Every thoughtful lover of music finds that both before and after the enjoyment of masterpieces a multitude of questions spring up in his mind, all pointing toward the one supreme, inclusive problem of art. What is the real nature of music? he will inquire. What is the ultimate motive that inspires the creations of its masters? What does it mean to me ? What part does it play in the full life which I live in common with others? In my appreciation of it, what is the value of the technical features which I am told I ought to under-stand? Is the study of form, harmony, methods of performance sufficient in itself, or is it a preparation leading on to higher issues? That music is an art of expression rather than a temporary amusement for the sense seems plain to all who look beneath its surface, otherwise it never could have gained the place in human affairs which the ages have assigned it, never could have won its unshakable hold upon human affection. If music is an art of expression, what does it express? What are the scope and limits of its expressive power ? What are the means that music possesses for that utterance which reaches below the sense perception, below the acquirement’s of the under-standing, transmits a message from the soul of the composer to the soul of the listener, and establishes a sympathy between any single hearer and his neighbors in the concert hall? What may we look for when we hear music shall we receive definite communications of thought and the awakening of the visual imagination as in poetry, or is regulated sound restricted to the stirring of a vague and intangible sense of awe or delight like that which one feels in cathedral aisles or among the parterres’ of artfully arranged gardens? In a word, has music a meaning? And if so, is this meaning imparted by direct action of sound or through association of ideas? These questions, and many more, come before the lover of music who wishes to derive the utmost value that the art is able to afford.
Some of these queries can never be fully answered; the attempt to discover the final secret of the power of tone upon the emotional nature leads to an insoluble mystery. The fact that this mystery is present in every musical experience is one cause of the peculiar fascination. The music lover finds, however, that his excitation by music is due at times to the direct, immediate action of sound, at other times partly or wholly to association of ideas. In the first case the word “expression” is somewhat misleading, for it necessarily carries the notion of something to be ex-pressed, and that something other than the very essential nature of the means of expression. For example, we say that a piece of music is beautiful, not that it expresses beauty; that it is, perhaps, rapid, not that it expresses speed. To be sure, we may say that a piece expresses cheerfulness, but as a multitude of compositions, totally unlike in melody, harmony, and rhythm, may convey the same notion, the mere fact of suggesting cheerfulness adds very little to the value of the music to our minds. It might be better to apply Edmund Gurney’s term “impressive” to music of indeterminate- meaning, rather than expressive, for if we feel such music to be beautiful and uplifting, our enjoyment seems to be brought down to a lower plane if we justify it on the ground of a state of mind that is transient and superficial.
One discovers at the very beginning of acquaintance with music that it does not remain at the stage of vague suggestion, but has something in its veins that enables it to ally itself with ideas that inhabit a world outside of that purely abstract sphere to which it is confined so long as we think of it as composed only of artificial combinations of sounds. A great deal of music seems to us not merely impressive but expressive, and we often find our minds turned in definite directions, leading to actualities, when we seek to explain the hold it has upon us. So strong is the conviction on the part of many music lovers that no music is without some background of precise thought or feeling, that they constantly speak of fine music or fine performance as “expressive,” regardless of the classifications of the aestheticians, suspecting that differences among musical works in this respect are differences of degree and not of kind, and that even the most formal and abstract type, such as a classic sonata, fugue, or set of variations, is stealthily trying to impart something that its composer had seen or felt, and has a significance beyond that of mere tonal decoration.
In the present chapter I am concerned with the expressive power of music as distinct from its impressiveness, seeking to indicate to the music lover what he may properly look for besides mere agree-able tone patterns; striving also to assist him to form just judgments upon some of the attempts on the part of composers to win for their art a representative power, akin to that of the arts which convey exact ideas and deal with accepted symbols and concrete imagery. I shall try to remove certain misapprehensions to which many casual hearers of music are subject, showing what the composers who are identified with the various types of music really attempt to do, and suggesting the proper manner of applying those standards of appreciation by means of which the different degrees and methods of musical expression may be kept distinct in the listener’s mind.
In order to clear the ground a few preliminary explanations are necessary.
The world of musical composition is divided into two main departments, viz., vocal music and instrumental music. Vocal works are themselves commonly composed of two elements, the voice part and the accompaniment. In the former the apparatus that produces the tone is not used for that purpose only, but also for the communication of definite thought. The ideas set forth by the words control the form and style of the music, and the tones, therefore, do not exist merely for giving pleasure to the ear, but also for the sake of bringing the mind of the hearer into accord with certain clearly realized conceptions. The music becomes not merely impressive, but representative or illustrative.
Instrumental works may be divided into two general classes: first, those which are concerned with the musical imagination solely, which contain no indication of any connection in the composer’s mind with an experience or fancy that is derived from the external world, requiring of the hearer no knowledge ‘of any fact, physical or metaphysical, beyond the rhythms, combinations, and tone colors of the musical piece itself. The listener may interpret such music in terms of concrete imagery if his bent of mind inclines him that way, he may see dancing peasants in a Mozart rondo or a kneeling worshipper in a Beethoven adagio but this is his own affair, for the composer gives him no hint that tends to turn his thought away from the contemplation of pure musical beauty. Works of this character have no precise titles, – only such labels as serve to indicate form, tempo, or general character, such as sonata, fugue, prelude, theme and variations, andante, presto, scherzo, etude, nocturne, fantaisie, reverie, caprice, and the like. Any one of these designations would apply to a large number of pieces of quite dissimilar style. Such music is called “abstract” or “absolute” music.
The other class of instrumental compositions is known as “representative,” ” illustrative,” or ” program” music. The composer puts at the head of his work a title or description which applies directly to this particular piece and could belong to no other. It associates the music at once with a definite conception that can be told in words; it arouses the image making faculty in the mind of the listener; it invites him to receive the music not as an emissary from a world of abstraction known only to the musical consciousness, but as an ally of poetic ideas, as a work whose peculiar character is drawn from an experience preliminary to it, and derives a considerable part of its value from the clearness with which it illustrates an idea that has in itself an independent interest. The composer chooses a character, scene, or story from history, myth, or poetry, or he recalls a personal observation of nature or human life, or perhaps invents a tale or picture for himself,then calling upon his powers of musical creation he writes a work which will be molded and colored by the literary or pictorial antecedent. Sometimes, as Schumann tells us, the music, begun with-out any such object in view, suggests a train of thought or imagery to the composer, the mental eye, gradually, awakened, holds fast to certain outlines amid the sounds, and the phrases condense and shape themselves under this new influence. Examples of this tendency could be adduced by the hundreds, overtures to modern operas; symphonic poems, such as Liszt’s “Tasso,” Strauss’s “Death and Glorification”; program symphonies, such as Beethoven’s “Pastoral” and Raff’s “Leonore”; piano “character pieces,” such as Schumann’s “Carnaval,” Liszt’s “Years of Pilgrimage,” MacDowell’s “Sea Pieces” and “Wood-land Sketches.” It is evident that here is a close analogy to vocal music. The difference is that no words are heard during the progress of the music; it is a sort of inarticulate song or drama; the subject once announced in the title or “program” retreats into the background of the listener’s consciousness, only to be evoked in a shadowy way as he discovers in the tone color and rhythms a mysterious something that guides his fantasy as well as delights his ear.
In the attempt to determine the nature and the extent of the expressive power of music, we feel the need of drawing comparisons between music and the other arts, surveying her boundaries and theirs, discovering where these boundaries diverge and where they coincide or overlap. Does expression in music, we ask, signify the same as expression in poetry, or does the word involve a special and distinctive’ connotation of its own? In order that speech and music may combine in mutual support they must have some element in common. In order that music may appear as appropriate to text or title in song, opera, or symphonic poem it must at least be able in itself to turn our mind in a definite direction, and the current of feeling that is set in motion by the words find itself drawn by a subtle affinity to the feeling aroused by the music.
Writers on aesthetics love to separate the arts into two classes, viz., arts of presentation and arts of representation. The second category includes poetry, sculpture, and painting, representative by reason of the fact that the subject matter with which they deal exists before the work of art comes into being, and is susceptible to an indefinite number of forms and modes of treatment. Poetry may have for its subject a state of mind or an outward event or scene. Any kind of visible object, or an imaginary object having no counterpart in nature but composed of forms that have an actual existence in other relations (such as an angel or a centaur), may be the subject of a statue or a picture. In representative art, in other words, the idea and the form are not completely identical. These arts, even poetry, have also been called arts of imitation, because they reproduce in new guises and relations that which has already been the object of observation or experience.
In the presentative arts, on the other hand, including music, architecture, and the various artistic crafts (such as pottery, metal work, wood and ivory carving, textiles, etc.) the representative or imitative element is either absent or is reduced to such sub-ordination that the beholder is but casually re-minded of anything that has been the object of a previous experience. The idea, generally speaking, is contained in the form, virtually identical with it, and has no existence separate from the artist’s conception. The forms are abstract, proportional arrangements of lines, masses, colors, or tones; the beauty is in the pattern or design apart from those resemblances that would move us to demand truth to nature as a fundamental condition of approval. This statement must, of course, be qualified; a representative element often exists, there is a borrowing from nature; leaves and flowers may afford patterns for ornamental work in cornice and . vase designs, even animal and human forms may be so used; music sometimes admits imitations or at least obvious suggestions of natural soundsi But in all these cases truth to nature is subservient to a decorative .purpose. A decoration may be de-fined as a form of artistic contrivance which has its interest in itself, apart from any object depicted or thought conveyed. Architecture, music, and the artistic crafts may be called arts of decoration, as distinct from the arts that teach or inform as well as please.
This division of the arts into presentative and representative has, however, little value besides convenience of classification; in a deeper view of the case the distinction everywhere breaks down. They are all presentative as well as representative, impressive as well as expressive, for they exist primarily not to give instruction or to reproduce nature, but to give pleasure. They offer them-selves frankly to the senses; they make us glad, not because we have received an addition to our store of information, but because they have warmed and fed our emotional nature, awakened a consciousness of a purer ideal, stimulated a keener sympathy by the communication of spirit to spirit. Poetry, painting, and sculpture may indeed be employed for the purpose of conveying scientific or moral truth, other things being equal, the higher the truth the higher the worth of the work of art. But just at the moment when this definite instructive or homiletic purpose becomes the apparent aim of the work, the appeal to the aesthetic sense becoming merely incidental, then the very element that constitutes art tends to withdraw from the work or from the receiver’s consciousness. Never ought the decorative principle to be ignored. The out-lines, modelling and grouping in sculpture, the arrangement of lines, colors, lights, and shadows in a painting, the rhythm, metre, and mellifluous disposition of vowels and consonants in verse these decorative features are essential even if we refuse to agree with the advocates of art for art’s sake in considering them all sufficient. The en-lightened connoisseur looks at once for sculptural qualities, pictorial qualities, or poetic qualities. Says Russell Sturgis: “What has the sculptor to say so important as this, come and see this new combination of masses beautifully composed, made up of details beautifully modelled ?” The strongest motive can never commend a picture to a discerning eye if it is not beautifully wrought in composition, drawing, tone, and harmony of tints and shades. A fine picture is always a fine pattern. A painter will make a portrait not simply for ac-curacy of likeness, but also for satisfaction of the art sense; he will so contrive composition, adjust pose, and arrange shades and colors that the picture will give pleasure to a connoisseur who knows not the name or station of the sitter. A landscape by ‘ Turner may not give a correct topographical representation of any place on earth. The Aphrodite of Melos is perhaps not an Aphrodite at all; but it does not matter, nameless and with the arms that might have revealed her identity forever lost, she is no less the object of the world’s unwavering homage. In all these instances there is indeed truth, it is truth that gives them their ultimate validity; but it is not scientific truth or in the ordinary use of the word ethical truth; it is general, not particular truth, a truth that is identified with beauty and finds its warrant in the pleasure of the sense, and beyond that in the consciousness that through these beautiful forms we come into vital relations with a mystic reality that survives all change.
This same element, that stirs the emotion by immediate action of the sense without the aid of the defining power of the understanding, is found even in poetry, and must be reckoned with if one would know the secret of the spell that is woven by metric accents and the selected harmonies of words. The writer chooses his words not merely as symbols of ideas, but also for the beauty of sound and rhythmic vibration obtained by skilful adjustments of accents, metrical groups, rhymes, assonance of vowels and consonants. These musical effects, as they may properly be called, are not only employed for the sake of the charm of lilting cadence and artful modulation of sound, but they possess the expressive quality of music, the especial mood which the poet desires to arouse being in no slight degree dependent upon his use of the metrical and verbal devices which suggest various degrees of motion and force. Every poet considers carefully the need of a correspondence between the form of the verse and the thought and imagery, an ecstatic spring song requiring one kind of metre, an elegy another, a battle piece another, and so on. Many of the world’s famous poems are not remarkable for originality or depth of thought, but endure by virtue of a certain haunting sweetness that is not in the imagery alone, but equally in their melody.
The element to which I allude is that which vanishes when the Aeneid or the Antigone is translated into English prose; it is found in “the surge and thunder of the Odyssey,” in the voluptuous swell of Swinburne or Victor Hugo; it is the dying fall that comes soothingly upon the senses in an ode of Keats. It is the quality that becomes faint even to vanishing when verse is read in silence. There is no need to say, of course, that poetry is vastly more than this, that a man may be a master of verbal music and after all have little that is worth saying. Poetry is, no doubt, less dependent than any other art upon the sensuous and formal elements, but how much sound and form have to do even with the meaning itself any one can discover if he will take any great piece of verse, say a sonnet by Milton or Wordsworth, change the order of the words, substitute synonyms, break up the rhythms into unrhythmical phrases, and then see how much even of the sense is left. Such an experiment will afford an important lesson in the primer of poetry, yes, in the primer of art.
Still less in the other arts can the spiritual message be separated from the form. There is an utterance that is. not the language of speech; it is incapable even of translation into words. It is found, as we have noticed, in .the artful tracing of lines, gradations, and colors in painting, setting up a sort of rhythmical movement in consciousness as the eye passes from one point to another. It is found in the proportioned masses and decorative patterns of architecture, in the lines and bosses of sculpture, in the buoyant measured evolutions of the dance, in the mellow sound of a voice, in the molding of a vase, or the opulent colors of a Persian rug. It is a communication more ancient than speech, and it is intuitively understood by all who have attained a truly self-conscious life. It is the business of the art lover to clear his senses and cultivate in himself that capacity which responds to the touch of beauty in whatever guise of shape or color or sound. The common man, being confined to language for the conveyance of his mental states, finds it difficult to realize that there are other very potent means of expression that there are pictorial, sculptural, and musical ideas as well as verbal ideas. The appreciation of art expands as soon as one perceives that there are broad regions of spiritual experience which words cannot traverse, and that the other arts find spheres of action beyond the line where language ends. We must, therefore, study their mode of utterance their technique, in a word, for “the sensuous material of each art,” to employ Walter Pater’s classic statement, “brings with it a special phase or quality of beauty, untranslatable into the forms of any other, an order of impressions distinct in kind. These impressions have this in common, however, that they give pleasure to the senses of sight or. hearing; and this beauty is an end and not a means adding nothing, it may be, to that experience and efficiency which the ordinary mechanical duties of the day require, but giving us consciousness of a fuller, more perfect life, in which our separate existence is for the moment merged.”
It is in view of this attribute of all fine art which I have endeavored to describe that Walter Pater, in his well known essay already cited, declares that music “is the true type and measure of perfected art,” because “music presents no words, no mat-ter of sentiment or thought separable from the special form in which it is conveyed to us.” All art, Pater goes on to say, is constantly laboring that the form, the mode of handling, “should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the matter.” “Art is always striving to be independent of the mere intelligence, to become a matter of pure perception, to get rid of its responsibility to its subject or material.” “It is the art of music which most completely realizes this artistic ideal, this perfect identification of form and matter. In its ideal, consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the form from the matter, the subject from the expression; they inhere in and completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore, to the condition of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to ,tend and aspire. . . . Therefore, although each art has its incommunicable element, its untranslatable or-der of impressions, its unique mode of reaching the `imaginative reason,’ yet the arts may be rep-resented as continually struggling after the law or principle of music, to a condition which music alone completely realizes.”
That such a tendency as Pater here declares is found in all art may be disputed his statement is too sweeping. That the “idea” is not separable from the special form it has taken is to a certain extent true of all art the very definition of art is involved in this but the fusion is more complete in some instances than in others. There are works of sculpture and painting which appeal “directly to the roots of emotion and sensation,” and stir the mind in ways which words are quite unable to explain. Take, for example, Michelangelo’s recumbent figures upon the Medici tombs, and consider the number of wholly unsatisfactory interpretations that have been drawn from them unsatisfactory not because the sculptor expressed nothing in the statues, but because he expressed so much, expressed ideas so profound that language fails to encompass them. It was not affectation that impelled John Addington Symonds, in presence of these grand and mysterious shapes, to call up phrases of Beethoven. For it is only music that has the power of evoking ideas so mighty and ex-tended as those which Michelangelo’s oppressed giants so dimly body forth. Sculpture and music are the arts most adequate to render. the one universal theme of all art, which is the striving of the soul for release from all that restricts its powers.
Although Pater’s assertion in regard to art in general needs to be qualified and limited, his statement in regard to the nature of music, that the subject is not distinct from the expression, may be accepted. Change a note in a passage and the idea is changed, for the passage has no meaning apart from the particular note successions that compose it. Neither can music define or describe or personify.’ Music is sometimes called a language, but it is not a language. Words are artificial counters which have been agreed upon by all members of any nation or tribe as standing for certain objects or mental concepts. But there are no tones or groups of tones which have been adopted as symbols of particular objects of perception or thought. I may say, for instance: The white birch tree is putting forth green leaves. The verb, the nouns, and the adjectives are conventional collocations of sounds and letters applied by .common consent to certain objects or processes. But there are no chords or musical phrases that have been fixed upon to convey the notion of tree, leaf, growth, whiteness, or greenness. A composer may have a budding birch tree in his mind when he writes a piece of music, and his composition will have delicacy, lightness, grace; but the listener may be reminded of a very different object, or of no object at all.
In comparing music with poetry, John Addington Symonds writes: “The sphere of music is in sensuous perception; the sphere of poetry is in intelligence. Music, dealing with pure sound, must always be vaguer in significance than poetry, which deals with words. We cannot fail to understand what words are intended to convey; we may very easily interpret in a hundred different ways the message of sound. . . . The exact value of a counter is better understood when it is a word than when it is a chord, because all that a word conveys has already become a thought, while all that musical sounds convey remains within the region of emotion which has not been intellectualized. Poetry touches emotion through the thinking faculty. If music reaches the thinking faculty at all, it is through fibres of emotion. But emotion, when it has become thought, has already lost a portion of its force, and has taken to itself a some-thing alien to its nature. Therefore the message of music can never rightly be translated into words.” Mr. Birge Harrison compares music to color in the art of painting. “Both are sensuous and passional, playing directly upon the emotions and producing their effects by some mysterious appeal to the subconscious, whose ways have as yet eluded us. Both, in their highest expression, come nearer to the perfect ideal of beauty as felt and understood by humanity than any other form of art. Finally, both are stimulating and men-tally suggestive, while attempting no direct intellectual expression.”
In the interest of the intelligent appreciation of music, it is important that these distinctions should be anchored in our minds lest the true beauty and meaning of music escape us. Language is definition and limitation; music by itself alone does not limit or explain; when acted upon by pure tone we are transported into a region without boundaries. For the moment that world is real, but it has not the reality of previous non-musical experience.
All this is true, and yet it is also true that composers and music lovers have not been satisfied with this vague and generalized impression which cold analysis would at first sight seem to prove is music’s only province. Music has always been straining at its tether, striving to break away from its bondage and enlarge its field of action. A marked trait in music is the effort which Pater notes in passing as characteristic of all art an endeavor to pass into the condition of some other mode of utterance and assume prerogatives that-belong more strictly to the heritage of its sister arts. The art which music most persistently struggles to supplant, or else to bring into an alliance for mutual advantage, is the art of language. Hence the prevalence of “program” or “representative” music in later days, and the union of verse and tone in lyric and dramatic song from the very beginning of speech and melody.
The alliance of words and music has been constant through the greater part of human history. Abstract instrumental music, in a state so developed and specialized that it can be dignified with the title of fine art, belongs only to the last three centuries. It had its period of infancy, of gradual awakening to self-consciousness in the seventeenth century, of independent vigor and balance of faculty in the epoch of the Bachs, Haydn, and Mozart in the eighteenth century, of complete adaptability of form to the needs of expression in the masters of the nineteenth century, beginning with Beethoven. In the first two of these epochs, when independent instrumental music was passing, with many growing pains, from feebleness into full self-possession, tone wedded to words in opera, oratorio, and church music was exhibiting, under the hands of Gluck, Mozart, Handel, and Sebastian Bach, the enormous power of expression it contains when free to take its character from the suggestion of precise thought and definite situations. Taught by the success of these endeavors, composers grew more and more inclined to carry over the quality of direct characteristic expression to abstract instrumental music, in which there was to be found a freedom and variety of style that could not exist in the human voice alone on account of its physical limitations. This effort led to the rupture of the old strict instrumental forms of sonata, fugue, and rondo, as in Beethoven’s last quartets and sonatas, where the instruments seem at times almost to usurp the faculty of speech. The next step (not in chronological order necessarily, but as an. evolutionary stage) was program or representative music, where new forms and treatment appeared as required by conceptions to which the composer gave his hearers a clew in title, program, motto, or allusion. Every piece of representative music, therefore, is in greater or less dimensions a “song without words,” a voice-less lyric, epic, or drama, claiming to employ in an independent sphere the special powers of expression which music had demonstrated while still in the leading-strings of text and stage action.
Representative music is by no means a phenomenon peculiar to the nineteenth century, but appears in many crude productions of the youthful and infantile periods. But in the nineteenth century means of emotional utterance before unsuspected have been disclosed in the natural progress from strictness to freedom in form, and in the perfection of instruments; and so far has the expressive power of tones been carried that music at times seems on the way to the invention of symbols that will come near to appropriating some of the prerogatives of language.
In this aspect of the situation the music lover finds a problem much more profound than that of training his faculties of observation in the tracing of harmonies, rhythms, and forms. This preliminary exercise in the appreciation of form is neces, sary, as I have tried to show, but it is only preliminary. No thinking mind will remain content with the mere admiration of skill in fashioning tone patterns of intricate device, or the mechanical dexterity of a pianist or the pyrotechnics of a colorature singer. The emotion must be aroused. and in works of human contrivance it is only emotion that can beget emotion. The composer must have felt something, what did he feel? There is a man behind the work and he is imparting something of himself, what is that something? Works of musical art are not put together in accordance with mathematical formulas, they come from life and they share the stirring unexpectedness of life. Music lovers have never been content with a pleasure that depends upon the merely decorative function of music, and music, as we have seen, is ever struggling to liberate itself from the confinement that seems inherent in its very material. Music is a mighty intensifier of emotions and moods; moreover it produces in the mind such a state of tremulous expectancy that it becomes eager to move in definite directions, just as when acted upon by words or external incitements of any kind. Liturgies, dramatic, epic, and lyric poetry have always joined hands with music because in this union there was an added strength. The most universal and powerful interests religion, patriot-ism, and the love of the sexes have always sought music as a reinforcement of their appeals. All this could hardly be true if there were no correspondence between music and the other means of expression. One would not associate together a piece of music and a bit of purely decorative work an architectural molding or a drawing-room frieze and imagine that the former was in any way a reflex or interpretation of the latter. We may say with confidence that there is no music that is absolutely unexpressive a meaningless, empty play of sounds. The music may be comparatively trivial, but its effect is not that of a phenomenon wholly external to ourselves. Every positive rhythm, every rise and subsidence of tone volume, every distinctive tone color sets something in motion within us, and that something is felt as an ingrown constituent of our emotional life.
This impression is due primarily to the nature of tone as unlocalized, pervading our whole nervous organization and setting it in vibration; and secondly to our notion of music as something moving, the phrases as they succeed one another seeming to contain an idea that constantly advances until a foreseen goal is reached. The world within us and the world without us are perceived in terms of flux and change; movement is a manifestation of energy and implies to us life. Music is likewise movement, energy, and action; and when we add the emotional elements of rhythm and changes of force, speed, and color, this movement, this life, gives us the impression of proceeding from consciousness and manifesting consciousness. The musical movement may be swift or slow, now accelerated, now delayed, suggesting notions of ardency or languor, impatience or indolence, ac-cession of vitality or loss of the same. A composition may hasten at its close into prestissimo energy triumphant; or it may end retarded, signifying exhaustion or relief after the strain of effort. Within this movement there are incalculable varieties of rhythm, accents, interruptions, ever changing relations of longer and shorter notes, figures of innumerable modifications, all held in the control of regular beats and ordered measures a counterpart in sound of the gestures and attitudes which make physical action so vivid an expression of feeling.
Equally abundant and positive are the expressional effects produced by the degrees of loud and soft contrasts startling in their vehemence, shades of tone exceedingly minute and subtle in suggestion, not less efficient than changes of speed for conveying ideas of force in variation and contrast. Not less definite in significance are the changes between high notes and low notes, between consonance and dissonance. Lightness and heaviness, ease and constraint, elation and depression, sweetness and harshness, ecstasy and anguish these and a host of other intimations may be offered in terms of differences of pitch and interval. Then there are the modifications of tone color, at times suggestive of the human voice or sounds of external nature; again imparting precise ideas by association, as the trumpet with war, the horn with the hunt and forest life, the flute and oboe with peaceful idyllic surroundings; again moving the mind to a less direct expectancy, as when the trombone peals in tones of solemn grandeur, or the bassoon or the viola diffuses around us an atmosphere oppressive with ominous voices. Take all these .elements pitch, speed, shading, consonance and dissonance, rhythm, timbre, force try to conceive all their varieties of combination, contrast, and succession, and no speculation is able to declare the time when their possibilities of suggestion will be exhausted.
It is not strange, then, that with the hearing of mu-sic the imagination wakes from its slumber. Hardly a strain can be found in all the array of the world’s music that may not be united to some reality of the soul’s experience. Music is a continuous metaphor. The antithesis between abstract and characteristic beauty between absolute and representative music is constantly dissolving. Music contains not a mere general undefined charm of tones sensuously colored and ingeniously grouped like geometrical patterns on the wall of a Moorish mosque, but a beauty that is distinctive and determinate; not simply lifting the soul that it may subside again to the same level as before, but moving it in a particular direction and establishing it upon a new mount of vision. It is, therefore, no strained artificial connection with life that has been forced by the composers upon music; the relationship is in the nature of things, and the vocal composers and the writers of program music have sought to explore all the affinities by which music shows itself qualified in its special way to act as an exponent as well as an adornment of life.
In spite of all these considerations, there is still controversy over that form of music known as program or representative music. Although it has been accepted by a very large portion, probably the larger portion of the musical world, and is the most marked tendency of the day, there are many who deny its legitimacy and resist its progress. Few, indeed, would affirm that music is to be classed as a merely decorative art, that it has no power of expression whatever; and yet there is a type of mind that takes what one may call the mystical attitude toward music, prefers to escape from the world of actuality when listening to it, and interprets it, if at all, in the spirit of Thoreau, Browning, and Hearn, as I have quoted them in a former chapter, finding in it a refuge from the concrete, the definite, and the limited. Others wish . that their fancy should not be fettered by words, title, or program, but would sketch their own pictures and dream their own dreams.. The adherent of the abstract school asks with a tone of triumph if the program school has any works to show that are comparable to the titleless symphonies and quartets of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky, and the sonatas, etudes, ballades, scherzos, and impromptus of Chopin. The program advocate points to the revelation made by Wagner of the sublime possibilities of music when directed to definite pictorial and expressional ends, speaks of program music as yet in its infancy, and affirms that the ferment of experiment in representative concert music of to-day is prophetic of an epoch that will mark an advanced stage in musical evolution.
Wisdom decrees the grateful acceptance of the noble achievements of both schools. In the house of art there are many mansions. We can rejoice that music has now gone so far that every temperament, every opinion, may find that which is suited to its need. Our old principle comes back again to guide us, does any single work fulfil its intention? Is it adapted to its special end ? Does it satisfy the demand of one who takes his critical footing upon the composer’s own ground? Is it beautiful, strong, and complete as judged by the laws that are involved in the class to which it belongs? The judgment of works of program music is not based upon the same evidence that applies to abstract music. Let us accept both, and compare individual works, not with one another, but with the standard which the purpose of each implies.
Let us now see what are the privileges and the obligations of the composer of program music, and what also must be the attitude and the preparation of the music lover who wishes to judge fairly and enjoy rightly.
It must first be observed that the presence of a specific title does not necessarily make a piece of music representative. Many works that are classed as program music are such only in name. It is well known that composers often write a piece in the abstract way, under the direction of the merely musical impulse, and then hunt about for a title that will commend the piece to the hearer’s interest. A work of representative music is properly one in which the title very obviously belongs to that particular work and to no other. There must be something in the harmonies, rhythms, and tone colors that inevitably moves the mind to seek affiliations in the world outside musical forms, and the title comes in to lend assistance. The value of the preliminary subject or program to the instrumental composer is plain. It is to him what a text or plot is to the writer of a song, oratorio, or opera. His musical invention is stimulated; new forms, new harmonies, rhythms, and tone colors spring to life in his imagination under the touch of some external image or inward recollection. To the wide prevalence of this incentive is largely due the vast expansion of musical resources that is a distinguished feature of our age. It is a tendency which has emancipated music from laws which would soon have become burdensone. Strict forms relax as a new principle of cohesion is substituted. Inexhaustible variety ensues in all the appliances of musical expression, and invention rejoices in the thought that complete freedom is allowed so long as truth to the spirit of the subject is maintained. The old law of conformity to type having been abrogated, each work acquires an individuality. Music thus joins with the characteristic tendency of the nineteenth century, by which art has broken away from academic authority, permitting the artist, whether he be poet, painter, sculptor, or musician, to follow gladly the dictates of his own genius, to choose whatever subject in nature or human life seems to him worthy of presentation, and to treat it in his own personal way, not a conventional way taught in the schools, encouraging him to find beauty in character as well as in form, to break down the barrier that formerly existed between art and the larger human concerns, to make art in the broadest sense a confederate of reality. The spirit of the artist now has free play, and art, shaping itself anew, creates a new technique while it pursues a new ideal.
It is, of course, possible that music, like painting and sculpture, may go so far in this direction that ugliness results instead of beauty. Music has so little power of characterization that the loss of sensuous beauty cannot be made good by those compensations which the other arts have at their command. A picture like Watts’s “Mammon,” or a portrait of a court dwarf by Velasquez, where ugliness becomes a means of conveying truth, can have no precise counterpart in a musical composition. Composers, however, are showing discontent with the precept, accepted hitherto as involved in the very nature of music, that expression must not go beyond the pleasure of the ear. Something much like musical realism if such can exist is attempted by Richard Strauss and others of his school. Strauss affirms by implication that music may deal with what is physically or morally repulsive, and may, even, logically must, become ugly in fulfilling its office of dramatic expression. It is possible that the musical world will eventually grant to music this privilege of foregoing beauty for the sake of-characterization. If so, restriction will probably be applied to the choice of the subject. for representation rather than to the expressive development of music itself.
How far harshness and formal license may be carried for the sake of expression is one of the absorbing aesthetic questions of the day. The determination is not quite the same in program music as in the opera. The two cases are not quite parallel. Characterization will give less displeasure in dramatic music when it runs to extremes of violence and roughness because the musical effect does not stand alone; it is only one ingredient in a compound in which words, action, and scenery take up music into themselves and subdue it to the common intent. But in a concert orchestral piece the program, once read, is put aside and fades into the background of consciousness, and the music asserts itself as unrelated sound rather than as a reflection of this or that concrete idea. It must never be forgotten that in vocal music the distinct content of thought lies in the words and not in the music. In program music the content of thought has been given us before the music began, and the music has but a feeble and and-indirect means of keeping that thought alive. The disadvantage of a program that consists in a long series of details, as in Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” and most of the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss, is either that the mind will be turned away from the music in the effort to follow the program by means of the memory .or, worse still, by means of the printed description, or else in concentrating the attention upon the sounds for the sake of the enjoyment of the ear the music will often appear incoherent and pointless. One might maintain, therefore, that music which re-quires the accompaniment of an elaborate story for its interest is an aesthetic error. Where the effort is successful in any particular instance, the success will be due to the composer’s wisdom in selecting his subject, his ability to write music that is not wholly dependent upon the poetic thought for its effect, and his skill in maintaining by means of tone the vivid impression of the emotional ground-work even after the details which supply the motive have withdrawn from the listener’s mind. The difficulties indeed are great; so great that program music is still in the experimental stage.
I have spoken of the value of a program to the composer in quickening his invention and inducing variety in his forms and colors. Now what is the value of a program to the listener? It is not simply that the program makes the music intelligible. Good wine needs no bush, and the music of a master may fill our rapture to the brim through the sufficient glory of melody and harmony alone. The real value of a program, it seems to me, is that, like the words of a song or the plot of an opera, it arouses a preliminary mood, begets an expectation. The music is not required to awaken the hearer from a passive state; his mind is already active, on the alert for a beautiful thought or image, and when the music arises two pleasures have been created the pleasure in beautiful sound, and the pleasure of the inward eye or the memory of something known and already loved. The hearer receives, perhaps, some noble thought in a vesture of fitting words, such as Lamartine’s vision of life, chosen by Liszt for illustration in his symphonic poem, “The Preludes.” Or it may be the woful story of Francesca and Paolo; the moving fate of the lovers of Verona; the sweet village idyl of Hermann and Dorothea; some splendid legend from the Greek myths or the Arthurian cycle; a romance of Arabian chivalry. Or the composer puts at the head of his piece a name, a hint, an allusion that brings before us some intimate scene of domestic life dear to the common heart. Or it may be some glorious aspect of nature, moonlight on still water, a stormy sea, a forest glade, summer twilight with the gathering host of stars, mountain summits where the sunrise plants its banner and winds chant their monotonous, everlasting song. Or the title may contain the mere intimation of joy or sorrow a touch of nature that makes the whole world kin a mood, a longing, a desire for human fellowship, a religious hope. In all these cases not only does the music offer an interest of characterization, but the listener finds his mood attuned to the touch of a two-fold beauty, and when the. sounds begin they are haunted by another charm drawn from the presence of a cognate loveliness antedating the music, but now become a part of the endearing spell that is woven upon his imagination.
Accepting program music, not only as legitimate on aesthetic principles, but also as an inevitable stage in the evolution of tonal art, the music lover has only to consider the value to himself of the. particular works of this class that may come to his attention. He may inquire, Is the subject worthy of the use the composer has made of it? Is it suited to the special nature of musical expression? Does the music conform to the idea? And, most of all, does it have an artistic value over and above its cleverness as illustration? Music that has no merit in itself is none the better because the composer has shown a fine poetic taste in his choice of a motive. Many inferior musical pieces, like unworthy individuals, are received into good society on the strength of reputable introductions. It is a common error in respect to vocal music,a beautiful poem, a sublime Scripture, a strong oratorio theme or opera plot will often beguile the hearer into imputing to the music a merit which it does not possess in its own right. It is the old trap into which so many fall who are always, often unwittingly, looking for literary values in art instead of musical or pictorial or sculptural values.
Equally in error is the Ii.stener who cares only for music in the abstract, ignores the subject, judges the music as he judges an untitled sonata or string quartet, pronouncing the music good or bad as the melodies and harmonies please him or do not please him. If the title or program meant nothing in relation to the composer’s inspiration he would not have chosen it, and if it meant something power? What are the means that music possesses for that utterance which reaches below the sense perception, below the acquirements of the under-standing, transmits a message from the soul of the composer to the soul of the listener, and establishes a sympathy between any single hearer and his neighbors in the concert hall? What may we look for when we hear music shall we receive definite communications of thought and the awakening of the visual imagination as in poetry, or is regulated sound restricted to the stirring of a vague and intangible sense of awe or delight like that which one feels in cathedral aisles or among the parterres of artfully arranged gardens? In a word, has music a meaning? And if so, is this meaning imparted by direct action of sound or through association of ideas? These questions, and many more, come before the lover of music who wishes to derive the utmost value that the art is able to afford.
Some of these queries can never be fully answered; the attempt to discover the final secret of the power of tone upon the emotional nature leads to an insoluble mystery. The fact that this mystery is present in every musical experience is one cause of the peculiar fascination. The music lover finds, however, that his excitation by music is due at times to the direct, immediate action of sound, at other times partly or wholly to association of ideas. In the first case the word “expression” is somewhat misleading, for it necessary.