Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/571

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ORATOEIO.

and the last three words to Our Lord, speaking with His own voice. As it is only in the case of Our Lord Himself that this expedient is in- troduced, there can be no doubt of the spirit which prompted it : we may remark, indeed, that at the beginning of the very Recitative we have quoted, the Evangelist says, ' The Woman saith unto Him,' and the Woman herself then takes up the theme with, ' Sir, I perceive that Thou art a Prophet.' It is to this beautiful spirit of reverence that the Oratorio owes much of its devotional effect. There is no doubt that its production was a pure labour of love; and there is strong reason for believing that the Composer meditated upon it for many years before he began to put his ideas into sys- tematic form. It was first produced at the Bir- mingham Festival in 1867. Yet as long ago as 1843 Sterndale Bennett showed the writer a Chorus for six Voices, treated antiphonally, which, after having played it through from a neatly-written Score, he said he intended to introduce into an Oratorio he was then medi- tating. After the lapse of BO many years the writer cannot pretend to remember details, but he is quite certain that if not absolutely identical throughout with 'Therefore they shall come,' the Chorus to which he alludes was the first embodi- ment of the idea upon which that delightful Movement is founded.

When the 2Oth century dawns upon us, will those who are now in their childhood be able to speak of new Oratorios worthy to stand side by side with the immortal works to which we have directed the reader's attention ? Will the revolutionary spirit which is now working such radical changes in the construction of the Opera affect the Oratorio also ? Will the neg- lect of Counterpoint, the contempt for Fugue, the hatred of Polyphony, which so many young Mu- sicians and not young ones only are rapidly learning to regard as signs of ' progress,' under- mine the very foundations of Sacred Music to such an extent as to render the production of new and worthy works impossible ? Is there genius enough in the world to strike out an entirely new conception, and learning enough to ensure its successful embodiment? These are difficult questions ; but it is possible that the history of the past may suggest a not improbable answer to some of them. Twenty years must pass away before the new. century begins. Who thought of the 'Messiah' in 1731, or of ' S. Paul' in 1 8 1 6 ? Certainly no t the Composers of these great works ; and if not the Composers, assuredly no one else. Why then may we not hope for the in- auguration of a new and glorious PERIOD before the year 1900! a Period that may shed as much lustre over the closing years of the nineteenth century as the Oratorios of Spohr and Men- delssohn did over its earlier half? There is nothing at all Utopian in the thought ; and we do not believe that such a Period, should it ever dawn upon us, would be in the least in- fluenced by any contemporary changes which ; might affect the Lyrio Drama. The advocates

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��of such changes are not likely to forsake the fascinations of the Stage for the sake of the Ora- torio ; and the changes themselves could never be successfully adapted to it. The next question is a more serious one. If Counterpoint, and Fugue, and Polyphonic Imitation, be neglected, the tone of Sacred Music must, of necessity, de- teriorate. Whatever it may be the fashion to think now, the men who wrote the greatest Ora- torios we possess were the greatest Masters of Fugue that ever lived, and thought it no sign of pedantry to show their mastery over that most difficult Art in their grandest Choruses. This cannot possibly have been the result of a mere meaningless coincidence. Let those who think it was, compare the productions of the Sixth, Seventh, and Fourteenth Periods with those of the Ninth ; or even the works of Spohr with those of Sacchini. If there be any moral at all in the history we have written, it is, that, with- out contrapuntal skill, no really great Sacred Music can ever be produced. If it be conceded that the Sublime is the highest quality in Art, we may say with certainty, that the Su- blime in Art can never be reached by the un- learned. But learning alone is not enough there must be genius also ; and this brings us to our last question, Is there original genius enough in the world to lead to great things in the Future ? We cannot deny, that, since ' S. Paul ' and 'Elijah* saw the light, there has been a manifest tendency, both in this country, and in Germany, to follow Mendelssohn's lead more closely than is consistent with true originality of thought. This tendency ought to be corrected and must be, if any real work is to be done. It would be better far to go back to Bach, at once : for it was upon Bach's principles that Mendels- sohn founded his practice, as we have already said, though he never adopted Bach's style. It is imitation of style that constitutes plagiarism, not acceptance of abstract doctrines. The man who can condescend to imitate a style is in- capable of producing a great Oratorio, and had much better not attempt to produce one at all, for, in this, the highest walk of Art, mediocrity is intolerable. It is perhaps fortunate that only few Composers ever get the chance of hearing an Oratorio, even after they have composed it. Let it not be for a moment supposed that there is any cruelty in saying BO. The Oratorio is to the Musician the exact analogy of what the Cathedral is to the Architect the highest Art- form to the construction of which he can aspire. Very few Architects get the chance of building a Cathedral. Certainly such a work is never entrusted to any one who has not already given abundant proof of his talent and experience. Think what our towns would be, were builders of villas permitted to set up a Cathedral at the corner of every street ! It is the same with Ora- torios. We do not want many: but those we have must be of no doubtful excellence. We may even go farther, and say, that, for the present, we have plenty to go on with. But, should a Master arise capable of stepping into

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