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Engel, C - On ancient pitch and modes

Identifier

010205

Type of spiritual experience

Background

Traditionally, a tetrachord is a series of four tones filling in the interval of a perfect fourth, a 4:3 frequency proportion. In modern usage a tetrachord is any four-note segment of a scale or tone row. The term tetrachord derives from ancient Greek music theory. It literally means four strings, originally in reference to harp-like instruments such as the lyre or the kithara, with the implicit understanding that the four strings must be contiguous.

We may say that music is a cultural thing, that appreciation of certain styles and chords is learnt rather than innate in the psyche and in general this may be true. But we also need to consider why there are these differences in the first place and why different cultures have such a different perception of the pitches.

A description of the experience

Musical Myths and Facts Volume II – C Engel

The Arabs possess wind instruments of the oboe kind on which the finger holes are placed in accordance with the division of seventeen intervals in the compass of an octave; and also several stringed instruments of the Arabs, which are supplied with frets made of gut wound round the neck or finger board, exhibit the same order of intervals; again, certain stringed instruments of the Hindus contain a number of little bridges, stuck with wax beneath the strings so as to produce, on a string being pressed down on the bridges successively, twenty two intervals in the compass of the octave…..

What we observe with different nations of the present day, respecting the diversity of musical scales, might evidently also have been observed in ancient time. The Greeks had several kinds of scales, the popularity of which changed at different periods. So also had our forefathers during the Middle ages. There is no necessity to refer to the Tetrachord of the ancient Greeks and the Hexachord of Guido Aretinus for evidences of the mutability of taste in these matters, since it can be observed sufficiently by referring to the music of nations around us............

Careful observers have noticed that the Swiss peasants in singing their popular airs are naturally inclined to intone the interval of the Fourth sharper than it sounds on the pianoforte. Thus, in C Major it is raised so as to give almost the impression of F sharp. This peculiarity is supposed to have arisen from the Alphorn, a favourite instrument of the Swiss, on which the interval of the Fourth, like a trumpet, is higher than it is in our Diatonic scale.............

A Chinese mandarin, on hearing a French Jesuit at Pekin, play on a clavecin some Suites de Pieces of a celebrated French composer, endeavoured to convince the performer that the Chinese music was the only true music ‘because’ he said ‘it appeals to the heart, while yours makes only noise’.

When Villoteau, during his residence in Egypt, investigated the Arabic Music, his Arab music master at Cairo endeavoured to convince him that the division of the Octave into seventeen intervals was more natural and tasteful than the European division into twelve chromatic intervals. A Nubian musician, on hearing Mr Lane play the pianoforte, remarked; ‘Your instrument is very much out of tune, and jumps very much’. He evidently missed the accustomed small intervals connecting the whole tones in his music..................

Instead of regarding our tonal system as exhibiting the highest degree of perfection attainable and of repudiating musical conceptions which reveal another foundation, as our musicians are apt to do, it would be more wise in them to study the various systems on which the music of different nations is founded, to acquaint themselves especially with the characteristics of the various scales, and by adopting them on proper occasions, to produce new effects more refreshing than the hackneyed phrases and modulations which usually pervade their works.

The source of the experience

Mysteries, the

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