Complete Encyclopaedia of Music/A/Accent

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Accent. A term applicable to every modulation of the voice, both in speaking and singing a swelling of sounds for the purpose of variety or expression. There are a great variety of accents, but we speak particularly of the musical accent It is to the study of this anima vocis, as Diomedes so justly calls it, that the composer and performer should unceasingly apply himself ; since without accent there can be no music, because without ac-cent there can be no expression. Much controversy has arisen concerning both the origin and the use of the accent. The Jews, in all probability, made use of it to distinguish the sense, as well as to regulate the musical cadence or melody ; they undoubtedly sang instead of reading the Scriptures in their synagogues. The Chinese and Siamese are noted for the musical accent with which they speak ; they pay great attention to accent - the Chinese from necessity, since YA in their language means God, a wall, excellent, stupidity, and a goose ; so that it depends entirely upon the accent what they say. The names which the Greeks gave their accents prove that their effect was musical, consisting in a variation of the tone of voice in respect to acuteness and gravity. The ancients instituted academies for the management of the voice ; and some of' them, when declaiming in public, it is said, were accustomed to have a musician stationed behind them, in order to regulate the tones of the voice by a pipe or flute. Many passages might be cited from Cicero, Quinctilian, Boethius, and Plutarch, in order to prove that not only musicians, but others, had a notation, by which the inflections of the voice peculiar to their several professions of' singing, &c., were ascertained. Mr. Steele ascertained that very minute intervals could be accurately marked for the purpose of ascertaining the most effective inflections of' the voice. He was also able to imitate, upon a violoncello, the exact tone of the voice in declamation, as it naturally passe. from grave to acute, and from acute to grave, and to expreess it in writing. With a finger on the fourth string of a violoncello, and a corresponding motion of the bow, he imitated the precise tone of speech, by rapidly sliding the finger up and down the string, so as to produce a continued transition of the sound from acute to grave, or the contrary. This kind of musical tone is very different from any succession of' notes in the diatonic, chromatic, or even enharmonic scales ; for these all consist of intervals, or sudden starts from tone to tone. But the music of' declamation is a continual and in-sensible gliding upwards or downwards, without any sudden transitions of tone. It is, however, perfectly susceptible of notation, and on principles altogether analogous to our common method of writing music, as was shown by Mr. Steele, who, to denote this kind of melody, inscribed on the staff' of five lines, instead of crotchets and quavers, a set of right lines obliquely ascending or descending through a space, corresponding to the musical interval, through which the voice naturally glides in speaking. These sliding notes or marks of declamation, when taken out of the staff, are the exact representations of the ancient ac-cents. Mr. Steele made considerable progress in analyzing and recording the melody of speech, and could repeat a sentence as correctly as if it had been set to music. There is a musical accentuation observable in all pleasing declamation. When we utter the interjection Oh ! under the strong impression of wonder or surprise, we use a circumflex musical slide, first ascending and then descending through no less an interval than a whole octave, thus:—

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f \time 2/1 d''1( d') } \addlyrics { O—h! }

When the musical accent denotes sorrow, the tone of the voice continues all the while at the same pitch; for it is the natural character of grief to be monotonous. An accented syllable may be long or short. When the stress is laid upon the vowel, as in GLO-ry, FA-ther, Ho-ly, &c., the syllable is long; when upon the consonant, as in habit, bat-tle, bor-row, &c., the syllable is short. In music, generally speaking, the notes or parts of a bar on which the emphasis naturally falls are said to be accented. In common time, whether vocal or instrumental, the first and third parts of a bar arc accented; and in triple time, the first and last note, as will be shown hereafter. Accent is the arithmetical order by which the contents of a bar are divided and arranged. Although the principles of the accent belong chiefly to the composer, yet the performer ought not to be unacquainted with them. To accent is to utter a note or syllable with a particular stress or modulation of voice ; it is a swelling of sounds, for the purpose of variety or expression. The accented and unaccented parts of a bar in the several measures may be seen in the following examples. In the sign of

{ \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 s4 \once \numericTimeSignature \time 4/4 s4 \time 2/2 s4 s4 }

the first note is accented, the second unaccented, the third accented, and the fourth unaccented, thus:—

{ \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f \time 4/4 a'4^"A." a'^"U." a'^"A." a'^"U." |
  d''^"A." d''^"U." d''^"A." d''^"U." | c''^"A." c''^"U." c''^"A." c''^"U." }

In the examples, A. stands for Accented, U. for Unaccented.

In the sign of 2 or 2/4, the first note is accented, and the second unaccented, thus:—

{ \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f \time 2/4 d''4^"A." d''^"U." |
  d''8^"A." c'' d''^"U." c'' | g'4^"A." g'^"U." | \time 2/2
  c''2^"A." c''^"U." | g'^"A." g'^"U." }

In the signs of 3/2, 3/4, 3/8, the first note is accented, the second unaccented, and the third accented.

{ \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f \clef bass
  \time 3/2 e2^"A." e^"U." e^"A." | f^"A." f^"U." f^"A." |
  \time 3/4 f4^"A." e^"U." f^"A." |
  \time 3/8 b8^"A." b^"U." b^"A." | b^"A." a^"U." g^"A." }

In the signs of 6/4, 6/8 the first and third notes are accented, the second unaccented, the fourth and sixth accented, and the fifth unaccented.

{ \override Score.Clef #'stencil = ##f \clef bass
  \time 6/4 b,4^"A." b,^"U." b,^"A." f^"A." f^"U." f^"A." |
  \time 6/8 e8^"A." e^"U." e^"A." e^"A." f^"U." g^"A." | f^"A." f^"U." f^"A." g^"A." g^"U." g^"A." }

In the signs of 12/4, 12/8, the accents lie the order of 6/4 and 6/8. In the signs of 9/4, 9/8, the accents lie in the order of 3/4 and 3/8.

The terms accented and unaccented strictly require no difference in the strength of tone. In vocal music, if any difference be allowed, it must arise from the pronunciation of accented and unaccented syllables. Accent is a certain modulation or warbling of the sounds to express passion ; either naturally by the voice, or artificially by instruments. Every bar or measure is divided into the accented and unaccented parts; the former being the emphatical, on which the spirit of the music depends. The notes or parts of a bar on which the emphasis naturally falls are said to be accented. The tonic accents are intended to give the proper tone to syllables, and are divided into grammatical and musical. Upon accent the spirit of music depends. The harmony should be always full, and void of discords, in the accented parts of the measure. In the unaccented parts this is not so necessary, discords here passing without any great offence to the ear. In music, as in speech, we may designate several distinct kinds of accent. The grammatical or measure accent, the rhythmical accent, and the descriptive, or accent of feeling, are perhaps the most important of all the various kinds. Accent is a peculiar tone, or natural expression, given to certain parts of each measure in every species of time; and without accent there is no more melody in song than in the humming of a bee; and without the regular management of long and short syllables there can be no versification. There are as many different accents, or modes of enforcing or enfeebling the meaning of words, in music as in speech. There is a yes that says no, and a no that says yes. The voice of a feeling singer can modulate all these shades, and affect the hearer on the side of intellect as well as sense. Accent, in its primitive sense, is an affection of the voice, which gives each syllable of a word its due pitch, in respect to height or lowness. By accent we learn the manner in which sounds are uttered, without reference to their loudness or softness. The same note may be struck on a drum with a glove, or with a stick, but the accent will be entirely different. The natural accent of all instruments is different, but may be varied by certain methods of playing. This is particularly the case with the violin, upon which, by means of the bow, every variety of accent may be produced. As no characters have been adopted that will sufficiently express these vane-tie ,, is evident that accent must depend principally upon the taste and fancy of the performer. Accent is a modulation of the voice to express a passion. Every bar or measure is divided into accented and unaccented parts. The accented parts are the principal, being those intended chiefly to move and affect ; it is on these the spirit of the music depends. The beginning and middle, or the be-ginning of the first half of the bar, and the be-ginning of the latter half thereof, in common time, and the beginning or first of the three notes in triple time, are always the accented parts of the measure. In common time, the first and third crotchet of the bar are on the accented parts of the measure. In triple time. where the notes al-ways go by three and three, that which is the middle of every three is always unaccented; the first and last accented ; but the accent in the first is so much stronger, that in many cases the last is accounted as if it had no accent. The harmony is always to be full where the accent falls.

Every species of measure may be subdivided by accent according to the degree of rapidity in which it is performed ; and the weak part of any measure may be made emphatic at the pleasure of the composer. To this last species of effect may be referred all syncopated or driving notes. In psalm singing, the accent of the music should conform to the words, because words are often used entirely different from those adapted to the music. If the words require it, the accent may fall on the unaccented part of the measure. It is better, however, where it can be done, to alter the rhythm of the music so as to make it conform to the words. There is no way of giving expression to words but with accent, and without accent we cannot make music. All monotonous sounds are very disagreeable to the ear, and it is certain that the different degrees of loud and soft give the greatest pleasure to the ear.