Psychological Character Of Music Study
( Originally Published 1899 )
AT the close of the preceding chapter we said that psychology must give laws and principles for the study of music. This is a very significant statement, and claims our further attention in the present chapter. If music in its root idea is a matter of thought, that is, if it is first a conception of the soul, then it follows that the study of music has to do primarily with the operations of the soul. Hence music study must begin with the study of mind. All foundational work, for example, in piano study, resolves itself essentially into an analysis of those initial mental states which give rise to the various finger movements in technique as well as to the higher things of expression and interpretation. If the history of a given piece of music from its origin in the mind of the composer through all its stages of elaboration to its execution and interpretation by some master artist could be fully written, we should find that such a history is simply a series of correlated mental processes. In matters of technique it is an observed fact that accurate and rapid finger movements can be acquired best by focusing the attention upon the position and condition of the different organs concerned. It is in reality the brain that plays, and not the fingers simply. The rapid and intricate finger movements of the skilful virtuoso are nothing else than brain action originated and directed by thought, and rendered automatic by habit. The study of technique is thus fundamentally a study of brain and of thought processes. Consequently, if our methods of studying and teaching the piano are to be rational and normal, they must begin with the study of mind.
Again, expression in playing is manifestly only the outward sensuous side of an inward mental conception. Before there can be any expression, there must be a certain state of thought and emotion to express or force into outward form. The conditions for a full, free; and adequate expression are all determined primarily by mental states. If a player is master of his mental states, he will acquire an easy mastery of his favorite instrument, so that it will yield up at his command and give forth in perfect tones the elements of beauty and power contained in his lovely tone conceptions. If expression means the giving forth of the spirit of music, as opposed to the mere mechanical production of sound, it must rest upon the laws of mind as foundation. Consequently, the teaching of expression must be preceded by a mastery of the principles of mind and of the processes of mental action. Those subtle elements in a musical performance which make possible a clear and effective presentation of the emotional and intellectual content of a work, can be mastered only by a practical acquaintance with the operations of thought. "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" It requires the exercise of mind to grasp and present correctly, what mind has conceived.
So also, when we proceed to the highest function of musical art, namely, interpretation, we find that the same principles obtain. Interpretation deals with the thought content of a musical composition. The office of the interpreter is to represent in tone and action the meaning of the composer,to reproduce the beautiful tone imagery which occupied the mind of the composer at the time when the piece was written. From a thorough study of the nature and meaning of a work the interpreter must first form a correct mind picture of it, and then by means of tones set forth that picture to the apprehension of the listener. From all this we can see how much interpretation has to do with mind. The study of interpretation is a study of mind. How any one can teach interpretation without constant reference to the laws of thought under which the compositions he deals with took organic form, is hard to understand. If I am asked to explain the meaning of a rose, I know no better way to proceed than to analyze the rose, and by a careful study of the elements which I find, build up an intelligent conception of the organic processes by which the rose grew into its given form. Or, if I undertake to explain a masterpiece of poetry or oratory, I must set forth the way in which the masterpiece was produced. In each case the process involved is essentially psychological;thought is the great thing needful, and without thought but little progress can be made. Perhaps, in very rare cases, a musician may grasp the meaning of a piece intuitively, that is, immediately, without the conscious and laborious processes of analysis and synthesis; but surely this is the exception, and only serves to prove the rule. The rule among common people is that the meaning of a composition must be mastered by study. The learner must thread his way back from the finished product to its inception in the composer's mind in the same line along which the writer proceeded in the making of the piece. When in this way the player is able to put himself into the composer's viewpoint and see the piece as the author saw it, he is in a condition to interpret correctly. It matters little how great technical skill he may possess, or how perfect control he may have of himself, or how thoroughly he may understand his instrument, he cannot interpret correctly unless he has mastered the composer's thought. The art of interpretation is but another name for the art of thinking. How preposterous for a beginner, who has not yet learned the art of thinking, to undertake to interpret the compositions of Beethoven or Bach! How much better and how much more sensible it would be if the beginner had the humility and patience to confine himself to the rudiments of technique and to the study of muscles and nerves and mind, before he dares even to lift his eyes unto the heaven of expression and interpretation!