Curt Sachs (German: [zaks]; June 29, 1881 – February 5, 1959) was a German-born but American-domiciled musicologist. He was one of the founders of modern organology (the study of musical instruments).
- The roots of music are more exposed in India than anywhere else. The Vedda in Ceylon possess the earliest stage of singing that we know, and the subsequent strata of primitive music are represented by the numberless tribes that in valleys and jungles took shelter from the raids of northern invaders. So far as this primitive music is concerned, the records are complete or at least could easily be completed if special attention were paid to the music of the ‘tribes’…[There are] hundreds of tribal styles…
- In the retinue of Buddhism, it had a decisive part in forming the musical style of the East, of China, Korea and Japan, and with Hindu settlers it penetrated what today is called Indo-China and the Malay Archipelago. There was a westbound exportation too. The fact, of little importance in itself, that an Indian was credited with having beaten the drum in Mohammed's military expeditions might at least be taken for a symbol of Indian influence on Islamic music. Although complete ignorance of ancient Iranian music forces us into conservation we are allowed to say that the system of melodic and rhythmic patterns characteristic of the Persian, Turkish and Arabian world, had existed in India as the rāgas and tālas more than a thousand years before it appeared in the sources of the Mohammedan Orient.
- The oldest preserved style, the classical Sino-Japanese Bugaku dances […are…] of Indian origin, and Chinese and Japanese music on the whole were under Indian influence in the second half of the first millennium A.D. And yet the most typical trait of Indian music, its sophisticated rhythmical patterns or tālas, had no chance in the East. In 860 A.D., someone wrote a treatise on drumming in China, with over one hundred ‘symphonies’ which doubtless were Indian tālas; but nothing came of this, and not one of the Far Eastern styles has preserved the slightest trace of such patterns. The three rhythms used in Tibetan orchestras, and kept up in percussion even when the other parts are silent, are obviously not Far Eastern, but deteriorated Indian patterns. The elaborate polyrhythm of Balinese cymbal players that Mr. Colin MePhee has recently described is not Far Eastern either.
- So vital in East Asiatic music is the delicate vacillation that dissolves the rigidity of pentatonic scales that all possible artifices have carefully been classified, named, and, by the syllabic symbols of their names, embodied in notation: ka (to quote the terms of Japanese koto players); that is, sharpening a note by pressing down the string beyond the bridge; niju oshi, sharpening by a whole tone; é, the subsequent sharpening of a note already plucked and heard; ké, sharpening it for just a moment and releasing the string into its initial vibration; yū, the same, but making the relapse very short before the following note is played; kaki, plucking two adjoining strings in rapid succession with the same finger; uchi, striking the strings beyond the bridges during long pauses; nagashi, a slide with the forefinger over the strings; and many others [….] Recent investigation has made clear that this tablature is a Chinese transcription of Sanskrit symbols used in India. Indeed, the graces of long zithers, unparalleled in East Asiatic music, are nothing else than the gamakas of India, imported with the sway of Buddhism during the Han Dynasty and given to the technique of Chinese zithers, which became the favorite instruments of meditative Buddhist priests and monks.
- The strange, never-ceasing drones used in the choral singing of Tibet belong in the Indian, not the Chinese sphere of Tibetan civilization.
- [In Siamese (Thai) music,] "the comparatively large share of drums, however, indicates the neighborhood of India"
- [In Burmese music,] "These penetrant oboes, which lead the melody instead of the tinkling gongs of Java and Bali, are definitely Indian. But still more Indian is the unparalleled drum chime of, normally, twenty-four carefully tuned drums, suspended inside the walls of a circular pen, which the player, squatting in the center, strikes with his bare hands in swift, toccata like melodies with stupendous technique and delicacy"
- [In respect of the Slendro or "male" scale in Indonesian music,] "It seems that the modes or, better, the melodies ascribed to the modes, matter today only from the standpoint of choosing the adequate time for performance: pieces in nem are to be played between seven and midnight; sanga is the right mode for the early morning between midnight and three and for the afternoon between noon and seven; manjura belongs to the hours between 3:00 A.M. and noon. This time table is unmistakably Indian. The name salendro points also to India. It probably stemmed from the Sumatran Salendra Dynasty, which ruled Java almost to the end of the first thousand years A.D. and had come from the Coromandel Coast in South India. Thus it might be wiser to connect slendro with ragas like madhyamāvati, mohana, or hamsadhvanī than with the Chinese scale"
- When we read in Bharata's classical book of the twenty-two microtones in ancient Indian octaves, of innumerable scales and modes, and of seventeen melodic patterns and their pentatonic and hexatonic alterations, we realize that music at, or even before, the beginning of the first century AD was by no means archaic. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that India's ancient music differed substantially from her modern music.
- The first iconographic record of the hand bell or ghaṇṭā is not conclusive. As late as the seventh century it is depicted in one of the caves at Aurangabad; yet five hundred years earlier, the greco-Syrian philosopher, Bardesanes, had related that while the Hindu priest prayed, he sounded the bell. It was small and tulip-shaped, with a thick clapper. As it was exclusively used by priests in the worship of Hindu divinities, the handle was finely decorated with religious symbols, such as Siva's trident, Vishnu's eagle or Hanuman, the king of the apes.
- [And here is what Sachs has to say about the 7-tone-22-shruti system of notes described in Bharata's text:] We know that two basic principles have shaped scales all over the world: the cyclic principle with its equal whole tones of 204 and semitones of 90 Cents, and the divisive principle with major whole tones of 204, minor whole tones of 182, and large semitones of 112 Cents. Bharata’s system derives from the divisive principle, and this, in turn, stems from stopped strings. But the earlier part of Indian antiquity had no stringed instrument except the open-stringed harp; no lute, no zither provided a fingerboard. India must have had the up-and-down principle, and it cannot but be hiding somewhere.
- China also passed on to Japan the ceremonial dances of India with their music, which were Japanized as the solemn and colorful Bugaku.
- [And here is what Sachs has to say about Bharata's ancient text the Natya-Shastra, which he agrees could be as early as the 4th century BCE and about which he tells us that it] "testifies to a well-established system of music in ancient India, with an elaborate theory of intervals, consonances, modes, melodic and rhythmic patterns". ... "Bharata's text was probably rehandled as early as antiquity, and it may confirm the idea that Bharata himself wrote his treatise much earlier" ... [He also tells us that this text establishes that it represents a stage where the] "slow transition from folk-song to art-song, from hundreds of tribal styles to one all-embracing music of India […] had long ago come to an end".