Fenton on Music and Words

James Fenton in the TLS:

“I was looking for a text that would help me express what happens when words and music come together, but I chanced instead on a different thought: that there was once no place for a music without words, that a purely instrumental music was a concept that had no content. The aesthetics of European music, so I read, had their origins in Greek thought, and our musical theory was developed in the womb of the Catholic Church. There, until around the middle of the eighteenth century, music was held to be meant exclusively for the glorification of God, and this glorification should always be made through words. And from this argument, I was informed, came the resistance to the emancipation of instrumental music, the condemnation, the demonization of it. This notion came fresh to me, as it seemed to come fresh to the subject of an interview I was reading, Hans Werner Henze, for the composer asked, ‘Who actually is the chief representative of this school of thought?’ and was told by the somewhat evasive interviewer, ‘That was the general opinion of the theoreticians of those days’.

No music without song, no song without words, no words without the praise of God . . .”