Formation Of The Scale — Notation

IN comparing the Ambrosian chant with that of Gregory, it may be said that we have touched upon the vital principle of modern music. The novelty in the Gregorian chant consisted in its absolute emancipation from the tyranny of actual words and declamation; while the idea, the poetic principle, or religious ecstasy still remained the ideal to be expressed in the music. Before this, as already explained, music was either a mathematical problem, a rhythm to mark the time in dancing, or a vehicle serving for the display of clever tours de force, the music of the tragedies being merely a kind of melodious declamation. To quote Goethe, “having recognized the fact, it still remains for us to see how it developed.” Let us now consider this point.

Three things were necessary before these Gregorian chants could develop at all: (I) A simple, clean-cut musical scale or systematized table of musical sounds. (2) Some definite manner of symbolizing sounds, so that they could be accurately expressed in writing. (3) A cultivation of the sense of hearing, in order that mankind might learn to distinguish between sounds that are discordant and those that sound well together; in other words, harmony.

We will begin with the scale, and review what we know of the Greek modes in order to show how they were amalgamated into our present octave system of scales.

Under Ambrose and Pope Gregory, these modes had taken a different form. The chromatic and enharmonic styles had been abandoned in theory, the portamento which the singers introduced into their chants being the only principle retained.

In order to complete the story of the evolution of scales and clefs, we must add that the Flemish monk, Hucbald (g00 A. D.), divided this scale into regular tetrachords, beginning at G, with the succession, tone, semitone, tone, forming four disjunct tetrachords.

This division remained without influence on the development of the scale.

The first change in the tetrachord system of reckoning tones and dividing the scale was made by Guido d’Arezzo (first half of eleventh century), who divided it into hexachords or groups of six notes each. Up to that time, each note of the scale had had a letter of the alphabet for its symbol. It was Guido who conceived the idea of using syllables for these notes. The story of how it occurred to him is well known: On one occasion, hearing his brethren in the monastery choir of Arezzo, in Tuscany, sing a hymn to St. John the Baptist, he noticed that the first syllable of each line came on regularly ascending notes of the scale, the first syllable coming on C, the first of the next line on D, the first of the third on E, etc., up to A on the sixth line. As all these syllables happened to differ one from the other, and, moreover, were very easy to sing, he hit upon the idea of using them to distinguish the notes on which they fell in the hymn.

Furthermore, as there were six of these syllables, he arranged the musical scale in groups of six notes instead of four, hexachords instead of tetrachords. Commencing with G, which was the lowest note of the system in Hucbald’s time, the first hexachord was formed of G A B CD E; the second, following the example of the Greeks, he made to o v e r l a p the first, namely, C D E F G A; the third, likewise overlapping the second, commenced on F. In order to make this hexachord identical in structure with the first and second, he flatted the B, thus making the succession of notes, F G A C D. The next three hexachords were repetitions of the first three, namely, GAB CD E, C DEF G A, F GA B. C D; the last was again a repetition of the first, G A B C D E.

To the lowest note of this scale, which was foreign to the Greek system, he gave a special name, gamma, after the Greek letter G. From this we get our word for the scale, the gamut. The other notes remained the same as before, only that for the lowest octave capital letters were used; in the next octave, the notes were designated by small letters, and in the last octave by double letters, aa, bb, etc., as in the following example.

Following out his system, he applied the newly acquired syllables to each of the hexachords — for instance, the lowest hexachord, G A B C D E, which was called hard, became ut re mi fa sol la; the second, which was called natural, C D E F G A, also became ut re mi fa sol la; and the third, which was called soft, F GA Bb C D, became likewise ut re mi fa sol la. The next three hexachords were treated in the same manner; the last or seventh hexachord was merely a repetition of the first and the fourth.

Now in the hymns, and also in the sequences, as they were called (which were simply a series of notes forming a little melody sung to two or three words), the voice was rarely called upon to progress more than the interval of a sixth, and so this solmization, as the new system was called, was very valuable; for one had only to give the pitch, and ut always meant the keynote, re the second, mi the third, etc., etc. In time ut was found to be a difficult syllable to sing, and do was substituted. This change, however, was made after the scale was divided into a system of octaves instead of hexachords. The improvement in singing soon made the limits of the hexachords too small to be practical; therefore another syllable was added to the hexachordal system, si, and with this seventh note we have our modern scale. From this we see that the scale in present use is composed of octaves, just as the older scales were composed of hexachords, and before that tetrachords. Just as in mediæval times each hexachord commenced with ut, so now every octave of our tonal system commences with do.

Before leaving the hexachordal system, it may be as well to explain the mode of procedure when the voice had to go beyond the interval of the sixth. We know that the first of every set of six notes was called ut, the second, re, the third, mi, etc. When the voice had to go beyond la, the sixth note, to B, that sixth note was always called re, and was considered the second note of a new hexachord. If, on the other hand, the voice had to go beyond a, to Bb, the fifth,note was called re, since the syllables mi fa must always come on the half-tone.

In a study of our system of writing music, it may be as well to begin with the derivation of our sharps and flats. Observing the third hexachord on our list we see that in order to make it identical in structure with the first and second, the B had to be lowered a semitone. Now the third hexachord was called soft. The Bb, in it was accordingly called a soft B or B molle, which is still the name in France for a flat, and moll in German still means minor, or “soft” or “lowered.” For the fourth hexachord, which was called hard, this B was again raised a semitone. But the flatted B was already indicated by the letter b or round b, as it was called; hence this B natural was given a square shape and called B carré, 4. The present French word for natural (when it is specially marked) is bécarré; the German word for major also comes indirectly from this, for dur means “hard.”

An explanation of the modern German names for notes will be easily understood in this connection. In the German nomenclature the letters of the alphabet stand for the notes of the scale as in the English, with the exception of B. This B, or “round” B, in the German system stands for B b, which is more logical than our English usage, since our flat is merely a slightly modified form of b. The German B natural is our letter h, which is merely a corruption of the square b,#, which by the addition of a line in time became our 4. The Germans have carried the flatting and sharping of tones to a logical conclusion in their present nomenclature, for by “sharping” the sound of a single letter it is raised a semitone from its normal diapason, thus F becomes Fis, G Gis. On the other hand, in order to lower a tone, the letter representing it is “flatted,” and F is called Fes, G Ges, the only exception to these rules being the B which we have already considered.

In France the Guidonian system was adhered to closely, and to this day the bicarré is used only as an accidental, to indicate that the note to which it refers has been flatted before. The naturel (which has the same shape) is used to designate a note that is natural to the key; thus the distinction is made between an accidental and a note that is common to the key. In F major, for instance, B4 is si bicarré, A4 would be la naturel. Our modern sharp is merely another form of the natural or square B (4) which gradually came to be used before any note, signifying that it was raised or sharped a half-tone; the flat lowered it a semitone, and after a while the natural received its present place between the sharp and flat. The first instance we have of the sharp being used is in the thirteenth century, when (in the Rondels of Adam de la Hale) it takes the form of a cross x (the German word for the sharp still remains kreuz). The French word diese (sharp) comes from the Greek diesis, a term used to indicate the raising of the voice in the chromatic scale.

And now we have to speak of notation and its development. Thus far we have found only two ways in which musical sounds were indicated by the ancients. First, we remember the invention of Aristophanes of Alexandria, his accents, high, low, and circumflex. Then we know from Ptolemy, Bcethius, and Alypius that letters were used to designate the different tones; but as there is no music extant in this notation to prove the theory, we need not trouble ourselves with it.

The system of Aristophanes, however, was destined to become the nucleus from which our modern notation sprang. We know that an elementary idea, clearly ex-pressed, has more chances of living than has a more complicated system, however ingenious the latter may be. Now this system is so plain that we will find it is common to many aboriginal peoples, for instance the American Indians have a system very similar.