Music: An Art and a Language

By Walter Raymond Spalding | Go to book overview

Music: an Art and a Language

CHAPTER 1
PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS

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.

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1
For suggestive comments on this point see the essays Harmonie et Melodie by Saint-Saëns, Chapters I and II.

-1-

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