Page images
[ocr errors]

go with the times; and something more is expected by the rising generation, than the vague generalities and atrocious slander that, ten years ago, passed for sense and spirit, and made the fortune of a periodical. Twaddle is no longer the essential attribute of an essayist ; and solemn plausibility will not confer the requisite lunation of immortality on a leading article. The world suffers too keenly, not to think intensely; and while kingdoms are revolving into their first elements, and governments crumbling to pieces on all sides, the most graceful trifling will no longer catch the attention even of waitingmaids, and the dandies of the second table. If Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, he was not dependent for his bread on the voluntary payment of his music by an audience of subscribers.

Here, then, we start in a new career, unbound by pledges, and unfettered by the memory of the past. We may sport the newest opinions, unoppressed by the charge of inconsistency ; — we may assume the newest forms without subjecting ourselves to the imputation of caprice. Like a butterfly escaping from the state of a chrysalis, or like a phænix rising from its ashes, (similes, by the way, perfectly new to -the pages of this journal,) we commence a fresh existence. Look out, good readers ; and we solemnly promise you, in all honor and good faith,-a faith that will never be broken, -that you


see, “ what you shall see.”



ANOTHER year! and I am still among the sons of men,
And thou, my own dear sunny May, art greeting me again :
How fresh is every gale that comes upon thy morning wings !
How sweet the carol of the lark that in mid-ether sings !
The tomb of winter yields its dead to thy celestial power,
The glowing orb of day gives hues to herb, and tree, and flower ;
The breath of life breathes over earth, and e'en my heart is glad,
That many months of storms had made more weary worn and sad.
The glorious May! she comes, she comes, with bright and starry brow,
Nature yields to her father God all adoration now :
Is there a heart so base, so fall’n, that feels no impulse high,
When happiness is greeting man, while joy stands laughing by ?
O come upon thy wings, bright May, with thy own flowery band,
There is no cheek so fresh as thine, no lip so rich and bland !
With primroses and cowslips strewn along thy odorous way,
Come in thy own pure sphere of light while zephyrs round thee play.
My heart is thine, for thou again hast steep'd it deep in youth,
The hours long perish'd now return as if they came in truth;
The wild-flowers' boy-remember'd smell, the balm of heaven's own air-
Thou bring'st back things to me again, long flown-Oh! tell me where ?
Where I shall be when thou, fair month, wilt many a year return,
Earth's unborn millions to rejoice—in my unheeded urn!
O dear art thou to me, sweet May, in this my latter time,
And welcome thy soft hours again, thou child of Summer's prime !



FASHION IN MUSIC. ENGLAND, more than any nation in the world, is governed by fashion. In other countries she may be powerful, but here she is omnipotent. She controls our opinions, our manners, our habits of social intercourse, our tastes ; reconciling us to error in our judgments, discomfort in our lives, and barbarism in the fine arts. Music is a fashion at present, and therefore everybody is musical. The ton, as usual, is given by a few, and implicitly followed by the multitude. And the essence of fashion is absurdity : this quality displays itself abundantly in the manner in which music is cultivated by all ranks. The leaders of the ton have determined that English music is low, and that nothing is admissible into good company but what bears a name dropping from the tongue with Italian softness, or rattling in the throat with German gutturals. A familiar English name must not be mentioned to ears polite. Much is said about the general cultivation of music in England ; but it may be more than doubted whether this sort of cultivation has tended to its advancement.

Far be it from us to say that the blessings of music one of the most delightful gifts of our merciful Creator — are to be the exclusive portion of a few. It has been given us to sweeten our toils, to soothe our griefs, to excite our best and purest feelings, and to heighten the enjoyment of our happiest hours. Its influence is almost as extensive as that of the blessed sun himself, cheering and animating all nature. The capacity, therefore, of being “ moved with concord of sweet sounds” is denied to few indeed of the whole human race. But we abuse this, like every other good gift of providence, by sacrificing the genuine delights which we could derive from music suited to our different degrees of taste and education, to a vain and heartless affectation and parade of technical learning and skill. Nor is this abuse confined to the uneducated; the example is set by the great masters of the art, and followed by the whole world of music. The productions of our native composers are entirely neglected, our national music is utterly despised, and we constantly suffer the vexation of hearing ladies (for example) who could sing with sweetness and feeling such things as are within the compass of their powers, insist on exhibiting a feeble mimicry of Sontag or Malibran. Nay, the folly descends to the tradesman's “ fine daughter,” who awakens the echoes of Thames Street or Mincing Lane with “ Una voce poco fà,” or “ Di tanti palpiti,” and astounds her auditors with strange noises on her piano, which she calls a Fantasia of Herz or Pixis.

This view of the present state of music is forced upon us, look which way we will. Among the composers of the present day (more particularly if we add those whom the world has recently lost) are to be found very great names; and many of their works will long survive them. Beethoven, Weber, Rossini, Spohr, and Hummel, form only a part of this illustrious band. But even these great men have fallen into the error of mistaking the means for the end, of indulging in difficulties for the sake of outdoing each other. They have ransacked their brains for strange modulations; and have put their fingers and instruments to the torture to achieve surprising feats of dexterity; while their auditors, bewildered by their intricacies, or wondering at their sleight-of-hand, have fancied themselves delighted with their music. It is true that this charge applies but partially to the great masters whom we have named ; but it does apply to every one of them in a very serious degree; and the worst of it is, that their example has produced a set of artists of a lower grade, and yet possessed of talent enough to obtain popularity, in whose music display of difficulty is the principal feature. Beethoven himself, in his grand and expressive compositions for the piano-forte, introduced passages similar to those of which the music of Czerny, Herz, Pixis, &c. is almost entirely made up. And, while the


powers of this noble instrument are daily extended by our manufacturers, those powers are every day more and more abused by our performers. What is the use of the mechanism by which our Clementis and Broadwoods have given it the mellowness of the voice, and almost the sostenuto of the violin, if it is to be used to exercise the two hands in galloping and clattering from one end of its keys to the other ? - an employment at which some fashionable performer may be seen, at our concerts and in our drawing-rooms, working with unwearied perseverance for half-anhour at a time. In the case of some performers, whose faculties have been devoted to the acquirement of this valuable accomplishment alone, such things occasion a smile ; but when we see men of real genius and talent so employed, we are very differently affected. We have among us, however, at least one great performer, who has not been infected with the general contagion, and who, though equal to any of his cotemporaries in learning, richness of imagination, and power of hand, has never for a moment lost sight of the true end of his art ;-we speak of John Cramer. Under his magic touch the instrument becomes an Italian voice, breathing the very soul of feeling, and supported by strains of harmony of inimitable richness and continuity, swelling like the loud peal of the organ, and dying away like the sinking tones of the Eolian harp. Of Cramer, too, it is to be said, to his immortal honor, that he alone, of all existing performers on the piano-forte, pays a true homage to the memory of Mozart, whose divine concertos, but for him, would have been forgotten for

While A will play only the music of A, and B that of B, Cramer on the greatest occasions, when he calls into action all his powers, lays aside the music of Cramer, and takes that of Mozart,

,-a noble trait of high-mindedness and classical spirit! Amid the prevailing vitiation of taste, it is pleasing to see, that our countrymen are still able to value as they ought the qualities of this charming musician, whose impassioned simplicity never fails to give more universal delight than the most brilliant exhibitions of his rivals.

But this is a digression from which we must return. It is not in the case of piano-forte music alone that the general taste of composers and performers is corrupted. The same thing is the case with the violin. Look at the concertos of Viotti, those models of expression, grace, and purity; compare them with the fantasias of Mayseder, and consider which of them are preferable as works of art. In general it may be said, that instrumental music is no longer composed with any due regard to regularity of design and symmetry of structure. The established forms. of the concerto and the sonata are thrown aside ; and all instrumental compositions, for public or private performance, consist of fantasias, capriccios, pot-pourris—any thing, in short, that releases the author from the 'fetters of art, and enables him to string together as many florishing vagaries as he may think proper. Even the SYMPHONY, the noblest of all forms of instrumental music, is in danger of passing away. The Philharmonic Society, the very object of which is the support of the highest kinds of music, hardly ever performs a new symphony,---a proof of the decay of this species of composition in the foreign schools; and this great institution would not perform an English symphony, however excellent, because English music is not the fashion. Of this spirit they have exhibited more than one instance: even that lesser kind of symphony, the opera-overture, has suffered a decay. An overture by Mozart, Cherubini, or Beethoven, was a highly-finished symphony in all respects but leugth and number of movements. An overture by Rossini, Auber, and the other popular writers of the day, is a tissue of showy passages and pretty airs, mixed with great bursts and masses of sound, but connected in no way save that of being in the same measure, and in the same or relative keys ;-unless they have the further connexion of being picked out of the piece that follows. Weber, in the Freyschütz,

set an example of this method of constructing an overture; and the plan has been highly praised, as giving the audience an idea of the subject of the piece. But, though Weber succeeded in producing a very masterly overture, yet we never could discover that any of its merit arose from its different motivos being afterwards heard in the opera. How is the audience, before having seen the piece, to foreknow, while hearing the overture, the passages which they are to hear again? Or, when the audience already know the piece, what are they to learn by hearing, before it begins, snatches of airs, &c. picked out of it? We confess we cannot see the philosophy of this plan. That Weber has linked together with wonderful ingenuity, the fragments out of which he has constructed this overture, is certain ; but it is equally certain, that if he imposed on himself this task for the reason which has been assigned, it was a needless one. If he did so for the sake of saving himself the trouble of imagining new subjects, that is another affair; and this supposition, indeed, is far from unlikely. Mozart, who certainly had no such system in composing his overtures, makes a part of the ghost-scene in Don Giovanni serve as the introduction to the overture of that piece. But this is the overture which he is said to have delayed writing till the night before the opera was performed. Even then, however, his principal movement, a highly-finished and elaborate one, was written without having recourse to the opera for a single bar; and, after this Herculean labor, it was no wonder that he was glad to avail himself of something he had already written, possessing the character he required. Be this as it may, we are very far from being singular in considering the overture to the Freyschütz inferior, not only in symmetry and unity of design, but in grandeur and effect, to the “ Il Flauto Magico," the “ Egmont," and other chef-d'æuvres of Mozart and Beethoven ; while, on the other hand, it is immeasurably superior to any other similar production of the present day.

In regard to vocal music it may be remarked, that it has been saved, by the limited powers of the voice, from so extensive a corruption as has fallen to the lot of instrumental music. Singers have always attempted to emulate the feats of instruments, and do not do so now more than they did a century ago. The Gabriellis and Cuzzonis of former times seem to have astonished the world by feats very similar to those of our Catalanis and Sontags. But even they have been compelled to acknowledge that the true empire of the voice lies in expression; and expression, therefore, has ever been the quality most cultivated by the greatest singers, and most valued by the public. Even vocal music, however, has descended since it reached the point to which it was raised by Cimarosa and Mozart. The Italian school has become more and more shallow, and the German more and more profound; while the cause of vocal music has been equally injured in either way. The love of display exhibits itself equally in both schools. The Mercadantes and Pacinis of Italy cover their trite airs and flimsy harmonies with a gaudy tissue of roulades and florishes; while the Germans think all melody common-place, even in a ballad, unless it wander through a variety of keys and is full of sharps and flats ; and they encumber their scores with an overwhelming load of accompaniments.

There is certainly no lack of genius at present in the musical world. But the masters of the art seem to be afraid of simplicity, and to consider it as something synominous with imbecillity. They should be aware that, in all the fine arts, simplicity is a point to which an approach is gradually made in the progress towards perfection. “Questo facile, quanto è dificile !! exclaimed a great musician of a former age. When Mozart applied bimself to compose, he was always sure of producing excellert music; but it must have been only in the happiest moments of inspiration that even his genius could give birth to “ Batti, batti,” or “Vedrai, carino," simple and inMay, 1831,--VOL. I. NO, I.


artificial as these lovely airs seem to be. Music, in the rudest periods of the art, was excessively complex and difficult. Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Booke” contains lessons full of passages that would put Moscheles or Hummel to their mettle: and in days when vocal music had neither melody nor meaning, the parts were combined with a degree of intricacy and contrivance which even now appears wonderful. As the art advanced, composers gradually learned to be simple ; and, though they have for some time been retracing their steps, we earnestly hope they will learn to be simple again.

Such being the state of music among the masters of the art, its state must be similar among the dilettanti and the public. Whatever the professors are, the amateurs will endeavour, or affect to be. Every young lady of fashion must play or sing all that is played or sung by her fashionable master; and every young lady of fashion must be sedulously imitated by every young lady of no fashion. In this age, when it may be said more truly than at any former period, that the toe of the peasant galls the kibe of the courtier," all ranks almost affect the manners and pursuits of the highest; and thus a wretched smattering of fashionable music (among other fashionable things) is universal. Such music can never be a source of real enjoyment, either to the smatterers themselves or any body else ; it is merely one of the thousand and one forms of the prevailing affectation and vanity.

Were it from a genuine love of the art that music is so much cultivated by the public, that music only would be sought for which is truly calculated to give pleasure; there would no longer be a competition among professors for pre-eminence in the art of constructing puzzles, or of performing feats of musical legerdemain. He would then be most highly valued, who best knew how to employ the resources of learning and execution, not to raise childish wonder, but to heighten the beauty and expression of his music. Then too, there would no longer be an indiscriminate study of the same kind of music among all classes and degrees of society. Were music cultivated for its own sake, its higher and more difficult branches would form the pursuit of those who, from station in society and education, possessed the means of studying it successfully. Nor would this deprive those not so situated of their full measure of musical enjoyment; for there is much good music suited to the opportunities and capacities of persons in every class. Then, certainly, the general diffusion of music would not only advance the progress of the art, but would have a beneficial effect on the manners of the age, by adding to the amount of pure and innocent enjoyment.

Notwithstanding this universal cultivation of music, and the multitude of professors who swarm in every quarter, composition does not florish in England. At the theatres, the new_musical pieces are almost always the works of Italians, Germans, or Frenchmen; and in onr concertrooms and drawing-rooms there is the same exclusive choice of foreign music. Bishop is the last dramatic composer who has gained a considerable reputation in England. For a number of years he enjoyed a sort of monopoly in the supply of theatrical musicma monopoly, however, of a legitimate kind, derived from the merit of his productions. He took Mozart for his model, imitating that master in his means of producing dramatic effect, the open and natural style of his melody, and the richness of his accompaniments. In those days, the works of the foreign masters were familiar only to the frequenters of the Italian Opera. But the memorable season when “Don Giovanni” was brought out at that theatre, under the administration of Mr. Ayrton, was the beginning of a musical revolution. That gigantic production became popular in an unexampled degree, and thousands ran to see it, who had never before dreamed of entering an Italian theatre. It was immediately found expedient to adapt it to the English stage. This was done by Mr. Bishop himself; and from

« PreviousContinue »