The Martyr of Antioch


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Review of The Martyr of Antioch
from The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer,
16 October, 1880.

Some six or seven weeks ago we embraced the opportunity of writing an analysis of Milman's poem, entitled The Martyr of Antioch. We had not the least idea how Mr. Sullivan would treat the late Dean of St. Paul's work; in other words what use he would make of the drama for musical purposes. We went so far as to express the hope that, in setting the exquisite poem to music, new life and intelligibility would be lent to it, and moreover, that its spirit would in no wise be violated. We were, however, not aware at the time that Mr. Sullivan had obtained the full sanction of the Dean's sons for the use that he was to make of their father's drama, or that they would permit him to say the alterations inevitable upon the adaptation of the drama to musical requirements had been made with judgment and good taste, and in complete accordance with the spirit of the original work. With all due respect to Mr. Sullivan and the late Dean's sons, it is not easy to understand how Margarita - even for musical purposes - can be made to suffer death at the stake, when she was beheaded; or why does the axe slide out of the palsied hand of one to whom she had been sent by Christ to wipe his burning brow, and whom she beseeches, by the memory of his almost orphaned child, to slay her first and quickly that her father (Callias) might not see her death. But as we have no intention to enter into martyrological dispute with one for whom we have so much respect as the gifted composer of the sacred musical drama which met with such an enthusiastic reception yesterday morning, we cannot do better than give his own argument.

[Here follows a lengthy extract from Sullivan's preface.]

The cantata opens with an Introduction in D major, andante maestoso non troppo lento, which was capitally played by the band. Then follows the "Chorus of Sun Worshippers", the first movement being in nine-eight time, allegretto con maesta, splendidly orchestrated, and in which the basses and the tenors at the words "Thou mountest heaven's blue steep" gave us a taste of their quality. This is an allegro vivace in common time, the alto voices taking up the strain at "The silent cities wake", but cease as soon as the sopranos join with the male voices at "Lord of the speaking lyre". These movements, which otherwise would be tedious, are relieved by a contralto solo, "The love-sick damsel laid", which Madame Patey, who sustained the character of "Julia", gave out grandly, and in which the female voices of the chorus joined with excellent effect. The Sunworshippers continue their hymn at great length, but Mr. Sullivan, by frequent changes of time and key, has made these movements very catching and pleasing. The part of Callias, the heathen high priest of Apollo, was taken by Mr. F. King, who sings a short recitative telling them to "break off the hymn", and then Mr. E. Lloyd, as Olybius, scored the first great success of the day by a magnificent rendering of the aria, "Come, Margarita, come", which was instantly redemanded. This beautiful melody, to which the composer has added a harp accompaniment, is certain to become eminently popular, especially as a drawing room song. The chorus, "Long live the Christian scourge", in six-eight time, which brings the first scene to a close was admirably sung.

The organ solo, Andante Religioso, was played by Dr. Spark in his best style. In the long unaccompanied funeral anthem, "Brother, thou art gone before us", the voices flattened considerably. Notwithstanding this, however, it produced an excellent effect upon the audience. We observed the other day that this hymn, whenever it is used, will have to be accompanied softly on the organ. There is another bass voice introduced in the character of Bishop Fabius, and on this occasion it was taken by Mr. Henry Cross. This gentleman - who has done good service in minor parts during the Festival - possesses a deep, sonorous bass voice, which, if rather unwieldly, is so far under control as not to be out of tune. He sang the short solo, "Brother, thou slumberest", with a considerable amount of feeling, and was heard to even greater advantage later on in Beethoven's Mass in C. Everyone was anxious to hear what Mdme. Albani would make of the part of the heroine, "Margarita", and it is perfectly superfluous to say that not a single person went away disappointed. The recitative with harp accompaniment, played with great taste by Mr. Cheshire - "Yet once again I touch the golden strings" - was most feelingly declaimed; and in the devotional air which succeeds it she created a marked sensation. The duet between Callias and Margarita, although given with greater dramatic feeling by Mdme. Albani and Mr. F. King, filed to arouse much sympathy. The evening song of the maidens, "Come away, with willing feet", for sopranos and contraltos, in B flat, two-four time, is very pretty, and was charmingly sung. Mr. Sullivan is certainly more at home in this style of music than in the more sombre. Mr. Lloyd's singing of the recitative and air, "Sweet Margarita, give me thine hand", was chaste in the extreme. The chorus between the heathen maidens and the Christians is very richly scored, and will probably never receive a better rendering than it did yesterday morning. But the greatest treat was yet in store in the solo of Julia, "Io Paean", which Mdme. Patey so nobly that she roused her hearers to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. She, of course, had to repeat it. There is no one who can inspire a Leeds chorus better than this consummate artist, and therefore we were prepared to hear the answer, "Io Paean", given with starling precision on the part of the vocalists. There is nothing particularly striking in the quartet, "Great is Olybius", or the chorus "Blasphemy! blasphemy!", allegro con fuoco, although both were grandly given. Margarita's song, "God, at whose word", and quartet, "Have mercy, unrelenting heaven", in spite of the rendering each received, did not meet with any particular recognition in their favour; but when Mdme. Albani sang the great air, "What means yon blaze on high?" which she did superbly, finishing on the upper C, the audience fairly rose at her, her final dramatic instinct enabling her to impart a meaning and significance to the celestial character such as very few others would be able to do. The chorus, "Glory, Glory, Glory, the Lord Almighty liveth", which brings the work to a conclusion, although given with great power, seems to us to be too short, and we can only express a hope that Mr. Sullivan may be induced to write another of much greater importance on some future occasion.

After the usual interval, Beethoven's Mass in C was performed, and without the slightest disparagement to Mr. Sullivan, we may state at once we were lifted into a loftier region of the art, and while listening in a place not set apart for divine worship, the music struck us as being singularly devotional. A description of the music is altogether unnecessary. Mr. Broughton - who has taught this class of music from his youth, and still revels in it - had trained the chorus to such a high state of efficiency that the choral singing was again the distinguishing feature of the performance; although the concerted pieces found most able exponents in Miss Anna Williams, Mdme. Trebelli, Mr. Lloyd, and Mr. Henry Cross, who sang as if the entire success of the Festival depended on their own individual exertions. Schubert's song has been produced before in Leeds - but never on such a large scale. The soprano solos were sung with fine taste and feeling by Miss Anna Williams, and the choruses were eminently satisfactory.

At the conclusion of the performance Mr. Sullivan was enthusiastically summoned to the front of the orchestra to bow his acknowledgements, audience, band, and chorus uniting in a demonstration of applause hearty and spontaneous as that which greeted Mr. J. F. Barnett after the production of The Building of the Ship on Wednesday last. We understand that His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, heartily congratulated him upon his well-earned and richly deserved success, expressing himself particularly pleased with the beautiful organ solo, at the same time thanking Dr. Spark with the greatest cordiality for the manner in which he had rendered it.

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