to explain the characteristic features of its action. We must consider, first, that this language, like its twin sister the language of ideas, has suffered a progressive evolution, and has with us reached a great perfection, and consequently a great complexity in its laws and processes. Among primitive peoples of few ideas, whose feelings show few variations of shade in expression, music is almost wholly confined to a few modulations expressive of the principal divisions of feeling—love, joy, sorrow, and warlike ardor. Civilization, with its refinements, has produced a music that has grown constantly richer in shades and means of expression, to the point which has been reached by the great masters of our age.
Neither language is intelligible to all, in its fullest degree of development. As we must have the power of comprehending abstract ideas in order to understand philosophers, so we must be more or less accustomed to musical sensations to appreciate the great musicians; and it is interesting to observe how we learn by study to enjoy works which at first fall cold upon us.
The application of such a word as comprehend, or understand, to music, is a source of numerous misconceptions; music does not understand, it feels. It addresses itself only to that part of us which is susceptible of emotion; and we frequently lose all its charm by our trying to understand it, or to find in it ideas which it can not express. We might expect the same kind of a failure if we should try to find sources of emotion in the working out of an equation.
It is true that persons exist who have no sense for music, and to whom its language is a blank; but they are rarely found, and prove nothing. Opposed to them are much more frequent instances of excessively sensitive natures, on whom even simple single musical intervals produce wonderful effects. Who has not made music without suspecting it? In certain states of feeling we are sometimes surprised to find ourselves composing simple melodies that are never finished, and are major or minor according as we are gay or sad, while we may be totally ignorant of the existence of those modes. Some natures seem obliged thus to express themselves in song. This is because speech is really an imperfect means of expressing the feelings. It is just as necessary to address the feelings, to make an emotion known, as it is to address the intellect, to communicate an idea. Hence the charm of the opera, in which the words describe the situation, while the music enables us to see into the hearts of the persons who are implicated in it. A certain school of operatic composers, indeed, are not concerned about depicting the passions set forth in their dramas, but are satisfied if they can introduce a few agreeable melodies good to sing anywhere and to any words, and which will become favorites; but this is not the case with real dramatic music as illustrated in the works of Gluck, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Verdi in his second style, and Wagner.