London Office lOa Soho Square

London, W.I

Vol. XIV


Edited by


Telephone Gerrard 2136, 2137

Tele&:rams Parmaxto, Rath, London

JULY 1936

No. 158


I WAS disappointed by the number of entries for the essay on " Has Oratorio Flourished in England at the Expense of Opera? And if so, why?" In fact, the comparatively small number of competitors might be taken as an indication of a lack of interest both in oratorio and opera. I had aimed at giving the Handel enthusiasts a chance to speak up for their hero, but the effect of this competition is to leave me convinced that Handel's place in the esteem of the British has now been taken by Bach.

I award the prize to Mr. J. Meek, of 10 St. John's Road, Sandeymount, Dublin, whose essay seems to me to present the case with praiseworthy detachment and simplicity. Mr. Meek exceeded the word limit, but he was aware of doing this and was willing to have his final paragraph cut. The final paragraph did not influence my decision, but I have printed i t with the rest of the essay because I think i t makes a point worth making.

Mi. Creasey, of 31 Penhale Road, Fratton, Portsmouth, submitted one of his always entertaining essays, but, perhaps because he expresses so vigorously some of my own prejudices, I have withheld from him the prize. However, we are printing his essay and we shall be glad to send him any record he nominates.

To Mr. Adam Black, of 43 Kelvinside Gardens, Glasgow, who expresses, with considerable vigour, the case for oratorio, we shaH likewise be glad to send any record he nominates.

Among other interesting essays may be mentioned those by Mr. Colin F. Shapling, 73 St. Leonard's Road, Exeter; Miss Vera Maxwell, of 6 West Parade, Bexhill-on-Sea; and Miss Sylvia Barrett, of 37 Springfield Road, St. John's Wood.

I think that both Mr. Meek and Mr. Creasey are inclined to attribute too much importance to the Puritan influence in nourishing oratorio at the expense of opera, though I agree with NIr. Meek in stressing the importance of the congregational or " communitysinging" aspect of oratorio. If the Puritan influence was as strong as he supposes he would not have to admit as he does that" the English have produced an unrivalled dramatic l i terature." What the English have not produced have been superlative actors and singers. An analysis of the origins of the greatest English actors will reveal very few which do not spring


from outside England. Even Garrick's father was a Frenchman and his mother an Irishwoman. Kean was of Irish descent, Irving was a Cornishman, Kemble was of Welsh or Scottish origin. The development of the opera made dramatic ability of ever-increasing importance as an adjunct to quality of voice and musicianship, and the problem of finding a combination of the three became even more difficult. Hence, as Mr. Meek points out, " the farming out" of opera to the Italians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and to the Germans to-day. In other words, opera became a luxury article. My own opinion is that i t could never have been anything else in this country on account of the lack of national ability already mentioned. A valued correspondent has been reproaching me for my failure to appreciate the good work of the Old Vic. and Sadler's Wells, and I readily admit that considering the difficulties the achievement has been remarkable. Nevertheless, I cannot admit anything more than a relative excellence. My correspondent made particular mention of Falstaff at Sadler's Wells, but this I did not hear. I can easily imagine, however, that i t would be more likely to suit the English tradition.

Mr. Black's essay is interesting because it undoubtedly presents an opinion which is held by a large number of people that opera is a matter of playing let's pretend, and that oratorio somehow is not. Actually, oratorio is as much a business of playing let's pretend as opera, and its lack of popularity in Germany has nothing whatever to do with religious questions, but is attributable to the . greater richness of general musical culture there. Mr. Black is also completely wrong in supposing that oratorio grew out of church music or church services, or that i t was a substitute for them. And I am unable to recognise any more truth in oratorio than in the best operas . Handel switched over from opera to oratorio on account of the accidental success of Esther, which gave him the notion of paying off his debts. The Hallelujah Chorus is a glorious thing, but no nearer to truth than Siegfried's Funeral March. I will agree with NIr. Black that Faust is the most popular opera in Great Britain, but surely the reason for this is the same as that which made East Lynne a popular play. Faust is an easily appreciated and heavily sentimentalized story with plenty of variety of action and a wealth of obvious fruity melody. The lapse into