There can be no doubt that, as a nation, we like music. The degree of our liking may vary from something not much warmer than a tepid acquiescence to the glow and fervour of a genuine passion : only in rare exceptions can no trace of it be found; we may repeat Shakespeare's condemnation of " the man that hath no music in himself " without much fear of involving our friends and acquaintances. Most people would at least be vaguely sorry if there were no hymns in Church or no band at the flower-show; the crowds who throng a Gilbert and Sullivan opera are attracted almost as much by the tunes as by the dialogue a " Wagner night " at Queen's Hall is sure of a full house: the Competition Festivals are interesting performers and listeners through the length and breadth of the country. But by a strange obliquity of vision many people hold that the full enjoyment of music is compatible with a complete ignorance of its structure, its vocabulary, and even its alphabet. Among the subjects which commonly engage our attention there is one, and one alone, of which a man will assert with pride that he knows nothing. He will admit that he is ignorant of other matters; sometimes with regret, as when he says that he has forgotten his French; sometimes with indifference, as when he says that he has had no time to study marine biology; of music alone he will assert with a flourish that he is wholly unacquainted with its history, its aesthetics, its principles of composition, and that he cannot read the characters in which it is written. There are even amateurs who write to the newspapers and declare that they (or, more modestly, their friends) are possessed of an exquisite susceptibility to music which would be crushed like a butterfly's wing if they overlaid it with the burden of exact study: that music " speaks to the heart, not to the head," to use their favourite phrase, and that our pleasure in it is blunted or weakened by any understanding of its methods. They are exactly like Du Maurier's British matron, who having been induced to go and see the French company at the Haymarket, austerely refused to buy a book of words. " No, thank you," she said. " We have come to see the acting :we do not wish to understand the play."
Part of this aberration is due to that intellectual snobbishness which is one of our prevailing vices. We have been told with constant iteration that music is not an object of intelligent study, that it " appeals to the emotions," whereas literature " appeals to the intellect," that its whole character is either sensuous or sentimental, and that the laws of its growth (if there are any such laws) are arid or idle formulae which may be left to the professionals. and the pedants. Since therefore we are not professionals, and have no desire to be pedants, we allow ourselves to be browbeaten by these dogmatic statements : we naturally turn to those studies by which our intellects can more thoroughly be satisfied, and put music in its place as an occasional recreation or a kind of audible confectionery. It seems to us a mark of higher culture to study Shakespeare than to study Beethoven, and we all want to be in the higher class.
But it is also, to some extent, the fault of the musicians. During the earlier part of the eghteenth century it happened that our English music suffered from two grave misfortunes. One was that, for the first time in history, our leaders of intellectual life were definitely unmusical. Chaucer loved music, Shakespeare loved it still more; Milton was not only a music-lover, but a musician of high attainments; even Dryden maintained some part of the tradition through his friendship for Henry Purcell. But Swift, Pope, Addison, Steele, all the Annians except Arbuthnot, were either indifferent to music or actively hostile. " He is a fiddler, and therefore a rascal," said Swift of a man for whom he was asked to plead; " Music," said Addison, " renders us incapable of hearing sense " : and the same habit of mind is at least as clearly expressed in the satires of John Dennis and in the caricatures of Hogarth. At the same time, and perhaps for the same reason, the territory of English music was overrun by a continental inroad. Handel brought over his " crew of foreign fiddlers," as Hearne morosely calls them: the fashionable entertainment was opera given by Italian singers in the Italian language; and English music, instead of standing its ground, gave way before the invasion and abdicated. There were a few experiments, like the Beggar's Opera, but they were of no lasting account: a few composers of talent like Greene and Avison, but they approached nowhere near the first rank:
gradually our musicians detached themselves from the highest civilisation of the country and mingled humbly with the undistinguished crowd. Even in the latter half of the century, when the overshadowing influence of Handel was withdrawn, our art recovered but little of its old fertilitythe slender genius of Arne, the burgess dignity of Battishill and Wesley, were poor successors of the dynasty which had reigned under the Tudors and the Stuarts;
by the beginning of the nineteenth century our national music had fallen into a not undeserved contempt. It had lost touch with education, with intelligence, with life itself: it had no longer anything of value to contribute, but was living like a mendicant on the alms of its more opulent neighbours.
The result was that intelligent people gave up trying to understand it. The musicians, most of whom were ill-educated, proved wholly unable to explain the principles of their art, and could only refer the enquirer to a dry text-book on grammar or form. They could present no standard of taste by which to discriminate good work from bad; their art was a faint echo of Naples or Dresden or Vienna, their science consisted in a few narrow rules and a vocabulary of technical terms. This is not to say that the technical terms in music are worse than in other pursuits, but they occupied in those days a far larger portion of the available fieldthey were set up as a hieroglyphic language which only the initiated could comprehend, and they aroused in the plain man a sense of bewildered mockery which has not yet entirely passed away. If you speak to your audience about " perspective," or even " chiaroscuro," they will pay attention; if you ask them whether they know the structure of a " sonnet," they will probably feel insulted; but if you say the word " counterpoint," you are apt to see them mentally leaving the room.
Yet in this matter a vast change has taken place during the lifetime of the present generation. We have now a school of composition which can hold its own with that of any country in Europe. We have executants of such merit that to invite artists from abroad is no longer a need, but an international courtesy. Our younger scholars and essayists are producing work which is comparable to the best criticism of painting or literature. And with all this efflorescence there is coming at the same time a fuller recognition of the part which music can play, and ought to play, in the development of our general culture and civilisation. Our histories and encyclopaedias are giving it an attention which would have astonished Macaulay; our great educational institutions are according it a place in their scheme, not as an isolated and technical study, but as a department of humane letters; most of our literary journals contain articles on music, and even reviews of compositions, which forty years ago would have been secluded within the pages of a specialised magazine. It is true that this has not yet penetrated very deeply into the general consciousness of the nation; that the bulk of our people is still content to look upon music as beyond its understanding; but a considerable step has already been taken when we have roused up teachers to explain to us that there is something to be understood.
The object of the present volume is to interpret in simple and untechnical language the work which these teachers have done and are now doing. It is addressed, not to trained musicians, who will find in it nothing which they do not know already, but to the large and increasing number of people who, having had little or no musical training, wish to know more about the art and especially to find in it more sources of noble pleasure. Every great composition, like every great poem, speaks to its hearer in proportion to his power of receptivity. No one has penetrated to the central mystery of Bach or Beethovenin order to do that he would have to be Bach or Beethovenbut everyone listens to the fugue or the sonata according as he has ears to hear. One man finds in it an unprofitable waste of sound, another will feel some emotional stimulus, but nothing more; another will begin to realise dimly its marvels of texture or construction, another will read it, like the message of a friend, with intimate sympathy and understanding. At each stage the joy of the listener becomes fuller and more complete, the delights of sense and emotion are ennobled, transfigured, spiritualised, until this " inarticulate, unfathomable speech " takes him in very truth to the edge of the infinite and bids him for moments gaze into that.
Here at the threshold two possible rejoinders may be considered. The first is that for people who are not going to practise music as an accomplishment or a profession all this study of its nature is really superfluous. " We are very well as we are," say the objectors : " we enjoy our favourite kinds of music without ever enquiring how they are constructed ; they give us a pleasant quarter-of-an hour and we ask nothing further. It is true that we are bored by the classics, but we understand that there are certain forms of music which cause you equal annoyance and the result appears to be as broad as it is long." The only answer to this is to translate it into the terms of any other taste. If there are really people who prefer Tupper to Shakespeare or wood-alcohol to port, who like their fish high and their strawberries small and unripe, whose aesthetic cravings are satisfied by the comic postcard and whose favourite flower is groundsel, then clearly it would infringe the liberty of the subject if we endeavoured to alter their dispositions. But I do not believe that there are such people. In all arts there are differences of good and bad: nicely shaded, no doubt, at the frontiers, but clearly distinguishable at the extremes, and the only reason why people seem to prefer the bad is because they have not yet realised how much more enjoyment the good will give them. It is an entirely false assumption that good art always implies austerity : he would be a very humorous critic who should object to Falstaff as austere.
The other rejoinder, which is more seriously urged, is that the study of music is abstruse and difficult, that it requires not only special aptitude, but a long period of drudgery which is not to be lightly undertaken. " We should like," some men say, " to know more about music, and we feel that we should gain by the knowledge, but we are busy folk with many avocations and we could not spare the time even if we were sure that we possessed the ability." The answer to this is that music, treated as literature, is no more difficult than any other pursuit. Most people overrate the obstacles, partly because they have not given much thought to the matter, partly from the terrifying appearance presented by many of the text-books : the amount necessary for intelligent appreciation is no harder to acquire than any other language, and when once acquired gains continual strength and enlargement from its own experience. No doubt it is toilsome to attain eminence as a composer or a singer or a player, but this is not what we have in view : we do not confine the study of poetry to poets or admit none but painters to the picture gallery. All persons, in short, who are not actually tone-deaf can enter upon the way of understanding music, and follow it so far as they have opportunity or inclination.
Music may be provisionally defined as the art of creating significant forms in sound. Before this definition can claim acceptance there are four terms in it which need further elucidation and agreement.
First, it is an art : that is, it aims at the expression and embodiment of an ideal of beauty, and in carrying out this aim it uses its own methods, its own discipline and its own technique. An error analogous to that of the gifted amateur, who " appreciates without understanding," is the common belief that composition requires no training and submits to no analysis, that composers write, as Socrates said of the poets, " by a divine madness and enthusiasm," and that not only can they give no account of their work, but they leave the bystander equally at fault. We are constantly hearing, especially at the present day, of musicians who have achieved greatness by casting off the trammels of law and regulation, who follow the inward voice alone and care nothing at all for tradition or environment. " There are virtually no limits now," says Mr. Rollo Myers in a recent and very interesting volume on modern music, " to the degree of harmonic licence which a composer may allow himself," and the same freedom (in this sense of the term) is claimed equally in matters of melody, of construction, of dramatic fitness, of all the elements or aspects of musical composition as a whole. " Quidquid tibi in buccam " is our encouraging message to the young aspirant: " go as you please and say whatever comes into your head."
This doctrine is the more dangerous because it conceals, or rather overlays, a very important truth. There can be no musicthere can be no art of any kindwithout that overmastering creative impulse which is what we mean by inspiration. One of the soundest of maxims is that no man should write music who can help it. No amount of careful smith's work can by itself elicit the divine fire : at best it is an unlit lantern, an untenanted shrine. But there are two considerations to be urged on the other side. The first is that not all inspirations are of equal or nearly equal value. Bad music is not necessarily either dishonest or pedantic, it may be the genuine expression of a poor or feeble temperament (as it is, for instance, in many of our hymn tunes), and in that case it always, I think, betrays itself by some evidence of poor or feeble technique. Secondly, this doctrine of libertarianism is entirely contrary to the practice of the great masters. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, to name no others, acquired by careful labour a complete mastery over the particular media which they employed; Haydn studied for sixteen hours a day, even Mozart, for all his miraculous gifts, learnt his counterpoint not by instinct, but by discipline. It is no doubt true that they assimilated their technique until it became almost unconscious until they could take it for granted and use it as a starting point for further experiments. But the point is that they did assimilate it;
that they learned to manipulate the rebellious forms of fugue and sonata until they could do with them what they would. In short, though no amount of technical proficiency can create a great work, there can be no supremely great work without it, and we shall nearly always find that when inspiration for a moment flags or fails there will be some corresponding weakness in the form of its expression.
Now to us, whose privilege it is to listen and appreciate, this is a matter of great moment. It must have been within the experience of all of us to have been confronted by a work of some admittedly great composer which at first hearing we dimly perceived to be a masterpiece, but which, to speak candidly, caused us more bewilderment than delight. It passed by us like a flowing river of sound in which, after some desperate attempts to gain a foothold, we allowed our attention ultimately to sink and drown. The reason for this is that we did not understand the language; that we could not unravel its texture or disentangle its threads, and that therefore the innermost meaning was hidden from us. The study of technique not only gives us the pleasure of discovering the patterns and symmetries and rhymes which we had never perceivedif it did no more than this it would be abundantly worth whilebut it reveals to us the actual content of the musician's thought and its emotional and spiritual significance, which in proportion as we were ignorant appeared to be mere blur and confusion. And in this relation it must be remembered that all the noblest musical compositions are infinitethat when one has entered upon an understanding of them the vista of enjoyment is endless. Like most music-lovers, I know some of Beethoven's works by heart; I find new beauties and new felicities in them every time that I hear them afresh.
Again, musical art has an obvious and unquestionable right to its own technical terminology. It has, no doubt, in the past seriously misused this right: not that the terms in music are more abstruse or difficult than those of other pursuits, but that they are on the whole more haphazard and illiterate. There is, for example, no conceivable reason why we should any longer write our speed-marks and expression-marks in Italian: it is easier to say " louder " than " crescendo " and " a little quicker " than " poco piu allegro ";
and whatever may have been the case in earlier times, we have now earned the right of employing our own language. The words, also, which express vital points of form or structure are as a rule less precise than those of a science and less human than those of painting or poetry. But we shall find in experience that they are comparatively few and simple, readily and easily learned, and that an intelligent appreciation of music is enhanced by their acquisition. It is almost impossible, for instance, to engage without reference to them in any detailed discussion of a piece of instrumental music. If you wish to draw attention to a turn of melody or a point of harmonic colour the natural way of placing it is to say, " three bars before the second subject " or " at the end of the recapitulation "; as one places a reference in Shakespeare by naming the speaker and the scene. This is not to say that one cannot enjoy music without knowing them : it is to say that they are worth knowing and that the advantage of learning them vastly outweighs the amount of labour involved.
The second term in the definition which needs to be considered is " sound": the medium in which the art of music works. And here we are at once confronted with the question of limits. Are all sounds admissible, or those alone which can be comprised within the harmonic series ? Are we to welcome the " noise-machines" of Signer Marinetti and the " iron chains " of Professor Schonberg, or shall we draw our line at the dry rattle of Dr. Strauss's " military drum " ? Are we to base our music on the chromatic scale, as our ancestors did on the diatonic and their ancestors on the modes, or shall we, like Herr Alois Haba of Vienna, experiment in quarter-tones ? And if we advance to quarter-tones, is there any further frontier line possible? Shall we not ultimately arrive at a notation when every conceivable subdivision is in tune and the part of Ortrud be really sung, as Mr. Edmund Gurney once prefigured, by " a woman with a cracked voice and a cat obbligato " ?
These questions are by no means so easy of solution as they may appear at first sight. Take it for axiomatic that the sound in which music works must be such as gives pleasure to the earand this at least I am prepared to claimit still follows to determine whose ear shall be accepted as the standard. Some children cannot bear the note of a trumpet (Mozart could not) or the double stopping of an unaccompanied violin. Our forefathers regarded as unbearably strident and harsh various combinations of notes which we now accept as part of our current vocabulary;
we, in our turn, are wondering over " modern " harmonies which a future generation may regard as commonplace. But this much at least may be suggested as a partial solution :
first, that the adaptability of the human ear develops gradually, not per saltum, and that any attempt to force it unduly is pretty sure to be self-conscious and therefore inartistic, and secondly, that the value of a harsh or dissonant sound depends, not on its surface quality, but on its significance. A particular discord may mean absolutely nothingnot even what Plato would call an " animal noise " it may mean a momentary explosion of evil passionthe musical equivalent of a curse; or, thirdly, it may be a perfectly intelligible knot in the general texturea problem of which its context and its issue afford the solution. It is clear that our attitude towards it will be different in each of the three cases.
All arts are creative: music pre-eminently so It cannot narrate or describe or even depict: its attempts to reproduce actual sights and sounds in nature are either naivetes like the " Hailstone Chorus " of the Israel in Egypt, or jokes like Beethoven's birds, Mendelssohn's donkey and the sheep in Strauss's Don Quixote. On a higher level are the expressions not of objective scenes or occurrences but of their counterpart in our own minds, like Handel's representation of darkness, or the " open air " of the first movement in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. But none of these approach the snow-line: they all INTRODUCTORY 27
employ music as illustration, as ancillary to some purpose outside itself, and they do their art as little honour as the poets and critics, some of great name, who have regarded poetry as essentially allegorical. Music comes more nearly to its own when it stirs, and turns to finer issue, the natural emotions of the human soul, for here its creative activity begins to be more certainly apparent: but it reaches to the very topmost peak of its beauty and power in the act of sheer divine creation when form and content, emotion and expression are at once absorbed and transfigured by the power of the immanent spirit. The last number of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the slow movement of Beethoven's Choral Symphony are examples of what I mean:
Here is the finger of God, a flash of the will
Existent behind all laws, that made them and lo ! they are;
And I know not if, save in this, such gift be
allowed to man,
That out of three sounds he frame not a fourth sound, but a star.
And this brings us to the final point in our definition, the question of significant form. It will be clear from our previous discussion that we are not estimating musical significance in terms of something outside the art; we have nothing in common with those educational authorities who look forward to compiling " a musical phrase book "as one has a phrase book in French or Germanwhich shall contain the music for " Good-morning," " No, I have nothing to declare," and " Can you tell me the way to the station ? " This conception of music as a substitute for Esperanto is based on an entire and complete misunderstanding. As Mr. Heseltine says in his excellent book on Delius: " Needless as it may appear to some readers, one cannot too often reiterate and emphasise for the sake of others that music is not a translation of something other than itself, and that music cannot be translated into any other medium."
The tricks of descriptive music, to which allusion has already been made, are only on the edge and fringe of the art: they have nothing to do with its real substance, and very few of them are as good as the " ker-blinketyblunk " of Uncle Remus. There is no harm in themthere is no importance in themthey have occupied far too large a space in musical criticism. Again a man may well amuse himself if he likes by tracing a romantic story in Chopin's Ab Ballade, or seeing, as Grove did, the legend of Phaeton in the finale of Schubert's C major symphony:
these interpretations have little or nothing to do with his understanding of the music. Schumann is perfectly clear upon this point:
" A boy," he says, " will find one story in the notes, a man another, while the composer intended neither of them ": and of his own Kinderscenen he explicitly declares that the descriptive titles were added afterwards, merely as hints to the pianist.
The significance of a musical form is, indeed, analogous to what the critics call " significant line" in a picture. This does not mean a line which designates any natural object or from which any natural object can be inferred,like the folly of the Futurists who paint an eye on the canvas and bid the spectators construct the rest of the man from this slender datum,but a line which carries its own intrinsic meaning, which is determined by its own logic and follows its own principles of beauty. Only, whereas the painter's allegiance may be divided between fidelity to his line and fidelity to his subject between truth of representation and truth of decorative effectthe musician can lay his entire stress on the inherent significance of his form. In both artists alike the genuine creative impulse may be presupposed, with all that it implies of emotional and spiritual force; but given this the painter has his world to interpret, the musician has not; he is above the world.
We may take an illustration from poetry. Every line in a great poem, apart from its value as interpreting or revealing some thought of which it is the articulation, has its own flow of rhythm, its own play of vowel sounds, its own strength of construction, its own felicity of phrase. Now suppose that the meaning was not something which these embodied, but something of which they were the constituents; the line would then be not poetry but music. When Shakespeare writes
" In cradle of the rude, imperious surge,"
we think simultaneously of two things, the splendour of the versification and the majesty of the scene depicted. But when Beethoven writes the opening notes of the Fifth Symphony he is not thinking at all about " Fate knocking at the door "still less asking us to think about itbut driving at our hearts with one concentrated stroke. It is for this reason that the study of music can be much more profitably followed on the side of significant form than on that of emotional content. Each aspect has its dangers, its precipices down which the unwary are like to fall:
form misinterpreted becomes formalism, emotion unbalanced may become sentimentalism or even hysteria; but this only means that the study of art is neither for the pedant nor for the precieux. And this, it may be remarked, is true of every other pursuit as well.
Those who wish to understand music as listeners would find it greatly to their advantage if, in addition to the alphabet(names of notes, keys, marks of expression, etc.)they would learn those technical terms which express simple matter of fact: e.g.
(1) The ordinary names of the tones in a diatonic scale. The key note is called the tonic, next above this the supertonic, next the mediant, next the subdominant, next the dominant, next the submediant (a bad name, it should be super-dominant), next the leading-note, and so to the tonic again. Thus in the scale of C major C is the tonic, D the super-tonic, E the mediant, and so on up to the octave.
(2)The ordinary names of the chords in harmony. These are ugly but easy to remember: they designate the note on which the chord stands in its simplest position, the distance of the note which is furthest removed from it, and sometimes whether certain of the intervals contained are major or minor. Thus a dominant seventh is a chord of which, in its simplest position, the dominant is the lowest note, and the highest note is seven degrees removed. By convention this implies that the notes three and five degrees removed are put in as well. Thus the dominant seventh of C major is G, B, D, F, in ascending order, that of E flat major is B flat, D, F, and A flat. A few chords have special nicknames like " German Sixth ": all of which can be learned in half an hour out of an elementary book on harmony. It is possible that our modern chromatic system will require a new nomenclature: we need not trouble about that until it comes. For Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Brahms the system indicated above is sufficient.
(3)(3) The fundamental difference between harmony and counterpoint: i.e. between the vertical and horizontal aspects of part writing. Take any hymn-tune, e.g. " 0 God, our help in ages past." It can be regarded horizontally as four separate voices, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, each with a part or melody of its own, or vertically as a succession of four-note chords to which each of the voices contributes one constituent. The art of counterpoint is that of making each voice-part as interesting and melodious as possible:
the art of harmony is that of making the chords as interesting in colour and as logical in sequence as they can be made. It will be seen that they are warp and weft of the same texture, the general name of which is polyphony. But they represent different aspects, and where they clash the contrapuntal aspect is the more important.
(4) The names and structures of the more ordinary musical forms: e.g. song, madrigal, fugue, canon, and above all the forms of sonata, quartet, and symphony. For these any good dictionary of music should be consulted, such as Grove or Riemann. : i
(5) The names, sounds, and uses of the chief musical instruments: both those of chamber music and those of the orchestra. For this again musical dictionaries will be of great service; of greater still the reproduction of the instruments on a gramophone or their recognition in the orchestra itself. It is very good practice, when hearing a familiar symphony, to concentrate attention on some particular instrument and observe what it is contributing to the general effect.
(6) In addition to this the listener should make himself acquainted, so far as possible, with the best music; either through pianoforte versions or through gramophone records. The advice, as to selections, etc., given by Mr. Scholes in his " Listener's Guide to Music " is most helpful and should be followed.
(7)Last, and most important, the listener should if possible learn to read music: by which I mean not to sing or play at sight, but to read silently as one reads a novel. This, except in the case of complex modern scores, is easy to acquire with a little patience. Begin by recalling from the page some simple music (e.g. a hymn tune) which you know by heart: proceed to others which are less familiar: memorise compositions and try to realise them away from the instrument: follow symphonies or quartets with the score in your hand and read them over again afterwards while the recollection is still fresh. In no long time you will find the notes on the page as significant as words, and when you have done so you will have added a new language and a new literature to your possessions. We are not treating music fairly if we restrict our knowledge of it to the concert room: it is when we can read a Beethoven quartet " with our feet on the hob " that we have really won its friendship. I am not denying that a great deal of musical delight can be enjoyed without thisit certainly can be: but I would ask the reader to imagine how much more intimacy he would gain with Bach and Beethoven if he had the same means of access to them as to Shakespeare and Milton.