FRANCE and ITALY:
The JOURNAL of a TOUR through those
Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for
A GENERAL HISTORY OF MUSIC.
By CHARLES BURNEY, Mus. D.
Ei cantarono allor si dolcemente,
Che la dolcezza ancor dentro mi suon.
DANTE, Purg. Canto 2do.
Printed for T. BECKET and Co. in the Strand.
Perhaps the grave and wise may regard music as a frivolous and enervating luxury; [...] Electricity is universally allowed to be a very entertaining and surprising phenomenon, but it has frequently been  lamented that it has never yet, with much certainty, been applied to any very useful purpose. The same reflexion has often been made, no doubt, as to music. It is a charming resource, in an idle hour, to the rich and luxurious part of the world. But say the sour and the worldly, what is its use to the rest of mankind? To this it may be answered, that, in England, perhaps more than in any other country, it is easy to point out the humane and important purposes to which it has been applied. Its assistance has been called in by the most respectable profession in this kingdom, in order to open the purses of the affluent for the support of the distressed offspring of their deceased brethren *. Many an orphan is cherished by its influence †.—The pangs of child-birth are softened and rendered less dangerous  and dreadful by the effects of its power *. It helps, perhaps, to stop the ravages of a disease which attacks the very source of life †. And, lastly, it enables its own professors to do what few others can boast – to maintain their own poor: by that admirable and well-directed institution, known by the name of The Society for the Support of decayed Musicians and their Families.
[Paris, “Thursday 14.” June 1770. Impressions from attending a concert Spirituel. Burney criticizes Beatus Vir, a motet in grand chorus.]
[...] But the last chorus was a finisher with a vengeance! it surpassed, in clamour, all the noises I had ever heard in my life. I have frequently thought the chorusses [sic] of our oratorios rather too loud and violent; but, compared with these, they are soft music, such as might sooth and lull to sleep the heroine of a tragedy.
[Paris, “Friday 15.” June]
[...] But it seems to be with the serious French opera here, as it is with our oratorios in England; people are tired of the old by hearing them so often; the style has been pushed perhaps to its utmost  boundary, and is exhausted; and yet they cannot relish any new attempts at pleasing them in a different way: what is there in this world not subject to change? [...]
[“Friday, July 20”]
The singing, though in general rather better than at our oratorios, was by no means so good as we often hear in England at the Italian opera. [...]
[Venice, “9th.” August]
There was music this evening at the church of St. Laurence, composed and directed by Signor Sacchini, at which, as it was the vigil of this saint, there was a great crowd. I suffered, as well as every one else, too much by the heat, perhaps, to be easily pleased, and the composition seemed rather more common than that I had heard of this ingenious master before; however, the vocal parts were not so well performed, as there were no other singers than those of St. Mark’s church, who most excel in mere church music, accompanied only by the organ. The voices were not good enough for long solo parts, nor strong enough to get through a large band; however there were many very pleasing and agreeable movements, and some of the chorusses [sic]  were well worked in the fugue and oratorio way. But for this kind of music, that of Handel will, I believe, ever stand superior to all other writers; at least I have heard nothing yet on the continent of equal force and effect. There is often in the compositions of others, more melody in the solo parts, more delicacy, and more light and shade, but as to harmony and contrivance, no one comes near him by many degrees. I must confess that I had heard some of Handel’s music so long, and often so ill performed, that I was somewhat tired and disgusted with it; but my Italian journey, instead of lowering the esteem I ever had for the best writings of that truly great artist, exalted them in my opinion, and at my return renewed my pleasure in hearing them performed. As yet I had heard little but church music in Italy; however, in that stile, with instruments, all other compositions appeared feeble by comparison. The subjects of the fugues were, in  general, trivial and common, and the manner of working them dry and artless. Indeed the church stile, without instruments, except the organ, was well known in Italy, and all over Europe, long before Handel’s time; and melody is certainly much refined since: it is more graceful, more pathetic, and even more gay; but for counter-point, fugues, and chorusses [sic] of many voices, with instruments, I repeat it, I neither have heard, nor do I ever expect to hear him equalled [sic].
[Venice, “Sunday 12.” August]
[...] If we compare the music of Mr. Handel’s first oratorios with the operas he composed about the same time, it will appear that the airs of the one are often as gay as those of the other. And as to the chorusses [sic] of an opera, which are all to be in action, and performed by memory, they must of course be shorter and less laboured than those of an oratorio, where every singer has his part before him, and where a composer is allowed sufficient time to display his abilities in every species of what is called by musicians good writing.
[Bologna, “Saturday 25.” August]
[...] He [Farinelli] repeated a conversation he had with Queen Caroline, about Cuzzoni and Faustina; and gave me an account of his first performance at court to his late majesty George the IId. in which he was accompanied on the harpsichord by the princess royal, afterwards princess of Orange, who insisted on his singing two of Handel’s songs at sight, printed in a different clef, and composed in a different stile from what he had ever been used to. He told me of his journey into the country with the Duke and Duchess of Leeds; and with Lord Cobham; of the feuds of the two operas; of the part which the late Prince of Wales took with that managed by the nobility; and the Queen  and Princess Royal with that which was under the direction of Handel.
[Rome, “Tuesday 25.” September]
[...] Signor Santarelli obliged me with extracts from two MS. volumes of curious anecdotes, and passages from old and scarce books relative to music; the whole collected in the course of many years conversation and reading. I must add to these favours, that of procuring me some of the most curious and scarce printed books which I sought at Rome: it was owing to his friendly zeal likewise, that, after three weeks spent in vain by myself and friends there, in search of the first oratorio that was ever set to music, I at length got a sight and copy of it; […]
[Naples, 26 October]
Friday 26. This morning I first had the pleasure of seeing and conversing with Signor Jomelli, who arrived at Naples from the country but the night before. He is extremely corpulent, and, in the face, not unlike what I remember Handel to have been, yet far more polite and soft in his manner. [...]
[Rome, “Sunday, Nov. 11.”]
In the afternoon I went to the Chiesa Nuova, to hear an oratorio in that church, where the sacred drama took its rise. There are two galleries; in one there is an organ, and in the other a harpsichord; in the former the service was begun by the matins in four parts, alla Palestrina; then the Salve Regina was sung a voce sola, after which there were prayers; and then a little boy, not above six years old, mounted the pulpit, and delivered a discourse, by way of sermon, which he had got by heart, and which was rendered truly ridiculous by the vehicle through which it passed. The oratorio of Abigail, set to music by Signor Casali, was then performed. This drama consisted of four characters, and was divided into two parts. The two first  movements of the overture pleased me very much, the last not at all. It was, as usual, a minuet degenerated into a jigg [sic] of the most common cast. This rapidity in the minuets of all modern overtures renders them ungraceful at an opera, but in a church they are indecent. The rest of the music was pretty common place, for though it could boast of no new melody or modulation, it had nothing vulgar in it.
[… 365 …]
Between the two parts of this oratorio, there was a sermon by a Jesuit, delivered from the same pulpit from whence the child had descended. I waited to hear the last chorus, which, though it was sung by book, was as light and as unmeaning as an opera chorus, which must be got by heart. With respect to a true oratorio chorus accompanied with instruments in the manner of Handel’s, I heard but few all the time I was in Italy. [...]
* At the Feast of the Sons of the Clergy.
† The Messiah is annually performed for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital.
* The benefit every year for the Lying-in-Hospital, Brownlow street.
† The musical performance for the Lock Hospital.
 Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy: Or, The Journal of a Tour through those Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for A General History of Music (London: T. Becket, 1771).