After Beethoven came Schubert, who sang nature's sun songs while rinding life very difficult to live, and who was, nevertheless, able to impart to the world more of the joy and gladness of life, more of the simplicity and beauty of it, than almost any other composer who ever lived.
Mendelssohn, too, had something akin to Schubert, although his music might come under the head of a more classical order. Schubert's music seemed to gush spontaneously from his mind; to him the spirit was more than the form, but Mendelssohn was as particular of beauty of form in music as Tennyson was of beauty of form in verse.
Coming down to our own period, one man stands pre-eminent as one of the greatest masters of all time in musical composition - Richard Wagner. He was a star of the first magnitude, and his music, notwithstanding the attention it has already received, is not yet appreciated at its true value because it is not yet fully understood. Neither Wagner nor his music is more than partially comprehended at present. The world needs perspective. In the years to come the man and his music will both take a higher place than has yet been accorded them. A man who writes such music cannot be considered an ordinary man; what we might term his weakness, may in a larger light be considered his strength. In a letter he writes to Mathilde Wesendonck he says: "Nothing catches my eyes, the objects, the scenes to which my eyes are attracted, or might be attracted, might be the greatest in the world, but do not amuse me, and are indifferent to me. My eyes now only serve me to distinguish day from night, light from darkness. It is really a death of the external world to me, and of me to it. I see only internal images, which try to realise themselves by sounds." Elsewhere in another letter from Paris in 1861 he says: "There ought to be in us an internal sense which becomes clear and active where all the other senses, directed outward, sleep and dream. It is precisely when I no longer see or hear anything distinctly that this sense is most active and is a producer of calm; I can give it no other term. Is this calm the same as the plastic calm? I do not know; all I do know is that it acts from within to without; through it I feel myself to be the centre of the world." The people who have read his autobiography and find in it what they call his supreme selfishness, should take into consideration the fact that Wagner knew that he had more to give to the world than the world could possibly give to him. The message and the giving of that message was the one great purpose of his life. Anything which in any way interfered with it and held him back in the giving of it, was resented by him. He was a man labouring for the good of humanity, and yet humanity put all manner of obstacles in the way of his accomplishing that good. I believe he was as all unconscious of what people call his selfishness, as he was unconscious, at times, of everything but light and darkness in the outer world; the real Wagner was so intensely subjective that his outer life was the incident rather than the reality. But the one dominant thing in his life was to do the work that he felt himself inspired to do; his inner senses were all so acute that, at times, it would almost seem that Wagner not only listened to but had caught something of the music of the spheres. Critics make a great mistake when they say, as many of them do, that Wagner's music is essentially sensuous. In reality it is nothing of the kind. Wagner in the Ring, in "Tannhauser," and "The Flying Dutchman," tries to bring out in a faithful way things that have their rise in the elemental and then work up through stress and storm to the higher planes of being. In the doing of this, if he is to prove faithful to his trust, he must be true to all the different phases of life that he encounters. Wagner impresses me much as the painter Turner does. Turner used, in his painting, dark colours to lay, as it were, the foundation of his work; then he passes up through one colour and degree of colour after another, until he reaches the light. So Wagner, in his work, faithfully exemplifies each stage in the development of life, from the elemental to the purified soul, from the earth to the heaven, from darkness to light.
Music has had a glorious past, but the greatest music is yet to come. With the full realisation on the part of the great composer that he has consciously attuned himself to the Source of all music, there will come the heavenly melodies and harmonies of which the earth has as yet only begun to dream; but dreams do come true, and when the hearts and minds of men desire still more beautiful and wonderful music than that which they have as yet received, then, because of such demand, will come the supply. Said Cardinal Newman: "There are but seven notes in the scale; make them fourteen, yet what a slender outfit for so vast an enterprise! What science brings so much out of so little? Out of what poor elements does some great master in it create his new world! Shall we say that all this exuberant inventiveness is a mere ingenuity or trick of art, like some game of fashion of the day, without reality, without meaning? . . . Is it possible that that inexhaustible evolution and disposition of notes, so rich yet so simple, so intricate yet so regulated, so various yet so majestic, should be a mere sound, which is gone and perishes? Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of the heart, and keen emotions, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be wrought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself? It is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere; they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes from our Home; they are the voices of Angels, or the Magnificat of Saints, or the living laws of Divine Governance, or the Divine Attributes; something are they besides themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter, though mortal man, and one perhaps not otherwise distinguished above his fellows, has the gift of eliciting them."
Cardinal Newman's tribute to music is not an overestimated one, as many may perhaps think, but an expression of his inmost feelings, the expression of one who was a true lover of music. I doubt very much whether any devoted lover of music by the spoken or written word can give any full or complete expression to the wonderful influence music exerts upon his life, or to the added meaning it gives to all his experiences. How often we find thoughts and words inadequate when we try to give expression to our deepest feelings! The fact is that we seem almost to lose something of the real value when we try to interpret what we feel through the written page or the spoken word. Just as I suppose the painter must feel when he sees new wonders of beauty and colour in nature, and tries to depict them on his canvas, and finds that his pigment colours are in no way adequate to express the beauty of colour he is able to see. The whole object of life is this effort that we are constantly making to articulate the inarticulate; to express what seems inexpressible; to reveal, as it were, all the inner mysteries of being. To a degree we succeed, but in a greater degree we seem to fail. Only little by little does life render up her secrets, and then only to the seeker. But to him who continues the search will come the sure reward, because there is nothing hidden but that shall be revealed, and revelation will follow revelation. One height gained will show still greater heights to be attained. There is no final; there is no ultimate. Progress is eternal.