The origin and function of music

The origin and function of music

[First published in Fraser’s Magazine for October 1857.]

When Carlo, standing, chained to his kennel, sees his master in the distance, a slight motion of the tail indicates his but faint hope that he is about to be let out. A much more decided wagging of the tail, passing by-and-by into lateral undulations of the body, follows his master’s nearer approach. When hands are laid on his collar, and he knows that he is really to have an outing, his jumping and wriggling are such that it is by no means easy to loose his fastenings. And when he finds himself actually free, his joy expends itself in bounds, in pirouettes, and in scourings hither and thither at the top of his speed. Puss, too, by erecting her tail, and by every time raising her back to meet the caressing hand of her mistress, similarly expresses her gratification by certain muscular actions; as likewise do the parrot by awkward dancings on his perch, and the canary by hopping and fluttering about his cage with unwonted rapidity. Under emotions of an opposite kind, animals equally display muscular excitement. The enraged lion lashes his sides with his tail, knits his brows, protrudes his claws. The cat sets up her back; the dog retracts his upper lip; the horse throws back his ears. And in the struggles of creatures in pain, we see that a like relation holds between excitement of the muscles and excitement of the nerves of sensation.

In ourselves, distinguished from lower creatures by feelings alike more powerful and more varied, parallel facts are at once more conspicuous and more numerous. Let us look at them in groups. We shall find that pleasurable sensations and painful sensations, pleasurable emotions and painful emotions, all tend to produce active demonstrations in proportion to their intensity.

In children, and even in adults who are not restrained by regard for appearances, a highly agreeable taste is followed by a smacking of the lips. An infant will laugh and bound in its nurse’s arms at the sight of a brilliant colour or the hearing of a new sound. People are apt to beat time with head or feet to music which particularly pleases them. In a sensitive person an agreeable perfume will produce a smile; and smiles will be seen on the faces of a crowd gazing at some splendid burst of fireworks. Even the pleasant sensation of warmth felt on getting to the fireside out of a winter’s storm, will similarly express itself in the face.

Painful sensations, being mostly far more intense than pleasurable ones, cause muscular actions of much more decided kinds. A sudden twinge produces a convulsive start of the whole body. A pain less violent, but continuous, is accompanied by a knitting of the brows, a setting of the teeth or biting of the lip, and a contraction of the features generally. Under a persistent pain of a severer kind, other muscular actions are added: the body is swayed to and fro; the hands clench anything they can lay hold of; and should the agony rise still higher, the sufferer rolls about on the floor almost convulsed.

Though more varied, the natural language of the pleasurable emotions comes within the same generalization. A smile, which is the commonest expression of gratified feeling, is a contraction of certain facial muscles; and when the smile broadens into a laugh, we see a more violent and more general muscular excitement produced by an intenser gratification. Rubbing together of the hands, and that other motion which Hood describes as the washing of “hands with invisible soap in imperceptible water,” have like implications. Children may often be seen to “jump for joy,” Even in adults of excitable temperament, an action approaching to it is sometimes witnessed. And dancing has all the world through been regarded as natural to an elevated state of minds. Many of the special emotions show themselves in special muscular actions. The gratification resulting from success, raises the head and gives firmness to the gait. A hearty grasp of the hand is currently taken as indicative of friendship. Under a gush of affection the mother clasps her child to her breast, feeling as though she could squeeze it to death. And so in sundry other cases. Even in that brightening of the eye with which good news is received we may trace the same truth; for this sparkling appearance is due to an extra contraction of the muscle which raises the eyelid, and so allows more light to fall upon, and be reflected from, the wet surface of the eyeball.

The bodily indications of painful emotion are equally numerous, and still more vehement. Discontent is shown by raised eyebrows and wrinkled forehead; disgust by a curl of the lip, offence by a pout. The impatient man beats a tattoo with his fingers on the table, swings his pendant leg with increasing rapidity, gives needless pokings to the fire, and presently paces with hasty strides about the room. In great grief there is wringing of the hands, and even tearing of the hair. An angry child stamps, or rolls on its back and kicks its heels in the air; and in manhood, anger, first showing itself in frowns, in distended nostrils, in compressed lips, goes on to produce grinding of the teeth, clenching of the fingers, blows of the fist on the table, and perhaps ends in a violent attack on the offending person, or in throwing about and breaking the furniture. From that pursing of the mouth indicative of slight displeasure, up to the frantic struggles of the maniac, we find that mental irritation tends to vent itself in bodily activity.

All feelings, then—sensations or emotions, pleasurable or painful—have this common characteristic, that they are muscular stimuli. Not forgetting the few apparently exceptional cases in which emotions exceeding a certain intensity produce prostration, we may set it down as a general law, that alike in man and animals, there is a direct connexion between feeling and movement; the last growing more vehement as the first grows more intense. Were it allowable here to treat the matter scientifically, we might trace this general law down to the principle known among physiologists as that of reflex action.56 Without doing this, however, the above numerous instances justify the generalization that every kind of mental excitement ends in excitement of the muscles; and that the two preserve a more or less constant ratio to each other.

“But what has all this to do with The Origin and Function of Music?” asks the reader. Very much, as we shall presently see. All music is originally vocal. All vocal sounds are produced by the agency of certain muscles. These muscles, in common with those of the body at large, are excited to contraction by pleasurable and painful feelings. And therefore it is that feelings demonstrate themselves in sounds as well as in movements. Therefore it is that Carlo barks as well as leaps when he is let out—that puss purrs as well as erects her tail—that the canary chirps as well as flutters. Therefore it is that the angry lion roars while he lashes his sides, and the dog growls while he retracts his lip. Therefore it is that the maimed animal not only struggles, but howls. And it is from this cause that in human beings bodily suffering expresses itself not only in contortions, but in shrieks and groans—that in anger, and fear, and grief, the gesticulations are accompanied by shouts and screams—that delightful sensations are followed by exclamations—and that we hear screams of joy and shouts of exultation.

We have here, then, a principle underlying all vocal phenomena; including those of vocal music, and by consequence those of music in general. The muscles that move the chest, larynx, and vocal chords, contracting like other muscles in proportion to the intensity of the feelings; every different contraction of these muscles involving, as it does, a different adjustment of the vocal organs; every different adjustment of the vocal organs causing a change in the sound emitted;—it follows that variations of voice are the physiological results of variations of feeling. It follows that each inflection or modulation is the natural outcome of some passing emotion or sensation; and it follows that the explanation of all kinds of vocal expression, must be sought in this general relation between mental and muscular excitements. Let us, then, see whether we cannot thus account for the chief peculiarities in the utterance of the feelings: grouping these peculiarities under the heads of loudness, quality or timbre, pitch, intervals, and rate of variation.

Between the lungs and the organs of voice, there is much the same relation as between the bellows of an organ and its pipes. And as the loudness of the sound given out by an organ-pipe increases with the strength of the blast from the bellows; so, other things equal, the loudness of a vocal sound increases with the strength of the blast from the lungs. But the expulsion of air from the lungs is effected by certain muscles of the chest and abdomen. The force with which these muscles contract, is proportionate to the intensity of the feeling experienced. Hence, a priori, loud sounds will be the habitual results of strong feelings. That they are so we have daily proof. The pain which if moderate, can be borne silently, causes outcries if it becomes extreme. While a slight vexation makes a child whimper, a fit of passion calls forth a howl that disturbs the neighbourhood. When the voices in an adjacent room become unusually audible, we infer anger, or surprise, or joy. Loudness of applause is significant of great approbation; and with uproarious mirth we associate the idea of high enjoyment. Commencing with the silence of apathy, we find that the utterances grow louder as the sensations or emotions, whether pleasurable or painful, grow stronger.

That different qualities of voice accompany different mental states, and that under states of excitement the tones are more sonorous than usual, is another general fact admitting of a parallel explanation. The sounds of common conversation have but little resonance; those of strong feeling have much more. Under rising ill temper the voice acquires a metallic ring. In accordance with her constant mood, the ordinary speech of a virago has a piercing quality quite opposite to that softness indicative of placidity. A ringing laugh marks joyous temperament. Grief, unburdening itself, uses tones approaching in timbre to those of chanting; and in his most pathetic passages an eloquent speaker similarly falls into tones more vibratory than those common to him. Now any one may readily convince himself that resonant vocal sounds can be produced only by a certain muscular effort additional to that ordinarily needed. If after uttering a word in his speaking voice, the reader, without changing the pitch or the loudness, will sing this word, he will perceive that before he can sing it, he has to alter the adjustment of the vocal organs; to do which a certain force must be used; and by putting his fingers on that external prominence marking the top of the larynx, he will have further evidence that to produce a sonorous tone the organs must be drawn out of their usual position. Thus, then, the fact that the tones of excited feeling are more vibratory than those of common conversation, is another instance of the connexion between mental excitement and muscular excitement. The speaking voice, the recitative voice, and the singing voice, severally exemplify one general principle.

That the pitch of the voice varies according to the action of the vocal muscles, scarcely needs saying. All know that the middle notes, in which they converse, are made without appreciable effort; and all know that to make either very high notes or very low notes requires considerable effort. In either ascending or descending from the pitch of ordinary speech, we are conscious of increasing muscular strain, which, at each extreme of the register, becomes painful. Hence it follows from our general principle, that while indifference or calmness will use the medium tones, the tones used during excitement will be either above or below them; and will rise higher and higher, or fall lower and lower, as the feelings grow stronger. This physiological deduction we also find to be in harmony with familiar facts. The habitual sufferer utters his complaints in a voice raised considerably above the natural key; and agonizing pain vents itself in either shrieks or groans—in very high or very low notes. Beginning at his talking pitch, the cry of the disappointed urchin grows more shrill as it grows louder. The “Oh!” of astonishment or delight, begins several notes below the middle voice, and descends still lower. Anger expresses itself in high tones, or else in “curses not loud but deep.” Deep tones, too, are always used in uttering strong reproaches. Such an exclamation as “Beware!” if made dramatically—that is, if made with a show of feeling—must be many notes lower than ordinary. Further, we have groans of disapprobation, groans of horror, groans of remorse. And extreme joy and fear are alike accompanied by shrill outcries.

Nearly allied to the subject of pitch, is that of intervals; and the explanation of them carries our argument a step further. While calm speech is comparatively monotonous, emotion makes use of fifths, octaves, and even wider intervals. Listen to any one narrating or repeating something in which he has no interest, and his voice will not wander more than two or three notes above or below his medium note, and that by small steps; but when he comes to some exciting event he will be heard not only to use the higher and lower notes of his register, but to go from one to the other by larger leaps. Being unable in print to imitate these traits of feeling, we feel some difficulty in fully conveying them to the reader. But we may suggest a few remembrances which will perhaps call to mind a sufficiency of others. If two men living in the same place, and frequently seeing one another, meet, say at a public assembly, any phrase with which one accosts the other—as “Hallo, are you here?”—will have an ordinary intonation. But if one of them, after a long absence, has unexpectedly returned, the expression of surprise with which his friend greets him—“Hallo! how came you here?”—will be uttered in much more strongly contrasted tones. The two syllables of the word “Hallo” will be, the one much higher and the other much lower than before; and the rest of the sentence will similarly ascend and descend by longer steps. Again, if, supposing her maid to be in an adjoining room, the mistress of the house calls “Mary,” the two syllables of the name will be spoken in an ascending interval of a third. If Mary does not reply, the call will be repeated probably in a descending fifth; implying the slightest shade of annoyance at Mary’s inattention. Should Mary still make no answer, the increasing annoyance will show itself by the use of a descending octave on the next repetition of the call. And supposing the silence to continue, the lady, if not of a very even temper, will show her irritation at Mary’s seemingly intentional negligence by finally calling her in tones still more widely contrasted—the first syllable being higher and the last lower than before. Now, these and analogous facts, which the reader will readily accumulate, clearly conform to the law laid down. For to make large intervals requires more muscular action than to make small ones. But not only is the extent of vocal intervals thus explicable as due to the relation between nervous and muscular excitement, but also, in some degree, their direction, as ascending or descending. The middle notes being those which demand no appreciable effort of muscular adjustment; and the effort becoming greater as we either ascend or descend; it follows that a departure from the middle notes in either direction will mark increasing emotion; while a return towards the middle notes will mark decreasing emotion. Hence it happens that an enthusiastic person, uttering such a sentence as—“It was the most splendid sight I ever saw!” will ascend to the first syllable of the word “splendid,” and thence will descend: the word “splendid” marking the climax of the feeling produced by the recollection. Hence, again, it happens that, under some extreme vexation produced by another’s stupidity, an irascible man, exclaiming—“What a confounded fool the fellow is!” will begin somewhat below his middle voice, and descending to the word “fool,” which he will utter in one of his deepest notes, will then ascend. And it may be remarked, that the word “fool” will not only be deeper and louder than the rest, but will also have more emphasis of articulation—another mode in which muscular excitement is shown. There is some danger, however, in giving instances like this; seeing that as the mode of rendering will vary according to the intensity of the feeling which the reader feigns to himself, the right cadence may not be hit upon. With single words there is less difficulty. Thus the “Indeed!” with which a surprising fact is received, mostly begins on the middle note of the voice, and rises with the second syllable; or, if disapprobation as well as astonishment is felt, the first syllable will be below the middle note, and the second lower still. Conversely, the word “Alas!” which marks not the rise of a paroxysm of grief, but its decline, is uttered in a cadence descending towards the middle note; or, if the first syllable is in the lower part of the register, the second ascends towards the middle note. In the “Heigh-ho!” expressive of mental or muscular prostration, we may see the same truth; and if the cadence appropriate to it be inverted, the absurdity of the effect clearly shows how the meaning of intervals is dependent on the principle we have been illustrating.

The remaining characteristic of emotional speech which we have to notice, is that of variability of pitch. It is scarcely possible here to convey adequate ideas of this more complex manifestation. We must be content with simply indicating some occasions on which it may be observed. On a meeting of friends, for instance—as when there arrives a party of much-wished-for visitors—the voices of all will be heard to undergo changes of pitch not only greater but much more numerous than usual. If a speaker at a public meeting is interrupted by some squabble among those he is addressing, his comparatively level tones will be in marked contrast with the rapidly changing ones of the disputants. And among children, whose feelings are less under control than those of adults, this peculiarity is still more decided. During a scene of complaint and recrimination between two excitable little girls, the voices may be heard to run up and down the gamut several times in each sentence. In such cases we once more recognize the same law: for muscular excitement is shown not only in strength of contraction, but also in the rapidity with which different muscular adjustments succeed one another.

Thus we find all the leading vocal phenomena to have a physiological basis. They are so many manifestations of the general law that feeling is a stimulus to muscular action—a law conformed to throughout the whole economy, not of man only, but of every sensitive creature—a law, therefore, which lies deep in the nature of animal organization. The expressiveness of these various modifications of voice is therefore innate. Each of us, from babyhood upwards, has been spontaneously making them, when under the various sensations and emotions by which they are produced. Having been conscious of each feeling at the same time that we heard ourselves make the consequent sound, we have acquired an established association of ideas between such sound and the feeling which caused it. When the like sound is made by another, we ascribe the like feeling to him; and by a further consequence we not only ascribe to him that feeling, but have a certain degree of it aroused in ourselves: for to become conscious of the feeling which another is experiencing, is to have that feeling awakened in our own con­scious­ness, which is the same thing as experiencing the feeling. Thus these various modifications of voice become not only a language through which we understand the emotions of others, but also the means of exciting our sympathy with such emotions.

Have we not here, then, adequate data for a theory of music? These vocal peculiarities which indicate excited feeling, are those which especially distinguish song from ordinary speech. Every one of the alterations of voice which we have found to be a physiological result of pain or pleasure, is carried to an extreme in vocal music. For instance, we saw that, in virtue of the general relation between mental and muscular excitement, one characteristic of passionate utterance is loudness. Well, its comparative loudness is one of the distinctive marks of song as contrasted with the speech of daily life. Though there are piano passages in contrast with the forte passages, yet the average loudness of the singing voice is much greater than that of the speaking voice; and further, the forte passages of an air are those intended to represent the climax of its emotion. We next saw that the tones in which emotion expresses itself, are, in conformity with this same law, of a more sonorous timbre than those of calm conversation. Here, too, song displays a still higher degree of the peculiarity; for the singing tone is the most resonant we can make. Again, it was shown that, from a like cause, mental excitement vents itself in the higher and lower notes of the register; using the middle notes but seldom. And it scarcely needs saying that vocal music is still more distinguished by its comparative neglect of the notes in which we talk, and its habitual use of those above or below them; and, moreover, that its most passionate effects are commonly produced at the two extremities of its scale, but especially at the upper one. A yet further trait of strong feeling, similarly accounted for, was the habitual employment of larger intervals than are employed in common converse. This trait, also, every ballad and aria systematically elaborates: add to which, that the direction of these intervals, which, as diverging from or converging towards the medium tones, we found to be physiologically expressive of increasing or decreasing emotion, may be observed to have in music like meanings. Once more, it was pointed out that not only extreme but also rapid variations of pitch, are characteristic of mental excitement; and once more we see in the quick changes of every melody, that song carries the characteristic as far, if not farther. Thus, in respect alike of loudness, timbre, pitch, intervals, and rate of variation, song employs and exaggerates the natural language of the emotions;—it arises from a systematic combination of those vocal peculiarities which are the physiological effects of acute pleasure and pain.

Besides these chief char­ac­ter­is­tics of song as distinguished from common speech, there are sundry minor ones similarly explicable as due to the relation between mental and muscular excitement; and before proceeding further, these should be briefly noticed. Thus, certain passions, and perhaps all passions when pushed to an extreme, produce (probably through their influence over the action of the heart) an effect the reverse of that which has been described: they cause a physical prostration, one symptom of which is a general relaxation of the muscles, and a consequent trembling. We have the trembling of anger, of fear, of hope, of joy; and the vocal muscles being implicated with the rest, the voice too becomes tremulous. Now, in singing, this tremulousness of voice is effectively used by some vocalists in pathetic passages; sometimes, indeed, because of its effectiveness, too much used by them—as by Tamberlik, for instance. Again, there is a mode of musical execution known as the staccato, appropriate to energetic passages—to passages expressive of exhilaration, of resolution, of confidence. The action of the vocal muscles which produces this staccato style, is analogous to the muscular action which produces the sharp, decisive, energetic movements of body indicating these states of mind; and therefore it is that the staccato style has the meaning we ascribe to it. Conversely, slurred intervals are expressive of gentler and less active feelings; and are so because they imply the smaller muscular vivacity due to a lower mental energy. The difference of effect resulting from difference of time in music, is also attributable to this same law. Already it has been pointed out that the more frequent changes of pitch which ordinarily result from passion, are imitated and developed in song; and here we have to add, that the various rates of such changes, appropriate to the different styles of music, are further traits having the same derivation. The slowest movements, largo and adagio, are used where such depressing emotions as grief, or such unexciting emotions as reverence, are to be portrayed; while the more rapid movements, andante, allegro, presto, represent successively increasing degrees of mental vivacity; and do this because they imply that muscular activity which flows from this mental vivacity. Even the rhythm, which forms a remaining distinction between song and speech, may not improbably have a kindred cause. Why the actions excited by strong feeling should tend to become rhythmical, is not obvious; but that they do so there are divers evidences. There is the swaying of the body to and fro under pain or grief, of the leg under impatience or agitation. Dancing, too, is a rhythmical action natural to elevated emotion. That under excitement speech acquires a certain rhythm, we may occasionally perceive in the highest efforts of an orator. In poetry, which is a form of speech used for the better expression of emotional ideas, we have this rhythmical tendency developed. And when we bear in mind that dancing, poetry, and music are connate—are originally constituent parts of the same thing, it becomes clear that the measured movement common to them all implies a rhythmical action of the whole system, the vocal apparatus included; and that so the rhythm of music is a more subtle and complex result of this relation between mental and muscular excitement.

But it is time to end this analysis, which possibly we have already carried too far. It is not to be supposed that the more special peculiarities of musical expression are to be definitely explained. Though probably they may all in some way conform to the principle that has been worked out, it is impracticable to trace that principle in its more ramified applications. Nor is it needful to our argument that it should be so traced. The foregoing facts sufficiently prove that what we regard as the distinctive traits of song, are simply the traits of emotional speech intensified and systematized. In respect of its general char­ac­ter­is­tics, we think it has been made clear that vocal music, and by consequence all music, is an idealization of the natural language of passion.

As far as it goes, the scanty evidence furnished by history confirms this conclusion. Note first the fact (not properly an historical one, but fitly grouped with such) that the dance-chants of savage tribes are very monotonous; and in virtue of their monotony are more nearly allied to ordinary speech than are the songs of civilized races. Joining with this the fact that there are still extant among boatmen and others in the East, ancient chants of a like monotonous character, we may infer that vocal music originally diverged from emotional speech in a gradual, unobtrusive manner; and this is the inference to which our argument points. From the characters of the intervals the same conclusion may be drawn.

“The songs of savages in the lowest scale of civilization are generally confined to the compass of few notes, seldom extending beyond the interval of the fifth. Sometimes, however, a sudden transition into the octave occurs, especially in sudden exclamations, or where a word naturally dictates an emphatic raising of the voice. The fifth especially plays a prominent part in primitive vocal music. . . . But it must not be supposed that each interval is distinctly intoned: on the contrary, in the transition from one interval to another, all the intermediate intervals are slightly touched in a way somewhat similar to a violinist drawing his finger rapidly over the string from one note to another to connect them; and as the intervals themselves are seldom clearly defined, it will easily be understood how nearly impossible it is to write down such songs in our notation so as to convey a correct idea of their natural effect.” 57

Further evidence to the same effect is supplied by Greek history. The early poems of the Greeks—which, be it remembered, were sacred legends embodied in that rhythmical, metaphorical language which strong feeling excites—were not recited, but chanted: the tones and cadences were made musical by the same influences which made the speech poetical. By those who have investigated the matter, this chanting is believed to have been not what we call singing, but nearly allied to our recitative—nearly allied but simpler. Several facts conspire to show this. The earliest stringed instruments had sometimes four, sometimes five strings: Egyptian frescoes delineate some of the simpler harps as thus constituted, and there are kindred representations of the lyres and allied instruments of the Assyrians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans. That the earliest Greek lyre had but four strings, and that the recitative of the poet was uttered in unison with its sounds, Neumann finds definite proof in a verse ascribed to Terpander, celebrating his introduction of the seven-stringed lyre:―

“The four-tonèd hymns now rejecting,

And yearning for songs new and sweet,

With seven strings softly vibrating,

The lyre anon shall we greet.”


Hence it follows that the primitive recitative was simpler than our modern recitative, and, as such, much less remote from common speech than our own singing is. For recitative, or musical recitation, is in all respects intermediate between speech and song. Its average effects are not so loud as those of song. Its tones are less sonorous in timbre than those of song. Commonly it diverges to a smaller extent from the middle notes—uses notes neither so high nor so low in pitch. The intervals habitual to it are neither so wide nor so varied. Its rate of variation is not so rapid. And at the same time that its primary rhythm is less decided, it has none of that secondary rhythm produced by recurrence of the same or parallel musical phrases, which is one of the marked char­ac­ter­is­tics of song. Thus, then, we may not only infer, from the evidence furnished by existing barbarous tribes, that the vocal music of pre-historic times was emotional speech very slightly exalted; but we see that the earliest vocal music of which we have any account, differed much less from emotional speech than does the vocal music of our days.

That recitative—beyond which, by the way, the Chinese and Hindoos seem never to have advanced—grew naturally out of the modulations and cadences of strong feeling, we have indeed current evidence. There are even now to be met with occasions on which strong feeling vents itself in this form. Whoever has been present when a meeting of Quakers was addressed by one of their number (whose practice it is to speak only under the influence of religious emotion), must have been struck by the quite unusual tones, like those of a subdued chant, in which the address was made. On passing a chapel in Wales during service, the raised and sing-song voice of the preacher draws the attention. It is clear, too, that the intoning used in churches is representative of this mental state; and has been adopted on account of the congruity between it and the contrition, supplication, or reverence, verbally expressed.

And if, as we have good reason to believe, recitative arose by degrees out of emotional speech, it becomes manifest that by a continuance of the same process song has arisen out of recitative. Just as, from the orations and legends of savages, expressed in the metaphorical, allegorical style natural to them, there sprung epic poetry, out of which lyric poetry was afterwards developed; so, from the exalted tones and cadences in which such orations and legends were delivered, came the chant or recitative music, from which lyrical music has since grown up. And there has not only thus been a simultaneous and parallel genesis, but there has been reached a parallelism of results. For lyrical poetry differs from epic poetry, just as lyrical music differs from recitative: each still further intensifies the natural language of the emotions. Lyrical poetry is more metaphorical, more hyperbolic, more elliptical, and adds the rhythm of lines to the rhythm of feet; just as lyrical music is louder, more sonorous, more extreme in its intervals, and adds the rhythm of phrases to the rhythm of bars. And the known fact that out of epic poetry the stronger passions developed lyrical poetry as their appropriate vehicle, strengthens the inference that they similarly developed lyrical music out of recitative.

Nor indeed are we without evidences of the transition. It needs but to listen to an opera to hear the leading gradations. Between the comparatively level recitative of ordinary dialogue, the more varied recitative with wider intervals and higher tones used in exciting scenes, the still more musical recitative which preludes an air, and the air itself, the successive steps are but small; and the fact that among airs themselves gradations of like nature may be traced, further confirms the conclusion that the highest form of vocal music was arrived at by degrees.

We have some clue to the influences which have induced this development; and may roughly conceive the process of it. As the tones, intervals, and cadences of strong emotion were the elements out of which song was elaborated; so, we may expect to find that still stronger emotion produced the elaboration; and we have evidence implying this. Musical composers are men of acute sensibilities. The Life of Mozart depicts him as one of intensely active affections and highly impressionable temperament. Various anecdotes represent Beethoven as very susceptible and very passionate. Mendelssohn is described by those who knew him as having been full of fine feeling. And the almost incredible sensitiveness of Chopin has been illustrated in the memoirs of George Sand. An unusually emotional nature being thus the general characteristic of musical composers, we have in it just the agency required for the development of recitative and song. Any cause of excitement will generate just those exaggerations which we have found to distinguish the lower vocal music from emotional speech, and the higher vocal music from the lower. Thus it becomes credible that the four-toned recitative of the early Greek poets (like all poets, nearly allied to composers in the comparative intensity of their feelings), was really nothing more than the slightly exaggerated emotional speech natural to them, which grew by frequent use into an organized form. And we may infer that the accumulated agency of subsequent poet-musicians, inheriting and adding to the products of those who went before them, sufficed, in the course of many centuries, to develope this simple four-toned recitative into a vocal music having great complexity and range.

Not only may we so understand how more sonorous tones, greater extremes of pitch, and wider intervals, were gradually introduced; but also how there arose a greater variety and complexity of musical expression. For this same passionate, enthusiastic temperament, which leads the musical composer to express the feelings possessed by others as well as himself, in more marked cadences than they would use, also leads him to give musical utterance to feelings which they either do not experience, or experience in but slight degrees. And thus we may in some measure understand how it happens that music not only so strongly excites our more familiar feelings, but also produces feelings we never had before—arouses dormant sentiments of which we do not know the meaning; or, as Richter says—tells us of things we have not seen and shall not see.

Indirect evidences of several kinds remain to be briefly pointed out. One of them is the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of otherwise accounting for the expressiveness of music. Whence comes it that special combinations of notes should have special effects upon our emotions?—that one should give us a feeling of exhilaration, another of melancholy, another of affection, another of reverence? Is it that these special combinations have intrinsic meanings apart from the human constitution?—that a certain number of aërial waves per second, followed by a certain other number, in the nature of things signify grief, while in the reverse order they signify joy; and similarly with all other intervals, phrases, and cadences? Few will be so irrational as to think this. Is it, then, that the meanings of these special combinations are conventional only?—that we learn their implications, as we do those of words, by observing how others understand them? This is an hypothesis not only devoid of evidence, but directly opposed to the experience of every one; and it is excluded by the fact that children, un­con­ven­tion­al­ised though they are, show great susceptibility to music. How, then, are musical effects to be explained? If the theory above set forth be accepted, the difficulty disappears. If music, taking for its raw material the various modifications of voice which are the physiological results of excited feeling, intensifies, combines, and complicates them—if it exaggerates the loudness, the resonance, the pitch, the intervals, and the variability, which, in virtue of an organic law, are the char­ac­ter­is­tics of passionate speech—if, by carrying out these further, more consistently, more unitedly, and more sustainedly,it produces an idealized language of emotion; then its power over us becomes comprehensible. But in the absence of this theory the expressiveness of music appears inexplicable.

Again, the preference we feel for certain qualities of sound presents a like difficulty, admitting only of a like solution. It is generally agreed that the tones of the human voice are more pleasing than any others. If music takes its rise from the modulations of the human voice under emotion, it is a natural consequence that the tones of that voice appeal to our feelings more than any others, and are considered more beautiful than any others. But deny that music has this origin, and the only alternative is the untenable one that the vibrations proceeding from a vocalist’s throat are, objectively considered, of a higher order than those from a horn or a violin.

Once more, the question—How is the expressiveness of music to be otherwise accounted for? may be supplemented by the question—How is the genesis of music to be otherwise accounted for? That music is a product of civilization, is manifest; for though some of the lowest savages have their dance-chants, these are of a kind scarcely to be dignified by the title musical: at most, they supply but the vaguest rudiment of music, properly so called. And if music has been by slow steps developed in the course of civilization, it must have been developed out of something. If, then, its origin is not that above alleged, what is its origin?

Thus we find that the negative evidence confirms the positive, and that, taken together, they furnish strong proof. We have seen that there is a physiological relation, common to man and all animals, between feeling and muscular action; that as vocal sounds are produced by muscular action, there is a consequent physiological relation between feeling and vocal sounds; that all the modifications of voice expressive of feeling are the direct results of this physiological relation; that music, adopting all these modifications, intensifies them more and more as it ascends to its higher and higher forms; that, from the ancient epic poet chanting his verses, down to the modern musical composer, men of unusually strong feelings prone to express them in extreme forms, have been naturally the agents of these successive in­ten­si­fi­ca­tions; and that so there has little by little arisen a wide divergence between this idealized language of emotion and its natural language: to which direct evidence we have just added the indirect—that on no other tenable hypothesis can either the expressiveness of music or the genesis of music be explained.

And now, what is the function of music? Has music any effect beyond the immediate pleasure it produces? Analogy suggests that it has. The enjoyments of a good dinner do not end with themselves, but minister to bodily well-being. Though people do not marry with a view to maintain the race, yet the passions which impel them to marry secure its maintenance. Parental affection is a feeling which, while it conduces to parental happiness, ensures the nurture of offspring. Men love to accumulate property, often without thought of the benefits it produces; but in pursuing the pleasure of acquisition they indirectly open the way to other pleasures. The wish for public approval impels all of us to do many things which we should otherwise not do,—to undertake great labours, face great dangers, and habitually rule ourselves in ways that smooth social intercourse; so that, in gratifying our love of approbation we subserve divers ulterior purposes. And, generally, our nature is such that in fulfilling each desire, we in some way facilitate fulfilment of the rest. But the love of music seems to exist for its own sake. The delights of melody and harmony do not obviously minister to the welfare either of the individual or of society. May we not suspect, however, that this exception is apparent only? Is it not a rational inquiry—What are the indirect benefits which accrue from music, in addition to the direct pleasure it gives?

But that it would take us too far out of our track, we should prelude this inquiry by illustrating at some length a certain general law of progress;—the law that alike in occupations, sciences, arts, the divisions which had a common root, but by gradual divergence have become distinct, and are now being separately developed, are not truly independent, but severally act and react on one another to their mutual advancement. Merely hinting thus much, however, by way of showing that there are many analogies to justify us, we go on to express the opinion that there exists a relationship of this kind between music and speech.

All speech is compounded of two elements, the words and the tones in which they are uttered—the signs of ideas and the signs of feelings. While certain articulations express the thought, certain modulations express the more or less of pain or pleasure which the thought gives. Using the word cadence in an unusually extended sense, as comprehending all variations of voice, we may say that cadence is the commentary of the emotions upon the propositions of the intellect. This duality of spoken language, though not formally recognized, is recognized in practice by every one; and every one knows that very often more weight attaches to the tones than to the words. Daily experience supplies cases in which the same sentence of disapproval will be understood as meaning little or meaning much, according to the vocal inflections which accompany it; and daily experience supplies still more striking cases in which words and tones are in direct contradiction—the first expressing consent, while the last express reluctance; and the last being believed rather than the first.

These two distinct but interwoven elements of speech have been undergoing a simultaneous development. We know that in the course of civilization words have been multiplied, new parts of speech have been introduced, sentences have grown more varied and complex; and we may fairly infer that during the same time new modifications of voice have come into use, fresh intervals have been adopted, and cadences have become more elaborate. For while, on the one hand, it is absurd to suppose that, along with the undeveloped verbal forms of barbarism, there existed developed vocal inflections; it is, on the other hand, necessary to suppose that, along with the higher and more numerous verbal forms needed to convey the multiplied and complicated ideas of civilized life, there have grown up those more involved changes of voice which express the feelings proper to such ideas. If intellectual language is a growth, so also, without doubt, is emotional language a growth.

Now, the hypothesis which we have hinted above, is that, beyond the direct pleasure which it gives, music has the indirect effect of developing this language of the emotions. Having its root, as we have endeavoured to show, in those tones, intervals, and cadences of speech which express feeling—arising by the combination and intensifying of these, and coming finally to have an embodiment of its own; music has all along been reacting upon speech, and increasing its power of rendering emotion. The use in recitative and song of inflections more expressive than ordinary ones, must from the beginning have tended to develope the ordinary ones. The complex musical phrases by which composers have conveyed complex emotions, may rationally be supposed to influence us in making those involved cadences of conversation by which we convey our subtler thoughts and feelings. If the cultivation of music has any effect on the mind, what more natural effect is there than this of developing our perception of the meanings of qualities, and modulations of voice; and giving us a correspondingly increased power of using them? Just as chemistry, arising out of the processes of metallurgy and the industrial arts, and gradually growing into an independent study, has now become an aid to all kinds of production—just as physiology, originating from medicine and once subordinate to it, but latterly pursued for its own sake, is in our day coming to be the science on which the progress of medicine depends;—so, music, having its root in emotional language, and gradually evolved from it, has ever been reacting upon and further advancing it.

It will scarcely be expected that much direct evidence in support of this conclusion can be given. The facts are of a kind which it is difficult to measure, and of which we have no records. Some suggestive traits, however, are to be noted. May we not say, for instance, that the Italians, among whom modern music was earliest cultivated, and who have more especially excelled in melody (the division of music with which our argument is chiefly concerned)—may we not say that these Italians speak in more varied and expressive inflections and cadences than any other people? On the other hand, may we not say that, confined almost exclusively as they have hitherto been to their national airs, and therefore accustomed to but a limited range of musical expression, the Scotch are unusually monotonous in the intervals and modulations of their speech? And again, do we not find among different classes of the same nation, differences that have like implications? The gentleman and the clown stand in decided contrast with respect to variety of intonation. Listen to the conversation of a servant-girl, and then to that of a refined lady, and the more delicate and complex changes of voice used by the latter will be conspicuous. Now, without going so far as to say that out of all the differences of culture to which the upper and lower classes are subjected, difference of musical culture is that to which alone this difference of speech is ascribable; yet we may fairly say that there seems a much more obvious connexion of cause and effect between these than between any others. Thus, while the inductive evidence to which we can appeal is but scanty and vague, yet what there is favours our position.

Probably most will think that the function here assigned to music is one of very little moment. But reflection may lead them to a contrary conviction. In its bearings upon human happiness, this emotional language which musical culture develops and refines, is only second in importance to the language of the intellect; perhaps not even second to it. For these modifications of voice produced by feelings, are the means of exciting like feelings in others. Joined with gestures and expressions of face, they give life to the otherwise dead words in which the intellect utters its ideas; and so enable the hearer not only to understand the state of mind they accompany, but to partake of that state. In short, they are the chief media of sympathy. And if we consider how much both our general welfare and our immediate pleasures depend on sympathy, we shall recognize the importance of whatever makes this sympathy greater. If we bear in mind that by their fellow-feeling men are led {425} to behave justly and kindly to one another—that the difference between the cruelty of the barbarous and the humanity of the civilized, results from the increase of fellow-feeling; if we bear in mind that this faculty which makes us sharers in the joys and sorrows of others, is the basis of all the higher affections; if we bear in mind how much our direct gratifications are intensified by sympathy,—how, at the theatre, the concert, the picture gallery, we lose half our enjoyment if we have no one to enjoy with us;—we shall see that the agencies which communicate it can scarcely be overrated in value. The tendency of civilization is to repress the antagonistic elements of our characters and to develope the social ones—to curb our purely selfish desires and exercise our unselfish ones—to replace private gratifications by gratifications resulting from, or involving, the pleasures of others. And while, by this adaptation to the social state, the sympathetic side of our nature is being unfolded, there is simultaneously growing up a language of sympathetic intercourse—a language through which we communicate to others the happiness we feel, and are made sharers in their happiness. This double process, of which the effects are already appreciable, must go on to an extent of which we can as yet have no adequate conception. The habitual concealment of our feelings diminishing, as it must, in proportion as our feelings become such as do not demand concealment, the exhibition of them will become more vivid than we now dare allow it to be; and this implies a more expressive emotional language. At the same time, feelings of higher and more complex kinds, as yet experienced only by the cultivated few, will become general; and there will be a corresponding development of the emotional language into more involved forms. Just as there has silently grown up a language of ideas, which, rude as it at first was, now enables us to convey with precision the most subtle and complicated thoughts; so, there is still silently growing up a language of feelings, which, notwithstanding its present imperfection, we may expect will ultimately enable men vividly and completely to impress on each other the emotions which they experience from moment to moment.

Thus if, as we have endeavoured to show, it is the function of music to facilitate the development of this emotional language, we may regard music as an aid to the achievement of that higher happiness which it indistinctly shadows forth. Those vague feelings of unexperienced felicity which music arouses—those indefinite impressions of an unknown ideal life which it calls up, may be considered as a prophecy, the fulfilment of which music itself aids. The strange capacity which we have for being affected by melody and harmony, may be taken to imply both that it is within the possibilities of our nature to realize those intenser delights they dimly suggest, and that they are in some way concerned in the realization of them. If so the power and the meaning of music become comprehensible; but otherwise they are a mystery.

We will only add that, if the probability of these corollaries be admitted, then music must take rank as the highest of the fine arts—as the one which, more than any other, ministers to human welfare. And thus, even leaving out of view the immediate gratifications it is hourly giving, we cannot too much applaud that musical culture which is becoming one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of our age.


An opponent, or partial opponent, of high authority, whose views were published some fourteen years after the above essay, must here be answered: I mean Mr. Darwin. Diligent and careful as an observer beyond naturalists in general, and still more beyond those who are untrained in research, his judgment on a question which must be decided by induction is one to be received with great respect. I think, however, examination will show that in this instance Mr. Darwin’s observations are inadequate, and his reasonings upon them inconclusive. Swayed by his doctrine of sexual selection, he has leaned towards the view that music had its origin in the expression of amatory feeling, and has been led to over-estimate such evidence as he thinks favours that view, while ignoring the difficulties in its way, and the large amount of evidence supporting another view. Before considering the special reasons for dissenting from his hypothesis, let us look at the most general reasons.

The interpretation of music which Mr. Darwin gives, agrees with my own in supposing music to be developed from vocal noises; but differs in supposing a particular class of vocal noises to have originated it—the amatory class. I have aimed to show that music has its germs in the sounds which the voice emits under excitement, and eventually gains this or that character according to the kind of excitement; whereas Mr. Darwin argues that music arises from those sounds which the male makes during the excitements of courtship, that they are consciously made to charm the female, and that from the resulting combinations of sounds arise not love-music only but music in general. That certain tones of voice and cadences having some likeness of nature are spontaneously used to express grief, others to express joy, others to express affection, and others to express triumph or martial ardour, is undeniable. According to the view I have set forth, the whole body of these vocal manifestations of emotion form the root of music. According to Mr. Darwin’s view, the sounds which are prompted by the amatory feeling only, having originated musical utterance, there are derived from these all the other varieties of musical utterance which aim to express other kinds of feeling. This roundabout derivation has, I think, less probability than the direct derivation.

This antithesis and its implications will perhaps be more clearly understood on looking at the facts under their nervo-muscular aspect. Mr. Darwin recognizes the truth of the doctrine with which the foregoing essay sets out, that feeling discharges itself in action: saying of the air-breathing vertebrata that―

“When the primeval members of this class were strongly excited and their muscles violently contracted, purposeless sounds would almost certainly have been produced; and these, if they proved in any way serviceable, might readily have been modified or intensified by the preservation of properly adapted variations.” (The Descent of Man, vol. ii., p. 331.)

But though this passage recognizes the general relation between feelings and those muscular contractions which cause sounds, it does so inadequately; since it ignores, on the one hand, those loudest sounds which accompany intense sensations—the shrieks and groans of bodily agony; while, on the other hand, it ignores those multitudinous sounds not produced “under the excitement of love, rage, and jealousy,” but which accompany ordinary amounts of feelings, various in their kinds. And it is because he does not bear in mind how large a proportion of vocal noises are caused by other excitements, that Mr. Darwin thinks “a strong case can be made out, that the vocal organs were primarily used and perfected in relation to the propagation of the species” (p. 330).

Certainly the animals around us yield but few facts countenancing his view. The cooing of pigeons may, indeed, be named in its support; and it may be contended that caterwauling furnishes evidence; though I doubt whether the sounds are made by the male to charm the female. But the howling of dogs has no relation to sexual excitements; nor has their barking, which is used to express emotion of almost any kind. Pigs grunt sometimes through pleasurable expectation, sometimes during the gratifications of eating, sometimes from a general content while seeking about for food. The bleatings of sheep, again, occur under the promptings of various feelings, usually of no great intensity: social and maternal rather than sexual. The like holds with the lowing of cattle. Nor is it otherwise with poultry. The quacking of ducks indicates general satisfaction, and the screams occasionally vented by a flock of geese seem rather to express a wave of social excitement than anything else. Save after laying an egg, when the sounds have the character of triumph, the cluckings of a hen show content; and on various occasions cock-crowing apparently implies good spirits only. In all cases an overflow of nervous energy has to find vent; and while in some cases it leads to wagging of the tail, in others it leads to contraction of the vocal muscles. That this relation holds, not of one kind of feeling, but of many kinds, is a truth which seems to me at variance with the view “that the vocal organs were primarily used and perfected in relation to the propagation of the species.”

The hypothesis that music had its origin in the amatory sounds made by the male to charm the female, has the support of the popular idea that the singing of birds constitutes a kind of courtship—an idea adopted by Mr. Darwin when he says that “the male pours forth his full volume of song, in rivalry with other males, for the sake of captivating the female.” Usually, Mr. Darwin does not accept without criticism and verification, the beliefs he finds current; but in this case he seems to have done so. Even cursory observation suffices to dissipate this belief, initiated, I suppose, by poets. In preparation for dealing with the matter I have made memoranda concerning various songbirds, dating back to 1883. On the 7th of February of that year I heard a lark singing several times; and, still more remarkably, during the mild winter of 1884 I saw one soar, and heard it sing, on the 10th January. Yet the lark does not pair till March. Having heard the redbreast near the close of August, 1888, I noted the continuance of its song all through the autumn and winter, up to Christmas eve, Christmas day, the 29th of December, and again on the 18th January, 1889. How common is the singing of the thrush during mild weather in winter, everyone must have observed. The presence of thrushes behind my house has led to the making of notes on this point. The male sang in November, 1889; I noted the song again on Christmas eve, again on the 13th January, 1890, and from time to time all through the rest of that month. I heard little of his song in February, which is the pairing season; and none at all, save a few notes early in the morning, during the period of rearing the young. But now that, in the middle of May, the young, reared in a nest in my garden, have sometime since flown, he has recommenced singing vociferously at intervals throughout the day; and doubtless, in conformity with what I have observed elsewhere, will go on singing till July. How marked is the direct relation between singing and the conditions which cause high spirits, is perhaps best shown by a fact I noted on the 4th December, 1888, when, the day being not only mild but bright, the copses on Holmwood Common, Dorking, were vocal just as on a spring day, with a chorus of birds of various kinds—robins, thrushes, chaffinches, linnets, and sundry others of which I did not know the names. Ornithological works furnish verifying statements. Wood states that the hedge-sparrow continues “to sing throughout a large portion of the year, and only ceasing during the time of the ordinary moult.” The song of the blackcap, he says, “is hardly suspended throughout the year;” and of caged birds which sing continuously, save when moulting, he names the grosbeak, the linnet, the goldfinch, and the siskin.

I think these facts show that the popular idea adopted by Mr. Darwin is untenable. What then is the true interpretation? Simply that like the whistling and humming of tunes by boys and men, the singing of birds results from overflow of energy—an overflow which in both cases ceases under depressing conditions. The relation between courtship and singing, so far as it can be shown to hold, is not a relation of cause and effect, but a relation of concomitance: the two are simultaneous results of the same cause. Throughout the animal kingdom at large, the commencement of reproduction is associated with an excess of those absorbed materials needful for self-maintenance; and with a consequent ability to devote a part to the maintenance of the species. This constitutional state is one with which there goes a tendency to superfluous expenditure in various forms of action—unusual vivacity of every kind, including vocal vivacity. While we thus see why pairing and singing come to be associated, we also see why there is singing at other times when the feeding and weather are favourable; and why, in some cases, as in those of the thrush and the robin, there is more singing after the breeding season than before or during the breeding season. We are shown, too, why these birds, and especially the thrush, so often sing in the winter: the supply of worms on lawns and in gardens being habitually utilized by both, and thrushes having the further advantage that they are strong enough to break the shells of the hybernating snails: this last ability being connected with the fact that thrushes and blackbirds are the first among the singing birds to build. It remains only to add that the alleged singing of males against one another with the view of charming the females is open to parallel criticisms. How far this competition happens during the pairing season I have not observed, but it certainly happens out of the pairing season. I have several times heard blackbirds singing alternately in June. But the most conspicuous instance is supplied by the redbreasts. These habitually sing against one another during the autumn months: reply and rejoinder being commonly continued for five minutes at a time.

Even did the evidence support the popular view, adopted by Mr. Darwin, that the singing of birds is a kind of courtship—even were there good proof, instead of much disproof, that a bird’s song is a developed form of the sexual sounds made by the male to charm the female; the conclusion would, I think, do little towards justifying the belief that human music has had a kindred origin. For, in the first place, the bird-type in general, developed as it is out of the reptilian type, is very remotely related to that type of the Vertebrata which ascends to Man as its highest exemplar; and, in the second place, song-birds belong, with but few exceptions, to the single order of Insessores—one order only, of the many orders constituting the class. So that, if the Vertebrata at large be represented by a tree, of which Man is the topmost twig, then it is at a considerable distance down the trunk that there diverges the branch from which the bird-type is derived; and the group of singing-birds forms but a terminal sub-division of this branch—lies far out of the ascending line which ends in Man. To give appreciable support to Mr. Darwin’s view, we ought to find vocal manifestations of the amatory feeling becoming more pronounced as we ascend along that particular line of inferior Vertebrata out of which Man has arisen. Just as we find other traits which pre-figure human traits (instance arms and hands adapted for grasping) becoming more marked as we approach Man; so should we find, becoming more marked, this sexual use of the voice, which is supposed to end in human song. But we do not find this. The South-American monkeys (“the Howlers,” as they are sometimes called), which, in chorus, make the woods resound for hours together with their “dreadful concert,” appear, according to Rengger, to be prompted by no other desire than that of making a noise. Mr. Darwin admits, too, that this is generally the case with the gibbons: the only exception he is inclined to make being in the case of Hylobates agilis, which, on the testimony of Mr. Waterhouse, he says ascends and descends the scale by 58 This comparatively musical set of sounds, he thinks, may be used to charm the female; though there is no evidence forthcoming that this is the case. When we remember that in the forms nearest to the human—the chimpanzees and the gorilla—there is nothing which approaches even thus far towards musical utterance, we see that the hypothesis has next to none of that support which ought to be forthcoming. Indeed in his Descent of Man, vol. ii., p. 332, Mr. Darwin himself says:—“It is a surprising fact that we have not as yet any good evidence that these organs are used by male mammals to charm the females:” an admission which amounts to something like a surrender.

Even more marked is the absence of proof when we come to the human race itself—or rather, not absence of proof but presence of disproof. Here, from the Descriptive Sociology, where the authorities will be found under the respective heads, I quote a number of testimonies of travellers concerning primitive music: commencing with those referring to the lowest races.

“The songs of the natives [of Australia] . . . are chiefly made on the spur of the moment, and refer to something that has struck the attention at the time.” “The Watchandies seeing me much interested in the genus Eucalyptus soon composed a song on this subject.” The Fuegians are fond of music and generally sing in their boats, doubtless keeping time, as many primitive peoples do. “The principal subject of the songs of the Araucanians is the exploits of their heroes:” when at work their “song was simple, referring mostly to their labour,” and was the same “for every occasion, whether the burden of the song be joy or sorrow.” The Greenlanders sing of “their exploits in the chase” and “chant the deeds of their ancestors.” “The Indians of the Upper Mississippi vocalize an incident, as—‘They have brought us a fat dog,’:” then the chorus goes on for a minute. Of other North-American Indians we read—“the air which the women sang was pleasing . . . the men first gave out the words, which formed a consummate glorification of themselves.” Among the Carriers (of North America) there are professed composers, who “turn their talent to good account on the occasion of a feast, when new airs are in great request.” Of the New Zealanders we read:—“The singing of such compositions [laments] resembles cathedral chanting.” “Passing events are described by extemporaneous songs, which are preserved when good.” “When men worked together appropriate airs were sung.” When presenting a meal to travellers, women would chant—“What shall be our food? shell fish and fern-root, that is the root of the earth.” Among the Sandwich Islanders “most of the traditions of remarkable events in their history are preserved in songs.” When taught reading they could not “recite a lesson without chanting or singing it.” Cook found the Tahitians had itinerant musicians who gave narrative chants quite unpremeditated. “A Samoan can hardly put his paddle in the water without striking up some chant.” A chief of the Kyans, “Tamawan, jumped up and while standing burst out into an extempore song, in which Sir James Brooke and myself, and last not least the wonderful steamer, was mentioned with warm eulogies.” In East Africa “the fisherman will accompany his paddle, the porter his trudge, and the housewife her task of rubbing down grain, with song.” In singing, the East African “contents himself with improvising a few words without sense or rhyme and repeats them till they nauseate,” Among the Dahomans any incident “from the arrival of a stranger to an {435} earthquake” is turned into a song. When rowing, the Coast-negroes sing “either a description of some love intrigue or the praise of some woman celebrated for her beauty.” In Loango “the women as they till the field make it echo with their rustic songs.” Park says of the Bambarran—“they lightened their labours by songs, one of which was composed extempore; for I was myself the subject of it.” “In some parts of Africa nothing is done except to the sound of music.” “They are very expert in adapting the subjects of these songs to current events.” The Malays “amuse all their leisure hours . . . with the repetition of songs, which are for the most part proverbs illustrated. . . . Some that they rehearse in a kind of recitative at their bimbangs or feasts are historical love-tales.” A Sumatran maiden will sometimes begin a tender song and be answered by one of the young men. The ballads of the Kamtschadales are “inspired apparently by grief, love, or domestic feeling;” and their music conveys “a sensation of sorrow and vague, unavailing regret.” Of their love-songs it is said “the women generally compose them.” A Kirghiz “singer sits on one knee and sings in an unnatural tone of voice, his lay being usually of an amorous character.” Of the Yakuts we are told “their style of singing is monotonous . . . their songs described the beauty of the landscape in terms which appeared to me exaggerated.”

In these statements, which, omitting repetitions, are all which the Descriptive Sociology contains relevant to the issue, several striking facts are manifest. Among the lowest races the only musical utterances named are those which refer to the incidents of the moment, and seem prompted by feelings which those incidents produce. The derivation of song or chant from emotional speech in general, thus suggested, is similarly suggested by the habits of many higher races; for they, too, show us that the mus­i­cal­ly-ex­pressed feelings relevant to the immediate occasion, or to past occasions, are feelings of various kinds: now of simple good spirits and now of joy or triumph—now of surprise, praise, admiration, and now of sorrow, melancholy, regret. Only among certain of the more advanced races, as the semi-civilized Malays and peoples of Northern Asia, do we read of love-songs; and then, strange to say, these are mentioned as mostly coming, not from men, but from women. Out of all the testimonies there is not one which tells of a love-song spontaneously commenced by a man to charm a woman. Entirely absent among the rudest types and many of the more developed types, amatory musical utterance, where first found, is found under a form opposite to that which Mr. Darwin’s hypothesis implies; and we have to seek among civilized peoples before we meet, in serenades and the like, music of the kind which, according to his view, should be the earliest. 59

Even were his view countenanced by the facts, there would remain unexplained the process by which sexually-excited sounds have been evolved into music. In the foregoing essay I have indicated the various qualities, relations, and combinations of tones, spontaneously prompted by emotions of all kinds, which exhibit, in undeveloped forms, the traits of recitative and melody. To have reduced his hypothesis to a shape admitting of comparison, Mr. Darwin should have shown that the sounds excited by sexual emotions possess these same traits; and, to have proved that his hypothesis is the more tenable, should have shown that they possess these same traits in a greater degree. But he has not attempted to do this. He has simply suggested that instead of having its roots in the vocal sounds caused by feelings of all kinds, music has its roots in the vocal sounds caused by the amatory feeling only: giving no reason why the effects of the feelings at large should be ignored, and the effects of one particular feeling alone recognized.

Nineteen years after my essay on “The Origin and Function of Music” was published, Mr. Edmund Gurney criticized it in an article which made its appearance in the Fortnightly Review for July 1876. Absorption in more important work prevented me from replying. Though, some ten years ago, I thought of defending my views against those of Mr. Darwin and Mr. Gurney, the occurrence of Mr. Darwin’s death obliged me to postpone for a time any discussion of his views; and then, the more recent unfortunate death of Mr. Gurney caused a further postponement. I must now, however, say that which seems needful, though there is no longer any possibility of a rejoinder from him.

Some parts of Mr. Gurney’s criticism I have already answered by implication; for he adopts the hypothesis that music originated in the vocal utterances prompted by sexual feeling. To the reasons above given for rejecting this hypothesis, I will add here, what I might have added above, that it is at variance with one of the fundamental laws of evolution. All development proceeds from the general to the special. First there appear those traits which a thing has in common with many other things; then those traits which it has in common with a smaller class of things; and so on until there eventually arise those traits which distinguish it from everything else. The genesis which I have described conforms to this fundamental law. It posits the antecedent fact that feeling in general produces muscular contraction in general; and the less general fact that feeling in general produces, among other muscular contractions, those which move the respiratory and vocal apparatus. With these it joins the still less general fact that sounds indicative of feelings vary in sundry respects according to the intensity of the feelings; and then enumerates the still less general facts which show us the kinship between the vocal manifestations of feeling and the characters of vocal music: the implication being that there has gone on a progressive specialization. But the view which Mr. Gurney adopts from Mr. Darwin is that from the special actions producing the special sounds accompanying sexual excitement, were evolved those various actions producing the various sounds which accompany all other feelings. Vocal expression of a particular emotion came first, and from this proceeded vocal expressions of emotions in general: the order of evolution was reversed.

To deficient knowledge of the laws of evolution are due sundry of Mr. Gurney’s objections. He makes a cardinal error in assuming that a more evolved thing is distinguished from less evolved things in respect of all the various traits of evolution; whereas, very generally, a higher degree of evolution in some or most respects, is accompanied by an equal or lower degree of evolution in other respects. On the average, increase of locomotive power goes along with advance of evolution; and yet numerous mammals are more fleet than man. The stage of development is largely indicated by degree of intelligence; and yet the more intelligent parrot is inferior in vision, in speed, and in destructive appliances, to the less-intelligent hawk. The contrast between birds and mammals well illustrates the general truth. A bird’s skeleton diverges more widely from the skeleton of the lower vertebrates in respect of heterogeneity than does the skeleton of a mammal; and the bird has a more developed respiratory system, as well as a higher temperature of blood, and a superior power of locomotion. Nevertheless, many mammals in respect of bulk, in respect of various appliances (especially for prehension), and in respect of intelligence, are more evolved than birds. Thus it is obviously a mistake to assume that whatever is more highly evolved in general character is more highly evolved in every trait.

Of Mr. Gurney’s several objections which are based on this mistake here is an example. He says—“Loudness though a frequent is by no means a universal or essential element, either of song or of emotional speech” (p. 107). Under one of its aspects this criticism is self-destructive; for if, though both relatively loud in most cases, song and emotional speech are both characterized by the occasional use of subdued tones, then this is a further point of kinship between them—a kinship which Mr. Gurney seeks to disprove. Under its other aspect this criticism implies the above-described misconception. If in a song, or rather in some part or parts of a song, the trait of loudness is absent, while the other traits of developed emotional utterance are present, it simply illustrates the truth that the traits of a highly-evolved product are frequently not all present together.

A like answer is at hand to the next objection he makes. It runs thus:―

“In the recitative which he [Mr. Spencer] himself considers naturally and historically a step between speech and song, the rapid variation of pitch is impossible, and such recitative is distinguished from the tones even of common speech precisely by being more monotonous” (p. 108).

But Mr. Gurney overlooks the fact that while, in recitative, some traits of developed emotional utterance are not present, two of its traits are present. One is that greater resonance of tone, caused by greater contraction of the vocal chords, which distinguishes it from ordinary speech. The other is the relative elevation of pitch, or divergence from the medium tones of voice: a trait similarly implying greater strain of certain vocal muscles, resulting from stronger feeling.

Another difficulty raised by Mr. Gurney he would probably not have set down had he been aware that one character of musical utterance which he thinks distinctive, is a character of all phenomena into which motion enters as a factor. He says:—“Now no one can suppose that the sense of rhythm can be derived from emotional speech” (p. 110). Had he referred to the chapter on “The Rhythm of Motion” in First Principles, he would have seen that, in common with inorganic actions, all organic actions are completely or partially rhythmical—from appetite and sleep to inspirations and heart-beats; from the winking of the eyes to the contractions of the intestines; from the motions of the legs to discharges through the nerves. Having contemplated such facts he would have seen that the rhythmical tendency which is perfectly displayed in musical utterance, is imperfectly displayed in emotional speech. Just as under emotion we see swayings of the body and wringings of the hands, so do we see contractions of the vocal organs which are now stronger and now weaker. Surely it is manifest that the utterances of passion, far from being monotonous, are characterized by rapidly-recurring ascents and descents of tone and by rapidly-recurring emphases: there is rhythm, though it is an irregular rhythm.

Want of knowledge of the principles of evolution has, in another place, led Mr. Gurney to represent as an objection what is in reality a verification. He says:―

“Music is distinguished from emotional speech in that it proceeds not only by fixed degrees in time, but by fixed degrees in the scale. This is a constant quality through all the immense quantity of embryo and developed scale-systems that have been used; whereas the transitions of pitch which mark emotional affections of voice are, as Helmholtz has pointed out, of a gliding character” (p. 113).

Had Mr. Gurney known that evolution in all cases is from the indefinite to the definite, he would have seen that as a matter of course the gradations of emotional speech must be indefinite in comparison with the gradations of developed music. Progress from the one to the other is in part constituted by increasing definiteness in the time-intervals and increasing definiteness in the tone-intervals. Were it otherwise, the hypothesis I have set forth would lack one of its evidences. To his allegation that not only the “developed scale-systems” but also the “embryo” scale-systems are definite, it may obviously be replied that the mere existence of any scale-system capable of being written down, implies that the earlier stage of the progress has already been passed through. To have risen to a scale-system is to have become definite; and until a scale-system has been reached vocal phrases cannot have been recorded. Moreover had Mr. Gurney remembered that there are many people with musical perceptions so imperfect that when making their merely recognizable, and sometimes hardly recognizable, attempts to whistle or hum melodies, they show how vague are their appreciations of musical intervals, he would have seen reason for doubting his assumption that definite scales were reached all at once. The fact that in what we call bad ears there are all degrees of imperfection, joined with the fact that where the imperfection is not great practice may remedy it, suffice of themselves to show that definite perceptions of musical intervals were reached by degrees.

Some of Mr. Gurney’s objections are strangely insubstantial. Here is an example:―

“The fact is that song, which moreover in our time is but a limited branch of music, is perpetually making conscious efforts; for instance, the most peaceful melody may be a considerable strain to a soprano voice, if sung in a very high register: while speech continues to obey in a natural way the physiological laws of emotion” (p. 117).

That in exaggerating and emphasizing the traits of emotional speech, the singer should be led to make “conscious efforts” is surely natural enough. What would Mr. Gurney have said of dancing? He would scarcely have denied that saltatory movements often result spontaneously from excited feeling; and he could hardly have doubted that primitive dancing arose as a systematized form of such movements. Would he have considered the belief that stage-dancing is evolved from these spontaneous movements to be negatived by the fact that a stage-dancer’s bounds and gyrations are made with “conscious efforts”?

In his elaborate work on The Power of Sound, Mr. Gurney, repeating in other forms the objections I have above dealt with, adds to them some others. One of these, which appears at first sight to have much weight, I must not pass by. He thus expresses it.

“Any one may convince himself that not only are the intervals used in emotional speech very large, twelve diatonic notes being quite an ordinary skip, but that he uses extremes of both high and low pitch with his speaking voice, which, if he tries to dwell on them and make them resonant, will be found to lie beyond the compass of his singing voice” (p. 479).

Now the part of my hypothesis which Mr. Gurney here combats is that, as in emotional speech so in song, feeling, by causing muscular contractions, causes divergencies from the middle tones of the voice, which become wider as it increases; and that this fact supports the belief that song is developed from emotional speech. To this Mr. Gurney thinks it a conclusive answer that higher notes are used by the speaking voice than by the singing voice. But if, as his words imply, there is a physical impediment to the production of notes in the one voice as high as those in the other, then my argument is justified if, in either voice, extremes of feeling are shown by extremes of pitch. If, for example, the celebrated ut de poitrine with which Tamberlik brought down the house in one of the scenes of William Tell, was recognized as expressing the greatest intensity of martial patriotism, my position is warranted, even though in his speaking voice he could have produced a still higher note.

Of answers to Mr. Gurney’s objections the two most effective are suggested by the passage in which he sums up his conclusions. Here are his words.

“It is enough to recall how every consideration tended to the same result; that the oak grew from the acorn; that the musical faculty and pleasure, which have to do with music and nothing else, are the representatives and linear descendants of a faculty and pleasure which were musical and nothing else; and that, however rudely and tentatively applied to speech, Music was a separate order” (p. 492).

Thus, then, it is implied that the true germs of music stand towards developed music as the acorn to the oak. Now suppose we ask—How many traits of the oak are to be found in the acorn? Next to none. And then suppose we ask—How many traits of music are to be found in the tones of emotional speech? Very many. Yet while Mr. Gurney thinks that music had its origin in something which might have been as unlike it as the acorn is unlike the oak, he rejects the theory that it had its origin in something as much like it as the cadences of emotional speech; and he does this because there are sundry differences between the characters of speech-cadences and the characters of music. In the one case he tacitly assumes a great unlikeness between germ and product; while in the other case he objects because germ and product are not in all respects similar!

I may end by pointing out how extremely improbable, a priori, is Mr. Gurney’s conception. He admits, as perforce he must, that emotional speech has various traits in common with recitative and song—relatively greater resonance, relatively greater loudness, more marked divergences from medium tones, the use of the extremes of pitch in signifying the extremes of feeling, and so on. But, denying that the one is derived from the others, he implies that these kindred groups of traits have had independent origins. Two sets of peculiarities in the use of the voice which show various kinships, have nothing to do with one another! I think it merely requires to put the proposition in this shape to see how incredible it is.

Sundry objections to the views contained in the essay on “The Origin and Function of Music,” have arisen from misconception of its scope. An endeavour to explain the origin of music, has been dealt with as though it were a theory of music in its entirety. An hypothesis concerning the rudiments has been rejected because it did not account for everything contained in the developed product. To preclude this mis­app­re­hen­sion for the future, and to show how much more is comprehended in a theory of music than I professed to deal with, let me enumerate the several components of musical effect. They may properly be divided into sensational, perceptional, and emotional.

That the sensational pleasure is dis­tin­guish­able from the other pleasures which music yields, will not be questioned. A sweet sound is agreeable in itself, when heard out of relation to other sounds. Tones of various timbres, too, are severally appreciated as having their special beauties. Of further elements in the sensational pleasure have to be named those which result from certain congruities between notes and immediately succeeding notes. This pleasure, like the primary pleasure which fine quality yields, appears to have a purely physical basis. We know that the agreeableness of simultaneous tones depends partly on the relative frequency of recurring correspondences of the vibrations producing them, and partly on the relative infrequency of beats, and we may suspect that there is a kindred cause for the agreeableness of successive tones; since the auditory apparatus which has been at one instant vibrating in a particular manner, will take up certain succeeding vibrations more readily than others. Evidently it is a question of the degree of congruity; for the most congruous vibrations, those of the octaves, yield less pleasure when heard in succession than those of which the congruity is not so great. To obtain the greatest pleasure in this and other things, there requires both likeness and difference. Recognition of this fact introduces us to the next element of sensational pleasure—that due to contrast; including contrast of pitch, of loudness, and of timbre. In this case, as in other cases, the dis­agree­able­ness caused by frequent repetition of the same sensation (here literally called “monotony”) results from the exhaustion which any single {445} nervous agent undergoes from perpetual stimulation; and contrast gives pleasure because it implies action of an agent which has had rest. It follows that much of the sensational pleasure to be obtained from music depends on such adjustments of sounds as bring into play, without conflict, many nervous elements: exercising all and not overexerting any. We must not overlook a concomitant effect. With the agreeable sensation is joined a faint emotion of an agreeable kind. Beyond the simple definite pleasure yielded by a sweet tone, there is a vague, diffused pleasure. As indicated in the Principles of Psychology (§ 537), each nervous excitation produces reverberation throughout the nervous system at large; and probably this indefinite emotional pleasure is a consequence. Doubtless some shape is given to it by association. But after observing how much there is in common between the diffused feeling aroused by smelling at a deliciously scented flower and that aroused by listening to a sweet tone, it will, I think, be perceived that the more general cause predominates.

The division between the sensational effects and the perceptional effects is of course indefinite. As above implied, part of the sensational pleasure depends on the relation between each tone and the succeeding tone; and hence this pleasure gradually merges into that which arises from perceiving the structural connexions between the phrases and between the larger parts of musical compositions. Much of the gratification given by a melody consists in the con­scious­ness of the relations between each group of sounds heard and the groups of sounds held in memory as having just passed, as well as those represented as about to come. In many cases the passage listened to would not be regarded as having any beauty were it not for its remembered connexions with passages in the immediate past and the immediate future. If, for example, from the first movement of Beethoven’s Funeral-March sonata the first five notes are detached, they appear to be meaningless; but if, the movement being known, they are joined with imaginations of the anticipated phrases, they immediately acquire meaning and beauty. Indefinable as are the causes of this perceptional pleasure in many cases, some causes of it are definable. Symmetry is one. A chief element in melodic effect results from repetitions of phrases which are either identical, or differ only in pitch, or differ only in minor variations: there being in the first case the pleasure derived from perception of complete likeness, and in the other cases the greater pleasure derived from perception of likeness with difference—a perception which is more involved, and therefore exercises a greater number of nervous agents. Next comes, as a source of gratification, the con­scious­ness of pronounced unlikeness or contrast; such as that between passages above the middle tones and passages below, or as that between ascending phrases and descending phrases. And then we rise to larger contrasts; as when, the first theme in a melody having been elaborated, there is introduced another having a certain kinship though in many respects different, after which there is a return to the first theme: a structure which yields more extensive and more complex perceptions of both differences and likenesses. But while perceptional pleasures include much that is of the highest, they also include much that is of the lowest. A certain kind of interest, if not of beauty, is producible by the likenesses and contrasts of musical phrases which are intrinsically meaningless or even ugly. A familiar experience exemplifies this. If a piece of paper is folded and on one side of the crease there is drawn an irregular line in ink, which, by closing the paper, is blotted on the opposite side of the crease, there results a figure which, in virtue of its symmetry, has some beauty; no matter how entirely without beauty the two lines themselves may be. Similarly, some interest results from the parallelism of musical phrases, notwithstanding utter lack of interest in the phrases themselves. The kind of interest resulting from such parallelisms, and from many contrasts, irrespective of any intrinsic worth in their components, is that which is most appreciated by the mus­i­cal­ly-un­cul­tured, and gives popularity to miserable drawing-room ballads and vulgar music-hall songs.

The remaining element of musical effect consists in the idealized rendering of emotion. This, as I have sought to show, is the primitive element, and will ever continue to be the vital element; for if “melody is the soul of music,” then expression is the soul of melody—the soul without which it is mechanical and meaningless, whatever may be the merit of its form. This primitive element may with tolerable clearness be distinguished from the other elements, and may coexist with them in various degrees: in some cases being the predominant element. Anyone who, in analytical mood, listens to such a song as Robert, toi que j’aime, cannot, I think, fail to perceive that its effectiveness depends on the way in which it exalts and intensifies the traits of passionate utterance. No doubt as music develops, the emotional element (which affects structure chiefly through the forms of phrases) is increasingly complicated with, and obscured by, the perceptional element; which both modifies these phrases and unites them into symmetrical and contrasted combinations. But though the groups of notes which emotion prompts admit of elaboration into structures that have additional charms due to artfully-arranged contrasts and repetitions, the essential element is liable to be thus submerged in the non-essential. Only in melodies of high types, such as the Addio of Mozart and Adelaide of Beethoven, do we see the two requirements simultaneously fulfilled. Musical genius is shown in achieving the decorative beauty without losing the beauty of emotional meaning.

It goes without saying that there must be otherwise accounted for that relatively modern element in musical effect which has now almost outgrown in importance the other elements—I mean harmony. This cannot be affiliated on the natural language of emotion; since, in such language, limited to successive tones, there cannot originate the effects wrought by simultaneous tones. Dependent as harmony is on relations among rates of aerial pulses, its primary basis is purely mechanical; and its secondary basis lies in the compound vibrations which certain combinations of mechanical rhythms cause in the auditory apparatus. The resulting pleasure must, therefore, be due to nervous excitations of kinds which, by their congruity, exalt one another; and thus generate a larger volume of agreeable sensation. A further pleasure of sensational origin which harmony yields is due to contrapuntal effects. Skilful counterpoint has the general character that it does not repeat in immediate succession similar combinations of tones and similar directions of change; and by thus avoiding temporary over-tax of the nervous structures brought into action, keeps them in better condition for subsequent action. Absence of regard for this requirement characterizes the music of Gluck, of whom Handel said—“He knows no more counterpoint than my cook;” and it is this disregard which produces its cloying character. Respecting the effects of harmony I will add only that the vague emotional accompaniment to the sensation produced by a single sweet tone, is paralleled by the stronger emotional accompaniment to the more voluminous and complex sensation produced by a fine chord. Clearly this vague emotion forms a large component in the pleasure which harmony gives.

While thus recognizing, and indeed emphasizing, the fact that of many traits of developed music my hypothesis respecting the origin of music yields no explanation, let me point out that this hypothesis gains a further general support from its conformity to the law of evolution. Progressive integration is seen in the immense contrast between the small combinations of tones constituting a cadence of grief, or anger, or triumph, and the vast combinations of tones, simultaneous and successive, constituting an oratorio. Great advance in coherence becomes manifest when, from the lax unions among the sounds in which feeling spontaneously expresses itself, or even from those few musical phrases which constitute a simple air, we pass to those elaborate compositions in which portions small and large are tied together into extended organic wholes. On comparing the unpremeditated inflexions of the voice in emotional speech, vague in tones and times, with those premeditated ones which the musician arranges for stage or concert room, in which the divisions of time are exactly measured, the successive intervals precise, and the harmonies adjusted to a nicety, we observe in the last a far higher definiteness. And immense progress in heterogeneity is seen on putting side by side the monotonous chants of savages with the musical compositions familiar to us; each of which is relatively heterogeneous within itself, and the assemblage of which forms an immeasurably heterogeneous aggregate.

Strong support for the theory enunciated in this essay, and defended in the foregoing paragraphs, is furnished by the testimonies of two travellers in Hungary, given in works published in 1878 and 1888 respectively. Here is an extract from the first of the two.

“Music is an instinct with these Hungarian gipsies. They play by ear, and with a marvellous precision, not surpassed by musicians who have been subject to the most careful training. . . . The airs they play are most frequently compositions of their own, and are in character quite peculiar. . . I heard on this occasion one of the gipsy airs which made an indelible impression on my mind; it seemed to me the thrilling utterance of a people’s history. There was the low wail of sorrow, of troubled passionate grief, stirring the heart to restlessness, then the sense of turmoil and defeat; but upon this breaks suddenly a wild burst of exultation, of rapturous joy—a triumph achieved, which hurries you along with it in resistless sympathy. The excitable Hungarians can literally become intoxicated with this music—and no wonder. You cannot reason upon it, or explain it, but its strains compel you to sensations of despair and joy, of exultation and excitement, as though under the influence of some potent charm.”—Round about the Carpathians, by Andrew F. Crosse, pp. 11, 12.

Still more graphic and startling is the description given by a more recent traveller, E. Gerard.

“Devoid of printed notes, the Tzigane is not forced to divide his attention between a sheet of paper and his instrument, and there is consequently nothing to detract from the utter abandonment with which he absorbs himself in his playing. He seems to be sunk in an inner world of his own; the instrument sobs and moans in his hands, and is pressed tight against his heart as though it had grown and taken root there. This is the true moment of inspiration, to which he rarely gives way, and then only in the privacy of an intimate circle, never before a numerous and unsympathetic audience. Himself spell-bound by the power of the tones he evokes, his head gradually sinking lower and lower over the instrument, the body bent forward in an attitude of rapt attention, and his ear seeming to hearken to far-off ghostly strains audible to himself alone, the untaught Tzigane achieves a perfection of expression unattainable by mere professional training.

This power of identification with his music is the real secret of the Tzigane’s influence over his audience. Inspired and carried away by his own strains, he must perforce carry his hearers with him as well; and the Hungarian listener throws himself heart and soul into this species of musical intoxication, which to him is the greatest delight on earth. There is a proverb which says, ‘The Hungarian only requires a gipsy fiddler and a glass of water in order to make him quite drunk;’ and, indeed, intoxication is the only word fittingly to describe the state of exaltation into which I have seen a Hungarian audience thrown by a gipsy band.

Sometimes, under the combined influence of music and wine, the Tziganes become like creatures possessed; the wild cries and stamps of an equally excited audience only stimulate them to greater exertions. The whole atmosphere seems tossed by billows of passionate harmony; we seem to catch sight of the electric sparks of inspiration flying through the air. It is then that the Tzigane player gives forth everything that is secretly lurking within him—fierce anger, childish wailings, presumptuous exaltation, brooding melancholy, and passionate despair; and at such moments, as a Hungarian writer has said, one could readily believe in his power of drawing down the angels from heaven into hell!

Listen how another Hungarian has here described the effect of their music:—‘How it rushes through the veins like electric fire! How it penetrates straight to the soul! In soft plaintive minor tones the adagio opens with a slow rhythmical movement: it is a sighing and longing of unsatisfied aspirations; a craving for undiscovered happiness; the lover’s yearning for the object of his affection; the expression of mourning for lost joys, for happy days gone for ever; then abruptly changing to a major key, the tones get faster and more agitated; and from the whirlpool of harmony the melody gradually detaches itself, alternately drowned in the foam of overbreaking waves, to reappear floating on the surface with undulating motion—collecting as it were fresh power for a renewed burst of fury. But quickly as the storm came it is gone again, and the music relapses into the melancholy yearnings of heretofore.’” The Land beyond the Forest, vol. II, pp. 122–4. Lond. 1888.

After the evidence thus furnished, argument is almost superfluous. The origin of music as the developed language of emotion seems to be no longer an inference but simply a description of the fact.


56 Those who seek information on this point may find it in an interesting tract by Mr. Alexander Bain, on Animal Instinct and Intelligence.

57The Music of the Most Ancient Nations, &c., by Carl Engel. This quotation is not contained in my essay as originally published, nor in the version of it first reproduced in 1858. Herr Engel’s work was issued in 1864, seven years after the date of the essay.

58 It is far more probable that the ascents and descents made by this gibbon consisted of in­def­i­nite­ly-slurred tones. To suppose that each was a series of definite semi-tones strains belief to breaking point; considering that among human beings the great majority, even of those who have good ears, are unable to go up or down the chromatic scale without being taught to do so. The achievement is one requiring considerable practice; and that such an achievement should be spontaneous on the part of a monkey is incredible.

59 After the above paragraphs had been sent to the printers I received from an American anthropologist, the Rev. Owen Dorsey, some essays containing kindred evidence. Of over three dozen songs and chants of the Omaha, Ponka, and other Indians, in some cases given with music and in other cases without, there are but five which have any reference to amatory feeling; and while in these the expression of amatory feeling comes from women, nothing more than derision of them comes from men.