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Is Secular Music Sacred?

This was the title of an address delivered by the Rev. E. Husband, incumbent of St. Michael’s, Folkstone, at his one hundred and nineteenth monthly “Sunday Afternoons for the People,” on the 6th ult. Mr. Husband prefaced his remarks by Henry Ward Beecher’s saying: “All good music is sacred if it is heard sacredly, and all poor music is execrably unsacred.”

“What was sacred music?” he asked, and answered: “There is no such thing, in reality, as ‘secular’ music.” Music can not be divided into sacred and secular—it is one. Music is music or it is not. If music were divisible into sacred and secular, then to keep the secular part on earth and send only the sacred half up to Heaven was to send an incomplete and imper­fect thing to Heaven. But just as in jewelry there is real gold and imitation gold, so under the name of music there is real music and imitation music. But we can not call imitation gold “gold” nor a piece of glass in a ring a “diamond.” So bad music is not really music, but a horrible, insipid imitation—a dese­cration of a divine thing.

With many the question whether a piece of music is sacred or secular is decided by the fact whether it is used in church or upon the stage; others (a large number) decide by the printed title. If, for ex­ample, a march is called “The May Day March,” it is “secular”; but if the same has its title altered to “The Cathedral March,” then it instantly becomes “sacred.” Mr. Husband here played three selected hymn-tunes and a few measures from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” and said: “The hymn-tunes are termed ‘sacred.’ I cannot myself allow that they are ‘music’ at all; but, using popular language, I will say that they are ‘secular’ to the very core, while the example from ‘Tannhäuser’ is, I maintain, thoroughly sacred music, because it is true, pure, inspired music.” “Surely,” the speaker continued, “it is an insult to human intelligence to call these hymn-tunes ‘sacred’ and an excerpt from ‘Tannhäuser’ ‘secular.’ If two coins appearing to be sovereigns be tested, their value is not decided by the fact that both are stamped with a like image, but whether they are made of real gold.” So, he maintained, the sacredness of a musical com­position is not decided by its title or whether it be the music of a mass or of an opera, but simply by the test of whether the composition is really inspired music or only the worthless imitation of real music that often goes by the name of “sacred music” just because it is so-called “church music” or has a name connected with sacred things on its title-page. Music is sacred wherever it is played, be it in the church or the theater.—Musical Times.

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