Mr. Prout and "The Critics"
The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular
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... . MAY I, I89I. 265 furious championship of Robert Franz may, perhaps TH E M US I CAL TI M ES be understood by those who sympathise with a generous enthusiasm * but he must have been very AND SINGING-CLASS CIRCULAR. far gone quite out of himself as I have known MAY I I89I. him when he proceeded to assert, or insinuate, all manner of unworthy things against former colleagues, once favoured with his friendship, and not then MR. PROUT AND "THE CRITICS" thoughtsoutterlydespicable. Thetaskisscarcelya * pleasant one, but I must give the reader some idea A FEW weeks ago the Orchestral Committee of the of what presumably Mr. Prout deems to be arguments Birmingham Festival announced that the next per-in the case. formance of " The Messiah " under their auspices In the matter of epithets, and so forth, Mr. Prout would not be conducted by Hans Richter. This is strong. Here are some of those he uses as brought to the mind of "a certain section of the applicable to the critics: " clamorous," " dumb press " the conditions under which Handel's master-dogs," " pack " (in the sense of Webster's definition: piece has been given since the Viennese chef d'orchestre " A number of hounds or dogs, hunting or kept succeededtothe baton ofthelateSirMichael Costa, together"),"yelping,""scandal,""wanton insult." and so. raised the whole question of Robert Franz's From these examples it would appear that, amid all version as against that usually adopted in England. his gentler studies, Mr. Prout has not omitted to Some of the critics who protested against the intro-qualify in rhetorical Billingsgate. But " hard words duction of Handelplxs Franz when the change was break no bones," and I pass on to charges and made, not unnaturally renewed their expressions of insinuations:dissatisfaction, using such terms as " meddling and I. Insinuation that the critics did not attend the muddling," " impertinence," and bringing Handel performance of the Handel-Franz's " Messiah " at " up to date." In this there was nothing of a startling Birmingham: " How many of them heard Franz's character. The opinions expressed, and the words arrangement of ' The Messiah ' when it was given at employed, re-appeared as but echoes of an old contro-Birmingham, and how many of them took the opporversy, which, to the best of my recollection, began, tunity of the performance of so familiar a work to get continued, and ended in a proper spirit at any rate, a little well-earned rest in the middle of their arduous without explosions of unseemly and unnecessary labours? " anger. II. Insinuation that, not having heard the per-At that time, I believe, Mr. Ebenezer Prout was formance, the critics pronounced judgment without actively engaged in musical criticism, and, no doubt, comparing the Franz version with that in general stated his views on the matter at issue with cus-use: " If they did not hear it, how many have taken tomary point and decision. What those views were the trouble to collate Mozart's and Franz's scores ? " I am, from personal knowledge, unable to say; but, III. Charge of inconsistency: " What is the cause inferentially, the acceptance of Franz's edition at of this sudden outburst of zeal for the purity of Birmingham met with cordial approval. From that Handel's text on the part of critics, not one of whom, time till a short while since Mr. Prout seems to so far as I know, has ever uttered a word of protest have l)een oppressed by a growing weight of indigna-against the atrocious distortions of Handel's music tion against those who have the misfortune to diSer which Costa used to perpetrate at every Handel from him. So undesirable a state was not, how-Festival ? " ever, suspected. Some of the critics, who could not IV. Charge of wantonly insulting Franz: " It is forget an old colleague, one of the ablest and, I not at all surprising that the Germans should think should say, the most erudite of their band, us an unmusical nation when they see such wanton followed Mr. Prout into comparative retirement insults publicly offered to one of their greatest with all sympathy and good wishes. They pictured artists." him in the quiet and seclusion of his study, preparing The insinuations and charges, based on feeling masterly treatises on musical theory, propounding rather than fact, which figure in this pretty little exercises, and, with touching regard for human indictment, Mr. Prout himself, when not in a state weakness, working them in benevolent supplements. of "deep indignation," would hardly expect me to No well-regulated mind could feel anything but answer, and I shall notice only a single statepleasure in the contemplation of such a spectacle, ment. Referringtothe Costameddlingandmuddling, but, alas ! the actual conditions were not as fondly Mr. Prout observes: " I believe none of these gentleimagined. In the recesses of Mr. Prout's breast were men ever lifted his voice in indignant protest." Here, all the materials of a terrific explosion. As Mr. at least, is something deEnite, capable of proof or Sergeant Buzfuz figurativelyremarked in the memor-disproof, and as I am very sure that Mr. Prout's " I able trial of Bardell sesslfs Pickwick, "The train was believe" stands for a vague impression, he may be laid, the mine was preparing; the sapper and miner interested to read the following extract from the was at work." The spark came from the critics and Daily Telegrath of Thursday, June z5, I875. It Mr. Prout blew up. refers to a Handel Festival performance under Costa: My friend describes himself as, at that moment, " The ' Dead March ' might with advantage have been the subject of "deep indignation." But somehow-rendered more in accordance with Handel's original perhaps because " Still waters run deep ' comes to idea. Far too much brass was employed, and here mind the quoted words suggest a state of feeling letusaddthatthesameremarkappliestomostofthe intense but repressed, and the more intense because choruses, some of which were quite disfigured by the repressed. I would rather qualify Mr. Prouts in-preponderanceoftrombonesandtrumpets. Moreover, dignation as boiling, since it has run seething and the brass was so liberally used in doubling the voice steaming over nine and a half columns of the parts that the ear grew as weary of it as the eye Mo1zthly Mllsical Record. But I do not attach so would of looking at a picture blazing with vermilion, much inzportance to the space covered as to the and no ordinary relief came when the voices were quality of the ebullient temper. That is most extra-allowed to run alone. Handel, however, has been ordinary, and many a reader of the journal just fair game for 'additional accompaniment' writers mentioned must have wondered that so much anger these many years, and there is no reason to be should be found in a " celestial mind.' Mr. Prout's ) surprised at anything he suffers." This extract is but