excerpt from 'Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character' pp. 105-108 (437 words)

excerpt from 'Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character' pp. 105-108 (437 words)

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Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character

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A painful contrast, in the way of musical entertainments of an ecclesiastical order, to the above performance in the Gesù, was afforded by a Midnight Mass I was induced by treacherous persuasion to attend on Christmas Eve at San Luigi dei Francesi...On the 24th December, 1869, a peculiarly malignant compatriot had fervently assured me that, at San Luigi dei Francesi, I should hear strains of celestial harmony and contemplate a dazzling illumination in celebration of the Nativity Morn...After much labour and tribulation I at length succeeded in entering the sacred edifice. The first vileness that assailed one of my senses was a mosaic of stenches, amongst which were chiefly distinguishable the malodours of garlic, incense, candle-snuff, boiling grease, damp cloth, and shoe-leather. The next, outraging another sense, was a nondescript noise, respecting which I soon had to ask myself, What may this be, that offends my ears and, in less than a minute, has worn out my patienee ? Is it, haply, the heavenly harmony promised to me? are these the sublime strains that could not by any possibility fail to transport my ravished soul to realms of bliss? It was; they were ! Any score or so of blind-beggars, British-born and musically proclivious, picked up at random in London streets and set to intone a Catnach ballad in, say, sixty verses, could have matched, in every respect, the performance of the San Luigi choristers on that dread Christmas Eve. Moreover, there was an altogether intolerable organ, quivering with senility, and divided against itself — one of its registers being an eighth of a tone sharper than the other, and both wofuUy out of tune. Upon this instrument of torture some organist in his novitiate had been instructed to do his worst ; and most conscientiously did he fulfil his mission. For instance, whenever the choir had dismally drifted into the tonic chord, he would burst out joyously into that of the two dominants, or wail a plaintive relative minor. None of his dissonant vagaries, however, for a moment disturbed the choristers, or hindered them from plodding doggedly on with gruesome sonority, more nasal than laryngean. The effect was indescribably bewildering — something like a tale of Hoffmann illustrated by Retzsch and set to music by the fiddler-fiend who once appeared to Tartini in a dream... After suffering a brief and unmerited agony, I struggled forth into the rain with all the haste and eagerness of one pursued by the Avenger. Ever since that fearsome experience I have been accustomed to think of the Christmas Eve choral service performed at San Luigi dei Francesi as the Stomach-ache of Sound. 

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excerpt from 'Music and manners; personal reminiscences and sketches of character' pp. 105-108 (437 words)


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