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The writer was once placed in the gallery of the Royal Exchange, to view that hive of money-collectors in the court below. Besides the similarity of the scene, he could not but notice the similarity of sound, the buzz of the two thousand voices being perceptibly amalgamated into the key of F. Many observations have led the author to the conclusion, that the most prevailing sounds in nature are to be referred to this key. Musicians, though not aware of this curious fact, have from all time been sensibly influenced by it. Scarcely an ancient composition appears in any other key, except its relative minor, for the first hundred years of the art.*
The lively note of the cricket is greatly admired by the country people; their dull and silent evenings are much enlivened by the chirp of this companion of the hearth. It consists of three notes in rhythm, always forming a triplet in the key of B:
This sound, according to Kirby and Spence, is produced by the insect rubbing his legs sharply together.
The grasshopper is of the same species, but his note is less powerful. If we can believe what is related by the ancients of this delicate creature, as a race of musicians they must have greatly degenerated. Plutarch tells us, that when Terpander was playing upon the lyre, at the Olympic games, and had enraptured his audience to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, a string of his lyre broke, and a cicāda, or grasshopper, immediately perched on the bridge, and, by its voice, supplied the loss of the string, and saved the fame of the musician, In Surinam the Dutch call them lyre-players, because the sound resembles those of a vibrating wire. Anacreon describes this creature as the emblem of felicity,—ever young and immortal, the offspring of Phæbus, and the darling of the Muses. The Athenians kept them in cages, for the sake of their song, and called them the nightingales of the nymphs. As in the case of birds, the males only sing; hence Xenarchus used to ascribe their happiness to their having silent wives. *
* In Queen Elizabeth's Virginal-book of four hundred folio pages, all the pieces are nearly confined to this key. There is not an instance of a sharp being placed at the clef.
Some of the smallest insects send forth noises in the night-time, which may be distinctly heard. The death-watch is a sound resembling the tick of a watch, which proceeds from a small spider. In the dead of the night, its performance much annoys you when dropping asleep. A nice ear, by attentive listening, will determine that the sound proceeds from two insects, probably the male and female calling to each other; as the writer detected one to be on the note B flat, and the other on G:
In the West Indies the giant cockroach is a noted reveller when the family are asleep. He makes a noise like a smart rapping of the knuckles on a table, three or four sometimes answering each other. On this account he is called the drummer; and they often beat up such a row, that none but good sleepers can rest for them.
The gnat, for his size, produces the most powerful and audible tone. He may be called the trumpeter of the insect orchestra. The clear and welldefined note which he makes, is on A in the second space.
In the night-time, on waking out of sleep, I have, at first, taken it for the sound of a post-horn at a remote distance. Had the ancients referred his note to a corresponding string upon the lyre, we should have had a clue to some of their musical scales, which at present lie hid in mystery. Naturalists differ in opinion as to the part of the insect which produces this sound.
Aristophanes, the Greek comedian, by way of ridicule, introduces Socrates debating this question with his scholars :
ανήρετ' αυτόν Χαιρεφών ο Σφηττιος,
κατά το στόμα άδειν, ή κατά τουρροπυγιον. -Vide 'The Clouds,' line 156.
This instrument claims but little of our attention when simply performing the bass part to a composition, that being an employ too menial for an exhibition of its powers. Like the violin, its most striking properties are to be shown upon the first and fourth string. Corelli, in the whole of his sonatas, has scarcely touched the lowest chord, upon which Beethoven has wrought such dark effects.* The tone of the first string is plaintive, and full of sensibility; and, when used in solo, has a charm of voice that is delightful. The writer was present at a grand ballet in the Academy of Music at Paris, in which the twelve violoncellos took the air in all the minor movements, accompanied by the violins, violas, and double basses. The effect was singularly beautiful, and not to be described for its touching melancholy.
* Cherubini has a most striking passage for the lowest string in the overture to Les deux Journées.