<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> Reversing the Critical Tradition: Innovation, Modernity, and Ideology in the Work and Career of Antonín Dvorák <p> <p> LEON BOTSTEIN <p> Today when we open a published history of music, we encounter in every second sentence the word <i>evolution</i> ... This is the conventional mode of presentation, in which the simple always functions as precursor of the more complicated, and the more complex is regarded as a more advanced elaboration of the primitive. This mode of conceptualizing is the result of the fact that contemporary musical scholarship is a consequence of the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century was, however, in all its perspectives dominated by Darwinian theories of evolution. The way in which this theory of evolution has been interpreted has doubtlessly led to a dangerous misunderstanding. —Paul Bekker (1926) <p> The de-romanticizing of the world, which we now face, was set in motion already before the war, but it was completed by it ... The machine, which conquers distances in shorter and ever shorter times, is self-evidently opposed to the romantic. The romantic thrives on distances, and even creates them artificially. With the discovery of the railroad, the romantic certainly was not killed, but the commerce and worldwide traffic that the railroad set in motion gave it its first and painful wound. A glorious isolation of the artist became a rarity.... by necessity, a leveling process will spread throughout the world. To the extent the machine shines in all corners of the world, then the romantic must die. —Adolf Weissmann (1928) <p> <p> Modernism and Dvorák's Reputation <p> These reflections by two of Germany's most respected critics were written during a pivotal period in twentieth-century musical life. By the mid-1920s, the modern, in terms of music, had taken its essential shape. The post—World War I alternatives to the common, late-romantic language of expression had appeared before the public. A spirit of change pervaded musical life. "Progressive" composers such as Schoenberg and Busoni had undertaken "a radical dismantling of the established syntax of Western music." And a neoclassic and neoromantic reaction to these new developments was audible. <p> In the years between the two World Wars the audience for music in the home and in public had enlarged well beyond the social and economic range deemed possible during the later nineteenth century. Radio broadcasts and the gramophone were perhaps the most significant factors. Interest in music theory, history, and criticism had become widespread. In German-speaking Europe, and in England and America, the popularity of a handful of works by Antonín Dvorák, who utilized the "established syntax" of music in a wide-ranging and eclectic manner, represented the apex of the rapid democratization of a high art musical culture which began at the fin de siècle. Not surprisingly, the first serious, full-length, English-language biography of Dvorák appeared in the 1920s. It was written by the Czech piano pedagogue Karel Hoffmeister and translated by that tireless advocate of Czech music, Rosa Newmarch. <p> Hoffmeister concluded his biography with an extended plea on behalf of Dvorák. His audience was twofold: his fellow Czech readers and the greater European audience. To his Czech compatriots, Hoffmeister called for a reconciliation between the followers of the two warring camps in Czech musical life, one that claimed Smetana as the true exemplar of Czech music and another that traced its lineage proudly to Dvorák. For his European audience, Hoff meister sought to raise the standing of Dvorák to that of "Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Cesar Franck." <p> From the mid-1870s to the present, Dvorák's accessibility and popularity have remained linked to the critical estimation of his music. His music seemed <i>merely</i> beautiful. Dvorák's success, his appeal to the audiences of the fin de siecle, stemmed, in the view of critics both pro- and anti-Dvorák, from the fact that his work was essentially "naive," simple and spontaneous. These epithets mirrored, for both progressive and conservative critics, a pervasive cultural nostalgia. Dvorák's popularity appeared symptomatic of either failed expectations or the basic mistrust of the widening audience for music that surfaced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Hoffmeister's argument was understandably defensive. He struggled to reverse a standard interpretive line. At the 1901 libel trial brought against the <i>Musical Courier</i> by Victor Herbert, a friend and colleague of Dvorák's, an expert witness—John Goodrich—testified that Dvorák was an "unoriginal" composer who developed "other people's ideas." <p> The near-hit tune popularity of the Ninth Symphony (and to a lesser extent the Slavonic Dances, the Eighth Symphony, and the Cello Concerto) did not help the cause. Viewed by cognoscenti as a weaker but more accessible work (in comparison to Dvorák's mature Sixth and Seventh Symphonies), the "New World" Symphony was one of the very few works from the nineteenth-century concert-hall tradition to have won the hearts of a mass audience by the mid-1920s. <p> In making his argument, Hoffmeister conceded, albeit inadvertently, much ground to Dvorák's critics. He accepted a portrait of Dvorák as a "quiet cautious conservative peasant." Dvorák was "intuitive" as opposed to "intellectual"; a "simple soul" (clearly in the best sense) and not possessed of a wide and profound "spirit." His musical achievement was "lyrical" rather than "dramatic." <p> Dvofak Typical of the critical conception of Dvorák's place in musical history and culture that Hoffmeister sought to overcome were the arguments leading European and American critics put forward in 1904 following Dvorák's death. The obituary feuilletons by Richard Aldrich in the <i>New York Times</i> and Robert Hirschfeld in the <i>Wiener Abendpost</i> articulated a conventional but curious mix of affection and condescension. <p> Dvofak Aldrich granted Dvorák the quality of genius but raised doubt as to whether he would be "numbered among the immortals." Despite Dvorák's "provincialism" and "a certain primitiveness," Aldrich saw Dvorák's passing as marking the end of an era of symphonic music. Dvorák left no "successor" who could successfully resist "the prevailing tendencies" of the day. Aldrich concluded: <p> He seemed, indeed, the last of the naive musicians, the direct descendant of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert, rejoicing in the self-sufficient beauty of his music and untroubled by the philosophic tendencies and the searching for new things to be said in a new way which animate the younger men of today ... Dvorák's Schubertlike fecundity was not without its penalties ... his admirers ... would have preferred to hear less of the obvious, less of the first impulse, and more of the reflection that shapes and finishes to perfection. <p> The very same week, in Vienna, Hirschfeld wrote: <p> Dvorák's music has no profundity. He does not, as Bruckner, dig into the depths of his soul to bring forth an Adagio. Everything came too easily to him. One can see it in his last quartets ...: he tossed them off as he did with the first quartets. Though he equips them more richly here and there, no more challenging problematic of counterpoint or ideas commands his attention. He does not strive to go beyond the beautiful, harmonious sound and a healthy reality ... Dvorák did not stand in the great line of historical evolution. He was a follower and stood to the side, a strong and shining personality who in his works gave voice to a national sensibility. In the music history of his people his work will resound gloriously. In the world history of the arts, a single line, albeit one of honor, will suffice. Outside the borders of his homeland, one will reach for this or that selection from his most beautiful chamber music works with optimism (a quality of Dvorák's artistry), with delight in the sounds and filled with pleasure; but without being drawn to it by inner necessity, or the hope of stirring the soul or being drawn toward a glimpse of a secret, mysterious other world. <p> <p> By the 1920s the residue left by these attitudes was the relative neglect of much of Dvorák's music in the concert hall. The famous works were hallmarks of "popular," high art music—examples of Weissmann's contemporary "leveling" of taste. They were dismissed as easy to listen to and superficial. Heinrich Schenker, an admirer of Smetana's who had reviewed Dvorák's music unfavorably in the 1890s, reacted to two broadcasts of Dvorák's music—the Eighth Symphony in particular—in the late 1920s with withering contempt. Schenker's dismissal of Dvorák was reminiscent of Hugo Wolf's anti-Dvorák reviews from the 1880s. A line of anti-Dvorák criticism in the German and Austrian world remained strong. The claims of later Czech writers notwithstanding, even Biilow and Joachim were never free of doubt. Dvorák, despite his talent and pleasing surface, was no match for Brahms or Beethoven. Bruckner was reported to have commented, when a student praised Dvorák's orchestration, that "when you paint a pair of sausages green or blue, they still remain a pair of sausages." Max Bruch, no doubt spurred by envy, had limited respect for Dvorák. <p> In textbooks on theory and analysis from German-speaking Europe, including those by Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, and Felix Salzer, examples from Dvorák are notably absent. For the authors of those texts, Dvorák was explicitly not a composer from whom one might learn the craft of composition. German critics, sensitive to the accusation that it might be Dvorák's Czech identity that accounted for his not being taken seriously, used Smetana as a foil, as did a comparable group of Czech critics, celebrating the latter's invention and command of form invidiously against DvofSk. <p> As Bekker correctly diagnosed, a teleological logic within the narrative of the history of music held sway. His reference to Darwin was not arbitrary, for the consequences of the spread of a progressive evolutionary conception of music history were twofold. First, composers who did not appear to contribute to an avant-garde, a cutting edge in technique, style, and form, were set to the side. Second, the criteria of dominance, influence, and originality (analogues to the idea of successful mutation and to the victors in the struggle for survival and natural selection) were used to validate aesthetically a normative sequence of style and periodization. The primitive was superseded by the complex. In this context the marginal place assigned to DvoMk by Aldrich and Hirschfeld in comparison to Brahms and Bruckner seemed justified. A lack of pivotal historical significance, particularly in the evolution toward innovation and complexity, meant qualitative inferiority. <p> Schenker's disregard for Dvorák may have been immune from a pseudo-Darwinian logic, but Theodor W. Adorno's was not. For Adorno, the ascendant innovative forms in history contained their dialectical opposites. The power of regressive tendencies and tastes threatened cultural and political progress. Dvorák's work and popularity were evidence of corrupt imitation and decline, of the dismembering of the unity of the symphonic form propelled by political reaction and nationalism. <p> As Weissmann's lament implied, Dvorák's music and its popularity signaled a late nineteenth-century shift away from the ideals of high musical art inherent in the premodern and capitalist tradition. For Adorno, the symptoms of that shift were the orchestral medley masquerading as a symphony, and the commercial hit tune. Both these evils were present in Dvorák's work. Adorno understood, albeit implicitly, that part of Dvorák's explicit project as a composer was to bridge the gulf between the public of the concert hall and the emergent world of modern popular music—a project later embraced by Victor Herbert and George Gershwin in America and Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler in Germany. <p> The early twentieth-century devaluation of Dvorák was a consequence of the idea that genuine musical modernism needed to be part of an aesthetic critique of modernity. Progressive composers and reactionary critics in the early twentieth century sustained the late nineteenth-century faith in music's inherent immunity to ordinary representation and therefore to appropriation by extramusical factors. Even when music was integrated with the poetic and the visual, it had the power to resist, for example, Weissmann's dreaded machine. <p> The modernist rejection of the "syntax" inherited from the nineteenth century reflected the effort to restore the unique autonomy of musical communication. The redemptive power of the aesthetic through music seemed to demand a rejection of an affirmative relationship to the audience and therefore a sacrifice to the conventions of surface comprehensibility on which Dvorák's music thrived. Dvorák's reputation suffered as a result of contemporary critics' expectations of some sort of disturbing profundity in his work. Without this significance, music was mere entertainment, without access, as the virulently antiinodern critic Hirschfeld put it, to "a secret, mysterious other world." <p> This belief in music's special role, particularly as a means of resistance and rejection of a corrupt and harsh external world, was a legacy of Richard Wagner's polemics. Aesthetic formalism (e.g., as championed in the writings of Eduard Hanslick) was regarded as supportive of the idea that music was merely decorative, a private pleasure—affirming, in a complacent sense, a dubious present. Hanslick's aesthetics robbed music of its critical edge. Formalism separated aesthetics from ethics and politics. It was an insufficient theoretical description of the power and essence of music. In Wagnerian terms, music needed to function on behalf of a community. Music was a spiritual agency acting to transform the economic and political future. <p> The Utopian (and in Weissmann's terms, the romantic) content of Wagner's ideas and the special power of Wagner's music had not been lost on the Nietzsche of <i>The Birth of Tragedy</i> (1872). Even after his break with Wagner, Nietzsche's use of music as metaphor and his references to music sustained the myth of its special character and power as a medium of resistance and authenticity. His cunning sarcasm notwithstanding, Nietzsche used music, to the end, as a foil by which to pierce the pretentions, horrors, and corruptions of modern life. <p> These issues were addressed explicitly in the writings of Hoffmeister's teacher, the most significant and influential Czech aesthetic theorist of the late nineteenth century, Otakar Hostinsky. For Hostinsky, Dvorák's contemporary, the criteria of aesthetic judgment vis-a-vis music had to be part of a larger philosophical and political project. Within the Czech context, Hostinsky (whose sentiments were rather pro- Smetana) saw in music the power to reach beyond mere formal beauty, without sacrifice to the unique autonomy of music. A reconciliation of Hanslick and Wagner could ensure the possibility that music's impact on the public would remain at a level of Schopenhauerian intensity peculiar to music. For Hostinsky, formalist aesthetics "set to the side" the "content, the cultural moment of art" in favor of the purely "aesthetic," which ultimately was only "one of the many possible tasks of art, but not the exclusive one." <p> In his theoretical amalgam of Hanslick and Wagner, Hostinsky accepted the need for music in the "cultural moment" designed to further a social and cultural movement. Czech national identity needed to be advanced through music based on the most rigorous formal aesthetic expectations as well as on the poetic and the visual. Music's aesthetic integrity, Hostinsky argued, could be preserved in mixed forms. Music, in the work of Smetana and later Zdenek Fibich (the third man in the trio of leading nineteenth-century Czech composers), advanced a cultural project explicitly critical of the status quo. By transforming, for example, speech in the melodrama "into music as much as possible," music as an aesthetic force could be linked directly to content and act as a leading force in cultural change. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>DVORÁK and His World</b> Copyright © 1993 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.