MUSIC AND ART
By A Disciple
Music exercises a universal and divine power over the hearts of man and the animal kingdom also. Its mysterious potency lies in the higher vibrations that it communicates to its devotees. Thru music, man gets his first faint initiation into the cosmic truth that all creation sprang from vibration.
Signs are not wanting that the West is beginning to realize that Oriental music can offer new inspiration and treasure . . . Many Orientals, among them Swami Yogananda, are entranced by the music of great Western composers. True music naturally has this universal appeal. Similarly, when Western musicians finally consent to give Oriental music a respectful hearing, the outcome has been, and is, that, though coming to scoff, they remain to pray.
The eminent music critic, Mr. Redfern Mason, writing in the San Francisco Examiner, tells the story of the conversion to Eastern musical standards, of a distinguished Western musician and composer, Henry Eicheim. Mr. Mason writes:
"'Instead of freeing music, Bach put it in shackles, and we have to get free again.' The man who made this statement was no wild-eyed Futurist, but a man who played Bach, Beethoven and Brahms under Nikisch and Thomas, a sober product of the best Old World musical discipline. His name is Henry Eicheim; he played the violin with the Boston Symphony and the Thomas Orchestra. Something inside him made him wonder whether the 'three B's' were the be-all and end-all of music; whether, in a word, other races than ours might have a vision of tonal beauty different from anything which has been vouchsafed to our Occidental civilization.
"A sojourn of fourteen months in the Orient, during which he visited China and Japan, Siam, Burma and the Dutch East Indies, affected him as the glimpse of the Pacific affected Balboa, and today Mr. Eicheim has cast out the old gods of European music and bowed the knee of faith to the still older, but to him, younger musical divinities of the Far East.
"Thanks to Miss Ida Scott, who is working on the new idea that there is virtue among American artists as well as among those who come from Europe, we had a chance of hearing Mr. Eicheim talk. It was a wonderful story that he told, and if Mr. Eicheim were not a man strictly disciplined in the great European classics, we might have doubts of his credibility. For he came out, without qualification, with the assertion that the music which the Japanese use in the No Drama is truer in aesthetic propriety than is that of Wagner in the "ring." From the lips of an impressionable tourist such a dictum would provoke an amused smile. But Mr. Eicheim is both artist and theorist. He is steeped in the best music our Western civilization has to offer. He is no dilettante; he is a practical musician and he speaks in all seriousness.
"Claude Debussy comes nearer to the Oriental sense of fitness. The reason why is that he listened to the Japanese orchestra which played at the Paris Exposition of twenty years ago. Ravel has come under the like influence. The gamelang of Java is penetrating modern French music with its subtle sonorities.
"In such matter one is in duty bound to assume an attitude of philosophic doubt. We must believe only when we have proof. So when Mr. Eicheim told me of Chinese music fourteen hundred years old, harmonically rich and astonishingly like Ravel, I told him I was from Missouri and must be 'shown.'
"'Is the music traditional, or does it exist in manuscript?' I demanded. 'If it is traditional, how do you establish its antiquity?'
"The answer was a knock-down blow. It took the underpinning from my position. 'The music is not traditional,' said Mr. Eicheim; 'it was written down and I have transcribed it from the ancient manuscript.'
"'And you didn't modernize it; you didn't fill in the harmonies?'
"'I did not add a single note.'
"The title of the work is 'Entenraku'; it is Chineses music of mourning, and Mrs. Ethel Roe Eicheim, who is her husband's mate aesthetically as well as domestically, played the music for us. The characteristically Chinese melody is in instrumental counterpoint of twelve parts, and it belongs to the seventh century.
"Now you believers in Western superiority, compare this Chinese achievement with the crude organum of the Dark Ages.
"Mr. Eicheim's discourse was largely a description of musical effects which had swum into his consciousness during his Oriental wanderjahr. He played us the cheng, in which he sees the far-off ancestor of the organ; he sounded wonderful gongs which propagate fluctuating streams of tone; he dwelt on the rhythmic subtlety of the drum music he heard in Trichinopoly.
"A little more than a year is only time enough to become conscious of the wonder and the diversity of Oriental music. To understand it, even in any single important phase of its manifold diversity, calls for long study. Mr. Eicheim will return to China and he will try to get beyond the perplexing symbolism of Oriental terminology to the scientific bases of Eastern music. The music of Japan he found subtle, almost in the Gallic sense of the term. The Chinese temple music has a massive grandeur in its simplicity, while the music of India, with its quarter tones, opens up a harmonic realm to which we of the West are absolute strangers.
"'I believe a new era is about to start for our music,' he declares, and, in all seriousness, I do not think any musician can hear what he has to say and not come to the conclusion that he has made out a prima facie case.
"It is only a little more than half a century since Schopenhauer informed an incredulous world that the intellectual hope of humanity lay in the texts of India and China. Now we have a musician making a parallel assertion concerning their music.
"We must keep an open mind. If music is to be enriched by a new vernacular; if, as Mr. Eicheim asserts, we are only in our rhythmic nonage, then those of us who are wise will be glad to learn, and if the Chinese, the Indians and the people of Java can teach us, we must be willing disciples.
"We got Christianity from the Orient. It is not impossible that our musical salvation may come from the East as well."
In another article, Mr. Mason tells of an interesting conversation with the gifted sculptor, Beniamino Bufano. In answer to Mr. Mason's question as to whether the East and West can meet on the ground of art, Mr. Bufano replies:
"They met long ago. I wonder how many people are aware, when they admire the gold background of Angelico and Orcagna, that they are admiring something the Italians learned from the Orient. Probably the idea was brought by Marco Polo. The angels we love in Gothic Rheims show Byzantine influence. That, too, is Oriental and the world has nothing more beautiful."
"But doesn't the East link up with us on the basis of thought?"
"If you mean philosophy, they reach out their hands to us, when we are represented by men like Dewey and Bertrand Russell. They loved Dewey. He talked to them practically, in ways they could reduce to aphorisms after the fashion of Confucius and Lao Tse. And maybe there will be a coming together through music. . . . I agree with you that the West is going to receive a big musical stimulus from the East. They have music for everything. When they recite their old ballads, they do it in recitative. Their temple chants are indescribably beautiful, with the sonorities of gong and flute. And every craftsman does his work rhythmically, usually singing some old song as he works. It is that rhythmic sense which I want our art students to get, so that they will do everything with a sort of aesthetic 'elan,' as the French would say. Real teaching is not preaching a code of rules; it is setting the mind of the individual to work for itself, to objectivate its own vision, so to speak."
"And the dance and music help?'
"Assuredly. Isn't it Schumann who says there are many mediums but only one art? I believe that your literary artist should think musically, see with the eyes of a painter, have the sculptor's sense of plasticity, and the architect's vision of form. When a man creates a work of art—I don't care whether it is writing or music or painting—he is realizing the psychological drama of his own soul. It isn't the eyes that see or the ears that hear; it is the mind to which the senses give their report."
The sculptor who voices these philosophic views is an Italian with both European and American successes to boast of. But Bufano was not satisfied with Western art and went to the Orient to study. He visited Cambodia, Java, Sumatra and finally China. There he found a new world of inspiration, of subtle, suggestive beauty. He settled down in Kingtechchen, living the life of a Chinaman, so far as possible, to better understand their life and art. He incorporated the Oriental sense of rhythmic flow, of coherent form, of perfect balance and final simplicity, into his own artistic expression—with such success that, though only a young man, he ranks among the foremost sculptors of the age.
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