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Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

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Handel and Music                125

by predecessors. What, I wonder, may he take from these—
how may he build himself upon them and grow out of them
—if he is to make it his chief business to steer clear of them ?
A safer canon is that the development of a musician should
be like that of a fugue or first movement, in which, the subject
having been enounced, it is essential that thenceforward
everything shall be both new and old at one and the same
time—new, but not too new—old, but not too old.

Indeed no musician can be original in respect of any large
percentage of his work. For independently of his turning to
his own use the past labour involved in musical notation,
which he makes his own as of right without more thanks to
those who thought it out than we give to him who invented
wheels when we hire a cab, independently of this, it is sur-
prising how large a part even of the most original music consists
of common form scale passages, and closes. Mutatis mutandis,
the same holds good with even the most original book or
picture ; these passages or forms are as light and air, common
to all of us; but the principle having been once admitted
that some parts of a man's work cannot be original—not,
that is to say, if he has descended with only a reasonable
amount of modification—where is the line to be drawn ?
Where does common form begin and end ?

The answer is that it is not mere familiarity that should
forbid borrowing, but familiarity with a passage as associated
with special surroundings. If certain musical progressions
are already associated with many different sets of ante-
cedents and consequents, they have no special association,
except in so far as they may be connected with a school or
epoch; no one, therefore, is offended at finding them associ-
ated with one set the more. Familiarity beyond a certain
point ceases to be familiarity, or at any rate ceases to be
open to the objections that lie against that which, though
familiar, is still not familiar as common form. Those on the
other hand who hold that a musician should never knowingly
borrow will doubtless say that common form passages are
an obvious and notorious exception to their rule, and the
one the limits of which are easily recognised in practice
however hard it may be to define them neatly on paper.

It is not suggested that when a musician wants to compose
an air or chorus he is to cast about for some little-known