Monday, June 30, 2014


If you type the above words in your favorite internet search engine, you'll see that they have been pronounced by a number of musicians and/or music critics, including Sting. This phrase has also been used to entitle studies on the alleged benefits of music as a skill-building tool

What everybody who I've heard use this phrase has missed so far, however, is the earliest known source of this maxim in a literary text. Such honor belongs to Shaw's Love Among the Artists. In this novel, one of the main characters (a composer), complains about how little one can make out of music for different reasons. And yet, when interrogated about the rationale behind his love for music, money does not rank very high: 

“…That fantasia of mine has been pirated and played in every musical capital in Europe ; and I could not afford to buy you a sable jacket out of what I have made by it.”

"It is very hard, certainly. But do you really care about money?"

"Ha! ha! No, of course not. Music is its own reward. Composers are not human: they can live on diminished sevenths ; and be contented with a pianoforte for a wife, and a string quartette for a family.”

It is not too difficult to link the main idea in these words with Shaw's general insights on music, as demonstrated in his music criticism and his general appraisal of performers, composers, and people in the music business. To begin with, this idea of music being its own reward is further elaborated in Love Among the Artists, just like some sort of fundamental axiom, when Aurelie remarks: 

"Music is my destiny, as painting is thine."

In principle, this may seem like an early contradiction to Shaw's notion that "art for art's sake" is just nonsense, as he put it in the Epistle Dedicatory to Man and Superman

"No doubt I must recognize, as even the Ancient Mariner did, that I must tell my story entertainingly if I am to hold the wedding guest spellbound in spite of the siren sounds of the loud bassoon. But "for art's sake" alone I would not face the toil of writing a single sentence."

Lohengrin - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News
However, music seems to be quite a different realm for Shaw, for whom it still remains as "the chastest of the muses" in many respects. 

"In Mr Cellier’s scores, music is still the chastest of the Muses. In Offenbach’s she is—what shall I say?—I am ashamed of her. I no longer wonder that the Germans came to Paris and sup­pressed her with fire and thunder. Here in England how respect­able she is! Virtuous and rustically innocent her 6-8 measures are, even when Dorothy sings ’‘Come, fill up your glass to the brim!’' She learnt her morals from Handel, her ladylike manners from Mendelssohn, her sentiment from the Bailiff's Daughter of Islington."

At any rate, I shall not go on about a topic I know so little about, lest I become one of those music critics Shaw dreaded

"Nobody knows better than I do that a musical critic who is always talking about music is quite as odious as an ordinary man who is always talking about himself. I venture to hope that I have never been guilty of the latter vice; and I shall try to steer dear of the former."

I will not go as far as to say that Shaw succeeded in his ethical endeavors, but that's one of the reasons we still talk about him!

Design for the Act3 finale of 'Der Freischütz' 1821 - NGO4p503

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