Notice may here be taken of a custom that has prevailed for many years in the manner of supplying the indicated harmonies to many of Handel's recitatives. Handel recognised two wholly distinct methods of sustaining the voice in such pieces. Sometimes he supported it by means of an accompaniment chiefly for bow instruments; while at other times he provided only a skeleton score, as already described. In the four connected recitatives in the 'Messiah,' beginning with 'There were shepherds,' Handel alternated the two manners, employing each twice; and Bach, in his 'Matthew Passion Music,' makes the same distinction between the ordinary recitatives and those of our Lord. It became the custom in England in the early part of the present century to play the harmonies of the figured recitatives not on a keyed instrument, but on a violoncello. When or under what circumstances the substitution was made, it is not easy now to ascertain; but if it was part of Handel's design to treat the tone-quality of the smaller bow instruments as one of his sources of relief and musical contrast, as seems to have been the case, the use of a deeper toned instrument of the same kind in lieu of the organ would seem rather to have interfered with that design. It is not improbable that the custom may have taken its rise at some provincial music meeting, where either there was no organ, or where the organist was not acquainted with the traditionary manner of accompanying; and that some expert violoncellist in the orchestra at the time supplied the harmonies in the way that afterwards became the customary manner.
But to continue our notice of the accompaniments to the old anthem music. A prevalent custom with the 18th-century composers was to write, by way of introductory symphony, a bass part of marked character, with a direction to the effect that it was to be played on the 'loud organ, two diapasons, left hand'; and to indicate by figures a right-hand part, to be played on the 'soft organ,' of course in close harmony. By playing such a bass on the pedals (sixteen feet) with the great manual coupled thereto, not only is the bass part enriched by being played in octaves, but the two hands are left free for the interpretation of the figures in fuller and more extended harmony. The following example of this form of accompaniment occurs as the commencement of the bass solo to the words "Thou art about my path and about my bed, ' by Dr. Croft (1677 to 1727).
Sometimes the symphony to a solo, if of an arioso character, can be very agreeably given out on a combination of stops, sounding the unison, octave, and sub-octave, of the notes played, as the stopped diapason, flute, and bourdon on the great organ; the pedal bass, as before consisting of a light toned sixteen feet stop with the manual coupled. Dr. Greene's (died 1755) alto solo to the words 'Among the gods there is none like Thee, O Lord,' is in a style that affords a favourable opportunity for this kind of organ treatment.