Palestrina, born 1528, may be said to be the first great master of Italian music. Certainly he was the greatest master of the pure old choral style. He accomplished far more during his life than any other previous composer had done, for he wrote many masses, hymns, madrigals, and a large variety of other works. Palestrina represents, in his music, the perfection, the flower, and the fruit of all that had gone before his time. We might say that not only does he sum up all that was highest and best that was before his time, but that he opened the way for, and gave a new impetus to, music. He resembles the painter, Fra Angelico, in the reverence, the love, and the devotion that he put into his religious music. After Palestrina comes Henry Purcell, of England, who probably influenced England more, in a musical way, than any one single English composer has ever done. In his music he had the faculty of exciting practically any kind of emotion through what might be called his magical modes of expression. So that he stands with the great minds of England, and it is doubtful if any of the songs of the present will appeal to the English ear or sympathies to the same degree as do the delightful, as well as beautiful, old songs of Purcell. After Purcell follows Johann Sebastian Bach, a very giant among composers. From his time forward Germany takes rank with Italy as one of the two greatest music-producing countries of the world. Bach may be called the real father of German music, not that the Germans had not produced beautiful music before his time, but he laid music on an enduring foundation, and he, more than any one else, embodies what a musical writer calls the whole essence of the German nature. He was not only a composer of the highest order, but was a great organist as well. He wrote for the instrumental musician, unlike Handel, who was born near the same time and who wrote chiefly for the voice. Bach stands supreme as the most intellectual composer of all modern times. He carries perfection and variety of form to such a degree, that it is questionable whether all the great composers who came after him did not profit more through the study of his music than from that of any other composer. Some day the world at large will probably realise how much it is indebted to Bach for laying the art foundations of modern music and making it possible for those who followed him to profit by what he had accomplished.
After Bach there came a succession of bright stars in the musical firmament. The great Handel, writer of the "Messiah" and other wonderful oratorios, influenced England in a musical way as no other composer has ever been able to do; and England owes a debt of gratitude to him that can never be fully repaid. After Handel we have Haydn, whose greatest work, "The Creation," is filled with religious fervour. The Italians called him the "god of instrumental music," and compared his "sacred and splendid music" to the "sun in the Temple of Harmony." What Handel did for the development of the singing voice, and Haydn for the progress of instrumental music, Gluck did for the unfolding of the opera. Gluck was to the opera of his day what Wagner is to the opera of our day. But among all composers of great music, there is one who stands unique, as being in the closest communion with the very soul of music itself, born a composer and a musician, the divine Mozart. Though his life on earth was a brief one, he composed in those few years not only a greater quantity of music than any other musician before or since, but also produced greater varieties of rhythm and harmony than had been known up to his time. He gave to the world in his early years what other great masters of music frequently have accomplished only after years of mature experience. Mozart was like a meteor, flashing across the heavens, lighting up everything in its path. If ever music was inspired, Jiis music was.
The lover of music cannot help being impressed, in listening to the first few bars of Mozart's most beautiful music, with the idea that the composer knew the end of his composition from the beginning. It would seem that almost before he took a pen to write down a single note the whole composition was already written in his mind; and, when he had finished his work, it was the perfected production of the master who did not need to rewrite or in any material way change the music which flowed spontaneously from his soul. I do not think that it is fair to compare Bach with Haydn, Mozart with Beethoven, Gluck with Wagner, or Schubert with Mendelssohn. Each one of these great masters was great in his own way. Each had his message for the world. Why should we try to exalt one at the expense of another any more than we should try to attribute more glory to one star than to another? Each star is beautiful in its own way. Each star has an originality all its own. It is not by making comparisons that we shall establish the truth, but rather by giving to each one due credit for all that he has done. I do not think that we can compare Mozart with any of the other great composers. There may have been others who have done their work quite as well as he did, but when we consider what he accomplished in a few short years, we are filled with wonder at the versatility he displayed to such a marked extent, and at the great amount of his musical productions. Mozart, in the musical world, for the amount of work that he was able to do, is what Rubens was in the world of painting. Both seem to have done far more than could be expected from any one single life. It is not necessary to comment on his productions, for all lovers of music know what he has done. The one comment to make is, that we cannot have too much of the kind of music that Mozart composed.
Just a little later comes Beethoven, another of the great tone prophets of music. His influence on the music world has been of the most lasting order. There is a strength and a beauty and, at times, a wonderful simplicity in his music; doubtless in the ages to come, Beethoven will rank as one of the greatest composers of all times.