MR. E. TAYLOR'S LECTURES ON THE EARLY ENGLISH OPERA.
We have reserved our notice of this interesting course of Lectures, lately delivered at the London Institution, until their close, in order that we might give a more general and comprehensive review of them. Their design is one of a novel character ; they treat of a portion of our national history which has up to the present time remained uncul- tivated, or been passed over with the slightest and most unsatisfactory notice. We may partly account for this fact from the deficiency of materials at the command of the historian ; but we are left to wonder that the investigation of so interesting a field of inquiry should not have attracted attention, and induced a diligent research into the treasures it contains. Music is the only art amongst us in which merit and industry are rewarded by neglect : the works of our painters, poets, and sculptors, live in the admiration of their country, and she is justly proud to exhibit them as hers; but the compositions of our great masters—mien of a genius equally great in their 1.cience-1i8 forgotten, their names even are strange to our curs, and the faded laurel of neglect is the only one which encircles their brows. It is, then, with great plea- sure that we hail this attempt to vindicate the claims of our conetry to its just rank in the annals of musical science, and to remove a little of the ignorance which veils its history. To no abler hands could the task have fallen. Mr. TAYLOR unites to a liberal education a thorough ac- quaintance with the science and history of music, a correct taste, and a mind richly stored with the history and poetry of his country, which enables him to estimate and compare justly the claims of the sister rots. His object in the present course of lectures is to present an bietorical survey of the origin and progress of the early English Opera ; and with this view, he has collected from various sources—from the public and private libraries if the Metropolis and of Oxford—a great deal of curious and interesting information illustrative of the early history of the stage, and the gradual introduction of music into dramatic repre- sentations.
Mr. TAYLOR satisfactorily, in our opinion, establishes the fact—an important one in a national point of view—of the native origin of the English Opera : he traces it to the early Masques of the reign of HENRY the Eighth, which in their turn arose out of the still ruder shows termed Moralities. The latter consisted in the personification of the deities of mythology, and of the passions, the virtues and vices, &c. represented in character, and frequently exhibited in street processions. The Masques, which grew out of these, gradually assumed a regular dramatic character ; and by degrees, music, from being a mere appendage, became an integral part of the representations. In speaking of the Italian dramatic composers of this time, Mr. TAYLOR selected as specimens, LANIER': and FERABOSCO, and drew a comparison between their compositions and those of Lawns and other contemporaries of the English school. It is curious to observe the rude attempts at melody in this age, when we consider the high culti- vation of her sister science, harmony. The one was in its infancy, while the other had attained its full growth and maturity. Still there is a simplicity in some of these airs, of which specimens were sung in illustration, which pleases, though without satisfying the ear. The production of Comes gave a new and higher character to the Masque ; and in noticing it, Mr. TAYLOR bestowed an eloquent and just tribute on the genius of our great poet. It is a subject of regret, that of all the music of Comus, written by LAWES, the friend of Microw, only one air remains to us. The words have been re-set by Dr. ARNE; but though, as Mr. TAYLOR justly observed, the palm of musical excel- lence is due to ARNE, yet LAWES evinced a superior taste and judgment in the adaptation of the music to the poetry. The one adapted the words to the music, and sacrificed the poet to his own caprice ; the other adapted his music to the words, and studied only to give effect to the intentions of MILTON.
During the Protectorate, the zeal of the Puritans abolished Cathedral music, and closed the Theatres. CROMWELL, however, did not take the lead in this spirit of bigotry : on the contrary, he did what he could to repress it ; and of this Mr. TAYLOR mentioned several proofs, contrast- ing them in strong colours with the marked neglect and disgrace with which CHARLES the Second, "the patron of science," treated the first musicians of this country,—importing from France and Italy men in every respect their interiors, and lavishing on these exotics the sunshine of Court favour.
The third lecture commenced with an account of the early Dramatic music of Italy, and the attempt made to revive the Greek tragedy ; and after establishing, we think, the fact of the original independence of the English Opera on that of Italy, Mr. TAYLOR proceeded to the history of the stage in the reign of CHARLES the Second, and the alte- rations in SHAKSPEARE'S plays by DAVENANT and others. He then examined at length the various claims to the authorship of the music of Macbeth, concluding by giving the preference to MATTHEW Locx. It is a strong evidence, we may observe, of the excellence of this compo- sition, that no similar instance is on record of any dramatic music con- tinuing to be performed and retaining its popularity for above two cen- turies. Since the reign of JAMES the First, music had been on the decline, and under the patronage of CHARLES the Second it had reached its lowest grade. Amidst this growing obscurity of the sci- ence, arose the genius of PURCELL, and rescued from extinction the musical fame of England. In this great man appear preeminently concentrated all the brightest rays of genius : in regarding him, we must consider the rude state of the music of the Opera as he found it ; and we shall then justly appreciate the efforts of his mind, which raised it to the pitch of excellence in which he left it. The three last lectures were devoted to a review of PURCELL'S dra- matic works, and to a notice of his personal character ; and in hearing many of the pieces selected for illustration from thirteen of his operas and other dramatic compositions, we confess to a feeling of shame at the new delight with which they inspired us. In fact, we had Purcell redicivus presented to us : for more than a century some of the pieces had actually lain dead, and never even been heard. No wonder then that their novelty surprised while their beauty delighted us : they arose into new existence, fresh and bright as ever, for theirs is an unfailing bloom—the hand of Time passes over them, but leaves them un- touched; and this is the real test of all truly great works, and the post- humous reward of their authors. Our limits will not permit us to devote more space to this subject : but in conclusion, we ought to notice the effective and beautiful man- ner in which the illustrations were sung. Mr. TURLE presided at the pianoforte ; and Messrs. BELLAMY, HAWKINS, HOKE:CASTLE, KINK" MOXLEY, and Master HOWE, assisted the lecturer in the various selec- tions. The lectures were attended throughout by crowded audiences.