Music: An Art and a Language

By Walter Raymond Spalding | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II. THE FOLK-SONG.

IN the preceding chapter we made some general inquiries into the nature of music and of those methods by which emotion and thought are expressed. We shall assume therefore that the following facts are established: that in music, by reason of the intangibility and elusiveness of the material, sound and rhythm, the principle of Unity in Variety is of paramount importance; and that the hearer, if he would grasp the message expressed by these sounds and rhythms, must make a conscious effort of coöperation and not be content with mere dreamy apathy. Furthermore, that Unity and Coherence are gained in music by applying the principle of systematic Repetition or Imitation. (We shall see, as we continue, how Variety has been secured by contrasting themes, by episodical passages and by various devices of rhythmic and harmonic development.)

We may now investigate the growth of musical structure and expression, as manifested in the fields of the Folk-Song and of Polyphonic music, beginning with the Folk-Song -- historically the older and more elemental in its appeal. We cannot imagine the time when human beings did not use their voices in some form of emotional outpouring; and, as far back as there are any historical records, we find traces of such activity. For many centuries these rude cries of savage races were far removed from anything like artistic design, but the advance towards coherence and symmetry was always the result of free experimentation -- hence vitally connected with the emotions and mental processes of all human effort. One of the most significant of the many sayings attributed to Daniel Webster is that "Sovereignty rests with the people"; and it is an interesting inquiry to see what wider application may be made of this statement in the field of art. For it is a fact that there has seldom been an important school of music, so-called -- in any given place and period -- which was not founded on the emotional traits, the aspirations and the ideals of the people. Surely one of the distinct by-products of the Great War is to be the emancipation of the art of music, along with that of all the other arts. Such a realization of its nature and powers will result that it shall no longer

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