« VorigeDoorgaan »
how curiously the course of one's life may be turned. I suppose the tale really starts in 1887, when Sir Clements Markham, then the guest of his cousin, the Commodore of the Training Squadron, made himself the personal friend of every midshipman in the four ships which composed it, and when I became one of those midshipmen and first made his acquaintance. But there is a long interregnum-until 1899, in fact; in that year I was serving as first lieutenant of the Majestic, then flagship to the Channel Squadron. Early in June I was spending my short leave in London, and chancing one day to walk down the Buckingham Palace Road, I espied Sir Clements on the opposite pavement, and naturally crossed, and as naturally turned and accompanied him to his house. That afternoon I learned for the first time that there was such a thing as a prospective Antarctic expedition; two days later I wrote applying to command it, and a year after that I was officially appointed.
It is quite possible that Captain Scott is as good a man as could be chosen for the command of an Antarctic Expedition. He has energy, resource, and qualities of a leader of men, and he may have achieved success in his present undertaking. For aught we know, he may have attained the South Pole before Captain Amundsen, and have remained in the Polar regions to complete his scientific investigations. If such is the case Englishmen will rejoice, and no one more than the present writer. But if this happily turns out to be the case, which it seems to me is highly improbable, the happy result is due to accident rather than to any scientific selection of men on the part of the Royal Geographical Society.
In appointing leaders to uphold British prestige the Royal Geographical Society proceeds on lines which are very different from the manner of acting in other countries, and are totally at variance with the best traditions of English exploration. Other countries take up and support the men who have already shown that they are born with that love of adventure and attraction for ice work which marks the true explorer. The Royal Geographical Society passes such an independent and enthusiastic spirit by, as not being its own creation. Nay more, it actually opposes and checks the efforts of such men.
There are half a dozen men in England, as I have shown, who have displayed all the spirit and determination of the early heroes of the ice field. In the days when individual enterprise was less trammelled by bureaucracy they would have won the support of those of their countrymen who were interested in exploration, but the chances of such support are no longer available. The Royal Geographical Society, with its widespread organisation and command of resources, is able to subordinate or efface the private adventurer. The man of rough, practical manner, who is a fool before a Committee, but is at home in the wilds of the frozen North or South, has no chance of support from the expert explorers of Savile Row. He will be passed
over, if not scorned, and some young man of equal ambition and greater influence who is anxious to win his spurs will be chosen instead, advertised, and presented to the public with all the resource and journalistic influence which the Geographical Society possesses.
It is an invidious task to point out abuses of this kind which are almost necessarily inherent, to some extent, in all societies which try to direct arduous enterprises from the comfortable atmosphere of a London clubroom. But someone must speak out. If the methods of the Royal Geographical Society are continued, the chance of Great Britain ever recovering her leading position in the world of exploration will be lost. There will be talk, advertisement, the collection of funds, and all the outward appearance of energy and effort, but the man at the helm, the pilot who is to put the British ship first in the International race, will always be the wrong man, who was not chosen by nature for the post, but by the Royal Geographical Society.
ALFRED H. HARRISON.
ORATORIO VERSUS OPERA
MUSICAL London, or that section of London society which considers itself to be par excellence such, seems to have settled to its own satisfaction that Oratorio is only an entertainment for the bourgeoisie. The prejudice was in existence in fashionable society as long ago as the time of Handel; witness the sneering remarks of Horace Walpole, the fugleman of the précieux world of his day, at the oratorio performances which, he implied, no one of any consequence ever attended, and where they had a man with one note in his voice, and a girl with never a one,' to sing the solos. If the man with one note was Beard, for whom Handel wrote the tenor solos in Samson, Horry' was certainly wrong in his facts, for a mere glance at the music is enough to show that the singer for whom it was intended must have been an executant of no ordinary powers, though probably not the equal of the Crescentinis and the Senesinos, who had been the idols of the opera audiences; not to mention Farinelli, who, even among these latter, obviously stood alone and unapproached. But Horace Walpole's sneer at Handel's oratorios was probably motived not so much by any pretence to superior musical insight as by the perception that they were not reckoned among the chosen amusements of the fashionable world to which he belonged, and were, therefore, outside of his circle of interests. They were a kind of entertainment for the vulgar who knew no better.
Not so very long ago-within the memory of people who are not very old-Oratorio had conquered a more important position than this in musical England; even in musical London. The oratorio performances at Exeter Hall in the great days of the Sacred Harmonic Society, with Costa as conductor, with a band of one hundred, and a chorus of some six hundred (about the ideal numbers for effective performance of choral works) were regarded as important events in the musical world, which might be attended without involving any confession of mediocrity in musical perception; they formed an annual series of concerts to be looked on with as much respect, in their way, as the annual series of the Philharmonic Society's concerts. Now all this has changed; the Sacred Harmonic Society has ceased to exist, for lack presumably of public support, and with the exception of the occasional and
rather unequal performances of the Handel Society, oratorios seem to be now only given as a bonus to the religious public, to provide them at Christmas and in Lent with a form of musical entertainment which may appear to them to constitute, in some sort, a part of the religious observance of the season.
We have come round again, in short, pretty much to Horace Walpole's position of regarding Oratorio as an entertainment for the middle classes; but though the resultant position is the same, the reasons at the back of it are probably not quite the same. Opera, though less of an exclusive function for the upper ten thousand than it used to be, is still, no doubt, to many, the most fashionable form of musical entertainment; it is in this country (where there are no subsidised opera houses) still an amusement within the reach of the comparatively rich only; it is a function at which beauty and her equipment can be displayed with more effect than in a concert-room. But the present indifference to or contempt for Oratorio in comparison with Opera is not the product only of what may be called fashionable fashion, it is that of musical fashion also; it is the opinion or the feeling of people who claim to be more or less specially musical, and to consider music from a critical point of view. And the question propounded here is, whether this is not altogether an æsthetic mistake; whether Oratorio, considered in the abstract, is not really a higher and more intellectual artistic form than Opera; whether some existing oratorios are not greater works than any opera that has been produced so far.
Of course it may be admitted at once that Opera is a more exciting form of musical entertainment than Oratorio. But if we consider the matter impartially, I think it will be found that this more exciting character resides in an appeal to the senses rather than to the intellect. The accompaniment of scenic effect pleases another sense besides the ear, and has sometimes the element of a surprise in it; but it has also the element in it of ocular deception, often very imperfect-objects, according to a criticism at an Oxford theatrical representation, 'too obviously in two dimensions'; whereas the suggestions and the beauties of the music, taken by itself, are genuine as far as they go, and appeal to the intellect as imitation scenery certainly does not. Grouping of beautiful and effective costumes is a genuine artistic effect, and one which we cannot generally get in real life, though the numerous pageants of late years have afforded us that form of enjoyment to some extent. As to acting, nothing in the way of acting which can be of any intellectual interest or of any real or life-like power is possible in Opera. Critics talk about the acting of this singer being good, and that of the other one bad, but the difference is a very conventional one. Sung drama, even when,
as in Wagner's operas, and those of the contemporary French school, the artificial aria form is discarded, is so far removed from anything in real life that the true function of acting in holding the mirror up to Nature' cannot be realised; the nearest possible approach to it can only amount to the emphasis of the vocal declamation by appropriate and effective gesture. The opportunity afforded to the singer of singing without a book in his hand and of being free to add expressive gesture to his delivery of the music is no doubt one of the advantages to be claimed by Opera, where the music itself is of a dramatic, and what may be called a personal character; there is a great difference in effect between 'Voi che sapete' sung in a drawing-room, and the same air delivered by the love-sick youth on the stage. But not in all cases can the advantage of accompanying singing by gesture be equally obvious. The higher and more serious in style is the music, and the more abstract and impersonal the sentiment, the less room is there for expression by means of gesture. Voi che sapete' or 'Non più andrai' may gain by gesture; 'Qui sdegno' would not; it is too abstract, and no gesture could be added to it but would be an impertinence and a weakening of its effect. The same may be said of that infinitely pathetic tenor air in Fidelio, the lament of the imprisoned Florestan over his wasted life. Given the situation, the full pathos of the air can be brought out in the concert-room; the sham shackles and the painted canvas walls, and the insignia of the scenic dungeon add nothing to it; in its place in the opera they are necessary to keep up the illusion of the acted story, but it is the poignant pathos of the music that goes to our hearts; the scenic accessories are but the tinsel of the stage, and are beneath the level of the music; and many other instances might be quoted to the same effect. On the other hand, take an impassioned song written for the concert-room, such as Beethoven's scena, 'Ah Perfido '; can one seriously imagine anything added to the pathos of that by its being sung in costume, with gesticulation, amid surroundings of paste-board scenery? The question answers itself.
'Do you not care for Opera, then?' the reader may be supposed to ask. Yes; I enjoy Opera keenly, as a brilliant and attractive combination of music and scenic and costume effects; I do not add and acting,' because, as observed above, I think acting, in the true sense in which it has any intellectual interest, is impossible in Opera. The adequate acting of such plays as Hamlet, Othello, and Lear (if indeed Lear ever can be adequately acted) makes a higher appeal to the intellect than anything of which Opera is capable. But, putting the acting out of the question, regarding Opera as a brilliant combination of musical and scenic effect, more exciting and attractive to the senses than any
VOL. LXXI-No. 422