Page 6, 3rd December 1954

3rd December 1954
Page 6
Page 6, 3rd December 1954 — 'The Greatest Good that mortals know
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'The Greatest Good that mortals know

By

ALEC ROBERTSON

ONE evening a few weeks ago I found myself at one of those mysterious junction stations in the heart of the country, remote from human habitations and existing merely for the purpose of shuffling passengers from one train to another.

This particular station, to my delight, possessed a cosy little refreshment r o o in, and while warming myself there with a cup of tea between trains I overheard a snatch of conversation between a porter, who had come in for the same purpose, and the ministering angel behind the bar. "Pm saving up for Leonora No. 3," said the porter.

"L.P.?" asked the lady. "Of course," answered the porter.

The uninitiated might have supposed that this was a dark glimpse into polygamy on some new hirepurchase syste m, but — as the musically minded will have recognised — it was nothing more sinister than a desire to purchase a long-playing record of the third of the Beethoven's overtures that have in common the title of "Leonora."

The arrival of my train prevented me hearing the rest of a conversation so fascinatingly unpredictable, but it gave me plenty of food for thought during the rest of my journey.

Heartening sign

Now do not for one moment suggest that the refreshment rooms of British Railways are teeming with porters and barmaids building up libraries of records of classical music, but do think what I overheard was a heartening sign of the times and one about which it would be snobbish to feel surprised.

It may be a clichd, but art, like religion, knows no class barriers. As Carlyle long ago predicted, art may happen to anyone; no one is safe from it.

To substantiate the point I recall another incident—also connected with the railway — when I was grandly travelling first class at someone else's expense. The only other occupant of my carriage was a smartly dressed woman of a recognisably sporting type, irrimersed in a newspaper, who presently looked up and asked me who did I think was likely to win the something-oranother race. I bad to declare my ignorance on this and kindred matters, and conversation flagged. Suddenly (our guardian angels, no doubt, intervening) music entered our talk, and at once we both, so to speak, lit up.

I discovered I was talking to an ardent lover of music and (not for the first time by any means) felt ashamed of making a superficial judgment : for I had loftily dismissed the idea that the sporting lady and myself could have anything much in common.

life companion

driNE never knows. That

'-"rprosperous business man or that work-begrimed labourer opposite one in train, tube or bus may cherish as great a passion as oneself for Beethoven or (less likely, hut not impossibly) Bartok.

There should be today no reason for surprise. The radio and the gramophone have been powerful agencies for the spreading of the musical gospel for nearly 30 years: and though the majority of people are only interested, if at all (and why not?), in music as a source of light entertainment—one of its most delightful functions— the minority is growing all the time and all over the place. People catch "good" music (as we must agree to call it) as they may catch the measles, but with much happier results. You get over measles; but, once infected with it, you never get over music; it becomes your beloved companion for life, in sickness and in health, in youth and in old age; and it is the only one of the arts that it is possible to imagine greeting one in or on the way to Heaven.

Record libraries

CONSTANT LAMBERT, in his brilliant but depressing book, "Music-Ho," spoke of the "appalling popularity" of music today, and it is true that it has become a cheap and often an abused commodity in the world; but it is for the music-lover to learn how to discriminate, how to make the best use of what science now offers him.

The radio can be, for him, a kind of musical university, so that even if he lives far from any centre of "live" music, he can still be in touch with music of all periods and be able to gain valuable information about it.

The gramophone record, for its part, enables him to experience the joy of building up a library in sound of great music. in small and large forms, on which he can draw at will for spiritual refreshment and delight; and the invention of the long-playing record, bringing a greatly extended repertoire and playing time up to nearly half an hour a side, is an enormous boon and a great aid to SOMEONE has said (I for6.--lyget who) that we should take life with gratitude, not for granted; and this is indeed true of music, one of God's most lovely and wonderful gifts to man.

Even a single sound is something to marvel at; how much more the rich pattern of sounds that make up a musical score. But we shall never get far below the surface of music if we insist on regarding it only as a purveyor of emotion, a notion far too widely held.

"Don't telt me anything about music," a stranger once wrote to me after a broadcast talk I had given. "I like it to pour over me in a beautiful golden stream." I was tempted to begin my reply with: "Dear Mr. Suet Pudding. . . ." Now music is certainly the most emotion-full of all the arts, but it could never have ranked as a great art if it was a mindless one, in the sense of all feeling and no thought. "Music brings the truth down from Heaven," and it is the response of the creative mind of the composer to that truth, his own hard-won craftsmanship, that produces great music, be it a matter of a short or a long piece, a song or a symphony. For Bach, as for many another composer, the aim and finai reason of all music was the glory of God and Inc refreshment of the spirit; and there could he no better or more accessible examples of the marriage between thought and emotion than Bach gives in his glorious works. Here, then, is the essential clue to the deepening of our enjoyment of music (as of our Faith, as of anything truly worth while), that we should not only feel about it but that we should think about it.

A sacramental

SIT quietly back for a moment and think through some fine piece of music that you know well, such as, for example, the chorale prelude by Bach called "Jesu, joy of man's desiring. The dance of joy that encircles the chorale tune is one musical thought, the chorale tune another, and both convey a unified musical emotion.

When, therefore. we speak of music as a language, with its own and unique ways of expression, we mean simply that sounds convey meaning as precisely as words do, but the meaning is something that cannot be expressed in words. This is a matter of common experience, once one turns it over in one's mind.

Now there are, of course, valleys, as well as hills and mountains, in music, and most of us, made as we are, cannot live wholly on the heights. There is room in our lives for all kinds of music that are good in their kind, but none at all for those kinds that are shoddy and emotionally enervating. Synthetic musical gin can only elevate in the wrong way. Moreover, one comes to see, if not at once, that all true art is fundamentally religious and is therefore concerned with spiritual values; so that in a certain sense we can speak of music as a sacramental.

Tidings ofjoy

THERE is no need to be

" pompous or mock-solemn over this, still less for us to develop into shuddering sesthetes wearing good taste on our foreheads as the Pharisees wore phylacteries. Music, like all art, is for our use; but it. should be natural to approach its great manifestations with wonder and humility, and to strive not to put self between the composer's communication and ourselves, but rather to open mind and heart to receive it.

This will not always be easy, any more than it is easy to climb a mountain—and there are some formidable mountains in music— but it is progressively rewarding.

The shepherds to whom the angels announced tidings of great joy only understood "the word that had been spoken to them' after they had taken action and gone to Bethlehem. And so with great music. The passive listener concerned only with his feelings will often miss the tidings of great joy that disclose themselves to those who search out the hidden meaning by taking action. As Catholics we have a marvellous heritage of music which we do not, for want of this, value overmuch.

Plainsong is the first manifestation of art music in the West and

on that perfect foundation are built the cathedrals of polyphony by a long line of great composers. Here is music we can pray with and meditate upon; and, if we are rarely able to hear it in church, radio and record can bring it into our homes and enable us to live intimately with it. At this point let me remind you of the resources of the public libraries. I am very often asked for information that can readily be found there; and, in the matter of taking action, try, if it hasn't yet occurred to you, to follow a broadcast of some well-known choral work or opera with the vocal score your library is certain to have. The eye aids the ear; and you will be surprised how much greater pleasure and profit such a habit brings.

Music at home 11 WAS delighted to read 'recently that hundreds of people are now learning to play the guitar, for we urgently need a revival of home music-making for the general health of the art.

Where circumstances are favourable, pianists should try to make a little daily musical meditation, and there is no better medium for that than Bach's keyboard works, wherewith (as Schumann said) to strengthen and purify ourselves. Yes, I know Bach was a Lutheran, but music transcends all denominational differences. The point is that Bach wrote. as I have said, for the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.

Let kindred souls discover or rediscover the pleasures of duetplaying or singing together, not with an audience in mind, but for the sheer delight of it.




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