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Music in the Twentieth Century

PROPHECY is, in general, a very hazardous undertaking, and in the field of music it is especially so, for, while the other arts have their fixed rules, composition has not a single law which may not be broken, not one rule which has not been set aside by some composer to advantage. Therefore our art has been subject to some of the most marvelous and unlooked-for changes. In 1720 Rameau exclaimed that music was about dead, that it had said everything that it could say, and that the immediate future would see its quick decay. Yet after that there came Bach (he wrote the first part of the “Well-Tempered Clavichord” two years later) , Handel (whose “Messiah” came a generation later) , Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner; in short, every one of the composers who are recognized as the “Masters of Music.”

Music changed suddenly about 1600, when opera and monody superseded intricate counterpoint. It changed again when Gluck defeated Piccini and first voiced dramatic expression. It changed again when Beethoven, in 1804, brought forth his “Heroic Symphony.” It changed again when Wagner composed “Tristan und Isolde.” It may change again, and as suddenly, when the “Twentieth-Century Composer” evolves some new form or some different mode of musical treatment. In view of the great strides that have taken place in the art in America, it is not too much to say that possibly the new musical reformer may dwell on these shores. If anything like the advance, in composition, that has taken place here in the last twenty years should occur in the next fifty, the year 1950 might find Europe listening to the strains of an American and following his lead.

What the direction of the “Twentieth Century School” may be it would be dangerous to predict. Personally I believe that there will b a recession from the extreme dissonaces (sic) which modern radicals in music at present affect. There may also be a reaction against the unmelodic style that has characterized much of the recent music. The great orchestral advance that has been made by Wagner and by Richard Strauss will probably be retained, but tune will begin to reassert its rights beside fullness of harmony and grandeur of scoring.

Will there be a distinctively American school? I think not. In fact, nationality in music is likely to grow less marked even in the European repertoire. As commercial prosperity advances the different types of national life grow fainter and fainter. One cannot make a composition about a flour mill or a calico factory. But America will have one factor in her life that may place her above some of the European nations,—always excepting Russia, which has a good chance of becoming the leading musical nation of the opening century,—she possesses certain types of existence that are romantic and ought to inspire typical music. The Western ranch, the mining life of Colorado, the plantation of the South, these may yet give a distinctive tone to American music, and may make the United States of the present century the musical center of nations.

Music will continue to occupy the attention of a very large and constantly-increasing proportion of cultured people as the form of art most available and inspiring for large social and festival occasions, for small societies, and for individual enjoyment. In other words, the tendency to enjoy music and to prize it—already operative in Egypt more than six thousand years ago, which has had, during the last two centuries, such a remarkable extension—will continue to be in force.

Music will continue to differentiate into individual types, covering wider and wider ranges of human feeling, aspiration, and delight.

Orchestral music will eventually differentiate into two strongly-dissimilar types: The one being a more complete working out of the class of types characteristic of Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, and writers of classical purity and sweetness; but with more ample means and a much wider range of shades, all belonging to the general mental types of the optimistic, benevolent, and aspirational (using the latter term in its sense of aspiration toward holiness, purity, and peace). The other type will be that of the decadent, such as the sensationalism of Berlioz, and the Richard Strauss class; this kind of music will go on developing, one sonority added to another, and one extravagance imposed upon another. Through the survival of many of the not-fittest, there will always be a public to be captured by efforts of this kind.

The pianoforte will probably undergo another transition, and in some way acquire a more perfect cantabile—perhaps a real cantabile. The tone will become more musical, less aggressive, and more sensitive. The music for it will partake of both tendencies already mentioned, but the more highly esteemed part will be that in which the mental types are sensitive, beautiful, and congenial; in short, representing both the male and female types of mentality in their noblest and purest aspects.

With regard to tonality, the extreme chromatic tendency now prevalent in decadent music will undergo a reaction, through the experience that, by so much as the tonalities are intermingled and confused, by just so much there is a loss of distinctness, directness, and possibility of tonal relief. When all keys sound alike, there will be practically only one key,— which is absurd.

Singing, with single voice and in groups of voices, will become universal; not alone for the sake of musical pleasure, but also for mental and spiritual control, and for acquiring a musical voice for ordinary speech.

Musical utterance—by voice, fingers, etc.—will become one of the normal forms of human expression, very likely to such an extent that the early steps will not be formally taught, any more than those of speech now are. The advanced attainments will become more and more masterly; so that what we now call "technic" will be so far surpassed within the next hundred years at to make our end-of-century brags appear pitiful; and the time will come when no one will play or sing for display, but only for the expression of moods and aspirations having in them an uplift for the singer and the player and for the hearer as well.

Toward the middle of the century there will probably begin to be appropriate church music; and toward the close of it appropriate church music will actually be preferred, even in the free churches where the liturgy does not render it obligatory.

Musical theory will learn to say what it means.

Musical journalism will undergo a complete change of heart and devote itself to noble topics and ignore personalities except when exceptional benefits to the world at large make recognition a duty.

The musical vintage of A.D. 2000 will yield, I anticipate, a libation of which practically every man, woman, and youth in America may partake and intelligently enjoy. The study of music will come to be recognized as one of the fundamentals of education. It is the most potent agency available in the development of the emotional nature and of moral character. It does for the heart what mathematics does for the head. This will be acknowledged within the next hundred years and the study of music will take its rightful place in the curriculum of every public school, academy, college, and university. Music will no longer be regarded as an accomplishment, but rather as a necessity, to the symmetrical education of every American citizen.

Incidental and necessary to such a result, every teacher of music will then be compelled to give evidence, before duly installed examiners, of ability to teach, and none will then be allowed to trifle with the unfolding musical powers of the child any more than quack doctors are now permitted, unrestricted, to impose their ignorant practices on a defenceless public. Every child in school will then be taught to sing scientifically; that is, by note; and adults, barring the small percentage of tone-deaf, who cannot read and understand music will be regarded in much the same light as we now look upon a person who makes his mark instead of writing his autograph.

Children in the public schools, as well as students in the higher schools, who are practicing the piano or other instruments, will have their practice credited as “laboratory work” and allowed in the sum of their credits toward a degree. With practically every person of adult age, or approaching that time, able to sing scientifically and the majority artistically, music in the home, in society, in the church, and on the concert platform will fill its divine mission on earth. Great oratorio societies will be easily formed and maintained; majestic church choirs of 150 to 200 voices, like the writer’s Temple Choir in the Baptist Temple, Brooklyn, will be found in every large church, instead of the unsatisfactory quartet or small chorus; the family fireside will have its glee-club and the family altar its musical enrichment of hymn and anthem. The symphony and opera, the solo and the recital will be listened to by intelligent ears instead of being talked down by babbling tongues.

Opera in America will be sung in the vernacular and a music drama in Italian, French, or German will be as rare in either of those languages as a melodrama now. There will be an American individuality in the compositions by American composers just as truly characteristic as American character itself. America is in its commercial period. But its commercialism is American. When America reaches its art period—during the twentieth century—its art-ism, musical and otherwise, will be just as truly American. Instead of a Netherlandic period in a Venetian Republic, it will be an Anglo-Saxon period in an American Republic, revised, corrected, and enlarged by four hundred years of civilization. In the year A. D. 2000 who shall not say with pride “I am an American”?

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