From Grieg to Brahms Studies of Some Modern Composers and Their Art
FROM GRIEG TO BRAHMS
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FROM GRIEG TO BRAHMS
STUDIES OF SOME MODERN
COMPOSERS AND THEIR ART
DANIEL GREGORY MASON
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
Copyright, 1902, by
THE OUTLOOK COMPANY
Published November, 1902.
To my uncle
Dr. William Mason
who has won the gratitude
of lovers of music in America
I dedicate these studies
with affection and respect
ęMusic may be hard to understand,but musicians are men;Ľso remarked a friend of minewhen I was first planningthese essays. The sentencesums up very happily a truth I have constantlyhad in mind in writing them. As allmusic, no matter what its complexity on thetechnical side, is in essence an expression of personalfeeling, and as the qualities of a man'spersonality show themselves not only in hisworks, but in his acts, his words, his face, hishandwriting and carriage even, it has seemednatural and fruitful, in these studies, to seekacquaintance with the musicians through acquaintancewith the men.
But personal expression depends not alone[Pg viii]on the personality of the artist; it depends alsoon the resources of art, which in turn are theproduct of a long, slow growth. Accordingly,if we would understand the individual composers,we must have a sense of the scheme intowhich they fall, the great universal evolutionof which they are but incidents. It is for thisreason that I have tried, in the introductoryessay on The Appreciation of Music, to describesome of the fundamental principles of the art,and to sketch in their light the general movementof musical history, in order to give thereader a perspective sense, a bird's-eye view ofthe great army of artists in which the suprememasters are but leaders of battalions and regiments.Without this sense it is impossible trulyto place or justly to estimate any individual.
At the end of the introduction I apply theprinciples worked out to determining in a generalway how the half dozen composers to bestudied are related to modern music as a whole.My result is that although they are practicallycontemporary, they are by no means peers inthe scope and significance of their work. If wearrange them in the order of their influence onart, which depends upon their power both to[Pg ix]assimilate previous resources and to add newones, we must pass ęfrom Grieg to Brahms.Ľ
The purpose of the last essay in the book,on The Meaning of Music, will be obviousenough. Just as the introductory essay tries tosketch the general musical environment, as determinedby basic principles and developed inhistory, in relation to which alone the individualsdiscussed can be understood, so the epilogueseeks to suggest that still larger environmentof human feeling and activity on whichmusic, like everything else, depends for its vitality.The first essay considers music as a mediumfor men, the last considers life as a mediumfor music.
It would be impossible to acknowledge here allthat these studies, particularly the first, owe to thewritings of others. Perhaps the books whichhave most influenced my treatment of musicalśsthetics are Dr. George Santayana's ęSense ofBeautyĽ and Dr. C. Hubert H. Parry's ęEvolutionof the Art of Music,Ľ though I have gotmuch help also from Dr. William James's ęPrinciplesof Psychology,Ľ from Dr. Josiah Royce'sbooks, from Mr. Edward Carpenter, and ofcourse from Helmholtz, Gurney, Mr. W. H.[Pg x]Hadow, and the other standard writers on musicaltheory. In gathering the biographicalmaterial I have had much cordial and skillfulhelp from Miss Barton, of the Boston PublicLibrary, for which I here record my thanks.
August 23, 1902.
NOTE TO THE THIRD IMPRESSION
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford has pointedout an error in the story told of Brahmson page 178. It was not the CambridgeUniversity authorities who invited Brahmsto write a new work, but the managers ofthe Leeds Festivals, who, after long neglectof his already printed compositions, askedhim, in 1887, to write them a new one;whereupon he returned the answer described.
New York City,
May 10th, 1904.
|I||INTRODUCTION: THE APPRECIATION OF MUSIC||1|
|VI||PETER ILYITCH TSCHAŌKOWSKY||149|
|VIII||EPILOGUE: THE MEANING OF MUSIC||203|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|BRAHMS AT THE PIANO|
From a charcoal drawing by W. von Beckerath
THE APPRECIATION OF MUSIC
However interesting may be thestudy of an art through the personalitiesof the artists who haveproduced it, and such study, sinceart is a mode of human expression,is indeed essential, it must be supplementedby at least some general knowledge of the longcontinuous evolution in which the work of themost brilliant individual is but a moment, aphase. The quality of a man's work in art, andespecially, as will be seen in a moment, in music,depends not alone on the depth of his characterand the force of his talent, but also largely on thetechnical resources he owes to others, on themeans for expressing himself that he finds readyto his hand. Whatever his personal powers orlimitations, the value of his work will be determined[Pg 4]not more by these than by the helpsand hindrances of his artistic inheritance.
The great edifice of art, in fact, is like thoseGothic cathedrals on which generations of mensuccessively labored; thousands of commonworkmen hewed their foundation stones; finerminds, architects, smiths, brass founders, glassmakers and sculptors, wrought and decoratedthe superstructures; and the work of each,whatever his personal skill and devotion, wasvaluable only because it built upon and addedto that of all the rest. The soaring spires arefirmly based on blocks of stone ploddingly adjusted;the windows, often of such a perfectbeauty that they seem created rather than constructed,had nevertheless to be built up bit bybit; and all the marvelous organism of pillars,arches and buttresses is so delicately solid, soprecariously stable, that had one stress been miscalculated,one joint inaccurately made, thewhole would collapse. So it is with the edificeof art, and particularly with that of music, whichdepends for its very material on the labors ofmusicians. Pigments, clay, marble, the materialsof the plastic arts, exist already in the world;but the whole ladder of fixed tones on which[Pg 5]music is built is the product of man's śstheticsense, and had to be created slowly and laboriouslyby many generations of men. The successionsof chords which every banjo playerstrums in his accompaniments were the subjectof long trial by the mediśval composers. Thehymn tune that any boy can write is modeledon a symmetrical scheme of phrases developedby countless experimenters. It took men centuriesto select and arrange the eight tones ofthe ordinary scale, and centuries more to learnhow to combine them in chords. And the mosteloquent modern works depend on this longevolution of resources just as inevitably as theGothic spire rests on the hewn stones so carefullylaid. In the art, as in the cathedral, theseen rests upon the unseen, the beautiful uponthe solid, the complex upon the simple, the newupon the old. The product of a thousand artists,music is as dependent on each as the coralreef on the tiny indispensable body of each insect;and on the other hand the individualmusician, whatever his ability, is great only ashe uses the equipment his fellows have prepared—ęthegreatest is the most indebted man.Ľ
If, then, we would justly value the half dozen[Pg 6]composers who have done most for music in ourday, we must add to our understanding of themas persons a knowledge of the general developmentin which they play a part; we must gainsome sense of that great process of musicalgrowth from which they inherit their resources,to which they make their various contributions,and in relation to which alone they can be fairlycompared and appreciated. After examiningthe general course of musical history, ascertainingsome fundamental principles, and applyingthese principles to our special judgments, weshall be able to perceive the greatest musiciansof our day in their relations, and to get a perspectiveview of modern music in which theyshall take their proper places.
If we wish to get an idea of primeval music,to see from what impulses it took rise, we haveonly to study the musical activities of childrenand savages, in whom we have primeval manmade contemporary, the remote past broughtconveniently into the present to be observed.When we make such a study we find that bothchildren and savages express their feelings by[Pg 7]gestures and cries, that under the sway of emotionthey either dance or sing. To them quiet,silent feeling is impossible. Are they joyful,they leap and laugh; are they angry, they strikeand shout; are they sad, they rock and moan.Moreover, we can discriminate the kinds of feelingthat are expressed by these cries and gestures.Roughly speaking, bodily movement is the naturaloutlet of active vitality, of the joy of lifeand the lust of living, while it is the more contemplativeemotions—love, grief, reverie, devotion—thatfind vocal utterance. The war-dancesand revels of savages, accompanied bydrum and tomtom, are gesticulatory; their love-songsand ululations over the dead are vocal.In the same way children in their moments ofenthusiasm are wont to march about shoutingand stamping in time, all their limbs galvanizedwith nervous force; and it is when the wave ofenergy has passed and they sit on the floor engrossedin blocks or dolls that they sing to themselvestheir curious undulating chants. Even inourselves we can observe the same tendencies,checked though they be by counter-impulses inour more complex temperaments: when we aregay we walk briskly, clicking our heels in time[Pg 8]and perhaps whistling a catch; in our dreamierhours we are quiet, or merely hum a tune underour breath. Thus through all human natureruns the tendency to vent feeling, activeand contemplative, in those bodily movementsand vocal utterances which underlie the twogreat generators of music, dance and song.
Such activities, however, are by no means asyet dance and song. At first they are no morethan mere reflex actions, as spontaneous andunthinking as the ęOwĽ of the man who stubshis toe. The emotion is felt, and out comesthe gesture or cry; that is all. It is the organism'sway of letting off steam. It is not expression,not being prompted by a desire to communicatethe feeling, but merely by the impulseto be unburdened of it. Before there can betrue expression or communication, there mustbe two more links added to the chain of whichthese automatic activities are only the first.The second link is imitation. According to atheory widely exploited in recent years, we tendto imitate whatever we see another do. Withchildren the tendency is so strong that a largepart of their time and energy is devoted toelaborate impersonation and make-believe, and[Pg 9]the entire basis of their education is acquiredthrough this directly assimilative faculty. Inadults it is less active, but every sensitive personknows how difficult it is not to imitate foreignaccents, stammering, and other petty mannerisms,and few are so callous that they can withstandthe infection of strong stimuli like thegestures and cries of emotion. The wailingbaby in the street car, who moves all the otherbabies within hearing to wail also (if they be notalready at it independently); the dog bayingthe moon until all within