PUBLICAT/ONS OF TER HARDEL SOCIETY.
Israel in Egypt, edited by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
THE object of the Handel Society has been beautifully accomplished in this edition of the master's far-famed choral work: it contains everything that the musician or musical antiquary can desire, besides a new organ- part, which will probably influence many future performances of the ora- torio. Seldom have we cast our eyes on so beautiful a score; a produc- tion in which we can at ern:se read the reverential care and enthusiasm of the editor and the musical advancement of the age which patronizes such an undertaking.
Dr. Mendelssohn found the manuscript in the Queen's library more cor- rect than the printed editions: nevertheless, Handers well-known rapidity in writing left him opportunity for some dozen corrections of the original; Of Which he has given the list in his preface. The present work is there- fore more satisfactory and complete than the author himself left it. The principle pursued by the editor throughout his task has been to intrude nothing—to draw a broad line of demarcation between his author and him- self.; but at the same time to make those additions to the present publica- tion (thoroughly distinguished and indicated) for which his great position in his art eminently qualify him. As far as we can depend upon tradition, it-would seem to have been Handel's practice to accompany his choruses on the organ chiefly in unison with the vocal parts; while in solos, duets, &c., that he left much to fancy or the inspiration of the moment, is evident from the character of his scores,—consisting as they frequently do of merely a violin and a bass or sometimes, as in our anthems, with the bass to the symphony merely indicated. Indeed, the fact is well authenticated that Handers fingers on the harpsichord were to many of the connoisseurs of the day a greater treat at the opera than even the voices of the great singers by whom he was surrounded. There is no doubt that he left ample opportunity to himself to be distinguished from the musicians in his orchestra; that his art of accompaniment was of unrivalled beauty, abound- ing in lovely extemporary tauches, which, however they may have escaped the majority of his full-dressed auditory in their patches and periwigs, were not lost on Senesino, or Faustina, or Michael Festing, and others who could dis- tinguish an extraordinary musical presence. This is, however, the intran- sitive part of the musician's art. With regard to the organ accompaniment at an oratorio, Dr. Mendelssohn thinks it scarcely safe to trust it to extem- porary fancy. "The task," he writes, "of placing the chords in the fittest manner to bring out all the points to the greatest advantage, in fact of in- troducing, as it were, a new part to compositions like Handel's, is of ex- treme difficulty." He has therefore added such a part as he would himself perform if required to accompany the work at the organ. He has left this part to be modified according to circumstances; the power of the instru- ment, the number of the chorus, &c. Such a work is imperatively de- manded, when we consider the changed times in which the oratorios are mew brought to a hearing, and when the colossal grandeur of the voices and the gigantic pedal tones which accompany them are contrasted, by the aid of a ludicrous print of Hogarth, with Handel's actual chorus, grimacing and poverty-stricken, making up in vociferation what they wanted in number. So little was there in his own time to fill his capacious soul, that we may now almost imagine him spell-drawn from the grave to hear his story of "Moses and the Children of Israel,"—a picture of such comrwhelming sublimity that thousands of hearers are hardly able to sup- press their tears at the divinity which animates the man, now perhaps fully recognized. Dr. Mendelssohn, presupposing a large organ with six- teen and thirty-two feet pedal-pipes, augments as far as possible these effects, but without bringing the organ into undue prominence; and his work is equally curious and instructive in what it omits as in what it adds. The musician will find it very interesting to analyze this organ-part; which is in fact a new accompaniment, preserving the mean between a servile tepetition of the score and the bold treatment of a Mozart.
It would be too long to go into all the details of this accompaniment, but we may indicate some of its masterly features. In the chores "He led them through the deep," scarcely a note of the voice-parts is touched: the organ has a singular march of tenths, and a new point of imitation is brought out in the bass. "But the waters overwhelmed" has a staccato accompaniment, slightly suggested by the oboes in the original; and the effect which Handel designed from the roll of the dram is powerfully aug- mented by the organ-pedal. The duet" The Lord is my strength," which in the original exhibits merely a bald introduction of two parts, is here filled up by a graceful melody corresponding exactly with Handel's parts. The chorus "And with the blast" is boldly treated, with holding-notes, doubling& of the violin parts, and peculiar positions of chords. And here the untersatz, the great pedal of thirty-two feet, with its tone "not loud but deep," enters to describe "the heart of the sea"; Mendelssohn having most judiciously reserved this great effect for this particular occasion. The organ-part to" Thou didst blow is exceedingly independent, and has the air of new wind-instrument parts. It is delightful to see how the new parts are dovetailed in with the original—the moving-notes as well as the holding-notes. In short, the work of a master, with ability to retouch and augment the effects of Handel, is throughout evident. If there is any- thing calculated to raise a question, it concerns only some of the marks of piano and forte; which are here and there opposed to English tradition: these, however, the editor has confined to his own part; and they need only be adopted where fully approved.
In addition to this organ accompaniment, there is a regular adaptation of the score for the pianoforte, which renders the music as fit for private as public performance.
A completeness of satisfaction is gained from this edition of the oratorio, which is rarely derived from modern undertakings of the like magnitude. The date on the manuscript of Israel in Egypt is October 1738. Some spe- cimens of Handers remarks in pencil-writing over the songs are given hr the preface. They concern principally the names of the singers. Over the song" Their land brought forth frogs," he wrote Mr. Savage; over "Thou clidst blow," S. Frances; over the duet "Thou in thy mercy," Hr. Bird and Robinson's Boy, 4e. After the chorus "But as for his people,' he wrote in pencil, "trough the Land, S. Francis, No. 1; after the chorus "But the waters overwhelmed," No. 2. "Angelic splendour," S. Frances; after the cho- rus "Thy right hand, 0 Lord," No. 3. COr fedele ex 9. S. Francesina; after the duet" Thou in thy mercy," No. 4. La speranza, ix costanza S. Frances. "Doss this imply," writes the editor, "that already in Handers time thi grand succession of choruses was interrupted byfavourite songs, and that the prima donna introduced the • Cor fedele ' in Israel in Egypt?" Singular in so stubborn a will is this prudential sacrifice to the public of his day, for such it undoubtedly denotes; and it is curious that the same interruption, though not in the same places, and carried on in 'a manner more pertinent to the business of the piece, was lately devised and adopted with success by one of our festival conductors. We will not stay to chronicle the list of Handel's after-thoughts, because they abound in his works. Yet it is always interesting to note the steps by which the master of effect finally attains perfection. The manuscripts of Mozart and Beethoven show that the privilege of completeness has in no case been in- variably granted to the first thought of genius. Beethoven is discovered amending his works by the addition of a single note or phrase after a lapse of time.* It is most gratifying, however, when the master has not only reviewed his productions, but when posterity has added to them its affec- tionate tribute of gratitude and respect. Handers eminence is so firmly established in the present edition of his works, that it is difficult to foresee any age of musical improvement in which alteration will be neces- sary or improvement possible.
* See his correspondence with Ries.