Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/255

This page has been validated.

Hand-clapping, not for applause, but rhythmic accentuation as practiced in the East, may be supposed to have led to the Jew's-harp and instruments consisting of bars free at one end, then to others free at both ends, then to plates free all round, as cymbals more or less concave, and subsequently to bells, sonorous boxes, drums, etc.

A simple reed or pipe may be supposed to have led to many pipes being systematized, their materials changed, their mouth-pieces varied, as whistle, beak, single reed, etc.; then that the powers of each pipe were increased by the boring of holes in it at certain particular points, much as a Gray's telephone increases the capacity of a single wire by enabling it to transmit in both directions several messages simultaneously; then, finally, to the systemization of such pipes.

But here, at the end of our series, we find an instrument, the bagpipe, that figures in Chinese myths. However little we may relish the quality of the tone of this instrument, when it is badly played, and at only a short distance from us, we must give it the highest place in the scheme, and admire the skill displayed in its formation.

The real worth of Oriental music is not to be learned from routine practical musicians, who rarely know anything of the underlying principles of their art, but must be gained by a patient study of ancient writings, in which the respective theories are recorded. For the most part, the theories point to the possession or the possibility of greater art-works than any with which we have become acquainted; and the cultivation of certain departments of the art, which we neglect.

The Chinese are sensitive to changes of pitch (transposition), to the exact agreement of the words of a song and its music, as well as to the expression imparted to their ordinary speech by vocal inflections; while we are for the most part indifferent as to absolute pitch, set poetic rhythms to dance-tunes, have different verses to the same music, and less frequently speak with strongly marked variations of tone. Their belief that not only the voice of man, but all nature, should praise its Creator, led them to make an elaborate system of quality of tone (timbre), selecting eight kinds of materials from the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms for the construction of musical instruments.

But, although they spent much labor in devising complete schemes, formulating scales, and calculating them with great nicety (like the modern Persians), even to the invention of the "equal temperament" (which European nations subsequently learned to use), in devising a regular notation, and in fact securing all the appliances necessary for the production of really great music, we fail to find them in possession of a single melody that would be generally acceptable to a modern audience. Their composers appear to be deficient in the power of imagination, without which it is impossible to invent a beautiful musical idea. We regard our melodies as so many happy thoughts, or felicitous expressions, developed with consistency and true to some particu-