« AnteriorContinuar »
We may admire their science and the ingenious contrivance of their compositions, but we will venture to say that the works of Handel alone contain, united with an equal degree of science; more melody, feeling, and expression, and intinitely more of every thing that is lovely and impassioned in music, than is to be found in all their works. It is, however, unnecessary to contest this point, at least while we are speaking of the rapid progress of music, because if in truth it did arrive at its greatest perfection at the period to which Sir John Hawkins alludes, the space of time which it required to bring it to maturity was less than we imagine, and its progress more remarkable. At all events, we believe there are few, except those who “love for antiquity's sake," who can admire any except the choral compositions of those days. The contemporary works of the poet and the painter still challenge our admiration; but who would care to hear performed " a fantasy for viols, or a monotonous ayre
with a tabla ture for the lute!" who would prefer “ choice ayres to synge to the theorbo" to the melodies of Handel or Pergolesi? In short, if we compare the progress of music during the three last centuries with that of other arts and sciences, we cannot but observe how much more rapidly it has proceeded, and it may not be wholly uninteresting to enquire into the reasons of its sudden advance.
During the infancy of music, those who cultivated it laboured under a disadvantage which was not felt by the professors of other sciences. They were forming and not reviving a science; and while the poet could take as his pattern productions on the verge of perfection, and the painter found among the relics of antiquity specimens, if not directly of his own art, yet of the sister art of sculpture, which are still considered as models of consummate excellence, the musician had no guide, and however music might have flourished in Greece and Rome, it was to bim as if it had never existed. In fact, it seems as if something had been saved from the wreck of taste and science for every one but him, self. Fragments of poetry, philosophy, oratory, metaphysics, medicine, and of most arts and sciences, were collected and preserved; and when their reedification was begum, materials were not wanting for their foundations; but music was irrecoverably lost. It was even worse than lost; for although nothing was saved which could be of practical use, yet the hallucinations of speculative musicians remained, and were eagerly embraced by those to whom learning was dear in proportion to the obscurity in which it was involved.
The information which has reached us respecting the music of the ancients is, in fact, so scanty, that we know not whether they had any idea of harmony; and although the better opinion seems to be that they had not, yet the question can never be decided, The works of antiquity on this subject which have come down to us are all theoretical, and if they do not fascinate in the present day, had such charms for our monkish ancestors that they oba tained for music a place in the circle of sciences. This, however, assisted its progress but little. It could not, indeed, be otherwise while the theory existed independently of the practice, and there was no art to which the science could be applied. The science which they studied instructed them how to divide the scale with mathematical accuracy; to discourse with a profusion of learned obscurity on the modes and tetrachords of the ancients, and the ratios of every interval, from the diapason to the comma; but it did not advance them one step in harmony, melody, or modulation. There was, as we have said, no practice to which the theory could be applied; and this is strictly true if we except the monotonous descant used in the church service. It was impose sible to form any connection between the rules of Ptolemy and Boethius, or the ecclesiastical modes and the modo lascivo of national music; and thus the science and practice of music were at an immeasurable distance from each other. The theorist looked with contempt on the minstrel, and the minstrel knew not that the theorist existed. While the cloistered pedant was splitting the scale and chastising his ear to the unnatural harmonies of the ancients, the vagrant minstrel was making his art subservient to his necessities, and gladly exchanging his music for sustenance. Under such circumstances a science could improve but slowly. No coalition could be expected between parties so opposite, and none ever was formed. At length the licentious vagrancy of practical musicians was checked by legal restraint, and practical music sunk lower than ever. Still, however, the theorist went on slowly, disporting himself with canto fermo, and occasionally relaxing into plain descant; but harmony long struggled to get free from the restraints of arithmetic and the ecclesiastical modes.
It is, in fact, to the church that we must look for the first dawn of music in this country; but even there, before the sixteenth century, we look in vain for any thing which would now be tolerated. And here we cannot help seeing the injury which music sustained from being made a mathematical science before it had become a practical art. The painter expects to be tried by the eye, and conceives of no higher appeal. It is in vain that his picture is strictly within the rules of perspective and proportion if the eye is displeased ; and when that is satisfied, the deviations from rules are admired rather than blamed, and considered less as the evidences of ignorance than as the characteristic eccentricities of genius. But with music during its ivfancy the case was different. Its professor before he had become acquainted with the nature of practical music (for, indeed, there was scarcely any with which to be acquainted) had learned the divisions of the scale, and knew what he was to consider as harmony. It is true that his ear might sometimes suggest a doubt; but it was soon removed by his monochord, and geometry and arithmetic demonstrated that comparative dissonance was perfect harmony. For this reason,
while a succession of naked fourthis was common and approved descant, the major third was almost entirely rejected, or only used as a licence. Under this disadvantage did music labour. Born in fetters and nursed in thraldom, it is not surprising that its infancy was long and weak, and that when at length it acquired some degree of liberty by the introduction of canto figurato and fugue, it should still have retained some of the infirmities of childhood. This, however, did not take place until about the beginning of the sixteenth century.
But what contributed infinitely more to set music free was the institution of the opera about a century afterwards.
The composer, instead of being able to cover his want of melody by crowded harmony and contrivance, was, by being obliged to write for a single voice and a character in action, compelled to attempt something like expression. He was, in a great measure, denied his old luxuries of fugue and canon, and obliged to turn his attention to the refinement of melody and modulation. over, two parties to satisfy; the learned, who required science; and the rest of the audience, who looked for character and expression. This amusement becoming popular, composers multiplied, and emulation was excited. Novelty was exacted; and although this was doubtless productive of much bad music, yet new effects were attempted, and the resources of composition were laid open; , new successions and combinations were hazarded, condemned by those who afterwards adopted them, and at length universally received.
Ant. XXII.-- De L'Allemagne. Par Madame La Baronne
de Staël Holstein. 3 Vols. 8vo. London. 1813. The distinguished lady whose work is now before us has already in this number been the subject of our praise and blame; neither of which may perhaps seem of importance enough to excite her attention, much less to influence her sentiments. The impression which this last production of Madame de Staël seems likely to make upon the public--a production which reaches from the centre to the utmost bounds of opinion, and dictates on all that most concerns human happiness with such authoritative
gracecould not fail of engaging us in an examination of its spirit and tendency. We offer this consideration to the reader as our excuse for bringing the literary character of this lady twice before him in the saine number of our Review. The bookseller who, in his advertisements of the work, has told us of the despotic dictum of those critics who have designated this lady as “ being beyond all comparison the first female writer of the age,” has, in addition to the efficacy of praise conveyed in language so imposing, known how to avail himself, with great adroitness, of the excitements which a tale of mystery and suppression is calculated to produce.
To the opinion so peremptorily pronounced, being not among the number of those who acknowledge themselves within the jurisdiction of the tribunal from which it issued, very little of the curiosity which we felt to peruse the promised publication is to be attributed; but we do own that we partook largely of the impatience universally felt to see what the irritable feelings of conscious usurpation would wince at in a work written on the manners, the society, the literature, and the philosophy of a foreign people. Having now perused the book, we are left in a state of stupid wonder at the motives which produced the interposition of the police on this occasion. The passages which the censors of Paris first required to be suppressed, before the brutal act of tearing the work into pieces was committed by the messengers of police, are marked by inverted commas. These passages are so perfectly innoxious and indifferent, that one would almost suspect that the censor, forgetting the tyrannical purpose of his review, insensibly assumed the mere office of literary critic, and thought only of retrenching what was useless and redundant. It would be a waste of time to frame conjectures as to the latent motives of captious tyranny; but we owe it to genius to declare, that the preservation of the work with all its blemishes, (and “ blemishes" is a soft word to designate some of its objectionable parts) was, under all circumstances, a truly interesting and important event in the intellectual history of man.
Though we will not say that Madame de Staël“ is beyond all comparison the first female writer of the age," (for there are female talents in our own country which we fear not to bring
into comparison with those of Madame de Staël, and which are only less dazzling because a calmer and holier aim has directed their application) we are decidedly of opinion that the work now before us is incomparably the best of the productions of Madame de Staël. It is full of rich, noble, and original thoughts, expressed in a style deep, clear, harmonious, and spirited, full of living grace and natural vigour. The character of the work is almost
wholly exempt from certain feminine marks, which, nevertheless, we are hardly disposed to censure in a female writer, and which, indeed, are too characteristic of what we love to become the subject of rigorous criticism. Her thoughts, which are all of the manly cast, flow with a rapid ease and self-confident unstudied strength, which belong rather to the robuster sex; while yet in the tone and temperament that distinguish the sentimental parts of the performance, something seems evidently borrowed, and happily borrowed from the softer composition of woman.
Of prejudices Madame de Staël has her full share. The new order of things appears to have taken powerful hold of her imagination, and the fanatical pretensions of German illumination seem to have survived in her mind the development of their dangerous tendencies.
To us it seems very paradoxical to ascribe the generous efforts which Germany bas recently been making to recover her independence to her systems of philosophy; this, however, is the language of Madame de Staël in the concluding passage of her preface. In this country we are disposed to adopt the reverse of this proposition, and to attribute the political concussions of these latter days, which have shaken so many empires to their foundations, and levelled the barriers of national independence, to the fatal union of visionary philosophy with political practice, from which the brood of jacobinism have burst into life, armed against the peace of nations, and the principles of social order. We cannot help thinking, in opposition to the opinion just alluded to, that the regeneration of political independence and security must be calculated according to a ratio inverse to the credit in which the philosophising spirit of these last forty years is held in Germany and Europe at large.
We shall have occasion in the course of this article to extend our remarks on this head; at present we shall confine ourselves to that part of the work in which the writer has sketched a portraiture of German society and manners, and which for vigour and colour, warmth and life, is not easy to be paralleled. In presuming to entertain doubts of the utility and dignity of German philosophy, we throw no reflections on the great body of the nation,