Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/568

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of the one grand thought which permeates the entire design. A symbolical Apostle, with just enough personality to secure our affectionate recognition, but not enough to prevent us from regarding him as the embodiment of an abstract idea—the dissemination of the great truths of the Gospel, by the mouths of duly appointed Messengers, to the uttermost parts of the earth. Bearing these things in mind, we can at once see why it was that Mendelssohn insisted so strongly on the introduction of the Chorale. In Protestant Germany, the Chorale is universally understood to represent the united Voice of the whole Christian Church. How then could the trials, the hopes, the faith, and the final victory of the Church be intelligibly expressed, to German hearers, without its aid? Mendelssohn makes it the keystone of the whole. It opens his magnificent Overture with an exhortation to vigilance which no German could possibly misunderstand. In the massive opening Chorus, the passage beginning with the words 'The Heathen furiously rage' sufficiently explains the need of such watchfulness; and then the Church sets forth her faith and trust, in a new Chorale, 'To God on high be thanks and praise'—the calm beauty of which must needs dispel all fear for the future. Then follows the Martyrdom of S. Stephen, illustrated in a series of Movements the most noticeable of which are the angry Chorus 'Now this man ceaseth not'; the beautiful and highly-wrought Scena sung by S. Stephen himself; the reiterated comminations of the Jews; the heavenly note of warning, 'Jerusalem! Jerusalem!' interposed between two violent outbursts of popular fury; and the most characteristic Chorus of all, 'Stone him to death!' after which the Church again breathes forth a sigh of hopeful submission, in the Chorale 'To Thee, Lord, I yield my spirit,' and the delightfully melodious Chorus, 'Happy and blest are they,' which succeeds it. If any proof were needed of the correctness of the theory we have advanced, it would be afforded by the fact that it is not until this point that Saul makes his appearance upon the Scene in his own proper person. Most dramatists would certainly have introduced him at the close of the Martyrdom, if not before. Mendelssohn contents himself with allowing us to feel his influence only during the trial, reserving his entrance until all is over, when he brings him before us as the true Hero of the piece, with the fiery Bass Solo—'Consume them all!' In spite of threatenings, and persecution, and slaughter, the Church still sings of comfort—this time, through the medium of a Solo Voice—in 'But the Lord is mindful of his own.' There is hope—she would say—that even the persecutor may be saved. And then follows the Con version, in which the expedient of assigning our Lord's words to a Chorus of four Treble Voices, though not altogether new—for it dates from the 15th century[1]—introduces a well-conceived and appropriate effect in which a long and skilfully managed crescendo leads with ever increasing excitement into the fiery Chorus, 'Rise up! arise! rise and shine!' The Light has broken in upon the soul of the future Apostle: and again the Church speaks to him, and indicates his appointed work, in the fine old Chorale 'Sleepers wake!' each phrase of which is followed by a simultaneous crash of all the brass instruments. But he cannot, at once, realise the great things that have been done for him. The Light has blinded him, for the time; and he must needs crave forgiveness and mercy, until they are assured to him by the mouth of Ananias. Then it is that he expresses his unbounded joy, in a great cry, 'I praise Thee, O Lord my God,' while the Church watches over him, still speaking words of comfort, and concluding the First Part with the grand contemplative Chorus, 'O great is the depth.'

The conception of the Second Part is really far grander than that of the First, though it is less forcibly dramatic, and even keeps the epic element in the background, except when it is needed for the purpose of bringing the personality of S. Paul himself into sufficiently strong relief. It opens with a fine five-part Chorus, 'The Nations are now the Lord's,' in which Mendelssohn's power as a Fugue-writer is well utilised. It then takes up the subject at the point for which the whole of the First Part was but a necessary preparation—the actual preaching of the Apostle. This is interrupted by a Chorus of Jews, 'Is this he?' carrying out the same idea as the tumultuous passages in the First Part, and thus contributing to the unity of the general intention by exhibiting the same crowd, at one moment persecuting S. Stephen, and, at another, S. Paul himself. Again the Church perceives the danger, and prays for direction, in the Chorale, 'Thou the true and only Light!' after which S. Paul, and his companion S. Barnabas, turn to the Gentiles. In the Scene of the Sacrifice at Lystra, the epic element reappears; and the sensuous Chorus sung by the worshippers of Jupiter is contrasted with admirable skill with the solemn strains of 'But our God abideth in Heaven.' The Jews interpose again in a Chorus no less characteristic of the raging multitude than those we have already heard: after which the Apostle, having been cheered by the mingled exhortation and promise 'Be thou faithful unto death,' takes that affecting leave of 'the Brethren' which, as described by S. Luke, brings all the most beautiful traits of his character into the noblest and most touching relief; and the Oratorio concludes with the Choruses, 'See what love hath the Father bestowed on us,' and 'Not only unto him, but unto all them that love truly,' bringing prominently into view the idea which has been persistently kept before us, from first to last—the universal triumph of the Church as exemplified in that of one of the greatest of her Apostles, who, faithful to the last, passes from our sight, that he may receive the promised Crown.

'S. Paul' was first performed at Düsseldorf, on Whitsunday, May 22, 1836; and in English, at Liverpool, on Oct. 3 following. 'Elijah' was produced at the Birmingham Festival on Aug. 26, 1846, Mendelssohn having, meanwhile, passed ten of the best years of his life in indefatigable work, and the accumulation of a vast

  1. See Passion Music