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The Two-Fold Vitality of Anglo-Saxon Music


Especially Written for
The Etude by the Eminent Pianist-Composer PERCY ALDRIDGE GRAINGER
Private 15th Coast Artillery, U. S. A.

However much the various English-speaking peoples of America, Europe, Africa and Australasia may differ from one another in many respects, I think it may be safely asserted that in one matter they are all alike—in that they are an active and instinctive rather than a contemplative and studious breed. This dominant characteristic of their racial life is a determining factor in their music as well as in all their other arts, sports and tendencies, and to grasp the true inwardness of Anglo-Saxon music and to judge with insight as to our success or failure in the realms of music, I venture to assert that our muse must be viewed first and last as the muse of an avowedly active and impulsive race. It is the active, unthinking, reckless, unstudious temperament of the English-speaking peoples that have led them to become colonizers and pioneers. Not only is the Anglo-Saxon particularly prone to leave his native heath as soon as he is threatened with commercial competition (or any other social stress involving a life of great mental concentration), but when he settles in the new land or new district or State he chooses instinctively the out-door pioneer careers (the hewing of forests, mining, ranching, etc.) in preference to the more townified small trades such as bootmaking, shopkeeping, factory work, etc., which appeal more naturally to most of the European Continental peoples.

percy-grainger.jpgAll this has its effect on Anglo-Saxon music, especially in the earlier stages of its career. Singing is more naturally the musical expression of pioneer races than is involved instrumental music, and those instruments that are favored by the pioneer races, such as the banjo, the concertina, the ukulele, the mandolin, are portable and durable. (“I travel ‘mid the cooking pots and pans,” sings Kipling of the banjo), and adapted to the accompaniment of the single voice; for the song of the pioneer is, very naturally, a solo song.

The military band and the symphony orchestra are the musical counterparts of more highly socialized and less typically Anglo-Saxon phases of life, whereas the restaurant orchestras of America, with their banjos, mandolins, guitars, etc., still reflect a more native outlook, and suggest a kind of music- making that originated in picnics, outings, and unrehearsed and unorganized gatherings in general.

Working Songs

But there is another very wide-reaching characteristic of Anglo-Saxon music; the fact that it is so largely, in its origin at least, occupation-music—music made to facilitate and enliven and spiritualize the daily tasks of the race, whether the tasks be carried out singly or communistically. Plough-songs and many forms of folk-songs originated in singly accomplished tasks, whereas, on the other hand, sea-chanties (sailors’ songs accompanying work on sailing ships), Scotch “waulking” songs (the waulking of the wool, i. e., “driving of the sheep”), and many American Negro plantation songs are instances of music adapted to the needs of folk working together in groups or communities. In judging the soulful value of Anglo-Saxon music, it would, I think, be very narrow minded to overlook the spiritualizing import of such occupation-music. Viewed from a humanistic viewpoint, perhaps no art has a more golden mission than just such music. While the body is busy rowing, hauling, marching, digging, slaving in a thousand ways, the soul, not immersed in the labor in hand, is able to soar away into the abstract and mystical realms of music, bringing untold relief and refreshment to the worker. We must remember, further, that occupation-music does not express musically the occupation it accompanies, so much at it provides a reaction from that occupation. A plough-song, for instance, is not a musical picture of the sensations of ploughing; on the contrary, its office is to cater to those emotional and spiritual cravings in the soul of the ploughman that the mere act of ploughing does not satisfy. How lucky is the pioneer, the sailor, the backwoodsman, the cowboy, in these respects! His daily tasks, whether cast in company or in loneliness, can bring with them the solace of music to a degree unknown to the accountant in a bank or a shopman behind the counter.

For the typical townsman, music is apt to begin only after work is done, and this is, of course, the origin of the popularity of opera, symphony orchestras, cafe bands and male voice clubs in Germany and other countries where town and village occupations by far outnumber activities of a pioneer nature in the vast spaces of more or less virgin nature. In our own Anglo-Saxon lands, the passing of pioneer conditions and the growth of large cities, with their factory and trade life, occasion a somewhat similar interest in choral singing, orchestras and bands, and it is, of course, to the vastly growing facilities (throughout the English-speaking countries), born of the opportunity of massing together complex instrumental and vocal combinations (called “classical music”), that we owe the appearance of such musical creators as Arthur Sullivan, Ethelbert Nevin, Elgar, Delius, MacDowell, Cyril Scott, Joseph Holbrooke, Ethel Smyth, Chadwick, Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, Edward German, Roger Quilter, John Alden Carpenter, Victor Herbert, Frederic Converse, Arnold Bax, Gustave von Holst, Arthur Whiting, Frederick Austin, Horatio Parker, Balfour Gardiner, Charles Villiers Stanford, Parry, Carl Diton, Daniel Gregory Mason, Henry Hadley, Charles T. Griffes, Will Marion Cook, Nathaniel Dett, etc., within the last few generations. There is, indeed, no lack of “classical” creative musical genius in Anglo-Saxon lands nowadays. Take England alone, excluding even Scotland, Ireland and Wales, what other country to-day can boast of three such original, profound and emotionally significant living composers as Delius, Elgar and Cyril Scott? Can we name in any one of the following countries—Germany, Russia, Austria, Finland, Scandinavia, Holland or Spain—any three living native-born composers of classical music that mean as much to the emotional life of

Germany, Austria, England and America as these three men? Any other race but the Anglo-Saxon would be proud of such geniuses, and their names would be household words in their home countries. But it is apparently not part of the scheme or ideal of Anglo- Saxon races to admire over-duly their geniuses, or even to be conscious of their existence to any real extent.

The Race of Activity

I say this entirely without resentment or regret, for surely every race has a right to its own special artistic viewpoint and destiny. And I repeat again that the Anglo-Saxon apparently prefers activity to contemplation in all matters. The race is exceedingly able to produce great contemplative geniuses, philosophical seers or mystical emotionalists, such as Walt Whitman, Swinburne, Edgar Lee Masters, Bernard Shaw, Delius, Elgar, Augustus John, George Moore, etc., but having produced them, it profligately ignores their existence and their message. Would a European Messiah of Walt Whitman’s transcending size and quality have had less influence on European Continental thought and morals than Nietsche had on German thought? Are E. L. Masters, Shaw and George Moore more likely than Whitman to have any real effect on the national life of English-speaking peoples; any effect comparable to that of Tolstoi in Russia, George Brandes in Denmark, Ibsen in Norway, Multatulli in Holland? Though Delius, Elgar and Cyril Scott are as typical of English emotionality as John Alden Carpenter is of American, yet it is in foreign lands that they harvested most of their first and furthest-reaching successes. This is not merely a modern phenomenon. Such old songs as To Anthea (Hatton), Old Black Joe (Foster) and I’ll Sing Thee Songs of Arabee (Henry Clay) are beloved by English and American singers and audiences, yet how many people, “musical” or “unmusical,” in our countries, would think of talking of them as works of genius comparable to Schubert’s Haidenröslein, Brahms Vergebliches Ständchen, or Fauré’s Serenade Tuscan (Apres un Reve)? Yet in what respect (as regards melodic invention, harmonic fragrance and emotional subtlety), I ask, are they inferior to songs of genius of their own class from any country? These Anglo-Saxon songs are beloved in their countries of origin, they are sung and widely known, yet what typical, everyday, common-or-garden variety Anglo-Saxon associates the idea of genius with them, or knows, or cares to know, even the name of their composers, as a typical European Continental would in a similar case? Anglo-Saxons are fond of sweet songs, but the idea of genius (the thought of one solitary man out-soaring heroically his fellows) does not make any particular appeal to their democratized natures—and why should it?

The typical Anglo-Saxon does not feel himself called upon to worship inactively at the feet of iconoclastic world-storming genius such as that of Walt Whitman, though he is quite willing to be a loyal patron of such gifted interpreters of life as Harry Lauder, O. Henry and Charley Chaplin, provided the range of subjects touched upon does not step outside the range of everyday middle-class existence, and always provided that the attitude of the interpreting one reflects the already settled convictions of Anglo-Saxon morality and does not propose to exert any ethical “influence” of any kind.

The Anglo-Saxon likes to impress the national thought and morality upon his national artists, and utterly refuses to allow his national artists to mould or alter the national thought and morality if he can possibly help it. As aforesaid, the Anglo-Saxon is an active type, enjoying in a healthy and whole-souled way the doings of commerce, sport, “society,” pioneering and politics, and not desiring or needing to be drawn aside from these pleasures and occupations by what he considers superfluous appeals to his contemplative or consciously emotional nature.

Therefore the popular Anglo-Saxon music of to-day, the music that really “counts” with the majority of English-speaking folk the world over, is no less occupation-music than were the British folk-songs, the Irish reels, the Southern plantation-songs and the Inter-Anglo-Saxon deep-sea chanties of the past. Over There and Tipperary are tunes to which one can really march, and the fox-trots and two-steps and one-steps are music to which one can really dance. The present mushroom-quick growth of community singing in training camps in this country is a beautiful and convincing instance of the living Anglo-Saxon need of occupation-music. Though there is a constantly growing audience for every form of classical music throughout the English-speaking world, it cannot be said that the average Anglo-Saxon cares particularly to sit quietly in a seat and listen to others making music. He generally prefers to participate himself in one way or another. When he is not actually dancing or marching to the music he favors, then he wants a tune that he can whistle in his bath, or a song that can help him in the business of wooing or can add to his social attractiveness. A great measure of the genuine success of such Gilbert and Sullivan operas as The Mikado lay, no doubt, in their supreme adaptability to amateur performances, in their “social” possibilities. Always, we find the Anglo-Saxon eschews “art for art’s sake” and prefers it as a docile appendage to the actual deeds of his life. Music-hall tunes as The Cosy-Corner Girl, and rag-time such as When the Major Plays Those Minor Melodies are not merely art, but they are an indispensable part of the after-work recreation hours of British and American populations. Such art is as truly national, in its own way, and as truly “living” as a Norwegian Hailing, as an old German Choral, as the Scotch bagpipers were, in their day and place. And it seems safe to say that though Vienna and Italy possibly have, Russia, France, Germany, Scandinavia and Holland certainly have not, a living popular urban music of such racy freshness and of such spiritual salutariness as ours. For it is in our music that the very sweetest, purest and most ideal emotional ingredients of our national life shine forth, now as in the past.

A Fund of Sentiment

Anglo-Saxon public life has not lacked its harsh and sinister sides, its press-gangs, its lynchings, its stern frontier life, its Western-American willingness to wield fire-arms ruthlessly. Yet the songs of our countries have for centuries overflowed with a unique honey-sweet gentle melodiousness, an adorable freshness of sentiment and purity of soul. These keen and practical races, stubborn and contentious in their religious and political arenas, fiercely self-suppressive in their every-day manners, have a strangely rich fund of sentiment and tender emotionalism tucked away inside them that overflows most appealingly in their music, which art, in its freedom from actual ideas, in its farness from contentious issues, must have proved a priceless spiritual haven of refuge to the hard-headed but soft-hearted Anglo-Saxon temperament.

The very fact that the national occupations and outlook were, for the most part, practical and unemotional, have tended to drive the sentiment and high-strung emotionalism of the race into its poetry and music, accounting thereby for the welter of almost over-wrought feeling in such poets as Keats, Swinburne and Whitman, and the strange wild-flower-like tender fragrance of British folk-song (no less in its Kentuckian and other American survivals than its home-land versions), American Negro spirituals and Foster’s incomparable songs. We can see, if what I suggest is true, that Anglo-Saxon music has gone far to keep the emotional balance of the race, in that it has been chiefly an unconscious or at least untutored expression; for the determining influence in Anglo-Saxon music has been the unwritten music (the songs and dances that were remembered without even being written down) and even to-day the music that means most to the bulk of the English-speaking world is that produced by musicians of no (or at most slight) musical education or studiousness.

Americans and British are to my mind intensely musical races, especially from a creative (compositional) standpoint, but we are musically primitive races when viewed in the aggregate; at bottom closer allied to the musical instincts of South Sea Island Polynesians and African Negroes than to those of Hollanders, Frenchmen and Germans, for instance.

These primitive, non-European musical tendencies of the Anglo-Saxon do not prevent the appearance from out of his midst of world-wide creative musical geniuses of the first magnitude (such as Frederick Delius) any more than the gorgeous indifference of the English-speaking public towards all serious drama (whether native or foreign) and high poetry precludes the advent of Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman or Edgar Lee Masters. Probably no countries will produce greater or more significant classical composers within the next few generations than will America and the British Empire, but these geniuses will, in the future as in the past, in all probability be “lost to the race,” in a certain sense. They will stand apart from the general stream of the artistic thought and feeling of the Anglo-Saxon race, as Walt Whitman, Byron or Turner did in the past; as Masters and Augustus John and Delius and Cyril Scott do to-day; to a greater degree than Debussy stands apart from French national artistic feeling, or Richard Strauss from German national artistic feeling; so it seems to me.

And I do not know that this aristocratic separateness of the chain of geniuses from the popular music of the race, and the normal man’s almost complete ignorance of the existence and achievements of the musical giants of his own people is such a bad thing in the end, viewed from a certain standpoint—the standpoint that prizes untrammeled inspiration and vitality and variety above many other things. It is consoling for a democratic Anglo-Saxon to think that our composers of genius are not in any particular danger of overshadowing and influencing their fellow-countrymen as Beethoven and Wagner did theirs in Germany, as Debussy appears to his in France.

Is it not a blessing to know that no bouquet of Deliuses, Elgars, Carpenters, Cyril Scotts, or any amount of musical education of whatever nature seems able to quench the steady flow of untutored racy popular music that gushes forth from America and Great Britain in an unending gamut of variety that suggests an act of nature rather than an effort of man?

Viewed merely from the standpoint of the individual genius (ignoring for the moment the attitude of the, musically speaking, uneducated great majority of the race), it is no little advantage to have behind one a musical background of such local fragrance as that of the folk-songs of Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland or Russia, the Gypsy music of Spain and Hungary, and the improvised part-singing of American Negroes. And we must not forget that it is no lesser a thing than a body of music comparable to this that the Anglo-Saxon popular musical taste to-day is building up for the future by dint of concentrating its attention solely upon its own native instincts and pleasures; and that this task, demanding the self-consciouslessness of creative inspiration, could not be adequately performed if the national musical proletariat listened in respectful awe to the dictates of individual geniuses, past or present, native or foreign; if, in short, it listened to aught save its own inner spiritual voice.

[Mr. Percy Grainger, probably the most original and one of the most gifted of the present day composers, has now lived in America for over three years. Shortly after his arrival in this country, both he and his mother (who was his first teacher) took out citizenship papers. When America entered the war, Mr. Grainger enlisted in the Fifteenth Coast Artillery Band, adopting the Oboe and the Saxaphone as his instruments. Recently the government allowed him a three months’ furlough to play for Red Cross concerts. Thus he turned over a very large income and his services to the government. He has now returned to his military service, under Rocco Resta, one of the most brilliant of the younger bandmasters of the U. S. A. Since Mr. Grainger’s arrival in America he has produced many of his ablest works, including the Suite, In a Nutshell, performed by most of the larger orchestras, The Marching Song of Democracy, produced by Dr. Arthur Mees at the recent Worcester Festival (Massachusetts), The Warriors, a work of stupendous imagination and treatment, which was produced at the Norfolk (Connecticut) Festival, The Merry Wedding, One More Day, John, Tribute to Foster. The latter work was commenced some time before Mr. Grainger’s arrival in America. He is also at work upon a Death Song for Hjalmar Thuren, the Danish collector of Faroe Island Folk Songs. Mr. Grainger is an accomplished linguist and speaks the Scandinavian tongues as well as the customary continental languages. Born in Australia, brought up in Europe, and now becoming an American citizen, he is the most versatile of all the present day composers. He has added numerous instruments (most percussion and plectral types) to the orchestra. His teachers have been his mother, Louis Pabst, Professor James Kwast, Ferrucio Busoni, as well as his friend and admirer, Edvard Grieg. Mr. Grainger’s larger works for orchestra and chorus, which have been developed in America, have surprised even his enthusiastic friends by their scintillating originality, force and character. He has, in many instances, taken instruments which other composers might consider claptrap, and through artistic application produced new and exceedingly effective art results. Perhaps the outstanding quality of his compositions is the fact that they are based more predominantly on musical instinct and purely musical emotions than the works of most modern composers. A recent Scotch writer on Music, D. C. Parker, has said of Mr. Grainger’s music: “He is bringing Music back to Orpheus.” As a virtuoso pianist he has developed a peculiarly original technic and his playing is sane and unaffected, but at the same time is filled with the impassioned spirit of youth tempered with far-reaching experience.—Editor’s Note.]

 

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