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right or wrong one must leave it to that old common arbitrator, Time,' to decide.
That Handel is the great light in Oratorio, supreme above all others, no sound criticism can deny. In his works alone of this class do we find that spontaneous power of giving appropriate expression to the feeling of the words, whether they be pathetic or triumphant, grave or gay, which one can only characterise by the word inspiration,' a term which serves vaguely to account for and explain a power which is unaccountable and inexplicable. In his oratorios alone do we find that melodic interest and variety in the writing for solo voices which render these portions of the composition only second, if second, in musical importance to the finest of the choruses; and that completely vocal style, that accurate knowledge of what the voice can best express and execute, in which Handel is above all other composers. In this knowledge of vocal style Mozart and Rossini come nearest to him, but even at their best they hardly equal Handel in this sense, and Rossini's moral tone (if one may use such an expression in relation to music) is of course on an altogether lower plane than Handel's. As a writer for solo voices Bach, whatever his ardent worshippers of to-day may believe, has no claim to be named with Handel. His moral tone, his intent, is indeed of the highest, but his style was all formed on the organ, and he writes for solo voices as if he were writing for a solo stop on the organ. People cannot see this at present, because they are under the influence of a fashionable cult of Bach; they will possibly find it out presently. The dramatic element in Handel's solos (as might perhaps have been expected from a composer who had passed the greater part of his life in writing operas) is more remarkable and more forcible than in any other oratorios. The idea that the St. Matthew Passion is more dramatic because of the introduction of the narrator'-because
one singer sings the words, And Jesus answered and said,' and another goes on with the words of Jesus, is absurd; anyone may be dramatic at that rate. Dramatic character resides in the music itself, not in the distribution of the parts. There is more dramatic character in 'Why do the nations?' Thou shalt break them,' or 'O ruddier than the cherry,' than Bach ever dreamed of in a vocal solo. When we hear his song, 'Pan's a master, without doubt,' we find out from the words that it is intended to be humorous; we should never find it out from the music-it might be a display song in a sacred oratorio; but no one would ever make such a mistake as to Polyphemus's song. The one dramatic moment in the Passion is the choral shout of ' Barabbas!' on a chord of the diminished seventh; the rest is contemplative, not dramatic. It may be all the more suitable for that reason; only let us have things called by their right names.
One cause that has no doubt militated against keeping some of Handel's oratorios before the modern public is the poor and trivial nature of the words, or of many portions of the words, to which they are composed; and it is a curious and interesting point to notice, that as a general rule (not without exceptions) the prosaic character of the words re-acted on the music; that Handel's music rises in character and force in proportion to the poetic suggestiveness of the words to which it is set. He sometimes set good music to poor words; but he never sets poor music to poetic words. Handel never properly learned our language, and it is possible that when he found such a couplet as :
The Lord commands, and Joshua leads ;
put down for the words of a chorus, he was not fully aware what
But here and in Messiah Handel dealt with the noble language of the English version of the Bible, and, as usual, was proportionately noble and inspired in his music. In Israel the whole of the music is not his own, unfortunately for us, for it would be a greater work if it were, though some of the choruses which ignorant critics persist in referring to as spurious are in fact great music expanded by Handel out of brief hints borrowed from otherwise forgotten compositions; and it is in those which are entirely his own and written for the occasion that the true greatness of the oratorio consists; if it were not for these, no one would go to hear it. In Messiah we have Handel unadulterated; the one or two choruses not written, or at least not conceived in their main idea, for the words, being only happy adaptations from earlier work of his own. And here, in this work, we have unquestionably Handel's masterpiece, the treatment of a great religious epic in the subject of which the composer himself thoroughly believed; and here we have also the masterpiece of musical art, the greatest and most poetic of all musical compositions of which the spoken word is the basis; a judgment in which Beethoven at all events, who would have uncovered his head and knelt down on the tomb' of its author, would have concurred. Independently of the mere musical effectiveness of the choruses and solos, the manner in which the whole feeling of the great story is entered into and pourtrayed in its successive phases-the dawning light of prophecy; the pastoral scene of the Nativity; the tragedy of the Passion, with the subsequent triumph; the hope of the Christian in time and for eternity-shows the author as not only a great musician, but a great religious poet. Like most of us in the present day who think at all, I have passed beyond the phase of belief which belonged to Evangelical Christianity; and yet in listening to Messiah, so intense and so true in spirit seems both its song of tragedy and of triumph, so complete the scheme and development of the whole, that one is almost persuaded to accept it all again, for the moment at least, in the old spirit of unquestioning faith. At all events, when we consider what has been the significance to mankind of the Christian story, one may be allowed to question whether an oratorio setting it forth in so sincere and so dramatic a manner, and suggesting to the mind ideas of Divine love, of the reign of righteousness on earth, and of eternal life hereafter-whether this is not, on the whole, rather a higher subject of contemplation than an opera in which we make the acquaintance of singing dragons, real horses, and rockinghorses, and in which one of the most important incidents is that of an unnatural amour between brother and sister, suggested in a scene of overwrought passion which, with its direction at the end for the curtain to 'fall quickly,' is all but indecent.
It is to be regretted, in regard to Oratorio, that, whether in consequence of the less importance attached to it now, or from whatever other cause, the race of great Oratorio singers is becoming, has in fact all but become, extinct. The younger generation do not know it, but it is the fact, that singers in Oratorio are now applauded to the echo whom thirty years ago we should have regarded as second-rate, and have listened to merely as substitutes for someone better. People are so apt to think that this is merely the delusion of the laudator temporis acti, that it is necessary to add that my impression in regard to instrumental music is exactly the reverse. There is a higher general standard of execution on the violin and pianoforte now than a quarter of a century ago, and a still more remarkable advance in the finish of orchestral playing. But the art of singing has gone down. For many years past Mr. (now Sir Charles) Santley took the bass part in Messiah at the Handel Festivals; at the last one, though he sang in Elijah, I suppose he did not feel equal to Handel's more exacting solos, and for the first time at those Festivals we heard 'Why do the nations?' with the rapid triplet passages somewhat slurred and uncertain, instead of being sung in the clean-cut manner with which he used to give them. As to Sims Reeves, no one who did not hear him in the days of his full powers has any idea to what a height of artistic perfection Oratorio singing can be carried. And this decline in Oratorio singing must to some extent affect people's ideas as to the worth of Oratorio versus Opera. Nothing I have ever heard in Opera has affected me like Reeves's singing of the recitative 'Deeper and deeper still,' and the air' Waft her, angels,' out of Jephtha; those who have only heard that sung by present-day Oratorio tenors have practically not heard it at all; and the idea that anything like a scenic setting could have added to the effect of that performance would have been too absurd to entertain for a moment. But if Oratorio is ever to take the position it once held, the raising again of the standard of vocal execution must be one step towards it. In Madame Clara Butt we have still a great contralto singer, but there is no sign of any adequate successors in Oratorio to Sims Reeves and Sir Charles Santley. When we can have really great singers in Oratorio again, then we may still better maintain the position already suggested, that the highest style of vocal performance is independent of and superior to stage attractions. Can anyone seriously imagine that the immortal air, Farewell, ye limpid springs,' could gain anything in effect if sung by Jephtha's daughter in Jewish costume before a property altar of sacrifice; that ruddier than the cherry' would gain by being sung by a man made up as a Cyclops; or that the singer of Lord God of Abraham' could put more effect into it by masquerading in the
mantle of the prophet? Such songs are addressed to the feeling and imagination of the listener; to try to make them appeal to his visual organs also would merely be to drag them down from a poetic to a prosaic plane.
The Handel Society, to which reference has been made, however it may have been started with the view of illustrating Handel, has latterly somewhat deserted what should be its colours by devoting part of its limited number of concerts to works of the modern school which there are opportunities for hearing elsewhere, and thereby perforce neglecting great and nearly forgotten works which it might and should have revived. Such is the baneful effect of the hue-and-cry raised against Handel by stupid critics, echoed by popular novelists who think they are showing discrimination in following the cry, that to my knowledge some of the very amateurs who give their services in the chorus of the Handel Society sneer at his compositions in private, and have apparently to be kept in good humour by giving them the sugar of modern music of the romantic school to gild the pill of Handelism. If this goes on, the Handel Society will lose its true raison d'être, and might as well disband. We are indebted to it in past days for having brought out some great and neglected works; notably for having given not very long ago a fine performance of Mozart's Requiem, a masterpiece so utterly neglected for years back that I have come across musicians and amateurs who did not even know a note of Mozart's greatest work-hardly even recognised its existence. But have the Society yet done all they might even for Handel, that they should forsake their programme for the introduction of modern compositions which there are other opportunities of hearing? Even among his oratorios there is much fine music that has hardly even been heard. And what of the Chandos Anthems? much larger compositions than we generally understand by that word; Church cantatas rather : totally unknown and neglected. And to come to compositions other than Handel's-what of Cherubini's Requiem, which Beethoven said should have been his model for a Requiem? And Graun's fine and pathetic oratorio, Der Tod Jesu? and Mozart's choral cantatas, 'Ne Pulvis et Cinis' and ' Splendente Te, Deus '; things which we never hear; which are forgotten as if they had never been; surely the Society might spend its time better in reviving some of these than in doing works which are popularly known and can be heard elsewhere. Among more modern Oratorio works it might be thought that Spohr's Last Judgment was worth attention, and Sterndale Bennett's beautiful and spirituel little oratorio, The Woman of Samaria; and another greater work than either, Rossini's Stabat Mater, which seems to be regarded as dead and buried. I proposed this to a valued