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BALLAD OPERAS AND EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY BALLADS
P OPULAR ballads had, during the latter half of the seventeenth century, gone somewhat out of favour, at any rate with the upper classes of society. The old tunes and songs of England were being neglected, and there had arisen a craze for the Italian school of music, ridiculed by Henry Lawes in his setting of a contents table of an Italian song book, as mentioned in the last chapter. "All melody," says a writer, "was being frittered away into mere recitative, and there was needed the reassertion of the claims of rhythmic melody in music." But with the production of the Beggar s Opera in 1727 there came a great revulsion of popular taste.
The libretto of the Beggar s Opera was by John Gay, and the songs were all written either to old ballad tunes, English and Scotch, or to the tunes of the most popular songs of the day. It was originally intended, no doubt, to be a burlesque