Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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inner conflict, or perchance whisper a kind
of pleasure at its own self-titillation. Air
may be said figuratively to be able to utter
its own joys and sorrows. And Ave may note
that air is always in a state of inner dual-
ism, self-repulsion, self-separation, being
both depressed by gravitation and exalted by
expansion. Hence it is ever ready to sympa-
thize with stricken matter and to take up and
to propagate the accents of the latter in
sound. It possesses a kind of heart for feel-
ing and expressing the strokes of the fated
world of externality which we often name
Nature. Such is the impressionable and re-
sponsive medium, which feels (so to speak)

MUSIC. 431

itself struck and answers in sjTnpathy when
any piece of matter is struck within its com-

The elemental symbolism which lies in the
very nature of air should be scanned, as it
goes over into the substrate of Music. We
have marked the inner scission of air, ever
compelled to gravitate yet ever reacting
against gravitation ; it seems a soul aspiring
heavenward yet dragged down earthward;
it shows a material side descending, and an
ideal side ascending. And so ever vibrating
within itself, it becomes the medium of all
vibration of bodies, really the universal vi-
bration through which Music is possible.

We have at times to ask whence comes
this separation millionfold into colliding
bodies with their outcries, their noises'? The
primordial individuation of the total material
world is a fact to be accepted by Music which
indeed turns matter upon matter (in the
form of instruments) to produce the tones
of its Art. At this point we may hint a
thought which has been already suggested :
Music, if it is to be an Art, must go back and
play its own tonal origin ; such is, in fact, its
supreme sound-whorl. In fact total creation
from the musical point of view is a sound-

Music may be conceived to lie in the bosom


of Nature, in the much-separated world of
matter with its never-ceasing conflicts. Now
this separation is what Music is trying to
overcome, trying to turn it round upon it-
self or to give help toward such an end,
which is in general the musical tone or sound-
w^horl. Yet Music never absolutely succeeds ;
that is, if it makes the complete cycle of
sound in a work of art, the cycle still rolls on
in time toward infinity. Thus the finest or-
chestral symphony, rounded out within it-
self, is yet swept onward in the elemental
Time-stream toward every point of tlie com-
pass, still on the search for something be-
yond — what? It aspires to reach its source,
and vibrates such an aspiration in the indi-
vidual Ego, which through the true work of
art is borne back, in suggestion at least, to
its creative fountain. Music at its best gives
us to drink at the w^ell of all existence, unites
us, for a while anyhow, with our Creator.

We should not fail to grope for the limits
of air and its Art. It belongs to our earth
and wraps the same in its covering which ex-
tends many miles above and then quite van-
ishes. In the next place, our ear has a limit
in hearing the vibrations of sound. Thus
Music has its limits within the realm of mere
sound, having a scale of about seven octaves
and a third, as usually given. Then within

MUSIC. 433

the spliere of Music many boundaries have
been laid down, which seem fixed, but some
of them are being broken over just at pres-
ent. The advance of Music takes place by
challenging old limits and transcending them,
by conquering the vast domain of noise
through new musical instrumentalities, and
turning crude air into sound-whorls.

The question arises whether any other me-
dium besides air will ever be used for pro-
ducing Music. Already the telephone is em-
ployed to carry Music far beyond its place
of origination ; but this is still the old Music
conveyed to a new environment. Air is con-
fined to oiir globe, but science has predicated
an universal medium which extends not only
through the planetary but also through the
stellar spaces. Will it ever be possible to
tap that etheric medium and to hear the col-
lisions and convulsions of the stars'? We can
see the prodigious explosions on the surface
of the sun ejecting masses as large as plan-
ets — doubtless the planets were first thrown
off in some such way — but we can hear noth-
ing of the shock, the medium as yet is want-
ing. To our eye the rays of light bring those
far-off occurrences, but no organ is yet de-
veloped in us for their sound, and no cun-
ning instrument has caught their echoes and
borne them hither. Are we in the course of



the coming millions of years to evolve a new
sense for the etheric waves, like sight for
light-waves, and hearing for the sound-
waves? Of course this ether is still hypo-
thetical, though the so-called Hertzian waves
of wireless telegraphy seem to show a little
shred of its existence. But in the present
connection the inquiry comes up : Are these
etheric undulations musical or capable of
Music ? Infinitely finer than those of air they
are supposed to sweep through the whole
physical universe ; is it from this source that
the old strange prophecy is to be fulfilled
concerning the Music of the Spheres? Pos-
sibly the true telephone is soon fo appear,
which will be as far-reaching for the ear as
the telescope is for the eye, tapping the uni-
versal medium which we suppose to under-
lie even light and electricity.

At present, however. Music has to work in
the very limited terrestrial sound-world, and
in but a small portion of that. Even this
small portion it has not yet exhausted. And
so we turn back to our elemental sound-
whorl which has still some points to be con-
sidered. There are many sound-whorls and
of all sorts : which is the best musically, the
most typical for the entire Art, perchance
the most universal? Or which has Music it-
self selected in its long course of experiment

MUSIC. 435

and evolution? The answer is that the
stretched string struck produces what we
are seeking. Hence to this fact some ob-
servations are to be devoted.

The Typical Sound- Whorl.

So we are to conceive the string stretched
and struck, whereby it sends forth its pe-
culiar note. This string is often called the
monochord, when isolated as it should be
and completely separated from other tones.

Accordingly out of the millions of vibra-
tional centers of which the world is full, we
wish at the start to get the best one for illus-
trating sound, especially musical sound. In
this business experience has gone in advance
of us and has selected the stretched string,
which, being struck, becomes a very charac-
teristic center of vibration. It is a curious
fact that Pythagoras, the old Greek discov-
erer of the scale, chose in his experiments
the stretched string, which choice remains
valid to this day, not only for theoretical in-
struction in acoustics, but also for the study
of the psychical effect of musical instru-
ments, the most important of which have
their source in the stretched string. More-
over this has its analogy to the human voice,
being a kind of externalized vocal chord ; and


tlie vocal chord is tlie primal instrument of
Music, not made by hands, but grown in the
organism of man and animal, nature's own
product. When we study the stretched
string, we have projected out of ourselves
a piece of our own musical organ, which
stands in most intimate relation to the soul.
For this reason among others the violin is
often deemed the most perfect of all instru-
ments, being the nearest to the human voice
and hence nearest to the Self, Avhile the string-
family is the heart of the orchestra.

The string is fastened at each end and
wound up to a tension, and in such a condi-
tion it is assailed from without. It is impor-
tant to note this tension and its significance ;
not matter, but tense matter in what now pro-
duces sound when struck or moved. The
string, keyed up to a strong energy,
is already in a state of keen resist- •
ance to an external force which seeks
to pull it asunder; this is what gives
to it character. The string unstretched
has no character or only a latent one; like
the untried man, the quality of it is as yet
unknown or undeveloped. The particles or
molecules of the string may be regarded as
a little family deeplj^ united in love; the at-
tempt to separate them is met by a stout
catching hold of one another and a clinging

MUSIC. 437

together; such we call their cohesive power
or tenacity, which asserts itself against the
external might assailing their unity. Un-
doubtedly there is a limit to this cohesive
ability; the chord may succumb to outward
violence and snap; still it cannot be relieved
of the trial, if it is to show its mettle. The
string stretched thus begins to reveal a Self,
a decided inner concentration of power
against an outer destroyer.

But the , stretching is only preparatory;
through it the string gets tense and is ready
to spring out against the attack. Now the
blow descends, the stretched string is struck,
the character comes out in sound which is
musical or the beginning thereof. It is true
that any material body, being struck, gives
forth a sound, which also has some little
character; the unstretched string thrown
down on the table makes a noise which indi-
cates some assertion of the individual object.
But the real character is brought out only
by an inner tension of every molecule of the
body; then hear the reply when it is struck.
It answers the blow of Fate by a short mu-
sical response, which tells its character ; this
character is musical because it wakes like
echoes in the Ego, when the latter too is
struck by the blow of Fate ; in fact, we shall
find that the stretched string has a process


in deep correspondence with the process of
the Ego, which also has its epochs of tension
and of strong vibrations of feeling.

The three items we must then keep in
mind : the string, the stretching, and the
striking; the first is as yet undeveloped, the
potential, the mere passive material; the sec-
ond is this material unfolded into scission,
tension, opposition, which shows the inner
character ready to act; the third is this inner
character made outward, real in the world,
revealing itself in vibrating.

These thoughts with additional facts about
sound and the string we shall set forth in
some further details.

I. What kind of material is best for mak-
ing the stretched string — one that will show
most completely the above-mentioned mu-
sical character? This material must be not
brittle, but cohesive, keeping itself together
against assault; yet it must also be flexible,
yielding to a certain extent in order to react
and vibrate. Two quite opposite properties
are required, elasticity and tenacity; two,
yet really one, and in a process with each
other, holding together in being stretched.
Then, when the blow falls, the two proper-
ties must work in a kind of correlation, the
string must in its elasticity yield to the
stroke, yet in its tenacity it must always re-

MUSIC. 439

cover itself. Tims the stretched string moveg
backward and forward in response to the
blow, which has the tendency to separate or
to break it, but this must not happen; the
unity must always be restored — the unity
being the process between elasticity and ten-
acity. Such is the oscillation, till the string-
regains its equilibrium, which is the state of
inner tension already described. Note, then,
that the stretched string has by nature the
return to itself, after the separation caused
by an external power.

Next we are to observe that the stretched
string, being struck, becomes itself a striker
and strikes the adjacent air, which in its turn
yields, yet also resists. The air too is a ma-
terial body, having elasticity — a great deal,
and likewise having tenacity — a very little;
yet this aerial tenacity has in it enough re-
sistance to bring the vibration of the
stretched string to a pause after the stroke.
But the main thing now to be regarded is
that the air responds to the process of the
stretched string when the latter is struck,
and quivers under the blow, hovering, as it
were, between life and death, swaying be-
tween retreat and recovery. The air, we may
say, is sympathetic with the stretched string,
takes up into itself the latter 's blow, having
the same elements, elasticity and tenacity,


tlioiigli in very different degrees. The total
circnmambient atmosphere receives and com-
municates the message of the stretched string
struck, its cry to the world, which cry there-
by reaches the ear of man, whereat a new and
very important stage of its history opens, to
be considered later.

The stretched string accordingly, being
assailed, is roused to move forth out of it-
self, out of its equilibrium and then it returns
to itself, thus producing a musical sound;
musical, because it, as sound, has this self-
separation and self-return in an audible proc-
ess, which corresponds with the innermost
process of the Ego, and thereby stirs it har-
moniously, attuning the soul-movement to the

II. We have now the musical sound, which
is produced by the vibration of the stretched
string, and has these three elements, the in-
ner tension, the outer blow, the resultant
oscillatory movement on the air. Next we
are to see this musical sound differentiating
itself, undergoing all sorts of variations,
which have their source ultimately in the vi-
bratory principle. A musical sound is said
to have three main properties: Pitch,
Strength (or Quantitv), Character (or Qual-

Pitch (highness or lowness of a note)

MUSIC. 441

depends upon the rapidity of the vibrations ;
the quicker their succession, the higher tlie
sound. Pitch, therefore, suggests a scale,
giving a simple sequence of tone, yet with-
out inner organization. This uniform line of
musical sound the mind or the Ego seeks to
organize into a scale with its intervals; such
scales are very different among different
peoples, inasmuch as the national bent shows
itself in forming a musical scale. Increase
the vibrations of a stretched string in a given
time, say, a second, and you heighten the
Pitch. The question then comes up: How
can such increase (or decrease) of rapidity
be made?

Rapidity of vibration or Pitch depends on
three qualities of the string. First, its length,
or the string as a total line, which is tirst to
be considered; the longer the string, other
things being the same, the slower the vibra-
tion and the lower the note. Secondly, its
density, or thickness, or specific gravity,
which pertains to the particles or molecules*
in relation to one another; the thicker or
heavier the string, other things being the
same, the slower the vibration, and the lower
the note; the molecular character of the
string determines the speed of the vibration,
by encumbering or lightening its movement.
Thirdly, its tension or the degree to which


the string is stretched ; this is what shows the
inner nature of the string, its individual
character, the greater the tension, the quicker
the vibration and the higher the sound.

The stretched string must possess all three
qualities : it must have a certain length, a
certain density, and a certain tension; they
do not exist separately. A variation in either
causes a variation in vibration, hence in
Pitch; thus each, to a degree, can take the
place of the other in varying the highness or
lowness of the musical sound. Moreover
both length and density of the string are man-
ifestly dependent on tension; the stretch-
ing between two points really shortens the
string and lessens its thickness, 'and weight,
and relative density. Given, therefore, the
material string, with its length and density,
the tension is what determines the speed of
the vibrations, hence determines the Pitch
and with it the possibility of the scale.

2. The Strength of the musical sound is
.next in order, its loudness or softness, which
depends not on the length but on the wddtli
or amplitude of the vibration. This clearly
has its cause in the blow or outside force di-
rected against the stretched string. To play
louder, we add increased muscular power,
which widens the vibration in the same time ;
hence the air is struck harder by the string.

MUSIC. . 443

and responds with proportionate intensity,
which response is conveyed duly to the ear,
and rouses its activity in the same degree.
To the varied power of the external irritant
or blow is to be ascribed the difference in the
Strength or Volume of the musical sound.

This power may be, in the first x^lace, pure
physical force, which assails the stretched
string and produces the degree of loudness.
But in the second place, the volume of sound
depends also on the point at which the blo^v^
is struck on the string, whether toward the
middle or toward the end where it is
fastened; mere force misplaced is not likely
to produce much of a result. In the third
place one has to ask: with what is the blow
struck? The stretched string may be excited
by the bow as in the violin family; may be
struck with a kind of hammer as in the pi-
ano; may be plucked, as in the guitar, banjo,
harp. These various methods determine the
Strength of the sound, but also its quality,
which is the next topic.

^ Every musical sound has a certain Qual-
ity, or character of its own, which is its very
essence and constitutes what may be called
its individuality. The note of a violin and
that of a piano, though they have the same
pitch and the same loudness, differ much in
Quality, though both arise from the stretched


string. This peculiarity of sound is usually
designated in English by the French word
timbre (German, Tonfarhe, or Klangfarbe).
The same violin in the hands of a beginner
sounds very differently from what it does in
the hands of a skillful player. Of two equally
good artists each will have his own charac-
teristic tone-color, though playing on the
same instrument, and the instrument itself,
notably the violin as is said, has it own vari-
able moods of Quality. But this difference
of Quality becomes enormous when we think
of each different kind of instrument, as flute,
horn, bagpipe.

Quality depends on vibrations, not on their
rapidity or their amplitude merely, but on
what is called their form, or better, their com-
position. That is, the Quality of a musical
sound is a composite of the fundamental tone
and its overtones, for every tone, high or low,
loud or soft, divides within itself and repro-
duces itself in the mentioned overtones, with
which it coalesces and makes the specia^l tone-
color. This process of the simple sound, sep-
arating itself into divisions and then uniting
itself in manifold ways with these divisions,
produces the distinctive timbre of the instru-
ment sending forth the sound.

Such are the three main elements of the
sound of the stretched string when struck:

MUSIC. 445

Pitch, Strength, Quality. The Pitch of the
stretclied string, though it must have a cer-
tain length and a certain density (molecular
composition) goes back to the stretching or
the tension as its essential principle. The
Strength or loudness of its tone goes back to
the nature of the blow from the outside. But
the third element, the Quality, is really the
process itself; the simple sound of the string-
divides within itself unto manifold sounds
and then projects these sounds into the so-
called overtones, which are finally taken back
into itself, forming one compound tone, it is
usually said, but really constituting the proc-
ess of the sound of the stretched string
struck. This process, received by the ear and
taken within, is what makes music, along
with its special sound-color.

III. Herewith, however, we have reached
the psychical element in the present sj^here.
The physical element, already set forth, stim-
ulates the soul to that response which is
called musical. The process of the musical
sound, as just given, is seen by the psychol-
ogist to correspond to the innermost proc-
ess of the Ego, which also divides within it-
self into subject and object, and projects
itself as object, and then identifies this o])ject
as its own, as itself. Such is the fundamental
form of the Ego, the movement of its very


self-hood, wliicli is stimulated by tlie musical
sound coming' from the outer world into at-
tunement with the same. The stretched
string struck, sending forth the fundamental
tone, which creates a progeny of overtones
and then unites with them in one composite
tone, is not only a symbol of the process of
the Ego, but the active stimulator and liar-,
monizer thereof, bringing the two worlds^
internal and external, into "concorclaTlCg" and
unity. Such is the_£uuctiDiLJ)f_Music: the
tone-world, organized by the Ego and echo-
ing its process in sound, is to attune the soul-
world to its order; the latter hears the call
of the former and is responsive to the note,
putting itself into harmony with the same.
When the physical factor with its process
stimulates the psychical factor with its proc-
ess, and both coalesce in one common process
— that is the elemental musical act.

Final Thouglits. There is a theistic ele-
ment lurking in common vision, noted by good
Father Malebranche when he uttered his fa-
mous aphorism: ''We see all things in God."
We can behold the tree only by reproducing
it as the act of its Creator. But in such an
act of mere sensation the divine side is not
explicit, not directly present, while it is just
the function of Art to make such a divine
presence explicit. The piece of marble seen

MUSIC. . 447

lias no suggestion of its creative source ; but
in the statue of Zeus by Phidias it is over-
made into its own original maker, yea into
the world-maker himself. Thus the crude
thing of Nature becomes beautiful, bearing
in its little particular self the image of its
universal Creator. And the self of the be-
liokler is raised into communion with tlio self
of all selves, with his divine origin.

Music appeals to the sense of Hearing,
whose field is Time's succession, not Space's
extension. Thus it has the infinite temporal
division, l)ut overcome into a process. Sug-
gestive is the fact that in the Orchestra we
see the Many (instruments, players, etc.),
but we hear the One (the sound as played).
In this case Sight separates and Hearing
unites ; we often shut our eyes and cut off
the distraction of vision, in order to deepen
the unity of the heard Art (Music) into our
own very Self.

After all, the musical sound remains inor^
ganic, it is not life, not soul, though it stim-
ulates both of them. Music is not Psyche
herself in her own form, though a close copy ;
so close that it may be called the soul un-
souled in matter (air) and longing to come
to herself. This is indeed what makes Music
an Art, verily the soul's Art.

Music has to be recreated everv time that


it is heard ; it is not fixed like a statue, which
is made for once and for all. You, the spec-
tator, have to re-create for yourself the proc-
ess of the Space-Art, outside of it, but the
Time-Art keeps re-creating inside itself
for you its own process. The musical com-
position is dead till it is re-played, that is,
re-made. Thus, in order to be at all, it has
to be born again, and therewith compels our
own Psyche to a re-birth. Here lies the rea-
son why Music is the most psychical of all the
Fine-Arts, and hence the most modern.

Music lies back of the word which is not
only sound, but sound laden with a conven-
tional meaning, product of society. Music,
however, is sound transformed directly into
the process of the Self, and hence it existed
long before speech. Sound made psychical
is Music, which is therefore as universal as
consciousness itself, is veril}^ the universal
expression of man's Ego, the language of the
fjeniis liomo.

Music is also a dissolver, it has a separat-
ive, disrupting, yea anarchic element, it can
protest against all order, even against it own.
It is inherently self-separating, self-react-
ing, out of which stage it may never be able
to rise to the third, the return. Napoleon
had a notion that French song stimulated
revolution, and he would put it down by force.

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 31 of 32)