Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 8 July, 3, 1946

Tone — Unity

page break

Tone — Unity

That I should express my ideas accurately in this article is most important. I am handicapped by my ignorance of the technical terms with which the musician and the critic are familiar. To overcome this difficulty, I shall use what may be termed "an enthusiastic vocabulary," where necessary. This is, the vocabulary of one who knows very well what he means to say, but a vocabulary which is over-simplified and non-technical, in order to dodge the handicaps of technical ignorance while preserving the veracity of the concepts.

The reader will notice the words "tone" and "tone-unity" occurring occasionally in what follows. The meaning I attach to the former is its usual sense—"a sound possessing a certain quality or resonance." The latter word, however, is both original in its compound—as far as I know—and in the meaning which I attach to it. It is possibly even a new concept. It is this unity or totality of tone which represents the culmination of a development in modern music and literature. I shall not explain it immediately, but shall endeavour to clarify the application which I have given it throughout.

Even the most superficial critic of modern music and literature cannot fail to realise that he is witnessing the culmination of an extraordinary development. It is a development which has led from the orthodox, classical conception of art to a novel—almost bizarre—cult. It has awakened an enthusiasm in artist and dilettante alike which has led to increasing exploitation of this modern art form.

This is apparent in both the spheres of literature and music. But the essence of this development is not quite so apparent. A glance at a poem by Pound, Auden, and the rest reveals an increasing disregard amounting almost to rejection of rhyme and metre, i.e., metre in its classical sense. With rhyme disappears the elegancies or style common to our orthodox forbears in this realm, and classical metre is supplanted by a natural, though less obvious rhythm. Orthodoxy yields to an era of mysticism, introspection, freedom of form and thought, and novelty in presentation often verging on the bizarre.

In the musical world we see an identical trend, evident in the ever increasing number of aspirants to the jazz-cult. Composers are seeking original qualities of composition and rhythm which are representative of the mood of this generation. They seek particularly freedom of expression and development—an aim which is typified in the popular "Dixieland" melodies.

In modern prose, too, this development is evident. Victoria Sackville-West displays a competent mastery of this art form which renders her one of the better modernists in the world of fiction. Her penetrating, mystic, introspective "Gottsfried Kunstler" is a magnificent example of the trend I have outlined.

A closer examination of the works of these modern artists indicates that there is much more, in this development than the casual reader or listener may imagine. The development is not a mere superficial emphasis (in the literary world) on novel presentation of ideas; nor (in the musical world) is it an emphasis on the weird or discordant. The essence of this art is this concept of toneunity.

A friend of mine recently remarked to me that his fellow-student pianists who were for ever seeking new chords on the Weir House piano would shortly have to forsake the diatonic scale for the Eastern Instrument with quarter-and even eighth-tone scales. They will, he explained, soon exhaust their present avenue of discovery.

And that is exactly the plan which the modern artist is following. He is seeking new chords and new combinations of chords—but chiefly new combinations of tone which will give his work an originality based on tone-unity. For there are few, if any original philosophies for the poet to record: just as there are few undiscovered chords for the musician to play. Each artist must now rely on his original presentation, which is largely based on tone-unity.

I trust that the reader has now formed some concept of this term "tone-unity." An explanation which would have previously failed may now make its meaning clear. A pianist who plays a melody in the course of which he strikes an "original" chord or two, may have contributed a new and interesting tone to the piece. But that is all. Such a contribution to the harmony is interesting or pleasing only insofar as it is occasional or incidental: there is not a unity of originality so much as a succession of originalities. Similarly the poet who introduces an occasional original chord into his work is doing nothing more than a hundred poets have done before him. He is escaping the modern spirit which is incorporated in sustained tone or what I have termed tone-unity.

To find an example of this art in the musical world is easy. Almost any "Blues" number supplies an admirable example of tone-unity. In the literary world, where the concept is perhaps a little more difficult to apprehend and where the concept is analogous only, there are also numerous examples. Eliot and his minions supply a thousand examples of tone-unity in poetry, while the prose world is no less a fertile field of development. I have already mentioned V. Sackville-West. Thomas and many others could be cited.


"Salient" would welcome comment on the above article and [unclear: criticism] of the verse printed. A [unclear: requtvK] for letters on the merit of literary contributions was made in the first issue of this year. So far [unclear: non] has been forthcoming: let's have some.