It has been said that hearing is the most perfect of the senses in man. Considered as a musical instrument the ear is in fact a most admirable organ, and which man alone possesses; but here, as in the eye, we must distinguish between the apparatus of hearing and what pertains to the domain of the mind. The ear perceives sounds, but the mind estimates their regularity, measures their intervals, judges them melodious or the reverse, determines their discord or their harmony. If the painter is provided with a faithful mirror, the ear is for the musician a still more infallible guide; not that it surpasses the eye in delicacy of mechanism, but that the mathematical divisions of sound, and of their intervals, much more minute than shades of colour, do not admit of confusion. The eye perceives a great number of tints at the same time, which may mingle upon the retina either from their vicinity, or from the rapid displacement of objects, as we see when the molecules of two colours are mixed together, and when a disk of several colours turns on its axis. On the contrary, however rapid the movement in a piece of music, each note produces a distinct sound, and when several reach it simultaneously they always cause isolated impressions. It is thus that a musician in the midst of the accords of a large or chestra is able to distinguish a false note and the instrument from which it proceeds.
The acuteness of hearing has more influence upon the delicacy of auditory impressions, than extent of vision has upon visual impressions; acute vision is not necessary to the painter in judging exactly of colours, but the ear of the musician must have an exquisite sensibility in order that he may appreciate the truthfulness of notes and their harmoni relations; but when once this idea is acquired it is ineffaceable and enables him to create master-pieces which his ear canm hear. Beethoven became deaf at forty, and composed al those immortal works which for himself were never per formed except in his mind.
It is not rare to find persons who distinguish musica sounds with difficulty and confound them as regards th notes. For those in whom this Daltonism of the ear is ex treme, music has no existence; they hear only a succession of sounds more or less intense, without harmonious relation or rhythmical succession. Between this condition and tha delicacy of ear which marks the leader of an orchestra or a good tuner, the degrees are infinitely varied, and absolut correctness of ear is as rare, at least, as a perfect perception of colour, although musical impressions seem to demand less effort, and to be a more common endowment than th ability to appreciate painting.
It is said that a false note disturbs more than false colouring, but this is true only within certain limits. A mediocre amateur listening to the overture of "Der Freischutz" at the Conservatory would be shocked, no doubt, if the horn should, by one of those accidents which it is impossible always to avoid, be out of tune; but the same amateur after having heard this same piece executed by a second-rate orchestra would be very well satisfied with the concert, and would take into account neither the false notes which might have escaped nor the want of regard to time or expression, and if he does not place the two orchestras on the same level, it will be from personal feelings. Among the crowds which visit the galleries of the Louvre every year, how many people prefer a common and inharmonious picture blazing with colour to a master-piece of Titian!
A person who sings falsely is said to have "no ear," and often, in fact, it is to the want of exactness in the ear that the faults in the voice are due. In this case the evil is beyond remedy, the musician who has an incorrect ear can never be sure of producing correct sounds. But if the falsity of the note is due solely to an imperfection in the vocal organ, a man who cannot sing correctly, can play the violin or violincello perfectly, because his ear judges correctly of the sounds which he produces from his instrument.