Concert programmes are often regarded as ephemeral publications, intended to guide the listener through a particular performance and to be discarded afterwards. However, there is a growing realisation that concert programmes can contain valuable evidence of concert activity, performance trends and the reception of musical repertoire. In recent years a database of concert programme collections in the UK and Ireland has been developed: the Concert Programmes Project.
The ‘In Tune’ exhibition includes several word-books from performances in 18th century Dublin, the most famous of which is the word-book published by George Faulkner in 1742 for the first performance of Handel’s Messiah. Also included is a book published in 1741 containing libretti for vocal repertoire regularly performed by the Philharmonic Society, Dublin, often in aid of Mercer’s Hospital. This item, acquired in the 1890s by Ebenezer Prout, complements the Mercer’s Hospital collection of manuscript and printed part-books (one of which is also on display).
Perhaps the most interesting item in this group is the word-book published for the performance of ‘The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus’ at Dublin Castle on 6 February 1711. This birthday ode in honour of Queen Anne, composed by John Sigismond Cousser, is one of a series of such works by Cousser and several of his successors as Master of the State Music.
In almost all cases the music for these odes is lost, so the word-books, several of which are preserved in TCD’s collections, provide the only remaining evidence of their content. Uniquely, the music for the 1711 ode does survive (in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford), so this single work could still be performed.
-Roy Stanley, Music Librarian.