When we study the music of the early period of the human race, we find no records such as we are storing today in our libraries. We must depend upon the discoveries of archaeologists in the buried cities of early civilizations. Of contemporaneous hooks, properly speaking, tablets of music explaining the construction and methods of playing the musical instruments then in use we have few; if they exist they are in dead languages to which scholars are but slowly finding the key. It is true that some instruments have been found, but we can have no certainty that they are in perfect condition. The principal sources of the information we possess have been the paintings, decorations and sculptures on monuments and on the walls of buildings and tombs that hie been unearthed. Early languages were largely pictorial, and records kept in this manner furnish us representations of the religious, martial, and social life of the early races.
.The lands that offer the greatest field for the study of the music of the past are Chaldea or Babylonia and Egypt. Some ‘of the old Greek cities, as well as cities in the western part of Asia Minor and Palestine, have been the subject of explorations. Still another country abounding in interest to the student of the music of the past is China, living, yet dead ! What a contrast to Chaldea and Egypt ! The civilization of the latter is dead ; China, the older, is still living. These races had a common home, yet the former, having developed a high civilization and fulfilled its mission, disappeared from the face of the earth, while China, having also reached a high state of culture, has remained stagnant, all energies toward a higher level being arrested.
The Common Home of the Race. Scientists place the cradle of the human race in the high plateau of Asia, ex-tending from Persia eastward through Thibet and including part of Manchuria. The yellow race, according to some ethnologists, is the more akin to the primitive race; the other two, the white and the black, being derived from it by emigration, change of climate and mode of living. Van Aalst, the leading writer on Chinese Music, says that “the first invaders of China were a band of immigrants fighting their way among the aborigines and supposed to have come from the country south of the Caspian Sea.” It is outside the province of this work to detail the arguments that serve to show the connection of the Chinese with the other races mentioned. Berosus, the old Babylonian historian, writes : “There was originally in the land of Babylon a multitude of men of foreign race who had settled in Chaldea.” These men are known in history by the name of Akkads or Akkadians, “from the northern mountains,” Sumerians, from the “southern mountains” ; that is, the highland ranges lying to the north and east of the Euphrates Valley. There were two main types among these tribes : a yellow, black-haired people, and a red type. The records show that migrations from this central home came about by reason of famines, plagues or floods. When did the black-haired, yellow people swarm off? When did the “red” people, from which Egyptian tradition claimed ancestry, go away? Probably the Chinese were the first to leave the central home, taking with them the elements of a considerable civilization, which also .formed the basis of the later Chaldean, Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian cultures, and through various channels, of the Etrurian and Greek.
High Place of Music Among the Chinese.The science of music had a high place in Chinese philosophy; the sages alone comprehend the canons, and the mandarins in music are considered superior to those in mathematics. Some most interesting dates are given, showing how early the Chinese had developed a science of music. We are told that in 2277 B. C., there were twenty-two writers on the dance and music, twenty-three on ancient music, twenty-four on playing the Kin and the Che, and twenty-five on construction of scales. These facts imply many years of previous development before the time when works treating of the science of music would’ be prepared. Confucius, the chief Chinese philosopher, wrote about ancient music in 551 B. C. Unfortunately, ancient records and books were almost entirely destroyed, 246 B. C., by order of the Emperor then on the throne; he excepted from this destruction only works on medicine, agriculture and divination. A comparison of recorded dates shows that the Chinese were writing learned works on the science of music when the Pharaohs were building the pyramids.
Sonorous Bodies. The Chinese have always shown a fondness for instituting likenesses between things in heaven and earth, and things intellectual and material. According to their theory, there are eight sound-giving bodies: Stone, Metal, Silk, Bamboo, Wood, Skin, Gourd and Clay.
The Sheng.One of the most important musical instruments in use among the Chinese, one that is indispensable to their temple ritual, is the Sheng. This instrument is the representative of the gourd principle ; originally the bowl was formed from a portion of a gourd or a calabash, the top being covered by a circular piece of wood with holes around the margin in which the pipes, seventeen in number, are fixed; in the side of the gourd is placed a mouth-piece or tube covered with ivory, through which the player draws his breath. Each pipe is fitted with a small free reed of copper. A small hole is made in each pipe just above the bowl, which prevents a pipe from speaking when the air is drawn in by the player, unless the hole is closed by a finger. The instrument is placed to the mouth with the pipes slanting toward the right shoulder. The notes sounded by the pipes of the Sheng as they are arranged are : giving the following scale or series of sounds : four of the seventeen pipes are mutes, placed there doubt-less for purposes of symmetry
The principle of the sound of silk is exemplified in the Kin or Ch’in, the strings, “made of twisted silk, being stretched over a wooden frame.” This instrument was the favorite of Confucius, the great law-giver, and in his time was of great antiquity. The number of strings was five, to agree with the five elements ; the upper part was rounded, to represent the heavens ; the bottom was flat, to represent the ground. The number of strings was later in-creased to seven, which is the favored form, tuned to G, A, C, D, E, G, A, a pentatonic scale.
The Se.Another stringed instrument is the Sê, (also written Che), which had originally fifty strings. As now used, it has only twenty-five strings. Four kinds are in use, differing in size and in number of strings; it is customary that they should give the sound of two notes simultaneously, generally octaves. Some of these, used by the most skilful performers, have only thirteen or fourteen strings. The strings are plucked by two small ivory picks.
Flutes.The sound of bamboo is exemplified in certain instruments of the flute family. The bamboo plant is used by the Chinese in very many ways ; it is natural that they should use it for making musical instruments. There are two types of pipes or flutes: those blown at the end, as a whistle, and those blown across a hole near one end, as is our modern flute ; the Chinese flutes are of the latter class. They varied in size and in the number of holes, from three to six, the little finger of each hand not being used. A popular flute, called the Ti-Tzu, has, in addition to the six finger holes, one for blowing and one covered with a thin membrane, to vary the sound. Another kind, very ancient, and much in use, according to Chinese writers during the period 2205-1122 B. C., may be called, shortly, the Tche. It has six finger holes, three near each end, and is pierced with another hole at the middle, across which the player blows. The scale is said to consist of six semitones, beginning with F, fifth line treble clef. The peculiar construction of this flute presents some acoustical problems.
Other sonorous bodies are, metal from which the Chinese make gongs, bells and trumpetsthey seem to have known the principle of the slide, as in the trombone, but never developed it; stone, certain varieties, in the shape of the letter L, pierced with a hole at the angle, suspended in a frame and struck by a hammer; skin, from which drums ere made ; clay, from which instruments were made in shape resembling the ocarina, familiar to us.
Chinese Scales.The vocal and the instrumental music have different scales, the former diatonicwith two notes of the seven omitted, forming a pentatonic (five-tone scale), the letters of which, since F is a favorite e tonic, may be rep-resented by F, G, A, C, D. The instrumental scales are chromatic in character. When the voice is accompanied by instruments, the vocal scale is used. Singing is in unison, modified by fourths, occasionally. The singing tone is a sort of nasal sing-song, the favorite method a nasal falsetto, the mouth being nearly closed.
This represents the concluding strophes of the Hymn to Confucius. The time is very slow; each measure represents a line of four syllables; between the lines one of the instruments gives a sort of interlude.
So much space has been taken with Chinese music be-cause the conservatism of that race has preserved instruments and music that date back to the early history of our race.
Japanese Music.In the Japanese system we find a pentatonic scale and a semitonal division of the octave. Japanese music does not proceed in semitones, the chromatic scale being demanded by the custom of transposing a melody from one starting point to another, not more than four-teen sounds for a melody. A favorite Japanese instrument is of the clarinet type ; it is called the Hichi-riki ; in length it varies from a little less than nine inches to a little more. The scale as set forth by the Institute of Tokio is from G, second line, treble staff to the A above, F, fifth line, being sharped. This instrument is played by drawing in the breath. The Japanese have an instrument called the Sho, similar to the Chinese Sheng. The national instrument is the Koto, which has thirteen strings, tuned thus : the first, middle C sharp, the second, F sharp a fifth lower ; subsequent strings ascend in order, G sharp, A, C sharp, D, F sharp, G sharp, A, C sharp, D, F sharp, G sharp; between the fourth and fifth sounds is a third, which interval, in practice, was filled by pressing the string behind the bridge, thus increasing the tension; each string can be raised a semitone or even a tone by increasing the pressure. By this means additional notes can be secured, giving a scale identical with the Greek Dorian or ecclesiastical Aeolian. Much of the popular Japanese music is written without the extra notes, and the series of tones can be characterized as a pentatonic scale based on the natural minor.
Among the Asiatic races that still retain national, although not a separate political existence, and have a musical system peculiar to themselves, the Hindoos are prominent. The Hindoos belong to the Aryan race, (from which we also sprang), and had their home originally in Central Asia, probably north of the Hindoo Koosh range. When they swarmed off from the old home they made their way down through the mountains along the river valleys to the great fertile plains of India, and conquering the aboriginal races, developed the system of caste, which has had so great an influence on their religion, literature, science and art. The old Hindoo literature shows clearly the high regard in which the art of song was held. Celebrated minstrels were maintained in the royal courts whose duty it was to chant songs in praise of their patrons. Music, or song, was just as indispensable in the religious ceremonies. One of the holy books makes the statement that “Indra rejects the offering made without music.” In time the singer became a member of the priestly caste.
The Vina.From antiquity to the present time among the Hindoos pure instrumental music held almost equal place with song or accompanied vocal music. The Hindoo instruments belong to the percussion types, trumpets and trombones, nose flute, and especially to the stringed class. It is noteworthy that the simpler kinds, in which each string gives but one tone, do not exist, whereas there are many varieties of those which have fingerboards. The oldest and most important is the Vina, which consists of a wooden pipe about four feet long attached to two gourds or resonators. The seven metal strings are stretched over nineteen bridges or frets, becoming gradually higher, and touch only the last and highest one. The other eighteen serve to fix the pitch of the tone desired, as in our guitar or mandolin, the strings being set in vibration by being plucked with a metal thimble or ring like that used by zither players. Another Hindoo instrument, considered by some as the prototype of stringed instruments played with a bow, is the Ravanastron.
Hindoo Musical Philosophy.Hindoo myths ascribe a di-vine origin to music. A close connection was established between the scale and their religious ideas. Each single tone was under the protection of a nymph, and the first syllables of the names of these nymphs, according to Clement, the French historian, were given to the tones, thus : Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni, seven in all, differing in that respect from the pentatonic form usually found among the early races. In their endeavor to satisfy the melody of speech, the inflections of the voice in speaking, the Hindoos divided the interval of the octave into small parts, and transposed the scale freely up and down ; so it is easily conceivable that their complete system recognized 96o scales, their sacred writings speaking of 16000. In practice they contented themselves with 36, some writers say 72. The following is given as the scale :
The principal feature of Hindoo music is the melody and rhythm, the latter being very complicated. Of harmony in our sense of the word. there is no sign. In accompanying the voice the Hindoos used only the pure fifth, which they considered a perfect consonance, the fourth, an imperfect consonance, and the octave.
High Esteem of Music Among the Hindoos.Music had a high place among the Hindoos, all festivities made use of it, and the private and social life demanded it. It was used freely in the Hindoo drama, the latter calling for the dance, spoken and sung dialogue and instrumental music and songs. The main reason why Hindoo music did not develop in the past centuries doubtless lies in the fact that, as in Egypt, the ruling power was vested in the priesthood, which controlled all the arts and sciences. Music was so interwoven with their religious rites and observances, and so hedged around with irrevocable and sacred laws that the slightest alteration was considered a sacrilege. In closing this section it may be added that investigators refer the gipsies, particularly those of Hungary, who are noted for their musical temperament, to Hindoo origin, probably the pariah caste. Their music, with its wild, free rhythm and elaborate melodic embellishment, has a marked resemblance to the music of the Hindoos.
Smith.The World’s Earliest Music.
Anderson.The Story of Extinct Civilizations. Rice.What is Music?
Piggott.Music and Musical Instruments of Japan. Day.Musical Instruments of the Deccan.