|Sullivan > Major Works > Festival Te Deum > Times Review (1872)
The concert in the “Handel Orchestra” yesterday began about 4 o’clock. On the arrival of the distinguished party who occupied the Royal box the National Anthem was performed by a chorus and orchestra upwards of 2,000 in number; and then followed the new “Te Deum Laudamus,” written by Mr. Arthur Seymour Sullivan expressly for the occasion of this “Thanksgiving” fête, and dedicated, by permission – a favour but seldom accorded, – to Her Majesty the Queen.
Of this new work by our young countryman we are glad to be able to speak in terms of unqualified praise. It is not only, in our opinion, the most finished composition for which we are indebted to his pen, but an honour to English art. It is written for soprano solo, chorus, orchestra, organ, and military band. The military band is not an absolute necessity, but may be employed ad libitum; its effect, however, as introduced in the last chorus, is so bright and uncommon that it would be a pity to present the work without it.
The “Te Deum” comprises seven numbers. The first begins with a slow and majestic prelude for orchestra, in which a fragment of Dr. Croft’s church tune known as “St Ann’s,” bearing a strong affinity to the theme of one of the most famous of J. S. Bach’s organ fugues, is introduced. The chorus (C major) is in the same strain, and the words, “All the earth doth worship Thee,” are set to a short “fugato.” At the repetition of “We praise Thee,” &c., full choral harmony is resumed; and “To Thee all angels cry aloud” becomes the text for a well-developed fugue, which, but for certain episodical passages, might almost be called Handelian in style.
Still better is the second number – “To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry” (E flat) – for soprano solo, with chorus. The setting of the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth,” in which the chorus is alternately accompanied by orchestra and left alone, is singularly impressive, and there is a Rossinian touch in the charming triplet melody allotted to the solo (sung to perfection by Mdlle. Titiens).
The interest of the work increases as it goes on. The third number – a grand chorus – “The glorious company of the Apostles praise Thee” – is one of the most striking and original in the “Te Deum.” In this is interpolated the first Gregorian tone (G), harmonized with great ingenuity, especially in one place, where, the tune being preserved intact, the harmony takes it into a different key. The words, “Thou art the King of Glory,” are set to what musicians technically term a canon, “four in one,” and this, with a characteristic accompaniment for the orchestra, is developed so skilfully as to justify us, without entering into further detail, in proclaiming Mr. Sullivan a thorough master of contrapuntal device.
The fourth number is an air for soprano (B minor), “When Thou tookest on Thee to deliver man” – a strain of continuous melody as beautiful as it is pathetic. This was exquisitely sung by Mdlle. Titiens, and accompanied by the orchestra with a delicacy beyond praise.
No. 5, chorus, “We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge” (B major), is less original, if not less meritorious in a purely artistic sense, than the pieces which precede and follow it. What with the style of its melody, and its triplet orchestral accompaniment, we are too frequently reminded of Mendelssohn, and especially of certain passages in St. Paul. But, in other respects there is no room for criticism.
No. 6, soprano solo, with chorus (G) – “O Lord, save Thy people” – has much worthy notice, more, in fact, than we can find time to dwell upon. The second part, “Day by day we magnify Thee,” begins with a very tuneful choral quartet, the theme led off by the tenors, answered by the basses and echoed by the sopranos, though not further developed, as might have been anticipated, in the strict form of a “round” or “canon.” In this number we have a fresh reference to the Gregorian tone, already mentioned, where the words, “O Lord, save Thy people,” occur – than which nothing could be more appropriate.
No.7 – “Vouchsafe, O Lord” (C) – the final chorus, and concluding portion of the “Te Deum,” is a worthy climax. In this Mr. Sullivan has put forth all his strength, and with eminent success. The orchestral prelude is identical with that with which the work commences, and, the key being also identical, we have that homogeneity sometimes absent even from compositions far more ambitious in design and character. Here, again, the stately tune of Dr. Croft (“St. Ann’s”) is used with striking effect, both in the opening and elsewhere. The words, “O Lord, let Thy mercy lighten upon us,” are wedded to a masterly fugue, from which, though here and there slightly reminded of St. Paul, we cannot withhold admiration.
The introduction of the military band, near the close, the reappearance of the “St. Ann’s” tune, now made the theme of the “Domine salvam fac Reginam” (“O Lord save the Queen”) for voices in unison, and the ultimate working up merit all eulogy. It is agreeable to have to describe in such terms the work of a native musician composed for so important an occasion.
The performance generally, under the vigilant direction of Mr. Manns, was, all things considered, remarkably good. At the end Mr. Sullivan was loudly called for, and on appearing in the orchestra was uproariously cheered, the members of the band and chorus heartily joining in the demonstration.
It will suffice to give the programme of the second part of the concert, which was listened to by the Royal visitors from one end to the other:–
Except that every member was applauded, and that Signor Foli was encored in the fine old English naval song of Dr. Boyce (“Hearts of Oak”), it is unnecessary to say anything about this selection of familiar pieces. If overtures were splendidly played, the solos were given as well as could be wished, and the chorale, chorus, and part-song left nothing to desire.
The number of admissions by season tickets was 16,232 ditto on payment, 9,966; total visitors, 26,198.
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