Nature Of Music
( Originally Published 1899 )
THE design of this chapter is to gain an advantageous point of outlook for our subject. In order to discuss the relation of psychology to music the two related things must be separately brought into view, especially those aspects of them which have manifest reciprocal bearings. As our subject is mainly philosophical in its nature and principles, we must bring into view the philosophical side of music. Though philosophical in its principles, our subject is yet profoundly simple and eminently practical. It is not something so lofty that only the learned can understand it, but if rightly presented it comes home to the comprehension of the common people.
Hitherto comparatively little progress has been made along the line of scientific investigation of the nature of music. Even in our day music can hardly be said to be grounded on a scientific basis, for it has not wholly passed out of its mystical stage. For this slow progress various reasons may be given, which it is not necessary here to explain in detail. In general, it may be said that music is one of the latest of the arts to develop. For a long time it stood apart from the other related arts as if, like religion, it was considered too sacred to be subjected to the rude process of analysis. Then, too, music has been imagined to belong to the transcendental realm of genius, in which ordinary scientific principles are supposed to have only doubtful application. The art side of music has been unduly exalted to the detriment of the science side. But a true philosophy recognizes the fact that every true art must rest on a basis of science, and without this basis of science there can be no real progress in art. Musical art is not an exception: it rests on a musical science just as truly as the art of surgery rests on the science of anatomy and physiology. To ignore this simple principle is to envelop the true nature of music in clouds of mist or to plunge it into the chaotic deep of ignorance and superstition. To this must be added that the old traditional view has made everything of the outward mechanical side of music and has utterly neglected the inward psychological and thought element.
Surrounded thus by prejudices and fettered by traditional misconceptions, it is not strange that music has lagged behind in scientific development. When it shall have been freed from its grave-bands of mediaeval mysticism, it will rise into a new life and will go forward into a greater field of usefulness. In recent times science has dared to lay its profane hands upon the sacred subject of music, and now insists upon applying its methods of analysis and synthesis, of observation and experiment, of comparison and induction to matters which before were supposed to transcend all such tests. The result is that the nature of music is better understood now than ever before, and, instead of being the exclusive possession of a favored few, music has been brought down from its airy height to the homes and business of the common people.
Musical Phenomena. Today music has its phenomena just as any other subject of investigation, and these phenomena are not considered inscrutable mysteries but capable of scientific explanation. The various facts about music, in so far as they are facts of observation, have their causes just as truly as the facts of nature and of common experience; these causes can be studied and accurately ascertained. Music has its fixed principles and laws, which, when known, can be applied to the making of improvements in the art, both in relation to theory and to practice. For example, we all know that a major chord and a minorchord do not affect the ear in the same way not do they awaken the same kind of feeling; it is no mystery but an explainable phenomenon.
The major keys are generally adapted to sentiments of gayety, pleasure, contentment, while the minor keys are suited to the expression of sorrow, pity, fear, melancholy, pathos, etc. Grétry, in his "Essays in Music," says: "The key of C major is noble and frank, that of C minor is pathetic. The key of D major is brilliant, that of D minor is melancholy. The key of E flat is grand and also pathetic; it is a semitone higher than D major, and still does not in the least resemble it. By ascending again a semitone, we reach the key of E major, which is as sparkling as the preceding one was grand and melancholy. The key of E minor is rather sad, although it is the first minor scale in nature; that of F major is mixed; that of F minor is the most pathetic of all; the key f F sharp ma r is hard and sharp with major is warlike and not as grand as C major; the key of G minor is the most pathetic, except that of F minor. The key of A major is very brilliant; that of A minor is the simplest, least brilliant of all. The key of B flat is grand, but less so than C major, and more pathetic than F major; B major is brilliant and gay, while B minor is adapted to express sincerity and artlessness." In general, all the minor keys are tinged with melancholy and sadness, while the major keys are brilliant and lively. It appears thus that each key has its special character and awakens emotions peculiar to itself. This fact rests on a scientific ground and may be satisfactorily explained.
What has been said of the several keys, may also be said of the various musical instruments. In addition to the timbre of the sounds produced by the various instruments, all of which the physicist has carefully analyzed, there is a deeper and more subtle difference between them. Each kind of instrument has its definite character, just as persons have their particular character by which one differs from another. Says Chomet: "The bassoon is mournful; consequently it should be employed in expressing sorrow and pathos. The clarionet is suitable for the expression of grief; and if it is used for rendering merry music, the same is sure to be tinged with sadness... The flute is sweet and tender; it is best adapted to express the sweet delight of a happy and tranquil lover. The trombone is sweet and harrowing. The trumpet excites frenzy and martial ardor. The violin seems suited to express all the sentiments common to humanity, but the viola ought to be reserved for songs of a tender melancholy." The guitar is plaintive and soothing; the drum and fife are rousing and warlike. Milton, the poet, philosopher, and musician that he was, has given us a striking example of the facts under consideration in his "Paradise Lost." Of the fiends arrayed in martial order on the burning plains of hell regions, he says:
"Anon they move
The "Dorian mood" here referred to was serious and grave, as the Lydian was soft and the Phrygian sprightly. Manifestly the Phrygian mood would have been incongruous to the place and spirit of the occasion, and the poet's delicate sense of propriety does not allow his pen to make such a blunder. The Dorian mode was the first of the "Authentic" church modes or tones. Many of the old German chorales were written in this mode, such as "Vater Unser," "Wir glauben Alle," "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam," etc. For longer compositions in this mode, see Orlando Lasso's 5-part motet, "Animam meam," and the fugue in Bach's "Toccata." It is related that Pythagoras, seeing a young man transported with rage and on the point of destroying his faithless mistress, begged a musician to play some air in the Dorian mode. Thereupon the anger and excitement of the betrayed lover gave place to the most perfect calm ness, and he renounced all plans of revenge. We can easily imagine that when David played on his harp to soothe the frenzied spirit of king Saul, he played in the Dorian mode.
The foregoing facts are only a few examples of musical phenomena. There are discoverable reasons why the quality and spirit of music in one key differ from those in another key. The effects of the several keys on the mind are psychological phenomena and are capable of analysis and explanation. Here is open a wide and wonderfully rich field for investigation which when fully explored must yield valuable results in various practical directions. Psychology must lead the way in these investigations; psychology alone can furnish the key for unlocking these hidden treasures.
From such a point of outlook and with such a background to our subject, we approach the question.
What is the Nature of Music? Two general classes of views may be noted, namely, the subjective and objective, music as idea and music as form. But these in their bare statement are of little scientific value, and evidently are not sufficient; something deeper, more definite, more scientific is demanded by the student of today.
In a question of this kind the true mode of procedure is manifestly not dogmatic statement of opinion but analysis and induction. Analysis of the musical consciousness reveals the fact that our musical sensations are complex in their nature, bodily process being blended with mental processes.
The Physiological Element. In all music there is present a physiological element. Music stands partly in sound sensation. To this corresponds the auditory apparatus; external and internal ear the "harp of a thousand strings," or rather, ten thousand strings. External sound waves act as stimuli to the sensitive auditory nerve which conveys these effects inward to the brain hemispheres, where somehow the physical vibrations are transformed into sensations of musical sounds or of noises. So far the process has a physiological basis. To this may be added the pleasurable effect of musical notes. Pleasure in musical notes is a fact of universal experience. Children, it is said, have been known to manifest distinct pleasure on hearing music as early as the tenth day after birth. This is perhaps wholly a physiological effect, due to rhythm. The baby finds delight in rhythmical noises; so the savage, in the sounds produced by his rude instruments. The rhythmical movements of the feet or fingers, e. g., in the act of imitating the sound of the millstone, produce a pleasurable effect. To this class of effects belongs the fascination of the dance, due partly to auditory and partly to optical rhythm. In all these cases the agreeable effect depends largely, perhaps entirely, on the rhythmical succession of sounds as perceived by the ear, and not on any mental analysis of the sounds giving certain rational or moral qualities, as in the case of the higher musical tones, e. g., those of the piano string, organ pipe, human voice, etc.
The Form Theory. The Herbartian school of psychology seeks to reduce all musical experience to form. The formal part is the real part of music. This formal part consists not of the mental product, but of the elementary nature of tones as determined by the excitement of the nerves. The charm of sound, the sensation it excites in us, this, they say, constitutes the essential subject matter in every piece of musical art. Of course this theory grounds the musical effects of sounds essentially in physiology. If it does not leave the mind of the artist entirely out of consideration, it at least crowds mind or the thought factor in music so far into the background as to have very little value, relatively speaking. It does not sufficiently recognize that ideal element which we think and shall try to show later on, constitutes the deeper, the residual, the essentially aesthetic factor in all of the best music in the world. The form theory says in substance that finger music is everything and soul-music is nothing. But the common sense of mankind will not accept this as true. The fact is that the physiological element is not the whole of sound experience; there is something higher in musical sounds than mere sensuous delight. The pleasure of music is not all in the Car, any more than the beauty of a landscape is all in the eye. We can never explain Beethoven's ninth symphony by saying that it is nothing more than the excitement of our nervous system by means of external sound waves. Did Haydn think that the charm and beauty and power of his great masterpiece, the "Creation," consisted in nothing else than nerve excitation? That is not what we would infer from his utterance when, in the great hall of the University of Vienna where, on March 7, 1808, in the presence of the author, the immortal production was performed, pointing towards heaven and with tearful eyes he exclaimed, "It comes from there!" Did he think the music of his oratorio came from his fingers or from his soul?
The Spiritual or Psychic Element. Music consists of more than sense excitation; there is present a deeper spiritual element, which gives it its true character.
Helmholtz says: "We have to distinguish between the material ear of the body and the spiritual ear of the mind." Music in its highest qualities "proceeds from a spiritual source and addresses itself to the `spiritual ear.' " Music is preeminently the art of the intellect, though not generally so regarded. Its true substance is thought, and not mere sensuous excitement. Music is deeply rooted in the aesthetic nature of the soul. "Without mental activity no aesthetic enjoyment is possible," for the aesthetic emotions are results of intellectual activity. The spiritual element is farther evident from the presence and influence of an absolute ideal in musical art. All great musical artists agree that there is present in music, just as in poetry, painting, sculpture, etc., an absolute ideal according to which their compositions take shape. Some one has said, "Music is architectural," that is, it consists in a process of construction according to an ideal. Music may be regarded as the expression of our ideal strivings after a fuller knowledge of the reality of spiritual being in nature. Musical art pre-supposes the existence of a Being in whom all the ideal strivings of the artist's soul after perfect beauty are realized.
The spiritual element is the most important part the soul of music. It is this that makes it such a mighty power in the world.
As Congreve sings:
"Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast,
Ancient mythology is full of references to the marvelous power of music. Apollo soothed the vigilant Argus to sleep with his lyre. Orpheus, by his song and the tones of his lyre tamed the fierceness of beasts, moved rocks and trees, lulled to sleep Cerberus, the watch dog of hell, charmed the evil spirits of Hades, etc. Amphion built the walls of Thebes by the magical power of his lyre. When he played the stones moved and voluntarily formed themselves into walls and turrets. What did the ancients mean by these myths and stories? They meant the power of mind and heart, expressed through musical sound, over the lower orders of existence it is their way of saying that thought and willpower dominate the world.
Audible sound, i. e., the outward form, is not an absolute necessity of music. Beethoven, who became deaf at the age of thirty, could hear only the music of the heart. Though his outward ear was closed and no sounds from without could invade his inner auditorium, his "spiritual ear" was wonderfully acute. "What soul-music must he have heard as he wandered lonely through fields and valleys, with no sound from the outer world to disturb the music within!"
Says Dr. Mertz: "The great tone masters were men of noble souls; they were endowed with deep emotional natures; hence it is that their music lifts us up to a higher sphere as we listen to the beatings of their own hearts... If, then, the masters wrote from the heart, if they heard much silent music within, which they wrote down for us, those who aim to perform it must in like manner sing and play with the best powers of their hearts and minds... Every student should aim at this power of reproducing the true heart music as it lies hidden in the notes... Music has a higher mission than merely to please the ear. It is the art which appeals most powerfully to the heart, and through this affects our characters. The idea that music has no higher influences than simply to produce, for the time being, pleasant sensations, has done much harm to the progress of the art, in schools as among the people, for it has caused many thinking men to regard music with a degree of suspicion. We must aim to be intelligent students; we must strive to see more in music than mere pleasurable sensations; we should study it as an art, hence we must become artists; that is, we must be imbued with the highest love for and the best understanding of what we study. To make it a refining, elevating medium, we must not merely be players and singers, but also art students; we must strive to become thinking as well as feeling musicians."
All these remarks powerfully emphasize the intellectual and spiritual element in music. Music, that is, in outward form, is the natural language through which the thoughts and feelings of the soul express themselves. Language has value only as it serves to express ideas. Music is a universal language, the language of the brotherhood of mankind. It is the only language which all souls can understand, even though their tongues differ, it is the true world-language. Through this medium soul holds fellowship with soul the world over. Music expresses more than words; in fact, where words fail, the full meaning of music only begins. Says Wagner: "The tone language is the beginning and the end of the intellect, just as the myth is the beginning and the end of history, and the lyre the beginning and end of poetry."
"That would indeed be a small art that gives us only sounds and no language, no expressions for the conditions of the soul" (Schumann).
The best music creates the necessity for mental activity, because music in its right conception is essentially an interpretation of the mind's ideas, emotions, and volitions. "The works of Beethoven are the stored up result of all the individual heart beats, all the individual acts of memory, all the glorious pangs of feeling, all the efforts of rational will, which passed through the consciousness of Beethoven in the course of his life." Music tells us far more than the heart can take in, hence the art is inexhaustible; the deeper we study, the more music reveals to us. A grand musical composition expresses the composer's inner life far better than could the best biography. Through his works we are made partakers of his greatest joys and deepest sorrows, and on the pinions of his inspirations we rise to heights we never reached before.
Music is first a Conception. The preceding reflections have led up to the conclusion that music is first and in its deepest root a conception of the soul, a movement of the spirit. The formal part of music is there fore secondary; it has to do with expression and is largely mechanical, just as language has for its office the expression of ideas through outward symbols. As there must be a root before there can be development into trunk, branches, leaves and fruit, so there must be an ideal conception before there can be an outward form of musical composition. A musical product is not essentially different from any other art product.
The painter, for example, has first an ideal conception of his masterpiece and then he proceeds to express that conception in outward form; so also the sculptor, the architect, the poet. Music does not start in the finger tips and make its way up into the brain; it starts in the soul and flows down and out through the fingers. All this means that the intellectual or conceptual element in music should receive the first and greatest amount of attention on the part of the student. As music is primarily a product of mental activity, its phenomena belong to the realm of psychology and psychology must give laws and principles for the study of music.