The Beggar's Opera
, Scenes 11 to 13.
John Gay (1685-1732)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 12-16
Mr. Gay would have enjoyed the joke of being granted a spot on the list of great composers. As a composer, he has left us nothing of substance to ponder. Mr. Gay's influence, and the reason to consider him here, is much like the influence rock music would have centuries later. For example, because of Gay, Handel would write The Messiah
. Because of rock, Miles Davis would produce Bitches Brew
. Both of which, depending on your mood, can be good or bad.
At least one of tunes, "My heart was so free/ It rov'd like the Bee
" is charming until we remember that it is parody. Parody is fine, as long as the listener is in on the joke. Hearing this tune as part of this anthology simply causes one to wonder how the remarkable achievements of the sixteenth-century madrigalists could be so thoroughly forgotten in a little more than a hundred years. Or why the English did not seem to care.
What I like about these melodies, which is more to the credit of English folk tunes than Mr. Gay, is the way they are able to easily loll around in duple time. What I like about the opera, not having the luck of seeing it, is that is a good read
. Though none of the text is as memorable as, "Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear/ And he shows them pearly white/ Just a jackknife has Macheath, dear/ And he keeps it out of sight.