Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

them. In what light this discovery was considered during the dark times of monkery the following passage will clearly evince:

“As St. Germanus (Bishop of Auxerre in the beginning of the 15th century] was sailing to Britain [to extirpate the heresy of Pelagianism, which had been planted in England by one Agricola, son of a Pelagian bishop, in the year 429,] a horrible tempest arose, raised by the devil, as it afterwards plainly appeared. The saint was fast asleep in the ship; but, being roused by the cries of the perishing crew, he rebuked the storm, and in the name of the Trinity sprinkled a few drops of holy oil upon the raging waves, and instantly there was a calm." - See the 2d of Dr. Jortin's Six Dissertations, p. 73. 1779, Nov.

X.

LXIV. Some account of a Musical Prodigy.

HAVING about the year 1777 received a letter from Norwich, with an account of the extraordinary powers of a child of two years old in playing upon the organ, we deferred publishing the particulars till the fact should be better authenticated. We have now the pleasure of entertaining our readers with a narrative of what Dr. Burney calls an uncommon exertion of the human faculties, at a more early period of life than they usually develope. It is abridged from a paper written by Dr. Burney, addressed to Dr. Hunter, in the first part of the Philosophical Transactions for the present year, and is as follows:

WILLIAM CROTCH was born at Norwich, July 5, 1775. His father, by trade a carpenter, having a passion for music, of which however he had no knowledge, undertook to build an organ, on which, as soon as it would speak, he learned to play two or three common tunes, such as God save great George our King ; Let Ambition fire thy Mind; and The Easter Hymn ; with which, and such chords as were pleasing to his ear, he used to try the perfection of his instrument.

About Christmas 1776, his child William, then only a year and a half old, was observed to pay an uncommon ato tention to music, by leaving his food and listening when the organ was playing; and about Midsummer 1777, he would

even touch the key-note of bis particular favourite tunes, in order to persuade his father to play them. Soon after this, as he was unable to name these tunes, he would play the two or three first notes of them, when he thought the key-note did not sufficiently explain that which he wished to have played.

But, according to his mother, it seems to have been in consequence of his having heard the superior performance of Mrs. Lulman, a musical lady, who came to try his father's organ, that he first attempted to play a tune himself: for, the same evening, after her departure, the child cried, and was so peevish that his mother was wholly unable to appease him. At length, passing through the dining-room, he screamed and struggled violently to go to the organ, in which when he was indulged, he eagerly beat down the keys with his little fists.

The next day, however, being left in the dining-room with his brother, a youth of about fourteen, he would not let him rest till he blew the bellows of the organ"; and while he sat on his brother's knee, he beat down the keys, at first promiscuously, but presently, with one hand, he played enough of God save great George our King to awaken the curiosity of his father, who, being in a garret, which was his work-shop, hastened down stairs to inform himself who was playing this tune on the organ. When he found it was the child he could hardly believe what he heard and saw. At this time he was exactly two years and three weeks old.

It is easy to account for God save great George our King being the first tune he attempted to play, as it was not only that which his father often performed, but had been most frequently administered to him as a narcotic by his mother. It had likewise been more magnificently played than he was accustomed to hear, by Mrs. Lulman, the afternoon before he became a practical musician himself; and, previous to this event, he used to tease his father to play this tune on his organ, and was very clamorous when he did nor carry his point.

His performance was first remarked in the absence of the mother, who no sooner came bome than the father, with a look which at once implied joy, wonder, and mystery, desired her to go up stairs with him, as he had something curious to shew her. She obeyed, wondering what she was to see; but was as much surprised as the father, on hearing the child play the first part of God save great George our K'ing; and more so the next day, when he had made himself

master of the treble of the second part. The third day he. attempted the base, which he performed nearly correct, except the note immediately before the close, which, being an octave below the preceding sound, was out of the reach of his little hand.

In the beginning of November, 1777, he played both the treble and base of Let Ambition fire thy Mind.

Upon the parents relating this extraordinary circumstance to some of their neighbours, they laughed at it; and, regarding it as the effect of partial fondness for their child, advised them by no means to mention it, as such a marvellous account would only expose them to ridicule. However, a few days after, Mr. Crotch being ill, and unable to go out to work, Mr. Paul, a tradesman by whom he was em. ployed, passing accidentally, by, and hearing the organ, fancied that Crotch, instead of being ill, had been idle, and had stayed at home in order to divert himself on his favourite instrument: fully prepossessed with this idea, he entered the house, and, suddenly opening the dining-room door, saw the child playing on the organ while his brother was blowing the bellows. Mr. Paul thought the performance so extraordinary, that he immediately brought two or three of the neighbours to hear it, who propagating the report, a crowd of near a hundred people came the next day to hear the young performer, and, on the following days, a still greater number; till at length, the child's parents were forced to limit his exhibition to certain days and hours, in order to lessen his fatigue, and exempt themselves from the inconvenience of constant attendance.

[This account agrees in most particulars with the letter we received from Norwich.)

The first voluntary the child ever heard with attention* was performed at his father's house by Mr. Mully, a musicmaster; and as soon as he was gone, the child seemning to play on the organ in a wild and different manner from what his mother was accustomed to hear, she asked him, what he was doing? and he replied, “I am playing the gentleman's fine thing." But she was unable to judge of the resemblance: however, when Mr. Mully returned a few days after, and was asked, whether the child had remembered any of the passages in his voluntary, he answered in the

* When his father carried him to the cathedral, he used to cry the moinent he heard the loud orgall, which Dr. Burney supposes was too powerful for the delicacy of bis nerves.

affirmative. This happened about the middle of November, 1777, when he was only two years and four months old, and for a considerable time after he would play nothing else but these passages; for being in every other respect a mere infant, he could no more be persuaded to play than a bird to sing. Yet such was the rapid progress he had made in judging of the agreement of sounds, that he could play soon after, when in the humour, the Easter-hymn with full harmony; and in the last two or three bars of Hallelujah, where the same sound is sustained, he played chords with both bands, by which the parts were multiplied to six, which he had great difficulty in reaching on account of the shortness of his fingers.

From this period his memory was very accurate in re. taining any tune that pleased him; and being present at a concert where a band of gentlemen performers played the overture in Rodelinda, he was so delighted with the minuet, that the next morning he hummed part of it in bed; and by noon, without any further assistance, played the whole on the organ.

His chief delight at present is in playing voluntaries, which certainly manifest such a discernment and selection of notes as is truly wonderful, and which, when spontaneous, surprise at any age. But though he executes fragments of common tunes in very good time, yet no adherence to any particular measure is discoverable in his voluntaries; and indeed his ear, though exquisitely formed for discriminating sounds, is as yet only captivated by vulgar and common melody, and is satisfied with very imperfect harmony; an instance of which appeared when he first heard the voice of Signor Pacchierotti, the principal singer of the opera : he did not seem sensible of the superior taste and refinement of that exquisite performer; but called out very soon after the air was begun, “ He is singing in F.”

And this is one of the astonishing properties of his ear, that he can distinguish at a great distance from any instrus ment, and out of sight of the keys, any note that is struck, whether A, B, C, &c. a circumstance the more extraordia nary, as many practitioners and good performers are un. able to distinguish by the ear in what key any air or piece of music is executed. I was, says Dr. Burney, curious to know when, and in what manner, this faculty first discovered itself; and, on inquiry, his father gave this answer: that, in the middle of January 1778, while he was playing the organ, a particular note hung, or, to speak the language of organ: builders, ciphered, by which the tone was continued

without the pressure of the finger: and though neither hima self nor his elder son could find out what note it was, the child, who was then amusing himself with drawing on the floor*, left that employment, and going to the organ immediately laid his hand on the note that ciphered. Mr. Crotch thinking this the effect of chance, the next day purposely caused several notes to cipher, one after the other, all which he instantly discovered; and at last his father weakened the springs of two keys at once, which, by preventing the valves of the wind-chest from closing, occasioned a double cipher, both of which the child directly found out.

Another wonderful part of his prematurity was the being able, at two years and four months old, to transpose into the most extraneous and difficult keys whatever he played; and now, in his extemporaneous fights, he modulates into all keys with equal facility.

The last qualification which I shall point out as extraordinary in this infant musician, is the being able to play an extemporary base to easy melodies when performed by another person upon the same instrument. But these bases must not be imagined correct, according to the rules of counterpoint, any more than his voluntaries. He generally gives, indeed, the key-note to passages formed from its common chord and its inversions, and is quick at discovering when the fifth of the key will serve as a base. At other times he makes the third of the key serve as an accompaniment to melodies formed from the harmony of the chord to the keynote; and if simple passages are played slow, in a regular progression ascending or descending, he soon finds out that thirds or tenths below the treble will serve his purpose in furnishing an agreeable accompaniment.

Of this Dr. Burney made trial, and found that the child was equally ready in finding a treble to a base, as a base to a treble, it played in slow notes; that is, if, after the chord of C natural is struck, C be made sharp, he soon finds out that A makes a good base to it; and on the contrary, if, after the chord of D with a sharp third, F is made natural, and A is changed into B, he instantly gives G for the base.

Dr. Burney to this account has added the names of several musical prodigies of this kind, and among others the two sons of the Rev. Mr. Westley, the eldest of whom, Charles,

* It must not be forgotten, that this child is equally delighted with drawing as with music, and, when tired at his organ, he is ever making sketches of ono thing or other as he crawls on the floor.

« ZurückWeiter »