Page images
PDF
EPUB

least willing to keep its peculiarities in the back-ground, except when we find them the theme of praise among strangers. The simple and upsophisticated among us, may be as Scotch as ever. To such, Scotish music and Scotish mountains, Scotish dancing and Scotish dishes, the language, and the laws of Scotland, are all the best of their kind in the world. But those who have lost the honesty of ignorance without reaching the vatange-ground of instruction-those who occupy the debateable land between vulgarity and fashion-think it a duty to suppress or conceal their national predilections, and to depreciate or despise what is Scotish, unless when they find themselves not in safely to do so. To these persons, and to many who think themselves free from the fault, Scotish melody brings with it not only no prejudices from early association, but is even on that ground suspected of being too vulgar and vernacular to be acknowledged ; and many a would-be fine lady, who makes a fool of herself in . Di tanti palpiti,' or · Una voce poco fa,' thinks it an insult when we ask her if she can sing Low down in the • Broom,' or • Logie o' Buchan.'

Believing that the latter is the more grievous mistake of the two, we shall now venture to express, in a few sentences, the admiration which we feel for Scotish music; and do our best to replace it in its merited position in public favour. It may partly promote this object to impress on our readers, what seems daily more certain in the progress of such enquiries, that the peculiarities of our Scotish airs must not be considered as the results of rudeness or ignorance; but are conformable to the approved, and, indeed, the only principles of composition prevailing in the remoter periods which produced them. The flat seventh in the ascending minor key, which is a remarkable feature in Scotish musie, was the regular form of intonation in all our music until a comparatively recent period. The modulation, which we consider so characteristic of nationality, from the minor chord (popularly speaking) of the tonic to the major chord of the tone below-as from D F A to CEG-is still to be traced in the works of the highest masters. Indeed, the greatest composers of modern times -and Beethoven in particular-are in the practice of resorting to these simple and old-fashioned forms of tonality, from a sense of their superiority in expressing certain emotions; and as a contrast and corrective to the too chromatic and luscious sweetness of modern intervals. If we are to despise Scotch music, therefore, let us not do it as being rude and irregular. It belongs to an old school, less refined, less flexible, and less voluptuous than the one now prevailing; but yet founded in principles of science, and, if we mistake not, or if the experience of many revolving years may be believed, founded also in the principles of the human beart. But it is not necessary to set the two styles of composition in conflict with each other. We are not declaring war against modern music; we are seeking merely to restore the old to its due honour. We may admire both, if we can admire either; and indeed, we somewbat doubt whether any person can truly admire the one without also admiring the other.

The ancient melody of Scotland is distinguished from modern music by those tonal peculiarities which characterise all music of an earlier date. The individual character of Scotch music, as a class, depends upon the manner in which those peculiar tonalities have been made us of;—as demonstrative either of melodic skill, or expressive of mental emotion. In both of these respects, the Scotch melodies undoubtedly possess great excellence. The range of their modulations is limited, probably both by the scale which their composers employed, and by the rules of that simplicity which ballad music, if we may so call it, ought always to preserve. But those modulations are conducted often with great art and ingenuity, in a musical point of view; while they are made eminently subservient to purposes of expression. The modulations chiefly used, are from the major to the relative minor, and vice versâ ; from the minor chord of the tonic to the major chord of the tone below,-a peculiarity which we already noticed ; and from the tonic to the dominant, particulary in minor keys. A beautiful example of the management of these two lastmentioned modulations is to be found in the air of Bonny • Dundee;' or as we prefer to call it, after the Skene MS., Adew • Dundee.'

Authentic Scotch airs in a purely major key, are certainly not wanting; and many of them are graceful and pleasing; but they do not, we think, so well exbibit either the musical character or the expressive power of our native melodies. The most beautiful and affecting airs are those in which major and minor modulations are interwoven together like the shower and the sunbeam of an April day, when the feelings or recollections of grief and gladness, pity and love, fear and confidence, are struggling for the ascendency, and each alternately gives law to the strain. Any one who carefully analyses our music, will be much struck with the variety and effect of these changes, which have not always been fully attended to; either by those who have arranged harmonies, or those who have written verses to accompany the airs. A good deal, we think, has yet to be done in these departments, as well as in pointing out the peculiar phrases which prevail in Scotch melody, and the manner and character of their successive transitions.

Among the later compositions of Scotland, are to be found several examples of beautiful melodies constructed on the modern minor key with the sharp seventh. A favourable specimen of this class may be found in the air, “She rose and loot me in;' which is as persectly chromatic within the minor key as the most scientific composition. This air, we believe, may be traced back to the end of ihe 17th century; but it differs wholly in character and structure from our older melodies; and, in particular, from those which are found in the Skene MS., which contains no instance of a sharp seventh in the minor key. This circumstance may be taken as an additional proof of its antiquity.

The edition wbich the Skene MS. exhibits of some of our popular melodies, will probably give rise to a difference of opinion as to their relative merits, when compared with our modern forms of the same airs. This dispute resolves into a question that has long divided the world, and will long continue to do so; namely, whether simplicity or embellishment be the greater source of delight in the refined arts. For our part, we cast in our lot with Mr Dauney and the poet, and greatly prefer the simple sels of some of our melodies which this publication affords us, to the tawdry and tinselly transmutations into which the florid school of singing has, in the course of time, converted them. It is well known that, some years ago, a style of trilling and trembling was as much in request among our native singers, as it ever was at Vauxhall itself. This vicious system arises, in most cases, from the same causes; first, that it seems much more difficult, and, secondly, that it is in fact much more easy to sing a number of demi-semiquavers, than to give beauty and expression to plain and prolonged notes. Just as a drunken man can run when he can no longer stand, an unsteady voice or ear is constantly longing to get away from any continuous sound, and to flutter and flourish up and down among ornaments and variations that may blind the audience to its defects. Under the management, however, of a truly good or a truly correct singer, there is infinitely more room for taste, and for expression, in a sober and sustained melody, than in all the runs and roulades that Mrs Billington ever executed or imagined. Let ornaments and. cadences be left to flutes and fiddles; but let the human voice not throw away its own peculiar power of articulation and passion, by frittering to nothing those melodies which might be made to swell and die upon the ear with such expressive simplicity. We consider it as one of the best tendencies of Mr Dauney's publication, to stem the torrent of innovation in this respect, and to turn the stream into a more natural and more delightful channel.

We trust that the publication we are now noticing, will have some effect, not merely in stimulating enquiry into the melodies of Scotland, but also in awakening and extending a similar spirit in other countries. A copious collection of native European melodies, simply and faithfully recorded, would present a most interesting and useful body of musical studies and suggestions. The pleasure received from the early poetry of other pations, must always be greatly limited by the difficulty of understanding the langage in which it is wrapped up. But music is a universal language, exempted from the curse of the confusion of tongues, and in which tribes of remote position or origin may yet converse with each other as intelligibly as if the building of Babel had never been attempted. It would be interesting, anthropologically speaking, to enquire whether there are any diversities of musical style characteristic of the leading divisions or subdivisions into which our species has been classed; -whether, for instance, the Caucasian of the Teutonic race exhibits in this respect any thing of that similarity which so widely pervades their features and their dialects. It would be interesting to search our own dominions in the East, in the same spirit and with the same accuracy which has been employed at home; and to ascertain whether, in music, we can discover any further trace of that wonderful affinity which so singularly links together the most learned language of ancient India and the humblest form of speech that is spoken at our own door.. At all events, and to whatever results it may lead, it must always be a fitting subject of enquiry for an enquiring age, and where the knowledge is attainable on reasonable terms, to know more of our common nature in every quarter of the world; and to ascertain in what varieties of accent and utterance our fellow-creatures, wherever placed, have been expressing their human feelings, whether of joy or sorrow, and gratifying those longings after beauty and grace, 'which, next to the moral sense and the intellectual faculties, distinguish us from the brutes that perish, and which prove so pleasingly, that we are the creatures of a benevolent Maker, who willed that we should live on earth not for purposes of labour or usefulness alone, but for enjoyment and happiness.

It would be unjust if we were to conclude without mentioning, that Mr Dauney's book contains a very masterly analysis of Scotch melody, by Mr Dun of Edinburgh, and an able attempt to refer its peculiarities to the rules of the ecclesiastical cantofermo. We shall offer no opinion on this theory, but shall merely say, that in any future discussion among musical antiquarians on the subject, Mr Dun's views must be entitled to a very respectful consideration.

Art. IX.- Remarks on the Character and Writings of John

Milton. By William ELLERY CHANNING, LL.D. Third Edi• tion, 12mo. London: 1838.

2

s the name of Dr Channing stands high in American litera

ture for several works which have shown much vigour of thinking, some talent for declamation, and generally considerable success in composition, we are bound to observe that, had nothing from his pen ever reached us but the tract now before us, we should have been at a loss to comprehend the grounds of the reputation which he enjoys to a certain degree on either side of the Atlantic. The taste which it displays is far from being correct; his diction is exceedingly affected; and the affectation is that of extreme vigour and refinement of thought, often when he is only upmeaning, contradictory, or obscure. His opinions on critical matters likewise indicate a very defective taste, and show that, in his own practice of writing, he goes wrong on a false theory; and in pursuit of the striking'--the grand'--the uncommon. That his style should be perspicuous can, indeed, hardly be expected, when he avows the incredible opinion, that a composition may be too easily understood, and complains of the recent efforts to make science intelligible to the bulk of mankind, that their tendency is to degrade philosophy under the show of seeking after usefulness. The tract before us is, indeed, less obscurely written than the ventilation of this absurd notion by its author might have led us to expect; but, if not so unintelligible, it is fully as shallow in most of its remarks as could well have been imagined of any writing that proceeded from a very respectable quarter.

It seems to be the especial office of sound periodical criticism to watch over the purity of the public taste, and, above all, lo prevent it from being tainted, by timely warning against the influence of theoretical errors committed by eminent authors, or

« PreviousContinue »