Page images

character and powers at those periods; but it is much to be regretted that the information we possess upon the subject is very meagre and unsatisfactory. The Jews indeed assert that the chant or recitative now in use amongst them is of equal antiquity with their law ; but of this some doubts may reasonably be entertained, when it is allowed by themselves that their music was never reduced to notation until the fifth century of the christian era.*

Of all the ancient nations, the Greeks and Romans alone indicated musical sounds by notation. By the former, the letters of the alphabet were employed for this purpose, some of them being inverted, some standing in their common position, some supine, some erect, some imperfectly formed, and others compound; forming no fewer than 1860 distinct characters. It appears, however, that they were without any character to determine the duration of their notes, which must therefore have been regulated by the rhythm of their poetry. Some few specimens of the music of the Greeks have been discovered, and are given by Dr. Burney and Dr. Busby in their histories, with translations into modern notation ; but so far are these specimens from exhibiting the least approach to those effects attributed to the music of that intellectual people, as well by their historians as their poets, that Dr. Burney, who took great pains to decipher them, and availed himself of every expedient bis ingenuity could devise, in order to reduce them to something like elegance, candidly declares, “If I had been told that they came from the Cherokees or Hottentots, I should not have been surprised at their excellence." Whilst Dr. Busby contents himself with concluding, “ that if we have found the form, we are still strangers to the spirit, of their musical compositions ; that it is the body, not the soul, of their melody we have obtained; and that, with respect to the principle from which emanated its resistless influence, we remain as uninformed as ever.”

It will naturally be supposed that, as the apostles and the earliest converts to the christian faith were Hebrews, the music employed in the service of the temple was that to which they had recourse; and that the same music was introduced by them into every church they were instrumental in planting among the Gentiles. That the christian music differed very materially from that of the pagan worship, may be concluded from the fact already noticed, as affirmed by several of the Fathers, viz. that it attracted the Gentiles into their churches; which would not be very probable, if, as some suppose, it was derived from the pagan temples, where it must have been heard to much greater advantage. According to Eusebius, the first christian choir was

• “Rabbi Schelemoth Jarchi, who flourished A. D. 1140, says that when Moses received the law on Mount Sinai, it was given to him, not only with sound of trumpets (Exod. xix. 19), but with song also. The Jews have, in consequence, been prohibited from repeating the Bible in any other manner than as it was recited or chanted to them by Moses; the tune of which is supposed to have been handed down faithfully from father to son, until about the fifth century, when Rabbi Aaron Ben Aser invented certain characters to represent the accent and true tone that were given to each word ; by which means the original recitative or chant has been preserved to this day."-Nathan's Hist. Music, p. 42.

+ This, however, may be true of a later period of ccclesiastical history, as it is evident, from the exertions of Gregory, in the sixth century, to restore the ancient

established at Antioch, from which city St. Ambrose, who resided there some time, is said to have obtained the melodies afterwards called by his name, and which he introduced at Milan, in the fourth century. It is to be regretted that no specimens of these melodies remain, from which we might form an estimate of their style and character; although they are said to have been continued in the western church, with the original manner of their performance by canonici and psaltæ, that is, canons and chanters,* for a period of 200 years after the time of Ambrose. It is highly probable that most of them became incorporated with the music introduced in the early part of the seventh century by Gregory the Great, who is said to have collected the fragments of such melodies as had been approved by the first Fathers of the Church, to have banished a light description of music termed the canto figurato, and founded schools for the cultivation of the chant adopted by him, which received the appellation of canto fermo, from its superior gravity and plainness. By means of these schools the Gregorian music was soon disseminated throughout the western world ; and in such high esteem has it ever since been held, that to the present time it maintains a distinguished place in the service of the Roman Church, notwithstanding every attempt to supersede it by the more refined and artificial compositions of modern times.

These celebrated melodies, which Mr. Vincent Novello has rendered generally accessible, by a recent publication under the title of “Gregorian Hymns for the Evening Service," with a harmonized accompaniment, were originally sung in unisons or octaves only; counterpoint or harmony being then unknown. But about the middle of the eighth century, the general introduction of organs into the churches occasioned an improvement of the utmost importance to the science of music. At first, the accompaniment this noble instrument supplied, was merely that of unisons and octaves; but the facility with which several sounds could be produced upon it at once, occasioned the remark that among the various combinations of sounds, many were agreeable to the ear. The minor third, in conjunction with the melody, was first noticed for its pleasing effect, and the employment of it was termed organizing. This combination speedily suggested others, and soon afterwards the same combinations were adopted in singing without instrumental accompaniment, which was called descant, that is, double chant, triple, quadruple, medius, &c.; and all these are known to have preceded counterpoint, which was so little understood, that many writers have attributed its invention to the celebrated Guido of Arezzo, at so late a period as the eleventh century. There is every reason to believe that it was totally unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans; and although

music of the church, that this part of the christian worship had greatly degenerated from its primitive simplicity.

• Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, attributes the antiphona, or alternate singing (such as is now practised in the Protestant Cathedrals), to Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, in the times of the Apostles; who, it is said, had in a vision heard the angels praising God in that manner; on which Hooker remarks, “If Ignatius did not, yet one who must be with us of greater authority did," and quotes Isą. vi, 1-3.

the point has been matter of discussion among the learned, and the term harmony is frequently used by the Greek writers, it is plain from the instances they themselves furnish, that their harmony was precisely what the moderns mean by melody, that is, a mere succession of sounds ;* in confirmation of which Dr. Busby adduces the fact, that all the most elaborate treatises of ancient writers on music, which profess to treat of every part of the science, are without a single law relating to composition in simultaneous parts.

The progress of this delightful science after the discovery of counterpoint was no doubt greatly impeded by the imperfect character of the notation in use prior to the eleventh century. Boethius in the sixth century is said to have superseded the Greek notation, and reduced the musical alphabet to fifteen Roman letters, and these had been further reduced by Gregory to seven ; yet this mode of expressing music was considered so difficult as to confine the study of the science to the learned ; and Guido himself asserts that ten years were generally consumed in acquiring a knowledge of plain song. To obviate this difficulty, and to facilitate the studies of his pupils, Guido, in the beginning of the eleventh century, invented our present systems of notation and solfeggio ; and for these, with the other improvements attributed to his industry and genius, the name of this celebrated man is regarded as one of the most illustrious of the age in which he lived.

Whilst plain chant, in which all the notes were of equal value, continued to be the only description of music known or practised, the necessity of a systematic division of time does not appear to have been perceived. It is, however, not easy to imagine how harmonized melodies could be performed without some such regulations ; and if the want of it was felt when music had only advanced to simple consonance, it must have been much more necessary when composition had arrived at florid counterpoint. The invention, therefore, of characters for time, was one of the greatest improvements that music ever received. By means of these, as Dr. Busby eloquently remarks, “inusic was enabled to disengage itself from syllabic restraint, to assume a kind of independence, and in a degree to rely upon its own strength. It is to time that music is indebted for the force of its instrumental appeals ; for its power, without the aid of poetry, 'to move, to stir, to shake the soul.' It is by virtue of time, that it has those proportions, contrasts, punctuations, members, phrases, and periods, which render it a rich, expressive, and picturesque language. Music, without this liberating adjunct, was the slave of her sister art to a degree, that in her she may be said to have had her life and being ; but, made the mistress of her own motions, she immediately began to display her innate powers, and lent to poetry

• The following definitions, supplied by Mason the poet, of the terms harmony and melody, both as used by the ancients and moderns, are deemed so correct and perspicuous, as to be adopted by Dr. Burney and Dr. Busby in their Histories of Music : “The harmony of the ancients was a succession of simple sounds, according to their scale with respect to their acuteness or gravity. Their melody was a succession of these harmonical sounds, according to the laws of rhythm or metre, or, in other words, according to time, measure, and cadence. The harmony of the moderns is a succession of combined sounds or chords, according to the laws of counterpoint. Their melody is what the ancients understood by harmony; that is, a simple succession of unaccompanied or unbarmonized sounds."

the grace and strength she had used to borrow. It was then that, quitting the dull practice of a unity of sound and syllable, she launched out into a plurality of notes to the same syllable ; gave, by her divisions, new beauty to verbal expression, and to poetical sentiment more brilliant ornaments.”

The invention of the time table, and of the characters by which time is represented, is attributed to Franco of Cologne, who flourished in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but it is apparent from a work of his own, in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, entitled Ars Cantus Mensurabilis, that other authors had preceded him in treating of measured music, as he avows his intention to avail himself of their discoveries, as well as to correct their errors, and to make known further inventions of his own. These last are allowed to be very considerable, both with respect to the particular subject of his treatise, and every other branch of the science.

Invested with the attributes of measure and harmony, music had, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, undergone a revolution so complete, as to present but a very faint resemblance to its ancient character. The new and extraordinay effects of which it was found to be capable, opened an extensive field to the imagination, and exercised a sensible influence on ecclesiastical music. Whilst the laws of counterpoint remained unsettled, it cannot be wondered at, that, in their eagerness to avail themselves of every resource thus presented to them, many of the composers of that period should have indulged in extravagances wholly inconsistent with the solemnity of divine worship. To such an extent was this abuse carried, that the Council of Trent was induced to deliberate on the propriety of suppressing music in the churches altogether; and in 1552 the reigning pontiff resolved to reduce it to the simple Gregorian chant. Before, however, any steps were taken in pursuance of this determination, a young composer, named Palestrina,* presented to him a mass, composed in a style entirely new. Availing himself of the resources of modern harmony, he so employed them as to render his composition subservient to the purposes of an elevated devotion, whilst it was distinguished by the sweetest expression ; and it is not improbable that to this production, at such a juncture, the Roman Church is indebted for the preeminent character of the music employed in its public services, to which every celebrated composer it has since possessed has felt it a sacred duty to contribute the noblest efforts of his genius and skill.

It will easily be supposed that the degeneracy and abuse of Church music before the rise of Palestrina, would not escape the notice, or remain unvisited by the censures, of the early Reformers. It is to them that we are indebted for the metrical psalmody now so universally adopted in Protestant churches. Wickliff, Huss, Jerome of Prague, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Beza, Zuinglius, Buchanan, and Cranmer, are all said to have taken a special interest in the promotion of this kind of psalmody, concerning the manner of performing which, however, they

• To this eminent composer Handel himself is considered to be greatly indebted ; and in his peculiar style of choral harmony he is acknowledged to be without a rival.

held separate and somewhat contradictory opinions ; though they all agreed in condemning the prevailing music of their day, as too intricate and difficult for the purposes of congregational worship. That the music recommended by them was much inferior (so far as the science was concerned) to some of that it was designed to displace, is unquestionable ; but its better adaptation to general use, in consequence of its simplicity, was, in the estimation of those great men, of much higher account: and the distinguished place which metrical psalmody continues to hold in the public worship of their followers, in every nation, to the present period, added to the fact that some of the greatest musicians of subsequent times have given their powerful aid its improvement and extension, by suitable compositions, may be regarded as no mean proof of the wisdom of the principle they adopted.

The limits of our remarks do not permit an extended defence of metrical psalmody, or of the music adapted to its performance. The objections urged by writers of eminence against both are certainly entitled to respect, and several of those objections must be admitted in all their force. But, assuming as a principle that it is the duty of congregations to join in this part of divine worship, a little reflection and comparison will serve to show that both metre and music, as adopted by the Reformers, are better suited to such an object than any other style whatever. With regard to the music, whilst it is allowed that its isochronous character is frequently unfavourable to the expression of metrical poetry, which consists of a regular succession of long and short syllables, the advantage of its being easily sung by a mixed assembly is not the only one of which it boasts. It is well observed by a recent writer, that “the genuine chorale, instead of being wrapt up in monotony and dullness, offers scope, within the bounds of its own enchanted circle, for the exercise of the richest musical imagination. But it raises a forbidding wand against a wanton roaming beyond these bounds; and presents no inducement for human vanity to seek after idle display, It allows every thing for the glory of God-nothing for the ambition of man. At the same time, it claims attention from the most fastidious, by the richness and weight of its materials. Instead of the few meagre chords upon which the lighter tunes raise their fanciful superstructure, it grasps, in its ample comprehension, the most magnificent combinations, the boldest transitions, the simplest modulations, and the sweetest melody, clothed in a chastity that alike attracts the untutored, and approves itself to the mind of the learned."*

The United Brethren, or Moravians, are said to have been the originators of metrical psalmody; and from a hymn book which they published in 1538, with musical notes, it is evident that the first psalm tunes were derived from the chants of the Roman Church. The writer just quoted, in speaking of the music in use among the descendants of these Reformers at the present time, describes it as possessing the same full, harmonious, and ecclesiastical character which distinguished the compositions of their ancestors ;" it may therefore be inferred, that so far from repudiating counterpoint or harmony from their worship, they

• Latrobe's Music of the Church, p. 236.

« PreviousContinue »