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No. 029 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

A Composer should fit his Musick to the Genius of the People, and consider that the Delicacy of Hearing, and Taste of Harmony, has been formed upon those Sounds which every Country abounds with: In short, that Musick is of a Relative Nature, and what is Harmony to one Ear, may be Dissonance to another.

The same Observations which I have made upon the Recitative part of Musick may be applied to all our Songs and Airs in general.

Signior Baptist Lully [4] acted like a Man of Sense in this Particular. He found the French Musick extreamly defective, and very often barbarous: However, knowing the Genius of the People, the Humour of their Language, and the prejudiced Ears [he [5]] had to deal with he did not pretend to extirpate the French Musick, and plant the Italian in its stead; but only to Cultivate and Civilize it with innumerable Graces and Modulations which he borrow’d from the Italian. By this means the French Musick is now perfect in its kind; and when you say it is not so good as the Italian, you only mean that it does not please you so well; for there is [scarce [6]] a Frenchman who would not wonder to hear you give the Italian such a Preference. The Musick of the French is indeed very properly adapted to their Pronunciation and Accent, as their whole Opera wonderfully favours the Genius of such a gay airy People. The Chorus in which that Opera abounds, gives the Parterre frequent Opportunities of joining in Consort with the Stage. This Inclination of the Audience to Sing along with the Actors, so prevails with them, that I have sometimes known the Performer on the Stage do no more in a Celebrated Song, than the Clerk of a Parish Church, who serves only to raise the Psalm, and is afterwards drown’d in the Musick of the Congregation. Every Actor that comes on the Stage is a Beau. The Queens and Heroines are so Painted, that they appear as Ruddy and Cherry-cheek’d as Milk-maids. The Shepherds are all Embroider’d, and acquit themselves in a Ball better than our English Dancing Masters. I have seen a couple of Rivers appear in red Stockings; and Alpheus, instead of having his Head covered with Sedge and Bull-Rushes, making Love in a fair full-bottomed Perriwig, and a Plume of Feathers; but with a Voice so full of Shakes and Quavers that I should have thought the Murmurs of a Country Brook the much more agreeable Musick.

I remember the last Opera I saw in that merry Nation was the Rape of Proserpine, where Pluto, to make the more tempting Figure, puts himself in a French Equipage, and brings Ascalaphus along with him as his Valet de Chambre. This is what we call Folly and Impertinence; but what the French look upon as Gay and Polite.

I shall add no more to what I have here offer’d, than that Musick, Architecture, and Painting, as well as Poetry, and Oratory, are to deduce their Laws and Rules from the general Sense and Taste of Mankind, and not from the Principles of those Arts themselves; or, in other Words, the Taste is not to conform to the Art, but the Art to the Taste. Music is not design’d to please only Chromatick Ears, but all that are capable ef distinguishing harsh from disagreeable Notes. A Man of an ordinary Ear is a Judge whether a Passion is express’d in proper Sounds, and whether the Melody of those Sounds be more or less pleasing. [7]


[Footnote 1: that]

[Footnote 2: only asking]

[Footnote 3: Henry Purcell died of consumption in 1695, aged 37.

‘He was,’ says Mr. Hullah, in his Lectures on the History of Modern Music, ‘the first Englishman to demonstrate the possibility of a national opera. No Englishman of the last century succeeded in following Purcell’s lead into this domain of art; none, indeed, would seem to have understood in what his excellence consisted, or how his success was attained. His dramatic music exhibits the same qualities which had already made the success of Lulli. … For some years after Purcell’s death his compositions, of whatever kind, were the chief, if not the only, music heard in England. His reign might have lasted longer, but for the advent of a musician who, though not perhaps more highly gifted, had enjoyed immeasurably greater opportunities of cultivating his gifts,’

Handel, who had also the advantage of being born thirty years later.]

[Footnote 4: John Baptist Lulli, a Florentine, died in 1687, aged 53. In his youth he was an under-scullion in the kitchen of Madame de Montpensier, niece to Louis XIV. The discovery of his musical genius led to his becoming the King’s Superintendent of Music, and one of the most influential composers that has ever lived. He composed the occasional music for Moliere’s comedies, besides about twenty lyric tragedies; which succeeded beyond all others in France, not only because of his dramatic genius, which enabled him to give to the persons of these operas a musical language fitted to their characters and expressive of the situations in which they were placed; but also, says Mr. Hullah, because

‘Lulli being the first modern composer who caught the French ear, was the means, to a great extent, of forming the modern French taste.’

His operas kept the stage for more than a century.]

[Footnote 5: that he]

[Footnote 6: not]