History Of Music – Introduction

Purpose of the Study of the History of Music.—The purpose of the study of the history of music is to trace the development of the many phases which make up modern music which we cannot but regard as a great social force, an intellectual, an uplifting force. If we consider it from the material side, it is one of magnitude; we need but think of the money invested in buildings, opera houses, schools, concert halls, publishing plants, factories, the sums spent on musical instruments, instruction, concerts, opera, etc., to recognize the commercial side. When we think of the great army of persons whose livelihood is conditioned upon musical work, upon the great audiences that support musical enterprises, we recognize the magnitude of music in a social sense, and that it offers a large field for study. These conditions, interesting as they are, represent only phases of musical work, not Music itself, and serve to show the place which Music occupies in the life of today. Our investigation is, then, a consideration of the origin and development of Music, and the means by which it took shape.

The Place of Intellect in Music. When we think of Music we have in mind an organization of musical sounds into something definite, something by design, not by chance, the product of the working of the human mind with musical sounds and their effects upon the human sensibilities. So long as man accepted the various phenomena of musical sounds as isolated facts, there could be no art. But when he began to use them to minister to his pleasure and to study them and their effects, he began to form an art of music. The story of music is the record of a series of at-tempts on the part of man to make artistic use of the material which the ear accepts as capable of affording plea-sure and as useful in expressing the innermost feelings.

The raw material of music consists of the sounds considered musical, the human voice, various musical instruments and the use of this material in such ways as to affect the human sensibilities; that is, to make an impression upon the hearer which shall coincide with that of the original maker of the music who gives to his feelings expression in music. We find in music, as in other branches, that man tries to reduce phenomena to order and to definite form. The mass of musical material is vague, incoherent, disorganized. Man seeks to devise ways to use it intelligibly, and to promote esthetic pleasure. If musical sounds are to be combined simultaneously or successively, this combination should be in accordance with design, not haphazard, just as the builder of the house or the temple puts together his material ac-cording to a regular plan. Those who have been leaders in the Art of Music have labored in two ways : to extend the limits of expression in music, and to find the means to contain that expression. At one period stress is laid on making music expressive, at another on the medium for conveying expression to others, the latter being comprehended in the term Form. In connection with this statement, the student will do well to remember that every period of great intellectual activity, social or political, re-acted upon music and the other arts ; to illustrate, we need but refer to the formal, even artificial character of the music of the period preceding the French Revolution and the freedom and vigor imparted by the spirit of Romanticism which followed in the wake of that great political movement, a difference strikingly illustrated in the music of Haydn and Beethoven, Clementi and Schumann. There is also a constant action and reaction of the various racial streams of power such as the Aryan on the Semitic, East upon the West, Latin upon the Teuton, Folk-music upon the Scholastic.

The Principles in Music.—The leading principles in music are : Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Color or Tone Quality, and in the execution of works of music, Dynamic Contrast, an essential factor in Expression. For ages after the birth of Music, Rhythm and Melody were the only real elements, Rhythm being first recognized. The potency of Rhythm, strong and irresistible in the early days of the race and with primitive man, is still acknowledged. Music that lacks a clearly-defined rhythm does not move the masses. Witness martial music, the dance airs and the “popular song.” All primitive languages were characterized by concise, figurative and picturesque qualities; they easily changed from the ordinary into the lofty and the impassioned. Intonation and changing inflection had much to do with meaning, as is the case with the Chinese language of today. Historians ascribe the origin of Melody to this principle of vocal expression. For years prior to the Christian Era, and long after, Rhythm and Melody were the only accepted elements of Music, and the art remained in a low grade of development. It was not until Harmony appeared, clear and unmistakable, that Music was able to claim a position equal to that accorded to the sister-arts, Poetry, Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. These principles, Rhythm, Melody and Harmony, became, when couched in the forms of expression adopted by the great masters, what we call Modern Music, and the story is one of a development from extreme simplicity to the complexity illustrated in modern orchestral scores.

Means of Expression.—One more phase must be mentioned here, the means used to present to others the thoughts or feelings of the composer, that is, the human voice and its artistic use, instruments of various kinds, their primitive forms and gradual development, their use singly and in combination with other instruments. This phase is peculiarly associated with modern music; for it was not until the art had freed itself from the fetters imposed by vocal music, that absolute music, availing itself of perfected instruments, came into its own. From that time development was unprecedentedly rapid.

What is to be Brought Forward.—The history of Music is, then, a recital of facts bearing upon the development of modern music and we shall lay stress on such facts as show a permanent impress and a solid contribution to progress in one or more of the lines marked out : Form, Expression, Melody, Rhythm, Harmony and Instrumental Color. In the study of a composer, the facts essential to the history of music are critical rather than biographical; not a life chronicle so much as a clear statement of what he specially contributed to forward the art. To gain an educational value, the facts of the history of music are to be studied so as to glean from them their significance, and 4n understanding of the causes and conditions which made them possible; then we go on to discern the consequences to which they in turn gave rise. No man works for him-self and out of himself. He builds upon what others have done, and he builds for others. The student should discern the lesson in the past, and receive guidance for the future.

What We. Learn from Archæology.—The history of an art such as Music must give the historical data in connection with the development of art and artists, free of all questionable and false features, and give as trustworthy, as accurate a picture of the various stages as possible. If we go backward in our research we reach a point at which ordinary records fail. If we make an inquiry into the beginnings of music we must have recourse to the findings and interpretations of Archæology. The results are by no means satisfactory. In all the digging in the ruins of the once great cities of Egypt, and Western Asia, and of Greece and Etruria as well, with perhaps one exception, no music has been brought to light, and but a few instruments, and these can scarcely be considered perfect. However, the pictorial representations on tombs, monuments, temples and houses give valuable aid, enabling scholars to reconstruct the story of music among the older civilizations. We must not forget, however, that conjecture plays a more or less prominent part in all the translations of the old hieroglyphic and cuneiform writings. We have no direct knowledge of the scales used or how the instruments were played together, what was the nature of the science and system in use. What we have is mere inference from the nature of the instruments and the representations of musicians playing their instruments, together with fragments from con-temporary or later writings.

What We Learn from Ethnology.—Another source open to students of the beginnings of music is the material gathered by Ethnology. Those who place stress on this means of research lay down the proposition that the primitive people of the world of today occupy a mental and social stage similar to that of the primitive races from which the civilized folk of today have sprung. Therefore, they study the music, the rude chants, the dances, the instruments, etc., of various primitive tribes, and then by comparison try to indicate the various stages through which music came to have the art germ, from which the great product we know has developed.

Some Theories.—We can give in this lesson only a few of the theories offered by those who have discussed the matter of the origin of music: The Dance, Poetry and Music form a group which cannot readily be separated; they are not independent of each other, but most intimately connected. This view fails to take account of the fact that Music which is, externally, so closely connected with the Dance and with Poetry, is, in its essence, absolutely distinct. Schopenhauer, the philosopher from whom Richard Wagner drew inspiration, holds this view very strongly. He says : “Music is quite independent of the visible world, is absolutely ignorant of it, and could exist in a certain way if there were no world ; which cannot be said of the other arts.” The other arts are essentially imitative and representative ; they are based upon Nature. Some writers, the Frenchman Dubos and the English philosopher Herbert Spencer among them, claim that Music does represent Nature. They say that as the painter imitates the forms and colors he sees in nature, so the musician follows the various modulations of the voice, finding there the basic conceptions of Rhythm, Melody and Color. Singing, which Spencer considers the original music, is the emphasizing and intensifying of the properties of speech. Gurney says, per contra, that “Music creates audible forms, successions and combinations of tones which have no prototype in Nature and do not exist outside of Music.” Those who believe that Music is a separate entity therefore seek to trace it to a completely independent beginning.’ Darwin offered another theory as to the way in which man arrived at Music. His idea is that the faculty of producing musical tones and rhythm was first acquired by our animal ancestors as a means of attracting the opposite sex, the faculty being developed and improved by the process of selection.

The Conception of Fixed Scales.—The question is some-times raised : How did man reach the conception of fixed scales? Here again opinions differ. Some consider that the extreme notes were fixed by the average compass of the human voice in impassioned speech, the interval being variously divided. Others claim that along with the vocal phase of music there was an instrumental side, and that the mechanical conditions in connection with instruments had bearing in the matter of organizing sounds into a scale ; the rude, primitive trumpet of wood or bark, still found among forest tribes in South America and Africa, gives a series of harmonic notes. Whistles or flutes made in pre-historic times with a series of several tones, examples of combinations of little pipes, such as those known by the name of “Pan’s Pipes,” also bear on this question. Yet the facts are few and we are compelled to satisfy ourselves with mere conjecture.