Fetis’s “Music Explained” by Margaret Fuller

Music Explained. By FRANCIS JAMES FETIS.

THIS little book brings just what is wanted by many among us, an account of the technical terms of the art, the scope and capabilities of the different instruments, and different kinds of composition. For it is not music explained, for that were an impossibility, but the modes of expression in music, defined and discriminated one from the other. It will be of use to the many who, with a pleasure in hearing music that they cannot let go, are continually disappointed and puzzled, because ignorance, as to the means and resources of the art, has occasioned their forming expectations which cannot be realized, and prevents their appreciating the degree in which expression is attained.
Music has been, in a sense, popular here, during the winter; that is to say, musical entertainments have drawn large audiences, but the frequent rudeness of talking during the finest
performance, has shown that no small part of the audience were regardless of the divine expressions of thought they thus insulted, no less than of the feelings of those who might have enjoyed them, but for the neighborhood of these intruders. It ought to be understood that half a dollar buys a seat, and the privilege of hearing, but not that of making the same useless to all around. Strange, strange, that it should be necessary to say such things! Das versteht sich: that is understood of itself, say the Germans.
The Academy concerts have not satisfied the expectations excited by the ability with which they were conducted the previous winter. They have indeed repeated several times the
fifth symphony of Beethoven, which is always heard with renewed delight, and the second symphony, but the Pastoral, not at all, and have given us no new piece from this master. The Jupiter was given only once; we cannot guess why; hearing it once, and coldly performed, as it seemed to be, it made no impression; but the course the academy has heretofore pursued,
was to study and repeat fine compositions, till they were understood, both by the performers and hearers. This winter they have preferred to amuse the public with showy overtures, well enough in their way, but not adapted to raise or purify the taste of those who are so immediately pleased with them, or to gratify those who have any deep feeling of music. One concert was made up of overtures, which reminded us of Timon’s feast, only substituting bottles of cider (we can’t say Champagne) for the warm water which he had prepared to balk his hungry guests.
The Handel and Haydn society have given the Messiah, Mendelsohn’s St. Paul, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater, as well as is possible with such a lack of good solo singers. — The Stabat is a splendid and flowing composition, unworthy the theme, and unworthy the echoes that have answered to the sublime choruses of the Messiah, but full of life, of winged melody, and such excellencies as may be expected from Rossini. As Scott to Shakspeare is Rossini to Handel, so wide the gulf of difference, both as to depth of insight, and poetic power of representation; — but then again, wide as the distance between Bulwer and Scott is that between the imitators of Rossini and himself, the great green tree, blossoming full of vigor and joy, the fountain overflowing with enchanting, though superficial melody. It is Italy, it is Naples in its high coloring and profuse growths.
The younger Rakemann, who came to this country last autumn, has added a new and important page to our musical experiences. He has enjoyed the benefits of intercourse with the most wonderful pianists in this day of wonderful execution, and adds, to the great command of the instrument attainable by early and ardent study of their methods, a depth of feeling, range and force of expression far more admirable. He has a wide range, doing justice to delicate, to magnificent, or simple and solemn compositions. If it be possible that his genius be worthily developed in a country where is, as yet, no musical atmosphere, we hope he will remain to educate for the enjoyment of his performance, and of the thoughts of his masters.

Source: The Dial (April 1843) pp. 533-534