December 2nd, 1848 (Saturday)

December 2, 2010

For a wonder, I, who never go outside the gates, went into Oxford today; – yet not without reason. Monk has long been preparing to take the degree of Mus. Bac., and with this view has composed an exercise to a selection of verses from Milton’s Hymn on the Nativity. It came off today in the Hall of Exeter College, before a most crowded audience, – the Vice-Chancellor, Proctors, and Professor of Music (Sir Henry Bishop) presiding. Monk conducted himself, and the orchestra, which was very effective, acquitted themselves well. Several were engaged from London, and Mr Henry Phillips sang the bass recitative.1 Howard and Savory, and Sir Frederick Ouseley, with numbers of amateurs sang in the chorus. The music was very good, interesting, and pure, so that every one was charmed, and all seemed to agree that no such exercises had been heard in Oxford for many years. I asked Sir Henry Bishop was not one part of it good, which in the rehearsal had just been played, and his reply was, ‘very clever, Sir.’ Altogether a great point has been secured by this performance; for not only has Monk now attained a University degree, which will raise his position here, but Music has been advanced, and a step taken to make it more respectable. The expense however, has been considerable, upwards of £100, – but it is worth it.

[Programme for the exercise]

On our return to Oxford, I found that a ‘basso di camera’, which Monk had ordered for me, was arrived. This is a fine bass instrument, in size between a violoncello and double bass. I purchased it, not so much to play it myself, for I have not the time, but to help the interests of the stringed band, which has lately started into life. Many parents object, very often quite needlessly, to their boys learning wind instruments, while their boys are so anxious to play on something, that, in spite of formidable difficulties before them, they have got leave to try their hands on violins, violoncellos, etc. – no doubt some one some time or other, will make use of this basso.

The brass band is getting on well; in fact, they will soon produce music, which will be quite pleasing to listen to. They are faithfully keeping their promise to be industrious. They devote barely half-an-hour a day to practising, – but their knowledge of music, – scales, intervals, time, and so on, is so solid, that their advancement is easy enough. Thus the band is turning out quite the tool of education that I designed it to be.


1: Henry Phillips, singer, was primarily a baritone, although he also sang bass roles. In 1845 he had performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah under the composer’s direction, and in 1846 Mendelssohn composed music specifically for him to sing, but in 1848/9 his voice deteriorated very rapidly and he sank into obscurity with startling speed. His performance of Monk’s composition would have been one of his last public performances, when he was already considered to have lost his talent. See entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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