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Musical Critics Criticised,
BY JOHN EDMUND COX.
WERE it possible that the whole musical profession could be polled, and that the honest opinion of every individual member thereof could be obtained, in defiance of the terror which generally prevails amongst them, the verdict would be all but unanimous that the criticism of the present day in this direction is as perverse and mischievous as it is contemptible. This is a straightforward and an unqualified assertion; and having made it, I am bound to offer reasons and to give proofs for having done so.
The great organ of musical criticism in London is "The Times." It is in the columns of "the leading journal of Europe"- as this daily newspaper is termed that the longest and the best written articles, so far as "the English" is concerned, appear. Proceeding from such a source, those articles command public attention, and create, as they are intended to do, an impression which, once fixed, is not easily eradicated.
That this journal is "an institution," I would by no means venture to deny; but were its original articles, whether musical or otherwise, presented to its readers with the names of the various writers appended, opportunity thus being given for ascertaining who and what they are, the terror they inspire, and the countenance and good will which are sought to be obtained, would at once be diminished or disregarded. The musical profession knows well enough upon whom to fix the slashing article or damaging paragraph, which may in a moment lay low the prestige already obtained at home or abroad, and which it may have taken years to gain; but, gnash their teeth as they may, and utter imprecations deep but not loud, as they do, against anonymous assailers, the public-which believes thoroughly in newspaper criticism-is content to accept the omne ignotum pro mirifico, and to judge and act accordingly; so that, in point of fact, were any debutant to sing like an angel, or to play after the same fashion, the chances are as a thousand to one that he or she would never make a reputation, or be believed to be capable of taking or holding the position it is the aim, the study, and the work of a life to attain. The well educated portion of the public-which consists of units, whilst the body is made up of thousands-may appreciate every damaging sentence at its true value, and utterly disregard the opinion of a self-constituted authority; but
the musical profession depends upon the support of the masses for daily bread; and if Mr. This, or Mr. That, in the columns of so powerful an organ as "The Times," or other supposed authorities in any other journals, "damn with faint praise," sneer at their capabilities, or cut up their pretensions with the most unsparing severity, little else but ruin will too often follow as an inevitable consequence. Then it is frequently the case that a bare sustenance, instead of enlarged means, which might easily have been won, becomes the lot of a toilsome and disappointed life. That mere pretenders should be unsparingly handled, few will venture to object. Then, criticism, if it be only honest, would occupy its legitimate sphere, and be-what it ought always to be-the means of exposing charlatanism and of purging out the dross, which, from being "written up" constantly, assumes the colour, without possessing a particle of the substance, of fine gold.
It is not, however, to this journal alone that the criticism of which the musical profession has so long had reason to complain is to be attributed. To some of its prominent features I shall more positively advert before I have concluded my remarks. There is scarcely a metropolitan journal of either daily or weekly publication that does not lie open, more or less, to the same accusation, so constantly preferred against "The Times." The musical critic of that journal is supposed to be a "well-built,"-that is, a thoroughly educated. -musician, one who perfectly understands the theory, and has made himself a master of the science in all its details. Whether he be so or not, I do not pretend to determine. I have not, nor ever have had, nor am I ever likely to have, any personal acquaintance with him. The only means I have of ascertaining whether the reputation he enjoys is well-founded or not, is furnished by a short accompaniment to a song printed in "The Harmonicon" many years ago, with his name attached, and from a set of quadrilles, for which the music of Rossini's "Stabat Mater" was exclusively adapted - an arrangement, speedily withdrawn after publication, but of which a sufficient number of copies are extant to prove the fact of an unpardonable and gratuitous insult having been offered to that eminent composer. I will, however, give the musical critic of "The Times" the benefit of the doubt, and will take it for granted that he really is a musician, and that he not only can read a score, but write a melody, and instrument it after its creation. The smaller fry, however, of musical critics do not possess these acquirements. Any musician may easily detect, from the blunders they are continually making, that whatever knowledge they have, has
been gained at second hand, and that were they to be put through the mere facings of the drill upon which the study of music, like every other science, insists, they would look exceedingly foolish.
There is another point, upon which I can only briefly touch, which, to a large extent, helps to make musical criticism unsatisfactory-the habit, recently adopted, of one individual buying up the services of certain eminent artistes for a stated period, and refusing to permit them to appear anywhere but at his own concerts, or, where he may make the best possible terms for himself, by letting them out upon hire. Against this monopoly, we look in vain for the slightest rebuke through the organs which are supposed to direct public opinion. Indeed, it would be strange if censure were met with, inasmuch as the speculator is sufficiently wise in his generation to employ the critics' services to write analyses and paragraphs. It is not likely, therefore, that he (the critic) will quarrel with a system which "brings grist to his mill." There is also said to be another custom rapidly gaining ground in concert-giving that singers and players are allowed to appear, by purchasing a number of admissions for the performances at which they "assist!" If this be so, the critic, should he write at all, does so as "a wolf in sheep's clothing." So long as such a custom as this obtains, it is selfevident that anything like independent musical criticism is impossible.
But this is not the worst. The "Times" critic does not merely wield the powerful weapon which that journal places at his disposal. He has the credit of controlling no less than three other journals. His lucubrations appear now and then in the " Saturday Review"; frequently does the "Pall Mall Gazette" avail itself of his services; and week after week a publication exclusively devoted to music-the "Musical World "—of which, if the same writer be not the sole proprietor, he is at least its accredited editor and manager— repeats all he has already said, and often (sometimes) more than he has ventured to introduce into the columns of the more important organ at his command. But, as it is with the "head," so is it with the "branches." The musical critic of the "Standard" and "Morning Herald" is also the sub-editor of the "Musical World." It can, therefore, occasion no surprise that as it is with the master, so is it also with the man. A similar arrangement is said to prevail in the case of the critic of the "Telegraph"; the "Observer" and "Sunday Gazette" being regularly supplied by the same gentleman who "does the music" for the newspaper which publicly asserts that it has "the largest circulation in the world!" The "Morning Post" is furnished with
musical notices by a gentleman who is employed to write occasional strictures for the "Pall Mall Gazette," when its more powerful contributor is otherwise engaged. The critic of the "Daily News" and "Express"-one concern in fact-enjoys, however, the reputation of acting independently of any other paper, or any other class of writers, and says what he believes to be right, and honest, and true, without favour or affection, and with an utter disregard of that system of cliqueism which it is so desirable to expose and explode. This gentleman is also accredited with fulfilling the same duties for the "London Journal," in which, although the observations are by no means laudatory as a general rule, they are at least candid and fair. There are several other journals besides those to which I have referred, such, for instance, as the "Athenæum"-the musical critic of which has peculiar views, which he expresses with no slight tinge of acerbity, making himself frequently more of a partisan than it is ever advisable for a critic to be, but never laying himself open to the accusation of being either servile or subject to the control of others; and the "Orchestra,” the property of a musical "Limited Liability Company" in Regent Street, the many caustic remarks of which would occasion greater terror among musical artistes, and its gauntleted hand would do more positive damage to the musical profession, were it not devoid of the influence which attaches to "The Times," and other more important daily and weekly organs. As, however, with the critic of the "Athenæum," so also is it with those who have the control of the "Orchestra." No one who knows anything about those gentlemen will, for a moment, accuse them of catching their inspiration from the critic of the leading journal, or of writing upon dictation, notwithstanding they again and again. go very far towards imitating his invariable bitterness.
It is frequently asserted-for the truth of which I do not pretend to vouch-that a dread of the sarcasm of "The Times" critic is so generally prevalent that scarcely a foreign artiste ventures to appear in London without seeking to propitiate him, and that an English performer would scarcely dare to come before the public, if it were thought he or she would be severely handled in a journal of such enormous influence.
The following circumstances very currently reported, probably have given rise to this impression. Not very long ago a pianist of the highest continental reputation, Mdlle. Clauss, came to London Whether from the continent with the highest recommendations.
she sought the good services of the musical critic of "The Times,"
I do not pretend to say. My impression, from what actually transpired, would lead me to believe she did not do so. Largely gifted as this young and accomplished lady is-brilliant and facile as is her execution-full of sentiment and feeling as are her interpretations of the works of the greatest and best masters—she failed to secure the good opinion of her critic, and was persistently written down for some months. All at once, however, "a change came o'er the spirit of the critic's dream," and severity became "fine by degrees and beautifully less." Mdlle. Clauss, however, speedily withdrew from London, and has not, to the loss of the public, been heard for several seasons. Another lady, a pianist of the most brilliant powers, left, by the decease of her accomplished husband (a composer, whose works are beginning to be appreciated, in the very teeth of all that has been and still is written against them) with the hard lot before her of having to educate and support a large family, which but for her exertions would have starved, was treated after the same fashion. She was accused of "bullying the pianoforte," of giving exaggerated readings of the compositions she presented, of being, in fact, incompetent to receive here the same mede of approbation which the most accomplished of musical critics, and the cognoscenti of the continent had there accorded her. What Madame Schumann suffered from such "hard measure," those who know her intimately can most positively testify. But whilst this line of writing was pursued, there was another female pianist before the public-an accomplished and intelligent English performer, possessed of undoubted talent, and gifted with a power of mechanism that is rarely indeed met with. Upon this lady no praise was too large to be lavished. Week after week criticisms appeared in "The Times" in her behalf calculated to make it appear that she alone was the greatest of modern pianoforte players. That Mdlle. Arabella Goddard was in every respect what "The Times" said of her, some persons may doubt; but giving her all the credit due to her, and richly deserved as the loudest praise awarded her may be, its reiteration became nauseous so long as others, possessed of equal gifts with herself, were represented as being scarcely worthy of the smallest consideration. Madame Schumann, however-for reasons easily to be explained, but upon which I refrain from entering, because it might be touching too closely on private affairs, not as referring to herself, but to the critic, and the lady he so largely praised-has ceased to be exposed to the damaging observations which would have crushed her, had she not been a woman of indomitable