Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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In order to understand Foster's limitations as a musi­cian, it is necessary to realize the conditions of his early environment. For the proper development of artistic expression, an old and well established civilization is necessary. This is especially true of the development of the musician, i. e., the composer, the man who produces music. The other arts, literature, painting, sculpture, and the drama, are more or less imitative and drawn directly from life and experience, but music is esoteric in its nature, and, for its proper expression, demands not only the power and impulse to create, but also initiation into the forms and formulae of the art itself. This eso­teric quality distinguishes music from all other activ­ities of the human spirit, even religious aspiration, which it most closely resembles.*
It is this quality also which explains the fact that, in all the cycles of civilization, music has always been the last of the arts to reach its full development. Music, as we now know it, did not find itself until the beginning of the seventeenth century, although for the majority, even those most musically endowed, there is little of vital interest or meaning prior to Johann Sebastian Bach, nearly one hundred years later. One has only to glance at the achievements at this period in other arts to realize how long music had been a-borning. That American composers lag behind their European contemporaries both in numbers and in the quality of their work, does not argue an inferior natural musical endowment, nor lack of aspiration, but merely means that an American has farther to go to reach the goal than a European.
Perhaps no one can fully realize this important truth who has not lived, at least for a time, in a primitive com­munity. A log-cabin may produce an Abraham Lincoln, but it can never produce a Mozart or a Beethoven. The American people are drawing farther and farther away from the log-cabin, but a study of the comparative stages * Cf. Richard Wagner's "Beethoven."

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III