Those who love to search for laws and parallels in art history are at times disposed to raise the disquieting question if the flood of musical energy, that has been so steadily rising during the past three or four hundred years, has not reached the high-water mark, or even already begun to recede. Not in quantity, certainly, but in quality, in sheer creative power. The history of art is the history of growth, maturity and decline not in the productive impulse at large, for art is inseparably identified with human progress, but in its several epochs and departments. Greek sculpture, Gothic architecture, Italian Renaissance painting, Greek and English dramatic poetry, have each in turn exhibited the working of that destiny, beyond the control of men of genius, which decrees that every achievement of the human spirit shall sooner or later exhaust its primal impulse and sink into stagnation, or else into vain repetitions of forms from which all freshness of energy has departed. Are there any signs that the arresting hand of fate has likewise been laid upon the art of tone?
Music has been the latest of the arts to reach maturity. So wonderful have been its achievements that, judging from analogy, it is hardly to be expected that the triumphs of Palestrina and Bach in church music, Beethoven in the symphony, Handel in the, oratorio, Schubert in the song, Chopin in piano music, and Mozart and Wagner in the opera can be indefinitely repeated. Up to a recent period we see a progressive evolution of forms and styles. Palestrina and his contemporaries, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner adopted forms that were immature and raised them to fulness of strength. Liszt and Berlioz saw the promise in an old idea, gave it final validity and contrived for it a new form and method. Haydn, Weber, Grieg, and the later Russians went back to the native music of the common people and found there an inspiration that issued in works of novel and exquisite quality. Schumann and Chopin discovered undreamed-of capacities in an instrument already old. Movements parallel to these we cannot discover in our day. The classic forms have been worked out. The promises of the East and North, which a generation ago stirred us with the hope of another musical springtime, have not yet been fulfilled Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Grieg still have no peers among their younger compatriots. A critic of little faith would be inclined to echo the sigh of Mallarmé: “The flesh is sad, alas! and all the books are read.”
Certain phenomena, indeed, suggest the approach of a period of decadence. The spontaneity, the freshness, the directness and inevitableness of utterance which distinguish the work of the men I have mentioned, and indeed of the older masters in general, are certainly not the obvious features in the output of the leading composers of the present generation. Music has become sophisticated and self-conscious. Complication of structure, harmonic strain and stress, superabundance of discord, glaring contrasts, frantic, appeals to raw nervous sensation, strive to compensate for a deficiency in vital, original melodic ideas. There is an extreme emphasis upon virtuosity and technical elaboration, which is always an unfavorable symptom in art. Music seems to distrust its own inherent power to satisfy and strives to draw attention by illustrating pictorial or literary subjects, often with a strong attraction toward the extravagant and morbid. Composers in increasing numbers are possessed by the craving for critical self-analysis. They work with calculation. They invent theories which they and their disciples proclaim with tongue and pen. They often seem to go out in deliberate search after originality; they ask not, Is this worth saying? but, Has it been said before? In striving to expand their art, composers of the school of Strauss and Mahler appear to have their minds intent not so much upon the discovery of greater and nobler ideas as upon more gigantic means of expressing their ideas. Individual freedom, the supreme conquest of nineteenth-century art, is after all paying its price. There is no longer a consciousness of mutual support, such as the Renaissance painters found in submission to a prolific common tendency. Even the most sincere and moderate of the later composers are reflective, distinctly aware of the method and purpose of their mental operations. They rarely yield in unquestioning surrender to the guardian genius which drives the artist whither he knows not.
It would be rash to assert that these appearances are necessarily signs of impending decrepitude. They may indicate the need of a period of rest and recuperation, of reaction toward the simpler ideals of an earlier time. Perhaps, on the other hand, they indicate that new materials are being gathered for the use of strong men soon to come. The harmonic experiments of the Debussys and Ravels, like the experiments of the Impressionists with pigments and of the Symbolists with words, may prove the means of enlarging the technique for the service of wider expression. But at any rate the youthful period of music is past, and the art has attained full strength and stature. The only question is, how long will the period of maturity last? Will new nations our own perhaps, an emancipated Russia, or it may be the awakening peoples of the Orient applying the fully developed European technique to ageless stores of emotional experience, instil into the veins of music a new energy which centuries only can exhaust?
Those who look for a check in the progress of music on the creative side may easily console them-selves by the thought that there is no sign of abatement in the spread of its beneficent influence. Whether or not the works of the past are to be equalled or excelled, the problem of the adaptation of music to the spiritual and intellectual needs of men still waits for solution. An epoch of fuller knowledge and appreciation on the part of both musicians and the public seems plainly to be at hand. The waning of the productive energy would not be altogether a cause for lament if thereby the world could be turned to a deeper love hand understanding of the treasures it already possesses. And the grounds for such hope are multiplying daily. There can be no question that the sum of musical intelligence is vastly greater the world over than it was fifty years ago. In the very midst of the era of artistic fecundity the epoch of scholar-ship and enlightenment has become established. The nineteenth century has seen the founding of many musical educational institutions, administered in accordance with the highest standards of discipline and research. Every department of musical history, aesthetics, science, and technical application has been investigated by scholars of Germany, France, England, and other countries with an exactness, a precision, and a breadth of vision that are not surpassed in any field of learned inquiry. The methods of teaching in composition and performance have been reconstituted on a basis of thoroughness which leaves nothing to be desired, except that constant revision and refinement of method which in music as in all education is an endless process. Text books and treatises on every conceivable musical subject increase beyond all computation. The great composers are subjected to an exhaustive review, ranging from minutest textual examination to emotional interpretation. This spirit of earnestness is pervading all classes. The provincial music teacher has caught the contagion and the desire for accuracy and system is spreading to the musical frontiers, revolutionizing the whole scheme of musical instruction. “Twenty-five years ago,” says a recent English writer, “what were called `lessons’ were given, as they are now; but in the old days, while the lessons were given, nothing was taught. Music was not part of a serious education; it was a fashionable accomplishment. . . . Such a method, if method it may be called which was none, is now changed for a full, rational, and liberal study, carried on just as thoroughly, as intellectually, and as systematically as in any other serious branch of learning.” Not less remarkable has been the educational progress in music in this country. The advance that has been made in the last thirty years is little short of revolutionary. The true measure of the nation’s advancement toward the proud distinction of being a musical people does not consist in the number of operas given in New York in a season, nor in Paderewski’s income from a single concert tour, nor even in the amount of respectable compositions produced by native musicians, but rather in the extent to which good music is becoming a necessity in the life of the community.
Accepting such a standard there is every reason for gratification and hope. Those who love music for what is best in it are rapidly increasing in number. The educative value of music is widely recognized. Performers, directors, and teachers find every day more encouragement for solid work. The musical magazines that devote themselves to strictly educational questions receive generous sup-port. Publishing houses find a large demand for critical works on musical subjects of every description. Men of superior mental attainments are giving themselves in increasing numbers to the service of the higher musical propaganda. Through the wide world of musical dilettantism is felt the bracing influence of a better purpose. It is easy to overlook these signs of promise in view of the vast abundance of musical vulgarity, encouraged and delighted in by multitudes both high and low. The cheap graphophone, the vaudeville, the musical comedy and the “popular” song seem to many observers representative of the musical taste of the future as well as of the present. In the babel of discordant sounds the voices of those who proclaim the gospel of sweetness and light in musical art often sound faltering and far away. But over against this wide-spread satisfaction with the tawdry and vulgar must always be recognized that . conspicuous trait in the American character upon which reformers of every sort have learned to rely an intellectual unrest, a craving for new ideas, a respect for things of the mind, a readiness to be led in the direction of better individual and social accomplishment. The progress of music in America is simply a detail of the rapid advancement in the appreciation of fine art, and its application in the adornment of public and private life, which is one of the most auspicious phenomena of the present day. Let any one read a few pages in the history of American music, compare the pro-grams of Thalberg in the 50’s with those of Paderewski in the 90s, observe the results of the missionary labors of such men as Lowell Mason, Theodore Thomas, Carl Zerrahn, and Thomas Ryan, glance over the musical programs of our leading churches and compare them with the practice of forty years ago, count the catalogues of the music schools and peruse their contents, note the increase of orchestras and choral societies, learn what some of our cities are doing for the musical welfare of the people, consider the attention that is given to music in the public schools and colleges, try to form an estimate of the number of musical clubs and the measure of their influence. After such a survey no excuse could be found for discouragement on the part of any one who is en-gaged in the effort to make music a living force in national life.
As a result of these tendencies of the last few decades, musical education in this country has now entered upon a new stage of its career. Having reformed its methods, elevated its standards, and thrown wider the doors of opportunity, all in the interest of the special student, it is now turning its favor toward those who stand outside the ranks of those who would play, sing, or compose, the noble company upon whom music depends for its patronage, the expectant majority represented by the dilettante, the amateur, the actual or potential mu-sic lover. It is shaping its plans and adjusting its methods with a view to the extension of taste and appreciation among. the people. Its ultimate purpose is to promote intelligent musical enjoyment as a factor in popular education.
In the history of music up to a recent time the cultivation of taste on the part of the public,. and even on the part of individual pupils, has commonly been left to take care of itself, as a sort of by-product rather than a primary intention. Training has been directed toward what is called “practical” musical instruction, viz. playing, singing, and composing. Systematic cultivation of aesthetic taste in schools and colleges by means of the critical study of masterworks has been confined to literature, perhaps because literature is a form of expression with which every educated person comes into personal relations in the natural order of his life. In the English-speaking countries this has especially been the case, for the artists around whom patriotic pride has gathered have been, with a few exceptions, poets and novelists, rather than painters, sculptors, or composers. The conception of art is very largely made to conform to a literary standard; art, it is thought, must convey “ideas,” by which is meant lessons, appeals, admonitions that can also be expressed in words; pictorial or musical impressions are esteemed of minor signifi- cance cance, and the inevitable inclination is to translate them into verbal terms, under a sort of blind notion that to do so. gives them a practical instead of a questionable value: The result has been that. the great majority of those who deal with music only as hearers have been left to gain what knowledge and taste they could by’ the casual attendance upon concerts and opera performances, and by reading musical criticisms in the newspapers. The latter means of enlightenment is manifestly incomplete, since musical reviews in the daily press are concerned with the merit and demerit of performances or of new compositionsthat is, the application of general principles to concrete casesalmost never with the discussion of the general principles them-selves. Consequently the history of music shows us by a thousand instancesoften very melancholy instancesthat the taste. of the public has usually acted as a drag upon musical progress. Appreciation of art must always, of course, lag behind artistic creation; it is one aspect of that conservative element in the human compound which, as a check upon overhasty radicalism, is an undoubted advantage to the race. None the less are popular ignorance and prejudice in matters of reason and imagination to be deplored, and a movement to develop an appreciation of what is beautiful and profitable in art must certainly, to employ the threadbare phrase of the newspapers, “meet a long felt want.”
This movement is now well under headway and its promoters cannot be accused of a lack of zeal. A well known critic writes a book entitled “How to Listen to Music,” parallel to those useful manuals, “How to Study Pictures” and “The Appreciation of Sculpture.” Another publishes a volume in answer to the question, “What is Good Music?” Two others explain essentials of form under the title, “The Appreciation of Music.” These works are but samples of a whole library aiming directly or indirectly at a similar purpose. The musical magazines are giving larger space to matters of broad musical culture as compared with the discussion of pedagogic subjects, and the literary periodicals are feeling the stress of this new interest. Musicians everywhere are adding instruction in criticism and interpretation to their office as practical trainers. Already specialists in this new field are beginning to appear. Most significant and promising of all, this department of education is planting its feet in universities, colleges, seminaries, and public schools. It has been discovered that a critical discrimination can be imparted in respect to music as well as in literature, and by analogous methods; and with the influence of institutions of learning thrown into the scale the hope for the advancement of a higher musical culture among the educated classes rises to confidence. With music becoming a national concern, administrators of colleges and schools find it a part of their duty to direct it, so far as lies within their power over young minds, toward the ends of individual and collective benefit.
It was unquestionably their doubt in regard to the intellectual and disciplinary value of music that so long hindered school boards and college trustees from uniting musical instruction with their orthodox schemes of classroom and laboratory work. They said implicitly to the music teachers of the country: Gentlemen, show us that your methods are based on thoroughly scientific foundations and that the results furnish a fair parallel to those that are expected from the established school and college courses, and then we will consider the question of opening our doors. This the leaders of musical education have done. The long resistance of college and school has begun to yield. The question now is not whether music is worthy of admission to the academic precincts, but exactly what office shall be assigned to her in cooperation with the classic sisterhood of arts and sciences. The institutions that have taken music into their folds have already divided her service into two departmentsshe is used as a means of promoting aesthetic culture and appreciation among many, as well as training productive and executive faculties on the part of a few.
All college studies are contained in two classes vocational studies and culture studies. Music, by its very nature, belongs to both. As this whole book is devoted to music as a culture study, the distinction between the two classes need not be enlarged upon here. Neither does it seem to me to require argument to prove that the dissemination of good taste in art is an obligation upon college and school. If such argument is needed, there is no better summary than that of President Frederick Burk of the San Francisco State Normal School. “The world,” he says, “uses vocations as a means of bread winning, but the world also uses music, art, literature, the drama just as in-tensely, just as essentially, just as relevantly. Because the world uses religion, art, music, the drama, civic ideals, etc., these are as legitimate and important goals of education as bread winning.”
This interest in the extension of musical appreciation, once taking root as a conviction, becomes an enthusiasm. It is by no means confined to university circles. Nowhere is it more beautifully manifested than among the noble group of obscure private teachers, who at stated times gather their little company of pupils and talk to them on the deeper things of their art. This is indeed a service that “blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
There is no need to search for the motives that impel so many teachers, lecturers, and magazine writers to preach the pure gospel of musical art, but I love to think that here is shown one phase of the humanitarian movement of the time. In every earnest heart there is an instinctive desire to communicate to others its own experiences of good. And so when music is felt by one of its votaries to be a source of unalloyed happiness and purification of spirit he is fired with something like a missionary zeal. He catches the philanthropic vibration that is abroad in the air. He too would be a social benefactor. He would bring the sweet companionship of music into the common life as a means of effecting a closer fellowship of minds in the higher regions of sentiment.
“We who care deeply about the arts,” says the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, “find ourselves the priesthood of an almost forgotten faith, and we must, I think, if we would win the people again, take upon ourselves the method and the fervor of a priesthood.” It is well said, and those who are girding themselves for this high service of proselytism may well bethink themselves of their qualification for the mission. Consecrationyes, a priest must have that, together with a willingness to undergo resistance, indifference, and the trials of hope deferred. But he must likewise possess knowledge and wisdomknowledge of the truth he teaches so that his own faith will not be shaken, knowledge of the needs and aptitudes of those among whom he labors, and the wisdom which enables him to adapt the means to the end, and to seek that end on the higher levels and not the lower.
Let us go on, then, to consider what are the problems involved and the methods by which a better and more accurate understanding of the joyful mysteries of music can be imparted to those who desire a fuller experience of the pleasures and benefits of musical art.