Critical & Historical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 248 pages of information about Critical & Historical Essays.
     high throat and head tones, occasionally lowering or
     raising the voice on a word, to express emotion.  This
     monotonous, and to European ears, strangely nonchalant,
     nasal recitative, is being continually interrupted by
     gong pounding and the shrill, high sound of discordant
     reed instruments.  When one or more of the characters
     commits suicide (which as we know is an honoured custom
     in China) he sings—­or rather whines—­a long chant before
     he dies, just as his western operatic colleagues do, as,
     for instance, Edgar in “Lucia di Lammermoor” and even,
     to come nearer home, Siegfried in “Goetterdaemmerung.”

[04] This drum was made of serpents’ skins, and the sound of
     it was so loud that it could be heard eight miles away.



The first name of significance in Greek music is that of Homer.  The hexameters of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were quite probably chanted, but the four-stringed lyre which we associate with the ancient Greek singers was only used for a few preluding notes—­possibly to pitch the voice of the bard—­and not during the chant itself.  For whatever melody this chant possessed, it depended entirely upon the raising and lowering of the voice according to the accent of the words and the dramatic feeling of the narrative.  For its rhythm it depended upon that of the hexameter, which consists of a line of six dactyls and spondees, the line always ending with a spondee.  Really the line should end with a dactyl ([- ’ ’]) and a spondee ([- -]).  If a line ends with two spondees it is a spondaic hexameter.

From this it would seem that while the pitch of the chant would be very difficult to gauge, owing to the diversity of opinion as to how to measure in actual sounds the effect of emotions upon the human voice, at least the rhythm of the chants would be well defined, owing to the hexameter in which the latter were written.  Here again, however, we are cast adrift by theory, for in practice nothing could be more misleading than such a deduction.  For instance, the following lines from Longfellow’s “Evangeline” are both in this metre, although the rhythm of one differs greatly from that of the other.

    Wearing her Norman cap, and her kirtle of blue, and the earrings


    Shielding the house from storms, on the north were the barns
          and the farm-yard.

Now if we think that these lines can be sung to the same musical rhythm we are very far from the truth, although both are hexameters, namely,

    [- ’ ’ — ’ — ’ ’ — ’ ’ — ’ ’ — -]

    [- ’ ’ — ’ — ’ ’ — ’ ’ — ’ ’ — -]

dactyls, ending with spondee.

Thus we see that metre in verse and rhythm in music are two different things, although of course they both had the same origin.

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Critical & Historical Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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