A glance backward over the course of music’s evolution suffices to
show that, until in very recent times, it furnishes no pregnant data
for the historian. The first era of music’s evolution began before the
advent of historic man, for the earliest races of whom we know anything
had a well-defined appreciation of its significance, but no noteworthy
landmarks appear until after music came in touch with modern culture;
indeed, no great advancement is traceable until after the invention of
notation. The first record of melodies produced is supposed to have
been made in the fourth century (A.D. ),–viz., that of three Greek
hymns,–to Apollo, Nemesis, and Calliope,–which, however, possess
meagre means of proving their authenticity. From this shadowy period
until harmonies enter the field, nearly a thousand years later, the
historian finds no fruitful material, no verified accomplishments.
The march of material events was amply recorded, but melodies were
passed from mouth to mouth and ear to ear, necessarily changing
their outlines in the process, for the line that connects memory and
expression seems, in most of humankind, to run so near that which
leads from imagination to expression, as to engender inaccuracy in
transmission. (This crossed-line influence is recognizable in the
productions of most composers. Memories become entangled in their
fancies.) Although our modern melody has doubtless come down to us
through long lines of heritage, yielding to the prevailing influences
of each successive stage in transmission, there is no statistical light
on its line of development.
It would be interesting to know in what form the first musical
intuition manifested itself, and then to trace an unbroken chain of
cause and effect from that first manifestation to date, but that
knowledge would not materially benefit music, which is the only art
whose career does not follow well-defined cycles,–the features of
periods reproducing themselves with the recurrence of conditions.
In sculpture, poetry, and architecture we have seasons of reverting
to the antique, and with good results. These arts dealt with tangible
material, could be kept present to the eye and mind, and therefore
developed quickly. We return to their ancient forms, so restful in
their conformity to natural adjustment, for relief from the tireless
ingenuity of modern producers, and to find bases for new flights.
Music is, however, so essentially intangible that it required ages
to discover sufficient of its underlying principles to afford the
foundation for an art. Nothing within our ken has been as slow in
evolving, and yet nothing has shown such an unwavering tendency
forward and upward. These characteristics, and its insidious influence
upon man’s nature, entitle it to be called the divine art. It is in
course of evolution from its original germ, but the outlines of its
early technical forms have no significance for the nineteenth-century
For the above reasons statistics will be avoided when they are not
essential in locating and verifying conditions. Some periods were too
influential in broadening and defining the scope of musical expression
to be ignored. I shall endeavor to make my theories in regard to the
origin and growth of music accord with its inherent qualities, as well
as with man’s devious and changing nature. The greater the music the
more direct is its appeal to our imaginations, and the stronger its
effect upon our emotions. Each intrinsically great composition has its
distinguishing mood or temperament, which is the sequential expression
and perpetuation of an emotion. This mood is first announced by the
chosen themes, and then its varied phases and the cumulative intensity
essential to sustained expression are secured through the logical
manipulation of these themes.
I would divide music into two classes, natural and artificial. The
latter class is, as the name assigned to it implies, a mechanical
combination of musical means, the result of purely intellectual
processes, incited by will force, and not by inspiration. It lacks all
reason for being, and I shall dismiss it without further ceremony. It
is to natural music, which springs from our imaginations, is formulated
for purpose by intellect, appeals to the sympathies, and sways the
emotions, that I shall devote my attention. The music of the barbarous
races, although developed little beyond the initial stage, is adapted
in its character to their habits and sensibilities, and is among them
quite as powerful an agency for stimulating the passions as is our
nineteenth-century music among the people of this Western civilization.
Their musical exercises are purely emotional, and therefore natural.
Natural music is composed of two species, that which is earnest and
edifying, and that which is entertaining only. These diverse growths
are equally spontaneous, and each develops form, substance, and
proportions in keeping with the intellectual soil by which it is
The world requires that music shall suit its varying moods. Some of
Johann Strauss’ waltzes are quite as genuine music as are Beethoven’s
symphonies, and each in its own way contributes to the pleasure and
benefit of mankind. Which would be the greater loss, were it blotted
out of existence, is unquestionable, for the resultant deprivation must
be measured by the comparative numbers who would feel the lack of each.
The great majority of the public, and even some of music’s devotees,
derive more pleasure from entertaining than from earnest (so-called
classical) music. This is partly because earnest music is quite often
abstruse, requiring well-directed mental effort to understand its full
significance; but a more generally prevailing reason for this condition
(especially when dance music is concerned) is to be found in its
cheering and exhilarating effect.
I think it pure affectation for musical persons to express a lack of
respect for a good piece of dance music. A large percentage of those
who do so are not sincere. They fear to discredit their appreciation
of the classical, thinking wrongly that there would be something
incongruous in liking both. The artist’s ideals should embrace the
whole gamut of human feeling, and music that strikes our sensibilities
at any point in this line is genuine, whether it be a symphony, a love
song, or a waltz.
If music be the language of the emotions, its germs must be those
sounds through which joy, grief, love, fear, rage, wonder, and longing
find natural, unpremeditated, and often involuntary expression. The
fact that the import of these sounds, whether produced by man, beast,
or bird, is unmistakable, has led some writers to accord music the
honor of having been the initial means of intercourse between members
of the human family,–the original language. This is hardly consistent,
for life is mostly unrhythmic monotone, punctuated only here and there
by episodes fruitful in musical germs.
Scientific observation has established the fact that all of the higher
species of living things have forms of vocal intercommunication. Like
human beings, animals have forms of speech comporting with their
degrees of intelligence and needs, but quite apart from these forms,
they and man have mutually intelligible codes of emotional expression.
These codes are not identical in less essential details, nor are they
equally comprehensive, but they spring from a common source. They vary
in character according to the qualities of instinctive feeling, refined
or coarse, that dominate the creatures that employ them.
The lowest grade of animal life which possesses vocal apparatus is
susceptible of but three emotions–anger, longing, and fear–in such
measure as to elicit expression. The higher grades feel joy, love,
sorrow, anger, fear, and longing.
Music has significance only when fraught with messages from the
composer to the hearer. Therefore those sounds which most clearly
voice strong emotions are the most pregnant musical germs. Isolated
shouts of triumph, rage, and joy, or cries of pain, fear, and entreaty,
appeal to our sensibilities, but they do not suggest music, although
its line of development from these primal elements is traceable. It
began with the first intellectual recognition of the adequacy of tonal
expression, when those sounds which had been involuntarily produced as
the result of sensations, were placed by the human mind in the category
of expressive means.
At this point our germs came under the influence of deliberate purpose.
Intellect took spontaneous shouts, cries, and moans in hand, and has
gradually endowed them with continuity, life pulsation (rhythm), and
_form_; has made them express sentiments surcharged with emotions,
creating a definitely significant atmosphere (_stimmung_). This
pervading atmosphere or mood, which is a vital element in successful
musical effort, must be in no wise confounded with the situations
incident to and arising through the descriptive (_program_) composer’s
art. The first is personal, a heart mood; the second is impersonal, a
From this first step in musical evolution intellect has been more and
more closely associated with emotion, as the composer’s intentions have
become more definite and his _forms_ more extended.
Music’s progress has not been uniform, for it is most sensitive, and
the conditions have often been unfavorable. It has followed, to a
great degree, the tidal fluctuations of refinement and fine sensibility
in the masses; for although its growth is dependent upon certain
conditions, these necessary conditions, if confined within narrow
limits, or when found only in isolated persons, will not suffice.
It must breathe a free air, full of sympathetic feeling and impulse,
and it must have a broad, deep soil in which to spread its roots, for
it aspires heavenward, up through the material into the ideal.
The growth of music from its initial stage to an art is quite
analogous, except in time consumed, to the growth of each talent to
maturity, or of each musical conception to full expression. They all
move on towards realization, impelled by art instinct and imagination.
The composer of to-day has a legendary past, full of romance and
heart-throbs, and a warm, sympathetic present, to stimulate his fancy,
but it required ages of joy, sorrow, love, and culture to quicken and
refine man’s stoical nature. The soil which nourishes our imaginations
has been made fertile by the blood and tears of countless generations.