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JJ Fux: the purpose and difficulties of a career in music

November 24, 2007

From: JJ Fux, the Gradus ad Parnassum [1725]

Book Two


(Josephus) I COME TO YOU,revered master, to be instructed in the precepts and laws of music.

(Aloysius) What, you wish to learn musical composition?

(Josephus) That is indeed my wish.

(A) Are you unaware that the study of music is a boundless sea, not to be concluded with the years of Nestor? Truly, you are planning to assume a burden greater than Aetna. For if the choice of a mode of life is universally a matter of difficulty, since this choice, rightly or wrongly made the good or bad fortune of all the rest of life depends….For a musician and a poet are born You must think back, whether from tender years you have felt yourself impelled to this study by a certain natural impulse. and whether it has befallen you to intensely moved by the delight of harmony.

(J) Yes, most intensely…………Nor do I shrink from the severity of the task, which with nature’s aid I am confident of mastering without difficulty. For I have heard it said….that study is rather a pleasure than a task.

[another exchange omitted]

(A) Are you perhaps tickled by the hope of future riches and of abundance of private possessions in wishing to embrace this mode of life? It that is the case, take my advice and change your purpose. For not Plutus but Apollo presides over Parnassus. Those who seek the way to wealth must follow a different road.

(J) Not at all. I wish you to be persuaded that the compass of my wish is none other than the very love of music, free from any desire of gain. In addition, I recall having been very often admonished by my teacher that if we are content with a modest way of life, we shall wish to be more zealous for virtue, fame and distinction than for means, for virtue is its own reward.

Strunk, Oliver, Source Readings in Music History, The Baroque Era. WW Norton & Company, New York and London, 1965. SBN 393-09682-3, pp.175-176.

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