WHO was it that first distinguished man as “the animal which talks ” ? Who does not reckon the yearning for expression as one of the most characteristic of human traits? Who has not felt the tension of a pent-up idea or experience for which no waiting listener could be found, or none that was believed to be capable of sympathetically understanding ? Who has not feared in his own case that the instinctive demand for expression would get beyond control and cause him to yield up to unfriendly ears his thoughts, information, ideas, feelings, intended only for a different audience? Who can doubt that artistic expression has been sought many, many times for the purpose of giving vent to such feelings; while at the same time guarding them from the ken of the estranged, the unappreciative, from those who cannot understand ? Doubtless much in the history of art can be explained by a knowledge of the power of the impulse to express on the one hand, and the dread of being misunderstood on the other.
Time out of mind music has been called The Language of the Emotions, yet there are thousands ready to question whether it has any meaning at all. If the rhapsodist to whom music is the most beautiful, significant, and divine thing in the universe, can be persuaded that an etude or a Gregorian tone lacks emotional meaning ;. and the prosy mechanician or logician can have his weary brain drawn without logic or argument, but by the rhythm of the waltz or the flow of the Andante, away from its ache and its problem into peace ; both may be in better position to listen to the just claims of The Art of the Musician to possess powers of expression. It is so easy for the boarding school Miss to say, ” 0 yes ; I understand French ” it is so easy for the master dry-goods merchant to pick out both the musicians and the selections that should contribute the musical portion of the worship of his church; it is so difficult for the man of affairs to realize that sounds and rhythms are not the whole of music, and that knowing them helps him but little further in the appreciation of the musician’s thought than knowing the alphabet does in grasping the literature of an unknown tongue ; it is so hard for the accomplished connoisseur to realize that for the artistic needs of the great world at large, significance is worth so much more than form, life is so vastly superior to technic. How and when may we hope to get the expressive power of music considered as a language, appreciated at its true value ?
The distinction between the Romantic and the Classical must necessarily be a distinction in tendency and motive, not a radical distinction in material and construction. And the distinction is as evidently one that must be drawn after the art has considerably developed and established its traditions. One cannot invent a language and start off boldly to use it alone it must be a matter of common consent and accepted definition. In music the beauty of the material and of its experimentally approved arrangements may be supposed to have established canons of some sort before the thought of using the resources of the art for extrinsic purposes could have occurred to any musician. At least it is always the romanticist who is the innovator, the classicist who is the conservative ; the former -striving to use accumulated materials to effect new ends, to enlarge the field covered by the art, to give expression to the subjective relations its elements have assumed in the heart of the artist, to add force, meaning, life to established forms ; the latter adopting the formula ” art for art’s sake,” clinging to the traditions, sure of producing the beautiful if he can but copy the accepted models, and quite as sure that new paths in strange territory ,generally lead to the desert of oblivion, possibly to the precipices of critical damnation, very rarely to the peaks of posthumous apotheosis.
Hence we find that the progress of art is largely the result of the efforts and successes of the’ romanticists, that every epoch-marker ,was regarded by his contemporaries as a romanticist and only became a classic to his successors when his ideas had become incorporated into the fixed formulas which they recognized and called classic. Bach writes, among many works along traditional or conventional lines, certain great fantasias. The title shows that he intended to break with the fixed and formal, and allow himself untrammelled expression. The works are thus avowedly roman-tic, but some of them at least show something more than the germ of the mozarta form, and they still reveal the master contrapuntist. They have been classic for years in the strongest usual sense. Mozart, and later Beethoven, write their fantasias. None of them would now be regarded as out of place on a strictly classical program. Chopin and Schumann are still called the leaders of the romantic school, but it is more from force of custom, and perhaps because Schumann’s titles and writings keep his romanticism in evidence, than because their works seem to the casual student of the present day so unsymmetrical when judged by the canons of classical form. The living great men Saint-Saëns, Grieg, Strauss, Elgar, Parker, Chadwick, McDowell, may be classics sooner than we think.
Music cannot convey ideas to an extent worth mentioning. A few bird notes may be imitated, the clattering of the feet of a galloping horse may be suggested faintly, the hum of a spinning wheel may be brought to mind, certain conventionalities like the bugle call, a chime of bells, or the deep prolonged tones of an organ, may be reproduced upon piano or in the orchestra, to call to mind the situation in which such sounds would ordinarily be heard, or a familiar tune may be quoted as a reminder of its title, its words, or its associations. Perhaps some other similar devices may be avail-able to convey ideas indirectly ; but things of that kind are not the means that great romantic music employs to give expression to the subjective emotions of the composer. Such realism in music belongs to a lower order of art. Yet now and again some such means are available as elements in the creation of a work of real and high artistic significance, as will be shown later.
Music is the language of the emotions, and it is by painting emotion, by giving expression to deep feeling, and by following an emotional cycle such as would be set up by a series of events, that it conveys whatever of significance it has to cummunicate. Haydn’s portrayal of chaos in ” The Creation ” would be a very trivial jumble were it not for its leading to the brilliant treatment of the words ” And there was light.” Who can doubt after hearing but the first chord of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, that the matter in hand is profoundly serious ? and the same composer needs no more than one measure to inform his listeners that the Sonata Op. 31, No. 3, in E flat is in ac-cord with feelings of cheerfulness and a mood full of sunshine. Yet even things so instantly obvious to one will mean almost the reverse to another. The Fugue in D major from the first part of the Well-tempered Clavichord, by Bach, has been called by one the most deeply religious fugue in the volume, while another replies that to him that fugue. is the buffoon of the collection, full of rollicking humor.
And that opens up the kernel of the matter. Shall it be concluded that music has no meaning because one finds a piece suited to the church that another is convinced belongs to the circus ? Shall one whose devotion is exalted by a fugue deny musical appreciation to one whose hilarity is stimulated by the same fugue ? What is a mountain ? To one it is a feature of the landscape, to another a vertical arrangement .of latitudes or a convenient disposition of ores, to another it is a problem in engineering, to another it is an obstacle to conquer or a foundation for an observatory, to another it is a symbol of majesty or stead-fastness, and to another the finger of Nature pointing upward to Nature’s God. Therefore there is no such thing as a mountain, or at least it has no meaning !
The meaning of music is largely given it by the hearer. Brief means concise when heard by an American ; it means a letter when heard by a German. The word is not meaningless because it calls up different ideas in different minds, and it does not belittle the power of music to confess that its meaning to the hearer may be very different from its meaning to the composer. It is cause for thanksgiving that such vast pleasure, peace, stimulus, and worship have resulted from the precious gift of music without awaiting man’s agreement upon definite ideas associated with specific sounds or progressions. In fact, there are many who would not consider the assigning of definite ideas to musical combinations a gain, but rather a loss of power for the art. The classicist who loves ” art for art’s sake” and regards perfection of form as the highest ideal, will never concede that it will be an artistic advance when music unaided relates a story.
And why should the art invade the field so well filled by poetry ? Those who turn away from it and clamor about its vague prettiness and sentimental effeminacy; may get their inspiration from newspapers, or fishing trips, or gambling risks, or political campaigns, with loss only to themselves. The art of music will still find a field, and will yield its charm without recrimination even to those who have slandered it thus, should they re-pent and humbly seek to learn its power. Music as we hear it to-day in church and theater, in the street, the parlor and even at times in the concert room, perhaps deserves to be called the consummate triviality ; yet its power is real and great and is being more and more felt. The nation finds the soldier needs it and is better for it ; the city finds it pays to put it into the park and the schoolroom ; the church finds it cannot live without it; and were commerce to close its avenues to musical instruments, publications, and performances, she would stand aghast at the capital and labor thus thrown out of the channels of industry.
But music has definite meaning in some forms and to some extent. Even a horse can be trained to understand the bugle calls. In the circus it is not safe for those who perform with animals to allow the band to change the tunes to which the animals are accustomed. Who cannot tell a waltz from a chorale and respond with the proper mental attitude ? No one feels his blood tingle and his feet impelled to rhythmic movements when he hears a slumber song, or is lead to dreamy listlessness and contented serenity by a military march. Grieg’s Cradle Song, Op. 38, No. 1, does not need its title, for it sings its own story at first, but in the middle part it has something not quite so clear to tell. Yet when it has been studied, who can doubt that there is in it the bitter thought of the sorrow and burden of the life upon which the little one has started, and that as the mother dwells upon her wrongs, she grows vehement and rebellious (at the passage quoted in Ex. 81) and so demonstrative that she disturbs the babe she is trying to still, noticing which, she at once represses her thought and resumes her lullaby.
Robert Schumann has been called “one in whom romanticism put forth its richest blooms,” and in his music we may therefore expect to find exemplified such significance as is permitted to the art. He has often shown us by his titles what thought was in his mind as he composed, and as often implied that a specific thought or series of thoughts was influencing his pen without giving a key to its character outside of the notes. In the “Kreisleriana,” for example, he portrays in music the moods that Hoffmann had already revealed by words. What they are may well be left to each hearer to find and feel for himself, but that they cover a wide range of emotional experience no one who studies them can deny. In the Fantasie pieces, Op. 12, we are given a hint in each case by the title, but still much is left to the music. The Evening, while pervaded by a tranquillity and a melodious charm that set before us a time when beauty is over everything, also conveys by its intricate rhythmical structure a sense of indistinctness and illusion that is most effective and significant. (See example 14, page 46.)
Aufschwung, the next number (often translated “Soaring” but perhaps better “Aspiration “) needs its title, yet that is but a hint which helps the music to a full expression less than the music helps the title. What can the opening mean but obscurity, poverty, burdens, and obstacles, and the struggle against them ? There is energy, but it is fully taxed ; there is power to climb, but it is at the foot of the ladder and in darkness. Then comes the contrasted theme : is it not the ideal ? It has charm and buoyancy, and it draws our aspirant upwards and into the sunlight. When the suggestion of struggle is again set before us there is evidence of something accomplished, or of partial attainment ; and then comes indolence and self-indulgence, with allurements that drown the ambition for the ideal. There is a sinking back into the lap of luxury; but presently there is a reminder a hint in the tenor voice of early aims. The thought renews the old struggle with greater energy; the ideal is there again, but this time it seems nearer (in a closer key-relationship) and the suggestion of the close, bringing back the opening theme and giving it the minor cadence, is that even attainment does not end the struggle or quite satisfy. The other pieces of the work offer a sure reward to moderate effort spent in seeking their inner meanings.
Schumann’s title for a set of compositions Novelettes leaves it to be inferred that there is a story underlying the sounds of each number. The moods and feelings it would arouse are evident, but the plot and circumstances are left wholly to the imagination. The first one of Op. 21, in F, begins with animation and cheerfulness. The ‘ phrases are short and the voices are many, and busy with intricate imitations. There is bustle and confusion, but it is youthful and joyous. Then comes a theme more continuous and accompanied with a figure that suggests vaguely the canter of a horse. Within it is a short digression to a remote key, and a tender little bit of melody treated almost surreptitiously and ending with a hasty return to the principal key. Then the bustling opening theme returns abbreviated. Next we have a series of canonic imitations, rolled one upon the other like the breakers on a beach, after which earlier themes enter again with a change of key for the intermezzo. Why should we not think of a picnic ? The preparations in joyous anticipation, the cavalcade to the seaside rendezvous, the maiden and her lover dropping behind for a word of endearment not destined for the ear of a chaperone, the merry gathering, the return and parting reminiscence, are events which fit in precisely with the moods that suit the music. Another plot would do as well and the real musician needs no plot.
Chopin too has told us much by the unaided language_ of music. His titles do not help, but there is reason to know sometimes where his thoughts were while his pen was busy with notes of far more than ordinary significance and beauty. Nocturnes that tell of both moonlight and storm, of peace and terror ; Preludes and Etudes to which titles have been given by common consent ; Ballads that by their very name confess to a hidden story as do the Novelettes of Schumann, but that reveal only through tones.
And in these works there is especially good opportunity to emphasize the fact that widely different verbal interpretations of the story may yet all be true, for a number of pianists and critics have told what they found in the music, and it is probable, at least, that Chopin based them upon poems which are extant, although there is not positive evidence as to just which one of several poems underlies each of the four Ballades. For example, Mr. E. B. Perry,* a high authority upon such matters, insists that the Second Ballade in F, Op. 38, is a musical translation of Mickiewicz’s poem ” The Switez Lake.” The poem relates the origin of the lake in the need for sanctuary of royal maidens, left undefended in time of war in a city which fell into the hands of barbarian invaders. The maidens think to save themselves from dishonor by mutually slaying one another, but their princess prays for deliverance from this crime as well as -from the barbarians, and the lake arises in answer, swallowing up invaders and maidens, destroying the former and making a happy home for the latter under the guise of enchanted lilies. The placid movements of the music represent the happy maidens, their prayer, and their joy and peace in their crystal home ; the stormy strains portray the incoming invaders, and the catastrophy of nature by which both city and barbarians are destroyed and the maidens metamorphosed.- Before knowing this particular story, although aware of its existence, the author ventured upon an interpretation of this Ballade, which is here inserted for comparison with the one ascribed by Mr. Perry to the Composer, as well as with the music.
” Hark ! the song I knew in childhood ! How it brings back the days of innocence and joy. How strangely it recalls the scenes, the friends, the maiden dearest of all, so long forgotten. Ah, me !
” What ! ’tis years since then. And such years ! Storm, strife, sin, pain, poverty, passion, doubt, defeat. My brain whirls when I think of it all. Let me dream once more of the peace, the purity, the sweetness, the sunshine of long ago. Oh how I yearned and struggled even then for virtue and the conquest of her heart, only to be repelled. Again and again hope rose, but achievement eluded. Then came the plunge into the vortex all the longings of youth abandoned, all the restraints of love and tenderness cast off. Now, too late, the terror of remorse seizes upon me. I cannot shake off the thought of retribution ; and the old song is but a lament, a mere reminder of what might have been.”
Surely the divergence of the stories is sufficiently wide, but is not either well calculated to call up just the series of feelings that are expressed by the music ? If so, are not both true interpretations ? and is not the significance of the music rendered more vivid by hearing it with either story in mind ?
A similar study may be made in connection with the Third Ballade in A flat, Op. 47, by the same composer, for which also the author pre-pared an original argument before becoming acquainted with what Mr. Perry asserts to be the story really in the mind of Chopin as he created the piece. Like the one underlying the Second Ballade, this story is embodied in verse by Mickiewicz, and is one of the myths of the Switez Lake. It tells of a nymph” who fascinated and charmed a young prince, but who always vanished from his sight in mist when he urged her to become his bride. At last, however, she promised that if he would be faithful to her for only one month without seeing her, she would give her con-sent. Of course he swore eternal fidelity. But the month had hardly begun when she appeared to him in a new and unrecognizable disguise, more bewitching than before. His vows were soon for-gotten and his protestations to his supposed new sylph were warmer than ever to the deserted one. But just as he is convinced that he is about to win this charmer, she reveals herself to him as she had formerly appeared, and with derisive laughter at his confusion and chagrin, she leaves him forever, exulting in her escape.
The other story, so different, yet perhaps no less true to the music, is in the following words. Either will have fulfilled its mission if it shall make the music seem more vital and significant.
” With what confidence does the young knight look beyond to deeds of valor that shall win him fame and favor ! To the maiden of his choice he reveals in glowing words his anticipations of combat and victory. In dreams he almost sees the foe and hears the clash of arms, as with lance and shield he rushes on his mailed antagonist and lays him in the dust.
” Not so the maiden. Though she may be proud of the brave cavalier she loves, full of hope for his success,. and withal of lightsome air and sunny face, yet in her heart she fears. She broods upon those weary weeks and leagues, and spends full many an hour alone in woeful sadness. His absence drags along, and as the days go by without a word or token, the dance that seemed at first so witching and so gay grows wearisome and dull. The charm of music better serves, yet e’en the tuneful melody but leads at last to gloom and dark forebodings.
” Still grief cannot shut the door to every ray of hope. Rumor, creeping in, encourages with hints that he is nearer than she thinks, triumphantly returning. No, it cannot be ! And yet he was so brave and strong ; surely he must have won his way ‘gainst each opposing arm.
” Thus hope grows stronger in the fight with fear, until, behold ! amid the plaudits of the throng the lover-victor comes again, but ‘though crowned with trophies fair from many a conquered field, he is at last himself compelled to yield and own the mastery of love.”
The composition is essentially the outgrowth of two themes. The first opens the work and is the basis of the first two pages. In these there is warmth and sunshine with the suggestion of combat and a note of triumph in accord with youthful, heroic anticipations. Then in a new key (beginning at the descending octave skip on C four -times enunciated) there enters a theme more dainty and feminine but not less youthful and buoyant, and for fully six pages this theme is in control, inspiring music in several moods. Once its initial form is repeated, and again it so returns but in a new key this time the principal key of the piece, A flat. After this the signature is changed to four sharps and we have the gloomiest part of the composition, reaching in a little less than two pages a rocking figure in sixteenth notes in the left hand part, mostly upon the octave B, and supporting a melody which at first is the second theme, but leads into a fragment of the first theme so introduced as to leave one in doubt as to whether its attunement is B or E. This device is. repeated upon C as a bass, then, partly, once more upon D. Then the bass reaches E flat (the dominant of the principal key) and the original theme enters in triumphant fashion and maintains its ascendency and mood to the end. The work is most beautiful, is acceptable to all hearers with even a modicum of musical culture, is as satisfactory in form as it could possibly have been were it built upon the best of classical models, and is in some sense entitled to rank as a classic; yet its romanticism is sufficiently evident and is perhaps its chief charm. The first theme is as well adapted to portray the youthful hero of the one story as the first love of the other, and the triumphant conclusion is in keeping as well with the feelings of one who has proved herself correct as with those of one who has found the lost. It is as music that the work will always be admired, by whatever suggestion the mind is more firmly convinced of its unity and consistency.