Critical and Historical Essays: Lectures Delivered at Columbia University

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

VIII
FORMATION OF THE SCALE -- NOTATION

IN comparing the Ambrosian chant with that of Gregory, it may be said that we have touched upon the vital principle of modern music. The novelty in the Gregorian chant consisted in its absolute emancipation from the tyranny of actual words and declamation; while the idea, the poetic principle, or religious ecstasy still remained the ideal to be expressed in the music. Before this, as already explained, music was either a mathematical problem, a rhythm to mark the time in dancing, or a vehicle serving for the display of clever tours de force, the music of the tragedies being merely a kind of melodious declamation. To quote Goethe, "having recognized the fact, it still remains for us to see how it developed." Let us now consider this point.

Three things were necessary before these Gregorian chants could develop at all: (1) A simple, clean-cut musical scale or systematized table of musical sounds. (2) Some definite manner of symbolizing sounds, so that they could be accurately expressed in writing. (3) A cultivation of the sense of hearing, in order that mankind might learn to distinguish between sounds that are discordant and those that sound well together; in other words, harmony.

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