Imagens das páginas

cal powers than by the words. The bravura bears little resemblance to the air or ballad, having neither the regularity of the one, nor the simplicity of the other; abounding in passages of execution, great agility and purity of tone are requisite for its performance. Its style and movement are under no other control than what is dictated by the animated feelings of the performer, who often passes from the most gentle to the strongest and fiercest passions. As under great excitement words are found to embarrass a vehement expression of our thoughts, the musician, in this state of mind, depicts by a torrent of sounds what is passing in the soul more quickly than is possible to be done by words. In the execution of these vocal flights, it is important that they should move upon a vowel that will animate and give force to the passion; unless this is attended to, the effect is frequently tame and vulgar, and often ridiculous. Handel has a long division upon the word snatch, in his Oratorio of Hercules ; and the translator of a fine song of Bach's has warbled for some seconds upon the last word of the following couplet :

On silken wings he cuts the air,
Scared at the thunders of the war.


This is a species of musical declamation, in which the singer interweaves the inflections of the speaking voice.* If melody is the poetry of music, recitative may be considered as the prose: a discourse in which the performer is neither restricted to sound nor measure, so long as he keeps to the harmony upon the bar. The perfection of recitative depends upon a happy choice of words, in which contrary emotions are expressed; nor should the melody of the words betray the singer into those cries and psalmodic tones, which render the language flat and inarticulate : its character should be that of force and distinctness, and it may be said that we recite the best when we sing the least. In the opera, the business of recitative is that of narration in the dramatic dialogue, forming a connecting link between the concerted pieces and the airs. In the works of the old masters it is carried to a tiresome length. Though it raises the language of the stage above the common dialect, yet it falls very short of the fascinating powers of song : without it, the richness of the airs would lull us into satiety and drowsiness; for as Rousseau observes, Demosthenes speaking the whole day would tire in the end; but it would not thence follow that Demosthenes was a tiresome orator.

* This aria parlante is natural to all the languages of the East. The Jews to this day read the Scriptures in a singing tone, the same as Moses read the law upon Mount Sinai. Bishop Heber noticed that the Hindoos used the word to read, synonymous with our word to chant. Abdullah, speaking of a bird, said, that early in the morning it reads (sings) very finely. The Koran, and all the religious books, are chanted throughout India.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]



The cultivation of the female voice has conferred upon the musical art a charm never contemplated by our early composers; and of late it has been carried to such perfection as nearly to surpass every instrument in its powers of execution and expression. Two hundred years ago, a solo for either instrument or voice was unknown; but such is the love of exhibition at the present day, that it is found expedient to impose a fine of five guineas upon any one performing a solo, either in the Ancient or Philharmonic Concerts. But, as Dr. Burney observes, instead of this sum being forfeited, if five hundred had been offered to the individual who could perform such a feat at that time, fewer candidates would have entered the lists, than if the like sum had been offered for flying from Salisbury steeple over Old Sarum without a balloon. For the last one hundred and thirty years we have scarcely produced more than half a dozen singers of firstrate eminence of either sex; while Italy has been pouring into this country a crowd of vocalists.

The humidity of our climate, and the harshness of our language, are the reasons why we have not attained to that excellence for which the Italians have been so justly celebrated; yet rough as our language is, it is not inferior to the French or German, and we have at all times shone as much in the vocal art as our neighbors. France has scarcely produced a singer upon record, and the Germans are but just commencing the culture of the voice. The latter, from their intimate knowledge of the science, possess superior advantages to any other country, and have little more to do than to rub off the asperities of their language, to become the first vocalists of the age...

We learn from the amusing Diary of Pepys, that women first appeared as actresses upon the stage in the year 1660; female characters before that time were sustained by boys ;* but as singers, none appeared till the year 1692, when we find it announced in the London Gazetteer, No. 2834, that the Italian lady just come over sea, who is so famous for her singing, will perform. In 1703, our countrywoman, Mrs. Tofts, made her appearance on the stage, whom Cibber extols as a handsome woman with a sweet silver-toned voice. She may be considered as the first English female that ever sang in public.

* January 30, 1660.-By coach to the theatre at three o'clock, where was acted the Beggar's Bush; and here for the first time I saw women come upon the stage, and which I thought was more to nature.Pepys's Diary. Malcolm informs us, that Kynaston, a remarkably handsome youth, was to appear one evening before Charles II. ; the monarch arriving sooner than was expected at the theatre, sent to demand the reason why the performance had not commenced. The manager, knowing his partiality for a joke, declared the truth, that the queen was not then completely shaved.

« AnteriorContinuar »