The trebles and the altos were of course the great difficulty; the boys often burst into tears; they said they preferred to die rather than endure his discipline. He was often sorry for them, for he knew that the perfect singing of this contrapuntal music was almost impossible except by castrati.
At the same time he made sarabandes, gavottes, minuets, chaconnes, passepieds, gigues, polonaises and rondos dance across the piano in quick succession; and his comments were as spirited as his playing. "Professor MacDowell's criticisms were clear and forceful, and filled with many surprising and humorous touches. Of Bach he said, 'Bach spoke in close, scientific, contrapuntal language.
An appalling scheme of self-amusement is seen in his "Caprice," in which a theme of eight measures' length is instrumented with almost every contrapuntal device known, and with psychological variety that runs through five movements, scherzando, vigoroso, con sentimento, religioso, and a marcia fantastico. The suite called "Village Fête" is an experiment in French local color.
The reform Palestrina undertook, or was entrusted with, was the ending of the old scandal brought upon the Church by the elaborate lengths to which contrapuntal composers had gone in using popular melodies, and often even street songs of an obscene nature, as a foundation melody or cantus firmus for their vocal gymnastics.
So great was the scandal throughout the whole world of church music that contrapuntal music came near being abandoned entirely. It was given a last chance in a proposition to Palestrina to see if it were worthy and capable of redemption.
Even Tchaikowsky, who was a good deal of an intellectualist himself, and dubbed "perfect," in a characteristically servile letter, every one of the thirty practice fugues that Rimsky composed in the course of a single month, complained that the latter "worshiped technique" and that his work was "Full of contrapuntal tricks and all the signs of a sterile pedantry."
With its contrapuntal weaving it leads to the final chorus, and also it puts Sachs back again into the position from which the importance of Walther's song has thrust him: it is a last reminder that the opera is a glorification of song, and that the masters have a sacred trust to guard song pedantry and commercialism.
There is an unnecessary deal of marching and countermarching of instruments, an obsession with certain rhythms that becomes purely mechanical, an intensification of the contrapuntal pickings and peckings that annoy so often in the compositions of Brahms. It is Schoenberg the intellectualist, Schoenberg the Doctor of Music, not Schoenberg the artist, who obtains here.
Francis. Byzantine icones become frightfuler and frightfuler, their theological piety perhaps sometimes relieved by odd wicked Manichean symbolism; all talent and sentiment abandoning painting, perhaps to the advantage of music, whose solemn period of recondite contrapuntal complexity something corresponding to the ingenuities and mysticism of theology might have come two centuries earlier, and delighted the world instead of being unnoticed by it.
It may be remarked that though the instrumental writing is symphonic, there is none of the contrapuntal intricacy of Tristan: the pictorial requirement warranted a freer use of chords in the accompanying parts, both if a paradoxical phrase may be pardoned for the abstract colour of the chords and for the instrumental tone colour which the use of chords permitted.