The samisen is early taught. Girls of seven or thereabouts are made to learn it while their fingers are still very pliant. But the lessons are hard to learn as the tunes have to be committed to memory, for there are no scores to refer to. There is no popular method of notation; the marks which are sometimes to be seen in song-books are too few to be of use to any but skilled musicians.
The lighter samisen does not require much exertion to play; women can thrum it for hours on end; and they make slight indentations on the nails of the middle and ring fingers of the left hand for catching the strings when those fingers are moved up and down the neck to stop them. But with the heavier kind the indentations are deeper, and the constant friction of the strings hardens the finger-tips and often breaks the nails, while still worse is the condition of the right hand which holds the plectrum.
The plectrum, the striking end of which is flat as in the one for the slender-necked samisen, is heavily leaded and weighs from twelve ounces to a pound when used by professionals; and the handle, which is square, is held between the ring and little fingers for leverage and worked with the thumb and the forefinger.
The only Japanese musical instrument taught in girls’ schools is the koto, a kind of zither. As the koto is the most adaptable of all Japanese instruments to western music, it is more readily learnt than others at schools where the piano and the violin are also taught. There are several kinds of koto, the number of strings on them ranging from one to twenty-five; but the one exclusively used at schools has thirteen strings It has a hollow convex body,six feet five inches long and ten inches wide at one end and half an inch narrower at the other, and stands on legs three and a half inches high. The strings are tied at equal distances at the head or broader end and gathered at the other; they are supported each by its own bridge, the position of which varies with the pitch required. Small ivory nails are put on the tips of the fingers for striking the strings.
This venerable instrument, the least impaired Gaelic Harp existing, is known as Queen Mary's Harp.
It is small, being only 31 inches high and 18 inches from back to front. It was played resting upon the left knee and against the left shoulder of the performer, whose left hand touched the upper strings. The comb is from 2½ to 3¼ inches high. It is inserted obliquely in the sound chest, and projects about 14 inches.
The extreme length of the Lamont Harp is 38 inches, and the extreme width 18½ inches. The sound chest, as with other ancient harps, is hollowed out of one piece of wood, but the back has been in this instrument renewed, although probably a long time ago. The sound chest is 30 inches long, 4 inches in breadth at the top, and 17 at the bottom. The comb projects 15½ inches. The broken parts of the bow are held together by iron clamps.
The Saw Ou, or Chinese fiddle, used in Siam, is suggestive of a modern croquet mallet, with pegs stuck in the handle, and has only two strings, fastened from the pegs to the head. It is played with a bow which the performer cleverly inserts between the strings.
A very curious instrument is known as the Ta'khay, or Alligator: a glance at its form will readily account for its name. There seems a sort of satire in making one of the most silent of savage monsters a medium for the conveyance of sweet sounds. The Ta'khay is a stringed instrument of considerable power, and in tone is not unlike a violoncello. The three strings pass over eleven frets or wide movable bridges, and the shape of the body is rather like that of a guitar. It is placed on the ground, raised on low feet, and the player squats beside it. The strings are sounded by a plectrum, or plucker, shaped like an ivory tooth, fastened to the fingers, and drawn backwards and forwards so rapidly that it produces an almost continuous sweet dreamy sound.
The Saw Tai is the real Siamese violin, and is frequently of most elaborate construction. The upper neck of the one shown in the illustration is of gold, beautifully enamelled, while the lower neck is of ivory, richly carved. The back of the instrument is made of cocoa-nut shell, ornamented with jewels. The membrane stretched on the sounding-board, which gives the effect of a pair of bellows, is made of parchment, and has often, as in this special instrument, a jewelled ornament inserted in one corner. The Saw Tai has three strings of silk cord, which, passing over a bridge on the sounding-board, run up to the neck, being bound tightly to it below the pegs. The player sitting cross-legged on the ground holds the fiddle in a sloping posture, and touches the strings with a curiously curved bow.
The harp (the Soung) shown in the illustration is a favourite Burmese instrument, and is chiefly used to accompany the voice: it is always played by young men. It also has thirteen strings, made of silk, and is tuned by the strings being pushed up or down on the handle. It would sound strange to our ears, as the Burmese scale is differently constructed from ours. Every learner of music knows, or ought to know, that our scale has the semi-tones between the third and fourth, and the seventh and eighth notes, which gives a smooth progression satisfactory to our ears; but the Burmese scale places the semi-tones between the second and third and the fifth and sixth, which is quite different and to us has not nearly such a pleasant effect. The Soung is held with the handle resting on the left arm of the performer, who touches the strings with his right hand.
The Hindus love amusements. They are fond of music and have many curious instruments. Dancing girls dance for the amusement of guests at feasts given in the homes of the wealthy. They usually take their own musicians with them; one of these plays upon a little drum, the other on a kind of guitar. Street exhibitions are frequent.
Group of Western Lyres
A Sambuca or triangular harp
Group of Harps and other musical instruments
The woodcut represents a very beautiful vielle; French, of about 1550, with monograms of Henry II. This is at South Kensington.
The contrivance of placing a string or two at the side of the finger-board is evidently very old, and was also gradually adopted on other instruments of the violin class of a somewhat later period than that of the vielle; for instance, on the lira di braccio of the Italians. It was likewise adopted on the lute, to obtain a fuller power in the bass; and hence arose the theorbo, the archlute, and other varieties of the old lute.
The player on the viola da gamba, shown in the engraving, is a reduced copy of an illustration in “The Division Violist,” London, 1659. It shows exactly how the frets were regulated, and how the bow was held. The most popular instruments played with a bow, at that time, were the treble-viol, the tenor-viol, and the bass-viol. It was usual for viol players to have “a chest of viols,” a case containing four or more viols, of different sizes. Thus, Thomas Mace in his directions for the use of the viol, “Musick’s Monument” 1676, remarks, “Your best provision, and most complete, will be a good chest of viols, six in number, viz., two basses, two tenors, and two trebles, all truly and proportionably suited.” The violist, to be properly furnished with his requirements, had therefore 119to supply himself with a larger stock of instruments than the violinist of the present day.
A German fiddle of the ninth century, called lyra, copied by Gerbert from the manuscript of St. Blasius, has only one string.
An interesting drawing of an Anglo-saxon fiddle—or fithele, as it was called—is given in a manuscript of the eleventh century in the British museum (Cotton, Tiberius, c. 6). The instrument is of a pear shape, with four strings, and the bridge is not indicated.
Copy of an illumination from a manuscript in the Bibliothèque royale at Paris of the eleventh century. The player wears a crown on his head; and in the original some musicians placed at his side are performing on the psalterium and other instruments. These last are figured with uncovered heads; whence M. de Coussemaker concludes that the crout was considered 95by the artist who drew the figures as the noblest instrument. It was probably identical with the rotta of the same century on the continent.
A player on the crwth or crowd (a crowder) from a bas-relief on the under part of the seats of the choir in Worcester cathedral dates from the twelfth or thirteenth century
Howbeit, the Welsh crwth (Anglo-saxon, crudh; English, crowd) is only known as a species of fiddle closely resembling the rotta, but having a finger-board in the middle of the open frame and being strung with only a few strings; while the rotta had sometimes above twenty strings. As it may interest the reader to examine the form of the modern crwth we give a woodcut of it. Edward Jones, in his “Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh bards,” records that the Welsh had before this kind of crwth a three-stringed one called “Crwth Trithant,” which was, he says, “a sort of violin, or more properly a rebeck.” The three-stringed crwth was chiefly used by the inferior class of bards; and was probably the Moorish fiddle which is still the favourite instrument of the itinerant bards of the Bretons in France, who call it rébek. The Bretons, it will be remembered, are close kinsmen of the Welsh.
A very interesting representation of the Psalmist [King David] with a kind of rotta occurs in a manuscript of the tenth century, in the British museum (Vitellius F. XI.). The manuscript has been much injured by a fire in the year 1731, but Professor Westwood has succeeded, with great care, and with the aid of a magnifying glass, in making out the lines of the figure. As it has been ascertained that the psalter is written in the Irish semi-uncial character it is highly probable that the kind of rotta represents the Irish cionar cruit, which was played by twanging the strings and also by the application of a bow.
A representation of David playing on the rotta, from a psalter of the seventh century in the British museum (Cott. Vesp. A. I). According to tradition, this psalter is one of the manuscripts which were sent by pope Gregory to St. Augustine.
In the rotta the ancient Asiatic lyre is easily to be recognized.
One of the most interesting stringed instruments of the middle ages is the rotta (German, rotte; English, rote). It was sounded by twanging the strings, and also by the application of the bow. The first method was, of course, the elder one. There can hardly be a doubt that when the bow came into use it was applied to certain popular instruments which previously had been treated like the cithara or the psalterium.
Perhaps the addition [of the front pillar] was also non-existent in the earliest specimens appertaining to European nations; and a sculptured figure of a small harp constructed like the ancient eastern harp has been discovered in the old church of Ullard in the county of Kilkenny. Of this curious relic, which is said to date from a period anterior to the year 800, a fac-simile taken from Bunting’s “Ancient Music of Ireland” is given. As Bunting 90was the first who drew attention to this sculpture his account of it may interest the reader. “The drawing” he says “is taken from one of the ornamental compartments of a sculptured cross, at the old church of Ullard. From the style of the workmanship, as well as from the worn condition of the cross, it seems older than the similar monument at Monasterboice which is known to have been set up before the year 830.
In the illustration from the manuscript of the monastery of St. Blasius twelve strings and two sound holes are given to it. A harp similar in form and size, but without the front pillar, was known to the ancient Egyptians.
The Anglo-saxons frequently accompanied their vocal effusions with a harp, more or less triangular in shape,—an instrument which may be considered rather as constituting the transition of the lyre into the harp. The representation of king David playing the harp is from an Anglo-saxon manuscript of the beginning of the eleventh century, in the British museum. The harp was especially popular in central and northern Europe, and was the favourite instrument of the German and Celtic bards and of the Scandinavian skalds.
A small psalterium with strings placed over a sound-board was apparently the prototype of the citole; a kind of dulcimer which was played with the fingers. The names were not only often vaguely applied by the mediæval writers but they changed also 89in almost every century. The psalterium, or psalterion (Italian salterio, English psaltery), of the fourteenth century and later had the trapezium shape of the dulcimer.
a very simple stringed instrument of a triangular shape, and a somewhat similar one of a square shape were designated by the name of psalterium
Unfortunately we possess no exact descriptions of the Persian and Arabian instruments between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, otherwise we should probably have earlier accounts of some instrument of the violin kind in Persia. Ash-shakandi, who lived in Spain about A.D. 1200, mentions the rebab, which may have been in use for centuries without having been thought worthy of notice on account of its rudeness. Persian writers of the fourteenth century speak of two instruments of the violin class, viz., the rebab and the kemangeh. As regards the kemangeh, the Arabs themselves assert that they obtained it from Persia, and their statement appears all the more worthy of belief from the fact that both names, rebab and kemangeh, are originally Persian. We engrave the rebab from an example at South Kensington.
The engraving, taken from a Persian painting at Teheran, represents an old Persian santir, the prototype of our dulcimer, mounted with wire strings and played upon with two slightly curved sticks.
An interesting representation of a Turkish woman playing the harp sketched from life by Melchior Lorich in the seventeenth century, probably exhibits an old Persian chang; for the Turks derived their music principally from Persia. Here we have an introduction into Europe of the oriental frame without a front pillar.
The vina is undoubtedly of high antiquity. It has seven wire strings, and movable frets which are generally fastened with wax. Two hollowed gourds, often tastefully ornamented, are affixed to it for the purpose of increasing the sonorousness. There are several kinds of the vina in different districts; but that represented in the illustration is regarded as the oldest. The performer shown is Jeewan Shah, a celebrated virtuoso on the vina, who lived about a hundred years ago. The Hindus divided their musical scale into several intervals smaller than our modern semitones. They adopted twenty-two intervals called sruti in the compass of an octave, which may therefore be compared to our chromatic intervals. As the frets of the vina are movable the performer can easily regulate them according to the scale, or mode, which he requires for his music.
The Greeks had lyres of various kinds, more or less differing in construction, form, and size, and distinguished by different names; such as lyra, 30kithara, chelys, phorminx, etc. Lyra appears to have implied instruments of this class in general, and also the lyre with a body oval at the base and held upon the lap or in the arms of the performer; while the kithara had a square base and was held against the breast. These distinctions have, however, not been satisfactorily ascertained. The chelys was a small lyre with the body made of the shell of a tortoise, or of wood in imitation of the tortoise. The phorminx was a large lyre; and, like the kithara, was used at an early period singly, for accompanying recitations. It is recorded that the kithara was employed for solo performances as early as B.C. 700.
The representation of Polyhymnia with a harp, depicted on a splendid Greek vase now in the Munich museum, may be noted as an exceptional instance. This valuable relic dates from the time of Alexander the great. The instrument resembles in construction as well as in shape the Assyrian harp, and has thirteen strings. Polyhymnia is touching them with both hands, using the right hand for the treble and the left for the bass. She is seated, holding the instrument in her lap. Even the little tuning-pegs, which in number are not in accordance with the strings, are placed on the sound-board at the upper part of the frame, exactly as on the Assyrian harp. If then we have here the Greek harp, it was more likely an importation from Asia than from Egypt. In short, as far as can be ascertained, the most complete of the Greek instruments appear to be of Asiatic origin.
A Niam-niam minstrel
As the darkness came on. our camp was enlivened by the appearance of the grotesque figure of a singer, who came with a huge bunch of feathers in his hat, and these, as he wagged his head to the time of his music, became all entangled with the braids of his hair. Altogether the head was like the head of Medusa. These "minne-singers" among the Niam-niam as known as "nzangah." They are as sparing of their voices as a worn-out prima donna; except for those close by, it is impossible to hear what they are singing. Their instrument is the local guitar, the thin jingling of which accords perfectly well with the nasal humming of the minstrel's recitative.
The occupation of these nzangah, however, notwithstanding the general love of the people for music, would not appear to be held in very high esteem, as the same designation is applied to those unfortunate women, friendless and fallen, who are never absent from any community.
The Girl Whose Violin Spread Afar The Message of Music
The sweet strains of one of Mozart’s violin sonatas filled the room. One of the players was a bright-eyed little girl. The other, it was easy to guess from the proud and tender look that she gave her little companion, was the child’s mother. Both mother and daughter loved these hours together with their violins.
Music meant much to this mother. She enjoyed composing as well as playing. She was very happy to know that music gave pleasure to her little daughter also. The hope was in this mother’s heart that some day little Maud would be a great musician. It was a hope that was realized, for, in later years, Maud Powell became known as the foremost American violinist.
frequently the different members of the same band of minstrels present differences of costume, as in the instance here given, from the title-page of the fourteenth century MS. Add., 10,293; proving that the minstrels did not affect any uniformity of costume whatever.
Another of these guilds was the ancient company or fraternity of minstrels in Beverley, of which an account is given in Poulson’s “Beverlac”. When the fraternity originated we do not know; but they were of some consideration and wealth in the reign of Henry VI., when the Church of St. Mary’s, Beverley, was built.
The picture is a curious illumination from the Royal MS. 2 B vii., representing a friar and a nun themselves making minstrelsy.
In the illustration, of early fourteenth-century date, the scene of the dance is not indicated; the minstrels themselves appear to be joining in the saltitation which they inspire.
The custom of having instrumental music as an accompaniment of dinner is still retained by her Majesty and by some of the greater nobility, by military messes, and at great public dinners. But the musical accompaniment of a mediæval dinner was not confined to instrumental performances. We frequently find a harper introduced, who is doubtless reciting some romance or history, or singing chansons of a lighter character. He is often represented as sitting upon the floor.
The knuckles must not protrude in the least, the fingers also help by being allowed to bend easily at their middle joints, the upper phalanges having an almost horizontal position over the bow
Most pupils are surprised I have no doubt, at the evident discrepancy seen in the plates usually published with 'cello schools, when compared with the manner in which our first class artists hold their instruments.
Barbiton , an ancient stringed instrument known to us from the Greek and Roman classics, but derived from Persia.
Although in use in Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, and Greece, it is evident that the barbiton never won for itself a place in the affections of the Greeks of Hellas; it was regarded as a barbarian instrument affected by those only whose tastes in matters of art were unorthodox. It had fallen into disuse in the days of Aristotle, but reappeared under the Romans.
A kind of dulcimer. Wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It contains twenty-five sets of wire strings, each set consisting of four strings which are tuned in unison.
The body consists of a wooden frame, over which a parchment is stretched. One string of white horse-hair.
The case is in the shape of a fork, and is intended to rest on the ground.
A kind of Lute, Wood, painted. Ten strings, of which nine are ctgut, and one of silk covered with thin wire.
A species of kobsa with eight strings is an old popular instrument of the Russians.
A therbo. Wood, inlaid with ebony, ivory, and coloured woods. Two sets of wooden tuning-pegs, the lower containing twelve, and the higher eight. The instrument had wire strings.
A kind of lute. The body is of wood, lacquered black, and ornamented with a band of Japanese design in gold lacquer. Four strings and two very small soundholes.
Viola di Bardone
The finger-board is carved in open fret-work terminating in three lions' heads; above the bridge are two figures of negrose, carved and gilt. German 1686
Bamboo, with 13 strings of silk neatly twisted. The body ornamented with embroidered work, and painted with inscriptions, flowers and foliage ; in the center is carved an open fan.
Wood, inlaid with ivory and tortoise-shell, engraved. Two sets of tuning pegs, the lower containing fourteen, and the higher, ten.
On the middle of the neck is an ovl plate of mother-of-pearl, bering the German inscription, Gott der Herr ist Sonne und Schield ("God, the Lord, is sun and shield.") About 1700
The Rebab, an Arab instrument of the violin class, is especially used for accompanying the voice.
Musicians accompanying the Dancing.--Fac-simile of a Wood Engraving in the "Orchésographie" of Thoinot Arbeau (Jehan Tabourot): 4to (Langres, 1588).