Esther, the Beautiful Queen/The Oratorio of Daniel, Opus 42

By Copeland, Robert M. | Notes, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Esther, the Beautiful Queen/The Oratorio of Daniel, Opus 42


Copeland, Robert M., Notes


William B. Bradbury. Esther, the Beautiful Queen. Edited byjuanita Karpf. (Recent Researches in American Music, 38.) Madison, WI: A-R Editions, Inc., c2000. [Acknowledgments, p. vii; introd., p. ix-xix; text, p. xx-xxv; 4 plates; personations (cast), p. 2; vocal score, p. 3-117; crit. report, p. 119-22. ISBN 0-89579-465-9. $55.]

George Frederick Bristow. The Oratorio of Daniel, Opus 42. Edited by David Griggs-Janower. (Recent Researches in American Music, 34.) Madison, WI: A-R Editions, Inc., c!999. [Acknowledgments, p. vii; introd., p. ix-xiv; text, p. xv-xviii; cast and instruments, p. 2; score, p. 3-440; crit. report, p. 441-44. ISBN 0-89579-443-8. $145.]

The oratorio in America has been gradually rediscovered in the past quartercentury, thanks largely to the pioneering work of the late Thurston J. Dox, whose American Oratorios and Cantatas: A Catalog of Works Written in the United Stales from Colonial Times to 1985 (2 vols. [Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1986]) lists over 3,400 such works. Many of these-and particularly those written before the generation of Dudley Buck (1839-1909) and John Knowles Paine (1839-1906)-had been unknown or forgotten, and Dox was indefatigable in encouraging musicologists and conductors to resurrect them. Both of the works treated in this review are listed in Dox's catalog, and their publication by A-R Editions in Recent Researches in American Music contributes a significant addition to our firsthand knowledge of this long-neglected repertory.

William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) was one of a group of musical populisLs gathered around Lowell Mason (1792-1872) that included George Frederick Root (1820-1895), Isaac Baker Woodbury (1819-1858), and others. These men were committed to improving America's social and moral life through music, which in turn required musical literacy and community music making. They sought to raise the level of musical knowledge and ability through choral concerts and "normal" institutes (to train music teachers), and through publishing "correct" and "elevating" music. While Mason confined his compositions largely to hymn tunes and elementary school songs, his followers branched out to parlor songs, cantatas, and oratorios, and even instrumental music. The oblong tunebook was the preferred format; it could be produced and sold inexpensively (and profitably) for use at the compiler's "musical conventions." These tunebooks proved an effective way to disseminate the larger choral forms; in them, Root, Woodbury, and Bradbury published pasticcio oratorios and cantatas that borrowed from such sources as Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Carl Maria von Weber, and the popular Italian and French operas of the era. In fact, in both Boston and London in the 183Os and 184Os, concerts of assorted choral music were often called "oratorios."

Esther is the only large-scale work for which Bradbury composed all of the music. In her introduction to this edition, Juanita Karpf, citing the oratorio's reputed number of sales and reprints, calls it "arguably, the most popular large-scale choral work written by an American composer during the nineteenth century" (p. ix). Bradbury composed Esther in August 1856 on a libretto by Chauncey M. Cady, who is best remembered as a partner in the firm of Root and Cady, music publishers in Chicago from 1858 to 1872. Cady's text draws heavily on the biblical book oi'Esther, with additions from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and the Psalms. The whole is divided into two parts, the first with fourteen musical numbers and the second with fifteen. Narration is provided, not by recitatives, but by a reader. Ten roles are assigned to soloists, and these interact with varying choral forces. Accompaniment is provided by a keyboard instrument, and Karpf has capably and helpfully completed the accompaniments left incomplete by Bradbury. She also cites a New Orleans performance in 1859 accompanied by a piano, melodeon, and string quartet, showing that contemporaries clearly felt free to add instruments as available. …

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