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HPSCHD-L  January 2016

HPSCHD-L January 2016

Subject:

Re: Authenticity, le bon gout

From:

Andrew Bernard <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Jan 2016 22:55:04 +1100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (32 lines)

Philip’s question ‘what is this good taste?’ has rather possessed since me since he posed it. Turning therefore to sources of the period, I came across J. J. Rousseau’s thoughts referred to in the paper I previously mentioned. In his Dictionary of Music (~1768) there is an entry ‘Goût’. Notable for the very fact of finding such an entry in a music dictionary, which is marvellous in itself, what he has to say conveys a good deal of late Baroque French spirit regarding the matter. As a contribution to this thread, I would like to share the entry in full, from the English translation I have typed up, from William Waring, 1769. [For those who prefer to read the French, all the various editions are in facsmile on IMSLP, and the Waring entire on Google Books.]

Andrew

----


TASTE. Of all natural gifts, taste is that which is most felt and least explained: It would not be what it is, if it could be defi­ned; for it judges of objects, in which the judgment is not concern­ed, and serves, as it were, as spectacles to reason. 

There are in melody, some airs more agreeable than others, tho’ equally well modulated. There are, in harmony things striking, and others not so, all equally regular. There is in the union of pieces, an exquisite art of making the one receive a power from the other, which depends on something more nice than the law of con­trasts. There are in the execution of the same piece, different me­thods of rendering it, without ever removing it from its charac­ter: Of these methods, the one pleases more than the others, and far from being able to submit them to rules, we cannot even determine them. Reader, give me a cause for their differences, and I will explain you what is taste.

Each man has his peculiar taste, by the which he gives to things, which he calls beautiful and excellent, an order which belongs to himself alone. One is more touch'd with pathetic pieces; the other prefers a gay air. A sweet and flexible voice will fill its tunes with agreeable ornaments, a sensible and strong voice will animate them with the accents of passion. The one will seek simplicity in melody, the other will aim at laboured strokes, and each will call that an elegance of taste, which he has preferred.

This diversity comes sometimes from the different dispositions of the organs, from which taste is extracted; Sometimes from the particular character of each man, which renders him more sensible to one pleasure or failing, than to another; sometimes from the divinity of age or sex, which turns the desires towards the different objects. In all these cases, each having only his own taste to op­pose to that of another, it is evident, that there is no dispute to be made.

But there is also a general taste, on which all organised persons agree. And it is this only, to which we can absolutely give the name of taste. Let a concert be heard by ear sufficiently exercised, and men sufficiently instructed; the greatest number will generally agree on the judgment of the pieces, and on the order of preference convenient to them. Ask each one the reason of his judgment; there are things on which they wall give an almost unani­mous opinion. There are the things which may be submittcd to rules, and this common judgment is that of the artist and the con­noisseur. But amongst these things, which they agree to find good or ill, it is, there are some on which they cannot authorize their judgment by any reason, solid and common, to the rest; and this last judgment belongs to a man of taste. If there is not found a perfect unanimity, it is, that all have not equally good organs; that all are not persons of taste; and that the prejudices of custom or education, often change, by arbitrary conventions, the order of na­tural beauties. In regard to this taste, we may dispute on it, by another method of determining the variance, than that of counting the notes, when we do not even agree to that of nature. Here then is what ought to decide, in respect to the preference of French and Italian music. 

Genius creates, but taste makes the choice; and a too abundant genius is often in want of a severe censor, to prevent it from abu­sing its valuable riches. We can do great things without taste, but it is that alone which renders them interesting. It is taste, which makes the composer catch the ideas of the poet: It is taste, which makes the executant catch the ideas of the composer. 

It is taste, which furnishes to each whatever may adorn and augment their subject; and it is taste which gives the audience the sentiment of their agreements.

Taste however is by no means sensibility. We may have much taste, with a frigid soul; and a man transportcd with things really passionate, is little touched with the pleasing. It seems that taste is more particularly connected with the smaller expressions, and sensibility to the greater.




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Note:  opinions  expressed on HPSCHD-L are those of the  individual con-
tributors and not necessarily  those of the list owners  nor of the Uni-
versity of Iowa.  For a brief  summary of list  commands, send mail to
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