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MADAME MARA, NEE SCHMELLING Was born at Cassel in 1750, and it is stated on the authority of a foreign correspondent of Dr. Burney, that her early years were devoted to the study of the violin, which as a child she played * in Eng• land, but quitted that instrument and became a singer by the advice of the English ladies who disliked a “female fiddler ;”+ it may be therefore have happened that to this prejudice † we owe the delight experienced from the various excellencies of the most sublime singer the world ever saw. Nor was the objection of the English ladies the only prejudice Miss SCHMELLING had to encounter, for on her arrival at Berlin, at the age of 24, FREDERICE, the Great King of Prussia, who affected as bigh a skill in music as in war, could scarcely be prevailed upon to hear her, his majesty declaring that he should as soon expect pleasure from the neighing of his horse, as as from a German singer. One song, however, convinced him of her ability, which he immediately put to the severest trial by selecting the most difficult airs in his collection, and which Miss SCHMELLING executed at sight, as perfectly as if she had practised each of tbese compositions all her life. Her earliest singing master was an old man of the name of PARADISI, and at fourteen she sung before her late Majesty with the greatest success. From 1767 to 1789 she passed through Germany and Switzerland, she visited Naples at a period subsequent to her appearance in England. Although it is related that MadamE MARA's first impressions led her to songs of agility, yet her intonation was fixed by the incessant practice of plain notes. We know from her own assurance that to confirm the true foundation of all good singing by the purest enunciation and the most precise intonation of the scale, was the study of her life, and the part of her voicing, upon which she most valued herself. The
# She performed in public at ten years old.
We cannot help regarding the exclusion of females from the violin, as a prejudice, and nothing but a prejudice. It seems us to be an instrument peculiarly fitted to their habits, delicacy of taste, sensibility and perseverance.— We have seen it most elegantly played on by more than one lady, and Signora Gerbini was lately in England, performing in-a superior style in public. We can imagine no solid reason against the violin as an instrument for females, except the awkwardness attending the commixture in an orchestra, but this presents no bar to private music being assisted by female violinists,
$ Burney's state of music in Germany, ubi supra.
late Dr. Arnold told the writer of this article, that he had, by way of experiment, seen MARA dance and assume the most violent gesticulations while going up and down the scale, yet such was her power of chest, that the tone was as undisturbed and free, as if slic had stood in the customary quiet position of the orchestra.
The Italians say, that " of the hundred requisites to make a singers he who has a fine voice, has ninety-nine.” MADAME Mara had certainly the ninety-nine in one. Her voice was in compass from G to E in altissimo, and all its notes were alike even and strong ; but if may be permitted to supply the hundreth, she had that also in a supereminent degree in the grandest and most sublime conception. At the early age of 24, when she was at Berlin, in the immaturity of her judgment and her voice, the best critics admitted her to have exceeded Cuzzoni, Faustina, and indeed all those who had preceded her. Our age has since scen Billington and CATALANI, and we still believe that in majesty and truth of expression (that term com• prehending all the most exalted gifts and requisites of vocal science) the MARA retains her superiority. From her we deduce all that has been learned or perhaps can be learned concerning the great style of singing. The memory of her performance of Handel's sublime work, “ I know that my Redeemer liveth," is immortalized together with the air itself. Often as we have since heard it, we have never witnessed even an approach to the simple majesty of Mara : it is to this air alone that she owes her highest pré-eminence, and they who not having heard her would picture to themselves a just portraiture of her performance, must image-a siriger who is fully equal to the truest espression of the inspired words aud the scarcely less inspired music of this loftiest of all possible compositions.
But Mara was the child of sensibility; every thing that she did was directed to the heart : her tone, in itself pure, sweet, rich, and powerful, took all its various colourings from the passion of the words; and she was not less true to nature and feeling, in “ the Soldier tir’d," and in the more exquisite, “ Hope told a flattering tale,” than in “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Her tone was perhaps neither so sweet nor so clear as Billington's, nor so rich and powerful as Catalani's, but it was the most touching language of the soul.It was on the mastery of the feelings of her audience that Mara set her claims to fame. She left surprise to others, and was wisely
content with an apparently (but not really) humbler style; and she thus chose the part of genuine greatness.
The elocution of MARA must be taken rather as universal than as national; for although she passed some time in England when a child, and retained some knowledge of the language, her pronunciation was continually marred by a foreign accent and those mutilations of our words which are inseparable from the constant use of foreign languages during a long residence abroad.* Notwithstanding this draw-back, the impression she made, even upon uneducated persons, always extremely alive to the ridiculous effects of mis-pronunciation, and upon the unskilled in music, was irresistible. The fire, dignity, and tenderness of her vocal appeal could never be misunderstood; it spoke the language of all nations, for it spoke to the feelings of the bu'marr breart.
Her acquaintance with the science of music was considerable, and her facility in reading notes astonishing. The anecdote related above will prove how completely all music was alike easy to her comprehension. Perhaps she is indebted to her fiddle for a faculty at that time not very common. We have observed that all players on stringed instruments enjoy the power of reading and writing music beyond most others: they derive it from tlre apprehension of the coming note or distance which must necessarily reside in the mind, and direct the finger to its formation. The two branches of art are thus acquired by the violinist in conjunction, and to her knowledge of the violin we attribute Madame Mara's early superiority in reading difficult passages. MARA's' execution was certainly very great; and though it differs materially from the agility of the present fashion, it may be considered as more trué, neat, and legitimate, inasmuc has it was less quaint and extravagant, and deviated less from the main purpose of vocal art-EXPRESSION. Mrs. BILLING TON once made this remark to us in conversation, and at the same time, with a modesty becoming her great acquirements, voluntarily declared that she considered MARA's execution to be superior to her. own, in genuine effect, though not in extent, compass, rapidity, and complication. MARA's divisions always seemed to convey a meaning, such as we have before deseribed under the name of vocal
* It is remarked that a Pole can easily acquire and pronounce all languages, but that no foreigner can pronounce the Polish tongue. Rarely, indeed have we heard the native of any other country come near our language.
DECLAMATION, in our criticism on Mr. VAUGHAN: they were vocal, not instrumental; they had light and shade and variety of tone; they relaxed from or increased upon the time, according to the sentiment of which they always appeared to partake; these attributes were also particularly remarkable, in her openg true, and liquid shake, which was certainly full of expression. Neither in her ornaments, learned and graceful as they were, nor in her cadencies, did she ever lose sight of the appropriate characteristics of the sense and melody. She was by turns majestic, tender, pathetic, and elegant, but always the one or the other-not a note was breathed in vain She justly held every species of ornamental execution to be subordi. nate to the grand end of uniting the effects of sound and sense in their operations upon the feelings of her bearers. True to this principle, if any one commended the agility of a singer, Marx would ask “ Can she sing six plain notes?”
We place MADAME MARA at the very topmost summit of her profession, because in majesty and simplicity, in grace, tenderness, and pathos, in the loftiest attributes of art, in the elements of the great style, she far transcended all her competitors in the list of fame.She gave to Handel's courpositions their natural grandeur and effect, which is in our minds the very highest degree of praise that we can bestow. Handel is heavy, say the musical fashion-mongers of the day. This objection has been already largely discussed in our for. mer pages. Milton would be heavy beyond endurance from the mouth of a reader of talents even above mediocrity. The fact is, that to wield such arms, demands the strength of giants. MARA possessed this heaven-gifted strength. It was in the performance of Handel that her fincr mind fixed its expression, and called to its aid all the powers of her voice, and all the acquisitions of her science. Here she still holds her seat in unbtenebed majesty, and still wears
without co-riyal All her dignities.”
MRS. BILLINGTON, Our countrywoman, Mrs. BILLINGTON, the second in this sur. passing series, will be found really to occupy the middle place in the declension as we esteem it, from MARA to CATALANI, for if she was below the former in the loftier supremacy of the intellectual faculty, which gave to Mara's style its peculiar majesty and pathos, she was certainly above CATALANI in the general expression derived from conception, as well as in sweetness of tone and finish of execution. But to pursue our enquiry somewhat more systematically. BILLINGTON'S INTOYATIon was uncommonly perfect.
We shall not be far from the truth, we apprehend, if we attribute somewhat of her exceedingly correct manner of hitting the exact interval to the advantage she all her life enjoyed, of combining her own studies with the accompaniment of her brother, MR. Weichsell, as well as to an accurate ear, good teaching, and uncommon perseverance in practice. Singers who are taught by an instrunkent (which is almost nniversally the case) acquire not only in a meaşure the tone of the instrument, but the temperament. This is so true, that we have observed in a multiplicity of instances, that if young singers contract from a fixed instrument the habit of singing an interval or a passage in a song out of tune they are never able afterwards to correct the original mistake of association. To the assistance of Mr.W 'sexquisite performance, for upon the violin the errors of temperament are modified and made true, we therefore give no small portion of the brilliancy of tone and perfection of intonation Mrs. B. possessed. We never remember to have heard her in public, sing in the slightest degree out of tune, but remarking to herself this unusual accuracy, she said, it was her conviction, that no performer could sufficiently command the organ by any quantity of prạctice, to be always certain of intonation. She added, that a fausse note was common to all the singers she had ever heard. Our opinions, previously formed, accorded with Mrs. Billington's mature judgment, and an authority of such weight has made our conviction complete upon this material point of occasional vocal failure. It will have been seen by our analysis of Mr. Braham's powers that we estimate this faculty in conjunction with the various considerations of the passion to be expressed, the power, and indeed with the entire nature of the passage, vocal and elocutory. Mrs. BILLINGTON was not less pre-eminent in