MUSIC’S FIRST ERA, AND THE INFLUENCES WHICH WERE OPERATIVE IN VARIOUS LANDS DURING ITS CONTINUANCE

There are two distinct eras in the course of the evolution of music.
The first ended and the second began with the invention and adoption of
notation. This mechanical device so revolutionized musical production
and taste, that we may properly concede to it the honor of having
made possible the formulation of our art, for it chronicled the
accomplishments of each generation, thus furnishing its successors with
suggestive models. These were virtually lacking in the first era, which
accounts amply for the little advancement made during its continuance.

That early career of music is shrouded in utter darkness, unbroken by a
single luminous episode, and the lights which we are enabled to throw
back upon it are entirely deductive.

They are not sufficiently strong to bring details into relief, but
they suffice to develop outlines which are ample for the purposes of
my sketch. The fact that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese
devoted much attention to what some are pleased to call the science,
or technic, of music is to me no indication of the condition of music
existing at that time. Their libraries contained numerous volumes
devoted to music, but their treatises considered melody (harmony was
not known) from a purely mathematical stand-point. This vital element
of music, which should be as free as air, was fettered by pedantry.

I feel convinced that the evolution of music was seriously delayed by
this too early association with science. China has perpetuated this
system of vassalage, the result being that her present temple melodies,
which also serve as folk-songs, are utterly devoid of plastic grace and
spontaneity. The fallibility of long lines of oral transmission casts
doubt upon the Chinaman’s claim that he inherits at least a portion of
these songs, in their original form, from a period four thousand years
back; still, there is one feature of the situation which, in a measure,
substantiates it,–viz., the instinct for imitation that distinguishes
this race from all others.

Evolution involves removal from an elementary state, and we measure
its advancement through placing the present outlines and qualities, of
whatever may be concerned, over against those that characterized some
known previous condition.

China has produced some great scholars, and her civilization, such as
it is, endures like the everlasting hills, and seems subject to little
more change than they, but her people are not emotional, imaginative,
nor susceptible to influences from without. The great wonder is not
that real art feeling has never manifested itself in China, nor that
she has repulsed all attempts to introduce the fruits of European
musical culture, but that the Chinaman, with his nature, should have
ever evoked our muse. China has contributed nothing to the development
of music, and we cannot draw one spark of light from her for our
investigations. The Mongolian race treated their feeble first musical
impulse as they still do the feet of high-caste female children,–viz.,
they wrapped it so tightly in pedantic cerements that it could not
grow; and, being an impulse, and not flesh and bones, it failed to
endure the repression.

Although these ancient scientific treatises afford no clues to the
actual spirit and form of contemporaneous musical utterances, they do
bespeak the presence of interest and respect. As I have shown, this
condition was of no service in China, but as the Egyptian and Greek
people and culture were of a quite different substance and mould, we
may safely infer that their efforts were important features in this
preparatory era.

The light which we are enabled to throw backward over the line of
musical evolution is drawn from the following sources: 1, the nature of
music itself, and the first purposeful use of its germs; 2, its present
condition among barbarous peoples; 3, profane history of ancient
Egypt; 4, its development in pace with that of the Aryan race; and, 5,
Biblical references (to which I shall devote a separate chapter).

NATURE OF MUSIC

It is a gross misconception to regard music as merely a “concord of
sweet sounds,” for that would be a barren art which had no contrasting
features. Much great music is not beautiful, for it may be tragical,
sombre, or may voice any of the moods incident to life. Euphony was
doubtless one of the last developed qualities, for it springs from joy,
love, or reverence. We must look among the coarser emotions for the
germ which was first used in tone expression.

In that prehistoric time, at the beginning of what might be called
soul tenantry, man, whether created or evolved, being the first of
his line, had no fruits of human experience to guide him, and his
emotional status could therefore have differed little from that of the
higher grades of soulless creatures. We learn from history that since
it began its annals animal nature has remained virtually unchanged,
whereas man, because possessed of a higher grade of intellect and a
definite recognition of Deity, in one form or another, has refined and
broadened the scope of his impulses and understanding. As it is the
first subjective, and not objective, manifestation of tone expression
that we are seeking, we cannot do better than to scan this feature of
animal life.

Such manifestations result from the sequential co-operation of
emotion, reason, and impulse. Animals have their growls, roars, and
trumpetings of anger and defiance, and many of them have forms of
expressing affection, but these latter are acquired through experience,
whereas they instinctively appeal to agencies outside themselves for
relief from pain or want, employing means the efficacy of which they
recognize. If we turn to humankind, we find that the new-born babe
will express its desire for food long before it becomes responsive to
its mother’s endearments.

I, therefore, assume that pleading was the first purposeful,
premeditated form of tonal communication, and, consequently, that it
was the nucleus about which experience and culture have gathered such
ample resources. (This term, tonal communication, applies equally well
to our formulated art, for music is invariably addressed by its creator
to some intelligence, whether it be a person, the world, or God.)

This first developed element has never relinquished its prominence,
for it is the mood which most often pervades the composer’s tone
pictures. We find it depicted, as prompted by each and all phases of
human insufficiency, appealing to appropriate sources for relief,–the
oppressed entreating the tyrant, the lover the object of his affection,
and the finite world, prostrate before Infinity, pouring its hopes and
aspirations into the Divine ear.

Now occurs a period of unmeasurable time upon which we can throw no
light. It extends from this first manifestation up to that stage in
evolution which produced forms of tonal expression like those now
employed by the lowest savage races. Some time during this unexplorable
period, man having appropriated a fuller vocabulary from nature’s
store, and having adopted more sustained, and at the same time
articulate, forms, was led to feel pulsations,–incipient rhythm.
Whether this primitive conception of metre was suggested by associated
word successions, or was incident to the extension of tonal expression
itself, we can only conjecture, but rhythmic impulse is evident in,
and it is the main feature of, the crudest musical efforts.

MUSIC OF THE SAVAGE RACES

Science has long busied itself with race origin. It has approached
the problem from every side, and has accomplished so much towards its
solution as to afford grounds upon which to base the assumptions that
the diverse types of mankind, as they now exist, are each physically,
morally, and mentally the outcome of conditions of which climate, soil,
and degrees of isolation have been the most potent factors; and that
these branches which have spread out to cover the world spring from one
common family trunk. Even within the limits of historic time migrations
have been caused either by climatic changes or by the dissensions
incident to over-population.

When the savages of the South Sea Islands became detached, and
whether of their own volition or through a dispensation of Providence,
which caused the Pacific Ocean to isolate them from less pestiferous
humanity, will never be known. It must, however, have taken place after
the idea of at least limited tone expression had taken a firm hold on
mankind and had become a transmittible instinct, for these savages
evince little more disposition or capacity for originating than the
more intelligent species of animals. I cite these people and their
lyric status to mark the lowest ebb in things human and musical of
which we have any knowledge.

Their music and habits are alike crossed by the line which separates
the human from the animal, and it is needless to say which quality
contributes the larger portion. Their songs are, like their language,
ejaculatory, showing little exercise of reason in their forms, and
voicing the baser emotions solely. Rude rhythms are the only features
that attest their origin in musical impulse. Music in its course of
evolution had necessarily to pass through this primitive stage. In more
congenial environments it passed on and out, but these barbarians,
being neither emotionally nor intellectually capable of imparting the
impetus requisite to the development of finer and broader significance,
have for thousands of years used their present crude forms. Their stage
comes in touch with music’s line of evolution at a period countless
years before David sang.

From a letter in response to my inquiries as to the musical status of
these barbarians, written by Count Pfeil, who has most closely observed
their customs during twenty years spent in exploring the dark continent
and these darker islands, I infer that their barbarism has grades
analogous to those that exist in the culture of civilized nations.

In speaking of the two musical instruments in use Graf Pfeil says,
“They are the ‘Tutupele’ on New Britain and Duke of York, and a sort
of pan pipe or flute on the Solomon Islands. The former may hardly be
called an instrument. It is used in connection with the superstitious
ceremonies of the Dult-Dult practice, and is supposed to herald the
appearance of the spirits. Two pieces of wood are carved down till they
sound two neighboring notes, such as c-d, g-a, or f-g. They are then
placed over a little hollow dug in the ground, and are beaten with
small club sticks….

“The other instrument is used by the Solomon Islanders. They assemble
three or four men, each armed with his flute, of which the largest pipe
is about three feet in length, with a two-inch internal diameter. There
are five of these pipes in each instrument. They are made of bamboo,
and played by being raised to the lips and strongly blown into. The
sound, especially when heard from a long distance, which robs it of its
harshness, is not at all unpleasant, but has rather a melodious, though
sad, character. The few men who play these instruments begin turning
round and round, and others, wishing to join in the dance, gather
round them, also moving in a circle. When a hundred dancers perform,
those on the outside run at a headlong speed, while those forming the
centre spin, but very slowly. The dancers accompany the players by very
curious half-whistling sounds, which sound like the twitter of birds.
The louder and shriller the sounds the prettier they are thought to
be….

“On the Duke of York, boys have a curious, cruel way of procuring
music. They take a large beetle and break off one of its legs. In the
remaining stump they push a lot of elastic gum, of which they hold the
other end. The beetle is now made to fly, but not being able to get
away from the boy’s hand, keeps circling round and round it, emitting a
loud whirring or humming sound….

“All these races sing. Their songs are very monotonous, but are
defined, like our own. You can ask them to sing such or such a song,
and they will always sing it exactly as they sang it before. All songs
are sung in a subdued voice, as the melancholy and suspicious character
of the people prevents all loud demonstrations of mirth…. I have
never heard their songs accompanied by any instrument, excepting at
a dance, when, to my sorrow, combined vocal and instrumental efforts
served as an accompaniment to the dance.”

The North American Indians, despite the demoralizing influences of
traders, agencies, and fire-water, are noble men as compared with
the cannibals just considered. Many of their less amiable traits are
doubtless the fruits of white intruders’ avarice, which has from the
first set aside equity when dealing with the red man. They live having
a future state in view in the happy hunting-grounds, which stimulates
in them a strict, but not too comprehensive, moral consciousness. Those
conditions of life which mould race characteristics have in the case of
the North American Indian developed bodily activity, close observation,
bravery, and reasoning faculties, though crude. They lack delicate
sensibility and imagination, but still in them we find nomadic manhood
at its best, and their music mirrors their character.

Their war, funeral, and joyous songs are alike monotonous to modern
Aryan ears, for they are devoid of romance and fine feeling, and
are composed of repetitions _ad libitum_, instead of progressive
developments. Their climaxes are produced through increased unction in
delivery rather than through sequential means. They mark the primary
pulsations of their songs through swaying the body, dancing, and
through the use of rude instruments, and in so doing work themselves
up to a remarkable state of exaltation. This result of their musical
exercises must not be construed as indicating the presence of a strong,
emotional element in the Indian character. They are, on the contrary,
so stolid that few things can ruffle their equanimity. Their ecstasies
are purposeful and self-induced.

Their phenomenal capacity for reading and interpreting nature’s
chronicle of the movements of living things, and its continual
exercise, have blinded them, in a great degree, to the beauties
of landscape. They devote themselves to the analysis of details
instead of to the contemplation of the Creator’s harmonious ensemble,
and they consequently develop little sense for the beautiful. The
fundamental manifestation of this sense is, in normally endowed man,
an appreciation of the forms and colors of material things. Upon this
sense we may build responsiveness to the intangible and ideal, but
without it we have no foundation for æsthetic taste. I can think of
nothing more incongruous than an atmosphere of Bach fugues or Beethoven
symphonies for a man who sees only tons of hay, feet of lumber,
water-power, etc., while gazing upon nature’s grand panorama. The music
of the North American Indian is neither euphonious nor romantic, but
it is distinctly more human than that of the South Sea Islanders, and
its varying tribal phases permit the inference that it has, in their
keeping, accumulated resources, however slight they may seem.

The Indian’s character and music throw light upon the course of
evolution during the first era, inasmuch as they, contrasted with
those of the cannibal races, tend to substantiate my claim that sound
expression takes its cue from attendant culture, advancing in pace with
it.

PROFANE HISTORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT

At that remotest period upon which the historian can throw light (about
3000 B.C. ) the Valley of the Nile was the scene of undertakings the
fruits of which have ever since excited the wonder of the world. The
Pyramids, the somewhat later-built Palace of Karnak, and Temples
of Luxor and Ipsambul stand first among the phenomenal conceptions
of human architects; and the mechanical skill required in handling
the massive blocks and pillars of which they are composed would
severely test the appliances of our practical and inventive age.
These monumental buildings, their consistent environments, and the
deciphered records of scientific and literary accomplishments in those
earliest historic times, bespeak broad culture. As we possess no record
of a race from whom the Egyptians could have drawn either stimulus
or knowledge itself, their culture was presumably indigenous, and
therefore of slow growth. The Palace of Karnak, for instance, marks the
climax of accomplishment in a line of architectural endeavor which may
have begun soon after the Nile commenced making her alluvial deposits.

The persistent and audacious ambition which this long course of
development attests, and the art feeling expressed in their works,
endows Egyptian interest in music, as evinced through the scientific
treatises mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, with especial
significance. They were more learned and less pedantic than the
Chinese, and were, besides, emotional and imaginative, although sadly
superstitious. Had that high enlightenment permeated all classes of
the people, Egypt would have been an Elysium for our art, but it was,
unfortunately, confined to the upper social grades, which embraced the
priests, and to a certain extent the warriors.

The masses, in company with prisoners of war and slaves from Central
Africa, were mere servitors to the monarchs and priests in executing
their ambitious schemes. Although their labor built up indubitable
testimony to the greatness of their masters, the burdens imposed
upon them century after century finally wore away their fealty;
therefore the decadence and downfall of great Egypt. There could not
possibly have been anything like art enthusiasm among a people so
oppressed. Despite this vital lack, ancient Egypt did more, directly
and indirectly, to foster music, and to give it an onward impulse,
than all other agencies of the first era combined. This was somewhat
attributable to the fact that then, for the first time, tone expression
was associated with rhythmic texts; still, I infer that their music
was merely an accessory to euphonious declamation,–subservient to
poetry,–for had their melodies possessed independent import, those
resourceful people would have found some way of recording them. These
relations between music and poetry were perpetuated in Greece; indeed,
our art was not accorded equality as a contributive element in song
until in quite modern times. There have been several distinct epochs in
this relationship,–viz., that in which tone expression, because of
its little understood capacities was held in vassalage to her sister
art; music’s equality (dating from the adoption of notation), during
which she greatly extended and beautified her forms; her ascendency,
which characterized the vocal works of the early part of the present
century; and now the Wagner school, in which the two are again made to
collaborate on equal terms.

The ancient Egyptians employed pan pipes, flutes, horns, instruments
of percussion, and small harps. Mural pictures of the fourth dynasty
represent players blowing upon pipes of different lengths, and
consequently of different pitches, which is a dumb declaration that
at least some principles regulating the simultaneous use of tones
had been recognized. Outside this pictorial record, we can find no
intimation that anything analogous to modern harmony was known and
practised by this people. In the absence of specific data we are
forced to predicate the condition of music in that stupendous, though
exclusive, civilization, upon the elements of the atmosphere from which
it drew its impulse. As the more prominent of these elements were
profound religious feeling, scientific learning, insatiable ambition,
and a clearly pronounced lyric tendency, their melodies must have been
coherent and expressive.

ARYAN RACE

As the instincts and capacities of the Aryan race have always been
unique, it may prove instructive to glance at those features of its
prehistoric existence in Asia which have been brought to light through
comparative philology and mythology. In the first place, these sciences
establish the fact that we of the West (Greeks, Italians, Germans,
English) and the Hindoos of the East are of common origin. Our
ancestors listened to the same legends, ballads, and mythical tales
while gathered as children about one and the same mother, and they
have handed them down to this generation of the descendants of each
so little changed as to furnish ample proof of family relationship.
Many of the more important words of the various Aryan languages are
suggestively similar, and this in spite of the five thousand years of
transmission, and of the diverse conditions incident to the growth of
widely separated clans into great nations.

The Aryans were worshippers of Nature in her more spectacular and
heroic forms and moods,–in storms, fire, sunset, and dawn, but looked
upward for their Supreme Deity. The sky, with its fathomless depths
of blue and its star mysteries, was their Zeus. From this it will be
seen that they were, in a way, idolaters, but their idolatry was not
degrading; it was, indeed, ennobling. They contemplated Nature, and in
her processes saw the hand of an all-pervading, beneficent power,–a
God. They worshipped the God thus, and in no other way, revealed to
them through His works.

Their conceptions of family and community organization have served,
and still serve, as models to civilized nations. They were paternal,
the clans being large families with patriarchal heads, and elected
councillors. They were pastoral, cultivating the soil and herding
cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs; but they were at the same time good
warriors. They wore leathern shoes, garments woven from wool, and they
had at least a rudimentary knowledge of the sciences.

From all this I infer that the early Aryans were a race of freemen,
not subject to the class discrimination that ruined Egypt.

Their appreciation of nature, and their reverence, ambition, and
pertinacity fitted them to become the especial guardians of the
arts, and their comparative class equality enabled them to fulfil
the requirements of my theory that music can only flourish in a
widely diffused interest and knowledge. It must breathe a genial and
suggestive atmosphere.

Our main business is with Aryan music after it came under the influence
of Egyptian culture, but it may interest my readers to flash, for a
moment, the light of analogy back upon its earlier period. We have
found the early Aryans less learned than the Egyptian scholar class,
but also less superstitious and less pedantic. They were normal human
beings in their occupations, susceptibilities, and social life. With
such a picture in view it is quite natural for our imaginations to
hear its complement in expressive sounds,–peaceful lullabies, songs of
praise and love, and sonorous rejoicings.

In remote times the region which is supposed to have been the original
home of the Aryans must have been fertile, for early poets were
enthusiastic in describing its charms. The climatic changes that made
the soil arid as it is to-day may have suggested, or may even have
necessitated, migration; still, what condition or combination of
conditions induced the Aryans to abandon Central Asia can never be
positively known; but it is certain that they, like irresistible tidal
waves, rolled westward and southward, destroying, carrying before them,
or absorbing and dominating all peoples and institutions in their
course.

One of the streams of Aryan migration flowed towards the south and
formed the Hindoo and Persian nations, and another came into Europe
by way of the Hellespont and took up its abode in Greece and Italy.
Three others, the Celtic, Teutonic, and Slavonic, followed in the order
named, passing to the north of the Black Sea, and occupied respectively
Western, Central, and Eastern Europe.

Of all the nations who have developed from these original nuclei, the
Hindoos show least evidence of close intercourse with the world’s
great teacher, whereas the Greeks, perhaps because of their proximity
to Egypt, were led to avail themselves of her tuition to the fullest
extent.

The ancient Hindoos were less scientific than the Chinese or
Egyptians, and isolation has prevented them from advancing with modern
civilization. Their music is less the fruit of theories than it is of
natural Aryan impulse. They do not look upon it as a science, but as
a matter of the emotions, the result of, and intended to quicken, the
imagination. I have seen Hindoo melodies which exhibited a correct
appreciation of rhythmic adjustment, still their accomplishments do not
entitle them to a place among the potent factors in musical evolution.

Now we come to the climax of our first era. Such a true conception of
beauty, such perfect symmetry, and such far-reaching imagination and
lofty aspiration as are present in, and have made ancient Greek art and
literature luminous for all time, bespeak conditions that would have
carried music to fruition during their continuance had she not been
so intangible, and therefore necessarily slow in developing. Had her
nature been less coy, we might have ancient Greek music as monumental
as the Iliad or the Parthenon.

The Greeks were quick to recognize the virtues of Egyptian learning,
and Greece soon became great Egypt’s greater pupil. Still, we should
accord Egypt first place among the factors that built up modern
civilization and led to the formulation of musical art, for she
originated the vital impulse.

That period of Greek culture supremacy dispensed no laurels to its
mothers, wives, and daughters. Woman was regarded as an inferior
being, and she took no honorable part in intellectual social life.
Boys were exhaustively educated, while girls were neglected. This was
the one blot on the glory of those times, and we, besides deprecating
the injustice it involved, must regret that these ancient art-workers
denied themselves that highest earthly source of inspiration,
intercourse with the delicate enthusiasm, the keen perceptions, and art
instinct of educated and loved womanhood; for to what heights might
their achievements have attained but for this misconception of woman’s
nature and capacities!

One would think that Sappho’s lyrics, which induced Plato to call
her the “Tenth Muse,” would have suggested the existence, in woman’s
purer and more sensitive nature, of a subtle vein of beautiful
intellectuality, but such was not the case. Judging from what we have
seen of early Aryan family life, this unpractical and debasing idea of
suppressing woman must have been imbibed with Egyptian learning.

Music was taught in the Greek schools, and youths were thus fitted
to join in the sacred choruses, and to appreciate the significance
of poetry. The immortal bards sang their creations, and they often
remained unwritten for generations. The drama developed from songs and
dances. Music was a prominent feature of their symposiums, the lyre
being passed from guest to guest, each contributing of his best to the
intellectual feast. Banquets were brought to a close by singing hymns.
Music pervaded each function of Hellenic life.

Their choruses were unisons, and their instrumental accompaniments
were either purely rhythmic (regardless of pitch) or they followed the
voice, for the Greeks had no discoverable conception of harmony. In
contemplating the marvellous erudition and the poetic sense of ancient
Greece, and the important _rôle_ played by music in the period of her
glory, I can but feel that the failure to chronicle her melodies is a
misfortune. They may not have been rich in variety of tone succession
or in rhythm, but they doubtless were vigorous, expressive, and
logically rounded, and they therefore mark the brightest point reached
in the first era.

Greece succeeded Egypt as the world’s teacher, and her precepts gain
significance as advancing culture enables us to better comprehend
the fine adjustment of imagination to nature which they embody. Her
sculpture, architecture, and literature are the highest models that
we have, and those of our architects who appreciate the import of
monumental buildings look to ancient Greece for appropriate inspiration.

Is it not reasonable and logical to assume that the spirit of Greece’s
unwritten musical forms has been preserved, passed from nation to
nation, and from generation to generation, and that it underlies
our present classical school? I say spirit in speaking of musical
transmission, for music’s resources and outward forms were, in the
Homeric period, and still are, in course of development.

It would be a waste of space to discuss the musical doings of other
European nations during this period. Those that did least to prepare
the way have been most active since our art took shape. As great as
Italy’s services have been since the sixteenth century (A.D. ), she did
little for music previous to that time. St. Ambrose, of Milan (384 A.D.
), and St. Gregory, of Rome (590 A.D. ), ordained rituals, prayers,
music, etc., but there is no detailed record of their achievements,
therefore no authentic Gregorian chants.

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