O soul, all senses, shows and objects, lead to thee,
But now it seems to me sound leads o’er all the rest.
Music, the combiner, nothing more spiritual, nothing more sensuous, a god, yet completely human, advances, prevails, holds highest place; supplying in certain wants and quarters what nothing else could supply.
Ah from a little child,
Thou knowest soul how to me all sounds became music,
My mother’s voice in lullaby or hymn,
(The voice, O tender voices, memory’s loving voices,
Last miracle of all, O dearest mother’s, sister’s, voices;)
The rain, the growing corn, the breeze among the long-leav’d corn,
The psalm in the country church or mid the clustering trees, the open air camp-meeting,
The fiddler in the tavern, the glee, the long-strung sailor-song,
The lowing cattle, bleating sheep, the crowing cock at dawn..
Now I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice,
All songs of current lands come sounding round me.
The chorus I hear and am elated, it is a grand opera,
The measureless sweet vocalists of ages, singing all time, minding no time,
Ah this indeed is music—this suits me.
What an indescribable volume of delight the recesses of the soul can bear from the sound of the honied perfection of the human voice,
The great, overwhelming, touching human voice—its throbbing, flowing, pulsing qualities.
I hear the trained soprano—
A soprano that lithely overleaps the stars,
At intervals sailing buoyantly over the tops of immense waves,
The revelation of the singing voice from thee!
First preluding with the instrument a low and musical prelude,
The lone singer, in voice surpassing all, sang forth wonderful, causing tears,
She convulsed me like the climax of my love-grip.
In the fresh breeze and the chiaroscuro of the night, the air was borne by a rich, liquid-full contralto, firm and unhurried, with long pauses.
I doubt if ever the senses and emotions of the future will be thrill’d as were the auditors of a generation ago by the deep passion of Alboni’s contralto. She used to sweep me away as with whirlwinds.
A tenor, strong, fills me,
Vast, pure tenor, ascending with power and health, large and fresh as the creation—identity of the creative power itself,
The orbed parting of whose mouth shall lift over my head the sluices of all the delight yet discovered for our race.
How through those strains distill’d—how the rapt ears, the soul of me,
Absorbing freedom’s and love’s and faith’s unloos’d cantabile rising through the universe, pouring and filling me full.
The clear electric bass and baritone of the world,
A transparent bass shuddering lusciously under and through the universe,
Pouring in floods of melody in tones so pensive sweet and strong,
The like whereof was never heard,
(So firm—so liquid-soft—again that tremulous, manly timbre!
The perfect singing voice—deepest of all to me the lesson—trial and test of all.)
Pure and vast, that voice now rises, as on clouds, to the heaven where it claims audience. Now, firm and unbroken, it spreads like an ocean around us. Ah, welcome that I know not the mere language of the earthly words in which the melody is embodied; as all words are mean before the language of true music.
I heard what the singers were singing so long,
What a strange charm there is in the human voice—so far ahead of instruments, to produce certain effects,
I could have listened to their singing all night.
Now airs antique and mediaeval fill me, the musical recitative of old poems,
A festival song, to flutes’ clear notes and sounding harps’ cantabile,
An unwonted charm in those fresh, quaint tunes and hymns.
I hear the minstrels, gleemen, troubadours,
I hear the minnesingers singing their lays of love—
The duet of the bridegroom and the bride, a marriage-march,
A wailing song, song of lost love.
The solemn hymns and masses rousing adoration,
The thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
Passionate heart-chants, sorrowful appeals,
Sublime hymns, wide as the orbit of suns, reliable as immortality,
Chanted hymns whose tremendous sentiment shall uncage in my breast a thousand wide-winged strengths and unknown ardors and terrible ecstasies—startling me with the overture of some unnamable horror—calmly sailing me all day on a bright river—stabbing my heart with myriads of forked distractions more furious than hail or lightning—
All these I fill myself with.
I listen to the different voices,
Occupants and joyous vibraters of space,
Winding in and out, striving, contending with fiery vehemence to excel each other in emotion;
I do not think the performers know themselves—but now I think I begin to know them.
Sweet singers of old lands, soprani, tenori, bassi!
To you a new bard caroling in the West,
Obeisant sends his love.
(The subtlest spirit of a nation is expressed through its music,
And the music acts reciprocally on the nation’s very soul,
A taste for music, when widely distributed among a people, is one of the surest indications of their moral purity, amiability, and refinement.)
I hear already the bustle of instruments, they will soon be drowning all that would interrupt them.
I hear the violoncello,
(Ttis the young man’s heart’s complaint,)
The tongues of violins,
(I think O tongues ye tell this heart, that cannot tell itself, this brooding yearning heart, that cannot tell itself,)
It did me good even to watch the violinists drawing their bows so masterly—every motion a study.
Hark, some wild trumpeter vibrates capricious tunes to-night,
I hear the key’d cornet, echoing, pealing,
The cornet, that puts the call of daylight and the laugh of hope into voice—
It glides quickly in through my ears,
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.
Blow trumpeter free and clear, I follow thee,
Listening alert I catch thy notes, now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me,
Now low, subdued, now in the distance lost.
At thy liquid prelude, glad, serene, the fretting world, the streets, the noisy hours of day withdraw,
Thy song—haply a trumpet-note for heroes—expands my numb’d imbonded spirit,
Thou freest, launchest me.
Yes my brother I know,
The rest might not, but I have treasur’d every note,
O trumpeter, methinks I am myself the instrument thou playest,
O liquid and free and tender, O wild and loose to my soul,
Thou melt’st my heart, my brain.
In flutes’ and cornets’ notes, electric, pensive, turbulent,
I hear not the volumes of sound merely, I am moved by the exquisite meanings,
Meanings unknown before, strangely fitting,
Subtler than ever, more harmony, as if born here, related here.
The drum-corps’ rattle is ever to me sweet music,
I hear the great drums pounding, and the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums strikes me through and through.
Beat! beat! drums! Then rattle quicker, heavier drums!
Cry All-alive! and wake sleepers from their bedrooms in the brain and put coals of spunk in the flimsiest tender rags of cowards.
Now the solemn-sweet pipes of the organ sound,
Fingers of the organist skipping staccato over the keys of the great organ.
Loose-finger’d chords—I feel the thrum of your climax and close, tremulous,
While underneath, the strong bass stands, and its pulsations intermits not,
Bathing, supporting, merging all the rest, maternity of all the rest.
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal,
The overture lightly sounding, the strain anticipating,
The conductor beats time and all the performers follow him, every instrument in multitudes,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted.
How delicious the proportion between the kinds of instruments,
The violins, the bugles, the flutes, the drums, the base-fiddles, the violincellos,
The trill of a thousand clear cornets,
The scream of the octave flute and strike of triangles,
The triumphant tutti of victorious horns,
The funeral wailings with sweet flutes and violins,
All, all, so balanced and their results merging into each other, here perfect,
Making the hearer’s pulses stop for ecstasy and awe.
I hear the dance-music of all nations,
The players playing, all the world’s musicians,
I am a dance—play up there! the fit is whirling me fast!
O I think the east wind brings a grand march,
Triumphal and free march, stately, maestoso wild-pealing, high-trilling, distant,
It reaches hither, it swells me to joyful madness.
O something ecstatic and undemonstrable! O music wild!
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches such ardors from me I did not know I possess’d them.
It sails me all day on a bright river,
I dab with bare feet, they are lick’d by the indolent waves,
It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror,
I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath,
Steep’d amid honey’d morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death,
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.
Never did music more sink into and soothe and fill me,
Never so prove its soul-rousing power, its impossibility of statement,
I allow’d myself, as I sometimes do, to wander out of myself,
Dilating me beyond time and air,
I was carried away, seeing, absorbing many wonders,
Putting me through the flights of all the passions.
All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded by the instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets, it is not the oboe nor the beating drums,
It is nearer and farther than they.
Do you suppose that in these, touched by the fine players of the world, are the primary of the feelings that move you?
No; there is something else,
This something is in the soul and eludes description,
No substantive or noun, no figure or image, stands for the beautiful mystery.
Do you know what music does to the soul?
Music, the most spiritual of sensuous enjoyments, gives it some faint sign of the harmony and measure that are of its essence.
A new world—a liquid world—rushes like a torrent through you,
From this night you date a new era in your development,
And, for the first time, receive your ideas of what the divine art of music really is.
Nature, sovereign of this gnarl’d realm,
Lurking in hidden barbaric grim recesses,
Acknowledging rapport however far remov’d,
(As some old root or soil of earth its last-born flower or fruit,)
Listens well pleas’d.
Give me to hold all sounds, (I madly struggling cry,)
Fill me with all the voices of the universe,
Endow me with their throbbings,
Utter, pour in, for I would take them all!
Nature’s also, earth’s own diapason,
Of winds and woods and mighty ocean waves,
Undertone of rivers, roar of pouring cataracts,
The tempests, waters, winds, operas and chants, marches and dances,
A colossal volume of harmony, in which the thunder might roll in its proper place.
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following,
A new composite orchestra, blending with nature’s rhythmus all the tongues of nations,
Measureless sound—a sublime orchestra of a myriad orchestras—
Binder of years and climes, ten-fold renewer.
O strain musical flowing through ages and continents,
I take your strong chords, intersperse them, and cheerfully pass them forward.
O glad, exulting, culminating song!
A vigor more than earth’s is in thy notes,
Marches of victory—man disenthral’d—the conqueror at last,
Hymns to the universal God from universal man—all joy!