Sunday, 22 September 2013

Musical Criticism: Samuel Pepys and later..

Samuel Pepys
I found this anecdote quoting the music criticism of Samuel Pepys. I do not wish to add anything, apart from a few explanatory footnotes –the piece is both witty and perceptive.

If variety of expression and a frequent change of complimentary phrase was necessary to the average reporter of musical affairs in the columns of the daily press, we fear many a quill-shover would be incapacitated for further duty in this line. Outside of the large city papers the reporter of musical affairs is not required to have a knowledge of music, and his weekly repetitions of stock phrases amounts to "Miss A. played beautifully," "Miss B. sang in a very sweet way," "Mrs. C. shows the result of careful practice," "Mr. D. sang in his customary pleasing manner," "Miss E.'s performance was very nice," etc. ad nauseam.
We know of one fellow who gets around it all by saying, "Miss F.'s playing was a good example of her teacher's method," and afterward explains to his friends that the said teacher's method was abominable. [1]
Musical criticism is not as flowery in the present day [2] as it was formerly. Just read this sample, aet. two hundred years. It was written by Pepys, that old gossip who persisted in writing a diary which people since have persisted in publishing. It was concerning a performance of a tragedy in which music was used. He writes [3]: (He began by noting that he had been ‘all morning at the office, and at noon home to dinner, and thence with my wife and Deb [4] to the King’s House [5] to see ‘The Virgin Martyr’ [6] the first time that it had been acted a great while: and it is mightly pleasant; not that the play is worth much, but is finely acted by Becke Marshall [7].) "But that which did please me beyond anything in the whole world, was the wind-musique when the angel comes down; which is so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I had formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of anything, but remained all night transported, so as I could not believe that ever any music hath that real command over the soul of a man as it did upon me ; and makes me resolve to practice wind-musique, and to make my wife do the like."

[1] I have no clue as to who this critic may have been!
[2] The story was penned in W. Francis Gates’ Anecdotes of Great Musicans, London, Weekes & Co, 1896.
[3] Pepys diary entry for Thursday 27 February 1668.
[4] Deb Willet (1650-1678) was a young maid who was employed by Samuel Pepys as a companion for his wife.
[5] The Kings Theatre , was the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.
[6] The Virgin Martyr is a Jacobean era stage play, a tragedy written by Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, and first published in 1622. It constitutes a rare instance in Massinger's canon in which he collaborated with a member of the previous generation of English Renaissance dramatists — those who began their careers in the 1590s, the generation of Shakespeare and Jonson. (Wikipedia accessed 01/09/13)
[7] Rebecca Marshall (fl. 1663 – 1677) was an English actress performing during the Restoration She was one of the first generation of women performers on the public stage in Britain.

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