C. Hubert H. (Charles Hubert Hastings) Parry.

The music of the seventeenth century online

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VOL. Ill













The seventeenth century is, musically, almost a blank,
even to those who take more than the average interest
in the Art ; and barely a score of composers' names during
the whole time suggest anything more than a mere reputa-
tion to modern ears. But this is by no means owing to
neglect of the Art, or lack of musical energy and enterprise.
There was fully as much activity in musical production
throughout the century as at other times ; and lovers of
the Art were quite under the impression that the music
of their time would compare favourably with that of other
times, and impress those that came after as much as it
impressed themselves. The event proved it singularly
short lived : and intrinsically most of it seems to casual
observers little better than an archaeological cui-iosity.
Yet to those whose sympathies extend a little further than
their everyday acquaintance it is capable of being not only
very interesting but widely suggestive. It is interesting
to seek for the reasons of its appearing adequate to the
people of its time, while it appears so slender and inadequate
to those that come after ; and it is suggestive of essential
but rarely comprehended facts in relation to the very
nature of Art and its place in the scheme of human things,
to trace the manner in which the slenderest beginnings,
manifested during the century, served as the foundations
of all the most important and comprehensive forms of
Modern Art.

There is no lack of materials. Indeed they are so plentiful



that a mere catalogue would make an extensive volume.
But little is gained by burdening the mind or overweighting
an argument with a multitude of concrete facts which
cannot be made to have a living meaning. It may therefore
be premised that endeavour will not be made in the follow-
ing pages to refer to all the composers of the century, much
less to all their works, or the personal details of their lives.
But even without attempting to cover all the ground, much
reference must necessarily be made to works which have
passed out of sight and are difficult to obtain. And as
mere language is inadequate to give the impression of
music, and mere description and reference, unaided by any
opportunity of actual personal verification, are barren and
wearisome, passages which clearly indicate or confirm
essential features of the Art's development are given as
examples in the text. In the presentation of these the most
exact fidelity to the originals has been maintained, con-
sistent with intelligibility. Only in some cases, where a
mere figured bass was supplied by the composer as an
accompaniment to a vocal or other solo, and when the
harmonies are important for the understanding of the music,
the figures have been translated into their simplest harmonic
equivalents, for the sake of those who are unaccustomed
to deal with figured basses.

In finding and obtaining access to many of the works
to which reference is made the invaluable help of Mr. W.
Barclay Squire, of the British Museum, demands ample
acknowledgement ; as do also the most welcome help of
Miss Emily Daymond in looking over the proofs, and the
great assistance given by Mr. Claude Aveling in copying
examples, translating lute tablature, indexing, and checking
all sorts of details.

C. H. H. Parry.





• •


yl In



24 ^


Links between the Old Art and the New



Diffusion of New Principles



Signs of Change in England


The Influence of French Taste

« •






English Music after the Commonwealth . . 2^^


Foundations of Modern Instrumental Music . 308 ;



Tendencies of Italian Art ..... 376 \



The Beginning of German Music . . . 409 \

INDEX . 457









The change in the character and methods of musical art
at the end of the sixteenth century was so decisive and
abrupt that it would be easy to be misled into thinking that
the laws by which progress or regress invariably proceeds
were abrogated, and that a new departure leading to develop-
ments of the most comprehensive description was achieved
through sheer speculation.

Undoubtedly speculation had a great deal to do with
it. But speculation alone could not provide a whole
system of artistic methods or means of expression without
the usual preliminaries. Methods of art are the product of
the patient labour of generations. The methods which the
great masters of pure choral music turned to such marvellously
good account in the sixteenth century had only been attained
by the progressive labours of composers during many cen-
turies ; and before the various new forms of art which began
to be cultivated at the beginning of the seventeenth century
could be brought to even approximate maturity, the same
slow process of development had to be gone through again.




No one man and no one generation ever contribute more
than a very limited amount towards the sum total of resources
through which art lives and has its being. There is no
difference in such matters between art and the familiar
affairs of public life. No single man is expected to elaborate
a constitution, to complete a whole system of law, or to
organize the physical and spiritual appliances which are
required by the endless needs of society. The ends are
attained by the constant co-operation of countless individuals ;
and so it is with art. Each individual who possesses the
true artistic spirit helps in some degree to bring his branch
of art to perfection. If he sees an apparent flaw he tries
to mend it. If he foresees some new object for which
available artistic resources may be applied, he concentrates
all his energies on attaining it. And though no two men
ever see anything quite alike, the instinctive co-operation of
various individual faculties, which is induced by the acceptance
of certain general principles of aim and style, constantly
ministers to the general advancement of methods and the com-
pletion of the wide range of artistic requirements. And by
degrees the necessary knowledge and appliances are accu-
mulated, through which the consummation of great and
complicated schemes of art becomes possible.

The first experimenters in the field of the so-called 'new
music,' though they enjoyed none of the advantages of copious
artistic resource which are available for composers of later
times, were in some respects more happily situated. The
idea of accommodating themselves to any standards but their
own did not occur to them. Till composers had begun to
taste of the excitement of popular success, or the cruelty
of unmerited public failure, they worked with the innocent
sincerity of men who had never gone through the experience
of being tempted. They worked, according to their lights,
with no other aim than to achieve something which accorded
with their artistic instinct; and the fact that they achieved


so little at the outset was not owing to misdirection of energy,
but to the inadequacy of existing artistic resources. Their
scheme was too grand and comprehensive for their funds.
Speculation cannot create, but can only redistribute existing
means for attaining anything; and the means at the disposal
of the artistic speculators of the ' Nuove Musiche ' were so
slender that in all the departments of art in which they really
attempted anything new, they had to go back almost to the
level of the pre-historic cave-dwellers. So far, indeed, from
the 'Nuove Musiche^ being a kind of spontaneous generation,
as some seem to have thought, it was little better than a crude
attempt to redistribute and readapt existing artistic means and
devices to novel ends. And the results were so far from being
immediately successful or adequate that it took nearly a century
of manifold labour to achieve anything sufficiently mature to
attract or retain the attention of after ages.

Even such elementary results as were attained at first had
antecedents, though for obvious reasons they are difficult to
trace. The exact perpetuation of music depends upon the
means of recording it; and until comparatively late in the
Middle Ages the only methods of writing music in existence
were utterly indefinite. Moreover in those days, when educa-
tion and culture were restricted to the Church, it lay with
ecclesiastical musicians to choose what music was worth
recording; and in earlier phases of art of all kinds little
is ever considered worthy of artistic treatment, or of the
attention of the artistically-minded, except what are called
sacred subjects. Music was almost as much restricted
to the functions of religion as painting and sculpture
were to subjects connected with religious history or the
hagiology of the Church. So music which was outside this
range found but scanty and occasional favour with serious
musicians ; and any uprising of a secular tendency, which
might have brought about a development of independent
musical art, was inevitably regarded with indifference and

B 2


even with hostile feelings by a Church which aimed at worldly
as well as spiritual domination. Hence secular, or at least
extra-ecclesiastical things, especially in artistic directions, had
very little chance of surviving till the general spread of culture
and refinement beyond the Churches border had created too
large and weighty a mass of independent public opinion for
her to crush by the old methods. Then there was a period
of wavering while she made her last attempt to suppress all
independence at the Reformation, and, failing, she adopted
the policy of adapting the fruits of secular mental activity
to her own uses; as will be found in tracing the story of
music after its independence from ecclesiastical domination
had been established.

The new musical departure was in fact the counterpart
and outcome of that uprising of the human mind, whose
outward manifestations are known as the Renaissance and the
Reformation. It was the throwing off of the ecclesiastical
limitations in matters musical, and the negation of the claims
of the Church to universal domination and omniscience. It
was the recognition of the fact that there is a spiritual life
apart from the sphere to which man's spiritual advisers had
endeavoured to restrict it; a sphere of human thought where
devotion and deep reverence, nobility and aspiration, may find
expression beyond the utmost bounds of theology or tradition.
Until this fact, and the right of man to use the highest resources
of art for other purposes than ecclesiastical religion, had been
established, such achievements as Beethoven's instrumental
compositions, Mozart's and Wagner's operas, and even the
divinest achievements of John Sebastian Bach were impossible.
The innermost meaning of the striking change in musical style
in the seventeenth century is therefore its secularization. It
was the first deliberate attempt to use music on a large scale
for extra-ecclesiastical purposes; and to express in musical
terms the emotions and psychical states of man which are
not included in the conventional circuit of what is commonly


conceived to be religion. It is unnecessary to discuss here
how far the conception of what were fit to be defined as
religious states of mind may be expanded. For the pur-
poses of estimating the change, and understanding this
period of musical history, the generally accepted meaning
of the tei-ms secular and ecclesiastical is sufficient. More-
over, the religion of Europe had not, at the end of the
sixteenth century, been split up into countless sects, and
though there were divisions in the Reformed Church already,
they were too recent to produce different kinds of distinctive
music. Sacred music of the artistic kind was therefore con-
terminous with the music of the Roman Church ; and by the
end of the sixteenth century this had become a very highly
and delicately organized product, though limited in range
because it was devised essentially for devotional purposes, and
to express with the subtlest nicety possible the subjective
religious characteristics of the old Church. The essential
principle of this devotional choral music was the polyphonic
texture, which maintained the expressive individuality of the
separate voice-parts out of which the mass of the harmony
was compounded. The methods of procedure had been
evolved by adding melodious voice-parts to a previously-
assumed melody, which was called the * Canto Fermo,^ and
served as the foimdation and inner thread of the composition.
The result of this method of writing was to obliterate
the effect of rhythm and metric organization altogether.
The separate voice-parts sometimes had rhythmic qualities
of their own, but they were purposely put together in such a
way as to counteract any obvious effect of rhythm running
simultaneously through all the parts ; and composers even
sought to make the texture rich and interesting by causing
the accents to occur at different moments in different parts.
By this means they maintained the effect of independence
in the individual voice-parts, and produced at the same time
the musical eq^uivalent of the subjective attitude of the human


creature in devotion, in which the powers of expression which
belong to the body are as far as possible excluded. In other
words, the music represents the physical inactivity of a con-
gregation in the act of Christian worship, wherein — unlike
some Pagan religious ceremonies — muscular manifestations are
excluded, and everything is confined to the activities of the
inner man. This is the ultimate meaning of the exclusion
of rhythm from the old church music. To the old composers
rhythm evidently represented physical action, the attribute
of the perishable body, and was therefore essentially secular.
And the singular subtlety with which the whole scheme of art
was contrived so as to exclude rhythmic effect is one of the
most remarkable instances of the justness and consistency
of unconscious instinct, when working undisturbed by things
external to its real motives.

But the effect of this was almost to exclude rhythm from
the best music altogether; for nearly all the higher kinds
of music which were intended to be used outside churches
were constructed upon the methods which the Church com-
posers had evolved, for the simple reason that there were
no others. So, in fact, there was very little secularity even
about the artistic kinds of unecclesiastical music up to the
latter part of the sixteenth century. Genuine madrigals were
written on the same polyphonic principles as church music ;
and many of them were as serious in style. A self-respecting
composer would hardly venture further in the direction of
secular style than a little relaxation of the rigid obser-
vance of the rules of the modes and the high grammatical
orthodoxies, and a little gaiety and definiteness in melodious
and lively passages. No doubt madrigals became contaminated
before the end of the sixteenth century, for secularity was
in the air. But the system upon which they were based, and
the subtleties of art which were the pride of their composers,
were not capable of being applied in real undisguised secular
music ; and, as is well known, the ' new music ' when once


it was thoroughly established very soon killed them. They
were too delicate flowers to stand the rough handling of the
worldly methods. The style of both Sacred and Secular Music
of the most artistic kind was too much hedged about by rule
and prescription to afford many indications of change, or
material for revolutionary composers to borrow for alien
purposes. But, just as before the Reformation, even in the
innermost circles of the Church, there were men who were
in favour of reform, so in the circles of artistic musical
production the trend of things may sometimes be discerned.
It is interesting to note that indications of tendencies towards
the secular style appear in choral music before the end of the
sixteenth century most frequently in the works of the Nether-
landers, and in the works of the Venetians who took them
for their models, illustrating thereby the higher vitality of
the Northern races, which had made them so prominent in the
Reformation, and in later times induced their maintaining the
highest standard in the ^ new music ' when the Italians relapsed
into sensuousness and the languor of formality. In the great
days of the choral style the true Italians showed the highest
instinct for beauty of tone, and the composers of the Netherland
school much the most force and intellectuality. While genuine
Italians of the Roman school, such as Palestrina, seemed to
aim at quiet and easy flow of beautiful sound and passages
apt and natural to the singer, the Netherlanders and their
followers used simple chords, and even the repetitions of
chords, and progressions which are curious and wilful.
Lasso's music often seems to imply the intention to wrestle with
the ideas suggested by the words, and to use deliberate harsh-
nesses which imply a disdain of the claims of mere beauty,
and even to delight in making the hearers a little uncomfortable,
in order to brace them and make them think. A curious
passage, * Nolite fieri sicut equus et mulus,' in the second
penitential psalm is a fair specimen of the somewhat conscious
ingenuity which was one of Lasso's characteristics. It appears



to be intended to suggest the stubbornness of the mule, which
had probably established its character even in the sixteenth
century. The passage also illustrates his love of toying with
a succession of chords in a manner which implies a changing
attitude towards Counterpoint ; but of that side of his cha-
racter the following passage from the third penitential psalm
is even more striking : —

Ex. 1.

i 1 P^



^^EgE^E ^:x3=^


ne dis - cea • ae - ru .

na dis-ces

se - ris a me

ne dis - ces -






ne dU • oes - se - ris

me, ne dis • ces • se • ris a me










1 3-


dis - ces - se - ris a me

ne dis - ces - se - ris a me, ne dis - ces - se -



•^-^ ^ ^W^'^fT^




ne dis - ces - se - ris a me, ne dis-ces - se - ris



< =f g



ne dis - ces - se - ris ne dis - ces







se ris ne dis - ces - se ris a


"S l g JK


ne dis - ces - se - ris a



r -J J ^l-^i ^^^




ris a me ne dis-cea-se -ris a


r^ • r - J



dis - ces - se-ris





ne dis'ces • se • ris


The actual texture is undeniably polyphonic, but in reality
the passage is a very ingenious sophistication of a successioii
of simple chords, which drop each time (with two paren-


theses) upon the pivot of the third which is common to each
pair of chords ^. Reduced to its simplest terms the passage
is as follows : —

Ex. 2.












ijg H J L.

S>- S^







Such passages are in some ways at variance with the
ordinarily accepted view of the beautiful old choral music, but
there are two prominent points in which they are also at
variance with the later secular music. The intricate crossing
of the accents in the voice-parts evidently obliterates the effect
of rhythm altogether; and the progressions of the chords,
however distinct the chords tiiemselves may be, are clearly not
suggestive of the familiar system of modern tonality. So
in the serious works of the most enterprising of the great
composers of the Choral epoch, the only features which
prefigure the art of the ' Nuove Musiche ^ are the prominent
use of chords as chords, and the neglect of mere sensuous
beauty in the intention to express somewhat pointedly the
meaning of the words with which the music is associated.

These points are, however, rather indicative of tendencies
than embodiments of new methods, such as the speculators of
the ^ New Music ' could avail themselves of. And, as has before
been said, it is the more evident from this consideration that
the methods of pure choral music were not capable of being

' The passage may be compared with the introduction to the fugue in
Beethoven's Sonata, Opus io6, where the same system of progression is used
on a much grander scale.



transformed for genuinely secular purposes; and those who
initiated secular music were quite right in perceiving the fact,
and attempting a style for their solo music, and ultimately for
their instrumental music also, which had next to nothing in
common with the pure choral art of the sixteenth century. The
true antecedents and fundamental principles of the new style of
secular art have to be looked for in the secular music of the
people. And the factors which are most universal, most
permanent, and most essential to such secular music are rhythm
and definite metrical organization. Though in artistic secular
music and sacred music of the choral kind, rhythm seems
to have been so persistently excluded, there can hardly have
been any time in the history of the human race when men
refrained from dancing; and where dancing is, there must
be some kind of rhythmic music to inspire and regulate it.
Not much ancient instrumental dance music has been preserved,
but even the earliest mediaeval secular songs always have
a rhythmic character, which indicates that they once were
connected with dance motions. In the astonishing early secular
motets consisting of several tunes to be sung simultaneously,
such as those which are preserved in the Montpellier and
Bodleian MSS., numerous popular songs are embedded, in
which, notwithstanding that they must have been altered
a little to accommodate them to some kind of endurable
harmony, a very prominent rhythmic character is still dis-
cernible. As an example may be taken a fragment from a
motet of the twelfth or thirteenth century (Ex. 3), compounded

Ex. 3.

1^— V — I ' 1 1-

-. /-) . -^ .




Online LibraryC. Hubert H. (Charles Hubert Hastings) ParryThe music of the seventeenth century → online text (page 1 of 33)