Music: An Art and a Language

By Walter Raymond Spalding | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Music: an Art and a Language


IN approaching the study of any subject we may fairly expect that this subject shall be defined, although some one has ironically remarked that every definition is a misfortune. Music-lovers, however, will rejoice that their favorite art is spared such a misfortune, for it can not be defined. We know the factors of which music is constituted, rhythm and sound; and we can trace the historic steps by which methods of presentation and of style have been so perfected that by means of this two-fold material the emotions and aspirations of human beings may be expressed and permanently recorded. We realize, and with our inborn equipment can appreciate, the moving power of music; but to define, in the usual sense of the term definition, what music really is, will be forever impossible. The fact indeed that music -- like love, electricity and other elemental forces -- cannot be defined is its special glory. It is a peculiar, mysterious power;1 quite in a class by itself, although with certain aspects which it shares with the other arts. The writings of all the great poets, such as Milton, Shakespeare, Browning and Whitman, abound in eloquent tributes to the power and influence of music, but it is noticeable that no one attempts to define it. The mystery of music must be approached with reverence and music must be loved for itself with perfect sincerity.

Some insight, however, may be gained into the nature of music by a clear recognition of what it is not, and by a comparison with the more definite and familiar arts. Music consists of the intangible and elusive factors of rhythm and sound; in this way differing fundamentally from the concrete static arts such as architecture, sculpture and painting. Furthermore, instrumental music, i.e., music freed from a dependence on words, is not an exact language like prose and poetry.

For suggestive comments on this point see the essays Harmonie et Melodie by Saint-Saëns, Chapters I and II.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Music: An Art and a Language


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 342

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?