Music constitutes a world of itself, co-ordinate with the worlds of Nature, Religion and Philosophy. It is not, like the other arts, an extension of the natural order, for it is characterized by an entirely different mode of revelation. The world of Music is pre-eminently the world of harmony. The idea of harmony—unity in variety—is exhibited not alone in the blending of tones, but in the complexion of each individual tone. Sound is sensation occasioned by atmospheric vibrations acting on the auditory nerves. Vibrations recurring at regular intervals, and at certain specific rates, produce musical (harmonic) tones. Pitch is determined by rapidity of vibration. Quality depends on the prominence of certain overtones or harmonics (secondary vibrations induced by the fundamental vibration, and which blend with it and modify its effect). In music every note sustains to every other note a definite harmonic relation, according to the ratio of their respective vibrations.
Combinations of tones are agreeable or disagreeable, concordant or discordant, in proportion to the degree in which their vibrations blend.
When the fundamental vibrations conflict, the effect of dissonance is produced.
Sounds suggest all conceivable moods, all phases of emotion. No longing is too deep, no aspiration too high, no purpose too broad, to be paralleled in music. Every creature finds its most spontaneous and significant means of emotional expression in sound. The cries of wild animals, the songs of birds, and the more suggestive utterances of human speech, attest this fact. One's first impulse on experiencing intense joy or grief is to cry out. In that act emotion obtains its most direct and natural satisfaction.
With the dawn of this modern era the heart of civilization began to throb with renewed life which demanded just such expression as music alone affords.
In the Renaissance, arts which had prevailed in ancient times revived, and did their utmost to manifest this fresh inspiration; but not until the inner mysteries of life were revealed in tone harmonies, was the expression adequate. Then, for the first time in human history, Music took its rank with the fine arts. Indeed it then became virtually a new art; for, although its elementary forms were handed down from a remote period, it first appeared within this modern era as an important factor in human development.
On first thought, it may seem strange that the greatest and most marvelous of the arts should scarcely have appeared at all in those ancient civilizations among which other branches attained to such perfection. Even among the Greeks it did not reach a sufficient development to render it a worthy companion to its sister arts, for it never surpassed the forms of simple melody. Harmony, as the term is now understood, was not employed by them. Pythagoras discovered the relations of the different intervals, and demonstrated, from a scientific standpoint, the physical basis of a series of tones which practically coincides with our diatonic scale. Within this limited field the Greeks constructed simple melodies. But such a scale was ill-adapted to the development of harmony, and altogether insufficient as the basis of an art in any way comparable to our modern Music. The elaborate art-form we now possess owes its existence to the employment of a more complete system of mathematically arranged scales. Its consummation could only have been reached after centuries of slow progress; for, in technical demands and practical requirements, it rests on a purely mechanical basis, requiring time for elaboration, and involving physical discoveries as well as psychical development. Then, again, fullness and warmth of emotional feeling—qualities in which nearly all ancient races were on the whole deficient—prevail to a far greater extent in our latter-day civilization.
The effect upon music, of the modern awakening was apparent in its advance from simple, crude melodies to harmony (the combination of melodies or chords).
The awakened genius for discovery and invention soon placed the new-born art upon a practical foundation, by devising instruments suited to its more advanced requirements. Simultaneously with the growth of the ideal philosophy of Descartes, Leibnitz, Kant and Hegel, the religious awakening of the Lutheran reformation, and the marvelous achievements of the Italian Renaissance, the new art of Music found expression in the works of Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.
So mightily was the modern world stirred by the desire to become better acquainted with the essential nature of things, that the impetus was felt in all those worlds of expression.
Sculpture achieved its greatest triumphs in ancient Greece, Painting in Italy, and Music in Germany.
It was in the fourteenth century that Music began to make a radical advance beyond the simple forms in which it had been preserved, during the dark ages, mainly through the agency of the church. It then began to assume new importance, as a direct result of attempts to place it upon a substantial scientific foundation.
From that period its growth was rapid and sure. As an art, it rests on a valid basis, both from a psychological and a physiological point of view. Psychologically, it appeals to the higher human faculties, by reason of its power to embody ideas and convey them to the hearer through emotional channels. Physiologically, it reaches the brain through the auditory nerves, causing sympathetic vibrations in the bodily organism. These operations conform to unvarying natural laws; and the discovery, in modern times, of those laws has established the art on a secure and permanent foundation.
The phenomena of sound previously associated with the world of Nature afford no expression in any way comparable to musical art. A sensitive ear is capable of detecting harmonics in some waterfalls; * but such suggestions were too faint and indefinite to call forth a response from human ingenuity; in fact, they first became definitely distinguishable by the aid of modern physics. In the light of present knowledge, the songs of birds are seen to have been prophetic of the development of vocal music; but even that expression was lacking in the higher animals. Vocal music was probably evolved by slow degrees from forms of speech, being, primitively, scarcely more than inflections or modulations of the talking voice. To it was added, in time, accompaniments upon such rudely constructed instruments as were then in use. The development of instrumental music within the last few centuries has surpassed, in originality, all previous achievements in any field of art.
Hearing is the most recently evolved of the five specific senses known to exist in the animal kingdom. It surpasses the others in its qualifications as a vehicle of pure ideas. Sight and hearing are far superior as avenues through which to discern the spiritual aspect of things; and it is with these two that we have to deal in considering the fine arts. The loftiest function of hearing is exhibited in musical perception. Sound brings one nearer to the realm of pure ideas than does sight. The attractions of those outward phenomena with which one is instinctively associated in active life are less prominent in sound. The daily occupations of nearly all persons lead them to deal much more closely and carefully with distinctions in quality of color and figure than of tones; therefore the mind, being engrossed by the former, is more inclined to dwell upon them whenever they are present.
The most meaningful phenomena tend to grow commonplace when observed steadily, and lose their suggestive potency through constant familiarity. On beholding a painting or natural landscape, the average mind is inclined to linger on the plane of phenomena, instead of penetrating deeper, and discerning through them the pure ideas it is their function to disclose. But let us imagine ourselves occupied with daily pursuits requiring a more constant and intimate association with distinctions in quality of tone than of color and figure, so that musical sounds in various combinations would be present to the mind as continually as objects of vision now are, and enter as thoroughly into the practical economy of living; let us also imagine ourselves paying as little attention to relations of color and figure as we now do to tonal relations; it is clear that our minds would then be more engrossed with the phenomena of sound, and more familiar with tone effects, than with those of color and figure. The natural inference is that sight would then be the more direct avenue to the ideal realm, because our attention would be less likely to become occupied with those phenomena which, owing to the familiar relation they sustain to our every-day life, tend to interfere with the discernment of a Spiritual Reality beyond. It is possible, indeed, to become surfeited with the visions of beauty and grandeur everywhere apparent in the natural world, so common and persistent are they in every waking moment; but how infrequently is this true of musical harmony! Our ears are seldom greeted by agreeable combinations of sounds, while our eyes are continually met by attractive scenes; and, even then, how quickly our power of appreciation loses its keenness!
According to Schopenhauer, whose treatise on Music was the first satisfactory exposition of that art, from a philosophical standpoint, "The (Platonic) Ideas are the adequate objectivation of the Will. It is the end of all the arts, except music, to facilitate the cognition of the Ideas by means of the representation of single things. . . . Music, as it ignores the Ideas, does not in the least depend on the perceptible [i. e., natural] world; it ignores it unconditionally; and it could still exist, in a certain measure, even if the world were not here at all; which cannot be said of the other arts. For music is as immediate an objectivation and image of the universal Will as the world itself is, even as the Ideas also are, the diversified appearance of which constitutes the world. Thus music is by no means an image of the Ideas, as the other arts are, but an image of the Will itself,.... and therefore the effect of music is so much more powerful and penetrating than that of other arts; for these speak of shadows only, whilst it speaks of essentials. As, however, the same identical Will shows itself in the Ideas as well as in music, only in each of the two in a totally different way, there must consequently be a parallelism, an analogy, though by no means an immediate likeness, between music and between the Ideas, whose appearances in diversity and in completeness constitute the visible world."
Again, he says, music "never expresses phenomena, but solely the inner being, the essence of phenomena, the Will itself,…the inner soul of things without their body… It represents, accordingly, the metaphysics of all that is physical in the world, the thing per se, which lies behind all appearances…It gives the inmost kernel of things that precedes all formation, the very heart of things."
Each characteristic form of music should be esteemed for the idea it expresses. The essential feature of "dance music" is rhythm. A schottische may possess as great a degree of merit, of its own order, as a symphony; but its possibilities, as a vehicle of expression, must always remain far inferior to those of the higher classical forms, for its dominant suggestion is of a lower type. Purely rhythmic ideas may be clothed, incidentally, in melodies or harmonies of real excellence. Music of this class acts as a healthy stimulant and tonic to the mind, inducing nervous exhilaration or muscular relaxation that is often highly beneficial; but such music should not be substituted for that which represents more substantial qualities. Each has its province and its end to fulfill; and each should be accorded recognition on the basis of its true worth. Music possesses a sentimental value quite apart from the purely spiritual ideas it may be instrumental in conveying. Composers of the cheaper grades of so-called "popular" music commonly cater to the lower human instincts, by appealing to impulse and merely animal emotions. The baneful effect of such music is incalculable. It is a far greater menace to society than are some more generally recognized sources of evil, because it operates insidiously, and reaches the seat of character through subconscious channels. Seeds of impure, demoralizing sentiments and emotions are sown broadcast under the guise of seductive sounds. Strains calculated to produce such deleterious effects are by no means monopolized by the street organ-grinder and the dance-hall orchestra; they pervade respectable homes, churches, Sunday schools, concerts, and stage performances which often masquerade under the title of "high grade."
Melodies that are merely empty—analogous to the "Mother Goose" rhymes in literature— are far less objectionable than those which make some pretensions to seriousness, while in reality suggesting sentiments and emotions of a low order.
Considerate parents are careful that their children shall be placed under the influence of wholesome books, good companions, and healthful amusements; for the impressions—largely subconscious—acquired from those sources help to formulate character and determine the course of subsequent life. Children seldom appreciate the full significance of all that comes within their observation. Long before they are able to detect the real meaning of pictures, or comprehend the situations they represent, they are capable of absorbing something of their atmosphere. Before they think of analyzing the aims and motives of their older associates, they form attachments and discriminate in traits of character. Yet music is the most subtle and powerful of all agencies in shaping character.
It is capable of doing not only immense good, but enormous mischief as well. The craving for it is inborn in nearly all human beings. Not only has it "charms to soothe the savage breast," but it affects, in some degree, even the lower orders of creation. Certain concordant or discordant combinations are known to delight or distress animals.
Music appeals to people of all classes and conditions—savage and civilized, ignorant and educated, vicious and respectable. It flourishes alike in the slums and in the most cultured circles. It is of the utmost concern, then, whether the lower, or the higher instincts are catered to, in seeking to satisfy this hunger.
It is frequently contended that music of the best quality is too abstruse and intricate to be appreciated by the average listener; that it is ill-adapted to the needs of the general public, whose tastes are better satisfied with a less substantial sort of entertainment. A twofold misconception of the nature of music lies at the root of this argument; for it assumes that quality is in some way related to difficulty, complexity, elaborateness; and, also, that music must be understood to be enjoyed or appreciated. But it is a fact that many of the simplest airs have become immortal. Simplicity characterizes much that is grand in both Art and Nature. One need not seek long to find good music suited, in point of technical difficulty, to the capabilities of the most unpretentious player. Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and a host of other composers of high rank have furnished an inexhaustible supply of such material.
Equally erroneous is the impression that prevails to a considerable extent among all classes of people, viz., that music must be understood(comprehended intellectually) in order to be appreciated; that it is its chief function to portray or represent definite ideas by means of symbols—forms requiring interpretation. If such were the case, unless one possessed a technical knowledge of the art, and had acquired the ability to interpret its symbols, it would, indeed, be useless to expect him to derive any great measure either of pleasure or benefit from listening to performances of the highest grade. To many minds the term "classical," as applied to music, is fraught with suggestions of abstruseness or dullness. Listeners are often bored by music, simply because they regard it in a false attitude, or look for the wrong elements in it. It appeals, primarily, to the emotional, not the rational faculty. It is not necessary to interpret its forms. To enjoy and appreciate Nature, one need not be familiar with different species of plants and trees, like the botanist; or understand the structure of minerals and rock-formations, like the geologist; or even comprehend the various processes through which the Beautiful is revealed, like the physicist. No more need one be a musician, or a student of harmony, to appreciate the spirit of music.
Subconscious impressions require no explanation. In some measure, the atmosphere which pervades every work may be felt, even by those who are entirely ignorant of the formal value of its subject matter. To be sure, knowledge of harmony is essential to the clearest comprehension of the forms in which the Spirit is embodied; and so, in some respects, it materially enhances one's appreciation of the art; but it is not the chief consideration.
Music constitutes a complete world of itself, with a distinct mode of manifestation. Its forms are wholly different from those of the natural and the thought worlds; but it is often easy to trace parallel expressions of the same idea under their different forms. Music of a merely descriptive character, which undertakes to suggest definite scenes from the natural world, so that they may be distinctly traced by the imagination, does not reach the highest level. The imitative function in man is properly subordinate to the creative. Francis Hueffer writes of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony: "He brings the songs of birds, the thunder, and the murmuring brook before the ear, not as a portrait of nature, but as at once a suggestion and embodiment of the feelings which would be called up by them." One should not try, in that sense, to understand music. The profoundest harmonies cannot be translated into definite forms of thought or natural images. One need only surrender to it, become passive, and let it speak as Nature speaks. People do not shun Nature under the pretext that her language is too complex and abstruse. Even uncultured people receive inspiration from the beautiful and sublime.
The phrases "popular music" and "music for the masses" are frequently used to distinguish music which satisfies an inferior order of taste from that which appeals to the more refined taste. But such a method of discriminating is artificial. It is considered expedient to elevate public taste in other art matters by exhibiting to the general public, works of the highest grade. No one advocates filling museums and galleries with inferior productions on the ground that the current standard of popular taste will not enable the masses to appreciate works of greater intrinsic merit. In discussing music of genuine worth, one is first impressed with the prevailing fondness for melody (tunes, airs). This form reveals life in its linear aspect, as a series of consecutively related experiences. But, in its higher phases, life includes far more than that; it possesses breadth and depth, as well as length.
The profoundest harmonies afford a comprehensive view of its fullness and richness. They reveal it as many, yet one; as a struggle of contending forces, yet governed by an all-inclusive purpose; as often discordant and imperfect when viewed in detail, but harmonious and satisfactory as a whole.
The ecstasy of the higher vision transfigures the tones, so that we obtain through them an insight into life, which enables us to appreciate its external and internal relations, its variety and unity, its individuality and universality, its finitude and infinity. One who hears with the physical ear recognizes nothing but sounds; but one who hears with the spiritual ear appreciates ideas.
Music possesses both suggestive and stimulative potencies. Its constant flow of suggestiveness arouses the imaginative faculty from a state of passivity, so that one's thought soars aloft in regions of the highest ideals. It lends wings to thought, which enable it to rise to higher planes, where, beyond the border line of definite suggestion, it is released in the realm of spiritual freedom, and left to its own originality, independent of the guidance of distinct forms. It sometimes fulfills this function best when heard at a distance, beyond the range of perfect audibility. The individual consciousness, overflowing its finite limits, rises to the plane of the Oversoul, where one beholds his deeper Self as in a mirror. As his thought transcends the phenomenal plane, he knows the essence of all things to be an eternal Spiritual Reality. From this plane of consciousness, the real world is seen to be not less, but more, than phenomenal. The phenomena of life are transfigured until only the spiritual substance of things is recognizable. As the phenomenal aspect of life disappears, one finds himself beyond the pale of phantoms and sense illusions, standing face to face with all that is real in his Being—the spiritual. In the realm of the Absolute the conditioning factors of time and space do not prevail. Were we always to experience the spiritual consciousness, there would be no occasion for denying the reality of phenomenal Being. We would be just as observing of surrounding incidents; nothing would escape our attention. The outer panorama would become so transparent that the eternal Reality, concealed from the material vision by the mask of sense illusions, would always be clearly in view; the material veil would be too thin to obstruct it. While one's thought is completely absorbed in the transient, while he sees nothing more in a life, while his attention is engrossed with sense perception, the material mirage appears to be the reality of realities. But let him ascend to higher ground, from which he can obtain a comprehensive view of life, and look down on the finite scene from above, and the whole aspect of things changes. Conditions that seemed all-important fade into insignificance, and assume merely incidental values.
Most of the fine arts represent life, not in its total aspect, but in its fragmentary phases— never finished, but always becoming, evolving, growing, reaching out, striving to attain. Architecture and Music alone are capable of revealing its total aspect in rounded-out, complete works. In Music the innermost secrets of the heart are disclosed in the truest proportions of harmony, or relation to the whole Being.
In the music-drama, Wagner has essayed to present ideas simultaneously in poetry, scenic art, and music, so that they shall command the undivided attention of all the perceptive faculties. Ideally, the music-drama represents the highest achievement of Art, because it attempts to express the profoundest human experiences in the most comprehensive manner. It is an advance beyond the spoken drama, in so far as music has power to awaken deeper, more subtle feelings than words. A similar universal art form was sought in the Greek tragedy; but the crude, undeveloped condition of instrumental music at that period prevented its employment as a substitute for the chorus, which served as a background for the action, and furnished a sort of commentary on the play by intonating the deeper sentiments of the actors.
Schopenhauer says,—"The delicate relation in which music stands to the true nature of all things will explain the fact that if suitable music be heard to any scene, action, event, environment, it will seem to reveal the secret sense of these, and act as the most correct and clearest comment upon them."
Yet, important as are its achievements, the music-drama falls far short of a perfect standard in actual performance; for even though fulfilling its intended purpose, so far as its musical features are concerned, it is evident that in stage art much must be left to the imagination, even after the exercise of due care and ingenuity in regard to the various devices employed. But this fact only emphasizes the importance of presenting to the senses an illusion as complete as possible, that the imagination may not be continually challenged by them.
An invaluable, and at the same time almost universally neglected, opportunity for becoming acquainted with the deeper life of the soul may be found in improvisation. Here the deeper Self enjoys perfect freedom of expression, so that the heart's choicest treasures are poured out in the most lavish fashion. No method of self-development exceeds in importance this simple indulgence in intuitive expression. It opens the door to a world entirely foreign to most lives, calling into activity at once the perceptive and creative faculties, and adding immeasurably to one's appreciation of what is real in experience.
The value of music as a therapeutic agent has long been a subject of more or less speculation and practical experiment. In "Music and Morals," Mr. Haweis has hinted at certain possibilities in this direction. Music has frequently been employed, with highly satisfactory results, to alleviate suffering and dispel the morbid atmosphere which envelops sick-rooms, hospitals, and sanitariums.
Suitable music is a sure antidote for "the blues," if one is sufficiently receptive to its influence. Its importance as a remedial agent cannot be properly estimated until the general public shall have been educated to a better appreciation of its merits. The healing potency of Nature is universally recognized, while that of Music is known only to the few. Physicians have testified that "under the influence of certain kinds of music the nerve cells, if depleted or too relaxed, may be stimulated to more vigorous action. Music of an opposite character will diminish too great nervous activity, and tend to produce a condition of peace and restfulness."
Evidently, Musical Therapeutics offers a wide and little cultivated field for usefulness. The claims of music as a healing medium are becoming more clearly understood in the light of "the new philosophy of health."
Spiritual poise is the basis of health. Health is wholeness, harmony. The root of disease (dis-ease) is discord, inharmony. The world of Music is pre-eminently the world of harmony. Finite thought, when absorbed in selfish desires, merely personal interests, becomes out of tune with the Universal, and ceases to blend with the other tones in the symphony of life.
Then we need to assume a standpoint outside the realm of finite things, and see each part in its true relation to the whole. This we do when our attention is completely absorbed in the greatest music. The proper adjustment of finite relations ensues, and our lives assume their normal proportions.