Music Education - Music A Language, An Art And And A Science
( Originally Published 1922 )
Music is a Language.
Infinitely less precise than the most rudimentary of languages with regard to the subject treated, on the other hand, it possesses an intensity of expression and power of communicating emotion to which no spoken language can attain, however perfect it may be.
Like all other languages, it is composed of several dialects, patois, or jargons, it even has its slang; it has its rational and etymological orthography, its phonetic orthography and its whimsical orthography ; we may therefore speak it more or less well, and write it more or less correctly.
" The study of the musical language is like that of all other languages. He who learns it in his infancy can become master of it, but at an advanced age, it is almost impossible to acquire it."
Like all other languages, also, it can be taught in two ways, by practice and theory. It possesses its own special literature of an extreme richness and variety ; the composer is an author of the same rank as the man of letters ; the virtuoso singers and instrumentalists are interpreters like the reciter or reader ; one makes use of words, the other of sounds, but their aim is the same,—to excite emotion, or, at least, to captivate the intellect. " Music is a sort of universal language which harmoniously relates all the sensations of life" (Mme. Cottin). Finally, also, like other languages, it constantly transforms itself by a slow and logical evolution, following the progress of civilization and corresponding to the needs of different periods and different countries.
The most subtle, the most ethereal and the most evanescent of all the arts ; the architect moves blocks of stone ; the painter fixes upon canvas, wood, stone, or paper, colours that will last for an unlimited time ; even the poet finds in the words of his language the fixed and ready-prepared elements for his work. The musician alone seems to work in the void and with void ; sonorities extinguished almost as soon as heard and of which nothing remains but a memory,—those are his materials ; it is with such means that be must " charm the ear, interest the mind and sometimes elevate the soul," according to an old definition, which is not the worst for all that. The art, however, may be likened to poetry, for the composer plays with sounds as the poet plays with words ; like poetry, also, it is strictly bound by the laws of rhythm and consonance; like it, it addresses itself to the mind, the heart and the soul by means of the organ of hearing. It also has a strong resemblance to painting, because it possesses a particular colouring of the latter, which is orchestration; its form and line is the melodic con-tour; and the judicious balancing of the combinations resulting therefrom, which in the one, as in the other of the two arts, constitutes harmony.—It may, perhaps, be likened to architecture even more for those who can understand the important part played in music by the relative proportions of the various parts of a composition, whether they be of enormous or trifling importance, whether it is a question of a simple song without words, or an oratorio, a little dance air, or an opera in five acts. To consider music as the " architecture of tone," according to the saying of Mme. de Staël, is an absolutely correct- conception : a symphony of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, or Saint-Saëns is a veritable tonal edifice, exactly as a monument such as the Parthenon in Athens, St. Mark's, Venice, or Westminster Abbey is a master-piece of architectural harmony.
Music is a Science.
" There is no art without science : the whole race of masters proves this."
It is even a science of mathematics in the highest degree, for, after all is said and done, all the elements and all the processes that go to make up a musical work find their explanation and their raison d'ętre in numbers and in combinations of numbers. Un-fruitful of herself and by herself, by strengthening Art and augmenting its productive power, " Science is a dial that marks the hour of the progress accomplished."
Rhythm, whether it be reduced to its most simple expression or carried to extreme complexity, is nothing more than the division of time into equal or unequal, but always proportional fractions. Intonation, or the height of a sound, depends solely upon the absolute number of vibrations that produce the body of tone set in action for a given time. Intensity, the greater or less strength of tone, results from the fulness of those same vibrations, and from the violence with which they disturb the ambient air. The timbre (quality of tone) is the result of the individual conformation of the instrument by which the tone is emitted, and the subdivisions or harmonic sounds that accompany it.—The most masterly combinations of harmony and counterpoint are based upon the numerical relations that exist between different tones, from which springs the more or less accentuated sensation of consonance, dissonance, or discord, which the ear experiences, and which it enjoys, tolerates, or rejects: Finally, for I think I have omitted nothing, everything may be reduced to figures, analysed and explained by the positive laws of acoustics and mathematics.
Music is then at once a Language, an Art and a Science, and should be considered, according to circumstances, under one or other of these three aspects.
Language is of divine essence, for singing is as natural to men as is speech, or the simple cry ; it is even quite reasonable to think that among the first human beings the cry and vociferation preceded articulate speech.
Art is the product of the human mind, always tending to ennoble, to poetize and idealize the materials furnished by nature.
Science, as cold and positive as Art is exuberant, appears here with its numbers and exact formulae, as a salutary curb, or a pendulum charged with maintaining the equilibrium.
From Language is born Art, which could not exist without it, and which Science comes in her turn to explain, and prop up in some measure, by guiding her in her developments, and preventing her some-times from wandering into dangerous and blind paths.
It is by inquiring into these ideas and others of a similar nature that we may best discover the best means to employ in order to undertake and pursue a musical education under healthful conditions,—a matter which is more difficult than is generally believed, and which should not be treated lightly.