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Volume 11, 1878
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Appendix.—Note to p. 82.

This is an astonishing fact, but it is strictly true, though, I believe, scarcely known. I, therefore, with great pleasure, give in a note an extract or two from an interesting letter “On the Native Songs of New Zealand,” written nearly twenty-five years ago, by a talented musician and author of several works on music (Mr. J. H. Davies, of Trinity College, Cambridge), which letter was printed as an appendix to one of Sir G. Grey's works on New Zealand; and though highly worthy of being read and of being deeply studied—especially by a trained musician—it is, I fear, but very little known among us.

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First, Mr. Davies writes of “the enharmonic scale of the ancient Greeks” (which has long been lost, and which, indeed, has been disputed), that “it consisted of a quarter-tone, a quarter-tone and an interval of two tones, an interval somewhat greater than our third major;” and that this long-lost ancient scale has been found to exist among the Arabians, the Chinese, and the New Zealanders.

“As the highest art is to conceal the art and to imitate nature, that mighty nation the Greeks, with an art almost peculiarly their own, having observed these expressions of natural sentiment,” stated fully in the preceding paragraph, “thence deduced certain laws of interval, by which, while they kept within the limits of art, they took care not to transgress those of nature, but judiciously to adopt, and as nearly as possible to define, with mathematical exactness, those intervals which the uncultured only approach by the irregular modulation of natural impulses. * * * Hence, I conceive the reason of the remnant of that scale being found among most of those nations who have been left to the impulses of a ‘naturetaught’ song rather than been cramped by the trammels of a conventional system—the result of education and of civilization.”

Plutarch remarks, that the most beautiful of the musical genera is the enharmonic, on account of its grave and solemn character, and that it was formerly most in esteem. Aristides Quintilian tells us it was the most difficult of all, and required a most excellent ear. Aristoxenus observes that it was so difficult that no one could sing more than two dieses consecutively, and yet the perceptions of a Greek audience were fully awake to, and their judgment could appreciate, a want of exactness in execution.”

“Mr. Lay Tradescant, speaking of the Chinese intervals, says that ‘it is impossible to obtain the intervals of their scale on our keyed instruments, but they may be perfectly effected on the violin;’ * * * and our own ears attest that, universally, in the modulations of the voice of the so-called savage tribes, and in the refined and anomalously studied Chinese, there are intervals which do not correspond to any notes on our keyed instruments, and which to an untrained ear appear almost monotonous.”

“Suffice it to say that many Chinese airs, of which I have two, show the diesic modulation and the saltus combined; but the majority of the New Zealand airs which I have heard are softer and more ‘ligate,’ and have a great predominance of the diesic element.”

“One thing, however, is certain, that, as Aristoxenus tell us, no perfect ear could modulate more than two dieses at a time, and then there was a ‘saltus’ or interval of two tones, and as the New Zealand songs frequently exhibit more than two close intervals together, it is more than probable that many of these songs are a chromatic.”

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“In proof that a system of modulation like the above still survives, I shall produce as nearly as my ear could discern, the modulation of some of the New Zealand melodies. * * *

“I here beg to state, that though with great care and the assistance of a graduated monochord, and an instrument divided like the intervals of the Chinese kin, I have endeavoured to give an idea of those airs of New Zealand which I heard, yet so difficult is it to discover the exact interval, that I will not vouch for the mathematical exactness. * * * I must also, in justice to myself, add, that the singer did not always repeat the musical phrase with precisely the same modulation, though without a very severe test this would not have been discernible, nor then to many ears, the general effect being to an European ear very monotonous. But I may say that, when I sang them from my notation, they were recognised and approved of by competent judges, and that the New Zealander himself said, ‘he should soon make a singer of me.’”*

Mr. Davies has also, in his letter, given some of our Maori New Zealand songs, set by him to music, as examples.

I may here also mention, that one of the earliest scientific visitors to New Zealand, Dr. Forster, who accompanied Captain Cook on his second voyage, has left a statement on record of a similar kind. Here is a short quotation from it, given, partly on account of the learned German's feeling and truthful deduction therefrom, and partly because his valuable work is scarcely known in the Colony. (And, to the everlasting honour of the good Doctor, it is to be further noted, that he does this immediately after relating several acts of killing and cannibalism perpetrated by the New Zealanders on Europeans, among which was the very recent one, in which ten seamen belonging to Captain Cook's expedition were killed, etc., so that Dr. Forster did not allow his reason to be carried away by his feelings.) He says,—“The music of the New Zealanders is far superior in variety to that of the Society and Friendly Islands. * * * The same intelligent friend who favoured me with a specimen of the songs at Tongatapu, has likewise given me another of the New Zealand music; and has also assured me that there appeared to be some display of genius in the New Zealand tunes, which soared very far above the wretched humming of the Tahitian, or even the four notes of the people at the Friendly Islands.” (Two specimens of their tunes set to musical notes are then given.) “The same gentleman likewise took notice of a kind of dirge-like melancholy song, relating to the death of Tupaea.” (The musical notes of this, with the words, are also given.)

[Footnote] * [Note.—See “Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, as furnished by their Priests and Chiefs.” Appendix, p. 313. By Sir George Grey; Murray: London, 1855.—ED.]

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“They descend at the close from c to the octave below in a fall, resembling the sliding of a finger along the finger-board of a violin. I shall now dismiss this subject with the following observation,—that the taste for music of the New Zealanders, and their superiority in this respect to other nations in the South Seas, are to me stronger proofs in favour of their heart, than all the idle eloquence of philosophers in their cabinets can invalidate.”— Forster's Voyage, vol. II., pp. 476–478.