MELODY, in music, a succession of single tones so arranged as to express a musical thought. A solo for one instrument or voice with or without accompaniment is the most typical example of a melody.
Melody is one of the most comprehensive terms used in music, being properly applicable to as few as two notes or to as many as the entire principal vocal or instrumental part of a composition. An example of the first is the motif of woe in Wagner's (Der Ring des Nibelungs.' Examples of the latter are too numerous to require mention.
The term is also appropriately applied to a phrase or portion of a phrase in a part that has been subordinate to the principal one and which for a moment gains importance on account of its greater melodic significance. In concerted music, vocal or instrumental, the highest part is usually the melody, though as stated above an inner one may temporarily assume it. In polyphonic music all the parts are equally melodic.
Melody is the outgrowth of the improvised recitati f. The early Greek singer standing be fore his audiences holding his four-stringed lyre or chelys, xe)•ut plucked a string and re cited his poem on that note until fancy impelled him to change it. From this crude ancestor has sprung melody as we understand it to-day, which with rhythm and harmony form the great trinity necessary for the complete ex pression of music. Melody is the only one of the three capable of suggesting enough of the other two to be satisfactory by itself. The folk song of old and the popular song of to-day may be sung by a single voice without any accompaniment and yet convey a very definite idea of the rhythm and something of the har mony that would naturally accompany the tune.
Such a performance is, of course, incomplete and only effective in music of the simplest character. Yet it conveys much more than the mere rhythm of the tune played on a drum would give and still more than the mere har mony played without either the melody or the rhythm. It is curious that the Greeks with all their extraordinary achievements in all other forms of art should have advanced so little in music. No doubt they used music in their re ligious feasts and the cross flutes TrXayiavX0c and lyres supplied what they must have thought melody, but they do not seem to have ever dreamed of musical accent or rhythm, without which we cannot to-day call a succession of sounds melody, while harmony was unthought of for many centuries.
Melody is greatly affected by the harmony that the composer has wedded to it, and it is to this fact perhaps more than any other that originality continues possible, for with but 12 different notes from which to form a melody it is evident that even with all the variations that rhythm can add the melodic material is capable of exhaustion in the enormous and growing number of compositions. The follow ing phrases of melody, especially the first, have no particular suggestion played alone: but with the harmony that the composers have added they have an entirely different signifi cance, the one of the great solemnity and fore boding, the other of harsh cynicism and sneer ing.