Of Music

The proper province of music, the only sense appealed to or employed in which is that of hearing, although the feelings as well are sought to be moved, is to regulate the order of certain sounds in such a manner as that harmony will result therefrom ; and so that those ideas and emotions which are of a refined nature will be produced thereby, which it is the object of each of the arts to excite in their respective spheres. The end of music is to elevate and refine the mind by means of sounds applicable for that purpose, whether through set and measured musical harmony, or by the disposition which it effects of sounds in general when they occur, in compositions which are not strictly or solely musical, such as those of eloquence or poetry, whose tones and periods it also contributes to regulate.

The essence of music is variety : and this variety consists alike in the alternate temporary continuance and cessation of the passing notes or sounds, the variation as regards their loudness or softness, the celerity or the slowness with which different notes succeed each other; as also the character of the several sounds, and the changes of that character, as whether grave or gay, sharp or dull, shrill or melodious. In all these respects, sound corresponds with form and colour, and the same essential qualities and capabilities are found existent in each alike. We are more particularly charmed and affected by the music of the human voice, because, in the first place, it is more capable of creating various tones, and various modulations of them, than is any artificial musical instrument; and variety and modulation are the leading causes of beauty, and of pleasurable emotions. In the next place, sounds proceeding from beings of our own nature excite us most by sympathy, and are best calculated to sink deep into the mind; probably, indeed, the closer is our connection with the person we hear singing, the more are we inclined to be affected by the tones which are produced.

Music directly influences the soul by affecting the animal spirits and the nervous feelings, through the operation upon them of the mind, in consequence of its excitement from the tones produced. When the soul is so acted upon, it is led to follow the cadences and intonations of music, to float along as it were upon the current so created. The variation of the emotions called forth within us corresponds pretty accurately and uniformly with the character of the melody. Hence it is that the spirits, and through them the passions, are excited or quelled by music, according to the nature of the latter.

The representation not only of all sounds in nature comes within the province of music, but of all objects and scenes with which associations may be created by music, or by sound which music may represent. Its element consists in sound only, but in sound varied with infinite modulations. Rhyme and metre in poetry, indeed, belong perhaps as much to music as to poetry. Music not only has the advantages to a certain extent enjoyed by language; but, by its frequent changes and modulations, it has, as it were, the property of motion also, which it possesses in common with poetry and eloquence.

Music, as regards its results, is probably most efficient when used as an accompaniment to poetry, with which, as I observed before, it was originally constantly united, and by means of which full vent is given to the feelings which are excited by the latter.

In eloquence, also, musical intonation of the sentences is of great consequence. This is, however, carried to a higher degree in poetry ; and where music accompanies poetry, the poem itself being sung, it is attained in perfection. The tone and effect suitable to each idea and subject are then given.

Music has, perhaps, of all the arts, the strongest influence over the feelings, and we appear to be impelled along with irresistible power by its incantations. Of all the arts, this is the most enchanting, and seems most completely to sink into and to absorb the soul; although the mode of its operation appears less clear and defined than does that of any of the other sister arts.