« AnteriorContinuar »
must be acquainted with this amiable young writer (West) from his correspondence with Gray, in the agreeable life of that polished poet which has been published by Mr. Mason All that is left of him was produced in sickness during a gradual decay : but there remain sufficient specimens of his genius, to render it probable that he would have obtained a conspicuous niche in the Temple of Fame, had a restoration to health, and longevity, been his portion.
[To be concluded in our next Number. ]
Art. IX. Melody the Soul of Music : an Essay towards the Improvement of the Musical Art : with an Appendix, containing an Account of an Invention. 8vo. pp. 82. Glasgow, printed at the Courier Office. 1798. This pamphlet is divided into three parts; of which the first relates to the
Theory of Melody; its Use and Corruption. The benevolence of the ingenious author seems equal to that of a father who is said, when on his death-bed, to have revealed to his son the invaluable secret, that “the wing of a hare was the best part of that favourite animal ;" for he kindly informs the public that melody is better than harmony, and that Scots tunes, and airs equally artless, never intended to be clothed with harmony, constitute all the music to which lovers of that art should listen, or which Artists themselves should cultivate.
Unluckily for his system, music is too highly cultivated in this country for professors to adopt such simplicity as this author wants, and which would save musicians infinite study, pains, and labour. Tunes of the nursery and the street are very pleasing, in their place, to those who voluntarily listen to them: but, at an opera, oratorio, or public concert, where the audience, among many that are equally ignorant of good composition and accurate performance, consists of others who are themselves good performers and good judges; they would not be contented with a bag-piper, or an ale-house Welshharper, though he should treat them with the grave simple airs to which our author seems so partial. Are Handel's elaborate and sublime choruses simple music? Do the exquisite slow movements in Haydn's admirable symphonies, or the graceful and pathetic airs in the operas of Sacchini and Paesiello, more resemble the incoherencies of a madman, than the persuasive and delightful eloquence of a moving orator ?'
The author has frequently quoted Dr. Burney, and some. times against himself. We have turned to the Doctor's history
of musić, and we find that he is as great an enemy to the abuse of complication and execution as this writer can be : but he distinguishes very properly, we think, between simplicity and rusticity. Science and dexterity in the performance of instruments are not to be abolished in order to flatter ignorance, and the uncultivated ears of one set of hearers only. The worthy Dr. Beattie is 'quoted by the essayist in favour of simplicity in music: but, though we respect his good taste in poetry, morality, and theology, yet, when he writes on the subject of music with little knowlege or experience in refined, polished, or learned compositions, and with strong prejudices in favour of the national music of his country, we cannot but regard his musical decisions as narrow and contracted. The public are too ready to suppose that persons who have excelled in one branch of art or science, which they have particularly cultivated, are indued with knowlege in others of which they are totally ignorant. Pope, Swift, and Johnson, deemed music so trivial an art that it degraded human nature, and they treated its votaries as fools :--but their ears were so defective, that a totally blind person was as well qualified to decide critically on painting, as these great writers were with respect to music. Dr. Beattie's ear is not physically defective, but preju. diced in favour of old ditties with which it has been fed.
What the author imagines in hearing the Cameronianis rant is as fanciful as seeing images in the fire, and good and bad fortune in coffee-grounds. However, music can scold and sooth; it can awaken various ideas and reminiscences ; it can paint: but it cannot reason.
More notes are certainly wanting in instruments than from the voice, in order to produce the same effects, and to exhibit the power and genius of an instrument such as a harpsichord, harp, or lute ; which cannot sing, that is, not sustain the sounds like a voice, violin, flute, or hautbois. Yet these can produce harmony, and give an idea of melody : but simple mélody on instruments of which the tones are transient has no other expression than loud and soft. Indeed, our ancestors cultivated no melody out of the church but vulgar old ballad tunes, such as our author wishes to monopolize the musical scale :--but, as this cultivation consisted of only multiplying notes on the virginal in variations of the most difficult and unmeaning kind, and in which no simplicity, passion, nor expression were ever attempted, they prove that something more was wanted than these tunes, even in the infancy of music.
We have heard, as well as the author of this essay, from very good authority, that Dr. Haydn was extremely affected by the mass of sound produced at St. Paul's by the charity
children. children. It should be remembered, however, that the aggregate of this unisonous and simple chorus was supported by at least 4000 voices of innocent and helpless orphans; the sight of whoin, and the ideas connected with them, helped the pathos which their united voices produced :--but can we hear such congregate sounds, and see such an infant assembly, every day? In the effects produced by the music of the antient Greeks, we may certainly conclude that collateral causes were laid under contribution.
Poetry does not lose so much by age as Melody, which is a mere child of fancy. The poetry of Milton, Dryden, and Pope, is now in as high estimation as ever; while the melodies of Henry Lawes, Dr. Blow, and Dr. Green, the favourites of their day, are become uncouth and vulgar.
We have no objection to such simple strains as our author desires, 'in the quiet hours of retirement;' only let him not oblige us to pay half a guinea for hearing them in public, at the oratorio, opera, or concerts. Indeed there is, always, for the hearers of these musical exhibitions, simple and easy music mixed with other compositions of a more elaborate kind; and so there should be, not only for contrast, but to suit the taste, science, and expectations of a mixed audience. The author may be assured that, if the undertakers of public musical per formances could have been equally patronized by the lovers of the art, for simple music, executed by simple performers, such as our own capital and provincial cities can supply, they would never have hazarded the expence of bringing over from remote kingdoms such able musicians as Handel, Bononcini, Bach, Sacchini, and Haydn, to compose ; nor Farinelli, Senesino, Faustini, Cuzzoni, Manzoli, Agujari, Pacchierotti, Marchesi, Mara, and Banti, to sing.
In p. 39, the writer is unfortunate in his assertion that even histories, particularly [that of] Herodotus, were written in verse, and publicly sung by a chorus, to the sound of instruments." This is new information indeed! We had always understood that Herodotus was the first Greek writer in prose. Nor is there any poetry in his history, except some Delphic verses, and Iwo or three quotations from Homer.
Part II. Sketch of Harmonymits Use-and Misapplication.
Nothing can more plainly prove the necessity of variety in the style and composition of music for public performance, than the complaints which the author urges in this chapter. The patrons of the antient school of composition speak of the modern as “thin, flimsy stuff; whipt-sillabub, without contrivance, and unsupported by harmony;" and here is a gentle. man who wapis harmony to be wholly thrown aside. Rousseau,
in one of his paradoxes, which he could make specious and so well support, has said * : “ When we reflect that, though the people of every quarter of the globe have music of some kind, yet that the Europeans only have harino?y or music in parts, it is very difficult not to suspect this harmony, with which we are so charmed, to be a barbarous Gothic invention, which we should never have wanted, if we had been gifted with more sensibility for the beauties of the art, for melody, and for music truly natural.”
Now to gain a little applause-or at least toleration—from both parties, what can a musician do, but court their favour. alternately, by the contrasts of pathetic and cheerful, hard and easy, full harmony and solo, complication and simplicity ? --and whoever goes to an oratorio, opera, or public concert, in the capital, will certainly be presented with all this variety. The Italians, our masters in the elegant refinements of the art, have long since divided their music into three several classes: Mu·sica di Chiesa, Musica Teatrale, Ego Musica di Camera; implying such composition as is suitable to the church, the stage; and the chamber ;--and corn being found, must we return to acorns? To Scots tunes, never intended to have even the har. mony of a simple base ? To Welsh tunes with variations? Ta English ballads, and tunes of the street and nursery ? For these, must music be made an art, il science, a profession, on the members of which our universities confer degrees ?-A composer who ceases to avail himself of the powers of harmony, since its laws have bech settled, would act as absurdly as an astronomer who determined never to observe the heavenly bodies with a telescope. PART III, Hints with a View to Improvement, drawn from the
preceding Parts. « If the expression of the passions, and affections of the mind, is to be considered as the chief excellence of music, the improvement of that expression must be allowed to be highly deserving of attention, It may be making one step to point out a method by which consistency of expression would be promoted, Might it not be useful, in this view, to fix upon some distinguishing classes or divisions of that pathetic expression? according to which musical pieces might be composed : such as, for example;
"1. Bold, courageous, magnanimous ;
4. Tender, plaintive, compassionate ; ! 5. Solemn, devotional.'
* Dict. de Mus. Art. Harmonica
The very classification here recommended has been long made and practised by the great dramatic composers of Italy ; and in chamber music, or such as is calculated for private concerts, or even solitary self-amusement, cantatas, solos, and single songs, may be instanced, in which the composer has found out and used such strains as will most ' forcibly excite those affections of the mind to which the class refers; and in which is admitted nothing, however sanctioned by custom, that has a tendency to destroy or confound the expression. The selections recommended, in p. 74, of musical compositions to suit different purposes or states of mind, are published every day in volumes of anthems, books of hymns, marches, hornpipes, country-dances, &c.
APPENDIX. Containing [an] Account of an Invention by the Author. This invention consists in doubling the number of strings on the violin, adding to each of the four usual open strings another thicker string, tuned an oitave below the sounds g, d, a, and e, to be acted upon by the finger and the bow at the same time, as if single strings.
The plan of self-accompaniment on the viol da gamba was carried to a considerable degree of perfection a few years ago, by the late exquisite performer, M. Lidl, nick-named Seventeen-string Fock; who, with infinite pains and difficulty, thumbed a base, pizzicato, with his thumb on strings placed behind the neck of his instrument, while the bow and his fingers acted as usual on the strings over the finger-board: but the execution of this Herculean labour in a concert, while two or three violoncellos and a harpsichord lie idle, is useless toil and ingenuity. The author of the invention now proposed may be assured that no good effect can be produced by loading the violin, and evesy melody which it plays, with octaves. It is a known fact among speculative musicians and instrumentmakers, that the resonance and vibration of every stringed, instrument are enfeebled in proportion to the pressure on the belly. Thus the unisons of a harpsichord or piano forte with only two strings are more powerful than the same two unisons, when an octave or 3d unison is added to them. The tone of a good violin would be ruined by the experiment, not only from additional pressure on the belly, but by the jarring of the duplicate strings arising from their vicinity during vibration; and if sufficiently separated to avoid that disagreeable effect, the finger. board must be widened; which would greatly incommode the performer, and render shifting a very hazardous operation. In a word, the vioLIN, the most perfect instrument