« AnteriorContinuar »
MUSIC FOR THE PEOPLE.
THE REV. DR. HOOK.
(THE following short and sensible address on the advantages
of music in elevating the taste of the people, and explanatory of Handel's sublime oratorio, «The Messiah, was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Hook, then Vicar of Leeds, and now Dean of Chichester, at a performance of this musical masterpiece, in the Free Trade Hall, by the Manchester Choral Society, when four thousand working men, women, and children, were treated to free admission by their em. ployers.)
The Rev. Dr. Hook, on being introduced by Robert Barnes, Esq., chairman of the committee, said: Ladies and gentlemen,-In addressing you upon the present occasion, the first thing that I have to do is to apologise for presenting myself to your notice. I have done so, as you have just been informed, at the request of your committee. Although I am not unconnected with Manchester, yet not being a Manchester man, I did feel some hesitation in acceding to the proposal when your committee desired that I should take part in the present proceedings, and act as their spokesman; but when they said that they selected me for this office because it was well known that I am among those who are most anxious to provide for and extend the means of rational recreation for the working classes, I felt that you would not consider me an intruder, and I could not deny myself the pleasure of being present on this occasion, when we celebrate the centenary of the death of the great composer whose work you are assembled to hear.
In seeking to provide for and extend the innocent and rational amusements of the people, I feel that I am labouring in my vocation as a minister of the gospel, -promoting the cause of virtue by diminishing the temptations to vice. Our work, whatever it may be, is for the most part assigned to us by circumstances over which we have very little control; but with respect to our amusements, much more is left to our freedom of choice; so that if you desire to know the character of a man, it is not sufficient to inquire whether he is industrious and full of talent in his place of business, you must also ascertain to what amusements his leisure hours are devoted. A man may be a very skilful artisan, but if his leisure hours be passed in places of intemperance, dissipation, and debauchery, his skill may be beneficial to the public, but it will not be advantageous to himself or to his family. To empty the pandemoniums of vice, open then and increase the places of innocent recreation and amusement; and most valuable are those amusements which a man can attend accompanied by his family.
Through the extension of education during the last half century, facilities have been afforded us in this direction ; a taste for music has been created and cultivated; and where can we find amusement more elevating than that which we provide in a concert room? In the manufacturing districts of the north of England, a taste for music especially prevails, and a taste for that which has been called the "national music of England," a taste for Handel; for though Handel was born in Germany, he lived, he laboured, he died in England. “In England only,” his French biographer observes, “is he well and widely known; in England only is he sung, and played, and estimated as he ought to be." The same writer observes that “the oratorio seems indi. genous to England;" and with respect to the manufacturing districts, it appears that those who have to devote their minds in the hours of business to the material world, find an outlet for the poetry of our nature in that art which raises us from the stern realities of life to the regions of sentiment and feeling. We have established in Leeds, as I dare say you have in Manchester, “Peoples' Concerts," but a musical education has produced and created artistio taste and feeling, and consequently this difficulty has arisen-how to reconcile low-priced tickets, which at such concerts are necessary, with the legitimate demands of first-rate artists. It is customary to designate one portion of the community by the title of the “working class," but, depend upon it, that without industry, without labour, without patience and perseverance, there can be no success in any department of human exertion. For example, we are assembled this evening to listen to one of the most wonderful productions of human genius, the work of one whom Cowper styles
“The more than Homer of his age.” And yet of all men the most laborious was George Frederick Handel. He was a working man from childhood to old age. He composed with facility, but he corrected with patience and labour, and care ; and so diligent was he in practising his art, that at his death, every key of his harpsichord, from constant use, was found hollowed out like the bowl of a spoon. And we are assembled to hear his immortal work performed by musicians and artists the most eminent in the land; but they have not arrived at their present high position in society merely by their talents, great as those talents are, but also by industry, by patience, by much self-denial, and by an expensive education. "The labourer is worthy of his hire," and the artist has a right to demand an ample remuneration from the public whom he serves; and with respect to vocalists, you will see this especially to be the case. Vocalists may in a
moment of time, by a cold or a fever, be deprived of that noble instrument by which they earn their livelihood—I mean their voice; and you see how necessary it therefore is that they should demand high terms for the exercise of their talents in the time of youth, and health, and strength. Hence the difficulty to which I have alluded.
To the honour of Manchester be it said that Manchester has shewn us how to meet the diffiulty. Manchester has set the example which I know that Leeds will not be slow to follow. It will be unnecessary for me to state to you the circumstances under which this concert was instituted; suffice it to say, that the employers of labour having enjoyed the performance of the sacred oratorio of 1 The Messiah," under the direction of one whose fame is European-Mr. Charles Hallé-they determined to share the enjoyment with the hands they employ, remembering what I hope never will be forgotten, that hands are always connected with minds and hearts. But I dare not allude to the sacred oratorio of “The Messiah" as merely an entertainment and an amusement, for I remember that when this oratorio was first performed in London, and Handel was complimented on having "entertained" the town for a whole week, the grand old man, in his usual out-spoken manner, said, “I did not wish to .entertain' the town, I wished to do it good.” In the programme you have an account given of the feelings under which he composed the "Hallelujah Chorus." On being questioned as to his ideas and feelings when composing it, Handel replied, in his imperfect English, "I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God himself." Those feelings met a response when the oratorio was first performed in London, the king being present; for king and people started from their seats and remained standing in silent awe till the whole was concluded. I may add that when a friend called upon Handel while he was setting to music the words “He was despised and rejected of men,” he found the composer dissolved in tears, absolutely sobbing.
It is, as your chairman has remarked, with feelings solemn such as these, that you will, I feel sure, listen to the divine strains in which the grand, the tender, the majestic, are adapted to words of unequalled sublimity and pathos. The oratorio commences by alluding to the predicted advent of the Messiah. We are brought by degrees nearer and nearer to the great event, until in the chorus “ Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,' we are brought to the eve of the nativity. The second portion of this first part, commencing with the # Pastoral Symphony," announces the actual advent of the Messiah " Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Sion,”-and the character of his ministry—“ Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,” “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd ;" concluding with the invitation to “Come unto him all ye that labour," and he will give you rest. The second part commencing with the chorus “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” reminds us that the Messiah came not only to teach, but to offer Himself a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Then is described his triumph over death and the grave, his resurrection, his ascension, his session at the right hand of power, concluding with that Hallelujah Chorus to which I have already called your attention. The third part relates to our own resurrection from the dead; and in the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” we are as it were transported from this nether sphere, and permitted to obtain a glimpse of heaven itself. And now, ladies and gentlemen, having just alluded to the order of this performance, I make way for the music of one
Whose heaven-born strains the coldest hearts inspire ;