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Over de Christus-Symfonie

een journalist van The Musical Times

A “Christus Symphony” at Ghent
door een journalist van The Musical Times

[In maart 1895 liet de Joodse componist Adolphe Samuel zich samen met zijn vrouw, de zangeres Bertha Emanuel, dopen door de Gentse bisschop Antoine Stillemans. Enkele weken later, op 8 april 1895, hield Samuel zijn Christus-symfonie boven de doopvont. Het was een opgemerkt evenement. Prominente collega’s van Samuel als Peter Benoit, François-Auguste Gevaert, Edgar Tinel en Paul Gilson woonden de creatie in Gent bij, en belangrijke buitenlandse muziekbladen besteedden veel aandacht aan het nieuwe werk. Onderstaande recensie verscheen in The Musical Times, kort na de wereldcreatie van de Christus-symfonie van Samuel, op 8 april 1895 in Gent.]

A “Christus Symphony” at Ghent

A Symphonie Mystique, entitled Christus by Mons. Adolphe Samuel, the eminent director of the Royal Conservatoire of Ghent, was performed at the Casino of that city, on Sunday afternoon, the 9th ult. In our present issue will be found an account of Rubinstein’s Christus. The idea of impersonating the Saviour on the stage offends many - may, indeed mention that to Mons. Samuel himself it is repugnant - but to take advantage of an art which makes such strong and direct appeal to the emotions to illustrate and intensify the story of Christ’s sufferings and of His tragic death is certainly legitimate. The subject has been frequently treated in oratorio form : Handel, Bach, Graun, Beethoven, Gounod, Kiel, Liszt are names which at once present themselves to the memory; Mendelssohn indeed, commenced a ‘Christus’, but did not live to complete it. Mons. Samuel, like Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony, has summoned voices to his aid; they are employed in the last three divisions of the work.

Christus opens with a movement bearing the superscription Nazareth, which contains many characteristic themes and clever developments. The Annunciation forms the subject-matter of the first section; in the second, the Shepherds and Magi occupy our attention. The whole movement is attractive; the melodies or themes are full of charm, which is enhanced by the masterly orchestration. The second movement, Au désert de Juda: Le mont de la tentation, is impressive. It contains two themes of special moment, in that they refer to Christ Himself; the one stands as symbol of His authority, the other, of His suffering. The movement, indeed, opens with the former, which is powerfully proclaimed by brass instruments; the latter, as will readily be understood, is employed with fullest effect in the Passion. The ‘Authority’ motive, of stern, almost menacing character, despite the various modifications which it undergoes in the course of the work, is always easy of recognition.

The next movement, Scènes de l’Apostolat, opens with a lively theme descriptive of the common folk crowding to Jesus to hear the blessed words which fell from His lips. The Pharisees are represented by the theme which, with its halting rhythm and lurid harmonies, well depicts the evil, jealous spirit by which they were possessed; its downward progression, too, stands in curious contrast to the upward tendency of the Christ and other motives. The voices enter towards the close of this movement; and here, again, we have another striking contrast. The music hitherto has been very modern in character; the vocal music is, however, based on old ecclesiastical themes: a Pueri hebraorum, a Benedictus, and an Alleluia; the subject is the triumphal entry of the Master into Jerusalem. This Coda is of imposing effect.

The fourth movement, La Passion, is a tone-picture of dark colour; the fierce Crucifige of the angry crowd, sung by the choir, though almost painful in its realism, is full of movement, and from a purely musical point of view, is welcome after the slow, serious strains which have preceded. The Tristis est anima sua, another ecclesiastical theme, whether intoned by the voices or played in the orchestra, forms one of the most marked features of the movement; it is unutterably sad, and even without words, speaks its own meaning. The last number is choral: it bears the title Advenit Regnum, Dei. Here again ecclesiastical themes are employed and together with them two mystic themes. The music is full of dignity and power: the quiet Amen brings the work to an effective close.

Such is the brief outline of the Symphony, which occupies about two hours in performance. It is evidently the outcome of religious feeling. The music, with a knowledge of the chief themes, may be easily followed; a study of the score would, however, show what skilful and elaborate use was made of them. It is difficult to pronounce judgment on the symphony in the matter of individuality. The general scheme is original, but there is a strong Wagner vein running through the work; and again, there is much letter to master before one can enter fully into the spirit of the music. Of the composer’s noble aim and high achievement there is, however, no question. The work was ably performed under the direction of the veteran composer, and it was received by the large audience with enthusiasm. The orchestral playing and choral singing were excellent. The symphony, we understand, is to be given at Cologne during the coming winter.

[Christus in Keulen]
door een journalist van The Musical Times

[In januari 1896 werd Samuels magnum opus Christus in de befaamde Gürzenichconcerten in Keulen uitgevoerd. Op het programma stonden ook nog een orgelconcerto van Händel (op het nieuwe orgel van de Gürzenichzaal), een werk voor koor en orkest van Wüllner, en het zevende vioolconcerto van Ludwig Spohr met concertmeester Willy Seibert als solist. In een volle zaal zorgden koor en orkest voor een uitstekende uitvoering van Samuels werk. In The Musical Times stond op 1 maart 1896 te lezen:]

COLOGNE - An important novelty at the Gürzenich Concert of January 28 was the performance of the symphony-oratorio Christus by the veteran Belgian composer, M. Adolphe Samuel, first produced about twelve months since at Ghent, where M. Samuel is Director of the Conservatoire. The work is divided into five parts, the first and second being purely orchestral, while in the remaining three the chorus takes an important share. Manifestly conceived under the influence of Parsifal, with the subject of which it presents many points of contact, M. Samuel’s Christus possesses nevertheless considerable independent merit, as was acknowledged both by the highly appreciatory attitude of a crowded audience and in the criticisms of the leading press organs. The performance, under Dr. Wüllner, was an excellent one, amongst those present being the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Krementz, the composer himself (now in his seventy-third year) and M. Ysaÿe, who is preparing a performance of the work for one of his Brussels Concerts.

N.N.: A “Christus Symphony” at Ghent, in: The Musical Times, jrg. 36, nr. 629, 1 juli 1895, p. 460 & N.N.: Foreign Notes - Cologne, in: The Musical Times, jrg. 37, nr. 637, p. 174.