidden work had accomplished a great deal in me unconsciously, and I became aware of unexpected acquisitions, which had matured inwardly. One of the most valuable of these was the newly-found harmony that can arise through independent polyphony. Thus, I had many tools in hand for the making of a good technical building, but above all I felt as an artist; and for me the work of art is the final aim of all human endeavour. Science, the State, Religion and Philosophy all appear to me as works of art, and delight and stir me only as such.
Form, imagination and feeling are indispensable to the artist, they are the most precious of all things - those to which he offers sacrifice - the sacrifice of himself. These things I put into my work of completion and in that way it became my own. I believed I was acting in accordance with the spirit of Bach, when I placed the latest possibilities of our present-day art in the service of his plan--as the organic continuation of his art--as he himself brought the latest possibilities of the art of his time to expression.
The Fantasia Contrappuntistica is thought of neither for pianoforte nor organ, nor orchestra. It is music. The soundmedium which imparts this music to the listener is of secondary importance.
The second item at this same concert was a Berceuse élégiaque. A cradle song sung for the dead mother. Written for a small selected orchestra of strings and wind instruments, harp and celeste. With this piece, which is now two years old, I succeeded for the first time in hitting upon my own sound idiom and in dissolving the form into the feeling. This made it all the more surprising to me to read of my work being taken for the art of the Frenchman Debussy. I want to correct this error firmly.
Debussy's art propels his personal and clearly defined feeling out of his own nature, into the outer world. I endeavour to draw upon the Infinite which surrounds mankind and to give it back in created form.
Debussy's art implies a limitation which strikes many letters out of the alphabet and follows the example of a scholastic poetic pastime, of writing poems in which the A's and R's are omitted. I strive for the enrichment, the enlargement, and the expansion of all means and forms of expression.
Debussy's music interprets the most varied feelings and situations with similar sounding formulas; for every subject I have endeavoured to find different and suitable sounds. Debussy's tone pictures are parallel and homophonic; I wish mine to be polyphonic and "multi-versal". In Debussy's music we find the chord of the dominant ninth as a harmonic foundation and the whole tone as a melodic principle, without their merging together. I try to avoid every system, and to turn harmony and melody into indissoluble unity. He separates consonance and dissonance; I teach the denial of this difference. I "try", I "want", I "have endeavoured" - not that I have ever done it wholly or comprehensively, for I feel I am making a beginning whereas Debussy has reached an end.
The Concerto for Pianoforte, Orchestra and Men's Choir formed the third and last item on the programme. I endeavoured with this work to gather together the results of my first period of manhood, and it represents the actual conclusion of it.
Like every work which falls into such a period of development, it is ripe through experience gained and supported by tradition.
It does not know about the future at all, but represents the present at the time of its origin. The proportions and the contrasts are carefully distributed and, in order that the plan should be firmly established before putting it into execution, nothing in it is accidental.
The old does not yield to the new but to the better. We have this advantage over the academicians in that we hope for the new whilst we honour the old; that we can suffer and enjoy at the same time; that we willingly humble ourselves without remaining inactive.
* Written in Berlin, February 1912, for the periodical "Pan".