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  • 1817
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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 antiquity.

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.