sub specie aeternitatis

A Little Note From 1844

January 22, 2009

On my rounds in the computer lab in the music library I ran across a book called Music Explained to the World by F.J Fetis, originally written in French.  Seeing the date 1844 stamped on the front (this copy was a newer printing) I opened it at the introduction and found Fetis’ thoughts interesting enough to post here (though by no means earth shattering):

Science is not born with us. No knowledge is so simple that we are not forced to acquire it either by experience or by education. This proposition, so true in every thing,  is indisputable in all that relates to art. The unpractised eye cannot distinguish the qualities or defects of a painting, nor the untutored ear the combinations of harmony. Undoubtedly, the habitual use of the eye and the ear is sufficient in many cases to enable us to perceive the beauties of painting or music; but this is in itself an education.

There is, however, a great difference between this vague feeling, which has no other origin than mere sensations, and that certainty of judgment which is the result of positive knowledge. Every art has its principles, which we must study, in order to increase our enjoyment, while we are forming our taste. Those of music are more complex than those of painting; and besides, music is at once a science and an art. This complexity renders the study of it long and difficult for those who wish to acquire a certain degree of skill. Unfortunately, it is scarcely possible to shorten the time which must be devoted to it. With whatever readiness we may be gifted, to whatever process we resort, whatever method we adopt, still it will be necessary to accustom our organs to read with ease the great number of characters of which musical writing is composed, to produce the prescribed tones with precision, to feel the division of the measures, and, finally, to combine all these elements of the art. Time alone can enable us to accomplish this.

But time is precisely that which we have the least at command in the course of life, especially in the present high state of civilization. Obliged to learn a multitude of things, we can give but very slight attention to each, and we are compelled to select those which will be most useful in the business of life.

The introduction continues on for a few more pages but I did not read more.  Google books has it if you want to take a gander for yourself.