Philosophies of Music History

By Warren Dwight Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
THE ROMANTIC ERA (1800-1850)

I. THE GREAT-MAN THEORY

"Puissant Palestrina, vieux maître, vieux génie, Je vous salue ici, père de l'harmonie! Car ainsi qu'un grand fleuve ou boivent les humains Toute cette musique a coulé de vos mains."-- Victor Hugo

SOME nineteenth-century histories have already been cited, in Chapter 3, to show the persistence of ecclesiastical traditions which upheld the theory of music's divine origins. In the early part of the century, most of the general histories are influenced by this theory; none could ignore it entirely. This was only natural, during the Romantic period, at a time when Christianity was being rehabilitated by Chateaubriand and other apologists who found beauty, as well as truth, in religion.1 It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the mainspring of the Romantic movement was the restoration of Christian belief. Rationalism had resulted in revolution and terror; faith in revelation began to take its place.

In music histories which were inspired by purely secular interests, the divine-origin theory survived as an explanation of the origins of genius. Mueller's history has already been quoted on this score, and many similar examples could be cited.

Eighteenth-century rationalists had extolled early musicians as inventors,2 men who had advanced the art and science of music because of their reasoning powers, and as a result of their conscious

____________________
1
"The appeal (of Chateaubriand Génie du Christianisme) did not lie in its logic, it lay in the appreciation of Christianity from a new point of view. He approached it in the spirit of an artist, as an aesthete, not as a philosopher, and insofar as he proved anything he proved that Christianity is valuable because it is beautiful, not because it is true."-- Bury, The Idea of Progress, 4th ed., 1928, pp. 264-265.
2
For frequent use of this term, see Burney [26], especially in early chapters of Vol. I. But Burney decries efforts to trace back an invention to one single man: "Few persons who speak or write on the subject of the present system of music

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