Comparative Theory: A Systematic Approach to the Study of World Music

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There are few signs that composers and music theorists have participated with more than faint enthusiasm in the current and widespread move to make the study of non-Western music a basic component in American university practice. Most of my colleagues (and I) have looked on with a sympathetic yet patronizing attitude and returned to our writing, our textbooks, and our seminars with our bias toward Western music unshaken. One cannot quarrel with personal preferences, but I deplore the collective failure of theorists and composers to contribute their own distinctive talents, analytic methodologies, and insights to the study of ethnic music and to broaden the base for their own work.

It becomes increasingly difficult to justify such a stand when one considers the forces that are now impelling us to widen our geographic and social frame of reference for music: the availability of "instant" electronic communication and our heightened awareness of Asia and the world's developing nations—whether induced by considerations of tourism, trade, UN politics, ping-pong diplomacy, or ethnic groups within our country. Non-Western music has appealed strongly to the current generation of college students through its emphasis on the participatory (instead of the spectator) aspects of art and its improvisatory dimension. The functional relationship of music to its social context and the harmonious relationship of music, dance, and the other arts have provided, in many of the world's musical cultures, a new model of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The contributions of ethnomusicology now constitute an impressive body of evidence and in-depth description of the music of many of the world's peoples and an adequate basis for further generalization about music on a truly global scale. The physical evidence is likewise available in the form of excellent disc and tape recordings, films, slides, transcribed compositions, and a variety of other media.


World Music Traditions and the Composer

One must admit, of course, that a composer's personal involvement with world music is entirely a matter of choice. I see the potential role of ethnic musics as a means of providing valid alternatives, as sources of new and attractive sounds and organizing procedures which, the composer will recognize, carry with them some concomitant limitations. Incorporating ethnic elements in musical composition is hardly new: Baroque composers imitated certain conventionalized aspects of different national styles—rhythms, textures, dance forms, ornaments, et al. And one can cite such divergent phenomena as Mozart's "Turkish" music, settings of Scottish poems by 19th-century German composers, Javanese elements in the music of Debussy, and Benjamin Britten's brilliant ethnic pastiche The Prince of the Pagodas.

The difference is, I think, that the composer has—almost without exception—viewed his sources as "exotica." The borrowed material or idiom has been treated in ways that quickly become mannered and conventionalized, and the "exotica" itself remains largely unrelated to its setting like a rare precious stone. Today this strikes one as a kind of "tokenism" and an artistic approach that holds little promise.

It is now possible, I believe, for the composer to internalize various ethnic elements that hold meaning for him until they become a real part of the "deep structures" of his style. What emerges may still strike the listener as exotic, but nonetheless it can participate in the compositional genesis of the music on the same basis as the other musical idea-sources and impulses embedded in the composer's subconscious. It seems to me that this represents a more honest and potentially productive response to world music traditions than "token exoticism."

A morass of difficult aesthetic questions surrounds the composer's attempt to work creatively with extracultural musical ideas: can one honestly or successfully counterfeit a tradition other than one's own? Can one hope to acquire the thought patterns, responses, and connotations of the experienced musical life in another culture? Both Malm1 and Powers,2 distinguished and perceptive observers of Asian musical tradition, have admitted the impossibility of this ideal.

But recognizing this difficulty need not preclude the constructive application of a part of an alien culture. Stravinsky's The Nightingale does not masquerade as authentic Chinese music, and the world would be the loser if its chinoiserie were dismissed as mere counterfeit coin. As long as the composer does not claim to produce an authentic product of a foreign musical tradition, I see no reason why his activity should not be recognized as valid. And even if a composer's superficial grasp of an ethnic tradition leaves him vulnerable to charges of naiveté from those more knowledgeable in that tradition, does that shatter the entire aesthetic base for his work? I think not, although I acknowledge that this is a difficult question.

Once having come to terms with such aesthetic questions, consider a few of the attractive possibilities open to the composer:

1. First, a much wider spectrum of timbres is accessible—not the limitless potential timbres of electronic devices but many new actual timbres: instruments that one can shake, rattle, hit, stroke, and blow. Many of these are designed along different and inviting scale patterns and are played in ways that suggest fascinating possibilities for timbral variety, ornamentation, textural clarity, and expressive effects.

2. Many new formal and textural models are also available. In subsequent discussion I will show how one composer has reacted to such models.

3. A composer can get more mileage out of human resources: one generalization we can safely make about world musics is that none arises from a society more technologically advanced than ours! We need to utilize our technology more effectively, but we need also to learn how to pursue life without total technological dependence. A focus on ethnic elements in music involves people, not machines, and I can only say "Vive la différence!"

4. I would not belabor the point, but I must add here that by "people" I mean ordinary people, not virtuosi. Although some of the musical traditions of the world depend heavily upon highly trained specialists, these are decidedly in the minority. This suggests to me that composers who are so inclined can take advantage of the rich strain of talent in musical amateurism, and that "dilettante" need no longer be a disparaging term.

5. School music in the United States has already been greatly affected by developments in the direction of ethnic music-making, especially in the Far West where Oceanic and American Indian cultures are rapidly gaining a foothold in the music curriculum. The principle of improvisation and of composition using highly limited sets of tones is already being utilized effectively throughout the country by advocates of Carl Orff's Schulwerk.

6. Improvisation, as a matter of fact, seems destined to play a much greater role in both concert and home musical life, whether it features ethnic components or not. Since improvisation abounds both in solo and group practice in the world's musics, it is hard to see how the inquiring composer could fail to be influenced by its pervasiveness.

7. The purely pitch elements of music may cease to dominate our entire musical thought—both creative and analytic—and equally important considerations of rhythm, timbre, dynamics, texture, et al may receive increased (and overdue) focus. William Thomson, in these pages two years ago,3 called attention to our "unhealthy kind of 'pitch fetishism'" which has had an ossifying effect on the training of young musicians. If the composer's options in other parameters are sufficient and attractive, it is possible that the 20th-century composer's major "hangup" may not be resolved but will gradually disappear like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat—leaving only the grin behind.

As an example of a composer writing imaginatively and effectively in a style which integrates ethnic elements, may I cite my colleague Armand Russell whose Concerto No. 3 (Kawili) for percussion and orchestra has recently been given its first performance by the Honolulu Symphony under Robert LaMarchina. Russell's interest in ethnic music arises naturally from his experience with Hawaii's unique mixture of musical traditions. The title of the work means "blend" or "mix," and the "mix" includes both Western and non-Western instruments of percussion. Russell has specified that the exact choice of instruments vary with the geographic location of the performance; for performances in Hawaii, Hawaiian, Oceanic, and Asian instruments were selected. The two slow movements ("Origins" and "Ceremony") feature ethnic instruments, the second movement Western instruments, and the Finale a mixture of all.

What intrigues me is that principles of organization indigenous to non-Western music are evident even in the "Western" movements. The classification of instruments by material, while a traditional basis for grouping Western percussion instruments, is more fully realized in this work as a structural element. And throughout the piece one can observe a prevailing stratification of the main musical ideas according to their "function" which results in a clearly-defined formal hierarchy not unlike that found in the Japanese gagaku tradition. The ethnic basis for Kawili obviously influenced the shaping of every level of the formal plan from "deep" to "surface" structures.


The Comparative Theory of Music

The discipline of music theory cannot claim even a "token" input from the musical cultures of non-Western nations. Influenced by the "mainstream" concept of European music and—in our role as custodians of the teaching of general musicianship—motivated by valid pedagogical concerns, we have continued to teach in the same familiar tracks which do not contradict our students' previous aural experience, instrumental training, and future "market" prospects. The Journal of Music Theory, in the first 27 numbers, has published precisely two articles dealing with the theory of non-Western music.4 Theory textbooks are equally guilty of this parochialism, and few theory curricula make provision for the inclusion of any ethnic music on a systematic basis.

Although the rest of my remarks will be addressed to the professional concerns of the theorist qua theorist, I must stress my conviction that a world music perspective must be sought for our teaching of general musicianship. The obvious advantages and equally obvious limitations of such an approach need to be carefully calculated in terms of institutional and departmental policy, but I can foresee great opportunity for the development of increased sensitivity to intonation, awareness of texture, alertness in ensemble performance, improvisational skill, and a generally heightened aural response to music, as well as a deeper understanding of scale formations, the role of structure and decoration, and music's complex rhythmic structures and substructures. Though we may agree that these are desirable objectives, it must be clear that they are rarely being attained in current practice.

But my primary purpose in this paper is to examine the role of the professional music theorist and his potential involvement with world music. The reader will note that the distinction between "music" and "musics" is carefully drawn throughout these pages. My colleagues in ethnomusicology are fond of the plural which reflects their current goal—to delineate the specific, unique features of ethnic musical cultures, stressing the particular rather than the general, partially as a reaction against the overgeneralizations and speculations of earlier practitioners of Vergleichendes Musikwissenschaft. Only a few institutions today have retained Ambros' division of the discipline of musicology into three main subdivisions: historical, comparative, and systematic. Today's musicologist has dropped "historical" from his title, "comparative" has given way to "ethno-" musicology, and "systematic" means everything else—although music theory taken very broadly seems to be the legitimate heir of this branch. I see some signs that the lines of division between these subdivisions are beginning to blur, and I look for the day when teams of scholars will pursue common problems, pooling their particular approaches and methodologies.

As a theorist I prefer the singular form "music," probably because I feel personally committed to a view of music in which a diversity of surface characteristics and stylistic manifestations is undergirded by a relatively small number of basic organizing principles. It is the theorist's job to isolate both the general and the particular and to show their interrelation, in the service of general knowledge and for the education of students of music as well. The title of this paper, "Comparative Theory," derives from this emphasis on those principles which are common to many or most of the world's musical traditions. It is one (but certainly not the only) systematic approach to the study of world music. It is also a way of achieving a view of music free from such constraining modifiers as "common practice," "traditional," and "mainstream."

Although most ethnomusicologists still wince at the word "comparative," it seems clear to me that we can now use the ever-increasing body of evidence they have amassed as a firm base for comparison and generalization. In many cases their descriptions have confirmed what were once dismissed as dangerously speculative conclusions. Greater confidence can now be placed in the validity and reliability of the oral tradition in transmitting and preserving music, affording us greater insight into our own Western musical heritage. Shortly I will make some predictions and suggest some directions in which this combination of disciplines might evolve, although I am mindful of an old Chinese proverb: "Predictions are always dangerous—particularly when they involve the future!"

The professional role of the music theorist has changed dramatically in the last few decades: in the 40's and early 50's most musicians who considered themselves theorists saw their role as supervisor of general musicianship training and their main professional activity as the analysis of music for style and structure; most were also composers and intensely committed to the practical experience of music-making. Aural comprehension was perhaps their most desired goal for their students. The next academic generation produced a wave of young scholars who saw their discipline as a real profession with a subject matter of its own—the entire corpus of musica speculativa—and who felt the need to explore the relationships between the theory of music and the other liberal arts. As a result of their efforts, the history of music theory began to emerge as a major subject area in American graduate schools; translations and studies of the monuments of music theory began to be published in increasing numbers. At the same time appeared a generation of theorist/composers heavily involved with technology and quantitative operations relating to the medium of music. More scientifically inclined than the former group, their mission appeared to be the delineation of the total sound resources available to the composer of experimental music.

Against this background, it is an interesting task to draw up a job description for today's theorist: I would like him to be one whose basic duty is to isolate the musical principles embedded in the world's music, past and present, and to delineate the total resources of the medium of music—both potential and actual—as seen in all of man's musical products and processes. If these wishes are to be realized, the comparative approach to music theory must be a part of his training and professional activity.

In assessing the potential of a new subject area, it seems to me that it should be examined in terms of input and output: how can the theorist's work gain from the input from world music traditions? What can he contribute to the work being done by his colleagues in ethnomusicology?

His input from non-Western musical cultures can provide him with a much broader sampling of methods of pitch- and time-organization and a variety of styles, devices, forms, genres, textures, etc., running from the simple to the complex. If his job is to formulate principles of organization for all music, here is the evidence he needs. Some of his assumptions concerning music will be validated, others may not! He will find the mythical line that separates what is and what is not music difficult to draw. He will have to be more inventive in formulating modes of analysis, and he will have to cope with analytic approaches specific to a single culture. He will have to consider anew such questions as "what constitutes a musical tone?" He will undoubtedly have to reassess his assumptions about the relative importance of the parameters of music. Perhaps most important of all, he will begin to turn his attention to music as process and not restrict his theorizing and analyzing to completed musical products.

The net results of his activity in response to this input will be that some organizing principles will apply to most music, but also that a greater number will be seen to be chrono-specific or style-specific. The comparative theorist will probably be more interested in highly developed musical cultures where his sources will include a technical literature, a large corpus of notated music in fairly stable form, an assortment of analytic procedures appropriate to this music, and a long tradition of art music.

His output might include (1) a more definitive analysis of both the underlying "universals" and specific style features of various bodies of music, (2) the comparison of non-Western musics to our Western past, applying the written theory of the ancient world and the Middle Ages to living non-Western musics, (3) a variety of sophisticated analytic approaches ranging from the quantitative (computer analysis) to the qualitative (such as the graphic method derived from Heinrich Schenker), and (4) the formulation of these concepts of music organization, style, and structure into pedagogical tracks. If theorists are attracted to apply their "systematic" approach to the subject matter of the "comparative" branch of musicology, then some small progress may be made in splicing together once again the unraveled strands of our discipline.

The University of Hawaii has had a graduate course in Comparative Theory under development for the last two years; the course was offered for the first time in the Spring semester 1972. This subject area seemed to be a logical extension of the present graduate course offerings because of its relevance to our ethnomusicology program and the ethnic musical traditions that are well represented not only on the faculty of the music department but in the community. Our aim in this one-semester course was simply to outline a frame of reference for comparative studies that apply the methods of the theorist to a corpus of ethnic music and musical systems. Throughout the following description, it should be kept in mind that the specific choices of musics studied and topics discussed were made considering the location, strengths, and resources of the institution, the backgrounds of the students, and the interests of the instructor. Under a different set of conditions other choices might be more appropriate.

The fixed content of the course included the following: music in the Ancient World; high musical cultures of Asia and the Middle East, examined for organization of pitch, time, mode, system, form, texture, and other theoretical constructs; cosmologies and symbolism pertaining to music; the analysis of selected works of non-Western music in both culture-specific and objective modes. Because of my interest in the historical development of music theory, I chose the relationship between ancient Western and traditional Asian music as the axis around which the course developed. Though widely separated in time, these musical cultures5 share a common ancestry and manifest many similar features, the one known primarily through a body of written theory, the other a set of related musical traditions in highly stable form.

Our most highly developed model in the Ancient World is the theoretical system of Classical Greek music, although other ancient musical cultures [Sumeria, Israel, Egypt, Persia, and others] entered into discussions. The traditional music of China, India, and Japan formed the corpus of Asian music represented. Fortunately the class included a highly skilled South Indian musician, Gayathri Rajapur, whose in-depth knowledge of the theory of her own culture lent an invaluable dimension to the course.

The list of possible topics for comparative study includes (but certainly is not limited to) the following: tunings and musical systems, scales, time organization, metres, forms, texture, factors influencing perception, terminology, structure and decoration, notational systems, musical symbolism, music in relation to cosmology, intersense modalities,6 and ethos. There is a potential for very valuable basic research in many of these areas, and I see this as a prime purpose of our efforts: the contributions of music theory have tended to focus in very great detail upon surface characteristics of music while neglecting deeper and more structural problems.

This neglect seems to me most evident in studies on time organization in music. Theorists have been far more successful in articulating the theory of pitch than in coping with the durational aspects of music. I think it is safe to say that rhythm is the most underresearched of all of music's parameters. Many ethnomusicological studies have described adequately the rhythmic basis for a single culture in terms of pulse, rhythmic patterns, metres, accents, and similar phenomena; yet some of the most important considerations remain unresolved: how is the basic time demarcation achieved? What produces the illusion of continuity and of motion, the sense of flow, arrival, and departure? How is time organized at a higher architectonic level? I am convinced that a musical culture's way of using time as an artistic matrix is conditioned by its philosophical view of time and its measurement as expressed in language, literature, art, and mythology. The complex ways in which time's basic series relationships [before/after; past/present/future] are expressed in ancient languages may hold clues. It seems likely that many of these time concepts now long buried in our Western history may still survive in some form in living Asian musical traditions. There is a very great need for studies in this field.

Language poses an obvious problem for the study of comparative theory; some knowledge of both Greek and Latin is necessary if one is to work effectively with music in Antiquity. Although there are some excellent studies in English pertaining to the theory of Asian music (especially of India), many more remain untranslated. Since such a diversity of languages is involved, it seems to me that here is another reason why team projects might appropriately be designed and pursued at institutions where such linguistic expertise is available. I would recommend that we place high priority on the translation of major theoretical writings from the most significant Asian musical traditions.


Pitch Organization: Some Basic Questions

The following discussion is presented as a sample approach to one of the most important issues in comparative theory. In any cross-cultural study of musical systems, specific phenomena are easier to describe than the tonal matrix which underlies the entire system. And yet without an adequate basis for understanding the matrix for the system, it is not possible to assess accurately the relation of the part to the whole. Misleading assumptions and guesswork flourish under such conditions. This problem has been demonstrated vividly by Western scholars in their struggles to sort through the confused meanings of a few terms used to denote the prime organizing unit of a musical system: scale, mode, key, raga.7

Efforts to create and disseminate an entirely new terminology have been notoriously unsuccessful. They have generally suffered the same fate as proposals to undertake a systematic revision of our language. Scholars in linguistics can testify that language tends to grow wild despite all academic attempts to prune it into a logical and consistent framework for communication. Therefore it seems more profitable to assume (despite some evidence to the contrary) some thread of sense to our terminology and attempt to validate these terms in a logical framework that can be applied to various musical systems. Hence the definitions proposed below.




To comment on a few familiar applications of these terms: the Greek tonoi are properly called keys because the dynamic properties of the basic set are transferred to a new tonal space (on the sliding scale of the Greek Dorian system). The problem is complicated only by the Greek notion of "characteristic octave" in which melodies were sung for more convenient range. To construct an analogous situation: we can mentally reconstruct our National Anthem in either A-flat or B-flat major; if we then proceeded to sing it in any convenient vocal range (if there be one) while thinking the pitches in our chosen key, we would be duplicating ancient Greek practice.

The Medieval modes are properly named because they constitute different structurings of a finite tonal space, mainly through their choice of final and (later) their tonal structure. Authentic and plagal, in the broadest sense, have meaning only with respect to range; each is a different slice of the same mode. This explanation does not in any way seek to refute the modal theory of Gregorian chant which was formulated on the basis of many different factors, including melodic idioms, final, range, structure, et al.

Modern keys are properly called keys because they too constitute a basic set which is subject to a change of place. The qualifying terms major and minor, on the other hand, denote modes—each with its own family of keys. Change from major to relative minor signifies only a change of mode; change from major to parallel minor is in effect a change of both key and mode.

According to these definitions, mode comes closer than any other Western term to the Indian concept of raga.8 The notion of transposition is completely alien to traditional Indian music where musical space was viewed as essentially finite and in which the tonality is constantly affirmed by a drone.

To facilitate cross-cultural comparison of musical systems the following taxonomy for pitch organization has been developed. It is not intended to cover those features which give each system its distinctive flavor; rather it is designed to reveal common ground and show each system's solution of the mutual problem: how to demarcate musical space. As a sample the taxonomy is given with sets of answers representing three distantly related musical cultures: Ancient Greek, Medieval Western (the ecclesiastical modal system), and traditional South Indian (Carnatic). The answers will be sketchy and of more value to those with some acquaintance with the cultures; the questions should be less limited in their appeal. The taxonomy proceeds from the part to the whole, from the particular to the general.




In closing, I can recommend without reservation the following principles, set forth by Aristoxenos of Tarentum in the 4th century B.C., which constitute a comprehensive professional code for the comparative (and indeed every) theorist:

Our exposition cannot be a successful one unless three conditions be fulfilled. Firstly, the phenomena themselves must be correctly observed; secondly, what is prior and what is derivative in them must be properly discriminated; thirdly, our conclusions and inferences must follow legitimately from the premises.9


The following is a highly selective list of books and articles in English pertaining to the musical cultures and problems encountered in the study of comparative theory. No attempt was made to list the many relevant articles from Ethnomusicology, which is an excellent source for similar studies.


de Bary, William, ed. Introduction to Oriental Civilizations: Sources of Japanese Tradition, Sources of Indian Tradition, Sources of Chinese Tradition. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958-60.

An indispensable set of source readings in Asian intellectual history, art, religion, and philosophy.

Galpin, Francis W. The Music of the Sumerians and their Immediate Successors the Babylonians and Assyrians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1937; rpt. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970.

The classic study of music in ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

Sachs, Curt. The Rise of Music in the Ancient World, East and West. New York: W.W. Norton, 1943.

A brilliant, opinionated, and somewhat speculative book, yet—in my opinion—still the best one-volume introduction to music in Antiquity. The author's enthusiasm succeeds in kindling some of the romance that courses in music history often fail to arouse. Sachs' coverage of the Greek theoretical system is particularly helpful.

Sendrey, Alfred. Music in Ancient Israel. New York: The Philosophical Library, 1969.

A systematic survey of music in Biblical times and a decided improvement upon the earlier study by Sir John Stainer: performance practices, instruments, terms, the dance, music instruction, ensemble performance, and a thorough study of the Book of Psalms.

Wellesz, Egon, ed. The New Oxford History of Music, Vol. 1: Ancient and Oriental Music. London: Oxford University Press, 1957.

I particularly recommend the chapters by Laurence Picken [China and other countries of Far Eastern Asia] and Arnold Bake [India]. Isobel Henderson's chapter on Ancient Greek Music is also one of the strong contributions in a somewhat spotty volume.

Werner, Eric. The Sacred Bridge: The Interdependence of Liturgy and Music in Synagogue and Church during the First Millennium. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.

Particularly useful for the development of liturgies in the Middle East and the evolution of modal systems; a colorfully written and enjoyable book and an excellent guide to the music of post-Biblical Judaism.



Kaufmann, Walter. Musical Notations of the Orient. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967.

A valuable source for the notations of China, India, Korea, and Tibet.

Lieberman, Fredric. Chinese Music: an Annotated Bibliography. New York: Society for Asian Music, 1970.

Contains 1483 items, many trivial but others of inestimable value to the student of Chinese music; bibliographies, discographies, and several very helpful indices.

Malm, William P. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1959.

The best English survey of Japanese musical culture with chapters on religious music; Gagaku; the Noh drama; music for the biwa, shakuhachi, koto, and shamisen; the Kabuki theatre; and folk musical arts.

Malm, William P. Nagauta: the Heart of Kabuki Music. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1963.

A detailed yet readable study of this genre of theater music emphasizing the shamisen tradition; contains a supplemental volume of many transcriptions into Western notation.

Moore, Charles A., ed. The Chinese Mind. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1967.

Moore, Charles A., ed. The Japanese Mind. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1967.

Companion volumes of essays on Asian philosophy and culture; contributors include distinguished scholars from both Asia and the West.

Pian, Rulan Chao. Sonq Dynasty Musical Sources and their Interpretation. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967.

A brilliant study for this important period in Chinese musical history: sources, the modal system, notations, transcriptions. Highly recommended.

Van Aalst, J.A. Chinese Music. Shanghai: 1884; rpt. New York: Paragon Book Reprint Co., 1964.

One of the earliest systematic studies of Chinese music to reach the West and delightful reading.

Van Gulik, R.H. The Lore of the Chinese Lute. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1968.

The construction, symbolism, history, and ideology of the Chinese ch'in; an evocative book which conveys much of the spirit of Chinese music. The author, a former diplomat, is also known to afficionados of detective fiction for his many mystery stories set in old China.



Danielou, Alain. The Ragas of Northern Indian Music. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1968.

Specifications and illustration of the musical characteristics of the principal ragas with a brief history of the evolution of Indian music and music theory; somewhat controversial.

Fox Strangways, A.H. The Music of Hindostan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914.

One of the earliest studies, delightful to read for the wealth of detail about Indian music it presents but naive in the author's obsessive quest for Western analogies. Fox Strangways cannot be ignored by the serious student of Indian music, but many better studies in English are now available.

Jairazbhoy, N.A. The Rags of North Indian Music: their Structure and Evolution. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

A superb and detailed study of North Indian music theory accompanied by a recorded demonstration and notated examples of 8 of the more important rags. This is the best exposition of the theory of Indian music to appear in English.

Moore, Charles A., ed. The Indian Mind. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1967.

In the same series mentioned above.

Powers, Harold S. The Background of the South Indian Raga-System. Diss. Princeton, 1958.

An excellent study of South Indian (Carnatic) music: theoretical background, performance practices, transcriptions, analyses, and a special study of the gamakas and the history of their use in South Indian music. Highly recommended.

Sambamoorthy, P. South Indian Music. 7 vols. Madras: Indian Music Publishing House, 1966-70.

A treasury of information on South Indian music by a widely respected teacher and scholar, bewildering in organization but invaluable.



Carroll, Thomas. "The Origin, Development, and Diffusion of Musical Scales—an Index to Cultural Contrasts." Proceedings of the 2nd annual conference of the International Association of Historians of Asia. Taipei: 1963.

A provocative exposition of an interesting hypothesis: that a natural "primordial" scale split to become the basis for two basic scale systems [the Greco/Persian/Hindu and the Sino/Mongol]; Carroll then claims that each scale system was subjected to two main periods of revision, attempting to confirm his datings by a concept called "the Law of Shifting Tonality." Should be read by all interested in the evolution of scale systems (but with a salt-shaker handy!).

Gombosi, Otto, "Key, Mode, Species." Journal of the American Musicological Society, 4, No. 1 (Spring, 1951), 20-26.

Examination of these terms in the context of the ancient Greek theoretical system, concluding that the tonoi are best called keys.

Malm, William P. "On the Nature and Function of Symbolism in Western and Oriental Music." Philosophy East and West, 19, No. 3 (July, 1969), 235-46.

Part of a lively Symposium on "Aesthetics East and West" held at the University of Hawaii the previous December. Malm's paper is presented along with responses by Barbara B. Smith, Lee Winters, Peter Crossley-Holland, and Albert Hofstadter.

Powers, Harold S. "Mode and Raga." Musical Quarterly, 44 (1958), 448-60.

A highly readable comparison and contrast of the South Indian raga to the church modal system.

Sachs, Curt. "Primitive and Medieval Music: a Parallel." Journal of the American Musicological Society, 13, No. 1 (Spring, 1960), 43-49.

One of the important parallels that Sachs draws is the practice of melodic development by "chains" of intervals instead of an underlying scale matrix. An extremely stimulating article.

Szabolcsi, Bence. "Five-Tone Scales arid Civilization." Acta Musicologica, 15 (1943), 24-34.

The author's hypothesis is that pentatonic scales represent a basic stage in musical evolution and are not characteristic of any particular style; he claims to have detected several important "form-building principles" which develop the basic scale material along consistent lines: transposition (Middle Asia), repetition (Western Asia), variation (Africa), and centrally composed song form (America, Europe). His conclusion is that national or regional characteristics lie more in the formal development of melody than in the underlying scale.

Werner, Eric and Isaiah Sonne. "The Philosophy and Theory of Music in Judaeo-Arabic Literature." Hebrew Union College Annual, 1943.

An illuminating discussion of musical terms and organizing features in early Medieval theory: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic.

1William P. Malm, "Practical Approaches to Japanese Traditional Music," Studies in Japanese Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965), 102.

2Harold S. Powers, The Background of the South Indian Raga-System, Diss. Princeton, 1958, ii.

3William Thomson, "The Core Commitment in Theory and Literature for Tomorrow's Musician," College Music Symposium, 10 (Fall, 1970), 42.

4Kazu Nakaseko, "Symbolism in Ancient Chinese Music Theory," JMTh, 1, No. 2 (Nov. 1957), 146-80, and Gift Siromoney and K.R. Rajagopalan, "Style as Information in Karnatic Music," JMTh, 8, No. 2 (Winter, 1964), 267-72.

5Alan Lomax has grouped both under "Old High Culture" in his Folk Song Style and Culture (Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1968).

6Cf. the interesting discussion in Alan P. Merriam, The Anthropology of Music (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 85-101.

7as witness the following:

Otto Gombosi, "Key, Mode, Species," Journal of the American Musicological Society, 4, No. 1 (Spring, 1951), 20-26.

Harold S. Powers, "Mode and Raga," Musical Quarterly, 44, 448-60.

R.P. Winnington-Ingram, Mode in Ancient Greek Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936; rpt. 1968).

8as Powers points out in the above-mentioned article, no Western construct can even approximate the complex nature of a raga.

9from The Harmonics [Oliver Strunk, ed., Source Readings in Music History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1950), 32-33.]

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