Critical and Historical Essays: Lectures Delivered at Columbia University

By Edward MacDowell; W. J. Baltzell | Go to book overview

IV
THE MUSIC OF THE EGYPTIANS, ASSYRIANS, AND CHINESE

IN speaking of the music of antiquity we are seriously hampered by the fact that there is practically no actual music in existence which dates back farther than the eighth or tenth century of the present era. Even those well-known specimens of Greek music, as they are claimed to be, the hymns to Apollo, Nemesis, and Calliope, do not date farther back than the third or fourth century, and even these are by no means generally considered authentic. Therefore, so far as actual sounds go, all music of which we have any practical knowledge dates from about the twelfth century.

Theoretically, we have the most minute knowledge of the scientific aspect of music, dating from more than five hundred years before the Christian era. This knowledge, however, is worse than valueless, for it is misleading. For instance, it would be a very difficult thing for posterity to form any idea as to what our music was like if all the actual music in the world at the present time were destroyed, and only certain scientific works such as that of Helmholtz on acoustics and a few theoretical treatises on harmony, form, counterpoint and fugue were saved.

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