A Toccata of Galuppi's - A Level Literature at Keswick School
A Toccata of Galuppis What do we know about this poem? What does the title tell us? Context: Baldassare Galuppi Baldassare Galuppi (18 October 1706 3 January 1785) was an Italian composer. He achieved international success, spending periods of his career in London and Saint Petersburg, but his main base remained Venice. Throughout his career Galuppi held official positions with charitable and religious institutions. He composed a large amount of religious music. He was also highly regarded as a virtuoso performer on and composer for keyboard instruments. After his death his music was largely forgotten. His name was brought back to public notice by this poem. Prior to the 18th century, Venice was one of the main trading centres in Italy. It later fell into decline and lost its independence but before this was one of the most stylish and cultured cities in Italy (architecture, art, literature as well as
gambling and other excesses.) The poem imagines Galuppi in Venice at this time, surrounded by its decadence and success. A toccata is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered sections, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Context: A Tocatta Galuppi did not write any piece with the name Tocatta; the name of the poem refers to the fact the speaker is either playing or listening to a piece by Galuppi. Which piece is unknown. Commentators have remarked on the musicality of the poem. Browning was trained extensively in music, both in composition and musical theory. Professional musicians and
musicologists have been dismissive of his use of musical terms, but the music scholar Deryck Cooke writes of the poet's precise grasp of fine musical detail in this work. Browning was a fan of Galuppi and believed that his music contained a warning against frivolity and an indulgent lifestyle. A warning ignored by his contemporary audience. The speaker: unlike the poet, he has never been out of England, and is picturing life in 18th century Venice through his response to Galuppi's music. The speaker's remarks on Venice include typical bits and snatches of commonplace, second-hand information and misunderstandings that would be characteristic of an Englishman who really knows very little about Venice. (Robert Schweik, critic). He even gives Galuppi the wrong first name (Baldassaro for the correct Baldassare). He is more interested in science than the arts. (Cf. context scientific discoveries and a shaken faith in the stories of the Bible.) Language and Imagery First name (incorrect) I Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find! I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind! church Annual ritual: the Doge throws a ring into the water to represent a bond between the city and the water (Venice was a sea power) II Here you come with your old music, and here's all the good it brings. What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings, Where Saint Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings? III Ay, because the sea's the street there; and 'tis arched by . . . what you call
. . . Shylock's bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival: I was never out of England it's as if I saw it all. Reference to Shakespeares Merchant of Venice Rialto bridge over the Grand Canal is thought of in terms of English literature 5 Venetian magistrate Carnival season IV Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May? Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to midday, When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?
V Was a lady such a lady, cheeks so round and lips so red, On her neck the small face buoyant, like a bell-flower on its bed, Oer the breast's superb abundance where a man might base his head? 10 15 VI Well, and it was graceful of them they'd break talk off and afford She, to bite her mask's black velvet he, to finger on his sword, While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord? Precursor of the piano; strings hit by metal pins Evokes a mood of tenderness or grief
The chords Galuppi is using in the music: The musical equivalent of a sigh Notes held from one chord over to another, producing discord VII What? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on sigh, Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions "Must we die?" 20 Those commiserating sevenths Life might last! we can but try! The resolution of the discord in the next chord As sixths create mild discord
VIII "Were you happy?" "Yes." "And are you still as happy?" "Yes. And you?" "Then, more kisses!" "Did I stop them, when a million seemed so few?" Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to! dominant seventh: the reminder of the discord which needs to be resolved (death) IX So, an octave struck the answer. Oh, they praised you, I dare say! "Brave Galuppi! that was music! good alike at grave and gay! "I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play!" Excellent Final resolution of the discord: a sense of finality. The end of the music (and of life?)
25 Silently X Then they left you for their pleasure: till in due time, one by one, Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone, Death stepped tacitly and took them where they never see the sun. 30 XI But when I sit down to reason, think to take my stand nor swerve, While I triumph o'er a secret wrung from nature's close reserve, In you come with your cold music till I creep thro' every nerve. XII Yes, you, like a ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was burned: "Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned. 35 The soul, doubtless, is immortal where a soul can be discerned. XIII "Yours for instance: you know physics, something of geology,
Mathematics are your pastime; souls shall rise in their degree; Butterflies may dread extinction, you'll not die, it cannot be! XIV "As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop, 40 Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop: What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop? XV "Dust and ashes!" So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold. Dear dead women, with such hair, too what's become of all the gold Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old. 45 Imagery
Death Sexuality Religion/spirituality (the soul) Musical form and meaning Form Dramatic monologue The speaker speaks to Galuppi and to the young Venetian lovers. He creates their speech and also imagines Galuppi and his music speaking to him. As the poem goes on, the speaker becomes increasingly depressed at the beginning he considers himself equal to Galuppi through his scientific studies and appreciation of music; by the end he finds Galuppi reminds him of the fragility of his own existence. Structure
The structure of the poem parallels the idea of a toccata: Rhyming triplets, each forming a stanza (15 in total) Trochaic meter, with 8 stressed syllables in each line Both of these are difficult to sustain throughout an entire poem Rhyme scheme and meter stay consistent throughout: fifteen syllables per line, resulting in 7.5 poetic feet and creating a masculine rhyme at the end of each line. This is unusual, and keeps the word stress consistent. It emulates the structure of a toccata. A toccata shows off the skill of the performer; this poem shows off Brownings poetic skill.
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