excerpt from 'Musical letters from abroad' pp. 67-9 (1039 words)

excerpt from 'Musical letters from abroad' pp. 67-9 (1039 words)

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Musical letters from Abroad

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The first service commenced at 8 o’clock in the morning; and as the mornings are short and dark in the winter season, it requires some effort to be punctual. The church is a large one, and the stone walls and uncushioned seats are very cold, yet is there no fire found there, save the burning candles on the altar, which, though they shed some light around, afford no warmth. It is not a Papal, but a Protestant church; the Lutherans use the crucifix, candles, &c., though less than the Romanists. There are two galleries, one rising high above the other, each capable of containing, perhaps, five hundred people; so that the church may accommodate, say three thousand, on its three floors. The organ is large, with three rows of keys, pedals, and fifty-four registers.

The exercises commenced punctually at the hour, by a short prelude, played in fine organ style, but not more than about two minutes long. This was followed by a choir piece, sung without any accompaniment, by a choir of men and boys, and without much effect. The choir had not power sufficient for so large a building. An interlude of a few minutes upon the organ followed, when a chorale was sung by the congregation, accompanied with full organ. The congregation was not yet large, but the people were constantly coming in, and it was fast increasing. Still the effect of the general singing was quite animating. This being concluded, the minister began his part of the service, by chanting a short sentence, which was immediately responded to by the choir; and again the minister, and again the response. By this time the church was well filled. From an estimate that I made, I concluded that there could not be less than about twenty-five hundred people present. The organ loft, too, capable of accommodating, perhaps, a hundred, was completely filled with vocal and instrumental performers, including the common orchestral instruments, with trumpets and drums conspicuous. When the slow solemn chant was ended, the organ burst out in a loud minor voluntary, which continued three or four minutes, during which time the violins, violoncellos, double basses, and wind instruments tuned. Yet so carefully was this done, that it was hardly perceptible, for the organ was giving out its full progressive chords, so as to nullify the tuning process, at least upon the ears of the people. Tune being secured, the choir, with organ and orchestra accompaniment, sung a motette, or hymn by Beethoven. This had been announced in the newspapers of Saturday, and was, I suppose, with many an object of attention. It occupied, perhaps, fifteen minutes, and was very well done; the drums and trumpets especially doing fine execution in the great church in the forte passages. It closed with a short fugue, in which the points were distinctly taken up and marked. The choir did not number more than from thirty to forty persons, and had not sufficient power for the building; but still the performance was quite effective. I perceived that while most of the people gave close attention to the music, others were not so much interested, and one goodly-looking old man directly in front of me spent the time in reading over his psalm-book. As soon as the motette was concluded, the members of the orchestra took up their instruments and left the house, having nothing to do with the remaining service. And now came the grand singing — for the great congregation were now together. The organ gave out a choral, when all the people lifted up the loud chorus of praise. The whole house was filled with sound. It was sublime, and I found myself much more moved by this than by the previous choir and orchestra performance. The hymn (486) was indicated on tablets in different parts of the house, and every person had his book in his hand. Even the standers-up in the aisles (for there were hundreds of these) had their books and joined in the song. The singing was in unison; I could not tell, being at the opposite side of the house, whether the choir sang the parts or not; the organ did indeed pour forth full harmony, but even this was vastly overpowered by the multitude of voices — men’s voices, and women’s voices, and children’s voices, mingled in one mighty torrent of sound, rolling through the high arches like the rush of many waters. At the end of each line of the stanza there was an interlude of a few chords upon the organ, but there was no long interlude at the end of the stanza, as in the American churches. Indeed the hymn seemed to flow along from beginning to end, as a whole, and without interruption. I observed, too, that in the hymn-singing I heard in England, the interludes between the stanzas were very short, and often omitted altogether. A very pleasing effect was produced at the close of this and every choral hymn, thus: as soon as the voices ceased on the last word of the last stanza, every head was inclined forward as in the attitude of prayer, while the organ died away piano, in a very short post-lude of perhaps half or three-quarters of a minute, the people retaining their position until the last sound was heard, when they gently resumed an erect posture. After this followed liturgical prayers, read by the clergyman, for a few minutes; and then the chorale was resumed, another stanza or two of the same hymn being sung to the same chorale as before. After this followed the sermon. I did not understand it, but if one might judge by the appearance of the people, it was good, for they all seemed to give close attention for at least three-quarters of an hour.

When the sermon was ended, and a short prayer offered, “Vater unser,” the hymn was resumed again, and still another stanza sung to the same tune as before; so that the same tune was sung three times in the same service. A closing prayer of a few words, and the great congregation gradually dispersed, amid the loud rolling of the diapasons.

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excerpt from 'Musical letters from abroad' pp. 67-9 (1039 words)


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