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Great Thoughts Of Great Minds On Music

( Originally Published 1920 )


MUSIC! miraculous art, that makes the poet's skill a jest, revealing to the soul inexpressible feelings by the aid of inexplicable sounds ! A blast of thy trumpet, and millions rush forward to die; a peal of thy organ, and uncounted nations sink down to pray. Mighty is thy threefold power! First, thou canst call up all elemental sounds, and scenes, and subjects with the definiteness of reality. Strike the lyre ! Lo ! the voice of the winds, the flash of the lightning, the swell of the wave, the solitude of the valley ! Then thou canst speak to the secrets of a man's heart as if by inspiration. Strike the lyre ! Lo ! our early love, our treasured hate, our withered joy, our flattering hope ! And, lastly, by thy mysterious melodies thou canst recall man from all thought of this world and of himself, bringing back to his soul's memory dark but delightful recollections of the glorious heritage which he has lost, but which he may win again. Strike the lyre ! Lo ! Paradise, with its palaces of inconceivable splendor and its gates of unimaginable glory !


Even as in Music, where all obey and concur to one end, so that each has the joy of contributing to a whole whereby he is ravished and lifted up into the courts of heaven, so will it be in that crowning time of the millennial reign, when our daily prayer will be fulfilled, and one law shall be written on all hearts, and be the very structure of all thought, and be the principle of all action...

We do not hear that Memnon's statue gave forth its melody at all under the rushing of the mightiest wind, or in response to any other influence, divine or human, than certain short-lived sunbeams of morning; and we must learn to accommodate ourselves to the discovery that some of those cunningly-fashioned instruments called human souls have only a very limited range of Music, and will not vibrate in the least under a touch that fills others with tremulous rapture or quivering agony...

Surely the only courtship unshaken by doubts and fears must be that in which the lovers can sing together. The sense of mutual fitness that springs from the two deep notes fulfilling expectation just at the right moment between the notes of the silvery soprano, from the perfect accord of descending thirds and fifths, is likely, enough to supersede any immediate demand for less impassioned forms of agreement.


For when one does hear an artist who combines good singing with intelligible pronunciation and dramatic power, who feels both words and Music-what immense increase to one's pleasure, and one's profit! A thing, once heard, never to forget! Then one recognizes that one is listening to fine poetry, clothed and decorated with a robe which the poet himself with all his imagination and his skill was powerless to weave-which the musician alone could construct for him. Then one sees how words which as you read them seem to fly to Heaven are by the Music indued with still more celestial colors and a still swifter flight made to grasp still more firmly and deeply the chords of the human heart. Then one realizes that fine singing is only fine speaking; and that the great function of Music is to intensify and ennoble the emotions and aspirations which the poet had put into the words.


The statue of Memnon poured out its song of joy, when the rays of the morning sun fell upon it: and thus when the rays of divine Truth first fall on a human soul, it is scarcely possible that some-thing like heavenly Music should not issue from its depths. The statue, however, was of stone : no living voice was awakened in it : the sounds melted and floated away. Alas, that the heavenly Muse drawn from the heart of man should often be no less fleeting than the song of Memnon's statue...

Song is the tone of feeling. Like poetry, the language of feeling, art should regulate, and perhaps temper and modify it. But when-ever such a modification is introduced as destroys the predominance of the feeling,-which yet happens in ninety-nine settings out of a hundred, and with nine hundred and ninety-nine taught singers out of a thousand, the essence is sacrificed to what should be the accident; and we get notes, but no song. If song, however, be the tone of feeling, what is beautiful singing? The balance of feeling, not the absence of it...

After listening to very fine Music, it appears one of the hardest problems, how the delights of heaven can be so attempered to our perceptions as to become endurable for their pain.


Has not Music taken your own turbulent emotions, and expressed them for you in. the storm, leaving you sublimely elevated and yet sublimely calm at the close? . . . Music is an emotional Medium, fitted to express the mystic and complex emotions of that hidden life made up of self-analysis, sensibility, love, prayer, trance, visions, ecstasy, which gives to the human soul that inner and intense quality of spiritual independence which stamps and qualifies all human progress... Let the heaven-born art of Music spread: let it bless the homes and hearths of the people; let the children sing, and sing together: let the concertina, the violin, or the flute be found in every cottage. . . . And while Music refines pleasure, let it stimulate work. Let part songs and sweet melody rise in all our Crowded factories, above the whirl of wheels and clanking of machinery; thus let the factory girl forget her toil and the artizan his grievance, and Music, the civilizer, the recreator, the soother and purifier of the emotions, shall become the Music of the future.


Let us take another instance of an outward and earthly form, or economy, under which great wonders unknown seem to be typified; I mean musical sounds, as they are exhibited most perfectly in instrumental harmony. There are seven notes in the scale; make them fourteen; yet what a slender outfit for so vast an enterprise! What Science brings so much out of so little? Out of what poor elements does some great master in it create his new world? Shall we say that all this is exuberant inventiveness, is a mere ingenuity or trick of art, like some game of fashion of the day, without reality, without meaning? We may do so; and, then, perhaps, we shall also account the science of theology to be a matter of words; yet, as there is a divinity in the theology of the Church which those who feel cannot communicate, so is there also in the wonderful creation of sublimity and beauty of which I am speaking. To many men, the very names which the science employs, are utterly incomprehensible. To speak of an idea or a subject seems to be fanciful or trifling, to speak of the views which it opens upon us to be childish extravagance; yet, is it possible that that inexhaustible evolution and disposition of notes, so rich yet so simple, so intricate yet so regulated, so various yet so majestic, should be a mere sound, which is gone and perishes? Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of heart, and keen emotions, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be wrought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself? It is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our Home; they are the voice of Angels, or the Magnificat of Saints, or the living laws of Divine Governance, or the Divine Attributes; something are they besides themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter-though mortal man, and he perhaps not otherwise distinguished above his fellows, has the gift of eliciting them.


All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other works of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it. That the mere matter of a poem, for instance, its subject, its given incidents or situation; that the mere matter of a picture-the actual circumstances of an event, the actual topography of a landscape-should be nothing without the form, the spirit of the handling; that this form, this mode of handling, should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the matter:-this is what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in different degrees...

It is the art of music which most completely realizes this artistic ideal, this perfect identification of form and matter. 1n its ideal, consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the form from the matter, the subject from the expression; they inhere in and completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore, to the condition of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to tend and aspire. Music, then, and not poetry, as is so often supposed, is the true type, or measure of perfected art. There-fore, although each art has its incommunicable element, its untranslatable order of impressions, its unique mode of reaching the "imaginative reason," yet the arts maybe represented as continually struggling after the law or principle of music, to a condition which music alone completely realizes; and one of the chief functions of aesthetic criticism, dealing with the products of art, new or old, is to estimate the degree in which each of those products approaches, in this sense, to musical law...

It is to the law or condition of music, as I said, that all art like this is really aspiring; and, in the school of Giorgione, the perfect moments of music itself, the making or hearing of music, song or its accompaniment, are themselves prominent as subjects. On that background of the silence of Venice, which the visitor there finds so impressive, the world of Italian music was then forming. In choice of subject, as in all besides, the Concert of the Pitti Palace is typical of all that Giorgione, himself an admirable musician, touched with his influence; and in sketch or finished picture, in various collections, we may follow it through many intricate variations-men fainting at music, music heard at the pool-side while people fish, or mingled with the sound of the pitcher in the well, or heard across running water, or among the flocks; the tuning of instruments-people with intent faces, as if listening, like those described by Plato in an ingenious passage, to detect the smallest interval or musical sound, the smallest undulation in the air, or feeling for music in thought on a stringless instrument, ear and finger refining themselves infinitely in the appetite for sweet sound-a momentary touch of an instrument in the twilight, as one passes through some unfamiliar room, in a chance company.

In such favorite incidents, then, of Giorgione's school, music or music-like intervals in our existence, life itself is conceived as a sort of listening-listening to music, to the reading of Bandello's novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies. Often such moments are really our moments of play, and we are surprised at the unexpected blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not merely because play is in many instances that to which people really apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress of our servile, every-day attentiveness being relaxed, the hap-pier powers in things without us are permitted free passage, and have their way with us. And so, from music, the school of Giorgione passes often to the play which is like music; to those masques in which men avowedly do but play at real life, like children "dressing-up," disguised in the strange old Italian dresses, particolored, or fantastic with embroidery and furs, of which the master was so curious a designer, and which, above all the spotless white linen at wrist and throat, he painted so dexterously.

And when people are happy in this thirsty land, water will not be far off; and in the school of Giorgione, the presence of water-the well, or marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring of water, as the woman pours it from a pitcher with her jewelled hand in the Fete Champetre, listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls, blent with the music of the pipes-is as characteristic, and almost as suggestive, as that of music itself.


Musical training is of a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the secret places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul graceful of him who is rightly educated, or ungraceful of him who is ill educated; and, also, because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute her as a friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.


None of the arts is encumbered with so many prejudices as music. Though accessible to every human being, its right position in the family of arts is, in many cases, underrated; its philosophical and aesthetic meaning entirely overlooked, or not understood at all. About none of the other arts has so much nonsense been written as about music.

In our day, as in earlier times, we find mankind making music the vehicle of all that is good and bad. Now it is prescribed for medical purposes; then it has to serve as a means for educating our ill-tempered youth; now it has to inspire the timid soldier with patriotic fire; then it is invoked as a help-meet by the frivolous, etc. But worse than all, here appears an esteemed author, who does not find anything of the sort in music, and who declares that it expresses nothing at all: it is merely a combination of agreeable sounds to please our sense of hearing, and to tickle our nerves more or less. "It does not refine," he says; "it does not elevate; it does not strengthen. It leaves the moral nature quite untouched. It has no moral-nay, no intellectual influence."

While we possess many technical and aesthetical works on architecture, sculpture, painting, and poetry, within the comprehension of the general public, music has, as yet, to struggle, in order to find its due and true place. That which, in a great measure, accounts for this state of things is the one-sided education of our musicians themselves-in general, at least. Their whole attention is directed, in most instances, towards the technical side of musical art. Their appreciation of the history, the philosophy of their art is a dark indistinct understanding and presentiment, and many of the false theories about music are due, in a great extent, to their want of a more general knowledge and logical power. Thus, the aesthetical side of music is entirely in the hands of the philosophers and speculative authors, who have, unfortunately, not the necessary technical musical education, and whose theories, therefore, are built on sand. Or else it rests in the hands of amateur authors, who write about the art as their fancies lead them...

Music is not an isolated art. It forms a most necessary link in the great family of arts. Its origin is to be looked for at the same source as that of the other arts. Its ideal functions are also the same.

How important is it, for the understanding of our modern art-culture (if a sound and reliable judgment is to be gained), to possess a fair knowledge of the growth and development of musical forms. Besides the instruction this study affords, what a source of intellectual and artistic enjoyment it presents. We, at the same time, follow and observe the different changes of forms which the human mind creates in order to express its feelings and emotions as influenced by the current thoughts of particular times. Music is a great and, in many respects, a reliable guide in the study of human progress and development. No art is more closely connected with the inner life of man than music, whose magic power steps in at precisely the point where the positive expression of language fails. The very essence of man's existence, it participates in his struggles, triumphs, reverses, and necessarily in its forms and expressions resembles those different phases.


There is one branch of art which has always been recognized as foremost among means and helps to devotion. We broke the sculptured figures and painted glories of the saints, that formerly looked down upon the kneeling congregations; but we still sang psalms. We covered over the old frescoes upon the church walls with whitewash and plaster; but we developed a noble English school of anthem and service-music. Even poetry was banished from our Prayer-book, so far as that was possible, when the old hymns were dropped out of it. But music has always remained. The practice of the cathedrals and the larger parish churches, carrying out as it did the express direction of the rubrics in the Prayer-book, witnessed to the original intention of the Reformers, and to the ineradicable instincts of the people. Our English church service was meant to be a musical service: and, however imperfectly, the tradition has always been pre-served among us. We rejected painting; we destroyed sculpture; we would have none of the divers colors of needlework; we preferred the prosaic and halting measures of Tate and Brady, to the wealth of poetry enshrined in the ancient Latin hymns. But we kept our music. English psalm-tunes are the noblest Church melodies in the world; English cathedral music is a development purely national, of the highest artistic value and the deepest religious interest, if scarcely through any other, the beauty of the Lord our God has been upon us.

1. Music is, in the first place, the voice of God to the soul. There are other ways, my friends, of preaching the Gospel than by speaking from a pulpit. A singer filled with the power and the pathos of some great spiritual song, can touch the hearts of men who would listen unmoved to the most eloquent of sermons. The voice of the organ or of the orchestra, interpreting the consecrated thought of a great composer, has carried home, often and again, the message of the Gospel of Christ. The strange, uplifting power of a mighty chorus is familiar to us all; not one of us but has felt it; most of us have known it in this place. And in the passion of the singer, in the manifold voices of strings or keys, in the great brotherhood of choral song, we reverently recognize that voice which pleads in every heart, but which uses human means to win the human race; the voice of the Most High God. The beauty of the music, which so strangely stirs us is a "broken light" of that eternal beauty, a gleam of which surely shone upon the dying eyes of Charles Kingsley, as he murmured at the last, "How beautiful God is." My brethren of these gathered choirs, is it not a great thought for you, that through the music of your voices God speaks to the souls of men? that in your measure and in your sphere, you, too, are preachers of the glorious Gospel of Christ? If the priest's lips should keep wisdom, so, surely, should the chorister's. If it is ours to set an example, it is also yours. The white robe of our office is shared with you; we sit side by side in the sacred precincts of the sanctuary; and, in the old time, the singer was in orders as well as we; the difference one of degree, scarcely of kind. And thus you will banish all light unworthy thoughts of your office and your work as church singers. You will consecrate your lives by prayer and communion; you will ever be mindful of the meaning of your white dress. You, too, are of those through whom the beauty of the Lord our God comes upon your fellow men.

2. And music is, in the second place, the voice of the heart's aspiration towards God. It is the speech of the spirit, the language of the soul. What we cannot utter, but only dimly feel, that music seems to say for us. It is the voice of our unshaped and unspoken prayers; its heavenward strains are the wings of our dull and flagging devotion. The melody of a hymn is often for us the expression of a spiritual emotion; a phrase from oratorio or anthem, wedded to some text of Scripture, some verse of a psalm, calls up and tells forth a mood of penitence, an aspiration after a Christ-like life, an utterance of abiding hope, or the expression of fervent faith.

Who can hear, for instance, the opening chords of the "Dead March," without a sudden solemnizing of the spirit as if in the presence of the dead? Who can listen to the characteristic phrase of Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise," and not dart up an unspoken but deeply felt Alleluia to the throne of God? Music is not merely a mode of preaching; it is a form of prayer. So he who saw the vision of the City of God in the Apocalypse has told us that music is the highest symbol of the eternal life of the blessed; that unbroken and unspoiled harmony is the truest likeness of the rest and the activities of heaven. If it is much, my brethren of the choirs, to speak to men's souls, it is perhaps an even higher privilege to speak for them; to voice the most sacred emotions of their inmost being; to find utterance for the feeling which in them is too deep for words. Oh, what a high and holy service is this of the chorister ! Let him remember how, in regard to a sister art, it has been said that no painter ever lived a base or a careless life without showing deterioration in the delicacy and purity of his color. Can a chorister be indifferent or conceited, sensual or selfish, coarse-minded or unspiritual, without tainting and defiling the freshness and sweetness of his song? I trow not. What a man is, that must of necessity color and characterize his work. Let earnestness, reality, following after the Lord Jesus Christ, be the dominant motives which rule your lives. So shall they enter unconsciously into your music, and the beauty of the Lord your God be upon you, and upon us.


What is music? What effect does it produce? And in virtue of what does it produce the effect that we see it produce?

Music forces me to forget myself and my true state, it transports me to some other state which is not mine. Under its influence I fancy I experience what I really do not feel, that I understand what I do not comprehend, that I am able to do what is completely beyond my power. I explain this by the supposition that music acts like yawning or laughing; thus, although not sleepy, I yawn if I see others yawning; although I see nothing to laugh at, I burst out laughing simply if I hear others laughing. Music instantaneously throws me into that state of feeling in which the composer of it found himself when he wrote it. My soul blends with his, and together with him, I am transported from one frame of mind to another. But why I am so ravished out of myself I know not. He who composed the piece-Beethoven, for instance, in the case of the Kreutzer Sonata-knew perfectly well why he was in that mood; it was that mood that determined him to do certain things, and therefore for him that state of mind has a meaning; for me it has absolutely none. This is why it is that music only causes irritation, never ends anything. It is a different thing if a military march is played : then the soldiers move forward, keeping time to the music, and the end is attained.

If dance-music is played, people dance to it, and the object is also accomplished. If a Mass is sung, I receive Holy Communion; and here, too, the music is not in vain. But in other cases there is nothing but irritation, and no light to act during this irritation. Hence the terrible effects that music occasionally produces. In China music is a state concern, and this is as it should be. Could it be tolerated in any country that any one who takes the fancy may hypnotize any one else and then do with him whatever he has a mind to, especially if this magnetizer is-Heaven knows who-an immoral character, for instance?

It is indeed a terrible weapon in the hands of those who know how to employ it. Take the Kreutzer Sonata, for example: is it right to play that first presto in a drawing-room to ladies in low dresses? to play that presto; then to applaud it, and immediately afterwards to eat ice creams and discuss the latest scandal? Such pieces as this are only to be executed in rare and solemn circumstances of life, and even then only if certain important deeds that harmonize with this music are to be performed. It is meant to be played and then to be followed by the feats for which it nerves you; but to call into life the energy of a sentiment which is not destined to manifest itself by any deed, how can that be otherwise than baneful?


We must not forget that music, like poetry, has more power to sway the emotions of the middle-aged than of the young. This is true at any rate of the more complex and subtle compositions. You often hear a complaint made that a child does not play "with expression." Expression of what? I ask. How can she express feelings if the music has excited no feeling in her? Let her first live; when she has lived and felt, she will play with "feeling." Let her first seek to play truly, to play as the composer directs his work to be played; and to do this let her study, not merely the exact force of all the symbols of musical notation, but let her be well aware of all that the composition involves. 1n a word let her study the laws of rhythm and of harmony, and that from the very first lesson, both with the voice and on the musical instrument. But harmony, it will be objected, is a dry study; surely we shall find it difficult to excite the interest of young children in it. It is because it is made usually a matter of paper work only, that older people find it dry. But if it were taught, as it is not, in connection with the practical part of instruction, each would throw light on the other, and it would be felt that neither is complete without the other.

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