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Shakespeare and Music by Edward W. Naylor

Sesquialtera is more complicated


Morley

(Introduction, 1597) gives Five kinds of proportions 'in most common use'--viz., Dupla, Tripla, Quadrupla, Sesquialtera, and Sesquitertia. The first three correspond to what we still call Duple, Triple, and Quadruple Time--_i.e._, 2 in the bar, 3 in the bar, and 4 in the bar. ['Bars' were not in general use till the end of the 16th century, but the principle was the same. The bars themselves are merely a convenience.]

Sesquialtera is more complicated, and means 'three notes are sung to two of the same kinde'; and 'Sesquitertia is when four notes are sung to three of the same kinde.' 'But' (Morley adds), 'if a man would ingulphe himselfe to learn to sing, and set down all them which Franchinus Gaufurius [1496] hath set down in his booke De Proportionibus Musicis, he should find it a matter not only hard but almost impossible.'

Ornithoparcus, in his Micrologus (1535), gives us an idea of the way this subject of proportion was treated by more 'learned' writers. He says (1) that music considers only the proportion of inequality, (2) that this is two-fold--viz., the greater and the lesser inequality. (3) The greater inequality contains five proportions, namely, multiplex, superparticular, superpartiens, multiplex superparticular, and multiplex superpartiens.

This is more amusing than instructive, perhaps. The three last lines of this passage refer to the various stories of real

or pretended cure of disease by the use of particular pieces of music. One of the best known of these diseases is 'Tarantism,' or the frenzy produced by the bite of the Tarantula, in Italy.

Kircher, a learned Jesuit (1601-1680), gives an account, in his "Musurgia," of the cure of this madness by certain airs, by which the patient is stimulated to dance violently. The perspiration thus produced was said to effect a cure. In his "Phonurgia nova" (1673) Kircher actually gives the notes of the tune by which one case was cured.

In this connection, Kircher mentions King Saul's madness, which was relieved by David's harp playing. This is certainly to the point, and may well have been in Shakespeare's mind. [See George Herbert's poem, 'Doomsday,' verse 2.]

Our modern Tarantellas derive their name and characteristic speed from the old Tarantula.

_Lear_ I, ii, 137. Edmund pretends not to see Edgar's entrance.

_Edmund (aside)._ Pat he comes, like the catastrophe of the old comedy: my cue is villainous melancholy, with a _sigh like Tom o' Bedlam_.--O! these eclipses do portend _these divisions_. _Fa, sol, la, mi._

Songs like 'Tom o' Bedlam,' mad-songs they were called, were very commonly sung in England in the 17th century. The tune and words of the original 'Tom a Bedlam' are to be found in Chappell, Vol. I. p. 175. Its date is some time before 1626,[6] and verse 1 begins, 'From the hagg and hungrie Goblin,' and the whole is as full of ejaculations of 'Poor Tom' as Act III. of _Lear_.


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