AN able article has lately been published in the Advocate, discussing the music for the Greek play, composed by Professor Paine. As the criticism there made was directed chiefly to the methods employed and to the orchestration, it may not be superfluous to add a few remarks for the assistance of those who are endeavoring to form their judgment of the merits of the different choruses.
The first chorus is among the most comprehensible. It is simple, bold, and spirited. The dancing measures occurring at the beginning of the third strophe (p. 20 of the pianoforte score), make a pleasant variety, and the whole has a rythmical ring appropriate to a festive hymn.
Mention was made in the last Crimson of the Adagio movement in the second chorus. It is only necessary to add that the episode, ??? (p. 39 of pianoforte score), is, in our opinion, somewhat marred by the introduction of an extra measure. We should have preferred a strict adherence to periodic form. This is, however, a very slight matter, and the chorus undoubtedly ranks with the fifth and sixth, perhaps we should say with the third and sixth.
The third is a commatic chorus; and here a few words of explanation are needed. Mr. White is authority for the statement that in ordinary prose speaking, and also in metrical recitation, outside of the choruses, the syllables marked with acute accents, with circumflex accents, and with grave accents, were distinguished from one another and from unaccented syllables by a difference of pitch, confined within the interval known as a third. This difference of pitch is not wholly foreign to our own accentuation, but it was much more marked among Greeks, and resulted in a sort of sing-song tone. In the choruses the liberty of an octave was allowed, and where there was a dialogue, both actors and chorus sang. In this last case the chorus is termed commatic. The tones were regulated by certain nomes not extant which were probably stiff and inharmonious. We have given up all attempt to reproduce Greek music, but if the actors could have trusted themselves to sing, or at least to intone, the analogy of the Greek stage would have been more strictly followed. As it was, the actors said their part and were answered by a singing chorus. We now see what was the problem with which Mr. Paine had to deal, and we cannot deny that he has managed in a masterly manner. The chords which always introduce and those which follow the speech of an actor are well suited to their place, and the whole is not disjointed nor ineffective. On the contrary, Mr. Paine has here shown a serious, a religious tone, and a true poetic sense, which enlist our warmest sympathy.
Of the fourth chorus we do not know exactly what to say. It is thoroughly in keeping with the rest of the music, but it is far less satisfactory. It does not seem to be stirred by its own beauty. It has been very aptly termed indistinct.
As the fifth number consists chiefly of a solo by Mr. Osgood, more attention has been paid to the performance than to the composition, and the latter has not had the appreciation which it deserves. The air has much grace and beauty, and is brought to an end (after the introduction of the chorus) through a series of modulations, which admirably prepare the way for the closing sustained note and cadence.
The last chorus is generally acknowledged to be one of the best, if not the very best. It reminds one of a certain Song without Words of Mendelssohn, the fifth in the third book, but it does not suggest plagiarism, rather an equal and similar inspiration. The dramatic effect renders it a "worthy culmination to all that has gone before."
On the whole, the music improves on acquaintance, and, if it sometimes seems lacking in the inherent vitality which characterizes the creations of the greatest masters, we may nevertheless pride ourselves that a Harvard professor has so perfectly embodied the spirit of ancient tragedy, and we may without hesitation assign to these compositions a high place among the productions of a composer of acknowledged merit.