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Regarding the performance of the catch, we can present to our reader the explicit directions given by John Playford in his "Musical Companion," printed in 1672.
"I thought it necessary for information of some Songsters who are not well acquainted with the Nature and Manner of Singing of Catches, to give them these Directions: First, a Catch is a Song for three Voyces, wherein the several Parts are included in one; or, as it is usually tearmed, Three Parts in One. Secondly, the manner of Singing them is thus, The First begins and Sings the Catch forward, and when he is at that Note over which this (:S:) Mark or Signature is placed, the Second begins and Sings forward in like manner, and when he is singing that Note over which the said Signature is, the Third begins and Sings, following the other, each Singing it round two or three times over, and so conclude.
"This kind of Musick hath for many Years past been had in much estemation by the most Judicious and Skilful Professors of Musick, for the Excellency of the Composition and Pleasant Harmony; and no late Musick that I have met with affords so much Delightful Recreation, though some fond Ignorant Novices in Musick have cry'd them down, because the height of their Skill is not able to understand them. But being unwilling so much good Musick should be buried in oblivion, it has made me adventure them once more into the World, for the benefit of future Ages: And I am sure they will be welcome at this time to many Judicious Persons, to whom I recommend them; for this is a Catching Age, all kinds of Catches and Catchers are abroad, Catch that Catch can, Catch that Catch may, Thine Catch it, and mine Catch it; But these harmless Catches, my wish is, those that Catch them with delight to Learn and for Instruction, may hereby reap both Pleasure and Delight: But those that Catch at them with detraction, (as that is a Catching
disease) may Catch only the Fruits of their own Envy and Malice." I
Catches, although generally in three parts, were by no means always so, as may be seen in the collection entitled "Pammelia," published in 1609, in which all numbers of voices up to ten parts enter in the different catches and canons. We give a reproduction of a four-part catch from "Sympson's Compendium of Musick" (1678). The punning character of many of the catches may be seen in certain ones which are sung even to-day, as for example, Doctor Callcott's "Ah, how Sophia," which, in rapid singing, becomes "A house afire," or the celebrated catch about Burney's "History of Music," in which "Burney's history" becomes "Burn his history," by a similar change of tempo. Shakespeare's was emphatically a punning age, and any pun, if it were never so bad, was tolerated and laughed at in the reign of "Good Queen Bess," as may be seen by the fanciful title and preface of the collection of catches last mentioned, the first collection ever printed.
"Musick's Miscellanie, or mixed varietie of pleasant Roundelays, and delightful Catches of three, four, five, six, seven,
'We may add to the above that many catches had some “catch," or double meaning in the words, these double-entendres often being quite indelicate.
• From two Greek words signifying Miscellaneous Harmony.
Contrivance of Canon.
§ 11. Of Catch or Round.
Must not omit another fort of Canon, in more requeft and common ufe (though of lefs dignity) than all thofe which we have mentioned 3 and that is a Catch or Round: Some call it a Canon in Unifon; or a Canon confifting of Periods. The contrivance whereof is not intercate: for, if you compose any fhort Strain, of three or four Parts, fetting them all within the ordinary compafs of a Voice; and then place one Part at the end of another, in what order you please, fo as they may aptly make one continued Tune, you have finished a Catch:
eight, nine, ten parts in one. None so ordinary as musical; none so musical as not to all very pleasing and acceptable. London: printed by William Barley for R. B. and H. W., and are to be sold at the Spread Eagle at the great north door of St. Pauls, 1609.
"To the well disposed to read, and to the merry disposed to sing. Amongst other liberal arts, music for her part hath always been as liberal in bestowing her liberal gifts as any one whatsoever; and that in such rare manner for diversity, and ample measure for multiplicity, as more cannot be expected, except it were more than it is respected: yet in this kind only, it may seem somewhat niggardly and unkind in never as yet publicly communicating, but always privately retaining, and as it were envying to all, this more familiar mirth and jocund melody. But it may be music hath hitherto been defective in this vein, because this vein indeed hath hitherto been defective in music: and, therefore, that fault being now mended, this kind of music also is now commended to all men's kind acceptation. This did I willingly undertake, and have easily effected, that all might equally partake of that which is so generally affected. Catches are so generally affected, I take it, quia non superant captum, because they are so consonant to all ordinary musical capacity, being such indeed as all such whose love of music exceeds their skill cannot but commend; such also, as all such whose skill in music exceeds their love of such slight and light fancies, cannot either contemn or condemn: good art in all for the more musical; good mirth and melody for the more jovial; sweet harmony mixed with much variety; and both with great facility. Harmony to please, variety to delight, facility to invite thee. Some toys, yet musical without absurdity; some very musical, yet pleasing without difficulty; light, but not without music's delight; music's pleasantness, but not without easiness what seems old is at least renewed; art having reformed what pleasing tunes injurious time and ignorance had deformed. The only intent is to give general content, composed
by art to make thee disposed to mirth. Accept, therefore, kindly what is done willingly, and published only to please good company."
During the same year (1609) a second volume, entitled "Deuteromelia," appeared, and its preface, quoted in connection with "Three-men's Songs," is more weakly punning than the preface to "Pammelia." It will be found in the latter part of the present chapter. Ravenscroft is believed to have been the compiler of both volumes, and therefore the author of the hideous prefaces.
In "The Tempest" Shakespeare brings in some of his most ribald tavern music; this is natural enough with three such vagabonds as Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban, and of course the three-part catch is present. In Act iii. Sc. 2, Stephano, who, like many of Shakespeare's vagabonds, is very musi cally inclined, says (before he starts a catch) :
"Come on, Trinculo, let us sing.
[Sings] 'Flout 'em and skout 'em, and skout 'em and flout 'em ; Thought is free.'
That's not the tune.
[Ariel plays the tune on a tabor and pipe. Stephano. What is this same?
This is the tune of our catch, played by the picture of No-Body.
Stephano. If thou beest a man, shew thyself in thy like
If thou beest a devil, take it as thou list.
Trinculo. O, forgive me my sins!