It may be conceded that the form of his operas, with the alternation of airs, concerted pieces and recitativo secco, may conceivably strike the ears of the uneducated as old-fashioned, but the feelings of musicians may best be summed up in the word of Gounod: 'O Mozart, divin Mozart! Qu'il faut peu te comprendre pour ne pas t'adorer! Toi, la vérité constante! Toi, la beauté parfaite!
I confess I do admire it: but in recitativo the sense much helps him, for there is but one proper way of discoursing and giving the accents. Having done our discourse, we all took coaches, my Lord's and T. Killigrew's, and to Mrs. Knipp's chamber, where this Italian is to teach her to sing her part.
Hence, if either poetry or prose be read in melodious tones of voice, as is done in recitativo, or in chaunting, it must depend on the speaker, not on the writer: for though words may be selected which are less harsh than others, that is, which have fewer sudden stops or abrupt consonants amongst the vowels, or with fewer sibilant letters, yet this does not constitute melody, which consists of agreeable successions of notes referrable to the gamut; or harmony, which consists of agreeable combinations of them.
By the peculiarity of their treatment the recitativo of the stage assumed a solemn movement, marked in rhythm, which removed it from the commonplace into antiquity, and made me understand how cultivated music may pass back by natural, unconscious transition into the realm of popular melody. The sun sank, not splendidly, but quietly in banks of clouds above the Alps.
In the tender, I doubt they do not excel; for 'mein lieber schatz', and the other tendernesses of the Teutonic language, would, in my mind, sound but indifferently, set to soft music; for the bravura parts, I have a great opinion of them; and 'das, der donner dich erschlage', must no doubt, make a tremendously fine piece of 'recitativo', when uttered by an angry hero, to the rumble of a whole orchestra, including drums, trumpets, and French horns.
But however this Italian method of acting in Recitativo might appear at first hearing, I cannot but think it much more just than that which prevailed in our English Opera before this Innovation: The Transition from an Air to Recitative Musick being more natural than the passing from a Song to plain and ordinary Speaking, which was the common Method in Purcell's Operas.
The recitativo secco was accompanied by the harpsichord, at which the composer himself presided. The recitativo stromentato, or accompanied recitative, was only used to emphasise situations of special importance.
The first interruption, indeed, was a recitativo with chords, followed by a verse from the leading treble. Mr. Ashmead looked puzzled; the Klosking eyed him demurely. Before the anthem concluded, Vizard tapped, and was admitted from the music-room. Ina smiled, and waved him to a chair. Both the men saw, by her manner, they were not to utter a sound while the music was going on.
Many likewise were the conjectures of the treatment which this lion was to meet with from the hands of Signior Nicolini: some supposed that he was to subdue him in recitativo, as Orpheus used to serve the wild beasts in his time, and afterwards to knock him on the head; some fancied that the lion would not pretend to lay his paws upon the hero, by reason of the received opinion that a lion will not hurt a virgin: several who pretended to have seen the opera in Italy, had informed their friends that the lion was to act a part in High Dutch, and roar twice or thrice to a thorough bass before he fell at the feet of Hydaspes.
'Oh yes, you were quite ignorant; I can believe that readily, sneered Laura's husband. 'I here call Heaven to witness that I never knew! 'Recitativo the rhythm excellent, and the tone well sustained. Is it likely that any man could win the confidence of a young fool her age, and not get that out of her? Preposterous! Tell it to the most improved new pit-stalls.