The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About

Letters to Pupils.


S. W.—You ask why, in the best modern editions of classical music, the letters H.S., S.S., R.G., and S.L. occur. I will reply, first, that these expressions correspond to certain German words, viz.: H.S., Hauptsatz, paralleled by P.S., or Principal Subject (English); S.S., Seitensatz, or S.S., Second Subject (English); R.G., Rückgang, or Return; S.L., Schluss, Conclusion. These expressions are added to the music by the editor to aid the student in dissecting and so detecting the construction of the music. And this leads me, second, to the remark that music is produced by the constructive imagination, and is built up by certain laws of selection, rejection, contrast, and proportion, just as a poem, a drama, a painting, an oration, a cathedral, must be built up. The process of mind which the student goes through with is exactly the reverse of that passed through by the composer. The composer begins by conceiving an idea and then clothes this idea in tones; the student begins by acquainting himself with tones, and then by tracing these inward, as along the filmy threads of a spider’s web, he finds at last the center and catches the law of construction. The perception of formal beauty is one of the highest pleasures derived by the bodily eye when beholding nature, and, similarly, it is one of the highest forms of pleasure which the mind derives from the contemplation of abstract things, such as poetry, eloquence, music, and the like. I add this further remark: Till you have trained your mind to detect and trace the pattern in a piece of music you are wholly incapable of a really intelligent reproduction or interpretation of it. If a piece of music is to your mind only like Hamlet’s letter, “words, words, words,” a mere pleasant-sounding collection of tones, tones, tones, without coherence, or any varying degrees of relative importance, your playing will be tame, forceless, dead, a mere wax doll, a paper flower. It is when you feel not only the accents of the measure but the prominence of the tone figures, and, beyond this, the relative importance and relation of each sentence, that you can fully reproduce the composer’s ideas. Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Brahms all had a wonderful sense of relative proportions, and with a sublime adherence to ideal beauty, they gave due regal honor to their leading thoughts and cast all things into just ranks and gradations. When you next study any of the classic pieces of Beethoven and Mozart, in the Lebert & Stark, or any other good edition, be sure to memorize, with conscientious attention, the marks of division in the piece and deliver it accordingly.

L. E. S.—You ask me to define “Pure Music” and “Programme Music.” Anything approaching to an adequate answer of this important question of musical esthetics would require an elaborate essay. I will put the matter in a few sentences as well as I can. By “Programme Music” is meant that kind of musical composition in which it is attempted to imitate something audible in nature, to suggest visible objects, or so to present a series of feelings that a story will be outlined, or the peculiar traits of a character mirrored. Take, for example, the “Danse Macabae,” (sic) by Saint-Saens, where the dancing of ghosts to a spectral fiddle, and their scampering away at cock-crow, is represented by the orchestra. The crowing of the cock is ludicrously imitated by the oboe in a solo phrase. The oboe has a singular nasal sound, especially when heard alone. Another example of Programme Music, which is more idealistic, is Beethoven’s Pastoral or Rural Symphony, the “No. 6 in F Major.” Many of the little piano pieces of Schumann are Programme Music. “The Hunting Song,” “The Happy Farmer,” “Knecht Ruprecht,” and “The First Loss,” in the “Album,” and “The Poet Speaks,” “The Child Falling Asleep,” “The Begging Child,” and “The Rider of the Hobby Horse,” in “The Scenes of Childhood,” are cases in point. Mendelssohn’s “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” is another fine specimen of music which is both programme and ideal music. Over against the programme music we find those compositions which charm us by the beauty of their form and the way in which they stir the indescribable feelings that lurk in our bosoms. Such are the fugues and inventions of Bach, the sonatas and fantasies of Mozart, the compositions of Beethoven for the piano, more than half the works of Chopin, and others.

S. R. D.—You ask me to define the expression, “Language of Music.” And you ask me, furthermore, if music is a universal language. In reply to your first question I would say that the expression, “Language of Music,” is one of those vague, semi-poetic, philosophic ways of talking about music which may either mean very little or a great deal, according to who uses it. The language of music simply means music as a mode of expression or a bridge by which the ideas of one soul may pass over to another. As to music being a universal language, I am inclined to say, “No, it is not ” To be sure, pure music, that is, instrumental music without words, may sound the same in the ears of a German, a Chinaman, a Norwegian, and a Feejee Islander. But while each of these men recognizes a certain kind of sound as a musical art, it is certainly not true that the same music would be equally understood and relished by the four men. It is in my opinion possible to divide the art of music, or the art of using sound to produce pleasure, into fully as many subdivisions as are made by the conventionalities of articulate speech. I do not, therefore, think that music is in any very important sense a universal language, although certain fundamental elements of it are universally recognized. A shriek, a sob, a soft, coaxing voice, or a loud burst of laughter, may be understood the world over. But music rests upon the idea of construction and from the time when a savage puts together two thumps upon a hollow log with regularity up to Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony,” and Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” music exists in hundreds of degrees adapted to every conceivable shade of human intelligence.

<< How I Read the Etude     Hints and Helps. >>

Monthly Archives


The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music