Tag Archives: Roger Smith

Beethoven’s symphonies, transcribed for piano

 

 

Have you ever head Franz Liszt’s transcriptions for piano of Beethoven’s symphonies? They are considered (according to a Wikipedia entry) to be “among the most technically demanding piano music ever written.”

Anyway, from the point of view of a listener, I agree fully with what New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini says (“Beethoven, Now and Forever,” New York Times, March 1, 1996): “… I can’t stop listening to recordings of the Beethoven symphonies as transcribed for piano by Liszt. These are not pianistic stunts but serious, amazingly detailed reconsiderations; and without the orchestrations you hear every detail.”

Here are a couple of samples.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   October 2019

 

 
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he used to think the fault lay in himself

 

 

“[Joseph] Fowke prided himself on a friendship that allowed him to be a reservoir of anecdotes about [Samuel] Johnson: ‘I remember Samuel Johnson remarking that in the early part of his studies he used always to think the fault lay in himself when he did not understand a passage, but at length, after many discouragements, he discovered that his author did not understand himself.’ ” [italics added]

 

— Joseph Fowke, letter to Philip Francis, 7 September 1789, quoted in Thomas M. Curley: Sir Robert Chambers: Law Literature and Empire in the Age of Johnson (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998). pg. 375

 

 

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This quote calls something to mind about my experience in reading and writing.

I tend to read serious, weighty works of both nonfiction and fiction. I read slowly and deliberately. I often find myself reading passages and pages over again, often several times. The effort is usually worth it. It’s not necessarily that the author didn’t say it well, but the ideas or thoughts are deep and invite reflection. Or that the thought — the point being made — is embedded in a “dense,” intricate grammatical structure, which does not necessarily mean it was poorly written.

If something seems new or striking to me, I often make note of the passage — copy and save it.

(In general — this comment pertains not to reading per se but to cogitation engaged in in daily life, ongoing mental activity and the ordinary process of rumination — I tend to be a somewhat plodding thinker and to be very reflective. I run things through my mind over and over again, often something I can’t quite explain to myself to my satisfaction. Later — sometimes weeks later or longer — it will occur at times that a new way of seeing something I have been mulling over comes to me.)

 

 

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Samuel Johnson’s comment pertains to reading. It can be inferred from the above quote that he was a diligent reader. Everything I have read by him and about him supports this inference. He devoured books, read closely, with an active, engaged mind.

This is very true of me. I am the opposite of a “passive” reader. I am continually asking myself, do I agree with the author; is something well said or not; what kind of corroborative or evidentiary support is provided; and so on. What do I think? Is this a good book, in my opinion, or not, and if so, why or why not?

Books for me are nutritive. They are a source of ideas and a stimulus to mental activity. I do not read for “relaxation” (as, it seems, is often the case with TV). Yet reading is invigorating. Also pleasurable. And usually exciting.

An anecdote worth repeating by way of illustration is the following. I came across a review by the English historian J. H. Plumb in the 1980s in The New York Times Book Review. He mentioned among the great historical works of all time those of Francis Parkman.

I had heard of Parkman, but was not acquainted with and had not read his works. The mention of Parkman made me want to read him. Before starting to do so (once I had resolved to) and getting ahold of his books (not readily available), I experienced a frisson within me (akin to pleasurable feelings of anticipation in other spheres of human activity) at the thought of beginning an “excursion” into his works, which I knew meant reading not just one of them.

Over the course of months, I read all seven volumes of Parkman’s France and England in North America.  It was an experience one might compare to a keenly anticipated prolonged overseas trip. As I told my therapist, who found the comment telling, it wasn’t just picking up a book. The excitement I felt showed how much reading meant to me.

I read books eagerly. I “devour” them. (Continually reflecting upon and critiquing what I read.) And extract every bit of wisdom and knowledge I can.

 

 

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According to Johnson, the fault often lies with the writer, not the reader. So true.

There have been innumerable instances in my own experience of reading writers who don’t take pains to be clear. Who don’t seem to feel it is worth the bother. Or — it seems to often be the case — never bothered, in the first place, to learn how to write. My own training and experience in writing began early, and I was also aware of the importance not just of having something to say, but of being able to write well. I worked very hard, from an early age, at writing, labored at it, at getting my ideas down on paper and polishing and improving a composition.

 

 

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I have read quite a few books over the years which were by authors supposedly learned and well informed, and highly regarded — often experts in their field — who turned out to be very poor writers. Who confound the reader and leave you more confused than enlightened. I have often found myself giving up and laying the supposedly authoritative and masterful work aside.

This sort or experience is also true of some epistolary and other communications and even conversations that I have had with persons I was closely acquainted with, who, rather than clarifying things, tended to obscure them with (sometimes) pomposity or thoughts and observations not made clearly that they are fond of expounding upon.

 

 

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Apropos clarity, as it pertains to writing, I have been accused of pomposity in my own writing. Such criticisms are utterly unfounded. My writings do display erudition, which, unaccountably, makes some readers uncomfortable. (It occurs to me: Erudition, learning, in the minds of persons such as my detractors, makes you a snob.)

I myself, as a reader, humble myself before a display of erudition, and am eager to be instructed and enlightened. But I find that often inferior writers are “showing off,” as it were, want to impress the reader without taking pains to be clear.

It should be apparent to anyone who reads my writings what pains I take to be clear. (My wife will tell you that.) The opposite of arcane. This is true of my “scholarly” writings (sometimes based on extensive research) and other pieces of mine that are on topics of general interest and often reflect personal opinions.

There are no examples in my writings of pretentiousness. And erudition (I am not an academic or renowned or well known scholar) is not a sin.

Samuel Johnson, by the way, expressed his opinions forcefully (for which he was often accused, I think unfairly, of arrogance) and brought great, indeed prodigious, learning to bear. He had a distinctive, elevated style which some commentators (not a few) have found pretentious and old fashioned, like eighteenth-century dress would now be. This bothers me not a whit.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  October 2019

thoughts about the ocean

 

 

When asked what she would miss about the voyage, Greta [Thunberg] said–much as some harried adults feel about a long trip–the best part was “to just sit, literally sit, staring at the ocean for hours not doing anything.”

“To be in this wilderness, the ocean, and to see the beauty of it,” she added. “That I’m going to miss. Peace and quiet.” She paused for a moment.

 

— “Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist, Arrives in N.Y. With a Message for Trump; The Swedish 16-year-old sailed across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit next month,” by Anne Barnard, The New York Times, August 28, 2019

 

 

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It was a clear steel-blue day. The firmaments of air and sea were hardly separable in that all-pervading azure; only, the pensive air was transparently pure and soft, with a woman’s look, and the robust and man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson’s chest in his sleep.

Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea. …

Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this gentle air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to groom. And at the girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous motion–most seen here at the equator–denoted the fond, throbbing trust, the loving alarms, with which the poor bride gave her bosom away.

… Like noiseless nautilus shells, their light prows sped through the sea; but only slowly they neared the foe. As they neared him, the ocean grew still more smooth; seemed drawing a carpet over its waves; seemed a noon-meadow, so serenely it spread. …

 

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Chapter 132. “The Symphony”

 

 

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Brad,

 

BEATS AIR TRAVEL

I love her words and thoughts about the sea.

Her yacht docked in Manhattan right below Wall Street. I go there often to walk and enjoy the proximity to the water.

 

Roger
— email to my friend Brad Coady, August 28, 2019

 

 

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— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2019

Philip Glass, String Quartet No. 4 (“Buczak,” last movement)

 

 

 

 
I purchased a recording of Philip Glass’s quartets by the Kronos Quartet around 25 years ago. Listen to the third and final movement of his fourth quartet — performed on YouTube by the Kronos Quartet — if you feel like it. I find it incredibly stirring. (I can’t avoid hyperbole.) The performance does the work justice.

Glass’s String Quartet No. 4 was commissioned by Geoffrey Hendricks in remembrance of the artist Brian Buczak, who succumbed to AIDS in 1987 at the age of 33. It was premiered at a memorial service on the second anniversary of the artist’s death on July 4, 1989 at the Hauser Gallery in New York City.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._4_(Glass)

On a personal note, I remember that terrible time when the AIDS scourge was just that — scary, horrifying — as one could not be unaware in New York City.

 
— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2019

on autumn (compared to spring) … thoughts of a sage and would be bard

 

 

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open yë,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages):
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
(And palmers for to seken straunge strondes)
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;

And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

 

– Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

 

 

Let Autumn spread his treasures to the sun.
Luxuriant and unbounded …
From heaven’s high cope the fierce effulgence shook
Of parting Summer, a serener blue,
With golden light enliven’d, wide invests
The happy world. Attemper’d suns arise,
Sweet-beam’d, and shedding oft thro’ lucid clouds
A pleasing calm; while broad, and brown, below
Extensive harvests hang the heavy head. …

– James Thomson, The Seasons

 
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A beautiful fall morning in New York City.

A string of beautiful days ahead.

Autumn has the best weather of the year, without question.

Spring is more exciting — a tonic to the senses. It is aptly named. The slowly increasing warmth. (But it begins with blustery days.) The gladness of warmth and sunshine. The sun inexorably becoming less pale.

The sense of renewal. Snowmelt. Wet sod. (Your shoes getting soaked.) Mud. Buds appearing on trees. A sudden bursting out in mid-April and May of leaves, flowers.

But autumn has its own unmatchable beauty. The delicious feeling of cool, but not frigid, air. The nights cool, made for sleeping. The clear, sunny days. Dry air. The sun still warm and gladdening.

 

 

– Roger W. Smith

  September 27, 2019

Sharpiegate and Orwell

 

 

 

Democracies used to collapse suddenly, with tanks rolling noisily toward the presidential palace. In the 21st century, however, the process is usually subtler.

Authoritarianism is on the march across much of the world, but its advance tends to be relatively quiet and gradual, so that it’s hard to point to a single moment and say, this is the day democracy ended. You just wake up one morning and realize that it’s gone. …

And the events of the past week have demonstrated how this can happen right here in America.

At first Sharpiegate, Donald Trump’s inability to admit that he misstated a weather projection by claiming that Alabama was at risk from Hurricane Dorian, was kind of funny, even though it was also scary — it’s not reassuring when the president of the United States can’t face reality. But it stopped being any kind of joke on Friday, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement falsely backing up Trump’s claim that it had warned about an Alabama threat.

Why is this frightening? Because it shows that even the leadership of NOAA, which should be the most technical and apolitical of agencies, is now so subservient to Trump that it’s willing not just to overrule its own experts but to lie, simply to avoid a bit of presidential embarrassment.

Think about it: If even weather forecasters are expected to be apologists for Dear Leader, the corruption of our institutions is truly complete.

 

— “How Democracy Dies, American-Style: Sharpies, auto emissions and the weaponization of policy”

op-ed

By Paul Krugman

The New York Times

September 9, 2019

 
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Winston dialled ‘back numbers’ on the telescreen and called for the appropriate issues of ‘The Times’, which slid out of the pneumatic tube after only a few minutes’ delay. The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. For example, it appeared from ‘The Times’ of the seventeenth of March that Big Brother, in his speech of the previous day, had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would shortly be launched in North Africa. As it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened. Or again, ‘The Times’ of the nineteenth of December had published the official forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983, which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. Today’s issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston’s job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones. As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a ‘categorical pledge’ were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of ‘The Times’ and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.

 

— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

 

 

–posted by Roger W. Smith

  September 2019

Handel, “Alexander’s Feast” (Handel, the composer)

 

 

ACT ONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACT TWO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Great composer for his time and parts of the oratorios are moving (to me), but overall doesn’t impress me.”

 

— email re Handel from an acquaintance with informed opinions about and an abiding interest in and knowledge of music

 

 

 

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Posted here above (two acts) is George Frideric Handel’s Alexander’s Feast (1736). It is described as “an ode with music.” The title page of the original score read:

 

 

 

ALEXANDER’S FEAST

OR THE

Power of Musick.

An Ode.

Wrote in Honour of S. Cecilia

By Mr. DRYDEN.

Set to Musick by

Mr. Handel.

 

 

The libretto was by Newburgh Hamilton, who was also the librettist for Handel’s great oratorio Samson.

 

See my posts on Samson at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/01/21/handel-samson/

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/05/04/handels-samson/

 

 

Hamilton adapted the is libretto from John Dryden’s ode Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music (1697), which had been written to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s Day.

Why do so many people seem to know Handel only from a few works, such as Messiah and the Water Music? I have listened to works such as Alexander’s Feast with pleasure, indeed delight, over and over again. The same for the following Handel works that I can’t hear enough (in no particular order): Sosarme; Serse; Semele (which I heard performed live last year, inducing me to listen to it many times afterwards, and appreciate it anew); Israel in Egypt; Hercules; Orlando; Judas Maccabeus; L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato; Esther; Acis and Galatea; the Anthem for the Foundling Hospital; and the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne.

Handel wrote some of the best arias ever. Listen, for example, to track 16, “Softly, sweet, in Lydian Measures,” from Act One. And track 11 from the same act: “He chose a mournful muse.”

Track 12 from Act One, “He sung Darius, great and good.” The plaintive strings beautifully framing a soprano voice. Such pathos.

Or track 6, “The List’ning Crowd,” from Act One, where Handel — as he so often does — ravishes the listener with a feeling of rapture. And with a chorus such as “Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure, / Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure” (track 9 from Act One), we see how Handel can write music that is at once magnificent and that reflects human experience and feelings.

Why isn’t this music — the oratorios and a whole lot more — more often heard and better known? Not just by Handelians.

This outstanding performance is by the Deller Consort.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2019

 

 

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libretto

 

 

ALEXANDER’S FEAST

(1736)

An Ode

Words by Newburgh Hamilton

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

1. Overture

2. Recitative
Tenor

‘Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won
By Philip’s warlike son:
Aloft in awful state
The god-like hero sate
On his imperial throne:
His valiant peers were plac’d around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound.
So should desert in arms be crown’d.
The lovely Thais by his side
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride,
In flow’r of youth, and beauty’s pride.

3. Air (tenor) and Chorus

Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.

4. Recitative

Tenor

Timotheus plac’d on high,
Amid the tuneful quire,
With flying fingers touch’d the lyre.
The trembling notes ascend the sky,
And heav’nly joys inspire.

5. Accompagnato

Soprano

The song began from Jove,
Who left his blissful seats above;
(Such is the pow’r of mighty love)
A dragon’s fiery form bely’d the God;
Sublime, on radiant spires he rode,
When he to fair Olympia press’d,
And while he sought her snowy breast:
Then, round her slender waist he curl’d,
And stamp’d an image of himself, a sov’reign of the world.

6. Chorus

The list’ning crowd admire the lofty sound,
“A present deity!” they shout around;
“A present deity!” the vaulted roofs rebound.

7. Air

Soprano

With ravish’d ears
The monarch hears,
Assumes the God,
Affects to nod,
And seems to shake the spheres.

8. Recitative

Tenor

The praise of Bacchus, then, the sweet musician sung;
Of Bacchus, ever fair, and ever young:
The jolly God in triumph comes;
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums:
Flush’d with a purple grace,
He shows his honest face;
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!

9. Air and Chorus

Bass

Bacchus, ever fair and young,
Drinking joys did first ordain;
Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

Chorus

Bacchus’ blessings are a treasure,
Drinking is the soldier’s pleasure:
Rich the treasure,
Sweet the pleasure,
Sweet is pleasure after pain.

10. Recitative

Tenor

Sooth’d with the sound, the king grew vain;
Fought all his battles o’er again;
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!
The master saw the madness rise,
His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;
And while he Heav’n and earth defy’d,
Chang’d his hand, and check’d his pride.

11. Accompagnato

Soprano

He chose a mournful muse,
Soft pity to infuse.

12. Air

Soprano

He sung Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate,
Fall’n from his high estate,
And welt’ring in his blood:
Deserted at his utmost need,
By those his former bounty fed,
On the bare earth expos’d he lies,
Without a friend to close his eyes.

13. Accompagnato

Soprano

With downcast looks the joyless victor sate,
Revolving in his alter’d soul,
The various turns of chance below,
And, now and then, a sigh he stole,
And tears began to flow.

14. Chorus

Behold Darius, great and good,
Fall’n, fall’n, fall’n, fall’n, welt’ring in his blood;
On the bare earth expos’d he lies,
Without a friend to close his eyes.

15. Recitative

Tenor

The mighty master smil’d to see
That love was in the next degree;
‘Twas but a kindred sound to move,
For pity melts the mind to love:

16. Arioso

Soprano

Softly sweet, in Lydian measures,
Soon he sooth’d his soul to pleasures.

17. Air

Soprano

War, he sung, is toil and trouble,
Honour but an empty bubble,
Never ending, still beginning,
Fighting still, and still destroying;
If the world be worth thy winning,
Think, oh think it worth enjoying,
Lovely Thais sits beside thee,
Take the good the Gods provide thee.
War he sung. . . da capo

18a. Chorus

The many rend the skies, with loud applause;
So love was crown’d, but music won the cause.

18b. Chorus

The many rend the skies, with loud applause;
So love was crown’d, but music won the cause.

19. Air

Soprano

The Prince, unable to conceal his pain,
Gaz’d on the fair,
Who caus’d his care;
And sigh’d and look’d, sigh’d and look’d,
Sigh’d and look’d, and sigh’d again:
At length with love and wine at once oppress’d,
The vanquish’d victor sunk upon her breast.
The Prince. . . da capo

 

 

 

 

PART TWO

 

20. Accompagnato and Chorus

Tenor

Now strike the golden lyre again,
A louder yet — and yet a louder strain!
Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.
Hark, hark! — the horrid sound
Has rais’d up his head,
As awak’d from the dead,
And amaz’d, he stares around.

Chorus

Break his bands of sleep asunder,
And rouse him, like a rattling peal of thunder.

21. Air

Bass

Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,
See the furies arise,
See the snakes that they rear,
How they hiss in their hair,
And the sparkles that flash from their eyes!
Behold a ghastly band,
Each a torch in his hand!
Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain,
And unbury’d, remain
Inglorious on the plain.
Revenge. . . da capo

22. Accompagnato

Tenor

Give the vengeance due
To the valiant crew:
Behold how they toss their torches on high,
How they point to the Persian abodes,
And glitt’ring temples of their hostile gods!

23. Air

Tenor

The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

24. Air and Chorus
Soprano

Thais led the way,
To light him to his prey;
And like another Helen, fir’d another Troy.
The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

Chorus

The princes applaud with a furious joy;
And the king seiz’d a flambeau, with zeal to destroy.

25. Accompagnato and Chorus

Tenor

Thus long ago,
Ere heaving bellows learn’d to blow,
While organs yet were mute,
Timotheus to his breathing flute,
And sounding lyre,
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.
Chorus

At last divine Cecilia came,
Inventress of the vocal frame;
The sweet enthusiasts from her sacred store,
Enlarg’d the former narrow bounds,
And added length to solemn sounds,
With Nature’s mother-wit, and arts unknown before.

26. Recitative

Tenor

Let old Timotheus yield the prize,

Bass

Or both divide the crown;
He rais’d a mortal to the skies,

Tenor
She drew an angel down.

27. Soli and Chorus

Let old Timotheus yield the prize,
Or both divide the crown;
He rais’d a mortal to the skies,
She drew an angel down.

[Additional Chorus]

Your voices tune, and raise them high,
Till th’echo from the vaulted sky
The blest Cecilia’s name;
Music to Heav’n and her we owe,
The greatest blessing that’s below;
Sound loudly then her fame:
Let’s imitate her notes above,
And may this evening ever prove,
Sacred to harmony and love.