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By Rev. John Richards, Pastor of the Church of Dartmouth College.
The history of music, both as a science and an art, is in. volved in obscurity. As a science we do not know how much the ancients understood of it, and as an art, 1o what excellence they attained in the management of instruments and the voice. Very early music was cultivated as an art. Indeed we have one fragmentary notice of music before the flood. “And Adah bare Jabal ; he was the facher of such as dwell in tents and of such as have catile. And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ. The Egyptians doubtless practised music, both vocal and instrumental; and the Hebrews, at least as early as Miriam celebrated the passage of the Red Sea with timbrels and with dances, saying, “Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
.." We hear of a band of instrumental music in the days of Nebuchadnezzar,—“At what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up." In Grecian times we read of Tiniotheus, the first, and the second, who ravished the ears of monarchs and people.
But, as to what was the character of the ancient music, we do not know. If they had any method of notation to exhibit sourds to the eye, no fragments remain. Whether they were acquainted with harmony, or whether their strains were simple melodies, we do not know. The more general opinion is, that they were acquainted with melody only. Another opinion strenuously maintained is, that they were acquainted only with ihe minor mode ; which must have given to their music a sombre character. This opinion is strengthened by reference to the present character of Chinese music. This nation seems to have remained stationary in improvement for many centuries, and so pertinacious of old customs are ibey, and so hostile to new ones, that we may with mu h condidence study the present in China, not only as an index, but
as a picture of the past, almost to the days of Noah. But in respect to this nation, it is well known that their music is confined to the barrenest melodies, and these in the minor mode, making their music as lugubrious to the ear, as their countenances are to the
eye. The progress
of music from the days of Alexander to the close of the dark ages in Europe, it might be interesting to trace, were there time; but passing that whole subject, I go on to say that the full development of music, as a science and an art, was reserved for the western world as its theatre, and the three last centuries as its period. Then and there instruments were brought to a degree of excellence which the ancient and the middle world knew nothing of,--the system of notation, both invented and perfected, -the science of harmony analyzed and displayed, -modulation from key to key and from mode to mode introduced, -the full power and variety of the human voice explored, and finally the union of all these in the Opera and Oratorio.
That we may not discourse to no purpose by using terms unintelligible to some, we digress to explain a little the Opera and the Oratorio. In their musical characteristics they are essentially the same. They differ specifically in this respect -the Oratorio is sacred, the Opera secular. Both are dramatical; and while the Opera admits more action and exbibition of character, the Oratorio is confined chiefly to the drama of narration. In hoth a subject of thought is chosen and a unity preserved throughout. In the Opera a fine example is found in the Tauberflote (Magic Flute) of Mozart, in the Oratorio, the Messiah of Handel and the Creation of Haydn. In all these the narration is conducted by a series of vocal recitations, that is, single voices, duetts or dialogues of two voices, terzetts, of three voices, of chorusses and grand chorusses, in which many voices join to give utterance to the emotions which the subject is supposed to inspire. The whole is accompanied by such instruments as the genius of the composer perceives will heighten the effect. That this idea is not fantastic, but is in accordance with the nature of things, is manifest from the temple music of Jerusalem, of which we have some reason to believe a pattern was given to Moses in the mount. As examples, Psalnıs 21th and 841h, in their responsive and choral character, contain the elements of the Oratorio. More to the purpose, may be adduced the
Oratorio once performed in the skies in the hearing of the shepherds of Bethlehem. “And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them :
* Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you ; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'
Thus the recitation. Then the chorus—“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, good will toward men.'” At one of the festivals at Rome, there is annually sung a composition entitled, “ The Miserere”—a production of great power. The Popes had long forbid the choir from furnishing a copy on pain of excominunication. The youthful Mozart, when first he heard this production, went home and wrote down the whole from memory with absolute correctness, as was afterwards tested. O that there had been a Mozart-at least one-among those Bethlehem shepherds, that we might have had one specimen of the music of heaven for humble imitation here on earth !
The Oratorio, then, combines in its plan all the powers of music as a science and an art. It was reserved for these late centuries to comprehend and undertake this grand enterprise, and it may be said to have reached one climax, the climax of execution, soon after the days of Handel. At an Oratorio in London, 1791, there were assembled on one blage more than a thousand performers. Of these, 563 were vocalists, and 514 instrumentalists. Among the latter were
In this exhibition it was found that 377 stringed instru
ments could accompany a single voice without discord or false time, or violating the due proportion of vocal and instrumental sound ;-the single voice and the 377 stringed instrumenis produced one delightful blending of articulate and inarticulate sounds. The only deficiency remarked was the want of sufficient depth of bass ;—there being no instruments yet invented of sufficient magnitude, and within the compass of human movement, unaided by machinery, to produce a bass proportioned to the other parts.
With an orchestra of such power and variety-with an execution so nice, and with the appearance of such a genius as Handel, this behoved to become an epoch in the history of music; an'l that it should awaken and call into action kindred genius was to be expected. In the track of Handel followed Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,-all masters of the Opera, masters of the Oratorio,-each having his peculiarities, so distinctly marked, that the practised car at once distinguishes and recognizes their several productions.
In the compositions of these masters some confidently affirm that the ultimate climax of the science is attained; that the Messiah of Handel, the creation of Haydn, the Tauberflote of Mozart, the Mount of Olives of Beethoven, as musical compositions, will never be surpassed. From this opinion I dissent. It may be that the mathematical relations of music are thoroughly understood, and the rules of counterpoint, based on principles already known, as well digested as they ever will be. But it is the prerogative of genius to disregard rules, to soar above them, and, by seizing hold of principles hidden from the view of the common mind, to lay the foundation of new rules. Then again, as lo variety on the basis of rules already laid down, there is a limitless field. Handel is not Haydn, Haydn is not Mozart, nor Mozart Beethoven. In Beethoven's mind there were undeveloped stores of variety, which his deafness and premature death forbade ihe world to enjoy. What hinders the rise of master-minds in periods yet to come, who by their variety—their musical idiosyncrasy, shall astonish and delight the world yet more and more?
Again, the history of the celebrated Miserere, as performed at the Sistine Chapel at Rome, is instructive in this view.
A true copy
Its power to awe, to melt, to entrance is indescribable, as there performed. One of the German prieces desired a performance of this composition at his own court. was furnished and the performance had, but with no effect; and so great was the disappointment that the court at Roine was charged with sending a false copy. The investigation showed that the copy was a true one, and that the superior effect at Rome was owing to the peculiar management of the voice in respect to quality of ione. While the singers at Vienna struck the same note in the scale, with perhaps the same quantity of sound as those at Rome, and observed all the known rules laid down in books, still they missed the power of the composition in not attaining the quality of tone adapted to the subject, and which the choir of the Pope had gained by long practice—the practice of a life—and the traditionary teachings of generations. This shows that the field of variety in music in one respect, viz., quality of tone, is far from being explored; and in other respects, as modulation, time, kev, force or quantity of tone, we know it is literally endless. The peculiarities of Handel and his constellation of kindred genius may be exhausted, but other genius will arise to strike out new paths in composition, and open to view new modes of execution, to invent new instruinents or increase the power of those already known.
Once more, the subjects on which to found the Opera and the Oratorio are not exhausted. Has Handel exhausied the subject of the Messiah? or Haydn that of the Creation? These -subjects, either of them, but especially the former, we are taught are inexhaustible. Now, it is the subject that gives the strongest impulse lo genius, and music more than beauty addresses itself to the emotions direcıly. It is more adapted therefore to become the handmaid of thought; and when the subject itself has thought that awakens emotion--deep and broad, and flowing as ihe sea; when such ibemes as, Gud made the world and all things therein, and, God redeemed the world when lost in hopeless captivity ;-we say, when theines like these are proposed, the mind pure and enthusiastic alike in music and the thought cannot fail to kindle, and the subject cannot be exhausted; the music and the thought will act and re-act with mutual effect. The world will yet see other Oratorios like the Messiah, and on the same subject, that will call forth highest admiration, as well as become the