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By the way ...





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


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