-A History of the Pianoforte and Pianeforte-Players. Translated and revised
from the German of Oscar Bie by E. E. Kellett and E. W. Naylor, Mus.D. (J. M. Dent and Co. 12s.)—The pianoforte occupies such a prominent place in modern social life, owing to its unique capability for bringing every kind of music within the reach of the amateur in the seclusion of his own drawing-room, that any account of its rise and development and peculiar characteristics is sure to meet with a ready welcome among a wide circle of readers. Our thanks are therefore due to Mr. Kellett and Dr. Naylor for presenting Herr Oscar Bie's important work, "Des Clavier," in an English dress. The authors are careful to state in the preface that their work is not so much a literal translation as a free version with considerable omissions and additions ; but in spite of this, the book is not free from the inseparable disadvantages connected with translations from German works on artistic subjects,—a somewhat diffuse and over-rhetorical style, and the retention in the text of several untranslateable Teutonic compounds. Still, the careful complete- ness and elaboration of the work, and the author's evident enthusiasm for his subject, combine to make it a valuable addi- tion to the literature of the pianoforte. The technical history of the instrument, the story of its wonderful development from the old monochord to the Steinway "Grand," combines clearness and brevity with scientific accuracy of language, and it is interest- ing to note how the peculiarities of the old clavichords (e.g., their inability to sound certain notes, as C and E, together) affected the character of contemporary music. In reading the early chapters of the work one cannot help being struck with the notable predomi- nance of English music over that of other nations in the days when William Bird and Dr. John Dill were the earliest representative types of pianoforte-players,—a predominance which was very soon to pass away, and which is only now in our own day beginning to assert itself again. Herr Bie has obviously an exuberant imagination, and the wealth of meaning he is able to read into the " Ordres" of Couperin is truly wonderful. Listen to this :— " Blooming lilies rise before us in delicate self-enfolding figures with petal-like ornamentations ; the sedge rustles eternally to its melody; the poppy spreads abroad a wonderful secret mysterious tune, with many slow arpeggio thirds ; and garlands twine themselves in festal guise on a canonic trelliswork." Such writing almost reminds us of Wagner's elucidations of his own works. Similar flowers of rhetoric disfigure the elaborate account of Beethoven's sonatas, but that the author can rise above such meaningless bombast is shown by his extremely felicitous analysis of the secret of Schubert's charm and by his clever, though perhaps unduly harsh, criticism of Mendelssohn. Agreement in matters of musical judgment is, of course, unattainable, but we think few musicians will be found to assent to Herr Bie's con- temptuous depreciation of Handel, a depreciation only too com- monly found in German critics, or in his fulsome eulogy of Mozart's pianoforte sonatas, which are surely of very minor im- portance in comparison with the rest of that master's work. We could have wished, too, that such an illustrious name as Brahms, with his very important and peculiar technical characteristics, had received more than a passing and hurried reference. The book is nevertheless, in spite of some defects, to be warmly recommended to all who are interested in the pianoforte and in pianoforte music ; it is attractively got up, and the illustrations are both numerous and entertaining.