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Logic in Music

LOUIS C. ELSON.

To the layman in music, even of the more cultured sort, our art often seems to be a series of sentimental impressions merely. Even Fetis gave the definition of music thus: “Music is the art of moving the emotions by combinations of sound.” While this definition is the truth, it is not the entire truth, for music often appeals to the intellect as well as to the emotions; indeed, in its first scientific forms it appealed wholly to the mind and not at all to the emotions. There is plenty of music in existence that awakens the mental faculties rather than the emotions. In following a canon, in listening to a well-constructed fugue, the intelligent auditor would laugh at the question—“Does it represent longing? Sorrow? Return from absence?” He would understand that it represented a series of beautiful combinations evolved by transmuting a single figure, or a strict imitation of one melody by another; in any case his brain would be busy in following its evolutions, in comparing its imitations, without any especial appeal to his emotional nature. Yet we are right in demanding emotion also in an art that goes beyond the emotional power of spoken language. We prize that music best in which the intellectual and the emotional are blended; we prize Beethoven above other composers because he gives us this blending. Beethoven was not as emotional as Chopin, not as intellectual as Bach, but he combined the two qualities as neither Bach nor Chopin, nor anybody else, ever did. All the great composers, however, teach us the lesson that music, without discarding emotional power, is something more than a mere appeal to the feelings.

 

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