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MUSICAL Composition is the construction of practical music, and comprises: First The
arranging of musical sounds in succession, so as to produce a single part, or melody ; Second
The combining, grouping, and fitting together two or more such melodies, so as to produce a
perfect whole ; Third The selection and employment of chordal combinations for the pur-
poses of harmonic variety, each severally and all conjointly, being regulated and guided by the
ordinary rules, methods, and devices of musical theory.

Composition is, perhaps, the most fascinating branch of musical study. The feeling of
having done something that nobody else ever did before, is a source of gratification to every
one who successfully accomplishes his purpose; and if, as in the present connection, what is
produced contains any element of beauty, and should afford any share of real pleasure to others,
surely the delight of the producer, the constructor, the creator, the composer, must be of the
purest and the deepest description. Of course, it need scarcely be said that the gift of composition,
as a special endowment, is not given to all men, any more than is the gift of poetry or painting,
or anything else. But, in those who are musically inclined, there is implanted a faculty of tone-
expression^ by which vent may be given to the feelings by means of musical sounds, by which
the " unheard melodies of the heart " are made to assume a living and an audible entity, with a
deeper feeling and a richer fancy than the poetry of common words. To develop this faculty,
or rather to shape its expression in a methodical and appreciable fashion, is the aim and motive
of the present article. It is not, of course, to be expected that all who study these pages will
expand into full-blown composers. Nevertheless, the student of composition, if he has a real
interest in his work, no matter to what degree of perfection he may attain, will assuredly find
his efforts rewarded at every step he takes.

It will doubtless be understood that, to any one and every one beginning the study of com-
position, some knowledge of musical theory is indispensable, and must be here assumed. Such
knowledge should include a general acquaintance with musical notation signs, abbreviations,
musical terms, scales, keys and intervals, pianoforte playing and orchestration, harmony and
counterpoint, and the more artificial forms of canon and fugue. Should this catalogue of
preliminary requirements appear to be too formidable, the student must not on that account be
dismayed, nor deterred from beginning the present study. What he does not know of the
subjects specified above he may learn as he goes on ; for, as an eminent musical authority once
said, " He who waits till he has learnt the whole art will never compose at all."

Before beginning the practical p-^rt of our work, let us say a word or two to the young
student in regard to the danger of trying to be original. The beginner must not, on the
strength of what has been said in the second paragraph of this chapter, try to make his whole
work consist of phrases and effects such as nobody else ever used before. Here would be too
much originality. To be too original is always a fault. Indeed, if any one attempted to pro-
duce a thing that should be entirely different in all its particulars from everything that had gone


i 5 6


before, he would utterly fail; and, supposing it possible for him to succeed, his production
would be universally rejected. In musical art, as in other things, novelty simply means some
addition to, or some re-arrangement or further development of, certain elements previously
made use of. In poetry and literature are to be found, in plenty, groups of words and sentences
that may be looked upon as common property, and which are in everyday use. In music,
also, we find numerous set phrases from which no composition is altogether free phrases which,
doubtless, will continue to play as important and conspicuous parts in the music of the future as
they do now and have done in the past. Here are a few examples (Exs. I. and II.).






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Here, then, we have a selection of stock phrases, almost any one of which may be found
over and over again in any modern hymnal. Nor are they confined to this class of music they
occur in all kinds of compositions, sometimes as they are here given, at other times in a slightly
modified variation, which in no way destroys their identity, or prevents them from being readily
recognisable. In the works of the great masters, those, or other familiar passages, are frequently
to be met with ; and they add, in no small measure, to the charm and popularity of the music.
It is this element of familiarity that sometimes causes us to give preference to one piece of
music over another. It is often the absence of this element that makes us condemn as mean-
ingless and unattractive much of the music we hear. The music of uncivilised races affords a
proof of this. It may excite our curiosity for the time, but it cannot afford us any real or satis-
fying pleasure, because there is nothing in it that is to us recognisable; in a word, it lacks the
element of familiarity. Similarly, and in regard to our own music of the present day, that which
is most original is least calculated to afford pleasure at the first hearing. We are occasionally
told by musical critics, in relation to the performance of some new work, that a first hearing is
not sufficient for its proper appreciation. Why not? The first hearing ought to be the most


impressive and the most effective hearing : the first hearing ought, provided the work be pro-
perly rendered, to display the power of the composition in the strongest possible light, and to
stimulate the sensations of the listener in the fullest possible degree. First impressions are the
deepest. " No second occurrence of any mental sensation is ever fully equal to the first. There
is a certain amount of decay in the force of every impression on the after occasions when it is
revived." * Therefore, if a composition can only win our appreciation after a second or a third
hearing, there must have then sprung up some extra attraction which was not present at the
first hearing such, for example, as the element of familiarity. By successive hearings we begin
to know the strains of the music, and to recognise the different passages as they occur ; and the
very act of recognition, which has always a strong emotional influence over us, no matter what
the object be, is gratifying and pleasing to us. The works of some of our modern composers
abound in this element of popularity familiar passages ; and those passages are in many cases
so artistically adorned with harmony, rhythm, or some other striking device they are so deftly
coloured and so powerfully expressed that the pleasure of recognition is enhanced an hundred-
fold. Such works require no second hearing for their proper appreciation, but they are at once
received with universal acclamation. The use of this familiar element of which we are speaking
requires the most judicious care, and can only be thoroughly successful when treated with a
skilful hand. In numerous cases it is sadly overdone, and a feeling of complete inanity, which
is repellent and loathsome to the listener, pervades the whole work. On the other hand, it is
not unfrequently underdone, and we are presented with a dry and stiff concoction full of cold
formality, la*rge and strong of head but small and weak of heart, which is a weariness both to
the flesh and the spirit of the listener. We must not here be misunderstood we are not saying
a word against the invention of new themes. The art is not yet played out in this direction ;
nay, its resources are almost illimitable. But we do say, that he who can take a few passages
such as may be considered common property passages that have done service before and with
which we are already familiar and re-dress them in a scholarly and artistic fashion, so as to give
them new beauty, fresh vitality and greater power, is superior to him who invents new themes
that have only originality in their favour. Let the young student, then, in his efforts at com-
position, be content to be himself ; for striving after originality frequently means trying to be
what we are not. Let him rest satisfied with the simple ideas that come most naturally to his
mind, and if they should not be exactly his own in every case, he may, at least, leave his own
mark upon them in connection with their general surroundings, their rhythmic and harmonic


WHAT is melody ? This is a very common question in musical text books, having quite as
common an answer, namely, " Melody is a single succession of musical sounds." This answer
is fairly good, so far as it goes, but it does not go far enough for our present purpose. Here,
for instance (Ex. III.), are several successions of single musical sounds, none of which could
properly claim to be called a melody.



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Before inquiring in what respects these examples are insufficient, let us first decide upon a
proper answer to the question with which this chapter opens, an answer that shall briefly
comprehend all the requirements of musical composition. In a sentence, then, a melody is a
single succession of sounds, having form^ expression, and feeling, such a succession being com-
plete in itself. Let it be here understood that, as we are considering the subject from what we
may call a superficially constructive point of view, we cannot go beneath the surface to explain
the emotional impressions and ideas which the several melodic features just mentioned may
give rise to. Such a course would belong properly to the region of musical aesthetics.

Form is the shape which the notes present to the eye, according to their position on the
stave, or which the sounds suggest to the ear, in their risings and fallings by steps or by skips
large or small. Form is, perhaps, the broadest or most recognisable feature of melody.

Expression is the prominence given to some sounds and the subordination of others : this
is accomplished by means of rhythm, accent, and duration.

Feeling applies to the character of the effect produced, and depends upon the key, the mode,
and the intervals employed, all of which must exhibit some element of familiarity.

Variety must exist in all the three points previously explained, and is necessary to preveat
the melody from becoming mechanical and lifeless.

If we examine the foregoing illustrations (Ex. III.), we shall observe that the passage at a has
neither form, expression, nor feeling. Expression might, of course, be given to it, by inserting
bar lines ; but nothing could impart to such a passage, in itself, either form or feeling. One
sound, then, is not sufficient to constitute a melody. In the next passage, at b, we have an
elementary kind of expression, and also some appearance of both form and feeling. But in
these two latter features, there is no variety introduced ; there is no contrast or comparative
degree of either the one or the other, so that neither form nor feeling has here any real


existence : such two sounds as are here employed are insufficient to make a melody, In me
passage at c we have also two notes employed : in this case they are decidedly different in their
individual character ; but still, seeing there is but one interval made use of the minor second,
this example is just about as deficient in form and feeling as the preceding passage. The
expression is of a little more advanced nature certainly ; nevertheless, we should scarcely be
inclined to accept the passage as a complete melody in itself; and yet this very example is the
treble part of what is known as the Grand Chant. This is one of the simplest and most effec-
tive single chants in existence, and really worthy of its name (see Ex. IV.). It is not the treble
part that constitutes its grandeur, however ; it is the natural and agreeable sequence of chords
employed it is, so to speak, the melody of its harmnny that delights the ear, and not any of its
individual parts that does so certainly, not the treble part

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Looking at Ex. III. d, we find a passage consisting of three different notes. This
example may be considered quite complete as regards form and expression, and not altogether
void of feeling ; but the feeling is vague and ambiguous, inasmuch as it does not contain the
faintest indication of the mode. We cannot say whether it is major or minor ; it may be either
or neither. This passage is therefore incomplete of itself to form a melody. The next example,
at *, has a clearly-defined form, some expression and strongly marked feeling of a kind. Yet
it is not a satisfactory melody far from it. It fails utterly in the matter of feeling, because there
is no element of familiarity in it. Its form suggests a scale to us ; but the tonality is not ours,
the feeling is strange and not quite pleasing to us. It might be suggested that the passage
could be considered as being in the key of G minor, beginning and ending with the subdo-
minant ; but such a suggestion would not, in the faintest degree, improve the effect or render the
passage a bit more satisfactory as a complete melody. Even were we to take away the accidentals,
and leave the example in the key of C, it would still be unsuitable it would be much too
mechanical; it would lack variety, and with several repetitions it would become dull, mono-
tonous, and painful. A scale then cannot be considered as a melody, in the proper sense of
the term. Of course, scales are frequently employed in their entirety in melody, and with
good results. The two following well-known extracts (Ex. V.) are splendid examples :






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Here, at a, we have the scale of F major ascending, and, at b, the scale of D minor
descending. These two scales, as they occur in the air, " Angels, ever bright and fair," produce



beautiful melodic effects, but they do not in themselves separately constitute complete melodies :
they are but fractions, helping to give form, expression, and variety to a very extended whole.
A scale is no more a melody than a painter's palette is a picture ; both contain the material
which the artists respectively employ ; but the former is not a musical composition, nor the
latter a work of art What portion of the musician's material is necessary for the construction
of a melody ? Any portion, so long as the essential features of melody are present. We have
seen that one note is insufficient to this end, that two notes are also unsuitable, and that even
three notes (nearly the half of the whole number) are unfitted for their purpose where any
ambiguity of feeling prevails. If, however, three notes are chosen in which definite and
unmistakable feeling is exhibited, then we have material enough for a simple yet complete
melody such, for instance, as in Ex. VI. :


There remains but one other point to notice in connection with this part of the subject,
namely, this a melody should display, amidst all its features and phases, an all-prevailing
unity and relationship among its several parts. Therefore the last passage at Ex. III.^ is not
a melody, because it fails in this latter point. There is no apparent design in its form ; there
is a want of regularity in its expression ; there is instability in its feeling, and its variety is
unmethodical. All this prevents the example from being a melody, in the fullest sense of the
word : it therefore goes under the name of Recitative.* Now if Ex. VI. be submitted to the
same test, it will be found to fulfil every condition to the very letter. A further explanation
belongs to a future chapter.


IN the preceding chapter the three principal features of melody are placed in the following
order : Form, Expression, and Feeling. In all probability, this is the order imwhioh these
features would fall under the observation of one casually glancing over the pages of a written
composition. It is quite as probable, however, that the composer, in thinking out his plan of
construction, would consider the points in question in a reverse order. On this assumption we
shall deal first of all with feeling, which has to do with the key, the mode, and the intervals

The choice of a key is not such an unimportant thing as many may think. Our modern
songs are written in several different keys, and it is quite common nowadays to find standard
songs transposed from their original pitch, and published in four or five keys, to suit voices for
which the music never was intended, and in many cases to suit voices that never were intended
for music. Notwithstanding all this, one key is not the same as another. Key virtually means
the pitch of the scale. When we speak of the key of C, we mean simply the major scale at the

* Recitative does not fall to be discussed here.



pitch of C, and so on with the other keys ; and just as sounds individually differ from each
other in pitch, and thereby produce different effects, physical and mental, so do they collectively
in scale groups differ in pitch and correspondingly in complexion or character. That every
key exhibits some particular feeling is undeniable, but what that feeling is, every listener must
decide for himself. To try to ascribe a fixed character to each of the different keys is useless
and altogether impossible there are so many ways in which the effect may be influenced.
ist, The use of the scale notes in their authentic or plagal form :

.... EXAMPLE VII. _. _

Authentic Form. Plagal Form.

It will be easily understood that these two examples (Ex. VII.) will be somewhat different,
both in physical character and in mental effect. This is owing to the succession of intervals
not being exactly alike in both cases, and to the inverted positions of the tonics and dominants,
together with the less important notes. Consequently, if two melodies were composed from
these scales as they stand, their contrasted characters would be different from what they would
be were the scales both used in the same form. 2nd, The key effect may be influenced con-
siderably by the absolute pitch of the particular octave employed, and the quality of the voice
and the timbre of instrument for which the music is written. One will readily admit, we dare
say, that the key effects of " Hush, ye pretty warbling choirs " (Ads and Galatea), and " Softly
purling" (Creation), are greatly different ; the former (key F) being, in this case, bright and
gay, full of life and happiness, and the latter (key D) subdued and peaceful. These effects
do not depend upon any intrinsic qualities in the keys themselves, but upon the manner in
which they are used and applied : * with different treatment opposite results might be obtained.
3rd, Key character is modified by the nature of the accompanying harmonies and by the con-
trast of modulation. A melody accompanied by diatonic !j chords, and having a change of
harmony on every note, will cause any key to sound commonplace and heavy; whereas a
seasonable mixture of inversions, chromatic chords, passing notes and suspensions, will produce
a considerable difference of key colour.

Nothing tests key character so severely as modulation. By modulation one key is brought
into close contact with another, so that the effect of the two keys is strongly contrasted and
easily perceived. In moving from a given key to one with more sharps or fewer flats, the new
key generally seems the brighter ; but in moving to a key with more flats or fewer sharps the
new key always seems the duller. Therefore in changing from the key of Afr to the key of C,
the latter will exhibit a cheerful character ; but in passing from the key of E to that of C, a
feeling of solemn grandeur will be evinced by the latter key. 4th, and lastly Individual taste
or fancy (which may be accounted for in ways too numerous to mention here) has a good deal
to do with key colour. That this is so is abundantly proved by the contradictory opinions of
different writers. Where, for instance, could we find opinions more diametrically opposite than
the following, selected from three different authors ?

The first says of the key of C, "It is expressive of innocence and religious feeling;" the
second says, "It is bold;" the third says, "It is common and almost harsh."

The first says of the key of F, " It is quiet and smooth ; " the second says, " It is sharp
and rich ;" the third says, " It is brilliant and exciting."

The first says of the key of A, " It is quiet and sweet ; " the second says, " It is bright and
sprightly ; " the third says, " It is brilliant."

The first says of the key of Bb, "It is dull and quiet;" the second says, "It is rich and
noble ;" the third says," It is mellow and brilliant"

Rhythm is, of course, a very powerful factor in this case, but does not fall to be discussed here.



After this, who shall venture to fix an absolute character to the different keys ? We have
already said that each one must decide for himself; and the decision must always depend upon
accompanying circumstances and individual experience. All that has been said, however, goes
to show that keys have different effects. If this be so, the composer must always be allowed,
in common fairness, if for nothing else, to be the best judge of his own key ; and any attempt
to transpose from that key is an injustice and an insult to the judgment of the composer. We
do not say that transposition need never be resorted to. Sometimes it is an absolute necessity ;
and in cases of real emergency nothing can be said against it.

After the key the mode comes next in order for consideration. There is such a marked dis-
tinction between the major and the minor mode that almost no difference of opinion can exist
regarding them. The major is smooth, bright and cheerful, decided and restful in its character.
The minor is more rugged, dull and plaintive, with a feeling of indecision and restlessness.
In short, the major mode seems to answer some question that has been asked, while the
minor mode appears to ask a question that remains unanswered.

In regard to the choice of the key and the mode in composition, there is no restriction
whatever. The young student has full liberty to select whichever may seem to be the most
suitable for his purpose. The choice having been once made, however, it is held to be neces-
sary that the music should finish in the key it begins with. This simple rule is sufficient to bear
in mind to commence with, and is necessary in order to preserve the unity and relationship
spoken of in the preceding chapter.

We come next to deal with the intervals ; and here we find that the student is not allowed

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