article 70: Che Sarà?

Now that I have been permanently relieved of the time-consumption and pressure of practicing for recordings, I can gradually turn my attention to some writing/editing projects somewhat larger in scale than most of these recent scribbles. The list keeps getting longer, however, as time remaining gets shorter. The latest addition involves a sequel to Article 54, which included a threat to extract all the many references to music in Giacomo Casanova’s monumental Histoire de ma Vie.

Ange Goudar was another highly-talented 18th-century adventurer who strayed from the straight and narrow, and who crossed paths with his colleague-scoundrel Casanova more than once. A personality clash between the two was inevitable; there was occasional pragmatic cooperation, but more frequent episodes of competition and conflict. Goudar was a prolific writer in the loquacious, breezy, sarcastic style that still marks the true Frenchman, a style that achieved its most polished state in the 18th century.

In London he took up with a pretty Irish barmaid, whom he fashioned into a person fit for high European society and a kind of ballet dancer. This profession was at the time more a form of hidden prostitution than the strenuous art of Petipa and Nureyev. With a minimum of training and even lower morals, a certain road was open to a pretty face and a pair of good legs. These, Goudar’s pretended wife Sara, apparently possessed. No less a connoisseur than Casanova pronounced her at age 16 “a true prodigy of beauty” when they met in London in 1761. Goudar snapped her up before Casanova could make the planned conquest.

In 1777 there appeared at Amsterdam Œuvres Mêlées de Madame Sara Goudar, Angloise. Its second volume comprised Remarques sur la Musique Italienne & sur la Danse, à Milord Pembroke. A first edition had appeared in Venice in 1773 as the work of “M. G...”. The 10th Earl of Pembroke, Henry Herbert (a descendant of a brother-in-law of Henry VIII’s sixth wife), was a match for Casanova and Goudar as a roué, and was a boon companion about town of theirs – one of unlimited means. When he ran off with his mistress Kitty Hunter, Horace Walpole indited the lines, “As Pembroke a horseman by most is accounted / ’Tis not strange that his Lordship a Hunter has mounted.” The Remarques take the form of letters to Milord Pembroke. It was followed by a Supplement, mostly responding to criticisms of the previous book.

There is no doubt that Ange Goudar actually wrote both, drawing on the couple’s joint experiences after years of traveling through Europe and living mostly by their wits. He put his wife’s name on the cover of the later edition for reasons unknown – possibly to raise her prestige in the world; partly to give a more international perspective to the observations, as noted in the introduction; and very likely in hopes of flattering the munificent Pembroke, who will have had pleasant memories of young Sarah, as she then was.

The two books are well-known in the ballet literature, since they are peripheral to a pamphlet controversy between two famous ballet masters, Noverre and Angiolini, which took place in Milan 1774-6 and resembled the Parisian Querelles of the period. But the extensive and often fascinating passages on music seem to have passed relatively unnoticed in musicology. I ought, as in the case of Casanova (who helped da Ponte with the libretto of Don Giovanni), to translate them all, and may yet; but having just written about Handel, I can’t resist giving this foretaste from p. 9 of the Amsterdam edition. Monsieur Goudar, speaking as an Englishwoman, is debunking Plato’s views on the political importance and effects of music.

“Handel, whom we have placed after his death at the side of the greatest British monarchs,* and whom we should have interred in the antechamber of the royal tombs, if tombs have antechambers, wrecked the foundation of our music, which was in accord with our ways. He tried to make us Italians instead of conserving us as English, by which I mean independent; a characteristic we cherish for all we are worth.

This composer mixed our original music with that of southern Europe, forgetting that we are a nation of the north. The compound was good, but the dose was too strong. It precipitated our musical balance, and that drove our taste beyond what the English physique could bear. Italian flightiness made the English nation light-headed.

All those demisemiquavers severed our national character, so to speak, and rendered it as variable as ariettes. This revolution, which passed on into our ministries, destroyed the harmony of negotiations. Since that time we have no longer been in tune with the political harpsichord of Europe. As a result, our government has been filled with dissonances, and in peace as well as war has sung now too high, now too low, which is worse than total discord; because in matters of musical politics, it is better not to sing at all than to sing off the beat.”

The pharmaceutical metaphor is good, but the politico-musical one is a little mixed – put it down to French désinvolture. Goudar goes on to say that “Rameau has caused the same revolution in French music as Handel has caused in English...” But that will have to wait until I get around to the larger task.**

October 21, 2022

*He had been buried in Westminster Abbey in 1759.

** It will take even longer than I thought, after having found two more books on music by Goudar: Observations sur les trois derniers ballets pantomimes qui ont paru aux Italiens et aux François; sçavoir Télémaque, Le sultan généreux, La mort d'Orphée (1759) and Le brigandage de la musique italienne (1777).

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