Essays on the Origins of Western Music

9105 Words37 Pages
Essays on the Origins of Western Music by David Whitwell Essay Nr. 30: On Music as a Language Music is a language without words. Martin Luther Virtually all philologists today agree that before there was language, man communicated through musical sounds. What do they mean? Paleontologists, judging by changes which occurred in the shape of the human scull formation with respect for room for modern vocal cords, generally hold that language as we know it was not possible before 250,000 BC. Music, meaning the voice and instruments made from natural objects, is presumed to be much older. In any case, the overtone series, the single natural law of physics upon which all music is based, was present far before man himself. Whatever prior creature had ears to hear, heard sounds organized according to the overtone series. The musical sounds early man made were, it seems reasonable to suppose, emotional utterances using the five basic vowel sounds – much like what a dog does. This was the very point made by one of the many writers who have speculated on the idea that musical communication came before language, Richard Wagner! The primal organ of utterance of the inner man, however, is music, as the most spontaneous expression of the inner feeling stimulated from without. A mode of expression similar to that still proper to the beasts was alike first employed by man (and this we can demonstrate at any moment by removing from our language its dumb articulations [consonants] and leaving nothing but the open sounds of the vowels). In these vowels, if we think of them as stripped of their consonants, and picture to ourselves the manifold and vivid play of inner feelings, with all their range of joy and sorrow, we shall obtain an image of man’s first emotional language; a language in which the stirred and high-strung Feeling could
Open Document