The Philosophy of Program Music, and a Query

Have I mentioned lately that I love the internet? Writing an article and needing a citation from Charles Ives’ Essays Before a Sonata, I put the phrase “the nearer we get to mere expression of emotion” into Google, and it took me straight to the online publication of Ives’s Essays by Project Gutenberg. I’m so happy to have it as a text file on my computer: I’m always quoting it, and having to search for the phrase I want. And carrying it around on my laptop, I remember again the vernacular yet mystical prose style that so thrilled me as a teenager, putting its mark forever on my writing:

On the other hand is not all music, program-music, – is not pure music, so called, representative in its essence? Is it not program-music raised to the nth power or rather reduced to the minus nth power? Where is the line to be drawn between the expression of subjective and objective emotion? It is easier to know what each is than when each becomes what it is. The “Separateness of Art” theory–that art is not life but a reflection of it–“that art is not vital to life but that life is vital to it,” does not help us. Nor does Thoreau who says not that “life is art,” but that “life is an art,” which of course is a different thing than the foregoing. Tolstoi is even more helpless to himself and to us, for he eliminates further. From his definition of art we may learn little more than that a kick in the back is a work of art, and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is not. Experiences are passed on from one man to another. Abel knew that. And now we know it. But where is the bridge placed? – at the end of the road or only at the end of our vision? Is it all a bridge?–or is there no bridge because there is no gulf? Suppose that a composer writes a piece of music conscious that he is inspired, say, by witnessing an act of great self-sacrifice–another piece by the contemplation of a certain trait of nobility he perceives in a friend’s character–and another by the sight of a mountain lake under moonlight. The first two, from an inspirational standpoint would naturally seem to come under the subjective and the last under the objective, yet the chances are, there is something of the quality of both in all. There may have been in the first instance physical action so intense or so dramatic in character that the remembrance of it aroused a great deal more objective emotion than the composer was conscious of while writing the music. In the third instance, the music may have been influenced strongly though subconsciously by a vague remembrance of certain thoughts and feelings, perhaps of a deep religious or spiritual nature, which suddenly came to him upon realizing the beauty of the scene and which overpowered the first sensuous pleasure–perhaps some such feeling as of the conviction of immortality, that Thoreau experienced and tells about in Walden. “I penetrated to those meadows…when the wild river and the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead IF they had been slumbering in their graves as some suppose. There needs no stronger proof of immortality.” Enthusiasm must permeate it, but what it is that inspires an art-effort is not easily determined much less classified. The word “inspire” is used here in the sense of cause rather than effect. A critic may say that a certain movement is not inspired. But that may be a matter of taste–perhaps the most inspired music sounds the least so–to the critic. A true inspiration may lack a true expression unless it is assumed that if an inspiration is not true enough to produce a true expression–(if there be anyone who can definitely determine what a true expression is)–it is not an inspiration at all.

Those words, the words of a true artist-philosopher with an insurance salesman’s knack for persuasion, knock my socks off today as they did when I was 15. How vague, how rambling, how colloquial, how erudite, how deeply thoughtful!

And while we’re at it, I have a query for the masses. A few months ago, I similarly did a search for Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and found all 32 as free PDF files on the internet. Lately I’ve looked again, and they’re gone! All I find is a few million sites trying to sell me scores and recordings. What happened to that wonderful PDF site, where you could refresh your memory about a Beethoven passage from any internet connection? Surely there wasn’t a copyright problem? Does anyone know where it is, or what happened to it?