A musical relic has recently been exhumed in the department of Dordogne in France, which was constructed in an age when the fauna of France included the reindeer, the rhinoceros, and the mammoth, the hyæna, the bear, and the cave-lion. It is a small bone somewhat less than two inches in length, in which is a hole, evidently bored by means of one of the little flint knives which men used before acquaintance with the employment of metal for tools and weapons. Many of these flints were found in the same place with the bones. Only about half a dozen of the bones, of which a considerable number have been exhumed, possess the artificial hole.
A flute-concert is painted on one of the tombs in the pyramids of Gizeh and dates, according to Lepsius, from an age earlier than B.C. 2000. Eight musicians are performing on flutes. Three of them, one behind the other, are kneeling and holding their flutes in exactly the same manner. Facing these are three others, in a precisely similar position. A seventh is sitting on the ground to the left of the six, 13with his back turned towards them, but also in the act of blowing his flute, like the others. An eighth is standing at the right side of the group with his face turned towards them, holding his flute before him with both hands, as if he were going to put it to his mouth, or had just left off playing. He is clothed, while the others have only a narrow girdle round their loins. Perhaps he is the director of this singular band, or the solo performer who is waiting for the termination of the tutti before renewing his part of the performance. The division of the players into two sets, facing each other, suggests the possibility that the instruments were classed somewhat like the first and second violins, or the flauto primo and flauto secondo of our orchestras. The occasional employment of the interval of the third, or the fifth, as accompaniment to the melody, is not unusual even with nations less advanced in music than were the ancient Egyptians.
The representation of Polyhymnia with a harp, depicted on a splendid Greek vase now in the Munich museum, may be noted as an exceptional instance. This valuable relic dates from the time of Alexander the great. The instrument resembles in construction as well as in shape the Assyrian harp, and has thirteen strings. Polyhymnia is touching them with both hands, using the right hand for the treble and the left for the bass. She is seated, holding the instrument in her lap. Even the little tuning-pegs, which in number are not in accordance with the strings, are placed on the sound-board at the upper part of the frame, exactly as on the Assyrian harp. If then we have here the Greek harp, it was more likely an importation from Asia than from Egypt. In short, as far as can be ascertained, the most complete of the Greek instruments appear to be of Asiatic origin.
The flute, aulos, of which there were many varieties, was a highly popular instrument, and differed in construction from the flutes and pipes of the ancient Egyptians. Instead of being blown through a hole at the side near the top it was held like a flageolet, and a vibrating reed was inserted into the mouth-piece, so that it might be more properly described as a kind of oboe or clarionet. The Greeks were accustomed to designate by the name of aulos all wind instruments of the flute and oboe kind, some of which were constructed like the flageolet or like our antiquated flûte à bec.
The Greeks had lyres of various kinds, more or less differing in construction, form, and size, and distinguished by different names; such as lyra, 30kithara, chelys, phorminx, etc. Lyra appears to have implied instruments of this class in general, and also the lyre with a body oval at the base and held upon the lap or in the arms of the performer; while the kithara had a square base and was held against the breast. These distinctions have, however, not been satisfactorily ascertained. The chelys was a small lyre with the body made of the shell of a tortoise, or of wood in imitation of the tortoise. The phorminx was a large lyre; and, like the kithara, was used at an early period singly, for accompanying recitations. It is recorded that the kithara was employed for solo performances as early as B.C. 700.
The single flute was called monaulos, and the double one diaulos. A diaulos, which was found in a tomb at Athens, is in the British museum. The wood of which it is made seems to be cedar, and the tubes are fifteen inches in length. Each tube has a separate mouth-piece and six finger-holes, five of which are at the upper side and one is underneath.
The flutes of the Etruscans were not unfrequently made of ivory; those used in religious sacrifices were of box-wood, of a species of the lotus, of ass’ bone, bronze and silver. A bronze flute, somewhat resembling our flageolet, has been found in a tomb; likewise a huge trumpet of bronze. An Etruscan cornu is deposited in the British museum, and measures about four feet in length.
To the Etruscans is also attributed by some the invention of the hydraulic organ. The Greeks possessed a somewhat similar contrivance which they called hydraulos, i.e. water-flute, and which probably was identical with the organum hydraulicum of the Romans. The instrument ought more properly to be regarded as a pneumatic organ, for the sound was produced by the current of air through the pipes; the water applied serving merely to give the necessary pressure to the bellows and to regulate their action. The pipes were probably caused to sound by means of stops, perhaps resembling those on our organ, which were drawn out or pushed in. The construction was evidently but a primitive contrivance, contained in a case which could be carried by one or two persons and which was placed on a table. The highest degree of perfection which the hydraulic organ obtained with the ancients is perhaps shown in a representation on a coin of the emperor Nero, in the British museum. Only ten pipes are given to it and there is no indication of any key board, which would probably have been shown had it existed. The man standing at the side and holding a laurel leaf in his hand is surmised to represent a victor in the exhibitions of the circus or the amphitheatre. The hydraulic organ probably was played on such occasions; and the medal containing an impression of it may have been bestowed upon the victor.
The tuba was a straight trumpet. Both the cornu and the tuba were employed in war to convey signals. The same was the case with the buccina,—originally perhaps a conch shell, and afterwards a simple horn of an animal,—and the lituus, which was bent at the broad end but otherwise straight.
The British museum contains a mosaic figure of a Roman girl playing the tibia, which is stated to have been disinterred in the year 1823 on the Via Appia. Here the holmos or mouth-piece, somewhat resembling the reed of our oboe, is distinctly shown. The finger-holes, probably four, are not indicated, although they undoubtedly existed on the instrument.
The hiuen-tchung was, according to popular tradition, included with the antique instruments at the time of Confucius, and came into popular use during the Han dynasty (from B.C. 200 until A.D. 200). It was of a peculiar oval shape and had nearly the same quaint ornamentation as the té-tchung; this consisted of symbolical figures, in four divisions, each containing nine mammals. The mouth was crescent-shaped. Every figure had a deep meaning referring to the seasons and to the mysteries of the Buddhist religion. The largest hiuen-tchung was about twenty inches in length; and, like the té-tchung, was sounded by means of a small wooden mallet with an oval knob. None of the bells of this description had a clapper. It would, however, appear that the Chinese had at an early period some kind of bell provided with a wooden tongue: this was used for military purposes as well as for calling the people together when an imperial messenger promulgated his sovereign’s commands. An expression of Confucius is recorded to the effect that he wished to be “A wooden-tongued bell of Heaven,” i.e. a herald of heaven to proclaim the divine purposes to the multitude.
According to their records, the Chinese possessed their much-esteemed king 2200 years before our Christian era, and employed it for accompanying songs of praise. It was regarded as a sacred instrument. During religious observances at the solemn moment when the king was sounded sticks of incense were burnt. It was likewise played before the emperor early in the morning when he awoke. The Chinese have long since constructed various kinds of the king, one of which is here engraved, by using different species of stones. Their most famous stone selected for this purpose is called yu. It is not only very sonorous but also beautiful in appearance. The yu is found in mountain streams and crevices of rocks. The largest specimens found measure from two to three feet in diameter, but of this size examples rarely occur. The yu is very hard and heavy. Some European mineralogists, to whom the missionaries transmitted specimens for examination, pronounce it to be a species of agate. It is found of different colours, and the Chinese appear to have preferred in different centuries particular colours for the king.
Another curious wind-instrument of high antiquity, the cheng, is still in use. Formerly it had either 13, 19, or 24 tubes, placed in a calabash; and a long curved tube served as a mouth-piece. In olden time it was called yu.
The ou, likewise an ancient Chinese instrument of percussion and still in use, is made of wood in the shape of a crouching tiger. It is hollow, and along its back are about twenty small pieces of metal, pointed, and in appearance not unlike the teeth of a saw. The performer strikes them with a sort of plectrum resembling a brush, or with a small stick called tchen. Occasionally the ou is made with pieces of metal shaped like reeds.
The kin-kou (engraved), a large drum fixed on a pedestal which raises it above six feet from the ground, is embellished with symbolical designs. A similar drum on which natural phenomena are depicted is called lei-kou; and another of the kind, with figures of certain birds and beasts which are regarded as symbols of long life, is called ling-kou, and also lou-kou.
The ancient ou was constructed with only six tones which were attuned thus—f, g, a, c, d, f. The instrument appears to have become deteriorated in the course of time; for, although it has gradually acquired as many as twenty-seven pieces of metal, it evidently serves at the present day more for the production of rhythmical noise than for the execution of any melody. The modern ou is made of a species of wood called kieou or tsieou: and the tiger rests generally on a hollow wooden pedestal about three feet six inches long, which serves as a sound-board.
The vina is undoubtedly of high antiquity. It has seven wire strings, and movable frets which are generally fastened with wax. Two hollowed gourds, often tastefully ornamented, are affixed to it for the purpose of increasing the sonorousness. There are several kinds of the vina in different districts; but that represented in the illustration is regarded as the oldest. The performer shown is Jeewan Shah, a celebrated virtuoso on the vina, who lived about a hundred years ago. The Hindus divided their musical scale into several intervals smaller than our modern semitones. They adopted twenty-two intervals called sruti in the compass of an octave, which may therefore be compared to our chromatic intervals. As the frets of the vina are movable the performer can easily regulate them according to the scale, or mode, which he requires for his music.
An interesting representation of a Turkish woman playing the harp sketched from life by Melchior Lorich in the seventeenth century, probably exhibits an old Persian chang; for the Turks derived their music principally from Persia. Here we have an introduction into Europe of the oriental frame without a front pillar.
The engraving, taken from a Persian painting at Teheran, represents an old Persian santir, the prototype of our dulcimer, mounted with wire strings and played upon with two slightly curved sticks.
Unfortunately we possess no exact descriptions of the Persian and Arabian instruments between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, otherwise we should probably have earlier accounts of some instrument of the violin kind in Persia. Ash-shakandi, who lived in Spain about A.D. 1200, mentions the rebab, which may have been in use for centuries without having been thought worthy of notice on account of its rudeness. Persian writers of the fourteenth century speak of two instruments of the violin class, viz., the rebab and the kemangeh. As regards the kemangeh, the Arabs themselves assert that they obtained it from Persia, and their statement appears all the more worthy of belief from the fact that both names, rebab and kemangeh, are originally Persian. We engrave the rebab from an example at South Kensington.
The Mexicans possessed a small whistle formed of baked clay, a considerable number of which have been found. Some specimens are singularly grotesque in shape, representing caricatures of the human face and figure, birds, beasts, and flowers. Some were provided at the top with a finger-hole which, when closed, altered the pitch of the sound, so that two different tones were producible on the instrument. Others had a little ball of baked clay lying loose inside the air-chamber. When the instrument was blown the current of air set the ball in a vibrating motion, thereby causing a shrill and whirring sound.
Rather more complete than the above specimens are some of the whistles and small pipes which have been found in graves of the Indians of Chiriqui in central America. The pipe or whistle which is represented in the accompanying engraving appears, to judge from the somewhat obscure description transmitted to us, to possess about half a dozen tones. It is of pottery, painted in red and black on a cream-coloured ground, and in length about five inches.
Among the instruments of this kind from central America the most complete have four finger-holes. By means of three holes, four sounds (including the sound which is produced when none of the holes are closed) can be emitted: the fourth finger-hole, when closed, has the effect of lowering the pitch a semitone. By a particular process two or three lower notes are obtainable.