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Music And Supermusic
by [?]

We learn from some sources that music stands or falls by its melody but what is good melody? According to his contemporaries Wagner’s music dramas were lacking in melody. Sweet Marie is certainly a melody; why is it not as good a melody as The Old Folks at Home ? Why is Musetta’s waltz more popular than Gretel’s? It is no better as melody. As a matter of fact there is, has been, and for ever will be war over this question of melody, because the point of view on the subject is continually changing. As Cyril Scott puts it in his book, “The Philosophy of Modernism”: “at one time it (melody) extended over a few bars and then came to a close, being, as it were, a kind of sentence, which, after running for the moment, arrived at a full stop, or semicolon. Take this and compare it with the modern tendency: for that modern tendency is to argue that a melody might go on indefinitely almost; there is no reason why it should come to a full stop, for it is not a sentence, but more a line, which, like the rambling incurvations of a frieze, requires no rule to stop it, but alone the will and taste of its engenderer.”

Or is harmonization the important factor? Folk-songs are not harmonized at all, and yet certain musicians, Cecil Sharp for example, devote their lives to collecting them, while others, like Percy Grainger, base their compositions on them. On the other hand such music as Debussy’s Iberia depends for its very existence on its beautiful harmonies. The harmonies of Gluck are extremely simple, those of Richard Strauss extremely complex.

H. T. Finck says somewhere that one of the greatest charms of music is modulation but the old church composers who wrote in the “modes” never modulated at all. Erik Satie seldom avails himself of this modern device. It is a question whether Leo Ornstein modulates. If we may take him at his word Arnold Schoenberg has a system of modulation. At least it is his very own.

Are long compositions better than short ones? This may seem a silly question but I have read criticisms based on a theory that they were. Listen, for example, to de Quincy: “A song, an air, a tune,–that is, a short succession of notes revolving rapidly upon itself,–how could that by possibility offer a field of compass sufficient for the development of great musical effects? The preparation pregnant with the future, the remote correspondence, the questions, as it were, which to a deep musical sense are asked in one passage, and answered in another; the iteration and ingemination of a given effect, moving through subtile variations that sometimes disguise the theme, sometimes fitfully reveal it, sometimes throw it out tumultuously to the daylight,–these and ten thousand forms of self-conflicting musical passion–what room could they find, what opening, for utterance, in so limited a field as an air or song?” After this broadside permit me to quote a verse of Gerard de Nerval:

“Il est un air pour qui je donnerais

Tout Rossini, tout Mozart, et tout Weber,

Un air tres-vieux, languissant et funebre,

Qui pour moi seul a des charmes secrets.”

And now let us dispassionately, if possible, regard the evidence. Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, admittedly one of his weakest works and considered very tiresome even by ardent Straussians, plays for nearly an hour while any one can sing Der Erlkonig in three minutes. Are short compositions better than long ones? Answer: Love me and the World is Mine is a short song (although it seldom sounds so) while Schubert’s C major Symphony is called the “symphony of heavenly length.”