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Effects Of Pitch In Music And Poetry

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In accordance with the principle of correspondence, the conditions of pitch high or low, or its movements in directions upward or downward in the musical scale, seem to be in exact analogy with correlated conditions and directions with which we are all familiar in the external world of space about us; and, like them, to indicate the mental aim or motive. When, for instance, one is elated, he holds his head high, and his movements are varied like those of a buoyant schoolboy. When one is depressed, his head bends downward and his movements are few. It is the same with the utterances. A soaring birds sings in a high and changing key, a crouching man threatens, or a dog growls in a low and monotonous key. High and varied tones, therefore, seem to represent elation of spirit, or that which is felt to be elevating in its influence; and low and uniform tones represent depression of spirit, or that which is felt to be impressive.

The same is true with reference to movements in the directions of pitch. Its tendency, when two or more tones at different pitch are heard in succession may be upward or downward, or both upward and downward. In the last case, as in the circumflex inflection, there is merely a combination of the meanings in the other two cases, and we need not consider it here. (See the author's "Orator's Manual," pp. 56-59.) When directed upward or down-ward, pitch follows laws applicable to all movement. Men lift their bodies, limbs, and feet, when they start to do something. They let their hands fall at their sides and sit down or lie down, when they get through with what they have to do. The lungs rise in inspiration and fall in expiration. So with voices in speaking. Their sounds rise when a man feels inspired to begin to say something, e. g., "If só, I will go." They fall when the inspiration is over, because he has ended saying this, e. g., " If so, I will go." In other words, upward and downward movements of pitch represent the mental motive. The voice rises when one is moved to open, and falls when moved to close, the expression of an idea. It must be borne in mind, however, that these directions of pitch depend upon the relations of utterance to the sense, and not merely to the sentence. If the sense does not close or open where the sentence does, the tones may fall before its close and rise at its end, e. g., "I will go, if só," "Will you gó?" NO, I will net, if he's there."

We may extend, and, at the same time, explain this by saying that the voice rises for the purpose of opening or broaching an idea; that is to say, for the purpose of pointing away from the thought immediately expressed, i. e., when one is inclined to consider the utterances merely anticipative or indecisive, in the sense of being in themselves subordinate, insignificant, trite, negative, or questionable, as contrasted with something that is expected to be, or that has been, expressed by the falling inflection. On the contrary, the voice falls for the purpose of closing or completing an idea; that is to say, for the purpose of pointing to the thought immediately expressed, i. e., when one is inclined to consider the utterances conclusive or decisive, in the sense of being in themselves interesting, important, noteworthy, affirmative, or positive. It falls whenever it gives its sentence in the sense either of having completed the expression of a sentiment or of having uttered something sententiously.

That similar principles apply to the movements of pitch in the melody of music, we might infer as a result of considering the subject theoretically. But we can not only infer it, but perceive it as a result of a practical study of facts. Notice the following text,' which was connected with the notation of the Gregorian chants, written in the sixth century. . . . These chants to which, or through which, all modern music is traceable, were deliberately composed in order to be representative, and nothing else.

It might be supposed that there would be nothing in poetic form corresponding to these upward and down-ward movements. But, as a fact, any metre causing a line to begin with an unaccented syllable, or to end with an accented syllable, produces, in what are termed the tunes of verse,-unless, as sometimes, the sense requires a different inflection,—the effect of an upward movement. Therefore, this metre naturally suggests the anticipative, indecisive, subordinate, questionable effect of the upward inflection.

On the other hand, a line beginning with an accented, or ending with an unaccented syllable, produces the final, decisive, interesting, important, affirmative effect of the down-ward movement or inflection.-Essentials of Aesthetics, XII.


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