The Ecclesiastical System

The Power that rules in the affairs of men seems to have made provision for the elevation of the whole race by diffusing at intervals of centuries, the treasures of art, science and thought accumulated by a nation of unusual power and energy. Egypt dominated the northern part of Africa, the shores of the Mediterranean and the western slopes of Asia minor, and in course of time yielded to the advance of the Greeks, but leaving behind, as a legacy, much that has had enduring value. What had once been centered in one nation, under the control of one caste, the priests, was spread through much of the known world. Greece, in turn, shaped the destinies of expanding civilization. In the Greek social life free art played a great part; wherever the Greeks went as merchants and colonists, they carried with them the principles of Greek art, including music. Greek musicians were accounted stars of the first magnitude in Egypt, in the Greek colonies of Italy, and later in Rome, which, after the fall of Greece as a political factor, became the political, social and artistic center of the world; through her conquests and subsequent colonizing diffusing throughout a larger world than Egypt and Greece knew, an increased wealth of thought and action which greatly influenced later generations.

Rome Dependent Upon Greece

The Romans did not show a native instinct for art. Their national qualities were essentially warlike, and were developed by years of struggle for existence. A people whose organized life was political and martial, and for so long found expression first in defense, later in conquest, would not develop a true art life. As they grew stronger they built up their collections by pillage and by purchase; they were taught music, oratory, architecture, sculpture by Greeks who sought the capital of the world.

Roman nobles imitated Greek customs, learned the Greek language and literature, cultivated music according to Greek methods, used Greek instruments, such as the cithara, lyre and flue, sang Greek songs and formed companies of singers and players to furnish entertainment at their feasts and at the public spectacles. The Roman drama was modified by Greek principles, and Greek actors replaced Roman artists; the pantomime was borrowed from Egypt. Music was a favorite distraction in the high ranks of Roman society, and men known to history were skilful players or singers–Sylla, Flaccus, Calpurnius Piso, Titus, Caligula, Hadrian, and, best known of all, Nero.

Growth of Christianity

While the Roman Empire, in its turn, had served the purpose of the Ruling Power in the affairs of men, in secret a new force was gaining strength, one that was soon to drive pagan arts and pleasures from open cultivation. In the Catacombs, in remote sections of the great city, pursued, hunted like beasts, martyrized, the Christians clung to their faith with its simple rites of worship, in which the singing of songs was a marked feature. Whence these songs came is by no means certain, the prevailing opinion being that they were of Greek origin, modified by Hebrew influence. (Some investigators claim that some of these melodies were part of the Temple service at Jerusalem, making the specific statement that the melody used in some liturgical services, and known as the tonus Peregrimus, is based on a Temple chant.)

In the course of years songs were introduced in the Christian service with not other warrant than that of tradition. During the years of persecution no systematic cultivation of music was possible. Later, when Constantine accepted the Cross, 325 A.D., and Christianity had triumphed over Paganism, the abuses became such that the ecclesiastical authorities set themselves to the task of reform and of establishing a system of song for the use of the Church.

Origin of the Church Scales

It is absolutely unknown when or by whom the system of scales, known as the Church Scales, was invented. The latest writer on the Greek System was Claudius Ptolemy (about 130 A.D.). In 330, Pope Sylvester established a school for training church singers, but we have no information as to the system he employed. The name of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (333-397), has for centuries been associated with what are called the Authentic Scales, but there is no valid evidence whatever that he had anything to do with their adoption. The name of Pope Gregory (540-604) has also been associated with another set of scales called Plagal, with as little authority as in the previous case. There does not appear to have existed any system of notation in the time of Ambrose or Gregory. The Greek notation by letters was forgotten, and the very insufficient system of notation by Neumes had not been invented. The only writer of any authority after Ptolemy was Boethius, and he did more to confuse the subject of music than to explain it.

Foundation of the Church Scales

But if we know nothing of the inventor of the Church Scales, or of the way in which they grew into their final form, we are, nevertheless, perfectly well informed of the fully developed system which, it must be remarked, grew out of a misunderstanding of the Greek Scales. The Church Scales were founded on the Greater Perfect System of the Greeks, with this restriction, namely, that it was not transposable; whereas, we have seen that the various Greek modes were transpositions of either the Lesser or Greater Systems.

This is the series of sounds from which the Church Scales were made. None of them might be altered by sharp or flat, except the B in the second octave (and this was a later addition which was probably owing to a remembrance of the Lesser Perfect System in which the B was flat). The Greek names were retained for the Church Scales, but as not one of the notes was inflected, it follows that the half tones occur in different places in every scale. The scales to which these names were given were called Authentic, those with the prefix Hypo were called Plagal. In the table below, the Greek and Church Scales, also the Greek octaves are given side by side.

Confusion Between the Systems

We may gather from this table how the confusion between Dorian and Phrygian has arisen. The Phrygian Octave is identical with the Church Dorian, and the Dorina Octave with the Church Phrygian. A proof that the Church Scales originated in the way indicated may be found in the fact that the Church and Greek Hypo-Dorian Scales are identical, this being the only Greek Scale without a sharp or flat. The Church Hypo-Lydian was also called the Ionian Scale; its arrangement of tones and semi-tones is the same as that of the modern major scale. It was not considered appropriate for church music, being looked upon as soft, effeminate and lascivious, by both Greeks and mediaeval churchmen.

Eight Modes in Use

The Church Scales were numbered from one to eight; the Authentic Scales were given the odd and the Plagal Scales the even numbers, thus:

melody in an Authentic Scale had to end on its Keynote, but a melody in a Plagal Scale ended on the Keynote of its related Authentic Scale. Observe that the Dorian and Hypo-Mixo-Lydian Scales are identical; but while the former had to end on the Keynote, D, the latter ended on G, which is the fourth of its scale, and Keynote of its related Authentic Scale.

Traces of these Authentic and Plagal Scales may be found in many old folk songs. Thus, the melody of the “Last Rose of Summer” begins on the Keynote, rises in the course of the melody to the octave, but ends by falling to the Keynote; it is therefore Authentic. On the other hand, the melody of “Robin Adair” begins on the fourth below the Keynote, rises to its octave, but ends on the fourth above its initial note and is Plagal; thus:

The term Hyper (above) was sometimes applied to the Authentic Scales. In the Greek System the Hyper Scales were the same distance above the standard scales that the Hypo Scales were below. Although twelve modes were theoretically admitted in church music, it was for the most part confined to the eight modes given above.

The Dominant

In addition to the keynote there was another note in every scale of almost equal importance, called the Dominant. This name has been retained in the modern system, but with a total change of meaning. In the Church Scales it meant the Reciting Note, that is, the note on which the principal part of the words was chanted. In all the Authentic Scales but the Phrygian, the fifth of the scale is the Dominant; in the Phrygian the sixth is the Dominant, because the B was a changeable note, that is, might be natural or flat. The Dominants of the Plagal Scales are a third below the Dominants of the related Authentic Scales, except in the Hypo-Mixo-Lydian, in which the Dominant is a second below that of its relates Authentic Scale. Therefore the Dominant is the sixth of all the Hypo Scales, but the Hypo-Mixo-Lydian, in which it is the seventh.

Hucbald’s Scale

Two attempts were made in the 10th century to construct new scales, first by Hucbald, who founded his series of sounds on a tetrachord, in which the half tone was between the second and third, thus: A B C D. His object seems to have been to obtain a series in which a succession of perfect fourths and fifths might be secured, for which purpose he made use of the following series of sounds:

In the first tetrachord B was flat, in the third natural; in the fourth, F was sharp. As to the use made of this scale, little or nothing is known.

Guido’s Scale

The other attempt, usually attributed to Guido, a contemporary of Hucbald, resulted in the Hexachord Scale (six note scale). This scale was formed by adding a whole tone above and below the Hucbald tetrachord, thus: G, A, B, C, D, E. To complete the series of Hexachord Scales, another sound was added, namely: the G below the A on which the Greek scales and their derivatives, the Church scales, began. The first seven letters of the roman alphabet were used to name the sounds already in use, hence to indicate this sound the Greek letter, Gamma, was adopted. At the same time the syllables ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la were used to name the sounds of every hexachord (precisely as the movable Do is used now); hence this lowest sound was called Gamma-ut, corrupted into Gamut. The sounds in the series were indicated by placing after the letter the syllables that indicated its position in all the hexachords in which it was found, thus:

G A B—C D E                         C D E—F G A

1. Gamma-ut 2. A-re 3. B-mi 4. C-fa-ut, because C is fa in the first, and ut in the second hexachord. Consequently, to a mediaeval musician, C-fa-ut meant what we could call C, second space bass clef.

The following table gives all the Hexachord Scales with the names of the sounds. It is of interest because this system of nomenclature persisted long after the one which gave rise to it was obsolete.

The Hexachords in which the B was flat were called Soft (Mollis); those in which B was natural, Hard (Dura); the term molis has been retained in the French word Bemol, a flat, and in the German name for a minor key, Moll. The work dura (hard) is also retained in the German as a name for the major key Dur. When the letters were used as a means of notation, the sound B flat was indicated by the old form of the letter b, which has been retained as the sign for a flat. This was called B rotundum (round B); when B natural was wanted, a stroke was put on the right side of the b, called B quadratum (squared B), the sign to this day for a natural.