25 DECEMBER 1880, Page 14



AMONG the regions over which Science is eagerly waiting to extend her sovereignty, none is more alluring than the domain • The Power of Sound. By Edmund Gurney, late Fellow 0 Trinity College, Cambridge. London: Smith, Hader, and Co. MO.

of zesthetics. The physiology and psychology of Art present a series, or rather a labyrinth of problems whose interest, but also whose complexity, increases at every step. Such advance as has yet been made has been the result of physiological, rather

than of psychological inquiries. No works, at least, which deal with what may be called the philosophy of the subject can be described as comparable in importance to the Ton-empfin-

dungen. of Helmholtz for the physical groundwork of the per- ception of music, or to Darwin's Origin of Man for the genesis of delight in special modifications both of sound, colour, and form. But for the most part, the researches of these great men bear only indirectly on strictly artistic problems, and among the writers who have discussed these more fully, we find our- selves too often obliged to choose between methods of treatment defective in two different ways. On the one hand, we have a school, of which Mr. Herbert Spencer may be taken as the- most eminent type, which discusses these problems in a strictly scientific spirit, but with a comparatively feeble power of actually realising the pleasures which Art is intended to convoy_ And Art, so to speak, is a web so inextricably woven of emotional as well as rational elements, that no logical acuteness can compensate for the lack of natural sensibilitios in the observer. On the other hand, we have a school, b41fiently represented by Mr. Ruskin for the arts of painting and architecture, and of which, in the domain of music, Wagner forms the most con- spicuous type,—a school amply provided\with the necessary sensibilities, but not able, perhaps not evel anxious, to give- a strictly logical presentation and arrangem nt to the mass of emotion with which it is inspired. The utterances of critics of this school will be interesting and suggestrie, so far as they deal with the subjective experiences of the individual ; but as soon as they attempt to generalise, they are apt to become confused and misleading.

The volume before us has succeeded, we think, to an unusual degree in avoiding these opposite dangers. The author's logical faculty is undeniable, and at the same time the book affords alundant evidence of a vivid, though, perhaps, a highly idiosyncratic appreciation of Art in more than one direction.

Thebook covers a wider ground than its title indicates. The- preface states that its chief object is "to examine, in such a

way as a person without special technical knowledge may follow, the general elements of musical structure, and the nature, sources, and varieties of musical effect ; and, by the- light of that inquiry, to mark out clearly the position of music,. in relation to the faculties and feelings of the individual, to the other arts, and to society at large." But this inquiry, on Mr. Gurney's method, necessitates much preliminary discussion on Art in a more general form ; and a chapter, for instance, on "The Elements of a Work of Art," which appears to us to be- among the most original parts of the book, has as much reference' to the other arts as to music.

Such a discussion is the more interesting, inasmuch as Art in general has for the most part been treated of by critics whose- specialty was some form of visual art, and who have too often regarded music in something of the spirit amusingly shown by a biographer of Leasing whom Mr. Gurney quotes :—

"A gentleman of ability and eminence tells us of Lessing's not being able to endure music, which obliged him to 'rush out into the air, in order to breathe freely ;' and naively continues, 'How far, if' at all, this curious physical fact might have influenced his opinion on the subject, we cannot tell. It is probable that a treatise by Leasing on the science of Sound and the art of Music would have- given us another occasion for admiring his immense erudition, the- vigour of his criticism, and the clearness of his conclusions."

This piece of simplicity is but an extreme instance of the con- fusion of mind with which the subject of music is surrounded.- Enthusiasts and systematisers alike have failed to realise how many interweaving strains of emotion have to be disentangled,.

how much delicate psychological analysis has to be performed,.

before this most fascinating, but most perplexing, of the .Arts can be indriced to surrender even the outworks of her inex- pressible secret.

We would willingly follow Mr. Gurney, chapter by chapter, through his manifold trains of argument, but space will not permit of anything more than a brief indication of a few points of interest on which his view-either is entirely original, or develops existing theories in a novel manner. Thus, for instance, he insists on the existence of developed melody in two dimen- sions ; as being (that is to say) essentially the resultant of two factors, not merely of notes in pitch to which rhythmic adjust- ment supplies a mere framework, but (in every case) of just that particular set of time-relations in simultaneity with just that particular set of pitch-relations. The chapters (vii. and viii.), in which this thesis is developed contain, we think, much which will be found suggestive even by experienced musicians.

Again, the author sets forth with striking originality the two

aspects of melody, as structure and as motion,—a melodic form being, as it were, an ideal motion, "not an idealised quintessence of any sort of physical motion, but ideal in the primary Greek -sense of Ala, ideal as yielding a form, a unity to which all the parts are necessary in their respective places." In no other, -case, in fact, do we get motion,—i.e.,a succession of parts, formed into complete, organic wholes,—organic in the scientific sense that every part is indispensable to every other. But this ideal motion our author distinguishes with care from actual physical motion ; avoiding thus, or rather directly attacking, the tendency -of Helmholtz to rest the characteristic effects of music on a.nalogies to or adumbrations of physical motion, and inci- dentally exposing the confusion involved in such a conception as visible music (as set forth, for instance, by Professors Perry .and Ayrton). Visible motions may be as rhythmic as anything else can be, but since they lack the other indispensable element of definite pitch-relation, they can never, like melodic notes,

form an organic whole,—a series, that is to say, the successive items of which are mutually indispensable. Among other novel points, we may call attention to the account of the relations of harmony to melody in chapter xi., and the suggested explana-

tion (p. 273) of the distinction of character between major and minor keys.

Mr. Gurney's discussion on the "Origin of Music" (chapter vi. and elsewhere) is among the most interesting, if not, perhaps, among the most convincing, portions of the work. He holds that the only basis yet suggested which is in any way adequate or consonant with the facts of musical emotion, lies in Mr. Darwin's theory of the primeval use of song and musical sounds in association with sexual passion in the animal world :—

"And while the theory," he says (page 361), "in its invocation of the strongest of all primitive passions, as germs for the marvellously sublimated emotions of developed music, seems not only adequate, but unique in its adequacy, to account generally for the power of those emotions, it farther connects itself in the most remarkable manner with the fact, which attentive examination of musical experience more and more brings home to us, that music is perpetually felt as strongly emotional, while defying all attempts to analyse the experience, or to --define it, even in the most general way, in terms of definite emotions. If we press close, so to speak, and try to force our feelings into declaring themselves in definite terms, a score of them may seem pent up and mingled together and shooting across each other- -triumph and tenderness, surprise and certainty, yearning and fulfil- ment—but all the while the essential magic seems to be at an infinite distance behind them all, and the presentation to be not a subjective jumble, but a perfectly distinct object, pro- ductive (in a thousand minds, it may be, at once) of a perfectly -distinct, though unique and undefinable affection. This is precisely what is explained, if we trace the strong, undefinable affection to a gradual fusion and transfiguration of such overmastering and pervading passions as the ardours and desires of primitive loves ; and it is in re- ference to these passions of all others, both through their own possessing nature and from the extreme antiquity which they permit us to assign to their associative influence, that a theory of fusion and transfiguration in connection with a special range of phenomena seems possible and plausible. The problem is, indeed, a staggering one, by what alchemy abstract forms of sound, however unique and definite, and however enhanced in effect by the watching of their evolution moment by moment, are capable of transformation into phenomena charged with feeling, and yet in whose most characteristic impressiveness separate feelings seem as fused and lost as the colours in a ray of white light ; but at any rate, the suggested theory of association is less oppressive to the speculative mind than the every- day facts of musical experience would be, in the absence of such a far-reaching explanation of them."

Mr. Gurney, however, defines distinctly the precise part -of the ground which such an explanation covers ; he shows that it supplies us (so to speak) with a large emotional reser- -voir to draw on, but does not go a step towards explaining the conditions for tapping it. It will help us to understand in a general way why music is essentially delightful, but not at all how it happens that one melodic form will interest and delight us, while another, though differing, apparently, in a very slight degree, will leave us wholly unmoved and cold.

How Mr. Gurney approaches this second half of the problem of the origin of music, we cannot here detail. It must be .enough to say that he holds—as we in this journal have always held—that the development theory has not as yet come near to explaining the rise of the iesthetic capacities, either in animals or man, from the auditory hairs of some crustaceans which vibrate to a particular note, to the congenital differ-

ence of aural structure which may make one child in a family dead to music, and another a Rossini or a Mozart.

Much of the earlier portion of Mr. Gurney's book is unques- tionably difficult reading. The latter part, after the establish- ment of fundamental principles is completed, becomes easier and more flowing. The chapters, for instance, on "The Two Ways of Hearing Music," on "Music as Impressive and Music as Expressive," on "Song," on "Opera," and on "Musical Criticism," may be read with great interest, some of them even with great amusement, by persons without special training of any kind. The last two chapters named contain a large infusion of an element which is often visible even in the more recondite parts of the work;—namely, a most original vein of humour, full of quaint surprises, and rising sometimes into a kind of saturnine simplicity which makes it the most trenchant of controversial weapons.

It would require much more space than we have at our com- mand even to touch on all the topics discussed in this singularly full and suggestive treatise. But before concluding this notice, we must say a few words as to the style in which the book is written. Mr. Gurney appears to us to have a greater power of expression than of exposition. The arrangement of his ideas is eminently logical, and the language in which they are clothed is always definite and impressive. Often, indeed, it is even masterly, and develops a kind of sinewy eloquence as far removed as possible from the stilted raptures of the ordinary art-critic of our day. But, on the other hand, we miss throughout the book one eminent merit of a philosophic style,--the laboriously- achieved lucidity, the clearness, RO to speak, of sentences de- fecated by repeated deposits of all non-essential matter, which contributes more than anything else to the rapid diffusion of new and complex ideas. Or perhaps a j aster way of character- ising what is at once a strength and a weakness in the remark- able book before us, may be to say that its utterances, though unfailingly logical, never produce the impression of being im- personal; that the style seems constantly to indicate an indi- viduality, rigidly restrained, but powerful enough to tinge with its own character the very processes of thought.

Some feeling of this kind makes us hesitate to accord implicit adhesion to many of the less familiar views which the book advances,—makes us anticipate that they will have to undergo searching discussion, and to be regarded from many different stand-points, before they take their place as fully accredited elements in such a scientific theory of art as that which they adumbrate, and towards which they contribute in no small degree. But there need be no reservation in the welcome which we gin:, to the book as a whole. It may be a book to be disputed over, but it is a book which disputants on every side will need atten- tively to ponder. Psychologically and aesthetically—and, we would add, physiologically also—it is a book which makes a distinct forward step ; and if (as we gather from the preface) this is Mr. Gurney's first production, he has certainly made his entry into literature with a work of unusual originality and power.