Although some of the attributes of our art have received repeated
mention in previous chapters, I feel that a short summary of their
distinguishing qualities might serve to throw the outlines of my sketch
into clearer relief. I shall seek this background without resorting to
Before undertaking this task I should like to emphasize the
oft-announced fact that music is a thing apart. It, like language and
the other arts, follows lines that lead from individuality to outside
intelligence. In the case of music, these lines start in the innermost
recess of the composer’s emotional nature, and connecting with lines
that lead through our intellects into the equally secret chambers of
our natures, bring to us sentiments intelligible, but too intimate to
Civilized nations have long associated rhythms and moods,–_i.e._,
a marked four-quarter measure has always been characteristic of the
march, etc., but rhythm, although it is music’s heart-pulsation, is
only the metre for musical thought.
Scientists teach us that certain sounds are adapted to conjunctive use
as chords because of the mathematical relation existing between the
vibrations, of which they are the audible results. They go on from this
beginning through the gamut of musical learning, and close without
having given us a key to interpretation; so music is, and must remain,
an untranslatable language of the soul, producing effects and inducing
emotions, using the intellect as a medium only.
Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Music which is translatable is
necessarily of a low order.” This sentiment is true, and it voices
a fine sense of music’s nature and limitations, remarkable in a
layman, for there exists a disposition to pull the creations of the
great masters down to earth, and to make them tell tales of earthly
Music’s purity, strength, and beauty are always sacrificed through
attempts to materialize it, for great music results from the natural
development and the felicitous expression of characteristic musical
thought, and not in the ingenious tonal illustrations of scenes or
sentiments, which have been, or might better be, expressed in words,
because of their material character.
Pure, complete conceptions cannot take form in other than sensitive
natures; sensitive to the influences of life’s surroundings, receiving
impressions from the bird’s song, the flower’s perfume, the storm’s
might, the mountain’s grandeur, the rippling stream, the peaceful
valley, and filled, at least for the time, with love for God and man;
nor could such conceptions pass to expression through intellects
that had not been tempered, refined, and broadened to grasp all the
resources that tonal science offers.
It is in artificial music only,–born of purpose and not of
inspiration,–or in the work of unripe musicians, that science obtrudes
itself. In other words, when the means are noticeable, they have
either been unskillfully employed, or the composer has been actuated
by the ambition to display scholarly qualities regardless of æsthetic
How often we hear works in which any possible sparks of sensibility
and spontaneity have been smothered beneath loads of counterpoint and
thematic development, which are devoid of significance because not
evolved in logical sequence! Drawing and anatomy are to painting and
sculpture, and grammar, rhetoric, and metre are to poetry, what musical
science is to musical art, inasmuch as in each the capacity to produce,
or to appreciate what others have produced, is largely proportioned to
one’s knowledge of these structural laws.
Temperament, natural endowments, culture, and habit play such important
rôles in creating individual conceptions of beauty that we can only
consider as our criterion the judgment of people existing in our own
The first essential of beauty is symmetry. A rose cannot be beautiful
unless gracefully formed and poised. The Creator’s hand may have
tinted it incomparably, may have distilled the daintiest fragrance for
its portion, but these will avail naught if it has inherited ungraceful
proportions, or if the world has distorted it during its period of
As the rose requires color and perfume to perfect its charms, so each
animate and inanimate creation in this world requires its suitable
accessories to symmetry.
According to our standard, woman should have a lithe, plastic form,
with fluctuating color and an all-pervading fragrance of intellectual
modesty; whereas man should have a sinewy form, bold and strong,
the color of perfect health, and the fragrance of intellectual
fearlessness. Each must possess clearly defined individuality.
God’s creations are never exact duplicates, and still we have numerous
beautiful roses and women and Apollo-like men, each with appropriate
attributes, and each satisfying the æsthetic taste of some one person
or class of persons, because of the affinity to that object of the
personal ideal which was implanted in this person or these persons by
God, and which has been nurtured by conditions of life.
As in everything else that lays claim to beauty, so in music, symmetry
must underlie all other attributes. The laws regulating musical
symmetry are so rigid, when viewed from one stand-point, and are
so elastic when viewed from another and higher, that it is not at
all strange that young composers stand aghast when they reach the
neutral point of receptivity from which these apparently contradictory
conditions first manifest themselves. But these conditions are
not really contradictory, for prescribed form is but a properly
proportioned and adjusted skeleton, an outlining framework, subject to
such modifications as will adapt it to the character of our schemes.
These modifications must not, however, involve the use of eccentric
lines, or the omission of essential members of the body musical, for
such action would result in malformations.
The composer, having articulated his form, clothes it in such melodic
and harmonic material, moulded into such shape, as will realize his
fancy’s ideal. The outcome of exhaustive knowledge, directed with
justifiable freedom, is musical symmetry.
The next attribute is, as in the case of the rose, color; which in
music is more or less attractive according to the richness of the
material applied and the artistic skill and care bestowed upon its
There are several sources to which the tone painter may resort for
what might be termed primary colors,–viz., the human voice, the
characteristic qualities of instruments, harmonic compounds, and
rhythm, the combining and blending of these primary colors so as to
produce the most effective shade for each episode, not only when
considered by itself, but also in its relations to the whole panoramic
succession of the finished picture, is the problem that so few solve.
Most composers seem to feel quite satisfied if they succeed in
startling us with uncommon combinations, however crude and irrelevant.
Next comes sentiment, which is to music what fragrance is to the
rose, and what intellectuality is to woman. All three would be hollow
mockeries without this parallel endowment. A piece of music must
express a human desire, a belief, or an emotion, otherwise it is but
These three attributes–symmetry, color, and sentiment–are at the
command of all talented musicians, but the all-pervading individuality
that so adjusts form, so arranges color, and gives such adequate
expression to each shade of feeling as to create natural but unique
tone pictures, is possessed by few composers of any given generation.
So-called original music may be nothing more than the fruit of good
taste displayed in the arrangement of laboriously sought peculiarities
of means and modes, and it is therefore only outwardly individual; but
music whose themes spring from a pronounced individual feeling, which
feeling moulds its form and makes each contributive detail conform to
the spirit of the initial impulse, is truly original. Individual music
is then radically original, but original music is not necessarily
A spark of individual genius, because of its clean brilliancy, sends
out its rays into illimitable space; whereas a whole bonfire of
purposeful eccentricities curtains its flames with non-radiating
elements, illuminating but a small field.
Now we must step backward beyond that point where science begins to
shed her light upon natural laws. What agency produces life, starts
and keeps in motion the machinery of our bodies, and places a soul
behind our features? The same agency must guide us in the conception
of musical ideas, or they will lack all living elements. This power
is God: God in us,–a well-spring of inspiration for those whose
susceptibilities are sufficiently acute to feel its influence.
Science can teach us to produce rich harmonic successions and
instrumental colors, but it cannot impart the magical power
of spontaneous and sequential growth that characterizes great
compositions, nor can it show us how to identify the spirit which
pervades such works. Any one can prepare himself to weigh the
intellectual properties of a musical work, but the spirit which
these properties are supposed to clothe will not materialize for
unsympathetic souls. Herein exists the reason for differences of
opinion entertained by cultured and honest critics.
Some works possessing all the attributes of greatness must be often
heard before they begin to enlist our sympathies. Others, equally
inspired, fail to awaken responsiveness in certain persons. Differently
constituted natures cannot be expected to vibrate in unison, and as
real music is soul vibration made audible, it seeks responsiveness in
our natures, as any given tone lays hold of objects whose vibrations
are sympathetic, causing them to emit consonant sounds.
The impression made by music can only be similar even–in character
and intensity–where the hearers are equally endowed and cultured,
and are equally conditioned mentally to surrender themselves to its
influence. As long as each member of the human family is distinguished
by individuality, so long will the impressions made by the intangible
elements in art be diverse.
Suggestiveness is the highest quality with which a poet, an orator,
a painter, a sculptor, or a musician can endow his productions.
Its existence implies a clear conception, rooted in sentiment and
adequately expressed through adaptable means, but well within the line
of demarcation which separates logical terseness from redundancy.
Who can listen to Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, or Wagner and not find
himself in a dreamland, peopled not so much by children of the great
master’s brain, as by the offspring of his own fancy? These results
are the fruits of suggestiveness.
Routine often leads to diffuseness; the lack of it always results in
illogical and inadequate expression; but routine directed by genius
seldom fails to discover the vital line which marks the boundary of
completeness. On one side of this line we have inland waters, flowing
from the author’s fancy: on the other, and fed therefrom, the open sea
of semi-conscious cerebration, with its capricious winds and tidal
If a writer succeed in enlisting our sympathies, the flow of his
thoughts will impart the impetus requisite to carry us beyond this
line; but here his direct influence ceases, for the stream of his
fancies becomes merged in the ocean of each of our lives’ memories,
hopes, and experiences, and each having received an impulse comporting
with his receptivity and habits of mind, sails away upon his course
propelled by unfettered imagination.
A symphony is like an epic poem; its salient points rather than its
rounded whole appeal to the average reader or listener. The striking
episodes of unfamiliar compositions in large form, are prone to come
out into undue prominence, and so blind us to their true significance
as phases of sequential development. The sustained effort, and
experience demanded by a symphony, are the supreme tests of a composer.
We therefore have no right to an opinion in regard to the merits or
demerits of a large earnest work until study and hearing have, in our
understanding, joined its episodes and given them importful continuity.
Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Wagner were endowed with great
talent, which indefatigable energy advanced to genius. They worked
upon a plane far above other men. We cannot hope to feel what they felt
while creating, but we can work, the while knowing that as we approach
their level in knowledge and experience our minds will better assist
our understanding of their conceptions. Their joys, their sorrows,
their triumphs, their every sentiment should find response in our
hearts; but the impression made by music can only be distinct after
we have made ourselves acoustically receptive, after our natures have
become attuned like æolian harps to responsiveness when waves of melody
strike upon them.
Our minds can be sounding-boards, which gather and reflect upon our
souls the tone pictures we hear. A wooden surface must be smooth,
properly formed, and perfectly poised, or it will not collect, focus,
and reflect sound effects. In the same way our mental sounding-boards
must be properly prepared, or they will not collect details and reflect
sentiments. This preparation involves the use of all available means
for shaping, refining, and poising. The earnest study of any branch of
learning broadens, and the contemplation of the beautiful in nature and
art quickens, the perceptions.
Pedantry–another name for self-sufficient ignorance–will warp and so
distort our reflector as to mar its efficiency, making it unjust alike
to the subject and to us.
The ear should be capable of transmitting correctly, and if possible in
detail. Some persons are endowed with absolute pitch. These fortunates,
if they persist in careful listening, can become able to follow an
intricate composition, in its modulations, thematic development,
etc., more easily, as well as more accurately, through hearing than
through reading the printed page. This ability marks a long stride
towards sympathy with the composer, especially as its exercise involves
undivided attention to the subject in hand.
The absence of absolute pitch is no indication of lack of talent,
and those who cannot acquire it have no reason for discouragement.
Every ordinarily gifted student can educate his hearing to recognize
intervals (seconds, thirds, etc.) and the tendency of chords, as
based on the relations existing between the tones of which they are
composed–to each other and to the key.
We should strive to make ourselves good mediums. Refined creations
cannot appeal to crude natures. The savage, although sometimes
possessing poetic instincts, prefers his own music, with its monotonous
weirdness, to that which more civilized communities can offer. Our
right to pass judgment upon others’ creations will therefore depend
largely on the distance we are removed from the savage in the process