Wednesday 7 March 2007

Ebenezer Prout

If you’ve heard of Ebenezer Prout at all, its because he wrote the additional instrumental accompaniments which were commonly used in performances of the Novello Edition of Handel’s Messiah. But he was much more than this.

Born in 1835, he was entirely self-taught as a musician, having been taught music by his father, a Congregational Minister. Prout started his working life as a school teacher before moving to music in 1859. In 1876 he published Instrumentation, the first of a number of influential treatises. He eventually became professor of music at Trinity College, Dublin. He also edited music magazines and wrote music criticism.

He produced his edition of Handel’s Messiah in 1902. He based his edition on a thorough examination of the autograph and contemporary copies with the aim of eliminating many of the errors that had been common since Handel’s day. Though he produced an accurate edition, he failed to understand the complex history of the work with the many different variants of some movements. He had carried on a long controversy in print over Franz’s edition of Messiah and his 1902 edition of the work could be seen as his triumphant conclusion to this.

His additional accompaniments for the work were based on those of Mozart. Prout was reputedly unhappy about having to add the accompaniments but was pressured by his publisher. Their edition was being aimed at large choral societies and it was commonplace to use a full symphony orchestra as accompaniment.

Prout has one rather unexpectedly appealing trait, he added words to the fugue subjects of Bach’s 48 to help his pupils remember them. The idea being that not only did the words help them memorise the fugue subject but they also helped delineate when the fugue subject started and finished.


1. He went to town in a hat that made all the people stare.
2. John Sebastian Bach sat upon a tack, but he soon got up again with a howl!
3. [The Mistletoe] O what a very jolly thing it is to kiss a pretty girl!
4. Broad beans and bacon.
[1st countersubject] ...make an excellent good dinner for a man who hasn't anything to eat.
[2nd countersubject] ...with half a pint of stout.
5. [Subject] Gin a body meet a body
Comin' through the rye,
[Answer] Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?
6. He trod upon my corns with heavy boots -- I yelled!
7. When I get aboard a Channel steamer I begin to feel sick.
8. [Pear's Soap] You dirty boy! Just look at your face! Ain't you ashamed?
9. Hallo! Why, what the devil is the matter with the thing?
10. Half a dozen dirty little beggar boys are playing with a puppy at the bottom of the street.
11. The Bishop of Exeter was a most energetic man.
12. The slimy worm was writhing on the footpath.
13. Old Abram Brown was plagued with fleas, which caused him great alarm.
14. [The Organist] As I sat at the organ, the wretched blower went and let the wind out.
15. O Isabella Jane! Isabella Jane! Hold your jaw! Don't make such a fuss! Shut up! Here's a pretty row! What's it all about?
16. [The Prodigal Son] He spent his money, like a stupid ass.
17. Put me in my little bed.
18. How sad our state by nature is! What beastly fools we be!
19. There! I have given too much to the cabman!
20. On a bank of mud in the river Nile, upon a summer morning, a little hippopotamus was eating bread and jam.
21. A little three-part fugue, which a gentleman named Bach composed, there's a lot of triple counterpoint about it, and it isn't very difficult to play.
22. Brethren, the time is short!
23. He went and slept under a bathing-machine at Margate.
24. The man was very drunk, as to and fro, from left to right, across the road he staggered.


1. Sir Augustus Harris tried to mix a pound of treacle with a pint of castor oil.
2. Old Balaam's donkey spoke like an ass.
3. O, here's a lark!
4. Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle! The cow jumped over the moon!
5. To play these fugues through is real jam.
6. [The Cockney] 'Ark to the sound of the 'oofs of the galloping 'orse! I 'ear 'im comin' up Regent Street at night.
[Countersubject] 'Is 'oofs go 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer, on the 'ard 'ighway.
7. Mary, my dear, bring the whiskey and water in -- bring the whiskey and water in.
8. I went to church last night, and slept all the sermon through.
9. I'd like to punch his head.
[Countersubject] ...if he gives me any more of his bally cheek.
10. As I rode in a penny bus, going to the Mansion House, off came the wheel -- down came the bus -- all of the passengers fell in a heap on the floor of the rickety thing.
11. Needles and pins! Needles and pins! When a man's married his trouble begins.
12. I told you you'd have the stomach-ache if you put such a lot of pepper in your tea.
13. Great Scott! What a trouble it is to have to find the words for all these subjects!
14. She cut her throat with a paper-knife that had got no handle.
[Bar 20] The wound was broad and deep.
[Bar 36] The called the village doctor in: he put a bit of blotting-paper on her neck.
15. The pretty little dickybirds are hopping to and fro upon the gravel walk before the house, and picking up the crumbs.
16. Oh, my eye! Oh, my eye! What a precious mess I'm getting into today.
17. I passed the night at a wayside inn, and could scarcely sleep a moment for the fleas.
18. Two little boys were at play, and the one gave the other a cuff on the head, and the other hit back.
[Countersubject] Their mother sent them both to bed without their tea.
19. In the middle of the Hackney Road today I saw a donkey in a fit.
20. He that would thrive must rise at five.
21. The noble Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them up the hill, and marched them down again.
22. O, dear! What shall I do? It's utterly impossible for me to learn this horrid fugue! I give it up!
[Countersubject] It ain't no use! It ain't a bit of good! Not a bit! No, not a bit!, No, not a bit!
23. See what ample strides he takes.
24. The wretched old street-singer has his clothes all in tatters, and toes showing through his boots.


  1. Anonymous6:13 am

    I first became interested in the work of Ebenezer Prout in high school when I purchased the two-volume opus "The Orchestra". I've had a photocopy of Prout's Symphony #3 for nearly 20 years. Thanks to Finale Software (and the Garritan Personal Orchestra option contained therein), I was finally able to hear bits and pieces of it. In fact, the entire fourth movement has been saved on my PC as of now. It is an enjoyable work, much in the vein of Mendelssohn although it was written in 1885. It breaks no new ground but would be a wonderful work for a well-trained youth or amateur orchestra to play in that it is not at all difficult.

  2. Anonymous1:33 pm

    This is so interesting. I have just discovered who Ebenezer Prout was from your blog. I have his autograph in a little autograph book. He drew a cute little musical picture beside it, a staff with a treble clef and a note "e" and a "p" below the staff, his initials I presume. It is dated 2nd Jan 1903. Thanks for bringing him to life for us. He was obviously a bit of a wag!

  3. hurandHe also added words @mnenonics' to some of the organ works. The one I remember most clearly is "Oh Ebenezer Prout you are a funny man"

  4. I recently unearthed a beautifully framed few bars of music signed by Ebenezer Prout and given to my grand-father, Tom Haigh , D.Mus (Durham), on the occasion of his (EP's) lecture on the "48" to the Incorporated Society of Musicians in Dover , 21 April 1906. Thanks for pointing out the Treble clef and his initials ep.


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