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With sweeping scope and philosophical depth, A Language of Its Own traces the past millennium of this ongoing exchange. Ruth Katz argues that the indispensible relationship between intellectual production and musical creation gave rise to the Western conception of music. This evolving and sometimes conflicted process, in turn, shaped the art form itself. We really know very little about the history of European folk song. We have little evidence as to the age of individual songs, although some idea can be gained from the notations of folk songs made by composers from the Renaissance on.

But in such cases we don't know as a rule whether a song was really part of the folk tradition, or whether it was an art or popular song that later moved into the realm of folklore. We also know little about the age of the various styles of folk music in Europe. Still, we are sure that for centuries there has been a close relationship between the art music of the continent and its folk music.

How could it be otherwise? Villages and cities could not live without some mutual contact. In the early Middle Ages, wandering minstrels carried their tunes from court to village and from country to country. The villagers of the Middle Ages attended church and heard plainsong. The composer at the court of a minor duke in seventeenth-century Germany drew his performers from the village musicians living on his lord's estate.

We have ample evidence for assuming a constant relationship between folk musicians and their counterparts. Contact among musical styles was accelerated by the invention and rapid dissemination of printing after the fifteenth century, especially in Western Europe. We tend to think of the folk and the art music traditions as living essentially separate lives, but this is surely erroneous not only in a consideration of European culture but also in the case of those Asian civilizations that have similar stratification.

A VERY BRIEF history of Classical Music (from 1000 A.D. to the present day)

The folk musics of China, India, the Islamic world, and elsewhere all bear important similarities to the art musics of their countries. And in Europe, where printing provided a particularly good and rapid method of dissemination, especially of the words but to an important extent also the music of song, the relationship has been especially close. Of course, one can speak about the effects of art music on folk music only for those periods in which a well-developed fine-art tradition in music existed.

Such a tradition evidently did not exist to a large degree before the Middle Ages, and it did not come to Eastern Europe until even later. There are those who believe that the styles of European folk music evolved to a state similar to their present one before the time perhaps a thousand years ago when art music composers first began to influence folklore, and that the folk styles are an invaluable remnant of precultivated times, even of prehistoric eras. This belief can be neither substantiated nor negated. But we are probably safer in believing that the styles of European folk music developed sometime in the Middle Ages, and that this happened to some extent under the influence of the art music that was also developing at the time.

This, after all, might account for the rather considerable degree of homogeneity in European folk music.

We tend to accept as normal a structure in which a tune with several lines is repeated several times, each time with different words. But this kind of arrangement is not so common elsewhere in the world, and it ties the European nations together as a musical unit. The length of a strophic song, or a song with stanzas can vary greatly, from a short bit to a relatively elaborate piece.

It is important to realize, however, that strophic songs are found also in other parts of the world. Their basic principle is that a tune, or a portion of a tune, can be sung more than once, with different words. This principle is accepted at various levels in a multitude of musical styles. Indeed, in some of the world's simplest styles, the repetition of a single musical motif, with slightly or completely different words, is common. This is the tendency for poems to consist of units of two, three, four, five, six, or more lines.

The lines may be interrelated by the number of syllables or of poetic feet in each, or, more commonly,by a rhyme scheme. But in any event, some sort of structure is given to the stanza quite aside from the meaning of the words. Whereas the words themselves progress through the poem, telling a story or expressing the poet's feelings about practically any subject, the structure of the stanza is repeated. We don't know whether a strophic structure in the poetry inspired a corresponding structure in the music, or whether the reverse occurred. But logically, it is a simple transition from a repeated poetic structure to a repeated melody, with the words and their content changing from stanza to stanza.

The Definition of Art (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The following stanza of the famous English ballad, "Barbara Allen," shows us some of the traits of the poetic unit typical in European folklore:. Even if we saw the complete poem without music and without the printer's divisions into stanzas, we could easily figure out that it is arranged into stanzas, because 1 lines 2 and 4 rhyme at least approximately also lines 6 and 8, lines 10 and 12, and so on , and 2 every fourth line ends with the words "Barb'ry Allen. But the same kind of musical structure, strophic, with its repetition of a few musical lines, is found throughout Europe if not in all songs and is an accompaniment to and analogue of the poetic structure.

The close relationship between the words and music of European folk song is exhibited in other, more intimate ways as well.

The lines of music and text usually coincide, and the points at which the music comes to a temporary rest are also those at which a sentence, phrase, or thought in the text is completed. There is, moreover, a close relationship between the smaller segments of musical and linguistic structure, for example, between stress and accent, and between the length of tone and of syllable, although the nature of this relationship varies from nation to nation because of the differences in structure among the various languages.

In art song, this relationship has often been refined, and rough edges of the sort that may result from oral tradition are smoothed out. We have mentioned the basic strophic structures of European folk music as a reason for our belief that it is essentially a stylistic unit. The scales of European folk song exhibit great variety. Most typically, there are songs with only two or three different tones these are most frequently children's ditties or game songs , there are songs with five tones pentatonic scales , and others with six or seven tones. But the kinds of intervals the distances in pitch among the tones are not quite so diverse.

The tendency is for European folk songs to use intervals that fit into the diatonic system, a system of tones that we can hear by playing the white keys of the piano. The diatonic system consists of major and minor seconds and of intervals produced by adding seconds. Throughout Europe, it seems that the most common intervals in folk music are the major seconds and the minor thirds. Unfortunately, we do not yet have statistics to prove this definitively, but a thorough inspection of a few representative song collections would be convincing.

Other intervals are also found, of course, and occasionally there are intervals that do not fit into the diatonic system and which could not even be reproduced approximately on the piano. Also, in folk singing the intervals generally are not sung with the degree of precision found on the piano, and deviation from a standard norm seems to be somewhat greater in folk than in concert music. Nevertheless, adherence to the diatonic intervals seems to be one of the great general characteristics of European folk music. Of course, other cultures also use scales which fit into the diatonic system.

In some Asian civilizations, music theory that is almost parallel to that of Europe so far as the arrangement of pitches in a scale is concerned has developed, and intervals approximately the size of a major second are probably found in the vast majority of world musics. Nevertheless, the almost perfect adherence of European folk song to this diatonic system is one of its chief characteristics. Going into a bit more detail, we find that a great many of the songs that use seven tones can be explained, as far as their tonal material is concerned, in terms of the modes Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian, and Ionian that are used to classify Gregorian chant in slightly different form as well as other medieval and Renaissance music.

This fact has led some scholars to believe that the styles of European folk music actually originated in the music of the church, and indeed we must concede the possibility of a great deal of influence of church music on folk song.

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The Changing Sound of Music: Approaches to Studying Recorded Musical Performances

But quite apart from that, these modes are useful as a system for classifying folk music. As such, it can be used to classify only those songs and pieces which actually have seven tones. For instance. Example could be considered a Mixolydian tune transposed up a fourth. We might be tempted to classify tunes that have only five tones according to the same system of modes, pretending that two tones of the mode are simply absent.

The trouble is that we could not prove which tones are lacking. But if they were B-flat and F the tune would have to be classified as Phrygian. And if the missing tones were B-flat and F-sharp the scale would not 6t any of the above-mentioned modes at all. See Example for the various modes that can be fashioned out of a nucleus of five tones in the diatonic system. Thus we can hardly accept the blanket statement that frequently has been made that folk music is modal in the sense of the Gregorian modes.

But a great many European folk songs do fit into that system. Pentatonic songs make up a large proportion of the European body of folk song; their scales are usually composed of major seconds and minor thirds, as in Example This type of scale is one that Europe shares with a large part of the world, particularly with Northern Asia, with the American Indians, and with sub-Saharan Africa. The same is true of the songs with two or three tones, illustrated in Example This very limited kind of scale is found in repertories throughout the world. There are some tribal cultures, particularly in the Americas and in Northern Asia, whose music hardly goes beyond it.

This is true, for example, in the music of the Vedda of Ceylon a people whose traditional music is now extinct, but whose songs were recorded, in rather small number, around , and the songs of the last member of the Yahi Indians, the famous Ishi. In these cultures, however, an occasional fourth or fifth tone appears as well. Of course, musics using a limited number of tones need not be simple in every way. The songs of Ishi, for example, exhibit considerable sophistication in other respects.


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Composers such as John Cage have produced works in which the listener is invited to hear music in the ambient sounds of the environment. Opinions also differ as to the origins and spiritual value of music. In some African cultures music is seen as something uniquely human; among some Native Americans it is thought to have originated as a way for spirits to communicate. In Western culture music is regarded as inherently good, and sounds that are welcome are said to be "music to the ears".

Features & Highlights

In some other cultures - for example, Islamic culture - it is of low value, associated with sin and evil, and attempts have been made to outlaw its practice. Music has many uses, and in all societies certain events are inconceivable without it. A proper consideration of music should involve the musical sound itself; but it should also deal with the concepts leading to its existence, with its particular forms and functions in each culture, and with the human behaviour that produces the sound.

Somewhat analogous to having a language, each society may be said to have a music - that is, a self-contained system within which musical communication takes place and that, like a language, must be learned to be understood. Members of some societies participate in several musics; thus, modern Native Americans take part in both traditional Native American music and mainstream Western music.

Within each music, various strata may exist, distinguished by degree of learning professional versus untrained musicians , level of society the music of the elite versus that of the masses , patronage court or church or public commercial establishments , and manner of dissemination oral, notated, or through mass media.

In the West and in the high cultures of Asia, it is possible to distinguish three basic strata: first, art or classical music, composed and performed by trained professionals originally under the patronage of courts and religious establishments ; second, folk music, shared by the population at large - particularly its rural component - and transmitted orally; and, third, popular music, performed by professionals , disseminated through radio, television, records, film, and print, and consumed by the urban mass public.

In the simplest terms music can be described as the juxtaposition of two elements : pitch and duration , usually called melody and rhythm. The minimal unit of musical organisation is the note - that is, a sound with specific pitch and duration. Music thus consists of combinations of individual notes that appear successively melody or simultaneously harmony or, as in most Western music, both. In any musical system, the creation of melody involves selecting notes from a prescribed set called a scale, which is actually a group of pitches separated by specific intervals the distances in pitch between notes.

Thus, the scale of 18th- and 19th-century Western music is the chromatic scale, represented by the piano keyboard with its 12 equidistant notes per octave; composers selected from these notes to produce all their music. Much Western music is also based on diatonic scales - those with seven notes per octave, as illustrated by the white keys on the piano keyboard.

In the diatonic scales and in the pentatonic scales - those with five notes per octave, most often corresponding to the black keys on the piano - that are common in folk music, the notes are not equidistant. Intervals can be measured in units called cents, 1, per octave. The typical intervals of Western music are multiples of cents semitones , but in other musical cultures intervals of about 50, , and cents, for example, are also found. The human ear can distinguish intervals as small as 14 cents, but no interval that small seems to play a significant role in any musical system.

The handling of time in music is expressed through concepts such as the lengths of notes and the interrelationships among them; relative degrees of emphasis on different notes; and, in particular, metre. Most Western music is built on a structure of regularly recurring beats - that is, a metrical structure. This structure may be explicit as in the beating of the bass drum in popular music and marching bands , or it may be implied often in symphonic or instrumental music.

The three most common metres in Western music are units of four beats with main stress on the first beat, secondary stress on the third beat ; of three beats stress on the first ; and of six beats primary stress on the first, secondary on the fourth. Conventionally , these metres are called o, k, and u. Far greater complexity is found, however, in 20th-century Western art music, Indian classical music, and West African drum ensembles. Furthermore , much music is structured without regular metre, as in some genres in India and the Middle East, and in Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist liturgical chant.

The organisation given to simultaneously produced pitches is also of great importance. Two or more voices or instruments performing together may be perceived as producing independent but related melodies counterpoint ; or the emphasis may be on how the groups of simultaneous notes chords are related to one another, as well as on the progression of such groups through time harmony.

Timbre, or sound quality, is the musical element that accounts for the differences in the characteristic sounds of musical instruments. Singers have a variety of timbres as well, each affected by such features as vocal tension , nasality, amount of accentuation, and slurring of pitch from one note to the next.

One major characteristic of music everywhere is its transposability. A tune can be performed at various pitch levels and will be recognised as long as the interval relationships among the notes remain constant. Analogously , rhythmic patterns can almost always be identified as identical , whether executed quickly or slowly. These elements of music are used to organise pieces extending from simple melodies using a scale of three notes and lasting only ten seconds as in the simplest tribal musics to highly complex works such as operas and symphonies.

The organisation of music normally involves the presentation of basic material that may then be repeated precisely or with changes variations , may alternate with other materials, or may proceed continually to present new material. Composers in all societies, often unconsciously, strike a balance between unity and variety, and almost all pieces of music contain a certain amount of repetition - whether of individual notes, short groups of notes motives , or longer units such as melodies or chord sequences often called themes.

All societies have vocal music; and with few exceptions, all have instruments.