Friday, January 23, 2015


Real Musicians

E.K. Rand (1871-1945), Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 147-148 (on Boethius' De Musica; footnotes omitted):
Those of my readers who are musicians may be interested to know what, according to Boethius, a real musician is. There are three classes of people, he explains at the end of his first book, who have to do with music—performers, composers, and critics. Those of the first class, like harp-players, flute-players, and organists, must be excluded from the number of real musicians, since they are merely slaves. Their function is concerned with mere action, production, and is as subordinate and slavish as is the material body compared to the mind. Even a good performer is nothing more than a good slave. Then there is the second class, the composers, who are impelled to music not by reason or philosophy, but by a certain instinct, or inspiration. The Muses are responsible for what they do, not they themselves. They too, therefore, must be counted out. There remains the third class, the critics. "They alone," he declares, "are the real musicians, since their function consists entirely in reason and philosophy, in a knowledge of modes and rhythms, of the varieties of melodies and their combinations, in short, of all the matters that I shall treat in Volume II, as well as of the achievements of the composers." I once asked a friend of mine, a musical critic of some note, what he thought of this doctrine. He replied that he thought that Boethius was considerably in advance of his time and of our own. I did not venture to submit Boethius's ideas to a performer or a composer.

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