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THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC
HERE is a story, in Max Müller's amusing re
miniscences, of how Mendelssohn and David once played, in his hearing, Beethoven's later sonatas for piano and violin, and of how they shrugged their shoulders, and opined the old man had not been quite himself when he wrote them. In the history of music it seems to be a rule almost without exceptions, that the works of genius are greeted with contumely. The same is no doubt true, though to a much less degree, of other arts, but in music it seems that the critics proposed also excellent reasons for their vehemence. And it is instructive to observe that the objections, and the reasons for the objections, recur, after the original object of wrath has passed into acceptance, nay, into dominance of the musical world. One may also descry one basic controversy running through all these utterances, even when not explicitly set forth.
It was made a reproach to Beethoven, as it has been made a reproach to Richard Strauss, that he sacrificed the beauty of form to expression; and it was rejoined, perhaps less in the old time than now, that expression was itself the end and meaning of music. Now the works of genius, as we have seen, after all take care of themselves. But it is of greatest significance for the theory of music, as of all art, that in the circle of the years, the same contrasting views, grown to ever sharper opposition, still greet the appearance of new work. It was with Wagner, as all the world knows, that the question came first to complete formulation. His invention of the music-drama rested on his famous theory of music as the heightened medium of expression, glorified speech, which accordingly demands freedom to follow all the varying nuances of feeling and emotion. Music has always been called the language of the emotions, but Wagner based his views not only on the popular notion, but on the metaphysical theories of Schopenhauer; in particular, on the view that music is the objectification of the will. Herbert Spencer followed with the thesis that music has its essential source in the cadences of emotional speech. In opposition primarily to Wagner, the so-called formalists were represented by Hanslick, who wrote his well-known • The Beautiful in Music” to show that though music has a limited capacity of expression, its aim is formal or logical perfection alone. The expressionist school could not contradict the undoubted fact that chords and intervals which are harmoni. ous show certain definite physical and mathematical relationships, that, in other words, our musical preferences appear to be closely related to, if not determined by, these relationships. Thus each school seemed to be backed by science. The emotionalspeech theory has been held in a vague way, indeed, by most of those theorists whose natural conservatism would have drawn them in the other direction, and is doubtless responsible for the attempts at mediation, first made by Ambros, and now met in almost all musical literature. Music may be, and is, expressive, it is said, so long as each detail allows itself to be entirely derived from and justified by the mere formal element. The “ centre of gravity” lies in the formal relations.
To this, after all, Hanslick himself might subscribe. Other writers seek to balance form and expression, insisting on “ the dual nature of music," while resting ultimately on the emotional-speech theory. “The most universal composers, recognizing the interdependence of the two elements, produce the highest type of pure music, music in which beauty is based upon expression, and expression transfigured by beauty.” 2
This usual type of reconciliation, however, is a perfectly mechanical binding together of two possibly conflicting æsthetic demands. The question is of the essential nature of music, not whether music may be, but whether it must be, expressive;
1 The Boundaries of Music and Poetry. 2 D. G. Mason, From Grieg to Brahms, 1902, p. 30.