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I do not mean the pronunciation of each particular word, but the sound of the whole sentence. Thus it is very common for an English gentleman, when he hears a French tragedy, to complain that the actors all of them speak in a tone; and therefore he very wisely prefers his own countrymen, not considering that a foreigner complains of the same tone in an English actor.
For this reason, the recitative music in every language should be as different as the tone or accent of each language; for otherwise, what may properly express a passion in one language, will not do it in another. Every one who has been long in Italy knows very well, that the cadences in the recitativo bear a remote affinity to the tone of their voices in ordinary conversation; or, to speak more properly, are only the accents of their language made more musical and tuneful. Thus the notes of interrogation, or admiration, in the Italian music, (if one may so call them,) which resemble their accents in discourse on such occasions, are not unlike the ordinary tones of an English voice when we are angry; insomuch that I have often seen our audiences extremely mistaken as to what has been doing upon the stage, and expecting to see the hero knock down his messenger, when he has been asking him a question; or fancying that he quarrels with his friend, when he only bids him good-morrow.
For this reason the Italian artists cannot agree with our English musicians in admiring Purcell's compositions, and thinking his tunes so wonderfully adapted to his words; because both nations do not always express the same passions by the same sounds.
I am therefore humbly of opinion, that an English composer should not follow the Italian recitative too servilely, but make use of many gentle deviations from it, in compliance with his own native language. He may copy out of it all the lulling softness and "dying falls," (as Shakspeare calls them,) but should still remember that he ought to accommodate himself to an English audience; and by humouring the tone of our voices in ordinary conversation, have the same regard to the accent of his own language, as those persons had to theirs whom he professes to imitate. It is observed, that several of the singing birds of our own country learn to sweeten their voices, and mellow the harshness of their natural notes, by practising under those that come
from warmer climates. In the same manner I would allow the Italian opera to lend our English music as much as may grace and soften it, but never entirely to annihilate and destroy it. Let the infusion be as strong as you please, but still let the subject matter of it be English.
A composer should fit his music 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 music 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 music, may be applied to all our songs and airs in general.
Signior Baptist Lully acted like a man of sense in this particular. He found the French music extremely defective, and very often barbarous: however, knowing the genius of the people, the humour of their language, and the prejudiced ears he had to deal with, he did not pretend to extirpate the French music, and plant the Italian in its stead; but only to cultivate and civilize it with innumerable graces and modulations which he borrowed from the Italian. By this means the French music 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 a Frenchman who would not wonder to hear you give the Italian such a preference. The music 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 concert 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 drowned in the music 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-cheeked as milk-maids. The shepherds are all embroidered, and acquit themselves better in a ball 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 periwig, 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 music.
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 offered, than that music, 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 designed to please only chromatic ears, but all that are capable of distinguishing harsh from disagreeable notes. A man of an ordinary ear is a judge whether a passion is expressed in proper sounds, and whether the melody of those sounds be more or less pleasing.
LAST night, upon my going into a coffee-house not far from the Haymarket Theatre, I diverted myself for above half an hour with overhearing the discourse of one, who, by the shabbiness of his dress, the extravagance of his conceptions, and the hurry of his speech, I discovered to be of that species who are generally distinguished by the title of projectors. This gentleman, for I found he was treated as such by his audience, was entertaining a whole table of listeners with the project of an opera, which he told us had not cost him above two or three mornings in the contrivance, and which he was ready to put in execution, provided he might find his account in it. He said, that he had observed the great trouble and inconvenience which ladies were at, in travelling up and down to the several shows that are exhibited in different quarters of the town. The dancing mon
keys are in one place; the puppet-show in another; the opera in a third; not to mention the lions, that are almost a whole day's journey from the politer part of the town. By this means people of figure are forced to lose half the winter after their coming to town, before they have seen all the strange sights about it. In order to remedy this great inconvenience, our projector drew out of his pocket the scheme of an opera, entitled, The Expedition of Alexander the Great; in which he had disposed all the remarkable shows about town, among the scenes and decorations of his piece. The thought, he confessed, was not originally his own, but that he had taken the hint of it from several performances which he had seen upon our stage; in one of which there was a raree-show; in another a ladder-dance; and in others a posture-man, a moving picture, with many curiosities of the like
This Expedition of Alexander opens with his consulting the Oracle at Delphos, in which the dumb conjurer, who has been visited by so many persons of quality of late years, is to be introduced as telling him his fortune: at the same time Clench of Barnet is represented in another corner of the temple, as ringing the bells of Delphos, for joy of his arrival. The tent of Darius is to be peopled by the ingenious Mrs. Salmon, where Alexander is to fall in love with a piece of wax-work, that represents the beautiful Statira. When Alexander comes into that country, in which Quintus Curtius tells us the dogs were so exceeding fierce that they would not loose their hold, though they were cut to pieces limb by limb, and that they would hang upon their prey by their teeth when they had nothing but a mouth left, there is to be a scene of Hockley in the Hole, in which is to be represented all the diversions of that place, the bull-baiting only excepted, which cannot possibly be exhibited in the theatre, by reason of the lowness of the roof. The several woods in Asia, which Alexander must be supposed to pass through, will give the audience a sight of monkeys dancing upon ropes, with the many other pleasantries of that ludicrous species. At the same time, if there chance to be any strange animals in town, whether birds or beasts, they may be either let loose among the woods, or driven across the stage by some of the country people of Asia. In the last great battle, Pinkethman is to personate King Porus upon an elephant,
and is to be encountered by Powell, representing Alexander the Great, upon a dromedary, which nevertheless Mr. Powell is desired to call by the name of Bucephalus. Upon the close of this great decisive battle, when the two kings are thoroughly reconciled, to show the mutual friendship and good correspondence that reigns between them, they both of them go together to a puppet-show, in which the ingenious Mr. Powell, junior, may have an opportunity of displaying his whole art of machinery, for the diversion of the two monarchs. Some at the table urged, that a puppet-show was not a suitable entertainment for Alexander the Great; and that it might be introduced more properly, if we suppose conqueror touched upon that part of India which is said to be inhabited by the Pigmies. But this objection was looked upon as frivolous, and the proposal immediately overruled. Our projector further added, that after the reconciliation of these two kings, they might invite one another to dinner, and either of them entertain his guest with the German artist Mr. Pinkethman's heathen gods, or any of the like diversions, which shall then chance to be in vogue.
This project was received with very great applause by the whole table. Upon which the undertaker told us, that he had not yet communicated to us above half his design; for that Alexander being a Greek, it was his intention that the whole opera should be acted in that language, which was a tongue he was sure would wonderfully please the ladies, especially when it was a little raised and rounded by the Ionic dialect; and could not but be acceptable to the whole audience, because there are fewer of them who understand Greek than Italian. The only difficulty that remained was, how to get performers, unless we could persuade some gentlemen of the universities to learn to sing, in order to qualify themselves for the stage; but this objection soon vanished, when the projector informed us, that the Greeks were at present the only musicians in the Turkish empire, and that it would be very easy for our factory at Smyrna to furnish us every year with a colony of musicians, by the opportunity of the Turkey fleet. "Besides, (says he,) if we want any single voice for any lower part in the opera, Lawrence can learn to speak Greek, as well as he does Italian, in a fortnight's time."
The projector having thus settled matters to the good liking of all that heard him, he left his seat at the table, and planted