More on Harmonization

One can easily quibble with some of Kambra‘s rather hamstrung decisions in harmonizing the melodic line. Indeed, one of Kambra"s critics–John Barrow, English statesman and author of Travels to China (1804)–did not mince his words when deemed this arrangement to be a gross misrepresentation of the original song:

Accompanied with a kind of guitar, [a Chinese musician] sung the following air in praise of the flower Moo–lee, which it seems is one of the most popular songs in the whole country. The simple melody was taken down by Mr. Hittner [recte: Hüttner], and I understand has been published in London, with head and tail–pieces, accompaniments, and all the refined arts of European music; so that it ceases to be a specimen of the plain melody in China. (Travels in China, p. 315)

Barrow proceeds to provide his own transcription of the song, which difference significantly from the version published in 1796 under Kambra‘s name.

Nonetheless, Barrow‘s criticism is perhaps a little harsh, since Kambra in fact presents each song twice, once only the melody with an approximate transliteration of the Chinese text–the raw material, as it were–followed by the harmonized version of the song with English words fitted to the music. The arrangement is clearly geared toward flexibility–playable by "piano–forte or harpsichord," as advertised on the front page–and accessibility. It seems that Barrow would have stressed the educational side over and above the edificatory side of the transcription and would have wished for a more exclusively scholarly approach, whereas Kambra clearly tried to please two different kinds of audiences at the same time.


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The figures mentioned here

Arrangement as Musical Entertainment


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