« PreviousContinue »
Master Aphron came hither also, who, falling to discourse of musick, was in an argument so quickly taken up and hotly pursued by Eudoxus and Calergus, two kinsmen of Master Sophobulus, as in his own art he was overthrowne; but he still sticking in his opinion, the two gentlemen requested me to examine his reasons and confute them; but I refusing and pretending ignorance, the whole company condemned me of discurtesie, being fully persuaded that I had been as skilfull in that art as they took me to be learned in others: but supper being ended, and musick books, according to the custom, being brought to the table, the mistress of the house presented me with a part, earnestly requesting me to sing; but when, after many excuses, I protested unfainedly that I could not, everie one began to wonder: yea, some whispered to others demanding how I was brought up. So that, upon shame of mine ignorance, I goe now to seek out mine old friende Master Gnorimus, to make myself his scholler.”
The rule in those days has unfortunately now become the exception; hence the greater need for following the example of Philomathes. Progressing, however, in many other respects, we have much reason to be thankful for the incomparable advantages we now possess, which were utterly unknown and unthought of in "the good old times” that are gone; and yet, is it not for that reason the more sad to mark our degeneracy in this particular?
The greatest musician of the next century,—with its many distinguished composers, such as Arne, Boyce, Jackson, &c.,--and immeasurably the greatest musician that England has ever produced, was Henry Purcell, who was born at Westminster, in A.D. 1658. In many respects he resembled Mozart, displaying that precocious genius which is more frequently to be met with in music than in any other of the arts, exhibiting the same versatility in many varied styles of composition, with the difference of his music being vocal instead of instrumental; lie also died at the same early age. Many of his early compositions are still sung in our cathedrals. At eighteen years of age, he was appointed organist to Westminster Abbey. At twenty-four, he was advanced to be an organist of the Chapel Royal. His noblest sacred compositions are the “Te Deum," and "Jubilate.” Many of his finest anthems are preserved in Dr. Boyce's collection of cathedral music, and all have subsequently been collected and published by Novello.
His music is marvellous for its strange, wild beauty, as in the air “Come unto those yellow sands," and in the song and chorus of invisible spirits, “Full fathom five," from The Tempest; in the songs for Dryden's “King Arthur;” “The Fairy Queen” from the Midsummer Night's Dream; “Don Quixote;" and “Boadicea.” His “Cantatus” “Mad Bess," with its abrupt and affecting changes of time, and “From Rosy Bowers;" these, together with numerous airs, overtures, interludes, mad songs, duets, rounds, catches, &c., stand altogether unrivalled in their own peculiar excellences. Purcell alone seems to have realized the enchanted isle, and enabled us to hear its “sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not."
Instrumentation, which is constantly varying, was at that period but little understood; hence his music depends for effect almost entirely on the voice, and is thus rendered more independent. The draperies are so simple,
that they are less subject to change of fashion. “Purcell's genius,” says Dr. Burney, “ though less cultivated and polished, was equal to that of the greatest masters on the continent; and though his dramatic style and recitative were formed, in a great measure, on French models, there is a latent power and force in his expression of English words, whatever be the subject, that will make an unprejudiced native of this island feel more than all the elegance, grace, and refinement of modern music less happily applied can do; and this pleasure is communicated to us, not by the symmetry or rhythm of modern melody, but by his having tuned to the true accents of our mother tongue those notes of passion, which an inhabitant of this island would breathe in such situations as the words describe. And, these indigenous expressions of passion, Purcell had the power to enforce, by the energy of modulation, which, on some occasions, was bold, affecting, and sublime. ..Handel, who flourished in a less barbarous age for his art, has been acknowledged Purcell's superior in many particulars; but in none more than the art and grandeur of his choruses, the harmony and texture of his organ fugues, as well as his great style of playing that instrument, the majesty of his grand concertos, the ingenuity of his accompaniments to his songs and choruses, and even in the general melody of the airs themselves. Yet, in the accent, passion and expression of English words, the vocal music of Purcell is sometimes, to my feelings, as superior to Handel's as an original poem to a translation."
He was buried in Westminster Abbey, and the following beautiful inscription, from the pen of Dryden, graces his monument:
HENRY PURCELL, ESQ.,
WHO LEFT THIS LIFE
AND IS GONE TO THAT BLESSED PLACE
OBIIT 21 MO. DIE NOVEMBRIS,
We have recognized the Theban cart, with certain modifications, in the mysteries, moralities, or miracle plays of the middle ages. To this same source, through successive stages, we can trace the modern Drama, the Opera, and the Oratorio; the distinction having been gradually drawn between sacred and profane, and scenic representation at length dispensed with, as inconsistent with the sublimities of the former, we have productions such as the “Messiah ” of Handel, or the “Elijah ” of Mendelssohn. In the regular drama, action is allowed to predominate; in the opera, music forms the chief attraction-the libretto, and all the accessories being regarded only as a subordinate medium for the expression of musical thought. The same germ enfolds. Purcell's Shakspere music, and the magnificent instrumental epoch of Germany from Haydn to Mendelssohn, probably culminating in the “Don Giovanni” of Mozart.
It is interesting to note successive styles which have prevailed, the modifications introduced by the various masters, and in how far these led, or were led, by the tastes and necessities of the respective ages in which they lived. Thus to Peri, Monteverde, Carissimi, and several others, as is well known, may be ascribed. the recitative ; to Cavalli, Cesti, &c., the dramatic melody; to
Perti, Colonna, Scarlatti, Leo, and their followers, science; to Porpora, Vinci, Durante, Pergolesi, and other pupils of Scarlatti, expression ; to Glück, the lyrical drama, or the application of dramatic rules involving time, place, and “the unities”-to music as well as words, rendering the one an exponent of the other. Wieland once remarked that “Glück fulfilled one of the finest maxims of Pythagoras in preferring the Muses to the Syrens.” This, however, is only partially true. Many of his airs, simple, graceful, and sweet, deserve to be and probably soon will become better known.And, lastly, we have the great instrumental epoch of the dramatic symphony in Germany.
In the manners and customs, the arts and language of a people, many legible and characteristic traits stand spontaneously or unconsciously self-recorded; and all these bear a certain relation to each other. Here, too, as is, in a higher sense, said of nations and individuals, ' by their fruits ye shall know them.”
National music forms no exception to this universal rule. To illustrate the scope of our proposition, take an example from language as applied to morals :-The word honesty (honneteté) implies civility in France, and probity in England; or another, virtus, valour in Latin, and virtue in English;? while in Italian, virtuoso (a virtuous person) has come to signify one accomplished
1 That of “ Pylades," from his “Iphigenie en Tauride,” is very lovely.
* Kossuth, the great Hungarian exile, instances three words“Gemüth,” “Esprit,” and “Common Sense”-as peculiar respectively to the German, French, and English languages. Each word is so thoroughly characteristic of these nations, as to be quite untranslatable, possessing no equivalent in the language of the other.