The present time is one of transition. The dogmatism that has pervaded all schools of thought, whether religious or philosophical, scientific or artistic, is passing away before the coming of a new order, a new order that is an expanding as well as a modifying factor, a new order that has come to fulfil, but not to destroy anything that is in any way vital to life. On the surface it may appear that this new order is highly destructive. It is destructive in that everything that is found to be useless, and everything that has clouded or obscured man's mental vision is gradually being relegated to the past.
The nineteenth century was an era of dense materialism. It was, strictly speaking, a utilitarian age, an age in which man's physical organism played a much greater part than his soul. Materialistic thought entered into everything. Religion, literature, and art were all made the exponents of man's sense, or physical nature. The crudest kind of literalism entered into everything. Countries like England, which for many centuries had given expression to much that was beautiful and artistic, seemed, long before the Victorian age, to lose, in a marked way, a true sense of art and beauty. It is only necessary to look at the architecture, the statuary, and most of the paintings of that particular period, to perceive how little of the artistic and beautiful was to be found there. Only a few master minds, poets, and painters, held aloft the banner of idealism and beauty. Rank materialism ruled on every side. Materialism, scepticism and doubt have ever been and ever will be destructive of all true art.
The last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century mark the beginning of a change, not only in Europe, but in America as well. Since then, this change has been gradually going on, affecting almost everything in life; but while the old is rapidly passing, it is, as yet, only the spring-time of the new, when ideals have not yet taken definite form, so that the whole world to-day may be said to be filled with unrest and expectation. Great composers and poets, who are the true interpreters of human life, have been among the first to herald the new order. But the sphere of music and poetry is just as much filled with unrest and transition as is any other condition of the world's life. In the music of to-day there is the search after something that has not yet been attained, which is evidenced by the increased use of chromatics, changes of modulation, and hitherto unheard of departures in time and rhythm.
Quite a number of modern composers have introduced chromatics into their music in what would seem to be an excessive way. But it is very doubtful whether they have added anything of real beauty or charm to it by so doing. It seems to me rather to point to a desire for something that has not been fully expressed in music, a something that will be expressed in a better way, possibly, without the undue use of chromatics. Certainly there is very little of the higher and sweeter thought of life expressed through their use. More frequently chromatics are used to express sorrow or anger, or, I might say, the stress of man's superficial nature. Too often the effect is to take from, rather than add to, the beauty or the strength of music. There is in its use too much of what I might call unreal sentiment, and more or less of gloomy foreboding, and the mysterious elements of life. Its present use may be indicative of the unrest and warfare that prevails throughout the civilised world. To me it would seem as though the composer were striving after effects through the excessive use of chromatics in his music just as much as many people in other departments of life are striving after effects that have little value or true relation to real expression. Within the last few years many Russian composers have come to the fore, and they have put into their music the unrest of the great Russian nation, the pathos of the slavery of its people, and something of a desire, too, for greater freedom. Much of their music is written in the minor keys. It lacks that triumphant sound that comes to the composers who write for a free and enlightened people. The music is wonderful as an expression of human feeling, but in its undertone you find the sadness and the struggle of life. Even when there is an effort made to produce music of a bright or an inspiring nature, you are sure to find some strain that is tinged with the sadness or the unrest of a great nation in bondage.
At present, in France, there has come into vogue what, by many, is considered a new school of music, of which Debussy may be said to be the founder, or chief representative. Whether this is to become the foundation of something new in music that will become permanent, it is yet too early to say. It may be that it will act on music in the way that the impressionists' painting has acted - to change, to enlarge, or to beautify the old art. While one may get from it a certain kind of intellectual and psychic stimulus, still it does not seem to be, as yet, of a full, soul-satisfying nature. I might add that the effect of Debussy's music on myself is not altogether satisfactory. I seem to be carried up into the clouds, and left suspended between heaven and earth, yet my head never emerges into the open blue. However, it is only through innovations in every department of life that the best of everything is at last fully realised.
Within recent years considerable discussion has arisen as to whether music may, or may not, prove beneficial in the healing of the sick. It is useless for any one to deny the fact that music exerts a decided influence upon one's mind and feelings, and there can no longer be any question that both thought and feeling produce a marked action upon man's physical body. Among many people there exists a decided difference of opinion as regards the value of music. The music lover, while not associating it with the renewing of the strength of his body, nevertheless feels it essential to his mental and spiritual welfare. Many others who might consider themselves of a more practical turn of mind look upon music solely as a luxury, and regard the people engaged in its production, i.e., composers, singers, and instrumental musicians, as mere dilettanti, men and women who are engaged, at best, in a work that never makes for any practical or real good in life. There are some people in the world who seemingly lack the faculty of ever getting beyond concrete expression. What they call common sense seems to shut out all idealistic vision. They are held in bondage to the earth and the things of the earth by their sense nature. They are the people who let well enough alone, and who never make progress save in material accumulations. What they possess, what they eat, and what they drink, form their chief pleasures in life. But if the music lover is right in believing that his soul and mind are both uplifted and benefited by listening to music, he must take one step farther and see the practical value that accrues also to the physical organism. When he is able to do this, music will no longer need its defenders, because, if music can be made of value in the healing of the sick, and the overcoming of mental and physical pain, then the most so-called practical man will seek its aid as ardently as the lover of music.