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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Why I dislike 20th Century Music

"In music, again, we find a tendency towards the same aberrations. The simple, though it produces its effect, soon appears too easy; difficulties are courted, merely for the sake of being overcome, and of thus displaying the technical skill of the performer. Sometimes the search after novelty leads the composer to venture into the field where music is weakest—that of direct imitation of natural sounds by musical notes,—a species of rivalry, the hopelessness of which makes us feel the good sense of Agesilaus' answer, when requested to hear a man sing who could imitate the nightingale,—' I have heard the nightingale herself.' Nay, musicians have attempted not merely to imitate sounds by notes, but even to represent motion—to describe the seasons— to picture sunrise or sunset—to convey the impressions of colour —or even to narrate the incidents of a battle or a campaign ; for the ingenious organist of Ferdinand III., Froberger, is said to have presented a very striking musical representation of Count Thurn's passage over the Rhine, and the dangers of the transit, 'in twenty-six cataracts, or. falls of notes.'* Indeed, when a taste for this sort of mimetic music is once introduced (the proper sphere of which would be the comic opera), it is wonderful how even the greatest genius gives way to the contagion, and follows the herd,—for a greater than Froberger, Handel, has now and then ventured upon similar tricks of sound. In the ' Messiah,' at the passage, ' I will shake the heavens and the earth,' he has introduced a sort of musical pun, by repeating the word several times on a chain of musical shakes, ' as if,' says a critic,' the 'quavering of the voice could represent the commotions of the 'world.' And, in his 'Israel in Egypt,' he has undertaken to represent, by musical notes, two of the plagues of Egypt, viz. the buzzing of flies and the hopping of frogs.

But even where these elaborate quackeries have been avoided, there is still a tendency, as music becomes more scientific, to diverge more and more from the simplicity of original melody; to give an undue predominance to harmony; to render instrumental music a series of tours de force, calculated rather to excite astonishment than to give pleasure: and then to make vocal music itself ape the capricious movements of the instrumental—

'With giddy cunning,
The melting voice through mazes running,'

till the proper object of music, the suggestion of pleasing, or tender, or elevating associations, is, in a great measure, forgotten.

It is therefore of the utmost importance, that there should exist a mass of popular song, of which the people are at once the poets and the musicians; from which an infusion of fresh vigour and original melody should from time to time be conveyed into the frame of music, to counteract those tendencies which it acquires in the hands of strictly scientific artists; and to bring it back to its proper vocation, as an art of universal application. From such sources—

'Whose birth tradition notes not, nor who framed
Their nameless strain'—

the greatest of our modern composers have drawn liberally, and with the happiest effect even on music of a scientific character. Mr Dauney accordingly notices, that to the judicious employment of these popular resources 'we are chiefly to refer what has been called the ideal system of modern music,—a system at once scientific and pleasing, and which we find carried to its highest pitch in some of the symphonial compositions of Haydn, Mozart,and Beethoven, which not only delight us by the richness and brilliancy of their harmony and instrumentation, but transport us into regions of enchantment, by the variety of characteristic associations to which they give rise; and by awakening our imaginative faculties, conjoin with what may be termed the organic pleasures of the art, all the higher enjoyment of which the poetical part of our nature is susceptible.'"

--- Ancient Scotish Melodies, from a Manuscript of the Reign of King James VI. With an Introductory Enquiry, illustrative of the History of the Music of Scotland. By William Dauney, Esq. F.S.A. Scot. Edinburgh; 4to. 1838 in The Edinburgh Review: Or Critical Journal, Volume 69
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