In Defence of Hanslick by Stewart Deas

Revised edition with a new preface. Gregg


The Romantic notion of God as creative artist (and conversely) carries the corollary that the critic must be the very devil. From the first, the creator has always looked with favour on his own work. But soon a hissing noise was heard in the Garden (as it sometimes is today). Hanslick was music's first great snake in the grass, with that ungodly gift of telling bad from good which distinguishes the advocatus diaboli. No wonder that he began as a law student, or that he later came to need a counsel for his own defence.

   Stewart Deas first accepted that brief in his short monograph of 1940, which discusses (mainly by direct or indirect quotation) some aspects of Hanslick's life, work and repute. The book might acceptably have been reprinted for its historic interest. Much better still, it might have been revised and enlarged to take the measure of Hanslick present enhanced stature, to which Mr Deas himself must surely have helped to contribute. Instead we have an uneasy compromise; a half-hearted, lop-sided face-lift which shows up some odd old features - where more blemishes can be spotted by the reader in 30 minutes than by the author in 30 years (e.g. the three misprints reproduced unchanged on p.34).

   The only new items are a four-paragraph preface, a few lines of bibliography and (though the title-page has failed to notice the fact) an eight-paragraph replacement of the last chapter. The main novelty of the first two is their fiat contradiction of each other about the date and extent of the Gregg Hanslick reprints. The bibliography also. announces, rather helplessly, that Hanslick's' text for two illustrated Gallerien apparently cannot now be traced (how about trying the BM catalogue for a start?). Even the new ending offers no new conclusion. But at least the sources of quotation; are somewhat up-dated. The contemptuous dismissal of Hanslick by Ernest Newman (b1868) receives some compensation from Friedrich Blume (b1893). The latter's MGG article (reverently quoted as a peroration, but not included in the bibliography) rightly associates Hanslick with a whole new, trend of aesthetics and criticism in Germany and Austria. But what of that influence in England and America? And (since theory and practice may not be unrelated) what of Hanslick as the harbinger of the Schoenbergian revolution? On such scores Mr Deas is silent; and the few things he has to say are rarely in his own words. The reason is, I think, a rare and genuine humility. The author is as modest as his book. Mr Deas seems not only to lack the ego needed to genera ideas, but also to disavow any such intention. Characteristically, he justifies his wholesale reliance on quotation by yet another quotation. He claims with Hanslick, that his pleasure in his work in inverse proportion to the honour due to him. One can't help wondering whether this also applies to the honorarium; the price is so much larger and more demanding than the commodity. For £3, one is surely entitled to expect something other than an inadequately revised 30-year-old essay consisting mainly of quoted excerpts from or about Hanslick. He and we must deserve bet than that from one of the world's best-informed authorities on the subject.


The Musical Times, Nov. 1973 (p. 1124) © the estate of eric sams