Music is not a mere entertainment, a means of sensuous or sentimental gratification, but the mode of expression of the human soul which penetrates deepest, circulates widest, and soars highest. There is no branch of culture more important, and in our own country and age there is no influence so desirable, as that of musical expression in its higher forms.
It seems strange that it should be necessary to say this: and yet it is so, to reassure the many who obscurely feel, and confront the many who have no idea, of such truths.
Since the time of the Greek philosopher who knew that Music and Mathematics were the universal mediums through which all things might best be taught and learned, thought has not advanced, nor has so grand a formula of instruction been proffered since by any school. Men are still unfit to estimate this, or test its significance by faithful practice.
In some regions, where the Arts flourish spontaneously, Music assumes her proper place, as the divine Urania who hallows, guides and answers the thoughts of Man. But, in those also which are less favored by Nature, this ought to be recognized, and the essence of the rose prized by those who never walked in the gardens which allure the nightingale from Heaven.
Now and then we meet a valuable expression of such feelings which gives us true delight. Such have we received from an “Address delivered before the Harvard Musical Association, in the Chapel of the University at Cambridge, August, 1845, by CHRISTOPHER P. CRANCH.”
As we know hardly any thing so good written on the subject in this country, we regret very much to see that the pamphlet is not published, but only printed for the Society. It will, of course, be circulated, to a considerable extent, from hand to hand; but it contains so simple, so beautiful an essay from a mind constituted by nature and developed by instruction to an unusually intimate understanding of the subject, that we much regret it should not be generally read. But for its length, it would have been republished entire in The Tribune; as it is, we must content ourselves with some extracts.
Mr. CRANCH, in speaking nobly as he does in the following passage of the objects of this Society, designates with might be effected by such, if established in every city, town and village:
* * * “Our Association is not like an old projecting stone of the college building,—venerable, yet dead; but like a young, fragrant wall-flower springing out of it, and lending beauty to the home of its cold unpaternal ancestry. The day has come when those whose stolen musical indulgences were looked upon so askance and jealously, by our Alma Mater, have come out, undowered and free, to take a stand for themselves, and have built up a society, in whose protecting and kindly influences these secret longings for a fresher life than our colleges justify could find their natural sphere. Your Association contains in its constitution and intent, the germ of a new and profound school of education. For it asserts the fact of the beautiful as a primary element in the development of the mind. It gives the sanction of lawful and good to what the past has styled idleness. The young student, whose tender conscience reproved him for looking off from his Euclid or his Butler’s Analysis, for a moment, to listen to the liquid trill of the thrush, in the trees before his window,—whose soul went out in indefinable longings, when he heard far off the swell of the bounding bugles, or the band of vocal serenades,—has now learned another lore and has felt, that in yielding himself to his nature, he has found truth hand in hand with beauty.
“It is for this associated, organized recognition of the province of beauty, in nature and in art, especially in the great sphere of music, that I again congratulate you, gentlemen, and feel myself so privileged in assembling with you to-day.
“When I accepted your invitation, my thought was, how to express any thing on the subject of music, which should have definiteness, while it aimed to avoid narrowness of statement. It is not easy to speak well on this theme. I feel my incompetence, not chiefly on account of an imperfect acquaintance with the scientific basis of Music,—because here it seems fittest to view it on the æsthetic and spiritual side,—but simply because I feel it to be a theme almost too great for words to do justice to. Thinking of music, and of any deep expression of this divine gift to man, I often feel utterly at a loss what to say. It is like all fullness of beauty, ineffable and divine. No idea of it, but the purely transcendental, seems admissible or worthy. It seems as if a discourse upon Music should be a poem, a mystic hymn, a breathing like itself, part of its own inspired utterances. Such beauty—
should be its own interpreter. At least, on an occasion like this, all scientific, all technical, still more dilettante talk about Music, seems narrow and degrading. We would shut out from this sacred enclosure, all the small theorists and critics of schools and concert rooms and opera boxes, and listen to a deeper wisdom, and drink in more refined draughts of beauty. Some Hebe must proffer us the cup while we sup at the banquet of the gods.
“I must be pardoned, therefore, if, in dealing with this theme, I shall indulge occasionally in what may be termed vagueness and extravagance of expression. For I feel as if entering upon holy and mysterious ground. I have no fitting words to declare how much Music is to me. It is a great unnamed, undefined—a perpetual transfusion from the spiritual, the very intimate presence of God, as eternally founded, as subtly interpenetrating, as any manifestation of beauty that visits this visible world. When I am lifted on the wings of melody and harmony, I feel that I have no words for this matter. Articulate language is lame and lagging! Music then seems to me an ethereal rain, and ever soft distillation, fragrant and liquid and wholesome to the soul, as dew to flowers; an incomprehensible delight, a joy, a voice of mystery, that seems to stand on the boundary between the spheres of the senses and the soul, and plead with poor, unrefined human nature, to ascend into regions of seraphic, uncontained life.
“O wondrous power! Art thou not the nearest breath of God’s own beauty, borne to us amid this infinite whispering gallery of his creation! Type of all love and reconciliation,—solvent of contrary, hard elements,—blender of soul with soul, and of all with the infinite harmony! How shall we express thee unblamed? how but in strains of some inspired genius, surpassing even those of him who praised the light, ‘offspring of Heaven first born!’ With numbers, such as poets feign, of Orpheus and Amphion, but beyond all that the sons of earth have ever sung to us, should this divine mystery be fittingly celebrated.
“If I seem like a rhapsodist, in exalting the ministry of Music to this pitch, you need but mark your own experiences,—those of you who are blessed with musical susceptibilities and powers,—or at least, read the lives of those great composers who have been the true priests of harmony, and you will find the most mystical flights of enthusiasm supported by all the solidity of fact.
“I conceive of Music as the finest expression of life, from its lowest actual up to its highest ideal phases. It is the most central, universal mode of utterance, which art can attain. It is vague, because the thoughts and feelings it aims to express partake of the infinite. It represents nothing with the graphic outline of the pencil, because it strives to paint what no outlines can take in. It is the heart’s prayer, which cannot embody itself so fully as in the language of tones and harmonies.
“Novalis has called philosophy the soul’s home-sickness. May not Music, also, be so defined, with even more fullness of meaning? For Music seems like the soul’s effort to speak its mother tongue in a strange land, a yearning for a completer fulfilment of its destiny, an attempt to paint on the blank canvas of the present, with color-like melodies and tint-like harmonies, its ideal, Claude-like reminiscences of the scenery of its native clime. Never do such visions of the perfect life come to us as when listening to the highest musical compositions. These point to a real spiritual fountain, of which they are the streams. As sometimes when we are rambling through Southern woods, the breeze wafts to us, from a distance, the odor of the rich, deep-hidden magnolia, so, when strains of music are heard, we feel that such a delicious distilment of sweets was not out of nothing and for nothing, but has a corresponding spiritual source back of it, in the unseen world. Music is the concentrated aroma of the finest flowers of life, a foretaste of the great possibilities in human destiny, a vision of angelic, ideal life.
Of course I speak now of Music of the highest order. As Music is the language of the affections, it must be as various as these are. It is the magic mirror, which idealizes every class of feelings, from the lowest to the highest. It expresses alike the voice of rage, of scorn, of desire, of love, of devotion, of penitence, of boundless aspiration.”
The following expresses adequately some leading facts:
“In all ages, ancient and modern, Music has had its inspired votaries. But it is only within the last few centuries, as we all know, that it has attained to perfection as a science and an art. How the plant, which for so many ages looked so dry and dead and unpromising, at length bloomed out in such fragrant and brilliant completeness, you all well know. We must all have felt it to be a privilege of priceless value, that we are born in an age, through which are transmitted the inspirations of Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and the long line of masters, second only to these bright particular stars. It is a great thing to live after these men, men whose lives were all one burning feeling, one overmastering idea, one deep-yearning after a perfect expression of the beautiful, one long series of grand unclassified psychological facts. In their still world of dreams, what miracles did the power of Art work out, from their intense conceptions! What skillful choice and marshaling of means for producing their intended effects, and what patient and intense labor at composition!
“The lives of these men are like insulated points in history, only to be well comprehended by those who are somewhat similarly organized. But their influence is wider than we think. A great musical composer is a central power, who radiates a finer sense of beauty, by little and little, into the outmost and least-delicately organized souls. He is but a poet, whose language is more interior and universal, than those who sing in articulate words. Where we stop short, on the threshold of the holy of holies, and are unable to penetrate, by reason of the imperfection of human speech, the high priest of harmony enters, and utters to the World’s ear the deep, soul-entrancing oracles of God. The curse of Babel falls not on him. He speaks and writes in the native tongue of the Angels, and the music is caught up and repeated, with joy and acclamation, in the isles beyond the sea. His style becomes the style of his age. We sing variations—imitations of his themes. These, in turn, are caught up and repeated, and in other forms of melody and combinations of harmony, they again burst forth upon the ear; and thus they go circling through lands, flashing from soul to soul—the air is pervaded by a musical spirit, the ear is more delicately tuned, the soul more enlarged and spiritualized; and beauty, which is God’s primal benediction to his children, is celebrated with pious joy and reverence.”
“Of this sweet, humanizing ministry, on the hearts of men, I need not speak. We all know enough of this. We are not stocks and stones. Our hearts vibrate to Music, as if they were themselves musical instruments; and so they are, differing from one another in the delicacy of construction, but all responding to the voice of God, which no one can resist.”
The following speaks for itself. How much is indicated by what is said of Schubert!
“I would take occasion to mention one name not yet very widely known, but which seems to me destined to have great influence among us—Franz Schubert, who in the department of song-writing seems to me not to be surpassed by even Beethoven himself. The exceeding beauty of his melodies and yet more of his harmonies, reveals him to us as a master of the very soul of the art. What sweet devotion in his Ave Maria, with its accompaniment, so steadily preserved, like prayer without ceasing, yet rising and falling like the panting bosom which pours it forth—what longing, desolate sadness in his song of Gretchen, in Faust—and how skillfully the ceaseless hum and motion of her spinning-wheel accompanies her heart-breaking strains—what tender yearnings in the last greeting, the complaints of a young maiden, and in ‘I should fly from thee’—what stirring dramatic motion in his Erl King, and the Post Horn—what solemnity and grandeur in ‘The Stars’—what fine, reflective soliloquizing in the song of the Old Man—what wild grace in the rocking, wavy motion of the Barcarole, and Fisher Maiden—and what exquisite breathings and droppings of love, moonlight, flowers, and every thing fairy-like and heavenly, in his Serenade! I should have mentioned the stormy sorrow of his Atlas—and the mighty descent of the godlike forms to earth, in music to Schiller’s Dithyrambic, ‘Never, believe me, appear the immortals, never alone.’
“In every mood of passion and feeling he is at home. We do not easily forget songs that thus sway us as the wind does the willow. They waken in us dreams as wild and sweet as ever bard or lover indulged—they are indeed the most genuine poetry of song I have ever listened to. They spring from a genius imbued with the very soul of poetry.
“A very short acquaintance with compositions of this class would do more to purify and sweeten our musical feasts than a knowledge of all the popular song-writers of England and America put together. Our salt having lost its savor, we can only be preserved from utter vapidity and flatness by importations from Germany. Let us not fear the charge of imitation. It is too stale a charge to be pungent. We must imitate while we continue in this state of pupilage. Foolish critics talk of the want of a National Music in America. A National Music is the spontaneous growth of ages of insulated life and feelings. It is impossible that American Music can do more than reproduce the Music of other ages and nations. We are too open to the world, too receptive of all influences from abroad. We are too much a nation made up of others.
“Our mission in Music, as in Literature, is to be eclectics. We are for a long time yet to be in the position of learners, and talk foolishly when we speak of a National Music.
“Beside, Music must needs be an universal language. It utters the same thoughts and feelings to me as to the German, the Frenchman, the Italian, and this universality is what constitutes its very essence.”
We must add the closing passage:
“And if we still experience the lingering effects of institutions and modes of education so discouraging to art, we have certainly, to a great extent, triumphed over them gloriously. Much has been done and more is doing to promote the education of the young in this true school of divinity. Every year I hope is carrying us farther forward.
“Let us, members of this Association, not be behindhand in whatever of enthusiasm, skill, and acquirement we possess, to promote Music ad musical literature. We hold key to the richest storehouses of God’s perfect beauty. The language spoken in Heaven is taught us on all sides by this bountiful age we live in. Music, which is the ultimate expression and correspondence of harmonious spiritual laws, of heavenly affections, of the deep, unrevealed loveliness to which this earth is yet almost a stranger,—music, which is the voice of this ‘wide, prophetic world, dreaming of things to come,’ the voice of struggling humanity pleading with the crushing discords of social evil, the vice of infinite love itself, which is the imprisoned soul of the universe,—this great gift is bequeathed to us,—bequeathed for higher uses, too, than sensuous enjoyment,—even for the enlargement and refinement of what is spiritually within us. Let us not neglect it or desecrate it. Let us exercise the gift in proportion to our abundance—and the little we do shall be as seeds of the beautiful garden plants of another Eden on earth, those flowers which bloom not for earth only, but for heaven and immortality.”
In connection with these finer utterances of an enlarged and thoughtful mind, let us take some of the popular sense that we find in the Liverpool Mercury of 3d Jan. 1846.
Liverpool is a place by its position, and natural occupations as much devoted to money making and the hurry which eats up life like a fever, without real profit to the patient or any one else, as New York. Yet here and there, as hearts of true life in this great, bustling body, we find men, find associations of men, who see the better objects of existence, and strive to diffuse the knowledge of them. Roscoe, we believe, did not live there in vain. Such men we need here—men who will show that it is possible to be a practical man without devoting themselves to mere practice with the servility of a machine or the blind instinct of the lower animals who make money, not to become bloated with the consciousness, or pine and dwindle with the care of its possession, nor only to invest it in carpets, mahogany and fine clothes, for foolish wives to make more foolish daughters withal; but as means of the culture of the arts and sciences—the services of those geniuses, gifted priests of Heaven, who have not time to attend to their earthly wants while delivering their celestial messages, and the instruction and refinement of the laboring classes. Such men we want much—where are they? Under freer circumstances and in an older world. New-York should have many Roscoes, and many still nobler forms of such a character.
In Liverpool, if the working classes suffer and are degraded beyond what tongue can tell or pen set down, yet there are efforts to give them some of the advantages and pleasures in many places monopolized by those already rich. Among these are Concerts, given every Saturday evening, under the direction of a suitable committee. It was the account of a festival to celebrate the good results of this arrangement that attracted our attention. An important part of the archives of the time may be found in the accounts of such entertainments. The speeches and toasts display the sense of men at the time, and the circulation of the record stimulates to farther thought on the same subjects. Dinners and festivals fill to us, in part, the place the games of the Greeks did to them. Nor can the importance of public entertainments to the character of a nation be over-valued;—but of that another time. We have too long a chapter on that subject waiting to be written, and now we want our room for the Liverpool speeches.
The gentleman who made the following speech was a true New-Englander in his turn of mind.—Especially notice what he says of the “solid food” of lectures compared with the “heavenly garniture of music.” Take the descendant of the Puritans to Heaven and he would not believe he received “solid” instruction or benefit from being there, unless formally told so in the shape of sermon or lecture. To him the revelations of love, of music, of prophetic vision, seem mere amusement, hardly excusable pastime of idleness, unless they can be “clearly” arranged under distinct heads for the Lyceum lecture. Like the New-Englander, too, the Liverpool Mr. Smith is the best intentioned man in the world and as liberal as he thinks it prudent to be.
“Mr. J. SMITH congratulated the assembly on the many smiling faces he saw around him, and though, from indisposition, he was unable to address them at any length, he could not enter a scene such as the one before him and be cold as a stone. He hoped the kind of festivity in which they were that evening participating would be kept, and was almost tempted to use the expression of Alderman Curtis, of whom it had been related, that he wished a certain anniversary to be held twice a year. Such meetings as those were to be preferred to all others, not only as being least expensive, but because those who participated in them had nothing wherewith to reproach themselves on the following morning; but they might say they had received some pleasure as well as profit. They had all enjoyed considerable pleasure at the concerts which had been held in that room; but he wished them to go a step farther, and, in addition to those concerts, to have one lecture each week, so that their minds might have some of the solid food as well as of the heavenly garniture which they had in the shape of music; and when he saw the room crowded, and a gentleman lecturing on natural philosophy, or any other of the useful sciences, then would he say the Concert Hall had answered its purpose, and instruction had become blended with amusement. He referred to the period when only £50 had been asked from the Corporation by the late Mr. W. Currie for educational purposes, and an objection was urged by one of the members to the grant, because he said he had read something about a man named Bacon, who had affirmed that knowledge was power; and he did not wish power to be given to the poor man.”
So far, so good! but we makers and tuners of organs and harps are ready to go farther than the Smiths, who still must shoe the horses of a hurrying world. The Chairman who makes the speech in the following extract is Mr. Rathbone of Liverpool, a name honored by many in this country no less that in his own. It will be observed how naturally a musical festival led to thoughts of the influence of woman and the harmonies of home; and the inference may be drawn by him who runs, if he do not run away from thought.
“The best stimulus that could be given to the Committee, the best thanks that could be tendered them, the best substantial proof that could be given of public appreciation, was crowded, orderly, and respectful audiences.—There was no selfish end to gain, no personal view to promote, the sole object of the Committee being to elevate, humanize, intellectualize, and, at the same time, to amuse the people.
Song—“Happy year.’—Miss Whitnal.
“The Chairman said that as he saw so many of his female friends around him, he would address them for a few moments relative to the important station they held in society. He would remind them that history had ever verified the saying, that ‘as the women of a country are, so will the men be.’ It was a fearful responsibility that rested on the female portion of any country.—He would also add that, in point of education, what the mothers were so would they generally be. They seldom met with a great or good man that had not the advantage of a blessed mother for his instructor—and they seldom knew a man who had been consistent in life that had not the blessing of a good wife to keep him to his duty. In most cases where husbands went astray, there was some fault at home. He remembered a young friend of his (although he admitted it was perhaps easier to preach than to practice) who was at one period going in a course of intemperance and ruin. He remonstrated with him; when he observed that no one could accuse him of never having said his prayers, whether drunk or sober. He confessed he thought such an observation something like blasphemy, to say his prayers under such circumstances. However, his friend had a very serious illness, and it appeared that not merely those prayers which had been taught him by his mother, but her good wishes, which he so often received, produced such an effect on his mind that he became quite reformed, and on his recovery from sickness turned out a respectable member of society. He confessed that, as regarded the dwellings of the poor, the right had not done what they ought to do, and before the neatness and comfort in their houses could be carried out effectually, that stain which now rested on the town must be wiped away, and he trusted the time was not far distant when that would be the case. But even under present circumstances, the people must do their duty. If the house was only a poor one, and was clean and neat when the husband came home, and every thing in order, was he not more likely to stay than if he came to a scolding wife, and with every thing dirty and out of place. There was also another thing, and that was, that mothers should instil into their children, at an early age, the love of truth. Such a course would influence their conduct through life, and their daughters would not be disposed to associate with those devoid of self-respect; they would operate upon the men, who would, consequently, become respectable, so that they might, in time, be respected by the females. In that way the influence of woman would have its effect. He remembered an instance in which a lady, having discovered that her lover had promised to vote one way out of Parliament but voted the reverse when in, refused her hand and broke off the match; and he thought that they would not have so many tricky people in Parliament if they were aware that they would lose their sweethearts if they sold their country. He had a great aversion to mixing up politics with their proceedings, but what he had stated were not politics, but general principles. It was a saying of Sir Richard Francis, and he (Mr. Rathbone) thought a wise one, that the cream always rose to the top, and if the milk was good, so would the cream be—and if the people were good, their rulers would be good; and in reference to that part of the subject the ladies had also considerable influence—they might impress upon their husbands the necessity of exercising their right in the election of representatives in an honest and straightforward manner, telling them to remember that the right they possessed was not a property, but a trust, for the proper use of which they were responsible. In fact, with the women of a country must depend the good conduct of parties in every station of society whether high or low. He wished there were fewer distinctions and a greater equality in society generally, although he wished it to be understood he was no leveler. There were differences in life, and must be, and if they destroyed every thing tomorrow, good conduct and perseverance would produce an aristocracy, and perhaps, a better than that which now exist, for it would be one arising out of good and upright conduct. He concluded by congratulating them on the successful efforts which had been made for introducing the industrial classes to an acquaintance with Music of a refined and elevating character, and that the prejudices which had existed against such a course were fast dying away.”
It will be seen that the speeches were intermingled with musical performances. The benefits of such meetings must be very great—no less to those who give than those who receive. Come we and do likewise, and we shall think more and love more in our country, and the Capitalist and Laborer may yet be bound in a harmony cheerful as the music of Haydn, prophetic as that of Beethoven.*
“Music,” New-York Daily Tribune, 31 January 1846, p. 1.