SACRED HARMONIC SOCIETY.
THANES to the existence of the Sacred Harmonic Society, the period of musical famine is now considerably abridged ; instead of having to wait for any public performance till February, our appetites may be satisfied, and "with most luxurious feasting," in October. This fact is a proof that the appeal to the public in support of music may safely be made at a season of the year when its former exclusive patrons were ab- sent from town. We should search in vain among the London and Westminster tradesmen for subscribers to the Ancient or Philharmonic Concerts : if the inquiry were extended from Whitechapel Church to Hyde Park Corner, we have good reasons for believing that it would not produce half-a-dozen such. In the calculations of all musical spe- culators, therefore, this entire class was omitted. A few, perhaps, might now and then be seen at a benefit-concert; but this was an affair of the shop—an exchange of tickets for ribands or cheese, with which music was but incidentally concerned. But the Sacred Harmonic So- ciety address themselves at once to the people, boldly announcing an oratorio when "there is not a sold in town " ; and those who never saw the inside of the Hanover Square Rooms, and to whom music, except at the theatre or in the street, was a strange thing, flock in thousands to Exeter Hall.
Properly speaking, however, this is hardly an evidence of musical taste, still less of musical knowledge. It only evinces a desire to hear music. The frequenters of Exeter Hall often proclaim their vulgar partialities, and shout and clap their hands where they ought to be silent or to censure. But taste and knowledge will come by degrees. These are the result of education, and as class-singing extends the power of discrimination will arise. Nor even upon those who have wanted the advantage of regular training will the effect of these per- formances be inoperative. The power to discern, to feel, and to ap- preciate a work of exalted art, is not born, but acquired-
.' Non ê di nor Ninon at alto ingegno
Che posse imaginer di im ilquaoto,"
is as tree now as when DANTE said so ; and it is only by presenting forms of beauty frequently to the senses that we can acquire a real love or a just estimation of them. In this way the performances at Exeter Hall will insensibly operate upon the multitude. A perception of the sublime and the beautiful in music will gradually dawn upon them, and they will acquire a love for compositions which possess these attributes, and a just contempt for vulgarity and frivolity. This time is not yet come, but it advances.
The higher orders, meanwhile, stand still, or rather retrograde in musical taste ; and for a similar reason. To them the forms of musical sublimity are never presented—those of beauty seldom. Hence their taste of necessity degenerates and becomes vulgar. Music is, with them, a mere sensual indulgence; its station is degraded, its use per- verted, and character destroyed. What REYNOLDS said of painting, is equally true with regard to music. "Through sense and fancy our art must make its way to reason ; for such is the progress of thought, that we perceive by sense, we combine by fancy, and distinguish by reason. The more we purify it from what is merely sensual, the more we advance its use and dignity ; while in proportion as we turn it to mere sensuality, we pervert its nature and degrade it from the rank of a liberal art." Of all this the privileged orders have no notion ; for, adopting as their standard of perfection music in its most feeble and frivolous forms, and excluding from their view all its noblest efforts whether of grace or grandeur, the perception of beauty gradually fades and finally becomes extinct. The managers of the Exeter Hall Society begin their season auspi- ciously, having selected for performance the first oratorio of the greatest living composer. The plan of reviving HANDEL'S oratorios in their original form was the most obvious course for the Society to take; and they deserve great credit for the industry and zeal with which they have pursued it. But experience has proved that it is a course which cannot now be successfully persevered in either with reference to HANDEL'S fame or to the stability of any Society which depends upon public support. The faults inherent in most of these works—the 'wretched character of their libretti—the large proportion of alloy which is mixed up with all of them—their often meagre and monotonous- accompaniment—all conspire to detract from their great excellencies and to obscure their acknowledged beauties. Like diamond-seekers, we have often to wade through a mass of dross ere we are rewarded by a precious stone. And the Society has nearly exhausted the list of those oratorios which even the most ardent Handelian would venture to perform. Who would think of reviving Susanna or Joseph ? and the few choruses in Deborah in which the mighty master's hand
conspicuously appears, would not atone for its general want of musical
or dramatic interest. The managers of these performances, not being well-read musicians, hare taken refuge behind the name of HANDEL.
"Here," they have said, "we are safe. We dare not experimentalize ;
but HANDEL'S name is an answer to all gainsayers." They have found that it is not so. The present generation little acquainted with his
works, might be supposed to assume, and doubtless many of them did assume, that they must be all equally good. They took the " omne ignotum pro magnifico." But they are now undeceived. The Oratorios,
and also the Operas, Odes, Anthems, and Cantatas of HANDEL, contain a mass of musical wealth, but in a crude form. It has much to undergo before it can ever again become current coin ; though, after such a pro- cess, it may, and it ought. Till this be accomplished, and even afterwards, the Exeter Hall Society will be driven to take the advice we have often given, and to seek for attractive excellence elsewhere. Sponit's Last Judgment has been performed in Exeter Hall before,
but not well. The chorus had not acquired the requisite training, disci- pline, or knowledge of its author's peculiar style, to do common justice
to it; and they wisely laid it aside till they felt themselves equal to the encounter. It has been truly observed, that "our times give no similar instance of a work rising at once by its own intrinsic and unaided merits to the highest position in public estimation " : and in fact, all its author's compositions are their own trumpeters—he employs no other. Be is almost the only instance of a musician living in quiet and retire- ment, whose works command European admiration. Every great Italian composer has been the resident at some great capital ; and the same of those of Germany. HASSE, GRAUN, CsuusrLAN Been, HAYDN, MOZART, BEErnovEN, dwelt at Vienna, Berlin, or Dresden, and wrote for certain theatres, societies, or princes. SPOHR, in his quiet and happy home, far removed from courtly or popular influences, and incited only by an unshaken fidelity to the highest interests of his art, commits his inspirations to the care of the universal public. They are left to make their own way, and they do make it. There needs no other proof of their sterling excellence than this fact. The first performance of the Last Judgment in this country was re- garded as a bold expeliment. The work was altogether unlike any other—unlike in plan, unlike in detail. All other modern oratorio- writers, German and English, have adopted a model—HANDEL or HAYDN, GaAtor or BACK; and have accomplished what they aimed at with more or less success, the copy always falling below the original, as it always must. The manner of a great artist may be copied, but there is no purloining his mind ; his matter may be transferred, but not his spirit. An oratorio usually consists of a number of single pieces, connected in the work, but each capable of detachment and separate performance ; an obvious advantage if regarded as a saleable commo- dity, but of which the Last Judgment is altogether destitute. Frag- ments may be wrenched from it, but there is nothing which can be fairly or properly detached. It is a succession of scenes, which if be- gun must be finished, and from which no favourite song can be trans- planted to a concert-room. Whatever effects the singer produces must be given in their place and connexion. So wide a departure from all preconceited notions regarding the structure of an oratorio, and such a complete disregard of the usual helps to its success, indicated that sort and degree of self-reliance which belongs only to a mind of the highest order. Twelve years since, we ventured to predict the future station of this oratorio, when we witnessed the involuntary testimony to its power in the convulsive sobs of poor MALIERAN, whom it completely subdued, and who was almost carried from the orchestra during its performance. "I never knew the full power of music till this morning," was the re- mark she addressed to us at its close.
The experiment of Wednesday evening was, in most respects, a suc- cessful one. An immense audience was attracted, and the music seemed to find sympathetic and admiring hearers. The ill-expressed raptures of some, who have no other way of evincing admiration than noise, severed some of the links which unite the movements of the oratorio; but the majority evidently were wrought up to an excitement of a higher kind. The palm may, on this occasion, be fairly divided between the prin- cipal singers and the chorus : to the band but little commendation can be awarded. The stringed instruments, numerically strong, were in effect feeble ; the wind-instruments were often at fault, and whenever the bassoon was heard it was a positive nuisance. The principal voice-parts were admirably sustained, by Miss Blum, Miss DOLBY, Mr. Homis, and Mr. PHILLIPS. The experience of this evening will doubtless teach those who direct the affairs of the Society, that duplicate singers are always useless, and most commonly something worse. If any such had unfortunately been present, they would have deprived the audience of the exquisite pleasure of hearing the concerted pieces in the oratorio sung as they were. We conclude with a hint to the organist, that the less he exhibits on that instrument in the key of G flat the better.
In addition to the Oratorio, (which certainly contains thought enough
for a musician to feed upon for a single evening,) HAYDN'S Third Mass was performed. We shall not be suspected of any desire to underrate the talents of this great master when we, say that his music for the church never affords us unmixed pleasure. As the Chronicle rightly observed, "it is not sacred music. But more than this, his Masses (and the same may be said of all modern music for the Catholic Church) exhibit a total disregard of the connexion which ought to subsist be- tween sound and. sense. Whenever such a union exists, it is the result of accident or caprice. The solemn invocation with which the Mass opens—" Lord have mercy upon us! Christ have mercy upon us!" to the work before us is made the vehicle of a string of divisions, warbled very prettily by Miss Buten. The Nicene Creed is preluded by a symphony somewhat resembling the "College Hornpipe"; ; and in the concluding prayer—" Agnus Dei, &c. dona nobis pacem "—the full power of the orchestra is reserved for the last word, and " peace " is supplicated by a burst of voices and instruments, the Mass winding up with the common hacknied opera cadence allegro e con strepito. No authority will sanction such an outrage on decency and common sense ; no musical excellence will atone for such a crime. We would pre- serve the music for its own sake, but in a form and place to which much of it is only suited. The materials for a beautiful Opera may be found in the Masses of HAYDN, MOZART, and CILERUBINL