Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Musical Review Extraordinary
By George Horatio Derby (18231861)
[Born in Dedham, Mass., 1823. Died in New York, N. Y., 1861. Phnixiana, or, Sketches and Burlesques, by John Phnix. 1855.]
THE PLAINS. ODE SYMPHONIE PAR JABEZ TABBOX.
THIS glorious composition was produced at the San Diego Odeon, on the 31st of June, ult., for the first time in this or any other country, by a very full orchestra (the performance taking place immediately after supper), and a chorus composed of the entire Sauer Kraut-Verein, the Wee Gates Association, and choice selections from the Gyascutus and Pike-harmonic societies. The solos were rendered by Herr Tuden Links, the recitations by Herr Von Hyden Schnapps, both performers being assisted by Messrs. John Smith and Joseph Brown, who held their coats, fanned them, and furnished water during the more overpowering passages.
The Plains we consider the greatest musical achievement that has been presented to an enraptured public. Like Waterloo among battles, Napoleon among warriors, Niagara among falls, and Peck among senators, this magnificent composition stands among Oratorios, Operas, Musical Melodramas and performances of Ethiopian Serenaders, peerless and unrivalled. Il frappe toute chose parfaitement firoide.
It does not depend for its success upon its plot, its theme, its school or its master, for it has very little if any of them, but upon its soul-subduing, all-absorbing, high-faluting effect upon the audience, every member of which it causes to experience the most singular and exquisite sensations. Its strains at times remind us of those of the old master of the steamer McKim, who never went to sea without being unpleasantly affected,a straining after effect, he used to term it. Blair in his lecture on beauty, and Mill in his treatise on logic (p. 31), have alluded to the feeling which might be produced in the human mind by something of this transcendentally sublime description, but it has remained for M. Tarbox, in the production of The Plains, to call this feeling forth.
The symphonie opens upon the wide and boundless plains in longitude 115° W., latitude 35° 21' 03'' N., and about sixty miles from the west bank of Pitt River. These data are beautifully and clearly expressed by a long (topographically) drawn note from an E flat clarionet. The sandy nature of the soil, sparsely dotted with bunches of cactus and artemisia, the extended view, flat and unbroken to the horizon, save by the rising smoke in the extreme verge, denoting the vicinity of a Pi Utah village, are represented by the bass drum. A few notes on the piccolo call the attention to a solitary antelope, picking up mescal beans in the foreground. The sun, having an altitude of 36° 27', blazes down upon the scene in indescribable majesty. Gradually the sounds roll forth in a song of rejoicing to the God of Day:
Of thy intensity
And great immensity
Now then we sing;
Beholding in gratitude
Thee in this latitude,
Which swells out into Hey Jim along, Jim along Josey, then descrescendo mas o menos, poco pocita, dies away and dries up.
Suddenly we hear approaching a train from Pike County, consisting of seven families, with forty-six wagons, each drawn by thirteen oxen; each family consists of a man in butternut-colored clothing driving the oxen; a wife in butternut-colored clothing riding in the wagon, holding a butternut baby, and seventeen butternut children running promiscuously about the establishment; all are barefooted, dusty, and smell unpleasantly. (All these circumstances are expressed by pretty rapid fiddling for some minutes, winding up with a puff from the ophicleide, played by an intoxicated Teuton with an atrocious breathit is impossible to misunderstand the description.) Now rises oer the plains, in mellifluous accents, the grand Pike County Chorus:
Oh well soon be tharIn the land of gold,Through the forest old,Oer the mounting cold,With spirits boldOh, we come, we come,And well soon be thar. Gee up Bolly! Whoo up! whoo haw!
The train now encamp. The unpacking of the kettles and mess-pans, the unyoking of the oxen, the gathering about the various camp-fires, the frizzling of the pork, are so clearly expressed by the music, that the most untutored savage could readily comprehend it. Indeed, so vivid and lifelike was the representation, that a lady sitting near us involuntarily exclaimed aloud, at a certain passage, Thar, that porks burning! and it was truly interesting to watch the gratified expression of her face when, by a few notes of the guitar, the pan was removed from the fire, and the blazing pork extinguished.
To which succeeds a grand crescendo movement, representing the flight of the child with the pancake, the pursuit of the mother, and the final arrest and summary punishment of the former, represented by the rapid and successive strokes of the castanet.
The turning in for the night follows; and the deep and stertorous breathing of the encampment is well given by the bassoon, while the sufferings and trials of an unhappy father with an unpleasant infant are touchingly set forth by the cornet à piston.
Part SecondThe night attack of the Pi Utahs; the fearful cries of the demoniac Indians; the shrieks of the females and children; the rapid and effective fire of the rifles; the stampede of the oxen; their recovery and the final repulse; the Pi Utahs being routed after a loss of thirty-six killed and wounded, while the Pikes lose but one scalp (from an old fellow who wore a wig, and lost it in the scuffle), are faithfully given, and excite the most intense interest in the minds of the hearers; the emotions of fear, admiration, and delight succeeding each other in their minds with almost painful rapidity. Then follows the grand chorus:
Morning succeeds. The sun rises magnificently (octavo flute)breakfast is eatenin a rapid movement on three sharps; the oxen are caught and yoked upwith a small drum and triangle; the watches, purses, and other valuables of the conquered Pi Utahs are stored away in a camp-kettle, to a small movement on the piccolo, and the train moves on, with the grand chorus:
The immense expense attending the production of this magnificent work; the length of time required to prepare the chorus; the incredible number of instruments destroyed at each rehearsal, have hitherto prevented M. Tarbox from placing it before the American public, and it has remained for San Diego to show herself superior to her sister cities of the Union, in musical taste and appreciation, and in high-souled liberality, by patronizing this immortal prodigy, and enabling its author to bring it forth in accordance with his wishes and its capabilities. We trust every citizen of San Diego and Vallecetos will listen to it ere it is withdrawn; and if there yet lingers in San Francisco one spark of musical fervor, or a remnant of taste for pure harmony, we can only say that the Southerner sails from that place once a fortnight, and that the passage money is but forty-five dollars.