Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

inad

ON MUSIC AS A BRANCH OF NATIONAL EDUCATION.

By J. TILLEARD, Esq., F.R.G.S.

INTRODUCTORY. THE state of the cultivation of music in a nation is a pretty good I index to the degree of civilization which it has attained.

Music as an art is almost entirely the creation of modern times. The ancients knew a good deal about it as a science ; but their actual performance must have been rude, if not barbarous. Even their scientific knowledge was confined to one half of music's domain, namely to melody. Of the “concord of sweet sounds," they appear to have had no notion, beyond such a vague general one as an untutored person might derive from listening to the wild irregular harmony of an Eolian lyre, or from hearing two or more accordant notes sounded together in any other chance manner. It is probable that they knew just the bare fact, that some sounds would harmonize, although some writers would deny to them even this amount of acquaintance with the “hidden soul of harmony.” Be this as it may, there is no doubt that musical harmony, as we now understand it, has not been known to the world much more than a thousand years; and the development of both melody and harmony has been chiefly the work of the last three centuries. And to what a pinnacle of perfection have they now been raised! What a contrast between the music of the present day and the music (so called) of ancient times ! Let any one who has listened with rapture to the finished performance of an oratorio or an opera, cast his imagination back for a moment, and endeavour to realize what may have been the effect of the slashing and banging of instruments, and the dismal wailing or boisterous shouting of voices, which seem to have made up the entertainment at those ancient concerts. Even the reedy squeaks and brassy blasts of the most disunited German band, or the raspy grindings of the most disorganized Italian organ that ever sent a would-be-quiet Cockney complaining to the Times, are superior to anything the ancients ever heard, except, perhaps, the music of the spheres, of which we never had an opportunity of judging.

“Strange that such difference should be

'Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.” The fact is, we have very little that is like the music of the ancients. If we would get a complete notion of it, we must go away from home and from European civilization altogether, to Turkey, or Hindostan, or, farther and better still, to China—that is, we must go to some halfcivilized nation. But such a journey for such a purpose is hardly worth undertaking, and so we must be content with only an imperfect practical acquaintance with the really startling effects which must have been produced by the ancient music.

But the music of the present day (we do not allude to “ Villikins and his Dinah," nor yet to the “ Ratcatcher's Daughter”), what a store of pure enjoyment does it contain! It is delightful even to call up the memory of the good music which one may have enjoyed ; the sublime strains of oratorios, masses, and anthems; the dramatic and descriptive effects of operas and secular cantatas; the feast of sounds in grand symphonies and instrumental quartetts and concertos; the solemn tones

VOL. X. No. 110, n.s.

and severe purity of the ecclesiastical chant or psalm-tune ; the ringing peal of the light and joyous glee or part-song, sung by youths and maidens; and last, but not least, the sweet carolling of the pure angelic voices of children in the simple hymn or song. Age after age will derive enjoyment from the store of good music already accumulated. Age after age will come within the sphere of its ennobling influence. What a blessed means is here for elevating and refining the human race! And its influence must spread more and more in each succeeding age, for two reasons : first, because the action of music and refinement are reciprocal,—the more refined men become, the more they love music, and the more they love music, the more refined they become; second, because the taste for music “ makes what it feeds on," in which there is again a reciprocal action.

The refining tendency of music is universally acknowledged, as a matter of experience. “One of the most pure and innocent pleasures which we can enjoy,” says Sturm, “we owe to music. It possesses the power of charming our ears, soothing our passions, affecting our hearts, and influencing our propensities. How often has music dissipated our gloom, quickened the vital spirits, and ennobled our sentiments !” Luther says : “Music is a half discipline and schoolmistress, that maketh people more gentle and meek-minded, more modest and understanding. The youth ought to be brought up and accustomed to this art, for it maketh fine and expert people.” And of singing, in particular, he says : “Singing is the best art and practice : it hath nothing to do with the affairs of this world : it is not for the Law ; neither are singers full of cares, but merry ; they drive away sorrow and care with singing.” “The interim of convenient rest before meat,” says Milton, “may, both with profit and delight, be taken up in recreating and composing the travailed spirits with the solemn and divine harmonies of music, heard or learned, either whilst the skilful organist plies his grave and fancied descant in lofty fugues, or the whole symphony, with artful and unimaginable touches, adorn and grace the well-studied chords of some choice composer ; sometimes the lute or soft organ stop waiting on elegant voices, either to religious, martial, or civil ditties; which, if wise men and prophets be not extremely out, have a great power over dispositions and manners, to smooth and make them gentle from rustic harshness and distempered passions.”

The reason why music exalts and purifies the heart seems to be, that it completely fixes and enchains the attention. It is not satisfied with a divided homage, but must have, for the time, an entire surrender of the heart to its influence. While a person of musical taste is listening to the performance of good music, and more especially when he is joining in the performance himself, there is no scope for the play of the passions ; they are quite subdued, and it is impossible for him to entertain improper feelings or thoughts. To listen to music is, in fact, an act of contemplation, which is the most ennobling exercise in which the human mind can engage. And all acts of contemplation require, as a first condition, that we should thoroughly divest the mind of all thoughts concerning anything else but the object which it is to contemplate. When the mind is thus at rest, but not before, it is prepared to perceive the beauty of the object on which it is fixed. Thus we cannot enjoy the beauties of a painting, a statue, an architectural structure, a poem, or a piece of music, without laying the passions, disciplining the thoughts, and banishing from us earthly affections and considerations. This is one cause of the ennobling influence of contemplation. The other is the improvement which the contemplation of beauty of any kind confers upon the mind. Such contemplation is one great element of our spiritual growth. The faculties which are taken up in the exercise are the highest of our nature. The improvement conferred varies with the kind of beauty which we contemplate, rising higher and higher in proportion as our view rises from earthly things and approaches heavenly, until it reaches its highest pinnacle in pure spiritual contemplation. It is wisely and beneficently ordained, that the exercise of our faculties shall afford us pleasure ; and it is obvious, from the foregoing considerations, that the pleasure afforded by the exercise of the higher faculties of our nature is of the purest, most innocent, and most elevating character. Thus, then, to descend from the general to the particular, there must be a certain degree of previous refinement before a man will cultivate music; but the more he cultivates music, the more will his refinement increase. The whole philosophy is contained in the well-known but (in Leigh Hunt's phrase) never-to-betoo-often-quoted lines of our great bard, which have left nothing for other poets to say on the same subject :

Jessica. I am never merry, when I hear sweet music.

Lorenzo. The reason is, your spirits are attentive :
For do but note a wild and wanton herd,
Or race of youthful and unhandled colts,
Fetching mad bounds, bellowing, and neighing loud,
Which is the hot condition of their blood;
If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound,
Or any air of music touch their ears,
You shall perceive them make a mutual stand,
Their savage eyes turned to a modest gaze
By the sweet power of music. Therefore the poet
Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones, and floods ;
Since nought so stockish, hard, and full of rage,
But music, for the time, doth change his nature.
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils :
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus :

Let no such man be trusted.” The second reason which we gave was, because the taste for music “ makes what it feeds on.” And so it is with all the fine arts, and indeed with every manifestation of the beautiful, the good, the true, and the noble, whether in works of nature or art, or in human conduct. Every lovely work of nature or art, every instance of upright, noble, or heroic conduct, contemplated with just admiration, heightens our sense of natural, artistic, or moral beauty. But by a law of our nature, we seek to reproduce in ourselves, or in particular external forms, whatever general conceptions enter the mind. This great law was first clearly expounded by Dr. Becker, who applied it more particularly in the case of language, and who, by establishing it, struck a deadly blow at the modern German philosophy, which had lost itself in the pursuit of the abstract, as the highest perfection of thought. Thus, the musical works already produced, by fostering musical taste, will give rise to the production of other works, and, in this manner, the taste for music will continually be extended over larger and larger surfaces. Thus music, by administering to our enjoyment and improvement, contributes to its own increase. This general law, by which like begets like, is a great and wise provision for the intellectual, moral, and spiritual elevation of the human race. Some persons doubt the possibility of the indefinite creation of new music. But we may convince ourselves on this point by making a mathematical calculation of the permutations possible in any one scale of eight notes, not to go any further.

We have shown, then, that the influence of music will spread wider and wider in each succeeding generation, as civilization advances. Now, let us transfer our view of the progress of music from the future into the past, and apply to particular nations what we have stated in a general sense. We then perceive that the state of the cultivation of music among any nation is a tolerably good criterion of that nation's civilization. Whenever we find the love and pursuit of the art generally diffused among a people, we may safely conclude that a certain degree of refinement and amenity of life and manners, though it may not be a very high one, is also generally diffused.

The Germanic nations of the European continent are those most distinguished for the cultivation of music; and it is among these nations that education and refinement are most widely diffused. And here also we have the most striking exemplification of the reciprocal influence of cultivation and production, in the musical art. From these nations have sprung all the greatest geniuses that have contributed to the world's stock of music, that brilliant constellation of stars of the first magnitude,-Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Gluck, Bach, Weber, and Mendelssohn. It is indeed no small reward for the pursuit of music that the Germans are able to claim as their countrymen these bright ornaments of the human race, who have provided such a store of the means of refined enjoyment and improvement for their fellow-men in all ages.

The Italians stand next to the Germans for the love and pursuit of music. The case of this nation is highly remarkable. The Italians, at one period, stood at the head of the civilization of the world ; their commerce was the most extensive, and laid the foundations of the present vast commercial intercourse of the world ; their enterprize was the highest, and led to the discovery of the New World ; their literature furnished models for the literatures of all the other European nations ; and their country was the home of the arts of painting, sculpture, and music. And it was not the first, but the second time that Italy had occupied this distinguished and honourable position. It was but a revival of the glory and splendour which she had possessed in former days, when she was mistress of the world. For a long time, she maintained her rank as foremost among the nations in the cultivation of music. Italy was, indeed, during a great part of the time, almost the only country in which music was cultivated at all as a regular art and science, and Italian music gave the first impulse to the musical taste of other European nations, and supplied the models for nearly all the regular species of musical composition which have hitherto been developed, -the oratorio, the opera, the cantata, the symphony, the mass, the instrumental quartett and concerto, the anthem in the motett), and the glee or part song (in the madrigal). Why, then, have the Italians not maintained the foremost rank among nations in music ? For the same reason that they have not maintained their rank in any other respect. Their civilization has been checked and thrown back in its growth by the depressing and desolating blights of political and spiritual despotism. This adverse influence has prevented that diffusion of education and refinement among the people of Italy, which was necessary to enable them to keep their advanced position in the march of civilization; and meanwhile, other nations, more favourably situated, have made great progress, and the relative positions have been somewhat altered. Still, despite this loss of ground, Italy has been surpassed in music by only one nation. This is a significant fact. It shows that though several other nations have shot a-head of the Italians in partial numbers and in particular paths, yet, as regards the progress of the great bulk of the inhabitants in general refinement, Italy ranks only second even now. It shows that the tough old roots of European civilization are still alive, and not dead, as some have supposed, and that they only require the ground, which has oppressed and clogged instead of nourishing them, to be somewhat loosened, and the genial influences of warmth, moisture, and air to be let in, in order that they may thrive again as well as ever, and send up fresh and vigorous shoots around the old parent stem. Thus all that civil and religious oppression could do has not been able to destroy Italian civilization : so great is the vitality and tenacity of civilization, when it is once firmly rooted in the soil. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the Church, in Italy, as in other Roman Catholic countries, while she has kept down the civilization from which the fine arts naturally spring, has endeavoured to give them a separate existence, and to enlist them in her own service; and that the civil governors of several of the states have frequently acted in a similar manner-fostering the branches while they were striking deadly blows at the roots. The Church does not seem, latterly at least, to have effected her object in regard to music, for all the great composers whom Italy has produced in recent times—Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini—have written almost exclusively for the theatre, scarcely at all for the Church. This is probably only a reaction of the rigorous character of the observances which she requires, as the tendency to scepticism among the people is a reaction of the superstition on which those observances are based. It is somewhat remarkable that the nation that has outstript Italy in diffused refinement, should be the very same whose barbarism deluged the earlier Italian civilization.

The French rank third as a musical nation. Next to Germany and Italy there is no country in which musical taste and skill are so generally diffused among the people, no country which has produced so great composers as France. The French have long been known as a musical people. The South of France was the native home of those wandering minstrels, the Troubadours, who were the first to spread a taste for poetry and music in Europe, and ever since their time the French have been famous for their gay chansons. They also appreciate music of a

« AnteriorContinuar »