Critical & Historical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 248 pages of information about Critical & Historical Essays.

There are two ways of looking at music:  first, as impassioned speech, the nearest psychologically-complete utterance of emotion known to man; second, as the dance, comprising as it does all that appeals to our nature.  And there is much that is lovely in this idea of nature—­for do not the seasons dance, and is it not in that ancient measure we have already spoken of, the trochaic?  Long Winter comes with heavy foot, and Spring is the light-footed.  Again, Summer is long, and Autumn short and cheery; and so our phrase begins again and again.  We all know with what periodicity everything in nature dances, and how the smallest flower is a marvel of recurring rhymes and rhythms, with perfume for a melody.  How Shakespeare’s Beatrice charms us when she says, “There a star danced, and under that was I born.”

And yet man is not part of Nature.  Even in the depths of the primeval forest, that poor savage, whom we found listening fearfully to the sound of his drum, knew better.  Mankind lives in isolation, and Nature is a thing for him to conquer.  For Nature is a thing that exists, while man thinks.  Nature is that which passively lives while man actively wills.  It is the strain of Nature in man that gave him the dance, and it is his godlike fight against Nature that gave him impassioned speech; beauty of form and motion on one side, all that is divine in man on the other; on one side materialism, on the other idealism.

We have traced the origin of the drum, pipe, and the voice in music.  It still remains for us to speak of the lyre and the lute, the ancestors of our modern stringed instruments.  The relative antiquity of the lyre and the lute as compared with the harp has been much discussed, the main contention against the lyre being that it is a more artificial instrument than the harp; the harp was played with the fingers alone, while the lyre was played with a plectrum (a small piece of metal, wood, or ivory).  Perhaps it would be safer to take the lute as the earliest form of the stringed instrument, for, from the very first, we find two species of instruments with strings, one played with the fingers, the prototype of our modern harps, banjos, guitars, etc., the other played with the plectrum, the ancestor of all our modern stringed instruments played by means of bows and hammers, such as violins, pianos, etc.

However this may be, one thing is certain, the possession of these instruments implies already a considerable measure of culture, for they were not haphazard things.  They were made for a purpose, were invented to fill a gap in the ever-increasing needs of expression.  In Homer we find a description of the making of a lyre by Hermes, how this making of a lyre from the shell of a tortoise that happened to pass before the entrance to the grotto of his mother, Maia, was his first exploit; and that he made it to accompany his song in praise of his father Zeus.  We must accept this explanation of the origin of the lyre, namely,

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Critical & Historical Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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