[Price criticizes Mr. Brown’s defects:]

Symmetry is universally liked on its own account: formality, as such, universally disliked; but we often excuse formality for the sake of symmetry: now, Mr. Brown has upon system, and in almost all cases, very studiously destroyed symmetry, while he has in many instances preserved, and even increased formality.*


* [...] The same aversion to symmetry shewed itself in other arts as well as in gardening: fugues and imitations in music began to grow out of fashion, about the same time that terraces and avenues were demolished; but the improvements in modern music have a very different character from those in modern gardening, for no one can accuse Haydn or Paesiello of tameness or monotony. [191] The passion for strict fugues in music, and for exact symmetry in gardens, had been carried to excess; and when totally undisguised and unvaried, it created in both arts a dryness and pedantry of style: but the principle on which that passion is founded should never be totally neglected.  Some of the greatest masters of music in later times, among whom Handel claims the highest place, have done what improvers might well have done; they have not abandoned symmetry, but have mixed it, (particularly in accompaniments,) with what is more wild and irregular.  Among many other instances there is part of a chorus of Handel’s in the Oratorio of Jeptha, which strongly illustrates all that I have been dwelling upon.  It is that which begins

“ No more to Ammon’s God and King,”

a chorus which Mr. Gray, (by no means partial to Handel) used to speak of with wonder.  The first part, though admirable, is not to my present purpose; the second opens with a fugue on the words,

“ Chemosh no more

“ Will we adore,

“ With timbrell’d anthems to Jehovah due.”

The subject for two bars continues on the same note without any change of interval, and the simplicity and uniformity of the notes, may be compared to that of the strait line in visible objects.  The ear and the eye, by habit, equally judge of what is intended to have a correspondent part, even before that part is heard or seen; and feel a sensible pleasure when it is perceived, and a proportionable disappointment when it is wanting.  Here then the ear expects another set of voices to take up the strain it is become acquainted with, which accordingly is done; but then the counter-tenors who opened the fugue, instead of pursuing [192] something of the same uniform character as was usual in the more ancient fugues and cannons, join with the trebles, and break out into a light and brilliant melody (though still in fugue) on the words “ with timbrell’d anthems,” while the tenors continue the plain chant of the opening; which again, when they have finished it, the basses take up.  The surprize and delight at the fulness of the harmony when all the instruments join with this part, is enhanced by the recollection of the simple uniform beginning, and also by the general symmetry; that is, by the continued expectation of a correspondent part, the strain of which we know, but are ignorant of the rich, powerful, and commanding effect of the whole union: then the light, and brilliant strain, “ with timbrell’d anthems” joined to the varied touches of the instrumental parts, has the same kind of effect on the ear, as the playful and intricate forms of vegetation, mixed with the plain, solid, and distinct masses of stone, have on the eye.



There is, indeed, a very false idea with respect to originality which may have influenced Mr. Brown—that of rejecting all study and imitation of what others have done, for fear of being suspected of want of invention.  Sir Joshua Reynolds has admirably pointed out the fallacy of this notion, and the truth of a seeming paradox, viz. that imitation, (not servile imitation or direct copying) is often a source of originality,* and he has very happily remarked, [197] that by ceasing to study the works of others, an artist is reduced to the poorest of all imitations—that of his own works.  This seems precisely the case with Mr. Brown, and might possibly be owing to his ill-directed aim at originality.


* As a farther illustration of what Sir Joshua Reynolds has said upon the subject of imitation and originality, I will mention an example taken from an art in which he was not very conversant.  If ever there was a truly great and original genius in any art, Handel was that genius in music; and yet, what may seem no slight paradox, there never was a greater plagiary.  He seized, without scruple or concealment, whatever suited his purpose.  But as those sweets which the bee steals from a thousand flowers, by passing through its little laboratory, are converted into a substance peculiar to itself, and which no other [197] art can effect,—so, whatever Handel stole, by passing through the powerful laboratory of his mind, and mixing with his ideas, became as much his own as if he had been the inventor.  Like the bee, too, by his manner of working, he often have to what was unnoticed in its original situation, something of high and exquisite flavour.  To Handel might well be applied, what Boileau, with more truth than modesty, says of himself—

Et meme en imitant toujours original.[1]




            Modern music must be considered under the heads of composition and performance.*  I will first make a few observations on the present state of performance, because it has had a considerable influence on our compositions.

            About the beginning of this century the real art of performance was first studied.  Corelli may be reckoned the first improver of the violin, and consequently of the viola and violoncello.  It was [75] many years later that the hautbois, bassoon, French-horn, and trumpet were studied, and later still that the different Fort of instruments was attended to—for this last improvement (and many others) we are indebted to the German musicians.  Handel was the earliest performer in the true style of the harpsichord and organ, which has since been brought to so great a pitch of perfection.  The invention of the Piano-forte is very modern—this instrument has, not improperly, superceded the harpsichord.  The progressive state of the human powers has produced an excellence in style, and facility in performance, of which former times could have no conception.

            The cultivation of the vocal powers has been equally successful, and although in search of novelty we may sometimes seize absurdity, yet the art of singing has been equally improved with that of instrumental performance. [76]

            Excellent performance naturally produces music which is to keep pace with it—for no artist can shew his superiority over his predecessors, were his powers to be limited by the old music; and though the desire of improvement may lead us beyond the mark, yet by degrees, we are brought back again within the bounds of good sense; and, upon the whole, advance nearer to perfection.

            In the Silver-Age then, melody has been united with harmony, and both have been adorned by grace, taste, and expression.[2]




On the joining Poetry with Music.


IN some late remarks* on a musical publication, a wish is expressed, that the alliance of music and poetry were dissolved.  If by this is meant, that they are two distinct things, and exist independently of each other, it cannot be doubted; but if it means, that they ought always to be kept asunder, or that they are not the stronger from being properly united; the assertion, at least, may be questioned.

            When we read the Faery-Queene or Paradise-Lost, it is without the intrusion of any musical idea; the poems might have been written if music had never [356] existed, for the measure of the verse, which is all the analogy that can be pretended, bears no relation to musical measure.  Nay, those pieces which have lines of such a length as easily coincide with equal bars, are written and read, without any reference to music.

            In like manner, when we hear a symphony, or any composition merely instrumental, it is unaccompanied by poetical ideas; the composer thought of nothing but his subject, and the audience do not associate with it either verse or prose—in this sense then, there is no natural union between poetry and music: but an artificial union may be formed, and with increased effect.  After we have been accustomed to hear the same words sung to a particular air, the latter, if heard alone, will weakly excite the same kind of passion as when performed together—but if the tune had never been applied to the words, no such passion would [357] have been excited, for music receives determinate meaning from the words, which alone, it can never attain.*  The song and chorus of “Return O God of Hosts,” in the Oratorio of Samson, is undoubtedly a fine piece of devotional music, but it might with equal ease have been adapted to the complaints of a lover for the loss of his mistress.  The old psalm-tunes, so expressive of religious solemnity, were formerly in the French court applied to licentious songs; and that [358] peculiarly fine melody appropriated to the hundredth psalm, was sung to a popular love-ditty.  At present we may observe the reverse—many of our favourite song-tunes, are, by some religious establishments, applied to their hymns; which, as one of their teachers observed, is rescuing a good thing out of the clutches of Satan.  These conversations could never have succeeded, if poetry had not the power to determine what idea the music should express—take a yet stronger instance.  Let us imagine ourselves unacquainted with the well-known chorus of “For unto us, &c.” and that we heard the instrumental pasrt only—we should think it a fugue upon a pleasing subject, without applying it to any particular meaning, sacred or prophane.  Conceive it part of a comic opera—nothing is more easy than preserving the same form of words in a parody, to suit the purpose—suppose it done, and that there were common names in place of the sublime [359] appellations of the original—they would be equally well expressed; perhaps in one part, better; for the space between “called,” and the name, is so filled up in the violin parts, as would more properly introduce the names we have imagined to be substituted, than those terms which really follow.

            Let us next suppose the composer of an oratorio applying the same music to the passage in the prophet, as at present, and the chorus is heard with its proper words.  We have now a sublime and religious idea impressed, to which we think the music admirably adapted, and where our sensation is in unison.  Religion and ridicule differing in the extreme, no other subjects could be found so proper for proving the point to be established.

            By all these instances, it is plain, that the same music may be applied for opposite purposes, and equally well; and [360] although they also evidently shew that music alone expresses no determinate sentiment, yet that it increases the expression, and even meaning of the words, whenever they are judiciously conjoined; for whether the music had been only applied to the psalms of songs—to the choruses either for a serious or comic effect; yet it is most certain that the words and the music are the more expressive for each other.

            Let music and poetry then be kept distinct, when it is for their mutual advantage to be so; they have each their particular, and sufficient consequence, to subsist, without collateral support; but all the world has felt that they may be combined, and receive so much additional effect, that we must oppose the slightest wish to dissolve an union productive of such exquisite pleasure.[3]




A proper Length necessary for Musical and Literary Productions.


ALL productions of art which cannot, like painting and statuary, produce an instant effect, ought to be of that duration as neither to fatigue the attention by length, nor prevent the necessary impression on the mind for want of it.

            If this principle had ever been fixed as necessary to produce effect, so many compositions in music and literature would not have failed in giving that pleasure to the sense of imagination, which their excellence must otherwise have commanded.  But so far from any such principle being fixed, it does not seem to have occurred that there is any reason for its existence. [416]

            If the Iliad had not been longer than one of its books, it would certainly have been too short; and there are few persons, if they would be honest, but feel twenty-four books much too long. […]

            The Oratorio of Judas Maccabaeus possesses some of the finest specimens of Handel’s compositions.  The song “Father of Heaven” has no other fault than being a little too long.  I remember it encored twice, and a third encore attempted.  The effect of this repetition, on my sensations, was exceedingly distressful, and produced a mental surfeit, which, like that of the stomach, took much time to remove. [417]

            All German composers have too many movements in their symphonies, and make their movements too long.  Croft’s Anthems merit the same censure.  Each act of an Opera or Oratorio, is at least one third too long.  Any song, except the old ballad (where the same air is repeated) should consist but of three verses, which, in general, is the best number.  An air, with variations, must have peculiar merit to admit of more than six. […] In the performances of music, long cadences, long swells, and long shakes, are most distressing things to the afflicted audience—for afflicted they are, notwithstanding they applaud so loudly.

            [… 418419 …]

            I might much encrease these instances, but they are sufficient to establish my position—“That a due length is necessary to produce good effect.”[4]




Thus, the perfection of vocal melody consists in its being the best adapted to convey and enforce sentiments expressive of the virtuous emotions of the mind.  And, as the affecting of the heart is to be preferred to the mere gratification of the ear, the perfection of instrumental melody is the good imitation of the best vocal; especially as this imitation, in itself, is highly pleasant to the sense.

Hence we see that good music is favourable to virtue.  Its true use, as expressed by the author of the first account of Handel’s life, is to heighten the natural impressions of religion and humanity.  This is chiefly effected by [37] means of that kind of melody which excites the affections.[5]




Oct 17

[dedication: 17 October 1798]



      All day, along that mountain’s heathy waste,

Booted and strapt, and in rough coat succinct,

His small shrill whistle pendent at his breast,

With dogs and gun, untir’d the sportsman roams;

Nor quits his wildly-devious range, till eve,

Upon the woods, the rocks, and mazy rills

Descending, warns him home: then he rejoins

The social circle, just as the clear moon,

Emerging o’er the sable mountain, sails

Silent, and calm, and beautiful, and sheds

Its solemn grandeur on the shadowy scene.

To Musick then; and let some chosen strain

Of HANDEL gently recreate the sense,

And give the silent heart to tender joy.[6]




Dec 8

[first performance: 8 December 1798.]


Bonus (reading newspaper).  Last night the Oratorios overflow’d.”—Oratorio!—now there’s the extravagance of these Londo[n]ers—they won’t go to church, where they can have sacred music for nothing, but because it is in a theatre, they’ll pay to hear it.—“Plymouth!”—ay, this is in my own way—this is country news.—“Yesterday a celebrated lottery-office keeper stood in the pilloryWind East.”—Now what the devil has wind East to do with it?—but at Portsmouth or Plymouth, if a man is robb’d or murder’d, the account is sure to conclude with Wind East.—“Barbadoes.”—Oh, this concerns my ward Emily—“Barbadoes!On “the 28th ult. a dreadful hurricane”—what’s here! a hurricane!—“swept away—east part of island—particularly—estate call’d Mount Columbo!”—zounds! here’s wind East with a vengeance! why the girl’s ruin’d!—she’s a lame duck![7]



[1] Uvedale Price, Essays on the Picturesque, as compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful; and, on The Use of Studying Pictures, for the Purpose of Improving Real Landscape, vol. 2 (London, 1798), 190–92, note, 196–97.

* I purposely omit the philosophy of sound, and the mathematical proportion of intervals, as having in fact nothing to do with composition or performance.

[2] William Jackson, The Four Ages; Together with Essays on Various Subjects (London: Cadell and Davies, 1798), 74–76.

* In the Monthly Review.

* It is true that we find the terms summer and winter, noon and night, battle and chace, given to pieces from some fancied resemblance between them.  The proving that summer and winter, &c. have no connection with musical expression, I suppose will not be expected.  As marches are performed by military bands, they induce the idea of soldiers—when we hear one we think of the other; and as French-horns make part of the paraphernalia of hunting, in pieces where we find a frequent interchange of fifths, sixths, and octaves, we join with it the idea of a chace—but all this is association.

[3] William Jackson, The Four Ages; Together with Essays on Various Subjects (London: Cadell and Davies, 1798), 355–60.

[4] William Jackson, The Four Ages; Together with Essays on Various Subjects (London: Cadell and Davies, 1798), 415–19.

[5] Melody—The Soul of Music: An Essay towards the Improvement of the Musical Art (Glasgow: [?], 1798), 36–37.

[6] [W. L. Bowles], Coombe Ellen: A Poem, written in Radnorshire, September 1798 (Bath: R. Cruttwell, 1798), 14.

[7] Frederick Reynolds, Laugh When You Can (London: T. N. Longman and O. Rees, 1799), 73.