The art of music having so many types in nature resembling or corresponding with it, its invention might be the more easily and readily ascribed to the simple imitation of natural sounds. Singular, however, to say, the popular notion of its discovery does not appear to have sanctioned the idea of those sounds most likely to have suggested its origin, having occasioned its first usage.
One theory propounded respecting the invention of music is, that it was first discovered by a person who chanced to be listening to the sound of several hammers (doubtless of all instruments the most remote from the harmonious), which were striking together upon an anvil, and that he was led to collect them together into a tune.
The notes of music are also said to have had their origin in, or to have relation to, and to be regulated by the pulsations in the human body; and corresponding with this idea, motions or pulsations of the human body, as beating time with the hand, have frequently relation to the notes of music. The latter circumstance may be thought, in some degree, to establish the truth of the former theory.
Music appears, indeed, to be very intimately connected or associated with motion; and by the notes of music the soul is excited to action, and is, as it were, carried away and made to float along the current of its strains, in a manner corresponding with that in which the material frame floats upon, and is wafted along by a tide of water. But as spirit is far more active than matter, so the activity of the soul when thus excited is far more extensive and more unrestrained than is that of the body. And it is mainly this power of impelling the soul, that gives to music so much of its charms.
It appears to me, however, that a much more natural and more probable way of accounting for the invention of music would be to suppose it to have first originated in the effort to copy the melody of the woods, in an imitation of the singing of birds, by which in this art, as in painting and sculpture, nature is considered as its first author.
Music is said to have been invented as an art soon after the Deluge, and some have supposed it to have originated in the sound made by the reeds on the banks of the Nile when the wind blew upon them ; the name, music, is, moreover, asserted to have been derived from an Egyptian word. This was one of the earliest of the arts, and, as already observed, it is taught directly by nature in the music of birds ; and even insects instruct us here. The variety of cadence in the human voice, both as regards the language of different people and the same voice at different times, especially in expressing feelings, of itself produces vocal harmony. Vocal music was, therefore, probably earlier than instrumental, although each sound from objects in nature might suggest the formation of instruments for the latter, as the sound of the wind in caverns or among trees, the striking together of stones, and the twang of a bow-string. And even motion, as well as sound, may be said to proceed on the same sure principles of order and harmony.
No sustaining medium is requisite for the invention of this art, which would be effected at once through the mere imitation or copying of its type in nature. It is one, moreover, which would be very early practised, especially as the natural power of the human voice to modulate itself would lead directly to its exercise. This variety in the tones of the voice in speaking is in the lowest degree an effort in the art of music, from which we gradually progress to more complicated and higher attempts, for which the natural melody of birds would con-tribute to form hints.
Music is produced by the apt and harmonious combination of sounds of different kinds, which excite emotions in the mind of an agreeable and elevating nature, corresponding with those produced by similar combinations of form and colour in visible objects. Variety occurs in every collection of sounds, as in each different motion and figure ; the varieties of sounds, are, probably, indeed, as extensive as are the varieties of either colours or forms; and there are, in reality, many more producing causes of sound than of either tint or shape.
It may, nevertheless, possibly be urged that, although there are varieties of noises, it does not therefore necessarily follow that there are varieties of musical sounds ; and that many sounds or noises are not musical, and can never be otherwise than displeasing and discordant. In reply to this I would observe that, as many colours which, when viewed by themselves appear ugly, and absolutely incapable of even contributing to pictorial effect, may nevertheless, when combined or contrasted with others, be made fully available for the latter purpose ; so, probably, there are few, if any, sounds, which do not either directly or indirectly contribute to the production of harmony, either by themselves, or by being compounded with others, or from the contrast and effect which they afford in relation to sounds which are immediately available.
The reduction of this variation in sound to order and regularity and system is supposed to have been the origin of metre in poetry, as it was doubtless that of tune in music. Sound is, indeed, to poetry and music, what form is to painting and sculpture and architecture. The elements of music, which are constituted of sounds, are, moreover, as many and as various as are those of painting and sculpture, and nearly correspond one with another. Thus loudness and lowness correspond with magnitude and minuteness in the two last-named arts; as do also acute sounds to bright colours, grave sounds to dark colours, sounds which are slow to colours which are sombre. Moreover, both in sound and in colour, the effect of variety, concordance, and contrast correspond together closely.
When poetry and music accompany each other, the aim and effect of the two are united, and the whole blended into one ; each aids and gives life and vigour to the other.
We find music, both vocal and instrumental, extensively cultivated, though in a rude way, among all savage nations; and the earliest histories describe it as in full practice even among those whose chief pursuit was tending flocks and hunting wild beasts.