A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music

By John Erskine | Go to book overview

THE ORCHESTRA AND OTHER INSTRUMENTS

CHAPTER I
HOW THE ORCHESTRA BEGAN

"THAT AT WHAT TIME ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick . . ." Thus Nebuchadnezzar commanded the orchestra meet for the worship of his golden image. Nebuchadnezzar's orchestra was, perhaps, not quite so bad as it sounds; he suffered at the hands of the translators, and his band probably consisted of the shofar (the ceremonial cow's- horn trumpet), the pan-pipes, familiar to us, not so many years ago, in the hands of the Punch and Judy man or the "one-man band," together with a sort of guitar, a harp, a psaltery (a fingered dulcimer; the toy-shop type is much the same, though hammered), and the bagpipe. One would give much to have heard it, or that curious collection in Henry VIII's band--fourteen trumpets, ten trombones, four drums, two viols, three flutes, a bagpipe, and four tambourines. Jazz orchestration is not new! But probably these were not all played at once.

Though bands of instrumentalists have existed ever since man learned how to make an instrument (getting the hint, likely enough, from the wind in the trees, from twanging a stretched ligament, or from banging upon the skull of a departed enemy) and in due time, with the growth of the social sense, decided it was good fun to twang or blow or scrape or bang with his fellows, we can see at once that instruments were heavily handicapped, in comparison with the voice, from the start of the race. The voice did not need to evolve mechanically; it was just as ready for its Verdi or Wagner, its Battistini or Caruso, in the year dot as in the nineteenth century; but the music was not there. Instruments have developed--the violin family from

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