OUR musical history has been peculiar. We were in no sense a musical people forty years ago. Nothing could be further from the old New England character and “bringing up,” — we will not call it culture. But, strangely (and not much in accordance with the common theory that the way to elevate the taste is to begin with what is light and popular), the first real and deep interest in music awakened here in Boston was an interest in the greatest kind of music. Handel, and then more irresistibly Beethoven, were the first to take deep hold on thoughtful, earnest, influential souls. This was when the new spirit of culture, in the fullest, freest, highest sense, became in various ways so rife in this community. So that it is scarcely paradoxical to say, that music in this country, or at least this portion of the country, “ came in with the Conqueror.” That is to say, the love for the highest kind of music (for it is only the love of it, not the creative gift as yet), which has for some time been imputed to this once Puritanical Boston and the regions spiritually watered from it, came in with the conquering ideas, — with the ideas of spiritual freedom, of self-reliance, of the dignity of human nature, of the insignificance of creeds compared with life and practice, of social justice, equal opportunities to all, a common birthright in the beautiful, — ideas which from the time of Channing began to quicken the whole thought and conscience of the young Republic, and which were glowing with fresh fervor of conviction in the light of that ideal philosophy which, where it made one mystic, made a dozen practical and sound reformers,—ideas fitly summed up in the one idea of CULTURE, in the nobler sense in which it then began to haunt the mind, as something distinct from, and superior to, the barren routine of a narrow, utilitarian, provincial, and timid education ; culture in the sense of free unfolding of intrinsic germs of character, of conscious, quick, sincere relationship and sympathy with all the beauty and the order of the universe, instead of in the old sense of a mere makeshift clothing upon from without with approved special knowledges, conventional beliefs and maxims, and time-honored prejudices. Intimately implied in this idea of culture is the æsthetic principle. For what is culture without art? — art, the type and mirror of ideal, complete life, the one free mode of man’s activity, wherein he may become partaker in the Divine creative energy ? And what form of art, what ministry to the æsthetic instinct, was so peculiarly the need and product of our age, so widely, easily available, as music? It was not strange that it should come in with the conquering ideas, as we have said.
At all events, it is a fact of some significance that the interest here felt in Beethoven began at the same moment with the interest in Emerson, and notable in the same minds who found such quickening in his free and bracing utterance. It was to a great extent the young souls drawn to “Transcendentalism ” (as it was nicknamed), to escape spiritual starvation, who were most drawn also to the great, deep music which we began to hear at that time. For, be it remembered, the first great awakening of the musical instinct here was when the C Minor Symphony of Beethoven was played, thirty years ago or more, in that old theatre long since vanished from the heart of the drygoods part of Boston, which had been converted into an “ Odeon,” where an “ Academy of Music ” gave us some first glimpses of the glories of great orchestral music. Some may yet remember how young men and women of the most cultured circles, whom the new intellectual dayspring had made thoughtful and at the same time open and impressible to all appeals of art and beauty, used to sit there through the concert in that far-off upper gallery or sky-parlor, secluded in the shade, and give themselves up completely to the influence of the sublime harmonies that sank into their souls, enlarging and coloring thenceforth the whole horizon of their life. Then came the Brook Farm experiment ; and it is equally a curious fact, that music, and of the best kind, the Beethoven Sonatas, the Masses of Mozart and Haydn, got at, indeed, in a very humble, homemade, and imperfect way, was one of the chief interests and refreshments of those halcyon days. Nay, it was among the singing portion of those plain farmers, teachers, and (but for such cheer) domestic drudges, that the first example sprang up of the so-called “ Mass Clubs,” once so much in vogue among small knots of amateurs. They met to practise music which to them seemed heavenly, after the old hackneyed glees and psalm-tunes, though little many of them thought or cared about the creed embodied in the Latin words that formed the convenient vehicle for tones so thrilling; the music was quite innocent of creed, except that of the heart and of the common deepest wants and aspirations of all souls, darkly locked up in formulas, till set free by the subtile solvent of the delicious harmonies. And our genial friend who sits in Harper’s “ EasyChair ” has lately told the world what parties from “ the Farm " (and he was “ one of them ”) would come to town to drink in the symphonies, and then walk back the whole way, seven miles, at night, elated and unconscious of fatigue, carrying home with them a new good genius, beautiful and strong, to help them through the next day’s labors. Then, too, and among the same class of minds (the same “ Transcendental set ”), began the writing and the lecturing on music and its great masters, treating it from a high spiritual point of view, and seeking (too imaginatively, no doubt) the key and meaning to the symphony, but anyhow establishing a vital, true affinity between the great tone-poems and all great ideals of the human mind. In the “ Harbinger,” for years printed at Brook Farm, in the “ Dial,” which told the time of days so far ahead, in the writings of Margaret Fuller and others, these became favorite and glowing topics of discourse ; and such discussion did at least contribute much to make music more respected, to lift it in the esteem of thoughtful persons to a level with the rest of the “ humanities ” of culture, and especially to turn attention to the nobler compositions, and away from that which is but idle, sensual, and vulgar.
The kind reader will grant plenary indulgence to these gossiping memories, and must not for a moment think it is intended by them to claim for any one class the exclusive credit of the impulse given in those days to music. Cecilia had her ardent friends and votaries among conservatives as well. But is it not significant as well as curious, that the free-thinking and idealistic class referred to (call "them “ Transcendental dreamers ” if you will, they can afford to bear the title now !) were so largely engaged in the movement, — that among the “ select few,” constant to all opportunities of hearing the great music in its days of small things here, so many of this class were found ? The ideas of those enthusiasts, if we look around us now, have leavened the whole thought and culture of this people ; have melted icy creeds, and opened genial communion between sects ; have set the whole breast of the nation heaving, till it has cast off the vampire of at least one of its great established crimes and curses ; have set all men thinking of the elevation of mankind. These are the conquering ideas, and with them came in the respect for music, which now in its way, too, is leavening, refining, humanizing our too crude and swaggering young democratic civilization. A short pedigree ! but great ideas, by their transforming power, work centuries of change in a few years.
The great music came in then because it was in full affinity with the best thoughts stirring in fresh, earnest souls. The same unsatisfied, deep want that shrank from the old Puritanic creed and practice; that sought a positive soul’s joy instead of abnegation ; that yearned for the “beauty of holiness,” and for communion with the Father in some sincere way of one’s own without profession ; that kindled with ideals of a heaven on earth and of a reign of love in harmony with Nature’s beauty and the prophecies of art, — found just then and here unwonted comfort, courage, and expression in the strains of the divine composers, of which we were then getting the first visitations. It was as if our social globe, charged with the electricity of new divine ideas and longings, germs of a new era, were beginning to be haunted by auroral gleams and flashes of strange melody and harmony. Young souls, resolved to keep their youth and be true to themselves, felt a mysterious attraction to all this, though without culture musically. Persons not technically musical at all would feel the music as they felt the rhythm of the ocean rolling in upon the beach. They understood as little of the laws of one as of the other fascinating and prophetic mystery. Beethoven, above all, struck the key-note of the age ; in his deep music, so profoundly human, one heard, as in a sea-shell, the murmur of a grander future. Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, found no more eager audience than among these “ disciples of the newness ” (as some sneeringly called them), these believing ones, who would not have belief imposed upon them, who cared more for life than doctrine, and to whom it was a prime necessity of heart and soul to make life genial. This was to them “ music of the future,” in a more deep and real sense than any Wagner of these later times has been inspired to write.
All this, to be sure, does not prove us to be a “ musical people.” It does prove that the great music, into which great, earnest men like Beethoven breathed the secret of their lives, has a magnetic, quick affinity with the great thoughts and impulses beginning at that time to renew religion, politics, society, and the whole spirit and complexion of the age. With the casting adrift from old authorities and creeds came this instinctive feeling forth for art, as for a tangible assurance of the essential “ substance of things hoped for.” The æsthetic instinct woke in us (to music’s touch more quickly than to any other) to save this radicalism from sheer discomfortable, boisterous, quarrelsome negation, from the rude, antagonistic, and destructive attitude, from that hard, dry, killing prose of life, unquickening, discouraging, conceited, overbearing, which is of the very essence of atheism, and overturns the altars of the old religions only to worship self and the almighty dollar. True radicalism is positive, affirmative, not negative ; a seeker of agreement, unity, and not of difference ; a puller down of only what obstructs the rising of a more divine and universal temple. Resenting imposition and authority, it has respect for all sincere beliefs, and loves to find the truth there is or ever was in each. Now much of that transcendental radicalism was of this temper, and naturally found a reconciling, saving grace in art ; in music, most of all, as the most fluid, subtile, sympathetic of the arts ; the Christian, modern, youngest art, which, weaving airy motion into forms immortal, best illustrates life’s perpetual becoming, and does not stand a milestone of arrested progress ; the art which, while it is infinitely expressive and suggestive, does not limit to precise interpretations, to mere word meanings, or too inquisitive thought meanings ; does not tie us down to definitions.
We were but babes in music, doubtless, and capable of little scientific understanding of the works we heard with rapture. Shall it be said, then, that this love was mostly affectation, or illusion ? What was the so great need of understanding ? Are great poems written, are great pictures painted, were the old cathedrals planned and reared, only for those who have themselves the knowledge and the power to do the like ? The picture in the window which all passers stop to see was not made solely or mainly for professional enjoyment, but for mere laymen also, ignorant of the art that made it, yet open, it may be, to the full influence and beauty of the thing made. Is nature spread out only for astronomers and physicists and chemists, or to rejoice and raise, refine and harmonize, the unscientific heart and soul of you and me ? The least instructed of us may like the greatest kind of music, for the same reason that he likes the greatest kind of man; for the same reason that we enjoy real poetry more than that which is weak and commonplace, or find ourselves happier with Shakespeare than with Tupper. May not a community which prefers an Emerson for its lecturer be credited with all sincerity in choosing to sit under the influence of Beethoven rather than of Verdi, finding itself more warmed thereby? And it you are personally attracted to a fine, deep, genial nature, rather than to a shallow creature of convention, why should you not be to the music into which some finer, deeper natures put their very lives ? It is not our own fault, surely, if we find that we love Mozart, as we love Raphael or Shakespeare, and turn to such when we most need strengthening refreshment, while we should be simply bored by miscellaneous concerts, pot-pourris of the hackneyed sentimentalities or flash fancies of third and tenth rate composers. And if a man insist that this is all sheer self-illusion, and that we really do not like the thing we think we do, of what use can it be to argue with him ? Friend, be you true to your love, as we too would be true to ours ! We will not quarrel.
Our point is simply : The great music has been so much followed and admired here, not by reason of any great musical knowledge in said followers not because we have any technical musicianship or proper musicality, but purely because the music was great, deep, true, making itself felt as such ; we love the music for the great life that is in it. Let the emphasis fall on the word great,—great music,—if you still find it hard to credit our capacity of pleasure in mere music pure and simple.
From such beginnings, by degrees, and for a long time through the medium of very poor means of performance,— which only confirms our theory, that it was some inkling of the divine ideas, the life within the symphony, that first caught the imagination of listeners not very musical, it might be, — there grew up here a pretty deep and general love of noble music ; until, at length, for better or for worse (we think for better), music occupies this people’s time and thought quite largely, yet not so largely as it will and must do. What may be called a “ musical movement ” is making headway. Much froth about it, no doubt, there is ; much vainglory, splurge, and sounding advertisement ; too much passion for excitement, for the extraordinary, for “ big things.” Our great choral societies, for example, may shrink from the real great work, from the sincere, quiet, outwardly unrewarding tasks, which build up the artistic character, which are the true tests of sufficiency in art, in favor of the easier enterprise that carries with it more éclat and advertisement. They may postpone solid everyday excellence to exhibition splendors, festivals, and jubilees on some unprecedented scale. But all this implies a genuine heart-life in music somewhere. Where there is smoke there must be fire. Fuss and feathers make the greater show and catch the vulgar ; but it is because heroes have been and will be again when God and a great crisis call. Do not charge all the egotism and vanity of musical artists, their catering to low tastes by cheap display, their grandiloquent announcements, their jealousies of one another, to music, or even wholly to themselves. It is the speculating, sordid, money-getting fever of the whole world around them that does the mischief, sets the singers at loggerheads, lowers the standard of composers and performers, and tempts the artist soul to sell its birthright and become a travelling thaumaturgic virtuoso. Music would make all this better, could she become ten times the public mistress that she is.
So much by way of introduction to the real purpose of this paper, which is to show THE WORTH OF MUSIC TO THIS PEOPLE AS A MEANS OF CULTURE.
But for the present we confine ourselves to culture in a general sense, too well foreseeing that it will require a special paper to exhibit music as a type of law, a revelation in its way of the divine organic movement through all spheres of matter and of mind, hence as a means of Intellectual Culture; and still another, to deduce from this the right of music to be regarded as a Universal Language, and therefore as the native language, pure and perfect, of what in man is universal and most human, The Religious Sentiment.
Music must become a great part of our common, we may say our atmospheric education. It has already gone too far for us to doubt it. Let its importance but begin to be appreciated, and the next Peabody will feel his way to general gratitude by liberal endowment of an art of vital interest to millions, where only tens or hundreds can know how to care for some of the learned branches for which professorships are founded. Money will yet be poured out freely for true colleges of music, as it has been for those of literature and science. Is it not worth as much fostering as a boat-race, international or other?
1. Consider, first, the simplest, prima facie claim of music ; consider its civilizing agency, so far as it may become part of the popular, the public education.
We, as a democratic people, a great mixed people of all races, overrunning a vast continent, need music even more than others. We need some ever-present, ever-welcome influence that shall insensibly tone down our self-asserting and aggressive manners, round off the sharp, offensive angularity of character, subdue and harmonize the free and ceaseless conflict of opinions, warm out the genial individual humanity of each and every unit of society, lest he become a mere member of a party, or a slave of business or fashion. This rampant liberty will rush to its own ruin, unless there shall be found some gentler, harmonizing, humanizing culture, such as may pervade whole masses with a fine enthusiasm, a sweet sense of reverence for something far above us, beautiful and pure, awakening some ideality in every soul, and often lifting us out of the hard, hopeless prose of daily life. We need this beautiful corrective of our crudities. Our radicalism will pull itself up by the roots, if it do not cultivate the instinct of reverence. The first impulse of freedom is centrifugal, to fly off the handle, unless it be restrained by a no less free, impassioned love of order. We need to be so enamored of the divine idea of unity, that that alone, — the enriching of that, — shall be the real motive for assertion of our individuality. What shall so temper and tone down our “fierce democracy?” It must be something better, lovelier, more congenial to human nature than mere stern prohibition, cold Puritanic “ Thou shalt not!” What can so quickly magnetize a people into this harmonic mood as music ? Have we not seen it, felt it ?
The hard - working, jaded millions need expansion, need the rejuvenating, the ennobling experience of JOY. Their toil, their church and creed, perhaps, their party livery, and very vote, are narrowing ; they need to taste, to breathe a larger, freer life. Has it not come to thousands while they have listened to or joined their voices in some thrilling chorus that made the heavens seem to open and come down ? The governments of the Old World do much to make the people cheerful and contented; here it is all laissez faire, each for himself, in an ever-keener strife of competition. We must look very much to music to do this good work for us ; we are open to that appeal ; we can forget ourselves in that ; we blend in joyous fellowship when we can sing together; perhaps quite as much so when we can listen together to a noble orchestra of instruments interpreting the highest inspirations of a master. The higher and purer the character and kind of music, the more of real genius there is in it, the deeper will this influence be.
Judge of what can be done by what already within our own experience has been done and daily is done. Think what the children in our schools are getting through the little that they learn of vocal music, — elasticity of spirit, joy in harmonious co-operation, in the blending of each happy life in others ; a rhythmical instinct of order and of measure in all movement; and a quickening of the ear and sense, whereby they will grow up susceptible to music as well as with some use of their own voices, so that they may take part in it ; for, from these spacious nurseries (loveliest flower-gardens, appleorchards in full bloom, say, on their annual fête days) shall our future choirs and oratorio choruses be replenished with good, sound material.
Think what unconscious culture, what refining influence, the people of a city might breathe in with the common breath of life from concerts in the open air, from military bands, and, better still, from civic bands, if only our king and lord, the people aforesaid in its corporate capacity, would make enlightened provision for these things, and institute a competent commission, or commissioner, a “ Philostrate, master of the revels,” of real taste and judgment, to see to it that the bands be good ones, the programmes of a kind to elevate and civilize, and not demoralize by brutal bray of everlasting brass ; and that the repertoire be made up of models of enduring beauty, instead of specimens of every foolish reigning fashion in its turn. Such an office should be of high honor, of careful appointment, and safe tenure, like a judgeship.
Think what revival of the best enthusiasm, what enriching of the inner man’s resources, what a lift to thought and feeling, may be given, has been given, by great festivals of music, and even by “great jubilees,” could their ambition be a little sobered, and all the claptrap and extravagance left out.
Think, above all, how much of the best kind of culture, though it be undefinable, undemonstrative, a silent absorption, as it were, through all the pores and into every finest spiritual fibre, may be found in the stated series of concerts of the highest order, where to listen well is to take part, and where every person present both in body and in soul “assists,” in the French sense of the word. All that is necessary to this is, that, besides rich material, there shall be a pure artistic spirit pervading the whole concert; the programme ought to be an art-work in itself, with nothing miscellaneous about it, it being not enough that it should contain fine things ; it should contain them so placed that they shall not jostle one another, each obliterating the impression of the last; and that their spell shall not be broken by bringing them into incongruous company with things of so irreconcilable a spirit that one can carry home no clear impression of the concert as a whole.
But of the good influence of music in the more popular and public way the half is not told, so long as we have not hinted how much fitly chosen music may do, has done, though too seldom, as an element in public celebrations of great events in human progress, in commemorations of great men, or in aid of noble charities. On such occasions its chief efficacy depends upon significant, appropriate selections to be played or sung ; upon the close affinity or correspondence of each strain of music, both with the spirit of the hour and with whatever spoken thought or ceremony it may prepare or follow ; in a word, upon a certain artistic unity of programme, of which it catches by quick sympathy the key-note, dictates in some way the order, moulds all into symmetry, tenderly guards throughout the unbroken continuity of meaning, and serves as frame and background to the whole. She, Music, should be called in at the first inchoation of the plot as the most sympathetic, subtly appreciative, suggestive confidante ; and when it comes to the fulfilment, hers is the part of chief interpreter, as well as of disposer, of all minds to the right mood of expectation and the right impression after. Commonly we do quite differently. We call in music upon such occasions, not as an equal, a co-working intelligence, but rather as king’s jester, to supply a little idle recreation in the pauses. We employ a band of instruments, mostly military, to discourse loud polkas, pot-pourris from operas, or what not, selected without rhyme or reason, and so rudely break the spell and rob the hour of character and meaning. Art would reform this. Art knows nothing miscellaneous.
We are not quite without examples of the better way ; our Boston Music Hall, within a few years, has been witness of a few which might be followed. Who that was present will forget that welcome to our noble Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation on that first of January, when Emerson first read his thrilling “ Boston Hymn ” of liberty and justice ; and when music, furnishing first the darker prelude, in allusion to the days of bondage and of hope deferred, through the Overture to “ Egmont,” and that exciting number from the “ The Hymn of Praise,” in which to the anxiously repeated question,
“ Will the night soon pass ? ” the clear soprano, like a stream of sunshine, startles with the cry, “ The night is departing ! ” and the glorious crescendo of the chorus floods the world with light and carries all before it in a blaze of high-pitched harmony and trumpets, — then proceeded in the lofty vein of heroism and of holy triumph, by making heard, in such significant connection (not to name all), the glorious Fifth Symphony of Beethoven ; the chorus from “ Elijah,” full of comfort to the long-suffering, “ He watching over Israel ” ; Handel’s sublime Hallelujahs ; and finally the patriotic “sun-burst ” of the Overture to “ William Tell ” ?
Think, too, of the part that music bore the day we listened to the eulogy on our good Governor. How the organ whispered peace'in those sweet strains of the concluding chorus, sung at the tomb of the Saviour, of Bach’s Passion Music ; and how the mournful effect of that grandest expression of a people’s grief, bereft of a true hero, the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Heroic Symphony, was tempered by the chorus, full of comfort, from “ St. Paul,” “ Happy and blest are they who have endured ” ; then by the heavenly andante, reassuring and uplifting, from the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven ; and then, to sum up all in one grand lesson, the strong, confiding choral, harmonized by Bach, “ What God does, surely is well done ! ”
Think, too, how music lent new meaning and new beauty to that commemoration of a great man of science, when our Agassiz paid noble tribute to the life and labors of his great friend and teacher, Humboldt; how the music and the spoken word shed light upon each other; how Mozart’s chorus of the Priests of Isis sang of the consecration of the noble youth to Truth, wherever she might lead him ; and how the wondrous Overture to “ The Magic Flute,” and the first movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, by their fascinating hint of the perpetual pursuit of unity through all the labyrinthine windings of variety, fitly prepared and followed a discourse of which that was the very theme !
Now out of all these ways of popular exposure to the influence of good music, as well as from private, even solitary communion with its master spirits, comes much valuable culture ; not in the sense of musical or any other knowledge, technical and special ; not a direct conscious culture, as such, of the memory or of the reasoning faculties ; not scholarship, perhaps, nor ease and elegance of manners nor address ; not force of will or quickness of decision ; but, nevertheless, a culture moulding us insensibly, a sort of atmospheric culture, weighing gently upon each and all, like wholesome air, expanding the chest, warming the heart, putting the nerves in tune, disposing to unconscious courtesy and kindness, prompting each to fill his place cheerfully and unobtrusively, forgetting self in the harmonious whole, weaving a sympathetic bond, making us all feel like happy, trustful children, free and not afraid.
We may learn something from our German fellow-citizens in illustration of this important chapter in the art of life. We as a people seem somehow to have lacked this art. We court prosperity like anxious bond-slaves, fearing to call a moment of our lives our own, fearing to live, in our unceasing, feverish pursuit of the mere means of living. We are enterprising to a fault; we go ahead faster than others ; but it is by a centaur-like contrivance, letting a large part of our real vital, human self run down into the lower animal, or the machine that carries us. Why, O “ live Yankee,” O proud Westerner, why waste your life in rivalling a steam-engine ! Man makes himself a mere machine for generating or accumulating power, and all for what ? And with what a solemn, sanctimonious, lean, hard-favored way he does it often ! With what a quasi-religious and self-righteous tone he quotes his business maxims ! How he amalgamates unworldly orthodoxy with the most secular showman’s cant in the advertising of his wares ! How he practically confounds religion with his own self-love, as generalized into prudential maxims !
We esteem ourselves the freest people on this planet; yet we have perhaps as little real freedom as any other ; for we are the slaves of our own feverish enterprise, and of a barren theory of discipline, which would fain make us virtuous to a fault through abstinence from very life. We are afraid to give ourselves up to the free and happy instincts of our nature. All that is not pursuit of advancement in some good, conventional, approved way of business, or politics, or fashion, or intellectual reputation, or professed religion, we count waste. We lack geniality ; nor do we, as a people, understand the meaning of the word. We ought to learn it practically of our Germans. It comes of the same root with the word genius. Genius is the spontaneous principle ; it is free and happy in its work; it is artist and not drudge ; its whole activity is reconciliation of the heartiest pleasure with the purest loyalty to conscience, with the most holy, universal, and disinterested ends. Genius, as Beethoven gloriously illustrates in his Choral Symphony (indeed, in all his symphonies), finds the key-note and solution of the problem of the highest state in “JOY,” taking his text from Schiller’s Hymn. Now all may not be geniuses, in the sense that we call Shakespeare, Mozart, Raphael, men of genius. But all should be partakers of this spontaneous, free, and happy method of genius ; all should live childlike, genial lives, and not wear all the time the consequential livery of their unrelaxing business, nor the badge of party and profession in every line and feature of their faces.
This genial, childlike faculty of social enjoyment, this happy art of life, is just what our countrymen may learn from the social “ Liedertafel” and the summer singing-festivals of which the Germans are so fond. There is no element of national character which we so much need; and there is no class of citizens whom we should be more glad to adopt and own than those who set us such examples. So far as it is a matter of culture, it is through art chiefly that the desiderated genial eramust be ushered in. The Germans have the sentiment of art, the feeling of the beautiful in art, and consequently in nature, more developed than we have. Above all, music offers itself as the most available, most popular, most influential of the fine arts, — music, which is the art and language of the feelings, the sentiments, the spiritual instincts of the soul, and so becomesa universal language, tending to unite and blend and harmonize all who may come within its sphere.
2. Such civilizing, educating power has music for society at large. Now in the finer sense of culture, such as we look for in more private and select “ society,” as it is called, music in the salon, in the small chamber concert, where congenial spirits are assembled in its name,—good music, of course, — does it not create a finer sphere of social sympathy and courtesy ? does it not better mould the tone and manners from within than any imitative “ fashion ” from without? What society, upon the whole, is quite so sweet, so satisfactory, so refined, as the best musical society, if only Mozart, Mendelssohn, Franz, Chopin, set the tone ! The finer the kind of music heard or made together, the better the society. This bond of union only reaches the few ; coarser, meaner, more prosaic natures are not drawn to it. Wealth and fashion may not dictate who shall be of it. Here congenial spirits meet in a way at once free, happy and instructive, meet with an object which insures “society”; whereas so-called society, as such, is often aimless, vague, unedifying and fatiguing, for the want of any subject-matter. Here one gets ideas of beauty which are not mere arbitrary fashions, ugly often to the eye of taste. Here you may escape vulgarity by a way not vulgar in itself, like that of fashion, which makes wealth and family and means of dress its passports. Here you can be as exclusive as you please, by the soul’s right, not wronging any one ; here learn gentle manners, and the quiet ease and courtesy with which cultivated people move, without in the same process learning insincerity.
Of course the same remarks apply to similar sincere reunions in the name of any other art, or poetry. But music is the most social of them all, even if each listener find nothing set down to his part (or even hers !) but tacet.
3. We have fancied ourselves entering a musical house together, but we must leave it with no time to make report, or picture out the scene. Now could we only enter the chamber, the inner sanctum, the private inner life of a thoroughly musical person, one who is wont to live in music ! Could we know him in his solitude ! (You can only know him in yourself, unless he be a poet and creator in his art and bequeath himself in that form, in his works, for any who know how to read.)
If the best of all society is musical society, we go further and say : The sweetest of all solitude is when one is alone with music. One gets the best of music, the sincerest part, when he is alone. Our poet-philosopher has told us to secure solitude at any cost; there ’s nothing which we can so ill afford to do without. It is a great vice of our society, that it provides for and disposes to so little solitude, ignoring the fact that often there is more loneliness in company than out of it. Now to a musical person, in the mood of it, in the sweet hours by himself, comes music as the nearest friend, nearer and dearer than ever before, and he soon finds that he never was in such good company. I doubt if symphony of Beethoven, opera of Mozart, Passion Music of Bach, was ever so enjoyed or felt in grandest public rendering, as one may feel it while he recalls its outline by himself at his piano (even if he be a slow and bungling reader, and must get it out by piecemeal). I doubt if such an one can carry home from the performance, in presence of the applauding crowd, nearly so much as he may take to it from such inward, private preparation.
Are you alone ? what spirits you can summon up to fill the vacancy, and people it with life and love and beauty ! Take down the volume of Sonatas, the arrangement of the great Symphony, the recorded reveries of Chopin, the songs of Schubert, Schumann, Franz, or even the chorals, with the harmony of Bach, in which the four parts blend their several individual melodies together in such loving service of the whole, that the plain people’s tune becomes a germ unfolding into endless wealth and beauty of meaning, and you have the very essence of all prayer and praise and gratitude, as if you were a worshipper in the ideal church. Nothing like music, then, to banish the benumbing ghost of ennui. It lends secret sympathy, relief, expression, to all one’s moods, loves, longings, sorrows ; comes nearer to the soul, or to the secret wound, than any friend or healing sunshine from without. It nourishes and feeds the hidden springs of hope and love and faith ; renews the old conviction of life’s springtime, —that the world is ruled by love, that God is good, that beauty is a divine end of life, and not a snare and an illusion. It floods out of sight the unsightly, muddy grounds of life’s petty, anxious, doubting moments, and makes immortality a present fact, lived in and realized. It locks the door against the outer world of discords, contradictions, importunities, beneath the notice of a soul so richly occupied ; lets “ Fate knock at the door (as Beethoven said in explanation of his symphony), — Fate and the pursuing Furies, —and even welcomes them, and turns them into gracious goddesses, Eumenides !
Music in this way is a marvellous elixir to keep off old age. Youth returns in solitary hours with Beethoven and Mozart. Touching the chords of the Moonlight Sonata, the old man is once more a lover ; with the andante of the Pastoral Symphony, he loiters by the shady brookside hand in hand with his fresh heart’s first angel. You are past the sentimental age, yet you can weep alone in music, — not weep exactly, but find outlet more expressive and more worthy of your manly faith.
A great grief comes, an inconsolable bereavement, an humiliating, paralyzing reverse, a blow of Fate giving the lie to your best plans and bringing your best powers into discredit with yourself ; then you are best prepared and best entitled to receive the secret visitations of these tuneful goddesses and muses.
He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.”
So sings the German poet. It is the want of inward, deep experience, it is innocence of sorrow and of trial, more than the lack of any special cultivation of musical taste or knowledge, that debars many people — naturally most young people, and all who are what we call shallow natures — from the feeling and enjoyment of many of the truest, deepest, and most heavenly of all the works of music. Take the Passion Music of Bach, for instance ; if you can sit down alone at your piano and decipher strains and pieces of it when you need such music, you shall find that in its quiet quaintness, its sincerity and tenderness, its abstinence from all striving for effect, it speaks to you and entwines itself about your heart, like the sweetest, deepest verses in the Bible, when “ the soul muses till the fire burns,”
Such a panacea is this art for loneliness. But sometimes, too, it may intensify the sense of loneliness, only for more heavenly relief at last. Think of the deep composer, of lonely, sad Beethoven, wreaking his pain upon expression in those impatient chords and modulations, putting his sorrows into sonatas, and wringing triumph always out of all ! Look at him as he was then, morose, they say, and lonely and tormented ; look where he is now, as the whole world knows him, feels him, seeks him for its joy and inspiration,— and who can doubt of immortality ?
Now in such private solace, in such solitary joys, is there not culture ? Can one rise from such communings with the good spirits of the tone-world, and go out, without new peace, new faith, new hope, and good-will in his soul ? He goes forth in the spirit of reconciliation and of patience, however much he may hate the wrong he sees about him, or however little he accept authorities and creeds that make war on his freedom. The man who has tasted such life, and courted it till he has become acclimated in it, whether he be of this party or that, or none at all, whether he be believer or “ heretic,” conservative or radical, follower of Christ by name or “Free Religionist,” belongs to the harmonic and anointed bodyguard of peace, fraternity, good-will ; his instincts all have caught the rhythm of that holy march ; the good genius leads, he has but to follow cheerfully and humbly. For somehow the minutest fibres, the infinitesimal atoms of his being, have got magnetized, as it were, into a loyal, positive direction toward the pole-star of unity ; he has grown attuned to a believing, loving mood, just as the body of a violin, the walls of a music-hall, by much musicmaking, become gradually seasoned into smooth vibration.
John S. Dwight.