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Cardinal Newman as a Musician   By: (1852-1922)

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Author of "Cherubini: Memorials Illustrative of his Life."





Music's ethereal fire was given Not to dissolve our clay, But draw Promethean beams from Heaven, And purge the dross away.


Cardinal Newman as a Musician.

It is a remark of St. Philip Neri's latest biographer that, "Our Saint was profoundly convinced that there is in music and in song a mysterious and a mighty power to stir the heart with high and noble emotion, and an especial fitness to raise it above sense to the love of heavenly things."[1] In like manner the Saint's illustrious son, Cardinal Newman, has spoken of "the emotion which some gentle, peaceful strain excites in us," and "how soul and body are rapt and carried away captive by the concord of musical sounds where the ear is open to their power;"[2] how, too, "music is the expression of ideas greater and more profound than any in the visible world, ideas which centre, indeed, in Him whom Catholicism manifests, who is the seat of all beauty, order, and perfection whatever."[3] Music, then, to him was no "mere ingenuity or trick of art like some game or fashion of the day without meaning."[4] For him man "sweeps the strings and they thrill with an ecstatic meaning."[5] "Is it possible," he asks, "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 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 voice of angels, or the Magnificat of saints, or the living laws of Divine governance, or the Divine attributes, something are they beside themselves, which we cannot compass, which we cannot utter."[6] And with him, as with St. Philip, may we not say that music held "a foremost place in his thoughts and plans"?[7] True, out of its place, he will but allow that "playing musical instruments is an elegant pastime, and a resource to the idle."[8] Music and "stuffing birds"[9] were no conceivable substitutes for education properly so called, any more than a "Tamworth Reading Room" system could be the panacea for every ill; but so long as an art in any given case did not tend to displace the more serious business of life; should it become for such an one an "aid to reflection," or, per contra , profitably distract him; in brief, if it anywise helped a soul on to her journey's end, then welcome the "good and perfect gift."

[Footnote 1: Cardinal Capecelatro's Life of St. Philip Neri , translated by the Rev. Thomas Alder Pope, of the Oratory, vol. ii. p. 83.]

[Footnote 2: Discourses to Mixed Congregations , p. 297, Fourth Edit. 1871.]

[Footnote 3: Idea of a University , dis. iv. p. 80, Sixth Edit. 1886.]

[Footnote 4: Oxford University Sermons , p. 346, Edit. 1884.]

[Footnote 5: Idea , dis. ix. 230. Dr. Chalmers writes to Blanco White: "You speak in your letter of the relief you have found in music.... I am no musician and want a good ear, and yet I am conscious of a power in music which I want words to describe. It touches chords, reaches depths in the soul which lie beyond all other influences.... Nothing in my experience is more mysterious, more inexplicable." (Blanco White's Life and Correspondence , edited by Thom, 1845, vol... Continue reading book >>

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