Saturday, 18 December 2010

Hubert Parry: Thoughts on Classical & Romantic Music

Some wise words from Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry:-
The furious recriminations which graced such contests as those between the followers and the opponents of Monteverdi, and between the Piccinnists [1] and the Gluckists, and between the Wagnerites and the Anti-Wagnerites, and other similar disputants, all turned ultimately upon conceptions which, in connection with music, have come to be covered by the words classical and romantic. We do not any of us know exactly what either of the words means. But they
suggest sundry associations to unsophisticated minds.

The primitive and uncultured idea is that classical music requires to be explained a great deal before ordinary people can be induced to like it, and that even then they, for the most part, like it rather less than before; whereas romantic music has a different way of getting at a man, and does not have to be explained in technical terms, and therefore does not give rise to the instinct of opposition. Law and order are on the side of classicism, and the impulses of human nature are on the side of romanticism. The champions of both parties have been unfortunate, the classicists in laying too much stress on one single type of design the type of the classical sonata and the romanticists by getting themselves involved with the apostles of programme music, who discredited the case by the futility of the works which were lauded as its finest representative examples, and by the fact that the eagerness to define the programme clearly caused composers to lose hold of the essentials of real musical expression.

The real source of the differences of opinion (of which such disputes give but a very scanty idea) is the fact that there are two distinct types of human beings who enjoy music. There are, on the one hand, those who delight in music for itself alone, who are filled with joy by its melodies and its rhythms and its harmonies, and, on the other hand, there are those who are not so spontaneously musical in their appreciation but who enjoy music because it expresses strange depths of feeling, awakes mysterious associations, and makes them feel emotional situations with an intensity which is never approached in any other way whatever.
For the one type the art is a refined pleasure, for the other a spiritual exaltation.

Charles Hubert Hastings Parry Style in Musical Art , Macmillan & Co. Limited, London 1911 p321 [with minor edits]

[1] Niccolò Piccinni (1728 –1800) was an Italian composer of symphonies, sacred music, chamber music, and opera.

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