THE Standard Oratorios
THEIR STORIES, THEIR MUSIC, AND THEIR COMPOSERS
BY GEORGE P. UPTON
CHICAGO A. C. McCLURG AND COMPANY 1893
Copyright By A. C. McClurg and Co. A.D. 1886.
The "Standard Oratorios" is intended as a companion to the "Standard Operas;" and with this purpose in view the compiler has followed as closely as possible the same method in the arrangement and presentation of his scheme. The main object has been to present to the reader a comprehensive sketch of the oratorios which may be called "standard," outlining the sacred stories which they tell, and briefly indicating and sketching their principal numbers, accompanied in each case with a short biography of the composer and such historical matter connected with the various works as is of special interest. The compiler has also included in his scheme a sketch of the origin and development of the Oratorio as illustrated in its three principal evolutionary stages, together with descriptions of several works which are not oratorios in the strict sense, but at the same time are sacred compositions written upon a large scale and usually performed by oratorio societies, such as Bach's "Passion Music" and "Magnificat," Berlioz's, Mozart's, and Verdi's Requiems, Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise," Handel's "Dettingen Te Deum," Schumann's "Paradise and the Peri," and Rubinstein's "Tower of Babel."
As in the case of the "Standard Operas," the work has been prepared for the general public rather than for musicians, and as far as practicable, technical terms have been avoided. Description, not criticism, has been the purpose of the volume, and the various works are described as fully as the necessarily brief space allotted to each would allow. The utmost pains have been taken to secure historical and chronological accuracy, inasmuch as these details are nearly always matters of controversy. The favor which has been so generously accorded to the "Standard Operas" leads the compiler to believe that the "Standard Oratorios" will also be welcomed by those who enjoy the sacred music of the great masters, and that it will prove a valuable addition to other works of musical reference.
G. P. U.
Chicago, September, 1886.
PAGE PREFACE 3 THE ORATORIO 9 BACH 31 Christmas Oratorio 33 The Saint Matthew Passion 39 The Magnificat in D 48 BEETHOVEN 51 The Mount of Olives 53 BENNETT 60 The Woman of Samaria 62 BERLIOZ 68 The Requiem 70 BRAHMS 78 The German Requiem 80 COSTA 82 Eli 84 DVORAK 90 The Stabat Mater 92 GOUNOD 96 The Redemption 98 Mors et Vita 106 HANDEL 114 Israel in Egypt 117 Saul 125 Samson 132 The Messiah 140 Judas Maccabaeus 149 The Dettingen Te Deum 155 HAYDN 159 The Creation 162 The Seasons 170 LISZT 177 Legend of the Holy Elizabeth 180 Christus 186 MACFARREN 191 St. John the Baptist 193 MACKENZIE 198 The Rose of Sharon 199 MENDELSSOHN 206 St. Paul 208 Hymn of Praise 213 Elijah 218 Christus 229 MOZART 234 Requiem 236 PAINE 245 St. Peter 246 ROSSINI 251 Stabat Mater 253 RUBINSTEIN 258 Tower of Babel 260 Paradise Lost 264 SAINT-SAENS 267 Christmas Oratorio 269 SCHUMANN 271 Paradise and the Peri 273 SPOHR 280 Last Judgment 283 SULLIVAN 290 The Prodigal Son 292 The Light of the World 294 VERDI 301 Manzoni Requiem 303 SACRED MUSIC IN AMERICA 309 APPENDIX 329
THE STANDARD ORATORIOS.
The oratorio in its modern form is a musical setting of a sacred story or text in a style more or less dramatic. Its various parts are assigned to the four solo voices and to single or double chorus, with accompaniment of full orchestra, sometimes amplified by the organ. Like the opera, it has its recitative, linking together and leading up to the various numbers. The origin of the word is to be found in the "oratory," or place of prayer, where these compositions were first performed. Crescimbeni, one of the earliest musical writers, says: "The oratorio had its origin from San Filippo Neri, who, in his chapel, after sermons and other devotions, in order to allure young people to pious offices, and to detain them from earthly pleasures, had hymns, psalms, and such like prayers sung by one or more voices." In tracing its evolutionary stages, its root will be found in the moralities, mysteries, and miracle-plays of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which were instituted for the purpose of impressing Biblical events in symbolical form upon the early converts to the Christian Church. These representations were entirely dramatic in character, and their subjects, though always sacred, were often grotesquely treated, and sometimes verged on buffoonery. Among the actors, God, Christ, Satan, Mary, and the angels nearly always appeared; later, the various virtues and vices were personified. The representations were usually given in the streets or in fields, and sometimes on the water. The highest dignitaries of the Church did not disdain to act in these plays, nor did their promoters hesitate at times to reduce the exhibition to the level of a Punch-and-Judy show by the introduction of puppets cleverly manipulated. The earliest of these miracle-plays in England were performed by the various London Companies. The Tanners, for instance, produced the Fall of Lucifer. The Drapers played the Creation, in which Adam and Eve appeared in their original costume,—apparently without giving offence. The Water-Drawers naturally chose the Deluge. In the scene describing the embarkation of Noah's family, the patriarch has a great deal of trouble with his wife, who is determined not to go aboard. She declares that if her worldly friends are left behind, she will stay and drown with them, and he can
"Rowe forth away when thou liste, And get thee another wif."
Noah expostulates with her in vain, grows furiously indignant, and bids her
"Come in, wif, in twenty devill ways, Or alles stand thee without."
Her friends the gossips entreat her to remain with them, and have a carousal over a "pottel full of malmsey;" but at last Shem makes a virtue of necessity and forces her into the ark, as the following scene shows:—
"In faith, moder, in ye shall, Whither you will or noughte."
"Well me wif into this boate." [She gives him a box on the ear.] "Haue you that for thee note."
"A le Mary this whote, A childre methinks my boate remeues, Our tarrying here heughly me grieues." [She is forced into the ark.]
The earliest of these representations, so far as has been discovered, dates back to the twelfth century, and is known as the Feast of Asses. In these exhibitions, Balaam, superbly habited and wearing an enormous pair of spurs, rode a wooden ass, in which the speaker was concealed. The ass and the devil were favorite characters. The former sometimes appeared in monkish garb and brayed responses to the intonations of the priests, while the latter, arrayed in fantastic costumes, seems to have been the prototype of clown in the pantomime. As late as 1783 the buffoonery of this kind of exhibition continued. An English traveller, describing a mystery called the "Creation" which he saw at Bamberg in that year, says:—
"Young priests had the wings of geese tied on their shoulders to personate angels. Adam appeared on the scene in a big curled wig and brocaded morning-gown. Among the animals that passed before him to receive their names were a well-shod horse, pigs with rings in their noses, and a mastiff with a brass collar. A cow's rib-bone had been provided for the formation of Eve; but the mastiff spied it out, grabbed it, and carried it off. The angels tried to whistle him back; but not succeeding, they chased him, gave him a kicking, and recovered the bone, which they placed under a trap-door by the side of the sleeping Adam, whence there soon emerged a lanky priest in a loose robe, to personate Eve."
The buffoonery and profanity of the early exhibitions, however, gradually wore away when the Church assumed the monopoly of them and forbade secular performances. Among the earlier works Burney cites the following:—
"The 'Conversion of St. Paul,' performed at Rome, 1440, as described by Sulpicius, has been erroneously called the first opera, or musical drama. 'Abram et Isaac suo Figliuolo,' a sacred drama (azione sacra), 'showing how Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac on the mountain,' was performed in the Church of St. Mary Magdalen in Florence, 1449. Another on the same subject, called 'Abraham and Sarah,' 'containing the good life of their son Isaac, and the bad conduct of Ishmael, the son of his handmaid, and how they were turned out of the house,' was printed in 1556; 'Abel e Caino,' and 'Samson,' 1554; 'The Prodigal Son,' 1565; and 'La Commedia Spirituale dell' Anima' ('The Spiritual Comedy of the Soul'), printed at Siena, without date, in which there are near thirty personifications, besides Saint Paul, Saint John Chrysostom, two little boys who repeat a kind of prelude, and the announcing angel, who always speaks the prologue in these old mysteries. He is called l'angelo che nunzia, and his figure is almost always given in a wooden cut on the title-page of printed copies. Here, among the interlocutors, we have God the Father, Michael the archangel, a chorus of angels, the Human Soul with her guardian angel, memory, intellect, free-will, faith, hope, charity, reason, prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, mercy, poverty, patience, and humility; with hatred, infidelity, despair, sensuality, a chorus of demons, and the devil. None of these mysteries are totally without music, as there are choruses and laudi, or hymns, that are sung in them all, and sometimes there was playing on instruments between the acts. In a play written by Damiano and printed at Siena, 1519, according to Crescimbeni, at the beginning of every act there was an octave stanza, which was sung to the sound of the lyra viol by a personage called Orpheus, who was solely retained for that purpose; at other times a madrigal was sung between the acts, after the manner of a chorus."
It was not until the time when San Filippo Neri began his dramatization and performance of Biblical stories, such as "The Good Samaritan," "The Prodigal Son," and "Tobias and the Angels," accompanied with music written by his friend Giovanni Animuccia, that the term "Oratorio" came to be accepted as the distinctive title of these sacred musical dramas. His productions were very crudely and hastily arranged, his only purpose having been to render his service attractive. After his death, however, in 1595, his work was continued by Emilio del Cavaliere, a Roman composer, who produced the first real oratorio which had as yet appeared. It was entitled "La Rappresentazione dell' Anima e del Corpo" ("The Soul and the Body"), and was first performed in February, 1600, in the oratory of the Church of Santa Maria della Vallicella at Rome. Burney assigns to it the credit of being "the first sacred drama or oratorio in which recitative was used." The characters were Time, Human Life, the World, Pleasure, the Intellect, the Soul, the Body, and two youths who were to recite the prologue. The orchestra was composed of a double lyre, a harpsichord, a large or double guitar, and two flutes. The composer has left some curious instructions for the performance of his work; among them the following:—
"Pleasure, an imaginary character, with two companions, are to have instruments in their hands, on which they are to play while they sing and perform the ritornels.
"Il Corpo, the Body, when these words are uttered, 'Si che hormai alma mia,' etc., may throw away some of his ornaments, as his gold collar, feather from his hat, etc.
"The World, and Human Life in particular, are to be gayly and richly dressed; and when they are divested of their trappings, to appear very poor and wretched, and at length dead carcases."
The ballet played a prominent part in all the early oratorios, and the composer has also left detailed instructions for its guidance. During the ritornels the four principal dancers accompanied them in "a ballet enlivened with capers," and at the close of the performance stanzas were sung, alternating with dances to be executed "sedately and reverentially."
Emilio del Cavaliere was followed by a long line of Italian oratorio composers who contributed to amplify and enrich this form of composition. Among the earliest of these writers were Carissimi, Stradella, Scarlatti, Mazzocchi, Federici, Pistocchi, Caldara, and Colonna. Carissimi perfected the recitative and invested the music with more importance, giving it something like equal rank with the dramatic character of the composition. It was during his time that the personage known as "Historicus" was introduced, who continued the action with explanatory passages between the numbers,—a modern illustration of which may be found in the "Narrator," as used by Gounod in his "Redemption." Carissimi employed this expedient, and made it very effective. It is also claimed that he was the first to introduce the cantata as a form of church music, and the accompaniment of violins in motet performances. His most famous oratorios are "Jephte," "Abraham et Isaac," "Le Jugement Dernier," and "Judicium Salomonis." Of the first named, Hawkins says: "It consists of recitative, airs, and chorus; and for sweetness of melody, artful modulation, and original harmony, is justly esteemed one of the finest efforts of musical skill and genius that the world knows of." Stradella, whose romantic history is familiar to every one, is chiefly remembered by his attachment for Hortensia, the vengeance of the Venetian lover which followed them so long, and the song which saved the composer's life from the assassins. This song was from his own oratorio, "St. John the Baptist," first performed in the Church of St. John Lateran at Rome. Burney, who examined the score, says: "The recitative is in general excellent, and there is scarce a movement among the airs in which genius, skill, and study do not appear." He also observes that this oratorio is the first work in which the proper sharps and flats are generally placed at the clef. Scarlatti, born in 1659, was a composer of great originality, as well as versatility. He has left, in addition to his numerous operas and cantatas, several oratorios, the most famous of which are "I Dolori di Maria sempre Vergine," "Il Sagrifizio d' Abramo," "Il Martirio di Santa Teodosia," and "La Concezzione della beata Vergine." He gave to the oratorio more breadth, boldness, and dignity of style, improved the form of the aria, made the accompanied recitative more dramatic, and developed the treatment of several instruments, among them the trumpet, whose real beauty and effect he was the first to bring out. Mazzocchi is chiefly known by his oratorio, "Querimonia," produced in Rome in 1631, which is said to have drawn tears from all who heard it. Federici wrote two oratorios, "Santa Cristina," and "Santa Caterina de Sienna," in both of which "interstitial" accompaniment is used for the first time; that is, the violins, instead of accompanying the voice, repeat portions of the melody in short symphonies. Pistocchi was one of the most prominent stage-singers of his time, and established a school of singing at Bologna. His most famous oratorio is entitled "Maria Vergine addolerata," and is without overture or chorus. Burney notes that in the close of this work degrees of diminution of sound, such as "piano," "piu piano," and "pianissimo," are used for the first time. Caldara wrote a large number of oratorios, mostly adapted to the poetry of Zeno and Metastasio, which are said to have been delightful productions. Colonna, who was a contemporary of Stradella, but not so famous, has left one oratorio, "St. Basil," which is highly praised. Bononcini also, who afterwards became a rival of Handel in England, wrote several oratorios before he went to that country, the best of which is entitled "San Girolamo della Carita."
The conclusion of this period brings us to the second stage in the evolution of the oratorio; namely, the passion-music, which may be regarded as the connecting link between the earlier form as developed by the Italian composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the oratorio as it appeared after it had felt the mighty influence of Handel. The passion-music was the direct outgrowth of the passion-play. It portrayed the passion of Christ. Its earliest forms are found in the "Passio secundum Matthaeum" by Stephani, a Nuremberg composer who flourished in the sixteenth century; in a hymn-book published in 1573 by Keuchental; and in Selenica's hymn-book, which appeared in 1587. Heinrich Schuetz, however, was the first to establish the passion-music in genuine oratorio form. He was born in 1585, and died in 1672. The pupil of an Italian master, the famous Gabrielli of Venice, he retained the Italian forms, but added to them his native German force and solidity. His most prominent work, "Die Auferstehung Christi," first performed at Dresden in 1623, where he was chapel-master to the Elector George I., is regarded as the foundation of the German oratorio. The passion-music was usually assigned to three priests, one of whom recited or intoned the part of Jesus, the second that of the evangelist, and the third the other parts, while the chorus served for the "turbae," or people. In Schuetz's music, however, the narrative is given to a chorus of evangelists, the accompaniment being performed by four viole di gamba and organ. There is also a wide departure from all his predecessors in the entire absence of dramatic action. His first work was followed by another, entitled "Die sieben Worte Christi" ("The Seven Words of Christ"),—a subject which Haydn subsequently treated with powerful effect,—and four different compositions on the passion of our Lord. In these works are to be found the real germs of the modern oratorio; they were preparing the way for Handel and Bach. Johann Sebastiani succeeded Schuetz, and in 1672 published a passion-music, in which the narrative appears in recitative form and solidly harmonized chorales are used,—with this peculiarity, that only the treble was sung, the other voices being taken by the strings. In 1673 still another passion, written by Theile, was produced at Luebeck. From this time until 1704 there appears to be a gap in the sequence of works of this kind.
In the latter year, however, two more were produced, which made a sensation all over Germany, "The Bleeding and Dying Jesus," by Reinhard Keiser, and the "Passion nach Cap. 19 S. Johannis" by Handel. In the former, cantatas were substituted for the narrative and chorales, one of the numbers being in the nature of a love-song,—an innovation upon the established forms which brought down upon the composer the indignation of the critics both in the pulpit and out of it. The passion-music of Handel was but a weak prelude to the colossal works which were to follow from his pen. Between 1705 and 1718 several other passions appeared, written by Keiser, Handel, Telemann, and Mattheson, preparing the way for the two composers who above all others were destined to develop the chorale and make it not only the foundation, but the all-pervading idea of their passions; they were Carl Heinrich Graun and Johann Sebastian Bach. The former's greatest work, "Der Tod Jesu," was produced in Berlin in 1755, and was a revelation in the matter of chorale treatment. Nothing which had preceded it could equal it in musical skill or artistic handling. But there was one coming greater than Graun, the father of modern music, Johann Sebastian Bach. "If all the music written since Bach's time should be lost," says Gounod, "it could be reconstructed on the foundations which he laid." Besides his "Christmas Oratorio," Bach wrote five passion oratorios, two of which, the "St. John" and "St. Matthew," have been published and are still performed. Of these two, the "St. Matthew" was conceived on the grander scale. In this sublime masterpiece, the early oratorio reached its highest form in Germany. It contains a narration delivered by an evangelist, solo parts for the principal characters, arias, choruses, double choruses, and chorales, the congregation joining in the latter, in which the composer not only reveals an astonishing dramatic power in the expression of sentiment and the adaptation of his music to the feeling and situation of the characters, but also a depth and accuracy of musical skill and invention which have been the despair of composers from that time to this.
With Bach, the passion-music accomplished its purpose, and we now enter upon the third and last stage of the evolution of oratorio. It is a new form, and the change leads us to a new country. We have examined the sacred dramas, with their musical setting, in Italy, and the passion-music in Germany; and now comes the oratorio in England,—the oratorio as we know it and hear it to-day. Handel was its great originator. He began his English career as an operatic writer; but he soon tired of setting music to the trivial subjects so common in opera, which, as he himself declared, were not suited to a composer advancing in years. There were other inducements, however, which led him to turn to the oratorio, and among them one of the most powerful unquestionably was his disgust with the cabals which were organized against him by Italian rivals. "Esther" was his first English oratorio, and it made a great success. It was followed by "Deborah" and "Athalia." His vigorous dramatic power and close musical scholarship were never more apparent than in these works. They aroused such an enthusiasm that from this time forth (1737) he devoted himself exclusively to this species of composition. He wrote in all seventeen English oratorios. In 1739 he produced "Saul," one of the most dramatic of his sacred works, and the colossal "Israel in Egypt." In 1741 he began "The Messiah," the most sublime of all his oratorios and one of the profoundest works of human genius in music. It still holds its place upon the stage as one of the grandest expressions of human aspiration and divine truth, and no Christmas is complete without its performance. Other works followed it, among them "Samson," "Joseph," "Belshazzar," "Judas Maccabaeus," "Joshua," and "Theodora," which Handel considered his best work; but none of them equalled "The Messiah," in which his genius reached its climax. Of those last named, only "Samson" and "Judas Maccabaeus" still hold their place in the modern repertory, though the other oratorios mentioned contain many of his most effective numbers.
While Handel was writing in England, the oratorio languished in Germany. Hasse, Porpora, and Fux produced several oratorios, but they have not left an impression upon the world. Handel died in 1759. It was not until 1798 that a successor appeared worthy to wear his mantle. That successor was Joseph Haydn, whose greatest work, "The Creation," rivals "The Messiah" in its popularity. He was in his seventieth year when he produced it, as well as his delightful work, "The Seasons;" but "Papa" Haydn, as his countrymen love to call him, preserved the freshness of youth to the very last. The melodies of his old age are as delicious as those of his youth. Both these oratorios are exquisite pictures of nature, as well as of human and divine love. They were inspired by Handel's oratorios (which he heard for the first time when he visited London in 1791), and when first performed aroused as great enthusiasm, though they are not cast in the same heroic mould as are "The Messiah" and "Israel in Egypt." They are characterized rather by grace, sweetness, and elegance of form, and by pure, healthy music. Haydn was a master of instrumentation, as he had shown years before in the string quartet, of which he was the creator, and in his almost innumerable symphonies,—he being the originator of the modern symphony. He had had the advantage of a magnificent orchestra while in service at Prince Esterhazy's, and the results are seen in the orchestral resources which he employs in his oratorios. During this period several Italian oratorios by Salieri, Zingarelli, and Cimarosa appeared, as well as oratorios in the same style by the German composers Himmel and Winter. In 1803 Beethoven wrote his only oratorio, "Christ on the Mount of Olives." This production has not attained to the popularity of his instrumental works or of his single opera, "Fidelio," in part because it is not in pure oratorio form, and in part because of its wretched libretto. Schubert, contemporary with Beethoven, also undertook an oratorio on the subject of "Lazarus;" but it was never completed, and the fragment even was not heard until 1863.
The first really successful oratorio of the present century was "Das juengste Gericht" ("The Last Judgment"), by Spohr, which was produced under his own supervision at Erfurt in 1812. This oratorio, however, the work of his earlier years, was but the prelude to his masterpiece, "Die letzten Dinge" ("The Last Things"), which is now commonly known as "The Last Judgment," and was first performed at Cassel in 1826. Nine years later he brought out "Des Heiland's letzte Stunden" ("The Saviour's Last Hours," now known as "Calvary"), and still later, "The Fall of Babylon," which he produced for the first time in England in 1843; but neither of these are constructed upon the grand proportions which characterize "Die letzten Dinge," or so well illustrate the profound musical knowledge of the great violinist. Contemporary with Spohr was Schneider, an unusually prolific writer, who produced no less than sixteen oratorios in a period of twenty-eight years, in addition to a large number of operas. Though his oratorios were very popular at the time, but one of them has survived, the "Weltgericht," written in 1819. Among other contemporaries were Lindpaintner, whose "Abraham" was very successful,—though this composer is now remembered only by his orchestral pieces,—and Klein, who brought out two oratorios, "Jephthah" (1828) and "David" (1830), which were greatly admired, though they are now almost unknown.
Spohr had easily held his place in the first rank of the oratorio composers of his time, but was eclipsed when Mendelssohn appeared, as were all his contemporaries. This gifted composer had studied Handel and Bach very closely. In 1829 he brought out the latter's "St. Matthew" passion-music after it had lain concealed for an entire century. He aroused enthusiasm for the two old masters both in Germany and England. His "St. Paul," first produced at Duesseldorf in 1836, was greeted with acclamations of enthusiasm, and still holds its place in the popular regard. Ten years later his greatest work, "Elijah," was performed in England. Though widely different in form and treatment from "The Messiah," it shares equally with that work in the enjoyment of popular favor. Its numbers are almost as familiar as household words, through constant repetition not only upon the oratorio stage, but in the concert-room and choir-loft. In the presentation of the personalities concerned in the progress of the work, in descriptive power, in the portrayal of emotion and passion, and in genuine lyrical force, "Elijah" has many of the attributes of opera, and some critics have not hesitated to call it a sacred opera. Indeed, there can be no question that with costume, scenery, and the aids of general stage-setting, its effect would be greatly enhanced. Mendelssohn began still a third oratorio, "Christus," but did not live to complete it. His "Lobgesang" ("Hymn of Praise"), a symphony-cantata, is usually given as an oratorio, though it is not in the genuine oratorio form. Contemporary with him and since his death numerous oratorios have been written, more or less inspired by his work; but "Elijah" and "St. Paul" still remain unsurpassed. Robert Schumann gave the world a delightful oratorio with a secular subject, "Paradise and the Peri." Numerous English composers have produced meritorious works, among them Sterndale Bennett, whose "Woman of Samaria" is thoroughly devotional. In Germany, Hiller, Rheinthaler, and others have made successful essays in this form of musical art. In France, Massenet and Saint-Saens have written short one-part oratorios, and Gounod has constructed two, "The Redemption" and "Mors et Vita," upon the old classical form, so far as division is concerned, and is now at work upon a third, of which Joan of Arc is the theme. In "The Tower of Babel" and "Paradise Lost," Rubinstein has given us works which are certainly larger in design than the cantata, and are entitled to be called oratorios. In our own country, Professor Paine, of Harvard University, has written one oratorio, "St. Peter," which commands attention for its scholarly work and musical treatment. Mendelssohn and Spohr, however, represent the nineteenth century of oratorio as Haydn, Handel, and Bach did the eighteenth. Who will take the next step forward in the twentieth, and give to this noblest form of musical art still higher expression?
Before closing this sketch, it will not be out of place to refer briefly to the Requiem, Te Deum, Stabat Mater, and Magnificat, since illustrations of these musical forms appear in the body of the work. "Requiem" is the name given to the "Missa pro Defunctis" ("Mass for the Dead"), and comes from the first word of the Introit, "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine." Its musical divisions are as follows: (1) Introit; (2) the Kyrie; (3) the Gradual and Tract,—"Requiem aeternam" and "Absolve Domine;" (4) the Sequence or Prose,—"Dies Irae;" (5) Offertorium; (6) Sanctus; (7) Benedictus; (8) Agnus Dei; (9) Communio,—"Lux aeterna." The most famous requiems are Palestrina's, written for five voices, but left incomplete (1595); Vittoria's, for six voices, written for the funeral of the Empress Marie, widow of Maximilian II. (1605); Colonna's, for eight voices (1684); Mozart's great masterpiece (1791); Cherubini's in C minor, written for the anniversary of the death of Louis XVI., 1793, and a second for three male voices (1836); Berlioz's "Messe des Morts;" Verdi's "Manzoni Requiem," and Brahms' "German Requiem." Though an integral part of the Roman service, appointed for a special day in commemoration of the dead, the Requiem is also employed for the anniversaries of distinguished persons who have passed away, as well as for funeral occasions.
The Stabat Mater, or Lamentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the well-known Latin hymn on the Crucifixion, is one of the most familiar numbers in the Roman Missal. It is appointed to be sung at High Mass on the Friday in Passion Week, and also on the third Sunday in September. On Thursday in Holy Week it is also sung in the Sistine Chapel as an Offertorium. The poem was written by the monk Jacobus de Benedictis in the thirteenth century, and is regarded as one of the finest of mediaeval sacred lyrics. Grove says of it: "Several readings are extant; the one most frequently set to music being that which immediately preceded its last revision in the Roman Office-Books. There are also at least four distinct versions of its plain-chant melody, apart from minor differences attributable to local usage." It has always been a favorite hymn with the composers. The most famous settings are those of Josquin des Pres; two by Palestrina,—the first, which is the most effective, for a double choir of eight voices, and the second for a triple choir of twelve voices; that by Pergolesi for soprano and contralto; Haydn's, which is in his peculiarly melodious style; Steffani's for six voices; those by Clari, Astorga, Winter, Racimondi, Vito, Lanza, Inzenga, and Neukomm; Rossini's, which is the best known of all; and Dvorak's, written in 1881, which is one of the Bohemian composer's finest efforts. Few hymns have been so variously treated, and, it may be added, few in the Roman service are more popular.
The "Te Deum Laudamus" is another familiar hymn. Its origin is doubtful, though it is usually credited to Saint Ambrose. L'Estrange, in his "Alliance of Divine Offices," says: "The Te Deum was made by a bishop of Triers, named Nicetius, or Nicettus, about the year 500, which was almost a century after the death both of Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine." Bingham, in his "Antiquities of the Church," says: "The Benedictines, who published the works of Saint Ambrose, judge him not to have been the author of it; and Dr. Cave, though at one time he was of a different judgment, and Bishop Stillingfleet, concur in the opinion that the Te Deum was not the composition of Saint Ambrose, or of him and Saint Augustine jointly." Hawkins also says: "The zeal of Saint Ambrose to promote psalm-singing is in nothing more conspicuous than in his endeavors to reduce it into form and method; as a proof whereof, it is said that he, jointly with Saint Augustine, upon occasion of the conversion and baptism of the latter, composed the hymn Te Deum Laudamus, which even now makes a part of the liturgy of our Church, and caused it to be sung in his church at Milan. But this has been discovered to be a mistake. This, however, is certain,—that he instituted that method of singing known by the name of the Cantus Ambrosianus, or Ambrosian Chant, a name, for aught that now appears, not applicable to any determined series of notes, but invented to express in general a method of singing agreeable to some rule given or taught by him." In spite of controversy, however, the Te Deum is still and will always be known as the "Ambrosian Hymn." The original melody is very ancient, but not so old as the hymn itself. It is thoroughly familiar in the Roman Church, though the number of settings for Church use is almost endless. The early composers harmonized it in various forms. It has also borne a conspicuous part on festival occasions. The most celebrated Te Deums of this character, arranged for solos, chorus, organ, and orchestra, are those of Sarti, to commemorate Prince Potemkin's victory at Otchakous; of Graun, to celebrate the battle of Prague; of Berlioz, for two choirs; of Purcell, for St. Cecilia's Day; of Dr. Blow and Dr. Croft, with accompaniments of two violins, two trumpets, and bass; and the magnificent Utrecht and Dettingen Te Deums of Handel. Among those by contemporary writers are Macfarren's, written in 1884, and Sullivan's, commemorating the recovery of the Prince of Wales.
The Magnificat, or Song of the Virgin, is part of the vesper service of the Church, and has been treated by all the old Church composers of prominence both in plain chant and in polyphonic form. In the English cathedral service it is often richly harmonized, and Bach, Mozart, Handel, Mendelssohn and others have set it in oratorio style with complete orchestral accompaniment.
 Born at Florence in the year 1515, and famous as the founder of the Congregation of the Fathers of the Oratory.
Johann Sebastian Bach, the most eminent of the world's organ-players and contrapuntists, was born at Eisenach, March 21, 1685, and was the most illustrious member of a long line of musicians, the Bach family having been famous almost from time immemorial for its skill in music. He first studied the piano with his brother, Johann Christoph, and the organ with Reinecke in Hamburg, and Buxtehude in Luebeck. In 1703 he was court musician in Weimar, and afterwards was engaged as organist in Arnstadt and Muehlhausen. In 1708 he was court organist, and in 1714 concert-master in Weimar. In 1718 he was chapel-master to the Prince von Koethen, and in 1723 was appointed music-director and cantor at the St. Thomas School in Leipsic,—a position which he held during the remainder of his life. He has left for the admiration of posterity an almost endless list of vocal and instrumental works, including chorales, motets, magnificats, masses, fugues, and fantasies, especially for organ and piano, the "Christmas Oratorio," and several settings of the passion, of which the most famous are the "St. John" and "St. Matthew," the latter of which Mendelssohn introduced to the world in 1829, after it had slumbered an entire century. His most famous instrumental work is the "Well-tempered Clavichord,"—a collection of forty-eight fugues and preludes, which was written for his second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, to whom also he dedicated a large number of piano pieces and songs. His first wife was his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, the youngest daughter of Johann Michael Bach, a composer of no common ability. By these two wives he had twenty-one children, of whom the most celebrated were Carl Phillipp Emanuel, born in 1714, known as the "Berlin Bach;" Johann Christoph Friedrich, born in 1732, the "Buecheburger Bach;" and Johann Christian, born in 1735, who became famous as the "London Bach." Large as the family was, it is now extinct. Bach was industrious, simple, honest, and God-fearing, like all his family. He was an incessant and laborious writer from necessity, as his compensation was hardly sufficient to maintain his large family, and nearly all his music was prepared for the service of the church by contract. The prominent characteristics of his work are profound knowledge, the clearest statements of form, strength of logical sequences, imposing breadth, and deep religious sentiment. He was a favorite of Frederick the Great, who upon one occasion made all his courtiers stand on one side and do homage to the illustrious composer. "There is but one Bach," said the monarch. With all Bach's amiable qualities, it is said that he had a hasty temper. While playing one day, Goerner, the organist at St. Thomas, struck a false chord; whereupon Bach flew at him in a passion, tore off his wig and threw it at him, exclaiming: "You ought to have been a cobbler, instead of an organist!" Notwithstanding this infirmity of temper, he was a deeply religious man, and inscribed upon every one of his principal compositions "S. D. G.," "to the glory of God alone." He died July 28, 1750, and was buried at Leipsic; but no cross or stone marks the spot where he lies. His last composition was the beautiful chorale, "Wenn wir in hoechsten Noethen sein," freely translated, "When my last hour is close at hand," as it was written in his last illness. The only record of his death is contained in the official register: "A man, aged 67, M. Johann Sebastian Bach, musical director and singing-master at the St. Thomas School, was carried to his grave in the hearse, July 30, 1750."
The Christmas Oratorio.
The "Christmas Oratorio" was written by Bach in 1734, the subject being taken from texts in Luke and Matthew pertaining to the nativity. It is not, as its name would suggest, a work to be performed at a single hearing, but a composition divided into six parts of divine service, arranged for the three days of Christmas, New Year's Day, New Year's Sunday, and the Epiphany, each part being a complete cantata for each day, and all linked together by chorales which give it a unity of subject and design. Like Wagner's "Ring der Nibelungen," it was given in instalments, each part separate and complete in itself, and yet combining to illustrate a given subject in its entirety. It is not an oratorio in the modern sense; but the justification of its appellation as such is to be found in Bach's own title, "Oratorium Tempore Navitatis Christi."
As the entire six parts are very rarely given, a general review of their character will better suit the reader's purpose than a detailed review of each. When it has been performed in this country, only the first two parts have been given; while in England, though it has been presented entire, the performance is usually confined to the first three, which contain a complete story. The entire vocal score embraces no less than sixty-four numbers,—which in itself constitutes a sufficient reason for abridgment. In the first three parts the connecting narratives, recited by the evangelist, are assigned to tenor and bass, and declare the events associated with the birth of our Lord,—the journey to Bethlehem, the birth in the manger, the joy of Mary, and the thanksgiving over the advent of the Lord,—the choral parts being sung by the shepherds. The fourth part, that for New Year's Day, relates the naming of Jesus, and follows his career in a grand expression of faith and hope. The fifth part illustrates the visit of the three kings, the anxiety of Herod when he hears of the advent of the Lord, and the assurances given him to allay his fears. In the sixth section the visitors depart to frustrate Herod's designs, and choruses of rejoicing over the final triumph of the Lord close the work. In his voluminous life of Bach, Spitta makes an exhaustive analysis of the various parts, an abridgment of which will be of interest in this connection.
The only variation from the particular character of each section is to be found in the introduction of the first chorale in Part I. at the close of Part VI., in the form of a brilliant choral fantasia.
"In the first three the Christmas feeling prevails most vividly; this is effected in great measure by the chorales which are interspersed in far greater numbers than in the last three, and which are almost all familiar Christmas hymns. Most of them are simply set in four parts, with highly ingenious applications of the church modes."
The first and second parts close with chorales, but in the third the opening chorus is repeated at the close.
"Part IV. has least of the character of church festival music. The Biblical matter consists of a single verse from the Gospel of Saint Luke, ii. 21, which relates the circumcision and naming of Jesus. Not much material could be worked out of this, and Bach has almost entirely set aside all adjuncts from the liturgy. No Christmas hymn, indeed no true chorale, is introduced in it.... This section, therefore, bears more strongly the stamp merely of a religious composition; it is full of grace and sweetness, and can only have derived its full significance for congregational use from its position in context with the rest of the work."
Parts V. and VI., devoted to the history of the three kings, are in no respect inferior to the first three.
"The lyrical choruses are full of artistic beauty and swing. The cantata character is more conspicuous here than in the first three sections, and the specially Christmas feeling resides more in the general tone of the music than in the chorales."
Bitter, in his life of Bach, gives the following interesting sketch of the origin of some of the numbers contained in the work:—
"In some parts of this music Bach borrowed from former compositions of his own, especially from a 'Drama per Musica,' dedicated to the Queen of Poland, and a drama entitled 'The Choice of Hercules,' composed in 1733 for a Saxon prince. The old hymn-tune, 'O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,' composed A.D. 1600 (by Hans Geo. Hassler to a secular tune), and used by Bach five times to different words in the 'Matthaeus-Passion,' is again used in this oratorio to the words of Paul Gerhard's Advent hymn, 'Wie soll ich dich empfangen,' and to the hymn of triumph, 'Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen,' at the end of the last part. As this tune was familiar to the hearers in connection with a hymn for Passion Week, its adaptation to Advent and Christmas hymns seems intended to express a presentiment at the time of Christ's birth of his future sufferings. The same tune is now used in the German Church to a number of different hymns, especially to 'Herzlich thut mich verlangen' and 'Befiehl du deine Wege,' and is in some tune-books called by one or other of these names. 'Befiehl du deine Wege' is one of the hymns to which Bach has set it in the 'Matthaeus-Passion.' In the first part of the oratorio we find two verses of Luther's Christmas hymn, 'Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ;' first, the verse beginning 'Er ist auf Erden kommen arm,' to the tune Luther composed for it, and the verse 'Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein,' to the tune (also of Luther's composition), 'Von Himmel hoch da komm ich her.' This last-mentioned tune is also used twice in the second part, to the words 'Schaut hin, dort liegt im finstern Stalle,' and 'Wir singen dir in deinem Heer,' arranged differently each time. The chorales, 'Jesus, richte mein Beginnen,' in the fourth part, and 'Dein Glanz all Finsterniss verzehrt,' in the fifth part, are probably Bach's own compositions."
The first two parts of the work are the only ones which need special notice for the purposes of the oratorio-goer. The first part opens with a brilliant prelude, introduced by the drum, which Bach, like Beethoven, sometimes treated as a solo instrument. It preludes the narrative bidding Zion prepare to meet her Lord,—a simple, touching melody, followed by the chorale, "How shall I fitly meet Thee and give Thee welcome due," set to the old passion-hymn, "O Haupt, voll Blut und Wunden,"—a solemn and even mournful melody, which at first appears incongruous in the midst of so much jubilation. It is the same melody which Bach frequently uses in different harmonic forms in his "St. Matthew Passion." It is introduced here in the midst of the Christmas festivity for a special purpose. Bitter gives it the following significance:—
"We see the Angel of Death unveil his pale face, bend over the cradle of the Lord, and foretell his sorrows. The Child hears the song which one day, sung to other words, will be his death-song."
The composer's evident intention was to impress the hearer with the fact that the object of the divine advent on earth was the passion of our Lord. At the close of the work the same chorale appears, but it has another meaning. It is there an exultant expression of Christ's victory over sin and death. As the chorale dies away, the narrative is resumed, leading up to another chorale, "For us to earth he cometh poor," combined with an orchestral symphony and bass recitative. The next number is a bass aria with trumpet accompaniment, "Lord Almighty, King all glorious," and is followed by a chorale set to the words of Martin Luther's Christmas hymn, which also occurs in other parts of the work, differently harmonized to suit the nature of the situation, with which the first part closes.
The second part opens with one of the most delightful instances of Bach's orchestration, a pastoral symphony, with which the Thomas orchestra have made audiences familiar in this country. Like the symphony of the same style in Handel's "Messiah," it is simple, graceful, and idyllic in character, and pictures the shepherds watching their flocks by night on the plains of Bethlehem. At its conclusion the evangelist resumes his narrative, followed by the chorale: "Break forth, O beauteous, heavenly Light," preluding the announcement of the angel, "Behold, I bring you Good Tidings." It is followed by the bass recitative, "What God to Abraham revealed, He to the Shepherds doth accord to see fulfilled," and a brilliant aria for tenor, "Haste, ye Shepherds, haste to meet Him." The evangelist gives them the sign, followed by the chorale which closed the first part, in another form, "Within yon Gloomy Manger lies." The bass recitative, "O haste ye then," preludes the exquisite cradle-song for alto, "Sleep, my Beloved, and take Thy Repose,"—a number which can hardly be excelled in the sweetness and purity of its melody or in the exquisiteness of its instrumentation. This lovely song brings us to the close, which is an exultant shout from the multitude of the heavenly host, singing, "Glory to God in the highest."
The Saint Matthew Passion.
The passion-music of Bach's time, as we have already seen, was the complement of the mysteries of Mediaeval days. It portrays the sufferings of Christ, and was performed at church festivals, the congregation taking part in the singing of the chorales, which were mostly familiar religious folk-songs. It was a revival of the sacred drama in musical form, and the immediate precursor of the modern oratorio. Bach wrote five passions,—the "St. John," probably written in 1723, and first performed in the following year; another, which has been lost, in 1725; the "St. Matthew," in 1729; the "St. Mark," in 1731; and the "St. Luke," in 1734. Of these only two are now known,—the "St. John" and "St. Matthew;" of which the latter is incomparably the greatest.
Macfarren, in his sketch of the "Matthew Passion," says that the idea of this form of composition was first suggested to Bach by Solomon Deyling, who filled an important church position in Leipsic when the composer went there to assume his duties as cantor of the St. Thomas School, his purpose being to introduce into the Reformed Church a service which should be a counter attraction to the Mass as performed in the Roman Church. It was produced for the first time at the afternoon service on Good Friday, 1729, but was not heard again until the young Mendelssohn revived it in Berlin, March 12, 1829. It was frequently repeated in Germany and aroused extraordinary enthusiasm, and still keeps its place in the festival oratorio repertory, the necessary additional accompaniments having been furnished by Robert Franz.
The passion is written in two parts, between which the sermon intervened in old times. It includes portions of chapters xxvi. and xxvii. of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, the remainder of the text being composed of hymns furnished to Bach by Christian Friedrich Henrici, who wrote under the pseudonym of "Picander," and, it is said, was assisted in the compilation by the composer himself. The dramatis personae are Jesus, Judas, Peter, Pilate, the Apostles, and the People, or Turbae, and the narrative is interpreted by reflections addressed to Jesus, forming two choruses, "The Daughter of Zion" and "The Faithful," as Picander calls them. They are sometimes given by the chorus, and sometimes by single voices. The chorales are selected from those which were in common use in the Lutheran Church, and were familiar therefore to the congregations which sang the melody, the harmony being sustained by the chorus and instruments. The Gospel text is in recitative form throughout, the part of the evangelist, or narrator, being assigned to a tenor voice, while those of the persons incidentally introduced are given to other singers. In the dialogue, wherever the words of Jesus occur, the accompaniment is furnished by a string quartette, which serves to distinguish them from the others, and invests them with a peculiar gentleness and grace. The incidental choruses, sung by the People and the Apostles, are short and vivacious in character, many of them being in madrigal form. The chorales, fifteen in number, as has already been said, were taken from the Lutheran service. One of them, which Bach also liberally used in his "Christmas Oratorio," beginning, "Acknowledge me, my Keeper," appears five times in the progress of the work, forming the keynote of the church sentiment, and differently harmonized on each occasion. Another, "O Blessed Jesus," is twice used,—once where the Saviour announces that he will be crucified after the Feast of the Passover, when the whole congregation sings it, and again in the scene at Gethsemane, sung by select choirs. The whole work is written for double chorus, the two choruses singing the harmony of the chorales, accompanied by the instruments, while the congregation sing the tune in unison. They display to the utmost the breadth, richness, ingenuity, and power of Bach in this form of writing. The reflective portions of the work, the text written by Picander, are composed of arias introduced by recitative, with the first part repeated in the close; of arias accompanied by chorus; and of single choruses constructed in the most massive manner. Speaking of the melodies in these portions of the work, Spitta says,—
"The grades of feeling traversed by Bach in the solo songs of the 'St. Matthew Passion' are all the more impressive because every sentiment of joy in its various shades is wholly excluded; they are all based on the emotion of sorrow. The most fervent sympathy with the sufferings of the Son of Man, rising to the utmost anguish, childlike trustfulness, manly earnestness, and tenderly longing devotion to the Redeemer; repentance for the personal sins that his suffering must atone for, and passionate entreaties for mercy; an absorbed contemplation of the example offered by the sufferings of Jesus, and solemn vows pronounced over his dead body never to forsake or forget him,—these are the themes Bach had to treat. And he has solved the difficult problem as if it were child's play, with that inexhaustible wealth of resource which was most at his command precisely when he had to depict the sadder emotions. In no other of his works (unless it be in the 'Christmas Oratorio') do we find such a store of lovely and various solo airs, nor did Bach even ever write melodies more expressive and persuasive than those of the arias in the 'St. Matthew Passion.'"
As we have said, the music is arranged for double chorus, and each chorus has its own orchestra and its own organ accompaniment. The double orchestra is composed of oboes, flutes, and stringed instruments. Drums and brass instruments are not used, the sentiment of the work, in Bach's estimation, not being fitted for them, sweetness and expressiveness of tone rather than power being required. As Spitta says, sorrow is the characteristic of the work. It has no choruses of rejoicing, no paeans of praise, not even a hallelujah at its close.
The first part opens with a reflection sung by double chorus, "Come, ye Daughters, weep for Anguish," the first exhorting believers to weep over the sinful world, the second responding with brief interrogations, and at last taking part in the sorrowful strains of the first. Interwoven with these is an independent instrumental melody, the whole crowned with a magnificent chorale sung by the sopranos, "O Lamb of God all blameless!" followed by still another, "Say, sweetest Jesus," which reappears in other parts of the work variously harmonized. The double chorus and chorales form the introduction, and are followed by recitative and a chorale, "Thou dear Redeemer," and a pathetic aria for contralto, "Grief and Pain," relating the incident of the woman anointing the feet of Jesus. The next number is an aria for soprano, "Only bleed, Thou dearest Heart," which follows the acceptance by Judas of the thirty pieces of silver, and which serves to intensify the grief in the aria preceding it. The scene of the Last Supper ensues, and to this number Bach has given a character of sweetness and gentleness, though its coloring is sad. As the disciples ask, "Lord, is it I?" another chorale is sung, "'Tis I! my Sins betray me." Recitative of very impressive character, conveying the divine injunctions, leads up to a graceful and tender aria for soprano, "Never will my Heart refuse Thee," one of the simplest and clearest, and yet one of the richest and most expressive, melodies ever conceived. After further recitative and the chorale, "I will stay here beside Thee," we are introduced to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is characterized by a number of extraordinary beauty and strength in its construction. It is introduced by a short instrumental prelude, Zion, represented by the tenor voice, and the Believers by the chorus, coming in after a few bars and alternating with extraordinary vocal effect. It calls for the highest dramatic power, and in its musical development is a web of wonderful harmonies such as we may look for only in the works of the mighty master of counterpoint. It fitly prepares the way for the two great movements which close the first part, an aria for soprano and alto, "Alas! my Jesus now is taken," and a double chorus, "Ye Lightnings, ye Thunders!" The two solo voices join in a lament of a most touching nature, accompanied by the chorus exclaiming in short, hurried phrases, "Let Him go! Hold! Bind Him not!" until at last the double chorus bursts in like a tempest, accompanied with the full power of the instruments, expressing the world's indignation at the deed which is to be committed, in the words:—
"Ye lightnings, ye thunders, in clouds are ye vanished! Burst open, O fierce flaming caverns of hell! Ingulf them, destroy them in wrathfullest mood! Oh, blast the betrayer, the murderous brood!"
and the first part concludes with a chorale, "O Man, bewail thy great Sin!"
The second part, originally sung after the sermon, opens with an aria for contralto, full of the deepest feeling, "Alas! now is my Jesus gone," and one of the most beautiful numbers in the oratorio, wherein Zion, or the Church, mourns her great loss. The trial scene before Caiaphas and the threefold denial of Peter follow, leading up to the beautiful aria for alto, with violin obligato, "Oh, pardon me, my God!" Macfarren, in his admirable analysis, says of this aria,—
"The deep, deep grief of a tormented conscience finds here an utterance which fulfils the purport and far transcends the expression of the words. One might suppose the power of the artist to have been concentrated upon this one incident, so infinite is its beauty,—one might suppose Bach to have regarded the situation it illustrates as more significant than others of man's relation to Deity in his sense of sin and need for mercy, and as requiring, therefore, peculiar prominence in the total impression the oratorio should convey. If this was his aim, it is all accomplished. The penitential feeling embodied in the song is that which will longest linger in a remembrance of the work. The soft tone of the contralto voice, and the keenness of that of the violin, are accessories to the effect which the master well knew how to handle; but these judicious means are little to be considered in comparison with the musical idea of which they are the adjuncts."
The work now rapidly progresses to its beautiful finale. The soprano recitative in response to Pilate's question, "He hath done only good to all," the aria for soprano, "From love unbounded," the powerful contralto recitative, "Look down, O God," the chorale, "O Head all bruised and wounded!" the contralto aria with chorus, "Look where Jesus beckoning stands," and the peaceful, soothing recitative for bass, "At Eventide, cool Hour of Rest," are the principal numbers that occur as we approach the last sad but beautiful double chorus of the Apostles, "Around Thy Tomb here sit we weeping,"—a close as peaceful as the setting of the sun; for the tomb is but the couch on which Jesus is reposing, and the music dies away in a slumber-song of most exalted beauty. This brief sketch could not better close than with the beautiful description which Mr. Dwight gives of this scene in the notes which he prepared when the work was performed at the Triennial Festival of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston:—
"How full of grief, of tender, spiritual love, of faith and peace, of the heart's heaven smiling through tears, is this tone-elegy! So should the passion-music close, and not with fugue of praise and triumph like an oratorio. How sweetly, evenly, the harmony flows on,—a broad, rich, deep, pellucid river, swollen as by countless rills from all the loving, bleeding, and believing hearts in a redeemed humanity! How full of a sweet, secret comfort, even triumph, is this heavenly farewell: It is 'the peace which passeth understanding.' 'Rest Thee softly' is the burden of the song. One chorus sings it, and the other echoes 'Softly rest;' then both together swell the strain. Many times as this recurs, not only in the voices, but in the introduction and frequent interludes of the exceedingly full orchestra, which sounds as human as if it too had breath and conscious feeling, you still crave more of it; for it is as if your soul were bathed in new life inexhaustible. No chorus ever sung is surer to enlist the singers' hearts."
The Magnificat in D.
The Magnificat in D—known as the "Great Magnificat," to distinguish it from the smaller—is considered one of the grandest illustrations of Bach's genius. It was composed for Christmas Day, 1723. Spitta says:—
"The performance of the cantata 'Christen, aetzet diesen Tag,' with its attendant 'Sanctus,' took place during the morning service, and was sung by the first choir in the Nikolaikirche. In the evening the cantata was repeated by the same choir in the Thomaskirche; and after the sermon the Hymn of the Virgin was sung, set in its Latin form, and in an elaborate style. For this purpose Bach wrote his great 'Magnificat.'"
For the occasion of this festival he expanded the Biblical text into four vocal numbers; but in describing the work it is only necessary to give it as it is now generally sung.
The work is written for a five-part chorus, with organ and orchestral accompaniment. After a concerted introduction, foreshadowing the general character of the music, it opens with the chorus, "Magnificat anima mea," in fugal form, worked up with that wonderful power of construction for which Bach is so renowned among all composers. It is followed by an aria for second soprano ("Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutari meo"), which is in the same key and has the same general feeling as the opening chorus, that of Christmas rejoicing. It in turn is followed by an aria for first soprano ("Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae"), of which Spitta says: "Scarcely ever has the idea of virgin purity, simplicity, and humble happiness found more perfect expression than in this German picture of the Madonna, translated as it were into musical language." It leads directly to the chorus which takes up the unfinished words of the soprano ("Omnes generationes"), each part overlaying the other as it enters, and closing in canon form in grave and colossal harmony. Its next number is an aria for bass ("Quia fecit mihi magna"), of a simple and joyous character. It is followed by a melodious duet for alto and tenor ("Et misericordia"), with violin and flute accompaniment, setting forth the mercy of God, in contrast with which the powerful and energetic chorus ("Fecit potentiam") which succeeds it, is very striking in its effect. Two beautiful arias for tenor ("Deposuit potentes de sede") and alto ("Esurientes implevit bonis") follow, the latter being exquisitely tender in its expression, and lead to the terzetto ("Suscepit Israel puerum suum: recordatus misericordiae suae"), arranged in chorale form, and very plaintive and even melancholy in style. Its mourning is soon lost, however, in the stupendous five-part fugue ("Sicut locutus est") which follows it and which leads to the triumphant "Gloria," closing the work,—a chorus of extraordinary majesty and power. Spitta, in his exhaustive analysis of Bach's music, says of this "Magnificat":—
"It is emphatically distinct from the rest of Bach's grand church compositions by the compactness and concentrated power of the separate numbers,—particularly of the choruses,—by the lavish use of the means at command, and by its vividly emotional and yet not too agitating variety. It stands at the entrance of a new path and a fresh period of his productivity, at once full of significance in itself and of promise for the future development of the perennial genius which could always re-create itself from its own elements."
A general sketch of the life and musical accomplishments of Beethoven has already appeared in the companion to this work, "The Standard Operas." In this connection, however, it seems eminently fitting that some attention should be paid to the religious sentiments of the great composer and the sacred works which he produced. He was a formal member of the Roman Church, but at the same time an ardent admirer of some of the Protestant doctrines. His religious observances, however, were peculiarly his own. His creed had little in common with any of the ordinary forms of Christianity. A writer in "Macmillan's Magazine" some years ago very clearly defined his religious position in the statement that his faith rested on a pantheistic abstraction which he called "Love." He interpreted everything by the light of this sentiment, which took the form of an endless longing, sometimes deeply sad, at others rising to the highest exaltation. An illustration of this in its widest sense may be found in the choral part of the Ninth Symphony. He at times attempted to give verbal expression to this ecstatic faith which filled him, and at such times he reminds us of the Mystics. The following passages, which he took from the inscription on the temple of the Egyptian goddess Neith at Sais, and called his creed, explain this: "I am that which is. I am all that is, that was, and that shall be. No mortal man hath lifted my veil. He is alone by Himself, and to Him alone do all things owe their being." With all this mysticism his theology was practical, as is shown by his criticism of the words which Moscheles appended to his arrangement of "Fidelio." The latter wrote at the close of his work: "Fine, with God's help." Beethoven added: "O man! help thyself." That he was deeply religious by nature, however, is constantly shown in his letters. Wandering alone at evening among the mountains, he sketched a hymn to the words, "God alone is our Lord." In the extraordinary letter which he wrote to his brothers, Carl and Johann, he says: "God looks into my heart. He searches it, and knows that love for man and feelings of benevolence have their abode there." In a letter to Bettina von Arnim, he writes: "If I am spared for some years to come, I will thank the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, for the boon, as I do for all other weal and woe." In Spohr's album his inscription is a musical setting of the words, "Short is the pain, eternal is the joy." In a letter to the Archduke Rudolph, written in 1817, he gives no uncertain expression to his divine trust. He says: "My confidence is placed in Providence, who will vouchsafe to hear my prayer, and one day set me free from all my troubles; for I have served him faithfully from my childhood, and done good whenever it was in my power. So my trust is in him alone, and I feel that the Almighty will not allow me to be utterly crushed by all my manifold trials." Even in a business letter he says: "I assure you on my honor—which, next to God, is what I prize most—that I authorized no one to accept commissions from me." His letters indeed abound in references to his constant reliance upon a higher Power. The oratorio, "Christ on the Mount of Olives," six sacred songs set to poems of Gellert, the Mass in C written for Prince Esterhazy, and the Grand Mass in D written for the Archduke Rudolph, one of the grandest and most impressive works in the entire realm of sacred music, attest the depth and fervency of his religious nature.
The Mount of Olives.
Beethoven wrote but one oratorio, "Christus am Oelberg" ("Christ on the Mount of Olives"). That he had others in contemplation, however, at different periods of his life is shown by his letters. In 1809 he wrote to Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall, a famous Oriental scholar, appointing an interview for the discussion of the latter's poem on the subject of the deluge, with reference to its fitness for treatment as an oratorio. Again, in 1824, he writes to Vincenz Hauschka, of Vienna, that he has decided to write an oratorio on the text furnished by Bernard, the subject being "The Victory of the Cross." This work, however, owing to his extreme physical sufferings at that period, was never begun, and the world thereby has suffered a great musical loss; for, judging from his great Mass in D, no one can doubt how majestic and impressive the "Victory of the Cross" would have been, as compared with the "Mount of Olives," written in his earlier period, and before any of his masterpieces had appeared.
The "Mount of Olives" was begun in 1800, and finished during the following year. Beethoven never remained in Vienna during the summer. The discomforts of the city and his intense love for Nature urged him out into the pleasantly wooded suburbs of the city, where he could live and work in seclusion. Upon this occasion he selected the little village of Hetzendorf, adjoining the gardens of the imperial palace of Schoenbrunn, where the Elector, his old patron, was living in retirement. Trees were his delight. In a letter to Madame von Drossdick, he says: "Woods, trees, and rocks give the response which man requires. Every tree seems to say, 'Holy, Holy!'" In the midst of these delightful surroundings he found his favorite tree, at whose base he composed the larger part of the oratorio, as well as his opera "Fidelio." Schindler says: "A circumstance connected with both these great works, and of which Beethoven many years afterwards still retained a lively recollection, was, that he composed them in the thickest part of the wood in the park of Schoenbrunn, seated between the two stems of an oak, which shot out from the main trunk at the height of about two feet from the ground. This remarkable tree, in that part of the park to the left of the Gloriett, I found with Beethoven in 1823, and the sight of it called forth interesting reminiscences of the former period." The words of the oratorio were by Huber, the author of Winter's "Unterbrochene Opferfest," and were written, with Beethoven's assistance, in fourteen days. That more time and attention were not given to the text was probably regretted by both poet and composer many times afterwards. The first performance of the work in its entirety took place at Vienna, April 5, 1803, at the Theater an der Wien, upon which occasion the programme also included the Symphony in D (second) and the Piano Concerto in C minor, the latter executed by himself. The oratorio was received with enthusiasm, and was repeated three times during that year.
The libretto of the work is unquestionably defective in the most salient qualities which should characterize the text of an oratorio, even to the degree of extravagance and sensationalism. It fails to reflect the sorrowful character of the scene it depicts, and the dramatic requirements which it imposes are often strained, and sometimes border on the grotesque. The theatrical style of the narrative was deplored by Beethoven himself at a subsequent period. Marx, one of the keenest of critics, says of the work:—
"The poet had no other aim but that of making verses for a composer; the latter, no other motive than the ordinary creative impulse prompting him to try his powers in a different and important sphere. The result on both sides could not therefore be other than phrases, although the better of the two proceeded from the composer, and that composer was Beethoven. To conceal or palliate this would be derogatory to the reverence which we all owe to Beethoven; he stands too high to be in need of extenuation."
This is Marx's judgment; and yet it must be said that the world for the most part has found more in the "Mount of Olives" than he has.
The oratorio is written for three solo voices (Jesus, Peter, and a Seraph), chorus, and orchestra. The narrative opens with the agony in the garden, followed by the chant of a Seraph reciting the divine goodness and foretelling the salvation of the righteous. In the next scene Jesus learns his fate from the Seraph, yields himself to approaching death, and welcomes it. The Soldiers enter in pursuit, and a tumult ensues as the Apostles find themselves surrounded. Peter draws his sword and gives vent to his indignation; but is rebuked both by Jesus and the Seraph, and together they conjure him to be silent and endure whatever may happen. The Soldiers, discovering Jesus, rush upon him and bind him. The Disciples express their apprehension that they too will suffer; but Jesus uncomplainingly surrenders himself, and a chorus of rejoicing completes the work. From this brief sketch the artificial and distorted manner of treating the solemn subject will be evident.
The score opens with an adagio introduction for instruments which is of a very dramatic character, and, unlike nearly all of the sacred music of that time, is noticeable for the absence of the fugue. Barbedette, the great French critic, pronounces it the chef-d'oeuvre of introductions, and a masterpiece in the serious style. The first number is a recitative and aria for tenor, sung by Jesus ("All my Soul within me shudders"), which, notwithstanding the anomaly of such a scene in such surroundings, is simple and touching in expression. The Seraph follows with a scene and aria ("Praise the Redeemer's Goodness"), concluding with a brilliant and jubilant obligato with chorus ("O triumph, all ye Ransomed"). The next number is an elaborate duet between Jesus and the Seraph ("On me then fall Thy heavy Judgment"), which is still more anomalous than the scene and aria with which Jesus opens the work. In a short recitative passage, Jesus welcomes death; and then ensues one of the most powerful numbers in the work, the chorus of Soldiers in march time ("We surely here shall find Him"), interspersed with the cries of the People demanding his death, and the lamentations of the Apostles. At the conclusion of the tumult a dialogue ensues between Jesus and Peter ("Not unchastised shall this audacious Band"), which leads up to the crowning anomaly of the work, a trio between Jesus, Peter, and the Seraph, with chorus ("O, Sons of Men, with Gladness"). The closing number, a chorus of angels ("Hallelujah, God's Almighty Son"), is introduced with a short but massive symphony leading to a jubilant burst of Hallelujah, which finally resolves itself into a glorious fugue, accompanied with all that wealth of instrumentation of which Beethoven was the consummate master. In all sacred music it is difficult to find a choral number which can surpass it in majesty or power.
The English versions of the "Mount of Olives" differ materially from the German in the text. Numerous efforts have been made to avoid the incongruity of the original narrative, but with poor success. It was first produced in England in 1814 by Sir George Smart during the Lenten oratorios at Drury Lane, the English version of which was made by Arnold, at that time manager of the King's Theatre. Still later it was produced again, and the adapter compromised by using the third person, as "'Jehovah, Thou, O Father,' saith the Lord our Saviour." Two other versions were made by Thomas Oliphant and Mr. Bartholomew, but these were not successful. At last the aversion to the personal part of Jesus led to an entirely new text, called "Engedi," the words of which were written by Dr. Henry Hudson, of Dublin, and founded upon the persecution of David by Saul in the wilderness, as described in parts of chapters xxiii., xxiv., and xxvi. of the first book of Samuel. The characters introduced are David, Abishai, and the Prophetess, the latter corresponding to the Seraph in the original. The compiler himself in his preface says:—
"So far as was possible, the author has availed himself of Scripture language, and David's words have been taken (almost wholly) from the Psalms generally attributed to him, though of course not in regular order, as it has invariably throughout been the writer's first object to select words adapting themselves to the original music in its continually varying expression, which could not have been done had he taken any one psalm as his text. How far the author has succeeded, he must leave to others to determine."
The substituted story has not proved successful, principally because the music, which was written for an entirely different one, is not adapted to it. The latest version is that of the Rev. J. Troutbeck, prepared for the Leeds festivals, in which the Saviour is again introduced.
William Sterndale Bennett, one of the most gifted and individual of English composers, was born at Sheffield, April 13, 1816. His musical genius displayed itself early, and in his tenth year he was placed in the Royal Academy of Music, of which in his later years he became principal. He received his early instruction in composition from Lucas and Dr. Crotch, and studied the piano with Cipriani Potter, who had been a pupil of Mozart. The first composition which gained him distinction was the Concerto in D minor, written in 1832, which was followed by the Capriccio in D minor. During the next three years he produced the overture to "Parisina," the F minor Concerto, and the "Naiades" overture, the success of which was so great that a prominent musical house in London offered to send him to Leipsic for a year. He went there, and soon won his way to the friendship of Schumann and Mendelssohn. With the latter he was on very intimate terms, which has led to the erroneous statement that he was his pupil. In 1840 he made a second visit to Leipsic, where he composed his Caprice in E, and "The Wood Nymphs" overture. In 1842 he returned to England, and for several years was busily engaged with chamber concerts. In 1849 he founded the Bach Society, arranged the "Matthew Passion" music of that composer, as well as the "Christmas Oratorio," and brought out the former work in 1854. The previous year he was offered the distinguished honor of the conductorship of the Gewandhaus concerts at Leipsic, but did not accept. In 1856 he was appointed conductor of the Philharmonic Society, and filled the position for ten years, resigning it to take the head of the Royal Academy of Music. In the same year he was elected musical professor at Cambridge, where he received the degree of Doctor of Music and other honors. In 1858 his beautiful cantata, "The May Queen," was produced at the Leeds Festival, and in 1862 the "Paradise and the Peri" overture, written for the Philharmonic Society. In 1867 his oratorio, or, as he modestly terms it, "sacred cantata," "The Woman of Samaria," was produced with great success at the Birmingham Festival. In 1870 he was honored with a degree by the University of Oxford, and a year later received the empty distinction of knighthood. His last public appearance was at a festival in Brighton in 1874, where he conducted his "Woman of Samaria." He died Feb. 1, 1875, and was buried in Westminster Abbey with distinguished honors. His musical ability was as widely recognized in Germany as in England,—indeed his profound musical scholarship and mastery of problems in composition were more appreciated there. Mr. Statham, in an admirable sketch, pronounces him a born pianist, and says that his wonderful knowledge of the capabilities of the piano, and his love for it, developed into favoritism in some of his concerted music. A friend of the composer, recalling some reminiscences of him in "Fraser," says that his music is full of beauty and expression, displays a remarkable fancy, a keen love of Nature, and at times true religious devotion, but that it does not contain a single note of passion. His only sacred music is the short oratorio, "The Woman of Samaria," and four anthems: "Now, my God, let, I beseech Thee," "Remember now thy Creator," "O that I knew," and "The Fool hath said in his Heart." It has been well said of him: "In his whole career he never condescended to write a single note for popular effect, nor can a bar of his music be quoted which in style and aim does not belong to what is highest in musical art."
The Woman of Samaria.
"The Woman of Samaria," a short, one-part oratorio, styled by its composer a "sacred cantata," was first produced at the Birmingham Festival, Aug. 27, 1867; though one of his biographers affirms that as early as 1843 he was shown a chorus for six voices, treated antiphonally, which Bennett himself informed him was to be introduced in an oratorio he was then contemplating, and that this chorus, if not identical with "Therefore they shall come," in "The Woman of Samaria," is at least the foundation of it.
The work is written for four solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. The soprano takes the part of the Woman of Samaria, the other parts being impersonal. The music for the contralto is mainly declamatory. Tha tenor has a single aria, while the bass, with one exception, has the part of Narrator, the words of our Saviour being attributed to him and invariably introduced in the third personal form,—which is a striking proof of the devotional spirit of the composer, as in all other instances, after the announcement by the Narrator, the Woman sings her own words. The chorus, as in the passion-music of Bach, has the reflective numbers and moralizes on the various situations as they occur, except in one number, "Now we believe," where it declaims the words as a part of the narrative itself. The text for chorus is selected from appropriate parts of the Scriptures which are in keeping with the events forming the groundwork of its reflections.
The story is taken from the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, and follows literally the narrative of the journey of the Saviour into Samaria,—his rest at Jacob's well, his meeting with the woman who came thither to draw water, and the conversation which followed; the only interruptions being the reflections, not only by the chorus, but also by the contralto and tenor, these episodes being taken mostly from the Prophecies and Psalms.
The oratorio opens with a brief instrumental introduction and chorale ("Ye Christian People, now rejoice") for sopranos alone, the melody of which first appeared in the "Geistliche Lieder," issued at Wittenberg in 1535. The words are a translation of the old hymn, "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen G'mein," to which the tune was formerly sung in Germany. The treatment of this chorale, by combining it with the instrumental movement in opposing rhythms, shows the powerful influence which the composer's close study of Bach had upon him. Its effect in introducing the scenes which follow reminds one of the grace before the feast. It dies away in slow and gentle numbers, and then follows the opening recitative of the oratorio proper ("Then cometh Jesus to a City of Samaria"), sung by the contralto, and leading up to an arioso chorus ("Blessed be the Lord God of Israel"), the words taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke. The next number is a very graceful and artistic combination, opening with recitative for contralto, bass, and soprano, leading to an adagio solo for bass ("If thou knewest the Gift of God"), and ending with a closely harmonious chorus in the same rhythm ("For with Thee is the Well of Life"), the words from the Psalms. The dialogue between Jesus and the Woman is then resumed, leading to a solo by the latter ("Art Thou greater than our Father Jacob?"). The question is sung and repeated in declamatory tones constantly increasing in power and expressive of defiance. Bennett was a bitter opponent of Wagner; but in the unvocal and declamatory character of this solo, and in the dramatic force he has given to it, to the sacrifice of melody, he certainly ventured some distance in the Wagnerian direction. The next number, the reply of Jesus ("Whosoever drinketh"), sung, as usual, by the bass voice, is in striking contrast with the question. Instead of full orchestra, it has the accompaniment of the strings and first and second horns only, reminding one of Bach's method of accompanying the part assigned to Jesus in his St. Matthew Passion. This number is followed by a spirited fortissimo chorus ("Therefore with Joy shall ye draw Water"), sung to the full strength of voice and orchestra. After the dialogue in which Jesus acquaints the Woman with the incidents of her past life, the contralto voice has an exquisite solo ("O Lord, Thou hast searched me out"), full of tenderness and expression, in which the opening phrase is repeated in the finale and gains intensity by a change of harmony. The dialogue, in which the divine character of Jesus becomes apparent to the Woman, is resumed, and leads to a beautifully constructed chorus in six parts ("Therefore they shall come and sing"), followed by an impressive and deeply devotional quartet for the principals, unaccompanied ("God is a Spirit"),—to which an additional interest is lent from the fact that it was sung in Westminster Abbey upon the occasion of the composer's funeral. A few bars of recitative lead to a chorus in close, solid harmony ("Who is the Image of the Invisible God"), with organ accompaniment only, which in turn, after a few more bars of recitative for contralto and soprano, is followed by the chorus ("Come, O Israel"), sung pianissimo and accompanied by entire orchestra. The next number, as the oratorio is now performed, is one which has been introduced. It is a soprano aria, "I will love Thee, O Lord," which was found among the composer's manuscripts after his death. The preface to the revised edition of the oratorio has the following reference to this number:—