Italian verb burlare, 'to jest,' or 'to ridicule.' The burletta found its way from Italy through France to England. The most celebrated example produced in England was the Beggar's Opera in 1727, written by Gay, and adapted to the popular melodies of the day. In 1737 appeared 'The Dragon of Wantley,' by Henry Carey and Lampe, which succeeded so well that it was followed in 1738 by a second part or sequel, entitled 'Margery.'
[ W. H. C. ]
BURNEY, Charles, Mus. Doc., was born at Shrewsbury April 7 [App. p.570 "Apr. 12"], 1726, and educated at the free school there. He was subsequently removed to the public school at Chester, where he commenced his musical studies under Mr. Baker, the organist of the Cathedral. When about fifteen years of age he returned to his native town, and for three years pursued the study of music, as a future profession, under his elder brother James Burney, organist of St. Mary's, Shrewsbury. He was next sent to London, and for three years studied under Dr. Arne. In 1749 he was elected organist of St. Dionis-Backchurch, Fenchurch-street, and in the winter of the same year engaged to take the harpsichord in the subscription concerts then recently established at the King's Arms in Cornhill. In the following year he composed the music of three dramas—Mallet's Alfred, Mendez's Robin Hood, and Queen Mab—for Drury-lane. Being threatened with consumption, however, he could not continue these exertions, and, in 1751 accepted the situation of organist of Lynn-Regis, Norfolk, where he remained for the succeeding nine years. In this retreat he formed the design, and laid the foundation of his future History of Music. In 1760, his health being completely restored, he returned to London, and again entered upon the duties of his profession.
Soon after his arrival in London, Burney published several concertos for the harpsichord which were much admired; and in 1766 he brought out at Drury-lane, with considerable success, both words and music of a piece entitled 'The Cunning Man,' founded upon, and adapted to the music of J. J. Rousseau's 'Devin du Village.' On June 23, 1769, the University of Oxford conferred upon him the degrees of Bachelor and Doctor of Music, on which occasion his exercise consisted of an anthem of considerable length, with overture, solos, recitatives and choruses, which continued long to be a favourite at the Oxford Music Meetings, and was several times performed in Germany under the direction of Emanuel Bach. In the meantime, neither the assiduous pursuit of his profession, nor his many other engagements had interrupted his collections for his History of Music. He had exhausted all the information that books could afford him, and was far from what he desired. The present state of music could only be ascertained by personal investigation and converse with the most celebrated musicians of foreign countries, as well as his own. He resolved to make the tour of Italy, France and Germany, and furnished with powerful letters of introduction from the Earl of Sandwich (a nobleman devoted to music) quitted London in June 1770. He spent several days in Paris, and then went by Lyons and Geneva (where he had an accidental interview with Voltaire), to Turin, Milan, Padua, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Naples, consulting everywhere the libraries and the learned; hearing the best music, sacred and secular, and receiving the most cheerful and liberal assistance towards the accomplishment of his object. On his return to England, Dr. Burney published an account of his tour, in one volume, which was exceedingly well received, and deemed so good a model that Dr. Johnson professedly imitated it in his own Tour to the Hebrides, saying, 'I had that clever dog Burney's Musical Tour in my eye.' In July 1772, Dr. Burney again embarked for the continent to make the tour of Germany and the Netherlands, of which he published an account in two volumes. At Vienna he had the good fortune to make the intimate acquaintance of the celebrated poet Metastasio. Here he also found two of the greatest musicians of that age, Hasse and Gluck. From Vienna he proceeded through Prague, Dresden and Berlin, to Hamburg, and thence by Holland, to England, where he immediately devoted himself to arranging the mass of materials thus collected.
In 1773 Dr. Burney was elected an F. R. S.; and in 1776 the first volume of his General History of Music appeared in 4to. In the same year the complete work of Sir John Hawkins was published. Burney's subsequent volumes were published at unequal intervals, the fourth and last appearing in 1789. Between the two rival histories, the public decision was loud and immediate in favour of Dr. Burney. Time has modified this opinion, and brought the merits of each work to their fair and proper level—adjudging to Burney the palm of style, arrangement, and amusing narrative, and to Hawkins the credit of minuter accuracy and deeper research, more particularly in parts interesting to the antiquary and the literary world in general. Burney's first volume treats of the music and poetry of the ancient Greeks, the music of the Hebrews, Egyptians, etc. The second and third volumes comprise all that was then known of the biographies of the great musicians of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The fourth volume is perhaps less entitled to praise. Whole pages are given to long-forgotten and worthless Italian operas, whilst the great works of Handel and J. S. Bach remain unchronicled; the latter indeed is almost ignored.When the extraordinary musical precocity of the infant Crotch first excited the attention of the musical profession and the scientific world, Burney drew up an account of the infant phenomenon, which was read at a meeting of the Royal Society in 1779, and published in the Philosophical Transactions. The commemoration of Handel in 1784 again called forth his literary talents; his account of these performances, published in 4to for the benefit of the musical fund, is well