Prague Concert Life, 1850-1881

Event title:

Society of Musical Artists [Jednota hudebních umělců / Tonkünstler-Gesellschaft] benefit concert in aid of the Prague Institute for the Widows and Orphans of Musical Artists

Venue: Žofín Island (Žofín Hall)

Event type: Art music culture

Date: 23/12/1863

Season: Advent

Programme comprising:

General participants:
  • Society of Musical Artists: organizing institution
  • Estates Theatre orchestra: participating orchestra
  • Provisional Theatre orchestra: participating orchestra
  • Cecilia Society: participating institution, vv, orch
  • Žofín Academy: participating institution, vv
  • Prague Men's Singing Society [Prager Männergesangsverein]: participating institution, vv
  • Hlahol: participating institution, vv
  • APT, Antonín: director of ensemble, conductor
  • Prague Conservatory: participating institution, vv, orch
HANDEL, George Frideric : oratorio Solomon, solo vv, chorus, orch, HWV 67
     • Schmidt-Procházková, Josefa : Solomon Lukes, Jan Ludevít : Zadok Eilers, Albert : Priest Emminger, Josef : Acolyte Peklová, Johanna : Queen Ehrenbergů, Eleonora z : Queen of Sheba Zawiszanka, Helena : first woman Macháčková, Marie : second woman


Initial news of this event was published in the German-language newspaper Prager Morgenpost on 9/11/1863. Its report, signed ‘–ý–’, related: ‘The Society of Musical Artists [Die Tönkunstler-Societät] presents for this year’s Christmas production Händel’s great Oratorio: „Salomon“ [Solomon]. It is to be noted that the great master’s immortal work, that here has never before been head, will be performed this time after the original score, with obbligato orchestral accompaniment. We shall in time make public the cast of solo parts.’ A month later, on 9/12/1863 more specific details of the occasion: ‘Concert. The local Society of Musical Artists [Tonkünstler-Gesellschaft], with the participation of gentlemen and ladies of the Sophien-Akademie [Žofín Academy], of the Cecilia Society, of the Men’s Singing Society [Männergesang-Vereins], of Hlahol, the pupils of the local Music Conservatory, the orchestra members of the Royal Estates Theatre and of many dilettantes, will on Wednesday 23rd December 1863 in the Hall of the Žofín Island for the benefit of its Widows and Orphans Institute [i.e. of the Society of Musical Artists] perform: (for the first time) „Salomon, great Oratorio in 3 parts, by G.F. Händel with orchestral arrangement by F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.’ The previous Prager Morgenpost note that the work was being performed from the original score was thus not entirely accurate, the production being facilitated by the utilization of Mendelssohn’s arrangement which had been given earlier in the year in Cologne.

On 22/12/1863 Prager Morgenpost published further details of this event. The source noted the soloists, ‘
„Salomon“ Mrs Schmidt-Prochaska [Schmidt-Procházková], „Zadok“ Mr Lukes, „Priest“ Mr Eilers, „Acolyte“ [Trabant] Mr Emminger, „Queen“ Miss Pekel [Peklová], „Queen of Sheba“ Miss von Ehrenberg, „first“ and „second“ women, Miss Zawiszanka, Miss Macháček. The performance takes place tomorrow at 5 o’clock in the Žofín Island Hall. Incidentally, it should be noted that the Society of Musical Artists is giving this great masterpiece according to the original score: there is an obbligato organ accompaniment. Since the cost of the transportation and installation of the organ, and for the score to be copied etc. amounts to a substantial sum, it is to be hoped that many will be attending this concert.’ The time given for the concert was contradicted in the Tagesanzeiger daily almanac of social events published in the same issue of Prager Morgenpost. This noted: ‘Midday [Mittags] Concert of the Society of Musical Artists for the benefit of their Widows and Orphans Institute on the Žofín Island (first performance [in Prague] of Händel’s great oratorio Salomon“.)’

A substantial, unsigned article about this concert was published by Prager Morgenpost 27/12/1863. The main body of the text comprised a descriptive resumé of the work. However, the correspondent began by noting that changes had been made to the piece by Mendelssohn, specifically that the obbligato organ accompaniment had been worked by him, and that he had omitted some of the arias and recitatives ‘because they are somewhat outdated in form’. The reviewer went on to criticise Mendelssohn’s edition and arrangement, remarking that the veracity of such adjustment ‘remains an open question: I think for my part that any author, and certainly a genius like Händel, would request that their creations might not otherwise be given unless in the form as they are in their score.’ If everyone took to changing Händel oratorios in order to make them more ‘performable’ then, the critic considered, in a hundred years the original would be lost sight of and difficult to distinguish from the various versions. The argument of justifying such changes as to produce something ‘more suited to our time’ was ‘the quintessence of bottom-of-the-barrel snobbery’. The correspondent then went on to give some background to the oratorio: ‘Before I go on to speak of this work, it should first of all be noted that it originated in 1749. Thus Händel was 63 years old.
Being blinded by cataracts, it is remarkable that his last oratorio Jeptha, dictated to his pupil Smith in the spring eight years before his death in 1859, surpasses Solomon in every respect. It almost seems as though before this remarkable man had to take leave of this earth for the glory of immortality, mustered the remainder of his dying strength.’ The correspondent then drew attention to the simplicity of Solomon’s plot, noting that ‘The only dramatic scene is when the two mothers and Solomon settle the dispute over the child. But this is merely an episode. All the remainder offers only a glorification of Solomon. The unmotivated appearance of the Queen of Sheba seems quite naive, being only to admire the Temple of Solomon and the choir singing at the Court of the ruler of Israel. So, barring that one touching episode, Solomon is a purely lyrical work. It has no plot, but much music for its own sake. Therefore the old dispute pops up all over again: whether an oratorio leans more to opera or to the secular cantata, or to pure church style; these are irrelevant since it is well to remember that the oratorio with material from the story of the Saviour arose in the Middle Ages, went on to the story of the New Testament and thence to the stories of the Old and from there over into Christian legend. Such a variety of material basis prompts the greatest stylistic differences. So, for example, treatment of the death of Jesus requires different expression than, on the one hand Moses, and on the other hand Die Zerstörung Jerusalems“. Consider historical facts: The Fall of Babylon must be reminiscent of the colourful splendour of the opera; substance, such as that of Ruth“ must surely imitate the style of the cantata.  Accordingly, it requires no further justification that just as Samson“ by virtue of the dramatic character of the text has a lot in common with opera, and that Messiah“ is similar to Herder as a Christian epic, so Solomon has a lyrical nature. A precise definition of the oratorio cannot be determined, since they do not depend upon the material of the genre but rather on the spiritual expression. The musical content of Solomon reveals Händel’s fondness for architecture just as in all of his works. Of the old, as much to say ‘holy’ rules [of musical technique], are no transgressions made [wird kein Haar breit nachgelassen - literally ’no hair is out of place’]. The iron mould into which he poured his immortal thoughts has always remained the same, but within it there „circulates new blood.“

Thus the Ouverture has exactly the same form as those for
Messiah“, Belshazzer“, Jeptha“ etc. But it is different in content. That toSolomon“ begins (in the traditional manner which Händel loved), with a Largo in B-flat major, repeated and singularly contrasting well with respect to its tight rhythm with the following masterful fugal-style Allegro leading into the first chorus: „Ihr Harfen und Cymbele ertönt“ [‘Your harps and cymbals sound’]. It is in eight parts and is poignant in its effect. First sung by the basses of both vocal sections in unison, [the theme] rises higher and higher up to the climax of expression of the greatest joy. Then the Priest sings a noble aria in which he praises the Lord of the world. There follows an eight-voice choral movement in tempo ordinario in C minor, the chorus ending, oddly enough, in B-flat major. In one, almost recitative-like aria (Largo assai), the King gives thanks to the Lord for his grace and asks for the blessings of the temple. „Zadok“ now proclaims in a preceding recitative that God’s glory fills the Temple, and sings his delight in the following aria (his most beautiful aria). A magnificent piece is the next chorus: „In allen Leiden bringt Jehovah Preis“ [‘Throughout the land Jehovah’s praise record’], both choruses at the beginning together and then going off in individual voices in a fugue a 4 voci. Of the following numbers a true gem is the Duett between the Queen and King, a song of happiness [Beglückungsgesang] in B minor conceived with high expression; it changes into the key of D major and ends with an Adagio. Partly four-part-, partly five-part, the pearl of this Oratorio is the chorus concluding the first act, after Zadok has made the people aware of the royal couple’s sovereingty.

The second act opens with a double chorus. In the midst of joyful singing arises a four-part fugue, which merges with the first theme [of the chorus]. Of uplifting effect is the Tercett between the two women and Solomon. Amongst the remaining numbers stand out particularly the four- and five-part chorus which praises the Wisdom of Solomon, and that of the Finale: „Schallt laut, ihr Chöre“
[‘Swell, swell the full chorus’]. The dispute over the child is, as I said, the only plot. Otherwise, nothing happens in this part. In the third act, which begins with an instrumental introduction, the Queen sings a recitative that Solomon answers. He calls on his followers to sing a song of victory in a stormy double chorus. Once again the King interrups to sing a lament to hopeful love. At his call: „Aber es tröste sich die Seele“ follows a brief aria... The choir now siezes the opening melody of the aria, which is then treated very differently. Following praise for the wisdom of the Queen of Sheba and Zadok, Solomon takes his farewell, whereupon the Queen and the King sing a duet. To end is a fiery double chorus in D major. The performance was very decent in terms of both vocalists and orchestra. It was only a pity that the organ proved too weak. All those participating were driven by true artistic spirit. The names of the soloists we have already communicated in an earlier issue. The conductor, Kapellmeister Jahn, directed with prudence and energy. The attendance was extremely numerous.’

A substantial review of this concert, signed ‘M.’, was published by the Prague German-language newspaper Politik 27/12/1863. The correspondent wrote: ‘Concert. On the 23rd of this month in the Hall of the Žofín Island a concert of great interest, given by the Society of Musicians took place, about which we wrote previously in this paper. The ensemble, incidentally some 300 strong, in which the chorus and orchestra included all the artistic forces of Prague, performed Handel’s large oratorio „Solomon“, a work new to this city. As we mentioned, this work was last performed at the big music festival in Cologne in June of last year with Mendelssohn’s completion of the score, in which he filled out the organ part. The same revised score was used here, and the presence of the organ added greatly to interest and effect. On the occasion of the Cologne performance the festival committee there published a memoir; we have drawn a few notes from this on the subject of the oratorio: „It is fourteenth in the sequence of Handel’s oratorios (after it come only three: Susanna, Theodora and Jephta) and was composed in 1748. Handel was then already 63 years old. In accordance with the libretto it was necessary to refrain from a dramatic treatment or a scenic continuity, since the only dramatic scene, Solomon’s pronouncement of judgement, is also no more than an episode. The whole turns on the glorification of Solomon in his power, justice and love of finery; even the Queen of Sheba is only introduced in the last section in order to express wonder at the Temple of „Salem“ and at the singing of the choir in the court of the ruler of Israel. „Solomon is thus, with the exception of the episode mentioned, a lyrical and purely musical work. The less action there is in the oratorio, the more there is music, music for music’s sake, and the hand of Handel the musician may well have played a part in the shaping of the text, with its skilfully introduced moments that allow the expression of the much-changing character and lend an atmosphere that enables the uniformity of the materials behind the animated musical colours to disappear. Accordingly one may ascribe a more easily grasped structure and a deliberate inclination towards a noble popularity in the choruses, albeit with perhaps less depth and richness and polyphonic development,. This is particularly evident in the attractive and lovely choruses where, for example, in the three first choral numbers, in the first chorus of the second section and in the penultimate chorus of the third, the vibrancy of Handel’s genius burns as strongly as in his other works despite his 63 years. The solo numbers are worthy of especial attention. They are not written in the bravura style of other works of the period in which Handel made occasional concessions to contemporary taste. With the exception of two tenor arias, for which part the master probably had a skilled Italian virtuoso on hand, the solo pieces are suited to their emotional character through their melodic simplicity. Thus the part namely of Solomon himself, noble throughout and without any ornateness. The difference in character between the two quarrelling mothers is brilliantly expressed musically and the aria of the real mother, „Könnt’ ich sehen des Kindes Blut“ is a true pearl that is worthy of the most beautiful that Handel ever wrote.”

We believe that these remarks may be of as much benefit to our public as to that of Cologne in providing a degree of explanation concerning the importance of this masterwork, although sadly our local conditions do not allow it to be heard as it was in Cologne, where there were such massive forces and the great organ of 21 voices and 16 registers in the Gärzenichsaale. Nonetheless everything took place that could only bring glory to this work, with the greatest of alacrity, from both the arranger and the performers. The individual ensembles were well rehearsed; the whole was conducted by Kapellmeister Jahn (after only a single full rehearsal) with great prudence, so that the capacity audience visibly appreciated the high quality of art that was offered them. If only there had been a more capacious organ; yet Mr Prucha’s willing to take on and carefully render the organ part earns him special merit. It is hoped, since there is a general desire for a second performance of this oratorio, that a suitable occasion for this will be found in the future. Most of the numbers, both solo and ensemble items, were received with warm applause; likewise at the beginning of the great double chorus in B flat No. 4 - the charming „Chorus of Nightingales in G major“
[‘May no rash intruder’] with its surprising tone-painting in the flute and softly undulating organ parts, also the grandiose double-chorus in D major at the start of the second section, the trio that accompanies the aria in the mentioned episode, and then in the final section the four bridge passages with their masterful voicing, and lastly the great eight-part chorus in D major, „Lobt den Herren mit Harfenspiel“ [‘Praise the Lord with harp and tongue’], a masterstroke that justifiably brings the whole work to its conclusion in a suitable manner. All the arias were executed admirably by the soloists. The title part (that the composer was probably forced by circumstances to give to an alto), a very large vocal undertaking, was taken by Mrs Procházka with precision and piety to her full capability; once again she made us aware of what a notable artistic person, though for some incomprehensible reason blatantly disfavoured in the theatre, our city has in her. Miss von Ehrenberg as the Queen of Sheba particularly excelled in the aria with flute obbligato. Miss Zawiszanka (first wife) performed finely in the episode described; also Misses Macháček (second wife) and Pekl (the Queen) made fine contributions appropriate to their abilities in their respective numbers. Mr Lukes as Zadok performed brilliantly; his three difficult arias, whose rendition, exemplary and artistic in every respect, could scarcely have been achieved so soon, even by this celebrated member of our city’s opera singers. The same applies for the contribution of Mr Eiler’s Priest and Mr Emminger’s Acolyte, which were truly remarkable. We have already mentioned the general applause for the orchestra and for the male and female choruses, and also the boy singers, and thus believe that our report on this truly great musical event is complete.’

Summary of sources:

Prager Morgenpost (09/11/1863)
Prager Morgenpost (09/12/1863)
Prager Morgenpost (22/12/1863)
Prager Morgenpost (23/12/1863)
Politik (27/12/1863)
Prager Morgenpost (27/12/1863)