Charles Avison Essay On Musical Expression Pdf File


THESE obſervations being premiſed, for the ſake of thoſe who are not particularly converſant in the theory of Muſic; let us now proceed to conſider this art with regard to its compoſition.

We have already obſerved, that there are, properly ſpeaking, but three circumſtances, on which the worth of any muſical compoſition can depend. Theſe are melody, harmony, and expreſſion. When theſe three are united in their full excellence, the compoſition is then perfect: if any of theſe are wanting or imperfect, the compoſition is proportionably defective. The chief endeavour, therefore, of the ſkillful compoſer, muſt be ‘"to unite all theſe various ſources of beauty in every [Page 27] piece; and never ſo far regard or idolize any one of them, as to deſpiſe and omit the other two."’

Several examples will hereafter be given of conſiderable maſters, who, through an exceſſive fondneſs for one of theſe, have ſacrificed the reſt, and have thus fallen ſhort of that perfection and variety, which a correct ear demands.

The firſt error we ſhall note is, where the harmony, and conſequently the expreſſion, is neglected for the ſake of air, or rather an extravagant modulation.

The preſent faſhionable extreme of running all our muſic into one ſingle part, to the utter neglect of all true harmony, is a defect much more eſſential than the neglect of modulation only; inaſmuch as harmony is the very cement of all muſical compoſition.

As in the work of harmony chiefly, the various contrivances of a good compoſition are laid out and diſtinguiſhed, which, with a full and perfect execution in all the parts, produce thoſe noble effects we [Page 28] often find in grand performances: ſo we may conſider the improvement of air, as the buſineſs of invention and taſte.

But, if we may judge from the general turn of our modern Muſic (I ſpeak not of the Engliſh only), this due regard, as well to a natural ſucceſſion of melodies, as to their harmonious accompanyments, ſeems generally neglected or forgotten. Hence that deluge of unbounded extravaganzi, which the unſkillful call invention, and which are merely calculated to ſhew an execution, without either propriety or grace.

In theſe vague and unmeaning pieces, we often find the bewildered compoſer, either ſtruggling with the difficulties of an extraneous modulation, or tiring the moſt conſummate patience with a tedious repetition of ſome jejune thought, imagining he can never do enough, till he has run through every key that can be crowded into one movement; till, at length, all his force being exhauſted, he drops into a dull cloſe; where his languid piece ſeems [Page 29] rather to expire and yield its laſt, than conclude with a ſpirited and well-timed cadence.

Theſe kinds of compoſitions are greatly defective alſo in point of harmony, and chiefly in the baſs, which is often impertinently airy, or, at beſt, incapable of giving either ſpirit or fullneſs to the treble; in both caſes the compoſer not allotting to the baſs, the only part which it ought to bear in the whole conſtruction, viz. the foundation of all the reſt.

A muſical compoſition, in this light, may not unaptly be compared to the elevation of a building, where it is eaſy to diſcern what are the proportions and ornaments ſuitable to each degree, or aſcent, in the elevation: and where the moſt common obſerver would laugh at ſeeing their order inverted, and the heavy and plain Tuſcan, cruſhing down the light and delicate Ionic.

Thus they ſtrive, rather to ſurprize, than pleaſe the hearer: and, as it is eaſier to diſcern what is excellent in the performance, [Page 30] than compoſition of Muſic; ſo we may account, why many have been more induſtrious to improve and diſtinguiſh themſelves in the practice, than the ſtudy of this ſcience.

To this ſilly vanity we may attribute that ſtrange attachment to certain unmeaning compoſitions, which many of our fluent performers have profeſſed; their chief ambition being to diſcover a ſwift, rather than a judicious or graceful hand. That performers of this taſte have ſo much in their power, is, at once, the misfortune and diſgrace of Muſic: for, whatever merit a compoſition may have in other reſpects, yet if, from a due regard to the conſtruction of the harmony and fugues, all the parts be put upon a level, and, by that means, their ſupreme pride and pleaſure of a tedious ſolo be not admitted, it is with them a ſufficient reaſon of condemning the whole.

The generality of our muſical virtuoſi are too eaſily led by the opinions of ſuch maſters; and, where there is no real diſcernment, [Page 31] prejudice and affectation will ſoon aſſume the place of reaſon. Thus, through the inordinate vanity of a few leading performers, a diſproportionate fame hath been the lot of ſome very indifferent compoſers, while others, with real merit, have been almoſt totally unknown.

It may be worth conſidering, from whence this falſe taſte hath had its riſe. And 1ſt, it may, perhaps, be affirmed with truth, that the falſe taſte, or rather the total want of taſte, in thoſe who hear, and who always aſſume to themſelves the privilege of judging, hath often produced this low ſpecies of Muſic: for it muſt be owned, that this kind of compoſition is apt, above all others, at firſt hearing, to ſtrike an unſkillful ear; and hence the maſters have often ſacrificed their art to the groſs judgement of an indelicate audience.

But 2dly, It hath often had its riſe from the compoſer's beſtowing his labour and attention on ſome trifling and [Page 32] unfruitful ſubject, which can never allow of an eaſy and natural harmony to ſupport it. For, however pleaſing it may ſeem in its air, yet if it is not capable of admitting alſo a pleaſing accompanyment, it were much better laid aſide, than carried into execution. On this account it is, that many fugues are unſufferably tedious: their barren ſubjects affording no variety in themſelves, are therefore often repeated entire; or tranſpoſed, or turned topſey-turvey, inſomuch that little elſe is heard throughout the whole piecef.

[Page 33] 3dly, Another ſource, and, perhaps, the moſt general, is that low idea of compoſition, wherein the ſubject, or air, is no ſooner led off, than it is immediately deſerted, for the ſake of ſome ſtrange unexpected flights, which have neither connection with each other, nor the leaſt tendency to any deſign whatever. This kind of random work is admirably calculated for thoſe who compoſe without abilities, or hear without diſcernment; and therefore we need not wonder, that ſo large a ſhare of the Muſic that hath of late appeared, ſhould fall under this denomination.

How different from the conduct of theſe ſuperficial adventurers in Muſic, is that of the able and experienced compoſer; who, when he hath exerted his fancy on any favourite ſubject, will reſerve his ſketch, till at his leiſure, and when his judgement is free, he can again and again correct, diminiſh, or enlarge his plan; ſo that the whole may appear, [Page 34] though ſeverly ſtudied, eaſy and natural as if it flowed from his firſt attemptg.

Many extempore thoughts, thrown out in the fire and ſtrength of imagination, have ſtood this critical review, and filled the happy author with uncommon tranſport. It is then he gains freſh vigour, and renews his toil, to range and harmonize the various melodies of his pieceh.

It may be proper now to mention, by way of example on this head, the moſt noted compoſers who have erred in the extreme of an unnatural modulation; leaving thoſe of ſtill inferior genius, to [Page 35] that oblivion to which they are deſervedly deſtined.

Of the firſt and loweſt claſs are, VIVALDI, TESSARINI, ALBERTI, and LOCCATELLI, whoſe compoſitions, being equally defective in various harmony, and true invention, are only a fit amuſement for children; nor indeed for theſe, if ever they are intended to be led to a juſt taſte in Muſic.

Under the ſecond claſs, and riſing above theſe laſt mentioned in dignity, as they pay ſomewhat more of regard to the principles of harmony, may be ranked ſeveral of our modern compoſers for the Opera. Such are HASSE, PORPORA, TERRADELLAS, and LAMPUGNIANI. Though I muſt take the liberty to ſay, that beſides their too little regard to the principles of true harmony, they are often defective in one ſenſe, even with regard to air; I mean, by an endleſs repetition of their ſubject, by wearing it to rags, and tiring the hearer's patience.

[Page 36] Of the third and higheſt claſs of compoſers, who have run into this extreme of modulation, are VINCI, BONONCINI, ASTORGO, and PERGOLESE. The frequent Delicacy of whoſe airs, is ſo ſtriking, that we almoſt forget the defect of harmony, under which they often labour. Their faults are loſt amidſt their excellencies; and the critic of taſte is almoſt tempted to blame his own ſeverity, in cenſuring compoſitions, in which he finds charms ſo powerful and commanding.

However, for the ſake of truth, it muſt be added, that this taſte, even in its moſt pardonable degree, ought to be diſcouraged, becauſe it ſeems naturally to lead to the ruin of a noble art. We need only compare the preſent with paſt ages, and we ſhall ſee a like cataſtrophe in the art of painting. ‘"For (as an ingenious writer very juſtly remarks) while the maſters in this fine art confined the pencil to the genuine forms of grace and greatneſs, and only ſuperadded to theſe, the temperate embelliſhments of [Page 37] a chaſtiſed and modeſt colouring, the art grew towards its perfection: but no ſooner was their attention turned from truth, ſimplicity, and deſign, than their credit declined with their art; and the experienced eye, which contemplates the old pictures with admiration, ſurveys the modern with indifference or contempti."’ k


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HAVING noted the reigning defect of the modern compoſers, ariſing from their ſuperficial uſe of modulation, to the utter neglect of all true harmony the next thing that offers itſelf, is the very reverſe of this. I mean, the too ſevere attachment of the Ancientsl to harmony, and the neglect of modulation. The old maſters, in general, diſcover a great depth of knowledge in the conſtruction of their harmony. Their ſubjects are invented, and carried on with wonderful art; to which they often add a conſiderable energy and force of expreſſion: yet, we muſt own, that with regard to air or modulation, they are often defective. Our old cathedral muſic [Page 39] is a ſufficient proof of this: here we generally find the more ſtriking beauties of air or modulation, give way to a dry rule of counterpoint: many an elaborate piece, by this means, inſtead of being ſolemn, becomes formal; and while our thoughts, by a natural and pleaſing melody, ſhould be elevated to the proper objects of our devotion, we are only ſtruck with an idea of ſome artificial contrivances in the harmony.

Thus the old Muſic was often contrived to diſcover the compoſer's art, as the modern is generally calculated to diſplay the performer's dexterity.

The learned contrapuntiſt may exerciſe his talent in many wonderful contrivances, as in fugues and canons of various ſubjects and parts, &c. But, where the maſter is thus ſeverely intent in ſhewing his art, he may, indeed, amuſe the underſtanding, and amaze the eye, but can never touch the heart, or delight the ear.

I have often thought that the ſtate of Muſic, at different times, might, very [Page 40] appoſitely, be compared to the ſeries of alterations in the art of building. We cannot, indeed, with the ſame certainty and preciſion, determine what may have been the perfection of Muſic, in its original ſtate, among the Ancients: yet, the ſhort analogy which follows, may ſerve to evince, that both theſe arts have varied according to the taſte of particular ages.

It is well known, that in old Greece and Rome architecture was in its higheſt perfection; and that, after their ſeveral empires were overthrown, theſe glorious monuments of their taſte and genius were almoſt entirely deſtroyed. To theſe ſucceeded a ſtrange mixture of the antique and barbarous Guſto, which has ſince been diſtinguiſhed by the name of Gothic. In theſe latter ages this art has gradually returned to its former ſtate; and the ancient reliſh of the grand, the ſimple, and convenient is revived.

And thus we may diſtinguiſh the three great aeras of Muſic.

[Page 41] Amongſt the Ancients, the true ſimplicity of melody, with, perhaps, ſome mixture of plain unperplexed harmony, ſeems to have been that magic ſpell, which ſo powerfully inchanted every hearer.

At the revival of this art in the time of Pope GREGORY, a new ſyſtem, and new laws of harmony were invented, and afterwards enlarged by GUIDO ARETINO: but this ſerved only to lead the plodding geniuſes of thoſe times (and ſince, their rigid followers) to incumber the art with a confuſion of parts, which, like the numerous and trifling ornaments in the Gothic architecture, was productive of no other pleaſure, than that of wondering at the patience and minuteneſs of the artiſt, and which, like that too, by men of taſte, hath long been explodedm.

At preſent our taſte is greatly more diverſified, more ſubjected to the genius [Page 42] and language of particular countries, and leſs confined by thoſe rigorous laws; the leaſt deviation from which, was formerly thought an unpardonable offence; as if thoſe laws were intended to fix the boundaries of genius, and prevent the advancement of ſcience.

But, as we have ſaid, the art (though ſtill fluctuating) has now gained much freedom and enlargement, from theſe minute and ſevere laws, and is returning nearer to its ancient ſimplicity. The moſt eminent compoſers of late years, have not ſhewn any great fondneſs for a multiplicity of parts, which rather deſtroy than aſſiſt the force and efficacy of Muſic: neither have they deprived the charms of melody of their peculiar province, by ſtunning the ear with an harmony too intricate and multifarious. And, I believe, upon a general ſurvey of the particular genius of different maſters, we ſhall find, that thoſe who have the leaſt of nature in their compoſitions, have generally endeavoured to ſupply the [Page 43] want of it, by the ſeverer application of art.

Yet, I would by no means be thought to include all the old maſters in this cenſure: ſome of them have carried muſical compoſition to that height of excellence, that we need think it no diſgrace to form our taſte of counterpoint on the valuable plans they have left us. Numbers of theſe indeed have fallen, and deſervedly, into oblivion; ſuch, I mean, who had only the cold aſſiſtance of art, and were deſtitute of genius. But there are others of this claſs, who, although the early period in which they wrote, naturally expoſed them to the defect here noted; yet the force of their genius, and the wonderful conſtruction of their fugues and harmony, hath excited the admiration of all ſucceeding ages. And here we ſhall find, that the compoſers of this claſs will naturally fall into three different ranks, in the ſame manner as thoſe we have already ventured to characterize in the preceding ſection.

[Page 44] Among theſe, PALESTINA, the firſt, not only in point of timen, but of genius too, deſerves the high title of father of harmony. And the ſtyle of our great old maſter TALLISo, evidently ſhews he had ſtudied the works of this great compoſer, who lived to ſee his own ſyſtem of harmony take root, and flouriſh in many parts of Europe; but more eſpecially in Italy, where he was immediately ſucceeded by ſeveral eminent maſters, among whom, perhaps, ALLEGRI may be eſteemed the chief; whoſe compoſitions, with thoſe of PALESTINA, are ſtill performed in the Pope's chapel, and other choirs abroad: in all theſe maſters we ſee the ſame grand conſtruction of parts, and a parallel defect of modulation.

After theſe we may rank CARISSIMI, STRADELLAp, and STEFFANI: authors [Page 45] of a much later date, indeed, and who lived alſo at different times: yet their works, though, in general, of the ſame character with thoſe of PALESTINA, are not, perhaps, of ſo high a claſs in one reſpect, nor ſo low in another. I mean, that although their character is that of excellence in harmony and defect in air; yet they are not ſo excellent in the former, nor ſo defective in the latter, as the venerable PALESTINA.

From the time of theſe maſters to the preſent, there has been a ſucceſſion of [Page 46] many excellent compoſers, who ſeeing the defects of thoſe who preceded them, in the too great neglect of air, have adorned the nobleſt harmonies by a ſuitable modulation: yet ſtill, ſo far retaining the ſtyle of the more ancient compoſitions, as to make the harmonic conſtruction the leading character of their works; while the circumſtance of modulation remains only as a ſecondary quality. Such are the chaſte and faultleſs CORELLI; the bold and inventive SCARLATTIq; the ſublime CALDARA; the graceful and ſpirited RAMEAUr.

[Page 47] To theſe we may juſtly add our illuſtrious HANDEL; in whoſe manly ſtyle we often find the nobleſt harmonies; and theſe enlivened with ſuch a variety of modulation, as could hardly have been expected from one who hath ſupplied the town with muſical entertainments of every kind, for thirty years togethers.

[Page 48] Theſe ſeem to be the principal authors, worthy the attention of a muſical enquirer, who have regarded the harmonic ſyſtem and the conſtruction of fugues as the principal object of their care; while at the ſame time, they have regarded the circumſtance of modulation ſo far as to deſerve a very high degree of praiſe on this account, though not the higheſt.


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SO much concerning the two branches of muſic, air and harmony: let us now conſider the third circumſtance, which is expreſſion. This, as hath been already obſerved, ‘"ariſes from a combination of the other two; and is no other than a ſtrong and proper application of them to the intended ſubject."’

From this definition it will plainly appear, that air and harmony are never to be deſerted for the ſake of expreſſion: becauſe expreſſion is founded on them. And if we ſhould attempt any thing in defiance of theſe, it would ceaſe to be Muſical Expreſſion. Still leſs can the horrid diſſonance of cat-calls deſerve this appellation, though the expreſſion or imitation be ever ſo ſtrong and natural.

And, as diſſonance and ſhocking ſounds cannot be called Muſical Expreſſion; [Page 50] ſo neither do I think, can mere imitation of ſeveral other things be entitled to this name, which, however, among the generality of mankind, hath often obtained it. Thus the gradual riſing or falling of the notes in a long ſucceſſion, is often uſed to denote aſcent or deſcent; broken intervals, to denote an interrupted motion; a number of quick diviſions, to deſcribe ſwiftneſs or flying; ſounds reſembling laughter, to deſcribe laughter; with a number of other contrivances of a parallel kind, which it is needleſs here to mention. Now all theſe I ſhould chuſe to ſtyle imitation, rather than expreſſion; becauſe it ſeems to me, that their tendency is rather to fix the hearer's attention on the ſimilitude between the ſounds and the things which they deſcribe, and thereby to excite a reflex act of the underſtanding, than to affect the heart and raiſe the paſſions of the ſoul.

Here then we ſee a defect or impropriety, ſimilar to thoſe which have been above obſerved to ariſe from a too particular [Page 51] attachment either to the modulation or harmony. For as, in the firſt caſe, the maſter often attaches himſelf ſo ſtrongly to the beauty of air or modulation, as to neglect the harmony; and in the ſecond caſe, purſues his harmony or fugues ſo as to deſtroy the beauty of modulation; ſo in this third caſe, for the ſake of a forced, and (if I may ſo ſpeak) an unmeaning imitation, he neglects both air and harmony, on which alone true muſical expreſſion can be founded.

This diſtinction ſeems more worthy our notice at preſent, becauſe ſome very eminent compoſers have attached themſelves chiefly to the method here mentioned; and ſeem to think they have exhauſted all the depths of expreſſion, by a dextrous imitation of the meaning of a few particular words, that occur in the hymns or ſongs which they ſet to muſic. Thus, were one of theſe gentlemen to expreſs the following words of Milton,

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—Their ſongs

Divide the night, and lift our thoughts to heav'n:

It is highly probable, that upon the word divide, he would run a diviſion of half a dozen bars; and on the ſubſequent part of the ſentence, he would not think he had done the poet juſtice, or riſen to that height of ſublimity which he ought to expreſs, till he had climbed up to the very top of his inſtrument, or at leaſt as far as a human voice could follow him. And this would paſs with a great part of mankind for muſical expreſſion; inſtead of that noble mixture of ſolemn airs and various harmony, which indeed elevates our thoughts, and gives that exquiſite pleaſure, which none but true lovers of harmony can feel.

Were it neceſſary, I might eaſily prove, upon general principles, that what I now advance concerning muſical imitation is ſtrictly juſt; both, becauſe Muſic as an imitative art has very confined powers, and becauſe, when it is an ally to [Page 53] poetry (which it ought always to be when it exerts its mimetic faculty) it obtains its end by raiſing correſpondent affections in the ſoul with thoſe which ought to reſult from the genius of the poem. But this has been already ſhewn, by a judicious writert, with that preciſion and accuracy which diſtinguiſhes his writings. To his excellent treatiſe I ſhall, therefore, refer my reader, and content myſelf, in this place, with adding two or three practical obſervations by way of corollary to his theory.

1ſt, As Muſic paſſing to the mind through the organ of the ear, can imitate only byuſounds and motions, it ſeems reaſonable, that when ſounds only are the objects of imitation, the compoſer ought to throw the mimetic part entirely amongſt the accompanying inſtruments; becauſe it is probable, that the imitation will be too powerful in the voice which ought to [Page 54] be engaged in expreſſion alone; or, in other words, in raiſing correſpondent affections with the partx. Indeed, in ſome caſes, expreſſion will coincide with imitation, and may then be admitted univerſally: as in ſuch chromatic ſtrains as are mimetic of the grief and anguiſh of the human voicey. But to the imitation of ſounds in the natural or inanimate worldz, [Page 55] this, I believe, may be applied as a general rule.

2dly, When Muſic imitates motions, the rythm, and caſt of the air, will generally require, that both the vocal and inſtrumental parts coincide in their imitation. But then, be it obſerved, that the compoſer ought always to be more cautious and reſerved when he applies this faculty of Muſic to motion, than when he applies it to ſound: and the reaſon is obvious; the intervals in Muſic are not ſo ſtrictly ſimilar to animate or inanimate motions, as its tones are to animate or inanimate ſounds. Notes aſcending or deſcending by large intervals, are not ſo like the ſtalking of a Gianta, as a flow of even notes [Page 56] are to the murmuring of a ſtreamb; and little jiggiſh ſlurrs are leſs like the nod [Page 57] of Alexanderc, than certain ſhakes and [Page 58] trills are to the voice of the nightingaled.

3dly, As Muſic can only imitate motions and ſounds, and the motions only imperfectly; it will follow, that muſical imitation ought never to be employed in repreſenting objects, of which motion or ſound are not the principal conſtituents. Thus, to light, or lightning, we annex the property of celerity of motion; yet it will not follow from thence, that an extremely ſwift progreſſion of notes will raiſe the idea of either one or the other; becauſe, as we ſaid, the imitation muſt be, in theſe caſes, very partiale. Again, it is one property of froſt to make perſons ſhake and tremble; yet, a tremulous [Page 59] movement of ſemitones, will never give the true idea of froſt: though, perhaps, they may of a trembling perſon.

4thly, As the aim of Muſic is to affect the paſſions in a pleaſing manner, and as it uſes melody and harmony to obtain that end, its imitation muſt never be employed on ungraceful motions, or diſagreeable ſounds: becauſe, in the one caſe, it muſt injure the melody of the air; and in the other, the harmony of the accompanyment; and, in both caſes, muſt loſe its intent of affecting the paſſions pleaſingly.

5thly, As imitation is only ſo far of uſe in Muſic, as when it aids the expreſſion; as it is only analogous to poetic imitation, when poetry imitates through mere natural mediaf, ſo it ſhould only be employed in the ſame manner. To make the ſound echo to the ſenſe in deſcriptive lyric, and, perhaps, in the cooler parts of epic poetry, is often a great beauty; but, ſhould the tragic poet labour at ſhewing this art [Page 60] in his moſt diſtreſsful ſpeeches; I ſuppoſe he would rather flatten than inſpirit his drama: in like manner, the muſical compoſer, who catches at every particular gepithet or metaphor that the part affords him, to ſhew his imitative power, will never fail to hurt the true aim of his compoſition, and will always prove the more deficient in proportion as his author is more pathetic or ſublime.

What then is the compoſer, who would aim at true muſical expreſſion, to perform? I anſwer, he is to blend ſuch an happy mixture of air and harmony, as will affect us moſt ſtrongly with the paſſions or affections which the poet intends to raiſe: and that, on this account, he is not principally to dwell on particular words in the way of imitation, but to comprehend the poet's general drift or intention, and on this to form his airs and harmony, [Page 61] either by imitation (ſo far as imitation may be proper to this end) or by any other means. But this I muſt ſtill add, that if he attempts to raiſe the paſſions by imitation, it muſt be ſuch a temperate and chaſtiſed imitation as rather brings the object before the hearer, than ſuch a one as induces him to form a compariſon between the object and the ſound: for, in this laſt caſe, his attention will be turned entirely on the compoſer's art, which muſt effectually check the paſſion. The power of Muſic is, in this reſpect, parallel to the power of Eloquence: if it works at all, it muſt work in a ſecret and unſuſpected manner. In either caſe, a pompous diſplay of art will deſtroy its own intentions: on which account, one of the beſt general rules, perhaps, that can be given for muſical expreſſion, is that which gives riſe to the pathetic in every other art, an unaffected ſtrain of nature and ſimplicityh.

[Page 62] There is no doubt but many rules may be deduced, both from the compoſitions [Page 63] of the beſt maſters, and from experience, in obſerving the effects which various ſounds have upon the imagination and affections. And I don't know, whether the ſame propriety, in regard to the part of expreſſion in poetry, may not as well be applied to muſical expreſſion; ſince there are diſcordant and harmonious inflections of muſical ſounds when united, and various modes or keys (beſides the various inſtruments themſelves), which, [Page 64] like particular words, or ſentences in writing, are very expreſſive of the different paſſions, which are ſo powerfully excited by the numbers of poetryi.

Thus the ſharp or flat key; ſlow or lively movements; the ſtaccato; the ſoſtenute, [Page 65] or ſmooth-drawn bow; the ſtriking dieſisk, all the variety of intervals, from a ſemitone to a tenth, the various mixtures of harmonies, the preparation of diſcords, and their reſolution into concords, the ſweet ſucceſſion of melodies; and ſeveral other circumſtances beſides theſe, do all tend to give that variety of expreſſion which elevates the ſoul to joy or courage, melts it into tenderneſs or pity, fixes it in a rational ſerenity, or raiſes it to the raptures of devotion.

When we conſider the fulneſs of harmony, and variety of air, which may be included in the art of compoſing fugues, we may pronounce this ſpecies of compoſition, of all others, the moſt noble [Page 66] and diffuſive; and which, like hiſtory-painting, does not only contain the chief excellencies of all the other ſpecies, but is likewiſe capable of admitting many other beauties of a ſuperior nature. But here, in the term fugue, I do not include alone, thoſe confined compoſitions, which proceed by regular anſwers, according to the ſtated laws of modulation, but chiefly, ſuch as admit of a variety of ſubjects, particularly for voices and inſtruments united; and which, with their imitations, reverſes, and other relative paſſages, are conducted throughout the whole, in ſubordination to their principal; and, as the leſſer beauties or decorations in poetry are ſubſervient to the fable of a tragedy, or heroic poem, ſo are theſe different, though kindred airs, in the ſame movement, in like manner, ſubſervient to ſome one principal deſign; and productive of all the grandeur, beauty, and propriety, that can be expected from the moſt extenſive plan in the whole range of muſical compoſition.

[Page 67] By a diverſity of harmonies, the chain and progreſſion of melodies is alſo finely ſupported; and thence, a greater variety of expreſſion will be found in the conſtruction of full Muſic. In this caſe, the compoſer hath the advantage of throwing his tender and delicate paſſages into the ſolo, or thoſe of a bolder expreſſion into the chorus; and as there are oftentimes a kind of neutral airs, if I may ſo call them, which, by the performer's art, may be made expreſſive of very different paſſions; or, as the ſame words, by a change in their accent, convey a different ſenſe; ſo this muſical expreſſion may be varied in ſuch a manner, that the ſame paſſage, which has been heard alone, if repeated, may alſo be formed into chorus; and è contra, the chorus into ſolo. In like manner may be diſpoſed the forte and piano.

We may alſo here remark, that in ranging different movements, in the ſame concerto, or in other ſuites of different airs, the confined order of keeping, in [Page 68] the ſequel of theſe, to one or two keys, at moſt, produces but an irkſome monotony of ſounds: for it is not ſufficient, that different movements are of different ſpecies; their changes ſhould alſo appear, as well in their keys, as in their air: and the compoſer of taſte will ſhew his art in the arrangement of theſe different pieces, as well as in his variety of modulation, or other contrivances, in the ſame piecel.

[Page 69] And, as diſcords, when judiciouſly managed, give their ſucceeding concords a yet more pleaſing harmony; in like manner ſome happy contrivance in changing the key of ſeparate movements, whether from flat to ſharp, or vice verſa, will ſtill, in a higher degree, afford relief and pleaſure to the hearer: many alterations of this kind may ſurely be affected without the leaſt diſagreeable ſurprize; ſince we are not always delighted when the modulation follows, as we naturally expect it, nor always ſhocked when that expectation is diſappointed.

Thus, by contrivances of this nature, we are charmed with an agreeable variety, [Page 70] and which, perhaps, equally to the moſt ſtriking air, commands the admiration of many lovers of Muſic, who yet can no otherwiſe account for the preference they may give to a fine compoſition, than purely from the pleaſure it affords them. In fine, it is this maſterly taſte and method of ranging, in beautiful order, the diſtinguiſhed parts of a compoſition, which gives the higheſt delight to thoſe who can enter into the real merits of this art:—a circumſtance, the muſical ſtudent would do well to conſider, before he engages in any trial of his talent that way. But, as example is of much greater force than any rule or precept whatever; I would recommend to him, a conſtant peruſal of the beſt compoſitions in ſcore, where he will find all the information he can deſire on this headm.

[Page 71] After all that has been, or can be ſaid, the energy and grace of muſical expreſſion is of too delicate a nature to be fixed by words: it is a matter of taſte, rather than of reaſoning, and is, therefore, much better underſtood by example than by precept. It is in the works of the great maſters, that we muſt look for the rules and full union of air, harmony, and expreſſion. Would modern compoſers condeſcend to repair to theſe fountains of knowledge, the public ear would neither be offended nor miſled by thoſe ſhallow and unconnected compoſitions, which have of late ſo much abounded, eſpecially thoſe inſipid efforts that are [Page 72] daily made to ſet to Muſic that flood of nonſenſe which is let in upon us ſince the commencement of our ſummer entertainments, and which, in the manner they are conducted, cannot poſſibly prove of any advantage to Muſic: trifling eſſays in poetry muſt depreſs, inſtead of raiſing, the genius of the compoſer; who vainly attempts, inſtead of giving aid to ſenſe (Muſic's noble prerogative), to harmonize nonſenſe, and make dulneſs pleaſing.

Thus, it fares with Muſic, as it fares with her ſiſter Poetry; for it muſt be owned, that the compoſitions laſt mentioned, are generally upon a level with the words they are ſet to: their fate too is generally the ſame; theſe inſect productions ſeldom out-living the ſeaſon that gives them birth.

It has been juſtly enough alledgedn, with regard to the Italian operas, that there are alſo many improprieties in theſe, which offend even the moſt common obſerver; [Page 73] particularly that egregious abſurdity of repeating, and finiſhing many ſongs with the firſt part; when it often happens, after the paſſions of anger and revenge have been ſufficiently expreſſed, that reconcilement and love are the ſubjects of the ſecond, and, therefore, ſhould conclude the performance. But, as if it were unnatural to leave the mind in this tranquil ſtate, the performer, or actor, muſt relapſe into all that tempeſt and fury with which he began, and leave his hearers in the midſt of it.

I have juſt hinted this unaccountable conduct of the Italian compoſers, by way of contraſt to a conduct as remarkably ridiculous in our own; I mean, our manner of ſetting one ſingle trifling air, repeated to many verſes, and all of them, perhaps, expreſſive of very different ſentiments or affections; than which, a greater abſurdity cannot poſſibly be imagined, in the conſtruction of any muſical compoſition whatſoever.

[Page 74] What may farther be obſerved in the compoſition of theſe little airs, is the general method of repeating the ſame thought in the Ritornello, which is heard in the ſong. By this means, the burthen of the tune, be it ever ſo common, muſt inceſſantly jingle in the ear, and produce nothing but ſome wretched alternations between the inſtrument and voice.

On the contrary, if the ſubject of the ſong was relieved by different paſſages in the inſtrumental part, but of a ſimilar air with the vocal; this kind of variety might ſupport the repetition of the whole, with ſomewhat more ſpirit.

Among the many excellent ballads which our language affords, I ſhall mention that of Black-ey'd Suſan, wrote by Mr GAY; and propoſe it as a ſpecimen, to ſhew by what methods a compoſer might handle this genus of the lyric poem: and which, indeed, is no other than to treat them, as the Italians have generally managed thoſe little love-ſtories which are the ſubject of their ſerenatas: [Page 75] —a kind of muſical production, extremely elegant, and proper for this purpoſe. Therefore, I would recommend to our vocal compoſers, ſome ſuch method of ſetting to muſic the beſt Engliſh ſongs, and which, in like manner, will admit of various airs and duetts, with their recitative, or muſical narratives, properly interſperſed, to relieve and embelliſh the whole.

Thus one good ballad may ſupply a fruitful genius with a variety of incidents, wherein he will have ſufficient ſcope to diſplay his imagination, and to ſhew a judgement and contrivance in adapting his ſeveral airs to the different ſubjects of the poetry. By this means, not only a genteel and conſiſtent performance might be produced, but alſo fewer good maſters would laviſh their muſical thoughts on ſubjects ſo far beneath them: nor, on this account, would there be any dearth of thoſe agreeable and familiar airs, which might properly be calculated for thoſe entertainments, where [Page 76] the public ear ſhould be always conſulted; and of which I have ſo good an opinion, that, were this difference between a juſt or falſe taſte but fairly ſubmitted to its deciſion, I ſhould not diſpute, but the compoſition which was moſt natural and pleaſing, would bid faireſt for the general approbation.

Yet, ſo long as our compoſers proſecute their ſtudies without the leaſt knowledge of any works but ſuch as are on a level with their own, they muſt never expect to advance in the eſteem of their judges. For, as the ſtriking beauties in a fine compoſition, elevate and enliven the fancy; ſo is it depreſſed and vitiated by too great a familiarity with whatever is mean and trifling.

He, therefore, that is bleſſed with happy talents for this art, let him ſhun all the means of catching the common air, which ſo ſtrangely infects and poſſeſſes too many compoſers; but, unleſs he has the virtue of the bee, who,

[Page 77]

"—With taſte ſo ſubtly true,

"From pois'nous herbs extracts the healing dew;"

I fear, he muſt baniſh himſelf from almoſt every place of public reſort, and fly, perhaps, to monaſteries and cells, where the genuine charms of harmony may often, indeed, be found, for ſtores to grace his future productions.

Our church muſic is equally capable of improvements from the ſame ſources of taſte and knowledge. We ſeem, at preſent, almoſt to have forgot, that devotion is the original and proper end of it. Hence that ill-timed levity of air in our modern anthems, that fooliſh pride of execution in our voluntaries, which diſguſts every rational hearer, and diſſipates, inſtead of heightening, true devotion.

If our organiſt is a lover of poetry, without which, we may diſpute his love for Muſic; or indeed, if he has any welldirected paſſions at all; he cannot but feel ſome elevation of mind, when he hears the pſalm preceding his voluntary, pronounced [Page 78] in an awful and pathetic ſtrain: it is then he muſt join his part, and with ſome ſolemn air, relieve, with religious chearfulneſs, the calm and well-diſpoſed heart. Yet, if he feels not this divine energy in his own breaſt, it will prove but a fruitleſs attempt to raiſe it in that of others: nor can he hope to throw out thoſe happy inſtantaneous thoughts, which ſometimes far exceed the beſt-concerted compoſitions, and which the enraptured performer would often gladly ſecure to his future uſe and pleaſure, did they not as fleetly eſcape as they ariſe. He ſhould alſo be extremely cautious of imitating common ſongs or airs, in the ſubjects of this latter kind of performance; otherwiſe he will but too much expoſe religion to contempt and ridicule.

It may not derogate from our ſubject of church-muſic, juſt to mention the preſent method of ſinging the common pſalm tunes in the parochial ſervice, which are every where ſung without the leaſt regard to time or meaſure, by [Page 79] drawling out every note to an unlimited length. It is evident, that both the common and proper tunes were originally intended to be ſung in the alla-breve time, or the regular pointing of two, three, or four minims in a bar:—a kind of movement, which every ear, with the leaſt practice, may eaſily attain: nor when they are ſung in parts, ſhould there be any more than three, i. e. one treble, tenor, and baſs; as too complex an harmony would deſtroy their natural air. And, in this ſtyle, our pſalm tunes are capable of all the ſolemnity that can be required from ſuch plain and unadorned harmonyo.

[Page 80] Whoever has heard the Proteſtant congregations abroad ſing, in parts, their pſalms or hymns, may recollect, with ſome pleaſure, that part of their religious worſhip; and their exceeding us ſo far in a performance of this kind, is chiefly owing to the exact meaſure in which thoſe tunes are ſung, and not to their harmony: for the greateſt part of our own, which were compoſed ſoon after the Reformation, by thoſe excellent maſters we had at that time, would doubtleſs be found, as well in regard to their ſolemn air, as harmony, equal, if not ſuperior, to any compoſitions of their kind. And we may further obſerve, that air is, in a higher degree, productive of both ſolemnity and chearfulneſs, than harmony: for there is a dignity and grace in the [Page 81] former, when invented by genius, which a maſterly harmony may indeed aſſiſt, but can never produce.

However trifling it may appear to conſider this ſpecies of Muſic, I cannot but own, that I have been uncommonly affected with hearing ſome thouſands of voices hymning the Deity in a ſtyle of harmony adapted to that awful occaſion. But ſorry I am to obſerve, that the chief performer, in this kind of noble chorus, is too often ſo fond of his own conceits; that, with his abſurd graces, and tedious and ill-connected interludes, he miſleads or confounds his congregation, inſtead of being the rational guide and director of the whole.

It may be thought, perhaps, by thus depriving our organiſt of this public opportunity of ſhewing his dexterity, both in his voluntary and pſalm tune, that all performers indiſcriminately might be capable of doing the duty here required: but it will be found no ſuch eaſy matter to ſtrike out the true ſublimity of ſtyle, [Page 82] which is proper to be heard, when the mind is in a devout ſtate; or, when we would be greatly ſolemn, to avoid the heavy and ſpiritleſs manner, which, inſtead of calmly relieving and lifting up the heart, rather ſinks it into a ſtate of deprivation.

We might ſoon arrive at a very different ſtyle and manner, as well in our compoſitions as performance; did we but ſtudy the works of the beſt chapelmaſters abroad, as CALDARA, LOTTI, GASPARINI, and many others, whoſe excellent compoſitions ought ſurely to be better known, and reſcued from the poſſeſſion of thoſe churliſh virtuoſi, whoſe unſociable delight is to engroſs to themſelves thoſe performances, which, in juſtice to their authors, as well as the world, they ought freely to communicatep.

[Page 83] We may clearly diſcern the effects of ſuch a commerce as is here propoſed, with the works of the greateſt maſters. The immortal works of CORELLI are in the hands of every one; and accordingly we find, that from him many of our beſt modern compoſers have generally deduced their elements of harmony. Yet there remains ſomething more to be done by our preſent profeſſors: they ought to be [Page 84] as intimately converſant with thoſe other great maſters, who, ſince CORELLI's time, have added both taſte and invention; and, by uniting theſe, have ſtill come nearer to the perfection of the general-harmonic compoſition.

The numerous ſeminaries in Italy ſeldom fail of producing a ſucceſſion of good maſters: from theſe we might ſelect ſuch pieces as would greatly contribute to the real ſolemnity of the cathedral ſervice. While others again, of a different kind, might be compiled and fitted for concertos, or other muſical purpoſes; ſo that there would never be wanting a variety of examples and ſubjects, for the practice of all ſtudents in harmony whatever: and, by an aſſiduous application to a greater and more comprehenſive ſtyle than we have hitherto attempted, we ſhould ſoon be able to acquire ſo true a taſte, as would lay a ſure foundation for the forming our own maſtersq.

[Page 85] If it ſhould be aſked, who are the proper perſons to begin a reform in our church-muſic? It may be anſwered, the organiſts of cathedrals, who are, or ought to be, our Maeſtri di Capella, and by whom, under the influence and protection of their deans, much might be done to the advancement of their choirs: nor would they find any difficulty in accompliſhing this uſeful deſign, as there are many precedents to direct them, both from Dr. ALDRIDGE and others, who have introduced into their ſervice the celebrated PALESTINA and CARISSIMI with great ſucceſs. And if this method, when ſo little good Muſic was to be had, hath been [Page 86] found to advance the dignity and reputation of our cathedral ſervice; how much more may be expected at this time, from the number and variety of thoſe excellent compoſitions that have ſince appeared; and which may be eaſily procured, and adapted to the purpoſes here mentioned!

An improvement of this kind might be ſtill more eaſily ſet on foot, were there any hiſtory of the lives and works of the beſt compoſers; together with an account of their ſeveral ſchools, and the characteriſtic taſte, and manner of each:—a ſubject, though yet untouched, of ſuch extenſive uſe, that we may reaſonably hope it will be the employment of ſome future writer.

Painting has long had an advantage of this kind; but whether it has profited by ſuch advantage, may at preſent, perhaps, be diſputed. However, I think, if both theſe arts are not now in the ſtate of perfection which one might wiſh, it ought not to be attributed to the want of [Page 87] genii, but to the want of proper encouragement, from able and generous patrons, which would excite them to more laudable purſuits; many profeſſors in both the ſciences having alike employed their talents in the loweſt branches of their art, and turned their views rather to inſtant profit, than to future famer.

[Page 88] Thus, and thus alone, can we hope to reach any tolerable degree of excellence in the nobler kinds of muſical compoſition. The works of the greateſt maſters are the only ſchools where we may ſee, and from whence we may draw, perfection. And here, that I may do juſtice to what I think the moſt diſtinguiſhed merit, I ſhall mention, as examples of true muſical expreſſion, two great authors, the one admirable in vocal, the other in inſtrumental Muſic.

The firſt of theſe is BENEDETTO MARCELLO, whoſe inimitable freedom, [Page 89] depth, and comprehenſive ſtyle, will ever remain the higheſt example to all compoſers for the church: for the ſervice of which, he publiſhed at Venice, near thirty years ago, the firſt fifty pſalms ſet to Muſics. Here he has far excelled all the Moderns, and given us the trueſt idea of that noble ſimplicity which probably was the grand characteriſtic of the ancient Muſic. In this extenſive and laborious undertaking, like the divine ſubject he works upon, he is generally either grand, beautiful, or pathetic; and ſo perfectly free from every thing that is low and common, that the judicious hearer is charmed with an endleſs variety of new [Page 90] and pleaſing modulation; together with a deſign and expreſſion ſo finely adapted, that the ſenſe and harmony do every where coincide. In the laſt pſalm, which is the fifty-firſt in our verſion, he ſeems to have collected all the powers of his vaſt genius, that he might ſurpaſs the wonders he had done before.

I do not mean to affirm, that in this extenſive work, every recitative, air, or chorus, is of equal excellence. A continued elevation of this kind, no author ever came up to. Nay, if we conſider that variety which in all arts is neceſſary to keep alive attention, we may, perhaps, affirm with truth, that inequality makes a part of the character of excellence: that ſomething ought to be thrown into ſhades, in order to make the lights more ſtriking. And, in this reſpect, MARCELLO is truly excellent: if ever he ſeems to fall, it is only to riſe with more aſtoniſhing majeſty and greatneſst.

[Page 91] To this illuſtrious example in vocal, I ſhall add another, the greateſt in inſtrumental Muſic; I mean the admirable GEMINIANI; whoſe elegance and ſpirit of compoſition ought to have been much more our pattern; and from whom the public taſte might have received the higheſt improvement, had we thought proper to lay hold of thoſe opportunities which his long reſidence in this kingdom has given us.

The public is greatly indebted to this gentleman, not only for his many excellent compoſitions, but for having as yet parted with none that are not extremely correct and fine. There is ſuch a genteelneſs and delicacy in the turn of his muſical phraſe (if I may ſo call it), and ſuch a natural connection in his expreſſive and ſweet modulation throughout all his works, which are every where ſupported [Page 92] with ſo perfect a harmony, that we can never too often hear, or too much admire them. There are no impertinent digreſſions, no tireſome, unneceſſary repetitions; but, from the beginning to the cloſe of his movement, all is natural and pleaſing. This it is properly to diſcourſe in Muſic, when our attention is kept up from one paſſage to another, ſo as the ear and the mind may be equally delighted.

From an academy formed under ſuch a genius, what a ſupreme excellence of taſte might be expectedu!

Charles Avison (; 16 February 1709 (baptised) – 9 or 10 May 1770) was an English composer during the Baroque and Classical periods. He was a church organist at St John The Baptist Church[1] in Newcastle and at St. Nicholas's Church (later Newcastle Cathedral). He is most known for his 12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti and his Essay on Musical Expression, the first music criticism published in English. He composed in a transitional style that alternated between Baroque and Classical idioms.


The son of Richard and Anne Avison, Charles Avison was baptised on 16 February 1709,[2] at St John the Baptist Church, in Newcastle. According to The New Grove Dictionary, he was also born in this city.[3] His educational history, though unclear, could have been at one of the two charity schools serving St John's parish. Some sources claim that Charles was the fifth of nine children, while others claim that he was the seventh of ten children. Regardless, Avison was born into a family with a high rate of infant mortality, as many of his siblings died at a young age.[4] His father was a musician and was likely to have been Charles’s first teacher. When Charles was 12, his father died, leaving his mother widowed with at least one and possibly two children at home.[4] Avison's adolescent and teenage years are mostly undocumented, but they may have included an apprenticeship with a local merchant named Ralph Jenison, a patron of the arts, and later a Member of Parliament, as well as further study of music.[4]

In his twenties, Avison moved to London to further pursue his career as a musician. It was during this period of his life that he met and began to study with Francesco Geminiani.[5] Avison's first documented musical performance was a benefit concert in London on 20 March 1734. This was also his only known concert in London and probably contained some of his early compositions written under Geminiani.[3][4] Avison left London and, on 13 October 1735, was appointed organist of St. John’s, Newcastle.[6] This appointment took effect once the church had installed a new organ in June 1736. Avison then accepted a position as organist of St. Nicholas Church in October 1736,[7] and later was appointed director of the Newcastle Musical Society. He remained at these two posts until his death. Avison also taught harpsichord, flute, and violin to private students on a weekly basis.[3] Much of Avison's income was generated through a series of subscription concerts which he helped organise in the North East region of England.[4] These were the first concerts of their type to be held in Newcastle.[8] Despite numerous offers of more prestigious positions later in life, he never again left Newcastle.[8]

Avison was married to Catherine Reynolds on 15 January 1737. The couple had nine children, of whom only three – Jane, Edward, and Charles – survived to adulthood. Edward succeeded his father as both the director of the Newcastle Musical Society and the St Nicholas's organist after his father’s death. Charles was also an organist and composer.[3] Avison died in May 1770 of unknown causes. According to his will, he had become a very wealthy man between his collection of books, musical instruments, and his stock holdings, which were left to his children. His will specified that he wanted very little money to be spent on his funeral and that he wished to be buried beside his wife at St Andrew's Church, Newcastle upon Tyne where he was buried near the north porch.[4] Avison was one of the subjects in Robert Browning's Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in their Day:[8] "Hear Avison! He tenders evidence/That music in his day as much absorbed/Heart and soul then as Wagner's music now."


Avison was a bold and controversial author. He is said to have had no fear in expressing his strong ideas with elaborate language, an incredible understanding of music, and a sense of humour. One of the ideas which receives much criticism is his preference for Geminiani and Marcello and his lack of preference for Handel. Although he did praise Handel for his genius, he was not afraid to criticise him either.[7] In addition to his published essays, Avison often wrote lengthy prefaces to his compositions, which have been called “advertisements."[3]

Essay on musical expression[edit]

Avison’s best-known writing is his Essay on Musical Expression which was originally published in 1752.[9] This essay was written in three parts. The first discusses the effect of music on character and emotion, as well as comparisons of music to painting. Avison states that "A full chord struck, or a beautiful succession of single sounds produced, is no less ravishing to the ear, than just symmetry or exquisite colours to the eye."[9] Avison also discusses in this section the common thought that music reaches all aspects of human emotion. He disagrees with this belief and instead argues that music evokes positive emotions while suppressing the negative ones.[9]

Part II of the essay is a critique of certain composers and their styles. Avison includes a section criticising the emphasis on melody and neglect of harmony as well as the neglect of melody and focus on harmony. For each condition, multiple composers are named in varying degrees to which they offend the balance between these two aspects of music. It is in this section that Avison defines musical expression as a balance between melody and harmony further stating, "Air and Harmony are never to be deserted for the sake of expression: because expression is found on them."[9] Avison does not hold back in expressing his opinion of the composers whom he is criticising. One such passage in the essay exemplifies this: "In these vague and unmeaning pieces, we often find the bewildered composer, either struggling with the difficulties of an extraneous modulation, or tiring the most consummate patience with a tedious repetition of some jejune thought, imagining he can never do enough, till he has run through every key that can be crowded into one movement; till, at length, all his force being exhausted, he drops into a dull close; where his languid piece seems rather to expire and yield its last, than conclude with a spirited, and well-timed cadence."[9]

The third section includes Avison’s views on how certain instruments should be used in ensemble performances. This section especially focuses on the concerto, as Avison frequently composed them. He lays out certain guidelines for the use of instruments, such as; "Thus, the Hautboy will best express the Cantabile, or singing style, and may be used in all movements whatever under this denomination; especially those movements which tend to the gay and cheerful."[9]

This essay is often viewed as judgemental and controversial, mostly because of the strong opinions put forth in the section critiquing composers. In January 1753, William Hayes anonymously published Remarks on Mr. Avison’s Essay, which was a review criticising Avison’s writing. This writing also contained strong opinions and was more lengthy than Avison's original writing. Avison then published a response to Hayes's writing titled A Reply to the Author of Remarks on the Essay on Musical Expression in February 1753.[3]


Avison's best-known compositions are his concerti grossi. They are similar in style to those of Geminiani and change very little across his career. Some were based on existing works by the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti.[10] Avison placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of melody in his compositions. They are considered to be "unusually tuneful" because of the value which he placed on melody.

Avison also wrote chamber music. His trio sonatas are modelled after the Baroque style. His later chamber works were inspired by Rameau and are keyboard pieces with accompaniment by flute, violin and other instruments. Avison composed a small amount of sacred music including a verse anthem, a hymn and a chant, and a collaborative oratorio with Giardini[who?] entitled "Ruth".


  • Op. 2 Six Concertos (g, Bb, e, D, Bb, D)
  • Two Concertos
  • Op. 3 Six Concertos – With General Rules for Playing (D, e, g, Bb, D, G)
  • Op. 4 Eight Concertos (d, A, D, g, Bb, G, D, c)
  • Op. 6 Twelve Concertos (g, Bb, e, D, Bb, D, G, G, D, C, D, A)
  • Op. 9 Twelve Concertos: Set 1: (G, D, A, g/G, C, e), Set 2: (Eb, Bb, c, F, A, D)
  • Op. 10 Six Concertos (d, F, c, C, Eb, d)


  • Op. 1 VI Sonatas (chromatic dorian, g, g, dorian, e, D)
  • Op. 5 Six Sonatas (G,C, Bb, Eb, G, A)
  • Op. 7 Six Sonatas (G, g, Bb, d, a, A)
  • Op. 8 Six Sonatas (A, C, D, Bb, g, G)


  • "Hast thou not forsaken us" (verse anthem)
  • "Glory to God" (Christmas Hymn/Sanctus)
  • "Ruth" (oratorio) collab. Giardini
  • "Psalm CVII", chant, Cantico ecclesiastica


Avison continued the Italian-style tradition, which Francesco Geminiani heavily attributed to his popularity in London. In his Concerti Grossi, in particular, he carried on Geminiani's technique of modelling orchestral concertos after sonatas by older composers. His Essay on Musical Expression criticised Handel, who was much admired in England at the time.[8]

Since 1994 the Avison Ensemble of Newcastle has been performing Avison's music using period instruments.[11]

Newcastle's City Library building which opened in 2009 was named after the composer.[12] The Avison Archive is held at the library.[5]

In April 2014 a play about Avison, written by Sue Hedworth from Ovington, was staged at Gateshead. The play, entitled Mostra, was billed as "a play with live music about our very own 18th Century Newcastle composer".[8]



  1. ^"A Brief History of the Church", St John the Baptist Church, 2014, archived from the original on 29 March 2010, retrieved 6 June 2015 
  2. ^
  3. ^ abcdefStephens, Norris L. (2014). "Avison, Charles". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 20 September 2014. (Subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ abcdefSouthey, Roz; Maddison, Margaret; Hughes, David (2009). The Ingenious Mr. Avison: Making Music and Money in Eighteenth Century Newcastle. Newcastle upon Tyne: Tyne Bridge Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85795-129-5. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  5. ^ ab"Newcastle Collections – Charles Avison". Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  6. ^Robert Hugill (August 2006). "MusicWeb International". Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  7. ^ abKingdon-Ward, M. (1951). "Charles Avison". Musical Times Publications Ltd. pp. 398–401. doi:10.2307/934970. Retrieved 20 September 2014. (Subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ abcdeWhetstone, David (2014-04-25). "Play about Charles Avison takes to the stage in Gateshead". The Journal. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  9. ^ abcdefCharles, A; Dubois, P; Hayes, W (2004). Charles Avison's Essay on musical expression: with related writings by William Hayes and Charles Avison. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-75463-460-7. 
  10. ^"Avison's Scarlatti stylishly delivered | D Scarlatti Album reviews". Classic FM. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  11. ^"The Avison Ensemble". Kings Place. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  12. ^"City Library | Newcastle City Council". 2014-06-03. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 

External links[edit]

A page from Avison's second workbook


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