ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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THE NEW COVENANT

 

The Glasgow Herald (10 December, 1887 - p.9)

GLASGOW INTERNATIONAL
EXHIBITION.

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. . .

With reference to the opening ceremonial, to be performed by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, we may mention that Mr Robert Buchanan has undertaken to write the ode to be sung on that occasion. Mr. Buchanan is a Scotchman, if, indeed, we may not say that he is a Glasgow man, and we believe the hope is that the ode may be set to music by a Scotchman. Nothing definite has yet been arranged in this direction, but there can be no hesitation as to the maker of music who should be asked to harmonise Mr Buchanan’s verses. A. C. Mackenzie is not only a Scotchman, but he is one of our foremost British composers, whose art has not yet reached its highest level. We should hope he may be asked, and that being asked he will consent, to associate himself in this way with our Exhibition. The ode will probably be sung by the members of the Choral Union. . . .

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The Era (24 December, 1887 - p.8)

     MR ROBERT BUCHANAN has undertaken, at the request of the Executive Council, to write the inaugural Ode for the International Exhibition in Glasgow, and Dr. Mackenzie has agreed to compose the necessary music. The Ode will be sung at the opening of the Exhibition by the Prince of Wales next April.

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The Glasgow Herald (21 February, 1888 - p.7)

     Mr Robert Buchanan’s ode to be sung at the opening of the Glasgow Exhibition—which I have seen to-day—is entitled “The New Covenant,” and contains about 75 lines. It is divided into a men’s chorus, a women’s chorus, a full chorus, then another men’s chorus, a women’s chorus, and a full chorus, the concluding number being an epode. Dr Mackenzie is anxious that the choir should then sing the Old Hundredth Psalm, to which, indeed, the spirit of the ode—essentially a song of praise for the peace and prosperity of to-day as contrasted with the turbulence and misery of the old Covenanting times—naturally leads up, and it is not likely that Mr Buchanan will offer any objection to this suggestion of the distinguished composer. In all respects “The New Covenant” is vastly superior to the majority of poetical performances written for such occasions.

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The Scotsman (6 April, 1888 - p. 6)

OPENING ODE FOR GLASGOW EXHIBITION.

     THE ode which has been written for the opening ceremony of the Glasgow International Exhibition by Mr Robert Buchanan, and set to music by Dr A. C. Mackenzie, is as follows:—

THE NEW COVENANT.

Dark, sea-born city, with thy throne
     Set on the surge-vex’d shore,
The trumpet of the storm was blown
     To break thy rest of yore;
In that dread hour thy soul was stirred,
     While ’neath the night-black sky,
Fierce as an eagle’s shriek was heard
     The Covenanters’ cry!

But now, deep night hath taken flight,
     Thine eyes serene and free
Watch they wing’d ships, like angels bright
     Walking a summer sea:
While, out of grief and travail born,
     Hope comes with large increase,
Thy second Covenant is sworn
     In sacramental peace!

Lo, raising now the palm, and not the sword,
               Praise ye the Lord!
Now that the night is done, from sea to sea
Wander our people, by the Word set free;
In one strong voice of pride and sweet accord,
               Praise ye the Lord!
Tempest and wrath subside for evermore,
The dove of peace wings on from shore to shore,
While countless cities echo back our cry,
“Uplift the bright green palm! Lay by the sword!”
         Hark! from the eastern to the western sky,
         Clear voices make reply:
               “Praise ye the Lord! Praise ye the Lord!”

City! whose birthright is the sea,
     Storm-rent and tempest-blown,
That made thee strong, that keeps thee free,
     And rocks thy craggy throne—
Thy sisters from a thousand shores
     Look hitherward this day,
While on thy footstool rain the stores
     Of harvests far away!

Symbols of plenty and of power,
     Signs of man’s bloodless toil,
Largess of sunshine and of shower,
     Harvest of stream and soil—
All that the human mind can plan,
     Or human strength can move,
Now crown, as heritage of Man,
     This Covenant of Love!

For that first faith in Freedom’s sacred word,
               Praise ye the Lord!
For the City link’d to City, loving hands
Waving in blessing from remotest lands,
For that one Light still follow’d and adored,
               Praise ye the Lord!
For lives set free, for labour bravely done,
For peace triumphant, and for victory won,
Praise with one voice our Covenant and cry,
“Lo, now the palm hath triumph’d, not the sword!”
Hark! from the western to the eastern sky
         Our brethren make reply:
         Praise ye the Lord! Praise ye the Lord!”

[EPODE.]

This is our Covenant: To band for ever
     In faithful love, till all our Kind are free;
To spread the gifts of peace with brave endeavour,
     From shining sea to sea:

To turn the furrow, seeds of brightness setting
     Where seeds of sin and sorrow long have been!
To gather in our harvests, not forgetting
     The poor, who only glean!

To bless all gain life yields unto our labour,
     All progress, all inventions, gifts, and powers;
To share our substance, proving to our neighbour
     The gain is God’s, not ours!

We swear, this hour of peace and golden weather,
     To keep our Covenant where’er we roam—
Till God shall summon quick and dead together
     To His great Harvest Home.

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All people that on earth do dwell,
     Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell;
     Come ye before him and rejoice.

For why? The Lord or God is good;
     His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
     And shall from age to age endure.

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The Scotsman (23 April, 1888 - p. 7)

DR A. C. MACKENZIE’S NEW ODE.

     The book of “The New Covenant,” the Ode which Robert Buchanan and A. C. Mackenzie were commissioned to write for the opening ceremony of the Glasgow Exhibition, has just been published. The verses were printed in these columns a few weeks ago, but Mackenzie’s musical setting has only now come to hand. A brief analysis of its character and contents may interest those who are watching the career of our distinguished fellow-citizen. First, it may be noted that although the Ode is distinctly of an occasional character, and written as it were to order, both poet and musician have striven to elevate it above the common run of such pieces, and to invest it with permanent value as a work of art. Buchanan’s verses, it may be remembered, take the form of an Ode to Glasgow; but Glasgow is not addressed directly by name, but only as “Dark sea-born city;” and no little dissatisfaction has been expressed by Western criticasters who expected to find in it plentiful reference to Glasgow Green, the Clyde, the Kelvin, Broomieknowe, and all the “classic ground” of the western capital. In short, Buchanan has avoided direct local and temporal allusions. He has conceived and executed his work on a wider and more general basis. He has set in contrast the troublous times when “the Covenanter’s cry” was heard “fierce as the eagle’s shriek” with the present time of “the New Covenant,” the covenant of Peace and of Love,

When countless cities echo back our cry,
“Uplift the bright green palm! lay by the sword!”

In this way Buchanan has worked in the religious element, and the alternate strophes become hymns of thanksgiving for the present days of peace, the words “Praise ye the Lord” being their chief burthen. This religious character is further emphasised by the concluding lines, which are simply the first two verses of the Hundredth Psalm.
     By thus raising his verses above the class of fugitive and occasional poetry, Buchanan has offered to his coadjutor Mackenzie a large field in which to exercise his musical talents. It is impossible, of course, to give a final opinion upon the musical value of the work from a mere perusal of the vocal and pianoforte score. Nevertheless, its general character can be easily gauged without waiting for its actual performance. It is quite evident that Mackenzie has brought himself into thorough accord with the spirit and meaning of his subject— a result almost inevitable to one so thoroughly imbued with the teaching of Wagner. In the secular portions of the Ode his style is admirably suited to carry out and amplify the import of the text, and when occasion demands the setting is highly dramatic. At the same time, the religious side of the theme is never forgotten. Mackenzie has indeed made a somewhat clever and curious use of the “Hundredth Psalm.” The two verses of it with which the Ode ends are set to the tune of the Old Hundredth. In the first the voices and instruments move in unison, while in the second they part company, each taking its own place in the harmony. The effect of this with a large choir and orchestra will be most impressive and moving. But Mackenzie has not merely used this familiar Psalm as an effective ending for his Ode. He has elevated it into the position of the leading theme of the work, and from the very opening bars the trained musician will detect reminiscences and snatches of the Psalm appearing and reappearing in strange and unaccustomed form and rhythm. For instance, the opening five bars of the introduction contain the treble of the first two lines of the Old Hundredth in the minor mode, and disguised in the harmonies. Again on p. 5, when the tenors enter on the words “Praise ye the Lord,” they are really singing the notes of “All people that,” while the sopranos carry on the air as far as “on earth do dwell.” But the three-four time entirely changes the character of the Psalm tune, and this, combined with the different words, effectually disguises the real origin of Mackenzie’s theme. Similarly on p. 6, on the recurrence of the words “Praise ye the Lord,” the sopranos are singing the exact notes of the first line of the Psalm, though again disguised in three-four time. In fact, as often as the words “Praise ye the Lord” occur, so often do we find the first or first and second lines of the Old Hundredth tune utilised. On p. 9 the first and second lines appear in a form quite unrecognisable to the common ear, owing to the novelty of the rhythm, the second line being taken double as fast as the first, and with a slight flourish at the end. The same device is made use of on p. 13, p. 16, and, in fact, wherever the words “Praise ye the Lord,” occur. In this way a certain coherency and continuity of plan is revealed, all these snatches of familiar phrase being preparatory and leading up to the grand final outburst to the tune of the “Old Hundredth.” It is not necessary here to analyse the different divisions of the Ode in particular detail. It opens in the key of C minor, and in common time, with a vigorous and dramatic passage for tenors and basses in unison on the words, “Dark sea-born city,” &c. The sopranos and altos take up the line, “But now dark night has taken flight,” when by a sudden modulation they pass into C major, and then a short but charmingly melodious duet follows, and the whole choir come in on the words, “Thy second Covenant is sworn.” In all these Mackenzie is writing in what may be termed the cantata style; but now on the words, “Lo! raising now the palm,” he passes into the severer oratorio style, and here we get the first suggestions of the Old Hundredth in the vocal parts. The succeeding antistrophes are set to music in the same two lines. The Epode, which is in the key of G, and is introduced by another reminiscence of the Psalm tune, is a fine piece of choral composition, with the parts closely harmonised, and if well sung ought to make a very effective lead up to the concluding verses of the Hundredth Psalm, in which the original key C minor is again returned to. On the whole, we are inclined to think that “The New Covenant,” in spite of its association with a particular and local event, contains sufficient intrinsic worth to render it of more than ephemeral interest. There is nothing either in the words or in the music to suggest that it was written for a special place or time, and it seems very probable that “The New Covenant” may become a favourite work with Scottish choral societies. The performance of it will occupy somewhat less than twenty minutes.

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The Scotsman (7 May, 1888 - p. 7)

THE ROYAL VISIT TO SCOTLAND.

ARRANGEMENTS AND PREPARATIONS IN THE WEST COUNTRY.

     IN connection with the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Scotland for the purpose of formally inaugurating the International Exhibition at Glasgow to-morrow neither labour nor expense has been spared to give their Royal Highnesses a right loyal welcome. ... Having spent about an hour at luncheon, the Royal party will re-start, and following the route of the preceding procession, will arrive at the Exhibition about twenty minutes past two o’clock.
     Drawing up at the principal entrance, the Prince and Princess will be received by Sir Archibald Campbell, Bart.,      M.P., president of the Exhibition, and the conveners of the committees and the officials of the Exhibition will be presented to them. This ceremony concluded, a key of gold will be handed to the Prince, who will open the inner door with it. Their Royal Highnesses, followed by their suite and the representatives of the Executive Council, will then pass through the main avenue and the grand hall to the dais, where prayer will be offered. Various presentations will be made to the Prince at this stage, including an address from the Executive Council, an album of original sketches by members of the Glasgow Art Club, and an album of photographic views of scenery in the West of Scotland. The inaugural ode, “The New Covenant,” of which the text was supplied by Mr Robert Buchanan and the score by Dr A. C. Mackenzie, will then be sung by the members of the Glasgow Choral Union, and at its conclusion the Prince will declare the Exhibition open.  . . .

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The Morning Post (9 May, 1888 - p.7)

THE GLASGOW INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION.
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OPENING BY THE PRINCE AND PRINCESS OF WALES.
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FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.

                                                                                                             GLASGOW, TUESDAY.

. . .

     Dr. A. C. Mackenzie, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, took his place at the conductor’s stand, and directed the performance of the Inaugural Ode. The ode, which was composed at the request of the committee by Dr. Mackenzie, is written in broad, massive harmonies, which foreshadow and ultimately lead to the “Old Hundredth Psalm.” As the music is of a more important character than is usually found in occasional odes, it is not unworthy to be received by choral societies who require short and effective works. The accompaniments are written for a wind band and orchestra, and fitly sustain the dignity of the theme selected by the poet, Robert Buchanan—the contrast of the Old and the New Covenant. The performance of the Glasgow Choral Union was all that could be desired for attack, precision, and tunefulness. Dr. Mackenzie may be congratulated upon the successful production of his work. Whatever may be said about the character of the ode, on this occasion it was illustrated by nature in a remarkable manner. At the words in the epode, “We swear this hour of peace and golden weather,” the sun, which had been temporarily obscured, suddenly burst into brilliant light, and enhanced the thrilling effect of the “Old Hundredth Psalm,” which almost immediately followed the words quoted. The whole audience rose to their feet as the choir sang the psalm, moved by an impulse arising from the impressive treatment of the inaugural ode by the gifted musician and the circumstances surrounding its production. While the Royal party were engaged in inspecting the building the Artillery Band gave another selection of pieces, including “The Lost Chord,” played as a cornet solo by Sergeant Jenner, and enthusiastically encored.
     At the conclusion of the Ode, the Prince of Wales said, “I declare the Exhibition Buildings now open.” Then another cheer arose, and the “Hallelujah Chorus” was sung as the Royal party passed down the hall, led by the Marshal, Colonel Sir Donald Matheson, and entered the Fine Art Section, where the Prince examined the collection of pictures with the greatest interest. . . .

[Note: The full account of the Opening Ceremony from The Morning Post is available here.]

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The Scottish Art Review (June, 1888 - pp.17-19)

scotartsode1
scotartsode2
scotartsode3

There was some opposition to Buchanan’s Ode, especially to the fact that he had been paid £50 for it. Buchanan responded to the criticism in a letter to The Glasgow Herald on 8th May, 1888, which is available in the Letters to the Press section.

entrance

The Grand Entrance of the Main Building.

More photos of the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition on the University of Glasgow’s Library site.

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Home
Biography
Bibliography

 

Poetry
Plays
Fiction

 

Essays
Reviews
Letters

 

The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

 

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

Links
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