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First Notice of the First Performance from The Times
Thursday, September 9, 1869


Mr. Arthur S. Sullivan’s new sacred cantata, built upon the parable of the prodigal son, was this morning performed in the cathedral, under such advantageous conditions as might have insured success for a composition of far less worth. But the cantata, a work of very high pretensions, the most thoughtful, finished, and engaging which has come from the pen of its composer, owes success to its intrinsic merits; and the careful production of such a work would alone have rendered the meeting of 1869 memorable among the Festivals of the Choirs.

If Mr. Sullivan, as we are informed, is himself answerable for the literary as well as the musical portion of his cantata he is entitled to credit. The parable, as it stands in the 15th chapter of Luke, would have been too brief for his purpose, the more so inasmuch as he only uses one-half of it, omitting the remonstrance of the elder son and the father’s reply, as having (to cite the apologetic language of his preface) “no dramatic connexion” with the rest. To amplify his text Mr. Sullivan, has, therefore, had recourse both to the Old and New Testaments, selecting passages more or less relevant of counsel, exhortation, and sympathy, to act as comments upon and to join together naturally the incidents of which the parable is composed. He has done this, in a word, with extreme taste and judgment, and made out as good a libretto – if the term may pass – as, under the circumstances, any composer could desire. That Professor Sterndale Bennett’s Woman of Samaria has in some degree influenced the young composer in the form of his book, as in the form, we do not say the style, of his music, there can, we think, be little doubt. So much the better. The art will be richer by every new essay in this form, especially from so competent a follower, and when the music is of the calibre of the Prodigal Son – than which a worthier companion to the Woman of Samaria could not easily be imagined.

To write such an analysis of the new work as might give a fair notion of it to our readers, after a single hearing, and with the short time immediately at command, is out of the question. Our remarks upon the music must, therefore, be deferred until to-morrow. Meanwhile, we may say that a more perfect first execution of a new and important composition has not been heard in our experience. With such a quartet of solo vocalists as Mdlle. Titiens, Madame Trebelli-Bettini, Mr. Sims Reeves, and Mr. Santley perfection in this department might reasonably have been looked for; but the chorus and the orchestra were equally all that could be wished. Mr. Sullivan himself conducted the performance.

A selection from Handel’s Judas Maccabæus followed.

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