Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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not the definite stops and limits of the other
wind-instruments. It is well adapted to the
grandiose, to impressive processions; Ber-
lioz calls its character epic. It has great
power of sound, which is easily, almost na-
turally turned into a cracking sound, which
is, however, declared to be an abuse of the
instrument. Command, authority, dignity,
lie in its voice, yet also the comic and the
grotesque. There is something rasping in
its forte notes; but these properly played
and applied, become shuddering, fit for
scenes of monsters, and graves, and goblins.
It can be forced into taking a very military


appearance, as if it shot cannon-balls of air
out of its long barrels with a thunderous de-

The Tuba is the largest brass piece, with
an enormous mouth like a cavern. It is the
massive bass of the brasses specially, and
is the huge emphasis of the Orchestra. It
defines the low bass notes better than any
other instrument, string or wind; thus the
deep tone becomes definite, commanding,
even all-devouring. It is worked with cyl-
indrical pistons, and has supplanted the old
type of bass brass (as Ophclides and Bom-
bardons). It is a recent invention, and be-
longs to the family of Saxhorns, named after
their inventor.

Musical instruments, being an evolution,
have come down from the aforetime, like
legend, song, music; they have to be trans-
formed, and ordered anew, still they are pri-
marily the product of the people, sometimes
of the race. The Horn especially has a hoary

Herewith ends the account of the brass-
wind instruments, which we may repeat, con-
stitute not a close-kinned family (like the
violins) but a tribe made up properly of five
diverse families, so different and unrelated
are their shapes, timbres, and uses. Still
their unity is also to be emphasized, seen


first ill their common metallic composition,
of hard unyielding atoms, not giving way
easily to atomic attack, like wood or mem-
brane — which material character goes over
into their tones. The brasses are, therefore,
the soldiers, the fighting men of the orches-
tral society — its standing army for which
they naturally make the music. Hence, too,
they are here subordinates, adding emphasis
and execution to commands elsewhere given,
though they can have an organization and
authority of their own.

We have now concluded our survey of the
wind instruments as the second of the three
classes or stages of the Orchestra in its
deepest movement which is psychical. The
general character of this stage we have re-
peatedly emphasized as separative, individ-
ualistic, endowing the Orchestra with a va-
riety of instrumental timbres. But now we
are to pass to the third stage, the violins,
which are essentially of one timbre, and are
in form one instrument though of several
sizes. It is plain that we have come to or-
chestral unity instead of separation, the soli-
daritj^ of tones has now the stress, not their

III. The Violins. In the present division
of the typical Orchestra, the first fact is the
large number of violins in comparison with


the other instruments; twice as many they
are usually, sixty of them for example out of
a total of ninety. Undoubtedly these figures
vary, the quantity is sometimes duplicated
and more. But the common proportion is
about two to one. In a general way this fact
may be conceived to mean that the violins
have to unify the separative and self-assert-
ing members of the preceding class.

Hence it comes that the violins manifest
such a complete fusion of tone, such a one-
ness within their own class, they must unify
themselves before they can unify what is
different. In their case Ave always hear the
mass, never the individual unless by some
special device; quite the opposite character
was noted in the preceding wood-wind instru-
ments. The all-swallowing voice of the mul-
titude in contrast with the unswallowable
voice of the one may be here set to music.
Thousandfold are the relations of life which
this contrast suggests: collectivistic vs. in-
dividualistic, immanance vs. transcendence,
pantheistic vs. monotheistic, universal vs.
particular, authority vs. the one man as great
criminal or great reformer, the passions vs.
the still small voice, etc. But the deepest
look beholds them as psychical, as two stages
in the process of the human Soul and the
All-Soul, of Man and God.


We may now push our conception a little
farther. All the four sizes of violins as we
see them in the Orchestra, can be mentally
put together so that they form one ideal
transcendent instrument, the super-violin,
which is heard when the so-called string
quartet plays; its voice is what we hear, not
that of the single violin which sinks away at
once into the universal violin with a sort of
pantheistic absorption, "like a drop of wa-
ter in the sea." In this sense the orchestral
mass of violins has the representative voice
of the Infinite, into which the finite voice of
the single violin is taken up; or if you dare
exalt yourself to such a height you may hear
the process of the All becoming one, and of
the one returning to the All in the psychical
process of the Orchestra — the act of crea-
tion set to Music. Goethe, a far-flying poet
as well as a level-headed scientist, could sav
on hearing some of Bach's music that it was
*'as if the eternal Harmony entertained it-
self with itself, as it miglit have done per-
chance in God's bosom before the world's
creation." (Letter to Zelter, who was a mu-

It is characteristic of the violin that its
members, in spite of their large number,
form a closely related family, not two dis-
tinct tribes like the much fewer wind instru-


meiits, wliicli tribes then divide into fami-
lies. It is noteworthy that each family, be it
of the strings or woods has the tendency to
embrace the entire musical scale (over seven
octaves) of which each member takes a part,
higher or lower. From the highest note of
the strings to their deepest bass lies a range
equal to that of the piano. Each family of
the wind instruments has the same aspiration
to compass the total audible range of musical
tones though with varying success and never
completely. From this point of view the
Orchestra is composed of a number of tonal
families, each with its own domestic timbre.
On the whole it is these family choirs which
sing in the best Orchestral music, though
often one of their voices may be detached
from the rest for service outside of its own
immediate kin. Important it is therefore, to
hear distinctly these family choirs which are
associated in the Orchestra, each with its own
timbre. Altogether the largest and most
characteristic of these choirs is that of the

These form a domestic group in many
senses. They are alike in general shape, in
manner of excitation, and in timbre. Yet of
course with differences, first of all which is
size. There are four sizes among the mem-
bers, called respectively, from smallest to


largest, violin, viola, violincello, double-bass.
It may be affirmed that these four sizes were
all evolutions from one intermediate size ; the
violin having evolved toward smallness and
the double-bass toward largeness. Thus the
present family as accepted in the Orchestra
is usualh^ called the string quartet from the
size and not from the number of parts
played, which is mostly five and may be

There is an immediate unity and fusion of
sound among the members of this family
which makes them almost represent in music
a kind of domestic love and harmony in which
the individuality of each is sunk. Of course
there are several other kinds of families in
the Orchestra, those of the wood-wind and
the brass-wind, as already described.

The violins proper in the Orchestra are
primarily divided into the first and second
violins, each with its own distinct part. Here
is the twofoldness which is also found in the
flutes (first and second), oboes, clarinets,
bassoons, etc. — two instruments of the same
range carry an upper and a lower part.

But still other divisions are made among
the violins. Some play pizzicato, which
breaks the continuity of tone, while others
play with the bow at the same time just this
continuity, which thus sounds like a piano or


harp with the string quartet l)riiiging- out a
strong contrast. Then some play harmonics
while others play the natural notes, which
might be called the contrast between the
super-sensible and sensible, or between the
ideal and real, or between fairy-land and
actual life. So Berlioz explains his own
procedure in his treatment of Fairy Mab in
his Romeo and Juliet (Treatise on Instru-
mentation, p. 17 and 18). Wagner some-
times divides his first and second violins into
sixteen groups, which gives such a peculiar
ideal or spiritual color to many a passage.
Likewise some violins may play tremolo or
vibrato, while others play the part of firm-
ness and will by the opposite manner.

The violin family is excited by the fingers
of the left hand sliding along the strings,
hence the stops are absolutely movable, and
flow into one another; herein lies a very sig-
nificant contrast with the wind instruments,
which have definite stops in the vents and
keys, except the trombone and to a certain
extent the French horn. This is a character-
istic of the violin family; man has to make
the stop and the intervals, they are not made
by a machine, are not fixed rigidly. Hence
the violin is more adjustable to the various
instruments of the Orchestra than any other;
on the contrary the oboe is said to be the



least adjustable, lieiice it gives the tuning
note. For the same reason the violin can be
made more responsive to the inner mood of
man, being more under his control for ex-
pression. He can shade his notes better; D
sharp and E fiat are not the same to the
skillful violinist, he is not bound to a fixed
distance between stops, as is the fate of the
pianist. In all these facts we see the spirit
of the violin as the most flexible, the most
unifying, the least mechanical and rigid —
the instrument whose character is to be the
sympathizer and reconciler, the mediatorial
instrument, most universal, showing a side
for all.

We shall next consider the parts of the
violin whose co-operation through the player
constitutes wdiat may be called its process.
Its essential parts are three: the bow of
tense horsehair, the stretched strings which
the bow^ strikes, the hollowed resonant shell
or body of the instrument. Observe that
the first act is one of percussion, which is
the first stage of the total Orchestra; the
second act is the separation of the notes on
the strings through the fingers, correspond-
ing to the second orchestral stage ; the third
act is the unifying of the strings by the one
body, which causes the flowing together of
tones through its resonance. Thus we see


that the process of the violin repeats that of
the whole orchestra in its triple sweep; in
fact each note of the violin is a kind of
germinal reproduction of the orchestral
whole. The three parts of the violin and
their meaning we may look at in a little de-

(I) First we shall study the function of
the bow which in many respects gives to the
violin its individuality. The bow is itself
made up of many little strands of horsehair
which are rosined ; the particles of rosin
catch the violin strings and give them a very
small pluck or pizzicato; hundreds of little
fingers, as if from fairy hands, reach out
from that wisp and give their tiny twitch to
the instrument. Each particle of rosin on
each hair of the bow causes a low tone, by it-
self quite inaudible probably, but this mul-
titude of low tones unite both synchronously
and in succession, producing both mass and
continuity of sound. More than in the wind
instruments (except the organ and its class)
is the note of the violin continuous, persist-
ent through Time, which is a very important
characteristic in music.

Yet there is no doubt that the violin sprang
from a stringed instrument which was picked
or plucked or struck, like the modern man-
dolin or guitar. But the bow differentiated


it emphatically from all that class of instru-
ments, and brings out of it a wholly different
sound with a wholly different character; no
longer a momentary note (stacato) cut off
in Time, but a prolonged note made eternal,
as it were, or at least suggesting the eternal
and lasting.

Also the bow produces a combination of
many sounds at the same moment, that is, a
mass of sound, hence the violin calls forth
a feeling of the many swallowed up in the
one, while the plucked tone remains one and
separate — a distinct individual. This is the
work of the bow with its thousand fingers in
unison; thus the bow is what fuses the limits
of tone and breaks down its separative na-
ture, or its individuality. Such is the funda-
mental character of the violin — its masses
sound together and successively; and just as
the one violin masses its many sounds into
one, so the many violins mass their sound
easily into one, being in that respect very
different from many flutes or wind instru-
ments in general. Most profoundly and ef-
fectively, in our opinion, does Wagner bring
out into music his pantheistic idea, particu-
larly in Parsifal, through his treatment of
the string instruments.

The bow is also tense, is in a fashion a
stretched string, or mass of stretched strings,



the counterpart to the violin strings, the one
being employed to stimulate the other.
Through the bow the hand is, we repeat,
many hundreds of hands touching the vio-
lin strings; one of the chief problems of the
player is: How can my one hand control
and bring into play this multitude of hands
reaching out of the horsehair and tingling
the fiddle! A good bower has already quite
a little Orchestra in his bow.

Through the bow, chords of two, three,
and even four sounds can be made, and pro-
longed. Thus the violin has an outlying
horizon of harmony, in which the virtuoso
can work marvels. Berlioz is inclined to con-
fine the average orchestral violinist to the
double chord. Thus the bow readily sets
two kinds of notes in motion together, or two
violin parts, and so again suggests the first
and second violins of the Orchestra. In fact
the latter realizes or makes explicit what is
implicitly contained in the single violin well

The bow has to a certain extent determined
the form and size of the instrument, as well
as the manner of its being played. For con-
venience of bowing, the violin is placed on
the breast near the left shoulder. It is thus
brought into more immediate intimacy with
the whole man, especially with the heart.


than any other instrument. There is a kind
of congruence with the nature of the violin
in the motion of the violinist when he raises
it to his heart in order to play it. Ole Bull
had a habit of caressing it, while playing, by
certain little gestures and looks, which were
not out of character with the music of the
passage or with the instrument. The violin
has been called the woman of the Orchestra,
loving yet chaste, compassionate and self-
forgetful, yet capable of a caprice or even
of a tempest, quite absorbed in her family,
which is here the well-known violin family.

The form, as well as the size of the violin
is a development and hence has a history.
The peculiar curved notch in the side seems
to have been made for the sake of conven-
ience in bowing, as the plucked string instru-
ments do not show any such deep notch, even
if they have a curve.

The violin family divides into two classes
as regards position : the violin and viola are
raised to the shoulder and thus are held in
a line nearly horizontal, while the violincello
and double basses have to be nearly perpen-
dicular when played. Consequently the bow
in one case rests on the strings, and in the
other case has to be held to the strings. This
must make a difference in the effective power
of the bow; it requires more muscle and is


more difficult to handle with facility in the
latter case than in the former.

Also the bow can be made to cut off sound
and individualize it to a certain extent; so
the violinist uses the point of the bow, and
even strikes with it in a kind of jump. But
on the whole this runs counter to the nature
of the instrument.

(II) Next in the process of the violin
come the strings which, four in number,
stretched along a finger board, are the source
of the separate notes, of the individual tones
of the instrument. The right hand uses the
bow, while the left hand with its divided
fingers, specializes each string into its dis-
tinct line of sounds. Thus the total violin
may be said to individualize itself into its
single notes. Observe this stage of the proc-
ess of the instrument: it separates into its
units or atoms, of which it, as a musical
whole, is constituted. Or we may conceive
the unrealized mass of sound potential in the
violin to be now brought to a realization.

Undoubtedly these atomic notes, having
been thus separated and for the moment iso-
lated, are to be put together again into a new
form which constitutes the musical work.
These tonal units, having been borne to the
ear, must be associated and therein must en-
ter upon their new career, which leaves them


not in their separation, bnt conjoins them in-
to a musical society which has its own life
and movement. Bnt of this we can at pres-
ent take no account; our stress is upon the
process of the violin as such, which process
here shows its second phase or act in calling
forth the separate note which is the primal
unit of music.

Now this separate note which strikes the
air and sets it to vibrating was also reached
by the wind instruments, but through a
whollv different channel. It was human
breath driven into and out of a tube which
produced the individualized note in that
case, and pulsed its vibrations through the
aerial medium. The result was a very dis-
tinct and sharply defined tone which asserted
itself and largely kept to itself. But the
violin note is not breathed and then definitely
tubed and confined ; the string quivers, the
note quivers, the shell quivers; the conse-
quence is that the tone has a large fringe of
quiverings, easily penetrable and readily
combinable, which therefore flow of them-
selves together, forming that coalescence
which is peculiar to the strings. Manifestly
such a note is already giving up its individ-
uality, is longing to fuse with others, and
thus become one with the violinistic totality
of the Orchestra. Hence, though there be


fifty or a hundred violins playing, we hear
but the one voice of the super-violin. More-
over this principle of unification the strings
carry over into the rest of the Orchestra, and
embosom in their golden fringe of sounds
the more recalcitrant notes of the wind in-
struments, which still preserve their indi-
viduality in the absorbing unity of the vio-

Such are the two ultimate notes, the tonal
atoms we may call them, of the strings and
the winds, quite opposite in character, yet to
be associated finally in the one great harmo-
nious whole. Still there is another part of
the violin to wdiich we must give a thought
or two.

(Ill) The body or shell of the violin is
much the largest and most prominent part,
and is usually called the violin, taken by it-
self. It is composed of peculiarly con-
structed sounding boards in the form of a
box, and on it the four stretched strings are
excited by the bow and get their increased
resonance from this sounding box.

It is declared that the violin is derived
from the ancient Hindoos, among whom such
an instrument can be traced. The statement
is also made that it did not appeaj:* in Eu-
rope till the eighth or ninth century A. D.
The rise of the violin into its i)resent impor-


tance is within the hist two or three centu-
ries, and was called forth by the correspond-
ing rise of the Orchestra and Opera. The
demand for such an instrument produced a
golden age of violin makers (1650-1750),
Amati, Stradivarius, Guarnerius, chiefly of
Cremona in Ital.y. The social principle of
the age was working in music and even man-
ifested itself in violin-making, hence sprang
the effort to produce a perfect instrument
for organizing the Orchestra and the Opera,
the highest forms of social music.

The violin has long heen and still is a pop-
ular instrument, on the whole the most uni-
versally employed and enjoyed instrument
in the world probably. Certainly in Amer-
ica it reaches the humblest class of the peo-
ple who have their performer from their
ranks, playing their kind of music. The
fiddler is the communal musician of the coun-
try and of the small village; usually every
town has its little band of "catgut ticklers."
They furnish the music for the country dance
especially, as well as for the local entertain-
ments, school exhibitions, parties, etc. In
the village store thev wall sometimes meet
and plaj' their tunes, transmitted popular
airs, jigs, hornpipes, and no inconsiderable
variety of dance music. The violin is plainly
a melodic instrument, it has some harmony,


yet its general character is suited for the
''tnne," to which the body moves. Its con-
tiiiiiity of tone suggests dance rhythms
easily, and its ready blending of notes evokes
a playing together. The little village or-
chestra of strings, sometimes with a flute or
clarinet, or even a ''bass viol" is the germ
of the complicated modern Orchestra. So it
may be deemed the chief popular instrument
on account of its intimate relation to the
voice — both being stretched strings — audits
natural rhythmic relation to the movement
of the human body ; also it is easy to learn by
ear up to a certain point.

Of course there are many details about
the violin, several of which may here just be
mentioned brieflv. The strings are usuallv
called catgut, and are said to be made of the
intestines of the sheep or goat, so that the
fiddle has really no connection, not even the
remotest, with feline music. The G string-
is wired and thus made to vibrate less rap-
idly, hence it produces a lower note than the
others. Then there is the bridge, separat-
ing the strings into two unequal portions,
and raising these up for the convenience of
bowing and fingering, being also a very im-
portant communicator of vibrations to the
sounding box. To the bridge is applied the
sordino, a weight of some kind which damp-


ens the tone by interrupting and changing
the vibration in amplitude (loudness), and
which is used for producing many subtle,
dreamy, weird effects, especially in the total
Orchestra. Here we may note the peculiar
tones called harmonics, or flageolet tones,
which are produced by touching very lightly
the vibrating string; this feathery touch
does not produce the fundamental tone Avhich
is obtained by pressing down the string, but
an overtone, which thus sounds without its
fundamental. The sordino as well as the
harmonics bring out a new quality or timbre
of the instrument, whose general character
is to unite with every instrument, and fuse
them all together, reconciling these conflict-
ing individualities of sound.

The violin is naturallv continuous in sound,
moi'e than the wind instrument which is de-
pendent on the breath of the player, whose
lungs have to be filled to produce a sound
blast. The violin player has also to renew
his bow at last, but this is a more rapid proc-
ess by far in a skillful hand than the renewal
of the breath. This continuitv of sound is
also varied by many devices in manipula-
tion; it can be made undulatory in the trem-
olo by many rapidly repeated short motions
of the bow, hence called a trembling, or a
thrilling, expressive of all kinds of agitation,


Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 7 of 32)