December 27, 1919
Page 6
Modernism Effaces Melody and Form, Deplores Mme. Chaminade

French Composer Finds that “Music is a Negligible Matter in Modern-Day Works”—The Gullibility of the Public—Bringing Back Wagner Without Exaggeration
Nice, Nov. 24, 1919.

SATURDAY evening I left Paris in the chilling slush and rain of mid-winter. The next day I was lunching at Toulon in the sunshine of early summer beneath waving palms. Two hours later I was paying a visit to Mme. Chaminade at Tamaris on the Mediterranean. Chaminade! Who would not remember the exquisite musical lyrics, the sweet insinuating melodies that seem to represent an epoch all their own, at the mention of this name?
At Tamaris, a short boat-ride from Toulon, the charming French composer spends the winter months in a delightful dreamland at her Villa Provençale. The surroundings well befit the personality of Chaminade, who impresses one as being of some past generation. In her one finds embodied all the grace and graciousness of a past era, of a French lady of culture and refinement, with an electrifying esprit of a day in France before democratic Bolshevistic tendencies, greedy shop-keepers and hoteliers left their detrimental imprint on the country’s daily life.
When Chaminade listens to your remarks, she is gentle, all attention. But when she speaks, her personality exerts the same characteristic attraction and charm as her music. She speaks with a refinement, unfortunately not often encountered in our present all too often vulgarly self-assertive era. Her conversation is like an over-bubbling brook, augmented by those exquisitely graceful gestures, ah, those elegant gestures that would put any Delsart teacher to shame.
As we gradually drifted into musical discussion, after all the charms and advantages of Tarmaris had been duly pointed out to me, it became apparent that Mme. Chaminade is none too well content with the turn musical development has taken of recent years.
Deplores Modern Trend
“Effacement, complete effacement, of all melody and form, seems to be the watchword these days!” the composer exclaimed.
“You don’t approve of the moderns then, I gather!”
“Modern; oh, it is no longer a question of simple modernism, it seems to be a case of archo-modernism with music playing but a negligible role. Not all of those included among the present-day moderns can be so reproached, but still a very large number, and the public stands for it all and allows itself to be cajoled into the belief that we are only passing into a new, a superior era.”
“But was there ever a time, Madame, when the general public was not fairly gullible?”
“Don’t I know how true that is,” Mme. Chaminade replied with a whimsical uplifting of her hands. “A propos, that reminds me of an amusing episode of the past. A number of years ago, just as I was getting well known, I met a certain wealthy and influential music patroness in Marseilles who haunted even the most select musical salons. Unquestionably, this lady had given much valuable assistance to the cause of music. But, unfortunately, she also insisted upon discussing music, of which she was utterly ignorant. On a certain evening that had been arranged for my compositions, all of which I played or accompanied, this lady persistently would voice her opinion in a very patronizing air, invariably concluding with the remark: ‘Yes, yes, my dear Madame, your compositions are ‘very pretty, very clever, but it is invariably apparent that the same person wrote them all. So much sameness; you understand?’ I confess this nettled me to the extent of wanting to get my revenge. So, after initiating several of my fellow artists who were to be at the next Salon, I went to some pains to excavate a number of not very well-known smaller compositions of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn. These works I then played at the next Salon without specifying them, from which many present, the disconcerting patroness among them, deduced that they were my compositions. When I had concluded, the same half patronizing, half pitying remarks were poured over me. Whereupon, one of the initiated took the liberty of pointing out the several composers I had just played. Even in that well-regulated salon we could not control our mirth. But I am afraid the plutocratic lady never forgave me my little trap.”
Re-Entrance of Wagner
These days in France one cannot avoid drifting into a conversation about Wagner. So this topic was also broached before we knew it. We spoke of Chevillard’s having re-introduced Wagner in the Lamoureux Concerts, of which Mme. Chaminade fully approved.
Opposes Wagner Festivals
“But,” said she, “I notice a tendency to exaggerate this Wagner question just now. The re-establishing of this foreign composer in France is becoming just a bit too spectacular for my taste.
“Besides, I think it is wrong, very wrong. Why, they are even speaking of Wagner festivals. And that I think is nothing less than an imposition, at least here in France. The war has not the least thing to do with it. But did we ever consider the giving of festivals of our French composers; of Saint-Saëns, d’Indy, Massenet, Debussy? Probably they were not as great as Wagner. Let us grant that. But they were our composers, they were French and here we are in France. So I consider anything like a fêteing of Wagner as decidedly inopportune. Let us by all means give his works, at the opera and in concerts, as a welcome asset to a repertoire or program, but let us French at least refrain from unbefitting, sensational worship of such foreign creations.”
As Mme. Chaminade was bidding me adieu in the ray of lamp-light (mind you) flooding the southern garden, I felt for all the world as though a deep dream had transported me back to the days of our grandparents when romance and the simple joy of living counted for so much more than in the strenuous existence of automobiles and telephones, and those other contrivances of our modern epoch. —O. P. JACOB.


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