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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/534

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

IMPERFECTIONS OF MODERN HARMONY.
By S. AUSTEN PEARCE, Mus. D., Oxon.

THE works of Helmholtz, and those of his English translator Ellis, have drawn attention to the fact that piano-fortes and instruments with similar keyboards are out of tune. The recent contribution to musical literature by Professor Pole having referred to the subject of intonation, it becomes a duty to the public to point out the misconceptions of these theorists, and to state that musical problems are far more complex than they believe.

Although professing to work scientifically, they allow their senses to deceive them. Professor Helmholtz in his elaborate work "On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music," says, for instance, "We often hear four musical amateurs, who have practiced much together, singing quartets in perfectly just intonation." He is deceived in this. It is a popular error that music for stringed instruments or for voices is or can be rendered in tune; and scientists writing upon the subject invariably cling to this fallacy.

An unaccompanied quartet of singers returning at the close to the exact pitch at which they began would thus most certainly prove that they had sung out of tune. This is a startling fact—stranger than the current fiction—and demands complete demonstration. The subject is abstruse, and difficult to present clearly to persons not practically acquainted with the points at issue, but for the benefit of all thoughtful readers the attempt is made.

All the great Oriental nations of antiquity were familiar with the difficulties to be overcome in establishing a tonal system. The results of their experiments are known to the musical historian. It is sufficient to say that the necessity of accurate definition was universally desired in the earliest ages of which we have any record by peoples who did not employ harmony. But our own use of chords makes questions of intonation much more intricate. We not only require a song or melody, but several songs or melodies to be given simultaneously, as in the ordinary church quartet or fugal chorus, where each singer demands the right to be provided with some important subject-matter, worthy the delivery of a feeling, acting, willing spirit—some "part" which fully occupies him. He will not be content with a mere accompaniment to some leading part. The harmonizing of these several melodies, that they may at every instant make recognized and well-proportioned combinations called chords, constitutes the modern science of harmony. This science is based upon the comparatively recent discoveries that Nature herself supplies a full chord, or cortége of harmonic sounds, to attend every single note, and others also to attend a union of two notes, and so on. The ancient Greeks, not being acquaint-