Page images
PDF
EPUB

Editor will proceed in the pious task of collecting the remaining valuable relics—for many such, we are told, exist-of one for whom he expresses so great and well founded a veneration.

AR1. V. PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS of the Royal Society of London. Vol. LXIX.

Part 1.

For the Year 1779. 4:0 7 s. 6 d. sewed. Davis. 1779.

M vs I c. Tis fortunate that the gifted musical infant, who is the

subject of this curious Article, should meet with a cotemporary historian so well qualified, and so extensively and advantageously known in the literary world, as Dr. Burney, to record his marvellous musical talents and attainments, to which he has himself been an eye-witness. Having had repeated op: portunities of hearing and studying this extraordinary child; and after having ascertained his age by a recourse to the parish register; he prefaces his own observations on bim by a relation, among others, of the following extraordinary facts, preceding his acquaintance with him; and these are founded on evidence, the authenticity of which cannot reasonably be disputed.

When he was only a year and a half old, he would leave his food to attend to an organ built by his father ; a plain man, who could barely play a few easy tunes upon it; and when he was two years old, he had acquired such a knowledge of the construction of that instrument, or of the situation of the keys of it, as to touch the key-note of his favourite tunes, in order to point out the particular tune which he wanted his father to play to him. Soon after this, he would strike the two or three first notes of a tune, not being able to name it, when he thought that the key-note alone did not sufficiently explain which he wilhed to have played.

At the precise age of two years and three weeks, he, on a sudden, commenced practical musician himself, to the great surprize of his father, then working in a room above; and who, on coming immediately down stairs, heard and saw him playing (assisted by an elder brother, whom he had engaged to blow the bellows) the first part of God save great George our King : -a melody, which had the most frequently been administered to him as a narcotic by his mother, during the first year of his life,' and which he had often been accustomed to hear his father play. It seems too that his nerves, by this time on the full ftretch, had been excessively agitated, on hearing the superior performance of Mrs. Lulman, a musical lady, who came to try his father's organ.

· The next day, says Dr. Burney, he made himself master of the treble of the second part; and, the day after, he attempted the base, which he performed nearly correct in every particular, Rev. Mar. 1780.

Р

except

except the note immediately before the close ; which being an octave below the preceding sound, was out of the reach of his little hand.'

When he was two years and four months old, (in November 1777) having heard a voluntary performed on his father's organ, by Mr. Mully, a music-malter ;- as soon as he was gone, the child seeming to play on the organ in a wild and different manner from what his mother was accustomed to hear, the asked him what he was doing? And he replied, “ I am playing the gentleman's fine thing." But she was unable to judge of the resemblance : however, when Mr. Mully returned a few days after, and was asked, whether the child had remembered any of the passages in his voluntary, he answered in the affirmative ;—and for a considerable time after, he would play nothing else but these pafTages.'

At this time, says Dr. Burney, ' such was the rapid progress he made in judging of the agreement of sounds, that he played the Easter-Hymn with full harmony; and in the last two or three bars of Hallelujah, where the same found is sustained, he played chords with both hands, by which the parts were multipled to fix, which he had great difficulty in reaching on account of the shortness of his fingers.'-In making a base to tunes which he had recently caught by his ear, whenever the harmony displeased him, he would continue the treble note till he had formed a better accompaniment.'

When Dr. Burney heard him, we apprehend he was about three years and three or four months old. About this time, on first hearing the voice of Signior Pacchierotti, he did not seem fenfible of the superior taste and refinement of that exquisite performer ;-refinements indeed are not to be expected in the infancy of any art :- but he called out very soon after the air was begun-" He is singing in F.”—This, adds Dr. Burney, is one of the astonithing properties of his ear, that he can distinguilh at a great distance from any instrument, and out of light of the keys, any note that is struck, whether A, B, C, &c. In this I have repeatedly tried him, and never found him miltaken even in the half notes; a circumstance the more extraordinary, as many practitioners and good performers are unable to distinguish by the car, at the opera or elsewhere, in what key any air or piece of music is executed,

But this child, Dr. Burncy observes, was able to find any note that was struck in his hearing, when out of sight of the keys, at two years and a half old, even before he knew the letters of the alphabet.—This faculty accidentally discovered itself in January 1778. While his father was playing the organ, a particular note bung, or in the organ-builders language, ci phered; so that the tone was continued without the preffure of

the

the finger. The very maker of the instrument could not find out what note it was : but the infant, who was then amusing himself with drawing on the floor-for this child of Apollo is a painter too, as well as musician—left that employment, and going to the organ, immediately laid his hand on the note that ciphered. His father next day purposely caused several notes to cipher succeslively; all which he instantly discovered : and at lait he weakened the springs of two keys at once, which, by preventing the valves of the wind chest from closing, occafioned a double cipher ; both of which he directly found out.

Another part of his wonderful prematurity was the being able, at two years and four months old, to transpose into the most extraneous and difficult keys whatever he played ; and now, in his extemporaneous Aights, he modulates into all keys with equal facility.'

Our testimony is by no means necessary to corroborate that of Dr. Burney; yet it may not be amiss here to observe that, in September 1778, when he was about three years and nine weeks old, we had repeated 'occasions of observing, on his being interrupted in his voluntary playing, (of which he was very fond) by a request to play a particular tune; whenever he complied, he set off in the key he happened to be playing in at the time; and though he thus often became beset with a numerous host of fats or harps, he played with equal facility as in the natural keys. He indeed evidently appeared to possess a most intimate knowledge of all the keys, and of their powers ; or had present in his mind, a priori, the precise tone which any particular key would produce when put down ; and put it down accordingly with as much confidence, as that of a compositor at the press, when he lays hold of a particular letter; or of a painter dipping his pencil into a particular colour. Buc the compositor and painter have the actual letter or colour dirplayed before them; whereas in the case of young Crotch, the found which he seeks is only potential, or in fieri; and has no natural connection with the black or white keys before his eyes. But he did not often condescend to make use even of his eyes on the occasion. To us it did not appear the least extraordinary part of his performance, that he frequently played for a long time together without once looking at the instrument, though playing on the most aukward keys; which were therefore now evidently become as familiar to him from feeling, as originally from fight. Dr. Burney has taken notice of the same circumstance.

The last qualification which Dr. Burney points out as extraordinary in this infant-musician, is his being able to play an extemporary base, though' certainly not correct according to the rules of counterpoint, to easy melodies performed by another

P 2

person person on the same inftrument. In this case, he observes that if the same paflages are not frequently repeated, the changes of modulation must be few and flow; otherwise correctness cannot be expected, even from a professor. He found him as ready too at finding a treble to a base, as a base to a treble, if played in flow notes, even in chromatic paffages. Thus, says the Author, • if, after the chord of C natural is struck, C be made Tharp, he foon finds out that A makes a good base to it; and, on the contrary, if after the chord of D, with a sharp third, F is made natural, and A is changed into B, he instantly gives G for the base.' From a variety of experiments which Dr. Burney tried upon this infant contrapuntift, he selects the following as an example; in which the Doctor played the upper part, and left it to the feelings and genius of young Crotch to follow his lead, and attend him with a proper base.

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

Some have considered harmony as a mere creature of art; but this infant's ready and spontaneous adoption of it furnishes a proof that its principles are innate in man: though art has greatly improved and refined upon them, so as to render modern harmony a very complicated and difficult science, full of conventional, as well as natural, beauties. The specimens that have been exhibited by this young, untutored, and unprejudiced mind are such, as cannot be ascribed to a servile imitation of what he had heard and remembered; but muft owe their origin to certain pleasurable sensations, excited in him by particular combinations of sounds; and instinctively prompting and directing him to the natural accompaniment to a given melody. Instruction is here out of the question. He had never had any, nor was capable of submitting or giving attention to any.

Dr. Burney mentions some other instances of mufical prodigies; and particularly the two sons of the Rev. Mr. Wesley; the youngest of which, ' before he was six years old, arrived at such knowledge in mufic, that his extemporary performance on keyed instruments, like Mozart's, was so mafterly in point of invențion, modulation, and accuracy of execution, as to surpass, in many particulars, the attainments of most professors at any period of their lives.'-An account of these two young musicians is proposed soon to be given to the Public, by the Hon. Mr. Barrington.

ASTRO

ASTRONOMY and OPTICS, Article 8. Disquisitio, &c. A Dissertation on the periodical Time

of the Comet which appeared in the Year 1770. By J. A. Lexell, Member of the Academy of Sciences at Petersburgh.

The observations made on the comet of 1770 by M. Mefier, during four months, were found by M. Eric Profperin, the Royal Astronomer in Sweden, not to be réconcileable with a parabolic orbit. The latter therefore recommended the inveftigation of the true elements of its orbit on the hypothesis of its moving in an ellipfis. This task has been executed, in the present paper, by M. Lexell; who from his laborious calculations has found reason to conclude, that the period of its revolution is not more than about five years and seven months : that time agreeing best with the observations. He accounts for its not having since appeared, by observing that its orbit must probably have been affected or altered by the attraction of Jupiter ; with which planet he finds that it must have been in conjunction on May 27, 1767: its distance from Jupiter being then only the 58th part of its distance from the fun; and that in the following conjunction, it would be 491 times nearer to Jupiter than to the sun : so that, having regard to their respective masses, the action of Jupiter upon it would be 224 times greater than that of the sun; from which cause a total change in its orbit must ensue. He has nevertheless taken the pains to calculate a table, shewing, for every month in the year, in what part of the heavens this quick-revolving or Mercurial comet is to be looked for; on the fuppofition that its periodical time is comprised within the limits of five or fix years. Article it. Observations on the total (with Duration) and an

nular Eclipse of the Sun, taken on the 24th of June 1778, on Board the Espagne, being the Admiral's Ship of the Fleet of New Spain, &c. By Don Antonio Ulloa, F.R.S. Commander of the said Squadron, &c.

Some curious appearances that attended this eclipfe deserve to be particularly noticed ; not however without premising that" the term annular, used both by Don Ulloa and the translator of this Article from the original French, may convey an erroneous idea of the nature of the eclipse, and perplex the reader who has been accustomed to affix a different fignification to this term.

The phrase, annular eclipse, has, we apprehend, been hitherto usually, if not solely, applied to those central conjunctions of the sun and moon, in which the apparent diameter of the moon, then in Apogæo, is not so great as that of the sun, then in Peat. rigæo: so that in the middle of the eclipse, a portion of the sun's circumference necessarily remains visible, in the form of a luminous ring. To observe such an eclipse, which was visible

« PreviousContinue »