Sunday, 31 March 2013

Quotes & Photos: The Language of Music (1959) by Deryck Cooke

Deryck Cooke

The Language of Music

Oxford University Press, Paperback, [1989].
8vo. xiv+289 pp. Preface by the author, 1958 [ix-xiv]. Indexes [pp. 275-89].

First published in hardback, 1959.
First published in paperback, 1963
Reissued in paperback, 1989.
8th printing per number line. Year unknown.



1. What Kind of an Art is Music?

2. The Elements of Musical Expression
 - The Tonal Tensions
 - Major and Minor
 - The Thirds, Major and Minor
 - The Sixths, Major and Minor
 - The Sevenths, Major and Minor
 - The Seconds, Major and Minor
 - The Fourths
 - The Augmented Fourth or Diminished Fifth
 - The Ambiguities of the Minor System
 - The Vitalizing Agents
 - Volume
 - Time
 - Pitch
 - The Characterizing Agents

3. Some Basic Terms of Musical Vocabulary
 - Ascending 1-(2)-3-(4)-5 (Major)
 - Ascending 5-1-(2)-3 (Major)
 - Ascending 5-1-(2)-3 (Minor)
 - Descending 5-(4)-3-(2)-1 (Major)
 - Descending 5-(4)-3-(2)-1 (Minor)
 - Arched 5-3-(2)-1 (Minor)
 - 1-(2)-3-(2)-1 (Minor)
 - (5)-6-5 (Major)
 - (5)-6-5 (Minor)
 - 1-(2)-(3)-(4)-5-6-5 (Major)
 - 1-(2)-(3)-(4)-5-6-5 (Minor)
 - 8-7-6-5 (Major)
 - 8-7-6-5 (Minor)
 - The Descending Chromatic Scale

4. The Process of Musical Communication
 - The Creative Imagination as Rhythm
 - The Creative Imagination as Melody
 - The Creative Imagination as Harmony

5. The Large-Scale Functioning of Musical Language
 - Symphony No. 40 in G minor (K. 550) by Mozart
 - Symphony No. 6 in E minor, by Vaughan Williams

Index of Subjects
Index of Names and Works
Index of Music Examples

*The sections of the chapters are not listed in the book's table of contents. But they do occur inside the book and are given here for a better illustration of its scope.


This is not a review. Keepers of the blue flags, make haste to mark it.

This is not a review for the simple reason that this is a truly great book. Now, mediocre books may occasionally give rise to a great review. But great books nearly always demonstrate only the mediocrity of the reviewer. My own mediocrity is a well-known public secret. It needn't be stated yet again. This is why I will leave Deryck Cooke to tell the whole story in his own words. I do believe this is by far the finest possible "review" of this neglected masterpiece. I hope to convince every music lover, layman or professional, that The Language of Music is very well worth his time, no matter whether he agrees with Deryck or not.

There are several points more I should like to make by way of preface.

The first one is about what cannot be quoted here: the 98 musical examples. I will try to indicate a fair number of these, but keep in mind that my selection, partly because of space limitations and partly because of personal prejudice, is much more limited than Deryck's. He has supplied a great deal more examples than I have mentioned.

Don't be fooled by the relatively small number of musical examples. Most of them (1-67) occur in chapters 2 and 3, and they often consist of quite a few sections that use substantial part of the English alphabet. I think the longest one is ''Ex. 41'' which reaches up to ''p'' and deals with the infamous diabolus in musica. Also, there often are, space permitted, several examples on a single line and under a single letter, all neatly marked with names of composers and years of composition.

As a rule, Deryck has tried to illustrate how every one of the motives he discusses has been used for at least two centuries, from the early eighteenth to the mid-twentieth (from Bach to Stravinsky in other words), though occasionally he goes back to the thirteenth century and obscure works by now nearly completely forgotten masters.

Deryck has taken lots of pains to make his book accessible to the layman. It goes without saying that a trained musician will find it an easier and more profitable read. But the musically illiterate needn't be intimidated. In the text Deryck explains carefully every single example: where exactly it comes from, why it is used to illustrate this particular point. Many of the motives come from vocal works (opera, oratorio, lieder) and the sung texts are always provided, and though they are often self-explanatory they usually enjoy the same lavish treatment as the more elusive instrumental passages. When ''pure'' music is given as an example, instrumentation is always provided, so in this case, too, it is easy to locate the passage in question on your CDs.

For the sake of clarity the quotes are given exactly as they are in the book. All italicized words and passages have been reproduced faithfully. My own additions appear in square brackets. They deal exclusively with footnotes and omissions; the latter are marked with ''[…]'' and, when necessary, a short summary is supplied. Personal opinions have been rigorously and as far as possible suppressed.

The quotations supply as much of the author's context as possible, but they are by necessity highly selective. Nevertheless, I believe they do show, if not the full scope, at least the essence of the book. Now I leave you to Deryck's impeccable prose.

Addendum [December 2013].
I have included as many photographs of the original music examples as I could. The quality is far from stellar, but it is hoped that they are at least legible and may complement the text. Blurred words and wavy staves are not defects of the book but of my equipment and skill as a photographer.



The impulse to produce this book arose out of the following considerations.

When we try to assess the achievement of a great literary artist, one of the chief ways in which we approach his work is to examine it as a report on human experience. We feel that, in his art, he has said something significant in relation to life as it is lived; and what he has said - whether we call this a 'criticism of life' or a Weltanschauung or something else - is as important as the purely formal aspect of his writing. Or rather, these two main aspects of his art - 'content' and 'form' - are realized to be ultimately inseparable: what he has said is inextricably bound up with how he has said it; and how he has said it clearly cannot be considered separately from what he has said.

The same is unfortunately not felt to be true of the artist who makes his contribution to human culture, not in the language of speech, but in that of music. Music is widely regarded nowadays, not as a language at all, but as a 'pure', inexpressive art, like architecture; and even those who do feel it to be some kind of language regard it as an imprecise one, incapable of conveying anything so tangible as an experience of life or an attitude towards it. Thus Albert Roussel spoke of 'the musician… alone in the world with his more or less unintelligible language'. And Aaron Copland has expressed a similar opinion, in a slightly less radical way: 'Is there a meaning to music?' - My answer to that would be ''Yes''. Can you state in so many words what the meaning is? - My answer to that would be ''No''. Therein lies the difficulty.'

Hence, at the present time, attempt to elucidate the 'content' of music are felt to be misguided, to say the least; the writer on musical matters is expected to ignore or only hint at what the composer had to say, and to concentrate entirely on how he said it. Or, to put it in the contemporary way, he is expected to concentrate entirely on the 'form', which is not regarded as 'saying' anything at all. Thus the two inseparable aspects of an expressive art are separated, and one is utterly neglected - much to the detriment of our understanding of the other. Instead of responding to music as what it is - the expression of man's deepest self - we tend to regard it more and more as a purely decorative art; and by analysing the great works of musical expression purely as pieces of decoration, we misapprehend their true nature, purpose, and value. By regarding form as an end in itself, instead of as a means of expression, we make evaluations of composers' achievements which are largely irrelevant and worthless.

But there is another, more serious consequence of our attitude: one whole side of our culture is impoverished, since we deny ourselves the possibility of enlarging our understanding of human experience by a specifically musical view of it. After all, if man is ever to fulfill the mission he undertook at the very start - when he first began to philosophize, as a Greek, and evolved the slogan 'Know thyself' - he will have to understand his unconscious self; and the most articulate language of the unconscious is music. But we musicians, instead of trying to understand this language, preach the virtues of refusing to consider it a language at all; when we should be attempting, as literary critics do, to expound and interpret the great masterpieces of our art for the benefit of humanity at large, we concern ourselves more and more with parochial affairs - technical analyses and musicological minutiae - and pride ourselves on our detached, de-humanized approach.

This used not to be so. Some years ago it was regarded as the normal procedure to evaluate composers - notably Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms - according to what they expressed. But unfortunately this approach was too vague and unscientific: the interpretation soon strayed far away from the actual stuff of the music to become a kind of private transcendental self-intoxication with words. And it was no doubt the wild and baseless conclusions of some of the writers of those days that led the aestheticians of our own time to lay an embargo on the interpretation of musical works. Better ignore the whole vexatious question, they must have felt, than wallow in such a morass of subjectivity. What Goethe, Baudelaire, and Kafka said may be valuable data for the final understanding of humanity; what Beethoven, Berlioz, and Mahler said is certainly not - simply because there is no way of agreeing as to exactly what they did say.

But perhaps we have given up the problem a little too easily. Perhaps, since music is the expression of emotion, and we so strongly distrust emotion nowadays, we have not been eager to come to grips with the problem at all. There is no reason why it should not prove capable of solution, as other problems are. If we cannot at present tell for certain what anything said in the language of music really means - if we continually argue about the 'emotional content' of this or that composition - we should not therefore despair of ever finding an objective basis to work on. It may be that we have just not yet found a way of understanding this language, and that much of our interpretation of it is simply misinterpretation. We too easily assume that our private interpretations are fixed and immutable; we should remember that any one of us, at any time, may completely misinterpret the 'content' of a piece, and yet still enjoy his experience of it, even though it is based on a misapprehension. When this happens to the musically uninitiated, we smile, but it can just as easily happen to the musically sophisticated, for we none of us really understand the language.


This book is an attempt to bring music back from the intellectual-aesthetic limbo in which it is now lost, and to reclaim it for humanity at large, by beginning the task of actually deciphering its language. It attempts to show that the conception of music as a language capable of expressing certain very definite things is not a romantic aberration, but has been the common unconscious assumption of composers for the past five-and-a-half centuries at least. It attempts to isolate the various means of expression available to the composer - the various procedures in the dimensions of pitch, time, and volume - and discover what emotional effects these procedures can produce; but more specifically, it tries to pinpoint the inherent emotional characters of the various notes on the major, minor, and chromatic scales, and of certain basic melodic patterns which have been used persistently throughout our musical history. It also investigates the problem of musical communication, through the various stages from the composer's unconscious to that of the listener; and it offers detailed interpretations of two non-programmatic symphonies - Mozart's Fortieth and Vaughan Williams's Sixth - as specimen examples of how it may perhaps be possible to come to some objective understanding of the 'emotional content' of 'pure' music.

It is hoped that this book will serve as a broad preliminary survey of the ground, and perhaps also as foundation of which eventually to build a more comprehensive classification of most of the terms of musical language; and that it will thereby make it ultimately possible to understand and assess a composer's work as a report on human experience, just as we do that of a literary artist. It is not imagined, let me hasten to add, that such assessments will take the form of philosophical discussions of conceptual arguments, since music cannot express concepts; nor that they will be 'digests' of the 'meanings' of various works, for the same reason; rather, since music can only express feelings, it is thought that they will probably be in the nature of interpretation of emotional attitudes, somewhat akin to the type of analysis perfected by Wilson Knight for the elucidation of the 'content' of literary works - an examination of the 'images' used, and an interpretation of their emotional and psychological connotations.

The investigation of musical language is confined to Europe, since if music is an international language within a given continent, it is certainly not an inter-continental language. It has also been confined almost entirely to art-music (including modern popular music): although the roots of musical language must certainly lie in folk-music, this approach has been completely rejected, for the simple reason that it is impossible to verify the original emotional impulse of folk-tune. Even in those many cases where a text has come down in conjunction with the tune, it is impossible to be sure that it is the original text; people are at any time only too capable of taking, say, a gay old tune and writing some melancholy new words for it. The investigation is further confined to tonal music, i.e. to music in a key, in the widest sense of the word, whether written by Dufay in 1440, Byrd in 1611, Mozart in 1782, or Stravinsky in 1953. It does not in any way attempt to deal with the entirely new musical language which has arisen out of the abrogation of tonality by some composers during the last half-century; since this new language clearly bears little or no relation to the long-established one based on the tonal system.

Nevertheless, if the findings of this book are accepted, a certain widely-held view on the new non-tonal language would now seem, on the face of it, to amount to a logically inescapable conclusion, which can be briefly stated as follows. Since the new language is unrelievedly chromatic by nature, it must be restricted to what chromaticism always was restricted to expressing - what indeed we feel even the very earliest chromaticism of the sixteenth-century Italians still to this day expresses - emotions of the most painful type (though a wide variety of expression can naturally be achieved by presenting these emotions in diverse ways - gently, fiercely, satirically, grotesquely, even jestingly). It may be objected that since this new music makes no use of tonal centres, its persistent chromaticism has not the same expressive connotations as that of tonal music; but expressive connotations it must have, and how else can they be interpreted except in relation to the (much expanded) tonal system, which ultimately derives its expressive qualities from acoustical facts? Thus, from the purely negative point of view, the fact that the new music shuns the basic acoustical consonances of the octave, fifth, fourth, and triad, suggests that it does not express the simple fundamental sense of being at one with nature and life. This may by no means be the case, of course; it may be that we are just misapprehending the new language, as we have often tended to misapprehend the old. But the burden of proof that it is not the case should now be fairly and squarely on the shoulders of non-tonal composers and theorists. If this state of affairs calls forth a clear and convincing outline of the expressive aims of the new language, with an account of some of the terms of its vocabulary and some of its forms of expression, to offset ever so slightly the present welter of aridly technical, not to say purely mathematical exegesis, no one will be more pleased than the present writer, who whole-heartedly admires such of this music as he has found expressive of emotion.


What Kind of an Art is Music?

Although all the arts are essentially autonomous, owing to the different materials and techniques which they employ, there is clearly a kind of bond between them. We speak of the 'architecture' of a symphony, and call architecture, in its turn, 'frozen music'. Again, we say that certain writing has a 'sculptural' quality, and sometimes describe a piece of sculpture as 'a poem in stone'.

Admittedly, much of the phraseology which traffics between arts is purely metaphorical, being concerned only with the effect of a work of art. Thus, in calling a statue 'a poem in stone', we merely indicate that its effect on us is of that impalpable kind we normally receive from poetry; we do not make an objective statement about the sculptor's intention or technical procedure. Such a metaphor, while useful for descriptive purposes, cannot help us to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of art.

On the other hand, comparison between one art and another can help towards this end, when the comparison is not metaphorical, but analogical, being concerned with the artist's intention and technical procedure. Thus, when we speak of the 'architecture' of a fugue, we are making an objective statement that its composer has constructed it by methods analogous to those of the architect - that he has grouped masses of non-representational material (tone instead of stone) into significant form, governed by the principles of proportion, balance, and symmetry; and this throws some light on a particular type of music. In using such analogies, of course, we must keep in mind the difference inherent in the use of different materials.

Analogies of this kind are continually being made between music and the other arts. Besides speaking of the 'architecture' of a piece of music, we use the term 'tone-painting', and we say that composers who are preoccupied with expressing character, mood, and feeling, have leaning toward the 'literary'. And there is no doubt that music can be analogically related to each of these three arts: to architecture, in its quasi-mathematical construction; to painting, in its representation of physical objects; and to literature, in its use of a language to express emotion.


Let us now relate music analogically to architecture, painting, and literature, in more detail, and see if this can help us to establish the true nature of music as an art.

We may turn first to the analogy with painting, since this would seem to be the least essential, existing only in the case of a limited number of works, and passage of works. It exists where the composer imitates physical objects in terms of sound, addressed to the ear, as the painter does in terms of light, addressed to the eye. (We need not concern ourselves with painting which does not represent objects, but abstract patterns, since this is rather a case of painting's analogical relationship to music.)

There are three ways in which music can represent physical objects. First, by direct imitation of something which emits a sound of definite pitch, such as a cuckoo, a shepherd's pipe, or hunting horn. Here the parallel with painting is almost exact: the painter can represent the visual but not the aural aspect of the object, the composer the aural but not the visual. (In the case of a cuckoo, the composer may even be said to have the advantage, since to anyone but a naturalist it is a purely aural phenomenon!)

The second way is by approximate imitation of something which emits a sound of indefinite pitch, such as a thunderstorm, a rippling brook, or rustling branches. Here the composer's representation is inevitably less faithful than the painter's: a painting of a storm strikes the eye as a more or less exact reproduction of the appearance of a storm, but a musical representation of storm strikes the ear as only an approximate reproduction of the sound of a storm. […] Nevertheless, even here, the composer has a certain compensatory advantage: he can reproduce the sensation of physical movement which the painter can only suggest.

The third way in which music can represent physical objects is by the suggestion or symbolization of a purely visual thing, such as lightning, clouds or mountains, using sounds which have an effect on the ear similar to that which the appearance of the object has on the eye. Here music at once approaches closest to painting, and recedes farthest from it. […] Knowing as we do, that the first of Debussy's Three Nocturnes is entitled Nuages, we are persuaded into interpreting the shifting patterns of sound in terms of the visual imagination - shifting patterns of light such as we experience from the movement of clouds. But if Debussy had not given the Nocturne its title, we should have been uncertain what the composer intended to represent, if anything at all.

(The fact that, in such cases, a title is necessary to set the imagination working, is often taken as proof of the illegitimacy of this kind of musical tone-painting. But it is not always realized that even some poems are not fully intelligible without their titles. Take this one by Tennyson:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

One wonders whether, if Tennyson had merely called this poem 'Lines', readers would have realized exactly what it was supposed to be describing. Once the actual title is known, of course, there is nothing ambiguous about the poem at all.)

[Consultation with the second index reveals that the title in question is The Eagle.]

Frequently, music's three methods of tone-painting are fused, or superimposed on one another, in a single composition. In Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, for example, the direct imitation of bird-calls (cuckoo and quail) interrupt the approximate imitation of a murmuring brook, while the third bird-call (nightingale) is also approximate; the thunder in the storm movement is approximately imitated, the lightning and rain are suggested, and these are followed by the direct imitation of a shepherd's pipe.

So far, our attention has been strictly confined to the element of imitation; but this, of course, is neither the composer's nor the painter's sole intention. The imitation is only a framework on which each type of artist, using the materials of his own art, superimposes his vision of the imitated object, or his subjective experience of it. Beethoven's comment on his Pastoral Symphony is apposite here: 'more feeling than tone-painting'.


To sum up: tone-painting is a legitimate, if subsidiary function of music. Its value increases the more it is used as a vehicle for the composer's subjective experience of the object represented; and it is by means of the actual notes chosen by the composer that the experience is conveyed. Here the analogy with painting ends, since there is obviously no connection between the technical organization of notes and that of paint.*

[*Footnote: ''Comparisons such as those of piano-writing with black-and-white drawing, and of orchestration with colour, and of a certain type of impressionist orchestration with the pointilliste technique in painting, are clearly metaphorical, and cannot bring us a deeper understanding of the nature of music.'']


First, however, it should be said that any piece of tone-painting is of negligible value unless it is integrated into some kind of musical structure; and this brings us to our next section, an examination of the analogy between music and architecture.


In the case of music, the analogy would seem to be particularly close, in that, as has been mentioned, both composer and architect group masses of non-representational material (pure sound in time, and stone in space) into significant form, governed by the principles of proportion, balance, and symmetry. At first, our analogy looks to be simple and conclusive one: music is the audible, as architecture is the visible, embodiment of pure form. Stravinsky adheres to this view of the matter: 'One could not better define the sensation produced by music than by saying that it is identical with that evoked by the contemplation of the interplay of architectural forms'.*

[*Sourced as ''Chronicle of My Life, translated from the French, p. 93.'']

But let us look into the analogy a little more closely. How far can we apply it? To all music, or only to certain kinds of music? It is easy to justify the common application of it to some of the greatest music ever written - the contrapuntal masterpiece of the old polyphonic composers, down to and including Bach. In these, the themes are sometimes scarcely more emotionally expressive than bricks or blocks of stone (e.g. those in Bach's 'great' organ fugues in A minor and G minor), and are used simply as raw material capable of being built up into large-scale sound-constructions by means of interwoven lines, various sections being balanced one against another in size, until their combined mass makes possible a final climax, setting a seal on the whole like a dome.


What is more, the experience provided by this kind of music is definitely akin to that provided by architecture - the enjoyment of the beauty of pure form. What attracts us is not so much the thematic material as the satisfying way in which it is woven together; not so much, say, the fugue-subject, as the masterly working-out of it in stretto, to produce a sonorous climax.

The analogy holds good, of course, for all music that is primarily contrapuntal: for the non-expressive fugal music of later periods (lesser, both in amount and calibre), and for that limited amount of modern music in which non-expressive material is organized contrapuntally by means of quasi-mathematical 'laws' similar to those which governed the old-style polyphony (much avant-garde serial music, and the music of Hindemith, for example). In all these cases, the raw material is nothing, the intellectual construction everything, and the impact on the listener almost entirely a formal and aesthetic one. But once we step outside of the limited world of polyphony, in which the intellect predominates, the analogy becomes vague and unprofitable, for two reasons. Firstly, the difference in the materials comes to the fore: the musical material of non-polyphonic music is not inexpressive like that of architecture, but is charged with human feeling. Secondly, in the manipulation of such material, purely intellectual techniques are replaced by methods in which the intellect is to some extent at the service of feelings.


A typical contrapuntal point or fugue-subject has no real significance until it takes its place in the construction as a whole; but a theme in a sonata, like a hand in a painting or a line in a poem, is already of absorbing emotional interest in itself, even if its full significance is only appreciated when its integration into the overall form is understood. Indeed, in music, as to a greater degree in literature, a work can be outstanding in spite of being cast into a most unsatisfying form: we listen to works like Boris Godunov and Delius's Violin Concerto, as we read books like Tristram Shandy and Moby Dick, not for their formal beauty, but for the fascination of their material.

Actually, in many cases, the thematic material of polyphony is itself expressive, even highly expressive: a few examples are the opening Kyrie in Bach's B minor Mass, several of Purcell's string fantasias, 'For with His Stripes' in Messiah, Mozart's C minor Fugue for two pianos and the Quam Olim Abrahae in his Requiem Mass. Indeed, musical material (as it is hoped to show in this book) is by its very nature expressive; though of course its expressiveness can sometimes be extremely slight. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, the architectural analogy holds good for all polyphony, whether expressive or inexpressive, in that the construction is primarily intellectual and the impact primarily formal; and it breaks down outside polyphony because the construction is guided by feeling and the impact is to a considerable extent emotional.

[At this place Deryck reminds us that even the greatest contrapuntal masters, for instance Bach and St. Mathew Passion, have composed music which, much like the symphony from later periods, is ''dramatic in conception'' and can be described as ''succession of contrasted events in time following one another by chain of cause and effect''. Here there is a footnote about Bruckner who ''alone of the symphonists found an 'architectural' way of composing his symphonies - balancing masses of melodic harmony one against another; but this is an isolated phenomenon which need not concern us here.'' Deryck also points out that the dramatic and emotional nature is obviously even truer for lieder and opera. He even gives Debussy's L'apres-midi- d'un faune as an example of work ''constructed (if so tough a word may be used) more like the poem to which it was intended to form a prelude - as a succession of changing moods melting in and out of one another according to the logic of emotion''. He then sums up the situation so far:]

Clearly then, we cannot press the architectural analogy too far (as many are intent on doing at the present juncture of musical history). It has really just as limited an application as the analogy with painting: only a certain type of music, to a certain degree, can legitimately be regarded as pure, quasi-mathematical form. Other music has a different kind of form, and has a wider significance than is imparted to us by its form alone, being expressive of the composer's subjective experience.

So we may say that, except within very closely defined limits, music is neither a representative art, like painting, nor a purely formal art, like architecture. What kind of an art is it, then?

In some way or other, it conveys to us the subjective experience of composers. But in what way? […] To try and answer this question, we must turn to a consideration of the analogy between music and literature, and an investigation of the problem of music as language.

But first, a fairly lengthy digression will be necessary, in order to try and settle a vexed point. So far, this book has persistently begging the question whether music does in fact express composer's subjective experience - a question which everybody once assumed instinctively had an affirmative answer, but which is assumed equally instinctively by many modern musicians to have been answered once and for all in the negative. If we are to establish the right to make any analogy at all between music and literature, the question will have to be re-opened and some reasons sought to support an affirmative answer.


It is not the intention here to investigate every theory of music considered as expression; theorists are notoriously limited by abstractions. I propose to deal with the matter in a more concrete way, setting forth the current case against the view of music as expression, in the words of two of our most outstanding present-day composers; and adducing several arguments on the other side - the views of other composers, the view of a poet, the experience of listeners in general, and the practice of composers in general.

First, the negative view, in the words of Stravinsky: 'I consider that music is, by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc…. if, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion, and not a reality'.* Obviously, everything depends on what Stravinsky means by 'express': if he means 'express explicitly, as words can', his remark is a truism; if he means 'convey to the listener in any way whatsoever', he is merely offering an expression of opinion, without adducing any proof.

[*''Stravinsky, Chronicle of My Life, translated from the French, pp. 91-2.'']

Composers' theories tend to be based on their own artistic needs, and it is evident that Stravinsky, bent as he has been on removing music as far as possible from the romantic aesthetic, would naturally formulate a theory of this kind. It is an extremist theory, the product of an intensely individual composer's mind; but it has been widely accepted, as coming from such an eminent source, and its effect on contemporary aesthetic thought has been most harmful. Aaron Copland, himself a disciple of Stravinsky, and a composer who cannot by the wildest stretch of the imagination be called a romantic, has justly described Stravinsky's attitude in this matter as 'intransigent', saying that 'it may be due to the fact that so many people have tried to read different meanings into so many pieces'. He also adds the following: 'Heaven knows it is difficult enough to say what it is that a piece of music means, to say it finally so that everyone is satisfied with your explanation. But that should not lead one to the other extreme of denying to music the right to be expressive'.*

[*''Aaron Copland, What to Listen For in Music, Chap. 2.'']

It is worth noting that, until Stravinsky came out with his flat statement to the contrary, everyone naturally assumed that music was expressive. Let us call in another, earlier composer, not an out-and-out romantic of the Wagnerian type, but one firmly grounded in the classical tradition.

Mendelssohn once wrote: 'People usually complain that music is so ambiguous; that it is so doubtful what they ought to think when they hear it; whereas everyone understands words. With me it is entirely the converse. And not only with regard to an entire speech, but also with individual words; these, too, seem to me to be so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison with genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. The thoughts which are expressed to me by a piece of music which I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary too definite. And so I find, in every attempt to express such thoughts, that something is right, but at the same time something is unsatisfying in all of them….'*

[*''Mendelssohn, Letter to Marc Andre Souchay; Berlin, 5 October, 1842.'']

Now when Mendelssohn comes to give examples of thoughts (Gedanken) which music gives rise to, we find he is using the word in the generalized sense of 'mental activities', and in fact means feelings, rather; since he specifically mentions resignation, melancholy, and the praise of God. And those who have found music expressive of anything at all (the majority of mankind) have found it expressive of emotions. Let us here call in another witness, not even a semi-romantic composer this time, but one of the clearest-minded of classical poets.

Dryden, in his 'Song for St. Cecilia's Day', showed that he regarded music as emotionally expressive:

The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depths of pains, and height of passion
For the fair disdainful dame.

No doubt in Dryden's mind at all! As he said earlier in the same poem: 'What passion cannot Music raise and quell?' And emotional reaction to music has been the experience of listeners everywhere. One has only to read descriptions of musical compositions in programmes or musical biographies, whether in English or any other language, to find the writers limping in their more pedestrian way after Dryden: confident themes, agonizing chords, wistful melodies, ferocious rhythms, jubilant climaxes….

And the composers: what did they themselves think they were doing? Neither Stravinsky nor Mendelssohn tells us, but one of the most classical of all composers has done. Listen to Mozart: 'Now, as for Belmonte's aria in A major - 'O wie ängstlich, O wie feurig' - do you know how it is expressed (ausgedrückt)? - even the throbbing of his loving heart is indicated (angezeigt) - the two violins in octaves…. One sees the trembling - the wavering - one sees how his swelling breast heaves - this is expressed (exprimirt) by a crescendo - one hears the whispering and the sighing - which is expressed (ausgedrückt) by the first violins, muted, and a flute in unison'.* Nothing could be more definite than that.

[*''Mozart, letter to his father, Vienna, 26 September 1781, concerning The Seraglio.'']


In any case, it is undeniable (as Chapters 2 and 3 attempt to demonstrate) that composers have consciously or unconsciously used music as a language, from at least 1400 onwards - a language never formulated in a dictionary, because by its very nature it is incapable of such treatment.


Again, we may note how the tragic subjects of the St. Matthew Passion and Die Winterreise forced on Bach and Schubert a heavy (almost too heavy) preponderance of minor keys; while the lighter subjects of the Easter Oratorio and most of Die Schöne Müllerin turned them inevitably towards the major. Did anyone ever set the Resurrexit of the Mass to slow, soft, minor music? Or the Crucifixus to quick, loud, major strains? Try singing the word 'Crucifixus' to the music of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, or the word 'Hallelujah' to the music of Crucifixus in Bach's B minor Mass! Stravinsky himself has complied with the common practice in these matters. In the Symphony of Psalms, the first two movements (settings of somber prayer-psalms) are in E minor and C minor respectively, while the last (setting of a praise-psalm) moves between E flat major and C major. […] Within the orbit of tonality, composers have always been bound by certain expressive laws of the medium, laws which are analogous to those of language.*

[*''The ambiguities of the major-minor opposition (as shown, for example, by the Dead March in Saul being in the major) are dealt with in Chapter 2.'']

So we must admit that composers have set out to express emotion, and that listeners have felt it to be present in their music. But we must still consider Stravinsky's opinion that 'if, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this only an illusion, and not a reality'.

This point of view has been set forth in greater detail by Hindemith in his book A Composer's World. His theory is that music does have an emotive effect on the listener, but the apparent emotions are not those of the composer, nor do they arouse the real emotions of the listener; in Stravinsky's words 'this is only an illusion'. Hindemith says: 'Music cannot express the composer's feelings. Let us suppose a composer is writing an extremely funereal piece, which may require three months of intensive work. Is he, during this three-months period, thinking of nothing but funerals? Or can he, in those hours that are not devoted to his work because of his desire to eat and sleep, put his grief on ice, so to speak, and be gay until the moment he resumes his somber activity? If he really expressed his feelings accurately during the time of composing and writing, we would be presented with a horrible motley of expressions, among which the grievous part would necessarily occupy but a small space.' Later, he continues: 'If the composer himself thinks he is expressing his own feelings, we have to accuse him of lack of observation. Here is what he really does: he knows by experience that certain patterns of tone-setting correspond with certain emotional reactions on the listener's part. Writing these patterns frequently and finding his observations confirmed, in anticipating the listener's reaction he believes himself to be in the same mental situation.'*

[*''Hindemith, A Composer's World, pp. 35-6.'']

The naïveté and illogicality of this analysis, coming from a composer of Hindemith's mental stature, is truly regrettable. But we have to remember again that composers write out of their own experience; and we know that Hindemith is, and sees himself as, a superior kind of craftsman, not an 'inspired genius' - that, in fact, he rather derisively denies the existence of inspiration: 'Melodies can, in our time, be constructed rationally. We do not need to believe in benign fairies, bestowing angelic tunes upon their favourites'.* Being this kind of a composer, he is unable, despite his intellectual insight into musical construction and his laudable concern for music's moral values, to understand the deep unconscious urges that gave birth to music of the deeply emotive kind - viz., most of the music written between 1400 and the present day.

[*''Ibid., p. 97.'']

There seems to be in Hindemith's analysis an almost willful refusal to understand that an artist has two separate selves: the everyday, conscious self, which is a prey of many passing trivial emotions, and a deep, unconscious, creative self which is always there to return to, 'inspiration' permitting, and which is apt to intrude itself intermittently, as 'inspiration', during his everyday life. If Hindemith has no personal experience of this, surely he has heard of the fits of 'absent-mindedness' that some great artists have been subject to, when this occurred? Surely he must have some conception of the way in which this unconscious creative self persists beneath the distractions of everyday life, concentrated on its all-important realities?* When we state that a composer, writing a lengthy piece over a long period, expresses his emotions in it, we really ought not to have to explain that we mean his deep, permanent, significant emotions, not the superficial fleeting ones called forth by trivial pleasures and disappointments.

[*The footnote quotes ''Graham Greene, speaking through the character of Maurice Bendrix, the narrator in The End of the Affair, Chap. 2.'' The passage runs as follows: ''So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one's days. One may be preoccupied with shopping and income-tax returns, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead; one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air… the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.'']

[At this place Deryck illustrates the fallacy of Hindemith's hypothesis how a funereal piece might be composed over a long time by speculating how Beethoven's unconscious might have worked on the creation of the Funeral March from Eroica. There is a comparison with Tennyson's Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington in this respect. He then continues:]

We must now turn to the second part of Hindemith's theory - that concerning the emotional reaction of the listener. He says: 'If music does not express feelings, how then does it affect listener's emotions? There is no doubt that listeners, performers, and composers alike can be profoundly moved by perceiving, performing, or imagining music, and consequently music must touch on something in their emotional life that bings them into this state of excitation. But if these mental reactions were feelings, they would not change as rapidly as they do, and they would not begin and end precisely with the musical stimulus that aroused them. If we experience a real feeling of grief - that is, grief not caused or released by music - it is not possible to replace it at a moment's notice and without any plausible reason with the feeling of wild gaiety; and gaiety, in turn, cannot be replaced by complacency after a fraction of a second…. The reactions which music evokes are not feelings, but they are the images, memories of feelings…. We cannot have musical reactions of emotional significance, unless we have once had real feelings, the memory of which is revived by the musical impression. Reactions of a grievous nature can be aroused by music only if a former experience of real grief was stored up in our memory and is now again portrayed in a dream-like fashion.'* Again, he says: 'Paintings, poems, sculptures, works of architecture… do not - contrary to music - release images of feelings; instead they speak to the real, untransformed, and unmodified feelings.'*

[*Hindemith, op. cit., pp. 38 and 49.]

It is difficult here to know where to start - there are so many fallacies. Let us return to the Eroica Funeral March, and consider the listener's reactions. In the slow, heavy, dragging rhythm, the minor key, and the mournful melody, he will recognize the type of funeral march, and Beethoven's own individuality of expression, with its indefinable grandeur, will convey that it is a funeral march written by a noble mind in connection with a noble ideal. Will the music awaken 'former experience of real grief, stored-up in the memory, and now portrayed in a dream-like fashion'? Surely nothing of the sort: the listener's capacity for feeling grief (certainly intensified by any strong personal grief he has experienced) will be aroused by the music into feeling (through the distorting medium of his own temperament, admittedly) the personal grief of Beethoven, made incarnate by him in that music. He will feel as he has never felt before. (In listening to Chopin's Funeral March, he will experience another quite different personal grief, belonging to a quite different man - a grief more loaded with despair - and again, he will feel as he never felt before.) The listener thus makes direct contact with the mind of a great artist, 'interpreting' his expression of emotion in the same way that he will 'interpret' an emotional letter from a friend: in both cases, mind meets mind, as far as is possible. And if the listener has no capacity for feeling real grief (as opposed to petty chagrin), he will, of course, not really comprehend the Funeral March at all.

Hindemith's two reasons why musical emotions are not 'real' will not hold water. In the first place, emotions called forth by music do not 'begin and end with the musical stimulus that aroused them': begin, yes, since a specific emotion cannot be awakened without a stimulus; but end, no, since it is many people's experience that the feelings aroused by a piece of music can persist for days afterwards, without memory of the actual notes that caused them. In the second place, the idea that diverse emotions cannot succeed one another swiftly is applicable only to placid temperaments: Hindemith himself is no doubt possessed of remarkable equanimity, but more volatile people often find themselves switching suddenly from depression to gaiety with or without external stimulus. And this is found quite commonly in art itself - in literature for example. One has only to consider the violent transitions of mood, from deep gloom to joyous ecstasy, in Keats's Ode to a Nightingale.

In any case, what is meant by saying that the emotions aroused by the other arts are more 'real' than those of music? […] In one sense, emotion conveyed through music is more real than that conveyed through the other arts - because it is more pure, less bound down to a 'local habitation and a name'. The true expressive difference between the arts is that painting conveys feeling through a visual image, and literature through a rationally intelligible statement, but music conveys the naked feeling direct. As the composer felt, so we may hear, and feel: what he saw, or thought, does not interfere.

This brings us to a further difficulty: the supposed vagueness of the emotions expressed in music. Hindemith, like those of whom Mendelssohn spoke, finds music ambiguous: 'One given piece of music may cause remarkably diverse reactions in different listeners. As an illustration of this statement, I like to mention the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, which I have found lead some people into a pseudo feeling of profound melancholy, while another group takes it for a kind of scurrilous scherzo, and a third for a subdued kind of pastorale. Each group is justified in judging as it does.'*

[*Hindemith, op. cit., p. 40.]

Hindemith is undoubtedly right in his observation that people react in different emotional ways to a given piece of music, but his statement that each reaction is equally justifiable fails to take a simple psychological point into account. Could it not be that some listeners are incapable of understanding the feeling of the music properly?* This can even happen in the explicit world of literature: I have seen Edmund from King Lear played as a superficially cynical butterfly, and the audience reacted accordingly, with giggles; but a close reading of Shakespeare's text does not justify this conception in the least. Similarly, the great German actor, Gründgens, plays Goethe's Mephistopheles as a self-tormenting fallen angel. And if actors can so distort the emotional make-up of a part, one wonders how many people read, say, Shelley's Ode to a Skylark as a pretty and pleasing piece of poetry, or take Moby Dick to be merely a stirring sea-story.

[*''The answer is, of course, yes; and this explains why 'tests', in which the reactions of a random collection of individuals are classified and analysed, prove nothing. Sympathetic understanding is a pre-requisite: what would be the use of applying such a test to, say, one of Blake's prophetic books?'']

The fact is that people can only react to the emotions expressed in a work of art according to their own capacity to feel those emotions. Hindemith describes what too often happens (taking it as a general rule for all listeners): 'The difference in interpretation stems from the difference in memory-images [of emotions] the listeners provide, and the unconscious selection is made on the basis of the sentimental value or the degree of importance each image has: the listener chooses the one which is dearest and closest to his mental disposition, or which represents a most common, most easily accessible feeling'.* Such people, whom one knows to exist, are just plainly unmusical: suppose that such a listener's 'memory-image' has no connection with the emotions expressed by the music at all? If someone were to declare the Eroica Funeral March to be a sanguine piece, we should unhesitatingly accuse him of being emotionally undeveloped. […] The truly musical person, with a normal capacity to respond to emotion, immediately apprehends the emotional content of a piece of music to the degree that he can experience it.

[*Hindemith, op. cit., p. 40.]

Ought we not always to be trying to expand our capacity for comprehending what the composer is trying to express, rather than accept the first 'stock response' of our emotions? One is not entirely at the mercy of one's superficial feelings; it is always possible to penetrate deeper. For example, my own (and others') experience of Mozart's major-key music has been: (1) in childhood, pretty music; (2) in adolescence, graceful and elegant, but trivial music; (3) in maturity, graceful and elegant music often shot through with deep and disturbing emotions. Here I would unhesitatingly maintain that in cases 1 and 2, we were not really understanding Mozart at all.

Let us now examine the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It is in the minor, has a heavy monotonous rhythm, and its theme opens with twelve repetitions of the same note, marking that rhythm; also, the movement has a 'trio' section in the major. It should hardly be necessary to point out that these are the emotive elements of the Funeral March. Consider Beethoven's own Marcia Funebre in the Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 26, and that of Chopin in his Sonata in B flat minor. Consider also Schubert's later use of exactly the same rhythm (again to repeated notes) in his 'Death and the Maiden'. The two main differences between the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony and the genuine funeral march is that the rhythm is not doted, and the tempo is rather quicker. (Much depends on the conductor's tempo, of course; Beethoven is reported to have said he should have marked the movement Andante, which would bring it nearer to the real funeral march tempo.) The absolute individuality of the movement is that it is a rather lighter, more gentle type of funeral march: it is, in fact, a restrained elegy, rather than a heavy lament. But a 'scurrilous scherzo'? A 'subdued pastorale'? One is bound to regard anyone who reacts in this way as either superficial, unmusical, or unsympathetic to Beethoven.


Of course, no words can ever describe precisely the emotion of this movement, or any other. The emotion is, in Mendelssohn's words, 'too definite' to be transcribed into the ambiguous medium of words. However, the emotion is there, is real; and unless the listener recognizes, consciously or unconsciously, the relationship of the movement to the basic conception of the funeral march, his experience of the music will be false; and once this relationship is pointed out to one who is quite unaware of it, it can revolutionize his whole emotional response to the work, unless he sincerely cannot (or obstinately will not) feel the connection.

Of course, to a more subtle degree, a piece of music does convey something different to each normally responsive listener. […] But anyone who conceives a quasi-funeral-march movement to be a 'kind of scurrilous scherzo' must be considered emotionally abnormal (or simply unmusical) to a degree.

One final difficulty remains. Is the traditional language of music, to which we have referred, a genuine emotional language, whose terms actually posses the inherent power to awaken certain definite emotions in the listener, or is it a collection of formulae attached by habit over a long period to certain verbally explicit emotions in masses, operas, and songs, which produce in the listener a series of conditioned reflexes?

It seems most likely that the answer is simply 'both'. It would be useless to deny that the continuous and consistent use of certain terms of musical language throughout five centuries or more must have conditioned us to accept them without question; and it must have helped to intensify their effect, pinpoint their character, and codify them clearly. But it is difficult to believe that there is no more to it than that. In the first place, one can only wonder how (to quote Hindemith) 'certain patterns of tone-setting' ever came in the first place to 'correspond with certain emotional reactions on the listener's part', unless the correspondences were inherent, as are, for example, those between certain faces that we pull and certain emotions we intend to express - delight, scorn, or disgust. Again, it seems surprising that throughout five centuries or more all European composers without exception - some of them violently revolutionary in other respects - should have accepted the established connotations of the various terms without demur (see the music examples in Chapters 2 and 3), and that this has proved the only unchanging aspect of music. One might have expected a revolutionary composer to try and cut loose from those connotations - to insist on using, say, the major 1-3-5-6-5 of innocent joy to express some dark and evil emotion; but nothing of this kind has been attempted.* In fact, it is possible to discover, as Chapter 2 tries to show, close natural correspondences between the emotive effect of certain notes of the scale and their positions in the acoustic hierarchy known as the harmonic series; it seems improbable that the 'strength' of the fifth and the 'joy' of the major third, for example, should not be inherent in their 'basic' positions in the series.

[*"Actually, with the advent of atonal and twelve-tone music, we have at least witnessed a revolution which implies a total break with the past, a repudiation of even the old terms of musical language, and an attempt to recondition the listener to a new set. Whether it will be successful is not yet clear."]

Ultimately, it is for the reader to make up his own mind; in the meantime, the foregoing may perhaps be taken as reasonable support for the view that music is a language of the emotions, and we may proceed to consider in more detail the analogy between music and literature.

The analogy between music and literature, then, is that both make use of a language of sounds for the purpose of expression. But the analogy is only valid on the plane of emotional expression, since abstract intellectual statements such as 'I think, therefore I am' are outside the scope of music, and the power to describe the outside world belongs to the analogy with painting in the case of both arts ('tone-painting' and 'word-painting').

[Here follow discussions how even single words and notes can have emotive effect - for example Browning's poem Pippa Passes with its first line ''Day!'' and the solo trumpet that opens Wagner's overture to Rienzi - and how musical settings of poems - e.g. Schubert's Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel - can perfectly mirror the emotions of the text. The emotional content of ''pure'' music, that is music without words, is investigated by another extensive comparative analysis of the Funeral March from Eroica and the Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington.]

Words are poor things, except in the hands of a poet. The emotional adjectives I have used above are only feeble labels to indicate the general feeling of the music. To return to Mendelssohn, words are 'so ambiguous, so vague'; in every attempt the emotion of the music in words 'something is right, but something in unsatisfying'. No one, least of all myself, would want to attach verbal labels to the deep feelings aroused during a performance of the Eroica Symphony. Nor would I be misunderstood concerning my comparison with Tennyson's Ode: the last thing I would think of while listening to Beethoven's Funeral March is this poem, which obviously expresses the same basic emotions, but through the agency of another man of another race with another attitude towards life, and through another artistic medium. Each says what it has to say in its own way, and there is no such thing as translation or equivalence. My only reason for a comparative verbal analysis of the two works is to endeavour to indicate that music functions very much like poetry in making a coherent and unified statement out of conflicting emotions.


We have another difficulty to meet here. It is usually objected, when one offers an analysis of the emotions expressed in a musical work, that music has a logic and constructive method of its own, that it ultimately has to stand or fall as a piece of music. With this no one would disagree, and one would hardly bother to make an emotional analysis of a work which one did not already know to be technically excellent. Actually, there is no conflict of ideas here at all. Any artist has to weave the emotions he is expressing into an intellectually and emotionally coherent statement; and emotions woven into this artistically formal way do not cease to be emotions because they do not float about vaguely as in everyday life; in fact, they become even more 'real' by their isolation and sensitive combination in a great work of art. The great artist makes a supremely 'right' statement of the emotions one feels oneself but cannot organize into a satisfying expression.

Music is no more incapable of being emotionally intelligible because it is bound by the laws of musical construction, than poetry is because it is bound by the laws of verbal grammatical construction. In fact, in both cases, it should be a truism to say that the construction of a work of art is guided both by the feelings and the intellect: the intellect brings craftsmanship to bear on realizing the overall shape which is felt before it is intellectually apprehended.


But still, it will be objected, we have not proved any inherent connection between the notes and the emotions they are supposed to express. That is, of course, the task of the rest of the book.

The Elements of Musical Expression

The task facing us is to discover exactly how music functions as a language, to establish the terms of its vocabulary, and to explain how these terms may legitimately be said to express the emotions they appear to.

Beginning with the basic material - notes of definite pitch - we must agree with Hindemith that musical works are built out of the tensions between such notes. These tensions can be set up in three dimensions - pitch, time, and volume; and the setting up of such tensions, and the colouring of them by the characterizing agents of tone-colour and texture, constitute the whole apparatus of musical expression.

Let us now distinguish between the various ways in which these dimensions can function, beginning with that of pitch. Pitch-tensions can be regarded in two different ways - as tonal tensions (what the actual notes on the scale are) and intervallic tensions (in what direction and at what distance the notes are from one another).

[This is where the book starts becoming forbiddingly technical. The quotes, correspondingly, become more selective, but, hopefully, still intelligible and coherently organized. Certain amount of technical language cannot be avoided, but it is kept to minimum. Weighing the importance of the different ways of musical expression, Deryck declares that pitch and the corresponding tonal tensions are the fundamental elements, all of the rest being merely (though sometimes powerfully) qualifying influences.]

And ultimately, the fundamental element of pitch is tonal tension, in so far as it can be separated from intervallic tension: for example, '5-1' does mean something vital and all-important apart from its incarnation as a rising fourth or falling fifth; whereas 'a falling fifth' does not mean anything very concrete unless we know whether the tonal tension is, say, 8-4, 7-3, or 5-1. What the actual notes of the scale are - this is the basis of the expressive language of music: the subtle and intricate system of relationships which we know as tonality. In this system we shall find the basic terms of music's vocabulary, each of which can be modified in countless ways by intervallic tensions, time-tensions, and volume tensions, and characterized by tone-colour and texture.


Tonal Tensions

This section brings us to the heart of the problem of musical language, the persistent neglect to tackle which is responsible for the meaninglessness of most attempts to elucidate the 'emotional content' of music, and also for the widespread belief that any such attempts are futile, music being emotionally ambiguous. The simple but amazing fact is that, although certain general directional movements of pitch have occasionally been analysed as 'symbols' (Schweitzer on Bach, for example), no one has ever tried to analyse the expressive qualities inherent in the tonal relationships between the different notes on the scale. No one has seriously got down to the business of discovering, in each particular context, exactly what the notes of the scale are and what tensions exist between them.

[At this place there is a lengthy and vastly technical history how our tonal system evolved. Briefly, it all started in the ninth century when a third note was added to the two that had been used since the ancient Greeks. Later the system gradually became more complex with the addition of more notes, but this is quite beyond my understanding. Deryck also defines the ''harmonic period'' in European music to which his study applies: from about 1400 to the present day, that is the mid-twentieth century. Having mentioned briefly the basic - though vague and disputed - difference between major and minor, namely to express positive and negative emotions, Deryck gets down to business: ''an examination of the different tensions existing in the major and minor systems''.]

The Thirds, Major and Minor

That the major third should be found to express pleasure should surprise no one, since it is present, as we have noticed, early on in the harmonic series: it is nature's own basic harmony, and by using it we feel ourselves to be at one with nature.

[Earlier in the book the appearance of the major third is said to have happen in the twelfth century. In this section there is a great deal of historical background - for instance, how the major third was for centuries repressed by the church as a symbol of the secular, pleasure-loving life - but this is skipped here for the sake of brevity. The musical examples range from anonymous English composer in 1425 to Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony in 1937, ''an example of 'optimistic' Soviet music'', and even to ''Polly-wolly-doodle'' that ''shows the use of the major third on popular level. In between there are the ''Ode to Joy'' from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the Brindisi from Act 1 of Verdi's La Traviata and others.]

What about the minor third? […] Being lower than the major third, it has a 'depressed' sound, and the fact that it does not form part of the basic harmonic series makes it an 'unnatural depression' of the 'naturally happy' state of things (according to Western ideas).


If, at this point, it is wondered exactly what is meant by saying that the minor third functions expressively as a depression of the major third of the harmonic series - whether such a thing has a genuine aural significance, one cannot do better than indicate a context in which its effect is isolated, and can be clearly heard.

[The example is Wotan's recitative "Als junger Liebe" from Wagner's Die Walküre where, according to Deryck, the minor third of the vocal line can be heard ''jarring'' with the major one in the accompaniment of cellos and basses. Further examples about the association of the minor third with feelings of grief range from a ''Dies Irae'' setting from the thirteenth century to Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in 1927. In between, there are the beginning of Iago's credo of hatred in Verdi's Otello, the aria ''Können Tränen meiner Wangen'' (freely translated as ''If my tears prove unavailing…'') from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the gloomy beginnings of Beethoven's and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphonies, and others.]

The strong contrast between the 'natural' pleasurable major third and the 'unnatural' painful minor third has been exploited throughout our musical history. Inevitably, it suggests a sudden switch from pleasurable to painful feelings, or vice versa (Ex. 27).

[Examples range from Dufay in 1474 to Britten in 1954, including Irving Berlin's song ''Let's face the music and dance'' from the soundtrack of Follow the Fleet, 1936, as a ''pop'' example. And there is another alternative.]

Latterly, composers have discovered a different way of exploiting the expressive power of the opposition between the major and minor thirds: leaving the third fixed, and altering the character by shifting the tonic and dominant, or the tonic alone (Ex. 28).

[Examples include the opening of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, the so-called ''Faith-motif'', and Britten's Peter Grimes: ''Ellen tries to coax Peter out of his bitter humour with a soothing phrase in E major, ''Warmed by new esteem that you find''.

The Sixths, Major and Minor

When we turn to the second most common note in the major-minor antithesis - the sixth - we find that the contrast functions in much the same way as with the third. Again, the major interval is used for pleasure, the minor one for pain. Here are a few examples of the expressive use of the major sixth (Ex. 29).

[These range from a troubadour song by l'Escurial in the thirteenth century (''To you, sweet lady'') to Britten in 1944, again from Peter Grimes: ''Her breast is harbour too, where night is turned to day'', Peter dreams of finding peace with Ellen. Also the end of the love duet from the end of Act I of Verdi's Otello, where the lovers embrace and kiss, the theme that is repeated in the end of the opera out of purely dramatic considerations.]

The minor sixth has an entirely opposite effect:

[Consider examples from Machaut's motet ''With sighing heart, grieving I lament'', c. 1300, to Qua Theba moritur, urbem serva… (''Save the city of Thebes from the plague of which it is dying'') from Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, 1927. Also, the opening of the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Desdemona's ''Willow Song'' from Verdi's Otello, and the end of Strauss' Don Juan, which is said to portray the stabbing of the protagonist.]

The Sevenths, Major and Minor

With the sevenths, there is no such clear antithesis as with the thirds and sixths. Perhaps it is best to begin by showing that the minor seventh, like the minor third and sixth, is expressive of painful feelings:

[''Cricifixus'' by Binchois, c. 1440, the orchestral passage ending the Simpleton's lament in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, 1869, Mimi's crying out woefully at Rudolf's groundless jealousy (''Mi grida ad ogni istante…'') from Puccini's La Boheme, 1896, and others.]

[After extensive discussion about the minor seventh in different contexts, Deryck turns to the rather more elusive major seventh. There is only one example here, the final duet of Radames and Aida O terra addio, which may be said to be one of the rare instances when a major key expresses painful feelings, in this case ''the hopelessness of their longing''.]

The Seconds, Major and Minor

As with the sevenths, there is no clear-cut antithesis between the major and minor seconds. And again, we may begin by showing the painful nature of the minor interval (Ex. 35).

[Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, 1789, the point where ''Ferrando is in a fury of grief at his betrayal of Dorabella'', Strauss' Don Juan, 1888, portraying his ''death, or, according to others, expressing the feeling of Lenau's lines on the ageing libertine, which preface the score - 'the fuel is burnt out, and all is cold and dark upon the hearth.'']

[The major second is another elusive note, ''largely neutral one, common to both major and minor systems''. Examples include Mahler's The Song of the Earth, 1908-9, the last section of which ''expresses his infinite longing''.]

[The fourths are skipped for the sake of brevity.]

The Augmented Fourth or Diminished Fifth

The augmented fourth and the diminished fifth are, of course, the same note; […] Its relationship to the tonic is that particular tension which we have mentioned earlier as embodying the 'flaws' in the harmonic series, and in the whole musical scheme of things - diabolus in musica. […] When composers have wished to isolate this tension, they have usually done so by taking the interval between the tonic and the sharp fourth: this should normally act as a modulation to the dominant (see Ex. 38); but when it is exposed without any resolution of any kind, it becomes diabolus in musica indeed, for it acts as a 'flaw' which destroys the integrity of the tonic key - thus removing the music outside the categories of human joy and sorrow inherent in the scheme of things; it is hardly surprising that composers should have used it to embody 'Old Nick' himself, his deputies, substitutes, and influences:

[Examples range from Buxtehude in 1683 to Britten in 1954. Included are Don Giovanni's terrified cry ''Ohime'' when he offers his hand to the Statue in the end of Mozart's opera, 1787; three examples from Liszt: from the beginnings of the Dante Sonata and the Dante Symphony, both set in Inferno, 1837 and 1855, and his ''Mephisto Waltz No. 2'', 1880. Boito in Mefistofele, 1867, and Gounod in Faust, 1859, also used it, as did Saint-Saens in his Danse Macabre, 1874, Busoni is his Doktor Faust and many, many others. After listing all these examples, Deryck applies a healthy dose of cynicism and supplies a touching self-reference:]

All of which makes one wonder how much composers have been influenced by the phrase diabolus in musica. Only Gounod had anything to say about his augmented fourth; but he did not mention it by name, and was obviously under the illusion that he had made a profound discovery! To try and elucidate the point, I am forced back on my own experience; I trust I shall be forgiven if for a moment I mention small music in connection with great. When I made a setting of Burns's poem Tam O'Shanter, I had led Tam as far as the church and reached the key of F; I expected some 'inspiration' to descend on me to express the diablerie of the 'witches and warlocks' dancing Scots reels in the house of God, and it descended in the shape of a bagpipe drone not of F and C, but of F and B natural. The interval became pervasive, and as the dance got wilder, the music moved into B major, apparently of its own accord. At that time, although the term diabolus in musica was of course familiar to me, I had not yet begun to investigate the properties of the augmented fourth or diminished fifth as an expressive tension, much less made the above collection of musical demonology. Hence, if it is admitted that the mysterious thing known as 'inspiration' functions in the same way with composers of no account as with the great, the all-important difference lying in the quality of it and the ability to build on it, it would seem likely that composers have turned unconsciously to this interval to express the devilish, for its actual sound, which derives from the 'flaw' in the harmonic series, just as they have turned instinctively to the major third for its naturally joyful sound.

[Here follow extensive discussions of the vitalizing agents - volume, time, and pitch - and brief mention of the characterizing ones, that is tone-colour and texture. All these are in their own way important, but all are also of secondary importance to the tonal tensions.]

Some Basic Terms of Musical Vocabulary

So far, the attempt to analyse the functioning of musical language has necessitated that most dubious procedure, the breaking down of an indivisible unity into its component parts, which have no genuine separate existence. There are, strictly speaking, no such things as 'the major third', 'quick tempo', 'loud volume', etc., considered apart from the innumerable contexts in which they occur.


Our justification is that this method is the only possible one, and we are now going to try and put the parts together again with a better idea how they are likely to interfuse with one another for expressive purposes. The first step must be the examination of small-scale examples of the total functioning of musical language - combinations of two or more notes into those short phrases which are the basic terms of musical vocabulary. Once again, though, various uses of these terms will have to be separated from their contexts, and examples will have to be gathered from different periods and different composers, to establish the emotive significance of each term. In fact, as we shall now be dealing, not with single notes, but with melodic patterns, we shall be playing, a little more seriously than usual, the game known as 'twisted tunes'.

This piece of foolery, which crops up from time to time in professional musical circles, has afforded a good deal of harmless amusement in its time, as a radio feature, a parlour game, and a stand-by for anyone planning a musical quiz. It goes like this: having discovered a case of two composers utilizing the same bit of tune, one intrigues people by demonstrating the fact, or by trying to confuse them as to which is which. And there the matter usually ends: few try to puzzle out why such resemblances should be.

[Here there is a comparison between Wagner's Parsifal and Verdi's Otello: both at one place use ''the same triadic phrase - 1-3-5-6-5 in the minor system''. The former is Parsifal's agonizing cry ''Erlöse'' after receiving Kundry's ''soul-seducing kiss'', and the latter is the instrumental passage that accompanies Othello's looking down on the sleeping Desdemona, still loving her yet determined to kill her. Clearly, this is no case of imitation: Wagner died before Verdi even composed Otello, and the Italian Maestro had never heard Parsifal when he came to deal with the Moor in music. So:]

But how are we to explain the similarity, or rather the near-identity? Coincidence? There are an enormous number of them in music. Before trying to answer the question, let us first assemble our collection of such 'coincidences', as they have occurred throughout the ages. But although it is necessary to play at 'twisted tunes', a pledge is given that there will be no 'twisting' of the kind whereby you can prove anything. In giving examples of, say, 8-7-6-5, anything only approximate like 8-7-6-4, or 8-7-5-3 will be shunned like the plague. In any case, there are far too many exact similarities for us to bother with approximations.

Ascending 1-(2)-3-(4)-5 (Major)

We have postulated that to rise in pitch is to express an outgoing emotion; we know that, purely technically speaking, the tonic is the point of repose, from which one sets out, and to which one returns; that the dominant is the note of intermediacy, towards which one sets out, and from which one returns; and we have established that the major third is the note which 'looks on the bright side of things', the note of pleasure, of joy. All of which would suggest that to rise from the tonic to the dominant through the major third - or in other words to deploy a major triad as a melodic ascent 1-3-5 is to express an outgoing, active, assertive emotion of joy. Composers have in fact persistently used the phrase for this very purpose (Ex. 53).

[Examples range from Byrd in 1611 to Vaughan Williams in 1931. They include three from Mozart alone: the climax of Belmonte's opening aria (''Und bringe mich, und bringe'') from The Seraglio, the orchestral opening of Fiordiligi's ''Come scoglio'' from Cosi fan tutte, and the greeting of the chorus to Pamina and Tamino in The Magic Flute. There is one example from the Magnificat of Liszt's Dante Symphony, the passage sung on the words ''In Deo salutaris''. Beethoven is presented with the opening of ''Gloria'' from his Mass in D, Stravinsky with ''the only moment of joy'' in his opera Oedipus Rex, namely when ''Creon relates the words of the oracle - 'The God has spoken: avenge Laius, avenge the crime' (joyful satisfaction at having found the reason for the plague which is destroying Thebes, and being able to pursue a line of action which will remove it.)'' There is one important point about these examples: they present somewhat different aspects of the same pattern:]

We may as well clear up a thorny point at the start. It is not 'twisting' to say that 1-3-5 can materialize in composers' inspiration as 1-2-3-5, 1-3-4-5, or 1-2-3-4-5 […] And it is obviously desirable to exemplify, not only the basic term itself, but the two or three different forms it can take. However, to jumble the different forms together in a block example might awaken suspicions that it had been difficult to find exact examples, and that variants had been dragged in to fill historical gaps. (The opposite is the case - it has been difficult to choose a few examples from the plethora of material.) Wherefore, the four different variants of the basic term have been separated, each with examples in chronological order.

[Two notes more about the musical examples in this section. One of them is the opening of ''Rock around the Clock'' which ''swept the world in 1956 - as sung on the record by its exponent Bill Haley, who substituted 1-3-5, with unerring instinct, for the actual tune's less ebullient 1-2-3.'' This ''pop'' example is in the company of Johann Strauss from 1867, tempo di valse scored for violins and played piano. This is probably the only musical example in the whole book the identity of which Deryck does not disclose. He mentions only that it ''needs no comment''. Consultation with the excellent appendix apparatus reveals exactly what one suspects: The Blue Danube Waltz, or An der schönen blauen Donau if you prefer the original title; see p. 5 in this score.]

[Keep also in mind, as later mentioned by Deryck, that the so called vitalizing agents can significantly change the appearance of the phrase, though not its emotional character. For instance:]

Naturally the vitalizing agents express the degree and kind of joy: for example, the quiet, calm, assured joy at Berlioz's Resurrection Chorus - piano 4/4 moderato, even rhythm, legato; and the violently animated, vociferous joy of Beethoven's Gloria - fortissimo, allegro, impulsive rhythm, non-legato.


Ascending 5-1-(2)-3 (Major)

To leap from the dominant up to the tonic, and thence to the major third, with or without the intervening second, is equally expressive of an outgoing emotion of joy.

[Examples range from Compere c. 1510 to Delius in 1930. Notable ones include the so-called ''Sword Motive'' from Wagner's The Ring, the idée fixe of Berlioz's Fantastic Symphony, and a folk-tune from the Coronation Scene of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov.]


Ascending 1-(2)-3-(4)-5 (Minor)

Substituting the minor for the major third in the 1-3-5 progression, we shall expect to find the resulting phrase expressive of an outgoing feeling of pain - an assertion of sorrow, a complaint, a protest against misfortune - and we shall not be disappointed.

[Examples range from an anonymous Italian composer c. 1470 to Bartok in 1930. For example, Tamino's cry for help (''Zu Hilfe, zu Hilfe, sonst bin ich verloren'') from Mozart's The Magic Flute, several instances from Schubert's gloomy song cycle Winterreise, such as the telling phrases ''You who once rushed along so gaily, impetuous stream, how still you are now, with never a sound to greet me'' from ''Auf dem Flusse'', father's plead to his sons from Bartok's Cantata Profana and the ''pathetic and bitter popular song 'Brother can you spare a dime' - the protest of the out-of-work American war hero.'']

[Deryck concludes this section by declaring that those ''writers who connect the opening of the slow movement of Schubert's Ninth Symphony with the feeling of Die Winterreise are not mistaken''. He also suggests that the opening of Mahler's Second Symphony may be understood as ''a fierce protest against suffering''.]

Ascending 5-1-(2)-3 (Minor)

If the major version of 5-1-3 stresses joy pure and simple, by aiming at the major third, the minor version expresses pure tragedy, by aiming at the minor third. And to move upward firmly and decisively from the lower dominant, via the tonic, to the minor third, gives a strong feeling of courage, in that it boldly acknowledges the existence of tragedy and springs onward (upward) into the thick of it, as composers have realized.

[For example, Wagner and his musical description of tragic heroes in The Ring: the opening of the ''Volsung'' motive that refers to the ''brave but long-suffering hero Siegmund''; the first notes of the phrase ''attached to him when the Valkyrie comes to announce his death (he sings it to her again and again, first questioningly, then defiantly)''; and the beginning of Siegfried's heroic motive, ''perhaps the supreme example of the phrase''. Also, Otello's defiant cry ''Ho un arma ancor'' after which he stabs himself in the end of Verdi's eponymous opera.]

[Deryck suggests (highly speculatively!) that these examples may explain a good deal about the finale of Brahms' First Piano Concerto, its opening being perhaps an expression of ''grief-stricken youth's courageous, even heroic resolve to leave anguish and consolation, and get on with the business of life - in the midst of which, as Schumann's sudden extinction had made clear to him, we are in death?'' The Schumann-reference is because the first movement of the concerto was reportedly inspired by his demise at the age of 46.]

Descending 5-(4)-3-(2)-1 (Major)

If to fall in pitch expresses incoming emotion, to descend from the outlying dominant to the point of repose, the tonic, through the major third, will naturally convey a sense of experiencing joy passively, i.e. accepting or welcoming blessings, relief, consolation, reassurance, or fulfillment, together with a feeling of 'having come home'.

[For example, the opening phrase of Handel's sublime aria ''Ombra mai fu'' from Xerxes, where the great Persian warrior is ''represented as passively enjoying the delights of his garden''; the opening phrase from Schubert's equally beautiful ''Der Lindenbaum'', where ''the jilted lover finds comfort and consolation in his favourite linden-tree''; and Zerlina's ''pacifying her jealous lover'' in Mozart's Don Giovanni (''Batti, batti, o bel Masetto'', to be exact). Towards the end of the section Deryck again extends ''the interpretation drawn from musico-verbal contexts to a purely musical one'', this time discussing the broad major theme from Carl Nielsen's Fifth Symphony: ''an excited welcoming of the relief which has been expectantly striven for, a triumphant acceptance of joyous fulfilment.'']

Descending 5-(4)-3-(2)-1 (Minor)

Substituting the minor for the major third in the descending 5-3-1 progression, we have a phrase which has been much used to express an 'incoming' painful emotion, in a context of finality: acceptance of, or yielding to grief; discouragement and depression; passive suffering; and the despair connected with death.

[For example, again Schubert's ''Der Lindenbaum'', the lover's rejecting the consoling thought of dying peacefully beneath the linden-tree: ''Ich muss auch heute wandern''. Also, Dido in Berlioz's The Trojans, with his ''dramatic and despairing cry'' that he wants to die: ''Je vais mourir!''; the opening of Verdi's Requiem; the despair of Serena in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess; the lament of Xenia in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov; the Arioso dolente from Beethoven's Sonata Op. 110; and the lamentoso opening of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony. Some of these examples, such as the last two, contain additions such as ''a final major seventh, which adds a more bitter feeling to the basic mood.'']

Arched 5-3-(2)-1 (Minor)

To rise from the lower dominant over the tonic to the minor third, and fall back to the tonic with or without the intervening second, conveys the feeling of a passionate outburst of painful emotion, which does not protest further, but falls back into acceptance - a flow and ebb of grief. Being neither complete protest nor complete acceptance, it has an effect of restless sorrow.

[For example, the ''Lachrymosa''-themes from the Requiems of both Mozart and Verdi; the beginning of Schubert's ''Auf dem Wasser zu Singen'' or the ending of his ''Gute Nacht''; the renunciation of love from Wagner's The Rhinegold: ''Nur wer der Minne Macht versagt''; and perhaps most poignantly of all, Violeta's aria from the last act of Verdi's La Traviata: ''Addio del passato bei sogni ridenti'', that is her bidding ''farewell to the past, to the fair smiling dreams''.]

1-(2)-3-(2)-1 (Minor)

To base a theme on the tonic, only moving out as far as the minor third, and returning immediately, is to 'look on the darker side of things' in a context of immobility, neither rising up to protest, nor falling back to accept. Composers have frequently used this progression to express brooding, an obsession with gloomy feelings, a trapped fear, or a sense of inescapable doom, especially when it is repeated over and over.

[For example: ''Dies Irae'' and ''Confutatis Maledictus'' (the bass line) from Mozart's Requiem; Don Giovanni ''suddenly transfixed by fear as the flames of hell flicker around him'' - ''Da qual tremor insolito'' - in Mozart's opera; the ominous chorus calling ''Marguerite'' in the Church Scene from Gounod's Faust; the Funeral March and opening theme of the first movement from Chopin's Second Sonata; the composer ''said nothing about this theme at all, but surely we need not talk of 'pure music' now'', Deryck adds. He mentions that the phrase is common to the closing bars of the first movement of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and the opening theme of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto.]

[It should by now be clear how Deryck's method operates and what he is trying to achieve. So the remaining ''basic terms of musical vocabulary'' shall be skipped for the sake of brevity. We are instead continuing with something less technical but every bit as provocative.]

[But before that it may be useful to remind the reader that Deryck was a composer himself, though minor and occasional one. Nevertheless, he must have had this kind of special insight into the process of musical composition that cannot be learned by any other way except through personal experience. I suggest you keep this in mind while reading his highly speculative ventures into the minds of great composers.]

The Process of Musical Communication

Having isolated the elements of musical expression, and identified the basic terms of musical vocabulary, we have to some extent prepare the way for an attack on the main problem - how a large-scale musical work functions expressively as a whole. But before we can turn our attention to this, a number of important questions remain to be answered. How, precisely, does music communicate the composer's feeling to the listener? Granted that the same phrases are used over and over again to 'express' the same emotions, how are they made to 'convey' composers' own personal experience of these emotions, and of various shades of these emotions? To phrase it another way, how is a musical phrase made to bear a particular 'content'? What is content, in reality? How does it get into the music? And how does it get out of it again, and into the listener? Only by answering these questions can we come to understand exactly in what sense is music expressive, what sort of things it can express, and how far we can hope to give a sense of them in words.


To begin at the beginning: how does a musical work originate in the composer's mind? Normally as a conception. This can arise in four main ways. (1) From a literary text which the composer feels an urge to set to music (masses, anthems, songs, some operas and oratorios). (2) From a 'literary' idea which the composer feels an urge to use either as a basis for a vocal and instrumental composition (some operas and oratorios) or as a programme for a purely instrumental work (symphonic poems, and programme-symphonies like Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique). (3) From an ideal or concept which the composer feels drawn to use as the basis of a purely instrumental work without a specific programme (Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, or Carl Nielsen's Inextinguishable). (4) From a 'purely musical' impulse - the desire, say, to write 'a great symphony' (Schubert's Ninth).

What motivates a conception? Why does a composer suddenly feel an impulse to write a work founded on a certain text, programme, idea, or musical genre? Something more than a passing whim, surely: it must be that he has something to say, whether he knows it or not. In other words, a certain complex of emotions must have been seeking an outlet, a means of expression, of communication to others; a state of affairs of which the composer may have been quite aware, or only half aware, or completely unaware. The moment of conception is the moment in which the nature of the complex emotions become entirely clear to his conscious mind - except in the case of a 'purely musical' impulse: here the emotional stimulus of the conception often remains almost entirely unconscious right through the whole process of composition, and beyond it, since it is finding expression in the inexplicit language of music, which is emotionally unintelligible to the conscious minds of its most powerful exponents.

And what is meant by a conception? Usually a vague sense of the nature, mood, and shape of the work to be composed, with the separate parts and the actual material as yet unrealized, or only partly realized. Examples are Beethoven's conception of a great symphony in honour of Napoleon which resulted in the Eroica, and Wagner's decision to make Siegfried and the Nibelung myth the subject of a new type of opera - music-drama - which materialized in The Ring.

What is the next stage in the act of musical creation? The event known as inspiration - the sudden materialization of a musical idea in the composer's mind. It has been called 'next' stage, though it may in fact precede or accompany the conception. An example of the former is the Hebrides Overture of Mendelssohn. Writing home during his Scottish tour, he said: 'In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, the following came into my head there'*; and he noted down the opening theme of the work in his letter. The inspiration came first, then; but the conception (that of a 'seascape' overture) must have followed close. Conception and inspiration can be simultaneous: when Schubert read Goethe's poem 'The Erl King' and sat straight down and set it to music then and there, he must have experienced the conception (a tone-painting of a gallop through a stormy night) and the inspiration (the drumming accompaniment and expressive vocal line) more or less at a single mental event. But frequently, inspiration takes its time in following the initial conception. William Byrd and Hugo Wolf pondered over words, the latter sometimes waiting for years for inspiration to arrive; Wagner brooded deep and long over mythology; Haydn, in his later years, prayed; Beethoven wrestled; Cesar Franck played other men's music; Stravinsky sits at the piano and probes. Ultimately, however, what eventually turns up, whether quickly or slowly, whether 'pure' or in connexion with words and ideas, is musical inspiration.

[*Mendelssohn's words are sourced as ''letter to his family, 7 August, 1829''. After a two quotations on inspiration more, one by Copland and one by Byrd, Deryck continues with the reportedly mysterious origins of this suspicious phenomenon:]

But inspiration does not come from nowhere: nothing can come out of nothing. Music as we know it could not be created at all but for the existence of a long tradition of past music; and every composer draws continually on his experience of this tradition - which cannot be anywhere else, for him, but in his own unconscious mind. In the composer's unconscious is stored all the music he has ever heard, studied, or written himself; some of it, to use the Freudian term, is 'pre-conscious', i.e. more or less accessible to the conscious faculty of memory, but most of it is forgotten, or half-forgotten. And it is from this storehouse that inspiration must come: any new musical idea which suddenly 'comes into the composer's head' must be created in some way or other out of his experience of the music of his predecessors and contemporaries (and of his own music), which belongs to the vast mass of life-experience retained in his unconscious. In other words, what we call 'inspiration' must be an unconscious creative re-shaping of already existing materials in the tradition.

This unconscious process has always been regarded as an ultimate mystery, but our identification of the basic terms of musical language, in Chapter 3, offers us a chance of coming to grips with the problem at last. For in the music examples in that chapter, we have a mass of detailed evidence to support the hypothesis that inspiration is an unconscious re-shaping of already existing material: all the 'inspirations' assembled there have quite obviously arisen out of the various composers' experience of the music of their predecessors. Our hypothesis is, in fact, already confirmed in one particular field - that of melody - and we may use this fact as a starting-point for our investigation of the problem of inspiration. No doubt the unconscious process of re-shaping must also occur in the fields of harmony and rhythm; but let us ignore these for the moment, and concentrate entirely on the melodic element, since we have the evidence at our disposal, and since melody, as we have tried to show, is the fundamental basis of musical language. We can begin from this undeniable fact: that the 'basic term' type of inspiration, as profusely exemplified in Chapter 3, is clearly a matter of reproducing certain well-worn melodic formulae in new guises.

At first sight, this would seem to be a bewildering state of affairs. Many of the inspirations in the music examples of Chapter 3 are of the highest order; yet how can there be anything 'inspired' about a process which merely reproduces, in slightly different form, something which has already been used many times before? How are we to reconcile this constant reliance on the same melodic material with the indisputable fact of the creative vitality of 'inspiration'? Before we can solve this problem, we must first answer the preliminary question (posed at the beginning of Chapter 3 but left unanswered there): how is it that composers do return again and again to the same few scraps of melody?

There can be only three possible explanations of the fact that a handful of melodic phrases have been used over and over again: plagiarism, unconscious 'cribbing', and coincidence. The first of these may be ruled out straightaway since, apart from isolated examples like Handel and Bononcini, composers have not been guilty of intentionally stealing other men's themes as basis for their own works; and in any case, we are concerned only with unintentional, unconscious resemblance.

Unconscious cribbing seems a fairly obvious explanation in certain cases, where the 'inspiration' is clearly a reproduction of another composer's idea in easily recognizable form: here 'inspiration' functions simply as the sudden return to consciousness of an actual theme by another composer, once heard, since forgotten or half-forgotten, and now no longer recognized when it reappears.

[Here Deryck gives as an example the famous incident with Manuel de Falla (from his biography by Jaime Pahissa). In short, the opening theme of Nights in the Gardens of Spain came to de Falla very much like a genuine inspiration. Later he was horrified to discover that it appears note for note the same in a zarzuela by one Amadeo Vives. The mystery was explained when it was remembered that both composers had stayed at the same Madrid house and had ''stolen'' the tune from the same blind violinist under the window. Deryck then continues with other, much more interesting, examples:]

Similarly Wagner, rehearsing Act 3 of The Mastersingers one day, and arriving at Hans Sachs's words 'Mein Freund, in holder Jugendzeit', suddenly realized, and pointed out with a smile, that the melody was straight out of Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor. And others have noticed that in the The Ring, the Rhinemaidens' motive appears to be from Mendelssohn's Melusine Overture, the theme accompanying Sieglinde's dream from Liszt's Faust Symphony, and the Nibelung motive from Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet - but here we run up against an obstacle. Is the last of these three examples in fact a case of 'unconscious cribbing'? We are all too apt to jump to conclusions in these matters. It is not certain that Wagner ever heard any of Schubert's chamber music; this may be just as much a coincidence as is the resemblance between the tragic themes of Parsifal and Verdi's Otello (Ex. 52).

[More details about ''Ex. 52'' were mentioned above. Deryck concludes that such examples of unconscious cribbing, even when pointed out by the composer himself, ''take us on shaky ground''. There is no simple explanation for such resemblances, and it would be as difficult to attribute them to unconscious cribbing as to deliberate plagiarism. At any rate, neither any of these nor both of them can account for the profundity of examples in Chapter 3. So we are left with the third and, at first glance, most unsatisfactory explanation:]

The answer to our problem, then, can only be coincidence - which would seem to be no answer at all, unless we are prepared to believe that the world is ruled by blind chance. Yet it is in fact the correct and perfectly satisfying answer, if we despoil the word of its acquired connotation of chance, and understand it in its simple generic sense of 'happening together' or 'happening in the same way'. For it is clear from the examples in Chapter 3 that, in tonal music, things just do happen over and over again in the same way, melodically - but for a very good reason. There are only twelve notes in the scale; and a tonal composer intent on expressing a certain emotion is limited to fewer; and there is not an infinite number of shapes into which he can weave the few notes at his disposal - in fact they will often fall quite naturally into those familiar patterns which we have called the basic terms of musical vocabulary. Given the structure of the scale, with its tonic and dominant, and that of the triad, with its third, these patterns were inevitable from the beginning: they might be described as propensities to group certain tonal tensions together in certain ways, which crystallized into habitual propensities, and were handed down unconsciously as elements of the musical heritage of Western Europe. Some of them, such as the 'wailing' minor 6-5, and the 'innocent' pentatonic (major) 1-3-5-6-5, must date back into pre-history; others, such as those involving the augmented fourth or the chromatic scale, are obviously of later date, and the process of their growth into habitual propensities could no doubt be accurately plotted by painstaking research into the history of expressive idioms in music.

It does not seem fanciful to suppose that, in the tonal composer's unconscious, a state of affairs exists which can be described metaphorically in the following way.* (1) Memories of the innumerable expressive uses of each of the tonal tensions must attach themselves together in groups, by the association of ideas (or, rather, by the association of feelings); and each group of this kind must be attached to a kindred group of memories of sense-experiences, life-experiences, and literary and artistic experiences, also by the association of feelings. (2) These composite groups must contain within them certain sub-groups, each attached to a specific melodic use of the tonal tension concerned, i.e. to one of the basic terms of musical vocabulary: for example, of the vast number of associations connected with the major sixth, many will be attached to the major 6-5, or 8-7-6-5, or 1-3-5-6-5, or to other patterns involving the major sixth, no doubt, not identified in this book. (3) Memories of the expressive uses of certain keys must also attach themselves together, by the association of feelings, and these groups must also attract memories of life- and art-experiences, thereby forming the well-known associations in composers' minds between certain keys and certain moods. Owing to individual idiosyncrasies difficult to analyze, these associations tend to vary from composer to composer, but there is a large measure of agreement (owing to the historical development of key-signatures, instruments, etc.): the 'tragic' C minor, for example, the 'common light of day' C major, the 'brilliant' D major, and the 'luxurious' D flat major. Naturally, in view of this, the various basic terms will be attracted with greater or less intensity to the different key-areas.

[*''One says 'metaphorically' because, as Freud admitted, one imagines a kind of topography, in discussing unconscious mental events, which doubtless bears no relation to the (so far undiscovered) physical reality. This latter must be akin to the intricate layout of the electronic brain, though naturally of infinitely greater complexity; in the meantime, one realizes that, although it is necessary to talk of a basic term as though it were a kind of spatial pattern, it is nothing more tangible than a kind of habitual propensity.'']

Returning now to the question of inspiration, and looking back to the music examples of Chapter 3, we can see that 'inspiration' can often mean 'the breaking through into consciousness of a particular basic term, in a certain form, from a certain key area'.


How does the process actually work? Let us try and imagine how inspiration of this kind would function in the case of a tonal composer who had conceived an opera on the subject of Hamlet. The opening (assuming it to be the same as Shakespeare's), with its combination of night, bitter cold, and armed guard, disquiet, and a foreboding of tragedy, would inevitably call forth inspiration from the key-area in his unconscious closely connected with such gloomy associations - undoubtedly a minor one, and if the composer were in the Mozart-Beethoven-Wagner succession, it could easily be C minor. In this area, the tonal tensions connected with tragic feelings (minor third) or with anguish (minor sixth) would be stimulated to rise to consciousness, already integrated into one of the basic terms - perhaps the 'heroic' rising 5-1-3, or the 'anguished' 6-5, or the 'brooding' 1-3-1, or perhaps a conflation of two or more, according as the composer felt the scene (and the result no doubt would be deployed in march rhythms, piano, in mysterious tone-colours and textures). Later, the ghost might well arouse the augmented fourth; and at the very end of the opera, Hamlet's dying speech might easily call up the descending chromatic scale (slow tempo, inevitably, and soft dynamic).

But in itself, all this is not enough. The inspiration may be of the highest or lowest order. If our imaginary composer is a tyro (or a genius on an off day), the basic terms will make their appearance as inspiration of the feeblest kind; if he is a great composer in the throes of true creation, they will materialize as the powerful inspiration out of which masterpieces are made. What determines the quality of an inspiration of this type? It can only be the vitality of the 'particular form' in which the basic term comes to the surface: in the unconscious of the genuinely great creative composer, the breath of life is blown into it in some way.

And what is it that blows this breath of life into a basic term? It can only be that mysterious, unconscious power, the creative imagination, which, in the words of Coleridge, 'instantly out of the chaos of elements or shattered fragments of memory, puts together some form to fit it….' And how does this creative imagination exert its influence on the stock material at its disposal? If we look at any of the examples in Chapter 3, one fact stands out unmistakably: the well-worn pattern of the two or more notes has been stamped afresh with a new creator's personality almost entirely by being given a particular rhythmic articulation at a given tempo. Volume, tone-colour, and texture may have played their parts in making the term the composer's own, but it is by being infused with an individual rhythmic life that it has really been created anew. So we may say that in inspirations made out of basic terms, the creative imagination must function mainly in the rhythmic sphere.*

[The footnote mentions three motets by Byrd which are an excellent example of the ''essentially rhythmic nature of the creative imagination'' because in all of them ''the volume is only implicit (there are no dynamic markings), and the tone-colour and texture are the basic, habitual, inescapable 'black-and-white' of the polyphonic period - the human voice and the a cappella choir.]

[For the sake of brevity, the rest of Deryck's important discussions of the creative imagination are omitted. In the section about rhythm the ''Gloria'' from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is extensively analysed, namely how he managed to create something glorious out of a rather ordinary thematic material. The section about melody takes as an example the opening of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and attempts to explain how the creative imagination might work without the benefit of any of the basic terms from Chapter 3. The discussion about harmony is of course confined mostly to Wagner's Tristan. In between there are relevant ''digressions'' on the content-form conundrum and on the other side of the equation, that is the conversion of 'pure' sound back in emotion by the mind of the receptive listener. The chapter ends with Beethoven's brilliantly succinct summary of the whole process of communication: Von Herzen - möge es wieder - zu Herzen gehn! - 'From the heart - may it go back - to the heart!']

[The last chapter consists mostly - though not entirely - of severely technical analysis of two large-scale works. I limit my selection to parts of the prefatory remarks, the general introduction about Mozart's music, and the concluding paragraphs.]

The Large-Scale Functioning of Musical Language

Everything that has gone before must have aroused in the reader's mind the question: 'What happens when we move off the plane of minutiae?' The initial theme of a movement may begin with a basic term, so that bit of it expresses that particular emotion - granted; but how does it go on after that? And what happens when this theme is developed, brought into contact with other themes, and 'worked out' in conjunction with them? Single phrases may be very expressive in themselves, but they have to be built up into an overall structure; and surely this building-up must proceed by the laws of purely musical logic, heedless of expressive considerations? Can a musical structure function continuously as expression, in reality? Is it not rather a purely musical pattern woven out of fragments of expressive material? And does not this account for what Hindemith calls the 'delirious, almost insane manner of appearance' of the emotions expressed in a piece of music?

In answer to these questions, we may reply with a sentence from Chapter 1 of this book: 'Music is no more incapable of being emotionally intelligible because it is bound by the laws of musical construction than poetry is because it is bound by the laws of verbal grammatical construction'. The artist who has something to communicate through the medium of his chosen language - be it speech or music - must be the master of that language, not its servant. We should laugh at a literary critic who maintained that verbal language had a logic of its own which made it incapable of coherent emotional expression; then let us laugh at the musical theorists who say the same of musical language - for it is they who have said so, and not (with one or two very recent exceptions) the composers. The whole misconception stems from some strange delusion that because music cannot organize its expressive terms into those of logical sequences of intellectual meaning peculiar to verbal syntax, it is debarred from any kind of coherent expression whatsoever: any idea that there might be entirely different but equally coherent kind of organization of expressive terms, peculiar to musical syntax - i.e that our so-called 'purely musical logic' might be just as much an expressive logic as is 'purely verbal logic' - seems far from the thoughts of most modern theorists.

[After showing in detail which motives, how and to what effect Tchaikovsky used in the finale of his Sixth Symphony, Deryck continues:]

Such an example shows clearly that music has its own method of coherent emotional expression, quite different from that of speech-language. This method is nothing more mysterious than the presentation of some general but clearly-defined attitude towards existence by the disposition of various terms of emotional expression in a significant order. And musical form is simply the means of achieving that order. The finale of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony is of course an instance of the simplest kind - a case of romantic rhetoric; but it is not thereby a false example. However complex and allusive the form of an expressive musical work may be, it is still simply the means whereby the composer has expressed an emotional attitude towards existence by imposing a meaningful order on expressive terms; and it is the continual failure to recognize this fact that is responsible for our generally ambiguous and fruitless approach to music - which can be summed up as 'form is form, and expression is expression, and never the twain shall meet'. Consider the normally intelligent commentary, so often encountered in musical biographies and concert-programmes, on a sonata-movement of an expressive masterpiece. The writer has obviously apprehended the basic emotions of the music through his innate musicality, since he has labelled the themes with emotional adjectives - say, 'the heroic first subject' and the 'sorrowful second theme'; but the moment that he has encountered the 'transition section' with its 'busy passage-work', and the 'development' with its 'fragmentation and re-integration of the main material', he has moved on to another plane altogether. It seems as if he must feel that expression gives way entirely to 'pure form' at these points, for we are suddenly faced with arid technical description such as 'in a short transition section a four-note rhythmic figure deriving from the second bar of the first subject is worked up in imitation, reaching a powerful climax in the key of the submediant'. After which we may well be switched back suddenly to the expressive plane: 'then follows the sorrowful second theme'.

Such writing is quite useless, not only because the layman cannot understand it and the professional does not need it, but for the more fundamental reason that the expressive significance of the 'transition section' (i.e., the emotion conveyed by this working-up of a fragment of the first subject) is not stated, and thus the ultimate point of the passage is ignored. Having stated that the composer began with a 'heroic' theme, the writer has neglected to tell us what happened to it, considered as a heroic theme; why should we care, then, whether it is heroic or not, if it suddenly becomes nothing more than a technical gambit? Of course, the actual sound of any passage is instinctively apprehended as emotion by all genuinely musical listeners - a category which may well include the commentator himself, who is merely defeated by the problem of trying to get it all into words; nevertheless, the fact remains that in all our writing and thinking about music, we do most unfortunately tend to preserve the fallacy that musical form cannot function continuously as expression, whereas in fact the two things are only two aspects of another of our indissoluble unities.


Emotion… creative imagination… the reader will be getting restive. Are musical compositions entirely the product of inspired somnambulism? Does the intellect play no part at all? What of the sheer hard work that goes in the art of composing?  When a composer comes to the task of building up his overall structure, does not his technique take over?

No one would wish to deny that a composer, however richly endowed with creative imagination, must possess a first-rate technique if he is to achieve satisfying forms, or that the acquiring and applying of such a technique are intellectual activities involving an enormous amount of hard work. But the question is, where exactly in the process of composition does the creative imagination leave off and the technique take over? The answer is, surprisingly enough, nowhere - as we realize when we look a little more closely at the question. It implies that first of all the creative imagination, working in the unconscious, provides an inspiration of some kind - say, a short melodic-rhythmic phrase; and that after that, the technique, applied by the conscious mind, begins the task of building up a form - a large scale pattern into which the inspiration is integrated. But this widespread conception of the process of musical creation is naïve in the extreme. There is no such simple 'first of all' and 'after that': technique is present at the very beginning, and the creative imagination keeps on working to the very end. The two move together hand in glove all the time, and are indeed nothing other than two different functions of the same faculty.

[Here follows an in-depth analysis of the relationship between technique and creative imagination. The extremes among great composers are Beethoven who struggled with nearly work of his, and Schubert who regularly poured out whole songs impromptu. Deryck finishes with an insightful touch on the latter and Mozart as opposed to slower, more intellectual and less instinctive composers (probably including himself), and an elaborate summing-up worth quoting in toto:]

Actually, anyone who has ever composed, on whatever level, knows that terrible moment when the brain goes on spinning notes from which the breath of life has been withdrawn, and however hard it tries, gets more and more bogged down in meaninglessness. […] Schubert (like Mozart) was one of the lucky ones, whose creative imagination rarely deserted him, and whose technique was often practically inseparable from it, for it apparently functioned much of the time in the same smooth, swift, somnambulistic way.

Summing up, we may say that the creative act in music is a unity - the transformation of a complex of emotions into musical form - normally manifesting itself as a continuous process divisible in to stages which overlap, as follows. (1) A complex of emotions within the composer's unconscious presses for an outlet - for expression, communication to others, in musical form. (2) The composer's 'ability to use his stored-up knowledge for the building up of forms' functions unconsciously, adumbrating a general overall pattern which the form will take: this we call 'the creative imagination providing a conception'. (3) The 'ability' functions again unconsciously, actually transforming the current of the basic emotion of the complex into a small-scale musical form: this we call 'the creative imagination providing inspiration'. (4) The 'ability' functions consciously, spinning the 'inspiration' into larger forms, which are continually scrutinized by the unconscious faculty of cognition, and accepted, modified, or rejected, according as they fulfil, or fail to fulfil, the demands of the original conception: this we call 'the technique building up the overall form under the control of the creative imagination'. (5) During the building up of the overall form, the 'ability' still manifests itself unconsciously all the time, transforming the other emotions of the complex into other small-scale musical forms, and these are also spun into larger forms by the 'ability' working consciously: this we call 'the creative imagination continually providing further inspirations for the technique to work on'. (6) The work stands complete as the accurate transformation of the composer's complex of emotions (content) into musical form (form) by the composer's 'ability' functioning unconsciously (creative imagination) as a transformer of single emotions into small-scale forms (inspirations), and consciously (technique) as a builder of small-scale forms into a large one (form); acting in its latter capacity (technique) as a realizer of the potentialities (conception) envisaged in its former capacity (creative imagination).

[Here the discussion becomes forbiddingly technical, including references to Hans Keller's celebrated Functional Analysis. One illuminating point about the numerous sketches for Eroica left by Beethoven is worth noting:]

A study of these sketches makes it quite clear that the technique is only doing on a large scale what the creative imagination (or the technique itself in Beethoven's case) does on a small one - building up the correct musical form of the composer's emotion. […] Just as the creative imagination, in putting together the small-scale form which is an inspiration, makes melodic, rhythmic and harmonic tensions interact in the most fruitful way for the composer's expressive purpose - rhythmically accenting or harmonically emphasizing this or that moment of rise and fall in pitch, this or that tonal tension, so can Beethoven's technique be seen functioning, on a larger scale, in building up the massive first movement of the Eroica Symphony. […] And it is impossible not to get the impression that the technique is only impatiently laboring its way towards some definite expressive end already envisaged by the creative imagination; and that the latter is only waiting all the time to recognize and ratify each scrap of it the moment it materializes, in the same way that it did while the Funeral March theme was being groped for.


Symphony No 40 in G minor (K. 550) by Mozart

Mozart may with truth be described as the most persistently misunderstood composer of all time: owing to his miraculous blend of intense emotion and perfect classic form, he has remained an enigmatic, ambiguous figure from his own day to ours. Although in each age he has been loved and admired in no uncertain measure, it has proved ultimately impossible to strike a balance, to see him steadily and see him whole.

His contemporaries were unable to understand him because he was so new: they complained of his bizarre effects, of his straining after unnatural emotionalism, and one writer declared him to be 'a sectary of that false system that divides the octave into twelve semitones' (!) To their ears, nurtured on the normal 'tasteful' classical style of the galant and rococo periods, Mozart's exploitation of the expressive power of music, in chromatic melodies and dissonant harmonies, appeared to be wild and perverse experiments; and the perfect (but ever-new) forms in which he controlled this turbulent material seemed to be bursting at the seams.


The romantics, on the other hand, could not understand him because by their time, half a century after his death, he had become a remote composer whose music was written in an outdated style. After the Beethovenian expressive revolution, they were beginning a further 'advance' towards conceiving music entirely as the most intense expression; and as they went on giving a more and more rhetorical emphasis to the emotive tensions and patterns of musical language, Mozart's subtle employment of the same tensions and patterns in the clear-cut outlines of eighteenth-century sonata-form appeared to be a purely artificial expression of emotion. The form, realized to be perfect now that the 'modernisms' had vanished, was everything. There were, of course, works in which Mozart appeared as an unmistakable forbear of the more turbulent brand of romanticism - the D minor and C minor piano concertos, the Statue music in Don Giovanni, the Requiem Mass - and these were acknowledged and admired as such; but with strange exceptions. For instance, at least the first and last movements of the Fortieth Symphony belong to this category; but Schumann seems not to have felt this at all. He was criticizing the poet Schubart's idea that keys are connected with certain emotions, and particularly his equating of G minor with 'displeasure, discomfort, worrying anxiety, discontented gnawing at the bit', and commented: 'Now compare this idea with Mozart's Symphony in G minor - that floating Grecian Grace!' In fact, as true Mozartians know, the key of G minor was nearly always used by Mozart for the emotions listed by Schubart, and not least in this symphony: never did a great composer and penetrating critic more openly betray a 'blind spot' than Schumann did here. Of course, Schubart was wrong in supposing keys to have universal connexions with particular emotions; as has been mentioned, the emotional connotations of keys are entirely a matter of the psychology of the individual composer. But his choice of words looks very much as though he might well have been thinking of Mozart.

Those romantics who actually worshipped Mozart did so entirely for his supposed 'divine purity'. Tchaikovsky and Brahms acknowledged this in their different ways: amid the heavily expressive romanticism of their own music, they looked back and glamourized him as a kind of musical angel. In short, the true essence of Mozart was inaccessible to the Romantics, since his music had become 'old music'.

Our own age has retained the romantic period's conception of Mozart as a 'pure' composer, but adopted a different attitude. Whereas most romantics sensed the emotion in the music, but were more fascinated by the apparent 'purity' of the expression, many modern musicians refuse to admit the presence of any emotion in the music at all: it has now become pure sound-structure, an intellectual and aesthetic delight. We are under constant pressure, from the written and spoken word, to make only a half-response to all music - to admire the form without apprehending it as expression - and especially so in the case of Mozart: the general judgment of the twentieth century, ratified during the 1956 bi-centenary celebrations, is that his music is 'impersonal' and consists of superbly-wrought sound-patterns not connected in any way with human attitudes and feelings.

This is sad ingratitude to a man who portrayed so eloquently the joys, sorrows, hopes, fears and desires of the very human characters in his operas, and who in general lavished upon us the riches of his heart and soul (as well as his mind) in some of the most moving music ever written. If our enjoyment and understanding of his art are not to be sadly impoverished, we cannot too strongly oppose the fashionable dogma. Mozart, like all other composers, wrote his music out of his total experience; far from being impersonal, it is in fact the expression of the richest personality in all musical history, for he was the most universal of the great composers. If this seems a large claim to make, consider how many sides to his character there are, as revealed in his music: a Christian spirituality, like Bach; a sense of the power and the glory of life, like Handel; a sense of fun, like Haydn; a grim, tragic power, like Beethoven; a mercurial wit, like Rossini; a wistful, 'innocent', child-like tenderness, like Schubert; a yearning intensity and demonic force, like Wagner; an erotic sensuality like Richard Strauss; a desolate melancholy and acute anguish, like Mahler. This long list can be heavily substantiated by many passages from his works. And there is, of course, a caressing charm, a kittenish playfulness, like only Mozart; an elegance, sophistication, and exquisite taste, like only Mozart. And all of these form the unity that was Mozart's balanced personality. In fact, the only thing that Mozart's music lacks is what the twentieth century declares it to consist of entirely - purity. It is not pure at all, as Palestrina is pure. It is far too human for that.


It should be clear by now that to say that a composer writes music out of his whole experience is not to entertain crude notions of music's dependency on life - to imagine, say, that the melancholy of the Fortieth Symphony was the immediate result of an influx of bills into the poverty-stricken composer's home, or that the comparative joy of the Jupiter arose out of the receipt of a large loan from a friend. An artist's emotions are not the playthings of trivial events, being rooted in his unconscious, where they form his basic life-attitudes; the Fortieth Symphony and the Jupiter are visions of the sadness and the joy of life respectively, as experienced by Mozart - not in his superficial, everyday reactions, but in his deep, enduring self.

To ask what was Mozart's 'state of mind' when he conceived and wrote the Fortieth Symphony in a fortnight or so in the summer of 1788, three years before his death, or to dismiss such speculations as irrelevant - both these approaches to the work are equally meaningless. His 'state of mind' was what it always was, a compound of many conflicting elements; and if physical deterioration and growing penury had brought melancholy uppermost, thereby helping to crystalize this last and finest of his G minor protests against life's terrible sadness, these misfortunes did not in the least prevent him from creating immediately afterwards the last and finest of his C major paeans of life's inexhaustible wellspring of gladness. He knew the naked emotional realities of life and could express them to the full in his music; the immediate 'state of mind' forced on the man by the contingencies of physical existence was not important to the creative artist.

We are assuming in advance that the Fortieth Symphony is a melancholy work, an assumption for which material proof will be forthcoming; and indeed true Mozart-lovers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have realized this instinctively, proving that prevailing fashions are all too often set by the uncomprehending. But it is precisely these fashions, these dogmas, that we are combating, not merely contradicting, but attempting to prove them wrong. My own first experience of the Fortieth Symphony, like that of many other people, was as a child, knowing nothing of musical history or aesthetics, or of the many writings about the symphony, but reacting instinctively with the comment 'What a sad piece of music!' Yet so excellent a musician as the late Richard Capell declared that he could see nothing of all this supposed melancholy in the work; the opening, he said, belonged to the world of comic opera, being very like the music given to the young girl Barbarina in Figaro, fretting over her lost pin. We can call this a blind spot, if we wish, but what are we to reply to it?

[Deryck does reply by showing in detail, through painstaking musical analysis, that such connections with the ''world of comic opera'' are sheer nonsense.]

[From this point on the analysis of Mozart's Fortieth becomes more and more technical, more and more incomprehensible for the layman. The rest is skipped and so is the whole about Vaughan Williams's Fifth, a work I have never heard a single note from. But before quoting the concluding paragraphs of the book, let's finish with Mozart and his ''miracle of formal-and-expressive unity'' in suitable style:]

My analysis has had to be expressed in the ambiguous medium of words, but let it not be thought that it is intended in any way as a 'translation': it is meant to be a clue, to lead back to the music itself. The words 'anguish', 'joy', 'despair', and 'obsession' are only hazy (but, one hopes, basically accurate) symbols for the particular kind and degree of anguish, joy, despair, and obsession which Mozart expressed precisely in his Fortieth Symphony, and which we can only experience by listening to that work.


We may say then that, whatever else the mysterious art known as music may eventually be found to express, it is primarily and basically a language of the emotions, through which we directly experience the fundamental urges that move mankind, without the need of falsifying ideas and images - words or pictures. A dangerous art, in fact, as was realized by Plato, the fathers of the medieval church, and Tolstoy, all of whom wished to control and confine the use of it. But under the guidance of the intellect and the enlightened moral sense, it is surely as safe as anything human can be - as safe at least, shall we say, as religion or science.


Music is, after all, as Schoenberg said, 'the language in which a musician unconsciously gives himself away…. One day the children's children of our psychologists will have deciphered the language of music. Woe, then, to the incautious who thought his innermost secrets carefully hidden and who must now allow tactless men to besmirch his most personal possessions with their own impurities. Woe, then, to Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann - those men who used their human right of free speech in order conceal their true thoughts - when they fall into such hands! Is the right to keep silent not worthy of protection?'*

[*''Schoenberg: 'Human Rights', in Style and Idea.'']

These are wise, if cryptic words. The composer, expressing unconscious emotions in the inexplicit language of music, and often not fully realizing himself exactly what he is saying, does indeed 'gives himself away': being certain that whatever he has said can only be felt by the musically sensitive, and not clearly identified, explained and discussed, he can let out all that he obscurely feels in the depths of his being, while still remaining 'silent' (i.e. inexplicit). Wherefore it seems likely that the fundamental (i.e. psychological) 'content' of some musical masterpieces may be quite appalling and even horrifying; and when the language of music is finally deciphered, some terrible secrets may be revealed, not only about the particular composer, but about humanity at large. Any superficial approach here will be fatal: we all mistrust those so-called 'psychological analyses' which reduce a work of art narrowly to some supposed and only half-proven complex or neurosis of the artist, existing mainly in the psychologist's own imagination. A psychologist of deep insight and great understanding will be called for; perhaps psychology will have to link hands again with philosophy and metaphysics before the language of music yields up its innermost secrets. However it may be, these must eventually be yielded up, and we should not shrink from them; for man's besetting virtue is curiosity, and his ultimate quest is to discover the truth about himself.

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