Abbildungen der Seite

For many years past, -I know not exactly how many, - the great Musical Festivals of Birmingham and Norwich, of Liverpool and Manchester and York, have been among the most cherished and delightful holidays of our mother country. They have done much for the cause of musical improvement, and they have done much, too, for the innocent entertainment and wholesome recreation of the people. The most eminent living composers and performers of Europe have been proud to take a part in them, and the most distinguished lovers and patrons of art have been eager to attend them.

At this very moment, as you know, arrangements are in progress for holding one of them, on a grander scale than ever before, at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham; and the presence and patronage of the Queen and Prince Albert - whose musical skill and science, it has been said upon the best authority, would alone have won for them no ordinary distinction, had they been in a condition of life to admit of the full development and public display of such accomplishments — have been promised and accepted for the occasion.

We have no Queenly presence or Princely patronage, my friends, to rely upon, for lending grace or dignity to such an occasion,—though forms and features which would add brilliancy to a diadem are never wanting to our public assemblies;- but we have the fullest confidence that Republican ears are not insensible to the concord of sweet sounds," and that Republican hearts are neither closed nor callous to the impression, whether of the softer melodies or the sublimer harmonies of the divine art. And in that confidence we are assembled here to-day, to inaugurate the first Musical Festival, which will have been organized and conducted in New England, or, I believe I may say, in all America, after the precise pattern of the great Festivals of Europe, - hailing it as the commencement of a series of Festivals, which may not be less distinguished in future years, perhaps, than those from whose example it has been borrowed, and welcoming it, especially, as another advance towards that general education of the heart, the tastes, and the affections, of which Heaven knows how much we stand in need, and which is to be carried on and conducted, in no small part at least, through

[ocr errors]

refined and elevated appeals to the eye and to the ear, under the guidance and inspiration of Christian faith and fear and love, by every department of human Art.

The public performance of sacred or of secular Music is, indeed, -I need hardly say, -- by no means å new thing, or a thing of recent introduction, in this community. I know not exactly how early musical entertainments commenced in the old town of Boston. It is not to be doubted that the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, like those of Plymouth, in the beautiful words of Mrs. Hemans, “ shook the depths of the desert gloom with their hymns of lofty cheer.”

« Amidst the storm they sang,

And the stars heard, and the sea;
And the sounding aisles of the dim wood rang

To the anthem of the Free."

They sang the psalms of David as versified by Sternhold and Hopkins, or by Henry Ainsworth, the eminent Brownist, adapting them sometimes, perhaps, to the tunes arranged by that ancient “ Bachelor of Music," Thomas Ravenscroft ;- and sometimes, I doubt not, they sang the hymns and songs of simple old George Wither, to the plain and plaintive two-part melodies of Orlando Gibbons. And, by and by, they made a Psalm-book for themselves, and published it among the cherished first-fruits of a New England free press.

But the Fine Arts, of which Music is eminently one, can find no soil or sky for growth or culture in a new country and amid unsettled institutions. They are at once the fruit and the ornament of peace, civilization, and refinement. We have authentic history for the fact that in 1676 “ there were no musicians by trade” on this peninsula. Yet more than a hundred years ago, certainly, the largest hall in the place was known by the name of Concert Hall, — and as early as the second of January, 1775, “a Concert of Music” was advertised there, — “ Tickets to be had at the place of performance in Queen Street (now Court Street), at four shillings each.” For a long series of years, doubtless, that now venerable Hall fulfilled the peculiar purpose which was designated by its name. In casually turning over the columns of the Boston News Letter of a few years later date, I observed an advertisement of a Grand Concert on the 28th of December, 1769 (which was postponed, however, on account of the weather, to the following week), for the benefit of a Mr. Hartley, with a solo on the violin, - probably not quite equal to the one which Ole Bull gave us last week, or one of the brothers Mollenhauer a few weeks ago, but still “by a gentleman lately arrived." So early did we begin to manifest that indebtedness to foreign musical talent, which no young and industrious country need be ashamed or unwilling to acknowledge, and which we recognize with satisfaction and gratitude, not only in more than one of our most popular and successful professors and instructors, but in so many of the admirable Orchestra and in the skilful Conductor of this occasion.

* Governor Endicott's copy of “Ravenscroft's Psalms" is in the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society, where, also, is a copy of Wither's Hymns and Songs, with the autograph of Martha Winthrop, who came over to New England in 1631, and died soon afterwards. The Bay Psalm Book was published in 1640.

In the Boston Gazette for 1782, I have met with the advertisements of at least two other Concerts, — both of them given for that best and worthiest of all objects, “ the benefit of the Poor;" -- one of them at King's Chapel on the 23d of April, where a Mr. Selby was announced to preside at the organ; the other at Trinity Church, where the organ was played by a Mr. Bellsted no match, I venture to say, for the portly Jackson or the accomplished Hayter of later days, — and where the vocal music was performed by an association of singers rejoicing in the name of the Aretinian Society. I have observed a notice, too, of at least one Instrumental Concert, given on the 28th of January, 1783, by the band of the Massachusetts Regiment of Artillery, whose instruments were at length just about to be happily released from the harsh and horrid service of Revolutionary battle-fields, and which may have been the original pioneer of the numerous Military Bands, whose music has given brilliancy to so many of the volunteer parades of succeeding years.

But a more memorable Concert than either of those to which I have alluded, has come down to us on the pages of history - a Concert of Sacred Music - called, at the time, an Oratorio,


though in fact somewhat miscellaneous in its character, and given at King's Chapel on Tuesday, the 27th of October, 1789, on occasion of the visit of George Washington to Boston, as the first President of the United States.

Washington had been received and escorted into the town, by a grand civil and military procession, on Saturday, the 24th of October; and on his reaching the front of the Old State House, and entering the colonnade of that time-honored building (which I wish could be once more restored to its old appearance and to some worthy department of the public service), a select choir of singers, stationed upon a Triumphal Arch erected in the immediate vicinity, with DANIEL REA, the most famous vocalist of Boston in that day, at their head, had welcomed him by the performance of an original Ode, of whose quality a very few lines may, perhaps, afford a sufficient specimen. It commenced as follows:

“ Great Washington the Hero's come,

Each heart exulting hears the sound;
Thousands to their deliverer throng,
And shout him welcome all around !

Now in full chorus join the song,

And shout aloud, Great Washington.” I doubt not that the air and execution of this performance were at least quite equal to the poetry, — though that is not saying much. But the musical talent of our metropolis was not satisfied with a single exhibition of itself in honor of the Father of his Country. A more formal concert of Sacred Music had, indeed, been previously arranged for an earlier day, with a view to raise funds for finishing the portico of the Chapel ; but it had been postponed on account of the weather, or for some want of preparation. It was now fixed for the week of Washington's visit, and the programme is still extant in the papers of that period.

After an original anthem, composed by the organist, Mr. Selby, - for, it seems that native compositions were not altogether discarded on that occasion, — the beautiful airs of Handel - “Comfort ye my people” and “Let the bright Seraphim " -- were to be sung by Mr. Rea; while the Second Part was to consist of a short but entire Oratorio, of which I have seen no account either before or since, founded on the story of Jonah. The choruses were to be performed by the Independent Musical Society, and the instrumental parts by a society of gentlemen, aided by the Band of his Most Christian Majesty's Fleet, then lying in our harbor.

It seems, however, that owing to the indisposition of several of the best performers, - who were suffering from a prevailing cold which afterwards, I believe, acquired the name of the Washington Influenza, - a portion of this programme was again postponed. But the occasion was still a brilliant and memorable one. The ladies of Boston attended in great numbers, - many of them with sashes bearing 6 the bald eagle of the Union and the G. W. in conspicuous places,” while the Marchioness of Traversay (the wife of one of the officers of the French fleet), exhibited on this occasion, we are told, the G. W. and the Eagle set in brilliants, on a black velvet ground, on the bandeau of her hat.

Washington himself was of course there, and another original Ode in his honor was performed in the place of some of the omitted pieces; an Ode of which I may confidently venture to give more than a single verse, and which, I am sure, will find a ready echo in all our hearts :

“Welcome, thrice welcome to the spot,

Where once thy conquering banners waved,
O never be thy praise forgot,

By those thy matchless valor saved.

Thy glory beams to Eastern skies,

See ! Europe shares the sacred flame, -
And hosts of patriot heroes rise,

To emulate thy glorious name.

“Labor awhile suspends his toil,

His debt of gratitude to pay;
And Friendship wears a brigher smile,

And Music breathes a sweeter lay.

“May health and joy a wreath entwine,

And guard thee through this scene of strife,
Till Seraphs shall to thee assign

A wreath of everlasting life.”

of all the Oratorios or Concerts which Boston has ever witnessed, I think this is the one we should all have preferred the privilege of attending. Who does not envy our grandfathers and

« ZurückWeiter »