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NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW.
Art. I. — The Life of Haydn, in a Series of Letters writ
ten at Vienna ; followed by the Life of Mozart, with Observations on Metastasio, and on the Present State of Music in France and Italy. Translated from the French of L. A. C. BOMBET, with Notes by WILLIAM GARDINER, Author of " The Music of Nature.” Boston : J. H. Wilkins and R. B. Carter. 1839. 16mo. pp. 359.
When this title-page first met our eye, we were pleased with the thought, that a new book, or at least a book with new notes, had appeared, upon the lives of these Fathers of Music. We hailed it as a happy omen, that the public mind was turning back to those undefiled wells, to the principles of a pure taste ; and that, amidst the dazzle and glitter of an artificial and exaggerated style, the beauties of these great composers were again beginning to be appreciated. In this expectation we have been disappointed.
There is nothing new in the volume but the title-page, and the preface of the American publishers. The original “Letters” by Bombet were written between the years 1808 and 1814. These were soon after translated into English, and published with notes, by the author of the “ Sacred Melodies,” William Gardiner. A reprint of the work was issued in Providence, Rhode Island, by Miller and Hutch- No. 106.
ens, and Samuel Avery, in 1820. Since that time, the author of the Notes marked "G.,” has become a favorite from his “Music of Nature," published in 1832, and his name is therefore given in the title-page of the new reprint, as more likely to render the work attractive.
But, although the work contains nothing which has not been before the public for more than twenty years in England, and nearly as long in America, we feel indebted to the publishers for the reprint of 1839. The original work is interesting ; it contains much information, and much pleasant discussion ; it is written con amore by a hearty admirer of Haydn and Mozart, and one apparently capable of appreciating their merits. No one, who has any love for music, can fail to be interested by the lively remarks and the pleasant style of the French writer. And as for the notes, by Gardiner, we agree with the writer quoted in the new preface, that, “here he has shown some of his finest powers of description.” The work is worthy of a place in the libraries of intelligent men, and Messrs. Wilkins and Carter have published it in becoming style. Their volume would not disgrace the fastidious centre-table, or the fancy book-case ; whereas the old Providence edition was very shabby, and fit only to be thrown into a rubbish closet, with departed spelling-books, and the mortal remains of dictionaries, grammars, and geog. raphies.
Moreover, it is a good book to be presented to a community, among whom music is, comparatively, but just transplanted. Musical taste, in this country, is yet to be formed. We have nothing like national music, because we have nothing like national taste. We have not even a decided preference for any particular style. We like the music of Haydn, or of Handel ; but we do not find, that it is more congenial to our fancy than that of Rossini, or Bellini. We do not decide in favor of Italian music over that of Germany, or of French music over that of Scotland. On the whole, perhaps, the simple Scottish airs are the most generally relished in America. But the preference is not decided enough in favor of any class or style of music, to indicate that there is here, as in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, a distinctly marked national taste.
The inquiry is interesting, whether such a taste is the gift of nature, or rather a result of cultivation. If it be the
1840.] Characteristics of Music in Different countries. 3
growth of time or civilization, why is there no national music of England ? Why, on the contrary, is the music of Scotland so distinctly marked ? What influences have been in operation in the latter country to produce this effect, which have been wanting in England ? "Are such influences ever to act in America ? Are we to have a national music, or are we, with all our wealth, luxury, and refinements, to be as destitute of music as England ?
Were it not for the unfortunate instance of our mother country, we should say, unhesitatingly, that wherever there is poetry, there must be music. If a nation has traditionary ballads, if the spirit of poetry has ever made a tabernacle in the heart of a people, it seems impossible that music should not be invoked to give it expression.
Wherever there is human nature, music should be found. May it not be, that England is an exception to the common law of national taste; and that, but for certain peculiar circumstances, we should now be enjoying the music of that country, as well as of other civilized lands?
It is obvious, that although climate and scenery may affect the character of a national music, they can neither cause nor preent its growth. In a clear and elastic atmosphere and a genial climate, the voice is generally more flexible and clear than in a cold and damp region. This would perhaps have an effect upon the music of such a country during its gradual formation. Italy is called “the land of song " ; not probably because the Italians are a more musical people than the Germans, for instance, but because the voice is more generally good, and consequently there is more vocal music in Italy. No traveller can fail to be impressed with the appropriateness of the appellation. This difference would lead us to expect, what we find to be the case, on comparing the Italian with the German music. The former is more simple, more distinguished by melody, more passionate. The latter is profound, complicated, metaphysical, often more grand and sentimental. The former, from its simplicity, indicates that it is the music of the voice ; the latter, by its rich and compound harmony, appears to be the result of instruments combined
Natural scenery may also exert an influence on the character of a nation's music. It is difficult to imagine the same music to be the growth of the sunny plains of Lombardy, and of the awful scenery of the Alps, or the wild shores of the northern seas.
Whatever influences are exerted upon national character by these differences, must become apparent in music, if the nation has any. And although we have no faith in the theory, that music is merely the result of man's imitative propensities, we have at the same time no doubt, that it is in a degree modified in every country by the prevalent sounds. For instance; in a land of tempests, where the mournful sigh of the coming storm, or the roar of its fury, and the deep, angry, and incessant roll of the ocean are constantly heard, we should expect to find corresponding tones in the music. But a milder region, where the song of birds and the busy hum of insects is continually heard, where the prevalent sounds of nature, the breeze, the purling stream, the cataract, are of a cheerful character, and where, from the gentleness of the scenery, even the storm is robbed of half its terrors, we should suppose that the music would partake of this character. And this we believe will be acknowledged to be the case, as far as experience goes.
But such influences as these can never create a national music. The climate of England is as well fitted to make musicians as that of Scotland or Germany, and the scenery is as lovely as that of Italy. What, then, prevents that fine country from having her own music? Many reasons may be assigned. In the first place, England has been cut off from the inheritance of her earliest music. Her earliest race, when they retired to the mountains of Wales, carried with them their language and song. Those strains, however wild and uncouth, which their bards poured out, would, if they had continued to be heard in England, to be listened to, reverenced, cherished, and repeated from age to age, have become gradually more and more polished and harmonious, while at the same time they would have been as strongly stamped with individual character as the music of any nation now is. The outpouring of the heart in song, the expression, in this form, of national character, the strains which nerved the rude warrior's arm, or which were thundered forth by victorious bands, would never have been lost ; but, even at this day, we should have heard strains, which perhaps struck terror into the hearts of Julius Cæsar's troops, or which resounded through the mysterious groves of the Druids.
It is thus that a national music is formed. The strains
which are poured forth from an enthusiastic people, which really give utterance to popular emotion, are its first origin, and give it an indelible stamp. This enthusiastic outpouring of song generally happens only in the infancy and rudeness of nations, while superstition blinds and mystifies, while the passions are vehement and uncontrolled, and the poetry of life is untamed. The same causes which make a rude age poetical, would also give birth to music. The progress of the national music is afterwards analogous to that of the language. It is softened, improved, polished ; but it remains essentially the same. The features which were derived from the deep sources of national character are never changed. The early airs are repeated from age to age, and others are fashioned from them, bearing the same distinctive character. Thus it has been with Scotland, with Ireland, and with Wales.
The first race with which England was peopled retired before the invader, and a new people, with another language, other customs, and other characteristics, took possession of the soil. These too undoubtedly had their music, as well as their language and their poetry. And, had the Saxons continued to be the people of England, their music might perhaps at this day have been prominent in the fine arts.
But the Saxons were invaded and conquered ; and where did a conquered people ever preserve their song? “ They sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept;" they hung their harps upon the willows, and their sound was heard no more.
The Norman came with his romances and his minstrels. But the song of the minstrel was of earlier times, and of heroes long gone by. The language he spoke was soon modified, varied, and finally changed; and the two nations, the conqueror and the vanquished, became blended like their languages, till the original characteristics of both were confused and almost lost. With the growth of the English language, came an age of reality. The poetry of life was fast fading away. The time when national music is born had gone by in England, and the song of earlier days was lost.
Thus England was deprived of her traditionary music. Other circumstances, adverse to the growth of music as a creation of art, may be traced in her history. We speak of music as a creation of art, in contradistinction to the music which is handed down from a rude age, and whose origin is lost in antiquity. Among a bighly endowed and enlightened