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ODE FOR MUSIC
ON ST. CECILIA'S DAY1.
In a sadly-pleasing strain
Our Author, as Mr. Harte told me, frequently and earnestly declared that if Dryden had finished a translation of the Iliad, he would not have attempted one after so great a master ;
he might have said, with even more propriety, I will not write a music ode after Alexander's Feast; which the variety and harmony of its numbers, and the beauty, force, and energy, of its images, have conspired to place at the head of modern Lyric compositions: always excepting The Bard of Gray, which, being of a more exalted strain than the moral poetry we had been accustomed to, was not, at its first appearance, so much relished as it deserved; but which, I will presume to say, will, in every succeeding year, gain more and more admiration and applause, notwithstanding the unjust, and I may say tasteless, animadversions which Dr. Johnson degraded himself by throwing out upon it, in the Lives of the Poets. The subject of Dryden's ode is superior to this of Pope's, because the former is historical, and the latter merely mythological. Dryden's is also more perfect in the unity of the action; for Pope's is not the recital of one great action, but a description of many of the adventures of Orpheus. We all know, and have felt, the effects of Handel's having set Dryden's ode to music. Mr. Smith, a worthy pupil of Handel (as Mr. Mason informs us), intended to have set Mr. Gray's ode to music, and Mr. Gray, whose musical feelings were exquisite, with a knowledge of the art, gave him an idea for the overture,
Let the loud trumpet sound,
The shrill echoes rebound :
And fill with spreading sounds the skies ;
'Till, by degrees, remote and small,
The strains decay,
And melt away,
In a dying, dying fall.
NOTES. which seemed equally proper and striking. In this respect, as well as many others, he resembled Milton.
The name and the genius of Cowley gave, for many years, a currency and vogue to irregular odes, called Pindaric. One of the best of which species is that of Cobb, called, the Female Reign; and two of the worst, Sprat's Plague of Athens, and Bolingbroke's Almahide. Congreve is thought to be the first writer that gave a specimen of a legitimate Pindaric ode, with strophe, antistrophe, and ode, elucidated with a sensible and judicious preface on the subject. But it does not seem to have been observed, that, long before, Ben Jonson had given a model of this very species of a regular Pindaric ode, addrest to Sir Lucius Cary and Sir H. Morrison, page 233 of his works, folio, in which he entitles each stanza the turne, the counter-turne, and the stand. Though Congreve’s ode is not extraordinary, yet the discourse prefixed to it has a great deal of learning. Dr. Akenside frequently mentioned to me, as one of the best of the regular Pindaric odes, Fenton's to Lord Gower, 1716. Mr. Gray was of opinion, that the stanzas of these regular odes ought not to consist of above nine lines each, at the most.
Ver. 7. Let the loud trumpet sound, &c.] Our Author, in his
Nor swell too high, nor sink too low.
Or, when the soul is press’d with cares,
Exalts her in enliv’ning airs.
Melancholy lifts her head,
Listning Envy drops her snakes ;
rules for good writing, had said, that the sound should be an echo to the sense. The graces it adds to the harmony are obvious. But we should never have seen all the advantages arising from this rule, had this ode not been written. In which, one may venture to say, is found all the harmony that poetic sound, when it comes in aid of sense, is capable of producing. W.
This panegyric is certainly carried too high: this ode is not the consummation of true poetic harmony.
Ver. 22.] This stanza much resembles the fifth of Congreve's music ode; the second of which, by the way, is uncommonly good. It is remarkable that Pope knew nothing of music, and had no ear for it; as had Milton, Gray, and Mason; the last of whom is an excellent performer and composer.
Ver. 35.] Dr. Greene set this ode tomusic, in 1730, as an exercise for his Doctor's Degree at Cambridge, on which occasion Pope made considerable alteration in it, and added the following stanza in this place.
Amphion thus bade wild dissension cease,