Home -> John J. Newbegin -> Little Literary Lights - Music

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Decorative MMusic, whose tonality is the universal, impassioned tongue of mankind, is the most emotional and far-reaching of all the arts. It is something that cannot be described, but to be thoroughly enjoyed must be not only felt but understood. There is a solace and charm about it that cannot be explained.

I have always pitied those whose hearts its sweet tones do not reach, whose souls its magic chords fail to arouse, whose celestial charms are a dead language. How, much of the spiritual in life they miss, they know not. Over, me, it weaves a mystic spell whose influence is as soft and angelic as the thoughts of Heaven - quiet, tender and peaceful.

I remember the first time I ever, heard the "Intermezzo" from "Cavalleria Rusticana." It was a magnificent string orchestra specially gathered for the occasion, working as a harmonious aggregation in a congenial environment of instrumentation. In the old Grand Opera House, the lights had been lowered - there was not a sound - a hush had stolen over the whole audience, and silence reigned supreme. We held our breath in expectation, when there came timidly, gently stealing over us the vague, timbre, modulated opening strains of the violins awakening a reverie of fairyland, like fanciful clouds, filling us with emotion.

Away across the dress-circle, in the shadows of the dim light, you could see the eager, strained faces of those who listened with responsive hearts, beating in unison with the slow, divine melody, magically performed, whose heavenly spirit made one dream of Paradise - all seemingly bound by a single, sympathetic conscious tie until the final notes of the 'cello, followed by the death song of the violins - then a pause - a flutter - a sigh of relief from the bewitching tones and mysterious rhythms; we relaxed, straightened up, released from their magnetic influence and alive to our surroundings.

It is significant that music is identified with God! The churches have absorbed some of the most soul-stirring, heart-reaching songs and pensive ecclesiastical measures to express and interpret the meaning of their service and in praise of the Almighty.

Two of the best definitions of music I have ever heard are by churchmen. Bishop Spaulding says, "Music is the food of the soul in all its most exalted moods"; while Reverend Sheehan has expressed his admiration of it in "Music is the lost chord that has strayed hither from Heaven."

There is so much to choose from, where one's mission is simply introductory, that it is difficult to state a preference, but, if limited to a few pieces for all time, those that awaken the senses, stimulate the imagination and establish a feeling of kindred are, for instance, on the deep-toned 'cello, my favorite instrument, Breil's "Song of the Soul," Rubinstein's "Melody in F," Schubert's "Ave Maria" and Hauser's "Cradle Song."

Violin - Schumann's "Traumerei," Dvorak's "Humoresque," Mendelssohn's "Concerto in E Minor," Kreisler's "Caprice Viennois," Herbert's "Yesterthoughts," Massenet's "Meditation," Raff's "Cavatina," and Saint-Saën's "Le Cygne."

Piano - Liszt's "Liebestraum," Chopin's "Nocturne in E Flat," McDowell's "To a Wild Rose," Chaminade's "The Flatterer," Rachmaninoff's "Prelude," and Seeling's "Loreley"; any of these haunting harmonies, in the hush and stillness of a twilight mood, should satisfy the innate cravings of the heart.

There is such a wealth of harmony in symphony music that I often wonder why those pieces that combine melody with technique and inspire enthusiasm in sincere listeners are not more frequently played, if only simply to awaken interest in the unenlightened and serve as a hint and introduction to the more complicated compositions; like, for instance, Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony," Mendelssohn's overture, "Midsummer Night's Dream," Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," Bach's "Air in G String," Wagner's prelude "Lohengrin," Rubinstein's "Reve Angelique," Tschaikowsky's "Fourth Symphony," Grieg's "Morning," Haydn's "Military Symphony," Mozart's "G Minor Symphony," Dvorak's "Largo" and other similar themes.

All are more or less partial to band music, reed instruments with soft undertones like the "Dance of the Wood Nymphs" by Sak and "Danse Choinoise" by Tschaikowsky.

String orchestra - "Barcarolle," Offenbach; "Intermezzo," Mascagni; "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2," Liszt, and "Venetian Love Song," Nevin, all of which have a soul in them pouring itself out in enraptured thrills.

Ballet Music is universally enjoyed, especially the waltz from "Faust"; also, "Amaryllis," Ghys; "Kossak Dance," Ascher; "Pizzicato," Delibes; "Minuet," Mozart; "First Heart Throbs," Eilenberg; "Scarf Dance," Chaminade; "The Butterfly," Bendix; "Dance of the Hours," Ponchielli, and "Funeral March of a Marionette," Gounod.

It is these light gay tones with a grace and delicacy of movement that enliven and keep up one's spirits and appeal to the taste of the average person.

California is not lacking in musical genius; among our original composers who have created melodious strains that will live, are Edgar S. Kelley, William J. McCoy, Edward F. Schneider, Wallace Sabin, J. W. Metcalf, H. J. Stewart, Fredrick Zech, Clifford Paige, E. G. Strickland and Uda Waldrop, while a popular librettist is Joseph D. Redding.

The term "Musical Circles" is a phrase that has impressed me with more profound meaning than that usually intended. To me it appears as a series of spheres encompassed within each other and having little kinship or influence upon their independent neighbors, representing the knowledge, sentiment and appreciation of the various strata of musical humanity. The outer circle is the basis and embraces the largest number, for it is made up of those, unsophisticated, who enjoy melody mingled with joy and mirth, often containing much that is trivial in character; then comes those filled with intensity struggling to comprehend and study its various forms, followed by the ambitious destined for a career; then the soulful spirits lost in dreams of inspiration, and so on, to the inner, smaller and more exclusive circles, made up of the masters of technique, some of whom attempt original work and others satisfied to paraphrase or add variations to the compositions already in existence of the great composers.

As you approach the center ring, the chords apparently grow more sombre and technical and require a proper interpretation to be appreciated by an untrained ear but the most overwhelmingly popular circle will always remain the outer; for there is to be found the simple music of expression that reaches the heart of mankind and
that, after all, is more lasting and satisfying, if not beneficial, to the world in general than the weird chords of any genius.

Music is not a luxury but a God-given quality that penetrates all circles of humanity, creating genuine human happiness, of inestimable value, that is instilled into the hearts of the people without discrimination.

How cold, tame and insipid in expression are words in comparison with music!

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