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The Enraged Musician: Hogarth’s Musical Imagery

by Jeremy Barlow
Ashgate, Aldershot UK, 2005
388 pp., illus., 184 b/w, 17 music examples. Trade, 65
ISBN: 1-80414615X.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


As a boy I saw a weird, complex, burly narrative print by William Hogarth (1697-1764) included in George Perry’s The Penguin Book of Comics, prominent among the ancestors of the 20th century comic strip and comic book. On a 1999 trip to London, I delighted in how Sir John Soames’ Museum displayed a complete suite of "The Rake’s Progress", the 1735 story in eight pictures from which I saw the Hogarth print in Perry’s book.

Hogarth began satirical prints while still in his twenties. He often used musical iconography, sometimes as symbols from classical myths or emblems of virtues. In the proto-surrealist "Royalty, Episcopy and the Law" (worthy of Grandville a century later), Hogarth showed a bishop as a twangy Jew’s harp. It is always enjoyable to view the imagery that constructs the various mythologies of musicians. Instruments are essential to the proto-pop stars Liszt and Wagner in the Romantic era, to Dock Boggs and Woody Guthrie on 20th century front porches and boxcars, to the Stratocasters of the party animals of contemporary showbars.

Hogarth’s musical interests are mapped here, by eighteenth century authors or ascertained from fragmentary evidence. The author notes the accuracy of the depiction of instruments (often reversed in prints from their original oil sketches) and discusses solo fiddlers, ballad singers, and songs. Hogarth was a fan of music and belonged to a subscription society called the Academy of Vocal Music, which performed works by 16th century composers, such as Palestrina. Italian opera was popular in mid-century London, as was its prominent practitioner, the German composer George Frederick Handel. Hogarth may have met Handel, for both were supporters of a foundlings’ hospital. Hogarth made fun of opera’s chatty and inattentive upper class audience in prints. It is not known if the artist sang or played any musical instrument himself.

While Hogarth depicted masquerades with harlequins, he took delight in his prints of a rough music procession, obnoxious noise called a skimmington (in France, charivari). A skimmington appears in Samuel Butler’s "Hudibras," a poem that may have inspired Hogarth to try his hand at the topic. These events were often accompanied by the burlesque instruments the saltbox and the bladder-and-string, and author Barlow provides a rich chapter on burlesques of music. His upcoming book, entitled Mock Music. Skimmington revelers followed a petticoat hoisted as a standard or flag, like the rudest Punk rock parade of protesters. These are the shenanigans that enrage "The Enraged Musician". Hogarth published this print in 1741, at age 44, and it shows an Italian classical musician with his hands over his ears as rough music fills the street outside his window. The identity of the apoplectic musician is disputed, and may have been prominent contemporaries Castruccy, Vercini, Cevetto the cellist or a flautist Festin. The noisy tormentors include a ragged oboe player, howling cats on a distant rooftop, and the various noises of tradespeople on the street advertising themselves. A sow gelder announces his presence with a blast of his horn. A ballad singer, of low status because she’s an unwed mother, sings to the accompaniment of her squalling baby. There’s a knife sharpener with his wheel set up in the street grinding away. A fishmonger hollers, whom the 18th century book Cryes of London notes would cry FLOUN-DA, A, A, RS! A dustman (trash collector) carrying his basket cries DUST, HO! DUST! HO! DUST! A pretty young woman sells milk, and in the prints of the time a buxom milkmaid was often an allegory for artistic inspiration. A well-dressed little girl (perhaps the musician’s daughter) is fascinated by a little boy nonchalantly peeing in front of her.

The methodical book is profusely illustrated with excellent prints, photos of historical instruments and publications, discussion of all instruments that Hogarth ever depicted, and a poem that depicts a skimmington on St. Cecelia’s Day. Author Barlow notes its satire of the Italian opera fad in London, and how it takes political digs at the Whig Prime Minister that the audience of that time would appreciate. Hogarth attended numerous performances of that English take on Italian opera, "The Beggar’s Opera" by John Gay, and painted numerous versions of his favorite scenes. Tales of other daring eighteenth century criminals also inspired him.

Barlow notes changes between the first and second states of the print. A broken doll is removed from its place in the first state, in front of a dollhouse assembled from bricks. A little military drummer boy in the first state becomes a bewigged and rotund miniature adult in the second, like a diminutive Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Barlow is so focused upon the musical imagery that he sometimes leaves out other details that cry for explanation as loudly as any London tradesperson. Why does the figure of a dustman in the first state of "The Enraged Musician" lack a nose, yet has one in the print’s second state? Did the working conditions or wanton lifestyle of dustmen make them particularly prone to wasting leprosy or syphilis? His gaping black spot (like the black doggy noses of the villainous Beagle Boys in old Mickey Mouse comics) in the painted sketch for the print, then also the first state of the print, is reworked into a normal nose in the second. From notes in the book’s appendix we see that John Nichols wondered about the dustman’s noselessness in a 1781 biography of Hogarth, though in our time Jeremy Barlow does not. Though the astute scholar doesn’t miss much, sometimes Hogarth’s meaningful details are as obvious as the nose in front of your face.





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