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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, No. 327 by Various

Part 6 out of 6

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were all in the same attitude. To Cimabue succeeded his pupil, the
famous Giotto, who died in 1337. With him the ruggedness of his master's
manner was softened down, and considerable advances made towards a
better style. He was honourably received at many of the principal towns
and cities of Italy, and may, perhaps, be considered as the real founder
of their several schools; at all events, painters every where were long
the imitators of Giotto. His faults partook also of the character of the
age, and among other defects, the dry hardness of his works has given
rise to an opinion, that he partly formed his style upon the works of
the Pisani. Giotto and his school, indeed, conducted the art through
infancy, but it still exhibited many signs of childhood, especially in
chiara-oscuro, and even more so in perspective. Figures sometimes
appeared as if sliding from the canvass--buildings had not the true
point of view, and foreshortening was only rudely attempted. Stefano
Fiorentino, a _grandson_ of Giotto, was the first and only one of the
school who endeavoured to grapple with this last difficulty, which he
may be said to have perceived rather than overcome; his contemporaries,
for the most part, evaded it, and concealed their deficiency as they
could. Such is the summary of the merits of this school of art given by
Lanzi, who dates the commencement of the first epoch of modern painting
from the death of Giotto. In further illustration of the low state of
art in the early part of the fourteenth century, it may be observed,
that Lanzi also describes a great work of Masaccio, who flourished in
the succeeding century, as "beautiful _for those times_;" and that it
was not till the year 1410 that oil-painting was invented or improved
by Van-Eyck.

From this sketch of the history of the arts of music, sculpture, and
painting during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, will be seen
their state and condition, when the great work of the immortal Dante
took his country by surprise. The _Divina Comedia_ was written about the
year 1300. Its illustrious author, the creator of the national poetry of
his country, died in 1321, leaving behind him Petrarch, who was crowned
in the Capitol in 1341, and Boccaccio, who--though, as Byron said of
Scott, he spoiled his poetry by writing better prose--was nevertheless a
poet of no mean merit, and the probable inventor of the _ottava rima_.
Two centuries after the last of these parents of modern literature had
nearly elapsed, ere he who has been styled the Dante of the arts,
Michael Angelo, and his contemporaries, among whom were Leonardo da
Vinci and Raphael, appeared upon the stage. Thus language, the first
great want of man, the necessary instrument of reason, by which its
possessor is distinguished from the rest of creation, the vehicle of
human thoughts, the means by which man's wants, desires, griefs, and
joys, are communicated and made known, would seem to form the earliest
object of his attention. He enriches and improves it, till it is
rendered capable of expressing all the workings of his reason. This
done, genius and invention are applied to other pursuits; and in many
instances it may be, that the poet and the artist were but the creatures
of the age which produced them. Had he lived at a later period, Homer,
the great sire of song, might perhaps have shone the Phidias or the
Zeuxis of his day; or, had his birth been anticipated two hundred years,
the genius of "the Dante of the arts" might possibly have been displayed
in works like those which have immortalized Dante Alighieri. It is,
therefore, no inconsistency in the character of a people amongst whom
poetry is passionately admired, and books of all kinds eagerly devoured,
that the arts should be generally uncared-for and unknown. When another
century has passed away, their history may tell another tale, and the
powers of mind hitherto employed principally upon the physical sciences,
may have achieved like triumphs in the liberal arts. That this may be
the case, the past history of other nations affords every reason to
hope. What man has done, man may, and doubtless _will_, do again.

In the earlier ages of the world, music, in its rudest, simplest form,
is said to have stopped the flow of rivers, to have tamed wild beasts,
and to have raised the walls of cities; allegories which at least show
the prodigious influence the art possessed over the inhabitants of
infant Greece. In the course of time, love of the art was a national
characteristic of this people; and music became a specific in the hand
of the physician, a fundamental principle of public education, and the
medium of instruction in religion, morals, and the laws. The lyre may be
said to have ruled Greece, the glorious and the free, with the same
despotic sway with which the iron hand of tyranny has in our own day
governed her. Discord, and civil commotions arose among the
Lacedæmonians; Terpander came, and with his lyre at once appeased the
angry multitude. Among the Athenians it was forbidden, under pain of
death, to propose the conquest of the isle of Salamis; but the songs of
Solon raised a tumult amongst the people; they rose, compelled the
repeal of the obnoxious decree, and Salamis straightway fell. Was it
found necessary to civilize a wild and extensive province? Music was
employed for this desirable object; and Arcadia, before the habitation
of a fierce and savage people, became famed as the abode of happiness
and peace. Plutarch places the masters of tragedy--to which the modern
opera bears a great resemblance--on a level with the greatest captains:
nor did the people fail in gratitude to their benefactors; they held
their memory in veneration. The lyre of Orpheus was transplanted to the
skies, there to shine for countless ages; and divine honours were paid
to the name of Sappho.

The Greeks, although perhaps excelling all other nations in this, as in
the other arts, are not the only people among whom music was cultivated
and esteemed. Both China and Arabia are said to have felt its influence
upon their customs, manners, and institutions. The musical traditions of
China might seem to be but repetitions of the marvels of the Greeks.
King-lun, Kovei, and Pinmonkia, are said to have arrested the flow of
rivers, and to have caused the woods and forests, attracted by the
melody of their performance, to crowd around. The Chinese are said to
believe, that the ancient music of their country has drawn angels down
from heaven, and conjured up from hell departed souls: they also believe
that music can inspire men with the love of virtue, and cause them
faithfully to fulfil their several duties. Confucius says "to know if a
kingdom be well governed, and if the customs of its inhabitants be bad
or good, examine the musical taste which there prevails." There is still
extant a curious document, which shows the importance which a ruler of
this people attached to music, as a moral and political agent. We allude
to a proclamation of the Emperor Ngaiti, who ascended the throne of the
Celestial Empire in the year of the tenth æra 364. After complaining,
that tender, artificial, and effeminate strains inspire libertinism, he
proceeds, in severe terms, to order a reformation in these matters; the
first step to which, is a prohibition of every sort of music but that
which serves for war, and for the ceremony Tido. The Arabs also appear
to have held similar opinions as to the power of music. They boast of
Ishac, Kathab Al Moussouly, Alfarabi, and other musicians, whom they
relate to have worked miracles by their vocal and instrumental
performances. With the Arabs, music was interwoven with philosophy; and
their wise men imagined a marvellous relation to exist between
harmonious sounds and the operations of nature. Harmony was esteemed
the panacea, or universal remedy, in mental and even bodily affections;
in the tones of the lute were found medical recipes in almost all
diseases. Upon one occasion, in the presence of the grand vizier,
Alfarabi, accompanying his voice with an instrument, is related to have
roused a large assembly to an extreme pitch of joyful excitement, from
which he moved them to grief and tears, and then plunged all present
into a deep sleep, none having the power to resist the enchantment of
his performance.

The children of Israel cultivated music in the earliest periods of their
existence as a people. After the passage of the Red Sea, Moses, and his
sister Miriam, the prophetess, assembled two choruses, one of men, and
the other of women, with timbrels, who sang and danced. The facility
with which the instruments were collected on the spot, and with which
the choruses and dances were arranged and executed, necessarily implies
a skill in these exercises, which must have been acquired long before,
probably from the Egyptians. We have abundant evidence in Holy Writ, of
the high estimation in which music was held among the Hebrews at a later
period of their history. They also appear to have successfully applied
it to the cure of diseases. The whole of David's power over the disorder
of Saul may, without any miraculous intervention, be attributed to his
skilful performance upon the harp. In 1st Samuel, c. xvi., we read that
Saul's servants said unto him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God
troubleth thee: Let our lord now command thy servants, which are before
thee, to seek out a man who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall
come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall
play with his hand, and thou shalt be well." Saul having assented to
this proposal, the son of Jesse the Bethlemite was sent for, and stood
before him. "And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon
Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was
refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." So
great were the esteem and love for music among this people when David
ascended the throne, that we find that he appointed 4000 Levites to
praise the Lord with instruments, (1. Chron. c. xxiii.;) and that the
number of those that were _cunning_ in song, was two hundred four score
and eight, (c. xxv.) Solomon is related by Josephus to have made 200,000
trumpets, and 40,000 instruments of music, to praise God with. In the 2d
chapter of Ecclesiastes, music is mentioned by Solomon among the
vanities and follies in which he found no profit, in terms which show
how generally a cultivated taste was diffused among his subjects. "I gat
me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men,
as musical instruments, and that of all sorts." Many other passages of
similar import might be quoted from the sacred writings, and among
others, some from which it would appear that musicians marched in the
van of the Jewish armies, and not unfrequently contributed to the
victory by the animation of their strains; and that music was the
universal language of joy and lamentation. There is, however, one
portion of Holy Writ, which, from the highly interesting testimony it
incidentally bears to the love of music which prevailed in Jerusalem,
and the skill of her inhabitants, we cannot forbear to notice. We allude
to the 137th Psalm, "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when
we remembered thee, O Sion. As for our harps, we hanged them up upon the
trees that are therein. For they that led us away captive required of us
there a song and melody in our heaviness: Sing us one of the songs of
Sion." From the facts here narrated, we may judge how great was the
attachment of the Jewish people for the musical art; their beloved city
sacked, their temple plundered and destroyed, their homes desolate, in
the midst of danger and despair, deserted by their God, surrounded by
infuriated enemies, (Isaiah, xiii. 16.,) nevertheless their harps were
not forgotten. From this beautiful and pathetic lamentation, it would
also appear that the repute of Hebrew musicians was far extended. No
sooner had they arrived in the land of their captivity, than the
Chaldean conqueror required of them a song and melody in their
heaviness, demanding _one of the songs of Sion_. The fame of the
captives must have long preceded them, for, according to Dr Burney, the
art was then declining in Judea.

In the physical sciences, we have surpassed the nations who excelled in
music; in war we have equalled their most glorious feats; in poetry and
oratory we are not inferior. Shall not our future history also tell of
triumphs in the tuneful art? We believe that sooner or later, the time
will surely come when our country in her turn will boast of masters in
the art, whose memories will ever be preserved and hallowed. But
whatever the future may bring forth, the marvellous accounts of the
powers of ancient music will meet with little indulgence from modern
scepticism. At present such effects are unknown among us, and therefore
unintelligible. Among the early Greeks, for many centuries, the several
characters of poet, musician, lawgiver, and philosopher, were combined
in the same individual; and it is probable that the music of that period
consisted principally of recitative or musical declamation. This species
of composition, so utterly neglected and unknown to the English school,
possesses great powers of expression, both when in its simple form and
when accompanied. A modern example of the effects it is capable of is
recorded by Tartini. He relates, in the following terms, as one of many
similar instances which had come under his observation:--"In the 14th
year of the present century, (the 18th,) in the opera they were
performing at Ancona, there was at the beginning of the 3d act a line of
recitative, unaccompanied by any instruments but the bass, by which,
equally among the professors and the audience, was raised such and so
great a commotion of mind, that all looked in one another's faces, on
account of the evident change of colour which took place in each. The
effect was not that of grief, (I very well remember that the words
expressed indignation,) but that of a certain congealing and coldness of
the blood, which completely disturbed the mind. Thirteen times was the
drama repeated, and the same effect always followed universally; a
palpable sign of which was the deep previous silence with which the
audience prepared themselves to enjoy its effects.[14]"

[14] We may refer to this hereafter, and to show that _we_ at
least are not guilty of exaggeration, we subjoin the passage in
the original Italian, from which it will be seen that our
translation is as literal as possible.

"L'anno quatuor-decimo del secolo presente, nel dramma che si
rappresentava in Ancona, v'era, su'l principio dell' atto
terzo, una riga di recitativo, non accompagnato da altri
stromenti che dal basso; per cui, tanto in noi professori
quanto negli ascoltanti, si destava una tale e tanta commozione
di animo, che tutti si guardavano in faccia l'un l'altro, per
la evidente mutazione di colore che si faceva in ciascheduno di
noi. L'effetto non era di pianto (mi ricordo benissimo che le
parole erano di sdegno) ma di un certo rigore e freddo nel
sangue, che di fatto turbava l'animo. Tredici volte si recito
il dramma, e sempre segui l'effetto stesso universalmente: di
che era segno palpabile il sommo previo silenzio, con cui
l'uditorio tutto si apparechiava a goderne l'effetto."

The line of recitative has unfortunately not been preserved; nor is it
known what the opera, or whose the music, which produced an effect which
may not be inaptly described in the words of Byron:--

"An undefined and sudden thrill,
Which made the heart a moment still,
Then beat with quicker pulse."

The music of Allessandro Scarlatti was then current and universally
popular in Italy. This composer was particularly famous for the
excellence of his recitative; and his general merit may be judged of by
the fact, that he is placed by Arteaga, in his work on the revolutions
of the musical drama in Italy, among the early authors belonging to the
period which he terms the golden age of Italian music. On these grounds,
we may reasonably conclude, that he was the composer of that terrible
line of recitative.

We have ourselves also witnessed a somewhat similar example of the
powers of Italian recitative. Many of our readers, doubtless, have
witnessed Pasta's wonderful performance in Anna Bolena, who also may
remember Anna's exclamation, "Giudici ad Anna! ad Anna giudici!" when
Henry's intention of bringing her to trial is first made known to her.
Such was the fearful tone, of mingled horror, amaze, and wrathful
indignation, with which that greatest queen of tragic song gave out
these words, that, in a foreign land, we have on more than one occasion
observed some of the audience, as these fiery accents burst forth upon
them, to start, change colour, and almost shudder at the intensity of
the conflicting passions she exhibited. Much, nay most, of this was
undoubtedly owing to the genius of the songstress. We do but mention
these examples, to show how perfect a medium of musical expression and
dramatic effect, good recitative becomes, when adequately performed.
Still, the wonders related of ancient music--wonders not confined to one
age, one people, or to one quarter of the globe, but, on the contrary,
commencing at a remote period of man's history, including Jews, Chinese,
Arabs, and Greeks, amongst whose records their memory is preserved--will
meet with a cold assent from most; and perhaps few among us would be
found bold enough to avow a belief in their reality. We have certainly
no warrant for their truth in the powers or effects of our national
music, and thus experience directly contradicts the testimony of

On the same grounds, however, had no specimens of ancient handiwork been
preserved, we might also have doubted the excellence and beauty of any
of those works of art which, nevertheless, immortalized those by whose
hands they were fashioned. Were not the Dying Gladiator now before us,
it might, at this day, be deemed a monstrous supposition, that a statue
of a dying man should have existed, in which there might be seen how
much of life was left. Inferiority is ever sceptical and self-satisfied;
it is only given to the really wise to know how much lies hidden from
their view. Though the scope and object of all the imitative arts is the
same, to dignify, elevate, and embellish nature--though the beauty of
the ideal is the aim of the musician, equally as it is the aspiration of
the poet, painter, and the sculptor, the character of these pursuits is
in some respects essentially different. In the latter, material objects
are imitated and embellished, the things themselves are bodily before
the eyes, and the beauty and excellence of the work will appear by
comparison with nature herself. These arts also possess great landmarks
of taste and skill, which speak the same language to all ages. Of the
symmetry of the sculptor's chiselled forms, of the beauty of the poet's
or the painter's pictures, we have a standard in nature's own originals,
seldom, probably never, exhibiting the same concentration of refined and
elevated beauty in one individual object, but, nevertheless, furnishing
an accurate and never varying standard, for the exercise of the
judgement; while the heart, that inner world, ever uniform and
unchanging amid the manifold vicissitudes of human life, supplies a test
by which the poet's thoughts and sentiments may be correctly tried.
Thus, in the lapse of ages, the public taste has known no change; and
though more than 2000 years have passed away, the works of ancient
Greece are worshipped still.

It cannot, however, be imagined, that the music of those times could
have among us the same influence it possessed of old. It is no new
remark, that in no other branch of the imitative arts have the same
rapid and successive changes occurred, as are observed to have taken
place in music. From this fact, the following question naturally arises,
whether there are any fixed first principles of art, by adhering to
which, music might be produced which would please equally all ages and
amongst all people; or, in other words, whether the pleasure which music
brings, is the result of education, habit, or association, or an
inherent and necessary effect of any particular succession or
combination of sounds. We have thrown together the following
observations of Rousseau, which occur in several different portions of
his essay on the origin of languages, and which, though not made with
reference to this question, nevertheless appear to us conclusive upon
it. "As the feelings which a beautiful picture excites are not caused by
mere colour, so the empire which music possesses over our souls is not
the work of sound alone. All men love to listen to sweet sounds; but if
this love be not quickened by such melodious inflexions as are familiar
to the hearer, it cannot be converted into pleasure. Melody, such as, to
our taste, may be most beautiful, will have little effect upon the ear
which is unaccustomed to it; it is a language of which we must possess a
dictionary. Sounds in a melody do not operate as mere sounds, but as
signs of our affections and our feelings; it is thus they excite the
emotions they express, and whose image we there recognize. If this
influence of our sensations is not owing to moral causes, how is it that
we are so sensitive where a barbarian would feel nothing? How is it that
our most touching airs would be but so much empty noise to the ear of a
Carribee? All require the kind of melody whose phrases they can
understand; to an Italian, his country's airs are necessary; to a Turk,
a Turkish melody; each is affected only by those accents with which he
is familiar. In short, he must understand the language that is spoken to
him." This reasoning seems to show that there are no principles or rules
of art, by following which music would be produced of that inherent
beauty which would intrinsically command universal admiration.

This being so, music is at the mercy of many circumstances, the
influence of which is felt, in some degree, even in those arts whose
principles have long been fixed and ascertained, and whose rules are not
merely conventional. The love of novelty, which the weariness caused by
a constant repetition of the same musical phrase or idea renders more
_exigeant_ in this than in other arts, the want or impossibility of
having any classic examples which might fix the taste or guide the
studies of the novice, are doubtless among the causes of these frequent
changes. The style of the leading singer of the day often forms and
rules the passing taste, and even characterizes the works of
contemporary composers. Music is often composed purposely for the
singer; his intonation, his peculiarities, his very mannerisms, are
borne in mind. Not merely sounds, but _his_ sounds, are the vehicles of
the composer's thoughts, the medium through which alone the composer's
ideas can be adequately expressed. In the next generation, when
performer and composer are dead and gone, all that is left of this their
_mutual_ work, once the object of universal admiration becomes
comparatively unintelligible. The melody, the harmony, indeed, remain,
but they are a body without a soul; the fire and genius of him who
lighted up the whole, who realized and brought home to the hearer the
_whole_ creation of the composer's imagination, are no more. The manner
of the performance, therefore, being, as it were, part and parcel of the
very music, and a necessary ingredient of the excellence of the
composition, to judge of the merit of the whole from the qualities of
the portion which is left, would be to judge of the beauty of the
Grecian Helen by the aspect or appearance of her lifeless remains. On
looking at the greater portion of the music by the execution of which
Catalani raised herself to the highest pinnacle of fame, we are
compelled to the conclusion, that in the singer lay the charm. The
effects said to have been produced by Handel's operas are now
inconceivable and unintelligible, so "mechanical and dull" do these
works appear, "beyond mere simplicity and traits of melody." Handel, in
one species of composition, wrote _down_ to the singers of his time.
Whoever examines the bass songs of that period, will perceive that they
were composed for inflexible and unwieldy voices, possessing a large and
heavy volume of tone, but incapable of executing any but simple
passages, constructed according to an ascertained routine of intervals.
Lord Mount-Edgcumbe truly conjectured, that Mozart was led to make the
bass so prominent a part in the Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, by
writing for a particular singer. The part of Figaro was, in fact,
composed for Benucci. The sparkling brilliancy of Rossini would perhaps
never have been so fully developed, had not the skill and flexibility of
voice possessed by the singer David, for whom he wrote, enabled him to
indulge it to the uttermost. The characters thus imparted to the music
of the day are necessarily perishable and evanescent, to be again
superseded by later artists, whose excellences or peculiarities will
again lead to like results. Thus change succeeds change; the judgment of
the public is led by the composer and the performer, who, mutually
deferring to each other, often mould at will the taste of their
countrymen. We, of course, speak only of those whose talent, science,
and ability, have constituted them the masters of their art.

In England we have but few of those giants; they appear among us only
at long intervals; for which reason, perhaps, musical taste has
undergone fewer mutations in England than in most other countries.
Handel has now reigned supreme among us for near a century, and his bass
songs still influence the style of this branch of our native music.
Though bass singing has advanced elsewhere, it has stood comparatively
still with us; the same rude intervals, the same ponderous passages,
through which the voice moves heavily, as if a mountain heaved, are
still retained in the few bass songs of our school; in fact, without
them, many think a bass song cannot exist. This mannerism received a
blow from Weber, whom, as in the case of Handel, we have grown to
consider national property. His early death, however, prevented his
acquiring that permanent influence on the musical mind, which he might
have acquired had he lived, and continued to be successful.

From the glance we have taken of the rate at which poetry, literature,
and the fine arts, respectively advance as civilization holds her onward
course; from the wide diffusion and cultivation of musical taste and
musical science, ere barbarism and ignorance resumed their sway over
mankind; we cannot entertain a doubt that, ultimately, we also as a
people may emulate the glory other nations have acquired in each of
those pursuits. We are, perhaps, less excitable and less easily moved
than they; but the English character contains within it the elements of
greatness in every thing to which its energies are directed.
Circumstances may erelong rouse long-dormant tastes. Riches bring with
them new wants, they create new passions, new desires. Much wealth was
amassed by the preceding generation; their sons, now affluent and
educated, already form a vast addition to that class which we have
designated as the peculiar patron of the arts, and which, as commercial
prosperity continues to advance, will, in each succeeding generation,
receive another incalculable accession to its numbers.

The philosophical observer may even now discover the evidences of these
new wants of increasing opulence; and should providence, in its mercy,
deign still to bless the world with peace, the Augustan age of England
may be nearer than we think. However, it is most certain that this age,
as yet, has not arrived. An accurate knowledge of our defects will
soonest lead to their cure. By a searching, rigorous, and impartial
self-examination can these deficiencies only become known. It may be
necessary to apply the cautery; but the hand that wounds would also
heal; and if, in the course of the preceding observations, or in any
subsequent remarks, as we enquire into the present state of musical
taste and science in England, we may be deemed severe, let it be borne
in mind, that ours is a "tender fierceness," and that self-knowledge,
the first grand step to all improvement, is alone our object and
our aim.

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