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Matthew Locke’s preface to Psyche (1675)

June 12, 2008

From the Preface to Matthew Locke’s opera Psyche, 1675.

The first (stumbling block) may be the Title, OPERA. To this I must answer, That the word is borrowed of the Italian; who by it, distinguish their Comedies from their Operas; those, a short plot being laid, the Comedians according to their different theams given, Speak, and Act Extempore; but these after much consideration, industry and pains for splendid Scenes and Machines to Illustrate the Grand Design, with Art are composed in such kinds of Musick as the Subject requires; and accordingly performed. Proportional to which are these Compositions ( the reader being referred to the book of the whole work for the particular Excellencies) Their nature for the most part being soft, easie, and as far as my ability could reach, agreeable to the design of the Author; for in them you have from Ballad to single air, Counterpoint, Recitative, Fuge, Canon, and Chromatic Musick; which variety (without vanity be it said) was never in Court or Theatre till now presented in this Nation: though I must confess there has been something done, ( and more by me than any other) of this kind. And therefore it may justly wear the Title, though all the Tragedy be not in Musick; for the Author prudently considered, that though Italy was, and is the great Academy of the World for that Science and way of entertainment, England is not: and therefore mixt it with interlocutions, as more proper to our Genius.

Another may be, The extream Compass of some of the Parts. To which, the Idols of their own imagination may be pleased (if possible) to know, that he who Composes for Voices, not considering their extent, is like a Botching Stult, who, being obliged to make Habits for men, cuts them out for Children….The next may be The extravagancies in some parts of the Composition, wherein (as among slender Grammarians) they may think fixd rules are broken; but they may be satisfied, that whatever appears so, is only by way of Transition from Time or half-Time Concords, and covered by the extream Parts; or to suspend the Ear and Judgement, for satisfying both in the Cadence.

Then, against the performance, They sing out of Tune. To which with modesty it may be answered He or she that is without fault may cast the first Stone: and for those seldom defects, the major part of the Vocal performers being ignorant of Musick, the Excellencies when they do well, which generally are so, rather ought to be admired, then their accidental mistakes upbraided.

Locke, Matthew, preface to Psyche, 1675, extract.

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