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The Why of Music

The Why of Music: Dialogues in an Unexplored Region of Appreciation

Copyright Date: 1969
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Why of Music
    Book Description:

    In his many tears of teaching and writing about music Professor Ferguson has given much thought to the question of the why of music -- why does music affect us as it does, why are we deeply moved by some music by not by other music, what is it about music that “sends” us, and where does it send us? In this book he explores such questions in depth and provides intriguing answers. The discussions are presented in the form of dialogues between the author and several friends. As Professor Ferguson explains, the book is intended to take the reader on a guided tour, a tour which follows, in part, the familiar roads of formal music appreciation but which leads more often into byways where, almost hidden by the brilliant Hows that line the more familiar roads, lurks the essential Why of music. He describes this Why as the fertilizing commerce between music and human experience -- a portrayal, not of the tangible facts of experience, but of the concern aroused by our encounter with those facts. He explains that while avant-garde abstractionism is concerned only with music as art -- a concern too specialized for the general music lover to grasp and too narrow to sustain interest -- the Why of enduring music lies in its endeavor to portray experience as it lives in Everyman’s mind.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6238-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
    (pp. 3-16)

    WHEN I was twelve or so, a pianist of considerable distinction gave a recital in our little town. Having shown a decided interest in music and some knack for the piano, I was taken to the concert. Next to me sat one of our prominent “senior citizens” — a crusty old gentleman who had borne the rank of Major in the Union Army. His presence at this entertainment, which was for our community quite unusual, was due, we were sure, to a sense of civic duty rather than to any native interest in music. He sat with decorous inattention through...

    (pp. 17-30)

    I FOUND my friend’s last questions stimulating. They were common-sense questions which, if we were to get on at all with our problem of finding a solider basis for criticism, had to be answered. Yet the answers, as he saw, were not simple, and I wondered how he had got on with them. I could see that he had found them perplexing, for he was hardly inside my door, on our next day together, when he began:

    F. Your “something more” still seems fairly clear — especially in the twoKyries. I found time to go over my score of...

    (pp. 31-44)

    MY FRIEND, next day, came rather slowly up the steps to my door, and I judged from his gait that he was still puzzling over the questions we had raised. So I asked him:

    I. Well, how did you get on with the musical image?

    F. Not too well; but I think I found, on the way here, what the trouble was. I kept looking for an image of fact, although it was quite clear from our conversation last day that if the music offered any nonmusical image at all it could only be an image of feeling. I’m quite...

    (pp. 45-57)

    AS MY friend came up my steps for our next meeting there was a gleam in his eye that seemed to portend a newly awakened interest in our problem. He began at the moment I opened the door:

    F. I don’t pretend to be any great shakes of a psychologist, but I believe I’ve hit on something that may make that backforemost inference that bothered me — and maybe the musical image itself — look as if it were capable of a scientific demonstration. Anyhow, it looks like your pattern of concern.

    I. Then, as Hamlet said when Horatio told...

    (pp. 58-74)

    HAVING, myself, a rather hazy notion of the problem I had left my friend to ponder, I expected to find him at least as puzzled as I was. But he had seen the problem from quite another angle, as I found when I asked him:

    I. Well, what did you make of the notion of form and its contribution to the interest of the musical image? For that was the question we left hanging, wasn’t it?

    F. It was. But the more I thought of it, the more it seemed to me that the real question wasn’t, as I understood...

    (pp. 75-86)

    A QUIZZICAL slant in my friend’s eye when we next met seemed to me reflected in his first question:

    F. Well, did you come up with any answer to your problem in musical genetics? find any musical genes or chromosomes?

    I. Of course not. The musical body doesn’t grow from an egg, and I think we’ve already reduced it to its lowest discriminable terms — the elements of tone and rhythm. In fact, it seems to me we’ve already found all the answer to your question of origins that we’re likely to. There are, of course, little nuclei of tonal...

    (pp. 87-98)

    THE question my friend had posed for our next discussion was the question of music in the aspect in which the vast majority, not only of its unskilled lovers but of its serious students, sees it — that of performance. Indeed, many an unskilled lover, if asked to define music, might offer little more than a vague “It’s something you do to a piano.” And even the student of that skill is likely to see it only as a How, as a skill which is its own and its only objective.

    A natural corollary to his definition would be that...

    (pp. 99-113)

    IN CONTRAST to the rather simple question of the mechanics of performance, that of style which my friend proposed as our next topic promised to be a poser. As his first comment showed, he had been puzzled as to how to approach the problem, but I thought he had a fertile lead into it:

    F. As I understood the question, we were to get at the problem of style by trying to isolate it, somewhat as we tried to isolate form; but I found I couldn’t do it. Form, as we saw it, turned out to fuse so completely with...

    (pp. 114-128)

    MY FRIEND’S idea that we study the problem of style practically, rather than theoretically, by looking at it in the works of an undetermined number of composers, seemed the natural sequel to our last day’s discussion. But both the selection and the focus of our study of the few works we could find time to examine began, in the interim, to appear a more troublesome problem than I had expected, and I was not surprised to find him in the same perplexity when I asked:

    I. Your suggestion of looking into style as it is exhibited in actual works of...

    (pp. 129-146)

    BOTH my friend and I expected our proposed approach to he scanning of style in Haydn and Mozart — that approach being an attempt at the definition of classicism — to prove difficult. But he hadn’t (as I half expected him to do) given up trying, as his first comment showed:

    F. I thought I had a fairly clear notion of what classicism meant, but I got into a muddle when I tried to apply that notion to music. I suppose my definition of classicism was derived from the not too extensive studies of literature I had been put through...

    (pp. 147-164)

    HAVING agreed with my friend that classicism, while visible simply as manner, also reflects an attitude of mind toward more than manner, I expected him to look similarly at Romanticism. I was sure we could not hope for a precise definition of that term, but I hardly expected him to trip over the most obvious stumbling block on the road to it. And I found that I was also less surefooted than I had supposed. He began:

    F. This notion of Romanticism seems to me the most elusive, will-o’-the-wisp idea I ever tried to tussle with. Classicism, unless our whole...

    (pp. 165-182)

    I WAS eager to see what my friend had done with the assignment I had given him, but he reminded me that I had also undertaken a by no means easy task:

    F. I could see, in the three sonatas you asked me to study, a very definite departure from what I understand as the method, whether of the first period or of theWaldsteinand theAppassionata, whicharen’tfirst-period works. But you surely ought to take up those — or one of them, at any rate — before you ask me for my rather uncertain conclusions. Otherwise, I’ll...

    (pp. 183-196)

    MY FRIEND needed no prompting to begin our next discussion:

    F. What a piece that Op. 101 is! Why is it so seldom played? I think I’ve heard it only once — in the course of that cycle I spoke of — and I’m sure it must have been very unperceptively performed. Of course,Ican’t play it, but when I began to look for an image, my fumbling fingers uncovered a lot that I’d never seen before. The piece seems fifty years ahead of its time. The substance is as pliant as anything of Schumann, and the tang is...

    (pp. 197-219)

    AS WE next met, my friend looked to me a little shame-faced, and I suspect that I looked the same to him, for I had found the apparently simple question he had proposed more perplexing in detail than I had thought it. He began:

    F. When I asked that we inquire into that fusion of verbal and musical images in the song, it seemed almost too simple to occupy our whole hour. But when I began to think into it I ran into nothing but dead ends. In what I think to be a good song that fusion does happen,...

    (pp. 220-239)

    MY FRIEND’S face showed a grumbling frown when we next met, and he began without preamble:

    F. This leading-motive leads to more dead ends than the song did. Before I began to think about it I thought I knew what aLeitmotiv— a leading-motive — was; but when I tried to define it I found that I couldn’t distinguish it — except structurally, as an operatic device — from any other meaningful musical theme. Thetermoriginated, I suppose, with Wagner’s maturing musical method, but it seems to me that thethingexisted long before he began. There are...

    (pp. 240-253)

    AS WE had hoped, my friend brought two interested musical acquaintances of his to our next meeting: Henry, the violinist he had spoken of, and John, a young composer who was attracting considerable notice. Since our hypothesis was really the question at issue, I took a little time to put it succinctly before them, but Fred, hitherto my only questioner, had already briefed them on its essentials, and they appeared to understand the general idea, although they were doubtful of its practical application to the problems of criticism. John (hereafter,J) broke off my probably rather professorial exposition a little...

    (pp. 254-276)

    AT OUR next meeting my two new friends greeted me with much less reserve than they had shown at first, so that I felt quite hopeful. Fred began:

    F. We’ve been trying, on our way here, to find a lead toward the common musical idiom for contemporary music that we felt, last time, didn’t exist. We agreed that it wouldn’t be found by experimenters in electronic music — that, if it could become an idiom, is still too far in the future to become general — or by such tricksters as the blowers of smoke rings through a trombone, or...

    (pp. 277-289)

    I HAD thought John looked forward to this meeting with a skepticism approaching indifference, but he had evidently been spurred to a livelier interest, for he began:

    J. You raised a question I had paid hardly any attention to when you asked me to compare those Preludes and Fugues from theWell-tempered Clavier. I had to admit, and I won’t renege on it today, that there was more in those pieces than the structured delight I had thought was all that was really there. I believe, in fact, I’ve really begun to glimpse that image of experience that Fred keeps...

    (pp. 290-302)

    PARTICULARLY as the hour of our discussions recurred, but also quite persistently during the intervening days, I felt a kind of uneasiness, partly over our words for the things we had said, but still more over the things we hadn’t said. For our conversational method, sporadic rather than systematic, might well have presented the essential purport of the book in a rather skewed perspective. I shall try, here, to rectify that perspective, both by viewing that purport from a somewhat different angle and thus bringing into sharper focus the conclusions toward which our talks were aimed; and incidentally by indicating...

  22. INDEX
    (pp. 303-309)