1902 Encyclopedia > Music > Definition of "Music", "Harmony" and "Melody"

(Part 1)


Definition of "Music", "Harmony" and "Melody"

Music 1 is the art which employs sounds as a medium vince of the literature, of sculpture, of painting, of acting, or of architecture. Whereas literature, whether in verse or prose, describes or states emotions, or perceptions, or impressions; whereas sculpture imitates the outward forms of animated beings, and physiognomically, either in the face, or, to speak more broadly, in the moulding and attitude of the entire figure, displays personal character and the effect of passion upon it; whereas painting vitalizes with colour the forms sculpture, and extends its range of subjects from animate to inanimate nature ; and whereas acting adds speech to the written words of the dramatists, and enforces or even qualities their meaning by vocal inflexion, and illustrates it by changeful gesture, thus giving the mobility of life to the forms of sculpture and painting; —music embodies the inward feelings of which all those other arts can but exhibit the effect. Those other arts are imitative in respect of their reproducing natural objects or circumstances ; it is otherwise with architecture, which makes but conventional reference to nature, and wholly arbitrary application of the lines, the lights, and the shadows of the natural world; and in this particular music has an analogy to architecture which it has not to the other fine arts. In the matter of expression also, architecture may be compared with music in the earlier stages of its development, since representing and also stages of its development, since representing and also prompting a general idea of solemnity, or grandeur, or gaiety ; but music left architecture far behind when, in later times, it assumed the power of special, individual, and personal utterance of every variety of passion. The indefiniteness of musical expression furnishes no argument that music is inexpressive, but is one of the qualities that place it on the highest level of art-excellence, enabling it to suggest still more than it displays, and to stimulate the imagination of the witness as much as to exercise that of the artist. The musician is then a poet, whether we regard the term in its primary sense of "maker," the exact translation of the Greek word by which versifiers were styled in early English, or in its applied sense of one who expresses thought and feeling through the medium of highly-exited imagination. Music then, is that one of the fine arts which appropriates the phenomena of sound to the purposes of poetry, and has a province of its own in many respects analogous to, but yet whoolly distinct from, that of each of the outer arts. It is common to style it "the universal language ;" but the definition is untrue, for in every age and in every clime there are varieties of musical idiom which are unsympathetic, if not unintelligible, to other generations than those among whom they are first current, and, still more, the very principles that govern it have been and are so variously developed in different times and places that music which is delightful at one period or to one people is repugnant at another epoch or to a different community. An attempt will here be made to sketch the progress of the art through Western civilization, to show how it has been changed from artificial or calculated into natural or spontaneous, and to describe some of the chief forms of it s manifestation.2

To define the special science, and the art which is its application, that is denoted by our word music, the Greek language has two other words, harmonia or harmonike and melodia, —harmonia implying the idea of "fitting," and so being a term for propriety or general unity of parts in a whole, not in our limited technical sense of combined sounds, but with reference to the whole principle of orderly and not specially tonal regulation, melodia implying the rising and falling of the voice in speech, and being applied only at a subsequent epoch to a succession of musical notes.3

We thus owe our three chief musical terms to the Greeks, and in our prevailing system much more besides; they themselves, however, owed all to earlier sources, for the essentials of their knowledge and practice are traced to Egypt.

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