Music

THE Christmas performance of Händel’s Messiah by the Handel and Haydn Society was looked forward to with special interest by all who had heard that the oratorio was to be given this time with “ additional accompaniments ” by Robert Franz. The only score of the Messiah that is commonly used is Mozart’s. Händel’s score, in the shape it has come down to us, is but a mere skeleton, as far as the orchestra is concerned. It is well known that Händel himself was in the habit of doing much of the instrumental “ filling out ” at the organ when his works were performed. But there is great reason for believing that this was not the only completion of the meagre score of the Messiah that Händel used. A great deal of the instrumental part of the work was probably written out in the form of orchestral parts, and never embodied in the score itself. All these parts were unfortunately lost in the great fire that destroyed the old Covent Garden Theatre, in 1808. No duplicates have ever been discovered. Mozart did much toward completing the score for the performance of the work in Vienna, in 1789. Of course he had only the printed score to work upon. Internal evidence shows that he was much hurried in his work, for the first portion of it is, upon the whole, much better than the last. But, however admirable some parts of Mozart’s score are (witness, “ O thou that tellest,” and “ The people that walked in darkness ”), the score is, upon the whole, unsatisfactory, it being in several places incomplete, and in other places totally at variance with Händel’s style. We wonder what Handel would have said to Mozart’s scoring of “ I know that my Redeemer liveth ” ! If any one expected to find that Franz had done for the Messiah what he did so admirably for Bach’s Passion, he was grievously disappointed on Christmas Eve. Franz did not work on Handel’s score at all; he merely added some modest wind-parts to certain places in the Mozart score where their want was most painfully felt: he did not change a note of Mozart’s, did not even fill up all the bare places he had left in his score. So the performance could not boast of much in the way of novelty, except that Mr. Lang, who had on previous occasions been accustomed to fill up the bare places in the, airs with soft, sustained chords on the organ, now let the orchestra have its own way, and used the organ Simply to sustain the voices in the choruses. The result was that in the closing cadences of the airs, the only accompaniment to be heard was the dull rumbling of the double basses.

But, speaking of novelty, now that the Christmas performance of the Messiah has become a time-honored institution with us, and we are all so familiar with those portions of it which are generally performed, might it not be worth while to let us hear some of the numbers that have never been given here ? There is in the Messiah an almost nnworked mine of beauty. Why cannot we hear, for instance, the wonderful curioso, “ He gave his back to the smiters,” that forms the second part of the air, “ He was despised,” and the duet for contralto and tenor, “ O death, where is thy sting ” ? The by no means great air, “ How beautiful are the feet,” might be cut out for once to make room for either of these. It would be refreshing to hear the effective chorus, “ The Lord gave the word,” once more after so many years’ silence. The same might be said of “ But thanks be to God.” There is too much in the Messiah for the entire work to be given in one evening, but why must we always hear just the same portions of it ?

The performance was up to the Handel and Haydn Society’s best level. Mr. William Winch sang the tenor music excellently well, and we have never heard Mr. Myron W. Whitney sing with so much spirit and fire as he did in “ Why do the nations.” Miss Lillian B. Norton, a young graduate of the New England Conservatory, made her début in oratorio. This young lady, who possesses an unusually fine soprano voice besides showing much true musical instinct, made a marked impression in those portions of the soprano music of which she had previously made a special study, namely, in the recitatives in the first part, and in “ Rejoice greatly.” Mrs. J. W. Weston sang with admirable good taste and sincere reverence for the great music. Her performance might have been a more brilliant success with the audience had she not generously ceded her two most effective airs to the young débutante. Miss Matilda Phillips deserves all praise for her really superb singing of the contralto airs and recitatives. She is an acquisition for all music lovers especially to congratulate themselves upon; an exceptionally fine singer with an exceptionally fine voice, and the true artist nature.

— We have before us two sets of songs by F. L. Fitter.1 They are all interesting, many of them much more than interesting, full of real sentiment gracefully and musically expressed. We find in them none of those merely “ conventional beauties which pedagogues and ragged-school teachers admire: ” no attempts at galvanizing into mock life the mummies of dead musical forms. The way in which some few of them dissolve into vapor by the voice part ending off the key instead of with the accustomed closing cadence may sound a thought affected, as if suggested to the intellect by the spirit of the text, rather than spontaneously growing out of the inspiration of the composer, but we would by no means condemn tins sort of thing; we have only heard it better done by other writers. But it is pleasant to find songs of such a high character written, if not by an American, at least on this side of the water.

— C. Henshaw Dana’s In the Hushes of the Midnight2 has many fascinating effects of harmony, besides an easily flowing, singable melody. The whole song has a drowsy, poetical atmosphere about it, that is not wanting in charm.

  1. Six Songs. Composed by F. L. RITTER. Op 6. New York : G. Schirmer. Fünf Lieder. Componirt von F. L. RITTER. Op. 10. New York : Edward Schuberth & Co.
  2. In the Hushes of the Midnight. Song. Words by T. B. ALDRICH. Music by C. HENSHAW DANA Boston : G. D. Russell & Co.