Old Scores and New Readings
by John F. Runciman
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Discussions on Music & Certain Musicians



London at the Sign of the Unicorn VII Cecil Court


























Many years ago, in the essay which is set second in this collection, I wrote (speaking of the early English composers) that "at length the first great wave of music culminated in the works of Tallis and Byrde ... Byrde is infinitely greater than Tallis, and seems worthy indeed to stand beside Palestrina." Generally one modifies one's opinions as one grows older; very often it is necessary to reverse them. This one on Byrde I adhere to: indeed I am nearly proud of having uttered it so long ago. I had then never heard the Mass in D minor. But in the latter part of 1899 Mr. R.R. Terry, the organist of Downside Abbey, and one of Byrde's latest editors, invited me to the opening of St. Benedict's Church, Ealing, where the Mass in D minor was given; and there I heard one of the most splendid pieces of music in the world adequately rendered under very difficult conditions. I use the phrase advisedly—"one of the most splendid pieces of music in the world." When the New Zealander twenty centuries hence reckons up the European masters of music, he will place Byrde not very far down on the list of the greatest; and he will esteem Byrde's Mass one of the very finest ever written. Byrde himself has rested peacefully in his grave for over three hundred years. One or two casual critics have appreciated him. Fetis, I believe, called him "the English Palestrina"; but I do not recall whether he meant that Byrde was as great as Palestrina or merely great amongst the English—whether a "lord amongst wits," or simply "a wit amongst lords." For the most part he has been left comfortably alone, and held to be—like his mighty successor Purcell—one of the forerunners of the "great English school of church composers." To have prepared the way for Jackson in F—that has been thought his best claim to remembrance. The notion is as absurd as would be the notion (if anyone were foolish enough to advance it) that Palestrina is mainly to be remembered as having prepared the way for Perosi. Byrde prepared the way for Purcell, it is true; but even that exceeding glory pales before the greater glory of having written the Cantiones Sacrae and the D minor Mass. In its way the D minor Mass is as noble and complete an achievement as the St. Matthew Passion or the "Messiah," the Choral symphony of Beethoven or the G minor symphony of Mozart, "Tristan" or the "Nibelung's Ring." It is splendidly planned; it is perfectly beautiful; and from the first page to the last it is charged with a grave, sweet, lovely emotion.

The reason why Byrde has not until lately won the homage he deserves is simply this: that the musical doctors who have hitherto judged him have judged him in the light of the eighteenth-century contrapuntal music, and have applied to him in all seriousness Artemus Ward's joke about Chaucer—"he couldn't spell." The plain harmonic progressions of the later men could be understood by the doctors: they could not understand the freer style of harmony which prevailed before the strict school came into existence. Artemus Ward, taking up Chaucer, professed amazement to find spelling that would not be tolerated in an elementary school; the learned doctors, taking up Byrde, found he had disregarded all the rules—rules, be it remembered, formulated after Byrde's time, just as our modern rules of spelling were made after Chaucer's time; and as Artemus Ward jocularly condemned Chaucer, and showed his wit in the joke, so the doctors seriously condemned Byrde, and showed their stupidity in their unconscious joke. They could understand one side of Tallis. His motet in forty parts, for instance: they knew the difficulties of writing such a thing, and they could see the ingenuity he showed in his various ways of getting round the difficulties. They could not see the really fine points of the forty-part motet: the broad scheme of the whole thing, and the almost Handelian way of massing the various choirs so as to heap climax on climax until a perfectly satisfying finish was reached. Still, there was something for them to see in Tallis; whereas in Byrde there was nothing for them to see that they had eyes to see, or to hear that they had ears to hear. They could see that he either wrote consecutive fifths and octaves, or dodged them in a way opposed to all the rules, that he wrote false relations with the most outrageous recklessness, that his melodies were irregular and not measured out by the bar; but they could not feel, could not be expected to feel, the marvellous beauty of the results he got by his dodges, the marvellous expressiveness of his music. These old doctors may be forgiven, and, being long dead, they care very little whether they are forgiven or not. But the modern men who parrot-like echo their verdicts cannot and should not be forgiven. We know now that the stiff contrapuntal school marked a stage in development of music which it was necessary that music should go through. The modern men who care nothing for rules—for instance Wagner and Tschaikowsky—could not have come immediately after Byrde; even Beethoven could not have come immediately after Byrde and Sweelinck and Palestrina, all of whom thought nothing of the rules that had not been definitely stated in their time. Before Beethoven—and after Beethoven, Wagner and all the moderns—could come, music had to go through the stiff scientific stage; a hundred thousand things that had been done instinctively by the early men had to be reduced to rule; a science as well as an art of music had to be built up. It was built up, and in the process of building up noble works of art were achieved. After it was built up and men had got, so to say, a grip of music and no longer merely groped, Beethoven and Wagner went back to the freedom and indifference to rule of the first composers; and the mere fact of their having done so should show us that the rules were nothing in themselves, nothing, that is, save temporary guide-posts or landmarks which the contrapuntal men set up for their own private use while they were exploring the unknown fields of music. We should know, though many of us do not, that it is simply stupid to pass adverse judgment on the early composers who did not use, and because they did not use, these guide-posts, which had not then been set up, though one by one they were being set up. For a very short time the rules of counterpoint were looked upon as eternal and immutable. During that period the early men were human-naturally looked upon as barbarians. But that period is long past. We know the laws of counterpoint to be not eternal, not immutable; but on the contrary to have been short-lived convention that is now altogether disregarded. So it is time to look at the early music through our own, and not through the eighteenth-century doctors' eyes; and when we do that we find the early music to be as beautiful as any ever written, as expressive, and quite as well constructed. There are, as I have said, people who to-day prefer Mr. Jackson in F and his friends to Byrde. What, I wonder, would be said if a literary man preferred, say, some eighteenth-century poetaster to Chaucer because the poetaster in his verse observed rules which Chaucer never dreamed of, because, to drag in Artemus Ward once again, the poetaster's spelling conformed more nearly to ours than Chaucer's!

The Mass is indeed noble and stately, but it is miraculously expressive as well. Its expressiveness is the thing that strikes one more forcibly every time one hears it. At first one feels chiefly its old-world freshness—not the picturesque spring freshness of Purcell and Handel, but a freshness that is sweet and grave and cool, coming out of the Elizabethan days when life, at its fastest, went deliberately, and was lived in many-gabled houses with trees and gardens, or in great palaces with pleasant courtyards, and the Thames ran unpolluted to the sea, and the sun shone daily even in London, and all things were fair and clean. It is old-world music, yet it stands nearer to us than most of the music written in and immediately after Handel's period, the period of dry formalism and mere arithmetic. There is not a sign of the formal melodic outlines which we recognise at once in any piece out of the contrapuntal time, not an indication that the Academic, "classical," unpoetic, essay-writing eighteenth century was coming. The formal outlines had not been invented, for rules and themes that would work without breaking the rules were little thought of. Byrde evades the rules in the frankest manner: in this Mass alone there are scores of evasions that would have been inevitably condemned a century afterwards, and might even be condemned by the contrapuntists of to-day. The eighteenth-century doctors who edited Byrde early in this century did not in the least understand why he wrote as he did, and doubtless would have put him right if they had thought of having the work sung instead of simply having it printed as an antiquarian curiosity. The music does not suggest the eighteenth century with its jangling harpsichords, its narrow, dirty streets, its artificiality, its brilliant candle-lighted rooms where the wits and great ladies assembled and talked more or less naughtily. There is indeed a strange, pathetic charm in the eighteenth century to which no one can be indifferent: it is a dead century, with the dust upon it, and yet a faint lingering aroma as of dead rose petals. But the old-world atmosphere of Byrde's music is, at least to me, something finer than that: it is the atmosphere of a world which still lives: it is remote from us and yet very near: for the odour of dead rose petals and dust you have a calm cool air, and a sense of fragrant climbing flowers and of the shade of full foliaged trees. All is sane, clean, fresh: one feels that the sun must always have shone in those days. This quality, however, it shares with a great deal of the music of the "spacious days" of Elizabeth. But of its expressiveness there is not too much to be found in the music of other musicians than Byrde in Byrde's day. He towered high above all the composers who had been before him; he stands higher than any other English musician who has lived since, with the exception of Purcell. It is foolish to think of comparing his genius with the genius of Palestrina; but the two men will also be reckoned close together by those who know this Mass and the Cantiones Sacrae. They were both consummate masters of the technique of their art; they both had a fund of deep and original emotion; they both knew how to express it through their music. I have not space to mention all the examples I could wish. But every reader of this article may be strongly recommended at once to play, even on the piano, the sublime passage beginning at the words "Qui propter nos homines," noting more especially the magnificent effect of the swelling mass of sound dissolving in a cadence at the "Crucifixus." Another passage, equal to any ever written, begins at "Et unam Sanctam Catholicam." There is a curious energy in the repetition of "Et Apostolicam Ecclesiam," and then a wistful sweetness and tenderness at "Confiteor unum baptisma." Again, the whole of the "Agnus" is divine, the repeated "miserere nobis," and the passage beginning at the "Dona nobis pacem," possessing that sweetness, tenderness and wonderful calm. But there is not a number that does not contain passages which one must rank amongst the greatest things in the world; and it must be borne in mind that these passages are not detached, nor in fact detachable, but integral, essential parts of a fine architectural scheme.



Purcell is too commonly written of as "the founder of the English school" of music. Now, far be it from me to depreciate the works of the composers who are supposed to form the "English school." I would not sneer at the strains which have lulled to quiet slumbers so many generations of churchgoers. But everyone who knows and loves Purcell must enter a most emphatic protest against that great composer being held responsible, if ever so remotely, for the doings of the "English school." Jackson (in F), Boyce and the rest owed nothing to Purcell; the credit of having founded them must go elsewhere, and may beg a long time, I am much afraid, in the land of the shades before any composer will be found willing to take it. Purcell was not the founder but the splendid close of a school, and that school one of the very greatest the world has seen. And to-day, when he is persistently libelled, not more in blame than in the praise which is given him, it seems worth while making a first faint attempt to break through the net of tradition that has been woven and is daily being woven closer around him, to see him as he stands in such small records as may be relied upon and not as we would fain have him be, to understand his relation to his predecessors and learn his position in musical history, to hear his music without prejudice and distinguish its individual qualities. This is a hard task, and one which I can only seek to achieve here in the roughest and barest manner; yet any manner at all is surely much better than letting the old fictions go unreproved, while our greatest musician drifts into the twilight past, misunderstood, unloved, unremembered, save when an Abbey wants a new case for its organ, an organ on which Purcell never played, or a self-styled Purcell authority wishes to set up a sort of claim of part or whole proprietorship in him.


Hardly more is known of Purcell than of Shakespeare. There is no adequate biography. Hawkins and Burney (who is oftenest Hawkins at second-hand) are alike rash, random, and untrustworthy, depending much upon the anecdotage of old men, who were no more to be believed than the ancient bandsmen of the present day who tell you how Mendelssohn or Wagner flattered them or accepted hints from them. Cummings' life is scarcely even a sketch; at most it is a thumbnail sketch. Only ninety-five pages deal with Purcell, and of these at least ninety-four are defaced by maudlin sentimentality, or unhappy attempts at criticism (see the remarks on the Cecilia Ode) or laughable sequences of disconnected incongruities—as, for instance, when Mr. Cummings remarks that "Queen Mary died of small-pox, and the memory of her goodness was felt so universally," etc. Born in 1658, Purcell lived in Pepys' London, and died in 1095, having written complimentary odes to three kings—Charles the Second, James the Second, and William the Third. Besides these complimentary odes, he wrote piles of instrumental music, a fair heap of anthems, and songs and interludes and overtures for some forty odd plays. This is nearly the sum of our knowledge. His outward life seems to have been uneventful enough. He probably lived the common life of the day—the day being, as I have said, Pepys' day. Mr. Cummings has tried to show him as a seventeenth century Mendelssohn—conventionally idealised—and he quotes the testimony of some "distinguished divine," chaplain to a nobleman, as though we did not know too well why noblemen kept chaplains in those days to regard their testimony as worth more than other men's. The truth is, that if Purcell had lived differently from his neighbours he would have been called a Puritan. On the other hand, we must remember that he composed so much in his short life that his dissipations must have made a poor show beside those of many of his great contemporaries—those of Dryden, for instance, who used to hide from his duns in Purcell's private room in the clock-tower of St. James's Palace. I picture him as a sturdy, beef-eating Englishman, a puissant, masterful, as well as lovable personality, a born king of men, ambitious of greatness, determined, as Tudway says, to exceed every one of his time, less majestic than Handel, perhaps, but full of vigour and unshakable faith in his genius. His was an age when genius inspired confidence both in others and in its possessor, not, as now, suspicion in both; and Purcell was believed in from the first by many, and later, by all—even by Dryden, who began by flattering Monsieur Grabut, and ended, as was his wont, by crossing to the winning side. And Purcell is no more to be pitied for his sad life than to be praised as a conventionally idealised Mendelssohn. His life was brief, but not tragic. He never lacked his bread as Mozart lacked his; he was not, like Beethoven, tormented by deafness and tremblings for the immediate future; he had no powerful foes to fight, for he did not bid for a great position in the world like Handel. Nor was he a romantic consumptive like Chopin, with a bad cough, a fastidious regard for beauty, and a flow of anaemic melody. He was divinely gifted with a greater richness of invention than was given to any other composers excepting two, Bach and Mozart; and death would not take his gifts as an excuse when he was thirty-seven. Hence our Mr. Cummings has droppings of lukewarm tears; hence, generally, compassion for his comparatively short life has ousted admiration for his mighty works from the minds of those who are readier at all times to indulge in the luxury of weeping than to feel the thrill of joy in a life greatly lived. Purcell might have achieved more magnificent work, but that is a bad reason for forgetting the magnificence of the work he did achieve. But I myself am forgetting that the greatness of his music is not admitted, and that the shortness of his life is merely urged as an excuse for not finding it admirable. And remembering this, I assert that Purcell's life was a great and glorious one, and that now his place is with the high gods whom we adore, the lords and givers of light.


Before Purcell's position in musical history can be ascertained and fixed, it is absolutely necessary to make some survey of the rise of the school of which he was the close.

In our unmusical England of to-day it is as hard to believe in an England where music was perhaps the dominant passion of the people as it is to understand how this should have been forgotten in a more musical age than ours. Until the time of Handel's arrival in this country there was no book printed which did not show unmistakably that its writer loved music. It is a fact (as the learned can vouch) that Erasmus considered the English the most given up to music of all the peoples of Europe; and how far these were surpassed by the English is further shown by the fact that English musicians were as common in continental towns in those days as foreign musicians are in England nowadays. I refrain from quoting Peacham, North, Anthony Wood, Pepys, and the rest of the much over-quoted; but I wish to lay stress on the fact that here music was widespread and highly cultivated, just as it was in Germany in the eighteenth century. Moreover, an essential factor in the development of the German school was not wanting in England. Each German prince had his Capellmeister; and English nobles and gentlemen, wealthier than German princes, differing from them only in not being permitted to assume a pretentious title, had each his Musick-master. I believe I could get together a long list of musicians who were thus kept. It will be remembered that when Handel came to England he quickly entered the service of the Duke of Chandos. The royal court always had a number of musicians employed in the making or the performing of music. Oliver Cromwell retained them and paid them; Charles the Second added to them, and in many cases did not pay them at all, so that at least one is known to have died of starvation, and the others were everlastingly clamouring for arrears of salary. It was the business of these men (in the intervals of asking for their salaries) to produce music for use in the church and in the house or palace; that for church use being of course nearly entirely vocal—masses or anthems; that for house use, vocal and instrumental—madrigals and fancies (i.e. fantasias). As generation succeeded generation, a certain body of technique was built up and a mode of expression found; and at length the first great wave of music culminated in the works of Tallis and Byrde. Their technique and mode of expression I shall say something about presently; and all the criticism I have to pass on them is that Byrde is infinitely greater than Tallis, and seems worthy indeed to stand beside Palestrina and Sweelinck. Certainly anyone who wishes to have a true notion of the music of this period should obtain (if he can) copies of the D minor five-part mass, and the Cantiones Sacrae, and carefully study such numbers as the "Agnus Dei" of the former and the profound "Tristitia et anxietas" in the latter.

The learned branch of the English school reached its climax. Meantime another branch, not unlearned, but caring less for scholastic perfection than for perfect expression of poetic sentiment, was fast growing. The history of the masque is a stale matter, so I will merely mention that Campion, and many another with, before, and after him, engaged during a great part of their lives in what can only be called the manufacture of these entertainments. A masque was simply a gorgeous show of secular ritual, of colour and of music—a kind of Drury Lane melodrama in fact, but as far removed from Drury Lane as this age is from that in the widespread faculty of appreciating beauty. The music consisted of tunes of a popular outline and sentiment, but they were dragged into the province of art by the incapacity of those who wrote or adapted them to touch anything without leaving it lovelier than when they lighted on it. Pages might be, and I daresay some day will be, written about Dr. Campion's melody, its beauty and power, the unique sense of rhythmic subtleties which it shows, and withal its curiously English quality. But one important thing we must observe: it is wholly secular melody. Even when written in the ecclesiastical modes, it has no, or the very slightest, ecclesiastical tinge. It is folk-melody with its face washed and hair combed; it bears the same relation to English folk-melody as a chorale from the "Matthew" Passion bears to its original. Another important point is this: whereas the church composers took a few Latin sentences and made no endeavour to treat them so as to make sense in the singing, but made the words wait upon the musical phrases, in Dr. Campion we see the first clear wish to weld music and poem into one flawless whole. To an extent he succeeded, but full success did not come till several generations had first tried, tried and failed. Campion properly belongs to the sixteenth century, and Harry Lawes, born twenty-five years before Campion died, as properly belongs to the seventeenth century. In his songs we find even more marked the determination that words and music shall go hand in hand—that the words shall no longer be dragged at the cart-tail of the melody, so to say. In fact, a main objection against Lawes—and a true one in many instances—is that he sacrificed the melody rather than the meaning of the poem. This is significant. The Puritans are held to have damaged church music less by burning the choir-books and pawning the organ-pipes than by insisting (as we may say) on One word one note. As a matter of fact, this was not exclusively a plank in the political platform of the Puritans. The Loyalist Campion, the Loyalist Lawes, and many another Loyalist insisted on it. Even when they did not write a note to each word, they took care not to have long roulades (divisions) on unimportant words, but to derive the accent of the music from that of the poem. This showed mainly two tendencies: first, one towards expression of poetic feeling and towards definiteness of that expression, the other towards the entirely new technique which was to supersede the contrapuntal technique of Byrde and Palestrina. In making a mass or an anthem or secular composition, the practice of these old masters was to start with a fragment of church or secular melody which we will call A; after (say) the trebles had sung it or a portion of it, the altos took it up and the trebles went on to a new phrase B, which dovetailed with A. Then the tenors took up A, the altos went on to B, the trebles went on to a new phrase C, until ultimately, if we lettered each successive phrase that appeared, we should get clear away from the beginning of the alphabet to X, Y, and Z. This, of course, is a crude and stiff way of describing the process of weaving and interweaving by which the old music was spun, for often the phrase A would come up again and again in one section of a composition and sometimes throughout the whole, and strict canon was comparatively rare in music which was not called by that name; but the description will serve. This technique proved admirable for vocal polyphony—how admirable we have all the Flemish and Italian and English contrapuntal music to show. But it was no longer available when music was wanted for the single voice, unless that voice was treated as one of several real parts, the others being placed in the accompaniment. A new technique was therefore wanted. For that new technique the new composers went back to the oldest technique of all. The old minstrels used music as a means of giving accent and force to their poems; and now, as a means of spinning a web of tone which should not only be beautiful, but also give utterance to the feeling of the poem, composers went back to the method of the minstrels. They disregarded rhythm more and more (as may be seen if you compare Campion with Lawes), and sought only to make the notes follow the accent of the poetry, thus converting music into conventionally idealised speech or declamation. Lawes carried this method as far as ever it has been, and probably can be, carried. When Milton said,

"Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured notes First taught our English music how to span Words with just note and accent,"

he did not mean that Lawes was the first to bar his music, for music had been barred long before Lawes. He meant that Lawes did not use the poem as an excuse for a melody, but the melody as a means of effectively declaiming the poet's verse. The poet (naturally) liked this—hence Milton's compliments. It should be noted that many of the musicians of this time were poets—of a sort—themselves, and wished to make the most of their verses; so that it would be a mistake to regard declamation as something forced by the poet, backed by popular opinion, upon the musician. With Lawes, then, what we may call the declamatory branch of the English school culminated. Except in his avowedly declamatory passages, Purcell did not spin his web precisely thus; but we shall presently see that his method was derived from the declamatory method. Much remained to be done first. Lawes got rid of the old scholasticism, now effete. But he never seemed quite sure that his expression would come off. It is hard at this day to listen to his music as Milton must have listened to it; but having done my best, I am compelled to own that I find some of his songs without meaning or comeliness, and must assume either that our ancestors of this period had a sense which has been lost, or that the music played a less important part compared with the poem than has been generally supposed. Lawes lost rhythm, both as an element in beauty and a factor in expression. Moreover, his harmonic resources were sadly limited, for the old device of letting crossing parts clash in sweet discords that resolved into as sweet or sweeter concords was denied him. What would be called nowadays the new harmony, the new rhythm and the new forms were developed during the Civil War and the Puritan reign. The Puritans, loving music but detesting it in their churches, forced it into purely secular channels; and we cannot say the result was bad, for the result was Purcell. John Jenkins and a host of smaller men developed instrumental music, and, though the forms they used were thrown aside when Charles II. arrived, the power of handling the instruments remained as a legacy to Charles's men. Charles drove the secular movement faster ahead by banning the old ecclesiastical music (which, it appears, gave him "the blues"), and by compelling his young composers to write livelier strains for the church, that is, church music which was in reality nothing but secular music. He sent Pelham Humphries to Paris, and when Humphries came back "an absolute Monsieur" (who does not remember that ever-green entry in the Diary?) he brought with him all that could possibly have been learnt from Lulli. He died at twenty-seven, having been Purcell's master; and though Purcell's imagination was richer, deeper, more strenuous in the ebb and flow of its tides, one might fancy that the two men had but one spirit, which went on growing and fetching forth the fruits of the spirit, while young Humphries' body decayed by the side of his younger wife's in the Thames-sodden vaults of Westminster Abbey.


A complete list of Purcell's compositions appears somewhat formidable at a first glance, but when one comes to examine it carefully the solidity seems somewhat to melt out of it. The long string of church pieces is made up of anthems, many of them far from long. The forty odd "operas" are not operas at all, but sets of incidental pieces and songs for plays, and some of the sets are very short. Thus Dryden talks of Purcell setting "my three songs," and there are only half a dozen "curtain-tunes," i.e. entr'actes. Many of the harpsichord pieces are of tiny proportions. The sonatas of three and four parts are no larger than Mozart's piano sonatas. Still, taking into account the noble quality that is constantly maintained, we must admit that Purcell used astonishingly the short time he was given. Much of his music is lost; more of it lies in manuscript at the British Museum and elsewhere. Some of it was issued last century, some early in this. Four expensive volumes have been wretchedly edited and issued by the Purcell Society, and those amongst us who live to the age of Methuselah will probably see all the accessible works printed by this body. Some half century ago Messrs. Novello published an edition of the church music, stupidly edited by the stupidest editor who ever laid clumsy fingers on a masterpiece. A shameful edition of the "King Arthur" music was prepared for the Birmingham Festival of 1897 by Mr. J.A. Fuller-Maitland, musical critic of "The Times." A publisher far-sighted and generous enough to issue a trustworthy edition of all Purcell's music at a moderate price has yet to be found.

Purcell's list is not long, but it is superb. Yet he opened out no new paths, he made no leap aside from the paths of his predecessors, as Gluck did in the eighteenth century and Wagner in the nineteenth. He was one of their school; he went on in the direction they had led; but the distance he travelled was enormous. Humphries, possibly Captain Cook, even Christopher Gibbons, helped to open out the new way in church music; Lawes, Matthew Lock, and Banister were before him at the theatres; Lock and Dr. Blow had written odes before he was weaned; the form and plan of his sonatas came certainly from Bassani, in all likelihood from Corelli also; from John Jenkins and the other writers of fancies he got something of his workmanship and art of weaving many melodies into a coherent whole, and a knowledge of Lulli would help him to attain terseness, and save him from that drifting which is the weak point of the old English instrumental writers; he was acquainted with the music of Carissimi, a master of choral effect. In a word, he owed much to his predecessors, even as Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven owed to their predecessors; and he did as they did—won his greatness by using to fine ends the means he found, rather than by inventing the means, though, like them, some means he did invent.

Like his predecessors Purcell hung between the playhouse, the church, and the court; but unlike most of them he had only one style, which had to serve in one place as in another. I have already shown the growth of the secular spirit in music. In Purcell that spirit reached its height. His music is always secular, always purely pagan. I do not mean that it is inappropriate in the church—for nothing more appropriate was ever written—nor that Purcell was insincere, as our modern church composers are insincere, without knowing it. I do mean that of genuine religious emotion, of the sustained ecstasy of Byrde and Palestrina, it shows no trace. I should not like to have to define the religious beliefs of any man in Charles II.'s court, but it would seem that Purcell was religious in his way. He accepted the God of the church as the savage accepts the God of his fathers; he wrote his best music with a firm conviction that it would please his God. But his God was an entity placed afar off, unapproachable; and of entering into communion with Him through the medium of music Purcell had no notion. The ecstatic note I take to be the true note of religious art; and in lacking and in having no sense of it Purcell stands close to the early religious painters and monk-writers, the carvers of twelfth century woodwork, and the builders of Gothic cathedrals. He thinks of externals and never dreams of looking for "inward light"; and the proof of this is that he seems never consciously to endeavour to express a mood, but strenuously seeks to depict images called up by the words he sets. With no intention of being flippant, but in all earnestness, I declare it is my belief that if Purcell had ever set the "Agnus Dei" (and I don't remember that he did) he would have drawn a frisky lamb and tried to paint its snow-white fleece; and this not because he lacked reverence, but because of his absolute religious naivete, and because this drawing and painting of outside objects (so to speak) in music was his one mode of expression. It should be clearly understood that word-painting is not descriptive music. Descriptive music suggests to the ear, word-painting to the eye. But the two merge in one another. What we call a higher note is so called because sounds produced by the mere rapid vibrations make every being, without exception, who has a musical ear, think of height, just as a lower note makes us all think of depth. Hence a series of notes forming an arch on paper may, and does, suggest an arch to one's imagination through the ear. It is perhaps a dodge, but Handel used it extensively—for instance, in such choruses as "All we like sheep," "When his loud voice" ("Jephtha"), nearly every choral number of "Israel in Egypt," and some of the airs. Bach used it too, and we find it—the rainbow theme in "Das Rheingold" is an example—in Wagner. But with these composers "word-painting," as it is called, seems always to be used for a special effect; whereas it is the very essence of Purcell's music. He has been reproved for it by the eminent Hullah, who prettily alludes to it as a "defect" from which other music composed at the time suffers; but the truth is, you might as well call rhyme a "defect" of the couplet or the absence of rhyme a "defect" of blank verse. It is an integral part of the music, as inseparable as sound from tone, as atoms from the element they constitute. But the question, why did Purcell write thus, and not as Mozart and Beethoven, brings me to the point at which I must show the precise relationship in which Purcell stood to his musical ancestors, and how in writing as he did he was merely carrying on and developing their technique.

For we must not forget that the whole problem for the seventeenth century was one of technique. The difficulty was to spin a tone-web which should be at once beautiful, expressive, and modern—modern above all things, in some sort of touch with the common feeling of the time. I have told how the earlier composers spun their web, and how Lawes attained to loveliness of a special kind by pure declamation. In later times there was an immense common fund of common phrases, any one of which only needed modification by a composer to enable him to express anything he pleased. But Purcell came betwixt the old time and the new, and had to build up a technique which was not wholly his own, by following with swift steps and indefatigable energy on lines indicated even while Lawes was alive. Those lines were, of course, in the direction of word-painting, and I must admit that the first word-painting seems very silly to nineteenth century ears and eyes—eyes not less than ears. To the work of the early men Purcell's stands in just the same relation as Bach's declamation stands to Lawes'. Lawes declaims with a single eye on making clear the points of the poem: the voice rises or falls, lingers on a note or hastens away, to that one end. Bach also declaims—indeed his music is entirely based on declamation,—but as one who wishes to communicate an emotion and regards the attainment of beauty as being quite as important as expression. With him the voice rises or falls as a man's voice does when he experiences keen sensation; but the wavy line of the melody as it goes along and up and down the stave is treated conventionally and changed into a lovely pattern for the ear's delight; and as there can be no regular pattern without regular rhythm, rhythm is a vital element in Bach's music. So with Purcell, with a difference. The early "imitative" men had sought chiefly for dainty conceits. Pepys was the noted composer of "Beauty, Retire" and his joy when he went to church, "where fine music on the word trumpet" will be remembered. He doubtless liked the clatter of it, and liked the clatter the more for occurring on that word, and probably he was not very curious as to whether it was really beautiful or not. But Purcell could not write an unlovely thing. His music on the word trumpet would be beautiful (it is in "Bonduca"); and if (as he did) he sent the bass plunging headlong from the top to the bottom of a scale to illustrate "they that go down to the sea in ships," that headlong plunge would be beautiful too—so beautiful as to be heard with as great pleasure by those who know what the words are about as by those who don't. Like Bach, Purcell depended much on rhythm for the effect of his pattern; unlike Bach, his patterns have a strangely picturesque quality; through the ear they suggest the forms of leaf and blossom, the trailing tendril,—suggest them only, and dimly, vaguely,—yet, one feels, with exquisite fidelity. Thus Purcell, following those who, in sending the voice part along the line, pressed it up at the word "high" and down at "low," and thus got an irregularly wavy line of tone or melody, solved the problem of spinning his continuous web of sound; and the fact that his web is beautiful and possesses this peculiar picturesqueness is his justification for solving the problem in this way. After all, his way was the way of early designers, who filled their circles, squares, and triangles with the forms of leaf and flower. And just as those forms were afterwards conventionalised and used by thousands who probably had no vaguest notion of their origin, so many of Purcell's phrases became ossified and fell into the common stock of phrases which form the language of music. It is interesting to note that abroad Pasquini and Kuhlau went to work very much in Purcell's fashion, and added to that same stock from which Handel and Bach and every subsequent composer drew, each adding something of his own.

It was not by accident that Purcell, with this astonishing fertility of picturesque phrases, should also have written so much, and such vividly coloured picturesque pieces—pieces, I mean, descriptive of the picturesque. Of course, to write an imitative phrase is quite another matter from writing a successful piece of descriptive music. But in Purcell the same faculty enabled him to do both. No poet of that time seems to have been enamoured of hedgerows and flowers and fields, nor can I say with certitude that Purcell was. Yet in imagination at least he loves to dwell amongst them; and not the country alone, the thought of the sea also, stirs him deeply. There need only be some mention of sunshine or rain among the leaves, green trees, or wind-swept grass, the yellow sea-beach or the vast sea-depths, and his imagination flames and flares. His best music was written when he was appealed to throughout a long work—as "The Tempest"—in this manner. Hence, it seems to me, that quality which his music, above any other music in the world, possesses: a peculiar sweetness, not a boudoir sweetness like Chopin's sweetness, nor a sweetness corrected, like Chopin's, by a subtle strain of poisonous acid or sub-acid quality, but the sweet and wholesome cleanliness of the open air and fields, the freshness of sun showers and cool morning winds. I am not exaggerating the importance of this element in his music. It is perpetually present, so that at last one comes to think, as I have been compelled to think this long time, that Purcell wrote nothing but descriptive music all his life. Of course it may be that the special formation of his melodies misleads one sometimes, and that Purcell in inventing them often did not dream of depicting natural objects. But, remembering the gusto with which he sets descriptive words, using these phrases consciously with a picturesque purpose, it is hard to accept this view. In all likelihood he was constituted similarly to Weber, who, his son asserts, curiously converted the lines and colours of trees and winding roads and all objects 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.


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 his choruses. But in Purcell, despite his sheer strength, we never fail to get the characteristic Purcellian touch, the little unexpected inflexion, or bit of coloured harmony that reminds that this is the music of the open air, not of the study, that does more than this, that actually floods you in a moment with a sense of the spacious blue heavens with light clouds flying. For instance, one gets it in the great "Te Deum" in the first section; again at "To thee, cherubim," where the first and second trebles run down in liquid thirds with magical effect; once more at the fourteenth bar of "Thou art the King of Glory," where he uses the old favourite device of following up the flattened leading note of the dominant key in one part by the sharp leading note in another part—a device used with even more exquisite result in the chorus of "Full fathom five." Purcell is in many ways like Mozart, and in none more than in these incessantly distinctive touches, though in character the touches are as the poles apart. In Mozart, especially when he veils the poignancy of his emotion under a scholastic mode of expression, a sudden tremor in the voice, as it were, often betrays him, and none can resist the pathos of it. Purcell's touches are pathetic, too, in another fashion—pathetic because of the curious sense of human weakness, the sense of tears, caused by the sudden relaxation of emotional tension that inevitably results when one comes on a patch of simple naked beauty when nothing but elaborate grandeur expressive of powerful exaltation had been anticipated. That Purcell foresaw this result, and deliberately used the means to achieve it, I cannot doubt. Those momentary slackenings of tense excitement are characteristic of the exalted mood and inseparable from it, and he must have known that they really go to augment its intensity. All Purcell's choruses, however, are not of Handelian mould, for he wrote many that are sheer loveliness from beginning to end, many that are the very voice of the deepest sadness, many, again, showing a gaiety, an "unbuttoned" festivity of feeling, such as never came into music again until Beethoven introduced it as a new thing. The opening of one of the complimentary odes, "Celebrate this festival," fairly carries one off one's feet with the excess of jubilation in the rollicking rhythm and living melody of it. One of the most magnificent examples of picturesque music ever written—if not the most magnificent, at any rate the most delightful in detail—is the anthem, "Thy way, O God, is holy." The picture-painting is prepared for with astonishing artistic foresight, and when it begins the effect is tremendous. I advise everyone who wishes to realise Purcell's unheard-of fertility of great and powerful themes to look at "The clouds poured out water," the fugue subject "The voice of Thy thunders," the biting emphasis of the passage "the lightnings shone upon the ground," and the irresistible impulse of "The earth was moved." And the supremacy of Purcell's art is shown not more in these than in the succession of simple harmonies by which he gets the unutterable mournful poignancy of "Thou knowest, Lord," that unsurpassed and unsurpassable piece of choral writing which Dr. Crotch, one of the "English school," living in an age less sensitive even than this to Purcellian beauty, felt to be so great that it would be a desecration to set the words again. Later composers set the words again, feeling it no desecration, but possibly rather a compliment to Purcell; and Purcell's setting abides, and looks down upon every other, like Mozart's G minor and Beethoven's Ninth upon every other symphony, or the finale of Wagner's "Tristan" upon every other piece of love-music.


Purcell is also a chief, though not the chief, among song-writers. And he stands in the second place by reason of the very faculty which places him amongst the first of instrumental and choral writers. That dominating picturesque power of his, that tendency to write picturesque melodies as well as picturesque movements, compelled him to treat the voice as he treated any other instrument, and he writes page on page which would be at least as effective on any other instrument; and as more can be got out of the voice than out of any other instrument, and the tip-top song-writers got all out that could be got out, it follows that Purcell is below them. But only the very greatest of them have beaten him, and he often, by sheer perfection of phrase, runs them very close. Still, Mozart, Bach, and Handel do move us more profoundly. And an odd demonstration that Purcell the instrumental writer is almost above Purcell the composer for the voice, is that in such songs as "Halcyon Days" (in "The Tempest") the same phrases are perhaps less grateful on the voice than when repeated by the instrument. The phrase "That used to lull thee in thy sleep" (in "The Indian Queen") is divine when sung, but how thrilling is its touching expressiveness, how it seems to speak when the 'cellos repeat it! There are, of course, truly vocal melodies in Purcell (as there are in Beethoven and Berlioz, who also were not great writers for the voice), and some of them might almost be Mozart's. The only difference that may be felt between "While joys celestial" ("Cecilia Ode" of 1683) and a Mozart song, is that in Mozart one gets the frequent human touch, and in Purcell the frequent suggestion of the free winds and scented blossoms. The various scattered songs, such as "Mad Tom" (which is possibly not Purcell's at all) or "Mad Bess" (which certainly is), I have no room to discuss; but I may remark that the madness was merely an excuse for exhibiting a series of passions in what was reckoned at the time a natural manner. Quite possibly it was then thought that in a spoken play only mad persons should sing, just as Wagner insists that in music-drama only mad persons should speak; and as a good deal of singing was required, there were a good many mad parts. Probably Purcell would have treated all Wagner's characters, and all Berlioz's, as utterly and irretrievably mad. Nor have I space to discuss his instrumental music and his instrumentation, but must refer shortly to the fact that the overtures to the plays are equal to Handel's best in point of grandeur, and that in freedom, quality of melody, and daring, and fruitful use of new harmonies, the sonatas are ahead of anything attempted until Mozart came. They cannot be compared to Bach's suites, and they are infinitely fresher than the writings of the Italians whom he imitated. As for Purcell's instrumentation, it is primitive compared to Mozart's, but when he uses the instrument in group or batteries he obtains gorgeous effects of varied colour. He gets delicious effects by means of obligato instrumental parts in the accompaniments to such songs as "Charon the Peaceful Shade Invites"; and those who have heard the "Te Deum" in D may remember that even Bach never got more wonderful results from the sweeter tones of the trumpet.


Having shown how Purcell sprang from a race of English musicians, and how he achieved greater things than any man of his time, it remains only to be said that when, with Handel, the German flood deluged England, all remembrance of Purcell and his predecessors was swiftly swept away. His play-music was washed out of the theatres, his odes were carried away from the concert-room; in a word, all his and the earlier music was so completely forgotten that when Handel used anew his old devices connoisseurs wondered why the Italians and Germans should be able to bring forth such things while the English remained impotent. So Handel and the Germans were imitated by every composer, church or other, who came after, and all our "English music" is purely German. That we shall ever throw off that yoke I do not care to prophesy; but if ever we do, it will be by imitating Purcell in one respect only, that is, by writing with absolute simplicity and directness, leaving complexity, muddy profundity and elaborately worked-out multiplication sums to the Germans, to whom these things come naturally. The Germans are now spent: they produce no more great musicians: they produce only music which is as ugly to the ear as it is involved to the eye. It is high time for a return to the simplicity of Mozart, of Handel, of our own Purcell; to dare, as Wagner dared, to write folk-melody, and to put it on the trombones at the risk of being called vulgar and rowdy by persons who do not know great art when it is original, but only when it resembles some great art of the past which they have learnt to know. It was thus Purcell worked, and his work stands fast. And when we English awake to the fact that we have a music which ought to speak more intimately to us than all the music of the continental composers, his work will be marvelled at as a new-created thing, and his pieces will appear on English programmes and displace the masses of noisome shoddy which we revel in just now. It will then be recognised, as even the chilly Burney recognised a century ago, failing to recognise much else, that "in the accent of passion, and expression of English words, the vocal music of Purcell is ... as superior to Handel's as an original poem to a translation." Though this is slight praise for one of the very greatest musicians the world has produced.



More is known of our mighty old Capellmeister Bach than of Shakespeare; less than of Miss Marie Corelli. The main thing is that he lived the greater part of his obscure life in Leipzig, turning out week by week the due amount of church music as an honest Capellmeister should. Other Capellmeisters did likewise; only, while their compositions were counterpoint, Bach's were masterworks. There lay the sole difference, and the square-toed Leipzig burghers did not perceive it. To them Master Bach was a hot-tempered, fastidious, crotchety person, endured because no equally competent organist would take his place at the price. So he worked without reward, without recognition, until his inspiration exhausted itself; and then he sat, imposing in massive unconscious strength as a spent volcano, awaiting the end. After that was silence: the dust gathered on his music as it lay unheard for a century. Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven hardly suspected their predecessor's greatness. Then came Mendelssohn (to whom be the honour and the glory), and gave to the world, to the world's great surprise, the "Matthew" Passion, as one might say, fresh from the composer's pen. The B minor mass followed, and gradually the whole of the church and instrumental music; and now we are beginning dimly to comprehend Bach's greatness.


The "John" Passion and the "Matthew" Passion of Bach are as little alike as two works dealing with the same subject, and intended for performance under somewhat similar conditions, could possibly be; and since the "Matthew" version appeals to the modern heart and imagination as an ideal setting of the tale of the death of the Man of Sorrows, one is apt to follow Spitta in his curious mistake of regarding the differences between the two as altogether to the disadvantage of the "John." Spitta, indeed, goes further than this. So bent is he on proving the superiority of the "Matthew" that what he sees as a masterstroke in that work is in the "John" a gross blunder; and, on the whole, the pages on the "John" Passion are precisely the most fatuous of the many fatuous pages he wrote when he plunged into artistic criticism, leaving his own proper element of technical or historical criticism. This is a pity, for Spitta really had a very good case to spoil. The "Matthew" is without doubt a vaster, profounder, more moving and lovelier piece of art than the "John." Indeed, being the later work of a composer whose power grew steadily from the first until the last time he put pen to paper, it could not be otherwise. But the critic who, like Spitta, sees in it only a successful attempt at what was attempted unsuccessfully in the "John," seems to me to mistake the aim both of the "John" and the "Matthew." The "John" is not in any sense unsuccessful, but a complete, consistent and masterly achievement; and if it stands a little lower than the "Matthew," if the "Matthew" is mightier, more impressive, more overwhelming in its great tenderness, this is not because the Bach who wrote in 1722-23 was a bungler or an incomplete artist, but because the Bach who wrote in 1729 was inspired by a loftier idea than had come to the Bach of 1723. It was only necessary to compare the impression one received when the "John" Passion was sung by the Bach Choir in 1896 with that received at the "Matthew" performance in St. Paul's in the same year, to realise that it is in idea, not in power of realising the idea, that the two works differ—differ more widely than might seem possible, seeing that the subject is the same, and that the same musical forms—chorus, chorale, song and recitative—are used in each.

Waking on the morrow of the "John" performance, my memory was principally filled with those hoarse, stormy, passionate roarings of an enraged mob. A careless reckoning shows that whereas the people's choruses in the "Matthew" Passion occupy about ninety bars, in the "John" they fill about two hundred and fifty. "Barabbas" in the "Matthew" is a single yell; in the "John" it takes up four bars. "Let Him be crucified" in the "Matthew" is eighteen bars long, counting the repetition, while "Crucify" and "Away with Him" in the "John" amount to fifty bars. Moreover, the people's choruses are written in a much more violent and tempestuous style in the earlier than in the later setting. In the "Matthew" there is nothing like those terrific ascending and descending chromatic passages in "Waere dieser nicht ein Ubelthaeter" and "Wir duerfen Niemand toeden," or the short breathless shouts near the finish of the former chorus, as though the infuriated rabble had nearly exhausted itself, or, again, the excited chattering of the soldiers when they get Christ's coat, "Lasst uns den nicht zertheilen." Considering these things, one sees that the first impression the "John" Passion gives is the true impression, and that Bach had deliberately set out to depict the preliminary scenes of the crucifixion with greater fulness of detail and in more striking colours than he afterwards attempted in the "Matthew" Passion. Then, not only is the physical suffering of Christ insisted on in this way, but the chorales, recitatives, and songs lay still greater stress upon it, either directly, by actual description, or indirectly, by uttering with unheard-of poignancy the remorse supposed to be felt by mankind whose guilt occasioned that suffering. The central point in the two Passions is the same, namely, the backsliding of Peter; and in each the words, "He went out and wept bitterly," are given the greatest prominence; but one need only contrast the acute agony expressed in the song, "Ach mein Sinn," which follows the incident in the "John," with the sweetness of "Have mercy upon me," which follows it in the "Matthew," to gain a fair notion of the spirit in which the one work, and also the spirit in which the other, is written. The next point to note is, that while the "Matthew" begins with lamentation and ends with resignation, "John" begins and ends with hope and praise. In the former there is no chorus like the opening "Herr, unser, Herrscher," no chorale so triumphant as "Ach grosser Koenig," and certainly no single passage so rapturous as "Alsdann vom Tod erwecke mich, Dass meine Augen sehen dich, In aller Freud, O Gottes Sohn" (with the bass mounting to the high E flat and rolling magnificently down again). So in the "John" Passion Bach has given us, first, a vivid picture of the turbulent crowd and of the suffering and death of Christ; second, an expression of man's bitterest remorse; and, last and above all, an expression of man's hope for the future and his thankfulness to Christ who redeemed him. These are what one remembers after hearing the work sung; and these, it may be remarked, are the things that the seventeenth and eighteenth century mind chiefly saw in the sorrow and death of Jesus of Nazareth.


The "Matthew" Passion arouses a very different mood from that aroused by the "John." One does not remember the turbulent people's choruses, nor the piercing note of anguish, nor any rapturous song or chorus; for all else is drowned in the recollection of an overwhelming utterance of love and human sorrow and infinite tenderness. Much else there is in the "Matthew" Passion, just as there is love and tenderness in the "John"; but just as these are subordinated in the "John" to the more striking features I have mentioned, so in the "Matthew" the noise of the people and the expression of keen remorse are subordinated to love and human tenderness and infinite sorrow. The small number and conciseness of the people's choruses have already been alluded to, and it may easily be shown that the penitential music is brief compared with the love music, besides having a great deal of the love, the yearning love, feeling in it. The list of penitential pieces is exhausted when I have mentioned "Come, ye daughters," "Guilt for sin," "Break and die," "O Grief," "Alas! now is my Saviour gone," and "Have mercy upon me"; and, on the other hand, we have "Thou blessed Saviour," the Last Supper music, the succeeding recitative and song, "O man, thy heavy sin lament," "To us He hath done all things," "For love my Saviour suffered," "Come, blessed Cross," and "See the Saviour's outstretched arm," every one of which, not to speak of some other songs and most of the chorales, is sheer love music of the purest sort. This, then, seems to me the difference between the "Matthew" Passion and its predecessor: in the "John" Bach tried to purge his audience in the regular evangelical manner by pity and terror and hope. But during the next six years his spiritual development was so amazing, that while remaining intellectually faithful to evangelical dogma and perhaps such bogies as the devil and hell, he yet saw that the best way of purifying his audience was to set Jesus of Nazareth before them as the highest type of manhood he knew, as the man who so loved men that He died for them. There is therefore in the "Matthew" Passion neither the blank despair nor the feverish ecstasy of the "John," for they have no part to play there. Human sorrow and human love are the themes. Whenever I hear a fine rendering of the "Matthew" Passion, it seems to me that no composer, not even Mozart, could be more tender than Bach. It is often hard to get into communication with him, for he often appeals to feelings that no longer stir humanity—such, for instance, as the obsolete "sense of sin,"—but once it is done, he works miracles. Take, for example, the scene in which Jesus tells His disciples that one of them will betray Him. They ask, in chorus, "Herr, bin ich's?" There is a pause, and the chorale, "Ich bin's, ich sollte buessen," is thundered out by congregation and organ; then the agony passes away at the thought of the Redeemer, and the last line, "Das hat verdienet meine Seel," is almost intolerable in its sweetness. The songs, of course, appeal naturally to-day to all who will listen to them; but it is in such passages as this that Bach spoke most powerfully to his generation, and speaks now to those who will learn to understand him. Those who understand him can easily perceive the "John" Passion to be a powerful artistic embodiment of an eighteenth century idea; and they may also perceive that the "Matthew" is greater, because it is, on the whole, a little more beautiful, and because its main idea—which so far transcended the eighteenth century understanding that the eighteenth century preferred the "John"—is one of the loftiest that has yet visited the human mind.


Mr. George Frideric Handel is by far the most superb personage one meets in the history of music. He alone of all the musicians lived his life straight through in the grand manner. Spohr had dignity; Gluck insisted upon respect being shown a man of his talent; Spontini was sufficiently self-assertive; Beethoven treated his noble patrons as so many handfuls of dirt. But it is impossible altogether to lose sight of the peasant in Beethoven and Gluck; Spohr had more than a trace of the successful shopkeeper; Spontini's assertion often became mere insufferable bumptiousness. Besides, they all won their positions through being the best men in the field, and they held them with a proud consciousness of being the best men. But in Handel we have a polished gentleman, a lord amongst lords, almost a king amongst kings; and had his musical powers been much smaller than they were, he might quite possibly have gained and held his position just the same. He slighted the Elector of Hanover; and when that noble creature became George I. of England, Handel had only to do the handsome thing, as a handsome gentleman should, to be immediately taken back into favour. He was educated—was, in fact, a university man of the German sort; he could write and spell, and add up rows of figures, and had many other accomplishments which gentlemen of the period affected a little to despise. He had a pungent and a copious wit. He had quite a commercial genius; he was an impresario, and had engagements to offer other people instead of having to beg for engagements for himself; and he was always treated by the British with all the respect they keep for the man who has made money, or, having lost it, is fast making it again. He fought for the lordship of opera against nearly the whole English nobility, and they paid him the compliment of banding together with as much ado to ruin him as if their purpose had been to drive his royal master from the throne. He treated all opposition with a splendid good-humoured disdain. If his theatre was empty, then the music sounded the better. If a singer threatened to jump on the harpsichord because Handel's accompaniments attracted more notice than the singing, Handel asked for the date of the proposed performance that it might be advertised, for more people would come to see the singer jump than hear him sing. He was, in short, a most superb person, quite the grand seigneur. Think of Bach, the little shabby unimportant cantor, or of Beethoven, important enough but shabby, and with a great sorrow in his eyes, and an air of weariness, almost of defeat. Then look at the magnificent Mr. Handel in Hudson's portrait: fashionably dressed in a great periwig and gorgeous scarlet coat, victorious, energetic, self-possessed, self-confident, self-satisfied, jovial, and proud as Beelzebub (to use his own comparison)—too proud to ask for recognition were homage refused. This portrait helps us to understand the ascendency Handel gained over his contemporaries and over posterity.

But his lofty position was not entirely due to his overwhelming personality. His intellect, if less vast, less comprehensive, than Beethoven's, was less like the intellect of a great peasant: it was swifter, keener, surer. Where Beethoven plodded, Handel leaped. And a degree of genius which did nothing for Bach, a little for Mozart, and all for Beethoven, did something for Handel. Without a voice worth taking into consideration, he could, and at least on one occasion did, sing so touchingly that the leading singer of the age dared not risk his reputation by singing after him. He was not only the first composer of the day, but also the first organist and the first harpsichord player; for his only possible rival, Sebastian Bach, was an obscure schoolmaster in a small, nearly unheard-of, German town. And so personal force, musical genius, business talent, education, and general brain power went to the making of a man who hobnobbed with dukes and kings, who ruled musical England with an iron rule, who threatened to throw distinguished soprano ladies from windows, and was threatened with never an action for battery in return, who went through the world with a regal gait, and was, in a word, the most astonishing lord of music the world has seen.

That this aristocrat should come to be the musical prophet of an evangelical bourgeoisie would be felt as a most comical irony, were it only something less of a mystery. Handel was brought up in the bosom of the Lutheran Church, and was religious in his way. But it was emphatically a pagan way. Let those who doubt it turn to his setting of "All we like sheep have gone astray," in the "Messiah," and ask whether a religious man, whether Byrde or Palestrina, would have painted that exciting picture on those words. Imagine how Bach would have set them. That Handel lived an intense inner life we know, but what that life was no man can ever know. It is only certain that it was not a life such as Bach's; for he lived an active outer life also, and was troubled with no illusions, no morbid introspection. He seemed to accept the theology of the time in simple sincerity as a sufficient explanation of the world and human existence. He had little desire to write sacred music. He felt that his enormous force found its finest exercise in song-making; and Italian opera, consisting nearly wholly of songs, was his favourite form to the finish. The instinct was a true one. It is as a song-writer he is supreme, surpassing as he does Schubert, and sometimes even Mozart. Mozart is a prince of song-writers; but Handel is their king. He does not get the breezy picturesqueness of Purcell, nor the entrancing absolute beauty that Mozart often gets; but as pieces of art, each constructed so as to get the most out of the human voice in expressing a rich human passion in a noble form, they stand unapproachable in their perfection. For many reasons the English public refused to hear them in his own time, and Handel, as a general whose business was to win the battle, not in this or that way, but in any possible way, turned his attention to oratorio, and in this found success and a fortune. In this lies also our great gain, for in addition to the Italian opera songs we have the oratorio choruses. But when we come to think of it, might not Buononcini and Cuzzoni laugh to see how time has avenged them on their old enemy? For Handel's best music is in the songs, which rarely find a singer; and his fame is kept alive by performances of "Israel in Egypt" at the Albert Hall, where (until lately) evangelical small grocers crowded to hear the duet for two basses, "The Lord is a man of war," which Handel did not write, massacred by a huge bass chorus.

His "Messiah" is in much the same plight as Milton's "Paradise Lost," the plays of Shakespeare and the source of all true religion—it suffers from being so excessively well known and so generally accepted as a classic that few want to hear it, and none think it worth knowing thoroughly. A few years ago the late Sir Joseph Barnby went through the entire work in St. James's Hall with his Guildhall students; but such a feat had not, I believe, been accomplished previously within living memory, and certainly it has not been attempted again since. We constantly speak of the "Messiah" as the most popular oratorio ever written; but even in the provinces only selections from it are sung, and in the metropolis the selections are cut very short indeed, frequently by the sapient device of taking out all the best numbers and leaving only those that appeal to the religious instincts of Clapham. I cannot resist the suspicion that but for the words of "He was despised," "Behold, and see," and "I know that my Redeemer liveth," Clapham would have tired of the oratorio before now, and that but for its having become a Christmas institution, like roast beef, plum-puddings, mince-pies, and other indigestible foods, it would no longer be heard in the provinces. And perhaps it would be better forgotten—perhaps Handel would rather have seen it forgotten than regarded as it is regarded, than existing merely as an aid to evangelical religion or an after-dinner digestive on Christmas Day. Still, during the last hundred and fifty years, it has suffered so many humiliations that possibly one more, even this last one, does not so much matter. First its great domes and pillars and mighty arches were prettily ornamented and tinted by Mozart, who surely knew not what he did; then in England a barbarous traditional method of singing it was evolved; later it was Costa-mongered; finally even the late eminent Macfarren, the worst enemy music has ever had in this country, did not disdain to prepare "a performing edition," and to improve Mozart's improvements on Handel. One wonders whether Mozart, when he overlaid the "Messiah" with his gay tinsel-work, dreamed that some Costa, encouraged by Mozart's own example, and without brains enough to guess that he had nothing like Mozart's brains, would in like manner desecrate "Don Giovanni." Like "Don Giovanni," there the "Messiah" lies, almost unrecognisable under its outrageous adornments, misunderstood, its splendours largely unknown and hardly even suspected, the best known and the least known of oratorios, a work spoken of as fine by those who cannot hum one of its greatest themes or in the least comprehend the plan on which its noblest choruses are constructed.

Rightly to approach the "Messiah" or any of Handel's sacred oratorios, to approach it in any sure hope of appreciating it, one must remember that (as I have just said) Handel had nothing of the religious temperament, that in temperament he was wholly secular, that he was an eighteenth century pagan. He was perfectly satisfied with the visible and audible world his energy and imagination created out of things; about the why and wherefore of things he seems never to have troubled; his soul asked no questions, and he was never driven to accept a religious or any other explanation. It is true he went to church with quite commendable regularity, and wished to die on Good Friday and so meet Jesus Christ on the anniversary of the resurrection. But he was nevertheless as completely a pagan as any old Greek; the persons of the Trinity were to him very solid entities; if he wished to die on Good Friday, depend upon it, he fully meant to enter heaven in his finest scarlet coat with ample gold lace and a sword by his side, to make a stately bow to the assembled company and then offer a few apposite and doubtless pungent remarks on the proper method of tuning harps. Of true devotional feeling, of the ecstatic devotional feeling of Palestrina and of Bach, there is in no recorded saying of his a trace, and there is not a trace of it in his music. When he was writing the "Hallelujah Chorus" he imagined he saw God on His throne, just as in writing "Semele" he probably imagined he saw Jupiter on his throne; and the fact proves only with what intensity and power his imagination was working, and how far removed he was from the genuine devotional frame of mind. There is not the slightest difference in style between his secular and his sacred music; he treats sacred and secular subjects precisely alike. In music his intention was never to reveal his own state of mind, but always to depict some object, some scene. Now, never did he adhere with apparently greater resolution to this plan, never therefore did he produce a more essentially secular work, than in the "Messiah." One need only consider such numbers as "All they that see Him" and "Behold the Lamb of God" to realise this; though, indeed, there is not a number in the oratorio that does not show it with sufficient clearness. But fully to understand Handel and realise his greatness, it is not enough merely to know the spirit in which he worked: one must know also his method of depicting things and scenes. He was wholly an impressionist—in his youth from choice, as when he wrote the music of "Rinaldo" faster than the librettist could supply the words; in middle age and afterwards from necessity, as he never had time to write save when circumstances freed him for a few days from the active duties of an impresario. He tried to do, and succeeded in doing, everything with a few powerful strokes, a few splashes of colour. Of the careful elaboration of Bach, of Beethoven, even of Mozart, there is nothing: sometimes in his impatience he seemed to mix his colours in buckets and hurl them with the surest artistic aim at his gigantic canvases. A comparison of the angels' chorus "Glory to God in the highest" in Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" with the same thing as set in the "Messiah" will show not only how widely different were the aims of the two men, but also throws the minute cunning of the Leipzig schoolmaster into startling contrast with the daring recklessness of the tremendous London impresario. Of course both men possessed wonderful contrapuntal skill; but in Bach's case there is time and patience as well as skill, and in Handel's only consummate audacity and intellectual grip. Handel was by far a greater man than Bach—he appears to me, indeed, the greatest man who has yet lived; but though he achieves miracles as a musician, his music was to him only one of many modes of using the irresistible creative instinct and energy within him. Any one who looks in Handel for the characteristic complicated music of the typical German masters will be disappointed even as the Germans are disappointed; but those who are prepared to let Handel say what he has to say in his own chosen way will find in his music the most admirable style ever attained to by any musician, the most perfect fusion of manner and matter. It is a grand, large, and broad style, because Handel had a large and grand matter to express; and if it errs at all it errs on the right side—it has too few rather than too many notes.

On the whole, the "Messiah" is as vigorous, rich, picturesque and tender as the best of Handel's oratorios—even "Belshazzar" does not beat it. There is scarcely any padding; there are many of Handel's most perfect songs and most gorgeous choruses; and the architecture of the work is planned with a magnificence, and executed with a lucky completeness, attained only perhaps elsewhere in "Israel in Egypt"—for which achievement Handel borrowed much of the bricks and mortar from other edifices. Theological though the subject is, the oratorio is as much a hymn to joy as the Ninth symphony; and there is in it far more of genuine joy, of sheer delight in living. Of the sense of sin—the most cowardly illusion ever invented by a degenerate people—there is no sign; where Bach would have been abased in the dust, Handel is bright, shining, confident, cocksure that all is right with the world. Mingled with the marvellous tenderness of "Comfort ye" there is an odd air of authority, a conviction that everything is going well, and that no one need worry; and nothing fresher, fuller of spring-freshness, almost of rollicking jollity, has ever been written than "Every valley shall be exalted." "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed" is in rather the same vein, though a deeper note of feeling is struck. The effect of the alto voices leading off, followed immediately by the rest of the chorus and orchestra, is overwhelming; and the chant of the basses at "For the mouth of the Lord" is in the biggest Handel manner. But just as "He was despised" and "I know that my Redeemer liveth" tower above all the other songs, so three or four choruses tower above all the other choruses in not only the "Messiah," but all Handel's oratorios. "Worthy is the Lamb" stands far above the rest, and indeed above all choruses in the world save Bach's very best; then comes "For unto us a Child is born"; and after that "And He shall purify," "His yoke is easy," and "Surely He hath borne our griefs"—each distinctive, complete in itself, an absolute piece of noble invention. "Unto us a Child is born" is written in a form devised by Handel and used with success by no other composer since, until in a curiously modified shape Tschaikowsky employed it for the third movement of his Pathetic symphony. The first theme is very simply announced, played with awhile, then the second follows—a tremendous phrase to the words "The government shall be upon His shoulders"; suddenly the inner parts begin to quicken into life, to ferment, to throb and to leap, and with startling abruptness great masses of tone are hurled at the listener to the words "Wonderful, Counsellor." The process is then repeated in a shortened and intensified form; then it is repeated again; and finally the principal theme, delivered so naively at first, is delivered with all the pomp and splendour of full chorus and orchestra, and "Wonderful, Counsellor" thundered out on a corresponding scale. A scheme at once so simple, so daring and so tremendous in effect, could have been invented by no one but Handel with his need for working rapidly; and it is strange that a composer so different from Handel as Tschaikowsky should have hit upon a closely analogous form for a symphonic movement. The forms of the other choruses are dissimilar. In "He shall purify" there are two big climaxes; in "His yoke is easy" there is only one, and it comes at the finish, just when one is wondering how the splendid flow of music can be ended without an effect of incompleteness or of anti-climax; and "Surely He hath borne our griefs" depends upon no climactic effects, but upon the sheer sweetness and pathos of the thing.

Handel's secular oratorios are different from anything else in the world. They are neither oratorios, nor operas, nor cantatas; and the plots are generally quaint.

Some years ago it occurred to me one morning that a trip by sea to Russia might be refreshing; and that afternoon I started in a coal-steamer from a northern seaport. A passport could hardly be wrested from hide-bound officialdom in so short a time, and, to save explanations in a foreign tongue at Cronstadt, the reader's most humble servant assumed the lowly office of purser—wages, one shilling per month. The passage was rough, the engineers were not enthusiastic in their work, some of the seamen were sulky; and, in a word, the name of God was frequently in the skipper's mouth. Otherwise he did not strike one as being a particularly religious man. Nevertheless, when Sunday evening came round he sat down and read the Bible with genuine fervour, spelling the hard words aloud and asking how they should or might be pronounced; and he informed me, by way of explaining his attachment to the Book, that he had solemnly promised his wife never to omit his weekly devotions while on the deep. Though I never shared the literary tastes of Mr. Wilson Barrett, the captain's unfathomable ignorance of the Gospels, Isaiah and the Psalms startled even me; but on the other hand he had an intimate acquaintance with a number of stories to be found only in the Apocrypha, with which he had thoughtfully provided himself. To gratify my curiosity he read me the tale of Susanna and the Elders. Being young, my first notion was that I had chanced on a capital subject for an opera; and I actually thought for ten minutes of commencing at once on a libretto. Later I remembered the censor, and realised for the first time that in England, when a subject is unfit for a drama, it is treated as an oratorio. As soon as possible I bought Handel's "Susanna" instead, and found that Handel curiously—or perhaps not curiously—had also been before me in thinking of treating the subject operatically. In fact "Susanna" is as much an opera as "Rinaldo," the only difference being that a few choruses are forcibly dragged in to give colour to the innocent pretence. Handel's librettist, whoever he was, did his work downright badly. That he glorifies the great institution of permanent marriage and says nothing of the corresponding great institution of the Divorce Court, is only what might be expected of the horrible eighteenth century—the true dark age of Europe; but surely even a composer of Handel's powers could scarcely do himself justice with such a choice blend of stupidity and cant religion as this—

"Chorus. How long, O Lord, shall Israel groan In bondage and in pain? Jehovah! hear Thy people moan, And break the tyrant's chain!

"Joachim. Our crimes repeated have provok'd His rage, And now He scourges a degen'rate age. O come, my fair Susanna, come, And from my bosom chase its gloom," etc.

Or is the abrupt third line of Joachim's speech to be regarded as a masterstroke of characterisation? I will tell the whole story, to show what manner of subject has been thought proper for an oratorio. Joachim and Susanna are of course perfect monsters of fidelity; though it is only fair to say that Joachim's virtue is not insisted on, or, for that matter, mentioned. Joachim goes out of town—he says so: "Awhile I'm summoned from the town away"—and Susanna, instead of obeying his directions to entertain some friends, goes into a dark glade, whither the Elders presently repair. She declines their attentions; then they declare they caught her with an unknown lover, who fled; and she is condemned to death, the populace seeing naught but justice in the sentence. But before they begin to hurl the stones, Daniel steps forward and by sheer eloquent impudence persuades the people to have the case re-tried, with him for judge. He sends one elder out of court, and asks the other under what tree Susanna committed the indiscretion. The poor wretch, knowing no science, foolishly makes a wild shot instead of pleading a defective education, and says, "A verdant mastick, pride of all the grove." The other, in response to the same question, says, "Yon tall holm-tree." Incredible as it seems, on the strength of this error, which would merely gain a policeman the commendation of an average London magistrate, the two Elders are sent off to be hanged! Why, even the late Mr. Justice Stephen never put away an innocent man or woman on less evidence! But the chorus flatters Daniel just as the Press used to flatter Mr. Justice Stephen; Susanna is complimented on her chastity; and all ends with some general reflections—

"A virtuous wife shall soften fortune's frown, She's far more precious than a golden crown."

Nothing is said about the market value of a virtuous husband. Probably the eighteenth century regarded such a thing as out of the question. As I have said, I tell this story to show what the British public will put up with if you mention the word oratorio. Voltaire's dictum needs revision thus: "Whatever is too improper to be spoken (in England) is sung, and whatever is too improper to be sung on the stage may be sung in a church."

Nevertheless, out of this wretched book Handel made a masterpiece. The tale of Susanna is not one in which a man of his character might be expected to take a profound interest; though it should always be remembered that hardly anything is known of his relations with the other sex save that he took a keen and lifelong interest in the Foundling Hospital. But so strong had the habit of making masterpieces become with him that he could not resist the temptation to create just one more, even when he had nothing better than "Susanna" to base it on; just as a confirmed drunkard cannot resist the temptation to get one drink more, even if he be accustomed to the gilded chambers of the West End, and must go for really the last to-night into the lowest drinking-saloon of the East. Some of the choruses are of Handel's best. The first, "How long, O Lord," shows that he could write expressive chromatic passages as well as Purcell and Bach; the second is surcharged with emotion; "Righteous Heaven" is picturesque and full of splendid vigour; "Impartial Heaven" contains some of the most gorgeous writing that even Handel achieved. But the last two choruses, and "The Cause is decided" and "Oh, Joachim," are common, colourless, barren; and were evidently written without delight, to maintain the pretext that the work was an oratorio. But it stands to this day, unmistakably an opera; and it is the songs that will certainly make it popular some day; for some of them are on Handel's highest level, and Handel's highest level has never been reached by any other composer. His choruses are equalled by Bach's, his dramatic strokes by Gluck's, his instrumental movements by Bach's and perhaps Lulli's; but the coming of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, and Wagner has only served to show that he is the greatest song-writer the world has known or is likely to know. Even Mozart never quite attained that union of miraculously balanced form, sweetness of melody, and depth of feeling with a degree of sheer strength that keeps the expression of the main thought lucid, and the surface of the music, so to speak, calm, when obscurity might have been anticipated, and some roughness and storm and stress excused. "Faith displays her rosy wing" is an absolutely perfect instance of a Handel song. Were not the thing done, one might believe it impossible to express with such simplicity—four sombre minor chords and then the tremolo of the strings—the alternations of trembling fear and fearful hope, the hope of the human soul in extremist agony finding an exalted consolation in the thought that this was the worst. As astounding as this is the quality of light and freshness of atmosphere with which Handel imbues such songs as "Clouds o'ertake the brightest day" and "Crystal streams in murmurs flowing"; and the tenderness of "Would custom bid," with the almost divine refrain, "I then had called thee mine," might surprise us, coming as it does from such a giant, did we not know that tenderness is always a characteristic of the great men, of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and that the pettiness, ill-conditionedness, and lack of generous feeling observable in (say) our London composers to-day stamp them more unmistakably than does their music as small composers. If the poor fellows knew what they were about, they would at least conceal the littlenesses that show they are destined never to do work of the first order. The composer of the "Rex tremendae" (in the Requiem) wrote "Dove sono," Beethoven wrote both the finale of the Fifth symphony and the slow movement of the Ninth, Wagner both the Valkyries' Ride and the motherhood theme in "Siegfried," Handel "Worthy is the Lamb" and "Waft her, angels"; while your little malicious musical Mimes are absorbed in self-pity, and can no more write a melody that irresistibly touches you than they can build a great and impressive structure. And if Mozart is tenderest of all the musicians, Handel comes very close to him. The world may, though not probably, tire of all but his grandest choruses, while his songs will always be sung as lovely expressions of the finest human feeling.

"Samson" is not his finest oratorio, though it may be his longest. It contains no "Unto us a Child is born" nor a "Worthy is the Lamb," nor a "Now love, that everlasting boy"; but in several places the sublime is reached—in "Then round about the starry throne," the last page of which is worth all the oratorios written since Handel's time save Beethoven's "Mount of Olives"; in "Fixed is His everlasting seat," with that enormous opening phrase, irresistible in its strength and energy as Handel himself; and in the first section of "O first created beam." The pagan choruses are full of riotous excitement, though there is not one of them to match "Ye tutelar gods" in "Belshazzar." But there is little in "Belshazzar" to match the pathos of "Return, O God of hosts," or "Ye sons of Israel, now lament." The latter is a notable example of Handel's art. There is not a new phrase in it: nothing, indeed, could be commoner than the bar at the first occurrence of "Amongst the dead great Samson lies," and yet the effect is amazing; and though the "for ever" is as old as Purcell, here it is newly used—used as if it had never been used before—to utter a depth of emotion that passes beyond the pathetic to the sublime. This very vastness of feeling, this power of stepping outside himself and giving a voice to the general emotions of humanity, prevents us recognising the personal note in Handel as we recognise it in Mozart. But occasionally the personal note may be met. The recitative "My genial spirits fail," with those dreary long-drawn harmonies, and the orchestral passage pressing wearily downwards at "And lay me gently down with them that rest," seems almost like Handel's own voice in a moment of sad depression. It serves, at anyrate, to remind us that the all-conquering Mr. Handel was a complete man who had endured the sickening sense of the worthlessness of a struggle that he was bound to continue to the end. But these personal confessions are scarce. After all, in oratorio Handel's best music is that in which he seeks to attain the sublime. In his choruses he does attain it: he sweeps you away with the immense rhythmical impetus of the music, or overpowers you with huge masses of tone hurled, as it were, bodily at you at just the right moments, or he coerces you with phrases like the opening of "Fixed in His everlasting seat," or the last (before the cadence) in "Then round about the starry throne." It is true that with his unheard-of intellectual power, and a mastery of technique equal or nearly equal to Bach's, he was often tempted to write in his uninspired moments, and so the chorus became with him more or less of a formula; but we may also note that even when he was most mechanical the mere furious speed at which he wrote seemed to excite and exalt him, so that if he began with a commonplace "Let their celestial concerts all unite," before the end he was pouring forth glorious and living stuff like the last twenty-seven bars. So the pace at which he had to write in the intervals of bullying or coaxing prima donnas or still more petulant male sopranos was not wholly a misfortune; if it sometimes compelled him to set down mere musical arithmetic, or rubbish like "Honour and arms," and "Go, baffled coward," it sometimes drew his grandest music out of him. The dramatic oratorio is a hybrid form of art—one might almost say a bastard form; it had only about thirty years of life; but in those thirty years Handel accomplished wonderful things with it. And the wonder of them makes Handel appear the more astonishing man; for, when all is said, the truth is that the man was greater, infinitely greater, than his music.

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