07 August 2009

music in foreign languages

Ok so obviously I've been on a Sound-of-Music-in-translation kick.
Which got me wondering about solfege in foreign languages. (Which reminded me of the conversation about which the previous post was.)

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti
(with a chromatic scale of ascending di, ri, fi, si, li
and descending te, le, se, me, ra)

First of all, where did this come from?
In the eleventh century, the music theorist Guido of Arezzo developed a six-note ascending scale that went as follows: ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la. A seventh note, "si" was added shortly after. The notes were taken from the first verse of a Latin hymn below (where the sounds fell on the scale), and later
"ut" and "si" were changed to flow with the other notes.

Ut queant laxis resonāre fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

Some people think that the real origin is from the Arabs (dal, ra, mim, fa, sad, lam, ta) from back in the Middle Ages. Either way.

Is solfege international?
In the Romance countries of Europe and Latin America, these seven syllables have come to be used to name the notes of the scale, instead of the letters C, D, E, F, G, A and B. (For example, they would say, "Beethoven's ninth symphony is in Re minor". Weirdos.)

In Germanic countries, the letters are used for this purpose, and the solfège syllables are encountered only for their use in sight-singing and ear training. (We would say, "Beethoven's ninth symphony is in D minor".)

Japan uses traditional kana order (iroha) to correspond to Anglo-American note names.


In Anglo-Saxon countries, "si" was changed to "ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter.

I didn't know

in some countries, "do" always corresponds to C, "re" D, etc. This is the case in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, Romania and Latin American countries, as well as countries such as China, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Israel and Japan.

When I learned, I learned

not that C was always "do" but that the tonic was "do" and you just moved up from there. It seems that in Australia, Ireland, the UK, the USA, the Hong Kong SAR and English-speaking Canada that's the way they learn it. Wiki says it's called "moveable do" and that originally it was used throughout continental Europe as well, but in the mid-nineteenth century was phased out by fixed do in Romance countries.


yes, solfege is international, yet its usage varies between the two methods. Of course, there is controversy over which method is better.


Chela said...

heidenkind just posted a comment on your weblog entry: "music in foreign languages"

Very interesting! I was told in grade school that the musical "language" was universal, but obviously not (not really surprise). And I did always wonder where so, la, mi, etc. came from.

Chela said...

anaraug just posted a comment on your weblog entry: "music in foreign languages"

When I first learned solfege, I was inquisitive enough to do the research and discover both the moveable and unmoveable versions. I was actually under the impression that both were used in the US, just in different contexts. Of course, solfege is kid stuff anyway. :P

What's more interesting, IMO, is that the German letter notation appears to predate the American one. (That is, German H = B, German B = Bb). A little bit on it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accidental_(music)#History_of_notation_of_accidentals

What I find most bizzare is that there's no mention of /interval/ names across cultures in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_(music) except for a sentence about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swara at the bottom. Maybe it's just not a good article though.