Page images
[ocr errors][merged small]

people, music, as an art, may spring up at any time. Wherever there is a strong taste for it generally diffused throughout a community, composers will be sure to appear. Wherever a nation is peculiarly excited by powerful sentiment, this feeling is likely to burst forth in song. Thus, for instance, the Marseilles Hymn may be considered a genuine offspring of national enthusiasm.

Let us briefly compare the musical history of England with that of Italy. In the former, as we have seen, the traditionary music was lost. In the latter it was in some degree, at least, preserved ; and was inherited, perhaps, from the remotest antiquity. For many centuries music in Italy was only preserved by the Christian church, having been solemnly proscribed at Rome after the death of the Emperor Nero. The airs of ancient Rome, inherited perhaps from the Etrurians, the Oscans, or the Greeks, were chanted by the early Christians at their secret devotions, and were preserved by their enthusiasm and piety, when they could no longer be heard in the stately abodes of the senators. And this ancient music, it is believed, has never been lost, the Gregorian chant being nothing more nor less than the classical music of Rome. Thus, although music was almost extinct for a long period, it never perished ; and when, after almost disappearing from even the church, it was revived by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and improved by Pope Gregory during the fifth century, Italy then was in possession of her traditionary music.

But the art owes its perfection in Italy to the efforts of the church. An institution which depends so much upon affecting the senses of its devotees, would not of course omit to use so powerful a means as music. And accordingly we find, that both the oratorio and the opera owe their existence to the efforts of churchmen to promote a spirit of devotion in their followers. The earliest form of the spiritual drama was presented by the Christian Pilgrims, who, on their return from the Holy Land, used to accompany their dramatic representations of the life and sufferings of our Saviour and of the Apostles, with songs and choruses descriptive of the

About the middle of the sixteenth century, Philip of Neri established regular oratorios in Florence, with the declared object of calling the public attention to religious subjects. The sacred opera had already assumed a more com


plete form than the representation of the Pilgrims. A religious drama had been performed at Padua in the thirteenth century ;

and it

appears, that the “Annunciation " was enacted every year at the city of Treves.

From sacred to profane subjects the step was easy. Politian produced a musical drama on the story of Orpheus, in the latter part of the fifteenth century, and thus the opera was established.

It was the good fortune of Italy, that a refined state of living, — wealth, luxury, and elegance, and with them elevated and refined tastes, - were acquired before the enthusiasm and devotion, which mark a ruder condition of society, had departed. The church still continued to direct the taste, and to influence the heart, long after the rough features of barbarism had disappeared from Italy ; and the church, as we have seen, took music under its peculiar patronage. Music, like the other fine arts in Italy, was the offspring of enthusiasm and a romantic spirit, united with civilization, refinement, and wealth.

The case was entirely different in England. We have seen, that the revived music of Italy was founded on the traditionary airs of the country. Had these been lost, the music might now have been of a very different character, In England there was no such foundation to build upon. In Italy the growth of music was owing to the efforts of the church. But all such influences were almost lost in England. The Romish church never exerted the influence on the arts in that country that it did in Italy, because its power was lost before England became refined enough to take pleasure in the fine arts. While Giotto was painting the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa, and Lorenzo Ghiberti was casting his gates of Paradise for the old Lombard church in Florence, the English were industriously occupied in cutting their own throats and the throats of their neighbours. The Reformation came; and with it a severe spirit, which looked with aversion upon outward forms and ceremonies, and all the magnificent paraphernalia of the Church of Rome. Many of the decorations were removed from the churches, many of the forms were interdicted, and the splendor of worship was much diminished. Little or no encouragement was given to the arts by the Church of England down to the time of Charles the First. Then the spirit of Puritanism began to breathe its sternness over the land, and its effects were to retard the growth of the fine arts in England more than a century. In the midst of all these changes, that enthusiastic spirit which gives birth to art was lost. The fervor of the Puritans, had their doctrines allowed it, might have originated a new and impressive music, which succeeding refinement would, perhaps, have in proved to rival the music of Germany or Italy. But, unfortunately, all such accomplishments and exercises were denounced, and the barbarous twanging hymns of the Puritans had no other effect, than to destroy even the little taste for the art previously existing in England.

The writer of a very interesting article on the piano-forte, in a late number of the “ Westminster Review," would make it appear, that music continued to flourish during the Commonwealth in England. In proof of this, he quotes the celebrated passage from Milton's " Tractate on Education,” written while the author was Latin Secretary to Cromwell, in which he recommends the learning of music as a part of the regular training of young men. We can go further than this. Whitlocke informs us, that an opera was actually published in 1658, by Sir John Davenant. But we do not think either of these circumstances proves, that music was in a flourishing condition at the time. Milton was remarkably distinguished from the Puritans of his day. He excelled in courtly and chivalrous accomplishments ; his learning was profound, and his spirit was deeply imbued with romance. We might as well quote Milton to prove, that all elegant arts and acquirements were cultivated and respected, as that music was preserved. It is well known, that, in the preliminaries to the treaty of Uxbridge, it was positively insisted upon, that all play-houses should be utterly interdicted for ever. Here was, of course, a death-blow to the opera. Davenant published his opera, notwithstanding this law ; but it appears to have been a dangerous experiment. We find, at any rate, that he had fallen into such odium with the government, that his life was only saved through the intercession of Milton.

At all events, the writer of the article just quoted agrees with us, that music almost disappeared from England after the time of James the Second. He says,

“ The mass of our diaries, correspondences, and periodicals, of the eighteenth century, if consulted, will serve to show,

that while fashion still condescended to take music under the shadow of her goose-wings, and the middle classes, therefore, must needs ape the ecstasies of aristocrats, until the very grange of the farmer was polluted by the modish presence of the spinet' of Miss Betty or Miss Molly ; the old spirit, which made our Bacons not deem the secrets of the art unworthy of honorable allusion, our Brownes include it among the objects of subtile speculation, our Evelyns condescend to read from the musician's pages, in turn with those of the poet and philosopher, had as utterly passed away as the delicious and racy language of the ancient drama, or the sweet superstition of the Fairies.”

We have endeavoured to give a few of the more obvious reasons for the non-existence of English music, because we like to account for this want from external causes, rather than from a deficiency in the national capacities. We do believe, that, but for unfortunate influences, there might have been a musical literature peculiarly English ; but, at the same time, we are forced to the conviction, that there is not in England so keen and delicate a perception of art, generally speaking, as in many other countries.

For many centuries the romance of life has been but little known in England. Even in the brilliant reign of Elizabeth, it was confined to a comparatively insignificant number. True, the accomplished Surrey went abroad proclaiming the charms of his fair Geraldine with spear and sword ; Sidney realized in his own person the ideal virtue and courage of the heroes of the round table ; Raleigh, and Essex, and Hatton, and many a noble knight beside, preserved the golden age of chivalry round the throne of their mistress. But, beyond the magic circle of the court, the romance of life ceased. It found no home among the people. There was nothing of that wild and poetical existence, which, for a hundred and fifty years afterwards, was found in the Highlands of Scotland.

But it may be said, there was as much of the romance of life in England as in Italy, from the time of the Medici downwards. This may be true, and yet nothing can offer a greater contrast than life in these two countries. We do not refer merely to the style of living, the manners and customs, the degree of comfort, and the amount of external conveniences; but to the spirit of society, the objects of life, the callings of men, the most important and absorbing interests. In England, life VOL. L. No. 106.


is business. Its objects are, improvements in the accommodations of existence; the means of keeping out the cold and wet ; commerce, manufactures, voyages of discovery ; and, above all, the absorbing game of politics, whether in the forum or the battle-field. These are the great and serious objects of Englishmen. Accomplishments, arts, amusements are the mere ornaments of life, but little prized, and never brought into comparison with the other weighty matters.

In Italy, the case is very different. There, life is art. The weighty occupations, the important business, the concerns of states, and the interests of governments, are art. Cities are more proud of their statues and their pictures, than of their convenient streets and their ingenious by-laws. States boast more of their artists, than of their internal improvements. And this admiration of the fine arts is not confined to the wealthy and refined. It pervades all classes, and becomes the high interest and the pride of all. Italy is, in truth, the republic of art. Music, sculpture, poetry, painting, are not there the exclusive property and privilege of any class. They belong to all. They are claimed and enjoyed by all. A few remarks of Bombet's, where he is speaking of the inutility of transferring the objects of art from Italy to France, are in accordance with what we have just remarked. He tells us, that, at Milan, we hear of Titian's “ Christ crowned with Thorns,” as soon as we arrive. At Bologna, the street valet will direct your attention to the St. Cecilia of Raphael. “At Rome,” he continues, " the person best known, and in highest estimation, is Canova ; " " at Rome they will talk for a fortnight of the manner in which the fresco of the convent of San Nilo, painted by Domenichino, is going to be transferred to canvass. At Rome it is the great artist who occupies the public attention ; at Paris, it is the successful general, or the favorite minister, — Marshal Saxe, or M. de Calonne.”

These differences between England and Italy arise, rather, we apprehend, from the natural superiority of the latter country, than from any adventitious circumstances. The Italians have a keener sense of art than the English. Music is the native growth of the country ; it is universally understood, loved, and practised. In England it is an exotic ; of slow growth, and fit only for the saloons of the wealthy. There is an atmosphere of music in Italy. People hear it from their birth. It beco one of the invariable concom

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »