The Origin and Function of Music – Part I

October 5, 2006

One of the most interesting of the many interesting stories of our civilization is the story of Music. It affords an intimate knowledge of the inner life of man as manifested in different epochs of the world’s history. He who has failed to follow it has failed to comprehend the noblest phenomena of human progress.

Mythology and legendary lore abound in delightful traditions in regard to the birth of music. The untutored philosophers of primitive humanity and the learned philosophers of ancient civilizations alike strove to solve the sweet, elusive mystery surrounding the art. Through the myths and legends based on their speculations runs a suggestion of divine origin.

The Egyptians of old saw in their sublime god, Osiris, and his ideal spouse, Isis, the authors of music. Among the Hindus it was regarded as a priceless gift from the great god Brahma, who was its creator and whose peerless consort, Sarasvati, was its guardian. Poetic fancies in these lines permeate the early literature of diverse peoples.

This is not surprising. Abundant testimony proves that the existence of music is coeval with that of mankind; that it is based on the modulations of the human voice and the agitations of the human muscles and nerves caused by the infinite variations of the spiritual and emotional sensations, needs and  ispirations of humanity; that it has grown with man’s growth, developed with man’s development, and that its origin is as divine as that of man.

The inevitable dualism which Emerson found bisecting all nature appears also in music, which is both spiritual and material. The spiritual part of music appeals to the spiritual part of man, addressing each heart according to the cravings and capacities of each. The material part of music may be compared to the body in which man’s spirit is housed. It is the vehicle which conveys the message of music from soul to soul through the medium of the human ear with its matchless harp of nerve-fibres and its splendid sounding-board, the eardrum.

Music is the mirror which most perfectly reflects man’s inner being and the essence of all things. Ruskin saw clearly that he alone can love art well who loves better what art mirrors. This may especially be applied to music, which offers, as a Beethoven has said, a more lofty revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

Having no model in nature, being neither an imitation of any actual object, nor a repetition of anything experienced, music stands alone among the arts. It represents the real thing, as Schopenhauer has it, the thing itself, not the mere semblance. Were we able to give a thoroughly satisfactory explanation of music, he declares, we should have the true philosophy of the universe.

“Music is a kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the Infinite, and impels us for a moment to gaze into it,” exclaimed Carlyle. Wagner found in music the conscious language of   feeling, that which ennobles the sensual and realizes the spiritual. “Music is the harmonious voice of creation, an echo of the invisible world, one note of the divine concord which the entire universe is destined one day to sound,” wrote Mazzini. Literature is rich in noble definitions of the divine art.

From a matter of fact standpoint music consists of a vast concourse of tones which are its raw materials and bear within themselves the possibility of being moulded into form. Utterances and actions illustrating these raw materials are common to all living creatures. A dog, reiterating short barks of joy, or giving vent to prolonged howls of distress, is actuated by an impulse similar to that of the human infant as it uplifts its voice to express its small  emotions. The sounds uttered by primeval man as the direct expression of his emotions were unquestionably of a like nature.

The tendency to manifest feeling by means of sound is universally admitted, and sound, freighted with feeling, is peculiarly exciting to human beings. The agitations of a mob may be increased by the emotional tones of its prime movers, and we all know that the power of an orator depends more on his skill in handling his voice than on what he says.

A craving for sympathy exists in all animate beings. It is strong in mankind and becomes peculiarly intense in the type known as artistic.The fulness of his own emotions compels the musician to utterance. To strike a sympathetic chord in other sensitive breasts it becomes necessary to devise forms of expression that may be unmistakably intelligible.

Out of such elements the tone-language has grown, precisely as the word-language grew out of men’s early attempts to communicate facts to one another. Its story records a slow, painstaking building up of principles to control its raw materials; for music, as we understand it, cannot exist without some kind of design. Vague sounds produce vague, fleeting impressions. Definiteness in tonal relations and rhythmic plan is requisite to produce a defined, enduring impression. In primitive states of music rhythmic sounds were heard, defined by the pulses but with little or no change of pitch, and sounds varying in pitch without regularity of impulse. A high degree of intellectuality was reached before our modern scales were evolved from long-continued attempts at making well-balanced successions of sounds. As musical art advanced rhythm and melodic expression became united.
The study of the origin, function and evolution of music, according to modern scientific methods, is a matter of comparatively recent date. As late as 1835 a French writer of the history of music expressed profound regret that he had been unable to determine when music was invented, or to discover the inventor’s name. It was his opinion that musical man had profited largely from the voices of the feathered tribes. He seriously asserted that the duck had evidently furnished a model for the clarionet and oboe, and Sir Chanticleer for the trumpet. An entire chapter of his book he devoted to surmises concerning the “Music before the Flood.” The poor man felt himself superior to the poetic fancies of the ancients, which at least foreshadowed the Truth, but had found no firm ground on which to stand.

Much finer were the instincts of Capellmeister Wolfgang Kasper, Prince of Waldthurn, whose historical treatise on Music appeared in Dresden in 1690. He boldly declared the author of music to be the good God himself, who fashioned the air to transmit musical sounds, the ear to receive them, the soul of man to throb with emotions demanding utterance, and all nature to be filled with sources of inspiration. The good Capellmeister was in close touch with the Truth.

It was in 1835, the same year that the French writer mentioned offered his wild speculations, that Herbert Spencer, from the standpoint of a scientist, produced his essay on the “Origin and Function of Music,” which has proved invaluable in arousing discriminating thought in these lines. Many years elapsed before its worth to musicians was realized. To-day it is widely known and far-reaching in its influence.

In those inner agitations which cause muscular expansion and contraction, and find expression in the inflections and cadences of the voice, Herbert Spencer saw the foundations of music. He unhesitatingly defined it as emotional speech, the language of the feelings, whose function was to increase the sympathies and broaden the horizon of mankind. Besides frankly placing music at the head of the fine arts, he declared that those sensations of unexperienced felicity it arouses, those impressions of an unknown, ideal existence it calls forth, may be regarded as a prophecy to the fulfilment of which music is itself partly instrumental. Our strange capacity for being affected by melody and harmony cannot but imply that it is possible to realize the delights they suggest. On these suppositions might be comprehended the power and  significance of music which must otherwise remain a mystery. The progress of musical culture, he thought, could not be too much applauded as a noble means of ministering to human welfare. Mr. Spencer’s theory has of late led to much controversy. Its author has been censured for setting forth no explanation of the place of harmony in modern music, and for not realizing what a musical composition is. In his last volume, “Facts and Comments,” which contains many valuable thoughts not previously published, he declares that his critics have obviously confounded the origin of a thing and that which originates from it. “Here we have a striking example of the way in which an hypothesis is made to appear untenable by representing it as being something which it does not profess to be,” he says. “I gave an account of the origin of music, and now I am blamed because my conception of the origin of music does not include a conception of music as fully developed. If to some one who said that an oak comes from an acorn it were replied that he had manifestly never seen an oak, since an acorn contains no trace of all its complexities of form and structure, the reply would not be thought a rational one;” but he believes it would be quite as rational as to suppose he had not realized what a musical composition is because his theory of the origin of music says nothing about the characteristics of an overture or a quartet.



October 4, 2006

We cannot gain experience by being brought into contact with the experiences of others, nor can we know music by reading about it. Only by taking it into our hearts and homes, by admitting it to our intimate companionship, can we approach a knowledge of the art that has enriched so many lives, even though it has never yet completely fulfilled its function. At the same time, every music lover is helped to new ideas, inspired to fresh efforts, by suggestions and statements from those who have themselves had deep experiences in their search for the inner sanctuary of the Temple of Art.

Musicians have been too much inclined to treat their art as something to be exclusively appropriated by a favored class of men and women, and are themselves greatly to blame for its mistaken isolation. True, music has its privileged class. To this belongs the mind of creative genius that can formulate in tones the universal passions, the eternal verities of the soul. In it may also be numbered those gifted beings whose interpretative powers peculiarly adapt them to spread abroad the utterances of genius. Precisely in the same way religion has its prophets and its ministers. Music, as well as religion, is meant for
everyone, and the business of its ministers and teachers is to convey to all the message of its prophets.

The nineteenth century was the period of achievement. There is every reason to believe that the twentieth century will be the period of still nobler achievement, beyond all in the realm of the spirit. Then will music find its most splendid opportunity, and in our own free soil it will yield its richest fruitage. Amid the favorable conditions of liberty it will flourish to the utmost, and will come to afford blessed relief from the pressure of materialism. During the era we are entering no unworthy teacher will be permitted to trifle with the unfolding musical instincts of childhood. The study of music will take an honored place in the curriculum of every school, academy, college and university, as an essential factor in culture. Then music among us will come to reflect our deepest, truest consciousness, the American world-view.

It is with a desire to stimulate thought and incite to action that the present volume has been prepared for every music lover. The essays contained in it have not previously appeared in print. They are composed to a large extent of materials used by the author in her lectures and informal talks on music and its history. That her readers may be led to seek further acquaintance with the divine art is her earnest wish.

Many thanks are due L. C. Page & Company, of Boston, for kind permission to use the portrait of Corelli, from their “Famous Violinists,” by Henry C. Lahee.




October 3, 2006


    How we can approach knowledge of music. Mistaken isolation of the  art. Those who belong to the privileged class. Music, as well as  religion, meant for all. Business of its ministers and teachers.  Promise of the twentieth century. Fruitage of our own free soil.   American world-view. Purpose of volume.
The Origin and Function of Music                                     

    Story of music affording knowledge of man’s inner life. Mythology and legendary lore. Emerson’s dualism. Music a mirror. Ruskin and art. Beethoven’s lofty revelation. The real thing of Schopenhauer. Views of Carlyle, Wagner and Mazzini. Raw materials. Craving for sympathy in artistic type. Evolution of tone-language. French writer of 1835. Prince of Waldthurn, in 1690. Spencer’s theory. Controversy and answer. Music of primeval man and early civilizations. The Vedas. Hebrew scriptures. Basis of scientific laws. Church ritual.  Folk-music. Influence of crusades. Modern music architect of its own   fortunes. Present musical vocabulary and literature. Counsel of  Pythagoras. What Plato taught. Euripides on song. Auerbach. Martin Luther. Napoleon Bonaparte. Bain and Dr. Marx. Shakespeare, in Merchant of Venice. Wagner’s unspoiled humanity. Tolstoi in art.
Blunders in Music Study                                              

    Voice from the unseen. Perverted soul. Normal instincts. Genius and talent. Ćsthetic tastes. Musical sound and rhythmic motion. Average child. Frequent blunders. Appeal to intellect. Teacher with strong  personality. Experimenting with beginners. Legal protection. Vienna  musician. Class instruction. French solfčge. English tonic sol-fa.  Mrs. John Spencer Curwen. Rev. John Curwen. Time a mental science.  Musical perception of the blind. Music in public schools. Phillips
    Brooks on school song. Compulsory study. Socrates. Mirabeau.    Schumann on brilliancy. Unrighteous mammon of technique. Soul of  music. Neglect of ensemble work. As to accompaniments. Underlying  principles. Hearing good music. Going abroad. Wagner’s hero. A  plumed knight wanted.
The Musical Education That Educates                                  

    Symmetrical development. Well-rounded musician. Well-balanced  individual. Profits proportionate to investment. Living force. What  Goethe said. Rich harvest. Aristotle on command over mind. Music  study many-sided. Madox-Brown on art. Mabie on beauty. Practical  forces in shaping character, purifying taste and elevating  standards. Master-works. Human voice as music teacher. Scientific  methods of study. Both art and science. Mental discipline. Stephen A. Emory. Huxley on education.
How to Interpret Music                                               

    College professors on criticism and interpretation. External and  technical forms. Distrusting impressions. Trampling on God-given  intuitions. Throb and thrill of great art. Insight requisite for  interpretation. Living with masterpieces. Three souls of Browning.  Dr. Corson. Every faculty alive. Vital knowledge. Musical imagination. Technical proficiency. Head, hand and physical forces.  In service of lofty ideal. Musical art work. Theme. Unfolding.  Climax. Labor of composition. Mind of genius. Elementary laws. Tonal  language. Karl Formes and operatic aspirant. Motto of Leschetitzky.  Marks of expression. Adolph Kullak. Hans von Bülow. Pulse of music.  Memory. Ruskin’s fatal faults.
How to Listen to Music                                               

    Listening an art. Painting completed whole. Music passing panorama.   Not translatable into words. To follow, even anticipate composer.   Bach’s absolute knowledge. Fire of Prometheus. Inner sanctuary of art. Science of acoustics. Prime elements. Dr. Marx and Helmholtz.   Motive. Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Phrase. Period. Simple melody.   “God Save the King.” Our “America.” Masters of counterpoint. Bach’s    fugues. Monophony and polyphony. Classical and romantic. Heretic and  hero. Hadow on musical laws. Form the manifestation of these. Good  music versus ragtime. Dr. Corson on spiritual appeal.
The Piano and Piano Players                                         

    Pythagoras and musical intervals. Pan pipes. Portable organs.  Monochords with keys. Guido d’Arezzo. Clavier type. Virginal in   Elizabethan age. Early clavier masters. First woman court clavier  player. Scarlatti and Bach. True art of clavier-playing. Sonata  form. Where Haydn gained much. Mozart and Clementi. Pianoforte and  improvements. Viennese school. Clementi school. Giant on lofty  heights. Oscar Bie on Beethoven. Golden age of pianoforte. Piano  composers and virtuosi, from Weber to the present time. Teachers and  performers often corrupters of music.
The Poetry and Leadership of Chopin                                 

    Rubinstein on Polish patriot and tone-poet who explored harmonic  vastness of pianoforte. Like exquisitely constructed sounding-board.  Enriched and spiritualized the pianoforte for all time. Universal  rather than individual experiences. National tonality. Zwyny and Elsner. Intimate acquaintance with Bach. Prince Charming of the  piano. Liszt on Chopin. Raphael of music. Playing and teaching. Tempo rubato. Compositions. Schumann’s words. Oscar Bie.
Violins and Violinists–Fact and Fable                              

    Volker the fiddler. Nibelungen lay. Videl of days of chivalry. Bow fashioned like sword. Hagen of Tronje. Wilhelm Jordan, in  “Sigfridsage.” Henrietta Sontag and the coming Paganini. Wagner’s Volker-Wilhelmj at Bayreuth. Magic fiddles and wonderworking  fiddlers. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Norse folk-lore. English nursery rhymes. Crickets as fiddlers. Progenitors of violin. The violin of Queen Elizabeth and her age. Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. Household  of Charles II. Butler, in Hudibras. Viola d’amore in Milwaukee, Wis.  Brescian and Cremonese violin-makers. Early violinists. Value and
    history of some violins. Strings and bow. Violin virtuosi from  Corelli to our day. Mad rush for technique.
Queens of Song                                                      

    Florentine lady, Vittoria Archilei. Embryo opera of Cavalieri.  Peri’s “Eurydice.” Euterpe. Marthe le Rochois and Lully’s operas.  Rival queens in London. Steele, in “Tattler.” Second pair of rivals, Cuzzoni and Faustina. Master Handel. Germany’s earliest queen of    song. Frederick the Great and German singers. Mrs. Billington. Haydn  and Sir Joshua Reynold’s St. Cecilia. Mozart’s operas introduced  into England. Catalani. Pasta. Sontag. Schröder-Devrient and Goethe’s “Erl King.” Malibran a dazzling Meteor. Another daughter of Manuel del Popolo Garcia. Marchesi, Grisi and Mario. Manuel Garcia
    and the Swedish Nightingale. Other Swedish songstresses. Patti.  Queens of song pass in review. Two Wagner interpreters. A Valkyrie’s  horse. A word for American girls.

The Opera and Its Reformers                                         

    Evolution of drama. At the altar of Dionysus. Greek poetry and   music. Aristotle on Greek stage-plays. Ćschylus and Sophocles.  Euripides. Words, music and scenic effect. Lenćan theatre  exhibitions. More costly than Peloponnesian war. Roman dominion. Primitive Christian church. St. Augustine. Mystery, miracle,  morality and passion plays. Strolling histriones, etc. Florence  “Academy.” Vincenzo Galilei. Monody. Polyphonic music. Emilio del Cavalieri. Vittorio Archilei. Music of Greeks recovered. Peri.  Monteverde and his work. First opera house. Alessandro Scarlatti.  Troubadours. Lully, Rameau and French opera. Purcell, Handel and music in England. Gluck, the regenerator. German opera. Mozart,  Beethoven, Weber and Wagner. What came from Bach, Chopin and   Berlioz. Rossini’s melodies. Wagner’s influence. Verdi, the grand   old man.
Certain Famous Oratorios                                             

    Neri’s oratory. Dramatized versions of biblical stories. Palestrina    and harmonies of celestial Jerusalem. Religious dramas of Roswitha.    Laura Guidiccioni’s first oratorio text. Music by Cavalieri. At   Santa Maria della Vallicella. Orchestra behind the scene.    Description. Carissimi, “father of oratorio and cantata.”   Alessandro Scarlatti. Another Alessandro. Dr. Parry’s opinion. “San   Giovanni Battista” and famous air. Tradition about Stradella. What   recent writers say. Handel and the “Messiah.” Bach and the “Passion  Music.” “The Creation” and Haydn. Beethoven’s “Mount of Olives.”  Mendelssohn, in “St. Paul” and “Elijah.” Oratorios of Liszt and  Gounod. Next step in the evolution.
Symphony and Symphonic Poem                                         

    That adventurous spirit, Monteverde. Charm in exploring resources of  instrumentation. Operatic overture. Forge of genius. Dance of  obscure origin. Craving for individual expression. Touch of  authority by Corelli. Cardinal Ottoboni’s palace. Symphony, a sonata  for orchestra. Purcell, Scarlatti, Sammartini and the Bachs.  Monophonic style. Contrasting movements. German critic on early sonata. Further explanation. Meaning of symphony. Haydn with  Esterhazy orchestra. Father of the symphony. Mozart. Beethoven.  Schubert. Schumann. Mendelssohn. Berlioz, the musical heretic. His
    “fixed idea” and programme music. Liszt and symphonic poem.  Saint-Saëns. Tschaikowsky and Russian spirit. Sinding. Grieg. Gade.   Brahms and absolute music.


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October 3, 2006

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