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Saturday morning quotes 2.35: Guns or music?

January 19, 2013

Today’s quote is drawn from the writing of composer Charles Avison (1709 – 1770) organist at St John The Baptist Church in Newcastle and author of the very interesting read, An Essay on Musical Expression, first published in London, 1752.  Avison’s music, mainly his Concerti Grossi, represents the sensible, graceful and elegant style of its time, a time when the founders of the US were distilling their collective ideas for the forming of a new and independent country.

…I think we may venture to assert, that it is the peculiar quality of Music
to raise the sociable and happy passion, and to subdue the contrary ones.
I know it has been generally believed and affirmed, that its power
extends alike to every affection of the mind.  But I would offer it to the
consideration of the public, whether this is not a general and
fundamental error.  I would appeal to any man, whether ever he found
himself urged to acts of selfishness, cruelty, treachery, revenge, or
malevolence, by the power of musical sounds? or if he ever found
jealousy, suspicion, or ingratitude engendered in his breast, either from
HARMONY or DISCORD?  I believe no instance of this nature can be
alledged with truth.  It must be owned, indeed, that the force of music
may urge the passions to an excess, or it may fix them on false and
improper objects, and may thus be pernicious in its effects: but still the
passions which it raises, though they may be mixed or excessive, are of
the benelvolent and social kind, and in their intent at least are
disinterested and noble.

– Chapter I, ppg. 4-5

Just after Avison’s Essay was published, Oxford-based organist and defender of all things Handel, William Hayes (1708 – 1777), published his Remarks on Mr. Avison’s Essay on Musical Expression (London, 1753),  which sparked yet another response from Avison.  The entire exchange was published as the Third Edition in 1775, and can be read in facsimile.

As we never fail to point out, the aesthetics of what historians call the Age of Enlightenment were premised on an education in the Classics and a moral foundation that was based on religious worship as daily practice rather than vague mythological option. This was an age when education was focused on knowledge, art and beauty in order to prepare children to function in society as responsible citizens and potential leaders.  Music was an important part of education and armed guards at schools were not necessary.  Isn’t it a curious contrast with matters today?

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