Hopkins Lectures 2010

Hopkins and the Migration of Musical
Notation to his verse

Irene Kyffin

Last year I talked about Hopkins prosodic markings and their significance for the oral reader. I had noticed that the large colon, employed between two stressed syllables to indicate a hiatus, gave the sense of syncopation. Hopkins does not use the word for this diacritic - yet what he says about its use tells us that this is exactly how it was to be used.

This idea led me to explore the music of Hopkins's time, approximately 1800-1900 - the era of the Romantic movement. Some illuminating papers have been written on the subject of music in relation to Hopkins' poetry.   While there is not much that is new, I thought it might interest you to take a close look at the musical terms - musical notation - and their function in  tempo rubato  that Hopkins adopted and adapted for his own purposes.

I will look at:

•  the Romantic movement

•  the trajectory that musical composition took: changes in instruments and orchestras; some of the ways in which composition expressed the ideas of the period;

•  how Hopkins, through his conceptualisation of verse as a form of music, adopted and adapted the musical ideas of his age to augment his own vision in the making of verse.

The Romantic movement

The 19C was a period of great political, cultural and artistic upheaval in Europe. The resistance to Napoleonic domination that spread through Europe took the form of a general celebration of national languages and traditions. Nature and the emotions featured strongly as a source of inspiration as opposed to the measured and calculated classical canon. The spread of ideas about the rights of the individual incorporated the notion that each person should seek the truth in their own way. Artists were exploring these ideas and celebrated at the same time, an investigation of their own emotions, underwritten by the idea that they, as artists, were a conduit for the sublime and would open the door to the numinous.

The Music and Composition of the Romantics

It was to music that, especially in Germany, most painters, poets and philosophers looked as the ideal. This was the art that embodied the condition of flux, change and progress, of movement between emotional states. The evocation of emotion as its primary function unified the Romantics. Romantic music concerns itself with creating musical tension to achieve a corresponding escalation of emotional response.

It was in Germany that Weber, who first vividly voiced the mood of national unity in the music of the Romantics, set the example that opened the way ultimately for Wagner, towards the end of the century, considered the apogee of national identity in Romantic composition. Liszt, on return visits to his homeland Hungary, went to gypsy encampments to hear 'wild and exotic music' which became woven into his musical thinking. The great Polish composer, Chopin, trod the same route .

Composers developed those genres and there were new i deas for the symphony, the concerto and the opera, based around the emotional and the personal. Above all, the new genres of programme music and the s ymphonic poem came into being. They told stories and painted vivid pictures . Significantly, Wagner used the term 'music drama' rather than 'opera'. The general explosion of new ideas was enhanced by mechanical improvements to a number of instruments , of which c omposers took full advantage .

A German flautist, Theobald Boehm (1793 - 1881) completely revolutionised flute playing by inventing a system of keys that improved its dexterity: that same system was later adapted for the clarinet by a French instrument maker with the glorious but rather unlikely name of Hyacinth Eleanore Klo┬Ęse (1808 - 1880). Piston and rotary valves were introduced for the horn and trumpet that allowed for greater freedom of playing. In the early part of the eighteenth century, Francois Tourte of Paris completely redesigned the violin bow, thus improving string playing techniques. Later, metal strings came to replace the less reliable gut strings.

The clarinet had been introduced in Mozart's time. Beethoven, who was constantly pushing musical ideas forward, first used the trombone symphonically for the finale of his 5th symphony first performed in 1808 . Although Haydn used the English Horn in some of his earlier symphonies, it really came into its own in the Romantic era. Beethoven required a large orchestra, chorus and solo singers for his 9th Symphony, given its first performance in 1824 , and this marked the real beginning of the transition from classicism to the Romantic era in music that properly came into being with Berlioz' Sinfonie Fantastique of 1830.

From then on and throughout the 19th Century the orchestra grew to be the large and magnificent instrument of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Musical Notation and Tempo Rubato

As the nineteenth century progressed, with these and subsequent improvements, timbre and texture of orchestral colour became increasingly nuanced and more evocative. Smaller changes of colour and gradations of volume were indicated by definitive - often meticulous - markings. It is not that any new notational items were devised - it was more a case of their application, especially by Wagner and later Mahler.....note beginnings of change from use of Italian to German on score.

About 1815-1820, the metronome was introduced by a friend of Beethoven's, Maelzel. Beethoven was fascinated by this innovation but his reservations about it are shown by his heading to the song 'Nord oder süd'. Set at 100 according to Maelzel, of which Beethoven says: '.....but this must be held applicable to only the first measures, for feeling also has its tempo and this cannot entirely be expressed in this figure'.

One of the characteristics of the period is this play with or flexibility of tempo or tempo rubato in order to achieve emotional effect - still a matter of debate. Brahms observes: 'I am of the opinion that metronome marks go for nothing. As far as I know, all composers have as yet retracted their metronome marks in later years...for myself I have never believed that my blood and a mechanical instrument go very well together.' Liszt writes in 1870 'A metronomical performance is certainly tiresome and nonsensical; time and rhythm must be adapted to and identified with the melody, the harmony, the accent and the poetry... but how to indicate all this? I shudder at the thought of it.' We hear an echo of this in Hopkins revulsion at prosodic markings.

Tempo rubato exercised the minds of composers and interpreters, as it did H. There has been and still is, confusion about its meaning and disagreement about how it should be employed. Rubato means stolen - so, time stolen in one bar must be recompensed somewhere else (not all musicians agree), so where some notes are played slowly in one bar, they should be speeded up in the next to make up for the loss of time and vice versa. Accounts of Chopin's playing suggest that he kept the left hand strictly in time, allowing the right hand to bend its time over a steady accompaniment (Philips P221). Christopher Wilson refers to 19 C musical agogics - that is, to the widespread use of rubato, rhythmic flexibility, pauses and accents characteristic of Romantic music. Composers, performers and theorists have affirmed the integral nature of agogics to the interpretation and performance of Romantic music. Hugo Riemann argues that, without agogics, music would be machine-like. Wagner asserts that music would be 'colourless and lifeless' if played strictly as written. Mahler is reported to have said 'All the most important things - the tempo, the total conception and structuring of a work are almost impossible to pin down......metronome markings are inadequate and almost worthless, for unless the work is vulgarly ground out in barrel-organ style, the tempo will already have changed by the end of the second bar'. It is from the earlier time of Chopin, Berlioz and Schumann onwards that the varying of tempo has full play.

Hopkins and Musical Thinking

Hopkins, deeply grounded in Romantic thought and feeling and with a strong musical sensibility, treated the poetic art as if it were music; he attempted to graft on to poetry as well as further develop, a system of notation for its interpretation and speaking, as the composers of the time were doing with music. Parallelism of the arts, characteristic of the Romantics, was in his bones. Gardner observes 'As music and poetic rhythm were to him 'fluid architecture', so architecture was 'frozen music.'

Anthony Burgess, in a beautiful essay on Hopkins, observes that H's prosodic system demonstrates the rhythmical kinship between the two arts. In a dissertation on rhetoric H discusses syllables or words as musical notes, metrical feet as bars, lines or sentences and paragraphs or stanzas as movements or sections of movements. He understood syllables in terms of musical pitch and accent, the tonic accent in terms of sharp and flat. He addresses the vowel as the minim and the crotchet. 'All writing' comments H, 'aspires to the condition of music'. He discusses double-iambic or double-trochaic feet in terms of 'music bars of four time' (Stonyhurst Letter CLXXII) In a letter to Coventry Patmore, he says '....we shall be justified in saying the acute tonic accent was the best marked pitch in each word; which pitch was commonly a rise (say of a fifth, to the dominant - the most natural interval) from the keynote or readingnote...' and so on.

Of Spelt from Sibyl's leaves, H tells us that it should be read '....loud, leisurely, poetical......with long rests, long dwells on the rhyme and other marked syllables.....it should be almost sung: it is most carefully timed in tempo rubato' . (Abbott 1994 P246).


Hopkins's Adoption and Adaptation of Musical Notation

Tempo rubato is important in H's verse. The prosodic markings play with time: a change of tempo to 'spring' the rhythm; a 'staccato' or 'rallentando' to heighten the emotions, which is what lay at the very heart of artistic aspiration at this time; an inversion to produce counterpoint; the particular placement of a stress for syncopation or for 'fetching out' the words. H distinguishes, as in musical composition, between symbols of force and symbols of time.

Refer to powerpoint display

(Powerp't 2) The signs that H took directly from music include (and he tells us how they should be applied):

(Powerpoint 3) The fermata, which he used as in music - to hold or pause.

(Powerpoint 4) The slur indicating that notes are to be played legato - that is, 'bound' together, smoothly and, in vocal music, two or more notes sung to one word.....for H, in the same way, a slur over two syllables binds them into one; over three or more syllables, gives them the time of one half foot.

(Powerpoint 5) The accent is a sign used in music for attack. H made that use of it in exactly the same way.

(Powerpoint 6) The marcato is an articulation of force in music meaning more attack. H calls this a circumflex and uses it for stress;

(Powerpoint 7) The dot or point placed under or over a note for a staccato shortens it, as a way of stressing a note. H used acute and grave accents for stress and even double accents for great stress - in fact, although he started out with distinctions between these different signs, he is far from rigorous with them and they are confusing.

(Powerpoint 8) The Turn. H calls this a quiver or circumflexion, 'a sort of turn or shake'. It makes one syllable nearly two, mostly used with diphthongs and liquids. (Powerpoint 9) The tuplet in music denotes rhythmic groupings of notes that are NOT metric groupings - so, for example, quintuplet. H places this above two words to show a grouping of equal stress - he considers this a sort of spondee - the first of which should be only slightly more heavily stressed.

H then goes further with these ideas, employing a range of signs of his own devising.

Whilst writing this paper in the UK, I heard a Radio programme celebrating the Schumanns - Robert and Clara. It included a discussion of tempo rubato in one of the pieces. It is the ever-changing dynamic of musical interpretation or the speaking of a poem.


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????? 1970, The letters of G M H, OUP

Burgess, A, 1982, This man and music, Nothing is as beautiful as Sprung,

Hutchinson ????

Gardner, W H, 1944, G M H: a study of poetic idiosyncracy in relation to poetic . tradition

Gerou, T & Lusk, L, Essential dictionary of musical notation,

Greenish, Arthur J, 1953, The student's dictionary of musical terms, Stainer & Bell

House, H, (ed), 1959, G M Hopkins, Rhythm and other structural parts of rhetoric - . verse, in The journals and papers of GMH, OUP

House, H, (ed) 1959, Stevens, J, G M H as musician in The journals and papers of G . MH, OUP

McLeery, D, 2007, (Discover) Music of the Romantic era, Naxos

Philip, R, 1992, Early recordings and musical style, CUP

Pick, J, 1944, A Hopkins Reader, OUP

Pick, J, 1953, A Hopkins Reader, P123

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Skarda, P, L, 1973,: 'The music of his mind': G M H as literary critic and theorist, . Ph.D thesis, University of Texas at Austin

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Stainer, J, 1912, A dictionary of musical terms

Waterhouse, J F, G M H and music, from Music & Letters Vol xviii, No 3 July 1937

Wilson, C, R, 'Romantic musical Agogics as an element in Gerard Manley Hopkins' . prosody', Second Biennial Conference on Music in 19th-century Britain, . Durham University (July 1999).

Links to 2010 Hopkins Lectures

Wisdon of Cardinal Newman || The Wreck of the Deutchland || Epiphanies and Ecstasy in Hopkins Poetry || African Writers and Influence of Hopkins || Hopkins Musical Notation || Translating Pied Beauty into Finnish || Language