chapter  XVII
18 Pages

AN OUTLINE OF MUSIOAL .tEsmETIc

IT is commonly believed that the more we learn of any aspect of life or of any artistic activity, the less satisfaction we are capable of deriving from it; that increase of knowledge inevitably and, as it were, automatically, tends to impair our emotional pleasure, and that, in the words of Hegel, .. Reality, anywhere and everywhere, whether the life of Nature or of mind, is defaced and slain by its comprehension". This belief receives, of course, the warm and enthusiastic support of all those who are incapable of thinking consecutively for more than two seconds, and of the equally numerous body who are too lazy even to attempt such a hazardous experiment. But even if we might legitimately question either the practical or the hedonistic utility of intellectual curiosity, and even if we were to admit its dangers, especially to the creative artist, we cannot deny the irresistible nature of the fascination that it exercises over us. It is, after all, a deeply rooted instinct that impels us to seek a more intimate knowledge and understanding of the thing. we love, even if, like Psyche in the exquisite allegory of Apuleius in the Golden Ass, we run the risk of awakening the sleeping Amor with our burning drop of midnight oil, and losing him for ever. And everyone who is in any way occupied with music or with any other art, whether as creator or only as appreciator, must surely at some time or another have experienced the desire to learn more concerning its essential nature and its relation, if any, to life and to other human activities. One might even go so far as to say that the artist or art-lover who has never experienced it is incomplete, ahpost a monstrosity. But while they are at least free to dispense with the obligation of inquiring closely into such problems, for the critic or historian there is no choice; certainly DO survey over the entire field of musical art such as the present work, however sketchy and inadequate, could possibly claim validity or even expect any measure of serious consideration

unless an attempt were made to arrive at some more or less definite conclusions concerning the nature of the art with which it purports to deal. For in the first place our entire critical apparatus and standard of values are inextricably bound up with fundamental issues. It is surely obvious, for example, that our judgments on different composers and different works must inevitably depend to a great extent on whether we consider absolute music to be necessarily superior or inferior, as the case may be, to what is called programme music; or on whether we believe music to be an expressive art or merely, according to Dr. Charles Burney, "an innocent luxury, unnecessary, indeed, to our existence, but a great improvement and gratification of the sense of hearing "-in a word, a mere pleasant physical sensation.