THE MUSIC OF THE BIBLE - With an account of the Development of Modern Musical Instruments from Ancient Types. By John Stainer, M.A., MUS. DOC.MAGD, COLL., OXON. New Edition. - Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.: LONDON, PARIS & NEW YORK. 1882. (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.) - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram, 2005.


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THE universal usage of musical instruments of this class renders it difficult to reduce an account of them to reasonable limits. It will be well to state at once that in all probability the word pipe— the αὐλός of the Greeks, the tibia of the Romans— included two important divisions of modern instruments: namely, reed instruments, such as the oboe or clarinet; or simple flue pipes, such as the flute. That this must have been the case is evident from the fact, that while there is unquestionable evidence that many ancient instruments had reeds, no special name is set apart for them as opposed to open tubes without reeds. The very existence of the word γλωσσόκομον (tongue-box) [This word, it will be remembered, is used in St. John .6 and i.29, where it is translated hag ; but it is quite possible that Judas Iscariot carried the money in a "reed-box," as implied by the Greek text.] shows that the player was accustomed to carry his tongues or reeds separately from his instrument, just as our modern oboists and clarinettists do. It must also be borne in mind that both oboe and clarinet are children of one parent, and did not become distinct classes until the early part of the last century, the parent name being chalumeau, from the Latin calamus, Greek κάλαμος, a cane or reed. But when chalumeau is translated "a reed-pipe," it must not be forgotten that the term is applied to the material of which the pipe is made (a cane), and not, as we always apply the term now, to a pipe containing a reed or tongue. Hence it will be seen that we are no nearer the discovery of distinctive names for these two classes of instruments, even when their parent stock is found. It may be worth mentioning that the real difference between an oboe and a clarinet is, that the former has a double tongue which vibrates, the latter a single tongue. top

The derivations of some of the ancient names of flutes are very interesting: khalil or hahil, from a root signifying "pierced" or "bored"; tibia (Lat.), from the fact that it was often made of a shin-bone; aulos (αὐλός), from the root ἄω, αὔω, "to blow," exactly corresponding to our flute, from the Lat. flo, "to blow," as also flageolet, from flatus ; calamus (κάλαμος), chalumeau, from the material, just as the Arabian flute is called nay, "a reed," of which the Arabs have as many as ten varieties; there was also a small Phoenician flute called gingra (γύγγρα), which is probably connected with Sanskrit gri, "to sound."

Was the khalil a flute or oboe? Probably the latter. There is evidence from many sources that the Hebrews had oboes (see Lightfoot, who speaks, in his Temple Service, of oboes being used once in each month), and there seems to be no good reason for believing that they had a distinctive term for them. Jahn thinks it probable that they were very similar to the zamr of the Arabs, of which there are three kinds, not differing essentially from each other, but only in size and pitch, the largest being called zamr-al-kebyr ; the middle sized, as being most commonly used, zamr ; and the smallest zamr-el-soghayr.

Fig. 46 shows two of these. It is probably known to the reader that large and small oboes have always existed, and are in use at the present day. Two sorts are used in the score of Bach's Passion Music (according to St. Matthew), called respectively oboe d'amor (the love oboe), and oboe di caccia (hunting-oboe); the part of the former, the smaller of the two, can be, and generally is, played on the common oboe; that of the latter on the tenor oboe or tenoroon, commonly but very improperly termed corno-inglese, or the English horn. This last instrument does not terminate in a direct bell or pavilion, like those shown in Fig. 46, but has an upward turn, a form which, curiously enough, is found depicted on monuments two thousand years old. top

Of the pipes without reeds, like our flutes, there always have been two kinds: one played by blowing in one end, hence held straight in front of the performer; the other played by blowing in a hole in the side, hence held sideways. The former was called the flute a bee, that is, the flute with a beak; the latter, flauto traverse, that is, the oblique flute, or flute played crossways.

Fig. 47 is an illustration of a flute a bee in possession of the author, which was brought from Egypt by a musical friend.

It was carried by a Mahometan pilgrim, who vowed that he valued it more than anything he owned, but he was very willing to part with it at the sight of a small sum of money. It is of cane, and is rudely ornamented with simple patterns. It seems closely allied to the soujfarah of the Arabs.

Fig. 48.

The next illustration (Fig. 48) shows an ancient Egyptian flaitto traverse ox piffera di canna (reed-flute), as it is described, in the museum at Florence.

These instruments seem, judging from the specimens found in Egyptian sculpture or frescoes, to have been of various lengths, sometimes far exceeding the size of the flute commonly used in our orchestras. This goes to prove that this nation was wise enough to make use of a family of flutes, just as we use a family of viols. And there are many musicians who think that we lose much by thus excluding flutes of deep sonority. Within the last few years an attempt has been made to revive these instruments, a concert having been given in London at which a quartet was played by four flutes, treble, alto, tenor, and bass.

Fig. 49 represents an Egyptian playing on one of these oblique flutes. The attitude will not strike a modern flautist as being either comfortable or convenient, but there is no accounting for the conventionalities of art. One thing the ancients lacked which has been of inestimable benefit to us, the use of keys— that is, a simple system of leverage by which holes in the instrument quite out of reach of the length of the ordinary human five fingers can be brought completely under control, and can be closed or opened without any great disturbance of the position of the hand. The thumb, which could not possibly close a hole at the top of the instrument in former times, is now able to do so. Thus both the compass of the instrument and the ease with which it can be manipulated have been largely increased.

It must not be supposed that such improvements have been rapidly created. They are of our own time, invented by Gordon, perfected by the ingenious Boehm. It is strange that this oblique flute should have been of comparatively late revival in Europe. All who have seen copies of the music of the last century must have observed how particular writers were to call it the German flute, as if forsooth it had not been one of the chief elements of sweet music many thousand years previously! So often does it happen that mankind strives unwittingly after a supposed novelty, unaware that the same steps have been trodden before, the same results long since achieved.

Two ancient Greek flutes, found in a tomb, are preserved in the British Museum. Their great age renders the wood from which they were made extremely frail, and any rough usage would probably reduce them to dust. (Fig. 50.)

It is remarkable that flutes of the exact shape of these are not to be found on any known monument. Is it possible that sculptors were tempted to mould, if not an ideal form of instrument, one not of the commonest kind?

But be this as it may, the curved form of such instruments was very common in the Middle Ages. The cornetto airvo of the Italians seems to have been used in all European countries under different names. Two very beautiful instruments of this kind and shape were discovered in the cathedral of Christ Church, Oxford, when the muniment-room was being removed for the purposes of restoration. They were probably in use in the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth century. Like most cornetti curvi, they are made of wood, covered with black leather, but so admirable is the workmanship that a casual glance would lead any one to believe them to be of black wood. They have the usual number of holes, six above and one below, and are elegantly mounted in silver, on which are engraved the arms of the college. They doubtless were the chief support of the treble part, at funerals or any ceremonies where it was necessary to have a musical procession. In Germany (says Engel) they were still employed in the beginning of the eighteenth century (under the name zinken), when the town bands played chorales, on certain occasions, from the tower of their parish church. They were played with reeds, probably of the oboe or double kind. So, too, were these ancient Greek flutes (Fig. 50) reed instruments, but Fetis is of opinion that they had single tongues, like our clarinet, only he is inclined to think that the tongue was of metal, not of wood, because in a certain account given of a trial of musical skill, one player was unable to compete because the reed of his instrument was bent. But it is probably assuming too much to say that such an accident could not have happened to a wooden tongue, and that, therefore, brass was the material of which it was made. One thing however is certain, and that is, that in the earliest forms of calamus the reed would naturally be of cane, because it would be simply formed by an incision in the surface of the cane itself, similar to that made by boys in a piece of straw, when constructing that toy instrument dignified by pastoral poets by the name of "oaten pipe." It is remarkable that flauto traverso, or oblique flute, as shown in the Egyptian drawing (Fig. 49), is not to be found on any Assyrian or Chaldean monuments. If then the Jews used it, they must have adopted it from Egypt, which is also acknowledged to be the source from whence the Greeks obtained it. The khalil seems to have been used by the Jews on very similar occasions to those at which our ancient oboes played an important part, most often during seasons of pleasure, but sometimes also at funerals. Two pipes at least had to be played at the death of a wife. The pipers, it will be remembered, were bidden to "give place" by our Lord, when He said,

The maid is not dead, but sleepeth (Matt.ix.24).

One common use of the khalil was as an amusement and recreation when walking or travelling. The solitary shepherd would cheerily pipe as he traced out his long hill-side walks, and the path of the caravan could be traced by the shrill echoes ever and anon tossed from side to side as, at each new turn in its many windings, frowning rocks beat back the piercing sounds. Especially such was the case when thousands of persons were making those periodical journeys to Jerusalem, so rigidly prescribed by the law:

Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe (khalil) to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel. (

The joy of the people when the cry "God save king Solomon!" promised a peaceful and prosperous reign, was shown by their music:

the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them. (i Kings i.40).

The khalil is not so often mentioned in connection with the outpouring of prophetic gifts as instruments of the harp class; but yet when Samuel was describing to Saul how he should meet a company of prophets on his way to Gilgal, he described them as

coming down from the high place with a psaltery (nebel), and a tabret (toph), and a pipe (khalil), and a harp (kinnot) before them (i Sam.x.5).

But these instruments were elsewhere to be met with than at the solemn processions of holy men, for the prophet Isaiah, in denouncing the drunkards who "rise up early in the morning to follow strong drink," describes their wine feasts as being enlivened by the sounds of the iiebel, kinnor, toph, and khalil (Isa.v.12). The prophet Jeremiah, in showing the utter desolation and destruction of Moab, is inspired to say,

I will cause to cease in Moab, saith the Lord, him that offereth in the high places, and him that burneth incense to his gods. Therefore mine heart shall sound for Moab like pipes, and mine heart shall sound like pipes for the men of Kir-heres. ... There shall be lamentation generally upon all the house-tops of Moab, and in the streets thereof: for I have broken Moab like a vessel wherein is no plea­sure, saith the Lord. (Jer.xlviii.35, 36, 38).

Could any words describe more touchingly than these the degradation and loss of moral life which should overtake Moab? That it should be wept over as one dead, piped over as a corpse!

There is no direct evidence as to whether the Hebrews used the double-flute. It is quite certain they must liave been aware of its existence, because it was known to Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Chaldees before it found its way into Greece. So common is it in Roman and Greek sculpture and pottery, that all are familiar with its forms. The word nechiloth is understood by Jahn and Saalchiitz to mean the double-flute, but, on the other hand, many others consider nechiloth to be the collective term for wind instru­ments. Some consider that nekeb, which is derived from a root signifying "hollow," stands for the double-flute; but this word probably signifies the hollow place in which a gem is set [The close of Ezek.xxviii.13 should therefore be "the workmanship of the jewels, and the setting of the stones" (not "of thy tabrets and of thy pipes").]. The two tubes forming the double-flute were called oddly enough male and female, but more commonly right and left (dextra and sinistra). The former appellation, no doubt, refers to the fact that one tube produces a deep note, which served as a drone or bourdon, while on the other was played the tune. The difference in the pitch might easily have given rise to the comparison implied between the two names.

Such double-pipes are actually in use among the present inhabitants of Egypt. Two specimens, in the possession of the writer, are shown in Figs. 51 and 52.

That in the latter illustration has three loose pieces, which may be added at pleasure to the "drone" tube of the instrument for the purpose of adjusting it to the key of the tune to be played. That in the former has two similarly constructed pipes, so that a simple melody may be performed in two parts, much in the same way as on the double-flageolet, which at one time was somewhat popular in England, though now rarely seen or heard. Both examples are of the simplest construction. The material of which they are made (including the mouth­pieces and tongues) is of river-reed, cut into lengths, which have to be inserted into each other before use. To prevent accidental loss, the separate parts are connected by common waxed cord. These instruments are called arghool, and have distinguishing titles, according to the length of the drone-tube.

Figures 53-55.

In Fig. 53 the inequality in the length of the two pipes is very apparent.

Fig. 54 shows that they were sometimes used in Egyptian processions of a solemn character.

In Fig. 55 is shown the capistrum, which Greeks and Romans wore to give support to muscles of the cheeks and face whilst blowing. In modern orchestras we are perfectly content with the quantity of tone produced from our tube-instruments without the assistance of these head-bandages.

An Assyrian is shown playing upon the double-flute in Fig. 56. It is much to be regretted that no details as to the construction of these instruments can be gleaned from the ancient bas-reliefs. No attempt seems to have been made to mark even the position of the holes.

The use of the double-flute by nations with whom the Jews had constant intercourse having been shown, nothing more can be said. The reader must form his own opinion as to the probability of its being rightly enrolled amongst Hebrew musical instruments. The quality of tone produced by the reed-pipes was, probably, very coarse and shrill. Particular pains have been taken by modem instrument-makers to produce delicate-sounding oboes, clarinets, &c. And with regard to the open pipes, or flutes, of the ancients, it should be borne in mind that it must have been most difficult to produce a series of sounds, either similar in timbre or perfectly true in pitch, without the aid of keys.

Up to the last century, certain holes in the then existing flutes had to be only partially covered by the fingers in order to produce certain notes in turn. We must learn from this, not to place much confidence in conclusions drawn from actual experiments on old pipes. Suppose, for instance, it were attempted to discover the series of scale-sounds of such an instrument by placing it in the hands of a modern performer, it would be impossible to say whether any noticeable variations from known forms of the scale ought to be attributed to the intentional design of the instrument itself, or to our loss of those traditions which influenced its use. But we may have to say something about the musical scales of the ancients when speaking further on of the vocal music of the Hebrews.



This word is found in several passages of Holy Scripture associated with the toph or timbrel. In the Authorised Version it is almost always rendered by "dances" or "dancing:"—

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. (Exod.xv.20);

and again,

Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dames. (Judges xi.34).

In thus rendering machol, our translators have simply followed the Septuagint, in which the corresponding expression is έν τυμπάωοις καὶ χοροῖς; the same too in the Vulgate, "cum tympanis et choris." The German, like our own version, follows the Septuagint— "mit Pauken und Reigen," that is, "with drums and chain-dances," dances with linked hands. Although in modern German orchestral scores panken signifies "kettledrums," it must not be supposed that more is here meant than a common timbrel. That dances took place on these and many other occasions in which timbrels were used there can be no doubt. But may not machol signify a small flute? If so, the expression with toph and machol would exactly correspond to our old English pipe and tabor, to the sounds of which instruments many a rustic dance was merrily footed. They are still the common accompaniment of village festivities in many parts of Europe. In some of the Pyrenean districts may be seen gathered on the green, round which their homesteads are clustered, the gaily attired villagers dancing to the sounds of a pipe which the seated musician plays with his left hand, while with his right hand he beats a sort of tambour, consisting of six strings stretched across a resonance-box, which rests upon his knees.

The arguments in favour of the theory that machol is a flute are founded on the fact that many authors, amongst them Pfeifer, consider the word itself to be derived from the same root as khalil, signifying, as before mentioned, "bored through;" and also that in the Syriac version the word is translated by rephaah, which is the name of a flute still to be found in Syria. On the other hand, some authors have traced khalil to a root hhalal, "to dance," and, of course, if this be a correct derivation, machol would more naturally signify a dance than a flute. Saalchiitz is of opinion that it implies a combination of music, poetry, and dancing, and is not the name of any special musical instrument. Much can be said in favour of this view. We have words in our own language which have a very similar meaning; for instance, roundelay, which may be taken as a song, a dance, or a piece of poetry. But there seems to be but little necessity for forcing such a mixed meaning from the word machol. To say that on a joyous occasion men or women went forth with "pipe and tabret," is enough to imply that they danced; and therefore, if our translators would have more properly rendered machol by a "pipe," they have nonetheless conveyed the real sense of the context by rendering it "dancing." But by assuming the former of these interpretations much force is given to that beautiful passage in the Book of Lamentations (v.15);

The joy of our heart is ceased; our pipe is turned into mourning.

The Psalmist in his joy uses just the converse of this expression, in

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing (machol) : thou hast put off my sack­cloth, and girded me with gladness.

So does the prophet, joying over the restoration of Israel (Jer.xxxi.4 and 13). The only other passage in which the Psalmist uses the word is in

Praise him with the timbrel and dance.

It was the noise of the pipe and tabret which Moses heard as he descended the holy mount to find the people, whom Jehovah had but just highly honoured by the giving of the Law, dancing round a golden calf. We may, then, for two reasons believe the machol to have been a flute used specially for dancing: first, because it is highly probable that an instrument was used in conjunction with the tabret; and next, because such a supposition does not exclude the idea of dancing, and in no case seems to do violence to the text.



A word allied both to khalil and machol occurs in the title of two Psalms (liii. and Ixxxviii.), the former being inscribed to the "chief musician upon Mahalath," the latter to the "chief musician upon Mahalath Leannoth." Each of these is called also a "Maschil," a title generally thought to designate a poem of a moral or typical import.

Sing ye a maschil with the understanding,

sings the Psalmist in Ps.xlvii.7. Many learned writers trace mahalath to the same root as khalil  "perforated," "bored"). If a musical direction, then, this word clearly points out the class of instruments which is to accompany the singers of the psalm—namely, khalil. The addition leannoth, from the fact that it means "to answer," most probably is a special order for an antiphonal treatment.