Billeder på siden

are the sport of nature, victims of malformation, objects of pity rather than of contempt or ridicule.

It is not to be wondered at that the musical and unmusical fail to understand each other. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that the cultured and artistic of all ages have disdained the vulgar level. Aristotle finds fault with those musicians who "flatter the corrupt taste of the multitude." Horace sneers at the "clowns and mechanics of the theater, whose chief delight is in the glare and glitter of the decorations, and such music as is suited to their rude ears." Ovid seems to regret that "the style of airs at the theater is adapted to the taste of the common people, that their construction is so artless and practicable that they are sung by plowmen in the fields." The world-renowned pianist and beautiful biographer of Chopin, the accomplished Liszt, calls the multitude "a sea of lead, heavy to set in motion, whose waves require to be melted by heat, made malleable and moulded, and which it requires a Cyclops to manipulate." The "masses prefer the conclusions of impulse to the fatigue of a logical argument." "Is he a musiker?" was the question asked by the infant prodigy Charles Wesley, before he would consent to give a display of his wonderful powers on the harpsichord or organ. Martini wrote to Jomelli, "he who possesses the art of accommodating himself to the spirit of the times will bear away the palm. It should be your aim so to please the learned as not to disgust the unlearned. The plain and unbred will have noise; they are never pleased except when they are astonished."

It will be readily inferred that Methodist singing has had little affinity with the artistic; that, in fact, it was such music, and such alone, as the masses could participate in and appreciate. Busby characterizes it when he says of Whitefield, "he was almost as much attached to the charms of cheerful melody as to his own Arminian doctrines. His enthusiasm and love of singularity, not confined to his praying and preaching, were carried into his partiality for music. Decidedly averse to all cathedral and church compositions, especially the "linked sweetness long drawn out" of our parochial melody, he would not suffer a bar of it to be vociferated under his conventicle roofs, nor anything less lively than ballad airs. He urged in defense of this sprightly taste that it was shameful to praise God in

the drawling strains of the Church and let the devil have all the pretty tunes to himself."* Of John Wesley the same author says: "He heard a sailor singing in the street, and it struck him that the melody would suit some of his own hymns. He committed the notes of the tune to paper, on the spot, and always declared it was the most solemn and appropriate of the tunes that his congregation sung." Dr. Burney, in his history of Music, says: "The modern Methodists have introduced a light and ballad kind of melody into their tabernacles, which seems as much wanting in reverence and dignity as the psalmody of other sects in poetry and good taste."

It is not to be denied that Methodists from the beginning have made great use of "spiritual songs." Their singing has been a practical application of the trite aphorism, "Let me make the ballads, I care not who makes the laws." the Jesuits are said to have fiddled their way to the good graces of some of the Indian tribes, Methodists have sung their way through all parts of nominal christendom. If their music has been "light and ballad-like," it was admirably adapted to those whom Dr. Burney contemptuously calls "cordwainers and tailors," and involved, as he further says, "the absolute necessity of such a simple kind of music as would suit whole congregations.". The doctor waxes irate when he adds, "It seems to have been the wish of illiterate and furious reformers that all the religious offices should be performed by field preachers and street singers."

Huss and Jerome, Luther, Zwingle, and Calvin, Wesley and Whitefield were reformers, neither illiterate nor furious, who regenerated the religious singing of their times, as well as the morals of the people. The music of modern civilization is one of its most remarkable features, and it all hails from the era of the Reformation. At the time when Luther had set all Germany to singing hymns, the music of the Romish Church had become so foppish that the reigning powers thought of suppressing "curious music," when Palestrina arose, who "brought choral harmony to a degree of perfection that has never since been exceeded."

Cornelius Agrippa, cotemporary with the great German reformer, shows what need there was for this reformation, when

* The biographer of Handel attributes this saying to Rowland Hill.

he says the "prayers are chanted by wanton musicians, hired with great sums of money, not to edify the understanding, but to tickle the ears of the auditory. The church is filled with noise and clamor, the boys whining the descant, while some bellow the tenor, and others bark the counterpoint; others again squeak the treble, while others grunt the bass. A great variety of sounds is heard, yet neither sentences nor even words can be understood." It was for quoting this passage rather coarsely, with other like offensive matter, that Prynne lost his ears a century later.

Puritanism was the natural rebound of the human mind. from the excesses of Romanism; but Puritanism went to excess when it described "the synging of mass" as "roryng, howling, whistelyng, mummying, conjuryng, and jogelyng." English Cathedral music, now being sedulously introduced in this country, where the psalms are "trowled from side to side " by "flocks of boys, " is such as the masses do not appreciate. "Boys," said Della Valle, "are so devoid of taste, judgment, and grace, so mechanical and unfeeling, that I hardly ever heard a boy sing without receiving more pain, than pleasure." If the first Methodists had the objections to this style of music which have been attributed to them, they would be founded, not on questions of taste, but on the propriety of restricting a portion of God's worship, which ought to be shared in by all, to one sex and a particular age.

In Wesley we find no opposition to choirs or organs, nor, indeed, any evidences of attachment to "ballad airs." He was a judicious musical critic, heard Handel's oratorios frequently with pleasure, and criticized both the music and performance. He has left us a sensible essay on music. In his efforts at popular enlightenment and elevation he was a century ahead of his times. His zeal for the people was the direct result of his mingling with them. Knowing their condition, and philanthropically and religiously feeling their needs and endeavoring to supply them, he published music books for the use of the common people as well as grammars and philosophies, and gave full directions for their use. In addition to nearly fifty collections of hymns, he published some half dozen compilations of tunes. One of these, the "Sacred Harmony, a choice

* Erasmus.

collection of psalms and hymns, set to music, in two or three parts, for the voice, harpsichord, or organ," lies before us. It is a thick duodecimo of some three hundred and fifty pages, the music, according to the fashion of the times, beautifully printed from copperplate, the letterpress neat, paper stout, binding elegant and substantial. It contains one hundred and twenty-eight hymns, each of which is set to an appropriate tune. The tunes are solid and substantial, selections from Handel, Worgan, Tallis, Madan, and other celebrated composers Twenty of the selections have survived the ravages of time, and are in common use to this day. The nearest approach to a "ballad" we have found in the book is the setting of Handel's celebrated chorus, "See the conquering hero comes," to "Christ the Lord is risen to-day," which is in infinitely better taste than setting this beautiful Easter carol to the air of the Tyrolese Waltz, as some wretched compilers have done. The hundredth psalm is associated with Dr. Madan's pleasing anthem, familiarly known by the name Denmark. Attached to one tune we find a hymn fifteen verses long, the verses eight lines each; to another tune thirteen verses, with a chorus to each verse; to another, fifteen verses of six lines each. This would indicate that our fathers were as fond of singing as the Puritans, who always finished the psalın in hand, however many verses it might consist of. In these days four verses are the extent of our patience or ability, and even these are abridged or omitted to make way for a tedious. pulpit lucubration or trifling business matter of local interest. Yet in some of our commonest hymns, the sense has been so dovetailed by the composer that dissection is impossible. "Jesus, lover of my soul," "Jesus my all to heaven is gone," are familiar examples of hymns from which it is impossible to drop a single stanza. Why the last revisers of our hymn book found it necessary to tear in two a hymn of five verses, and to leave the mangled remains of such a connected history as "Come, O thou Traveler unknown," in doublets and triplets, seems incomprehensible. The abridgment or omission could safely have been left to the pulpit, the hymn retained in its entirety, and the compilers spared the imputation of want of taste or the reproach of sacrilege. It does not follow, because


* "Seldom more than four or five verses." Discipline.

selection is sometimes necessary, that the hymn book itself should be made up of shreds and patches.

The standard publications of the Methodist Episcopal Church will no more bear the imputation of "ballad music" than those of John Wesley a hundred years back. In 1808, when the connection consisted of less than a hundred and fifty thousand members, the General Conference gave hearty indorsement to the preparation of a standard compilation of tunes for Church use among the Methodists. "David's Companion, or the Methodist Standard," published by James Evans, under the auspices of the Wesleyan Sacred Music Society, was copyrighted in 1811. The second edition, issued in 1817, is before us, pages 164, tunes 187; some fifty of which are found in the Harmonist of 1837, eight in the Devotional Harmonist of 1850, and twenty in the Church Singer of 1863. The music is all solid, and mainly selected from standard composers. A correspondent tells us that Evans was an Englishman, who arrived in this country in 1806, a charming singer, who read music with facility, and who introduced a higher and better style of sacred music among us by musical associations, of which he was the pioneer.

To arrange and harmonize his selections Evans appears to have employed a musical professor by the name of Leach, who, with the ambition common to compilers, inserted in the book no less than forty-seven tunes of his own composition, mostly written on the higher parts of the staff in the screaming style of his day, all of which have perished except a single short meter, well known by the name "Watchman," still sung, though not in the vein of the taste of the present time. It is doubtful whether any of the ephemeral composers of this day, who insert commonplace tunes and tame harmonies in compilations under modest initials, or the taking phrase "composed expressly for this work," will live, like Leach, half a century in a single one of their vapid arrangements.

The chief publications of the Church for the last half century may be tabulated as follows:

1. David's Companion, 164 pages, by James Evans, 1811. 2. Methodist Harmonist, 245 pages, by Bangs & Mason, 1822.

3. Harmonist, 384 pages, by Mason & Lane, 1837.

« ForrigeFortsæt »