A Study in Musical Analysis
8vo. 160 pp. First Edition. Preface by the author, February 1962 [pp. 9-11].
Part One: The Problem
Part Two: Principles of Thematic Continuity
Part Three: Background Unity
Part Four: The Musical Unconscious
Index to Music Examples
This is Alan Walker's earliest book, first published when he was but an obscure 32-years-old employee in the music department of BBC. Probably nobody at the time expected that within a decade Alan Walker would edit excellent symposia on Chopin, Liszt and Schumann, still less that forty years later he would be regarded as the leading authority on Liszt, having written the definitive biographies of the great Hungarian composer and one of his most famous pupils (Hans von Bülow).
Today A Study in Musical Analysis, like Mr Walker's second book, An Anatomy of Musical Criticism (1965), is more or less completely forgotten. I consider this a great injustice. Half of the book consists of musical examples and analyses incomprehensible for the layman, yet the rest is as stirring a read as anything. Suffice it to say that the book cannot be recommended highly enough to anybody who loves music. If you can read music too, so much the better. And if, in addition, you are not indifferent to the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, this is an obligatory read.
Now I should like to make an experiment I have wanted to do for quite some time: a review which consists almost entirely of quotations. I will limit myself to brief commentaries in square brackets, mostly concerned with references and summaries of what is quoted or not, respectively. Alan Walker's prose is so impeccably organised, so remarkably self-sufficient and so astonishingly meaningful, that the following selection has been both a pleasure and a torture to compile. I have, on the whole, tried to give as much of the author's own context as possible. I make no apology for the great length of this ''review''. For I do believe it is much more helpful to people who want make up their minds whether to read Alan Walker's book than anything I could write.
One last note before plunging into the never-ending clarity and power of this prose. Alan Walker is the kind of writer who uses italicized words, and even whole passages, quite often, and almost always with a very good reason. This is why the extensive quotations below appear exactly as they are in the book. All additions of my own are in square brackets. Also, there is some deliberate repetition which has been deliberately retained. This invariably refers to some of the major concepts in the book, and they are well worth repeating several times.
This book is primarily concerned with the unity of contrasting themes, and with the principles (both musical and psychological) behind such unity. It does not represent a first attempt in this field and judging by the present widespread interest in the subject it will almost certainly not represent the last.
Despite the presence of such formidable predecessors [Heinrich Schenker, Rudolf Reti, Arnold Schoenberg, Hans Keller] I hope that the following pages may do something more than simply underline what they have already said. Musical analysis is a rich and inexhaustible subject, and there are many problems still awaiting a final solution. Two such problems I think I have been able to solve satisfactorily. I am able to present for the first time experimental proof of the audibility of the mirror forms; it has also been possible for me to present some evidence in support of unconscious musical perception.
Broadly speaking I have set myself three main tasks in the present work. First: to show some of the inadequacies and misconceptions that are the result of a wrong attitude towards musical form, an attitude still foisted on us by teaching institutions. Second: to demonstrate those principles of organization which help to explain the structural 'integrity' of great music. Third: to inquire into the psychological causes of such integrity. This last is by far the most ambitious part of my book and does not represent my final thoughts on the subject. No one is more acutely aware than myself of the deficiencies of these pages. The psychological background to the composing process is highly complex, and even an exposition of the basic facts is fraught with difficulties. Generally speaking, the average musician is not sympathetic towards this type of inquiry and it has been a major problem to decide on the best means of presentation. I can only hope that the result does not raise more problems than it solves.
Part One: The Problem
One of man's natural attributes is curiosity. He has been asking the question 'Why?' for so long that it never occurs to him to consider why he does so although he may often risk disillusionment. Miracles are now things of the unenlightened past because we have explanations to hand that will bring most of them down to the level of our intelligence. The miracle of art, however, still resists ultimate analysis, and this has only served to increase our curiosity, which is never fully satisfied until it has burned its way through to fundamentals; it has also served to increase our fear that contempt will follow hard on the heels of familiarity and that there will ultimately be a price to pay for knowledge. Keats is said to have expressed the view that a spectral analysis of the rainbow would destroy forever its poetical mystery. If this view seems medieval, it is precisely the attitude among many present-day musicians to the analysis of music.
Now musical analysis is not so much concerned with explaining mysteries as with establishing facts. If some of the facts it has uncovered from time to time have also explained a mystery, and thereby roused the ire of those musicians who prefer not to think about their art, it has also stimulated others to look a little deeper and to think a little harder about the subject.
Let us try to establish the aim and scope of musical analysis by examining it within the wider context of music as a whole. In particular it will be useful to inquire into the value that musical analysis has for appreciation, performance and criticism.
There is a widespread belief that analysis plays a vitally important part in the understanding and appreciation of music. If by 'analysis' we mean a conscious inquiry into every facet of a work's organization, and if by 'understanding' we mean that spontaneous and intuitive response to music that for want of a better term we may call the artistic experience, then I think that such a belief is not only dangerously misleading but in many ways demonstrably false. The idea that the analysis of music brings understanding in its train probably originated in the late nineteenth century, when academicism became a force to be reckoned with. Whatever its origins, it is now one of the official doctrines of our teaching institutions, and this has ensured that the idea has become firmly entrenched in the thinking of the vast majority of musicians. Let us examine this belief more closely and see if it has any basis in fact.
There are two types of understanding: rational and intuitive. A work of art might be defined as an intuitive truth expressed through some form of rational organization. This duality of intuitiveness and rationality is an inherent factor in all music and a source of great misunderstanding to the professional as well as the lay musician. The professional musician tries not to talk about 'intuitive truths'; his musical thinking is technical. The layman on the other hand is perplexed and bewildered by the complexity of the 'rational organization' and is convinced that in his inability to grasp this he has lost something vital. Musical appreciation, however, is not the result of rational inquiry. If it were really true that a causal connection exists between analysis and understanding then there would no longer be an excuse for anyone not understanding anything. The simple truth is that in the great majority of instances musical understanding is a pre-analytic experience in no way dependent on conceptual notions. [...] In this matter we are continually led astray by those musical educators whose teaching is based on the unshakeable belief that knowledge is essential to understanding. The official view is easily disproved by anyone with a certain amount of technical knowledge and a 'blind spot'. The fact that one may happen to possess both is itself the strongest possible refutation of this notion.
Insofar as we do not respond to music at all we feel the need for an 'explanation'. Our present insistence on the importance of terminology as a means of understanding music is essentially a product of our own times. Classical music was not 'explained' to classical audiences for there was then no problem of communication. Not only does such a problem now exist, but there are two important aspects to it. In the first place we do not properly understand much of the music of our own time and we compensate for this unique situation in words. The amount of literature dealing with contemporary music is almost equal in bulk to the music itself. It is the rule rather than the exception to find new works accompanied at their first performance by technical essays of varying length and obscurity, often written by the composer himself. To some extent this attitude has been projected back on the music of former times - the programme note is essentially a twentieth-century invention. But there is another side of this problem. We are growing away from our past. Not only are we bedevilled by problems of our own culture but also by the difficulties of understanding past cultures. These difficulties are in direct ratio to the remoteness of the music we happen to be listening to. [...] To some extent the difficulty of developing an ear for the niceties of older music is an ever-present one. It is crucial of our own times, however, for we are the first century to take more interest in the music of the past than of our own day. Surrounded on all sides by music to which we have no initial response, it is hardly surprising that we tend to delude ourselves into thinking that words begin where music leaves off. Hence, our entire system of musical training (or rather that part of it which is taken up with 'appreciation') is concerned with translating purely musical concepts into verbal terms. We are said to be 'educated' when we can work back from the terms to the music, but the fact is that the language of music can be comprehended only in terms of sound, and when such comprehension is not forthcoming words are superfluous. We may be armed with all the correct labels; we may even find we can apply them correctly; but this in itself is no guarantee that we shall respond to music. Such knowledge is not automatically followed by understanding.
The question may now be asked: Why analyse at all if musical understanding is not dependent on it? A simple answer to that is that you are either curious about music or you are not. Analysis can explain some of the causes behind artistic experience and thereby satisfies a need many of us feel. But it will never give us artistic experience.*
[As pointed out in the footnote (*), this matter will later be developed further. The last paragraph also illustrates another priceless quality of Alan Walker's writing: it is anything but dogmatic. He never shies away from asking - or, for that matter, answering - inconvenient question about his own theories. This, too, will be confirmed further in the book. Alan Walker's discussion on analysis and performance is rather more technical, but it does contain a number of valuable and timeless observations about performance practice.]
Regarded from the standpoint of performance the practical value of analysis is unquestionable. It is a good thing when performers take the trouble to understand their understanding. However frequently the same work continues to attract to itself different interpretations, analysis ensures that at the very least none violates the work's structure. A rational analysis serves as a useful check on a flighty imagination. 'Imaginative' performances are often simply untruthful performances. While bad performances play the music good performances are the music. A composer has a right to expect that the facts of the musical case shall be presented without distortion and with as much conviction as if he himself were arguing his own case.
[I surmise this is one point where I might kind of disagree with Alan Walker. He gives no direct examples of such ''untruthful performances'' – except one cryptic reference to one point in a recent recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto by a ''violinist of international repute'' whom I haven't been able to identify – but I surmise quite a few of my favourite recordings would not meet Mr Walker's criteria of truthfulness. The author is only too well aware of how controversial his opinion is, and he goes even further.]
The time-honoured defence of indiscreet performers is that they feel the music that way. This never was and never will be a sufficiently strong justification for poor interpretation. It is true that there is an element of personal preference in all performance, but a close study of texture and structure will show that there is also an element of scientific fact which is by far the greater of the two and which plays an enormously important role in interpretation. By 'scientific fact' I do not merely mean 'fact', but a fact which we know to be true because it fits in with a pre-existing scheme of knowledge.
[Here Mr Walker goes on to give two examples – from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K. 581 (bar 41, to be exact), and from the finale of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony – where this 'scientific fact' even goes against the composer's text. In both cases, as far as I can understand, a certain pause should be made longer than indicated in the score if the performer does not want to violate the musical structure. Mr Walker, unfortunately, does not offer any explanation why composers of such towering greatness committed such apparently obvious mistakes, but he mentions the tantalising remark of Mozart that ''silences in his music were more important than the sounds''. This is at first glance rather perplexing, but it is probably a good idea if performers keep it in mind. I myself am reminded of the famous incident when the young Toscanini played the cello for Verdi and at one place made something which is not in the score. When the composer congratulated him on that, the cellist asked why he hadn't written it that way. Verdi's answer is memorable: ''If I had written it, a bad musician would have exaggerated it. But a good musician knows it even if it is not there.'' It may be true to say that composers in general are more charitable to changes in their music made by performers, at least as long as these are made with taste and understanding. Next are Mr Walker's discussions on analysis in the light of criticism and description.]
In recent times various efforts have been made to raise music criticism from the level of personal opinion to that of scientific fact. The work of Ernest Newman and M. D. Calvocoressi has done much to clear the confusion that exists in this field but even they do no more than point a direction in which a firm basis for a critical system might be developed. It is of the greatest significance that both these critics saw in analysis the foundation of criticism, whether of performance or of composition. The need for a sound basis of judgement is perhaps the most compelling reason of all why musical analysis is important. I do not think I am saying anything new when I say that music criticism has not yet grown up. It is a rare occurrence to read a criticism that is directly inferred from the facts of the work under review. There is a fundamental truth about works of art which criticism constantly overlooks: they are complete in themselves. This should be one of the principal axioms in criticism but unfortunately it is rarely heeded. […] It is a commonplace to be told that work A is poor because it compares unfavourably with work B. This is a fallacy; works of art are not measuring-rods for one another. The basis for critical judgment lies within, not outside the work. I do not believe that criticism can proceed until the 'rational organization' of a work has been grasped.
You cannot help hearing a work against a vast pre-conscious background formed from a lifetime's listening. We are all to a certain extent pre-conditioned in this manner, and our reactions are therefore often predictable. But this is a very different thing from comparison of separate works which is one of the lowest forms of critical activity.
It is the intuitive, spontaneous reaction to music, the emotional 'release', what we have called the artistic experience which is the necessary pre-condition to criticism. While reactions by themselves are not criticisms they are nevertheless the material on which criticism is based. Without an intuitive response to music, criticism cannot begin. I think that our basic attitude to music is achieved in a single intuitive step. Once we have taken it we know instinctively whether we are dealing with something which is artistically meaningful or something which is trivial. Criticism is an attempt to prove the truth of our intuition. Analysis here comes into its own by offering the objective means whereby this can be attempted. A study of the 'anatomy' of music sharpens our awareness of such problems as economy and balance of material, identity of ideas with their media of expression, unity and contrast, etc. These objective criteria can only be used to analyse something we already know. More often than not the critic's dilemma is not that he doesn't know, but that he doesn't know why he knows. His rational understanding has not kept pace with his intuition.
If we can accept this view of criticism, we are led to the conclusion that everyone is in reality a potential critic. We can go even further and argue that, talent being equal, any person's reactions to music are just as valid as those of the professional critic. Assuming such a person to be untrained, the difference between them is the rational 'know-how' with which the professional critic may explain and prove his intuitions to others. I cannot believe that the trained musician has any prerogative in the intuitive understanding of music.
[For my part, this is one of the most inspiring passages in the book. Even if I don't quite understand what this ''talent'' Mr Walkers mentions might be, I am vastly pleased with his flat statement that technical knowledge gives no advantage in musical understanding. This should be obvious, for otherwise music's popular appeal would not exist, but there are many musicians who are rather supercilious about such notions. At any rate, the layman has no need to explain or prove his intuitive responses, although this doesn't mean that he can't be intensely curious about them. As we shall see presently, Mr Walker has a good deal more to say about this elusive term ''artistic experience''. But for now: the thorny problem of ''Analysis versus Description'', another matter which, sadly, has not become in the least dated for the last fifty years or so.]
There is an important difference between analysis and description which is not generally recognised. Text-books on form (to say nothing of the so-called analytic programme note) put a good deal of strain on the term analysis, for their approach is descriptive rather than analytic. Practically all writing and teaching that pretends to deal with the subject of analysis is almost exclusively confined to schemes and nomenclature, and usually only describes what the listener can hear for himself in the music. Descriptive labels will no more help us to decide why a work is a structural success than knowing the names of the parts of a watch will explain why it ticks. You do not solve problems by describing them. In any case, whatever the value of the labels there is no doubt that academic form is deficient in two important respects. In the first place it is only concerned with a single dimension of the music, namely the schematic one. In the second place it falls down rather badly even in this dimension because academic terminology is often powerless to convey an accurate impression of the most obvious features of musical structure – a task which, after all, it was originally designed to fulfil.* This is partly the result of the intrinsic difficulty of accurately describing one's musical experiences (however vivid), and partly the result of a terminology that is at once vague and ambiguous.**
[The two footnotes indicated above, together with several pages heavily adorned with musical examples, are dedicated to showing exactly how unreliable musical description is and how it often produces contradictory results even when applied by specialists. Mr Walker is positive that some works are more difficult to describe and some terms are more ambiguous than others. Yet all of them do suffer in one degree or another from the same essential deficiencies. Even such basic forms as fugue or such crucial elements of the omniscient sonata form like ''exposition'' or ''development'' often create more problems than they solve. The musical examples include Beethoven's Eroica and Piano Sonata Op. 10, No. 3, and it is amusing to see how authorities like Macpherson and Tovey, no less, quarrel with each over what is, after all, of minor importance. Mr Walker is convinced that music must not be subjected to conventions imposed from the outside:]
There is a sense in which academic notions of musical form can only thrive because of the ambiguity of its terms. Paradoxically enough, the more precise the terms are the less necessary they become. A movement which conforms closely to the text-book plan of sonata form presents no problems of description because it is the type of movement with which the academic view was designed to cope. The music is then said to possess 'clear formal outlines', or to be 'structurally well-proportioned'. In many cases nothing could be further from the truth. Alternatively, as I have already shown, we tend to regard as ambiguous a movement which refuses to fit into an academic strait-jacket even though, on the purely musical level, its structure might be crystal clear.
[Classic examples here, as given, are Beethoven's late string quartets which baffled nearly everybody during the nineteenth century and even today people who should know better sometimes speak of Beethoven's ''breaking the rules''. Finally, there is the sorry, but amusing, business with the program notes, the lowest form of musical description indeed.]
At its best, academic description presents us with the obvious musical facts (or perhaps I should say it re-presents them, being based as it is on something the analyst first hears). At its worst it may degenerate into literature pure and simple and convey nothing more than a whiff of the music on which it is purportedly based. What is the student of musical analysis to make of the following – an 'analytic' account of the opening bars of Mozart's G minor Symphony? We are told nothing that Mozart's music does not tell us far more clearly after a single hearing:
With no introduction or preparation at all the composer plunges right into his subject, hasty and uneasy. The theme is stated by the violins, alone, and is accompanied by divisi violas. On the second statement the woodwind add some sustained chords; and the sequel to the first subject – really a second subject already, in Bb – reaches the forte level. It is impossible to imagine a clearer demarcation between the constituent subjects of the movement: the true second subject, indisputably 'Mozartean' in its chromaticisms, is in fact stated, by strings alone, only after a complete bar's rest.
This is virtually useless. Years ago Bernard Shaw set out to ridicule this type of writing in his 'analysis' of Hamlet's soliloquy, 'To be or not to be: that is the question.' We have been slow to take the hint:
Shakespear, dispensing with the customary exordium announces his subject in the infinitive, in which it is presently repeated after a short connecting passage in which, short as it is we recognize the alternative and negative forms on which so much of the significance of the repetition depends. Here we reach a colon; and a pointed pository phrase in which the accent falls decisively on the relative pronoun, brings us to the first full stop.
[I regret to say that Alan Walker gives no source about this Shavian gem. I have not been able to find it in his complete musical criticism Shaw's Music (The Bodley Head, 1989, 3 vols., ed. Dan H, Laurence). The Mozartian ''gem'' is sourced as ''G. de Saint-Fox: The Symphonies of Mozart,
(1947), p. 114.'' Immediately afterwards, however, Mr Walker states for the
first time, with his usual succinctness, the whole essence of the book.
Clearly, analysis has nothing to do with description:] London
Where, then, do we begin in our attempt to understand the underlying musical causes of a work? There is one overriding problem to be solved in the case of every work that we wish to analyse: why do particular themes belong to particular movements? Why do particular movements belong to a particular work? We are at the crux of the matter.
I ask the reader to take note of the fact that in any masterpiece the composer has chosen its themes, and no others, to share the same framework. This observation, simple enough in itself, can lead to profound discoveries about the way in which music hangs together. Most text-books on form recognize the quality of unity in music, but they rarely go beyond a superficial acknowledgement of the fact. They describe the themes of a work rather than try to discover why they are part of the same whole.
It should be the purpose of analysis to reveal the causes of unity. From the analytic standpoint an idea has not been 'understood' when it has been described but only when enough evidence has been gathered to tell us why that idea belong to its context. […] Our experience of a musical masterpiece tells us that it represents a unity. No matter how violent are the contrasts contained within it, they sound intuitively right; random contrasts do not sound intuitively right, as theme and movement substitution would quickly show. […] The burning question is: why do these contrasts belong together? At this stage let me offer the reader a hypothetical explanation. All the contrasts in a masterpiece are foreground projections of a single background idea. On the foreground level is contrast, on the background level unity. The primary aim of analysis is to work back from the manifest contrasts towards the latent unity, just as the primary (albeit unconscious) aim of composition is to express the latent unity in the form of manifest contrasts.
My present approach to the problem of analysis then, is concerned with the unity of contrasting themes. When we analyse we get behind the music in an effort to determine causes. Not that the type of descriptive writing I have gone out of my way to condemn is entirely without a certain value. As long as musicians continue to talk about music descriptive nomenclature will continue to survive. I am merely anxious to shift the burden of analysis from such nomenclature, which is quite incapable of supporting it. Real analysis not only brings about a greater understanding of musical structure but it offers an important objective criterion for evaluating music; a critical yardstick for forming value-judgments about music is the examination of a work's contrasts from the standpoint of their underlying unity.* Further, it gives a greater insight into the creative process by opening up important lines of inquiry which lead on to the problem of ultimate creative causes. There obviously comes a point in such inquiries where we must examine the problem from the broad psychological angle as well as the specifically musical. The one throws light on the other. I hope my readers will not be deterred by the fact that I have thought it necessary to make my main theory of musical creativity rest on a psychological basis. I do not believe that we can attempt to understand the fundamental causes of artistic creation in any other way.
The whole conception of the unity of contrasting themes may be new to the reader and his first reaction may be to reject it out of hand. This is perfectly natural, for it may be a flat contradiction of everything that he has been taught about musical structure. It also appears to contradict what he hears in the music. In order to have a direct experience of the music he must take in the contrasts. But my main conception is that by so doing he is implicitly accepting their underlying unity. His conscious rejection of something he has accepted on an unconscious level puts him in the uncomfortable position of refusing to consider proof of what he instinctively knows to be true: the absolute 'rightness' of the contrasts. On the other hand he may not feel the need for such proof, in which case he has need to read books on musical analysis.
The fact that there are forces in the mind which are capable of producing well-ordered and often complex results quite independently of conscious activity has long since been recognized. It is a great mistake to equate creative intention with consciousness; it is an even bigger mistake to admit that there are such things as creative unconscious intentions but that these have no significance in art. One might argue that there is a danger in analysis if we are to regard everything as being significant, but I do not think that we are entitled to work on any other assumption. It should not be overlooked that there are degrees of significance; some things are more important than others in a musical structure but who can say what is unimportant in a masterpiece? Whether one holds the Romantic conception of an artist as the victim of unknown impulses, a vehicle through whom God-given messages are from time to time conveyed to mankind; or whether one holds the opposite view that he is an 'intellectual' in complete control of his creative processes, the possibility of unconscious motivation cannot be excluded. The role of the unconscious in the arts in general, and in music in particular, is a fruitful field for study but one that has been almost entirely neglected up to the present time. Yet how can a convincing theory of musical creativity do without it?
The background unities which, according to our hypothesis, it is the purpose of analysis to expose are ultimately unconscious. When background unities are demonstrated, the average musician is tempted to regard them as 'contrived' or 'exaggerated' inasmuch as they are unconscious: it is well known that we resist all unconscious material. As our hypothesis now stands, the 'latent' thought is a central, unconscious idea which has as its primary purpose the task of discharging itself as a sequence of conscious contrasts; the same dynamic force that impelled the basic thought to assume the contrasts prevents the listener from hearing through the disguise. Analysis, then, is really a reversion of the composing process in that it proceeds from the conscious foreground to the unconscious background.
[The footnote marked above (''underlying unity*'') is an interesting one. It deals with Mozart's A Musical Joke (K. 522) which is a ''deliberate attempt to produce a thematic patchwork'', a thematic ''dis-unity''. Alan Walker speculates that the conscious suppression of ''natural composing instincts'' must have cost Mozart ''considerable effort''. The beginning of the footnote is especially telling: ''While thematic unity is undoubtedly sine qua non of good music the creative mechanisms responsible for its existence rarely fail a skilled composer.]
[Note the sensible and self-critical attitude with which Alan Walker investigates the possible weak points in his hypothesis without ever degenerating into mindless self-debasing and underestimating himself. In his essay ''Chopin and Musical Structure: an analytical approach'', which is very much based on material from this book, Alan Walker remarked humorously that by applying the reductio ad absurdum argument, one can show ''background unity'' between Gershwin and Palestrina if one is so inclined. The main, if esoteric, point is that the intuitive understanding, the intuitive ''rightness'' of the foreground contrasts, must come first, before any analysis/criticism takes place. Also of great importance is that the background unity postulated by Alan Walker is not restricted to few elements only but to all elements of a certain compositions. This makes its existence in different works by different composers a statistical impossibility. What may, and do, exist between different works, by one or more composers, is a very superficial kind of unity, quite different than then the ''background unity'' which is considered to be the most important characteristic of a masterpiece. We shall return to this point in Part Four.]
Part Two: Principles of Thematic Continuity
[This is the most technical part of the book. Nevertheless, it does contain several perceptive non-technical observations worth quoting. Besides, the principles discussed here are of utmost importance in the quest for background unity.]
The problem in analysis is not to convince ourselves that unity exists, but to demonstrate its existence.
Broadly speaking, thematic connection fall into two categories: those which adhere to the notes of a theme, and those which do not. While this division is somewhat arbitrary it has the virtue of making demonstration simpler. Where the strict organization of the actual notes of two musical ideas explain their own unity (e.g. as between an idea and its melodic inversion) there is no problem of demonstration. On the other hand, where such organization does not exist the sense of unity may be much stronger but at the same time it will be somewhat more difficult to arrive at a convincing demonstration. In these cases the manifest notes tend to obscure the true nature of the unifying connection.
Even at this early stage, many questions are undoubtedly forming themselves in the reader's mind. He will want to know what validity, if any, some of these relationships possess; their very complexity may be a sure sign to him of their lack of musical meaning. It may also occur to him to argue that the things a detailed analysis reveals were quite unknown to the composer and on that account are of no importance to the listener. Again, he may ask whether the existence or non-existence of unity within a work has any connection with the aesthetic value of that work. All these questions and many others will be answered in due course.
[The first group of thematic connections, those which ''adhere to the notes'', consist mostly of the so called ''mirror devices''.]
A musical idea ('O') is capable of yielding three mirror forms: inversion ('I'), retrograde motion ('R') and retrograde inversion ('RI'). It is often argued that mirror devices are artificial and mechanical; that the relationships which can be so established are inaudible and therefore essentially unmusical; and that the application of these devices within a composition robs the music of any spontaneity it might possess. The academic view is unanimously and vigorously opposed to attaching any artistic value to them. When we consider that composers from Guillaume de Machaut in the fourteenth century to Brahms in the nineteenth century have shown no inhibitions in using them, such a view is surprising – until we remember the widespread hostility that Schoenberg attracted to himself and to his later music which was based almost entirely on the unremitting use of the mirror forms. There can be little doubt that their employment in the music of Schoenberg and his followers has done more than anything to create a certain conflict between theory and practice which did not exist in any great extent in former times.
[The discussion becomes severely technical and, for me at least, largely incomprehensible. To cut the long story short, Mr Walker provides a good deal of evidence that mirror forms are audible (results from extensive tests with his students in the Guildhall School, London), that they have musical value, may possibly be applied unconsciously and are not necessarily ''mechanical'' or ''artificial'' in any way. How often great composers were aware of consciously applying these mirror forms in their compositions remains elusive. But the chances are that it was much less often than generally supposed. Among the numerous musical examples there is one staggering excerpt from Bach's ''Musical Offering'' in which a set of nine bars are followed by their retrograde inversion in the very next nine bars; I don't know how it sounds, but I'll take the author's word that the mirror form in this case does have artistic significance; it sure looks impressive on paper.]
[As for the second group of thematic relationships, those which ''do not adhere to the notes'', these are far more tenuous and difficult to grasp. They include such arcane stuff as ''The Principle of Reversed and Postponed Antecedents and Consequents'' and ''The Principle of Postponed Tonal Sequences''. Both terms were introduced by Alan Walker's friend and BBC colleague Hans Keller (to whom the book is indeed dedicated) and this is freely acknowledged. The most important point about these far less obvious relationships is that by their very nature they could hardly be applied consciously by the composer. Their complexity and their subtlety all but exclude that, sending them in the realm of the musical unconscious (see Part Four). There are also discussions about ''Rhythmic'' and ''Harmonic Unity'' but these only appear more accessible: they are forbiddingly technical, too. Here only trained musicians can find their way. They might be pleased to know that the musical examples come from very well-known, one might even use the dangerous adjective ''popular'', works, such as Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and the sonata Appassionata or Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.]
Part Three: Background Unity
We have seen that the term 'background unity' may be defined as that which all the foreground contrasts of a work possess in common, and by means of which they hang together. To restate: backgrounds are something against which foregrounds are composed. They allow extreme contrasts to share the same framework and to build up tensions without endangering the structure of a work. […] Background unity is not a modus operandi designed to simplify a problem of analytic demonstration. The essential feature of the foreground-background relationship is its dynamism. It is vital to a correct understanding of this notion that a background be regarded as a pre-compositional stage in the creative process; a primal, musical idea which projects itself into the foreground as a succession of contrasts.
[After numerous musical examples ranging from Brahms' Haydn Variations to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 (K. 466) and Clarinet Quintet (K. 581), Alan Walker summarises the most salient points, deliberately repeating some earlier ones which are of crucial importance.]
As I have earlier pointed out, there can be no greater error than the assumption that analytic knowledge is either a substitute for, or an essential preliminary to the understanding of music. You do not read a book if you wish to possess such understanding: you listen to the music. Analytic discussion follows the artistic experience by explaining it to you in conceptual terms. It cannot explain an experience that you do not possess. Hence the fallacy of the common charge that you can prove the relatedness of any two musical themes if you are so minded; the simple truth is that the result would not constitute proof any more than my Mozart examples constitute proof to someone who cannot intuitively feel their relatedness.
There are three conclusions that I wish to place before the reader at this juncture, and which I intend to develop a little later on.
In the first place, I think we can say that background unity is a reality in the sense than any other type of subjective truth is a reality. While there is a permanent risk involved in discussing this type of phenomenon the concept of background unity cannot be discarded. It explains so much that we feel to be true about all great music. Besides, there is further support for this conclusion in that it was arrived at quite independently by at least three writers. Schenker (who recognized the concept and actually used the term), Reti (who recognized the concept but described it somewhat differently), and Keller (who placed it in the field of psychology where it belongs).
In the second place we may assume that backgrounds may be unconscious. While we cannot say with absolute certainty that Mozart remained unaware of the cause of the unity in his Clarinet Quintet, we do know that as a general rule composers are not over-concerned about inquiring into their mental processes. They do things because things feel right that way.
Finally, we are bound to reach the conclusion that if background ideas are unconscious they must behave in principle like any other unconscious material; that is, they must be subject to psychological mechanisms beyond conscious control and with all the consequences that flow from this.
[Strictly speaking, the following quotes are not really essential to the main theme. But since the work under discussion is one my greatest favourites, there are several points, all non-technical ones of course, I should like to reproduce here.]
I wish to turn now to a work that is far removed in time and temper from the three I have so far discussed - Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. There are several reasons for its inclusion here. It is, in the first place, written by one of the most unconsciously creative of all composers. We know enough about Tchaikovsky's composing methods to say with some certainty that 'he was lived'* while the urge to write remained with him – a condition which is common to all great composers, but which in Tchaikovsky's case almost bordered on the pathological. He was too instinctive a composer to indulge in conscious thematic jugglery. Secondly, the work is extremely well known; and finally, I have come to regard this work as one of the masterpieces of the nineteenth century. It is symptomatic of the present anti-Romantic tendencies that we are inclined to dismiss it on account of its 'emotionalism'. But music is an emotional art; there are a good many masterpieces which exhibit greater excess than anything found in this symphony.
[Couple of points here. As I have already said elsewhere, there must be something very wrong with a world in which music is dismissed because of its 'emotionalism'! I really wish Alan Walker had mentioned to David Brown about Tchaikovsky being ''too instinctive a composer'', so that the future biographer would not have written such stupendous nonsense to the effect that the composer inscribed coded names in some of his scores. The footnote refers to a citation of Freud's famous phrase which indicates the domination of unconscious motives in our lives.]
The finale has been a source of much misunderstanding. Its form has troubled commentators to the extent that they now no longer write about it. Martin Cooper refers to its 'complete shapelessness' and says: 'It is perfect music for a ballet scene, poor stuff as the finale of a symphony.' More extreme is Eric Blom who opines that 'the Finale is decidedly inferior to the rest of the Symphony' and points to its 'empty aggressiveness'. In the same essay Blom says that the music of the first movement 'conveys scarcely more than the private distress of a ballet girl'.
[I should have been sorry to miss these gems! I wonder who approves such rubbish for publication. I can only hope that Blom's Tchaikovsky – Orchestral Works,
1927, is hopelessly out-of-print and completely unobtainable; and may this be
the case with The Symphony, ed. Ralph
Hill, Penguin, 1949, as well. Having done a masterful analysis, in which many
musical examples testify how Tchaikovsky brilliantly built the whole symphony
on the famous motto theme that opens it, Alan Walker offers a most penetrating
and tantalising speculation about the mentality of the genius and he finishes
by killing Tchaikovsky's preposterous ''critics'' once and for all. For these
lines I am deeply grateful to the author.] London
Despite Tchaikovsky's own realisation that the 'motto' theme was the basis of the entire work it is inconceivable that he knew just how all-pervading this idea really is. Such conscious awareness of the constructive principle of his music would be uncharacteristic of Tchaikovsky – as, to some extent, it is uncharacteristic of all genius. There is an unconscious, 'inspirational' factor in the creative process which can unknowingly lead to the most far-reaching and elaborate types of organization. It is a natural condition of genius that it may fulfil the technical organization of musical composition quite instinctively, as further analysis of this symphony will verify.
Bad analysis often regresses into that which can be seen and not heard; while good analysis often seems bad because it must be heard before it can be seen. However, most of the unities in this symphony can be seen as well as heard. Yet commentators on the whole regard the work as a creaking structure of loosely organized material, conclusive evidence of Tchaikovsky's 'lack of form'. They are evidently blind as well as deaf. It is a healthy sign, and one of immense significance to the theory of musical appreciation which I shall put forward in Part Four, that this work has always made a powerful appeal to the man in the street. But professional critics are often suspicious of the strong emotional reservoir tapped by this work and consequently tend to judge it adversely.
[Indeed, in this particular case I can testify myself, somewhat audaciously perhaps, to have exactly the kind of intuitive understanding of which Alan Walker speaks a lot in this book. From the first time I heard Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, many years ago on the radio, it became my favourite and it has remained so since. I have never been able to regard the symphony in general, or the first movement in particular, as ''formless''. Nor have I ever felt that the ebullient finale, or the elegiac second movement, or the mischievous pizzicato scherzo, is in any way out of place with the rest. In fact, the work has always seemed to me to have an astonishing degree of coherence, despite its great contrasts. Yet again, alas, I am dismayed at my inability to read music. Alan Walker might have satisfied at least part of my curiosity why the work is such a success. Surely there is much more in this symphony than Tchaikovsky's trademark melodies, beautiful as these are.]
Part Four: The Musical Unconscious
[This is the most controversial part of the book. It also is the least technical and, perhaps, the most fascinating one. It starts with a tantalizing quotation from Pablo Picasso: ''I do not seek; I find.'']
Nothing is better calculated to raise the ire of the professional musician than an inquiry into the unconscious causes of his art. He is often the first to admit that music, the most direct of the arts, receives its impetus from deeply hidden sources; yet he is nearly always the last to encourage any inquiry into their nature.
We have seen that the logical justification for regarding musical backgrounds as the cause of unity is a simple one: it is the only explanation which accords with all the facts. Similarly, we are led to postulate a theory of unconscious motivation as the cause of musical backgrounds themselves, and for the same reason. The dynamic and far-reaching effect of a work's background unity, together with the fact that a direct knowledge of this aspect of his music is usually hidden from the composer, is a paradox which can be resolved by no other theory than that of unconscious motivation.
It is from the standpoint of the Freudian concept of a dynamically repressed unconscious that I wish to discuss background unity. It might be asked: why bring Freud into a book on musical analysis? There are two answers to this. The underlying causes of musical structures are subject to the same psychological laws as any other phenomena of mental life. It is unrealistic to insulate the creative process from the rest of the mind's activities. But a yet more powerful reason lies in the fact that Freud unknowingly laid the foundations of a theory of art appreciation which I wish to appropriate for my own purpose of explaining background unity. Before we can understand the precise role in music of the musical unconscious, we must examine it from two standpoints: unconscious creation and unconscious perception.
[The part about unconscious creation contains a number of compelling examples that come from the composers themselves – Mahler, de Falla, Elgar, Schoenberg – and strongly suggest, if not actually prove, the reality of unconscious creation. I give here only the Schoenberg's case, perhaps the most telling one; the composer is quoted from his own book Style and Idea,
(1951), p. 113.] London
A vivid example of the organizing powers of the unconscious has been recorded by Schoenberg. He wrote that during the composition of his First Chamber Symphony (Op. 9), he was so worried by the lack of any apparent connection between the two main themes of the work that he seriously contemplated re-writing the second of them, but decided to stand by his initial inspiration.
About twenty years later I saw the true relationship. It is of such a complicated nature that I doubt whether any composer would have cared deliberately to construct a theme in this way; but our subconscious does it involuntarily.
Interestingly enough the connection is a serial one, though at the time of the Chamber Symphony Schoenberg had not yet evolved twelve-tone technique. Unconscious motivation with a vengeance! Not only have we Schoenberg's word for it that the unification of these contrasts was unconsciously inspired, but from the very nature of the unity (embryonic serialism) we can see that Schoenberg's later, conscious composing technique was at this early stage making itself felt in an unconscious manner.
[Schumann also had similar ''post-compositional discoveries'' – similar in terms of unconscious creation, of course, not serialism. In a fascinating footnote Alan Walker mentions an example from Stravinsky for composing in one's dreams, a more common occurrence among great composers than some sceptics might think. Interestingly, Mr Walker doesn't mention Wagner's famous account, in his autobiography, how the opening of Das Rheingold came to him in his sleep; Wagnerian scholars are often a little too apt to dismiss this story as fabrication. What Mr Walker does, by the way, mention is Kekule's ''fantastic dream'' which led to his discovery of the chemical structure of the benzene. This opens the endless topic of the role of the ''scientific unconscious'' as well. But that's another story. It is time to bring Freud firmly into the picture.]
Freud divided the mind into three provinces: conscious, preconscious and unconscious. The material in the preconscious is readily recalled while that in the unconscious cannot be recalled in the normal way. Repression, the central concept of psychoanalysis, is the force which holds back unconscious material and prevents it from becoming conscious. Towards the outside world, the repressive agency manifests itself as 'resistance'. Unconscious material is quite inaccessible to a conscious probe because its powerful repressive barriers build up a resistance too great to be overcome by normal means*. Preconscious material on the other hand is readily accessible because it is not unconsciously repressed, but, at most, consciously suppressed. Now, one of Freud's greatest discoveries was that preconscious and unconscious ideas are invested with a psychic dynamism which enables them to indirectly influence or directly interfere with conscious thought. It is the concept of a conscious mind continually at the mercy of unconscious drives which is so essential to the present discussion, for it provides us with a firm psychological basis for the causes of thematic unity.
[The footnote above (*) mentions that there are, of course, artificial means to access the repressed unconscious, such as hypnosis and the free association technique for instance, which indeed come as close as possible to a proof of its existence. Why musical material should be repressed like any other remains unclear for the simple reason that ''psychologists are rarely musicians, and musicians who are psychologists are rarer still.'' Alan Walker is convinced that it is the repressed unconscious that is largely responsible for the creation of masterpieces, while the influence of the preconscious is indiscriminate and thus responsible for the unity of composer's overall style. But a masterpiece is complete into itself. Its contrasts, no matter how violent, are inevitable. So let us take a closer look at the role of the repressed unconscious into musical creation. Elusive and esoteric matter that, not to say wildly speculative, but infinitely compelling as well. I can understand a musician's fear of disillusionment, but I can't say I feel anything like it. To the contrary: the deeper we go into the unconscious, the greater sense of awe I feel. To give the word to Mr Walker again:]
Mozart's description of those rare moments of self-revelation when everything is heard 'all at once' and can be surveyed 'like a beautiful statue' brings us to the heart of the matter. They are glimpses into a timeless world which composing attempts to make temporal; a recognition of the intuitive condition before it has reached a rational expression; an intense experience of unconscious unity before its projection into the sphere of conscious contrasts. For all artistic creation is a process of working from the inside out.
The concept of a musical masterpiece as the result of a central unconscious impulse, which has as its sole task its own discharge into musical time explains much that everyone feels to be true about great music. What in this book has been the 'unconscious background', what Schoenberg called the Grundgestalt, is the nearest we ever come to expressing the source of this impulse. The genuine creative artist is in possession of this truth from the outset. Its eruption in him in a single moment of time, or its painful emergence over the years is a difference merely in the length of time it requires first to recognize and then to formulate consciously this truth. A Mozart sees his vision whole, hence his phenomenal composing speeds. A Beethoven has to struggle to see what he knows to be there, hence his revising. He works from the periphery to the centre of his vision.
Two consequences spring from this theory of unconscious motivation. First: we must face the disturbing fact that pre-determination plays an important part in the composing process. I call it 'disturbing' because it appears to contradict the apparent freedom of choice exercised in creativity. If the unconscious musical backgrounds possess so much virility that they can influence conscious composing, then the amount of 'control' the composer has over his thinking at any given moment must be far less than he believes. Second: we are driven back to a former problem. If we admit that unconscious influences are responsible for the internal unity of individual works, we must logically conclude that these same influences might create an external unity between whole groups of works. The foundation on which this book is based would appear to be endangered. For what is so important about the unity of a single work's themes if these same themes can be shown to resemble other from different works? Let us consider these two points in turn.
The more one studies the unity aspect of musical structure the more one is forced to the conclusion that a composer does not do things: he is driven to them. 'Free will' has no place in creativity. The apparent freedom which exists in the selection and rejection of themes is simply a process of arriving at a truth which ultimately allows of no alternative expression. Even if it can be established beyond all doubt that there are cases where thematic material has been added to a work as an afterthought, analysis usually shows that this is not a random extension. […] The nineteenth-century view of a composer in the grip of forces beyond his control, inspired to dictate heavenly communications whose authenticity is beyond reproach, is unfashionable in the matter-of-fact age in which we live. But, psychologically speaking, it was far nearer the mark.
[Compare this view of musical composition with the credo of the professional writer as expressed by Somerset Maugham in his book The Summing Up: ''We do not write because we want to; we write because we must.'' It seems that literature, ostensibly a more ''intellectual'' and ''conscious'' art, dealing with words which have (often vague) meanings, may also have a great deal to do with the repressed unconscious. Likewise, I guess, with the appreciation of these arts. Just like music grips one, so does an author. Or vice versa, of course. Is there something in my unconscious that rejects Stravinsky and Schoenberg? Or Henry James and Francis Scott Fitzgerald? Usually such rejections are obviously based on, or can easily be traced to, conscious prejudice. But perhaps in some cases there is more than that. I wish I knew.]
[Speaking of the ''literary unconscious'', if I may apply Mr Walker's compelling theory to literature again, it is worth noting that the author is quite sensitive to literature himself. In at least two cases he provides quotes which do suggest that the unconscious part of man's mind may well play a crucial role in the literary creation as well. Not surprisingly at all in both cases poetry is quoted; it seems likely, indeed, that the ''literary unconscious'' would play a more important role in poetry, the most emotional literature, than in prose. Discussing the formation of the musical unconscious during a composer's childhood, Mr Walker quotes in footnote (p. 137) Dryden: ''Sometimes forgotten things long cast behind, / Rush forward to the brain, and come to mind.'' Later Mr Walker speculates that the ''emotional release that we recognize as the central feature of the artistic experience is, in my opinion, due to a temporary raising of the repressive agency surrounding infantile life.'' This is followed by a startling quotation from Wordsworth: ''Heaven lies about us in our infancy!''. Mr Walker's conclusion is that ''this heaven is tapped time and again by art.'']
[To get back to Mr Walker in his own words, there is one formidable problem with his theory, and he is very well aware of it.]
Now where does that critical faculty, which is so manifestly an important part of the creative process, fit into this theory? If we accept the view of creative determinism which I have described the critical faculty would appear to be completely nullified. Creative thought must then be regarded as an unconscious process entirely, with the critical consciousness merely as an inactive observer, a docile recipient of unconscious ideas. While this might be true of certain practices in present-day art and education trends called 'free expression' (which, psychologically speaking, is the exact opposite of its true nature. I have often thought it should be called 'strict expression' owing to its high degree of unconscious motivation), it conflicts in every way with the painstaking revisions all composers attempt from time to time. The torturing self-criticisms through which a composer like Beethoven goes do not seem to indicate a blind acceptance of unconsciously motivated ideas. Indeed, those composers who reject their first ideas in favour of later revisions far outnumber those who do not. On the face of it, we seem to have an insoluble paradox, a flat contradiction between our notion of creativity as the result of unconscious motivation, and the result of critical revision. But when we study the problem more closely, we find that this paradox is illusory. The one view does not necessarily exclude the other. For composing is a result both of unconscious creation and conscious revision. I hold fast to the view that the mainsprings of creativity are unconscious. But I would qualify this by saying that once they have manifested themselves in conscious thought they are beyond unconscious control, and are consequently exposed to conscious revision or complete conscious rejection.
[I don't find this explanation very convincing. But this is probably due to the indisputable fact that this part of the theory requires a book in itself; Alan Walker naturally didn't have time to elaborate more on the subject in this one. After all, it may well be that part of the genuine greatness is hidden in conscious things like fine critical judgment, or taste to put it more informally. It may also be that this very taste is more firmly rooted in the unconscious than is generally recognised. Besides, and this is very important indeed, neither unconscious creation nor conscious revision is any guarantee that you will end with a background unity and a masterpiece. Furthermore, even if a work is a masterpiece by all rules of musical analysis expounded by Mr Walker, this is absolutely no guarantee that you, or the public at large, will respond to it.]
[The problem of revisions may reasonably be extended to works composed over long periods of time, especially if the works are complex ones. The perfect example is Wagner's Ring, some 15 hours of music, split into four music dramas, which took him more than two decades to complete (including two long breaks in between to compose Tristan and Die Meistersinger). Listening, yet again, to Deryck Cooke's masterful musical analysis (DECCA, 2 CDs) these days I was wondering how Mr Walker's theory would apply in this case. He may object, perhaps rightly, that all those interrelated leitmotivs are too obvious to be used as a proof of background unity. But listening to Deryck I am not so sure. He makes numerous startling connections of short motifs, often encompassing music dramas which were composed years apart. Could anybody, even the most ''cerebral'' and ''intellectual'' modernist composer, do that consciously? Could Wagner, a musical thinker though he was, have done it? I don't think so. For all we know, as more or less every great composer, Wagner's compositional urges were primarily intuitive and emotional. Of course I cannot prove this with musical analysis, but it seems to me that Wagner must have composed most of The Ring, and any of his other mature works indeed, largely guided by his musical unconscious. He ''was lived'' and his works ''were composed'' (by themselves), to use Freudian language. The scale of the works might perhaps convince us that the musical unconscious is a powerful stuff.]
[As regards to the second point mentioned earlier, Mr Walker is, curiously enough again, not quite convincing: he merely states that unity between different works does not disprove the unity within a given work. This is, of course, true. But I don't think it is the right explanation. Much earlier in the book Alan Walker does indeed mention this explanation: the background unity within a masterpiece extends to all (his italics) of its elements. In comparison, links between different works are often rather superficial (although there are a few exceptions, such as Beethoven's late string quartets for example).]
We accept things on the conscious level because we know so much more about them on the unconscious level. In fact, unconscious perception is in many ways co-extensive with unconscious creation. Those elements in creativity which are unconscious may themselves be perceived by the listener on an unconscious level.
How can we be sure that unconscious perception plays an important part in determining the nature and strength of our reactions?
Quite recently I have been able to demonstrate the extent of unconscious aural perception by way of a series of specially devised experiments.
Each experiment was centered around a group of specially composed contrasting themes, two of which sprang from the same musical background. The remainder of the group were entirely unrelated. After a single hearing of all the themes, subjects were asked to identify the two related ones by means of a most unanalytic technique: that of spontaneous reaction. No time was allowed for analytic consideration; those reactions that were not immediate were discounted. Every time this test was given the greater majority of my subjects correctly identified the two related themes despite the tenuous foreground links connecting them.*
In this type of experiment the rational, analytical mind is almost totally excluded from functioning. Thus the acceptance of unity and the rejection of disunity are not in its province, but must instead be attributed to unconscious perception.
[The footnote runs as follows: ''The whole point being that background unity entered the musical experience in the case of these two themes and was absent in the case of all others.'' It must be noted, however, that in this case, unlike the audibility tests in Part Two, Alan Walker does not present any raw data in the form or percentages or the like.]
The knowledge that there is much in a musical performance which is perceived unconsciously gives us a vital clue regarding musical 'appreciation'. Most views concerning appreciation err, in my opinion, by regarding it as a body of knowledge rather a psychological condition. If composing expresses unconscious musical ideas, 'appreciation' must be an act of unconscious identification with those ideas on the part of the listener. […] Most of the attempts to explain and define appreciation overlook the role of unconscious identification whose characteristics are spontaneity and independence of the critical faculty. I do not believe that anyone postpones reacting to a piece of music until he has had time to place a value-judgment on it. The value-judgment is a result of the reaction, not its cause.
It follows from this line of argument that where listener and creator do not share the same type of unconscious background there can be no such thing as artistic communication between them. On a broad racial level this might explain why people from different cultures are often bewildered by one another's art products; there is less possibility of an unconscious response.* Under ideal conditions, where there is an identity of unconscious backgrounds, a complete rapport in the composer-listener relationship, a state of affairs exists which I have tried to summarize in the form of the diagram overleaf.
[Here, again, a material for a whole book is contained. To begin with the footnote, I should like to quote it complete as it is one of the very few cases of ''cross-fertilisation'' between Alan Walker and Deryck Cooke, two outstanding writers on music who combine the emotional response and the intellectual analysis of it like few others. And it is a witty footnote:]
Quite recently Deryck Cooke in his book, The Language of Music,
(1959), has shown
that in the West there is an equation between the moods composers express in
their works and the musical symbols they use to achieve this. Obviously if this
equation is disturbed in any way communication becomes impossible. A choir of
Australian Aboriginals singing to an audience of Eskimos would almost certainly
be an unqualified artistic failure. The symbolic equation between mood and
music which can be generated where you have the necessary similarity in
unconscious repressions, is here non-existent. London
[I think Alan Walker's linking musical appreciation with unconscious identification is a really wise thing to do. Of course it is not that simple. Not to be vague, let me give few concrete examples from my personal listening experience.
To begin with a catastrophe similar to the Aboriginals-Eskimos case, have I never had problems with Indian classical music! To say that I find it incomprehensible would be a monumental understatement. But if this is an ''obvious'' case of fundamentally different cultural backgrounds, other cases are rather more complicated than that.
Stravinsky, Bartok and the
all belong to the
European cultural legacy, yet I would listen to them only if I am very well
paid indeed (the only exception being Stravinsky's early ballets which I,
occasionally, enjoy). My resentment in this case is surely strong and it is
possible that it is deep enough to be rooted in the unconscious and its
probably unlimited stock of repressed horrors. New Viennese
Since my musical tastes are evidently very conservative, I have never found composers like Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Debussy and Ravel easy to listen to. But I have always found them compelling and very much worth the effort. Unconscious identification? Perhaps, yet it is nothing like the ''one intuitive step'' mentioned by Alan Walker. Quite the opposite: it requires time for repetitive and careful listening. Still, I never listen to any work or any composer for his own sake. I do so for my own sake. When there is an obvious ''Communication Breakdown'' (to borrow a song title from Led Zeppelin), I don't waste my time trying to find something which, I intuitively know, is not there. But the fact that there is something which attracts me to these ''difficult'' composers, something which I cannot possibly put into words, may be an indication of unconscious motivation.
Personally, the most inspiring conclusion of Mr Walker's theory is that if you can't identify with a composer, no matter how great according to everybody else, there is nothing you can do. My blind spots include all historical periods and indeed giants like Bach, Haydn, Mahler and Bruckner. I can always listen to these fellows with interest, but seldom with something more than that. Lack of unconscious identification? Almost certainly, yes. Why? No idea whatsoever.
And all that is just the tip of the iceberg. I cannot explain why I have a much greater affinity with Liszt and Wagner than with Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms, but I do believe the tenuous dividing line between them (revolutionaries and conservatives) has something to do with that. Yet revolutionary tendencies are no guarantee for appreciation either: Berlioz is a prime example. Nor is one wisely advised to put all works by a single composer in the same basket. Brahms is the finest examples as far as I am concerned: the Fourth Symphony is one the greatest things I have ever heard; the Second Piano Concerto (except for its second part!) is one of the most trivial; both works, of course, are generally recognized as masterpieces. The ways of the unconscious are definitely inscrutable!
Finally, there is the most difficult case: works by favourite composers one can't identify with. Quite a list here, too: Beethoven's Violin Concerto and Missa Solemnis, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Liszt's choral works, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, to name but a few. Other compositions by these men are for me experiences of almost frightful intensity. But these leave me cold. Unconscious barriers? Perhaps. Besides, there are many cases of appreciation which is quite a bit delayed, and certainly not due to extensive musical analysis in between. Liszt's Dante Symphony and symphonic poem Hamlet are perhaps the most notable examples about works that took some time to become my ''favourites''; but now that they have reached this level, they are likely to stay. There is even one case of a whole composer who took, I have no idea why, quite some time to be enshrined in my personal composers' pantheon: Schubert. Needless to say, he is likely to stay, too. But what is the reason for this delay in the appreciation of certain works or even whole oeuvres? How does the mind, conscious and not only, decide these matters? This is still a complete mystery to me.
The bottom line is that the whole story is perfectly emotional and essentially beyond words. One has to feel for oneself what is worth the trouble and what is not. For my part, I think intuition seldom leads one astray. For better or for worse, (most probably) I never will be able to appreciate Mahler and Bruckner. But I am almost sure that one day I will reach a higher level of appreciation as regards to, for instance, Beethoven's Missa and Liszt's Christus, or Debussy's orchestral works and Shostakovich's symphonies for that matter. In any case, the process requires time and application. Nothing worth doing is easy. Besides, blind spots are not without some practical value: music is quite rich and varied enough to have many of these. The really important point is to recognise one's blind spots as early as possible and to respect the lack of these blind spots in others. Neither is easy but both are very much worth doing.]
[Coming back to Alan Walker, far more interesting a subject that my musical likes and dislikes, the diagram he mentions, the only one in the book, is a schematic representation of the interaction between the composer's unconscious creation and the listener's unconscious perception at the ''point of musical contact''. Should there be identification between the repressed unconscious of both parties, the result is the sense of ''liberation of psychic energy'' in the listener which, for want of a better word, is called ''artistic experience''. Mr Walker is right to hope that the scheme makes it quite clear that appreciation is a psychological condition rooted in the unconscious and it ''operates independently of any body of knowledge masquerading under that term.'' In a way, in the end of his book, Mr Walker makes it clear that he, too, is aware of the baffling complexity of appreciation which I have tried to illustrate with a few examples above.]
In a sense, my diagram of musical communication represents an ideal which may not always be fulfilled. Musical communication evinces some puzzling features, as history shows. A work often moves from the initial stage of being entirely uncomprehended to the final stage where it is so easily comprehended it begins to bore us. Again, works often provoke different reactions in a number of listeners, and the same work may provoke different reactions at various times in a single listener. The fact is, the composer-listener relationship is a dynamically changing one. […] The masterpieces we now understand we regard as ageless, their character unchanging. Yet history contradicts us. Who nowadays hears Monteverdi's epoch-making dissonances as his contemporaries heard them? Even the grinding discords and perverse rhythms of The Rite of Spring, now more than fifty years old, are beginning to prove completely acceptable to many of us. There was a time when few understood the piece. The music is the same. It is we who are different. […] History shows that this changing relationship between composer and listener is inevitable. Nor does this historical view of 'appreciation' contradict the psychological view of it. The above diagram merely crystallizes a psychological situation. The historical situation, on the other hand, is quite fluid.
My account of the process of musical communication is almost certainly over-simplified. It is not to be supposed that a topic which has exercised man's minds for centuries will yield up its secrets without a struggle. […] In my opinion, we burden ourselves with an impossible onus of proof if we try to insulate art against those psychological principles which govern the rest of mental life. The temptation to delegate artistic communication to a special province of the mind is based on the wish to keep it incorrupt. But what we may term the 'mystique' of art can never be destroyed by a correct understanding of those forces which brought it into being. Despite the physicist's explanation, there is room enough still for wonder at the rainbow.