Abbildungen der Seite

to be overlooked; and the Musical Conductor or Band Master of the place called upon these Commissioners to furnish him with our National Air. Our National Air, said they, is Yankee Doodle. Yankee Doodle, said the Conductor, What is that? Where shall I find it? By whom was it composed? Can you supply me with the score? The perplexity of the Commissioners may be better conceived than described. They were fairly at their wit's ends. They had never imagined that they should have scores of that sort to settle, and each turned to the other in despair. At last they bethought them, in a happy moment, that there was a colored servant of Mr. Clay's who, like so many of his race, was a first-rate whistler, and who was certain to know Yankee Doodle by heart. He was forthwith sent for accordingly, and the problem was solved without further delay. The Band Master jotted down the air as the colored boy whistled it; and before night, said Mr. Adams, Yankee Doodle was set to so many parts that

you would hardly have known it, and it came out the next day in all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of viol and hautboy, of drum, trumpet, and cymbal, to the edification of the Allied Sovereigns of Europe, and to the glorification of the United Sovereigns of America! Whether that boy was bond or free, I know not, but I think both South and North would agree, that he earned his liberty and his citizenship, too, on that occasion.

I would not disparage Yankee Doodle, my friends. It has associations which must always render its simple and homely melody dearer to the hearts of the American people than the most elaborate compositions of ancient or modern science. Should our free institutions ever again be in danger, whether from "malice domestic or foreign levy," that will still be the tune to which American patriotism will keep step. We must always preserve it, and never be ashamed of it; though I do venture to hope that a day may come, when, like England and Austria and Russia, - to name no other lands, - we may have something fit to be entitled a National Anthem, which shall combine an acknowledgment of God with the glorious memories of wise and brave men; which shall blend the emotions of piety and patriotism, uniting in sweet accord the praises of the Divine Author of our Freedom and Independence, with those of his chosen and commissioned human instruments, in a strain worthy to commemorate the rise and progress of our Great Republic.

But this little anecdote of what happened at Ghent, furnishes no bad illustration, certainly, of the condition of American music at the precise period when this society first took it in hand, and when it might almost be said that Yankee Doodle and the lips of a whistling boy were the prevailing airs and instruments of our land.

What a contrast does this occasion suggest! This noble hall itself, - second to none in the world in its adaptation to the purposes to which it has been dedicated, — the pride of our whole community, and which reflects so much credit on the liberal enterprise and persevering energy of those who were immediately concerned in its erection; what a monument it stands of the musical taste and zeal to which the old Handel and Haydn Society gave the original impulse! For myself, I cannot but feel that a deep debt of gratitude is due to an association, whose performances and whose publications, through a period of more than forty years, under the Presidency of such men as the earlier and the later Webb, of Lowell Mason, of Zeuner and Chickering and Perkins, — have exercised so important an influence in refining and elevating the musical taste of New England; and more especially in improving the character of our sacred music, and affording us an opportunity of enjoying the glorious airs and anthems and choruses which have been composed to the praise and honor of God. And I am glad of an opportunity of testifying my own individual obligation to them.

This is not the occasion, nor am I the person, for any scientific analysis or comparison of styles or of masters. Every thing of this sort may be safely left to our excellent music journal and its accomplished editor and contributors. Nor will I venture to detain you with any elaborate periods or swelling commonplaces about the importance and influence of music in general. The poets, philosophers, and moralists of all ages are full of them. The music of the Church, the Cathedral, and the Camp-meeting of the Concert-room, the Academy, and the Opera; of the fireside, the serenade, the festival, and the battle-field; the songs of the Troubadours, the psalms of the Covenanters, the hymns of Luther,


Wesley, and Watts ; Old Hundred; the Cotter's Saturday Night, Elgin, and Dundee ; Auld Lang Syne, Home, sweet Home, the Ranz des Vaches, Hail Columbia, God save the King, the Marseillaise, the Red Fox of Erin, which the exquisite songster of Ireland tells us made the patriot Emmet start to his feet and exclaim, “ Oh that I were at the head of twenty thousand men, marching to that air!” — why, my friends, what a continued and crowded record does the history of the world's great heart present, of the noble sympathies which have been stirred, of the heroic impulses which have been awakened, of the devotional fires which have been kindled, of the love to God, and love to man, and love to country, - not always, alas, unattended by excess, – to which animation and utterance have been given, by the magic power of music! To how many individual hearts, too, here and everywhere, has the story of David charming away the gloomy moods of the Jewish Monarch, or, more likely it may be, of Annot Lyle chasing the mists from the spirit of the Highland Chief, seemed only like a transcript of some cherished experience of their own! But I pass over all the science and almost all the sentiment for which the occasion might give opportunity. You are here to enjoy the thing itself, which will be far better than any flights of descriptive rhetorić or rhapsody of which I am capable.

I must be permitted, however, to congratulate you, before closing, that the growing worldliness of the age we live in has not quite yet diverted the divine and solemn harmonies of this glorious art from their original and rightful allegiance. The Fine Arts in every department -- Architecture and Sculpture, Painting and Music, alike — have owed their best inspirations and their noblest opportunities to religion. The Bible has always supplied them with their most effective themes. Its matchless diction, its magnificent imagery, its exquisite poetry, its glorious promises, its stupendous miracles, its sublime revelations and realities have constituted an exhaustless magazine of material for them all,- and more especially for Music.

HANDEL, foremost, in merit as in time, among the little company of world-renowned Composers, * - and whose Statue might well claim no second place in this very Hall, as one of the supporters of that gigantic Organ which we are soon to welcome,

* Unless SEBASTIAN BACH, his contemporary, of whose works so many are lost, and so few are familiarly known in this country, may be his equal.

Handel, one of the last touches of whose trembling fingers may haply have rested on the keys of an organ erected just one hundred years ago last August, and still doing most acceptable service, in our own city, which tradition tells us that this favorite musician of George the Second, infirm and blind as he was, selected for His Majesty's Chapel in New England, only two years before his death,-“ the giant Handel," as Pope called him — “the more than Homer of his age," as Cowper did not

cruple to add, — could find no story but that of Redeeming Love, no career or character but that of the Messiah, for the full development and display of his unrivalled power and pathos.

That mysterious demand for a Requiem which haunted the sleeping and the waking hours of the dying MOZART -- the immediate successor of Handel upon the musical throne -- might almost seem, -- to a superstitious mind, perhaps, - to have been only, after all, the compunctious visitings of a breast, which was aroused too late to the consciousness of having prostituted so many of its best emotions upon the “foolery of so scandalous a subject”* as that of Don Giovanni, and which could find no requiem or repose for itself, till it had made that last and grandest effort in the service of God.

When HAYDN — next entitled to the sceptre -- was giving an account of his own Oratorio of the Seasons, he is related to have said, “ It is not another Creation, -- and the reason is this : In that Oratorio the actors are angels; in the four seasons they are but peasants.”

BEETHOVEN, — whom the munificent liberality and consummate skill of kindred spirits in our own land have united in enthroning as the presiding genius of this Hall, -- in the wonderful instrumentation of his Symphonies and Sonatas and Quatuors and Trios, seems always aspiring to a strain -- and often reaching it, too - which has less of earth in it than of heaven. “I well know," said he, “ that God is nearer me in my Art than others, -I commune with him without fear, - evermore have I acknowledged and understood him.” And when dealing with any thing more articulate than the fancied language of the skies, he, too, sought his best inspiration at the Mount of Olives, and found it at least in his Hallelujahs.

* These are the words of Beethoven, who said of Mozart's great Opera, The sacred art ought never to be degraded to the foolery of so scandalous a subject.”

MENDELSSOHN's ominous and insatiate yearning for the spiritworld displayed itself first, indeed, in his Midsummer Night's Dream ;- but it was only in depicting the wonderful ways and works of the greatest of Prophets and the greatest of Apostles, - of an Elijah and a St. Paul, — that his genius found its full play and won its noblest triumphs.

I shall not soon forget the emotions with which, just ten years ago, in London, I first listened to the Elijah. I shall not soon forget the person and presence of the young and brilliant Composer, as he stood in Exeter Hall conducting a choir and band of six or seven hundred voices and instruments in the performance of that most impressive Oratorio. Less than six months were to expire -- nobody dreamed it then -- before he himself was to disappear from these earthly scenes almost as suddenly as the great Prophet whom he was portraying ;-- and one might almost imagine that the first faint glories of the celestial world were gleaming upon his soul, - that he had caught a passing glimpse of those chariots of fire, whose rushing sound and sparkling track were the fit accompaniments of that miraculous translation to the skies, -as he stood trembling with transport at his own magnificent harmonies.

Nor can I fail to call up, in this connection, the image of another most accomplished and distinguished person, in whose company I was privileged to listen to this sublime performance, - the late Lord Ellesmere, -- who represented Great Britain so acceptably at the opening of our Crystal Palace in New York, who delighted Boston, too, by his genial eloquence at our School Festival soon afterwards, and wliose recent death has occasioned so much of sincere and just regret among the friends of art in all its departments and in both hemispheres.

And now I rejoice that these noble Oratorios of these greatest composers are to form the main feature of this occasion. I rejoice that, at this first New England Musical Festival, the

« ZurückWeiter »