Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/687

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HARMONY.
675
 

means of defining the transition from one key to another had been attained. Under the old system there was practically no modulation. The impression of change of key is not unfrequently produced, and sustained for some time by the very scarceness of accidentals; since a single accidental, such as F♯ in the progress of a passage in C, is enough to give to a modern musician the impression of change to G, and the number of chords which are common to G and C would sustain the illusion. Sufficient examples have already been given to show that these impressions are illusory, and re erence may be made further to the commencement of Palestrina's 'Stabat Mater' in 8 parts, and his Motet 'Hodie Christus natus est,' and Gibbons's Madrigal 'Ah, dear heart,' which will also further show that even the use of accidentals was not the fruit of any idea of modulation. The frequent use of the perfect Dominant Cadence or 'full Close,' must have tended to accustom composers to this important point in modern harmony, and it is inevitable that musicians of such delicate artistic sensibility as the great composers of the latter part of the 16th century should have approached nearer and nearer to a definite feeling for tonality, otherwise it would be impossible to account for the strides which had been made in that direction by the time of Carissimi. For in his works the principle of tonality, or in other words the fact that a piece of music can be written in a certain key and can pass from that to others and back, is certainly displayed, though the succession of these keys is to modern ideas irregular and their individuality is not well sustained, owing partly no doubt to the lingering sense of a possible minor third to the Dominant.

The supporters of the new kind of music as opposed to the old polyphonic style had a great number of representative composers at this time, as may be seen from the examples in the fourth volume of Burney's History; and among them a revolutionary spirit was evidently powerful, which makes them more important as innovators than as great musicians. The discovery of harmony seems to have acted in their music for a time unfavourably to its quality, which is immensely inferior to that of the works of the polyphonic school they were supplanting. Their harmonic successions are poor, and often disagreeable, and in a large number of cases purely tentative. The tendency was for some time in favour of the development of tunes, to which the new conceptions of harmony supplied a fresh interest. Tunes in the first instance had been homophonic—that is, absolutely devoid of any sense of relation to harmony; and the discovery that a new and varied character could be given to melody by supplying a harmonic basis naturally gave impetus to its cultivation. This also was unfavourable to the development of a high order of art, and it was only by the re-establishment of polyphony upon the basis of harmony, as we see it displayed to perfection in the works of Bach, that the art could regain a lofty standard comparable to that of Palestrina, Lasso, Byrd, Gibbons, and the many great representatives of the art at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. In point of fact harmonic music cannot be considered apart from the parts or voices of which it is composed. It consists of an alternation of discord and concord, and the passage of one to the other cannot be conceived except through the progression of the parts. An has been pointed out with respect to the discovery of harmonic or tonal form in musical composition in the article Form, the effect of the new discovery was at first to make composers lose sight of the important element of progression of parts, and to look upon harmony as pre-eminent; consequently the progressions of parts in the works of the middle of the 17th century seem to be dull and uninteresting. Many composers still went on working in the light of the old system, but they must be regarded in relation to that system, and not as representatives of the new; it was only when men strong enough to combine the principles of both schools appeared that modern music sprang into full vigour. The way was prepared for the two great masters who were to achieve this at the beginning of the eighteenth century by the constant labours and experiments of the composers of the seventeenth. It would be impossible to trace the appearance of fresh harmonic material, as the composers were so numerous, and many of their works, especially in the early period, are either lost or unattainable. But in surveying the general aspect of the works which are available, a gradual advance is to be remarked in all departments, and from the mass of experiments certain facts are established. Thus clearness of modulation is early arrived at in occasional instances; for example, in an opera called 'Orontea' by Cesti, which was performed at Venice as early as 1649, there is a sort of short Aria, quoted by Burney (iv. 67), which is as clearly defined in this respect as any work of the present day would be. It commences in E minor, and modulates in a perfectly natural and modern way to the relative major G, and makes a full close in that key. From thence it proceeds to A minor, the subdominant of the original key, and makes another full close, and then, just touching G on the way, it passes back to E minor, and closes fully in that key. This is all so clear and regular according to modern ideas that it is difficult to realise that Cesti wrote within half a century of Palestrina, and of the first recognition of the elements of modern harmony by Caccini, Monteverde, and their fellows. The clearness of each individual modulation, and the way in which the different keys are rendered distinct from one another, both by the use of appropriate Dominant harmony, and by avoiding the obscurity which results from the introduction of foreign chords, is important to note, as it indicates so strongly the feeling for tonality which by constant attention and cultivation culminated in the definite principles which we now use. That the instance was tentative, and that Cesti was