Critical & Historical Essays eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 207 pages of information about Critical & Historical Essays.

All the brass instruments of the Middle Ages seem to have been very short, therefore high in pitch.  We remember that the Romans had trumpets (chiefly used in signalling) called buccina, and we may assume that the whole modern family of brass instruments has descended from this primitive type.  As late as 1500, the hunting horn consisted of but one loop which passed over the shoulder and around the body of the player.  A horn of from six to seven feet in length was first used about 1650; and we know that, owing to the smallness of the instruments and their consequent high pitch in those days, many of Bach’s scores contain parts absolutely impracticable for our modern brass instruments.  The division of these instruments into classes, such as trumpets, horns, trombones, etc., is due to the differences in shape, which in turn produce tones of different quality.  The large bore of the trombone gives great volume to the tone, the small bore of the trumpet great brilliancy, the medium bore of the horn veils the brilliancy on one hand and lightens the thickness of tone on the other.

The horn, called cor de chasse, was first used in the orchestra in 1664, in one of Lully’s operas, but its technique (stopped tones and crooks) was only properly understood about 1750; the present-day valve horn did not come into general use until within the last half century.  Fifty years before the principle had been applied to the horn the trumpet had crooks and slides, a mechanism which, in the trumpet, is still retained in England, pointing to the fact that the trombone is, after all, nothing but a very large kind of trumpet.



In order to understand as well as to feel music, we must reduce it to its primary elements, and these are to be found in folk song, or, to go further back, in its predecessor, the chant of the savages.

Folk music may be likened to a twig which has fallen into a salt mine, to borrow an expression from Taine; every year adds fresh jewels to the crystals that form on it until at last the only resemblance to the original is in the general contour.  We know that the nucleus of melody lies in one note, just as the origin of language is to be sought for in the word.  Therefore folk music proper must be separated from what may be called barbaric music, the most primitive type of the latter being the “one-note” strain from which spring the melodies of the people.  This one-note form passes through many rhythmical changes before song becomes developed to the extent of adding several notes to its means of expression.  The next development of savage chanting (which is the precursor of folk song) may be traced back to its two elements, one of which was a mere savage howl, and the other, that raising of the voice under stress of strong emotion which still constitutes one of our principal means of expression.

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Critical & Historical Essays from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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