The Basis Of The Art
( Originally Published 1923 )
THERE are two musical races in the world—the birds and the humans. The humans are the more musical—they sing all the year round. Love is one great impulse behind music, witness the nightingale in June and Schumann's hundred songs in the year of his marriage. If you want to know what else lies behind it read Herbert Spencer, Jules Combarieu and the philosophers and psychologists generally, and then compare their guesses with any of your own.
Most birds are but simple-minded musicians, having nothing but `folk-songs', handed down from father to son, in some cases varied a little with the season, but passing from generation to generation little changed or none. Man proudly boasts composers', actual professionals, but he has not had them long.
Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Form
The birds have but melody ; no feathered choir' yet produced `the harmony of the grove' in any but the poets' sense. Man has harmony, but he has only had it for a little over a thousand years. The bird's rhythmic sense is not always very acute, though it decidedly has one. Man's rhythmic sense is perhaps stronger than his melodic, so that marching shorttrousered through the streets in youth he can take pleasure in a piece compounded of the mere tap of a drum.
The bird has little idea of ' form' in music, though in some cases it admits the principle underlying all form (variety plus repetition), alternating one tiny phrase, several times repeated, with another similarly repeated.' With man form early became a very important element in music.
And with the idea of rhythm and form well developed in his subconsciousness man began to feel the need of other means of sound production than his own throat. So cart:., ` instruments '—first, probably, purely rhythmic (the Drum), then melodic also (the Pipe and the Viol), and at last (when some of the possibilities of vocal combination had been discovered and shown him the way) harmonic also (the Lute, and the Keyboard instruments).
Then man began to take more notice of qualities of tone, or ` colours ', produced by different kinds of strings and tubes, and various methods of using them, and gradually he developed the Piano and Organ, the String Quartet and the Orchestra. Meantime, as singers and players became more skilful, voices better trained and instruments more complex, and as the infinite varieties of rhythm, the principles of form, and the effects of harmonic combinations became better understood, pieces of music became longer and longer, until, from the mere repetition of a couple of contrasted strains, each but a few seconds in duration, man arrived at the production and performance of Symphonies lasting an hour apiece. The principles of the one music were the same as those of the other, as the constructional principles of a pig-sty are the same as those of a Parthenon. But they were applied more elaborately.
The Limitations of the human Mind
There is no essential mystery about the basis of melodic shape, or harmonic progression, or formal procedure in music.
The Limitations of the Human Mind 5 That basis is psychological. Man needs work varied with play, tension varied with relaxation, rise varied with fall, discord' varied with concord, `quick movement' varied with ' slow movement', serious `first subject' varied with lighter `second subject'. It is all a matter of how much the human mind can bear without tiring. Jack must have neither ` all work and no play' nor ' all play and no work', neither all concord nor all discord, neither all quick nor all slow, neither all sad nor all jolly, neither all serious-minded nor all light-hearted. Vary things judiciously and he will accept any scheme of life or of art you choose to lay before him. He is not very particular so long as you allow for the limitations of his capacity. And the history of music is the history of the gradual better under-standing of those limitations by the people who make music, and, perhaps (in some smaller measure), the very partial reduction of the limitations in the minds of those who hear it. We are growing up, both sets of us (composers and listeners) ; but we are perhaps still not fairly out of the schoolboy or flapper stage, and the finest music we hear today may conceivably seem but as child's play to the man of A. D. 3000, studying it in the British Museum. Yet the principles of that man's music must be the same as those of ours—unless the human mind completely alters.
An Apology for this Chapter
Perhaps all this is a queerish opening for a work of history.
" Apology for it takes two forms : (a) one must begin a book somehow ; (b) this beginning, at all events, emphasizes a vital truth—The study of the history of music is not the study of any arbitrary or conventional development, but of a gradual widen-lug of the human understanding.
But why begin with the birds ? Because by so doing I have insinuated subtly into the reader's mind the idea of the essentially simple basis of the art. Music is just the gratification of a natural need. The character of the gratification has varied from age to age, and from composer to composer, yet has developed pretty logically on the whole. And the record of this logical development constitutes The History of Music.
But how would you have had me begin ? Would you have thought better of me if I had opened with the gloomy but dignified periods of the staid, four-volumed Burney ?
'It is with great, and almost hopeless diffidence, that I enter upon this part of my work ; as I can hardly animate myself with the expectation of succeeding in enquiries which have foiled the most learned men of the two or three last centuries . . . the music of the ancients, according to Euclid, Alypius, and Marteanus Capella was ... '
By beginning with the birds I have at least spared you Euclid !