Beauty Of Music
( Originally Published 1905 )
THERE is in nature an adaptation of external objects to the functions of the senses that gives rise to a delight that must be considered as fundamental, essential, instinctive; and that, when it concerns the higher senses of sight and hearing, we call a perception of the beautiful. One need not discover an association of ideas or any other previous conception upon which to base this notion of the beautiful. The mere fact that the Creator of the senses is the Creator also of the objects which appeal to them, implies that qualities in the object calculated to pleasantly affect the sense in the highest degree should de-serve that distinction to which we apply the name of beauty.
Music is allied to the other interests of life by perhaps as few ties as associate together almost any human concerns that can be mentioned. The rhythmical link between the art and the heart is the strongest, and has been considered at some length already ; but while one easily recognizes rhythm in music one does not think of rhythm alone as preëminently musical. The regular sound of horses' feet, the sharp exhaust of a locomotive, the throbbing of a power pump, the insistent ticking of grandfather's clock, and other such recurrent impulses do not seem musical to us, and as a rule do not suggest tunes, although at times they will do so. We have come to speak of the " harmony" of colors and of the universe, but it is because we have found out some facts regarding the laws of vibration, not because we derive any musical associations from a picture or from the wonders of astronomy or the repetitions of history. We talk of the song of the birds, but those bird notes that can be easily reproduced on the piano or violin 'are few, and they are not the basis — in fact, they have little to do with the complex conceptions shown in the structure of a sonata or a music drama. Artistic music is an interest and consideration very much to itself, aside from and little mixed with the other concerns of life. It is a thing apart; but its relations to civilization, to the history of culture, to education, to social, theatrical, and ecclesiastical affairs, to commerce and manufactures, and to the inmost life of many high-thinking individuals, show that it is by no means to be neglected on that account.
One of the crowning glories of music is its power to divert the mind from other occupations, and to give rest, stimulus, and new vitality by affording a delight that carries with it no suggestion of other concerns, while yet it is sufficient of itself to satisfy exalted demands of the intellectual nature. This delight makes its earliest appeal and gets its first hold upon the mind, not through association of ideas, but because of the power of sonorous vibrations to please the auditory sense. The primary conception of beauty in music is founded upon a perception of the symmetry and appropriateness with which agreeable sounds are combined into forms displaying intention, thought, and skill on the part of the artist.
The basic musical conception is that of tone, whose beauty is as naturally appreciated by the ear as is the beauty of color by the eye. The fact that tones are composite affairs is as little suspected by the uneducated ear as is the corresponding fact regarding color by the ordinary eye. It is true that continuous tone unchanged in pitch soon becomes wearisome and offensive, but the introduction of small pitch changes may renew the impression of beauty and add to it the sense of rhythm already considered, and also the sense of melody which is the first specifically musical apprehension and the one most essential to the association of the thought of beauty with music.
Melody may be defined as " a well-ordered suc-cession of single sounds," and as such it is invariably present in any musical composition. But technical melody is not necessarily always melodious. Whether it is so or not depends largely upon the point of view, or the musical education of the listener. A melody which moves only to adjacent tones of the scale, or if at a larger interval, by tones that require no change in the chord, that keeps within the medium range of the ear's pitch-perceiving organs, that re-mains always above any accompanying notes that may supply harmony, and that is not continued to the point of weariness, will be enjoyed by any person who has the least natural love for musical sounds. Such a melody performed on an instrument of fine' sonorous quality, or sung by a cultivated voice, especially if associated with beautiful words (say " My country, 'tis of thee," or "Home, Sweet Home ") rendered with appropriate feeling and expression, and accompanied by obvious and unobtrusive harmonies, is capable of giving intense delight. But while that delight is of high order and refining influence, it is still almost wholly a sensuous delight. It is due to natural perception of the beauty of rhythmical tones changing in pitch. It is not a delight in " The Art of the Musician," for to that artist the musical elements mentioned are but materials.
To say that the enjoyment of a simple melody well sung in rich tones differs from appreciation of musical art, is not to belittle or decry such enjoyment. The painter who would object to one's gazing enraptured at a glorious sunset, is an unheard-of member of the craft. Yet as physicians sometimes actually seem to blame patients for recovering under faith cures, quack nostrums, old wives' concoctions, or even the ministrations of an educated practitioner of a different school, so musicians are frequently found who cannot willingly allow the Salvation Army lass to find pleasure in her tambourine and the tune to which she plays it, the street Arab to dance to the barrel organ, or the religious recluse to go into ecstasy over his Gregorian tone. Something of the same feeling but arising from a different point of view, is discovered now and again, where the music lover who has advanced as far as, say, Moszkowski and Gottschalk, will not believe that his more studious brother really delights in Bach and Palestrina ; or where the devotee of Mozart and Donizetti would consign to the home of the prevaricators one who professed to admire Wagner and Richard Strauss. We might well treat more charitably the artistic opinions and tastes of others. It is, however, one thing to allow to any one the full enjoyment of innocent pleasure in strict accordance with his own inclination, and quite another affair to admit his critical authority in matters of musical art. Nothing satisfactory, progressive, or artistic can result from conceding to a musical ignoramus the right to dictate styles, standards, and selections, say, for church music, because of an official position as pastor, or a prominent position as rich pew-holder. One of the musical institutions of America that emphatically needs reformation is the church music committee.
In studying The Art of the Musician one is but little concerned with simple melody considered quite by itself. The enjoyment of any particular melody is almost entirely a matter of taste. The construction of a melody that shall be sure to ravish the senses has never been expounded in any practical rules that can be absolutely trusted to produce the desired result. The wonderful melodies that take such a hold, have such a power, and give such delight are inspirations pure and simple. They come to the musically unlearned as well as to the students ; they come to the barbarian as well as to the man of culture ; they are gifts like the lines that make up a beautiful face or the tints that a lovely flower reflects from the sunlight. The art is in the use of these inspirations. It is by combining, relating, imitating, varying, and developing the melodies that occur to him, by treating them as material, and building from them a composition, that the musician displays his artistic power and wins the admiration of the discerning critic. The student of The Art of the Musician will find much to interest him in tracing out the relations of melody, and perhaps will gain more pleasure by less effort from this than from any other line of musical study. The knowledge to be thus gained is also an essential prerequisite to entering upon more advanced investigations of the thoughts of the tone-poets.
Considering melody as but one of the materials out of which the composer constructs his art work implies that melody is not often to be found alone in any composition. In fact, the " well-ordered succession of single sounds " has frequently to be selected by discriminating interpretation or trained hearing, or both, from a mass of sounds simultaneously heard both above and below the specific melody. More than one quite distinct melody may be present in a piece at the same time, and of two melodies entering the ear simultaneously, one may be accessory or both may be coordinate. The untutored listener's insistent demand is for music that has " some tune to it." But there is no music of any other sort ; and what he means is simply that he needs guidance in finding the " tune." Melody is always present in music, but in intricate compositions it is now in one voice, now in another, now above, now below, now simple, now complex. It must be traced and isolated if it is to be enjoyed free from the distractions involved in associated tones. And the ability. to find and hear the " tune " and appreciate its relationship is often a source of greater pleasure than is even the sensuous charm of the melody itself.
It is comparatively easy to find a melody which occurs in the highest part, say in the soprano voice of a quartette. If it be necessary to discover the melody in a lower position, many a musical capacity is overstrained, unless the melody is announced very strongly (as by a cornet playing with accompaniment of strings) or is already familiar, or has a moderate pace in rhythm while the accessory parts move at a different rhythmical rate. One of the most beautiful melodies that was ever conceived is that in Rheinberger's " Evening Hymn," but it is not always in any one voice, and hence it demands some training for its enjoyment. The piece is not liked by some hearers at first, merely because they are not able at once to locate the "tune." A small portion at the beginning is quoted in Example 34, and there the melody lies in the tenor, except that at the end of the excerpt the melody for two notes leaps to the soprano.
Here to fully appreciate the piece, one must hold in mind the opening theme (Example 35) and recognize it after quite a space when it recurs, although when it does come back it is in an under-voice and transposed an octave lower than its first position. This is not a very arduous task if it be distinctly proposed to the mind as the thing to be accomplished in learning to listen intelligently to this particular composition.
A foremost prerequisite for the enjoyment of musical art is the ability to retain a melodic idea and to recognize the recurrence of this idea later in the composition. One of the most prominent elements tending to produce pleasure in any direction is familiarity, and this is conspicuously true in music. " The good old tunes " are every-where the favorites. We like old friends. The newcomer must prove his congenial qualities. So in nearly all popular tunes, the opening strain is repeated at a later stage, in part if not fully; and if the opening strain is not sung again, the second strain is pretty sure to be favored in that manner. The long-continued popularity of rondos, in which a melodic idea occurs more than once after digressions, is undoubtedly partly dependent upon the plan of construction, which gives opportunity for a rehearing and recognition of a strain that was found agreeable on a recent previous hearing.
Variations, although in general their artistic rank is not high, serve a good purpose in cultivating the power of clinging to a melody under circumstances that make its perception a problem. Example 36 is a variation of Example 35, and two following examples (37 and 38) from Beethoven, Op. 26, and Schubert, Op. 42, show this point in not very difficult passages, with an indication of the solution of so much of a problem as is present, supplied by adding accent marks to those notes in the variations as here printed, which represent the original melody as it appeared in the themes. The Schubert work is the more difficult to comprehend by the ear, and a second quotation (Example 39) from an earlier portion of the same movement is still more abstruse than the variation shown in Example 38.
While the melody in the last example has to be sought out within an under voice, with occasional alterations of tones, and even with transposition to a new key, the trained ear finds little difficulty in the problem as compared with that presented by such a work as Schumann's Symphonic Studies. The latter, however, affords an artistic delight, study by study, entirely independent of the necessity of finding the origin of the references which the pieces considered as variations make to the theme.
Musicians frequently exploit distinct melodies simultaneously. A well constructed duet is an example of this sort of art work, but many compositions for two singers hardly serve as illustrations because one of the voices is simply given a part to sing that is closely parallel to the other, and is practically the same melody reproduced at a somewhat lower pitch. Any listener who can follow one part intelligently, can follow both quite as easily in this sort of construction. But a fragment of independent melody introduced without interruption of the principal melody, often gives peculiar pleasure. Witness these two brief examples (40 and 41) from Moszkowski's Waltz in A flat, and from Chopin's Etude, Op. 25, No. 10. The Etude from the same opus, No. 7 in C sharp minor, is a dialogue of wonderful beauty from beginning to end.
Where both the melodies discovered at any stage of a composition are used as sources of the developed portions of the work, it is necessary to give attention to both in order to understand the composer's design. At the opening of Beethoven's Sonata in B flat, Op. 22, we find him beginning with two distinct melodies. (Ex. 42.) One of these appears to be the principal melody, the other an accompaniment ; still the under part is readily seen to be an independent melody even if subordinate. It is a well ordered succession of single tones. But as we go along through the movement it soon becomes apparent that these two melodies are of equal importance. Witness several uses of the upper one in Ex. 43, and of the lower in Ex. 44, all from the same movement and each showing the development of but one of the original melodies, the other being absent from the passages chosen. This makes it evident that for the understanding of these passages, both the melodies at the beginning of the movement must be grasped so that as they are utilized they may be accorded consideration either separately or in combination. It may be noted in passing that the combined influence of both melodies is to be seen in a single voice at the opening of the Menuetto, the third movement of this same sonata, which is sketched as Ex. 45. This derived or developed idea is characteristic of the Menuetto.
In the slow movement of this same sonata occurs a very pretty use of two melodies at once. The passage begins before and continues after the excerpt in Ex. 46. It will be seen that one melody which has been utilized already in a most interesting and important way, continues with evident identity of character after the introduction of a new melody above it, which latter from the time of its appearance assumes the character of the principal melody, the other being treated as subordinate or accompanying. This new melody begins with the eighth beat of the third measure of the example.
An essential requisite of beauty is organization. Features distinguishable, recognizable, symmetrical and proportionate are necessary. Melody to be beautiful must have divisions and subdivisions in balanced groupings, like the verses and lines of poetry, or it will seem crude and chaotic. As the melody of a song or a song-like (" lyric ") instrumental composition flows along, it will easily be noted that at intervals it comes to points of rest ; places that by the aid of the accompanying harmony performing what is called a " perfect" or " authentic " cadence, may be recognized as closes of passages corresponding to the sentences of language. With practice, the same divisional points may be discovered in more intricate movements. In simple compositions, like folk-songs, dances and ballads, the periods will often be found at regular intervals, and this fact has led many writers on Musical Analysis and Form to define musical periods in terms of meter, saying that the musical sentence is normally of so many (generally eight) measures length. This, however, is far from being the case in elaborate works of musical art. There is in all music a tendency toward the regular evolution of metrical groups. Beats group themselves into measures by alternations of strong and weak, and measures tend to combine in pairs and groups, especially in pieces where rhythmical values are emphasized as in dances and marches. But nevertheless the musical periods are of various lengths and are often highly irregular in the same composition. They depend not upon meter but upon sense, just as they do in ordinary spoken language. Even in poetry, especially of the more serious sort, we frequently find lines ending with-out punctuation, and sentences extending beyond the verse to end finally in the midst of a line. The sentence, in other words, is a different consideration from the line and is independent of it ; and the corresponding thing is true of the meter and periods of music. The limit of the verbal sentence is the period. The limit of the musical period is the cadence.
While the meaning of the word cadence is primarily a close (the falling of the voice), it is studied in music as a feature of harmony — a chord succession. A number of different forms of cadence are recognized, and harmonic cadences may be introduced within the boundaries of a period. A period cadence is an affair of combined harmony and accent, and must occur at a reasonable distance to allow of the formation of a fully developed musical sentence. Such a cadence consists of the dominant or dominant seventh chord in any key, followed on a strong beat by the tonic harmony, as seen in Example 47. This is the perfect cadence, and when it occurs at a fitting resting point in the melody far enough from the beginning of the sentence to allow of a well-rounded expression of good sense, it indicates the close of a musical period, whether it is seven, eight, thirty-three or any other number of measures long.
Musical sentences readily subdivide into smaller portions, symmetrical or at least well-balanced in their relations, to which names have been applied but with a conspicuous and lamentable lack of uniformity among different authors. The matter is hardly to be accounted of great importance to one who would learn merely to so listen to music as to recognize The Art of the Musician, but the confusion in the assignment of names to the sub-divisions of the musical period has had one some-what troublesome result that must be mentioned here, in the ambiguous use of the word " phrase.
A phrase should mean " all the notes under one slur " and in music never anything else. All writers so use the term and speak of a performer's " phrasing " signifying his grouping and detaching of notes so as to exhibit the composer's markings by slurs, staccatos of various sorts, rests, and the significant absence of slurs. Slurs have nothing to do with sentences, or with any parts of sentences as such. They are purely executive signs and they mark phrases.
Most, if not all, writers in English upon musical analysis make use of the word " phrase " with a distinct and radically different meaning as indicating some portion of a musical sentence. That, however, is a much more recent application of the term than the one indicated in the preceding paragraph ; all writers, as stated above, use the word in the executive sense ; there is no agreement among authors as to the size or de-limitation, of the part of a sentence to be called a phrase ; and worst of all, the confusion and ambiguity consequent upon using the same word now in an executive and now in an analytical sense have led some editors to alter the phrase mark (the slur) in standard works, removing that character from its office as an executive sign to a new and strange, as well as totally unnecessary, function of indicating punctuation; meanwhile inserting a sort of diacritical mark to perform the office that has been well-enough performed for centuries by the slur. No greater crime against musical notation and the clear understanding of the composer's intentions has been committed. It has been done in an effort to make the sign, which certainly . indicates a phrase, agree with a false conception of what a phrase is. There are words enough to describe the portions of a musical sentence without ambiguity and without robbing musical nomenclature of a term that is needed still for the function it has exercised since notes were grouped by bowing and breathing in accordance with good taste in execution. Beginning with the name of the smallest division of a musical sentence, and including terms enough to describe the analysis of the longest period, these words in order are: Fragment, Section, Clause, Strain, Half-sentence, Period.
Many periods consist of but two clauses, each containing two sections ; not infrequently a period consists of a strain of two clauses, and a third clause. "Half-sentence" is a term rarely required. As a sufficient illustration of the whole subject for a book of this character, the very long (31 measures), irregular and beautiful sentence in the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata, Op. 90, is quoted as Example 48. It divides readily into two half-sentences at the colon : each of the halves divides into two strains at the semicolons ; each strain subdivides into two clauses at the commas ; and each clause divides into two sections at the inverted commas. The first section consists of a single fragment; the second section consists of two fragments each two measures long; the third and fourth sections each consist of two fragments one measure long. In the last half-sentence the fragments are all one measure long except the final one, which extends to four beats ; the strains are equal and each contains two clauses, but some sections are made up of two fragments and others of a single one. The entire sentence can be adequately analyzed without recourse to the word " phrase" and so that the analysis can be understood by any critic or authority. Many writers would use the word phrase instead of clause in the above analysis; many others would use it in place of fragment, many in place of section. The only satisfactory way out of the difficulty is to restrict the word phrase to indicating always "all the notes under one slur." The word "clause" will answer perfectly as a substitute for it in all analyses of structure.