Abbildungen der Seite


window frames and walls, appear white or bright; but, if you still add to the darkness in the eyes by covering them with your hand, the reverse instantly takes place, the panes appear luminous and the cross bars dark. And by removing the hand they are again reversed. This I know not how to account for. Nor for the following ; that, after looking long through green spectacles, the white paper of a book will on first taking them off appear to have a blush of red; and, after long looking through red glasses, a greenish cast; this seems to intimate a relation between green and red not yet explained.

Farther, when we consider by whom these ancient tunes were composed, and how they were first performed, we shall see that such harmonical successions of sounds was natural and even necessary in their construction. They were composed by the minstrels of those days to be played on the harp accompanied by the voice. The harp was strung with wire, which gives a sound of long continuance, and had no contrivance like that in the modern harpsichord, by which the sound of the preceding could be stopped, the moment a succeeding note began. To avoid actual discord, it was therefore necessary that the succeeding emphatic note should be a chord with the preceding, as their sounds must exist at the same time. Hence arose that beauty in those tunes that has so long pleased, and will please for ever, though men scarce know why. That they were originally composed for the harp, and of the most simple kind, I mean a harp without any half notes but those in the natural scale, and with no more than two octaves of strings, from C to C, I conjecture from another circumstance, which is, that not one of those tunes, really ancient, has a single artificial half note in it, and that in tunes where it was most convenient for the voice to use the middle notes of the harp, and place the key in F, there the B, which if used should be a B flat, is always omitted, by passing over it with a third. The connoisseurs in modern music will say, I have no taste; but I cannot help adding, that I believe our ancestors, in hearing a good song, distinctly articulated, sung to one of those tunes, and accompanied by the harp, felt more real pleasure than is communicated by the generality of modern operas, exclusive of that arising from the scenery and dancing. Most tunes of late composition, not having this natural harmony united with their melody, have recourse to the artificial harmony of a bass, and other accompanying parts.* This support, in my opin

* Rousseau, in his Dictionnaire de Musique, printed in 1768, appears to have similar sentiments of our modern harmony, viz.

“M. Rameau prétend que les dessus d'une certaine simplicité suggèrent naturellement leur basse, et qu'un homme ayant l'oreille juste et non exercée, entonnera naturellement cette basse. C'est-là un préjugé de musicien, démenti par toute expérience. Non seulement celui qui n'aura jamais entendu ni basse ni harmonie, ne trouvera, de lui-même, ni cette harmonie ni cette basse ; mais elles lui déplairont, si on les lui fait entendre, et il aimera beaucoup mieux le simple unisson.

“Quand on songe que, de tous les peuples de la terre, qui tous ont une musique et un chant, les Européens sont les seuls qui aient une harmonie des accords, et qui trouvent ce mélange agréable ; quand on songe que le monde a duré tant de siècles, sans que, de toutes les nations qui ont cultivé les beaux arts, aucune ait connu cette harmonie ; qu'aucun animal, qu'aucun oiseau, qu'aucun être dans la nature ne produit d'autre accord que l'unisson, ni d'autre musique que la mélodie; que les langues orientales, si sonores, si musicales; qui les oreilles Grecques, si délicates, si sensibles, exercées avec tant d'art, n'ont jamais guidé ces peuples voluptueux et passionnés vers notre harmonie ; que, sans elle, leur musique avoit des effets si prodigieux: qu'avec elle la nôtre en a de si foibles : qu'enfin il étoit réservé à des peuples du Nord, dont les organes durs et grossiers sont plus touchés de l'éclat et du bruit des voix, que de la douceur des accens, et de la mélodie des inflexions, de faire cette grande découverte, et de la donner pour principe à toutes les règles de l'art; quand, dis-je, on fait attention à tout cela, il est bien difficile de ne pas soupçonner que toute notre harmonie n'est qu'une invention gothique et barbare, dont nous ne nous fussions jamais avisés, si nous fuse


ion, the old tunes do not need, and are rather confused than aided by it. Whoever has heard James Oswald play them on his violoncello, will be less inclined to dispute this with me. I have more than once seen tears of pleasure in the eyes of his auditors; and yet, I think, even his playing those tunes would please more, if he gave them less modern ornament.

I am, &c.



sions été plus sensibles aux véritables beautés de l'art, et à la musique vraiment naturelle."

* Mr. Tytler, in his Life of Lord Kames, (Vol. II. p. 31, 2d ed.) makes the following remarks on the above letter. “ This notion of Dr. Franklin's, respecting what may be called the Ideal Harmony of the Scottish melodies, is extremely acute, and is marked by that ingenious simplicity in the thought, which is the characteristic of a truly philosophic mind. In supplement to his observation, that the past sound, being retained by the memory, forms a concord with the present sound, it may perhaps be added, that, the tympanum of the ear continuing to vibrate for some little time after it is struck by any musical note, the succeeding note will be either agreeable or disagreeable, as it accords, or is in discordance with the existing vibration. Now a succession of notes by thirds and fifths will always find the tympanum in concord, and the last vibration harmonizing with the succeeding. This notion accounts completely for the effect of the Scottish melodies, in giving pleasure alike to an intelligent judge of music, and to a person of uncultivated taste, provided he have a good musical ear; for the pleasure arising from a succession of sounds, in the regular intervals of thirds and fifths, and likewise that arising from their concord, is founded in nature, and in the mechanical structure of the organs of hearing, and is altogether independent of custom or acquired taste. A Scottish air will therefore be grateful alike to the ear of a Greenlander, a Japanese, and a native of Italy; if possessed of the musical sense, they will all equally understand and relish it, for it speaks an universal language.” — Editor.


On the Defects of Modern Music.

[No date.] DEAR BROTHER, I like your ballad, and think it well adapted for your purpose of discountenancing expensive foppery, and encouraging industry and frugality. If you can get it generally sung in your country, ,


may probably have a good deal of the effect you hope and expect from it. But, as you aimed at making it general, I wonder you chose so uncommon a measure in poetry, that none of the tunes in common use will suit it. Had you fitted it to an old one, well known, it must have spread much faster than I doubt it will do from the best new tune we can get composed for it. I think too, that if you had given it to some country girl in the heart of the Massachusetts, who has never heard any other than psalm tunes, or Chevy Chace, the Children in the Wood, the Spanish Lady, and such old simple. ditties, but has naturally a good ear, she might more. probably have made a pleasing popular tune for you, than any of our masters here, and more proper for your purpose, which would best be answered, if every word could as it is sung be understood by all that hear it, and if the emphasis you intend for particular words could be given by the singer as well as by the reader; much of the force and impression of the song depending on those circumstances. I will however get it as well done for you as I can.

Do not imagine that I mean to depreciate the skill of our composers of music here; they are admirable at pleasing practised ears, and know how to delight one another ; but, in composing for songs, the reigning


taste seems to be quite out of nature, or rather the reverse of nature, and yet, like a torrent, hurries them all away with it; one or two perhaps only excepted.

You, in the spirit of some ancient legislators, would influence the manners of your country by the united powers of poetry and music. By what I can learn of their songs, the music was simple, conformed itself to the usual pronunciation of words, as to measure, cadence or emphasis, &c., never disguised and confounded the language by making a long syllable short, or a short one long, when sung; their singing was only a more pleasing, because a melodious manner of speaking; it was capable of all the graces of prose oratory, while it added the pleasure of harmony. A modern song, on the contrary, neglects all the proprieties and beauties of common speech, and in their place introduces its defects and absurdities as so many graces. I am afraid you will hardly take my word for this, and therefore I must endeavour to support it by proof. Here is the first song I lay my hand on. It happens to be a composition of one of our greatest masters, the ever-famous Handel. It is not one of his juvenile performances, before his taste could be improved and formed; it appeared when his reputation was at the highest, is greatly admired by all his admirers, and is really excellent in its kind. It is called, “ The additional favorite Song in Judas Maccabeus.” Now I reckon among the defects and improprieties of common speech, the following, viz.

1. Wrong placing the accent or emphasis, by laying it on words of no importance, or on wrong syllables.

2. Drawling; or extending the sound of words or syllables beyond their natural length.

3. Stuttering; or making many syllables of one.

4. Unintelligibleness; the result of the three foregoing united.

« ZurückWeiter »