Old Scores and New Readings eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 159 pages of information about Old Scores and New Readings.
of nature into thematic material (there is an anecdote—­apparently, for a wonder, a true one—­that shows he took the idea of a march from a heap of chairs stacked upside down in a beer-garden during a shower of rain).  But Purcell is infinitely simpler, less fevered, than Weber.  Sometimes his melodies have the long-drawn, frail delicacy, the splendidly ordered irregularity of a trailing creeper, and something of its endless variety of leaf clustering round a central stem.  But there is an entire absence of tropical luxuriance.  A grave simplicity prevails, and we find no jewellery; showing Purcell to have been a supreme artist.

V.

So far I have spoken of his music generally, and now I come to deal (briefly, for my space is far spent) with the orchestral, choral, and chamber music and songs; and first with the choral music.  I begin to fear that by insisting so strongly on the distinctive sweetness of Purcell’s melody, I may have given a partially or totally wrong impression.  Let me say at once, therefore, that delicate as he often was, and sweet as he was more often, although he could write melodies which are mere iridescent filaments of tone, he never became flabby or other than crisp, and could, and did, write themes as flexible, sinewy, unbreakable as perfectly tempered steel bands.  And these themes he could lay together and weld into choruses of gigantic strength.  The subject and counter-subject of “Thou art the King of Glory” (in the “Te Deum” in D), the theme of “Let all rehearse,” and the ground bass of the final chorus (both in “Dioclesian"), the subjects of many of the fugues of the anthems, are as energetic as anything written by Handel, Bach or Mozart.  And as for the choruses he makes of them, Handel’s are perhaps loftier and larger structures, and Bach succeeds in getting effects which Purcell never gets, for the simple enough reason that Purcell, coming a generation before Bach, never tried or thought of trying to get them.  But within his limits he achieves results that can only be described as stupendous.  For instance, the chorus I have just mentioned—­“Let all rehearse”—­makes one think of Handel, because Handel obviously thought of it when he wrote “Fixed in His everlasting seat,” and though Handel works out the idea to greater length, can we say that he gets a proportionately greater effect?  I have not the faintest wish to elevate Purcell at Handel’s expense, for Handel is to me, as to all men, one of the gods of music; but Purcell also is one of the gods, and I must insist that in this particular chorus he equalled Handel with smaller means and within narrower limits.  It is not always so, for Handel is king of writers for the chorus, as Purcell is king of those who paint in music; but though Handel wrote more great choruses, his debt to Purcell is enormous.  His way of hurling great masses of choral tone at his hearers is derived from Purcell; and so is the rhetorical plan of many of

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Old Scores and New Readings from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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