« ZurückWeiter »
traneous and difficult keys whatever he played; and now, in his extemporaneous flights, he modulates into all keys with equal facility.
The last qualification which I shall point out as extraordinary in this infant musician, is the being able to play an extemporary base to easy melodies when performed by another person upon the same instrument. But these bases must not be imagined correct, according to the rules of counterpoint, any more than his voluntaries. He generally gives, indeed, the key-note to passages formed from its common chord and its inversions, and is quick at discovering when the fifth of the key will serve as a base. At other times he makes the third of the key serve as an accompaniment to melodies formed from the harmony of the chord to the key-note; and if simple passages are played slow, in a regular progression ascending or descending, he soon finds out that thirds or tenths, below the treble, will serve his purpose in furnishing an agreeable accompaniment.
However, in this kind of extemporary base, if the same passages are not frequently repeated, the changes of modulation must be few and slow, or correctness cannot be expected even from a professor. The child is always as ready at finding treble to a base as a base to a treble, if played in slow notes, even in chromatic passages; that is, if, after the chord of c natural is struck, c be made sharp, he soon finds out that a makes a good base to it; and on the contrary, if, after the chord of D with a sharp third, F is made natural, and a is changed into b, he instantly gives G for the base.
When he declares himself tired of playing on an instrument, and his musical faculties seem wholly blunted, he can be provoked to attention, even though engaged in any new amusement, by a wrong note being struck in the melody of any well known tune; and if he stands by the instrument when such a note is designedly struck, he will instantly put down the right, in whatever key the air is playing
At present, all his own melodies are imitations of common and easy passages, and he seems insensible to others; however, the only method by which such an infant can as yet be taught any thing better seems by example. If he were to hear only good melody and harmony, he would doubtless try to produce something similar; but, at present he plays nothing correctly, and his voluntaries are little less wild than the native notes of a lark or a black
bird. Nor does he, as yet, seem a subject for instruction: for till his reason is sufficiently matured to comprehend and retain the precepts of a master, and something like a wish for information appears, by a ready and willing obedience to his injunctions, the tramels of rule would but disgust, and, if forced upon him, destroy the miraculous parts of his selftaught performance.
Mr. Baillet published in the last century a book, Sur les Enfans celebres par leurs etudes; and yet, notwithstanding the title of his work, he speaks not of infants but adolescents, for the youngest wonder he celebrates in literature is at least seven years old; an age at which several students in music under my own eye have been able to perform difficult compositions on the harpsichord, with great neatness and precision. However, this has never been accomplished without instructions and laborious practice, not always voluntary.
Musical prodigies of this kind are not infrequent: there have been several in my own memory on the harpsichord. About thirty years ago I heard Palschau, a German boy of nine or ten years old, then in London, perform with great accuracy many of the most difficult compositions that have ever been written for keyed instruments, particularly some lessons and double fugues by Sebastian Bach, the father of the present eminent professors of that name, which, at that time, there were very few masters in Europe able to execute, as they contained difficulties of a particular kind; such as rapid divisions for each hand in a series of thirds, and in sixths, ascending and descending, besides those of full harmony and contrivance in nearly as many parts as fingers, such as abound in the lessons and organ fugues of Handel.
Miss Frederica, now Mrs. Wynne, a little after this time, was remarkable for executing, at six years old, a great number of lessons by Scarlatti, Paradies, and others, with the utmost precision.
But the two sons of the reverend Mr. Westley seem to have discovered, during early infancy, very uncommon faculties for the practice of music. Charles, the eldest, at two years and three quarters old, surprised his father by playing a tune on the harpsichord readily, and in just time: soon after he played several, whatever his mother sung, or whatever he heard in the street.
Samuel, the youngest, though he was three years old before he aimed at a tune, yet by constantly hearing his brother practise, and being accustomed to good music and masterly execution, before
he was six years old, arrived at such knowledge in music, that his extemporary performance on keyed instruments, like Mozart's, was so masterly in point of invention, modulation, and accuracy of execution, as to surpass, in many particulars, the attainments of most professors at any period of their lives.
Indeed Mozart, when little more than four years old, is said to have been "not only capable of executing lessons on his “ favourite instrument, the harpsichord, but to have composed
some in an easy style and taste, which were much approved:" and Samuel Westley before he could write was a composer, and mentally set the airs of several Oratorios, which he retained in memory till he was eight years old, and then wrote them down.
Here the difference of education appears: little Crotch, left to nature, has not only been without instructions but good models of imitation; while Mozart and Samuel Westley, on the contrary, may be said to have been nursed in good music: for as the latter had his brother's excellent performance to stimulate attention, and feed his ear with harmony, the German infant, living in the house of his father, an eminent professor, and an elder sister, a neat player on the harpsichord, and constantly practising compositions of the first class for that instrument, had every advantage of situation and culture joined to the profusion of natural endowments.
Of Mozart's infant attempts at music I was unable to discover the traces from the conversation of his father; who, though an intelligent man, whose education and knowledge of the world did not seem confined to music, confessed himself unable to describe the progressive improvements of his son during the first stages of infancy. However, at eight years of age I was frequently convinced of his great knowledge in composition by his writings; and that his invention, taste, modulation, and execution in extemporary playing, were such as few professors are possessed of at forty years of
age. Into what the present prodigy may mature is not easy to predict; we more frequently hear of trees in blossom during the winter months than of fruits in consequence of such unseasonable appearances. However, to keep pace with the expectations to which such premature talents give birth is hardly allowed to humanity. It is the wish of some, that the uncommon faculties with which this child is endowed might be suffered to expand by their own efforts, neither restrained by rules, nor guided by ex
amples; that, at length, the world might be furnished with a species of natural music, superior to all the surprising productions of art to which pedantry, affectation, or a powerful hand, have given birth. But, alas! such a wish must have been formed without reflection; for music having its classics as well as poetry and other arts, what could he compose or play upon different principles that would not offend the ears of those who have regarded those classics as legislators, and whose souls have been wrapped in elysium by their strains? He might as well, if secluded from all intercourse with men, be expected to invent a better language than the present English, the work of millions, during many centuries, as a new music more grateful to the ears of a civilized people than that with which all Europe is now delighted.
An individual may doubtless advance nearer perfection in every art by the assistance of thousands, than by the mere efforts of his own labour and genius.
Another wish has been formed, that the effects of different genera and divisions of the musical scale might be tried upon this little musician; but the success of such an experiment is not difficult to divine. An uncultivated ear would as naturally like the most plain and common music, as a young mind would best comprehend the most simple and evident propositions: and, as yet, the attention of Crotch cannot be excited by any musical refinements or elaborate contrivance.
It has likewise been imagined by some, that every child might be taught music in the cradle, if the experiment were made; but to these it may with truth be said, that such an experiment is daily made on every child, by every mother and nurse, that is able to form a tune, on every part of the globe. In Italy the ninne nonne, or lullabies, are fragments of elegant melodies, become common and popular by frequent hearing; and these, though they help to form the national taste, are not found to stimulate the attention of Italian children to melody, or to accelerate the display of musical talents at a more early period than elsewhere.
Premature powers in music have as often surprised by suddenly becoming stationary as by advancing rapidly to the summit of excellence. Sometimes, perhaps, nature is exhausted or enfeebled by these early efforts; but when that is not the case, the energy and vigor of her operations are seldom properly seconded, being either impeded and checked by early selfcomplacence, or an in
judicious course of study; and sometimes, perhaps, genius is kept from expansion by ill chosen models; exclusive admiration, want of counsel or access to the most excellent compositions and performers in the class for which nature has fitted those on whom it is bestowed.
A NATURAL curiosity in the parish of Kiltearn, in Rossshire, Scotland, of which the following is a lively description, may be put in competition with the natural bridge in Virginia, respecting which some mention has already been made in a former number.
This extraordinary work of nature is called Craig-grande, or the ugly rock, and is a deep chasm or abyss, formed by two opposite precipices, that rise perpendicularly to a great height through which the Aultgrande runs for the space of two miles. It begins at the distance of four miles from the sea, by a bold projection into the channel of the river, which it diminishes in breadth by at least one half. The river continues to run with rapidity for about three quarters of a mile, when it is confined by a sudden jutting out of the rock. Here, the side view from the summit is very striking. The course of the stream being thus impeded, it whirls, and foams, and beats with violence against the opposing rock, till, collecting strength, it shoots up perpendicularly with great fury, and, forcing its way, darts with the swiftness of an arrow through the winding passage on the other side. After passing this obstruction, it becomes in many places invisible, owing partly to the increasing depth and narrowness of the chasm, and partly to the view being intercepted by the numerous branches of trees which grow on each side of the precipice. About a quarter of a mile further down, the country people have thrown a slight bridge, composed of trunks of trees covered with turf, over the rock, where the chasm is about sixteen feet wide. Here the observer, if he has intrepidity enough to venture himself on such a tottering support, and can look down on the gulph below without any uneasy sensations, will be gratified with a view equally awful and astonishing. The wildness of the steep and rugged rocks; the gloomy horror of the cliffs and caverns, “inaccessible by mortal's trod," and where the genial rays of the sun never yet penetrated; the water-falls which are heard pouring down in different places of the precipice, with sounds various in proportion to their distance; the hoarse and