« AnteriorContinuar »
ideas at all. Writing can answer the end of its being without the aid of oral reading, but music has no existence except in sound. To read the notes silently, is only to learn what they will be when performed. Music reveals herself only in the symmetrical relations of evanescent sound—not of continuous sound which might be made permanent; but of sounds as they pass away and give place to others, and in the measured lapse of time during which they begin and end. This immateriality constitutes a distinctive feature of the art, and, if a disadvantage in one point of view, is a safeguard in another.
All who address the public are liable to be misunderstood ; but the musical composer is subject to the additional inconvenience of being misrepresented. For he has to utter himself, for the most part, through the instrumentality of others, and if his performers are either ill prepared or ill natured, his idea may not only be ruined, but something entirely at variance therewith expressed. And when we consider the defects of voices, and the limited power of instruments, and the changing effects of atmosphere upon wood, and cord, and metal, and the thousand accidents operating upon the human mind and body, and thereby upon the style of the singer, we shall find abundant reason to believe that many ideas of the greatest masters seldom find any adequate expression. On the other hand, advantages of incalculable value flow from this peculiarity, tending to render music one of the inost effective coadjutors of religion. Of these the most noticeable is its perfect freedom from all inherent taint of moral wrong. A musical tone is as perfectly free from stain as the falling flake of snow, and no combination of tones, unassociated with other things, can be made to convey a vicious idea. You may unite them to words expressive of vice, or with improper gestures, looks, or signs, and thereby pollute your own associations with the music; but these are external defilements entirely foreign to the concord of sweet sounds. In itself considered, music has no congeniality with any form of vice, although often employed to conceal the monster's deformity. All beauty is essentially holy and can be polluted only externally by contact with meaner things; but on account of its immateriality, music is less liable to permanent contamination than the other arts. If a beautiful air is sometimes degraded by being connected with a vulgar song, the evil exists in that contiguity; to all who never heard the song, the music is as pure as if it had been composed for the harp of an angel. If those who have been accustomed to hear or to sing it with its vicious associations still think of it as something morally wrong, the fault is entirely in their own minds. I do not say that for them it will ever be a proper vehicle of pure thought; nor do I mean to say that every tune is capable of expressing just the same kind of holy feeling--one may give utterance to grief, another to joy or to lighthearted gladness, one to gentle sorrow, another to wild wailing, one to dignified praise or to solemn adoration, another to triumphant rapture; neither do I mean to say that every piece is suitable for public or social worship; but I do mean to say that all combinations of musical tones are intrinsically as pure as the song of a bird or the murmuring of a stream, and if ever degraded by contiguity with vice, the dissolution of that contiguity alone is sufficient to effect their entire rescue. Many of the airs now sung to the verses of Burns and Moore were formerly the compulsory companions of filthy ballads ; but who can now detect in them any trace of such connection ? If Highland Mary and the Last Rose of Summer have rescued their respective tunes from trifling and vulgar associations so thoroughly that not a vestige thereof remains, what hinders the same tunes from being still further set apart to their still more proper place in the service of piety? We need sacred song expressive of every class of emotions, and for the manifold conditions of human existence. It does not follow if music is holy, that every air must be suitable for public worship; we need some for the family circle, in which many feelings are to be uttered that never properly occur in the great congregation. There are also times of private devotion, when a sweet soft tune, altogether unfit for an assembly, might be the most delightful medium of expression for the pious heart. And then, there are hours of social relaxation, when music, without departing from its holy sphere, can at once embody and enlarge the feelings of cheerfulness and harmless mirth.
Accordingly music is found to be one of the most valuable auxiliaries in the work of human civilization and refinement, preparing the heart for all else that is beautiful, opening up the avenues of pleasure in the other arts, inspiring a quicker sensibility to all the loveliness of nature, and consequently softening our feelings toward one another. Preceding, in its own rudest state, the earliest steps of civilization, in its work of improvement becoming itself more and more improved, meeting all the demands upon
productiveness and still creating more demand, its course has been eminently progressive. No other ancient art has gained so much in modern hands. Advancing and retrograding with the fluctuations of social melioration and decline, it has effected its highest achievements in these days of Christian culture. Notwithstanding the love of it, native to mankind in all ages and countries, and the high degree of excellence to which it was carried by the ancient Egyptians, Hebrew, and Greek, the great works of musical art are of modern production. The mighty masters of the lyre have flourished within the last three hundred years, and the greatest of them within the last hundred and fifty. Music, in every age the minister of religion and promoter of social refinement, has received from the noblest religion and the highest refinement the most enlightened cultivation.