In eighteenth-century England, painting, poetry and gardening were often labelled the ‘sister arts’. An increasing interest in English landscape scenes and an emerging taste for ‘nature tourism’ gave rise to the ‘picturesque’ movement. Contemporary writers seldom considered English music as part of this ‘sisterhood’, however, or treated music as a medium for conveying national scenic beauty. When the picturesque was discussed in connection with music, eighteenth-century critics tended to use the concept to explain the tactics of novelty and surprise encountered in German instrumental music. Plays with regularity and expectation were analogous to the surprises and irregularities of picturesque ‘beauty spots’ – natural features studied and imitated by contemporary landscape gardeners. Accordingly, recent musicological studies of the picturesque have also preferred to emphasize its kinship with the unconventional or subversive formal schemas in instrumental music by German composers.
This article addresses the silent aporia in this discourse: the apparent absence of any participation in the picturesque movement by composers from England, the country most closely associated with this aesthetic. Focusing on the pictorialism and pastoralism of eighteenth-century English song texts and their musical treatment, this article reveals previously ignored connections between the veneration of national landscape and English vocal music. In consequence, the glee – a decidedly marginal genre in traditional eighteenth-century music historiography – emerges at the centre of contemporary aesthetic concerns, as the foremost musical vehicle for the expression of a distinctively English, painterly engagement with national landscapes.