THE art of conducting, in the sense of timekeeping, is very Ancient. In the theatres of Grecian times, the duty of leading fell upon the choregus, who kept the rhythm by tapping an iron shoe on the floor of the stage. In the Middle Ages, accounts show the Emperor Charlemagne beating time, in similar fashion, by tapping with a wooden staff. Even down to the present, the violinist who leads a small orchestra, when not playing himself, will conduct by tapping on his violin with the bow.
This method of tapping was held responsible for the death of Lully, in the seventeenth century. At the performance of one of his works, a Te Deum, celebrating the French king's recovery from sickness, the composer, who was conducting, made such frantic flourishes with his cane that once he struck his gouty foot instead of the floor. Inflammation followed, and neglect allowed it to turn into gangrene, which proved fatal. It may thus be said that Lully died of conducting.
In the music of Handel the composer (or conductor) usually presided by sitting at the harpsichord, where he could fill out the harmonies and guide all the effects. Handel won early notice by stepping to this post of honor at a Hamburg opera performance when Keiser, the regular conductor, was absent dodging creditors. Sometimes the organ was used instead of the harpsichord, especially in the sacred works of Bach. Haydn and Mozart did away with this harpsichord procedure, and the conductors of their works, whoever they were, could pay complete attention to leading the performers. Haydn conducted his own music for Prince Esterhazy, in whose service he remained for many years. It is said that once, when the princely patron thought of disbanding his orchestra, Haydn wrote and led a symphony in which the players were allowed to cease, one by one, putting out their lights and departing from the room, until only the
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Publication information: Book title: The Book of Musical Knowledge:The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers. Edition: Enlarged. Contributors: Arthur Elson - Author. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1927. Page number: 496.
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