Sources of Our Knowledge.—When we study the music of the early period of the human race, we find no records such as we are storing today in our libraries. We must depend upon the discoveries of archæologists in the buried cities of early civilizations. Of contemporaneous books, properly speaking, tablets of music explaining the construction and methods of playing the musical instruments then in use we have few; if they exist they are in dead languages to which scholars are but slowly finding the key. It is true that some instruments have been found, but we can have no certainty that they are in perfect condition. The principal sources of the information we possess have been the paintings, decorations and sculptures on monuments and on the walls of buildings and tombs that have been unearthed. Early languages were largely pictorial, and records kept in this manner furnish us representations of the religious, martial, and social life of the early races.
Countries with a Musical Past.—The lands that offer the greatest field for the study of the music of the past are Chaldea or Babylonia and Egypt. Some of the old Greek cities, as well as cities in the western part of Asia Minor and Palestine, have been the subject of explorations. Still another country abounding in interest to the student of the music of the past is China, living, yet dead! What a contrast to Chaldea and Egypt! The civilization of the latter is dead; China, the older, is still living. These races had a common home, yet the former, having developed a high civilization and fulfilled its mission, disappeared from the face of the earth, while China, having also reached a high state of culture, has remained stagnant, all energies toward a higher level being arrested.
The Common Home of the Race.—Scientists place the cradle of the human race in the high plateau of Asia, extending from Persia eastward through Thibet and including part of Manchuria. The yellow race, according to some ethnologists, is the more akin to the primitive race; the other two, the white and the black, being derived from it by emigration, change of climate and mode of living. Van Aalst, the leading writer on Chinese Music, says that “the first invaders of China were a band of immigrants fighting their way among the aborigines and supposed to have come from the country south of the Caspian Sea.” It is outside the province of this work to detail the arguments that serve to show the connection of the Chinese with the other races mentioned. Berosus, the old Babylonian historian, writes: “There was originally in the land of Babylon a multitude of men of foreign race who had settled in Chaldea.” These men are known in history by the name of Akkads or Akkadians, “from the northern mountains,” Sumerians, from the “southern mountains”; that is, the highland ranges lying to the north and east of the Euphrates Valley. There were two main types among these tribes: a yellow, black-haired people, and a red type. The records show that migrations from this central home came about by reason of famines, plagues or floods. When did the black-haired, yellow people swarm off? When did the “red” people, from which Egyptian tradition claimed ancestry, go away? Probably the Chinese were the first to leave the central home, taking with them the elements of a considerable civilization, which also formed the basis of the later Chaldean, Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian cultures, and through various channels, of the Etrurian and Greek.
High Place of Music Among the Chinese.—The science of music had a high place in Chinese philosophy; the sages alone comprehend the canons, and the mandarins in music are considered superior to those in mathematics. Some most interesting dates are given, showing how early the Chinese had developed a science of music. We are told that in 2277 B. C., there were twenty-two writers on the dance and music, twenty-three on ancient music, twenty-four on playing the Kin and the Che, and twenty-five on construction of scales. These facts imply many years of previous development before the time when works treating of the science of music would be prepared. Confucius, the chief Chinese philosopher, wrote about ancient music in 551 B. C. Unfortunately, ancient records and books were almost entirely destroyed, 246 B. C., by order of the Emperor then on the throne; he excepted from this destruction only works on medicine, agriculture and divination. A comparison of recorded dates shows that the Chinese were writing learned works on the science of music when the Pharaohs were building the pyramids.