Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/34

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22
ACCOMPANIMENT.
 

insertion of an additional short manual organ called the Echo; but no details have descended to us as to whether these new acquisitions were turned to much account. The organ accompaniments had in fact ceased to be written with the former fullness, and had gradually assumed simply an outline form. That result was the consequence of the discovery and gradual introduction of a system by which the harmonies were indicated by means of figures, a short-hand method of writing which afterwards became well known by the name of Thorough Bass. The 'short-score' accompaniments—which had previously been generally written, and the counterparts of which are now invariably inserted beneath the vocal scores of the modern reprints of the old full services and anthems—were discontinued; and the scores of all choral movements published during the 18th and the commencement of the present century, were for the most part furnished with a figured bass only by way of written accompaniment. The custom of indicating the harmonies of the accompaniment in outline, and leaving the performer to interpret them in any of the many various ways of which they were susceptible, was followed in secular music as well as in sacred; and was observed at least from the date of the publication of Purcell's 'Orpheus Britannicus,' in 1697 [App. p.517 "1698"], down to the time of the production of the English ballad operas towards the latter part of the last century.

In committing to paper the accompaniments to the 'solos' and 'verses' of the anthems written during the period just indicated, a figured bass was generally all that was associated with the voice part; but in the symphonies or 'ritornels' a treble part was not unfrequently supplied, usually in single notes only, for the right hand, and a figured bass for the left. Occasionally also a direction was given for the use of a particular organ register, or a combination of them; as 'cornet stop,' 'bassoon stop,' 'trumpet or hautboy stop,' 'two diapasons, left hand,' 'stop diapason and flute'; and in a few instances the particular manual to be used was named, as 'eccho,' 'swelling organ,' etc.

Although the English organs had been so much improved in the volume and variety of their tone that the employment of other instruments gradually fell into disuse, yet even the best of them were far from being in a state of convenient completeness. Until nearly the end of the 18th century English organs were without pedals of any kind, and when these were added they were for fifty years made to the wrong compass. There was no independent pedal organ worthy of the name; no sixteen-feet stops on the manuals; the swell was of incomplete range; and mechanical means, in the shape of composition-pedals for changing the combination of stops were almost entirely unknown; so that the means for giving a good instrumental rendering of the suggested accompaniments to the English anthems really only dates back about thirty years.

The best mode of accompanying a single voice in compositions of the kind under consideration was fully illustrated by Handel in the slightly instrumented songs of his oratorios, combined with his own way of reducing his thorough-bass figuring of the same into musical sounds. Most musical readers will readily recall many songs so scored. The tradition as to Handel's method of supplying the intermediate harmonies has been handed down to our own time in the following way. The late Sir George Smart, at the time of the Handel festival in Westminster Abbey in 1784, was a youthful chorister of the Chapel Royal of eight years of age; and it fell to his lot to turn over the leaves of the scores of the music for Joah Bates, who, besides officiating as conductor, presided at the organ. In the songs Bates frequently supplied chords of two or three notes from the figures on a soft-toned unison stop. The boy looked first at the book, then at the conductor's fingers, and seemed somewhat puzzled, which being perceived by Bates, he said, 'my little fellow, you seem rather curious to discover my authority for the chords I have just been playing;' to which observation young Smart cautiously replied, 'well, I don't see the notes in the score;' whereupon Mr. Bates added, 'very true, but Handel himself used constantly to supply the harmonies in precisely the same way I have just been doing, as I have myself frequently witnessed.'

Acting on this tradition, received from the lips of the late Sir George Smart, the writer of the present article, when presiding occasionally, for many years, at the organ at the concerts given by Mr. Hullah's Upper Singing Schools in St. Martin's Hall, frequently supplied a few simple inner parts; and as in after conversations with Mr. Hullah as well as with some of the leading instrumental artists of the orchestra, he learnt that the effect was good, he was led to conclude that such insertions were in accordance with Handel's intention. Acting on this conviction he frequently applied Handel's perfect manner of accompanying a sacred song, to anthem solos; for its exact representation was quite practicable on most new or modernised English organs. Of this fact one short illustration must suffice. The introductory symphony to the alto solo by Dr. Boyce (1710–1779) to the words beginning 'One thing have I desired of the Lord' is, in the original, written in two parts only, namely, a solo for the right hand, and a moving bass in single notes for the left; no harmony being, given, nor even figures denoting any. By taking the melody on a solo stop, the bass on the pedals (sixteen feet) with the manual (eight feet) coupled, giving the bass in octaves, to represent the orchestral violoncellos and double basses, the left hand is left at liberty to supply inner harmony parts. These latter are printed in small notes in the next and all following examples. In this manner a well-balanced and complete effect is secured, such as was not possible on any organ in England in Dr. Boyce's own day.