Saturday, October 28, 2006

English music

Listening to Sting's Songs From the Labyrinth I am reminded that I have not yet written about the English.

We think of the English as not particularly musical, and yet what all the world thinks of as music is from them. In ancient times they extemporized at the parallel third instead of the fourth. It was they who invented accords based on the triad, always in first inversion, instead of the continental fourth. This style of singing in parallel first inversion triads jumped the channel in the long ago quattrocento.

And now listening to “Come again” by John Dowland I hear the same chord progressions which Corelli used when he was credited with inventing tonality a generation later. All of Dowland is very tonal. Dowland mentions visiting Italy where his influence must have been huge. So in the overall, in the big picture all music is English.

The English are probably too polite to mention this. I was very much attracted to their politeness and thought it successfully counteracted my basic dragon nature. I did not erupt in tongues of fire, consuming all before me, the entire time I was there.

Politeness seems to stand in the way of greatness. Even though I am crediting them with inventing everything, only occasionally has something first rate come from an English composer. Purcell is a personal favorite.

The English character permeates all of their present day theatrical and musical life. They produce a very high quality product, all of it permeated with politeness. There will be no blood on the floor at the end of an English opera production.


Paul said...

My first exposure to English opera was performing choral excerpts from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" in junior high choir. A few years ago I picked up a recording of his "King Arthur," which is pretty good. But things seem to leap forward greatly from Purcell to Britten, even though I know there were hundreds of unsung (perhaps quite literally) British opera composers in the interim. I've never heard even a single aria from a Britten opera that I liked. My wife was dragged by her parents to a performance of "Rape of Lucretia" a few years ago in Chicago, which she described as "execrable." Her judgment is good enough for me!

Dr.B said...

I love Britten's Ceremony of Carols.

Dr.B said...

I wasn't intending to critique English composers, but Henry Purcell was quite a fine composer in a variety of genres.

My first appearance on an operatic stage was as the spirit in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas.