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Polytonality

Author(s): Ian Parrott


Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 79, No. 1148 (Oct., 1938), pp. 775-776
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
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October 1938

THE MUSICA L TIMES

of listeners seem to derive satisfaction from its


performance; besides which it will be said by some
that Bach belongs to a past period and sentiment
changes with time.
There is, however, another reason why the standard
established by Bach has not been maintained or
proportionately advanced, and for this we must look
to the special circumstances in which the organ finds
its more usual employment-in
religious services.
We cannot blame organists for adjusting themselves
to requirements, for adjustment is at the root of peace.
A religious service is necessarily restricted in its
emotional scope, and since in addition all classes
of intelligence have to be considered there must also
be a limit to the complexity of any of its adjuncts.
In other words, the music must be easily comprehended, and this naturally influences the organist
both in the standard of performance and in the
selection of his repertory. Specific tastes and
flavours are certainly associated with varieties of
religious thought, but in emotional range and complexity of style a limitation will always be demanded
of the musical adjunct.
Thus until the organ itself developed an enlarged
mechanical constitution and the old types of pipe
received numerous attractive additions there was
no incentive to extend the potentialities of organ
music outside the staid boundaries set by the religious
service. The organ virtually suggested Sunday. There
were opportunities, it is true, when transcriptions
of Handel choruses or the lighter class of composition
that crossed the Channel from France were readily
and g'adly accepted, but the use of these was generally
confined to occasions when congregations were making
for the doors.
This led up to the time when the rendering of
familiar orchestral pieces revealed possibilities
suggesting for the instrument a destiny more ambitious than had hitherto been contemplated, and organ
recitals began to attract a wider public.
But the unexpected happened. When the silent
film called for something that would provide the
richness of orchestral volume, the flavour of ordinarylevel emotions, and all at a reasonable expense of
running costs, the answer was what someone described
as the 'nauseous degradation' of the American
cinema organ. Whether that observation was wit
or wisdom, opinion or prejudice, does not come
into the present subject. All that concerns us is
that a vast number of people to-day would describe
an organ as an instrument for reproducing every
familiar style of tune and dance in a tonal costume
that does not oppress by its dignity. In this connection it should be acknowledged that performers
on this type of instrument do not claim that they are
advancing the natural development of organ music;
they purvey what is obviously appreciated.
One may now ask what is or may be the natural
development of organ music. In music for the other
prominent instruments development has proceeded
by way of emotional expansion, the nature of each
instrument determining the range that is suitable
to it. Every organist is aware of the emotional
expansion introduced by Rheinberger, and how
with a basic adherence to the modified cyclic forms,
common property in his day, he moulded them to
the particular tonal features characteristic of the
organ. This was undoubtedly natural progress.
In the circumstances it was not to be expected that
music would show an advance through the organ,
but at all events the old reproach of stagnation was
removed. It meant a great deal more than extending
the repertory by transplanting the musical style
of other instruments, apt and happy as at times
that can be. Hence the high importance of Rheinberger's contribution.
When we consider what progress since his time has
brought distinction to organ music, we are unfor-

775

tunately compelled to admit that expansion has been


handicapped by the conditions governing the use
of the instrument which were mentioned at the
outset. Prominent composers have to a large extent
confined their attention to Preludes, Fugues, Chorals
and Voluntaries because these appropriately served
requirements, whereas works of wider appeal would
This brought
possibly have been held inconsistent.
with it the drawback that the framework of such
pieces relied on formulae which facilitated the process
of composition with consequent loss of inspiration.
Only, or chiefly, in lighter and slighter works has
the individuality of the organ been successfully
unfolded.
The present century is too close to us to justify
a final appraisement of what has recently been
produced. The worst that can with any justice
be said is that the prevailing tendency to force the
exploitation of complicated texture has not passed
organ music by without leaving an impression. It
is always tempting to find in excitement a substitute
for value. But there have been definitely encouraging
signs and the impetus behind these does not seem
to have exhausted itself.
With regard to public response, there is no doubt
that the cinema use of the organ has lured away the
attention of many who might have become more
interested in the wider possibilities of traditional
expansion, and it is to be feared that this has also
unfavourably affected the outlook of some organists
and disheartened their ambition to follow the higher
road. Popularity often offers an easy gradient with
plenty of elbow room, whereas progress is ever a
narrow path.
If we must get away from the restrictions of the
religious service, the only alternative is the public
organ such as the larger towns are providing with
increasing frequency. Even here we may find
conditions that are dispiriting and we must live
down the despondency which is inclined to possess
us when a large building is but sparsely occupied.
The best effects of an adequate organ can only be
realized in a large space, and we must persuade
ourselves that our enjoyment does not at all depend
on the numbers who sit around us. The principle
of filling the building with sounds that do credit to
our purpose must not give way to that of filling the
seats with all and sundry. With our present wealth
of capable performers, in several instances exceptional
performers, we surely have a good chance of establishing the organ on an equality with the other instruments. But we must entertain a wider outlook on
the domain of expression in which the organ can
fitly engage, and obtain some release from the many
conventions that have almost encrusted its reputation.
This is a task which will have to be shared by composers and executants alike.-Yours, &c.,
Gerrard's Cross.
PERCY RIDEOUT.

Polytonality

SIR,-If I may further continue the controversy,


is not the difficulty of Mr. Humphrey Searle and
myself in agreeing about polytonality due to the
fact that he thinks harmonically, whereas I think
melodically ? I did not say that several parts in
different keys can be combined on equal terms; I
meant that different keys could be suggested melodically, the interest depending on the movement of the
music. Mr. Searle seems to wish to stop the music and
analyse each harmonic effect, the chords apparently
suggesting keys. 'The resultant key, so to speak,'
as Mr. Searle puts it, 'may be quite different from
that in which any of the parts seem to be.' This may
well be the case for a short time, but a satisfactory
polytonal effect depends on the continual shifting
of the (key-) centre of interest, which is achieved
(melodically) by one part becoming in turn more

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THE MUSICAL TIMES

776

important than another. Mr. Searle has only to


listen to a series of diminished sevenths to realize
that not all chords suggest keys.
I agree that there is a great deal of music (even by
Bart6k) which is polytonal only on paper; I am
defending that which appeals to the ear.-Yours,
&c.,
IAN PARROTT.
Great Malvern.

Pianists'Tone Control: Also Conductors'


Time Control

SIR,-There is a general opinion among pianists


that they control tone, and among sailors that weather
depends on the phases of the moon; but opinion is
not proof. There is, so far, no evidence of tonecontrol. Until some exists, Mr. Wearman's elaborate
experiments seem premature.
Some hearers with their backs turned might listen
to notes of all loudnesses played by a pianist with
one artistic finger, and by someone else with a
poker. If they could tell which notes had special
tones, there would be something to investigate.
A conductor settles the time at starting, but,
unless a change of time at some point is expected

Notes

"Suppose

by the players, it is difficult to see how he can get it.


The players are dominated as a body by the swing
of the rhythm, and, unless they play by heart, have
to keep their eyes on their parts. If the conductor
unexpectedly quickens his beat, it must get perceptibly out of step before the players can notice it;
and in order to get into step with it they must play
actually faster than the beat. But the players do
not keep their eyes on the baton bar by bar; and
the eye, unlike the ear, has no sense of rhythm. In
France, the conductor makes a very long pause
after Fate's fourth knock at the door-almost
long
enough to go to sleep again-but the players expect
it, and watch him at that point.
On the other hand, it is wonderful that an orchestra
can accompany a solo singer. When a circus-horse
dances to music, success is due to the members of
the band watching the artist's feet. Perhaps
orchestral players follow the singer in a similar way
without the intermediation of the conductor. Mr.
Shore has told us odd facts about the orchestra;
perhaps some conductor will explain authoritatively
the secrets of his telepathy.-Yours,
&c.,
J. SWINBURNE.

News

and

St. Michael's Singers


The Annual Festival will take place at St. Michael's,
Cornhill, on November 14-19, the five-days scheme
being as follows: Haydn's Te Deum and Mozart's
Mass in C minor; a Bach organ recital by Harold
Darke; Magnificat from Byrd's 'Great' Service,
Tomkins's ' When David heard,' Purcell's ' Benedicite,' Carissimi's ' Jephtha,' Kodaly's ' Jesus and
the Traders,' Bach's 'The Spirit also helpeth us ' ;
Faur6's Requiem, Rootham's 'Brown Earth,' Bax's
' St. Patrick's Breastplate'; ' Samson' (at St.
The soloists include Elsie
Martin-in-the-Fields).
Suddaby, Isobel Baillie, Grace Bodey, Jan van der
Gucht, Edward Reach, and Norman Walker;
G. Thalben-Ball and W. H. Harris;
organists:
conductor, Harold Darke. The hour is 6, except for
'Samson' (5.30).

October 1938

Dutch Honour for English Journalist


Mr. Herbert Antcliffe's friends will be glad to hear
that his work for music in Holland has been recognized
in the Honours List issued in connection with the
fortieth anniversary of Queen Wilhelmina's reign. He
has been made a Ridder of the Order of Orange
Nassau-a title equivalent to an English knighthood.
It is rarely conferred on foreigners, and the only other
non-Dutch recipient on this occasion was Dr. F. M.
Huebner, a well-known German writer on philosophy.
Mr. Stewart Macpherson will lecture at the Royal
Institution of Great Britain (21 Albemarle Street,
W.1) on the four Saturday afternoons in November
at 3, his subject being the music of Brahms, TchaikovTickets (single lecture, 3s.; the
sky and Dvofrk.
course, 10s.) from the General Secretary.

I had been a flautist

"--Koralle

(Berlin)

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