excerpt from 'Musical Reminiscences Past and Present' pp. 65, 66 (1162 words)

excerpt from 'Musical Reminiscences Past and Present' pp. 65, 66 (1162 words)

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Musical Reminiscences Past and Present

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It was my pleasure and privilege to attend the service on Trinity Sunday, and, taken altogether, rarely have I heard one more beautifully and devotionally rendered. There was no processional hymn, the organist playing, whilst the clergy and choir took their places, a soft voluntary by Archer. The confession was monotoned throughout, the more modern pretty cadences, which were permitted to be sung for some years, being now, happily, excluded. The whole of the versicles, etc., were the beautiful and time-honoured work of Tallis. The Venite was sung to a single chant by Nares, and the Psalms for the day to a double chant in A minor and major by Battishill. I very much doubt if the major adaptation of this chant was written by Battishill, any more than was the chord of the six-four preceding the tonic at the end of the second phrase. A fine effect has always been obtained at the Parish Church by the basses alone giving out, in impressive unison, the first half of the chant, the second half being followed by the full choir. It might, perhaps, have been an improvement if there had been a little more variety of expression and power in the chanting of the Psalms, in every verse of which there lies a u point to seize,” and the perception of this point will give a feeling in the rendition which will be taken as coming from the heart, although, in fact, it may be only from the lips. The choir, I venture to think, stand as precentors to the congregation, and their delivery of the poetry of the Psalms will govern the delivery of the congregation. Every syllable should be distinctly uttered—no gabble, no hurry. It would be as well that every church choir should have a master in this phonic science, in order that the Psalms shall be chanted in rythmical rule—every verse, in fact, marked out as to its harmonious form in language. I need not say how gratifying it was to me to hear the service of my lifelong friend, the late Henry Smart, sung with such power and expression. Of this work I may perhaps be permitted to repeat, what I have said elsewhere, that it is agreed by the most eminent church musicians there is nothing more complete or beautiful of its class in the whole range of music, and nothing, indeed, can be more plain or straightforward, and at the same time more appropriate to the words of the grand Ambrosian hymn than the opening phrases, “ We praise Thee, O God ; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord". For dignity, power, and a grand conception of the text we must go on to that part of the Te Deum commencing, “ When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man.” The manner in which this sublime passage is built up, rising chord upon chord with rich and flowing music, seems as if it would never stop until it reached the gates of heaven itself. It would, I think, be an improvement, of which the composer himself approved, if the closing phrase of this sublime Te Deum were sung slower and very piano, instead of in strict and unrelenting time. Smart’s Te Deum is a pattern in plan and execution. It has served to create an emulative feeling, to open new fountains, and to justify and encourage freedom in form, and a strong exhibition of individual spirit. The Creed of St. Athanasius was sung to Tallis’s old two-note chant, consisting of C and B only in the melody, and this becomes somewhat monotonous unless a great power of tone and expression be given to certain passages of the text, especially at the words, “ but One God,” etc., which is greatly enhanced by a slow and deliberate accentuation. The “Introit” (which formerly was an antiphone sung while the priest proceeded to the altar to celebrate Mass), was, “ How lovely are the messengers,” from Mendelssohn’s St. Paul and the “Anthem,” an extract from Spohr’s Last Judgment, “ And lo! a throne,” etc. Both of these were sung with good taste, and in the latter the beautiful voice of Mr. Blagbro was heard to great advantage in the solos. It would, perhaps, have been more satisfactory if one of the anthems had been by an English composer, and surely there could have been no difficulty in finding such a work. The only hymn sung was, “ Holy, Holy, Holy,” to Dykes’s well-known tune Trinity, in which the congregation joined with great devotional fervour. The Post Communion Service was Tours in F, and, excellent as it is in its way, I could not help regretting that Smart’s magnificent setting was not taken so as to have continued his services throughout the day. The whole of this important part of the service, especially the unaccompanied responses and hymn, exhibited in the highest degree the efficiency of the choir. It has been truly said that the high choir service of our Church was made out of the office of Morning Prayer. The Communion office or Mass is, of course, the high musical service in the Latin Church ; but our English Communion office, until within these few years, was a sober, secret, and almost somniferous celebration, without choir, and almost without communicants. And so it is now in too many of our local churches. But more of this hereafter.

The service was concluded with what is known as Stainer’s "Amen,” introduced first in St. Paul’s Cathedral, for which it was specially written. It contains some fine harmonical progressions, and is undoubtedly very cleverly put together, but there are two bars therein so very much like one of Palestrina’s celebrated works as would almost cause me to mistake one for the other. During the departure of the congregation, Dr. Creser played an expressive little voluntary on the sweet stops of the echo and choir organs, which were, I believe, voiced by Schulze himself.

On special occasions—Christmastide and Lent—oratorios are given in the Parish Church with increased musical resources, and greatly, I am persuaded, to the religious edification of those who attend them. Listening to an oratorio or an anthem is no direct act of worship, whether in or out of a church, nor is listening to a sermon ; but the hearing of an oratorio is, with that of hearing a sermon, a religious act, and commonly a much more profitable and instructive employment of time.

 I will conclude this notice by observing that all church music should be of so exalted a character as will delight the genuine composer, exhilarate the organist and singers, and stimulate each and all to exert their utmost abilities for the attainment of a musical service as faultless as possible.

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excerpt from 'Musical Reminiscences Past and Present' pp. 65, 66 (1162 words)


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