Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Music As Art

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


There are certain principles essential to the very existence of every other higher art, as at present developed, which are traceable to music alone; and no aesthetic influence tends so decidedly as that which it exerts to keep alive, in any department of culture, either a realization in theory or an actualizing in experience of such effects as those of law, thoroughness, accuracy, practise, drill, pleasure in work, or personality in presentation. If what has been said be true, then the music-teacher stands in the very front ranks of those who are leading the armies of culture. Without what he, and he alone, is fitted to contribute, no department of that army can be fully equipped, and all the departments together may fail of their purpose. Essay on Music as Related to Other Arts.


Not until, at least, the rhythm of music—to say nothing of its tune—began to affect the human nerves, did the man begin to dance, and not until he began to dance, did his arrested attitudes begin to emphasize those effects of grace which, perhaps, most clearly differentiate the portrait from the snap-shot photograph and the genre painting from the portrait. It is not too much to say, therefore, that some lessons learned from the influence of music upon the human form are illustrated in almost all pictures and statues, whether considered as ends in themselves, or as ornamenting architecture.—Idem.

The underlying significance of all straight lines, angles, and curves, whenever or wherever seen, is subtly connected with the expressional uses of the same in the poses assumed by the various limbs of the human body. Man is so limited in outlook, so self-centered in insight, that he is obliged to interpret not only God but all nature and its manifestations in accordance with his own experience and actions. So, indirectly, the same strains of music that cause dancing, and thus tend to the exhibition of gracefulness in the human form, have an influence on the artistic qualities of other of the visible forms that become subjects of art-production.—Idem.


The mightiest master of melody and harmony who, as he composes, seems to lose all consciousness of restraint and to give vent to absolutely untrammeled promptings of inspiration, is not one who has risen above the control of rules. He is one who has studied and practised in accordance with them so assiduously that not one cell in his brain can forget them, or break from the habit of fulfilling them, Every musical non-conductor has been, by repeated effort, expelled not only from his conscious but from his unconscious mind. Every nerve in his being vibrates to the touch of harmony, and vibrates according to law.—Idem.


Music furnishes perhaps the best possible illustration of a fact noticed to be true universally whenever, rising above purely physical conditions, we come to consider forces fitted to affect the mind and soul,—the fact, that it is of more importance to influence the substance of thought than the form of thoughts; of more importance to aim for something giving direction to sentiment than definiteness to statement; in short, that the most profound and lasting effect upon experience is exerted in connection with that which, at the same time, allows the greatest freedom to expression. This principle is illustrated more or less in all the arts. Otherwise they would not merely represent what they have to express; in direct form they would present it. But the principle is especially noticeable in music; and for this reason, probably, the production of it is mentioned so often in the Bible in order to describe symbolically the employment of heaven. Other arts, by words, shapes, or colors, confine thought to some extent; indicating, as they do in no unmistakable way, that of which one should think. Not so with music. It may hold the feelings of a multitude in absolute control ; yet, at the same time, it may leave each individual absolutely free to think the thought and to do the deed that is prompted by his individual instincts. —Art in Theory, XVIII.

The most powerful mental agency perhaps is music. To those who can appreciate it, it can bring joy or sadness, smiles or tears, long after every other influence has ceased to affect the feelings. Yet music is the most intangible and spiritual of all the arts. There is nothing to see as in sculpture, no movement to animate as in oratory, no words to inspire as in poetry. One hears sounds only; and these vague sounds are so powerful that a man may be thrilled through and through with . . . whatever thoughts of joy or of sadness may be nearest to the heart of the man who is under its control. The same strains may affect differently the experience of every one who listens to them. It may make a child think of his play, a youth of his school, a merchant of his business.—Suggestions for the Spiritual Life, II.

Yet, with all this, it would be an error to think that the mental influence of the art is slight. The story of the men hired to assassinate Stradella, who, after listening to his oratorio in Rome, dropped their weapons and became the saviours of his life, is only one story of a thousand evincing men's belief to the contrary.— Essentials of 'Esthetics, VII.


His (Wagner's) method was first to associate a motive with some person, object, action, or event; and afterward, whenever that with which it was associated appeared upon the stage or was suggested by the language, thought, feelings, or situations, the motive itself was introduced into either the melody of the voice or the harmony of the instrumentation. Not only so, but a certain correspondence was musically indicated between the way in which this was introduced and the relations of the person, object, action, or event to the circumstances attendant upon its introduction.

This method, to those who have familiarized them-selves with the motives, causes an opera of Wagner to have a double effect: first, the ordinary musical effect which is due to the development of the melodies and harmonies for their own sakes; and, second, the intellectual effect which is due to connecting each of these motives with that which it suggests, and noticing the way in which it blends with other motives or opposes them. This action on an extended scale, of motive upon motive, is what Wagner meant by dramatic music, and it is in the development of this that he chiefly manifested his originality. It is owing to it, too, that he has obtained such a hold upon his admirers. His method of adapting music to the requirements of intellect necessarily adds to it an intellectual interest. In fact, after making all due allowance for those who applaud and apparently enjoy his music for the same reason that they applaud and apparently enjoy any-thing which is understood to be fashionable, there are certainly many people formerly unable to appreciate anything musical, who have learned to perceive in his works that which they can appreciate, and who, by first coming to take delight in music as developed by him, have come to take an otherwise, for them, impossible interest in all its legitimate forms. Through effects thus exerted Wagner greatly dignified the art to which he devoted himself, as well as extended the sphere of its influence.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music : Music as a Representative Art, VIII.

MUSIC, HOW REPRESENTATIVE (see paragraphs concerning music under REPRESENTATION and REPRESENTATIVE).

Startled by circumstances, the child of nature utters inarticulate cries. These are instinctive in their origin; but are always alike when the mind is influenced by like motives. Therefore men associate them with these motives, for which reason they may be said to be in a true sense representative of them. Availing himself of this fact the artist endeavors to portray in music the effect not of a single feeling, but of an entire current of feelings as set in motion by outside influences. Notice too that all the developments of the art continue as it begins. Notwithstanding the very limited amount of imitation and, in this sense, of comparison that we find in music, nevertheless, a great composer, through introducing only a few imitative notes, may force the mind to connect two things as radically different as, say, a symphony and a landscape. That he may accomplish this end, two conditions are necessary: he must have observed the particular character of the sounds through which the child of nature, and, in some cases, through which the irrational creature, represents particular feelings; and again, he must have been conscious within him-self of feelings similarly excited—similar in kind, that is, not in degree—and hence capable of being represented similarly. The two conditions go together. Unless he has observed the forms of expression in natural life, the forms at his command, to be used in his art-product,

will be few in number. Unless he himself has experienced feelings that naturally lead to such expressions, the few forms that he does use will not be used appropriately. They will have little meaning. They will not speak to the universal human heart with the authority of a veritable language of the emotions. In short, we notice what is in exact analogy with the line of thought in the chapters pre-ceding this, namely, that the same conditions which make music representative of human nature or of natural feeling render it representative also of the artist or of the artist's feeling; in other words that to be truly representative of nature, this art must be representative of man also.—Art in Theory, XVIII.


Music has been traced to humming. But only a slight development of this latter is needed in order to turn it into a song; and a song is not merely the beginning of music, but music. Cannot a man sing without constructing a product external to himself? Certainly he can, and so can a bird; and, if a man could do no more, he could do nothing entitling music to be placed in a class different from that to which, for example, dramatic representation belongs. A melody, in itself considered, is not necessarily, in the finest and most distinctive sense, a natural form made human. Yet it may be this. It is so in the degree in which it is unmistakably a product of the art of music. What is such a product? A composition that consists not merely of unstudied subjective expressions in sounds. It is objective. It is a result of labor and practice. Even aside from its usually involving an external writing in musical notation, it is a development of a complicated system of producing notes and scales and chords, not only with the human voice, but with numerous instruments, invented, primarily, so as to imitate every possibility of the human voice, all these working together in accordance with subtle laws of melody and harmony which, as a result of years of experiment, men have discovered and learned to apply. Indeed, almost the slightest musical composing suggests an external product. Simple humming is not only a method of expression for its own sake, but it is a form of nature, of nature as manifested in a man. A symphony is a development not only of the possibilities of this expression, but of its peculiar form; and it involves, therefore, especially in connection with the necessity for a written score and for manufactured instruments, the existence and elaboration of form such as is possible only to an external product. Notice, too, that to the last detail of this elaboration, there is nothing whatever in the art that is not attributable to the satisfaction which the mind takes in developing the form not for the purpose of attaining an end of material utility, but for the sake of its own intrinsic beauty. Art in Theory, VIII.


There is a natural, inarticulated language of the emotions employed by all of us. What reason is there in nature to suppose otherwise than that all its elements might be comprehended and tabulated with sufficient definiteness in a few score of carefully related forms of sound? As it is, even now, every really great composer recognizes the existence of this language and unconsciously applies its principles. Why should they not be formulated so that all men could know them? Why should not the psycho-logical correspondences of music be unfolded with as much definiteness as those of elocution to which in their elements they are analogous? Or, if the formulation of the principles involved would necessitate, as it might, artistic difficulties and dangers impossible to overcome, why, at least, might there not be developed among men such a concurrence of opinion with reference to the principles themselves that the composer would feel constrained, more often than at present, to regard them? And then, in the degree in which they were carried out persistently and accurately, would not the musical world be made familiar with them, and even the unmusical be made, at any rate, to recognize their existence? Were this done we should have no more writers upon aesthetics with outer and inner senses—ears and minds—so dull of perception as to declare that music does not appeal, as do the other arts, to intelligence, or that it is presentative and not representative. It has been abundantly shown here that this view is erroneous; but it would be an advantage to have the recognized conditions of the art clearly reveal the fact. It would be an advantage to have music seen by all in its true position, standing side by side with poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture, and rep-resenting in just as legitimate a sense as they, its own appropriate phase of the influence which nature exerts not merely upon the auditory nerves—which alone would not account for its spiritual effects—but also upon the mind.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music : Music as a Representative Art, VIII.


If the mind can ever be affected by color in exactly the same way as by sound, then coloring, like music, may become an art setting in motion the general drift of thought and feeling, but leaving imagination free to formulate what evolves from the drift. Because exerting this kind of influence upon the sources rather than the results of thinking, music never, even when used in worship, tends to dogmatism and bigotry as do, sometimes, the words of hymns, or to idolatry and superstition as do, sometimes, pictures and statues. Its tendencies to a greater extent than those of any of the other arts except, perhaps, architecture, are spiritual and religious. It would be strange if the play of electric light on the stage of the comic opera and the ballet should lead, some day, to a new art—probably of decoration, though possibly of performance—which philosophers would have a right to associate with the distinctively spiritual and religious. But it would not be the first time that the world has had experience of such results. Most of us have heard the same kind of music that summons the wild Indian tribes to a war-dance used to collect the throngs of the Salvation Army; and, if we live long enough, we may hear, in many a Sunday-school, the melody of the "Merry Widow Waltz" inciting to all the virtues. If the teachings of history have not been misinterpreted, we might have had none of the harmony that renders possible the great anthems or masses of the present, had it not been for the Bacchanalian street-airs brought together in rounds, which so distressed the serious minded Plato ; or introduced, to relieve, by way of variation, the unisonance of solemn cathedral chants, in disregard of consternation in the souls of the medieval priests. Essay on Music as Related to Other Arts.


It follows from what has been said that, as distinguished from poetry, music should be representative of only such indefinite and emotive mental effects as can be expressed in unarticulated sounds. This inference suggests, at once, a reason for certain well-known facts with reference to the effects of this art. It shows us, for instance, why the music invariably conceded to rank highest is instrumental; and again, it shows us why it is that all men, well-nigh with unanimity, recognize a superlative sweetness in the midnight serenade. In both cases there is experienced a distinctive effect of sound, and of this only. In connection with the former, there is no distraction from words; in connection with the latter, none from sights.--The Representative Significance of Form, XXVI.


Home | More Articles | Email: