HOW TO LISTEN TO MUSIC
HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS TO UNTAUGHT LOVERS OF THE ART
HENRY EDWARD KREHBIEL
Author of "Studies in the Wagnerian Drama," "Notes on the Cultivation of Choral Music," "The Philharmonic Society of New York," etc.
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1897
COPYRIGHT, 1896, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
TROW DIRECTORY PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY NEW YORK
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WHO HAS HELPED ME TO RESPECT MUSICAL CRITICISM
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The author is beholden to the Messrs. Harper & Brothers for permission to use a small portion of the material in Chapter I., the greater part of Chapter IV., and the Plates which were printed originally in one of their publications; also to the publishers of "The Looker-On" for the privilege of reprinting a portion of an essay written for them entitled "Singers, Then and Now."
[Sidenote: CHAP. I.]
Purpose and scope of this book—Not written for professional musicians, but for untaught lovers of the art—neither for careless seekers after diversion unless they be willing to accept a higher conception of what "entertainment" means—The capacity properly to listen to music as a touchstone of musical talent—It is rarely found in popular concert-rooms—Travellers who do not see and listeners who do not hear—Music is of all the arts that which is practised most and thought about least—Popular ignorance of the art caused by the lack of an object for comparison—How simple terms are confounded by literary men—Blunders by Tennyson, Lamb, Coleridge, Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, F. Hopkinson Smith, Brander Matthews, and others—A warning against pedants and rhapsodists. Page 3
[Sidenote: CHAP. II.]
Recognition of Musical Elements
The dual nature of music—Sense-perception, fancy, and imagination—Recognition of Design as Form in its primary stages—The crude materials of music—The co-ordination of tones—Rudimentary analysis of Form—Comparison, as in other arts, not possible—Recognition of the fundamental elements—Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm—The value of memory—The need of an intermediary—Familiar music best liked—Interrelation of the elements—Repetition the fundamental principle of Form—Motives, Phrases, and Periods—A Creole folk-tune analyzed—Repetition at the base of poetic forms—Refrain and Parallelism—Key-relationship as a bond of union—Symphonic unity illustrated in examples from Beethoven—The C minor symphony and "Appassionata" sonata—The Concerto in G major—The Seventh and Ninth symphonies. Page 15
[Sidenote: CHAP. III.]
The Content and Kinds of Music
How far it is necessary for the listener to go into musical philosophy—Intelligent hearing not conditioned upon it—Man's individual relationship to the art—Musicians proceed on the theory that feelings are the content of music—The search for pictures and stories condemned—How composers hear and judge—Definitions of the capacity of music by Wagner, Hauptmann, and Mendelssohn—An utterance by Herbert Spencer—Music as a language—Absolute music and Programme music—The content of all true art works—Chamber music—Meaning and origin of the term—Haydn the servant of a Prince—The characteristics of Chamber music—Pure thought, lofty imagination, and deep learning—Its chastity—Sympathy between performers and listeners essential to its enjoyment—A correct definition of Programme music—Programme music defended—The value of titles and superscriptions—Judgment upon it must, however, go to the music, not the commentary—Subjects that are unfit for music—Kinds of Programme music—Imitative music—How the music of birds has been utilized—The cuckoo of nature and Beethoven's cuckoo—Cock and hen in a seventeenth century composition—Rameau's pullet—The German quail—Music that is descriptive by suggestion—External and internal attributes—Fancy and Imagination—Harmony and the major and minor mode—Association of ideas—Movement delineated—Handel's frogs—Water in the "Hebrides" overture and "Ocean" symphony—Height and depth illustrated by acute and grave tones—Beethoven's illustration of distance—His rule enforced—Classical and Romantic music—Genesis of the terms—What they mean in literature—Archbishop Trench on classical books—The author's definitions of both terms in music—Classicism as the conservative principle, Romanticism as the progressive, regenerative, and creative—A contest which stimulates life. Page 36
[Sidenote: CHAP. IV.]
The Modern Orchestra
Importance of the instrumental band—Some things that can be learned by its study—The orchestral choirs—Disposition of the players—Model bands compared—Development of instrumental music—The extent of an orchestra's register—The Strings: Violin, Viola, Violoncello, and Double-bass—Effects produced by changes in manipulation—The wood-winds: Flute, Oboe, English horn, Bassoon, Clarinet—The Brass: French Horn, Trumpet and Cornet, Trombone, Tuba—The Drums—The Conductor—Rise of the modern interpreter—The need of him—His methods—Scores and Score-reading. Page 71
[Sidenote: CHAP. V.]
At an Orchestral Concert
"Classical" and "Popular" as generally conceived—Symphony Orchestras and Military bands—The higher forms in music as exemplified at a classical concert—Symphonies, Overtures, Symphonic Poems, Concertos, etc.—A Symphony not a union of unrelated parts—History of the name—The Sonata form and cyclical compositions—The bond of union between the divisions of a Symphony—Material and spiritual links—The first movement and the sonata form—"Exposition, illustration, and repetition"—The subjects and their treatment—Keys and nomenclature of the Symphony—The Adagio or second movement—The Scherzo and its relation to the Minuet—The Finale and the Rondo form—The latter illustrated in outline by a poem—Modifications of the symphonic form by Beethoven, Schumann, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Dvorak—Augmentation of the forces—Symphonies with voices—The Symphonic Poem—Its three characteristics—Concertos and Cadenzas—M. Ysaye's opinion of the latter—Designations in Chamber music—The Overture and its descendants—Smaller forms: Serenades, Fantasias, Rhapsodies, Variations, Operatic Excerpts. Page 122
[Sidenote: CHAP. VI.]
At a Pianoforte Recital
The Popularity of Pianoforte music exemplified in M. Paderewski's recitals—The instrument—A universal medium of music study—Its defects and merits contrasted—Not a perfect melody instrument—Value of the percussive element—Technique; the false and the true estimate of its value—Pianoforte literature as illustrated in recitals—Its division, for the purposes of this study, into four periods: Classic, Classic-romantic, Romantic, and Bravura—Precursors of the Pianoforte—The Clavichord and Harpsichord, and the music composed for them—Peculiarities of Bach's style—His Romanticism—Scarlatti's Sonatas—The Suite and its constituents—Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, Minuet, and Gavotte—The technique of the period—How Bach and Handel played—Beethoven and the Sonata—Mozart and Beethoven as pianists—The Romantic composers—Schumann and Chopin and the forms used by them—Schumann and Jean Paul—Chopin's Preludes, Etudes, Nocturnes, Ballades, Polonaises, Mazurkas, Krakowiak—The technique of the Romantic period—"Idiomatic" pianoforte music—Development of the instrument—The Pedal and its use—Liszt and his Hungarian Rhapsodies. Page 154
[Sidenote: CHAP. VII.]
At the Opera
Instability of popular taste in respect of operas—Our lists seldom extend back of the present century—The people of to-day as indifferent as those of two centuries ago to the language used—Use and abuse of foreign languages—The Opera defended as an art-form—Its origin in the Greek tragedies—Why music is the language of emotion—A scientific explanation—Herbert Spencer's laws—Efforts of Florentine scholars to revive the classic tragedy result in the invention of the lyric drama—The various kinds of Opera: Opera seria, Opera buffa, Opera semiseria, French grand Opera, and Opera comique—Operettas and musical farces—Romantic Opera—A popular conception of German opera—A return to the old terminology led by Wagner—The recitative: Its nature, aims, and capacities—The change from speech to song—The arioso style, the accompanied recitative and the aria—Music and dramatic action—Emancipation from set forms—The orchestra—The decay of singing—Feats of the masters of the Roman school and La Bastardella—Degeneracy of the Opera of their day—Singers who have been heard in New York—Two generations of singers compared—Grisi, Jenny Lind, Sontag, La Grange, Piccolomini, Adelina Patti, Nilsson, Sembrich, Lucca, Gerster, Lehmann, Melba, Eames, Calve, Mario, Jean and Edouard de Reszke—Wagner and his works—Operas and lyric dramas—Wagner's return to the principles of the Florentine reformers—Interdependence of elements in a lyric drama—Forms and the endless melody—The Typical Phrases: How they should be studied. Page 202
[Sidenote: CHAP. VIII.]
Choirs and Choral Music
Value of chorus singing in musical culture—Schumann's advice to students—Choristers and instrumentalists—Amateurs and professionals—Oratorio and Maennergesang—The choirs of Handel and Bach—Glee Unions, Male Clubs, and Women's Choirs—Boys' voices not adapted to modern music—Mixed choirs—American Origin of amateur singing societies—Priority over Germany—The size of choirs—Large numbers not essential—How choirs are divided—Antiphonal effects—Excellence in choir singing—Precision, intonation, expression, balance of tone, enunciation, pronunciation, declamation—The cause of monotony in Oratorio performances—A capella music—Genesis of modern hymnology—Influence of Luther and the Germans—Use of popular melodies by composers—The chorale—Preservation of the severe style of writing in choral music—Palestrina and Bach—A study of their styles—Latin and Teuton—Church and individual—Motets and Church Cantatas—The Passions—The Oratorio—Sacred opera and Cantata—Epic and Drama—Characteristic and descriptive music—The Mass: Its secularization and musical development—The dramatic tendency illustrated in Beethoven and Berlioz. Page 253
[Sidenote: CHAP. IX.]
Musician, Critic and Public
Criticism justified—Relationship between Musician, Critic and Public—To end the conflict between them would result in stagnation—How the Critic might escape—The Musician prefers to appeal to the public rather than to the Critic—Why this is so—Ignorance as a safeguard against and promoter of conservatism—Wagner and Haydn—The Critic as the enemy of the charlatan—Temptations to which he is exposed—Value of popular approbation—Schumann's aphorisms—The Public neither bad judges nor good critics—The Critic's duty is to guide popular judgment—Fickleness of the people's opinions—Taste and judgment not a birthright—The necessity of antecedent study—The Critic's responsibility—Not always that toward the Musician which the latter thinks—How the newspaper can work for good—Must the Critic be a Musician?—Pedants and Rhapsodists—Demonstrable facts in criticism—The folly and viciousness of foolish rhapsody—The Rev. Mr. Haweis cited—Ernst's violin—Intelligent rhapsody approved—Dr. John Brown on Beethoven—The Critic's duty. Page 297
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I. VIOLIN—(CLIFFORD SCHMIDT).—II. VIOLONCELLO—(VICTOR HERBERT).—III. PICCOLO FLUTE—(C. KURTH, JUN.).—IV. OBOE—(JOSEPH ELLER).—V. ENGLISH HORN—(JOSEPH ELLER).—VI. BASSOON (FEDOR BERNHARDI).—VII. CLARINET—(HENRY KAISER).—VIII. BASS CLARINET—(HENRY KAISER).—IX. FRENCH HORN—(CARL PIEPER).—X. TROMBONE—(J. PFEIFFENSCHNEIDER).—XI. BASS TUBA—(ANTON REITER).—XII. THE CONDUCTOR'S SCORE. Page 325
INDEX Page 351
How to Listen to Music
[Sidenote: The book's appeal.]
This book has a purpose, which is as simple as it is plain; and an unpretentious scope. It does not aim to edify either the musical professor or the musical scholar. It comes into the presence of the musical student with all becoming modesty. Its business is with those who love music and present themselves for its gracious ministrations in Concert-Room and Opera House, but have not studied it as professors and scholars are supposed to study. It is not for the careless unless they be willing to inquire whether it might not be well to yield the common conception of entertainment in favor of the higher enjoyment which springs from serious contemplation of beautiful things; but if they are willing so to inquire, they shall be accounted the class that the author is most anxious to reach. The reasons which prompted its writing and the laying out of its plan will presently appear. For the frankness of his disclosure the author might be willing to apologize were his reverence for music less and his consideration for popular affectations more; but because he is convinced that a love for music carries with it that which, so it be but awakened, shall speedily grow into an honest desire to know more about the beloved object, he is willing to seem unamiable to the amateur while arguing the need of even so mild a stimulant as his book, and ingenuous, mayhap even childish, to the professional musician while trying to point a way in which better appreciation may be sought.
[Sidenote: Talent in listening.]
The capacity properly to listen to music is better proof of musical talent in the listener than skill to play upon an instrument or ability to sing acceptably when unaccompanied by that capacity. It makes more for that gentleness and refinement of emotion, thought, and action which, in the highest sense of the term, it is the province of music to promote. And it is a much rarer accomplishment. I cannot conceive anything more pitiful than the spectacle of men and women perched on a fair observation point exclaiming rapturously at the loveliness of mead and valley, their eyes melting involuntarily in tenderness at the sight of moss-carpeted slopes and rocks and peaceful wood, or dilating in reverent wonder at mountain magnificence, and then learning from their exclamations that, as a matter of fact, they are unable to distinguish between rock and tree, field and forest, earth and sky; between the dark-browns of the storm-scarred rock, the greens of the foliage, and the blues of the sky.
[Sidenote: Ill equipped listeners.]
Yet in the realm of another sense, in the contemplation of beauties more ethereal and evanescent than those of nature, such is the experience which in my capacity as a writer for newspapers I have made for many years. A party of people blind to form and color cannot be said to be well equipped for a Swiss journey, though loaded down with alpenstocks and Baedekers; yet the spectacle of such a party on the top of the Rigi is no more pitiful and anomalous than that presented by the majority of the hearers in our concert-rooms. They are there to adventure a journey into a realm whose beauties do not disclose themselves to the senses alone, but whose perception requires a co-operation of all the finer faculties; yet of this they seem to know nothing, and even of that sense to which the first appeal is made it may be said with profound truth that "hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."
[Sidenote: Popular ignorance of music.]
Of all the arts, music is practised most and thought about least. Why this should be the case may be explained on several grounds. A sweet mystery enshrouds the nature of music. Its material part is subtle and elusive. To master it on its technical side alone costs a vast expenditure of time, patience, and industry. But since it is, in one manifestation or another, the most popular of the arts, and one the enjoyment of which is conditioned in a peculiar degree on love, it remains passing strange that the indifference touching its nature and elements, and the character of the phenomena which produce it, or are produced by it, is so general. I do not recall that anybody has ever tried to ground this popular ignorance touching an art of which, by right of birth, everybody is a critic. The unamiable nature of the task, of which I am keenly conscious, has probably been a bar to such an undertaking. But a frank diagnosis must precede the discovery of a cure for every disease, and I have undertaken to point out a way in which this grievous ailment in the social body may at least be lessened.
[Sidenote: Paucity of intelligent comment.]
[Sidenote: Want of a model.]
It is not an exaggeration to say that one might listen for a lifetime to the polite conversation of our drawing-rooms (and I do not mean by this to refer to the United States alone) without hearing a symphony talked about in terms indicative of more than the most superficial knowledge of the outward form, that is, the dimensions and apparatus, of such a composition. No other art provides an exact analogy for this phenomenon. Everybody can say something containing a degree of appositeness about a poem, novel, painting, statue, or building. If he can do no more he can go as far as Landseer's rural critic who objected to one of the artist's paintings on the ground that not one of the three pigs eating from a trough had a foot in it. It is the absence of the standard of judgment employed in this criticism which makes significant talk about music so difficult. Nature failed to provide a model for this ethereal art. There is nothing in the natural world with which the simple man may compare it.
[Sidenote: Simple terms confounded.]
It is not alone a knowledge of the constituent factors of a symphony, or the difference between a sonata and a suite, a march and a mazurka, that is rare. Unless you chance to be listening to the conversation of musicians (in which term I wish to include amateurs who are what the word amateur implies, and whose knowledge stands in some respectable relation to their love), you will find, so frequently that I have not the heart to attempt an estimate of the proportion, that the most common words in the terminology of the art are misapplied. Such familiar things as harmony and melody, time and tune, are continually confounded. Let us call a distinguished witness into the box; the instance is not new, but it will serve. What does Tennyson mean when he says:
"All night have the roses heard The flute, violin, bassoon; All night has the casement jessamine stirr'd To the dancers dancing in tune?"
[Sidenote: Tune and time.]
Unless the dancers who wearied Maud were provided with even a more extraordinary instrumental outfit than the Old Lady of Banbury Cross, how could they have danced "in tune?"
[Sidenote: Blunders of poets and essayists.]
Musical study of a sort being almost as general as study of the "three Rs," it must be said that the gross forms of ignorance are utterly inexcusable. But if this is obvious, it is even more obvious that there is something radically wrong with the prevalent systems of musical instruction. It is because of a plentiful lack of knowledge that so much that is written on music is without meaning, and that the most foolish kind of rhapsody, so it show a collocation of fine words, is permitted to masquerade as musical criticism and even analysis. People like to read about music, and the books of a certain English clergyman have had a sale of stupendous magnitude notwithstanding they are full of absurdities. The clergyman has a multitudinous companionship, moreover, among novelists, essayists, and poets whose safety lies in more or less fantastic generalization when they come to talk about music. How they flounder when they come to detail! It was Charles Lamb who said, in his "Chapter on Ears," that in voices he could not distinguish a soprano from a tenor, and could only contrive to guess at the thorough-bass from its being "supereminently harsh and disagreeable;" yet dear old Elia may be forgiven, since his confounding the bass voice with a system of musical short-hand is so delightful a proof of the ignorance he was confessing.
[Sidenote: Literary realism and musical terminology.]
But what shall the troubled critics say to Tennyson's orchestra consisting of a flute, violin, and bassoon? Or to Coleridge's "loud bassoon," which made the wedding-guest to beat his breast? Or to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's pianist who played "with an airy and bird-like touch?" Or to our own clever painter-novelist who, in "Snubbin' through Jersey," has Brushes bring out his violoncello and play "the symphonies of Beethoven" to entertain his fellow canal-boat passengers? The tendency toward realism, or "veritism," as it is called, has brought out a rich crop of blunders. It will not do to have a character in a story simply sing or play something; we must have the names of composers and compositions. The genial gentleman who enriched musical literature with arrangements of Beethoven's symphonies for violoncello without accompaniment has since supplemented this feat by creating a German fiddler who, when he thinks himself unnoticed, plays a sonata for violin and contralto voice; Professor Brander Matthews permits one of his heroines to sing Schumann's "Warum?" and one of his heroes plays "The Moonlight Concerto;" one of Ouida's romantic creatures spends hours at an organ "playing the grand old masses of Mendelssohn;" in "Moths" the tenor never wearies of singing certain "exquisite airs of Palestrina," which recalls the fact that an indignant correspondent of a St. Louis newspaper, protesting against the Teutonism and heaviness of an orchestra conductor's programmes, demanded some of the "lighter" works of "Berlioz and Palestrina."
[Sidenote: A popular need.]
Alas! these things and the many others equally amusing which Mr. G. Sutherland Edwards long ago catalogued in an essay on "The Literary Maltreatment of Music" are but evidences that even cultured folk have not yet learned to talk correctly about the art which is practised most widely. There is a greater need than pianoforte teachers and singing teachers, and that is a numerous company of writers and talkers who shall teach the people how to listen to music so that it shall not pass through their heads like a vast tonal phantasmagoria, but provide the varied and noble delights contemplated by the composers.
[Sidenote: A warning against writers.]
[Sidenote: Pedants and rhapsodists.]
Ungracious as it might appear, it may yet not be amiss, therefore, at the very outset of an inquiry into the proper way in which to listen to music, to utter a warning against much that is written on the art. As a rule it will be found that writers on music are divided into two classes, and that neither of these classes can do much good. Too often they are either pedants or rhapsodists. This division is wholly natural. Music has many sides and is a science as well as an art. Its scientific side is that on which the pedant generally approaches it. He is concerned with forms and rules, with externals, to the forgetting of that which is inexpressibly nobler and higher. But the pedants are not harmful, because they are not interesting; strictly speaking, they do not write for the public at all, but only for their professional colleagues. The harmful men are the foolish rhapsodists who take advantage of the fact that the language of music is indeterminate and evanescent to talk about the art in such a way as to present themselves as persons of exquisite sensibilities rather than to direct attention to the real nature and beauty of music itself. To them I shall recur in a later chapter devoted to musical criticism, and haply point out the difference between good and bad critics and commentators from the view-point of popular need and popular opportunity.
Recognition of Musical Elements
[Sidenote: The nature of music.]
Music is dual in its nature; it is material as well as spiritual. Its material side we apprehend through the sense of hearing, and comprehend through the intellect; its spiritual side reaches us through the fancy (or imagination, so it be music of the highest class), and the emotional part of us. If the scope and capacity of the art, and the evolutionary processes which its history discloses (a record of which is preserved in its nomenclature), are to be understood, it is essential that this duality be kept in view. There is something so potent and elemental in the appeal which music makes that it is possible to derive pleasure from even an unwilling hearing or a hearing unaccompanied by effort at analysis; but real appreciation of its beauty, which means recognition of the qualities which put it in the realm of art, is conditioned upon intelligent hearing. The higher the intelligence, the keener will be the enjoyment, if the former be directed to the spiritual side as well as the material.
[Sidenote: Necessity of intelligent hearing.]
So far as music is merely agreeably co-ordinated sounds, it may be reduced to mathematics and its practice to handicraft. But recognition of design is a condition precedent to the awakening of the fancy or the imagination, and to achieve such recognition there must be intelligent hearing in the first instance. For the purposes of this study, design may be held to be Form in its primary stages, the recognition of which is possible to every listener who is fond of music; it is not necessary that he be learned in the science. He need only be willing to let an intellectual process, which will bring its own reward, accompany the physical process of hearing.
[Sidenote: Tones and musical material.]
Without discrimination it is impossible to recognize even the crude materials of music, for the first step is already a co-ordination of those materials. A tone becomes musical material only by association with another tone. We might hear it alone, study its quality, and determine its degree of acuteness or gravity (its pitch, as musicians say), but it can never become music so long as it remains isolated. When we recognize that it bears certain relationships with other tones in respect of time or tune (to use simple terms), it has become for us musical material. We do not need to philosophize about the nature of those relationships, but we must recognize their existence.
[Sidenote: The beginnings of Form.]
Thus much we might hear if we were to let music go through our heads like water through a sieve. Yet the step from that degree of discrimination to a rudimentary analysis of Form is exceedingly short, and requires little more than a willingness to concentrate the attention and exercise the memory. Everyone is willing to do that much while looking at a picture. Who would look at a painting and rest satisfied with the impression made upon the sense of sight by the colors merely? No one, surely. Yet so soon as we look, so as to discriminate between the outlines, to observe the relationship of figure to figure, we are indulging in intellectual exercise. If this be a condition precedent to the enjoyment of a picture (and it plainly is), how much more so is it in the case of music, which is intangible and evanescent, which cannot pause a moment for our contemplation without ceasing to be?
[Sidenote: Comparison with a model not possible.]
There is another reason why we must exercise intelligence in listening, to which I have already alluded in the first chapter. Our appreciation of beauty in the plastic arts is helped by the circumstance that the critical activity is largely a matter of comparison. Is the picture or the statue a good copy of the object sought to be represented? Such comparison fails us utterly in music, which copies nothing that is tangibly present in the external world.
[Sidenote: What degree of knowledge is necessary?]
[Sidenote: The Elements.]
[Sidenote: Value of memory.]
It is then necessary to associate the intellect with sense perception in listening to music. How far is it essential that the intellectual process shall go? This book being for the untrained, the question might be put thus: With how little knowledge of the science can an intelligent listener get along? We are concerned only with his enjoyment of music or, better, with an effort to increase it without asking him to become a musician. If he is fond of the art it is more than likely that the capacity to discriminate sufficiently to recognize the elements out of which music is made has come to him intuitively. Does he recognize that musical tones are related to each other in respect of time and pitch? Then it shall not be difficult for him to recognize the three elements on which music rests—Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. Can he recognize them with sufficient distinctness to seize upon their manifestations while music is sounding? Then memory shall come to the aid of discrimination, and he shall be able to appreciate enough of design to point the way to a true and lofty appreciation of the beautiful in music. The value of memory is for obvious reasons very great in musical enjoyment. The picture remains upon the wall, the book upon the library shelf. If we have failed to grasp a detail at the first glance or reading, we need but turn again to the picture or open the book anew. We may see the picture in a changed light, or read the poem in a different mood, but the outlines, colors, ideas are fixed for frequent and patient perusal. Music goes out of existence with every performance, and must be recreated at every hearing.
[Sidenote: An intermediary necessary.]
Not only that, but in the case of all, so far as some forms are concerned, and of all who are not practitioners in others, it is necessary that there shall be an intermediary between the composer and the listener. The written or printed notes are not music; they are only signs which indicate to the performer what to do to call tones into existence such as the composer had combined into an art-work in his mind. The broadly trained musician can read the symbols; they stir his imagination, and he hears the music in his imagination as the composer heard it. But the untaught music-lover alone can get nothing from the printed page; he must needs wait till some one else shall again waken for him the
"Sound of a voice that is still."
[Sidenote: The value of memory.]
This is one of the drawbacks which are bound up in the nature of music; but it has ample compensation in the unusual pleasure which memory brings. In the case of the best music, familiarity breeds ever-growing admiration. New compositions are slowly received; they make their way to popular appreciation only by repeated performances; the people like best the songs as well as the symphonies which they know. The quicker, therefore, that we are in recognizing the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic contents of a new composition, and the more apt our memory in seizing upon them for the operation of the fancy, the greater shall be our pleasure.
[Sidenote: Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm.]
[Sidenote: Comprehensiveness of Melody.]
In simple phrase Melody is a well-ordered series of tones heard successively; Harmony, a well-ordered series heard simultaneously; Rhythm, a symmetrical grouping of tonal time units vitalized by accent. The life-blood of music is Melody, and a complete conception of the term embodies within itself the essence of both its companions. A succession of tones without harmonic regulation is not a perfect element in music; neither is a succession of tones which have harmonic regulation but are void of rhythm. The beauty and expressiveness, especially the emotionality, of a musical composition depend upon the harmonies which either accompany the melody in the form of chords (a group of melodic intervals sounded simultaneously), or are latent in the melody itself (harmonic intervals sounded successively). Melody is Harmony analyzed; Harmony is Melody synthetized.
[Sidenote: A melody analyzed.]
The fundamental principle of Form is repetition of melodies, which are to music what ideas are to poetry. Melodies themselves are made by repetition of smaller fractions called motives (a term borrowed from the fine arts), phrases, and periods, which derive their individuality from their rhythmical or intervallic characteristics. Melodies are not all of the simple kind which the musically illiterate, or the musically ill-trained, recognize as "tunes," but they all have a symmetrical organization. The dissection of a simple folk-tune may serve to make this plain and also indicate to the untrained how a single feature may be taken as a mark of identification and a holding-point for the memory. Here is the melody of a Creole song called sometimes Pov' piti Lolotte, sometimes Pov' piti Momzelle Zizi, in the patois of Louisiana and Martinique:
[Sidenote: Motives, phrases, and periods.]
It will be as apparent to the eye of one who cannot read music as it will to his ear when he hears this melody played, that it is built up of two groups of notes only. These groups are marked off by the heavy lines across the staff called bars, whose purpose it is to indicate rhythmical subdivisions in music. The second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh of these groups are repetitions merely of the first group, which is the germ of the melody, but on different degrees of the scale; the fourth and eighth groups are identical and are an appendage hitched to the first group for the purpose of bringing it to a close, supplying a resting-point craved by man's innate sense of symmetry. Musicians call such groups cadences. A musical analyst would call each group a motive, and say that each successive two groups, beginning with the first, constitute a phrase, each two phrases a period, and the two periods a melody. We have therefore in this innocent Creole tune eight motives, four phrases, and two periods; yet its material is summed up in two groups, one of seven notes, one of five, which only need to be identified and remembered to enable a listener to recognize something of the design of a composer if he were to put the melody to the highest purposes that melody can be put in the art of musical composition.
[Sidenote: Repetition in music.]
Repetition is the constructive principle which was employed by the folk-musician in creating this melody; and repetition is the fundamental principle in all musical construction. It will suffice for many merely to be reminded of this to appreciate the fact that while the exercise of memory is a most necessary activity in listening to music, it lies in music to make that exercise easy. There is repetition of motives, phrases, and periods in melody; repetition of melodies in parts; and repetition of parts in the wholes of the larger forms.
[Sidenote: Repetition in poetry.]
The beginnings of poetic forms are also found in repetition; in primitive poetry it is exemplified in the refrain or burden, in the highly developed poetry of the Hebrews in parallelism. The Psalmist wrote:
"O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath, Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure."
[Sidenote: Key relationship.]
Here is a period of two members, the latter repeating the thought of the former. A musical analyst might find in it an admirable analogue for the first period of a simple melody. He would divide it into four motives: "Rebuke me not in thy wrath neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure," and point out as intimate a relationship between them as exists in the Creole tune. The bond of union between the motives of the melody as well as that in the poetry illustrates a principle of beauty which is the most important element in musical design after repetition, which is its necessary vehicle. It is because this principle guides the repetition of the tone-groups that together they form a melody that is perfect, satisfying, and reposeful. It is the principle of key-relationship, to discuss which fully would carry me farther into musical science than I am permitted to go. Let this suffice: A harmony is latent in each group, and the sequence of groups is such a sequence as the experience of ages has demonstrated to be most agreeable to the ear.
[Sidenote: The rhythmical stamp.]
[Sidenote: The principle of Unity.]
In the case of the Creole melody the listener is helped to a quick appreciation of its form by the distinct physiognomy which rhythm has stamped upon it; and it is by noting such a characteristic that the memory can best be aided in its work of identification. It is not necessary for a listener to follow all the processes of a composer in order to enjoy his music, but if he cultivates the habit of following the principal themes through a work of the higher class he will not only enjoy the pleasures of memory but will frequently get a glimpse into the composer's purposes which will stimulate his imagination and mightily increase his enjoyment. There is nothing can guide him more surely to a recognition of the principle of unity, which makes a symphony to be an organic whole instead of a group of pieces which are only externally related. The greatest exemplar of this principle is Beethoven; and his music is the best in which to study it for the reason that he so frequently employs material signs for the spiritual bond. So forcibly has this been impressed upon me at times that I am almost willing to believe that a keen analytical student of his music might arrange his greater works into groups of such as were in process of composition at the same time without reference to his personal history. Take the principal theme of the C minor Symphony for example:
[Sidenote: A rhythmical motive pursued.]
This simple, but marvellously pregnant, motive is not only the kernel of the first movement, it is the fundamental thought of the whole symphony. We hear its persistent beat in the scherzo as well:
and also in the last movement:
More than this, we find the motive haunting the first movement of the pianoforte sonata in F minor, op. 57, known as the "Sonata Appassionata," now gloomily, almost morosely, proclamative in the bass, now interrogative in the treble:
[Sidenote: Relationships in Beethoven's works.]
[Sidenote: The C minor Symphony and "Appassionata" sonata.]
[Sidenote: Beethoven's G major Concerto.]
Schindler relates that when once he asked Beethoven to tell him what the F minor and the D minor (Op. 31, No. 2) sonatas meant, he received for an answer only the enigmatical remark: "Read Shakespeare's 'Tempest.'" Many a student and commentator has since read the "Tempest" in the hope of finding a clew to the emotional contents which Beethoven believed to be in the two works, so singularly associated, only to find himself baffled. It is a fancy, which rests perhaps too much on outward things, but still one full of suggestion, that had Beethoven said: "Hear my C minor Symphony," he would have given a better starting-point to the imagination of those who are seeking to know what the F minor sonata means. Most obviously it means music, but it means music that is an expression of one of those psychological struggles which Beethoven felt called upon more and more to delineate as he was more and more shut out from the companionship of the external world. Such struggles are in the truest sense of the word tempests. The motive, which, according to the story, Beethoven himself said indicates, in the symphony, the rappings of Fate at the door of human existence, is common to two works which are also related in their spiritual contents. Singularly enough, too, in both cases the struggle which is begun in the first movement and continued in the third, is interrupted by a period of calm reassuring, soul-fortifying aspiration, which in the symphony as well as in the sonata takes the form of a theme with variations. Here, then, the recognition of a simple rhythmical figure has helped us to an appreciation of the spiritual unity of the parts of a symphony, and provided a commentary on the poetical contents of a sonata. But the lesson is not yet exhausted. Again do we find the rhythm coloring the first movement of the pianoforte concerto in G major:
Symphony, concerto, and sonata, as the sketch-books of the master show, were in process of creation at the same time.
[Sidenote: His Seventh Symphony.]
Thus far we have been helped in identifying a melody and studying relationships by the rhythmical structure of a single motive. The demonstration might be extended on the same line into Beethoven's symphony in A major, in which the external sign of the poetical idea which underlies the whole work is also rhythmic—so markedly so that Wagner characterized it most happily and truthfully when he said that it was "the apotheosis of the dance." Here it is the dactyl, [dactyl symbol], which in one variation, or another, clings to us almost as persistently as in Hood's "Bridge of Sighs:"
"One more unfortunate Weary of breath, Rashly importunate, Gone to her death."
[Sidenote: Use of a dactylic figure.]
We hear it lightly tripping in the first movement:
[Music illustration] and [Music illustration];
gentle, sedate, tender, measured, through its combination with a spondee in the second:
cheerily, merrily, jocosely happy in the Scherzo:
hymn-like in the Trio:
and wildly bacchanalian when subjected to trochaic abbreviation in the Finale:
[Sidenote: Intervallic characteristics.]
Intervallic characteristics may place the badge of relationship upon melodies as distinctly as rhythmic. There is no more perfect illustration of this than that afforded by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Speaking of the subject of its finale, Sir George Grove says:
"And note—while listening to the simple tune itself, before the variations begin—how very simple it is; the plain diatonic scale, not a single chromatic interval, and out of fifty-six notes only three not consecutive."[A]
[Sidenote: The melodies in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.]
Earlier in the same work, while combating a statement by Lenz that the resemblance between the second subject of the first movement and the choral melody is a "thematic reference of the most striking importance, vindicating the unity of the entire work, and placing the whole in a perfectly new light," Sir George says:
"It is, however, very remarkable that so many of the melodies in the Symphony should consist of consecutive notes, and that in no less than four of them the notes should run up a portion of the scale and down again—apparently pointing to a consistent condition of Beethoven's mind throughout this work."
[Sidenote: Melodic likenesses.]
Like Goethe, Beethoven secreted many a mystery in his masterpiece, but he did not juggle idly with tones, or select the themes of his symphonies at hap-hazard; he would be open to the charge, however, if the resemblances which I have pointed out in the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, and those disclosed by the following melodies from his Ninth, should turn out through some incomprehensible revelation to be mere coincidences:
From the first movement:
From the second:
The choral melody:
[Sidenote: Design and Form.]
From a recognition of the beginnings of design, to which identification of the composer's thematic material and its simpler relationships will lead, to so much knowledge of Form as will enable the reader to understand the later chapters in this book, is but a step.
[A] "Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies," p. 374.
The Content and Kinds of Music
[Sidenote: Metaphysics to be avoided herein.]
Bearing in mind the purpose of this book, I shall not ask the reader to accompany me far afield in the region of aesthetic philosophy or musical metaphysics. A short excursion is all that is necessary to make plain what is meant by such terms as Absolute music, Programme music, Classical, Romantic, and Chamber music and the like, which not only confront us continually in discussion, but stand for things which we must know if we would read programmes understandingly and appreciate the various phases in which music presents itself to us. It is interesting and valuable to know why an art-work stirs up pleasurable feelings within us, and to speculate upon its relations to the intellect and the emotions; but the circumstance that philosophers have never agreed, and probably never will agree, on these points, so far as the art of music is concerned, alone suffices to remove them from the field of this discussion.
[Sidenote: Personal equation in judgment.]
Intelligent listening is not conditioned upon such knowledge. Even when the study is begun, the questions whether or not music has a content beyond itself, where that content is to be sought, and how defined, will be decided in each case by the student for himself, on grounds which may be said to be as much in his nature as they are in the argument. The attitude of man toward the art is an individual one, and in some of its aspects defies explanation.
[Sidenote: A musical fluid.]
The amount and kind of pleasure which music gives him are frequently as much beyond his understanding and control as they are beyond the understanding and control of the man who sits beside him. They are consequences of just that particular combination of material and spiritual elements, just that blending of muscular, nervous, and cerebral tissues, which make him what he is, which segregate him as an individual from the mass of humanity. We speak of persons as susceptible or insusceptible to music as we speak of good and poor conductors of electricity; and the analogy implied here is particularly apt and striking. If we were still using the scientific terms of a few decades ago I should say that a musical fluid might yet be discovered and its laws correlated with those of heat, light, and electricity. Like them, when reduced to its lowest terms, music is a form of motion, and it should not be difficult on this analogy to construct a theory which would account for the physical phenomena which accompany the hearing of music in some persons, such as the recession of blood from the face, or an equally sudden suffusion of the same veins, a contraction of the scalp accompanied by chilliness or a prickling sensation, or that roughness of the skin called goose-flesh, "flesh moved by an idea, flesh horripilated by a thought."
[Sidenote: Origin of musical elements.]
[Sidenote: Feelings and counterpoint.]
It has been denied that feelings are the content of music, or that it is the mission of music to give expression to feelings; but the scientific fact remains that the fundamental elements of vocal music—pitch, quality, and dynamic intensity—are the results of feelings working upon the vocal organs; and even if Mr. Herbert Spencer's theory be rejected, it is too late now to deny that music is conceived by its creators as a language of the emotions and so applied by them. The German philosopher Herbarth sought to reduce the question to an absurdity by expressing surprise that musicians should still believe that feelings could be "the proximate cause of the rules of simple and double counterpoint;" but Dr. Stainer found a sufficient answer by accepting the proposition as put, and directing attention to the fact that the feelings of men having first decided what was pleasurable in polyphony, and the rules of counterpoint having afterward been drawn from specimens of pleasurable polyphony, it was entirely correct to say that feelings are the proximate cause of the laws of counterpoint.
[Sidenote: How composers hear music.]
It is because so many of us have been taught by poets and romancers to think that there is a picture of some kind, or a story in every piece of music, and find ourselves unable to agree upon the picture or the story in any given case, that confusion is so prevalent among the musical laity. Composers seldom find difficulty in understanding each other. They listen for beauty, and if they find it they look for the causes which have produced it, and in apprehending beauty and recognizing means and cause they unvolitionally rise to the plane whence a view of the composer's purposes is clear. Having grasped the mood of a composition and found that it is being sustained or varied in a manner accordant with their conceptions of beauty, they occupy themselves with another kind of differentiation altogether than the misled disciples of the musical rhapsodists who overlook the general design and miss the grand proclamation in their search for petty suggestions for pictures and stories among the details of the composition. Let musicians testify for us. In his romance, "Ein Gluecklicher Abend," Wagner says:
[Sidenote: Wagner's axiom.]
"That which music expresses is eternal and ideal. It does not give voice to the passion, the love, the longing of this or the other individual, under these or the other circumstances, but to passion, love, longing itself."
Moritz Hauptmann says:
"The same music will admit of the most varied verbal expositions, and of not one of them can it be correctly said that it is exhaustive, the right one, and contains the whole significance of the music. This significance is contained most definitely in the music itself. It is not music that is ambiguous; it says the same thing to everybody; it speaks to mankind and gives voice only to human feelings. Ambiguity only then makes its appearance when each person attempts to formulate in his manner the emotional impression which he has received, when he attempts to fix and hold the ethereal essence of music, to utter the unutterable."
[Sidenote: The "Songs without Words."]
Mendelssohn inculcated the same lesson in a letter which he wrote to a young poet who had given titles to a number of the composer's "Songs Without Words," and incorporated what he conceived to be their sentiments in a set of poems. He sent his work to Mendelssohn with the request that the composer inform the writer whether or not he had succeeded in catching the meaning of the music. He desired the information because "music's capacity for expression is so vague and indeterminate." Mendelssohn replied:
"You give the various numbers of the book such titles as 'I Think of Thee,' 'Melancholy,' 'The Praise of God,' 'A Merry Hunt.' I can scarcely say whether I thought of these or other things while composing the music. Another might find 'I Think of Thee' where you find 'Melancholy,' and a real huntsman might consider 'A Merry Hunt' a veritable 'Praise of God.' But this is not because, as you think, music is vague. On the contrary, I believe that musical expression is altogether too definite, that it reaches regions and dwells in them whither words cannot follow it and must necessarily go lame when they make the attempt as you would have them do."
[Sidenote: The tonal language.]
[Sidenote: Herbert Spencer's definition.]
[Sidenote: Natural expression.]
[Sidenote: Absolute music.]
If I were to try to say why musicians, great musicians, speak thus of their art, my explanation would be that they have developed, farther than the rest of mankind have been able to develop it, a language of tones, which, had it been so willed, might have been developed so as to fill the place now occupied by articulate speech. Herbert Spencer, though speaking purely as a scientific investigator, not at all as an artist, defined music as "a language of feelings which may ultimately enable men vividly and completely to impress on each other the emotions they experience from moment to moment." We rely upon speech to do this now, but ever and anon when, in a moment of emotional exaltation, we are deserted by the articulate word we revert to the emotional cry which antedates speech, and find that that cry is universally understood because it is universally felt. More than speech, if its primitive element of emotionality be omitted, more than the primitive language of gesture, music is a natural mode of expression. All three forms have attained their present stage of development through conventions. Articulate speech has led in the development; gesture once occupied a high plane (in the pantomimic dance of the ancients) but has now retrograded; music, supreme at the outset, then neglected, is but now pushing forward into the place which its nature entitles it to occupy. When we conceive of an art-work composed of such elements, and foregoing the adventitious helps which may accrue to it from conventional idioms based on association of ideas, we have before us the concept of Absolute music, whose content, like that of every noble artistic composition, be it of tones or forms or colors or thoughts expressed in words, is that high ideal of goodness, truthfulness, and beauty for which all lofty imaginations strive. Such artworks are the instrumental compositions in the classic forms; such, too, may be said to be the high type of idealized "Programme" music, which, like the "Pastoral" symphony of Beethoven, is designed to awaken emotions like those awakened by the contemplation of things, but does not attempt to depict the things themselves. Having mentioned Programme music I must, of course, try to tell what it is; but the exposition must be preceded by an explanation of a kind of music which, because of its chastity, is set down as the finest form of absolute music. This is Chamber music.
[Sidenote: Chamber music.]
[Sidenote: History of the term.]
[Sidenote: Haydn a servant.]
In a broad sense, but one not employed in modern definition, Chamber music is all music not designed for performance in the church or theatre. (Out-of-door music cannot be considered among these artistic forms of aristocratic descent.) Once, and indeed at the time of its invention, the term meant music designed especially for the delectation of the most eminent patrons of the art—the kings and nobles whose love for it gave it maintenance and encouragement. This is implied by the term itself, which has the same etymology wherever the form of music is cultivated. In Italian it is Musica da Camera; in French, Musique de Chambre; in German, Kammermusik. All the terms have a common root. The Greek [Greek: kamara] signified an arch, a vaulted room, or a covered wagon. In the time of the Frankish kings the word was applied to the room in the royal palace in which the monarch's private property was kept, and in which he looked after his private affairs. When royalty took up the cultivation of music it was as a private, not as a court, function, and the concerts given for the entertainment of the royal family took place in the king's chamber, or private room. The musicians were nothing more nor less than servants in the royal household. This relationship endured into the present century. Haydn was a Hausofficier of Prince Esterhazy. As vice-chapelmaster he had to appear every morning in the Prince's ante-room to receive orders concerning the dinner-music and other entertainments of the day, and in the certificate of appointment his conduct is regulated with a particularity which we, who remember him and reverence his genius but have forgotten his master, think humiliating in the extreme.
[Sidenote: Beethoven's Chamber music.]
Out of this cultivation of music in the private chamber grew the characteristics of Chamber music, which we must consider if we would enjoy it ourselves and understand the great reverence which the great masters of music have always felt for it. Beethoven was the first great democrat among musicians. He would have none of the shackles which his predecessors wore, and compelled aristocracy of birth to bow to aristocracy of genius. But such was his reverence for the style of music which had grown up in the chambers of the great that he devoted the last three years of his life almost exclusively to its composition; the peroration of his proclamation to mankind consists of his last quartets—the holiest of holy things to the Chamber musicians of to-day.
[Sidenote: The characteristics of Chamber music.]
Chamber music represents pure thought, lofty imagination, and deep learning. These attributes are encouraged by the idea of privacy which is inseparable from the form. Composers find it the finest field for the display of their talents because their own skill in creating is to be paired with trained skill in hearing. Its representative pieces are written for strings alone—trios, quartets, and quintets. With the strings are sometimes associated a pianoforte, or one or more of the solo wind instruments—oboe, clarinet, or French horn; and as a rule the compositions adhere to classical lines (see Chapter V.). Of necessity the modesty of the apparatus compels it to forego nearly all the adventitious helps with which other forms of composition gain public approval. In the delineative arts Chamber music shows analogy with correct drawing and good composition, the absence of which cannot be atoned for by the most gorgeous coloring. In no other style is sympathy between performers and listeners so necessary, and for that reason Chamber music should always be heard in a small room with performers and listeners joined in angelic wedlock. Communities in which it flourishes under such conditions are musical.
[Sidenote: Programme music.]
[Sidenote: The value of superscriptions.]
[Sidenote: The rule of judgment.]
Properly speaking, the term Programme music ought to be applied only to instrumental compositions which make a frank effort to depict scenes, incidents, or emotional processes to which the composer himself gives the clew either by means of a descriptive title or a verbal motto. It is unfortunate that the term has come to be loosely used. In a high sense the purest and best music in the world is programmatic, its programme being, as I have said, that "high ideal of goodness, truthfulness, and beauty" which is the content of all true art. But the origin of the term was vulgar, and the most contemptible piece of tonal imitation now claims kinship in the popular mind with the exquisitely poetical creations of Schumann and the "Pastoral" symphony of Beethoven; and so it is become necessary to defend it in the case of noble compositions. A programme is not necessarily, as Ambros asserts, a certificate of poverty and an admission on the part of the composer that his art has got beyond its natural bounds. Whether it be merely a suggestive title, as in the case of some of the compositions of Beethoven, Schumann, and Mendelssohn, or an extended commentary, as in the symphonic poems of Liszt and the symphonies of Berlioz and Raff, the programme has a distinct value to the composer as well as the hearer. It can make the perceptive sense more impressible to the influence of the music; it can quicken the fancy, and fire the imagination; it can prevent a gross misconception of the intentions of a composer and the character of his composition. Nevertheless, in determining the artistic value of the work, the question goes not to the ingenuity of the programme or the clearness with which its suggestions have been carried out, but to the beauty of the music itself irrespective of the verbal commentary accompanying it. This rule must be maintained in order to prevent a degradation of the object of musical expression. The vile, the ugly, the painful are not fit subjects for music; music renounces, contravenes, negatives itself when it attempts their delineation.
A classification of Programme music might be made on these lines:
[Sidenote: Kinds of Programme music.]
I. Descriptive pieces which rest on imitation or suggestion of natural sounds.
II. Pieces whose contents are purely musical, but the mood of which is suggested by a poetical title.
III. Pieces in which the influence which determined their form and development is indicated not only by a title but also by a motto which is relied upon to mark out a train of thought for the listener which will bring his fancy into union with that of the composer. The motto may be verbal or pictorial.
IV. Symphonies or other composite works which have a title to indicate their general character, supplemented by explanatory superscriptions for each portion.
[Sidenote: Imitation of natural sounds.]
[Sidenote: The nightingale.]
[Sidenote: The cat.]
[Sidenote: The cuckoo.]
The first of these divisions rests upon the employment of the lowest form of conventional musical idiom. The material which the natural world provides for imitation by the musician is exceedingly scant. Unless we descend to mere noise, as in the descriptions of storms and battles (the shrieking of the wind, the crashing of thunder, and the roar of artillery—invaluable aids to the cheap descriptive writer), we have little else than the calls of a few birds. Nearly thirty years ago Wilhelm Tappert wrote an essay which he called "Zooplastik in Toenen." He ransacked the musical literature of centuries, but in all his examples the only animals the voices of which are unmistakable are four fowls—the cuckoo, quail (that is the German bird, not the American, which has a different call), the cock, and the hen. He has many descriptive sounds which suggest other birds and beasts, but only by association of idea; separated from title or text they suggest merely what they are—musical phrases. A reiteration of the rhythmical figure called the "Scotch snap," breaking gradually into a trill, is the common symbol of the nightingale's song, but it is not a copy of that song; three or four tones descending chromatically are given as the cat's mew, but they are made to be such only by placing the syllables Mi-au (taken from the vocabulary of the German cat) under them. Instances of this kind might be called characterization, or description by suggestion, and some of the best composers have made use of them, as will appear in these pages presently. The list being so small, and the lesson taught so large, it may be well to give a few striking instances of absolutely imitative music. The first bird to collaborate with a composer seems to have been the cuckoo, whose notes
[Music illustration: Cuck-oo!]
had sounded in many a folk-song ere Beethoven thought of enlisting the little solo performer in his "Pastoral" symphony. It is to be borne in mind, however, as a fact having some bearing on the artistic value of Programme music, that Beethoven's cuckoo changes his note to please the musician, and, instead of singing a minor third, he sings a major third thus:
[Music illustration: Cuck-oo!]
[Sidenote: Cock and hen.]
As long ago as 1688 Jacob Walter wrote a musical piece entitled "Gallina et Gallo," in which the hen was delineated in this theme:
[Music illustration: Gallina.]
while the cock had the upper voice in the following example, his clear challenge sounding above the cackling of his mate:
[Music illustration: Gallo.]
The most effective use yet made of the song of the hen, however, is in "La Poule," one of Rameau's "Pieces de Clavecin," printed in 1736, a delightful composition with this subject:
[Music illustration: Co co co co co co co dai, etc.]
[Sidenote: The quail.]
The quail's song is merely a monotonic rhythmical figure to which German fancy has fitted words of pious admonition:
[Music illustration: Fuerch-te Gott! Lo-be Gott!]
[Sidenote: Conventional idioms.]
[Sidenote: Association of ideas.]
[Sidenote: Fancy and imagination.]
[Sidenote: Harmony and emotionality.]
The paucity of examples in this department is a demonstration of the statement made elsewhere that nature does not provide music with models for imitation as it does painting and sculpture. The fact that, nevertheless, we have come to recognize a large number of idioms based on association of ideas stands the composer in good stead whenever he ventures into the domain of delineative or descriptive music, and this he can do without becoming crudely imitative. Repeated experiences have taught us to recognize resemblances between sequences or combinations of tones and things or ideas, and on these analogies, even though they be purely conventional (that is agreed upon, as we have agreed that a nod of the head shall convey assent, a shake of the head dissent, and a shrug of the shoulders doubt or indifference), the composers have built up a voluminous vocabulary of idioms which need only to be helped out by a suggestion to the mind to be eloquently illustrative. "Sometimes hearing a melody or harmony arouses an emotion like that aroused by the contemplation of a thing. Minor harmonies, slow movements, dark tonal colorings, combine directly to put a musically susceptible person in a mood congenial to thoughts of sorrow and death; and, inversely, the experience of sorrow, or the contemplation of death, creates affinity for minor harmonies, slow movements, and dark tonal colorings. Or we recognize attributes in music possessed also by things, and we consort the music and the things, external attributes bringing descriptive music into play, which excites the fancy, internal attributes calling for an exercise of the loftier faculty, imagination, to discern their meaning."[B] The latter kind is delineative music of the higher order, the kind that I have called idealized programme music, for it is the imagination which, as Ruskin has said, "sees the heart and inner nature and makes them felt, but is often obscure, mysterious, and interrupted in its giving out of outer detail," which is "a seer in the prophetic sense, calling the things that are not as though they were, and forever delighting to dwell on that which is not tangibly present." In this kind of music, harmony, the real seat of emotionality in music, is an eloquent factor, and, indeed, there is no greater mystery in the art, which is full of mystery, than the fact that the lowering of the second tone in the chord, which is the starting-point of harmony, should change an expression of satisfaction, energetic action, or jubilation into an accent of pain or sorrow. The major mode is "to do," the minor, "to suffer:"
[Sidenote: Major and minor.]
[Music illustration: Hur-rah! A-las!]
[Sidenote: Music and movement.]
How near a large number of suggestions, which are based wholly upon experience or association of ideas, lie to the popular fancy, might be illustrated by scores of examples. Thoughts of religious functions arise in us the moment we hear the trombones intone a solemn phrase in full harmony; an oboe melody in sixth-eighth time over a drone bass brings up a pastoral picture of a shepherd playing upon his pipe; trumpets and drums suggest war, and so on. The delineation of movement is easier to the musician than it is to the poet. Handel, who has conveyed the sensation of a "darkness which might be felt," in a chorus of his "Israel in Egypt," by means which appeal solely to the imagination stirred by feelings, has in the same work pictured the plague of frogs with a frank naivete which almost upsets our seriousness of demeanor, by suggesting the characteristic movement of the creatures in the instrumental accompaniment to the arioso, "Their land brought forth frogs," which begins thus:
[Sidenote: Handel's frogs.]
[Sidenote: The movement of water.]
We find the gentle flux and reflux of water as if it were lapping a rocky shore in the exquisite figure out of which Mendelssohn constructed his "Hebrides" overture:
and in fancy we ride on mighty surges when we listen to the principal subject of Rubinstein's "Ocean" symphony:
In none of these instances can the composer be said to be imitative. Music cannot copy water, but it can do what water does, and so suggest water.
[Sidenote: High and low.]
Some of the most common devices of composers are based on conceptions that are wholly arbitrary. A musical tone cannot have position in space such as is indicated by high or low, yet so familiar is the association of acuteness of pitch with height, and gravity of pitch with depth, that composers continually delineate high things with acute tones and low things with grave tones, as witness Handel in one of the choruses of "The Messiah:"
[Music illustration: Glo-ry to God in the high-est, and peace on earth.]
[Sidenote: Ascent, descent, and distance delineated.]
Similarly, too, does Beethoven describe the ascent into heaven and the descent into hell in the Credo of his mass in D. Beethoven's music, indeed, is full of tone-painting, and because it exemplifies a double device I make room for one more illustration. It is from the cantata "Becalmed at Sea, and a Prosperous Voyage," and in it the composer pictures the immensity of the sea by a sudden, extraordinary spreading out of his harmonies, which is musical, and dwelling a long time on the word "distance" (Weite) which is rhetorical:
[Music illustration: In der un-ge-heu-'ren Wei-te.]
[Sidenote: Bald imitation bad art.]
[Sidenote: Vocal music and delineation.]
[Sidenote: Beethoven's canon.]
The extent to which tone-painting is justified is a question which might profitably concern us; but such a discussion as it deserves would far exceed the limits set for this book, and must be foregone. It cannot be too forcibly urged, however, as an aid to the listener, that efforts at musical cartooning have never been made by true composers, and that in the degree that music attempts simply to copy external things it falls in the scale of artistic truthfulness and value. Vocal music tolerates more of the descriptive element than instrumental because it is a mixed art; in it the purpose of music is to illustrate the poetry and, by intensifying the appeal to the fancy, to warm the emotions. Every piece of vocal music, moreover, carries its explanatory programme in its words. Still more tolerable and even righteous is it in the opera where it is but one of several factors which labor together to make up the sum of dramatic representation. But it must ever remain valueless unless it be idealized. Mendelssohn, desiring to put Bully Bottom into the overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream," did not hesitate to use tones which suggest the bray of a donkey, yet the effect, like Handel's frogs and flies in "Israel," is one of absolute musical value. The canon which ought continually to be before the mind of the listener is that which Beethoven laid down with most painstaking care when he wrote the "Pastoral" symphony. Desiring to inform the listeners what were the images which inspired the various movements (in order, of course, that they might the better enter into the work by recalling them), he gave each part a superscription thus:
[Sidenote: The "Pastoral" symphony.]
I. "The agreeable and cheerful sensations awakened by arrival in the country."
II. "Scene by the brook."
III. "A merrymaking of the country folk."
V. "Shepherds' song—feelings of charity combined with gratitude to the Deity after the storm."
In the title itself he included an admonitory explanation which should have everlasting validity: "Pastoral Symphony; more expression of feeling than painting." How seriously he thought on the subject we know from his sketch-books, in which occur a number of notes, some of which were evidently hints for superscriptions, some records of his convictions on the subject of descriptive music. The notes are reprinted in Nottebohm's "Zweite Beethoveniana," but I borrow Sir George Grove's translation:
[Sidenote: Beethoven's notes on descriptive music.]
"The hearers should be allowed to discover the situations."
"Sinfonia caracteristica, or a recollection of country life."
"All painting in instrumental music, if pushed too far, is a failure."
"Sinfonia pastorella. Anyone who has an idea of country life can make out for himself the intentions of the author without many titles."
"People will not require titles to recognize the general intention to be more a matter of feeling than of painting in sounds."
"Pastoral symphony: No picture, but something in which the emotions are expressed which are aroused in men by the pleasure of the country (or), in which some feelings of country life are set forth."[C]
As to the relation of programme to music Schumann laid down an admirable maxim when he said that while good music was not harmed by a descriptive title it was a bad indication if a composition needed one.
[Sidenote: Classic and Romantic.]
There are, among all the terms used in music, no words of vaguer meaning than Classic and Romantic. The idea which they convey most widely in conjunction is that of antithesis. When the Romantic School of composers is discussed it is almost universally presented as something opposed in character to the Classical School. There is little harm in this if we but bear in mind that all the terms which have come into use to describe different phases of musical development are entirely artificial and arbitrary—that they do not stand for anything absolute, but only serve as platforms of observation. If the terms had a fixed meaning we ought to be able, since they have established themselves in the language of history and criticism, to describe unambiguously and define clearly the boundary which separates them. This, however, is impossible. Each generation, nay, each decade, fixes the meaning of the words for itself and decides what works shall go into each category. It ought to be possible to discover a principle, a touchstone, which shall emancipate us from the mischievous and misleading notions that have so long prompted men to make the partitions between the schools out of dates and names.
[Sidenote: Trench's definition of "classical."]
The terms were borrowed from literary criticism; but even there, in the words of Archbishop Trench, "they either say nothing at all or say something erroneous." Classical has more to defend it than Romantic, because it has greater antiquity and, in one sense, has been used with less arbitrariness.
"The term," says Trench, "is drawn from the political economy of Rome. Such a man was rated as to his income in the third class, such another in the fourth, and so on, and he who was in the highest was emphatically said to be of the class, classicus, a class man, without adding the number as in that case superfluous; while all others were infra classem. Hence by an obvious analogy the best authors were rated as classici, or men of the highest class; just as in English we say 'men of rank' absolutely for men who are in the highest ranks of the State."
Thus Trench, and his historical definition, explains why in music also there is something more than a lurking suggestion of excellence in the conception of "classical;" but that fact does not put away the quarrel which we feel exists between Classic and Romantic.
[Sidenote: Romantic in literature.]
[Sidenote: Schumann and Jean Paul.]
[Sidenote: Weber's operas.]
As applied to literature Romantic was an adjective affected by certain poets, first in Germany, then in France, who wished to introduce a style of thought and expression different from that of those who followed old models. Intrinsically, of course, the term does not imply any such opposition but only bears witness to the source from which the poets drew their inspiration. This was the imaginative literature of the Middle Ages, the fantastical stories of chivalry and knighthood written in the Romance, or Romanic languages, such as Italian, Spanish, and Provencal. The principal elements of these stories were the marvellous and the supernatural. The composers whose names first spring into our minds when we think of the Romantic School are men like Mendelssohn and Schumann, who drew much of their inspiration from the young writers of their time who were making war on stilted rhetoric and conventionalism of phrase. Schumann touches hands with the Romantic poets in their strivings in two directions. His artistic conduct, especially in his early years, is inexplicable if Jean Paul be omitted from the equation. His music rebels against the formalism which had held despotic sway over the art, and also seeks to disclose the beauty which lies buried in the world of mystery in and around us, and give expression to the multitude of emotions to which unyielding formalism had refused adequate utterance. This, I think, is the chief element of Romanticism. Another has more of an external nature and genesis, and this we find in the works of such composers as Von Weber, who is Romantic chiefly in his operas, because of the supernaturalism and chivalry in their stories, and Mendelssohn, who, while distinctly Romantic in many of his strivings, was yet so great a master of form, and so attached to it, that the Romantic side of him was not fully developed.
[Sidenote: A definition of "Classical" in music.]
[Sidenote: The creative and conservative principles.]
[Sidenote: Musical laws of necessity progressive.]
[Sidenote: Bach and Romanticism.]
[Sidenote: Creation and conservation.]
If I were to attempt a definition it would be this: Classical composers are those of the first rank (to this extent we yield to the ancient Roman conception) who have developed music to the highest pitch of perfection on its formal side and, in obedience to generally accepted laws, preferring aesthetic beauty, pure and simple, over emotional content, or, at any rate, refusing to sacrifice form to characteristic expression. Romantic composers are those who have sought their ideals in other regions and striven to give expression to them irrespective of the restrictions and limitations of form and the conventions of law—composers with whom, in brief, content outweighs manner. This definition presents Classicism as the regulative and conservative principle in the history of the art, and Romanticism as the progressive, regenerative, and creative principle. It is easy to see how the notion of contest between them grew up, and the only harm which can come from such a notion will ensue only if we shut our eyes to the fact that it is a contest between two elements whose very opposition stimulates life, and whose union, perfect, peaceful, mutually supplemental, is found in every really great art-work. No law which fixes, and hence limits, form, can remain valid forever. Its end is served when it enforces itself long enough to keep lawlessness in check till the test of time has determined what is sound, sweet, and wholesome in the innovations which are always crowding eagerly into every creative activity in art and science. In art it is ever true, as Faust concludes, that "In the beginning was the deed." The laws of composition are the products of compositions; and, being such, they cannot remain unalterable so long as the impulse freshly to create remains. All great men are ahead of their time, and in all great music, no matter when written, you shall find instances of profounder meaning and deeper or newer feeling than marked the generality of contemporary compositions. So Bach frequently floods his formal utterances with Romantic feeling, and the face of Beethoven, serving at the altar in the temple of Beauty, is transfigured for us by divine light. The principles of creation and conservation move onward together, and what is Romantic to-day becomes Classic to-morrow. Romanticism is fluid Classicism. It is the emotional stimulus informing Romanticism which calls music into life, but no sooner is it born, free, untrammelled, nature's child, than the regulative principle places shackles upon it; but it is enslaved only that it may become and remain art.
[B] "Studies in the Wagnerian Drama," p. 22.
[C] "Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies," by George Grove, C.B., 2d ed., p. 191.
The Modern Orchestra
[Sidenote: The orchestra as an instrument.]
[Sidenote: What may be heard from a band.]
The most eloquent, potent, and capable instrument of music in the world is the modern orchestra. It is the instrument whose employment by the classical composers and the geniuses of the Romantic School in the middle of our century marks the high tide of the musical art. It is an instrument, moreover, which is never played upon without giving a great object-lesson in musical analysis, without inviting the eye to help the ear to discern the cause of the sounds which ravish our senses and stir up pleasurable emotions. Yet the popular knowledge of its constituent parts, of the individual value and mission of the factors which go to make up its sum, is scarcely greater than the popular knowledge of the structure of a symphony or sonata. All this is the more deplorable since at least a rudimentary knowledge of these things might easily be gained, and in gaining it the student would find a unique intellectual enjoyment, and have his ears unconsciously opened to a thousand beauties in the music never perceived before. He would learn, for instance, to distinguish the characteristic timbre of each of the instruments in the band; and after that to the delight found in what may be called the primary colors he would add that which comes from analyzing the vast number of tints which are the products of combination. Noting the capacity of the various instruments and the manner in which they are employed, he would get glimpses into the mental workshop of the composer. He would discover that there are conventional means of expression in his art analogous to those in the other arts; and collating his methods with the effects produced, he would learn something of the creative artist's purposes. He would find that while his merely sensuous enjoyment would be left unimpaired, and the emotional excitement which is a legitimate fruit of musical performance unchecked, these pleasures would have others consorted with them. His intellectual faculties would be agreeably excited, and he would enjoy the pleasures of memory, which are exemplified in music more delightfully and more frequently than in any other art, because of the role which repetition of parts plays in musical composition.
[Sidenote: Familiar instruments.]
[Sidenote: The instrumental choirs.]
The argument is as valid in the study of musical forms as in the study of the orchestra, but it is the latter that is our particular business in this chapter. Everybody listening to an orchestral concert recognizes the physical forms of the violins, flutes, cornets, and big drum; but even of these familiar instruments the voices are not always recognized. As for the rest of the harmonious fraternity, few give heed to them, even while enjoying the music which they produce; yet with a few words of direction anybody can study the instruments of the band at an orchestral concert. Let him first recognize the fact that to the mind of a composer an orchestra always presents itself as a combination of four groups of instruments—choirs, let us call them, with unwilling apology to the lexicographers. These choirs are: first, the viols of four sorts—violins, violas, violoncellos, and double-basses, spoken of collectively as the "string quartet;" second, the wind instruments of wood (the "wood-winds" in the musician's jargon)—flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons; third, the wind instruments of brass (the "brass")—trumpets, horns, trombones, and bass tuba. In all of these subdivisions there are numerous variations which need not detain us now. A further subdivision might be made in each with reference to the harmony voices (showing an analogy with the four voices of a vocal choir—soprano, contralto, tenor, and bass); but to go into this might make the exposition confusing. The fourth "choir" (here the apology to the lexicographers must be repeated with much humility and earnestness) consists of the instruments of percussion—the kettle-drums, big drum, cymbals, triangle, bell chime, etc. (sometimes spoken of collectively in the United States as "the battery").
[Sidenote: How orchestras are seated.]
[Sidenote: Plan of the New York Philharmonic.]
The disposition of these instruments in our orchestras is largely a matter of individual taste and judgment in the conductor, though the general rule is exemplified in the plan given herewith, showing how Mr. Anton Seidl has arranged the desks for the concerts of the Philharmonic Society of New York. Mr. Theodore Thomas's arrangement differed very little from that of Mr. Seidl, the most noticeable difference being that he placed the viola-players beside the second violinists, where Mr. Seidl has the violoncellists. Mr. Seidl's purpose in making the change was to gain an increase in sonority for the viola part, the position to the right of the stage (the left of the audience) enabling the viola-players to hold their instruments with the F-holes toward the listeners instead of away from them. The relative positions of the harmonious battalions, as a rule, are as shown in the diagram. In the foreground, the violins, violas, and 'cellos; in the middle distance, the wood-winds; in the background, the brass and the battery; the double-basses flanking the whole body. This distribution of forces is dictated by considerations of sonority, the most assertive instruments—the brass and drums—being placed farthest from the hearers, and the instruments of the viol tribe, which are the real backbone of the band and make their effect by a massing of voices in each part, having the place of honor and greatest advantage. Of course it is understood that I am speaking of a concert orchestra. In the case of theatrical or operatic bands the arrangement of the forces is dependent largely upon the exigencies of space.