INDIAN AND WESTERN MUSIC FIRST PART
This article, which is partially reproduced from Daniélou’s notes in the Zagarolo archives (with some editorial adjustments), was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1949. With his distinctive clarity and precision, Daniélou treats the language and the systems of music, Greek and Indian music history, as well as some important questions of musical technique. This article also expresses Daniélou’s personal reflection on music, according to which the distinction between “India” and “the West” in matters of musical theory should be replaced by the conceptual opposition between “modal” and “harmonic” music. This last aspect builds up the core of Daniélou’s normative approach to musical systems as well as his attempt to retrieve the specific value of Indian classical music in the face of what he called “the harmonic pollution” of the modern West.
Preliminaries: Different Languages
I was kindly asked to speak about Indian and Western music. This subject is not a very easy one. Musical systems differ more deeply than people usually realize and to explain their differences it will be necessary for us to make a general survey of musical history as well as to enter the rather complex theory of music. I shall try to do this as briefly and clearly as I can and hope to be forgiven if I may not be able to avoid completely the technical terminology of music.
But first, I think that the very title given to this talk is wrong. Music is not Eastern or Western. It may happen that at a given time a particular musical system is given preference in a particular country, but this is usually a temporary phenomenon. It would be more accurate for us to speak of music as modal or harmonic. This would put our enquiry on a sounder basis, and we may well discover that there are numerous musical elements found in Western countries which, in fact, belong to the modal or so-called Indian system. Further, a certain use of polyphony is not at all unknown to Indian musical theory and was extensively used in India at a time when it was still unheard of in Europe.
Before we can compare two systems of music, or two languages, we first have to find out what common ground they may have. In the case of languages, we find that certain types of speech differ only in their vocabulary, or their sound, but make use of a similar grammatical system. Such is, for example, the case of the Indo-European group of languages. But if we want to compare languages belonging to different families, such as Chinese and Italian, we find far less common points. It is only after we have determined the different forms through which an idea may be expressed, that we can attempt to translate, or, if the differences are too great, to transpose the ideas from one language into another.
Music As A Form Of Language
Music does not differ from language in its principle. In fact, the ancient Sanskrit theorists always considered music as a form of language. Music is but a means of expressing emotions or ideas through sounds and relations of sounds, which is also the characteristic of language. Just as there are different kinds of language, there are also different kinds of music. There are several types of grammar which cannot be used at the same time in one language. Similarly, the different types of music may be incompatible. Languages are not usually at the same time agglutinative and inflectional, just as music may not be both harmonic and modal.
A question which has always faced mankind since the time of the tower of Babel is whether it would not be better to have one common language for all, one common music for all. But whatever the advantages of a common means of understanding, there are qualities inherent to each type of language, and a great part of the treasure of human thought and culture would disappear if some of the great languages were to vanish, because the modes of expression, the ideas inherent to those languages, can never be exactly translated into another tongue. There are for example many subtle ways of expression in Bengali that can never be rendered in Hindi or English.
Contrary to common belief, music is not a word-less language which can be understood by all beings. No bird seems to enjoy the song of another kind of bird. The perception we have of musical sounds is, of necessity, based on acoustic phenomena which must be common to all beings endowed with a similar system of hearing. Yet these common acoustic properties are used in each system in a particular and exclusive manner, and it requires special training to recognize them. This training, necessary to understand a particular musical system, is no less long and tedious than is the study of a foreign language.
The hope that the gentle sounds of music may soften all hearts and create understanding between men and nations is unfortunately unfounded. Even if the members of the United Nations were to sing to one another instead of making speeches, they would not understand one another better for that. On the contrary, they would be likely to irritate one another even more deeply.
Four types of musical system
In the world today, we know of four completely different types of musical system which make use of distinct properties of sound. These systems can be called the cyclic system, the modal system, the harmonic system and the melodic system. Chinese music is of the cyclic type, classical Indian music is modal, modern Western music is harmonic, and most of the popular music of all countries comes within the melodic system.
The cyclic system is in a way the fundamental, if not the original one. It makes use of no interval in which may figure a prime number higher than 3 or a power of 3. Its basic interval is what we call a fifth, that is the interval from Sa to Pa, or C to G, which corresponds to the ratio 3/2. Cyclic music utilizes the peculiar properties of successions of fifths as the basic of its musical language. Its main outward characteristic is the pentatonic (or 5-note) scale. This pentatonic scale, known in India as rāga bhūpālī, is the only mode of rāga used in cyclic music, where the basic means of expression depends on changes of tonic and variations in pitch.
The modal system is the most elaborate example in classical Indian music. Its most characteristic feature is the permanence of a fixed sound called the tonic. The musical or expressive value of all the other sounds is here envisaged exclusively as depending on their relationship with the tonic. All kinds of intervals can thus be formed which are further assembled in what we may call an oblique structure, so as to create an indefinite variety of modes or rāgas.
The harmonic system is, in many of its features, a comparatively recent development. In this system, the different sounds are played together in groups which are called chords and which are so arranged as to form given intervals in relation to a lower sound called the fundamental of the chord. The characteristic of this system is that a given pitch of sound can convey a different expression according to the position it occupies in relation to the fundamental notes of different chords.
The above-mentioned systems represent the main cultured ways of music at present in use. There is, however, a further type of system which is very common and may be termed the melodic system. It is outwardly akin to modal music, but in this case the memory functions differently, in what we may term a horizontal rather than a vertical way. Further the tonic plays a less important role in it, each note taking its expression from its relation to the previous and the following notes.
Melodic And Modal Form
Maybe I should make the last point clearer. In a melodic form of music, the shape of the song is fixed, that is, you can learn the melody of a song and sing it perfectly, without knowing which note is a Sa or a Ga, the tonic or the third. The memory functions horizontally from one note to another. In modal music, on the other hand, the group of notes on which the melody will move is fixed and memorized vertically as one unit. Now, when singing a mode or a rāga, the musician concentrates on the scale. The melody cannot be fixed. The musician cannot know exactly through which melodic contours he moves around this fixed backbone that is the scale. If he concentrates on the melody, he will lose the rāga. He acts just like the artist, who, while making a drawing, concentrates on the profile which will come out of the page. He cannot follow every circumvolution of the pencil. He does not know what movements his pencil makes. Such is the case for the melody of the modal musician.
Melodic music has a far less important place than modal music so far as musical theory is concerned because it can never produce a very highly evolved music. The mistake underlying most Western interpretations of Indian, Arab and Greek music has been that they confused modal music and melodic music and could therefore understand nothing of the theory or the practice of music in those countries where music happened to be of the modal type.
Some Remarks On Indian History
The older system in India is modal. While the harmonic system appears to be a comparatively recent development, both cyclic and modal music had a very advanced theory and practice in quite ancient times. Probably the older type of cultured music was modal, although the existence of cyclic music seems not to have been unknown to early modal theorists whose works have survived.
A few centuries before Christ, the music of India and of the known parts of Europe was of the modal type. In fact, most of Greek theory and instruments came originally from India through the Middle East. There is a certain amount of musical evidence to show that a civilization, which at one time seems to have extended from India to Egypt and the island of Crete before the Aryan invasions, had already a very advanced art of music and elaborate musical instruments. At a later period, the Shaiva cults, which gave a very great importance to outdoor dancing and singing, were again imported into Greece and Egypt. Megasthenes, who came to India in 302 B.C., reports that the Indians were great experts in music and dancing, and that they counted 6000 years from the time when Dionysus (who for him could be equated with Shiva) taught them music, till the time of Alexander. These dates exactly tally with those given in the old Śaiva Purāṇas. Meanwhile, the Aryan diatonic scale and the system of music expounded in the Gāndharva Veda had also found their way into Greece. The conflict between the old Dravidian and the Vedic-Aryan music is apparent in Greek musical theory, as it is in the Sanskrit musical works of the early period. And the basic scales of these two main schools, or Matas, of Indian music, the Dravidian and the Aryan, became known to Greek theorists as the chromatic and the diatonic. The enharmonic division, or scale of the Śrutis, which was the common theoretical basis of both systems, is practically identical in Greek and in Indian theory.
The musical history of India is linked with the whole history of civilization. Through the study of musical development in India, as well as through the development of other arts and sciences, we may be able to reach conclusions which will be an asset in defining with more precision those parts of political and literary history that have remained so far ill-determined. We have here to be aware that musical tradition is extraordinarily permanent. People can change their country, their language, their dress, their food, and still come back to the same musical forms that are more suited to the peculiarities of their ears and temperament. Musical forms are seen to survive, often unnoticed, through a different theory, in the midst of a different system, to reappear again unchanged after centuries.
A recent and most brilliant example is that of Tagore’s songs, which represent a melodic form in the garb of a modal one. They are purely in the ancient tradition of Bengali music and are not rāgas, although they appear to use the scale of some (usually mixed) rāgas. They are not influenced by Western music, either, as some people believe, although they make use of some adapted Western tunes. Modal theory cannot account for their expression. This is what the common man feels when he says that they have a “peculiar”, undefinable charm.
The mediaeval and later books on music speak of four Matas, or systems of music, each referring to a basically different school. This can be interpreted in two ways. Either these Matas represent different ways of classification while the art itself remains practically the same, or they may refer to actually different musical systems.
In practice, even today, and in spite of mutual influences, we find four different types of music in India, which we may call from their most representative elements: the Dravidian modal school with its basic chromatic, the Aryan modal school with its basic diatonic, the Melodic school predominant in Bengal and among many ancient peoples of Central India and the Himalayas, and also a school of cyclic pentatonic music of Mongolian origin, which is found in Nepal, Assam and a few other regions. These represent fundamentally different systems. The fact that they could remain distinct, in spite of the efforts made by theorists for centuries to link them into a common theory, highlights the remarkable tenacity of popular culture in its will to resist the assertions of insufficiently learned theorists, a phenomenon observed in every country and at every period.
From mediaeval times, the tendency of Indian theorists has been to confuse the different Matas. With the consolidation of the predominance of Sanskritic culture, the writings of all the ancient Ācāryas were pooled together, and patient attempts were made with the help of linguistic artifice to show that there was no contradiction between them. This definitely obscured musical theory. The largest and most typical work of this period is the celebrated Saṅgīta Ratnākara of Śārṅgadeva, a book written in the thirteenth century as a sort of general treatise on musical science.
Indian Music Books Through The Ages
If we want a clear view of the theory of the original systems, we have to fall back upon earlier works. Unfortunately, many of these are now lost. Yet, with patient labour, it is possible to reconstruct part of their theory from the extensive quotations available in later books.
Indian books on music can be divided into three periods. The first or ancient period, which we may call pre-Buddhistic, includes the theory of music as it can be traced in the Vedas and the Upavedas, as well as the music referred to in the earlier Purāṇas, parts of the Epics, and generally all authors who appear to be anterior to Pāṇini – who was approximately a contemporary of Gautama Buddha.
It may be noted here that the cautious modern scholarly method, which consists in dating works as late as possible, may be very misleading. There is no doubt that practically no ancient work survives which has not been reshaped in some way or other in later centuries. But to consider these works, as a whole, to be as late as their last reshaping, simply because some late additions are found in them, gives a wrong historical perspective. We are equally falsifying history when we consider the later parts of these works as being early, or their early parts as being late. I do not quite understand why it seems to be deemed a sort of virtue for a historian to take great risks in dating ancient works much too late, while it is considered a fearful sin to take slight risks in dating parts of a work too early. So far as music is concerned, we can take present historical conventions rather light-heartedly, since we have means of deciding the age of a given document which are different and safer than linguistic considerations. Such are, for example, the basic scales, the instruments mentioned, the authors quoted, the appearing or disappearing of particular technical terms and their use.
After the early period comes what we may term the Buddhist age. It extends approximately from 500 B.C. to the fifth century A.D. and represents the literature on music contemporary to Kauṭilya and Kālidāsa, Amara Siṃha and Patañjali. Then comes the mediaeval age with the commentators of Bharata, that is, Udbhaṭa in the eight century, Lollaṭa and Śaṅkuka in the ninth century. In the tenth century we have the monumental work of Abhinava Gupta, in the eleventh that of Nānya Deva and in the thirteenth century that of Śarṅga Deva – and we should not forget the contemporary commentary on the Saṅgīta Ratnākara by Siṃha Bhūpāla, the protector of Śarṅga Deva.
The later Sanskrit literature on music from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century is quite rich, but is generally of lesser theoretical interest. The works of this later age endlessly quote the definitions of earlier works and try to explain away the theoretical difficulties born of earlier confusion. In this respect, a special mention should be made of Veṅkaṭa Makhin, who, in the seventeenth century, reformed South Indian music. We are often told that South Indian music is more conservative and represents Indian music in its purest and more ancient form. This is probably very far from being true. The present system of South Indian music is a mixture of melodic and modal forms, and its theory was profoundly altered by several theorists, particularly by Veṅkaṭa Makhin, who systematized the reforms started by his father Govinda Dīkṣita, a protégé of Mahārāja Raghunātha Nāyaka of Tanjore.
In an endeavour to restore the ancient theory and explain away the contradictions of earlier authors, Veṅkaṭa Makhin made a beautiful and clever blend of the conflicting systems and deeply altered the theory of South Indian music. The case is quite different in the north, where in spite of foreign invasions and alleged influences, the music, possibly partly thanks to the loss of its theory in days of insufficient learning, remained, through mere technical tradition, remarkably faithful to old definitions.