Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846

By Dale Cockrell | Go to book overview
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INTERCHAPTER
British Critics and Gifts in Kind

The perspectives of British critics who reviewed the Hutchinsons were different from those of the Americans, which led necessarily to observations with different emphases. Their approaches provide us today with another set of eyes and ears, ones that were often keener to details ignored by American critics or obscured by cultural bias.

Yet one is struck first by how much is alike on the two sides of the Atlantic. Elements of style that drew the attention of reviewers in Great Britain were often the same identified earlier by their American counterparts. For example, everyone apparently noticed the simplicity of the group's manners and their music: "the music is of a simple and unpretending description"; "perfect simplicity"; "we find, on successive hearings, that this quality (of simplicity), combined with the exquisite purity of its execution, is the source of (the music's) peculiar charm."

As in the United States, the general sonority was most often described as "sweet." The Daily News first called it a "thrilling sweetness," and in a later review said of their music:

It is earnest, animated, and emphatic recitation; but it is this, and something more; that something being the nameless charm imparted by the sweetest tones and the purest harmony imaginable.

The critics commended a style that relied on common-practice harmonies, a non-Italianate, "artless" melody of contoured, polished lines and phrases, a clear homophonic texture, and a sound that was free and easy.

-365-

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