15. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?
with RICHARD GRAVES
As I have said before, browsing through old music periodicals is a favourite
sport of mine. It's a sort of musical lucky dip and I often come across
things which I have never encountered before - like these reminiscenses
of a grand old English lady who sang under Mendelssohn's direction at the
first performance of Elijah at the 1846 Birmingham Festival. Her
name was Emma Stanley of Southport and, bless her, in 1916 at the grand
old age of 90 she wrote her experiences to the Editor of 'The Musical Herald'.
There was, she recalls, some delay in getting copies of the vocal score
printed in time - and when they did arrive 'we were afraid our fingers would
go through - they were so damp'. They were smelly too - of printer's ink
presumably - and Emma complains of 'the scent not quite like lavender'.
She must have been in her very early twenties at the time of her encounter
with the great composer - an impressionable age, perhaps, but remember that
Mendelssohn was quite a good-looker ... 'When Mendelssohn arrived' she admits
'I think one and all fell in love on the spot. His lovely eyes that looked
so soft and beautiful could twinkle merrily at times'. She adored 'the ease
with which he walked' as well as 'his utter freedom from pride at rehearsals'.
He was sweetness itself - 'There was no distinction in his manner between
the highest singer or the lowest chorister'. Furthermore, if things went
awry he was quick to correct, but always in a charming way. 'When Chip the
drummer was half a beat behind, he would say "Oh, Chip",
but only a look of love seemed to go with the reproach'. The way he used
his baton 'was ease and grace itself'. At the end of the performance the
applause was vociferous with members of the audience waving their programmes
whereupon 'Mendelssohn bowed his acknowledgements again and again, very
gravely. Each time he would turn to us with a merry twinkle in his eye,
as much as to say "What do you think of that?"'.
What a lovely old lady she must have been - and, thank God, we can still
find her counterparts in choral societies and choirs all over the world
today. Long may they flourish! But wouldn't it be nice if someone in this
new century would compose a major choral work as accessible to amateurs
and as enjoyable to perform as Elijah?
What do you think of that?
Copyright © 1 June 2000 Richard Graves,
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, UK
<< Music &
Vision homepage More voices from the pit >>