Evidence In Regard To Musical Imagination
The question asked above, Does the experiencing of purely musical
sounds evoke images, universally, and of what nature and under what
conditions? seemed to me to enter a more general field--the affective
imagination--which I intend to study elsewhere in a special work. For
the time being I limit myself to observations and information that I
have gathered, picking from them several that I give here for the sake
of shedding light on the question. I give first the replies of
musicians; then, those of non-musicians.
1. M. Lionel Dauriac writes me: "The question that you ask me is
complex. I am not a 'visualizer;' I have infrequent hypnagogic
hallucinations, and they are all of the auditory type.
"... Symphonic music aroused in me no image of the visual type while I
remained the amateur that you knew from 1876 to 1898. When that amateur
began to reflect methodically on the art of his taste, he recognized in
music a power of suggesting:
"1. Sonorous, non-musical images--thunder, clock. Example, the overture
of William Tell.
"2. Psychic images--suggestion of a mental state--anger, love, religious
"3. Visual images, whether following upon the psychic image or through
the intermediation of a programme.
"Under what condition, in a symphonic work, is the visual image,
introduced by the psychic image, produced? In the event of a break in
the melodic web (see my Psychologie dans l'Opera, pp. 119-120). Here
are given, without orderly arrangement, some of the ideas that have come
"Beethoven's symphony in C major appears to me purely musical--it is
of a sonorous design. The symphony in D major (the second) suggests to
me visual-motor images--I set a ballet to the first part and keep track
altogether of the ballet that I picture. The Heroic Symphony (aside
from the funeral march, the meaning of which is indicated in the title)
suggests to me images of a military character, ever since the time that
I noticed that the fundamental theme of the first portion is based on
notes of perfect harmony--trumpet-notes and, by association, military.
The finale of this symphony, which I consider superior to other parts,
does not cause me to see anything. Symphony in B flat major--I see
nothing there--this may be said without qualification. Symphony in C
minor--it is dramatic, although the melodic web is never broken. The
first part suggests the image, not of Fate knocking at the gate, as
Beethoven said, but of a soul overcome with the crises of revolt,
accompanied by a hope of victory. Visual images do not come except as
brought by psychic images."
F. G., a musician, always sees--that is the rule, notably in the
Pastoral, and in the Heroic Symphony. In Bach's Passion he beholds
the scene of the mystic lamb.
A composer writes me: "When I compose or play music of my own
composition I behold dancing figures; I see an orchestra, an audience,
etc. When I listen to or play music by another composer I do not see
anything." This communication also mentions three other musicians who
2. D......, so little of a musician that I had some trouble to make him
understand the term "symphonic music," never goes to concerts. However,
he went once, fifteen years ago, and there remains in his memory very
clearly the principal phrase of a minuet (he hums it)--he cannot recall
it without seeing people dancing a minuet.
M. O. L...... has been kind enough to question in my behalf sixteen
non-musical persons. Here are the results of his inquiry:
Eight see curved lines.
Three see images, figures springing in the air, fantastic designs.
Two see the waves of the ocean.
Three do not see anything.
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