Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/576

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564
ORCHESTRA.
 

proportion of his Songs are accompanied only by a Thoroughbass, the Chords to which were supplied in Church on the Organ, and in Chamber Music on the Harpsichord, at which Instrument the Conductor was accustomed to preside until the practice of beating time with a Bâton became general.[1] In many cases this simple Thoroughbass, with its quiet Chords, was contrasted in the same Song with a Violin part, or with the full Stringed Band, or even with Stringed and Wind Instruments combined. In his Overtures, and the Accompaniments to his Choruses, Handel generally strengthened the Violin parts with Hautboys in unison, and the Basses with Bassoons and even Double Bassoons, as in 'L' Allegro'; but he also constantly occupied the Wind Instruments with independent parts, forming a sort of ornamentation upon the simple structure provided by the Stringed Band. Again, he constantly used the Stringed and Wind Band in separate bodies, each complete in itself, and each contrasted with and employed in constant response to the other, with the happiest possible effect, and a very close approach to the praxis of the 19th century. He rarely used obsolete Instruments, except in his earlier works; but we do occasionally find important parts written for the Viola da Gamba, or the Violetta marina. In his grander pieces he delighted in the use of three Trumpets the third being called—'Principale'; and in 'Rinaldo' he uses four, with the Drums for their characteristic Bass. In many of his Oratorios and Operas he strengthens the Brass Band with two Horns, and in 'Saul' he adds three Trombones. Flutes he rarely used, except as Solo Instruments, in which form he sometimes produced great effects with them, especially in 'Rinaldo,' one of the Songs in which is accompanied by two Flutes and an Ottavino. With the use of the Organ, or at least the Harpsichord, he never dispensed; but he very seldom wrote a separate part for it, leaving the Performer to fill in the Chords as he pleased, from the Figures written under the Thoroughbass. We see therefore that, with the sole exception of the Clarinet, he was acquainted with, and used, every Instrument now found in an ordinary classical Orchestra. But he very rarely used them all together, and took especial care not to let them pall upon the ear by introducing them into too many pieces in succession—circumstances which have given grievous offence to more than one modern chef d'orchestre. If Bach's works are treated tenderly in the matter of 'Additional Accompaniments,' no such reserve is practised with regard to those of Handel. All that seems necessary, in the present state of public opinion, is to supplement his Instrumentation with the largest Brass Band that can possibly be brought together—a proceeding which entirely destroys the individuality and obscures the dignity of every work subjected to its baleful influence. The practice is defended, on the ground that our Orchestras do not fairly express Handel's meaning. Then let us make them do so, by restoring them to their old proportions, as we have already proposed to do with the Orchestras used by Bach. Let us strengthen the Violin parts by making a powerful body of Hautboys play in unison with them, and reinforce the Bass with an equally sonorous army of Bassoons, and as many Contra-Fagotti as can be brought together; and above all, let us fill in the Chords on the Organ, whenever we are directed to do so by the Figures placed under the Bass. It will be time enough to talk of additions to the Score when these expedients have been tried on a grand scale, and in an earnest spirit—not in the hope that they may fail. Meanwhile, cannot something be done in the way of a beginning? Are we nevermore to hear the 'Occasional Overture' except in a disguise worthy of that to 'Tannhäuser,' or the March at the end of it played by other Instruments than those used for the March in the 'Prophète'? In no Art save that of Music would abuses such as those of which we complain be permitted. Were a highly-educated member of the once famous 'Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood' to spend the best years of his life in covering the dark background of one of Titian's magnificent portraits with an elaborately-finished landscape, we might wonder at his cleverness, but we should scarcely feel very grateful to him for his contribution to the treasury of Art—yet we are expected to be very grateful indeed for the elaborated editions of Bach's works with which we are from time to time presented. Were an inferior painter to cover a similar background with red or yellow drapery, we should greet him with a howl of execration—yet the red and yellow drapery would not be more vulgar than the sound of an Ophicleide in the 'Messiah.' Our fathers understood these matters better than we do. They strengthened the Orchestra on the exact plan we have proposed. At the 'Handel Commemoration,' held in Westminster Abbey in 1784, the Orchestra contained 48 First and 47 Second Violins, 26 Violas, 21 Violoncellos, 15 Double Basses, 6 flutes, 26 Hautboys, 26 Bassoons, 1 Double Bassoon, 12 Trumpets, 12 Horns, 6

  1. It is not possible to fix the date at which the practice of conducting from the Harpsichord was superseded by the use of the Bâton: indeed, the change took place so gradually that it is probable the two systems were long used simultaneously. The general opinion ts, that the custom of beating time was first adopted about the close of the 18th century; and, in support of this, it is said that the celebrated leader, William Cramer—the father of the great Pianist—indignantly refused obedience to the Bâton of Dr. Philip Hayes, who died in 1797. The story is told so circumstantially that we cannot doubt its truth; but its value as a piece of historical evidence is contradicted by two curious facts, which point in exactly opposite directions. On May 25, 1829, Mendelssohn conducted his Symphony in minor at the Philharmonic Concert—then held at the Argyll Rooms—from the Pianoforte, to which he was led by John Cramer: the practice of conducting from the Piano, therefore, long outlived the 18th century. But that the practice of beating time with the Bâton must be at least as old as the middle of the 17th is proved by evidence which admits of no contradiction. On the Soundboard of a beautiful Harpsichord, dated 'Andreas Ruckers me fecit Antwerpiæ, 1651,' is painted a Concert of Monkeys, one of whom, standing in the midst of his anthropoid brethren, is deliberately beating time with a regular Bâton. This valuable instrument, believed on strong evidence to have belonged to Handel, was formerly to be seen at the show-rooms of Messrs. Broadwood & Co., by whose kindness it is now exhibited at the Kensington Museum. Schœlcher mentions it, and describes the picture, but does not notice the fact that the monkey is beating time—a circumstance first pointed out to the writer by the late Mr. Black. It has been suggested that the picture may be a later addition; but this is impossible. It must have been painted before the instrument was strung.