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How to Listen to Music, 7th ed. / Hints and Suggestions to Untaught Lovers of the Art By Henry Edward Krehbiel Characters: 19738

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Recognition of Musical Elements

The nature of music.

Music is dual in its nature; it is material as well as spiritual. Its material side we apprehend through the sense of hearing, and comprehend through the intellect; its spiritual side reaches us through the fancy (or imagination, so it be music of the highest class), and the emotional part of us. If the scope and capacity of the art, and the evolutionary processes which its history discloses (a record of which is preserved in its nomenclature), are to be understood, it is essential that this duality be kept in view. There is something so potent and elemental in the appeal which music makes that it is possible to derive pleasure from even an unwilling hearing or a hearing unaccompanied by effort at analysis; but real appreciation of its beauty, which means recognition of the qualities which put it in the realm of art, is conditioned upon intelligent hearing. The higher the intelligence, the keener will be the enjoyment, if the former be directed to the spiritual side as well as the material.

Necessity of intelligent hearing.

So far as music is merely agreeably co-ordinated sounds, it may be reduced to mathematics and its practice to handicraft. But recognition of design is a condition precedent to the awakening of the fancy or the imagination, and to achieve such recognition there must be intelligent hearing in the first instance. For the purposes of this study, design may be held to be Form in its primary stages, the recognition of which is possible to every listener who is fond of music; it is not necessary that he be learned in the science. He need only be willing to let an intellectual process, which will bring its own reward, accompany the physical process of hearing.

Tones and musical material.

Without discrimination it is impossible to recognize even the crude materials of music, for the first step is already a co-ordination of those materials. A tone becomes musical material only by association with another tone. We might hear it alone, study its quality, and determine its degree of acuteness or gravity (its pitch, as musicians say), but it can never become music so long as it remains isolated. When we recognize that it bears certain relationships with other tones in respect of time or tune (to use simple terms), it has become for us musical material. We do not need to philosophize about the nature of those relationships, but we must recognize their existence.

The beginnings of Form.

Thus much we might hear if we were to let music go through our heads like water through a sieve. Yet the step from that degree of discrimination to a rudimentary analysis of Form is exceedingly short, and requires little more than a willingness to concentrate the attention and exercise the memory. Everyone is willing to do that much while looking at a picture. Who would look at a painting and rest satisfied with the impression made upon the sense of sight by the colors merely? No one, surely. Yet so soon as we look, so as to discriminate between the outlines, to observe the relationship of figure to figure, we are indulging in intellectual exercise. If this be a condition precedent to the enjoyment of a picture (and it plainly is), how much more so is it in the case of music, which is intangible and evanescent, which cannot pause a moment for our contemplation without ceasing to be?

Comparison with a model not possible.

There is another reason why we must exercise intelligence in listening, to which I have already alluded in the first chapter. Our appreciation of beauty in the plastic arts is helped by the circumstance that the critical activity is largely a matter of comparison. Is the picture or the statue a good copy of the object sought to be represented? Such comparison fails us utterly in music, which copies nothing that is tangibly present in the external world.

What degree of knowledge is necessary?

The Elements.

Value of memory.

It is then necessary to associate the intellect with sense perception in listening to music. How far is it essential that the intellectual process shall go? This book being for the untrained, the question might be put thus: With how little knowledge of the science can an intelligent listener get along? We are concerned only with his enjoyment of music or, better, with an effort to increase it without asking him to become a musician. If he is fond of the art it is more than likely that the capacity to discriminate sufficiently to recognize the elements out of which music is made has come to him intuitively. Does he recognize that musical tones are related to each other in respect of time and pitch? Then it shall not be difficult for him to recognize the three elements on which music rests-Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. Can he recognize them with sufficient distinctness to seize upon their manifestations while music is sounding? Then memory shall come to the aid of discrimination, and he shall be able to appreciate enough of design to point the way to a true and lofty appreciation of the beautiful in music. The value of memory is for obvious reasons very great in musical enjoyment. The picture remains upon the wall, the book upon the library shelf. If we have failed to grasp a detail at the first glance or reading, we need but turn again to the picture or open the book anew. We may see the picture in a changed light, or read the poem in a different mood, but the outlines, colors, ideas are fixed for frequent and patient perusal. Music goes out of existence with every performance, and must be recreated at every hearing.

An intermediary necessary.

Not only that, but in the case of all, so far as some forms are concerned, and of all who are not practitioners in others, it is necessary that there shall be an intermediary between the composer and the listener. The written or printed notes are not music; they are only signs which indicate to the performer what to do to call tones into existence such as the composer had combined into an art-work in his mind. The broadly trained musician can read the symbols; they stir his imagination, and he hears the music in his imagination as the composer heard it. But the untaught music-lover alone can get nothing from the printed page; he must needs wait till some one else shall again waken for him the

"Sound of a voice that is still."

The value of memory.

This is one of the drawbacks which are bound up in the nature of music; but it has ample compensation in the unusual pleasure which memory brings. In the case of the best music, familiarity breeds ever-growing admiration. New compositions are slowly received; they make their way to popular appreciation only by repeated performances; the people like best the songs as well as the symphonies which they know. The quicker, therefore, that we are in recognizing the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic contents of a new composition, and the more apt our memory in seizing upon them for the operation of the fancy, the greater shall be our pleasure.

Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm.

Comprehensiveness of Melody.

In simple phrase Melody is a well-ordered series of tones heard successively; Harmony, a well-ordered series heard simultaneously; Rhythm, a symmetrical grouping of tonal time units vitalized by accent. The life-blood of music is Melody, and a complete conception of the term embodies within itself the essence of both its companions. A succession of tones without harmonic regulation is not a perfect element in music; neither is a succession of tones which have harmonic regulation but are void of rhythm. The beauty and expressiveness, especially the emotionality, of a musical composition depend upon the harmonies which either accompany the melody in the form of chords (a group of melodic intervals sounded simultaneously), or are latent in the melody itself (harmonic intervals sounded successively). Melody is Harmony analyzed; Harmony is Melody synthetized.


A melody analyzed.

The fundamental principle of Form is repetition of melodies, which are to music what ideas are to poetry. Melodies themselves are made by repetition of smaller fractions called motives (a term borrowed from the fine arts), phrases, and periods, which derive their individuality from their rhythmical or intervallic characteristics. Melodies are not all of the simple kind which the musically illiterate, or the musically ill-trained, recognize as "tunes," but they all have a symmetrical organization. The dissection of a simple folk-tune may serve to make this plain and also indicate to the untrained how a single feature may be taken as a mark of identification and a holding-point for the memory. Here is the melody of a Creole song called sometimes Pov' piti Lolotte, sometimes Pov' piti Momzelle Zizi, in the patois of Louisiana and Martinique:

Listen View Lilypond

Motives, phrases, and periods.

It will be as apparent to the eye of one who cannot read music as it will to his ear when he hears this melody played, that it is built up of two groups of notes only. These groups are marked off by the heavy lines across the staff called bars, whose purpose it is to indicate rhythmical subdivisions in music. The second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh of these groups are repetitions merely of the first group, which is the germ of the melody, but on different degrees of the scale; the fourth and eighth groups are identical and are an appendage hitched to the first group for the purpose of bringing it to a close, supplying a resting-point craved by man's innate sense of symmetry. Musicians call such groups cadences. A musical analyst would call each group a motive, and say that each successive two groups, beginning with the first, constitute a phrase, each two phrases a period, and the two peri

ods a melody. We have therefore in this innocent Creole tune eight motives, four phrases, and two periods; yet its material is summed up in two groups, one of seven notes, one of five, which only need to be identified and remembered to enable a listener to recognize something of the design of a composer if he were to put the melody to the highest purposes that melody can be put in the art of musical composition.

Repetition in music.

Repetition is the constructive principle which was employed by the folk-musician in creating this melody; and repetition is the fundamental principle in all musical construction. It will suffice for many merely to be reminded of this to appreciate the fact that while the exercise of memory is a most necessary activity in listening to music, it lies in music to make that exercise easy. There is repetition of motives, phrases, and periods in melody; repetition of melodies in parts; and repetition of parts in the wholes of the larger forms.

Repetition in poetry.

The beginnings of poetic forms are also found in repetition; in primitive poetry it is exemplified in the refrain or burden, in the highly developed poetry of the Hebrews in parallelism. The Psalmist wrote:

"O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath,

Neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure."

Key relationship.

Here is a period of two members, the latter repeating the thought of the former. A musical analyst might find in it an admirable analogue for the first period of a simple melody. He would divide it into four motives: "Rebuke me not | in thy wrath | neither chasten me | in thy hot displeasure," and point out as intimate a relationship between them as exists in the Creole tune. The bond of union between the motives of the melody as well as that in the poetry illustrates a principle of beauty which is the most important element in musical design after repetition, which is its necessary vehicle. It is because this principle guides the repetition of the tone-groups that together they form a melody that is perfect, satisfying, and reposeful. It is the principle of key-relationship, to discuss which fully would carry me farther into musical science than I am permitted to go. Let this suffice: A harmony is latent in each group, and the sequence of groups is such a sequence as the experience of ages has demonstrated to be most agreeable to the ear.

The rhythmical stamp.

The principle of Unity.

In the case of the Creole melody the listener is helped to a quick appreciation of its form by the distinct physiognomy which rhythm has stamped upon it; and it is by noting such a characteristic that the memory can best be aided in its work of identification. It is not necessary for a listener to follow all the processes of a composer in order to enjoy his music, but if he cultivates the habit of following the principal themes through a work of the higher class he will not only enjoy the pleasures of memory but will frequently get a glimpse into the composer's purposes which will stimulate his imagination and mightily increase his enjoyment. There is nothing can guide him more surely to a recognition of the principle of unity, which makes a symphony to be an organic whole instead of a group of pieces which are only externally related. The greatest exemplar of this principle is Beethoven; and his music is the best in which to study it for the reason that he so frequently employs material signs for the spiritual bond. So forcibly has this been impressed upon me at times that I am almost willing to believe that a keen analytical student of his music might arrange his greater works into groups of such as were in process of composition at the same time without reference to his personal history. Take the principal theme of the C minor Symphony for example:

Listen View Lilypond

A rhythmical motive pursued.

This simple, but marvellously pregnant, motive is not only the kernel of the first movement, it is the fundamental thought of the whole symphony. We hear its persistent beat in the scherzo as well:

Listen View Lilypond

and also in the last movement:

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More than this, we find the motive haunting the first movement of the pianoforte sonata in F minor, op. 57, known as the "Sonata Appassionata," now gloomily, almost morosely, proclamative in the bass, now interrogative in the treble:

Listen View Lilypond

Relationships in Beethoven's works.

The C minor Symphony and "Appassionata" sonata.

Beethoven's G major Concerto.

Schindler relates that when once he asked Beethoven to tell him what the F minor and the D minor (Op. 31, No. 2) sonatas meant, he received for an answer only the enigmatical remark: "Read Shakespeare's 'Tempest.'" Many a student and commentator has since read the "Tempest" in the hope of finding a clew to the emotional contents which Beethoven believed to be in the two works, so singularly associated, only to find himself baffled. It is a fancy, which rests perhaps too much on outward things, but still one full of suggestion, that had Beethoven said: "Hear my C minor Symphony," he would have given a better starting-point to the imagination of those who are seeking to know what the F minor sonata means. Most obviously it means music, but it means music that is an expression of one of those psychological struggles which Beethoven felt called upon more and more to delineate as he was more and more shut out from the companionship of the external world. Such struggles are in the truest sense of the word tempests. The motive, which, according to the story, Beethoven himself said indicates, in the symphony, the rappings of Fate at the door of human existence, is common to two works which are also related in their spiritual contents. Singularly enough, too, in both cases the struggle which is begun in the first movement and continued in the third, is interrupted by a period of calm reassuring, soul-fortifying aspiration, which in the symphony as well as in the sonata takes the form of a theme with variations. Here, then, the recognition of a simple rhythmical figure has helped us to an appreciation of the spiritual unity of the parts of a symphony, and provided a commentary on the poetical contents of a sonata. But the lesson is not yet exhausted. Again do we find the rhythm coloring the first movement of the pianoforte concerto in G major:

Listen View Lilypond

Symphony, concerto, and sonata, as the sketch-books of the master show, were in process of creation at the same time.

His Seventh Symphony.

Thus far we have been helped in identifying a melody and studying relationships by the rhythmical structure of a single motive. The demonstration might be extended on the same line into Beethoven's symphony in A major, in which the external sign of the poetical idea which underlies the whole work is also rhythmic-so markedly so that Wagner characterized it most happily and truthfully when he said that it was "the apotheosis of the dance." Here it is the dactyl, , which in one variation, or another, clings to us almost as persistently as in Hood's "Bridge of Sighs:"

"One more unfortunate

Weary of breath,

Rashly importunate,

Gone to her death."

Use of a dactylic figure.

We hear it lightly tripping in the first movement:

Listen View Lilypond

and Listen View Lilypond

gentle, sedate, tender, measured, through its combination with a spondee in the second:

Listen View Lilypond

cheerily, merrily, jocosely happy in the Scherzo:

Listen View Lilypond

hymn-like in the Trio:

Listen View Lilypond

and wildly bacchanalian when subjected to trochaic abbreviation in the Finale:

Listen View Lilypond

Intervallic characteristics.

Intervallic characteristics may place the badge of relationship upon melodies as distinctly as rhythmic. There is no more perfect illustration of this than that afforded by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Speaking of the subject of its finale, Sir George Grove says:

"And note-while listening to the simple tune itself, before the variations begin-how very simple it is; the plain diatonic scale, not a single chromatic interval, and out of fifty-six notes only three not consecutive."[A]

The melodies in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Earlier in the same work, while combating a statement by Lenz that the resemblance between the second subject of the first movement and the choral melody is a "thematic reference of the most striking importance, vindicating the unity of the entire work, and placing the whole in a perfectly new light," Sir George says:

"It is, however, very remarkable that so many of the melodies in the Symphony should consist of consecutive notes, and that in no less than four of them the notes should run up a portion of the scale and down again-apparently pointing to a consistent condition of Beethoven's mind throughout this work."

Melodic likenesses.

Like Goethe, Beethoven secreted many a mystery in his masterpiece, but he did not juggle idly with tones, or select the themes of his symphonies at hap-hazard; he would be open to the charge, however, if the resemblances which I have pointed out in the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, and those disclosed by the following melodies from his Ninth, should turn out through some incomprehensible revelation to be mere coincidences:

From the first movement:

Listen View Lilypond

From the second:

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Listen View Lilypond

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The choral melody:

Listen View Lilypond

Design and Form.

From a recognition of the beginnings of design, to which identification of the composer's thematic material and its simpler relationships will lead, to so much knowledge of Form as will enable the reader to understand the later chapters in this book, is but a step.

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