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bird that abandons the nest which human touch has violated ; and in many a song do we hear the last farewell of the exile *, mingling sad regret for the ties he leaves at home, with sanguine expectations of the honours that await him abroad - such honours as were won on the field of Fontenoy, where the valour of Irish Catholics turned the fortune of the day, and extorted from George the Second that memorable exclamation, “ Cursed be the laws which deprive me of such subjects !”
Though much has been said of the antiquity of our music, it is certain that our finest and most popular airs are modern ; and perhaps we may look no further than the last disgraceful century for the origin of most of those wild and melancholy strains which were at once the offspring and solace of grief, and were applied to the mind, as music was formerly to the body, “decantare loca dolentia.” Mr. Pinkerton is of opinion † that none of the Scotch popular airs are as old as the middle of the sixteenth century ; and though musical antiquaries refer us, for some of our melodies, to so early a period as the fifth century, I am persuaded that there are few, of a civilized description (and by this I mean to exclude all the savage Ceanans, Cries $, &c.), which can claim quite so ancient a date as Mr. Pinkerton allows to the Scotch. But music is not the only subject upon which our taste for antiquity is rather unreasonably indulged ; and, however heretical it may be to dissent from these romantic speculations, I cannot help thinking that it is possible to love our country very zealously, and to feel deeply interested in her honour and happiness, without believing that Irish was the language spoken in Paradise $ ; that our ancestors were kind enough to take the trouble
* The associations of the Hindu music, though more obvious and defined, were far less touching and characteristic. They divided their songs according to the seasons of the year, by which (says Sir William Jones)“ they were able to recall the memory of autumnal merriment, at the close of the harvest, or of separation and melancholy during the cold months,” &c. - Asiatic Transactions, vol. iii., on the Musical Modes of the Hindus. What the Abbé du Bos says of the symphonies of Lully, may be asserted, with much more probability, of our bold and impassioned airs – “elles auroient produit de ces effets, qui nous paroissent fabuleux dans le récit des anciens, si on les avoit fait entendre à des hommes d'un naturel aussi vif que les Athéniens.” — Reflex. sur la Peinture, 8c. tom. i. sect. 45.
† Dissertation, prefixed to the 2d volume of his Scottish Ballads.
I Of which some genuine specimens may be found at the end of Mr. Walker's Work upon the Irish bards. Mr. Bunting has disfigured his last splendid volume hy too many of these barbarous rhapsodies. § See Advertisement to the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Dublin,
of polishing the Greeks *, or that A baris, the Hyperborean, was a native of the North of Ireland. +
By some of these archæologists it has been imagined that the Irish were early acquainted with counter-point $; and they endeavour to support this conjecture by a well known passage in Giraldus, where he dilates, with such elaborate praise, upon the beauties of our national minstrelsy. But the terms of this eulogy are too vague, too deficient in technical accuracy, to prove that even Giraldus himself knew any thing of the artifice of counter-point. There are many expressions in the Greek and Latin writers which might be cited, with much more plausibility, to prove that they understood the arrangement of music in parts &; yet I believe it is conceded in general by the learned, that, however grand and pathetic the melody of the ancients may have been, it was reserved for the ingenuity of modern Science to transmit the “light of Song" through the variegating prism of Harmony.
Indeed, the irregular scale of the early Irish (in which, as in the music of Scotland, the interval of the fourth was wanting ||») must have furnished but wild and. refractory subjects to the harmonist. It was only when the invention of Guido began to be known, and the powers of the harp* were enlarged by additional strings, that our melodies took the sweet character which interests us at present; and while the Scotch persevered in the old mutilation of the scale †, our music became gradually more amenable to the laws of harmony and counter-point.
* O'Halloran, vol. i. part iv. chap. vii. | Id. ib. chap. vi.
# It is also supposed, but with as little proof, that they understood the diésis, or enharmonic interval.- The Greeks seem to have formed their ears to this delicate gradation of sound ; and, whatever difficulties or objections may lie in the way of its practical use, we must agree with Mersenne (Préludes de l'Harmonie, quest. 7.), that the theory of Music would be imperfect without it; and even in practice (as Tosi, among others, very justly remarks, Observations on Florid Song, chap. i. sect. 16.), there is no good performer on the violin who does not make a sensible difference between D sharp and E flat, though, from the imperfection of the instru. ment, they are the same notes upon the piano forte. The effect of modulation by enharmonic transitions is also very striking and beautiful.
§ The words folkinsa and Grego@arios, in a passage of Plato, and some expressions of Cicero in Fragment, lib. ii. de Republ., induced the Abbé Fraguier to maintain that the ancients had a knowledge of counter.point. M. Burette, however, has answered him, I think, satisfactorily. (Examen d'un passage de Platon, in the 3d vol. of Histoire de l'Acad.) M. Huet is of opinion (Pensées Diverses), that what Cicero says of the music of the spheres, in his dream of Scipio, is sufficient to prove an acquaintance with harmony; but one of the strongest passages, which I recollect, in favour of the supposition, occurs in the Treatise attributed to Aristotle – IIigs Κοσμου, - Μουσικη δε οξεις άμα και βαρεις, κ. τ. λ.
|| Another lawless peculiarity of our music is the frequency of what composers call consecutive fifths; but this is an irregularity which can hardly be avoided by persons not very conversant with the rules of composition ; indeed, if I may venture to cite my own wild attempts in this way, it is a fault which I find myself continually committing, and which has sometimes appeared so pleasing to my ear, that I have surrendered it to the critic with no small reluctance. May there not be a little pedantry in adhering too rigidly to this rule?- I have been told that there are instances in Haydn of an undisguised succession of fifths; and Mr. Shield, in his Introduction to Harmony, seems to intimate that Handel has been sometimes guilty of the same irregularity.
In profiting, however, by the improvements of the moderns, our style still keeps its originality sacred from their refinements; and though Carolan had frequent opportunities of hearing the works of Germiniani and other masters, we but rarely find him sacrificing his native simplicity to the ambition of their ornaments, or affectation of their science. In that curious composition, indeed, called his Concerto, it is evident that he laboured to imitate Corelli ; and this union of manners so very dissimilar, produces the same kind of uneasy sensation which is felt at a mixture of different styles of architecture. In general, however, the artless flow of our music has preserved itself free from all tinge of foreign innovation , and the chief corruptions of which we have to complain arise from the unskilful performance of our own itinerant musicians, from whom, too frequently, the airs are noted down, encumbered by their tasteless decorations, and responsible for all their ignorant anomalies. Though it be sometimes impossible to trace the original strain, yet, in most of them, “auri per ramos aura refulget*," the pure gold of the melody shines through the ungraceful foliage which surrounds it--and the most delicate and difficult duty of a compiler is to endeavour, as much as possible, by retrenching these inelegant superfluities, and collating the various methods of playing or singing each air, to restore the regularity of its form, and the chaste simplicity of its character,
* A singular oversight occurs in an Essay upon the Irish Harp, by Mr. Beauford, which is inserted in the Appendix to Walker's Historical Memoirs:-“ The Irish (says he) according to Bromton, in the reign of Henry II. had two kinds of Harps, “ Hibernici tamen in duobus musici generis instrumentis, quamvis præcipitem et velocem, suavem tamen et jucundum :' the one greatly bold and quick, the other soft and pleasing."-How a man of Mr. Beauford's learning could so mistake the meaning, and mutilate the grammatical construction of this extract, is unaccountable. The following the passage as I find entire in Bromton; and requires but little Latin to perceive the injustice which has been done to the words of the old Chronicler :-“ Et cum Scotia, hujus terræ filia, utatur lyrå, tympano et choro, ac Wallia cithara, tubis et choro, Hibernici tamen in duobus musici generis instrumentis, quamvis præcipitem et velocem, suavem tamen et jucundam, crispatis mo. dulis et intricatis notulis, efficiunt harmoniam.” - Hist. Anglic. Script. page 1075. I should not have thought this error worth remarking, but that the compiler of the Dissertation on the Harp, prefixed to Mr. Bunting's last Work, has adopted it implicitly.
† The Scotch lay claim to some of our best airs, but there are strong traits of difference between their melodies and ours. They had formerly the same passion for robbing us of our Saints, and the learned Dempster was for this offence called “ The Saint Stealer.” It was an Irishman, I suppose, who, by way of reprisal, stole Dempster's beautiful wife from him at Pisa.--See this anecdote in the Pinacotheca of Erythræus, part i. p. 25.
| Among other false refinements of the art, our music (with the exception perhaps of the air called “ Mamma, Mamma," and one or two more of the same iudicrous description,) has avoided that puerile mimicry of natural noises, motions, &c., which disgraces so often the works of even Handel himself. D'Alembert ought to have had better taste than to become the patron of this imitative affectation. See Discours Préliminaire de l'Encyclopédie. The reader may find some good remarks on the subject in Avison upon Musical Expression; a work which, though under the name of Avison, was written, it is said, by Dr. Brown
I must again observe, that in doubting the antiquity of our music, my scepticism extends but to those polished specimens of the art, which it is difficult to conceive anterior to the dawn of modern improvement; and that I would by no means invalidate the claims of Ireland to as early a rank in the annals of minstrelsy, as the most zealous antiquary may be inclined to allow her. In addition, indeed, to the power which music must always have possessed over the minds of a people so ardent and susceptible, the stimulus of persecution was not wanting to quicken our taste into enthusiasm ; the charms of song were ennobled with the glories of martyrdom, and the acts against minstrels, in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, were as successful, I doubt not, in making my countrymen musicians, as the penal laws have been in keeping them Catholics.
With respect to the verses which I have written for these Melodies, as they are intended rather to be sung than read, I can answer for their sound with somewhat more confidence than for their sense. Yet it would be affectation to deny that I have given much attention to the task, and that it is not through want of zeal or industry, if I unfortunately disgrace the sweet airs of my country, by poetry altogether unworthy of their taste, their energy, and their tenderness.
Though the humble nature of my contributions to this work may exempt them from the rigours of literary criticism, it was not to be
* Virgil, Æneid, lib. vi. verse 204.
expected that those touches of political feeling, those tones of national complaint, in which the poetry sometimes sympathises with the music, would be suffered to pass without censure or alarm. It has been accordingly said, that the tendency of this publication is mischievous *, and that I have chosen these airs but as a vehicle of dangerous politics - as fair and precious vessels (to borrow an image of St. Augustin t), from which the wine of error might be administered. To those who identify nationality with treason, and who see, in every effort for Ireland, a system of hostility towards England, -to those, too, who, nursed in the gloom of prejudice, are alarmed by the faintest gleam of liberality that threatens to disturb their darkness like that Demophon of old, who, when the sun shone upon him, shivered 1- to such men I shall not deign to offer an apology for the warmth of any political sentiment which may occur in the course of these pages. But as there are many, among the more wise and tolerant, who, with feeling enough to mourn over the wrongs of their country, and sense enough to perceive all the danger of not redressing them, may yet think that allusions in the least degree bold or inflammatory should be avoided in a publication of this popular description - I beg of these respected persons to believe, that there is no one who deprecates more sincerely than I do any appeal to the passions of an ignorant and angry multitude ; but that it is not through that gross and inflammable region of society a work of this nature could ever have been intended to circulate. It looks much higher for its audience and readers : it is found upon the piano-fortes of the rich and the educated of those who can afford to have their national zeal a little stimulated, without exciting much dread of the excesses into which it may hurry them ; and of many whose nerves may be, now and then, alarmed with advantage, as much more is to be gained by their fears than could ever be expected from their justice.
Having thus adverted to the principal objection which has been hitherto made to the poetical part of this work, allow me to add a few words in defence of my ingenious coadjutor, Sir John Stevenson, who has been accused of having spoiled the simplicity of the airs by
* See Letters, under the signatures of Timæus, &c. in the Morning Post, Pilot, and other papers.
† “Non accuso verba, quasi vasa electa atque pretiosa; sed vinum erroris quod cum eis nobis propinatur.” – Lib. i. Confess. chap. 16.
This emblem of modern bigots was head-butler (TPOTESOTOLOS) to Alexander the Great. Sext. Empir. Pyrrh. Hypoth. lib. i.