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Physics has offered so many rival fields of interest that acoustics has been virtually deserted since the time of Helmholtz. Recently, however, interest has been revived and scientists have given to the musical world corrections of our older theories of sound which will help us-not to create music scientifically, but to understand the steps of progress in the past and the possibilities and limitations with which we are now confronted.

As to the nature of sound itself, we have learned that what distinguishes sound from mere noise is that sound is produced by a periodic vibration, and noise by an irregular vibration. If a string is held at both ends, the complete vibration from one bridge to the other produces a fundamental tone. The string vibrates first as a whole and then divides and vibrates in sections. It divides first into halves and this vibration of the halves produces a tone exactly an octave above the first tone, thus creating the first overtone. The string then subdivides into smaller and smaller divisions, each new length producing a new vibration and a new overtone. When you hear a single tone, what you think is a unit is actually a combination of many parts, all of which can be registered accurately by scientific instruments and some of which can be distinguished by the unaided ear. Professor Miller of the Case Institute of Applied Science, who probably has the most acutely trained ear in the world, can hear as many as forty-four overtones without the aid of instruments, an extraordinary achievement, as most persons can distinguish only the first few overtones and

even trained musicians can rarely hear more than a dozen.

As the overtones rise, they form a regular series and this overtone series constitutes a measure of harmony itself. If we start with C the first overtone is C, an octave higher, then G, C, E, G, F sharp, G, A flat, B flat, B natural, and C, at which point we return to the third octave above our original tone. This series of overtones is according to the natural pitch of tones, and may be played on a violin but cannot be picked out accurately on a piano as our pianos are tuned by an equalized scale, not by natural pitch.

The first intervals between the overtones are farther apart, but the distance between the notes grows less and less as one progresses up the series. The first notes we readily class as concords and the latter ones as dissonants, but there is no definite point at which we can say that concord stops and dissonance begins. We often hear it said that a person whose ear is acute cannot bear dissonance, but exactly the reverse is true. A keen ear hears more of the overtones which are a part of all sound, and the person who hears the higher, more dissonant intervals, grows accustomed to them and accepts them with enthusiasm. The great composers have steadily given us more and more dissonance. Each new interval has been denounced, usually with the extreme bitterness. which critics feel toward the person who deliberately violates beauty. Time has taught us to accept certain of the intervals and to reject others. The important truth which is demonstrated scientifically by acoustics, is this: that the intervals which

have been accepted have been accepted in the order in which they occur in the overtone scale first the octave, then the perfect fifth, then the fourth, then the third, and so on. The innovations in harmony which time has refused, were out of that order. By this discovery science helps us to grasp intellectually the principle behind the beauty toward which we have groped slowly, blindly, yet surely through our emotional responses. The great masters who have developed our music step by step, have done so because their ears were keen enough to hear the harmony of the overtones and to play in outward notes the combinations which they heard.

The harmony of Schoenberg marks the interval between the fifteenth and sixteenth overtones, and the acceptance of Schoenberg brings music to a crisis, for the next step in the overtone scale cannot be played on the instruments which Western music knows. If the past is to be taken as a foreshadowing of the future, we should say that the next development in music would be to utilize the next steps in the overtone scale. Doubtless our ears would be ready to accept these new sounds, but we are confronted by the barrier of our own instruments and will be forced either to invent new ones or depart from the path of our historical development. Of course music can still be written with the materials which we now have in hand, but in the past each generation has added to the field of possibilities, and the impetus for the expansion of the barriers of sound has been part of the beauty of the great music of the past. Nothing more perfect than

Beethoven could be written, but Beethoven was a fundamental innovator and to write, limiting one's self to the materials which Beethoven used and lacking entirely the impetus for a wider expression of beauty, would be only to produce more of the Beethoven-and-water school of music which has fallen flat even on the ears of those who object to any innovations since the master's.


We stand to-day at music's crossroads. The impetus for widening the possibilities of beauty, so integral a part of the creative genius, will force us to break the barriers. We are forced to depart from the historic tradition of development, but exactly where the barriers are to be broken, is the problem which confronts us to-day. The conservative critic says that the modernist writes outside of the old rules from ignorance and laziness; that he writes dissonance from ignorance of harmony, and breaks rules because he has no theory. Of a small minority this is doubtless true, but never have so much thought and study been put into music as by the modernists of to-day and never have men set themselves such extraordinarily difficult tasks. There are theories without end; some scientific, some esthetic, some based on nothing at all, but the hopeful thing about the modernists is that each has a theory and is willing to let time slip while he devotes his energy to proving he has a method.

If we must depart from the historic development of harmony we can either make the jump which our instruments can be adjusted to permit, that is, to the quarter tone.

or we must abandon further steps in harmony and develop other elements in music. Haba, the Czech composer, is the foremost figure in the development of quarter tones, but it remains to be seen whether this quarter tone will be accepted. If it is accepted it will break all Western precedent by skipping over, by completely omitting, a field as vast as all the fields which we have explored step by step in five hundred years. Haba is primarily a musical creator although he brings to his music an amazing grasp of the science behind the art. He writes in quarter tones because his music demands this closer, dissonant interval-not merely to demonstrate the use of quarter tones. He has a piano constructed like two grand pianos, one above the other, the hammers of the upper striking downward and those of the lower striking upward, tuned to quarter tones. He has invented a notation for quarter tones and has published works on the acoustics and also on the psychology of the quarter tone; and his classes at the Conservatory of Prague are the only places in the world where the quarter tone can be studied.

If we are blocked by the limitation of our instruments from further steps in harmony, we can only turn for progress to the other elements of music, to counterpoint, rhythm, tempo, tonality, tone clusters, and the addition, perhaps, of the sliding tones which characterize primitive music. Along all of these lines the modernists are searching for new avenues of beauty and expression.

Carl Ruggles, foremost of American composers, is devoting himself

exclusively to the development of dissonant counterpoint. His theory is one of the conspicuous theories of present-day music. Since the time of Bach and Handel no composer has given counterpoint such exclusive attention. His musical conscience is as straight-laced as his Puritan ancestors-Ruggles is the one American composer of genuine Yankee lineage-and his style is water-tight. The task which Ruggles has set himself to accomplish is well-nigh impossible; he often spends an entire day in developing a single chord, and his compositions, whose clarity of melodic line is stripped of all dross, are polished perfection.


To Stravinsky the world owes more, perhaps, for his introduction of rhythmical variations than for all his other unique and colorful additions to music. From 1700 to 1900 rhythm had atrophied. It was expected, even demanded, that a composition should continue throughout in one rhythm and the first attempts to alternate rhythms were denounced as monstrous. Stravinsky rose above this first storm of criticism, Scriabin broke down more barriers with his simple cross rhythms, and in America Varése, who occupies a high place among the moderns, has narrowed the interest of his compositions to rhythm and the tone quality of the percussions. Rhythm is as essential a part of music as melody, but we have never made any attempt at developing rhythmic harmony or combining rhythmic meters. Gross accenting, of course, approaches this effect and in a halting and unacknowledged fashion, all music teachers make some effort to get

their pupils away from the obvious accents which would otherwise become unbearably monotonous. At the moment we have a loosening up of meters for the reason that modern music changes meter, but we have not attempted to harmonize different meters at one time. We have limited ourselves to half notes, quarters, eighths, and further division by halves, but we do not divide by thirds, fifths, sevenths or ninths and we have no means of notating such divisions. We look askance at the very suggestion, yet, when we have developed rhythm one tenth as far as we have developed harmony, we shall be using rhythms in chords and shall have added enormous interest to music.


In orchestral music we may very practically evolve combinations in musical tempo which cannot well be written for any single instrument. As a matter of musical feeling a slow note in allegro is very different from a fast note in adagio, and music which is to convey more than a simple emotion, can be written far more effectively by using different tempos in its different parts. The effort of conveying different emotions in the same tempo is a tremendous handicap to a composer, and is largely responsible for the stilted and artificial quality of most opera. Take, for example, the quartette from Rigoletto, where Verdi attempts to portray the emotions of four different characters. It would be far more realistic if each part were written in the tempo called for by the emotion of the character. The contralto part should be sung in allegro, the tenor in allegretto, the

baritone in adagio and the soprano in andante. Instead, all are sung in the same tempo, the conflict of emotions is reduced to an average and the standardized tempo reduces, rather than advances, the dramatic action.

Another of the long accepted rules of music which is being questioned to-day, is that of tonality, the homing sense of music which demands that a composition be ended in the same key in which it began. Schoenberg has made experiments in not returning to any key, and a whole group of composers, known as atonalists, now urge the logic of not returning to the original key. Most persons experience a disagreeable sense of incompleteness if a composition does not return home, particularly if the composer builds up the feeling of tonality and then disappoints the expectation, but the abler atonalists, such as Schoenberg, do not build up that expectation. The polytonalists return, not to one key, but to several keys at once and between different keys which synchronize, one experiences strange, peculiar emotion with great subtleties of feeling. Bela Bartok plays one hand in one key and a different key with the other hand which demands that the composer write in polyharmony, an innovation first suggested by Strauss. Polyharmony, with doubtless a widening future ahead, demands a very keen sense of acoustics as the chords, if put together ignorantly, are extraordinarily discordant, but when combined sensitively become a most effective means of creating atmosphere and emotion

The tone cluster, the use of an aggregate of sound, of all the major

or minor tones within an octave or more, has not been worked out at all. It is not a hit and miss striking of notes, but a very definite construction of sound, with a thousand possibilities for the piano as well as for orchestral handling. Against the background of sound, the melody, carried higher or lower, takes on a new richness of tone and overtone values, and the shifting of tones within the cluster has possibilities of great subtlety. Once the public is willing to accept the cluster seriously and not regard it merely as a gymnastic method of piano playing, its acoustic soundness will be understood and its use as a means of obtaining strength and character of tone will undoubtedly be seized on by the large body of musicians who are seeking more adequate sound production.

There is a whole category of sounds used by primitive peoples in their music, which are highly expressive the sliding tones, wails and other tones which do not maintain pitch. At the present time when our singers attempt to gain emotional effects by slipping and wailing, we are properly disgusted because this violation of pitch is not a part of our music and its use is due either to lack of technique or deliberate "cheating" for emotional effect. In old Italian music the sliding tone was a recognized musical device, very lovely in its place, but its use was discontinued. Seeger terms the sliding pitch "inarticulate" in distinction to

articulate pitch, and recognizes the possibility of legitimately adding the inarticulate tones to our idiom. The idea is in the air. Weisshaus, in Budapest, is adapting it to his compositions and many other composers are working with the principle.

These are a few of the means whereby modern music is seeking to break the barrier with which Western music is now confronted, to break the barrier which otherwise threatens to balk its historic tradition of innovation and development. Modern music is distinctly not attempting to disregard the classics but rather to do exactly what those same classics accomplished in their day— to add new principles to what had been established before. The traditional line of development has brought us to the limitations of our instruments, the further development of harmony is halted, and from this impasse we must strike out in other directions through the development of those other elements in music which the classicists passed over in their race for more and more complicated harmony. Never have composers taken their task more earnestly, and never before has America-with Ruggles, Varése, Rudhyar, Ornstein, Salsedo, Aaron Copeland and a host of other young composers-stepped to the forefront in music with compositions that are not mere echoes and imitations of Europe, but alive with the vitality of new growth from new soil.

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