Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/27

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


SYMPHONY.

in works in which the chief interest was centred upon the voice or voices. Thus, in the operas, cantatas, and masses of the early part of the 1 7th century, the voices had the most important part of the work to do, and the instruments' chief business was to supply simple forms of harmony as accompaniment. If there were any little por- tions which the instruments played without the voices, these were indiscriminately called Sym- phonies ; and under the same head were included such more particular forms as Overtures and Bitornelli. The first experimentalists in harmonic music generally dispensed with such independent instrumental passages altogether. For instance, most if not all of the cantatas of Cesti and Rossi l are devoid of either instrumental introduction or ritornel ; and the same appears to have been the case with many of the operas of that time. There were however a few independent little instru- mental movements even in the earliest operas. Peri's ' Euridice,' which stands almost at the head of the list (having been performed at Florence in 1600, as part of the festival in connection with the marriage of Henry IV of France and Mary de' Medici), contains a ' Sinfonia ' for three flutes, which has a definite form of its own and is very characteristic of the time. The use of short in- strumental passages, such as dances and intro- ductions and ri torn els, when once fairly begun, increased rapidly. Monteverde, who folio wedclose upon Peri, made some use of them, and as the century grew older, they became a more and more important element in dramatic works, especially operas. The indiscriminate use of the word 'sym- phony,' to denote the passages of introduction to airs and recitatives, etc., lasted for a very long while, and got so far stereotyped in common usage that it was even applied to the instru- mental portions of airs, etc., when played by a single performer. As an example may be quoted the following passage from a letter of Mozart's 'Sie (meaning Strinasacchi) spielt keine Note ohne Empfindung ; sogar bei den Sinfonien spielte sie alles mit Expression,' etc. 8 With regard to this use of the term, it is not necessary to do more than point out the natural course by which the meaning began to be re- stricted. Lulli, Alessandro Scarlatti, and other great composers of operas in the lyth century, extended the appendages of airs to proportions relatively considerable, but there was a limit beyond which such dependent passages could not go. The independent instrumental portions, on the other hand, such as overtures or toc- catas, or groups of ballet tunes, were in different circumstances, and could be expanded to a very much greater extent ; and as they grew in im- portance the name ' Symphony' came by degrees to have a more special significance. The small instrumental appendages to the various airs and so forth were still symphonies in a general sense, but the Symphony par excellence was the in- troductory movement ; and the more it grew in

1 MSB. In the Christ Church Library. Oxford.

2 She does not play a note without feeling, and even in the Sym- phonies played all with expression.

��SYMPHONY.

��11

��importance the more distinctive was this ap- plication of the term.

The earliest steps in the development of this portion of the opera are chiefly important as attempts to establish some broad principle of form ; which for some time amounted to little more than the balance of short divisions, of slow and quick movement alternately. Lulli is credited with the invention of one form, which came ulti- mately to be known as the Ouverture a la ma- niere Franfaise.' The principles of this form, as generally understood, amounted to no more than the succession of a slow solid movement to begin with, followed by a quicker movement in a, lighter style, and another slow movement, not so grave in character as the first, to conclude with. Lulli himself was not rigidly consistent in the adoption of this form. In some cases, as in 'Persee,' 'Thesee,' and ' Belle'rophon,' there are two divisions only the characteristic grave opening movement, and a short free fugal quick movement. 'Proserpine,' 'Phae'ton,' 'Alceste.' and the Ballet piece, ' Le Triomphe de 1'amour,' are characteristic examples of the complete model. These have a grave opening, which is repeated, and then the livelier central move- ment, which is followed by a division marked ' lentement ' ; and the last two divisions are repeated in full together. A few examples are occasionally to be met with by less famous composers than Lulli, which show how far the adoption of this form of overture or symphony became general in a short time. An opera called 'Venus and Adonis,' by Desmarests, of which there is a copy in the Library of the Royal College of Music, has the overture in this form. ' Amadis de Grece,' by Des Touches,, has the same, as far as can be judged from the character of the divisions ; * Albion and Albanius,' by Grabu, which was licensed for pub- lication in England by Roger Lestrange in 1687, has clearly the same, and looks like an imitation direct from Lulli; and the ' Venus and Adonis' by Dr. John Blow, yet again the same. So the model must have been extensively appreciated. The most important composer, however, who fol- lowed Lulli in this matter, was Alessandro Scar- latti, who certainly varied and improved on the model both as regards the style and the form, In his opera of ' Flavio Cuniberto' 3 for instance, the ' Sinfonia avanti 1'Opera ' begins with a divi- sion marked grave, which is mainly based on simple canonical imitations, but has also broad expanses of contrasting keys. The style, for the time, is noble and rich, and very superior to Lulli's. The second division is a lively allegro, and the last a moderately quick minuet in 6-8 time. The 'Sinfonia' to his serenata 'Venere, Adone, Amore,' similarly has a Largo to begin with, a Presto in the middle, and a movement, not defined by a tempo, but clearly of moderate quickness, to end with. This form of 'Sinfonia' survived for a long while, and was expanded at times by a succession of dance movements, for which also Lulli supplied examples, and Handel

MS. in Christ Church Library.

�� �