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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Charles Burney's Comments on a 'Bellowing' 'Coutertenor' in Paris on Thursday, 14th of June (1770)

‘At five o’clock I went to the Concert Spirituel, the only public amusement allowed on these great festivals. It is a grand concert performed in the great hall of the Louvre, in which the vocal part consists of detached pieces of church music in Latin... The whole was finished by Beatur Vir, a motet, in grand chorus, with solo and duet parts between. The principal counter-tenor had a solo verse in it which he bellowed out with as much violence as if he had done it for life, while a knife was at his throat. But though this wholly stunned me, I plainly saw, by the smiles of ineffable satisfaction which were visible in the countenances of ninety-nine out of a hundred of the company, and heard, by the most violent applause that a ravished audience could bestow, that it was quite what their hearts felt, and their souls loved. C’est superbe! was echoed from one to the other through the whole house. But the last chorus was a finisher with a vengeance! It surpasses, in clamour, all the noises I had ever heard in my life. I have frequently thought the chorusses [sic] of our oratorios rather too loud and violent; but, compared with these, they are soft music, such as might sooth and lull to sleep the heroine of a tragedy.’

Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy (2nd, Corrected Edition), (London: T. Becket and Co., 1773)


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