The music lover in seventeenth and eighteenth century England

Harris, Elllen T.


The Music Lover in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England

The Music Lover in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century England


When I was asked to become one of the Berger Colloquia scholars who would "identify an item or several related items" of interest in the Frédéric Louis Ritter Collection at Tufts University to discuss, I immediately, as will not be surprising to anyone who knows of my published work, took the Excel spreadsheet of the collection, reordered it chronologically, and identified those works within the collection published between 1600 and 1800. Astonishingly, this yielded a catalog of more than 250 items. When I narrowed the list to English authors, many familiar names, from Thomas Morley to Charles Burney and Sir John Hawkins and beyond, lept up at me. Which author should I choose? So I continued looking and thinking, until suddenly I realized I was viewing the entire span in a way new to me. It wasn't simply that Burney and Hawkins added to the existing panoply of books on music, but that the publication of their histories marks a significant change in writing about music for amateurs. That is, as I saw only upon looking at Ritter's elite collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books about music, the writing of histories of music arose at the same time as generalized practical instruction for music lovers waned. And thus my topic was born. What I hope to address in this paper is, first, the apparent shift in English books for music lovers over the course of these two centuries from practical manuals to historical and critical commentary (along with a concomitant drift from speculative theory to canonical surveys of historical practice) and, second, some of what might be the underlying causes for this change. (The Appendices to this paper include: (1) the Ritter texts I will be discussing in chronological order, and (2) a bibliography.)

Any serious student of music knows about the twin English histories of music written at the end of the eighteenth century by Burney (R:232-5) and Hawkins (R:244-8), the Herodotus and Thucidydes of music history. Like Herodotus, Burney collected stories and reported what he saw and heard, while Hawkins, like Thucidydes, undertook, as he states in the "Author's Dedication and Preface," a reasoned "narration of important events and historical facts, in a chronological series, with such occasional remarks and evidences, as might serve to illustrate the one and authenticate the other." Most music students even have some sense of the historical and social context for the simultaneous appearance of these two histories. Historically, the rise of neo-classicism in literature, the visual arts and architecture coupled with the archeological discoveries at the mid-century (beginning at Pompeii), drove the desire to learn about (or construct) a parallel history of music, and, socially, as William Weber states in The Rise of Musical classics in Eighteenth-Century England (1992), the public rituals associated with performance of so-called ancient music gave the new classical tradition a politically stablizing force during a period of social change and unrest. The industrious student will even uncover a host of precedents for these twin beacons at the gateway to our modern understanding of music. Moving backward from Burney and Hawkins in 1776, at mid-century one finds Padre Martini (R:608-10) who, sadly, did not take his work beyond the time of the ancients, and the French encyclopedists and lexicographers; then at the turn of the century the histories of Bourdelot-Bonnet (1715/ R:1046), Bontempi (1695) and Printz (1690/ R:1213, and finally, the early seventeenth-century Lutheran historians Calvisius (1600) and Praetorius (1619).

None of the precursors, however, diminishes the achievement of Burney and Hawkins in writing comprehensive histories. Further, the antecedents for their work do not lie just in the field of music history, but more generally in the category of writing about music for music lovers and amateurs. As Burney writes in his preface:

There are already more profound books on the subject of ancient, as well as modern Music, than have ever been read; it was time to try to treat it in such a manner as was likely to engage the attention of those that are unable, or unwilling, to read treatises written, for the most part, by persons who were more ambitous of appearing learned themselves, than of making others so.

The fons et origo of writing in the English vernacular about music for the amateur is Thomas Morley's A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music, first published in 1597. The Ritter collection holds a copy of the second edition of 1608 (R:1226). As Thurston Dart writes (1952) in the introduction to the modern edition of Morley's work: "Morley's aim in writing it was to train the average and ignorant music lover of his time to the point where he was a competent scholar and a composer, able to turn out a madrigal or motet in a sound contemporary style and able too, to move confidently through the intricate notation used at various times between 1450 and 1600" (p. xxi). Morley himself states this clearly and boldly in his preface

To the curteous Reader. I do not doubt, but many… will wonder that… I have taken upon me to set out that in our vulgar tongue, which of all other things hath been in writing least knowen to our Countrimen, and most in practise. [I do so]: Not so much seeking thereby any name or glory… as in some sort to further the studies of them, who (being indewed with good naturall wits and well inclined to learn that divine Art of Musick) are destitute of sufficient masters.… And as for the definition, division, parts, and kinds of Musicke, I have omitted them as things onely serving to content the learned, and not for the instruction of the ignorant.

As many of you will already know, Morley dramatizes his Introduction to Practical Music with the use of three characters: the teacher (Master Gnorimus, representing Morley himself), and two students, Philomathes (a lover of learning) and his brother Polymathes (a know-it-all). The impetus for the brothers turning to the master for help is the embarrassment Philomathes has suffered at a dinner party when it was assumed that he could sing at sight from musical notation. The lack of music training reflected poorly on a gentleman and his upbringing, as is made clear by Henry Peacham in his contemporary depiction of The Compleat Gentleman (1622, 1626, 1627; reprinted in Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History: The Renaissance [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1965, 1950], p. 141-2): "I know there are many…of such disproportioned spirits that they avoid her [music's] company…, but I am verily persuaded they are by nature very ill disposed and of such a brutish stupidity that scare anything else that is good and savoreth of virtue is to be found in them." This attitude explains Philomathes's reaction to the event as he describes it: But supper being ended and music books (according to custom) being brought to the table, the mistress of the house presented me with a part earnestly requesting me to sing; but when, after many excuses, I protested unfeignedly that I could not, every one began to wonder; yea, some whispered to others demanding how I was brought up, so that upon shame of mine ignorance I go now to seek out mine old friend Master Gnorimus, to make myself his scholar.

What is striking about the comparison of Morley with Burney (and one could just as easily make the comparison with Hawkins), is that both are writing specifically for the serious music lover in a way that seems the most appropriate to their era, but their audience has changed and content of the books has, therefore, shifted dramatically. Morley writes a practical instruction manual for the gentleman who is expected to know how to practice music as a requisite of his social status, whereas Burney is writing for a larger and more socially diversified audience of music lovers who seek instruction to enhance their listening pleasure. The Ritter collection makes the stepping stones from one to another apparent.

I have chosen fourteen books from the Ritter Collection published in Great Britain between 1600 and 1800 as the focus for my remarks today. I intend this selection to be comprehensive, although I must emphasize that it does not represent all British publications from this period in the collection. I have eliminated:

The remaining fourteen works offer an excellent overview of English-language books written about music during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I divide these into six categories, as follows (where the Ritter Collection does not hold the first edition, I give that date first, followed by the date of the exemplar in the collection):

By examining each of these categories, it is possible to view the fundamental shift in serious writing for the music lover during the eighteenth century (see Image 2). To begin with, in writing for music lovers, there seems to be a direct line from practical tutors of contemporary practice (such as Morley's Introduction) to music histories (Burney and Hawkins) and, in terms of music theory, from speculative (mathematical or philosophical) theory to pedagogical surveys of historical practice. Complicating this picture, however, the oblique relationships prove equally interesting: practical instruction (without regard to audience) changes from current practice in Morley's Introduction and later figured bass manuals to historical surveys of canonical practice (the ancestors of our theory textbooks), and speculative theory, (with its frequent comparisons of ancient theory and modern practice), fuels the rise of music criticism that ultimately drives the development of the music history we are familiar with. I offer a diagram of these relationships as a visual guide to the following discussion (Image 2), which, in turn, may help to clarify the illustration!

Hawkins writes in his "Preliminary Discourse": "In tracing the progress of music, it will be observed, that it naturally divides itself into the two branches of speculation and practice, and that each of these requires a distinct and separate consideration." Indeed, it is musica prattica and musica speculativa that stand as the twin approaches to music at the outset of the seventeenth century. Thus, to set the background for the shift, we will begin by looking at what the Ritter Collection tells us about each of these branches in England.

The early instruction books are serious and demanding. It was understood that the acquisition of significant skills in composition and performance could only be achieved through intense study and practice. Nevertheless, these manuals are specifically aimed at the music amateur with little or no background who nevertheless has a strong desire to learn. I have contemplated using Morley's book in an advanced undergraduate seminar to test whether working through this text as a class could produce students able to compose and perform creditably in Elizabethan style, but I've shied away from the experiment because of my concern that Morley is too difficult. Still, in an era when such skill was a social requisite, Morley provided the first pedagogical instruction in English, and he did so in relatively straight-forward prose. His work proved extremely popular: after the first edition of 1597, additional copies were printed in 1603, and a second edition appeared in 1608. Further music instruction in England after Morley was heavily indebted to him well into the eighteenth century (Ravenscroft [1614], Butler [1636], Simpson [1665], Mace [1676]), and recognition of the book's historical importance was such that it was reissued as a historical document as late as 1771 (see Dart, pp. xxiv-xxv). Burney and Hawkins praised it and depended on its instruction for their histories (Dart, ibid, Kassler, p. 785).

The influence of Morley is already clear even in the titles of Playford's and Lampe's later treatises, Morley's Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke… becoming, respectively A Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick… and A plain and compendious Method of Teaching thorough Bass… Like Morley, Playford directs his book to the amateur. He addresses his Preface "To all Lovers of Musick":

Therefore when I had considered the great want of books, setting forth the Rules and Grounds of this Divine Science of Musick in our own Language, it was a great motive with me to undertake this Work…And I was the rather induced thereunto, for that the Prescription of Rules of all Arts and Sciences ought to be delivered in plain and brief language, and not in flowers of Eloquence; which Maxim I have followed: For after the most brief, plain, and easie method I could invent, I have here set down the Grounds of Musick, omitting nothing in this Art which I did conceive was necessary for the Practice of young Beginners, both for vocal and Instrumental Musick.

Unlike Morley, Playford admits that his work is not wholly original (an odd ending to a preface that speaks of the "want of books" on music), but argues that this compilation adds value: The Work as it is, I must confess, is not all my own, some part thereof being collected out of other Authors which have written on this Subject, the which I hope will make it more approved. [In addition to various borrowings, Playford incorporates wholesale—and openly— Thomas Campion's treatise on composition from 1612-14. In editions from 1694 to 1730 (Playford having died in 1686) a newly-written method by Henry Purcell is substituted.]

Playford also deviates from Morley in that he does not thereafter launch directly into his method, but rather (at least from the 7th ed. of 1674) interposes a chapter "Of MUSICK in General, And of its Divine and Civil Uses," in which he enumerates biblical and ancient precedents for the power of music, from Jubal ("the sixth from Adam") to Orpheus, cites ancient authors, and narrates the importance of music to monarchs from Constantine the Great to Elizabeth I and Charles I. This triple appeal to religion, antiquity and monarchy (in addition to the acknowledged use of previous authors) provides a legacy for music that allows it to rise above the (mere) social skill described in Morley. Playford's "defense" stands at the beginning of the valorization of the practice of music through authority of history.

John Lampe's thorough-bass method signals a distinct change in music-making from the time of Morley and Playford, and it cannot be a coincidence that the last edition of Playford's work in 1730 predates Lampe's by only seven years. By 1737 there was no need for the musically-educated elite to be able to sing part-songs around a table or compose a descant. Rather, the skill most needed in the drawing room was that of keyboard harmony to support a single singer or instrumentalist (most often flute) or a small group of instrumentalists who played contemporary concertos. As Hawkins writes, "At that time [around 1720], there were weekly concerts at the houses of the duke of Rutland, the earls of burlington and Essex, lord Percival, father of the late earl of Egmont, and others of the nobility…" (ii, 806). The correspondence of Viscount John Percival (later Earl of Egmont) with his brother Philip in Dublin provides a glimpse into the seriousness of music-making among aristocratic amateurs. They exchange music, not just by professional composers but of their own and their friends' composition, and Philip writes (5 March 1715; Add. MS 17720, f. 10v/p. 20) that his musical group, his concert, "goes on bravely and we seldom have less than 12 hands." On 25 April 1721, John writes to Philip (Add. MS 47029, pp. 110-111):

Mr. Matthews…gave me your Concerto. …I gave it Mr. Needler [see Hawkins] who thanks you for it and has given me one in return which I will send you as I find opportunity, but tis not of his own composition. He declin'd a great while out of Modesty to send you any thing of his own, but at length promist me he wou'd. There is a Concerto in D# of Geminiani which if you have not, he will procure, and he told me of some pieces lately printed in Holland viz. Vivaldi's 7th Op.[,] Iaccomo Facco 1[st]Op. [Giacomo Facco (1676-1753)] and da Abaco 5[th] Op. [Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco (1675-1742)]. If you have none of these, I will look 'em out.

Hawkins vibrantly describes the regular musical gatherings at the homes of rich commoners (mostly merchant traders): including Mr. Britton (coal merchant), Mr. Woolston (painter), and Mr. Caslon (letter founder) (ii, 806-807). The importance of keyboard harmony for these occasions was such that Mary Granville (later Mrs. Delany), a woman of great social standing and an ardent admirer of Handel's music, admonishes her younger sister (4 December 1731; I, 325), "I hope you do not neglect your harpsichord, especially thorough-base." And, as she also writes to her sister, her brother continues to urge her improvement (27 November 1736; I, 579): "My brother has tied me down at last to learn of Kellaway [Joseph Kellway, pupil of Geminiani and organist of St. Martin's in the Fields]; and has made me a present of Handel's Book of Lessons. I don't find Kellaway's method [unpublished] difficult at all, and I believe a couple months' learning will be of use ot me, at least 'twill make me practice."

Lampe's Plaine and Compendious Method was directed at such families as the Percivals and Granvilles, as he makes clear in his Preface, thus linking his work closely with the goals of his predecessors Morley and Playford:

I am sensible from many years Practice, that there is nothing more wanted in the Musical Way than plain and intelligible Rules for Thorough Bass… I don't publish this Piece for the Instruction of those who are already Masters of the Subject, I pretend not their Information, but for the Use and Benefit of Scholars, for, which Reason I have made it so intelligible, that I think no one will mistake my Meaning… If I am censured from my plain and familiar Way of Writing, and for Repetition, which some may think useless; let them remember that I write for the Instruction of Scholars, and in such a Case, nothing can be made too plain. If this Answer is not significant, let it be those Gentlemen's Satisfaction to write in such a Manner, that few or none can understand them; be it mine always to make what I say intelligible to the meanest Capacity.

If Playford offers one of the first examples of the validation of music practice through history, Lampe's treatise marks an early stage in the teaching of composition through keyboard harmony.

In addition to the developing literature on practice for amateurs, writing about music continued to address speculative, scientific and philosophical, issues for a different audience. The Ritter Collection holds three such works in English from this period. In the earliest of these, William Holder, in his Treatise on the Natural Grounds & Principles of Harmony (1694), writes of his aim to provide a physical basis for consonance in music and, specifically, not to discuss composition or performance, which he declared were "out of my Design and Sphere," making it clear that his intended audience is NOT practical instruction

Now the Theory in Natural Philosophy, of the Grounds and Reasons of the Agreement of Sounds, and consequent Delight and Pleasure of the Ear, (leaving the Management of these Sounds to the Masters of Harmonick composure, and the skilfull Artists in Performance), is the Subject of this Discourse. The Design whereof (for all Lovers of Musick, and particularly the Gentlemen of Their Majesties Chapell Royal) is, to lay down these Principles as short, and intelligible, as the Subject Matter will bear. ("Introduction"):

The dependence of natural philosophy or musica speculativa on earlier texts, especially the Greek theorists, gives their work an important tie to the later histories. For example, Holder not only describes "the modal and tuning systems of the Greeks" from ancient sources, but makes use of the previous "work of Galileo Galilei on pendulums, [and that of] Marin Mersenne and Nicholas Mercator for the octave" (Kassler, p. 531), and his own Treatise was, in turn, influential. After the first edition of 1694, it was republished in 1701, and two separate editions appeared in 1731. Hawkins, in his History, summarizes Holder's theories and notes especially his influence on our next author, Alexander Malcolm and his Treatise of Musick, Speculative, Practical and Historical of 1721 (ii, 838; "Holder,"

Malcolm, a mathematician, aimed to "gather together in one system what lay scattered in several treatises" and his compilation included material gathered from the writings of Descartes, Kircher, Mersenne, among others in addition to the ancients ("Malcolm," Malcolm's work was republished in 1720, 1731 and 1751, and in an abridged version in 1776, 1778 and 1779. Meanwhile in 1766 John Trydell had published his Two Essays on the Theory & Practice of Music in Dublin, with the hope of rendering "the knowledge of Music easy; and Composition more practicable than it seems to me it is among us at present." Trydell's strategy for making music easier was to construct a system based on geometrical reasoning (Kassler, p. 1024), in which he took great care, as he put it, "to avoid all obsolete Words, or such as are derived from other languages: and to speak as plain English, as the nature of the Subject would admit, that I may be understood by every English reader." [Trydell's essays were used for the article on 'Music' in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1771, but never reprinted thereafter, since, as Kassler writes, "the opinion that music and geometry were congenial and inseparable was losing ground" (Kassler, p. 1025).]

The treatises of Holder, Malcolm and Trydell, all scholars of mathematical and religious persuasion, emerge from a centuries-long tradition of intellectual interest in the physics and mathematical properties of music. None is aimed at the amateur performer, but rather to the scholar of musical science and also, potentially, to the music master. Holder, Sub-Dean of the Chapel Royal, specifically hoped that his treatise would prove helpful to the members of the Chapel Royal choir ("Introduction"). Nevertheless, he emphasizes repeatedly that his treatise does not deal with musica prattica, writing in his "Conclusion" (p. 199):

I have done what I designed, searched into the Natural Reasons and Grounds, the Materials of Harmony; not pretending to teach the Art and Skill of Musick, but to discover to the Reader the foundations of it, and the Reasons of the Anomolous Phœnomena, which occurr in the Scales of Degrees and Intervals: Which though it be enough to my Purpose, yet is but a small (though indeed the most certain, and, consequently most delightfull) Part of the phhilosophy of Musick…

Despite such protestations, each of these three treatises on musica speculativa was forced either in its content or reception to acknowledge the continuing popularity in the first half of the eighteenth century of practical instruction in figured bass. When Holder's Treatise on the physics of music was reprinted in 1731, a thorough-bass tutor by the late Godfrey Keller was added to it, so that, as the publisher wrote, the book would "become at least as Useful and instructive, as any thing that has hitherto been Publish'd of this Kind" (Kassler, p. 532). Similarly, the lion's share of Malcolm's Treatise concerns the physics of music (speculative music), but the author felt compelled to add a chapter on music composition (practical music), for, as he wrote, "there would certainly be a Blank in the Work, if at least the more general Principles of composition were not explained." Malcolm did not trust himself to write this section, however, and depended on the "Genius and Generosity" of a "Friend, whose modesty forbids me to name." It has been suggested that this friend was "J. C. Pepusch or someone familiar with the work of Pepusch" (Chenette, cited by Kassler, p. 734). Finally, Trydell also took great care to combine his speculative theory with thoroughbass practice. Only his first essay deals with his theories on the geometrical principles underlying music. The second, in contrast, demonstrates "the Rules of Harmony, Composition, and Thorough Bass." Thus the three treatises of Holder, Malcolm and Trydell provide a fascinating glimpse into the weakening of the tradition of musica speculativa and felt necessity, as a result, of adding practical instruction to each of these texts.

Musica speculativa also tied itself, given the extent to which it drew from ancient and historical treatises, to burgeoning music history. Malcolm even adds a chapter on the history of ancient music to his volume, which according to Warren Dwight Allen (1939/1962) in his "Study of General Histories of Music 1600-1900,", "appears to be the first music history in English" (Allen, p. 71). Although Allen's statement is generous, Malcolm does succeed in establishing three branches of writing about music and identifies them in his title: A Treatise of Musick: Speculative, Practical, and Historical. Not surprisingly, repeated commentaries in speculative and practical treatises on the power and beauty of ancient music—both of classical and biblical antiquity—suggested comparisons between these stated effects and the (apparently diminished) effects of modern music, and this led to the development of modern music criticism.

In 1711, Arthur Bedford, an Oxford-educated clergyman, "opened up a new ideological dimension in the perception of ancient music" (Weber, p. 47), combining "a learned discussion of music in antiquity…with a moral argument" (Weber, p. 51). William Weber has written of Bedford: "Endowed with a tenacious, haranguing prose, piling example upon italicized example, he tried to show that musical life had sunk into a sinful condition that was obsessed with'whorish obscene song' and music appropriate to such texts" (p. 51). Bedford divides his book into two parts; the first narrates the "Use and Design of Musick" among the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans, illustrating in each case the "Concern for, and Care to prevent the Abuse thereof." Part II excoriates modern music in comparison and calls for the regulation of composers, poets and publishers to stamp out the "immodesty" and "profaneness." The Introduction to Part II sets up his argument

As Musick is a liberal and a noble Science, design'd at first for the Glory of God, and the Exciting to Virtue [up to this point sounding just like Playford, but there follows the sting in the tail]; so it might reasonably have been expected, that such who profess the same, and are skill'd in Composition, would endeavour to keep up its Dignity and Reputation, and take a due Care, that nothing should render the Science contemptible which they profess, and consequently reflect upon their own Credit. But more especially that Christians should not debase it in such a Manner as constantly made it loathsom in the Heathen World. Composition of Musick is a genteel Imployment, and in it self as much excels a common Musician as an Architect excels a Mason, an Engineer excels a private Centinel, or a Mathematician excels a common Sailor. The Study hereof improves our Reason by undouhted Demonstrations, and the Practice delights our Sense with an excellent Harmony. The Science is honour'd by Professors, who read Lectures thereon in the Universities: And therefore if Musicians did nothing to debase their own Profession, they will justly deserve Respect and Esteem. But in this degenerate Age, they make themselves mean and contemptible by their own Works. (Bedford, pp. 62-63)

Bedford argues that the last age to treat music fully as it deserves was the Elizabethan era, and he encourages the revival of the anthems and services of Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) and others of that period (Bedford, p. 181), extending the reach of continuing excellence in church music (despite the increasing appearance of lewd and blasphemous music for the playhouse) through the Lawes brothers and John Blow to Henry Purcell (Bedford, p. 183). But at this point Bedford finds that development of virtuous music stops dead in its tracks (and, as an explanation, offers a fascinating commentary on performance practice):

And now, when we might have expected Divine Musick to thrive, it languishes on a sudden. The Humour of the Age is turn'd from every thing that is solid to that which is vain, and our grave Musick vanishes into Air. …The common Notes in our [ancient] Church Musick are Minims and Semibreves [whole notes and half notes]; instead of these we have Crotchets, Quavers and Semiquavers [quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes]: And as the quicker Notes increase, so the Design of the Composers is, that the other may be sung so much the slower, and consequently make the Antient Musick seem dull and heavy, which of itself is of a far different Nature. For this Reason they tell us, Musick is improv'd; away with the old, it's good for nothing. (Bedford, pp. 182-4)

The quarrel between ancient and modern music is almost ancient itself; one already finds it by 1300 in the contrast between the ars antiqua and ara nova, and the debate had another outbreak in Italy around the end of the sixteenth century, as represented, for example, in the Artusi-Monteverdi controversy between the prima prattica and seconda prattica. In England, this latter argument only begins to appear in 1657, when John Wallis publishes a Latin treatise favoring modern music. Moving into the eighteenth century the debate increases in volume, with many strident defenders of ancient music against modern practice, of which Bedford is an inimitable example (see Allen, pp. 73-76). In large part these critics of modernism undergird the rise of music history in England, as the extremity of their position and of their language demanded response. Malcolm, in his Treatise…Speculative, Practical, and Historical, stands at the forefront of the defense of modern music, concluding his chapter on ancient music with a comparison of ancient and modern music.

Malcolm focuses on the flawed argument of those who support ancient music. As he writes: The Fault with many of the Contenders on this Point [the "Patrons of the ancient Musick"] is,that they fight at long Weapons; I mean they keep the Argument in generals, by which they make little more of it than some innocent Harangues and Flourishes of Rhetorick, or at most make bold Assertions upon the Authority of some misapplied Expressions and incredible Stories of ancient Writers (p. 570). He concludes:

I don't say [modern Musick] is all alike good, or that there can be no just objection laid against any of our Compositions, especially in the setting of Musick to Words; I only say, we have admirable Compositions, and that the Art of Musick, taken in all that it is capable of, is more perfect than it was among the old Greeks and Romans, at least for what can possibly be made appear (p. 608).

Malcolm's defense of modern music forms the backdrop for two critical developments in writing about music in the eighteenth century: first, and jointly with Bedford's opposing The Great Abuse of Music, it was a spur to the creation of independent music criticism, as exemplified in Charles Avison's An Essay on Music Expression (1752) and, second, it provided a motive and a model for John Hawkins's A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776), also written in defense of modern music.

Avison's Essay is the first full-length book on music criticism in English (Kassler, p. 31). As opposed to Bedford or any other of the authors who participated in the ancient-modern controversy, Avison specifically focused his attention on modern music, stating at the outset: "As the public Inclination for music seems every Day advancing, it may not be amiss, at this Time, to offer a few Observations on that delightful Art; such Observations, I mean, as may be chiefly applicable to the present Times; such as may tend to correct any Errors that have arisen, either in the Composition , or the Practice of Music" (p. 1). In a Reply To the Author of Remarks On his Essay on Musical Expression written a year after the Essay was published, Avison explains his intent and his audience:

The Plan it was formed upon was of a singular Kind. It had nothing to do with the theoretic Principles, and the mere Mechanism of the Science. It's Aim was widely different. Intended, indeed, as a critical but yet as a liberal, Examen of this pleasing Art; according to Rules, not drawn from the formal Schools of systematical Professors, but from the School of Nature and Good Sense. You will easily perceive, that to the Execution of such a Plan, nothing was necessary but a good Ear, and a Taste cultivated by frequent hearing of Music. It was only writing on Harmony, as many Men, who never handled a Pencil, have written upon Colouring; and as many, who never pennned a Stanza, have written upon Metre; and yet, in every Age, Writers of this Class may be found, whose Works are held in as high Esteem, as if they had been composed by the most able practical Professors.…If then the Genius of this Sort of Criticism is universally such, that having Taste, not Practice, for it's object, it is directed to improve the Manner, not teach the Mechanism, of any Science… (Reply, pp. 4-6).

As this statement makes abundantly clear, Avison aimed his work to be neither musica speculativa nor musica prattica. Rather, by attempting "a Province of Writing which was new to [him]," Avison established the place of connoisseurship, which had long existed in literature and the visual arts, in music.

Aesthetics, or music criticism, represented a new type of writing for music lovers and was an important bridge between the ancient-modern quarrel, which raised the idea of music criticism in the light of historical commentary on ancient practice, and substantive music history that didn't "fight at long weapons," as Malcolm put it, but delved in detail into past musical scores. As Paul Henry Lang succinctly phrased it in Music in Western Civilization (1941), "On the heels of the critic came the historian" (p. 728). More specifically, we might say that on the heels of Malcolm and Avison came Hawkins and Burney—Hawkins's History serving to culminate the ancient-modern debate of the eighteenth century, and Burney's History growing from the rise of music criticism.

Hawkins took the modernist side in the ancient-modern quarrel, arguing that the supporters of ancient music inappropriately compared stories about the miraculous powers of music in ancient and biblical times to the effect of modern music (Allen, pp. 74-5). However, no mindless supporter of contemporary music either, he concludes his History with Handel and Geminiani and declares that music entered a period of decline in the middle of the eighteenth century (Weber, p. 210). Hawkins's History grows out of his stongly-held belief in the intellectual and moral basis of music; he rejected the idea that music was merely a source of pleasure (Weber, p. 211). He attributes "the general prejudices in behalf of antiquity" (i, xxiii), a "mistaken notion," to "that system of education which directs the attention of young minds to the discoveries and transactions of the more early times" (i, xxii), and he takes up Malcolm's cudgel by accusing those who promulgate such theories as having no evidence (i, xxiii-xxiv):

The method hitherto pursued by those writers who have attempted to draw a parallel between the ancient and modern music, has been to bring together into one point of view the testimonies in favour of the former, and to strengthen them by their own suffrages, which upon examination will be found to amount to just nothing; for these testimonies being no more than verbal declarations or descriptions, every reader is at liberty to supply them by ideas of his own; ideas which can only have been excited by that music which he has actually heard, or at least perused and contemplated.… [Those authors who] reject the music of the moderns as unworthy of attention or notice, how egregiously are they deceived, and what do they but forego the substance for the shadow?

Hawkins attempts to seek out and provide all surviving historical evidence (both scores and texts) from ancient times to the present. As he writes in his "Dedication and Preface" (see Image 7).

The end proposed in this undertaking is the investigation of the principles, and a deduction of the progress of a science [i.e. music], which though intimately connected with civil life, has scarce ever been so well understood by the generality, as to be thought a fit subject, not to say of criticism, but of sober discussion: Instead of exercising the powers of reason, it has in general engaged only that faculty of the mind, which, for want of a better word to express it by, we call Taste; and which alone, and without some principle to direct and controul it, must ever be deemed a capricious arbiter.…

By contrast, Burney's History descends from Avison, who declares that "Taste" is all one needs to evaluate music, and music criticism. Where Hawkins insists on the intellectual significance of music:

It may perhaps be objected that music is a mere recreation, and an amusement for vacant hours, conducing but little to the benefit of mankind, and therefore to be numbered among those vanities which it is wisdom to contemn. To this it may be answered, that, as a source of intellectual pleasure, music has greatly the advantage of most other recreations…

Burney declares the opposite:

My subject has been so often deformed by unskilful writers, that many readers, even among those who love and understand music, are afraid of it. My wish, therefore, is not to be approached with awe and reverence for my depth and erudition, but to bring on a familiar acquaintance with them, by talking in common language of what has hitherto worn the face of gloom and mystery, and been too much 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought:' and though the mixing biographical anecdotes in order to engage attention, may by some be condemned, as below the dignity of science, yet I would rather be pronounced trivial than tiresome; for Music being, at best, but an amusement, its history merits not, in reading, the labour of intense application, which should be reserved for more grave and important concerns (i, 19).

Despite these striking, and important, differences, Hawkins and Burney have much in common in terms of their recourse to treatises, scores, and, as Hawkins puts it, "correspondence with learned foreigners." Both know what they are doing is new. Both make extensive use in their narratives of the capsule biography. Both side with the moderns and fault the proponents of ancient music for their lack of evidence. And both, with some small distinction, are writing for the educated music public, which had changed dramatically from the time of Morley.

In the late eighteenth century, it was clear that "a gentleman should be a connoisseur" of music, but "unlike his seventeenth-century counterpart" described by Peacham, he "was not automatically expected to be a participant" (Irving, p. 127). A number of reasons lie behind this change. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the artist was considered by his skill primus inter pares, but not a breed apart. We have seen that Mrs. Delany was a friend of Handel, studied figured bass from his own method, and entertained Handel as a guest in her home, where he sometimes sang through his own most recent composition or "accompanied all the ladies" who sang. By the end of the century, however, musicians in Great Britain were increasingly foreign-born professionals (Handel being a naturalized British citizen had been fully adopted), frequently of a lower social class. The field was dominated by virtuosi, and special skill in composition and performance was more and more considered the result of inspiration or genius rather than hard work. Mrs. Delany, later in life, illustrated this change when she agreed that music was an inappropriate avocation for her nieces and nephews, because it would bring them into contact with low company. (Llanover: iii, 207; this opinion may ape Lord Chesterfield's published letters to his son: see Irving, p. 136). Another factor in the shift away from amateur music-making was that music grew to demand larger forces than could be convened in a home. Whereas the Percival brothers and their friends could seek out the newest published music and play it at home side-by-side with their own compositions, by the end of the century the rise of orchestral music and symphonic operas made performances at home impractical.

An excellent source for understanding the musical culture of Great Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century as distinct from that two centuries earlier are the writings of Richard Mackenzie Bacon, who was born in 1776, the year Hawkins's History and the first volume of Burney's History appeared, and who established "the first successful British periodical devoted exclusively to music, …published from 1818 until 1828": The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review (Howard Irving, " 'Music as a Pursuit for Men': Accompanied Keyboard Music as Domestic Recreation in England," College Music Symposium 30 (1990), 126-137; p. 126, n2; Leanne Langley, "Bacon, Richard Mackenzie," The New Grove Dictionary of Music Online In 1825, Bacon writes that "a regular amateur concert, amongst persons of rank, is a thing almost unknown" ("Private Concerts" QMMR 7 (1825):Irving, p. 132). He encourages practical music instruction for women to provide them with a suitable activity ("On the Objects of Music Education" QMMR 1 (1818); Irving, p. 127), but it was typically understood that this would be mere mechanical skill. By contrast, men were encouraged to study "the more academic subjects of theory and history … rather than performance" (Irving, p. 136).

With the growing separation between professional and amateur music-making, a whole new repertoire of music developed specifically for the dilettante. As Ruth Solie writes (in "Gender, Genre, and the Parlor Piano," The Wordsworth Circle 25 [1994], 53-56; p. 54), in the early nineteenth century "the common repertory that had permitted professionals and amateurs to play Haydn quartets together with understanding and delight gradually gave way to a variety of special repertories—which would eventually coalesce into a special genre—designed for the parlor" and "distinctinctively marked…as a pastime of women." With this change, "Hausmusik 'lost face' …, slipping several notches in cultural respectability." For this new music public, a new non-practical type of music literature was also required, for which Hawkins and Burney became the twin authorities, the new classical tradition. As Allen writes,

…at the beginning of the nineteenth century Burney and Hawkins loomed so large that the history of music seemed to be a subject that had been exhausted. For a long time many a new history of music was a mere scissors-and-paste job, in which writers did not always bother to say "according to Burney" . . . or "according to Hawkins." Nor was the insatiable curiosity of eighteenth-century writers duplicated for many years to come. No musicological research worthy of the name was carried on from Forkel's history in 1788 to Kiesewetter's in 1834—roughly equivalent to the period of Beethoven's creative life (p. 85).

For this purpose he consulted numerous publications, among the rest he applied himself to that valuable repository of useful knowledge, Dr. Burney's History of Music: a work which has past the ordeal of criticism with abundant approbation, and which abounds with every kind of information relating to the science of harmony. Sir John Hawkins's History of Music, likewise, afforded him considerable helps in various ways…

However, Eastcott's concern that "abstruse science fills a great part of the works of both these authors," and, as "his intention was to unite amusement with instruction," he "found himself obliged" to add anecdotes from various other sources. This leavening is necessary because, as Eastcott declares, he has directed his book specifically to young ladies who play the piano


One principal reason of the author's for wishing to compress his matter as much as possible, is, that those young ladies, who receive their education at public academies, may have an opportunity of being slightly acquainted with the history of an art, in which many of them spend a considerable part of their time in endeavouring to excel; and as voluminous disquisitions on particular sciences, cannot possibly be included within the circle of female education, he thinks this essay may be introduced to their acquaintance as a school-book, and occupy some little part of the time alloted for general study. (p. iv) With Eastcott, a new range of music literature opens up for the music dilettante, typically female, alongside the new watered-down but, but commercially successful repertoire, for parlor piano, as described by Solie. As Eastcott writes, if his book "should induce the juvenile reader to peruse works of real character and known respectability, his end will be fully answered."

In William Mason's Essays, Historical and Critical on English Church Music (York, 1795) the shift in focus from practitioner to listener is particularly clear. Mason seems not even to acknowledge a music public conversant with performance or composition, stating (p. 12), "I write with a view to make myself intelligible to the hearers and admirers of Music, rather than the Masters and Composers." He dismisses the more rigorous, "scientific," approach (p. 6):

Treatises on the Art itself have been numerous. In these the Masters of it have criticized their Predecessors and contemporaries, but this only as Grammarians have criticized Grammarians; either for trespassing on the rules laid down by the old Masters, for modulation and harmony; or for breaking, like Priscian's, Guido's head. But this, the reader sees, is widely different from the species of criticism I mean, and shall aim to pursue.

Like Eastcott, Mason is dependent on Burney and Hawkins, regularly citing them in his notes: "I say this on Dr. Burney's authority, (and I cannot rest upon better)" (W:298), "Sir John Hawkins, in his History…gives us the inscription" (W:300), "For these two facts I rest on Dr. Burney's authority," (W:318), "It is to be found in Sir John Hawkins's History of Music…, who has also given many curious anecdotes of this singular personæ (W:330), etc. In other words, authors of music history and criticism following Hawkins and Burney, combed through their works in order to compile excerpts into "easier" (that is, Reader's Digest-style condensed) books for the listening public.

As the performance of contemporary music increasingly demanded professional performance, often with large performing forces well beyond the capacity of a private home, the four-hand piano transcription became the most popular method of bringing classical music into the domestic setting. Thomas Christensen ("Four-Hand Piano Transcription and Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Musical Reception" (JAMS 52 [1999], 255-299), in his analysis of this new trend in "domestic music," describes a spectrum of four-hand piano music ranging from such "ubiquitous parlor genres," such as waltzes, marches and popular tunes, as described by Solie, to "more sober concert repertory," not only of symphonies, operas and overtures, but also, for increased ease of performance, solo piano sonatas (including all thirty-two of Beethoven's) (p. 257). However, the publication of large, symphonic works in four-hand transcriptions, as Christensen writes, "was not such an innocent vehicle of dissemination" (p. 256). As the century progressed, the practice and production of four-hand piano transcriptions continued to emphasize earlier classical rather than late romantic music, adding to "the growing musical conservatism in the later ninetenth century" (Christensen, p. 274, n60). Further, as piano transcriptions became the single best method for understanding the great masterpieces, they had a significant impact on the development of music analysis.

By filtering the variegated timbres of orchestral music through the percussive attacks of piano hammers, transcription acoustically elevates the primary musical qualities of pitch and form, just as the etching elucidates the linear syntax and composition of a painting. It is little wonder, then, that piano transcription is complicitous with formalistic music analysis. Almost without exception, music "analysis" in the nineteenth century (as today) meant analysis of those parameters that survive the translation to the piano medium: pitch, rhythm, and form. (Christensen, p. 290)

In fact, we see something of this trend already at the very end of the eighteenth century in the "new" harmony and analysis books of Augustus Kollman and William Shield. Kollman's An Essay on Musical Harmony According to the Nature of that Science and the Principles of the Greatest Musical Authors deserves particular mention. Shield's An Introduction to Harmony follows a similar pattern, but is less strong in content and less useful on account of Shield's refusal to identify his musical examples. Comparison of Kollman and Morley is revealing. Whereas Morley intended his Introduction for the serious amateur, Kollman directs his Essay to advanced students in music, those "who wish to study musical composition, to teach music with propriety, or to judge of the music they hear, practice, and encourage." He objects to the prevailing view (which did not exist in Morley's time) that composition was the result of inspired genius and, therefore, "that no rules can be given, that no rules need be given, and that no rules ought to be given for musical composition"

. Sounding just like Hawkins, he writes:

That rules drawn from the …theory of music, and proved by the experience of those who have attached themselves to the study and practice of that science, must be of great assistance to those, who wish to know and practice music not only as a mere branch of luxury, but as an art, calculated for rational amusement, and for improving and refining our feelings, will want no demonstration. (p. xvi)

Surprisingly, he dedicates his Essay to Charles Burney, who had described music as being, "at best, but an amusement."

Alfred Mann writes (Theory and Practice: The Great Composer as Student and Teacher, 1987) that the eighteenth century witnessed the shift from theory as the "science of music" or musica speculativa, to a form of musica prattica that standardized established (and historical) practice (p. 3). With Kollman, we arrive at that point. His Essay includes extensive musical illustration on engraved plates of music from the preceding century to, as one reviewer wrote, illuminate the text "sufficiently, wherever darkness or doubts may arise" (quoted in Kassler, p. 651). The plates include a prelude by J.S. Bach, a number of examples from Handel, Kirnberger (on whom Kollman modeled his harmonic theories), Georg Benda, and others. That is, with Kollman (and, to a lesser extent, Shield), music theory transforms itself into a historical study of practice.

Looking over the list of books about music in the Ritter Collection published in Great Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provides an opportunity to see beyond the individual volumes to the larger trends. The twin multi-volume histories of Hawkins and Burney, as representative of a new subject in music writing, are not simply additions to existing kinds of music explication, not just a "new thing." For serious music lovers, music history at the end of the eighteenth century replaced practical treatises on music composition and performance (Morley, Playford, Lampe). Music history did not, however, evolve directly from musica prattica. On the one hand, it grew out of the tradition of musica speculativa, with its emphasis on historical texts, and, on the other, it descended directly from the related development in England of music criticism through the ancient-modern controversy. Concurrent with this development, texts devoted to musica prattica shifted from treatises on composition and performance written for music lovers to the historical study of music harmony for advanced students of music. The increasing separation of professional and amateur music-making in terms both of scale and substance at this time also led to the development of books for the music dilettante on music history and criticism that were largely condensed digests of the work of Burney and Hawkins, who replaced the Greeks as the classical tradition in writing about music.

The ability to discover these trends in the Ritter Collection results from Ritter's careful process of collecting. He clearly built his library with thought and expertise. His collection of English-language books written in the seventeenth and eighteenth century includes the first book on composition written in the vernacular (Morley), the book containing the declared (viz. Allen) first history of music in English (Malcolm), the first book (viz. Weber) in the ancient-modern quarrel to add "a new ideological dimension in the perception of ancient music" (Bedford), the first full-length book (viz. Kassler) in English on music criticism (Avison), and the first comprehensive histories of music in any language (Hawkins and Burney).

The shift in music writing away from composition and performance to history and historical harmonic practice, although it laid the foundation of our continuing pedagogic emphasis on history and harmony, also signalled the increasing lack, especially with the growing audiences for listening to music, of practical musical experience among the auditors and critics. When Ritter, as a professor of music at Vassar College, came to write his own History of Music in the Form of Lectures [R:45-46] in 1870 for American consumption, he was clear on the latter point.

While the state of musical culture to-day offers many elements which justify the hopes of all lovers of music…yet music is, by many intelligent people, scarcely regarded as an art. Many persons, of tolerably liberal views, yet consider it merely as an accessory accomplishment, and would gladly banish it, if the prevailing superficial fashion (so much to be regretted) of knowing how to play, or how to sing, a little, were not too strong to be resisted. And many consider music as an unfit occupation for masculine minds…. About none of the other arts has so much nonsense been written, as about music. A person scarcely able to distingish one tone or note from another, one air from another, will not hesitate to judge of, and condemn, fine musical works in a most imperative manner… (pp. 5-6)

His stated goal was to "throw light on those early periods of musical art, scarcely known or appreciated by amateurs,—and perhaps I do not exaggerate if I say, by the great majority of musicians also" (p. 10), and he credits his personal library with enabling him to achieve this end. I never accepted any judgment, any opinion, of an important historical fact, or aesthetic appreciation of important works, that marked or prepared an era in music, until after a conscientious, careful examination, comparison, and study of the most reliable sources which were at my disposal, and most of which are in my own possession. (This I need hardly say, for the almost utter want of musical libraries and of private collections, on this contenent, is a well-known fact, and a frequent subject of remark and regret among students.) (p. 12)

Although music libraries today in the United States have improved enormously, Ritter's discriminating collection preserved at Tufts University still offers the music scholar a special opportunity to learn at Ritter's hands, something I hope my remarks today have demonstrated.

  • Delivered as part of the Ritter Colloquium Series sponsored by the Department of Music at Tufts University, October 1, 2003.
This object is in collection Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
DCA Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights