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The Etude Music Study Clubs

Has Heaven bestowed on you a lively imagination, you will often, in solitary hours, sit entranced at the piano, longing to express in harmonies your inward fervor; and the more mystical are your feelings while you are drawn, as it were, into magic circles, the more obscure, perhaps, will the realm of harmony appear. These are youth's happiest hours. But beware of giving yourself up too often to a faculty which may ostensibly mislead you to waste on phantoms your powers and your time. The management of form, the power of clear representation can only be secured by the fixed stamp of writing. Be therefore more of a writer than a visionary. — Schumann.
 
 
XII.
Before going on with the story of the opera we must devote some space to another element of musical life which, like the opera, grew out of the attempts to develop a style of music which was free from the restrictions of the old church conventions. Up to the sixteenth century the ruling principle in political and social life was that of the community of interest, the mass; the individual as such was in the background and his interests were taken up in that of the family, the parish, the church, the guild, the fraternity, and of the state. To this in music corresponded the dominance of the choral element. But in the period with which we are concerned the individual began to assert himself, and from this principle developed the idea of the solo in musical works. There were the germs for this in the liturgy of the church and in the religious plays of the Middle Ages.
 
The ceremonies of the Catholic Church contained a dramatic element in ideal form. By way of illustration, we may mention the gradual unveiling of the cross on Good Friday, when the priest sings thrice, raising his voice each time a little higher: "Ecce lignum crucis in quo salus mundi dependit" and the choir in similar manner answers: "Venite, adoremus"; likewise the adoration of the holy cross, while from the choir is heard the "Popule meus" in the compositions of Palestrina, Vittoria, or Bernabei. It is a deeply impressive, dramatic scene. This musico-dramatic element came forward still more clearly in the reciting of the Passion. One priest chanted the narrative of the evangelist, another the words of the Saviour, a third that of other persons, while the choir represented the people, wherein the short choruses of Vittoria or Gallus proved very effective. Already in the Middle Ages it was recognized that religious plays could be used to instruct and edify the people. Such spectacles were presented by the clergy in the churches even in the ninth century. The material for these plays was drawn from the life of Christ, particularly his birth, his suffering and death, the lives of the Virgin Mother and the Apostles, the parable of the foolish virgins, etc. These were called liturgical dramas; at first they were in Latin, afterwards given with an admixture of the vernacular. The people themselves participated with songs such as "Christus ist Erstanden," and "Also Heilig ist der Tog."
 
Another form of these religious plays was the so- called "Mysteries," which were given outside the church, on special stages, and represented by the laity. A relic of this custom is found at the present day in the celebrated "Passion Play" given at Oberammergau in Bavaria. Gradually the "Myteries" (sic) lost their original religious character through the mixing in of secular folk songs, of coarsely comical and satirical scenes, and in place of being instructive and morally edifying became purely a matter of entertainment.
 
In order to give the people something to take the place of the old religious plays St. Philip Neri (1515- 1595) established in the chapel for prayers, "Oratorium," in the convent of Santa Maria in Vallicella, a kind of religious function which received the name of "Oratorio." They consisted of sermons, readings from the Scriptures, with dialogues, choruses and spiritual songs illustrating the most interesting episodes in Biblical history, such as those centering around Moses, Aaron, Esther, David, etc. The music, written by composers of the best reputation, such as Palestrina and Animuccia, consisted of solo and part singing, the texts being taken from the Bible.
 
Later St. Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratorio at Rome, which took upon itself the dissemination through Italy and France of this kind of semisacred music. In 1600 in the Church of Santa Maria the first oratorio, as it is generally called, was rendered, the work being entitled, "Rappresentazione di Anima e di Corpo," the text by Laura Guidiccioni, the music by Emilio del Cavaliere. It consisted of short hymns written in madrigal style and of solos accompanied by an orchestra consisting of a double lyre, a harpsichord, a large guitar, and two flutes, placed behind the scenes. The chorus sat on the stage, but when singing arose and made appropriate gestures. The oratorio ended with a chorus, "to be sung, accompanied sedately and reverentially by the dance," and there was provision for a ballet. The accompaniment to these solos was of course very crude, but the efforts of the composers who worked in this style paved the way for those who should later occupy themselves with the opera and other dramatic music. A feeling for monody was developing, and with it the necessity for instrumental support, which was to have great bearing upon the future of the oratorio, the opera, the cantata, organ, and piano playing, as well as the pure instrumental music which was to follow later. Among the composers who broke the way were Kapsberger, German by birth, who lived in Rome in 1604, and composed hymns for a single voice for Pope Urban VIII, and particularly Ludovico Viadana (1565-1645), who wrote pieces for one, two, and three voices, to which he added an independent organ part to strengthen and enrich the harmonies. These pieces were called "Concerti Ecclesiastici," in which the voices are treated as real solos in distinction from polyphony; they have a melodious character, are divided into periods, and are rhythmic. Another feature was the use of a "Basso Continuo"1 for the organ. To Viadana is ascribed the introduction of monody into the music of the church, the so-called concert style, in distinction from the a capella (unaccompanied vocal) style. He also tried to express the sentiment of the words in music and to assign characteristic motives.
 
Two other names must be mentioned in connection with the early history of the oratorio, Giovanni Carissimi (1604-1674), Alessandro Stradella (1645- 1681), and Henrich Schütz (1585-1672). Carissimi received his education at Rome and spent most of his life there. His principal merit is that he perfected the monodic style, especially developed the recitative and gave more charm to the instrumental accompaniment. He wrote effectively for voices, yet the music was not difficult of execution. He was accustomed to say to those who praised his music, "How difficult it is to be so easy!" He was the teacher of Alessandro Scarlatti whose name is of great importance in the history of the opera.
 
Alessandro Stradella was a famous singer as well as composer. Parry says: "Stradella had a very remarkable instinct for choral effect, even piling up progressions into a climax; his solo music aims equally at definiteness of structure." He cultivated all the natural resources of this form of the art, similar to the lines that Handel adopted later.
 
Heinrich Schütz, German by birth, came to Italy when a young man, and studied with Gabrieli at Venice. He returned to Dresden, where he lived until the time of his death. He was the means of planting the opera in Germany. He wrote a number of church pieces and several oratorios, in which we may find the essential principles of our modern oratarios. He was the most significant forerunner of Handel and Bach.
 
Suggestions: If the members of the class have access to a dictionary of music such as Grove's or Riemann's we recommend that the subject of the oratorio be looked up therein, not studying later than to about 1700. Composers named and subjects mentioned should be looked up independently. A large dictionary, Webster, Standard, Century, is very useful.
 
Notice the thought in paragraph one, that the evolution of solo singing came with a change in political and social ideas.
 
Look up in a dictionary or a history of music an account of the "Mysteries" of the Middle Ages. What do you know about the "Passion Play" as given to-day?
 
Why did St. Philip Neri initiate his religious concerts.? Was he successful in his efforts?
 
Was there a difference between choruses in madrigal style and the solos that were accompanied by the orchestra?
 
What is meant by monody? What is polyphony?
 
What is figured bass?
 
What is recitative?
 
 
 
1A figured instrumental bass part which came into vogue in Italy about 1600, from which was gradually evolved the modern style of accompaniment.

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