friend who is influential at the Handel Society; personally I think he agreed with me, but he said it would be an impossible work now.' Why? Apparently because it is wanting in what we call religious feeling; it is sacred music in an operatic style. So it is to some extent; so is Beethoven's Mount of Olives (even more so); but to deny that it is a great work is as absurd as if you were to deny that Titian's Christ crowned with Thorns' is a great picture, because there is no religious feeling in it. Besides, I do not know that it is true of the whole work; there is real pathos in the opening chorus; in the bass air, Pro peccatis '; and above all, in the great duet, Quis est homo,' one of the most perfect and impassioned things in music, the singing of which by Titiens and Trebelli forms one of my most precious musical recollections-such a piece of duet-singing as I never expect to hear again. And if the Stabat Mater is too operatic, is it to be forgotten that Rossini left behind him a Messe Solennelle, also a great work, in a far more church-like style? I was present at the first performance of this given in England after Rossini's death, in a lecture-room at Liverpool, with forty picked voices and a grand pianoforte; and have never forgotten my first hearing of the fugued chorus Cum Sancto Spiritu'; it would open the eyes of the people who think Rossini could only write tunes. Surely the Handel Society might let us hear that, at all events, if the Stabat Mater is too frivolous!

Let me conclude with a word or two about the last Handel Festival. The introduction of Mendelssohn into the programme may be excused on the ground that it was Mendelssohn's centenary year; but if, as I suspect, it was done rather with a view of appealing to a wider popular taste and drawing a larger audience, it was a fatal mistake, equally in aesthetics and in policy. Mendelssohn is not on the same plane as Handel, nor are his choral compositions calculated to realise the highest musical value of the Festival, that of enabling us to hear choral part-writing on a vast scale; nor is there, in Mendelssohn's case, the reason for Festival honours which exists in the case of Handel, who, though German by birth, is really and practically the greatest English composer. And to many of those who habitually attend these celebrations the intrusion of Mendelssohn was a bitter disappointment, and was sharply criticised. For the first time we missed hearing Israel in Egypt in complete form; and the selection from it left out three of the finest and most inspired of the original choruses, besides depriving us of the repetition of the great chorus, I will sing unto the Lord,' which Handel knew so well was worth hearing twice over. If the management, instead of giving us the first chorus out of Samson, 'for the first time at the Festivals,' had had the sense to give the entire oratorio,

one of Handel's greatest, and which has never been given at the Festivals as a whole, they would have done a better work, and, in all probability, had a better attendance.

The weakness, in a musical point of view, of the Handel Festival performances has always been the want of proper proportion between the band and chorus, the band not being numerous enough to maintain the proper balance between voices. and instruments, or to enable the accompaniment figures to be sufficiently heard when the whole mass of the chorus are singing. This defect has been pointed out several times, and no effort seems to have been made to amend it, which seems rather stupid; but of course the cost of the performance would be considerably increased by enlarging the band, and the experiment would perhaps have been financially prohibitive; so one must recognise the difficulties of the case and be grateful for what we can get. There are always glorious effects to be heard; the mere sight of the vast semicircle of singers is an inspiring one; and the performance of the Messiah choruses at the Festival in 1909 was the finest I have ever heard there; in fact, the difficulty which one might suppose to exist in keeping so vast a body of singers together in an intricate fugued chorus seemed to have practically vanished, thanks in part to the admirable conducting of Dr. Cowen, who both on this and the last occasion gave proof of his exceptional qualifications as conductor of a large chorus.

The Handel-phobia of the précieux group of amateurs and critics is of course increased tenfold at the idea of an extra large chorus being got together to perform some of his works, and they seem hardly able to keep their temper in speaking of the Handel Festival and of those who find a grandeur in it. 'We don't go there!' said a lady, with a sort of sniff of contempt, to a guest who admitted having been at the Handel Festival; the despised guest being a lady who was in fact a much better musician than her hostess. The newspaper critic who seems to be the spokesman of the party devoted an article at the time to scoffing at the whole thing, suggesting, among other things, that the Plague Choruses in Israel might at any rate be omitted, since we did not even know whether Handel wrote them.' That the said critic did not know was obvious; he gave a naïve exhibition of his ignorance on a former occasion by describing 'But as for his people' as 'Stradella's delicious chorus'; the whole composition being Handel's, and in his best way, except the one little bit borrowed from a cantata attributed to Stradella. Any of the musical critics of this school might get at the truth by the same means that I did some years ago, viz. by going through Israel bar by bar, with the compositions from which Handel borrowed before me. But they will not take the trouble to do that; they do not want facts;

what they want is an excuse for a fling at Handel, no matter whether the facts are correct or not.

Then we are told that Handel's works ought to be done with a few singers only, so that we may find out what is their real intrinsic merit; the insinuation evidently being that the bold bad men who go to Handel Festivals are such simpletons that they cannot distinguish between the intrinsic merit of a work and the added effect which it gains from performance on a great scale. I at least may claim to be out of that galley; for though I am an admirer of Mendelssohn, and think him absurdly underrated at present, I never was so conscious of the gulf which separates him from Handel as on the second day of the last Festival, when we had Mendelssohn following on Handel, with the same vast scale of performance for both. Every Handel Festival, if not ideal throughout (and of course the solos lose a great deal in that large space), presents point after point of overwhelmingly grand effect, fully worth going for, and which can be realised nowhere else in the world. It is all nonsense to say that scale has nothing to do with effect in choral music; you might as well say that there is nothing to choose between a parish church and a cathedral, if they were equally good architecture. In architecture as in music, scale is an important element of sublimity. I should think that I am one of the very last persons to follow or to be lured by mere popular taste in music; and I can say, most emphatically, that never have I felt exalted and carried away by anything in music as I have been by the last two pages of the 'Amen' Chorus sung by that vast Handel Festival Chorus. The effect never wears off; Festival after Festival I have looked forward to hearing once more that glorious climax of answering voices, those grand chains of imitation passages, which, given out by hundreds of voices to each part, seem to hold one breathless with emotion, and actually to realise Milton's line:

And bring all Heaven before mine eyes.

For those who can see nothing in this but matter for a cheap sneer, and who could indulge in a kind of spiteful chuckle at the idea that (for financial reasons) there would probably never be another Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace (a prognostication which has happily been falsified, for this occasion at all events), one can only feel a sincere compassion mingled with some little contempt. It is they who are the Philistines.





KOTZEBUE can no longer be ignored in the history of English. literature, nor put off with a cursory remark. And it is no small object of wonder that he should ever have been; a man whom William Taylor called 'the greatest dramatic genius that Europe has produced since Shakespeare'; whose name is associated with many of England's greatest names in the end of the eighteenth century-Sheridan, who made his biggest hit by a version of Kotzebue's Pizarro; Mrs. Siddons and the two Kembles, Mrs. Jordan, Kean and Macready, who found unique opportunities for displaying their powers in most of Kotzebue's. plays; Mrs. Inchbald, who made a living by translating them ; Hannah More, who thought it worth her while to set out on an educational campaign against him, and through whose neat prose we occasionally hear the surly bass of her old friend, Dr. Johnson. Add to these Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott.


By the end of the eighteenth century English dramatic literature was slowly recovering from two laborious attempts to give birth to a new species. It had brought forth Sheridan, a bright-witted, forward, but superficial offspring, and Cumberland, a short-lived sentimentalist of mongrel stock. Together with Hugh Kelly, Cumberland only just kept alive the 'bourgeois ' feeling of the pioneers, Edward Moore and Lillo. But they went no further. Whatever health there still lingered in this enervated period found expression either in Garrick's ruthless, though well-meant Shakespeare revivals, or in the downright farces of Foote. As an extraordinary exception, Goldsmith's two priceless comedies have a claim to be considered here. Though they seemed strong enough to kill sentimental comedy, they did not. The reason of this lies partly in Goldsmith himself, who. did not altogether escape the prevailing infection, as a close study of his work will show; partly in the very nature of senti

mental comedy. This was not so much a French-reared descendant of La Chaussée as the lineal progeny of Richardson and Sterne, and even of Cibber and Steele. Therefore its vitality was really stronger and lay deeper than we generally believe. Anyhow, that it was not quite extinct in the end of the eighteenth century seems to appear from the fact that a Kotzebue-furore broke out at that period, and raged for nearly a decade. No, sentimental comedy was not dead! Few and far between were the dramatists who kept the embers glimmering under the ashes; and perhaps even they did not know that they were doing so, and cannot properly be called sentimentalists. But they were all in touch with Germany, and all of them caught a glimpse of the bright flame recently kindled by Bürger and Schiller. Thomas Holcroft, the father of the English melodrama, stayed in Hamburg and toured through Germany. Reynolds's first play (1785) was an adaptation of Werther, and in George Colman the Younger Scott detected the falsetto of German pathos.' Unfortunately the generation to which those writers belonged was too weak to keep up any tradition. Sentimental comedy was visibly dwindling into nothingness. When it awoke from its deathlike slumber, new life had been infused into it, and that new life was German.


What change had come over it? Sentimental comedy, in its earliest shape, had tried to appeal to our innate sympathy and admiration for virtue innocently suffering. Its motive force was simple and single. It was the same which had set the world weeping over Pamela. At least nearly the same, for if we accept Lowell's definition of sentiment, Richardson was not refined enough to be a true sentimentalist. True sentiment,' says Lowell, 'is emotion ripened by a slow ferment of the mind and qualified to an agreeable temperance by that taste which is the conscience of polite society. But the sentimentalist always insists on taking his emotion neat, and, as his sense gradually deadens to the stimulus, increases his dose till he ends in a kind of moral deliquium.' But true sentiment claims indissoluble connexion with moral strength and bravery. 'It is,' as Meredith puts it, a happy pastime and an important science to the timid, the idle, and the heartless; but a damning one to them who have anything to forfeit.' No dramatist had 'anything to forfeit' at the time, not even a reputation. Had there been anyone great enough to stand aloof and decline to pander to the rising depravity, the result might have changed the aspect of a period. But in the eighteenth century social life seems to have sucked up the very life-blood of the nation. One could not be a member of polite society and a man.

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »