May there not be a hidden meaning even in this?—that we are to go home, not to talk about what we have heard, but to think about it?
Spohr wrote no other Oratorio, after this, until 1835, when, still living at Cassel, he composed and superintended the performance of 'Des Heilands letzte Stunden,' a work which first became known in England under the title of 'The Crucifixion,' and, at a later period, under that of 'Calvary.' Some of the Choruses in this are characterised by a tenderness to which their chromatic structure lends an inexpressible charm; and the whole work is pervaded by a solemn beauty which leads us deeply to regret that it should be so rarely performed in public. It was followed, some years later, by 'The Fall of Babylon,' a work of greater proportions, which, on July 21, 1843, the Composer himself directed, for the first time, at Exeter Hall, by special invitation of the Sacred Harmonic Society, on which occasion the effect produced by the opening bars of the Chorus, 'The Lion roused from slumber is springing,' was one which those who were fortunate enough to hear it will not easily forget. Spohr, indeed, was a model Conductor, and sometimes electrified his audience by a single stroke of his Bâton, though never with a rude or unwelcome shock.
One of Spohr's most illustrious contemporaries was the indefatigable and highly-gifted Friedrich Schneider, a writer who once enjoyed an extraordinary degree of popularity which is now somewhat on the wane. Between the years 1810 and 1838, he produced, besides numerous Operas and other important works, no less than sixteen German Oratorios; viz. 'Die Höllenfahrt des Messias' (1810); 'Das Weltgericht' (1819), the most celebrated of all his writings; 'Die Todtenfeier' (1821); 'Die Sündfluth' (1823); 'Der verlorene Paradies' (1824); 'Jesus Geburt' (1825); 'Christus der Meister'(1827); 'Pharao' (1828); 'Christus das Kind' (1829); 'Gideon' (1829); 'Absalom' (1830); 'Das befreite Jerusalem' (1835); 'Salomonis Tempelbau' (1836); 'Bonifacius' (1837), unfinished; 'Gethsemane und Golgotha' (1838); and 'Christus der Erlöser' (1838). All these works were more than ordinarily successful, in their day—as were also Lindpaintner's 'Abraham' and 'Der Jüngling von Nain'—but, with the exception of 'Das Weltgericht,' they are now almost forgotten, even in Germany; to Spohr, therefore, the Thirteenth Period is alone indebted for its immortality.
The history of our Fourteenth Period is a glorious one; but, again, it depends for its celebrity entirely upon the genius of a single Composer—who, however, is one not likely to be soon forgotten.
Though Mendelssohn, when he first entertained the idea of writing an Oratorio, had not yet completed his twenty-third year, he was already a finished Scholar, an accomplished Musician, a profound Thinker, and the Composer of a large collection of works, not a few of which are classed, even by critics of the present day, among his best. He did not, therefore, enter upon his task without consideration, or without experience. He knew what an Oratorio ought to be; and he had already made choice of the School which pleased him best—the School we have attempted to describe in treating of our Sixth Period, the brightest luminary of which was Joh. Seb. Bach. But, let us not be misunderstood. Mendelssohn was no imitator, either of Bach, or any other Composer: he simply set to work upon Bach's principles, just as Mozart set to work upon Haydn's, and afterwards wrought out his own ideas in his own way. And that way proved to be a very original, as well as a very attractive one. The idea of choosing the. life and mission of S. Paul for a subject was suggested to him by the Frankfort 'Cäcilien-Verein,' in the year 1831. He accepted the proposal, and requested Marx to write a Book for him. Marx refused, on the ground that the Chorales which Mendelssohn wished to introduce were unsuited to the date of the narrative. Mendelssohn, therefore, with the assistance of his friends Fürst and Schubring, compiled a Book for himself, selecting the words, with very few exceptions, from the German translation of the Bible. An eminent critic of the present day (Hand, 'Aesthetik der Tonkunst,' ii. p. 576) finds fault with its construction, on the ground that the Hero of the story is not made its central point. 'We see here,' he says, 'not one Oratorio, but two—S. Stephen, and S. Paul—bound together by external ties; while S. Paul, who, as the Hero, should in the fulness of his strength fight the battle with himself and with the world, passes, through a series of trials, into the background, surrounded by companions scarcely less worthy than himself, without ever appearing as the central point of the dramatic unity.' Hand's criticisms are generally valuable; but he was altogether wrong, here, and utterly mistook the Composer's meaning. Mendelssohn's conception—perfectly homogeneous in essence, though somewhat complicated in structure—embraced three historical facts, over which one other fact, of greater significance than all, dominated supreme. The three facts, which he presents to us in three distinct pictures, each half dramatic and half epic, are the Martyrdom of S. Stephen, the Conversion of S. Paul, and the Apostle's later career; symbolical respectively of the determined opposition of the world to the True Faith, the power of the True Faith to make friends even of its persecutors, and the Preaching of the True Faith through all the world. The one predominant fact, which governs all these, and to the exposition of which they each contribute a most important share, is the ultimate triumph of Christianity; and, precisely because the great Apostle laboured so zealously to promote that triumph, he not only appears as the central-point of the whole, but we are made to feel his influence, either as persecutor of the Faithful, or Preacher of the Faith, even in those Scenes in which he is not actually present. He stands before us, throughout, as the visible representative
- Literally, 'The Saviour's last hours,' though that title has never been applied to it in this country.