M US I C •
" THE PERFECT FOOL."
Two years ago, when The Planets was a tremendous novelty, a very despondent caricature of Mr. Hoist appeared in Fanfare entitled " Jupiter, the bringer of Jollity." The artist had a prophetic soul, for now that we are better acquainted with Mr. Hoist's later work it is very clear that he has brought this new quality into serious music. Even among the austerities of the Hymn of Jesus it gives an essen- tially jovial character to some of the most exalted passages —a sort of mystical conviviality that has a counterpart in Herbert's " high humility." Thus it is not surprising that The Perfect Fool is one of the biggest jokes in music. There was so much secrecy about the first performance that no one knew exactly what the opera was about, whether it was a sublimated Parsifal or a twentieth-century Mikado.
The clean and vigorous Fugal Overture had admittedly no connexion with the work, and when the curtain rose the scenery suggested another production of The Immortal Hour. Beside a huge prehistoric trilithon an extremely conventional wizard invokes the Spirits of Earth, Water and Fire. The fool and his mother arrive just as the wizard falls asleep after his exertions. The fool also is sleepy. His mother awakens the wizard and learns that he has just brewed a potion that will enable him to marry a certain princess who is to visit the trilithon in the morning in order to fulfil an ancient prophecy. Whoever drinks the potion, the wizard declares,
. . . wins a bride with the glance of his eye,
With a look he kills a foe,
He achieves where others fail—with one word."
Strangely enough the same prophecy was made when the fool was born, and his mother arranges that he drinks the potion and wins the princess, while the wizard drinks only pure water. The wizard returns with an army of demons, but aided by the potion the fool turns them on to the wizard, who is burnt to a cinder except for his long pointed hat. The fool falls asleep, but the princess awakes him. She is loved by all men, but she loves the fool alone. Does he return her love ? " No ! " Thus the fool achieves where others fail—with one word. According to the legend the fool Must now be made king of that country. The priests come forward. The trumpeters raise their instruments. The crown is about to descend upon his head when the fool yawns and tumbles from the impromptu throne, asleep.
The spirit of burlesque, which grows in an elaborate crescendo only to explode in fatuity at the end of the opera, does not appear definitely until the wizard has finished his incantations. Thus the unwary are misled. This, however, is only one of Mr. Hoist's jokes. The princess is wooed in turn by a troubadour and a traveller. The troubadour strikes a pre- posterous attitude and woos her in terms of Italian opera. The suave melody of his song bursts out into a florid cadenza that should culminate in, but does not quite reach, high A. The princess adds a little phrase, and touches A natural quite easily. The troubadour, a little disconcerted, continues his cadenza, but the princess beats it with a more elaborate passage containing a high B flat. In a thin falsetto the troubadour tops this with B natural, but the princess's voice soars to the C above. Then the traveller, a Wotan-like gentleman in a wide-brimmed hat, steps forward while the brass crashes out in a glorious parody of Wagner. In a pretentious alliterative recitative this thinly-veiled Wotan splutters out his admiration until the orchestra drowns his voice in a tremendous climax. " But, Sir,—I think we have heard this before," replies the princess, and promptly falls in love with the fool. The troubadour and his followers rush forward to interfere, and hold up the entire action of the opera while they sing an extended duet, " She shall be mine," " She shall be-thine," interrupted at intervals by the explosive alliteratives of the Wagnerian traveller. Apropos of the parody of Italian opera, musicians should note the exquisitely apt use of the chord of the diminished seventh. Again, was there ever such a delicious commentary on the abuse of the leit motif system than the repetition in the orchestra, when the wizard drinks the sham potion, of the
song sung by the girls fetching water 1' Such delicious tomfoolery cannot be described, it must be heard.
In no other work has Mr. Hoist written more virile and beautiful music. The Ballet of the Spirits of Earth, Water and Fire is familiar, since Mr. Goossens conducted it at one of his concerts in 1921, but such rich music must have many hearings to be properly appreciated. The stupendous invo- cation for trombones ; the heavy Dance of the Spirits of Earth, in which the trombones are again prominent ; the restraint and clarity of the Water Dance, exquisitely sensitive in contrast and very notable for the limpid combination of violins, celesta, clarinet, and harp ; the hurtling rhythms and dynamic force of the Dance of the Spirits of Fire, are all the work of an orchestral master. Mr. Hoist produces with exactness the effects he requires.
People who think modern musio tuneless will be surprised at the loveliness of the vocal writing, grateful alike to the singers and the audience. Rhythmically the tunes are modern and unfettered, yet they are simple enough to whistle on your way home if you want to, and it is hard not to want to. There is a " round " sung by three farm girls that shows what a modern composer can do in an extremely limited form. It is a delicate miniature of restraint. There is an unaccompanied chorus in open contrapuntal style, whose beauty makes one forget to marvel at the sheer virtuosity of its construction. But it is impossible to do more than hint at the fine things in this excellent work. We have at last a real English opera, and there is nothing else in music quite like it.
Miss Maggie Teyte was adequately charming as the princess, Mr. Robert Parker was an incisive and heavy wizard, Miss Edna Thornton filled the active part of the mother amusingly, but the cast seemed one and all oppressed with the conven- tions of ordinary opera. Mr. Hoist asks at the beginning of his score that the spirit of high comedy should be maintained throughout. This is, of course, essential to burlesque, but the producer has done his work half-heartedly. To the fool, Mr. Raymond Ellis, most praise must be given. He is a capable singer, yet he was content to accept a part with not one note to sing and only one word to speak, and he acted admirably. The lighting was not altogether satis- factory, but what seemed to be an application of the Schwabe Hasait system was used with considerable effect towards