Now! Then! A Yorkshire Almanac for 2024

18 September 1858: The Spectator is bowled over by the choral singing in the Messiah at the new secular Leeds Festival

Spectator. 1858/09/18. Music. London. Get it:

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Excerpt

In the performance of the solo parts there was nothing remarkable, the principal singers being the usual metropolitan celebrities, but the choruses were sung in a manner which the metropolis certainly has never been able to equal. We have already had occasion to notice the superiority of the choristers of Birmingham to those of Exeter Hall, notwithstanding their inferiority in numerical strength: at Leeds the same observation held good in a still more remarkable degree. The Yorkshire choristers are the best in England, if not the best in the world; and all the Leeds choristers were Yorkshire people belonging to the working classes, drawn from the towns and villages of that musical land. Among them there was not one useless individual: they all had sound, mellow, English voices; they all thoroughly knew their parts, and consequently sang without hesitation or wavering, and their united voices formed a volume of pure musical sound which we have never heard equalled elsewhere by twice their number. Of all the districts of England the great county of York is the best able to furnish the materials for a great music-meeting; and in former times it was in the city of York that the greatest of the English festivals was held, though it has been long since crushed by the interference of clerical bigotry.


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Original

The Leeds Musical Festival terminated with The Messiah on the morning of Saturday last. In the performance of the solo parts there was nothing remarkable, the principal singers being the usual metropolitan celebrities, Madame Clara Novello, Miss Dolby, Mr. Sims Reeves, and Mr. Weiss; but the choruses were sung in a manner which the metropolis certainly has never been able to equal. We have already had occasion to notice the superiority of the choristers of Birmingham to those of Exeter Hall, notwithstanding their inferiority in numerical strength: at Leeds the same observation held good in a still more remarkable degree. At Exeter Hall the choral and instrumental band numbers above 700; at Birmingham it numbered about 500; at Leeds under 350: while the real power of these tuneful hosts was in the inverse ratio of their numbers. The Birmingham 500 excelled the London 700, while the Leeds 350 excelled both the one and the other. The Yorkshire choristers are the best in England, if not the best in the world; and all the Leeds choristers were Yorkshire people belonging to the working classes, drawn from the towns and villages of that musical land. Among them there was not one useless individual: they all had sound, mellow, English voices; they all thoroughly knew their parts, and consequently sang without hesitation or wavering, and their united voices formed a volume of pure musical sound which we have never heard equalled elsewhere by twice their number. Of all the districts of England the great county of York is the best able to furnish the materials for a great music-meeting; and in former times it was in the city of York that the greatest of the English Festivals was held, though it has been long since crushed by the interference of clerical bigotry. We are glad that a new Yorkshire Festival has been established. Like that of Birmingham, it is independent of the abused power of ecclesiastical dignitaries: and as the people of Leeds have emulated those of Birmingham in spirit and energy, their Festival has a fair prospect of rivalling the other in durability and magnitude. And this prospect is all the greater for the design, (which we understand, is contemplated) of rendering the Leeds Festival, like that of Birmingham, a permanent establishment, with triennial meetings for one charitable object, the benefit of the General Infirmary, a charity of great and extensive usefulness.

The financial result of this first Music Meeting at Leeds has been highly favorable. The audiences at the seven morning and evening performances amounted on an average to 2000 persons at each; the whole amount received has been about 75001, while the expenditure is estimated at 6000l: so that the charity will be benefited to the extent of about 1500l.

The appointment of Professor Sterndale Bennett (who, in addition to his high talents and reputation, is a Yorkshireman born) to the office of conductor, gave general satisfaction from the outset, and the vigour and ability with which he performed his duties, enhanced greatly the excellence of the performances and the success of the Festival.

522 words.

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