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natural consequence of the success of some late attempts to difplay that undoubted union which subsists between the powers of Music and Poetry. Why an Opera also might not be made as rational entertainment as a tragedy, a comedy, or a farce, we confels is not in our power to discover. On the contrary, we conceive the representation of a fine piece of dramatic poely, set in a proper and nasterly manner to music, would constitute one of the most perfect and refined of all theatrical representations.
The great difficulty of making sound a proper companion to Tense, seems to be the only obstacle to the improvement of this 1pecies of dramatic exhibition. But as the subject feems in a peculiar manner to engage the attention of the Critics, we may possibly hope to see some professed treatise on the means of oba viating this difficulty.
Favourably as some English Operas have been lately received, certain it is, that their success hath been altogether owing to the merit of the instrumental music accompanying their recital. There does not seem, indeed, to be a proper distinction made between the effects of the vocal and instrumental parts of an Opera, in judging of the whole representation : and yet there is undoubtedly a wide difference between them. The influence of the ancient vocal music, was, by all accounts, as much superior to that of the moderns, as the instrumental of the moderns is allowed superior to that of the antients. The reason also is plain, the antients cultivated the arts of elocution, their common discourse being altogether melodious and expressive: the moderns, having, since the invention of printing, less need to ftudy or practise oratory, have neglected the graces of speech, and have improved those of simple melody, into a more refined and complicated system of instrumental harmony. It is the bufiness of a Composer of Operas, to reconcile, if possible, the vocal me dy of the antients, to the instrumental harmony of the moderns. This it is impossible he should do, if he is either ignorant or careless of the poetical merit of the production to which he endeavours to adapt his mufic.
Much hath been written, and to very little purpose, about the connection and affinity betiveen poetical and musical harmony: none of the Writers who have attempted to illustrate their union, having thrown any fatisfactory light on the subject. The Muficians that have endeavoured at the practical reconciliation of them in their compositions, have succeeded much better; as might be instanced in many of the favourite airs of Purcel, Havdel, Arne, and others. "We must not attribute the merit of vocal music, however, to every favourite air, or fine piece of musical composition, merely because it is annexed to certain
words, and sung by a vocal Performer. We have many noble
The art of a Composer of vocal music, therefore, lies, first,
language, yet being told the general tenour and meaning of a song, might set it to very fine music, but it would be the greateft chance in the world, if such mufic would not be, after all, chiefly instrumental. For the Singer's pipe is a mere inftrument, unless the voice issuing from it be, articulate and expressive. Now, expressive it cannot be, if its articulation be false or imperfect : hence the most expressive and pathetic Italian opera that ever was exhibited, losos all its merit of vocal music on a mere English audience the eunuch's throat being to them as very an haut-boy as any in the orchestra.
: The effect of the Composer's neglect of prosody, accent, and emphafis, is very evident in the recitative of most of our operas, which are, in general, fet so very carelessly, as to be quite intolerable to those who sit near enough to hear what the Performer is intended to say.
As to the first defect, it regards principally the time or length only of the notes and syllables. On this head it is judiciously remarked by Malcolm, that“ in setting music to words, the thing principally to be minded, is to accommodate the long and fhort notes to the syllables, in such a manner, as that the words may be well separated, and the accented syllable of every word be lo conspicuous, that what is fung may be distinctly understood.” And, indeed, if one of the principal ends of vocal music, be not to make what is sung intelligible, we fee no manner of use the words are of, unless it be to disturb the harmony of the voice and instruments. Now nothing is more common, even in our best performances of this kind, than to find a great incongruity between the quantities or lengths of the musical notes, and the words to which they are adapted. Hence the objection which Pancirollus formerly made, is fully justified, when he affirmed, that in attending to modern finging, we hear sounds only, without words ; by which, tho' the external ear is a little tickled, the internal sense, or the understanding, meets with no entertainment.
Let us suppose, for instance, the following line in the opera before us, set to music with long notes adapted to the short TylJables, and short notes to the long :
ị crembie Princess, to pronounce thy fate. the absurdity would be apparent, and the line absolutely unin. telligible.
It would, indeed, be difficult for an English Singer to utter the words in fo faulty a manner; but a foreigner might, and would, if the syllables marked long were adapted to minims, and these marked short to crochets. And tho' so glaring an
instance of erroneous composition might not pass on a discern-
The dangers of the Caspian wave.
Soothing our cares, remain'd behind.
Next to the preservation of the due length of the syllables, the attention of the Composer is required to that of the proper accent, as laid on the words in speaking; which should be ever distinctly marked, either by a longer or a higher note, according as the accent is grave or acute. Without this, the words, when fung, will either not be understood at all, or convey a dirferent meaning from the true one. Thus, in secting the word
And here we cannot help taking notice, by the way, that one of the principal Performers in this opera, constantly locks the ears of the qudience, with moy and rhoy, instead of my and ibr.
contralt, when used as a noun, and when used as a verb.; the impropriety would be very palpable in adapting it in both cafés to the same notes ; as in the one, the first syllable is accented, and in the other the last.
Again, those words on which the sense requires an emphasis to be laid in ipeaking, should be strongly marked in singing; as on this the whole expression and pathos of the composition der pends. The Composer, indeed, may leave this distinction, as he generally does, to the Performer, as it is in writing left to the Reader; but then he should take care never to put it out of the Performer's power (as the Poet frequently does out of the Reader's) to lay the stress of the voice in the proper plade. Thus, if an emphatical syllable be adapted to a shorter, or lower, note, than those syllables which are not emphatical in the same sentence, it is impossible for the Performer to sing with proper expreffion.
From these confiderations it is plain, that a mere musical Genius, how great an adept foever he might be in the Contrappunto, would be incapable of giving expression to vocal music, or of uniting sense and sound, without other qualifications. It is necessary that he should perfectly understand the prosody of the language he adopts; and that he should be capable of entering into all the spirit and meaning of the Writer, word, a good Composer of vocal mulic, should be a Critic in the beauties of style, and in the numerous composition both of the Orator and of the Poet.
On the other hand, with regard to the Poet, he should, in writing for music, not only aim at strength and precision of thought, but at the melodious succession, or flow, of his words and syllables: he should study not only the language of the pasficns, but also that of the ear.
By the melody or flow of his style, it is to be observed also, that we do not mean to confine him to the alternate succession of long and short fyllables, or to those mechanical rules by which our verses are usually divided. Some of these indeed are well enough adapted to music, the others, particularly the longer kinds of verfcs are not so. The ingenious author of Elfrida, says that the measures and cadences of modern poetry, are by no means adapted to those of music. · If he meant the artificial measures and cadence, dependent on the long-winded periods of the heroic couplet and blank verfe, he is certainly very right; but we have fufficient proof that the short, natural and easy flowing periods of our stanzas and short couplets, are capable of being very succcfsfully set to music. To be convinced of this we need only recollect the scveral delightful and expressive airs, composed by