The Boston Handel and Haydn
Lowell Mason, Ed. (not cited)
The Handel and Haydn Society, having been instituted for the purpose of improving the style of Church Music, have felt it their duty to keep two objects continually in view; the first to acquire and diffuse that style and taste in performance without which even the most exquisite compositions lose their effect and influence; the second, what was indeed a necessary pre-requisite, to furnish the public with a selection of such compositions, both of ancient and modern authors, as are considered most excellent, and at the same time most useful.
With regard to the first of these objects, they reflect with great pleasure upon the success which has attended their efforts. A visible improvement has taken place in the style of singing, and consequently in the taste of the community. Not only the practice but the science and theory of music, have been the objects of great attention; the increase of patronage has been commensurate with the increase of knowledge and fondness for the art: and the various collections of psalmody, and the number of editions to which some of them have passed, are sure and certain indications of increasing refinement in the public taste.
These favourable appearances have animated the exertions of the Society with regard to what they have mentioned as the second object of their attention; and they have for some time been engaged with much labour, and at considerable expence, in collecting materials for the present work.
It is obvious that no collection of Sacred Music, can be so extensively useful in this country, as one of psalmody. The only question which can arise therefore, is with respect to the peculiar advantages to be derived from that which is now presented to the public.
The Handel and Haydn Society, have certainly no disposition to detract from the merits of the respectable collections which are now in use; and they wish to avoid any appearance of depreciating the efforts of those whom they consider as fellow-labourers for the promotion of a common benefit. But, while they give that praise which is justly due to these laudable exertions, and acknowledge that much has been done, they are confident that all scientific and disinterested persons will agree with them that much still remains undone. Many respectable teachers of music in various parts of our country have frequently requested the Society to publish a new collection, and the advantages they enjoy for this purpose have seemed to them to render a compliance with this request an act of duty.
Their combination as a Society, and their local situation, have given them an extensive and easy access to the fountains of Music in Europe, and have enabled them to cultivate with advantage an intercourse with gentlemen of taste and science in our own country. As a Society also they are able to sustain and expence beyond the power of individual exertion; and by that division which is so necessary to the perfection of mental as well as bodily efforts, their labours have been rendered more effective.
While there has been in our country a great improvement in the taste for good melody, there has not been a correspondent attention to good harmony. To remedy this defect has been the special object of the Society in the present work.
Many of the oldest and best psalm tunes, as they were originally composed, were simple melodies; and as the practice of singing metre psalms in public worship was only allowed, not enjoined in England, and was confined to the parish churches, it was not much attended to by the principal masters, who were chiefly engaged in the composition of Cathedral Music. When therefore the other parts were added to these simple melodies, metre psalmody being considered of minor importance, the harmonies were mostly added by inferior composers. And even when the harmonies were original parts of the composition, a beautiful air might be composed without any of that science which was necessary to direct with propriety the inferior movements.
Of late years however a great change has taken place in the public sentiment with regard to the importance of psalmody, and this has of course called the attention of the most eminent masters in England to the subject. Several of them have been recently employed in harmonizing anew many of the old standard airs, and also in selecting and adapting movements from the works of Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and other great masters, whose mighty talents have been displayed and acknowledged throughout Europe.
These works are among the materials to which the Handel and Haydn Society have had access, and they have exercised their best judgment in making such selections from them as would most enrich the present work. They consider themselves as peculiarly fortunate in having had, for the accomplishment of their purpose, the assistance of Mr. LOWELL MASON, one of their members now resident in Savannah, whose taste and science have well fitted him for the employment, and whose zeal for the improvement of Church Music, has led him to undertake an important part of the labour in selecting, arranging and harmonizing the several compositions. But what has most contributed to the confidence with which they offer the present collection to the public, the whole work has been finally and most carefully revised by Doctor G. K. JACKSON. The obligations which the Society owe to that gentleman for his gratuitous and unwearied labours, they have endeavoured in some measure to express, by prefixing his name to their work.
The Society are fully aware of the cautious delicacy with which variations should be admitted into tunes that by long use have become familiar, and by the power of association with holy purposes have been in some measure sanctified. They have been careful, therefore to retain in general, the airs of the several tunes unaltered; but as the longest usage cannot reconcile science and correct taste with false harmony, it has been found indispensably necessary to introduce changes into the accompanying parts. The leading part, harmony cannot fail to increase the delight of every lover of Sacred Music.
It is obvious that these improvements will create an additional interest in psalmody, both in schools and societies, and in congregations for public worship. If the inferior parts are tame and spiritless, there will be a reluctance in the scholars or members of societies, to take them. The consequence must be that very unsuitable voices will sing upon the principal part, and thus materially injure the effect of the whole. The same remark is equally applicable to congregations for public worship. With regard to private worship, the improvements in harmony which have now been introduced will operate as an incitement to family devotion. Where there are three or more voices to be found in the same family, capable of sustaining the different parts, a much more powerful effect will be produced by a noble and expressive harmony, than if all should be confined to the Air alone.
The Society are far from thinking, that with all their care and advantages, they have produced a perfect work. Imperfection is the characteristic of every human effort; and works of this nature especially will approach the ideal standard, only by a slow and gradual approximation. They invite therefore the critical examination of all lovers of music, and scientific musicians, that even the most trivial errors may be rectified, and another edition, should another be called for, be rendered still more worthy of the public patronage.