IN addition to the ultimate elements, quality, force, length, pitch-differences in combination (harmony) and pitch-differences in succession (melody), there is another item which must be considered as material for musical composition, at least in a great many of the most important examples of musical art ; and that is called ” motive.” The Art of the Musician, especially in its higher developments consists largely in the skillful handling of motives. A motive is like a molecule, which while elemental in relation to the substance is yet identical with it ; rhythm, force, and pitch being the atoms of which both the molecule and the whole mass is composed. Rather, the motive is like the cell containing the germ and life of the product, while the simpler items which unite in its structure are like chemical elements, capable of making up an amorphous mass or even a crystal, but that can never make an organism without first combining to make a cell. It is conceivable that a lyric piece, a folk song, perhaps a dance could be composed in which no motive should be utilized; but all great an-d significant compositions, all worthy examples of the higher Art of the Musician, are the outgrowths, the organization, so to speak, of one or more recognizable motives which may properly be called the germs of the work.
The word ” motive ” is used in musical analysis in two senses. Originally and properly it signified a germinal fragment a few notes taken as the starting point of the composition or of large portions of it, and evidently the source from which grow many of the ideas presented in the work. In the other sense it is a contraction of ” leading motive ” a transliteration of the German ” leitmotif ” a few notes or chords, perhaps attaining to considerable length, associated at their first announcement with some particular character, situation, idea, or portion of the text of an opera, and introduced afterwards whenever that character, situation, or idea, reappears either actually or by some influence, or when the recollection of a former or even the suggestion of an anticipated Appearance will add force to the present situation. Such a leading motive may have nothing to do with the musical structure or development further than is implied by its mere introduction, or it may be utilized thematically or contrapuntally ; but a motive proper in an instrumental work is necessarily a group of notes that is employed as the source of passages of greater length and complexity which are developed from it.
A motive, being music, cannot exist without the presence of both rhythm and melody, and generally harmony also enters into its composition. The rhythmical or the melodic element, however, may be separately considered and either may be the essence of the motive. In some cases the harmony seems to be intended as the motive, but it is not easy to make it evident that a passage is a distinctively harmonic germinal fragment without maintaining such a movement of the progression as necessarily makes the melody as readily discernible in the outgrowths as the harmony itself.
Attention has already been drawn to a rhythmical motive, illustrated by excerpts from Schubert’s Fantasie in C, Op. 15, and also to a melodic motive as modified chiefly by rhythmical treatment, for use in different movements of a single work (the Beethoven Sonata in C, Op. 2, No. 3). (See Examples 19 to 26 inclusive.) But the main study of motives ‘must be devoted to melodic examples, because even were they not the most common, as they probably are, they display more intricate subtleties of tie composer’s art. It is no easy task to build lare portions of a voluminous work with such frequent references to a small fragment of melody as shall make it evident that that is the motive of the piece, while yet producing those varied effects by which the interest in the work as a whole is maintained. But that is exactly what is done in many classical compositions.
Taking as a rather remarkable example, al-though one not so well known as its merits deserve, the ” Fantasie in Form of a Sonata,” Op. 5, by August Saran, dose examination will reveal several hundred references to an extremely brief and simple motive, in a work of four movements requiring about thirty minutes for performance. The work is one which, in spite of its great length, never allows the interest to flag for a moment, is so distinctively melodious and so vital in its rhythms as to afford pleasure to persons of very moderate attainments in musical analysis, yet it is singularly faithful to its three-note motive, which as first heard is but the tonic, moving by a half-step downward, and a half-step upward again to the tonic : thus (Ex. 49)
Parenthetically, it may be to some a matter of interest to know that the composer of this Fantasie was a clergyman and Prussian army chaplain, who, although a pupil of Robert Franz and active in musical affairs as a director of choral bodies and as composer, was never a professional musician.
In a volume like the present any examination of such a work as this Sonata can be made only in a superficial way, sketching here and there a measure containing the motive, and thus showing a few of the guises under which it is displayed. If, however, the pianists who read these words are thereby stimulated to seek a more intimate acquaintance with the work they can hardly fail to reap a reward as well from its intrinsic beauties as from a study of its interesting structure. In the following excerpts the motive is printed in notes of larger size for ease of reference. The first movement is an Allegro of regular, although broad and extended plan, presenting the motive in these forms. (Ex. 50.)
The fact that some of these illustrations move in the opposite direction from that chosen for the melody in the original motive, and the further fact that in some cases the rhythm is changed, are no bar to them as representations of the motive. It is just such changes as these that display The Art of the Musician, and an elucidation of some of them will be attempted in a following chapter. The essential thing is that such a construction be adopted as shows the influence of the motive in the passages that grow out of it. The second movement, a Romanza, affords among others the following developments of the motive. (Ex. 51.)
The third movement is a Scherzo with a march-like Intermezzo ; and the last movement is a Rondo in which the motive does not appear till after the conclusion of the principal theme. Examples 52 and 53 are from these two movements respectively.
A more familiar illustration of the use of a melodic motive may be found in Beethoven’s Sonata in D major, Op. 10, No. 3. Here the motive is not marked off so clearly and is not quite so largely utilized as in the Saran work, still it is easily discovered and is in a more or less important relation to nearly all the members of all the movements. The motive in this case consists of four notes, forming the upper part of the scale, descending, and beginning with the tonic. After a pause in the 23d measure a passage in B minor begins, and almost at its opening reappears the motive. Again at the 54th measure a new passage in A major starts with the motive, written here with an introductory grace note which is to be treated as a long appogiatura. Then in measure 67, after a break filled with rests, enters a passage which for some distance shows little but the motive in direct or contrary motion. Beginning in the 114th measure after the passage in half notes, it again practically monopolizes attention for ten measures.
After such a thorough exploitation of a motive as is thus shown in the first part of a sonata, and as in this instance follows throughout the remainder of the first movement, it is hardly to be expected that so much prominence will be accorded it in the following movements ; but it is by no means absent or unimportant. The second movement is in six-eighth meter, which suggests a likelihood of finding the motive in modified rhythm. Its first appearance is in the third measure, again in the ninth and in the tenth measures, in the seventeenth extending into the following measure. In the second part of the movement (measure thirty) it appears doubled and in contrary motion.
In the third movement, a Menuetto, we have another change of meter to three-quarter, and still less of the original motive, yet the latter is plainly in evidence. It has, however, but one form which is first found in the second and third measures and is later repeated several times within this short movement. The last movement, a Rondo, restores the quadruple meter, but here, too, the motive is relegated to a place of less importance, although its presence in the principal passage insures its recurrence at several places. Example 56 shows the motive as it appears in the Menuetto, and Ex. 57 performs the same office for it as introduced into the Rondo.
From the foregoing descriptions and illustrations, it is apparent that the motive of a great work affords one of the links by which the difficult welding of various movements into a whole that shall display a proper unity, may be accomplished. An allied method that is hardly less effective and that as far as workmanship is concerned is practically the same thing, consists in choosing a subordinate figure from an earlier movement and utilizing it as the motive of a later one. A very pretty example of such a link is to be found in Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 28. An item which might be called the second motive appears in the seventh measure (Ex. 58). Not far beyond the double-bar, at measure 188, this takes the form shown in Ex. 59. This latter presentation is simply given contrary motion and a new setting, so to speak, at its reappearance as the motive of the Andante of the Sonata.
To a special interest aroused in the “Leading Motive ” as used so prominently by Richard Wagner in his music dramas, and exploited by his numerous commentators, is probably due a large proportion of whatever study has been recently stimulated in the subject of musical analysis. So many persons are convinced that they “love music ” because they like to go to the opera, and that they can “understand it all” if they once familiarize themselves with the “story” and the “motives,” and learn to distinguish a trombone from a violoncello by their eyes, that to enlighten them much superficial information has been disseminated ; and many guides to the structure of these particular operas have been published, going into the subject with a fullness that cannot be imitated in this place. Wagner has attached to his characters and situations ” motives ” that in many cases are so intrinsically excellent and appropriate, and so musically adaptable, at least in his master hands, to each other and to the work as a whole, that stories (plots) whose interest for any mature mind except that of an ethnologist is sometimes rather puzzling, and conduct that is often reprehensible to say the least, suggest to him their combination into a tonal setting for his librettos that makes of the whole a music drama of mysterious and almost irresistible fascination ; drawing listeners to his festival theater from distant quarters of the globe, interesting the frivolous, delighting the susceptible, and holding the wrapt attention of the expert musical critic and profound student.
Assuredly such a result is not to be attained by the mere use of motives however well conceived. The mastery of stage business, of the resources of voices and instruments, of dramatic technic, as well as of harmony, counterpoint, development, and instrumentation ; to say nothing of the faith, indomitable will, and the control over the minds and actions of men displayed by this epoch-marker among musicians, must all be taken into the account, in reckoning up the elements contributing to the character and attainments that have given to Richard Wagner the most conspicuous place in the world of music. It is at least open to question whether Wagner is entitled to the highest place in that realm if he be judged solely on his gifts and workmanship in tonal composition, yet in a study of The Art of the Musician, it may well be pointed out that it is the use and development of the leading motive that preëminently distinguishes the Wagnerian style of writing, that suggests the lines of musical development, and that leads to much of the dramatic effectiveness of the tonal portion of the operas considered by itself. Wagner was by no means the inventor of the leading motive. It was in use to some extent before he was born. lie invented few, if any, new harmonic combinations. In mastery of the orchestra he has been at least equalled. But in giving significance to every element in his mass of material, and in combining these elements into a vital whole in which due regard was paid to the proper value of each of the parts, Wagner deserves a preeminence which at the present day is fully accorded.
Granting, as must probably be done, that comparatively few of the admirers of Wagner and his music hear in the intricate passages many of the leading motives that he employs, with any realizing sense of their identity and use, in no way vitiates what has been written. Very few persons are capable of correctly analyzing their own feelings or sensations, or the causes that create them. Water will quench the thirst of one who never heard of oxygen or hydrogen, and who does not know that there is such a thing as insensible perspiration. There are those who have a thirst for music, and many of them can satisfy this thirst best with the richest and most elaborate compositions, which may be to them but masses of sweet sounds producing in their consciousness exactly the sort of pleasure that a cat derives from having her back stroked. But the facts remain that the Wagnerian style of composition consists largely in the use of leading motives, and in the development of them and of the suggestions growing out of them ; and that the highest enjoyment of the result is reserved for him who best understands, appreciates, and grasps as heard, the means by which the effects are produced. It may not be out of place just here to remark that opera is not music, and does not rely chiefly upon music for its effects, or appeal primarily to the lovers of pure music. It is simply a work which employs music among other things to attain its object. It makes music very conspicuous, it is true ; but it may be doubted whether pure music has gained much from its partnership-interest in opera. Still, in so far as music aids the dramatic power of the opera as a whole, it will be safe to assert that the composer’s score will prove to have been constructed thematically it will display the out-growths of recognizable, characteristic motives or musical germs. He who would fully appreciate and fairly judge The Art of the Musician, even in its relations to the drama, therefore must ac-quaint himself with the methods of developing musical motives or germs.