EVERYTHING living has its periods. Human life is more fairly measured by heart throbs than by years. Music has its pulses and beats, and by them it not only simulates life, but links itself to multifarious human interests more strongly than by any other of its qualities. The boy’s awakening musical instincts find their earliest expression through the drum; and artistic culture in a concert audience need not be profound in order that it may yield appreciative attention to a good waltz or march. The response of the amateur is primarily to regularly recurring, distinctly perceptible, not too remote accents ; corresponding to easily-timed possible movements, such as the energetic walk, the step of the dance, the nod by which many show their musical sympathy, or merely to what may be called mental pulsations. The vitality, the LIFE of Music is its Rhythm. The art of the musician consists greatly in regulating the length of tones.
While the untrained listener is apt to enjoy with special keenness the rhythmical throb in music, the most advanced musician finds in marked accentuation a source of much of the pleasure he derives from the art. In fact, metrical regularity has seemed so important to many students of interpretation, that they insist upon steadiness of time-keeping and exactness of beat-recurrence even at the expense of much that might otherwise be added to expression in performance. Hence we find the schools and the pedagogues demanding metronomic accuracy and mechanical precision of pulse, although the artists, both soloists and conductors, gain much of their effect by consulting with their own hearts, throbbing now faster, now slower at the dictates of emotion, and, taught by them, giving sympathetic elasticity to the length of beats.
To yield reasonably to an emotional demand for rhythmic flexibility in music need never antagonize good time-keeping, detract from the relative value of a note, or obscure the location of a pulse.
When such obscurity is brought about by in-judicious, unwarranted clipping or stretching of beats, uncertainty on the part of the listener, and hence weakening of interest and destruction of artistic effect, are the sure consequences. It is pretty well settled that steady time-keeping is always to be preferred to crude, inartistic tempo rubato, introduced for no good reason, or by one who lacks a true understanding of the emotional meaning of the music he is performing ; but the true artist-interpreter, who lets the warm current of his own soul-life flow through the measures of his tone-poem, not losing the value of any beat, but modifying it that its length may be subordinated to the higher significance of what he is playing, produces effects that are too valuable to be eliminated for the sake of conforming to the rules of cold-blooded mathematicians.
The important musical possibilities involved in variation of the length of tones did not escape the attention of composers of very early times, but rhythm reached its full development only after much progress had been made in the art, Quite likely it is due to that fact that in the nomenclarture of this department of musical theory, some incongruities have been tolerated that should promptly give place to greater accuracy of expression. It ought never to be said that a movement is in ” common time.” It is neither clear nor correct to describe a piece as being in ” six-eighth time, time Allegro,” nor is the matter helped essentially by translating the second word ” time” into Italian and calling it tempo. Exactly that expression, however, is to be found in the annotations of recent symphony-concert programs. One who knows the frailty of the ordinary gift of time-perception, and the almost hopeless impossibility of getting two persons to agree exactly, without the aid of a chronometer, upon the duration of ten seconds, should not readily be beguiled into speaking of ” common time,” especially when, as a mat-ter of fact, in using that expression he is not talking about time at all. Had we any music in “common time it would seem congruous to have some also in ” jolly time,” some in ” royal good time,” and perhaps some in ” a bad quarter of an hour.” But the truth is that the number of beats in a measure of music, and the value of the note filling each beat, are considerations quite apart from that of time. There can be properly no ” common time,” ” three-quarter time,” or ” dual time.” For these expressions we may correctly substitute ” common meter,” ” three-quarter meter,” ” dual meter and the like.
Time is a period of duration a part of eternity. Getting our fundamental conception of it from the sun’s apparent motion, practically we make our usual applications of it through references to the clock. Let a composition be performed now in five minutes, and again in ten, and we perceive a marked alteration in the effect. We say that the second performance was too slow ; in other words, it occupied too much time. In order that the proper consumption of time in performance may be regulated, we have recourse to certain Italian words, the use of which serves fairly well to instruct the performer as to how fast the piece is to be played. ” Allegro,” ” Adagio,” etc. are terms which may properly enough be called the ” time signature ” of the piece ; and we have the musician’s clock the metronome for use when a more accurate time designation is required. The movement of a piece, which determines how much time it shall consume, may be called its a time ” without confusion ; but the sign showing the number of beats to the measure and the note-value of each beat indicates the meter of the movement.
A glance into musical history will show how this confusing of meter and time may have come about. Variety of metrical grouping seems to have been recognized as a source of effect in music, prior to any observation of the significance of time changes. Hence, we find early use of signs denoting a dual or triple meter. Later, when the necessity for a mark to indicate time became apparent, it was supplied by a modification of the meter sign. The latter, in the case of dual (imperfect) meter; was an imperfect circle. This has been preserved in modern notation as a C a letter which has probably suggested to English-speaking musicians the word ” common ” as its production. But the C, after a brief interval, is found to be in use in four modifications, as B, , g, or 0, the various forms practically indicating four rates of movement for compositions, all of which were in dual meter. Thus, while the distinction between time and meter was recognized in but an elementary way, composers attempting to indicate both by a single sign have brought about ambiguity, and of late years, the error of saying ” time ” when ” meter is intended has become well-nigh universal.
Time, however, is a matter of some consequence in music. Unless a composition is taken at approximately the intended rate, it loses much of its proper effect. For example, try over ” Old Hundred” as if written in sixteenth notes. Play with the metronome set at 80 and beating once to each quarter note’s value, the effect of which will be to make the individual sixteenths move at the rate of three hundred and twenty notes in a minute. The tune, by this change of time, loses all meaning and becomes a monstrosity which scarcely suggests its origin. Similar violence will be done to almost any rapid piece by taking its time much too slow the very life will be dragged out of it. Yet the fastest composition in four-quarter meter, if taken at a time vastly too slow, will still be in four-quarter meter and can be so counted. In other words, meter is not affected by change in time, although it would be possible to so accelerate a slow movement as to prevent a clear conception of the meter or its distinct enunciation by counting. Time and meter are different and very nearly independent considerations.
In view of the almost universal custom of speaking of meter as ” time ” in music, it is not a little noteworthy that the beats which are designated by the meter sign of a movement, in many cases, do not even afford the units of time-measurement. For example, a Saraband is a very slow, old-timey dance in three-quarter meter, written largely in quarter notes. A Polacca is a modern dance (using the word in a musical sense) also in three-quarter meter, but written largely in eighth, sixteenth, and smaller notes. Correctly played, a Saraband gives the impression of stateliness and dignity ; a Polacca of vivacity and life. The Polacca seems and really is much faster than the Saraband (in fact, at least three times the speed), yet the metronome set at exactly the same point and beating the same note-value (say 88 to the quarter) will indicate with approximate correctness the proper time for each dance. The reason is that the Saraband has but one accent to the measure, while the Polacca has an accent on each beat, three to the measure, the small notes within the beats representing what in the Sara-band are the unaccented portions of the measure. That is to say, the accent, not the beat, is the true unit of time measurement. As illustrations, compare Examples 1 and 2.
More important than either time or meter to the life of music is Rhythm. The word signifies the relative length of notes, particularly as associated with the meter. Look, for instance, at Example 3, showing four measures of a Beethoven Minuet, the melody of which would be described as being in Moderato time, three-quarter meter beginning upon the third beat, and having a rhythm of dotted-eighth, sixteenth, half, dotted-eighth, sixteenth, quarter, dotted-quarter, eighth, dotted-quarter, three eighths and two quarters.
Dances and Marches are distinguished by a ” characteristic ” rhythm, either in the accompaniment part alone or in both melody and accompaniment. Other pieces may be given a special characteristic rhythm arbitrarily selected by the composer, but made a feature of the piece. If monotony be desirable, as in a Cradle Song, a special characteristic rhythm easily insures it, but it requires art to present such a rhythm and yet avoid monotony when not desired. Note the tiresome effect of the alternating quarter and eighth notes in many trashy tunes in six-eighth meter. For instance, the Chopin Berceuse has in every measure of the accompaniment, four eighth and one quarter notes. (Example 4.) So also the Scherzo of Schubert’s First Sonata has a characteristic rhythm of two eighth and a half notes, not constantly used, but so frequently repeated as to give a decidedly pronounced rhythmical feature to the movement as a whole. (Example 5.) Both works are of high artistic merit.
It is to rhythm more than to any other quality that music owes its stateliness or vivacity. If the little snatch of old English melody given in Ex-ample 6 be taken many degrees slower than the indicated Presto, it will retain, nevertheless, its sprightly character. To get the life out of it while keeping the same melody, the rhythm must be changed in some such way as shown in the following example: then at whatever speed it be per-formed it will seem more serious. Example 9 is as sedate as a cow, yet it is the same melody that is frisky enough with the rhythm of Example 8. Example 10, too, shows how a gay tune may become sufficiently calm and placid if given a new rhythmical guise.
The march is one of the most stimulating and inspiring of movements. It has strong accents with an occasional short note leading into the principal beat, sometimes twice in a measure, more often once, occasionally at the distance of two measures. The rhythm of a dotted-eighth and a sixteenth note during the second or fourth beat of a four-quarter meter, is the characteristic feature of the march. It may appear in either the accompaniment or the melody, or both, and the occasional use of this rhythm in the other beats will do no harm. (See Examples 11 and 12.) More flowing movements employ even notes, and if at frequent intervals these are of greater length than the beat, the composition takes on a serious character.
It seems sometimes as if composers took special delight in producing their effects in defiance of rules and traditions. That is reckoned high artistic skill which conceals art, and he is indeed a master who can violate the rules while yet accomplishing that at which the rules aim. It would seem to be sufficiently well established that a waltz has in each measure three equal beats; yet a dual rhythm the one most strongly opposed to the triple meteris an interesting whimsicality not infrequent in good modern waltzes. That it can be utilized without detriment to the features characteristic of the waltz may, be seen by a glance at Example 13.
But the conflict between meter and rhythm is mild and amicable in the waltz-excerpts just quoted as compared with some disagreements that composers have brought about in order to accomplish the purposes of their art. When Schumann, in his Fantasie-pieces, Op. 12, would portray Even ing, with its calm and chiaroscuro, he effects his object by a combination of four somewhat incongruous systems of accentuation, three of which appear simultaneously, the fourth being substituted for one of the others at times. All four may be studied in the quotation shown in Ex-ample 14. The meter sign calls for two eighth notes to the measure, but there is not a single measure in the entire piece containing exactly two eighth notes or any regular subdivision of two eighth notes, and there are but three measures (one of which is the duplicate of another) containing a single quarter note as representative of the two eighths. The prevailing rhythm is six sixteenth notes to the measure, considered to be divisions of the eighth notes of the meter into triplets. (In one part this division is into one triplet and one single eighth note for each measure.) The melody, however, agrees neither with the meter nor with this accompaniment rhythm, but consists of three eighth notes to each measure, conceived as a triplet-subdivision of the entire measure. This melody triplet is so placed at times as to begin with the measure, at other times it begins with the middle note of the first accompaniment triplet, so that the melody triplet has its middle note at the beginning of the second beat of the metrical conception. The effect is beautiful in the extreme and is not at all confusing to the hearer, but the interpreter needs to attack the piece with a steady head.
Upon occasion, however, the composer may desire to reach the hearer with an avowed rhythmical disturbance through which he may convey an expression of urgency, perplexity, impatience, gasping or shock. Rhythmical contradictions again afford the means, but now the contradiction must be made evident. Metrical outlines can only reach the ear by means of accents, which the mind learns to expect at fixed and regular intervals. Any mode of writing that will put silence in the place of an expected accent, and require accent where silence or a weak tone would regularly belong, will produce a certain surprise and disturbance. Exactly such a result is often wanted in a tone-poem, and under the name of ” syncopation ” has been in use by all masters of The Art of the Musician. Of late, writers of popular jingles have made such frequent use of that sort of thing that it has seemed to those who take kindly to such productions as if a new vein had been opened, and under the name of ” rag time ” misplaced accents have run rampant. Two illustrations of very plebeian origin are quoted in Example 15. They have a very pert, saucy effect. But there is nothing new about the displacement of the accentuation. For comparison examine the quotation from Beethoven’s Sonata, Op. 2., No. 3, where an urgent pleading is expressed by the melodic syncopations in the left hand part (Example 16), also the fragment from Schaeffer whose Fantasie piece, Op. 1, No. 2 is as intricate an example of rhythmic art as one would care to see. It conveys a sense of hesitancy, irresolution and anxiety very well ex-pressed. (Example 17.)
An examination of the works of great musicians will reveal a large number of attempts to introduce novel rhythmical effects, and it seems likely that the future will witness advances in this line quite as marked as those to be looked for in other possibilities of musical development. As far back as Sebastian Bach, artistic use was made of peculiar and striking rhythmical designs. Witness the subject of the Fugue in D from the first part of the Well-tempered Clavichord quoted in Example 18.
Distinctive rhythmical devices, however, be they never so interesting and original, do not give so exalted an impression of The Art of the Musician as is to be derived from work done in the development of such ideas. Basic conceptions are good, but skill shown in turning such conceptions into effective finished fabrics is better. Such art may be displayed in two ways ; either by using a rhythmical device as a germ from which to develop elaborate issues, or by so treating a melodic fragment as to give it varied rhythmical settings. Both of these plans will repay study.
Of the piano solos of that most gifted of musicians, Franz Schubert, the Fantasie in C, Op. 15, is by far the greatest. It is often called the ” Wanderer ” Fantasie, because in its slow move-ment, use is made of a theme which is also found in a portion of one of the songs of that name by the same composer, but antedating the Fantasie. Evidence of the high esteem in which Franz Liszt held this work is to be found in the fact that he not only edited it as a solo, but also transcribed it as a concerto with orchestral accompaniment, afterwards rewriting this version as a duet for two pianos. This work is conspicuous for its adhesion to a small rhythmical device which, modified in various artistic ways, is to be found associated with nearly every theme of all the four movements. The germ rhythmically consists of a dactyl, a long note followed by two short notes. This occurs twice in the first measure, which has little that is characteristic except this rhythmical feature. Now in melody, then in accompaniment ; now in longer notes, again in shorter ; with altered relative length of tones ; reversed (two short notes followed by a long one) ; changed in the third movement to three short notes instead of two, to conform to a triple meter; jumping from octave to octave and from hand to hand; in one shape or another this device is the most marked feature of the entire work. The brief quotations of Examples 19, 20, 21, and 22 show all these varieties of treatment. The work should be examined in its entirety.
For the converse of this development of a rhythmic germ through melodic and other changes, one may turn to Beethoven’s Sonata in C, Op. 2, No. 3, and watch the rhythmic metamorphosis of a melody. A very striking pulsation pervades the opening idea in its curve through the first two measures, made up of a half note, four sixteenth notes, two eighth, and two quarter notes. This arrangement constitutes the rhythmic germ and will be found utilized as a model for much of the movement. It appears outlined and also complete at Example 23, followed by a few of its modifications within the movement. The excerpt marked c) shows how a strong accent (sf) may enable a note to take the place of a longer one ; for the three measures are practically a double reproduction of the original rhythmical figure, the quarter note marked sf being at once the end of the first and the postponed beginning of the second, in which it substitutes the half note and hastens belated to its place with sudden, vigorous accentuation. The measures under d) display the germ nearly turned about, so that it seems like a sort of rhythmical attempt to present what in melody is called a “retrogressive imitation” ; the two quarters with which the original ends being here at the beginning, the half with which the model begins being here near the end, and the four sixteenths of the motive being here represented by the trill. A few other outgrowths of the germ are quoted, but to understand how much importance is given to this rhythmical formula and its modifications, an examination of the movement as a whole should be undertaken.
The second movement of this sonata is in the key of E, opening with a melodic figure which in its curve and rhythm is promptly repeated at a new pitch, exactly as was the opening of the first movement. In order to show the origin of this new opening the liberty may be taken of transposing it to the same key as the first movement, doubling at the same time the value of its notes. (See Example 24 b.) It is apparent that the curve of melody is almost identical with that of the original germ. Perhaps the modification of the opening of the first movement shown in c) will help to make this still more evident. The four sixteenth notes of the original have been changed to two eighth notes, one of the following eighth notes has been omitted, and the last note has also been dropped. That is to say, the same melody appears at the beginning of the Adagio as at the opening of the first movement, but in a new key and with a thorough rhythmic re-vision. In its new dress the germ is much used in this second movement.
Turning to the third movement of the sonata, we find a new meter but a restoration of the original key. Here, too, the original melodic curve is apparent at the opening of the movement, but with a fresh modification of the rhythm. The effect is accomplished here by omitting the first note, the first of the four original sixteenth notes, and the second of the two eighth notes. To make this clearer, examine specially the second voice, the alto (which closely imitates the leader but is better for comparison), as it begins in the middle of the third measure. To show that the influence of the long opening note is still present, the beginning of this voice may be set back to the opening of the movement by counting it a duplicate of the opening voice for seven notes. See Example 25 b) as compared with the original at a). By the use of small notes for the duplicated opening and a parenthesis to enclose all interpolated notes, it is in-tended to make clear the relationship of the two, and comparing the lower voice of b) with c) taken from the original opening, the fact that a) is derived from c) should be plain.
The last movement opens likewise with a pas-sage that can be traced to the same source, the original opening of the sonata, although the imitation here is not at first sight so palpable. Quite a little modification of the half note and of the sixteenth note trill is present, and the last note is omitted. Yet if one will play the first chord, then omit all to the fifth beat of the next measure and play that and the following notes to the rests, an octave lower, the fact that the idea is a rhythmical development from the original germ will be plain. As in the second and third movements, so the opening design of this part is utilized as the principal germ of the entire movement. See Ex-
Here, then, we find unity conserved by the melodic roots of the various movements, while variety is secured through the rhythmical treatment applied. It is such workmanship as here displayed that constitutes one side of The Art of the Musician and that a most vital, significant and valuable side.