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Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race



First, that an enharmonic modulation might exist is admitted by many modern writers. Mr. Donkin, for instance, author of the able article on Ancient Music in Dr. W. Smith's “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities,” observes (under the title of “Music”) of the different genera less frequently named,* “that it would be wrong to conclude hastily that the others would be impossible in practice, or necessarily unpleasing;” and of the enharmonic he says, “but it is impossible to form a judgment of its merits without a much greater knowledge of the rules of composition than seems now attainable.”

Mr. Lay Tradescant having shown the difference of interval of the Chinese instruments from the intervals generally in use in Europe, adds—“It will therefore very readily appear from the respective rules, that the character of the music, or, if you please, the mood (he should have said “genus”), must be very different from our own, and that none of our instruments (he should have said keyed or bored) are capable of doing justice to any air that is

* As the soft diatonic, the hemiolion chromatic, the soft chromatic.

page 234 played on the kin” (or scholar's lute). He subjoins: “In my travels I sometimes wrote down the airs that I had heard among the natives, but though I took much pains to learn them accurately, I always found they had lost something of their peculiarity when played upon the violin.

“The reason of this defect seems to have been that the intervals of the Indian music did not agree with those of Europe.”*

Mr. Tradescant might have added, that there will always be some difference in an air played on the guitar and on the violin, though the intervals used are esteemed the same; and, again, perhaps the learned traveller did not take care to divide the scale of his violin mathematically, like that of the kin, before he tried the effect; he might also not have noted the right interval. He concludes: “There is, however, a connection between the Chinese and old Scotch music, so that when any highly-admired airs of Scotland happen to fall within the compass of the kin, they seem at home when played upon this instrument.”

Mr. Lane says the “cannoon” of the Arabians had twenty-four notes. Dr. Russell to Burney says that the Arab scale of twenty-four notes was equal to one octave. But Mr. Lane adds, that “the most remarkable peculiarity in the Arab system of music is the division of tones into thirds.” Hence, from the system of thirds of tones, I have heard the Egyptian musicians urge against the European systems of music that they are deficient in the number of sounds.

The same remark was made to me by Selim Agar, a Nubian, when singing some Amharic songs: “Your instrument” (piano), said he, “is very much out of tune, and jumps very much.”

Mr. Lane adds: “These small and delicate gradations of sound give a peculiar softness to the performances of the Arab musicians, which are generally of a plaintive character; but they are difficult to discriminate with exactness, and therefore seldom observed in the vocal and instrumental music of those persons who have not made a regular study of the art.”

* Lay Tradescant's “Chinese as they are.”

page 235

Had Mr. Lane been describing the character and difficulties of the ancient Greek enharmonic or chromatic, he could not have used other terms; they are almost the words of Aristoxenus, Vitruvius, Plutarch, and other ancient writers on the genera; and yet, he adds, “he took great delight in the more refined kind of music,” and found “the more he became habituated to the style the more he was pleased with it.” He continues: “He was perfeetly charmed with the performance of some female singers, and that the natives are so fascinated as to lavish considerable sums on them.”

Precisely so the Greeks of old.