History Of Voice and Voice Methods
From the Reformation to the Present
“Human happiness has no perfect security but freedom “ so wrote Josiah Quincy, of Boston, on September 17, 1830.
The North American Indian has nearly disappeared because he had not the capacity to develop himself. He inherited a magnificent land, but he had nothing to contribute, either in material wealth or in spiritual progress. He is gone, not because he was conquered, but because he was lacking in the elements that make men strong to resist.
Among the things of the spirit are the arts, and of these it is music which more than any other expresses the inner worth and thought of man. Music is the last of all the arts, because it demands a greater human development than any other. Man needed the material things first. From the useful he progressed to a higher idea, the beautiful, and at last he finds the highest ideal of beauty within himself. The realization of this high ideal within himself will not only make a man more happy, but also more useful to himself and to others. He has gone through a “fire” and has become refined. From crude ore he has been changed to pure and rich metal. It took thousands of centuries to bring mankind thus far. NOW anyone may advance in a few years beyond an entire era of former times and one man is worth more than were hundreds formerly.
The past has shown us that man is, mentally at least, a rather lazy subject. If it were not so, humanity would have advanced much faster. Electricity and steam have existed from the creation of the world, but not until the American, Benjamin Franklin, harnessed electricity and the Scotchman, Stevenson, made use of steam power, were they of service to mankind. Up to the time of the German, Guttenberg, books used to be reproduced by the slow process of writing. Now a printing press can do in one hour what a thousand men could then do in a year.
It required revolutions and wars to awaken the slumbering intelligence of humanity.
But as soon as a nation or a race made a step forward, reaction set in, striving to delay the march toward a higher ideal. The introduction of Christianity was the most important advance since the time of Moses, but that which befel the religion of Moses also befel Christianity. Elements appeared that set it back. Indolence, selfishness, pride and greed were at work to set at naught the divine teaching of Christ; Dante, in the 13th century; Savonarola, in the 15th century, and at last Luther, in the 16th century, arose to reform the abuses which had crept into the Christian religion.
Much of the life preceding the reformation was dark and inhuman. Church and rulers both dominated the people. Ignorance and superstition were in evidence everywhere. All was darkness. Hope had disappeared from hearts of the common people.
The dungeons, the chambers of inquisition and the prison towers were filled with unfortunates. Faith had vanished. In this hour of greatest need Luther, the monk, appeared. He had more than piety, more than intelligence. He had, what seems to have been lacking at the time – the courage of his convictions. He was not afraid. Both church and state had become an established aristocracy. Luther made the democratic.
The Bible was taken from the hands of the priest and given to whoever was interested in reading it. Hereafter faith was to be free. Man was to be master of his soul once more, as Christ taught.
The democratic tendency of the reformation introduced the singing of chorals and songs in the language of the particular country in which they were sung. This had not been the case previously as songs had been sung in the Latin tongue which was unknown to the masses. Much that was beautiful and sweet in the old church disappeared to make room for the more austere and coldly aloof. Much was gained, but much also was lost. We realize that fact today.
The new religion became dominate among all the northern nations. The nations of the south were little inclined to accept it.
The period of classic music started with the end of the 17th century. In philosophy we recognize Plato and Kant; in Poetry, Shakespeare and Goethe, and in music, Back and Beethoven, as the highest types.
The old forms of music were a slow, gradual groping upward, reaching their highest development in France and Italy. But the highest form of music then known was, after all, deficient in sincerity. It was based too much on form and mere eternal beauty.
Luther added a new note to the music of the church, that of deep sincerity; and now Bach appeared to give music an impetus which is more strongly felt today than at any time since his death in 1750. He appreciated the beauty of the Italian and French school, and the sincerity of the reformation; in addition he devoted the pwer of his giant intellect to completely the mighty architectural structure of music.
That Bach was far ahead of his time may be seen from a letter of censure addressed to him by the church where he was organist. In it he was reproved for introducing so many innovations and such foreign tones into his music that the people became confused and unable to follow it. His life was full of worries. He married twice, had twenty children and an income of less than $600. This was cut down considerably, he wrote to a friend, when, on account of a favorable winter, there were fewer funeral to play for. It seems almost a divine law, that heavenly inspiration must be paid for by terrestrial suffering.
If ever God talked to man in tones, Bach and Beethoven were those men. Beethoven’s contribution to music is a depth of feeling and grandeur that surpasses the finite and becomes infinite.
The classic period of music ends about 1800. It is followed by the romantic period. The classic period may be termed the aristocratic period. Law and order, system and proportion, a logical, intellectual evolution gave way to a new style, not so grand as the classic, but very interesting. It may be compared to the liberal school of politics and literature which had its rise in the French revolution.
The romantic period had already passed its zenith. A new world is now opening before us. It is the period of science and of exact knowledge. The people who send telegrams across the oceans, who have conquered the air, who measure and divide atoms, who by means of X-Rays see hidden mysteries, who ring up a friend thousands of miles away and talk to him as if he were in a chair opposite to them; those people will presently discover new forms and new elements to express themselves in music. We must wait.
As long as we are bound to the earth, we have need of faith and of the things which speak to the heart and lift us beyond material worries and perplexities. Beauty in all forms is one of the means which lift us upward, and music will remain one of the strongest mediums to remind us that the spark within us is part of an infinite spirit.
Up to about the 15th century, singing was mainly confined to religious ceremonies. With the time of Back and Luther, sacred music seems to have reached its climax. The beautiful, solemn choral of Luther or the might music of the Bach school is no longer heard in the church. Little parlor pieces of sentimental tunes are the rule. Preachers pride themselves on being “Business Men,” and, to attract the crowd, resort to the tactics of the cheap music halls.
Now, using our native languages, the text and the music treat of love, kisses, wine. The smile of a sweetheart is more important than forgiveness of sin. Her blue eyes are more enticing than all the bliss of heaven. Formerly singers traveled in the then known parts of the world. The Roman legions sang as they conquered the nations, to be themselves defeated as the ancient Germans and Gauls invaded Rome, singing their battle songs. When the wars ended, many preferred to earn a precarious, but amusing existence by journeying form court to court singing and dancing or by the display of all sorts of tricks and arts. These individuals became the bards of the Celts, the jongleurs of Gaul, the “vagrants” of all the world, high-brow progenitors of our present-day tramp.
A few of them, specially gifted, were permanently engaged by some prince or city, to supply the festivities with the necessary laughter, to praise the prince or the town authorities to the highest heaven, to rail and mock against their enemies, etc.
These were the real predecessors of the later day court poet or the present day “after dinner” speaker. Besides being gifted with a crude sort of wit, they needed a good voice. It is on record that their wit was often of poor quality, but they made up for that by superior voices.
Out of this mixture of pagan and Christian motives, Greek culture, Celtic and Germanic barbarism, a gentle, new and beautiful flower was born, It is the “Folk Song.”
With the introduction of the printing press, the text and music of these songs spread quickly. The first book or collection of songs was published in 1490.
In France the folk-songs were gradually divided into two distinct classes. One class for the city, which meant Paris, the other for the country, or “voix de ville,” the vaudeville of our day.
England possessed the most developed and distinct folk-songs. Part singing was known there long before any other country. How much singing was enjoyed in England can be seen from a story that was current at the time of Henry III (1216-1272).
Two pilgrims came to a monastery. They were taken for minstrels and treated to the best that cellar and kitchen afforded. After the pilgrims had eaten, they disclosed themselves as priests, whereupon the monks thrashed them and kicked them out for being deceivers. They had expected jolly minstrels, and found mere priests, It was said that the monks of the 14th century were better acquainted with the pranks of Robin Hood than with the Lord’s prayer.
To us, it seems inconceivable that there was a time, not so many centuries ago either, when there were no books, when the virgin mind was a blank; when the mere details of everyday life, eating, drinking, sleep, and work in the field or kitchen, were the events of the day. To the knight in his solitary castle and still more to his women folk, life presented one monotonous round of uneventful existence, broken now and then by hunting, fishing and occasionally by a feud with some other knight, just to pass the time. When in the long winter days, the landscape covered with an even sheet of snow, yawning solitude, an eternal nothing stretched before the castle with the prospect that tomorrow and the days to follow would be like today, the watchman in the tower blew the horn and announced a visitor, with what eagerness this visitor was received! And if he should happen to be a minstrel, he was made more than welcome. He came from the outside, he had traveled far in foreign countries, at courts; he could tell or wars, of gossip here and there. What wonder that he was urged to stay days and weeks. His stories, his songs, even his arrogance and boldness were a refreshing break in the monotonous existence. He was the newspaper of that age. Not even the merchant with his wares from Venice, spices from India, linen from Flanders, carpets and silks from the Orient, stood in such high regard as the minstrel. For him the best room, the richest victuals and the greatest reward; for if he was liked, he also was feared. His tongue was always sharp and his conscience not over-scrupulous. If he were not treated and rewarded to his liking, he would make fun of one. He would sing a “bad song” about one. Yellow journalism was known and feared even then!
Knighthood, once defender of the faith, the hope of the oppressed, the fear of the wrongdoer, fell from its high estate. The great and the little lords in turn became the oppressors, the assassins and thieves. Anarchy reigned. No one was master. IN this time of lawlessness the citizens of the towns banded together for mutual defense against the predatory knight. The knights and barons turned bandits. The towns were surrounded with strong fortifications, and guards kept watch at the gates. Outsides these towns there was robbery and lawlessness. Within the walls there was peace and prosperity. The merchant and the mechanic, the baker and the butcher, the carpenter, the smith, the weaver, the tailor, and the shoemaker, all joined together in a harmonious community. And at the guild meetings, verses and music helped to amuse and to improve the mind.
In this happy atmosphere were born the German master-singers, whose poetic flower was Hans Sachs, a shoemaker of Nuremberg. Only a master craftsman was admitted to this fellowship. He had to pass a severe examination in many things, but chiefly in his literary and musical qualifications, and his ability to form verses in conformity with strict rules.
Verse and music had to be original, so while the tailor sewed or the carpenter worked, he thought at the same time about some story which could be made into verse and set to music. Prizes were distributed to the chief master-singers from time to time, and these rewards proved a great stimulant to search for new subjects which could be turned into verse. Their sources of study were ancient and modern history, the Bible, politics and nature. Tit was a kind of Chautauqua course of an for the artisans of the 16th and 17th centuries. These men had their work to do. They liked to work. They were satisfied and happy. They did not try to force their opinions on the rest of the world. All they wanted was the opportunity to carry on their own business in peace. When they met of evenings, it was not to discourse upon politics, the tariff, votes for women or some Utopian scheme of converting wolves into lambs; it was to improve their minds. They refreshed themselves after their daily labor by taking up some subject that appealed to them as beautiful and worth while.
Though machinery was practically unknown in those days, yet the art of the locksmith, the tailor, the goldsmith, the carpenter, etc., was far superior to that of our present day. Their furniture, dress designs and workmanship in crafts of all kinds, such as porcelains, medallions, weaving, linen, are types of perfection which we merely copy today. Rather poor in externals, their inner individual soul life was richer than that of their successors have been.
The masses had a sense of beauty, symmetry and proportion now found only in a comparatively small number of highly cultured persons. In comfort and knowledge they were poorer than people of today, but the individual was richer and certainly more contented.