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Title: Great Italian and French Composers
Author: Ferris, George T. (George Titus), 1840-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Copyright, 1878, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.


The task of compressing into one small volume suitable sketches of the
more famous Italian and French composers has been, in view of the extent
of the field and the wealth of material, a somewhat embarrassing one,
especially as the purpose was to make the sketches of interest to
the general music-loving public, and not merely to the critic and
the scholar. The plan pursued has been to devote the bulk of space to
composers of the higher rank, and to pass over those less known with
such brief mention as sufficed to outline their lives and fix their
place in the history of music. In gathering the facts embodied in
these musical sketches, the author acknowledges his obligations to the
following works: Hullah's "History of Modern Music"; Fétis's "Biographie
Universelle des Musiciens"; Clementi's "Biographie des Musiciens";
Hogarth's "History of the Opera"; Sutherland Edwards's "History of the
Opera"; Schlüter's "History of Music"; Chorley's "Thirty Years' Musical
Reminiscences"; Stendhalls "Vie de Rossini"; Bellasys's "Memorials of
Cherubini"; Grove's "Musical Dictionary"; Crowest's "Musical Anecdotes";
and the various articles in the standard cyclopædias.

"The Great Italian and French Composers" is a companion work to "The
Great German Composers," which was published earlier in the series in
which the present volume appears.



Piccini, Paisiello, and Cimarosa


Donizetti and Bellini


Cherubini and his Predecessors

Meiül, Spontini, and Halévy

Boïeldieu and Auber


Gounod and Thomas





The Netherlands share other glories than that of having nursed the most
indomitable spirit of liberty known to mediteval Europe. The fine
as well as the industrial arts found among this remarkable people,
distinguished by Erasmus as possessed of the _patientia laboris_,
an eager and passionate culture. The early contributions of the Low
Countries to the growth of the pictorial art are well known to all. But
to most it will be a revelation that the Belgian school of music was the
great fructifying influence of the fifteenth century, to which Italy and
Germany owe a debt not easily measured. The art of interweaving parts
and that science of sound known as counterpoint were placed by this
school of musical scholars and workers on a solid basis, which enabled
the great composers who came after them to build their beautiful tone
fabrics in forms of imperishable beauty and symmetry. For a long time
most of the great Italian churches had Belgian chapel-masters, and
the value of their example and teachings was vital in its relation to
Italian music.

The last great master among the Belgians, and, after Palestrina,
the greatest of the sixteenth century, was Orlando di Lasso, born in
Hainault, in the year 1520. His life of a little more than three score
years and ten was divided between Italy and Germany. He left the deep
imprint of his severe style, though but a young man, on his Italian
_confrères_, and the young Palestrina owed to him much of the largeness
and beauty of form through which he poured his genius in the creation of
such works as have given him so distinct a place in musical history. The
pope created Orlando di Lasso Knight of the Golden Spur, and sought to
keep him in Italy. Unconcerned as to fame, the gentle, peaceful musician
lived for his art alone, and the flattering expressions of the great
were not so much enjoyed as endured by him. A musical historian,
Heimsoeth, says of him: "He is the brilliant master of the North,
great and sublime in sacred composition, of inexhaustible invention,
displaying much breadth, variety, and depth in his treatment; he
delights in full and powerful harmonies, yet, after all--owing to an
existence passed in journeys, as well as service at court, and occupied
at the same time with both sacred and secular music--he came short of
that lofty, solemn tone which pervades the works of the great master of
the South, Palestrina, who with advancing years restricted himself more
and more to church music." Of the celebrated penitential psalms of Di
Lasso, it is said that Charles IX. of France ordered them to be written
"in order to obtain rest for his soul after the horrible massacre of St.
Bartholomew." Aside from his works, this musician has a claim on
fame through his lasting improvements in musical form and method. He
illuminated, and at the same time closed, the great epoch of Belgian
ascendancy, which had given three hundred musicians of great science
to the times in which they lived. So much has been said of Orlando di
Lasso, for he was the model and Mentor of the greatest of early church
composers, Palestrina.


The melodious and fascinating style, soon to give birth to the
characteristic genius of the opera, was as yet unborn, though dormant.
In Rome, the chief seat of the Belgian art, the exclusive study of
technical skill had frozen music to a mere formula. The Gregorian
chant had become so overladen with mere embellishments as to make the
prescribed church-form difficult of recognition in its borrowed garb,
for it had become a mere jumble of sound. Musicians, indeed, carried
their profanation so far as to take secular melodies as the themes for
masses and motetts. These were often called by their profane titles. So
the name of a love-sonnet or a drinking-song would sometimes be attached
to a miserere. The council of Trent, in 1562, cut at these evils with
sweeping axe, and the solemn anathemas of the church fathers roused the
creative powei's of the subject of this sketch, who raised his art to
an independent national existence, and made it rank with sculpture and
painting, which had already reached their zenith in Leonardo Da Vinci,
Raphael, Correggio, Titian, and Michel Angelo. Henceforth Italian music
was to be a vigorous, fruitful stock.

Giovanni Perluigui Aloisio da Palestrina was born at Palestrina, the
ancient Præneste, in 1524.*

     * Our composer, as was common with artists and scholars in
     those days, took the name of his natal town, and by this he
     is known to fame. Old documents also give him the old Latin
     name of the town with the personal ending.

The memorials of his childhood are scanty. We know but little except
that his parents were poor peasants, and that he learned the rudiments
of literature and music as a choir-singer, a starting-point so common in
the lives of great composers. In 1540 he went to Rome and studied in
the school of Goudimel, a stern Huguenot Fleming, tolerated in the papal
capital on account of his superior science and method of teaching, and
afterward murdered at Lyons on the day of the Paris massacre. Palestrina
grasped the essential doctrines of the school without adopting its
mannerisms. At the age of thirty he published his first compositions,
and dedicated them to the reigning pontiff, Julius III. In the formation
of his style, which moved with such easy, original grace within the old
prescribed rules, he learned much from the personal influence and advice
of Orlando di Lasso, his warm friend and constant companion during these
earlier days.

Several of his compositions, written at this time, are still performed
in Rome on Good Friday, and Goethe and Mendelssohn have left their
eloquent tributes to the impression made on them by music alike simple
and sublime. The pope was highly pleased with Palestrina's noble music,
and appointed him one of the papal choristers, then regarded as a great
honor. But beyond Rome the new light of music was but little known.
The Council of Trent, in their first indignation at the abuse of church
music, had resolved to abolish everything but the simple Gregorian
chants, but the remonstrances of the Emperor Ferdinand and the Roman
cardinals stayed the austere fiat. The final decision was made to rest
on a new composition of Palestrina, who was permitted to demonstrate
that the higher forms of musical art were consistent with the
solemnities of church worship.

All eyes were directed to the young musician, for the very existence
of his art was at stake. The motto of his first mass, "Illumina oculos
meos," shows the pious enthusiasm with which he undertook his labors.
Instead of one, he composed three six-part masses. The third of these
excited such admiration that the pope exclaimed in raptures, "It is John
who gives us here in this earthly Jerusalem a foretaste of that new song
which the holy Apostle John realized in the heavenly Jerusalem in his
prophetic trance." This is now known as the "mass of Pope Marcel," in
honor of a former patron of Palestrina.

A new pope, Paul IV., on ascending the pontifical throne, carried his
desire of reforming abuses to fanaticism. He insisted on all the papal
choristers being clerical. Palestrina had married early in life a Roman
lady, of whom all we know is that her name was Lucretia. Four children
had blessed the union, and the composer's domestic happiness became a
bar to his temporal preferment. With two others he was dismissed from
the chapel because he was a layman, and a trifling pension allowed him.
Two months afterward, though, he was appointed chapel-master of St.
John Lateran. His works now succeeded each other rapidly, and different
collections of his masses were dedicated to the crowned heads of Europe.
In 1571 he was appointed chapel-master of the Vatican, and Pope Gregory
XIII. gave special charge of the reform of sacred music to Palestrina.

The death of the composer's wife, whom he idolized, in 1580, was a blow
from which he never recovered. In his latter days he was afflicted with
great poverty, for the positions he held were always more honorable than
lucrative. Mental depression and physical weakness burdened the last few
years of his pious and gentle life, and he died after a lingering and
severe illness. The register of the pontifical chapel contains this
entry: "February 2, 1594. This morning died the most excellent musician,
Signor Giovanni Palestrina, our dear companion and _maestro di capella_
of St. Peter's church, whither his funeral was attended not only by all
the musicians of Rome, but by an infinite concourse of people, when his
own 'Libera me, Domine' was sung by the whole college."

Such are the simple and meagre records of the life of the composer, who
carved and laid the foundation of the superstructure of Italian music;
who, viewed in connection with his times and their limitations, must be
regarded as one of the great creative minds in his art; who shares with
Sebastian Bach the glory of having built an imperishable base for the
labors of his successors.


Palestrixa left a great mass of compositions, all glowing with the fire
of genius, only part of which have been published. His simple life was
devoted to musical labor, and passed without romance, diversion, or
excitement. His works are marked by utter absence of contrast and
color. Without dramatic movement, they are full of melody and majesty, a
majesty serene, unruffled by the slightest suggestion of human passion.
Voices are now and then used for individual expression, but either in
unison or harmony. As in all great church music, the chorus is the key
of the work. The general judgment of musicians agrees that repose and
enjoyment are more characteristic of this music than that of any
other master. The choir of the Sistine chapel, by the inheritance of
long-cherished tradition, is the most perfect exponent of the
Palestrina music. During the annual performance of the "Improperie" and
"Lamentations," the altar and walls are despoiled of their pictures and
ornaments, and everything is draped in black. The cardinals dressed in
serge, no incense, no candles: the whole scene is a striking picture of
trouble and desolation. The faithful come in two by two and bow before
the cross, while the sad music reverberates through the chapel arches.
This powerful appeal to the imagination, of course, lends greater power
to the musical effect. But all minds who have felt the lift and beauty
of these compositions have acknowledged how far they soar above words
and creeds, and the picturesque framework of a liturgy.

Mendelssohn, in a letter to Zelter on the Palestrina music as heard in
the Sistine chapel, says that nothing could exceed the effect of the
blending of the voices, the prolonged tones gradually merging from one
note and chord to another, softly swelling, decreasing, at last dying
out. "They understand," he writes, "how to bring out and place each
trait in the most delicate light, without giving it undue prominence;
one chord gently melts into another. The ceremony at the same time is
solemn and imposing; deep silence prevails in the chapel, only broken
by the reechoing Greek 'holy,' sung with unvarying sweetness and
expression." The composer Paër was so impressed with the wonderful
beauty of the music and the performance, that he exclaimed, "This is
indeed divine music, such as I have long sought for, and my imagination
was never able to realize, but which, I knew, must exist."

Palestrina's versatility and genius enabled him to lift ecclesiastical
music out of the rigidity and frivolity characterizing on either
hand the opposing ranks of those that preceded him, and to embody
the religious spirit in works of the highest art. He transposed the
ecclesiastical melody (_canto fermo_) from the tenor to the soprano
(thus rendering it more intelligible to the ear), and created that
glorious thing choir song, with its refined harmony, that noble music
of which his works are the models, and the papal chair the oracle. No
individual preeminence is ever allowed to disturb and weaken the ideal
atmosphere of the whole work. However Palestrina's successors have aimed
to imitate his effects, they have, with the exception of Cherubini,
failed for the most part; for every peculiar genus of art is the result
of innate genuine inspiration, and the spontaneous growth of the age
which produces it. As a parent of musical form he was the protagonist
of Italian music, both sacred and secular, and left an admirable model,
which even the new school of opera so soon to rise found it necessary to
follow in the construction of harmony. The splendid and often licentious
music of the theatre built its most worthy effects on the work of the
pious composer, who lived, labored, and died in an atmosphere of almost
anchorite sanctity.

The great disciples of his school, Nannini and Allegri, continued his
work, and the splendid "Miserere" of the latter was regarded as such
an inestimable treasure that no copy of it was allowed to go out of the
Sistine chapel, till the infant prodigy, Wolfgang Mozart, wrote it out
from the memory of a single hearing.



Music, as speaking the language of feeling, emotion, and passion, found
its first full expansion in the operatic form. There had been attempts
to represent drama with chorus, founded on the ancient Greek drama, but
it was soon discovered that dialogue and monologue could not be embodied
in choral forms without involving an utter absurdity. The spirit of
the renaissance had freed poetry, statuary, and painting, from the
monopolizing elaims of the church. Music, which had become a well
equipped and developed science, could not long rest in a similar
servitude. Though it is not the aim of the author to discuss operatic
history, a brief survey of the progress of opera from its birth cannot
be omitted.

The oldest of the entertainments which ripened into Italian opera
belongs to the last years of the fifteenth century, and was the work
of the brilliant Politian, known as one of the revivalists of Greek
learning attached to the court of Cosmo de' Medici and his son Lorenzo.
This was the musical drama of "Orfeo." The story was written in Latin,
and sung in music principally choral, though a few solo phrases were
given to the principal characters. It was performed at Rome with great
magnificence, and Vasari tells us that Peruzzi, the decorator of the
papal theatre, painted such scenery for it that even the great Titian
was so struck with the _vraisemblance_ of the work that he was not
satisfied until he had touched the canvas to be sure of its not being in
relief. We may fancy indeed that the scenery was one great attraction
of the representation. In spite of spasmodic encouragement by the more
liberally minded pontiffs, the general weight of church influence was
against the new musical tendency, and the most skilled composers were at
first afraid to devote their talents to further its growth.

What musicians did not dare undertake out of dread of the thunderbolts
of the church, a company of _literati_ at Florence commenced in 1580.
The primary purpose was the revival of Greek art, including music. This
association, in conjunction with the Medicean Academy, laid down the
rule that distinct individuality of expression in music was to be sought
for. As results, quickly came musical drama with recitative (modern form
of the Greek chorus) and solo melody for characteristic parts of the
legend or story. Out of this beginning swiftly grew the opera. Composers
in the new form sprung up in various parts of Italy, though Naples,
Venice, and Florence continued to be its centres.

Between 1637 and 1700, there were performed three hundred operas at
Venice alone. An account of the performance of "Berenice," composed by
Domenico Freschi, at Padua, in 1680, dwarfs all our present ideas of
spectacular splendor. In this opera there were choruses of a hundred
virgins and a hundred soldiers; a hundred horsemen in steel armor; a
hundred performers on trumpets, cornets, sackbuts, drums, flutes, and
other instruments, on horseback and on foot; two lions led by two Turks,
and two elephants led by two Indians; Berenice's triumphal car drawn
by four horses, and six other cars with spoils and prisoners, drawn by
twelve horses. Among the scenes in the first act was a vast plain
with two triumphal arches; another with pavilions and tents; a square
prepared for the entrance of the triumphal procession, and a forest
for the chase. In the second act there were the royal apartments of
Berenice's temple of vengeance, a spacious court with view of the prison
and a covered way with long lines of chariots. In the third act there
were the royal dressing-room, the stables with a hundred live horses,
porticoes adorned with tapestry, and a great palace in the perspective.
In the course of the piece there were representations of the hunting of
the boar, the stag, and the lions. The whole concluded with a huge globe
descending from the skies, and dividing itself in lesser globes of fire
on which stood allegorical figures of fame, honor, nobility, virtue, and
glory. The theatriccal manager had princes and nobles for bankers and
assistants, and they lavished their treasures of art and money to
make such spectacles as the modern stagemen of London and Paris cannot

In Evelyn's diary there is an entry describing opera at Venice in 1645.
"This night, having with my lord Bruce taken our places before, we
went to the opera, where comedies and other plays are represented
in recitative musiq by the most excellent musicians, vocal and
instrumental, with variety of scenes painted and contrived with no
lesse art of perspective, and machines for flying in the aire, and other
wonderful motions; taken together it is one of the most magnificent and
expensive diversions the wit of man can invent. The history was Hercules
in Lydia. The sceanes changed thirteen times. The famous voices, Anna
Rencia, a Roman and reputed the best treble of women; but there was
a Eunuch who in my opinion surpassed her; also a Génoise that in my
judgment sung an incomparable base. They held us by the eyes and ears
till two o'clock i' the morning." Again he writes of the carnival
of 1640: "The comedians have liberty and the operas are open; witty
pasquils are thrown about, and the mountebanks have their stages at
every corner. The diversion which chiefly took me up was three noble
operas, where were most excellent voices and music, the most celebrated
of which was the famous and beautiful Anna Rencia, whom we invited to
a fish dinner after four daies in Lent, when they had given over at the
theatre." Old Evelyn then narrates how he and his noble friend took the
lovely diner out on a junketing, and got shot at with blunderbusses from
the gondola of an infuriated rival.

Opera progressed toward a fixed status with a swiftness hardly
paralleled in the history of any art. The soil was rich and fully
prepared for the growth, and the fecund root, once planted, shot into
a luxuriant beauty and symmetry, which nothing could check. The Church
wisely gave up its opposition, and henceforth there was nothing to
impede the progress of a product which spread and naturalized itself
in England, France, and Germany. The inventive genius of Monteverde,
Carissimi, Scarlatti (the friend and rival of Handel), Durante, and
Leonardo Leo, perfected the forms of the opera nearly as we have them
today. A line of brilliant composers in the school of Durante and Leo
brings us down through Pergolesi, Derni, Terradiglias, Jomelli, Traetta,
Ciccio di Majo, Galuppi, and Giuglielmi, to the most distinguished of
the early Italian composers, Nicolo Piccini, who, mostly forgotten
in his works, is principally known to modern fame as the rival of the
mighty Gluck in that art controversy which shook Paris into such bitter
factions. Yet, overshadowed as Piccini was in the greatness of his
rival, there can be no question of his desert as the most brilliant
ornament and exponent of the early operatic school. No greater honor
could have been paid to him than that he should have been chosen as
their champion by the _Italianissimi_ of his day in the battle royal
with such a giant as Gluck, an honor richly deserved by a composer
distinguished by multiplicity and beauty of ideas, dramatic insight, and
ardent conviction.


Niccolo Piccini, who was not less than fifty years of age when he left
Naples for the purpose of outrivaling Gluck, was born at Bari, in the
kingdom of Naples, in 1728. His father, also a musician, had destined
him for holy orders, but Nature made him an artist. His great delight
even as a little child was playing on the harpsichord, which he quickly
learned. One day the bishop of Bari heard him playing and was amazed
at the power of the little _virtuoso_. "By all means, send him to a
conservatory of music," he said to the elder Piccini. "If the vocation
of the priesthood brings trials and sacrifices, a musical career is
not less beset with obstacles. Music demands great perseverance and
incessant labor. It exposes one to many chagrins and toils."

By the advice of the shrewd prelate, the precocious boy was placed at
the school of St. Onofrio at the age of fourteen. At first confided to
the care of an inferior professor, he revolted from the arid teachings
of a mere human machine. Obeying the dictates of his daring fancy,
though hardly acquainted with the rudiments of composition, he
determined to compose a mass. The news got abroad that the little
Niccolo was working on a grand mass, and the great Leo, the chief of the
conservatory, sent for the trembling culprit.

"You have written a mass?" he commenced.

"Excuse me, sir, I could not help it," said the timid boy.

"Let me see it."

Niccolo brought him the score and all the orchestral parts, and Leo
immediately went to the concert-room, assembled the orchestra, and
gave them the parts. The boy was ordered to take his place in front and
conduct the performance, which he went through with great agitation.

"I pardon you this time," said the grave maestro, at the end; "but, if
you do such a thing again, I will punish you in such a manner that you
will remember it as long as you live. Instead of studying the
principles of your art, you give yourself up to all the wildness of your
imagination; and, when you have tutored your ill-regulated ideas into
something like shape, you produce what you call a mass, and no doubt
think you have produced a masterpiece."

When the boy burst into tears at this rebuke, Leo clasped him in his
arms, told him he had great talent, and after that took him under
his special instruction. Leo was succeeded by Durante, who also loved
Piccini, and looked forward to a future greatness for him. He was wont
to say the others were his pupils, but Piccini was his son. After
twelve years spent in the conservatory, Piccini commenced an opera. The
director of the principal Neapolitan theatre said to Prince Vintimille,
who introduced the young musician, that his work was sure to be a

"How much can you lose by his opera," the prince replied, "supposing it
be a perfect fiasco?" The manager named the sum.

"There is the money, then," replied Piccini's generous patron, handing
him a purse. "If the 'Dorme Despetose' (the name of the opera) should
fail, you may keep the money, but otherwise return it to me."

The friends of Lagroscino, the favorite composer of the day, were
enraged when they heard that the next new work was to be from an obscure
youth, and they determined to hiss the performance. So great, however,
was the delight of the public with the freshness and beauty of Piccini's
music, that even those who came to condemn remained to applaud. The
reputation of the composer went on increasing until he became the
foremost name of musical Italy, for his fertility of production was
remarkable; and he gave the theatres a brilliant succession of comic and
serious works. In 1758 he produced at Rome his "Alessandro nell' Indie,"
whose success surpassed all that had preceded it, and two years later
a still finer masterpiece, "La Buona Figluola," written to a text
furnished by the poet Goldoni, and founded on the story of Richardson's
"Pamela." This opera was produced at every playhouse on the Italian
peninsula in the course of a few years. A pleasant _mot_ by the Duke of
Brunswick is worth preserving in this connection. Piccini had married a
beautiful singer named Vicenza Sibilla, and his home was very happy. One
day the German prince visited Piccini, and found him rocking the cradle
of his youngest child, while the eldest was tugging at the paternal
coat-tails. The mother, being _en déshabille_, ran away at the sight
of a stranger. The duke excused himself for his want of ceremony, and
added, "I am delighted to see so great a man living in such simplicity,
and that the author of 'La Bonne Fille' is such a good father."
Piccini's placid and pleasant life was destined, however, to pass into
stormy waters.

His sway over the stage and the popular preference continued until
1773, when a clique of envious rivals at Rome brought about his first
disaster. The composer was greatly disheartened, and took to his bed,
for he was ill alike in mind and body. The turning-point in his career
had come, and he was to enter into an arena which taxed his powers in a
contest such as he had not yet dreamed of. His operas having been
heard and admired in France, their great reputation inspired the
royal favorite, Mme. du Barry, with the hope of finding a successful
competitor to the great German composer, patronized by Marie Antoinette.
Accordingly, Piccini was offered an indemnity of six thousand francs,
and a residence in the hotel of the Neapolitan ambassador. When the
Italian arrived in Paris, Gluck was in full sway, the idol of the court
and public, and about to produce his "Armide."

Piccini was immediately commissioned to write a new opera, and he
applied to the brilliant Marmontel for a libretto. The poet rearranged
one of Quinault's tragedies, "Roland," and Piccini undertook the
difficult task of composing music to words in a language as yet unknown
to him. Marcnontel was his unwearied tutor, and he writes in his
"Memoirs" of his pleasant yet arduous task: "Line by line, word by word,
I had everything to explain; and, when he had laid hold of the meaning
of a passage, I recited it to him, marking the accent, the prosody,
and the cadence of the verses. He listened eagerly, and I had the
satisfaction to know that what he heard was carefully noted. His
delicate ear seized so readily the accent of the language and the
measure of the poetry, that in his music he never mistook them. It was
an inexpressible pleasure to me to see him practice before my eyes an
art of which before I had no idea. His harmony was in his mind. He wrote
his airs with the utmost rapidity, and when he had traced its designs,
he filled up all the parts of the score, distributing the traits of
harmony and melody, just as a skillful painter would distribute on his
canvas the colors, lights, and shadows of his picture. When all this
was done, he opened his harpsichord, which he had been using as his
writing-table; and then I heard an air, a duet, a chorus, complete in
all its parts, with a truth of expression, an intelligence, a unity
of design, a magic in the harmony, which delighted both my ear and my

Piccini's arrival in Paris had been kept a close secret while he was
working on the new opera, but Abbé du Rollet ferreted it out, and
acquainted Gluck, which piece of news the great German took with
philosophical disdain. Indeed, he attended the rehearsal of "Roland;"
and when his rival, in despair over his ignorance of French and the
stupidity of the orchestra, threw down the baton in despair, Gluck took
it up, and by his magnetic authority brought order out of chaos
and restored tranquillity, a help as much, probably, the fruit of
condescension and contempt as of generosity.

Still Gluck was not easy in mind over this intrigue of his enemies, and
wrote a bitter letter, which was made public, and aggravated the war
of public feeling. Epigrams and accusations flew back and forth like

     * See article on Gluck in "Great German Composers."

"Do you know that the Chevalier (Gluck's title) has an Armida and
Orlando in his portfolio?" said Abbé Arnaud to a Piccinist.

"But Piccini is also at work on an Orlando," was the retort.

"So much the better," returned the abbé, "for then we shall have an
Orlando and also an Orlandino," was the keen answer.

The public attention was stimulated by the war of pamphlets, lampoons,
and newspaper articles. Many of the great _literati_ were Piccinists,
among them Marmontel, La Harpe, D'Alembert, etc. Suard du Rollet and
Jean Jacques Rousseau fought in the opposite ranks. Although the nation
was trembling on the verge of revolution, and the French had just lost
their hold on the East Indies; though Mirabeau was thundering in the
tribune, and Jacobin clubs were commencing their baleful work, soon to
drench Paris in blood, all factions and discords were forgotten.
The question was no longer, "Is he a Jansenist, a Molinist, an
Encyclopædist, a philosopher, a free-thinker?" One question only was
thought of: "Is he a Gluckist or Piccinist?" and on the answer often
depended the peace of families and the cement of long-established

Piccini's opera was a brilliant success with the fickle Parisians,
though the Gluckists sneered at it as pretty concert music. The retort
was that Gluck had no gift of melody, though they admitted he had the
advantage over his rival of making more noise. The poor Italian was so
much distressed by the fierce contest that he and his family were in
despair on the night of the first representation. He could only say
to his weeping wife and son: "Come, my children, this is unreasonable.
Remember that we are not among savages; we are living with the politest
and kindest nation in Europe. If they do not like me as a musician, they
will at all events respect me as a man and a stranger." To do justico
to Piccini, a mild and timid man, he never took part in the controversy,
and always spoke of his opponent with profound respect and admiration.


Marie Antoinette, whom Mme. du Barry and her clique looked on as
Piccini's enemy, astonished both cabals by appointing Piccini her
singing-master, an unprofitable honor, for he received no pay, and was
obliged to give costly copies of his compositions to the royal family.
He might have quoted from the Latin poet in regard to this favor from
Marie Antoinette, whose faction in music, among other names, was known
as the Greek party, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." *

     * I fear the Greeks, though offering gifts.

Beaumarchais, the brilliant author of "Figaro," had found the same
inconvenience when acting as court teacher to the daughters of Louis XV.
The French kings were parsimonious except when lavishing money on their

The action of the dauphiness, however, paved the way for a
reconciliation between Piccini and Gluck. Berton, the manager of the
opera, gave a luxurious banquet, and the musicians, side by side,
pledged each other in libations of champagne. Gluck got confidential
in his cups. "These French," he said, "are good enough people, but they
make me laugh. They want us to write songs for them, and they can't
sing." In fact the quarrel was not between the musicians but their
adherents. In his own heart Piccini knew his inferiority to Gluck.

De Vismes, Berton's successor, proposed that both should write operas on
the same subject, "Iphigenia in Tauris," and gave him a libretto. "The
French public will have for the first time," he said, "the pleasure of
hearing two operas on the same theme, with the same incidents, the
same characters, but composed by two great masters of totally different

"But," objected the alarmed Italian, "if Gluck's opera is played first,
the public will be so delighted that they will not listen to mine."

"To avoid that catastrophe," said the director, "we will play yours

"But Gluck will not permit it."

"I give you my word of honor," said De Vismes, "that your opera shall be
put in rehearsal and brought out as soon as it is finished."

Before Piccini had finished his opera, he heard that his rival was
back from Germany with his "Iphigenia" completed, and that it was in
rehearsal. The director excused himself on the plea of its being a royal
command. Gluck's work was his masterpiece, and produced an unparalleled
sensation among the Parisians. Even his enemies were silenced, and La
Harpe said it was the _chef d'oeuvre_ of the world. Piccini's work,
when produced, was admired, but it stood no chance with the profound,
serious, and wonderfully dramatic composition of his rival.

On the night of the first performance Mile. Laguerre, to whom Piccini
had trusted the rôle of Iphigenia, could not stand straight from
intoxication. "This is not 'Iphigenia in Tauris,'" said the witty Sophie
Arnould, "but 'Iphigenia in champagne.'" She compensated afterward
though by singing the part with exquisite effect.

While the Gluck-Piccini battle was at its height, an amateur who was
disgusted with the contest returned to the country and sang the praises
of the birds and their gratuitous performances in the following epigram:

     "La n'est point d'art, d'ennui scientifique;
     Piccini, Gluck, n'ont point noté les airs.
     Nature seule en dicta la musique,
     Et Marmontel n'en a pas fait les vers."

The sentiment of this was probably applauded by the many who were
wearied of the bitter recriminations, which degraded the art which they
professed to serve.

During the period when Gluck and Piccini were composing for the French
opera, its affairs flourished liberally under the sway of De Vismes.
Gluck, Piccini, and Rameau wrote serious operas, while Piccini,
Sacchini, Anfossi, and Paisiello composed comic operas. The ballet
flourished with unsurpassed splendor, and on the whole it may be said
that never has the opera presented more magnificence at Paris than
during the time France was on the eve of the Reign of Terror. The
gay capital was thronged with great singers, the traditions of whose
artistic ability compare favorably with those of a more recent period.

The witty and beautiful Sophie Arnould, who had a train of princes at
her feet, was the principal exponent of Gluck's heroines, while Mile.
La-guerre was the mainstay of the Piccinists. The rival factions made
the names of these charming and capricious women their war-cries not
less than those of the composers. The public bowed and cringed before
these idols of the stage. Gaétan Vestris, the first of the family, known
as the "Dieu de la Danse," and who held that there were only three great
men in Europe, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Voltaire, and himself,
dared to dictate even to Gluck. "Write me the music of a chaconne,
Monsieur Gluek," said the god of dancing.

"A chaconne!" said the enraged composer. "Do you think the Greeks, whose
manners we are endeavoring to depict, knew what a chaconne was?"

"Did they not?" replied Vestris, astonished at this news, and in a tone
of compassion continued, "then they are much to be pitied."

Vestris did not obtain his ballet music from the obdurate German; but,
when Piccini's rival "Iphigènie en Tauride" was produced, such beautiful
dance measures were furnished by the Italian composer as gave Vestris
the opportunity for one of his greatest triumphs.


The contest between Gluck and Piccini, or rather the cabals who adopted
the two musicians as their figure-heads, was brought to an end by the
death of the former. An attempt was made to set up Sacchini in his
place, but it proved unavailing, as the new composer proved to be quite
as much a follower of the prevailing Italian method as of the new school
of Gluck. The French revolution swept away Piccini's property, and he
retired to Italy. Bad fortune pursued him, however. Queen Caroline of
Naples conceived a dislike to him and used her influence to injure his
career, out of a fit of wounded vanity.

"Do you not think I remember my sister, Marie Antoinette?" queried the
somewhat ill-favored queen. Piccini, embarrassed but truthful, replied:
"Your majesty, there maybe a family likeness, but no resemblance." A
fatality attended him even to Venice. In 1792 he was mobbed and his
house burned, because the populace regarded him as a republican, for
he had a French son-in-law. Some partial musical successes, however,
consoled him, though they flattered his _amour propre_ more than they
benefited his purse. On his return to Naples he was subjected to a
species of imprisonment during four years, for royal displeasure in
those days did not confine itself merely to lack of court favor. Reduced
to great poverty, the composer who had been the favorite of the rich and
great for so many years knew often the actual pangs of hunger, and eked
out his subsistence by writing conventual psalms, as payment for the
broken food doled out by the monks.

At last he was released, and the tenor, David, sent him funds to pay his
journey to Paris. Napoleon, the first consul, received him cordially in
the Luxembourg palace.

"Sit down," said he to Piccini, who remained standing, "a man of your
greatness stands in no one's presence." His reception in Paris was,
in fact, an ovation. The manager of the opera gave him a pension of
twenty-four hundred francs, a government pension was also accorded, and
he was appointed sixth inspector at the Conservatory. But the benefits
of this pale gleam of wintry sunshine did not long remain. He died at
Passy in the year 1800, and was followed to the grave by a great throng
of those who loved his beautiful music and admired his gentle life.

In the present day Gluck appears to have vanquished Piccini, because
occasionally an opera of the former is performed, while Piccini's works
are only known to the musical antiquarian. But even the marble temples
of Gluck are moss-grown and neglected, and that great man is known to
the present day rather as one whose influence profoundly colored and
changed the philosophy of opera, than through any immediate acquaintance
with his productions. The connoisseurs of the eighteenth century found
Piccini's melodies charming, but the works that endure as masterpieces
are not those which contain the greatest number of beauties, but those
of which the form is the most perfect. Gluck had larger conceptions
and more powerful genius than his Italian rival, but the latter's
sweet spring of melody gave him the highest place which had so far been
attained in the Italian operatic school.

"Piccini," says M. Genguèné, his biographer, "was under the middle size,
but well made, with considerable dignity of carriage. His countenance
was very agreeable. His mind was acute, enlarged, and cultivated. Latin
and Italian literature was familiar to him when he went to France, and
afterward he became almost as well acquainted with French literature. He
spoke and wrote Italian with great purity, but among his countrymen
he preferred the Neapolitan dialect, which he considered the most
expressive, the most difficult and the most figurative of all languages.
He used it principally in narration, with a gayety, a truth, and a
pantomimic expression after the manner of his country, which delighted
all his friends, and made his stories intelligible even to those who
knew Italian but slightly."

As a musician Piccini was noticeable, according to the judgment of his
best critics, for the purity and simplicity of his style. He always
wished to preserve the supremacy of the voice, and, though he well knew
how to make his instrumentation rich and effective, he was a resolute
opponent to the florid and complex accompaniments which were coming into
vogue in his day. His recorded opinion on this subject may have some
interest for the musicians of the present day: "Were the employment
which Nature herself assigns to the instruments of an orchestra
preserved to them, a variety of effects and a series of infinitely
diversified pictures would be produced. But they are all thrown in at
once and used incessantly, and they thus overpower and indurate the
ear, without presenting any picture to the mind, to which the ear is
the passage. I should be glad to know how they will arouse it when it
is accustomed to this uproar, which will soon happen, and of what new
witchcraft they will avail themselves.... It is well known what occurs
to palates blunted by the use of spirituous liquors. In a few
months everything may be learned which is necessary to produce these
exaggerated effects, but it requires much time and study to be able to
excite genuine emotion." Piccini followed strictly the canons of the
Italian school; and, though far inferior in really great qualities to
his rival Gluck, his compositions had in them so much of fluent grace
and beauty as to place him at the head of his predecessors. Some curious
critics have indeed gone so far as to charge that many of the finest
arias of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini owe their paternity to this
composer, an indictment not uncommon in music, for most of the great
composers have rifled the sweets of their predecessors without scruple.


Paisiello and Cimarosa, in their style and processes of work, seem to
have more nearly caught the mantle of Piccini than any others, though
they were contemporaries as well as successors. Giovanni Paisiello,
born in 1741, was educated, like many other great musicians, at the
conservatory of San Onofrio. During his early life he produced a great
number of pieces for the Italian theatres, and in 1776 accepted the
invitation of Catherine to became the court composer at St. Petersburgh,
where he remained nine years and produced several of his best operas,
chief among them, "Il Barbiere di Seviglia" (a different version of
Beaumarchais's celebrated comedy from that afterward used by Rossini).

The empress was devotedly attached to him and showed her esteem in many
signal ways. On one occasion, while Paisiello was accompanying her in
a song, she observed that he shuddered with the bitter cold. On this
Catherine took off her splendid ermine cloak, decorated with clasps of
brilliants, and threw it over her tutor's shoulders. In a quarrel which
Paisiello had with Marshal Beloseloky, the temporary favorite of the
Russian Messalina, her favor was shown in a still more striking way. The
marshal had given the musician a blow, on which Paisiello, a very large,
athletic man, drubbed the Russian general most unmercifully. The latter
demanded the immediate dismissal of the composer for having insulted a
dignitary of the empire. Catherine's reply was similar to the one made
by Francis the First of France in a parallel case about Leonardo da
Vinci: "I neither can nor will attend to your request;' you forgot your
dignity when you gave an unoffending man and a great artist a blow. Are
you surprised that he should have forgotten it too? As for rank, it is
in my power to make fifty marshals, but not one Paisiello."

Some years after his return to Italy, he was engaged by Napoleon as
chapel-master; for that despot ruled the art and literature of his times
as autocratically as their politics. Though Paisiello did not wish to
obey the mandate, to refuse was ruin. The French ruler had already
shown his favor by giving him the preference over Cherubim in several
important musical contests, for the latter had always displayed stern
independence of courtly favor. On Paisiello's arrival in Paris, several
lucrative appointments indicated the sincerity of Napoleon's intentions.
The composer did not hesitate to stand on his rights as a musician
on all occasions. When Napoleon complained of the inefficiency of the
chapel service, he said, courageously: "I can't blame people for doing
their duty carelessly, when they are not justly paid." The cunning
Italian knew how to flatter, though, when occasion served. He once
addressed his master as "Sire."

"'Sire,' what do you mean?" answered the first consul. "I am a general
and nothing more."

"Well, General," continued the composer, "I have come to place myself at
your majesty's orders."

"I must really beg you," rejoined Napoleon, "not to address me in this

"Forgive me, General," said Paisiello. "But I cannot give up the habit
I have contracted in addressing sovereigns, who, compared with you, are
but pigmies. However, I will not forget your commands, and, if I have
been unfortunate enough to offend, I must throw myself on your majesty's

Paisiello received ten thousand francs for the mass written for
Napoleon's coronation, and one thousand for all others. As he produced
masses with great rapidity, he could very well afford to neglect
operatic writing during this period. His masses were pasticcio work made
up of pieces selected from his operas and other compositions. This could
be easily done, for music is arbitrary in its associations. Love songs
of a passionate and sentimental cast were quickly made religious by
suitable words. Thus the same melody will depict equally well the rage
of a baffled conspirator, the jealousy of an injured husband, the grief
of lovers about to part, the despondency of a man bent on suicide, the
devotion of the nun, or the rapt adoration of worship. A different text
and a slight change in time effect the marvel, and hardly a composer
has disdained to borrow from one work to enrich another. His only opera
composed in Paris, "Proserpine," was not successful.

Failure of health obliged Paisiello to return to Naples, when he
again entered the service of the king. Attached to the fortunes of the
Bonaparte family, his prosperity fell with theirs. He had been crowned
with honors by all the musical societies of the world, but his pensions
and emoluments ceased with the fall of Joachim Murat from the Neapolitan
throne. He died June 5,1816, and the court, which neglected him living,
gave him a magnificent funeral.

"Paisiello," says the Chevalier Le Sueur, "was not only a great
musician, but possessed a large fund of general information. He was
well versed in the dead languages, acquainted with all branches of
literature, and on terms of friendship with the most distinguished
persons of the age. His mind was noble and above all mean passions; he
neither knew envy nor the feeling of rivalry.... He composed," says the
same writer, "seventy-eight operas, of which twenty-seven were serious,
and fifty-one comic, eight _intermezzi_, and an immense number of
cantatas, oratorios, masses, etc.; seven symphonies for King Joseph of
Spain, and many miscellaneous pieces for the court of Russia."

Paisiello's style, according to Fétis, was characterized by great
simplicity and apparent facility. His few and unadorned notes, full of
grace, were yet deep and varied in their expression. In his simplicity
was the proof of his abundance. It was not necessary for him to have
recourse to musical artifice and complication to conceal poverty of
invention. His accompaniments were similar in character, clear and
picturesque, without pretense of elaboration. The latter not only
relieved and sustained the voice, but were full of original effects,
novel to his time. He was the author, too, of important improvements in
instrumental composition. He introduced the viola, clarinet, and bassoon
into the orchestra of the Italian opera. Though, voluminous both in
serious and comic opera, it was in the latter that he won his chief
laurels. His "Pazza per Amore" was one of the great Pasta's favorites,
and Catalani added largely to her reputation in the part of _La
Frascatana_. Several of Paisiello's comic operas still keep a dramatic
place on the German stage, where excellence is not sacrificed to


A still higher place must be assigned to another disciple and follower
of the school perfected by Piccini, Dominic Cimarosa, born in Naples
in 1754. His life down to his latter years was an uninterrupted flow of
prosperity. His mother, an humble washerwomen, could do little for her
fatherless child, but an observant priest saw the promise of the lad,
and taught him till he was old enough to enter the Conservatory of
St. Maria di Loretto. His early works showed brilliant invention and
imagination, and the young Cimarosa, before he left the Conservatory,
had made himself a good violinist and singer. He worked hard, during a
musical apprenticeship of many years, to lay a solid foundation for
the fame which his teachers prophesied for him from the onset. Like
Paisiello, he was for several years attached to the court of Catherine
II. of Russia. He had already produced a number of pleasing works,
both serious and comic, for the Italian theatres, and his faculty of
production was equaled by the richness and variety of his scores.
During a period of four years spent at the imperial court of the North,
Cimarosa produced nearly five hundred works, great and small, and
only left the service of his magnificent patroness, who was no less
passionately fond of art than she was great as a ruler and dissolute as
a woman, because the severe climate affected his health, for he was a
typical Italian in his temperament.

He was arrested in his southward journey by the urgent persuasions of
the Emperor Leopold, who made him chapel-master, with a salary of twelve
thousand florins. The taste for the Italian school was still paramount
at the musical capital of Austria. Though such composers as Haydn,
Salieri, and young Mozart, who had commenced to be welcomed as an
unexampled prodigy, were in Vienna, the court preferred the suave and
shallow beauties of Italian music to their own serious German school,
which was commencing to send down such deep roots into the popular

Cimarosa produced "Il Matrimonio Segreto" (The Secret Marriage),
his finest opera, for his new patron. The libretto was founded on a
forgotten French operetta, which again was adapted from Garrick and
Colman's "Clandestine Marriage." The emperor could not attend the first
representation, but a brilliant audience hailed it with delight. Leopold
made amends, though, on the second night, for he stood in his box, and
said, aloud:

"Bravo, Cimarosa, bravissimo! The whole opera is admirable, delightful,
enchanting! I did not applaud, that I might not lose a single note of
this masterpiece. You have heard it twice, and I must have the same
pleasure before I go to bed. Singers and musicians pass into the next
room. Cimarosa will come, too, and preside at the banquet prepared for
you. When you have had sufficient rest, we will begin again. I
encore the whole opera, and in the mean while let us applaud it as it

The emperor gave the signal, and, midst a thunderstorm of plaudits, the
musicians passed into their midnight feast. There is no record of any
other such compliment, except that to the Latin dramatist, Plautus,
whose "Eunuchus" was performed twice on the same day.

Yet the same Viennese public, six years before, had actually hissed
Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro," which shares with Rossini's "Il Barbiere"
the greatest rank in comic opera, and has retained, to this day, its
perennial freshness and interest. Cimarosa himself did not share the
opinion of his admirers in respect to Mozart. A certain Viennese painter
attempted to flatter him, by decrying Mozart's music in comparison with
his own. The following retort shows the nobility of genius: "I, sir?
What would you call the man who would seek to assure you that you were
superior to Raphael?" Another acute rejoinder, on the respective merits
of Mozart and Cimarosa, was made by the French composer, Grétry, in
answer to a criticism by Napoleon, when first consul, that great man
affecting to be a _dilettante_ in music:

"Sire, Cimarosa puts the statue on the theatre and the pedestal in the
orchestra, instead of which Mozart puts the statue in the orchestra and
the pedestal on the theatre."

The composer's hitherto brilliant career was doomed to a gloomy close.
On returning to Naples, at the Emperor Leopold's death, Cimarosa
produced several of his finest works, among which musical students place
first: "Il Matrimonio per Susurro," "La Penelope," "L'Olimpiade," "II
Sacrificio d'Abramo," "Gli Amanti Comici," and "Gli Orazi." These were
performed almost simultaneously in the theatres of Paris, Naples, and
Vienna. Cimarosa attached himself warmly to the French cause in Italy,
and when the Bourbons finally triumphed the musician suffered their
bitterest resentment. He narrowly escaped with his life, and languished
for a long time in a dungeon, so closely immured that it was for a long
time believed by his friends that his head had fallen on the block.

At length released, he quitted the Neapolitan territory, only to die at
Venice, in a few months, "in consequence," Stendhal says, in his "Life
of Rossini," "of the barbarous treatment he had met with in the prison
into which he had been thrown by Queen Caroline." He died January 11,

Cimarosa's genius embraced both the tragic and comic schools of
composition. He may be specially called a genuine master of musical
comedy. He was the finest example of the school perfected by Piccini,
and was indeed the link between the old Italian opera and the new
development of which Rossini is such a brilliant exponent. Schluter, in
his "History of Music," says of him: "Like Mozart, he excels in
those parts of an opera which decide its merits as a work of art, the
_ensembles_ and _finale_. His admirable, and by no means antiquated
opera, 'Il Matrimonio Segreto' (the charming offspring of his 'secret
marriage' with the Mozart opera) is a model of exquisite and graceful
comedy. The overture bears a striking resemblance to that of 'Figaro,'
and the instrumentation of the whole opera is highly characteristic,
though not so prominent as in Mozart. Especially delightful are the
secret love-scenes, written evidently _con amore_, the composer having
practised them many a time in his youth."

This opera is still performed in many parts of Europe to delighted
audiences, and is ranked by competent critics as the third finest
comic opera extant, Mozart and Rossini only surpassing him in their
masterpieces. It was a great favorite with Lablache, and its magnificent
performance by Grisi, Mario, Tamburini, and the king of bassos, is a
gala reminiscence of English and French opera-goers.

We quote an opinion also from another able authority: "The drama of 'Gli
Orazi' is taken from Corneille's tragedy 'Les Horaces.' The music is
full of noble simplicity, beautiful melody, and strong expression. In
the airs dramatic truth is never sacrificed to vocal display, and the
concerted pieces are grand, broad, and effective. Taken as a whole, the
piece is free from antiquated and obsolete forms; and it wants nothing
but an orchestral score of greater fullness and variety to satisfy
the modern ear. It is still frequently performed in Germany, though
in France and England, and even in its native country, it seems to be

Cardinal Consalvi, Cimarosa's friend, caused splendid funeral honors to
be paid to him at Rome. Canova executed a marble bust of him, which was
placed in the gallery of the Capitol.



The "Swan of Pesaro" is a name linked with some of the most charming
musical associations of this age. Though forty years silence made
fruitless what should have been the richest creative period of Rossini's
life, his great works, poured forth with such facility, and still
retaining their grasp in spite of all changes in public opinion, stamp
him as being the most gifted composer ever produced by a country so
fecund in musical geniuses. The old set forms of Italian opera had
already yielded in large degree to the energy and pomp of French
declamation, when Rossini poured into them afresh such exhilaration and
sparkle as again placed his country in the van of musical Europe.
With no pretension to the grand, majestic, and severe, his fresh and
delightful melodies, flowing without stint, excited alike the critical
and the unlearned into a species of artistic craze, a mania which has
not yet subsided. The stiff and stately Oublicheff confesses, with many
compunctions of conscience, that, when listening for the first time to
one of Rossini's operas, he forgot for the time being all that he had
ever known, admired, played, or sung, for he was musically drunk, as if
with champagne. Learned Germans might shake their heads and talk about
shallowness and contrapuntal rubbish, his _crescendo_ and _stretto_
passages, his tameness and uniformity even in melody, his want of
artistic finish; but, as Richard Wagner, his direct antipodes, frankly
confesses in his "Oper und Drama," such objections were dispelled
by Rossini's opera-airs as if they were mere delusions of the fancy.
Essentially different from Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, or even
Weber, with whom he has some affinities, he stands a unique figure in
the history of art, an original both as man and musician.

Gioacchino Rossini was the son of a town-trumpeter and an operatic
singer of inferior rank, born in Pesaro, Romagna, February 29, 1792. The
child attended the itinerant couple in their visits to fairs and musical
gatherings, and was in danger, at the age of seven, of becoming
a thorough-paced little vagabond, when maternal alarm trusted his
education to the friendly hands of the music-master Prinetti. At this
tender age even he had been introduced to the world of art, for he sang
the part of a child at the Bologna opera.

"Nothing," said Mme. Georgi-Righetti, "could be imagined more tender,
more touching, than the voice and action of this remarkable child."

The young Rossini, after a year or two, came under the notice of the
celebrated teacher Tesei, of Bologna, who gave him lessons in pianoforte
playing and the voice, and obtained him a good place as boy-soprano
at one of the churches. He now attracted the attention of the Countess
Perticari, who admired his voice, and she sent him to the Lyceum to
learn fugue and counterpoint at the feet of a very strict Gamaliel,
Padre Mallei. The youth was no dull student, and, in spite of his
capricious indolence, which vexed the soul of his tutor, he made such
rapid progress that at the age of sixteen he was chosen to write the
cantata, annually awarded to the most promising student. Success greeted
the juvenile effort, and thus we see Rossini fairly launched as a
composer. Of the early operas which he poured out for five years it is
not needful to speak, except that one of them so pleased the austere
Marshal Massena that he exempted the composer from conscription.
The first opera which made Rossini's name famous through Europe was
"Tancredi," written for the Venetian public. To this opera belongs the
charming "Di tanti palpiti," written under the following circumstances:
Mme. Melanotte, the _prima donna_, took the whim during the final
rehearsal that she would not sing the opening air, but must have
another. Rossini went home in sore disgust, for the whole opera was
likely to be put off by this caprice. There were but two hours before
the performance, he sat waiting for his macaroni, when an exquisite air
came into his head, and it was written in five minutes.

After his great success he received offers from almost every town in
Italy, each clamoring to be served first. Every manager was required
to furnish his theatre with an opera from the pen of the new idol. For
these earlier essays he received a thousand francs each, and he wrote
five or six a year. Stendhall, Rossini's spirited biographer, gives
a picturesque account of life in the Italian theatres at this time, a
status which remains in some of its features to-day:

"The mechanism is as follows: The manager is frequently one of the most
wealthy and considerable persons of the little town he inhabits. He
forms a company consisting of _prima donna, tenoro, basso cantante,
basso buffo_, a second female singer, and a third _basso_. The
_libretto_, or poem, purchased for sixty or eighty francs from some
lucky son of the muses, who is generally a half-starved abbé, the
hanger-on of some rich family in the neighborhood. The character of the
parasite, so admirably painted by Terence, is still to be found in all
its glory in Lombardy, where the smallest town can boast of some five or
six families of some wealth.

"A _maestro_, or composer, is then engaged to write a new opera, and
he is obliged to adapt his own airs to the voices and capacity of the
company. The manager intrusts the care of the financial department to
a _registrario_, who is generally some pettifogging attorney, who holds
the position of his steward. The next thing that generally happens is
that the manager falls in love with the _prima donna_; and the progress
of this important amour gives ample employment to the curiosity of the

"The company thus organized at length gives its first representation,
after a month of cabals and intrigues, which furnish conversation for
the town. This is an event in the simple annals of the town, of the
importance of which the residents of large places can form no idea.
During months together a population of eight or ten thousand people do
nothing but discuss the merit of the forthcoming music and singers
with the eager impetuosity which belongs to the Italian character and
climate. The first representation, if successful, is generally followed
by twenty or thirty more of the same piece, after which the company
breaks up.... From this little sketch of theatrical arrangements in
Italy some idea may be formed of the life which Rossini led from 1810 to
1816." Between these years he visited all the principal towns, remaining
three or four months at each, the idolized guest of the _dilettanti_
of the place. Rossini's idleness and love of good cheer always made
him procrastinate his labors till the last moment, and placed him in
dilemmas from which only his fluency of composition extricated him. His
biographer says:

"The day of performance is fast approaching, and yet he cannot resist
the pressing invitations of these friends to dine with them at the
tavern. This, of course, leads to a supper, the champagne circulates
freely, and the hour of morning steals on apace. At length a
compunctious visiting shoots across the mind of the truant composer. He
rises abruptly; his friends insist on seeing him home; and they parade
the silent streets bareheaded, shouting in chorus whatever comes
uppermost, perhaps a portion of a _miserere_, to the great scandal of
pious Catholics tucked snugly in their beds. At length he reaches
his lodging, and shutting himself up in his chamber is, at this, to
every-day mortals, most ungenial hour, visited by some of his most
brilliant inspirations. These he hastily scratches down on scraps
of paper, and next morning arranges them, or, in his own phrase,
instruments them, amid the renewed interruptions of his visitors. At
length the important night arrives. The _maestro_ takes his place at
the pianoforte. The theatre is overflowing, people having flocked to the
town from ten leagues distance. Every inn is crowded, and those unable
to get other accommodations encamp around the theatre in their various
vehicles. All business is suspended, and, during the performances, the
town has the appearance of a desert. The passions, the anxieties, the
very life of a whole population are centered in the theatre."

Rossini would preside at the first three representations, and, after
receiving a grand civic banquet, set out for the next place, his
portmanteau fuller of music-paper than of other effects, and perhaps
a dozen sequins in his pocket. His love of jesting during these gay
Bohemian wanderings made him perpetrate innumerable practical jokes,
not sparing himself when he had no more available food for mirth. On one
occasion, in traveling from Ancona to Reggio, he passed himself off for
a musical professor, a mortal enemy of Rossini, and sang the words of
his own operas to the most execrable music, in a cracked voice, to show
his superiority to that donkey, Rossini. An unknown admirer of his was
in such a rage that he was on the point of chastising him for slandering
the great musician, about whom Italy raved.

Our composer's earlier style was quite simple and unadorned, a fact
difficult for the present generation, only acquainted with the florid
beauties of his later works, to appreciate. Rossini only followed
the traditions of Italian music in giving singers full opportunity to
embroider the naked score at their own pleasure. He was led to change
this practice by the following incident. The tenor-singer Velluti was
then the favorite of the Italian theatres, and indulged in the most
unwarrantable tricks with his composers. During the first performance
of "L'Aureliano," at Naples, the singer loaded the music with such
ornaments that Rossini could not recognize the offspring of his own
brains. A fierce quarrel ensued between the two, and the composer
determined thereafter to write music of such a character that the most
stupid singer could not suppose any adornment needed. From that time the
Rossini music was marked by its florid and brilliant embroidery. Of the
same Velluti, spoken of above, an incident is told, illustrating the
musical craze of the country and the period. A Milanese gentleman,
whose father was very ill, met his friend in the street--"Where are you
going?" "To the Scala to be sure." "How! your father lies at the point
of death." "Yes! yes! I know, but Velluti sings to-night."


An important step in Rossini's early career was his connection with the
widely known impresario of the San Carlo, Naples, Barbaja. He was under
contract to produce two new operas annually, to rearrange all old
scores, and to conduct at all of the theatres ruled by this manager. He
was to receive two hundred ducats a month, and a share in the profits of
the bank of the San Carlo gambling-saloon. His first opera composed here
was "Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra," which was received with a
genuine Neapolitan _furore_. Rossini was feted and caressed by the
ardent _dilettanti_ of this city to his heart's content, and was such an
idol of the "fickle fair" that his career on more than one occasion
narrowly escaped an untimely close, from the prejudice of jealous
spouses. The composer was very vain of his handsome person, and boasted
of his _escapades d'amour_. Many, too, will recall his _mot_, spoken to
a beauty standing between himself and the Duke of Wellington: "Madame,
how happy should you be to find yourself placed between the two greatest
men in Europe!"

One of Rossini's adventures at Naples has in it something of romance. He
was sitting in his chamber, humming one of his own operatic airs, when
the ugliest Mercury he had ever seen entered and gave him a note, then
instantly withdrew. This, of course, was a tender invitation, and an
assignation at a romantic spot in the suburb. On arriving Rossini
sang his _aria_ for a signal, and from the gate of a charming park
surrounding a small villa appeared his beautiful and unknown inamorata.
On parting it was agreed that the same messenger should bring notice of
the second appointment. Rossini suspected that the lady, in disguise,
was her own envoy, and verified the guess by following the light-footed
page. He then discovered that she was the wife of a wealthy Sicilian,
widely noted for her beauty, and one of the reigning toasts. On renewing
his visit, he had barely arrived at the gate of the park, when a
carbine-bullet grazed his head, and two masked assailants sprang toward
him with drawn rapiers, a proceeding which left Rossini no option but to
take to his heels, as he was unarmed.

During the composer's residence at Naples he was made acquainted with
many of the most powerful princes and nobles of Europe, and his name
became a recognized factor in European music, though his works were
not widely known outside of his native land. His reputation for genius
spread by report, for all who came in contact with the brilliant,
handsome Rossini were charmed. That which placed his European fame on
a solid basis was the production of "Il Barbiere di Seviglia" at Rome
during the carnival season of 1816.

Years before Rossini had thought of setting the sparkling comedy of
Beaumarchais to music, and Sterbini, the author of the _libretto_ used
by Paisiello, had proposed to rearrange the story. Rossini, indeed, had
been so complaisant as to write to the older composer for permission to
set fresh music to the comedy; a concession not needed, for the plays
of Metastasio had been used by different musicians without scruple.
Paisiello intrigued against the new opera, and organized a conspiracy to
kill it on the first night. Sterbini made the libretto totally different
from the other, and Rossini finished the music in thirteen days, during
which he never left the house. "Not even did I get shaved," he said to a
friend. "It seems strange that through the 'Barber' you should have gone
without shaving." "If I had shaved," Rossini explained, "I should have
gone out; and, if I had gone out, I should not have come back in time."

The first performance was a curious scene. The Argentina Theatre was
packed with friends and foes. One of the greatest of tenors, Garcia, the
father of Malibran and Pauline Viardot, sang Almaviva. Rossini had been
weak enough to allow Garcia to sing a Spanish melody for a serenade, for
the latter urged the necessity of vivid national and local color. The
tenor had forgotten to tune his guitar, and in the operation on the
stage a string broke. This gave the signal for a tumult of ironical
laughter and hisses. The same hostile atmosphere continued during the
evening. Even Madame Georgi-Righetti, a great favorite of the Romans,
was coldly received by the audience. In short, the opera seemed likely
to be damned.

When the singers went to condole with Rossini, they found him enjoying a
luxurious supper with the gusto of the _gourmet_ that he was. Settled
in his knowledge that he had written a masterpiece, he could not be
disturbed by unjust clamor. The next night the fickle Romans made ample
amends, for the opera was concluded amid the warmest applause, even from
the friends of Paisiello.

Rossini's "Il Barbiere," within six months, was performed on nearly
every stage in Europe, and received universally with great admiration.
It was only in Paris, two years afterward, that there was some coldness
in its reception. Every one said that after Paisiello's music on the
same subject it was nothing, when it was suggested that Paisiello's
should be revived. So the St. Petersburg "Barbiere" of 1788 was
produced, and beside Rossini's it proved so dull, stupid, and antiquated
that the public instantly recognized the beauties of the work which they
had persuaded themselves to ignore. Yet for this work, which placed the
reputation of the young composer on a lofty pedestal, he received only
two thousand francs.

Our composer took his failures with great phlegm and good nature, based,
perhaps, on an invincible self-confidence. When his "Sigismonde" had
been hissed at Venice, he sent his mother a _fiasco_ (bottle). In
the last instance he sent her, on the morning succeeding the first
performance, a letter with a picture of a _fiaschetto_ (little bottle).


The same year (1816) was produced at Naples the opera of "Otello," which
was an important point of departure in the reforms introduced by Rossini
on the Italian stage. Before speaking further of this composer's career,
it is necessary to admit that every valuable change furthered by him had
already been inaugurated by Mozart, a musical genius so great that he
seems to have included all that went before, all that succeeded him. It
was not merely that Rossini enriched the orchestration to such a degree,
but, revolting from the delay of the dramatic movement, caused by
the great number of arias written for each character, he gave large
prominence to the concerted pieces, and used them where monologue had
formerly been the rule. He developed the basso and baritone parts,
giving them marked importance in serious opera, and worked out the
choruses and finales with the most elaborate finish.

Lord Mount Edgcumbe, a celebrated connoisseur and admirer of the old
school, wrote of these innovations, ignoring the fact that Mozart had
given the weight of his great authority to them before the daring young
Italian composer:

"The construction of these newly-invented pieces is essentially
different from the old. The dialogue, which used to be carried on in
recitative, and which, in Metastasio's operas, is often so beautiful
and interesting, and now cut up (and rendered unintelligible if it
were worth listening to) into _pezzi concertati_, or long singing
conversations, which present a tedious succession of unconnected,
ever-changing motives, having nothing to do with each other; and if a
satisfactory air is for a moment introduced, which the ear would like
to dwell upon, to hear modulated, varied, and again returned to, it is
broken off, before it is well understood, by a sudden transition in an
entirely different melody, time, and key, and recurs no more, so that
no impression can be made, or recollection of it preserved. Single songs
are almost exploded.... Even the _prima donna_, who formerly would have
complained at having less than three or four airs allotted to her, is
now satisfied with having one single _cavatina_ given to her during the
whole opera."

In "Otello," Rossini introduced his operatic changes to the Italian
public, and they were well received; yet great opposition was manifested
by those who clung to the time-honored canons. Sigismondi, of the Naples
Conservatory, was horror-stricken on first seeing the score of this
opera. The clarionets were too much for him, but on seeing third and
fourth horn-parts, he exclaimed: "What does the man want? The greatest
of our composers have always been contented with two. Shades of
Pergolesi, of Leo, of Jomelli! How they must shudder at the bare
thought! Four horns! Are we at a hunting-party? Four horns! Enough to
blow us to perdition!" Donizetti, who was Sigismondi's pupil, also tells
an amusing incident of his preceptor's disgust. He was turning over a
score of "Semiramide" in the library, when the _maestro_ came in and
asked him what music it was. "Rossini's," was the answer. Sigismondi
glanced at the page and saw 1. 2. 3. trumpets, being the first, second,
and third trumpet parts. Aghast, he shouted, stuffing his fingers in
his ears, "One hundred and twenty-three trumpets! _Corpo di Cristo!_
the world's gone mad, and I shall go mad too!" And so he rushed from the
room, muttering to himself about the hundred and twenty-three trumpets.

The Italian public, in spite of such criticism, very soon accepted the
opera of "Otello" as the greatest serious opera ever written for their
stage. It owed much, however, to the singers who illustrated its rôles.
Mme. Colbran, afterward Rossini's wife, sang Desdemona, and Davide,
Otello. The latter was the predecessor of Rubini as the finest singer of
the Rossinian music. He had the prodigious compass of three octaves;
and M. Bertin, a French critic, says of this singer, so honorably linked
with the career of our composer: "He is full of warmth, _verve_, energy,
expression, and musical sentiment; alone he can fill up and give life to
a scene; it is impossible for another singer to carry away an audience
as he does, and, when he will only be simple, he is admirable. He is the
Rossini of song; he is the greatest singer I ever heard." Lord Byron,
in one of his letters to Moore, speaks of the first production at Milan,
and praises the music enthusiastically, while condemning the libretto as
a degradation of Shakespeare.

"La Cenerentola" and "La Gazza Ladra" were written in quick succession
for Naples and Milan. The former of these works, based on the old
Cinderella myth, was the last opera written by Rossini to illustrate the
beauties of the contralto voice, and Madame Georgi-Righetti, the early
friend and steadfast patroness of the musician during his early days of
struggle, made her last great appearance in it before retiring from the
stage. In this composition, Rossini, though one of the most affluent
and rapid of composers, displays that economy in art which sometimes
characterized him. He introduced in it many of the more beautiful airs
from his earlier and less successful works. He believed on principle
that it was folly to let a good piece of music be lost through being
married to a weak and faulty libretto. The brilliant opera of "La
Gazza Ladra," set to the story of a French melodrama, "La Pie Voleuse,"
aggravated the quarrel between Paer, the director of the French opera,
and the gifted Italian. Paer had designed to have written the music
himself, but his librettist slyly turned over the poem to Rossini, who
produced one of his masterpieces in setting it. The audience at La Scala
received the work with the noisiest demonstrations, interrupting the
progress of the drama with constant cries of "_Bravo! Maestro!" "Viva
Rossini!"_ The composer afterward said that acknowledging the calls of
the audience fatigued him much more than the direction of the opera.
When the same work was produced four years after in London, under Mr.
Ebers's management, an incident related by that _impresario_ in his
"Seven Years of the King's Theatre" shows how eagerly it was received by
an English audience.

"When I entered the stage door, I met an intimate friend, with a long
face and uplifted eyes. 'Good God! Ebers, I pity you from my soul. This
ungrateful public,' he continued. 'The wretches! Why! my dear sir, they
have not left you a seat in your own house.' Relieved from the fears he
had created, I joined him in his laughter, and proceeded, assuring him
that I felt no ill toward the public for their conduct toward me."

Passing over "Armida," written for the opening of the new San Carlo
at Naples, "Adelaida di Borgogna," for the Roman Carnival of 1817,
and "Adina," for a Lisbon theatre, we come to a work which is one of
Rossini's most solid claims on musical immortality, "Mosé in Egitto,"
first produced at the San Carlo, Naples, in 1818. In "Mosé," Rossini
carried out still further than ever his innovations, the two principal
rôles--_Mosé, and Faraoni_--being assigned to basses. On the first
representation, the crossing of the Red Sea moved the audience to
satirical laughter, which disconcerted the otherwise favorable reception
of the piece, and entirely spoiled the final effects. The manager was at
his Avit's end, till Tottola, the librettist, suggested a prayer for the
Israelites before and after the passage of the host through the cleft
waters. Rossini instantly seized the idea, and, springing from bed in
his night-shirt, wrote the music with almost inconceivable rapidity,
before his embarrassed visitors recovered from their surprise. The same
evening the magnificent _Dal tuo stellato soglio_ ("To thee, Great
Lord") was performed with the opera.

Let Stendhall, Rossini's biographer, tell the rest of the story: "The
audience was delighted as usual with the first act, and all went well
till the third, when, the passage of the Red Sea being at hand, the
audience as usual prepared to be amused. The laughter was just beginning
in the pit, when it was observed that Moses was about to sing. He began
his solo, the first verse of a prayer, which all the people repeat in
chorus after Moses. Surprised at this novelty, the pit listened and
the laughter entirely ceased. The chorus, exceedingly fine, was in the
minor. Aaron continues, followed by the people. Finally, Eleia addresses
to Heaven the same supplication, and the people respond. Then all fall
on their knees and repeat the prayer with enthusiasm; the miracle is
performed, the sea is opened to leave a path for the people protected
by the Lord. This last part is in the major. It is impossible to imagine
the thunders of applause that resounded through the house: one would
have thought it was coming down. The spectators in the boxes, standing
up and leaning over, called out at the top of their voices, '_Bello,
bello! O che hello!_', I never saw so much enthusiasm nor such a
complete success, which was so much the greater, inasmuch as the people
were quite prepared to laugh.... I am almost in tears when I think of
this prayer. This state of things lasted a long time, and one of its
effects was to make for its composer the reputation of an assassin,
for Dr. Cottogna is said to have remarked: 'I can cite to you more than
forty attacks of nervous fever or violent convulsions on the part of
young women, fond to excess of music, which have no other origin than
the prayer of the Hebrews in the third act, with its superb change of
key.'" Thus by a stroke of genius, a scene which first impressed the
audience as a piece of theatrical burlesque, was raised to sublimity by
the solemn music written for it.

M. Bochsa some years afterward produced "Mosé" as an oratorio in London,
and it failed. A new libretto, however, "Pietro L'Eremito,"* again
transformed the music into an opera.

     * The same music was set to a poem founded on the first
     crusade, all the most effective situations being
     dramatically utilized for the Christian legend.

Ebers tells us that Lord Sefton, a distinguished connoisseur, only
pronounced the general verdict in calling it the greatest of serious
operas, for it was received with the greatest favor. A gentleman of high
rank was not satisfied with assuring the manager that he had deserved
well of his country, but avowed his determination to propose him for
membership at the most exclusive of aristocratic clubs--White's.

"La Donna del Lago," Rossini's next great work, also first produced at
the San Carlo during the Carnival of 1820, though splendidly performed,
did not succeed well the first night. The composer left Naples the same
night for Milan, and coolly informed every one _en route_ that the
opera was very successful, which proved to be true when he reached his
journey's end, for the Neapolitans on the second night reversed their
decision into an enthusiasm as marked as their coldness had been.

Shortly after this Rossini married his favorite _prima donna_, Madame
Colbran. He had just completed two of his now forgotten operas, "Bianca
e Faliero," and "Matilda di Shabran," but did not stay to watch their
public reception. He quietly took away the beautiful Colbran, and at
Bologne was married by the archbishop. Thence the freshly-wedded couple
visited Vienna, and Rossini there produced his "Zelmira," his wife
singing the principal part. One of the most striking of this composer's
works in invention and ingenious development of ideas, Carpani says
of it: "It contains enough to furnish not one but four operas. In this
work, Rossini, by the new riches which he draws from his prodigious
imagination, is no longer the author of 'Otello,' 'Tancredi,' 'Zoraide,'
and all his preceding works; he is another composer, new, agreeable,
and fertile, as much as at first, but with more command of himself, more
pure, more masterly, and, above all, more faithful to the interpretation
of the words. The forms of style employed in this opera according
to circumstances are so varied, that now we seem to hear Gluck, now
Traetta, now Sacchini, now Mozart, now Handel; for the gravity, the
learning, the naturalness, the suavity of their conceptions, live and
blossom again in 'Zelmira.' The transitions are learned, and inspired
more by considerations of poetry and sense than by caprice and a mania
for innovation. The vocal parts, always natural, never trivial, give
expression to the words without ceasing to be melodious. The great
point is to preserve both. The instrumentation of Rossini is really
incomparable by the vivacity and freedom of the manner, by the variety
and justness of the coloring." Yet it must be conceded that, while this
opera made a deep impression on musicians and critics, it did not please
the general public. It proved languid and heavy with those who could not
relish the science of the music and the skill of the combinations. Such
instances as this are the best answer to that school of critics,
who have never ceased clamoring that Rossini could write nothing but
beautiful tunes to tickle the vulgar and uneducated mind.

"Semiramide," first performed at the Fenice theatre in Venice on
February 3, 1823, was the last of Rossini's Italian operas, though it
had the advantage of careful rehearsals and a noble caste. It was not
well received at first, though the verdict of time places it high among
the musical masterpieces of the century. In it were combined all of
Rossini's, ideas of operatic reform, and the novelty of some of the
innovations probablv accounts for the inability of his earlier public to
appreciate its merits. Mme. Rossini made her last public appearance in
this great work.


Henceforward the career of the greatest of the Italian composers, the
genius who shares with Mozart the honor of having impressed himself more
than any other on the style and methods of his successors, was to
be associated with French music, though never departing from his
characteristic quality as an original and creative mind. He modified
French music, and left great disciples on whom his influence was
radical, though perhaps we may detect certain reflex influences in his
last and greatest opera, "William Tell." But of this more hereafter.

Before finally settling in the French capital, Rossini visited London,
where he was received with great honors. "When Rossini entered,"* says
a writer in a London paper of that date, "he was received with loud
plaudits, all the persons in the pit standing on the seats to get a
better view of him.

     * His first English appearance in public was at the King's
     Theatre on the 24th of January, 1824, when he conducted his
     own opera, "Zelmira."

He continued for a minute or two to bow respectfully to the audience,
and then gave the signal for the overture to begin. He appeared stout
and somewhat below the middle height, with rather a heavy air, and a
countenance which, though intelligent, betrayed none of the vivacity
which distinguishes his music; and it was remarked that he had more of
the appearance of a sturdy, beef-eating Englishman, than a fiery and
sensitive native of the south."

The king, George IV., treated Rossini with peculiar consideration. On
more than one occasion he walked with him arm-in-arm through a crowded
concert-hall to the conductor's stand. Yet the composer, who seems
not to have admired his English Majesty, treated the monarch with much
independence, not to say brusqueness, on one occasion, as if to signify
his disdain of even royal patronage. At a grand concert at St. James's
Palace, the king said, at the close of the programme, "Now, Rossini,
we will have one piece more, and that shall be the _finale_." The other
replied, "I think, sir, we have had music enough for one night," and
made his bow.

He was an honored guest at the most fashionable houses, where his
talents as a singer and player were displayed with much effect in an
unconventional, social way. Auber, the French composer, was present on
one of these occasions, and indicates how great Rossini could have been
in executive music had he not been a king in the higher sphere. "I shall
never forget the effect," writes Auber, "produced by his lightning-like
execution. When he had finished I looked mechanically at the ivory
keys. I fancied I could see them smoking." Rossini was richer by seven
thousand pounds by this visit to the English metropolis. Though he had
been under engagement to produce a new opera as well as to conduct those
which had already made him famous, he failed to keep this part of his
contract. Passages in his letters at this time would seem to indicate
that Rossini was much piqued because the London public received his
wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, with coldness. Notwithstanding
the beauty of her face and figure, and the greatness of her style both
as actress and singer, she was pronounced _passée_ alike in person
and voice, with a species of brutal frankness not uncommon in English

When Rossini arrived in Paris he was almost immediately appointed
director of the Italian Opera by the Duc de Lauriston. With this and the
Académie he remained connected till the revolution of 1830. "Le Siège
de Corinthe," adapted from his old work, "Maometto II.," was the first
opera presented to the Parisian public, and, though admired, did not
become a favorite. The French _amour propre_ was a little stung when it
was made known that Rossini had simply modified and reshaped one of his
early and immature productions as his first attempt at composition in
French opera. His other works for the French stage were "Il Viaggio a
Rheims," "Le Comte Ory," and "Guillaume Tell."

The last-named opera, which will ever be Rossini's crown of glory as a
composer, was written with his usual rapidity while visiting the château
of M. Aguado, a country-seat some distance from Paris. This work, one of
the half-dozen greatest ever written, was first produced at the Académie
Royale on August 3, 1829. In its early form of libretto it had a run of
fifty-six representations, and was then withdrawn from the stage; and
the work of remodeling from five to three acts, and other improvements
in the dramatic framework, was thoroughly carried out. In its new form
the opera blazed into an unprecedented popularity, for of the greatness
of the music there had never been but one judgment. Fétis, the eminent
critic, writing of it immediately on its production, said, "The work
displays a new man in an old one, and proves that it is in vain to
measure the action of genius," and follows with, "This production opens
a new career to Rossini," a prophecy unfortunately not to be realized,
for Rossini was soon to retire from the field in which he had made such
a remarkable career, while yet in the very prime of his powers.

"Guillaume Tell" is full of melody, alike in the solos and the massive
choral and ballet music. It runs in rich streams through every part of
the composition. The overture is better known to the general public
than the opera itself, and is one of the great works of musical art.
The opening andante in triple time for the five violoncelli and double
basses at once carries the hearer to the regions of the upper Alps,
where amid the eternal snows Nature sleeps in a peaceful dream. We
perceive the coming of the sunlight, and the hazy atmosphere clearing
away before the newborn day. In the next movement the solitude is
all dispelled. The raindrops fall thick and heavy, and a thunderstorm
bursts. But the fury is soon spent, and the clouds clear away. The
shepherds are astir, and from the mountain-sides come the peculiar
notes of the "Ranz des Vaches" from their pipes. Suddenly all is changed

Trumpets call to arms, and with the mustering battalions the music
marks the quickstep, as the shepherd patriots march to meet the
Austrian chivalry. A brilliant use of the violins and reeds depicts
the exultation of the victors on their return, and closes one of the
grandest sound-paintings in music.

The original cast of "Guillaume Tell" included the great singers then
in Paris, and these were so delighted with the music, that the morning
after the first production they assembled on the terrace before his
house and performed selections from it in his honor.

With this last great effort Rossini, at the age of thirty-seven, may
be said to have retired from the field of music, though his life was
prolonged for forty years. True, he composed the "Stabat Mater" and the
"Messe Solennelle," but neither of these added to the reputation won
in his previous career. The "Stabat Mater," publicly performed for the
first time in 1842, has been recognized, it is true, as a masterpiece;
but its entire lack of devotional solemnity, its brilliant and showy
texture, preclude its giving Rossini any rank as a religious composer.

He spent the forty years of his retirement partly at Bologna, partly at
Passy, near Paris, the city of his adoption. His hospitality welcomed
the brilliant men from all parts of Europe who loved to visit him, and
his relations with other great musicians were of the most kindly and
cordial character. His sunny and genial nature never knew envy, and
he was quick to recognize the merits of schools opposed to his own. He
died, after intense suffering, on November 13, 1868. He had been some
time ill, and four of the greatest physicians in Europe were his almost
constant attendants. The funeral of "The Swan of Pesaro," as he was
called by his compatriots, was attended by an immense concourse, and his
remains rest in Père-Lachaise.


Moscheles, the celebrated pianist, gives us some charming pictures of
Rossini in his home at Passy, in his diary of 1860. He writes: "Felix
[his son] had been made quite at home in the villa on former occasions.
To me the _parterre salon_, with its rich furniture, was quite new, and
before the _maestro_ himself appeared we looked at his photograph in a
circular porcelain frame, on the sides of which were inscribed the names
of his works. The ceiling is covered with pictures illustrating scenes
out of Palestrina's and Mozart's lives; in the middle of the room stands
a Pleyel piano. When Rossini came in he gave me the orthodox Italian
kiss, and was effusive of expressions of delight at my reappearance,
and very complimentary on the subject of Felix. In the course of our
conversation he was full of hard-hitting truths on the present study and
method of vocalization. 'I don't want to hear anything more of it,' he
said; 'they scream. All I want is a resonant, full-toned voice, not
a screeching voice. I care not whether it be for speaking or singing,
everything ought to sound melodious.'" So, too, Rossini assured
Moscheles that he hated the new school of piano-players, saying the
piano was horribly maltreated, for the performers thumped the keys as
if they had some vengeance to wreak on them. When the great player
improvised for Rossini, the latter says: "It is music that flows from
the fountain-head. There is reservoir water and spring water. The former
only runs when you turn the cock, and is always redolent of the vase;
the latter always gushes forth fresh and limpid. Nowadays people
confound the simple and the trivial; a _motif_ of Mozart they would call
trivial, if they dared."

On other occasions Moscheles plays to the _maestro_, who insists on
having discovered barriers in the "humoristic variations," so boldly do
they seem to raise the standard of musical revolution; his title of the
"Grand Valse" he finds too unassuming. "Surely a waltz with some angelic
creature must have inspired you, Moscheles, with this composition, and
_that_ the title ought to express. Titles, in fact, should pique the
curiosity of the public." "A view uncongenial to me," adds Moscheles;
"however, I did not discuss it.... A dinner at Rossini's is calculated
for the enjoyment of a 'gourmet,' and he himself proved to be the one,
for he went through the very select _menu_ as only a connoisseur would.
After dinner he looked through my album of musical autographs with the
greatest interest, and finally we became very merry, I producing my
musical jokes on the piano, and Felix and Clara figuring in the duet
which I had written for her voice and his imitation of the French
horn. Rossini cheered lustily, and so one joke followed another till we
received the parting kiss and 'good night.'... At my next visit,
Rossini showed me a charming 'Lied oline Worte,' which he composed only
yesterday; a graceful melody is embodied in the well-known technical
form. Alluding to a performance of 'Semiramide,' he said with a
malicious smile, 'I suppose you saw the beautiful decorations in it?' He
has not received the Sisters Marchisio for fear they should sing to
him, nor has he heard them in the theatre; he spoke warmly of Pasta,
Lablache, Rubini, and others, then he added that I ought not to look
with jealousy upon his budding talent as a pianoforte-player, but that,
on the contrary, I should help to establish his reputation as such in
Leipsic. He again questioned me with much interest about my intimacy
with Clementi, and, calling me that master's worthy successor, he said
he should like to visit me in Leipsic, if it were not for those dreadful
railways, which he would never travel by. All this in his bright and
lively way; but when we came to discuss Chevet, who wishes to supplant
musical notes by ciphers, he maintained in an earnest and dogmatic
tone that the system of notation, as it had developed itself since
Pope Gregory's time, was sufficient for all musical requirements. He
certainly could not withhold some appreciation for Chevet, but refused
to indorse the certificate granted by the Institute in his favor; the
system he thought impracticable.

"The never-failing stream of conversation flowed on until eleven
o'clock, when I was favored with the inevitable kiss, which on this
occasion was accompanied by special farewell blessings."

Shortly after Moscheles had left Paris, his son forwarded to him most
friendly messages from Rossini, and continues thus: "Rossini sends you
word that he is working hard at the piano, and, when you next come
to Paris, you shall find him in better practice.... The conversation
turning upon German music, I asked him 'which was his favorite among the
great masters?' Of Beethoven he said: 'I take him twice a week, Haydn
four times, and Mozart every day. You will tell me that Beethoven is a
Colossus who often gives you a dig in the ribs, while Mozart is always
adorable; it is that the latter had the chance of going very young to
Italy, at a time when they still sang well.' Of Weber he says, 'He has
talent enough, and to spare' (Il a du talent à revendre, celui-là). He
told me in reference to him, that, when the part of 'Tancred' was sung
at Berlin by a bass voice, Weber had written violent articles not only
against the management, but against the composer, so that, when Weber
came to Paris, he did not venture to call on Rossini, who, however, let
him know that he bore him no grudge for having made these attacks; on
receipt of that message Weber called and they became acquainted.

"I asked him if he had met Byron in Venice? 'Only in a restaurant,' was
the answer, 'where I was introduced to him; our acquaintance, therefore,
was very slight; it seems he has spoken of me, but I don't know what he
says.' I translated for him, in a somewhat milder form, Byron's words,
which happened to be fresh in my memory: 'They have been crucifying
Othello into an opera; the music good but lugubrious, but, as for the
words, all the real scenes with Iago cut out, and the greatest nonsense
instead, the handkerchief turned into a billet-doux, and the first
singer would not black his face--singing, dresses, and music very good.'
The _maestro_ regretted his ignorance of the English language, and said,
'In my day I gave much time to the study of our Italian literature.
Dante is the man I owe most to; he taught me more music than all my
music-masters put together, and when I wrote my 'Otello,' I would
introduce those lines of Dante--you know the song of the gondolier.
My librettist would have it that gondoliers never sang Dante, and but
rarely Tasso, but I answered him, 'I know all about that better than
you, for I have lived in Venice and you haven't. Dante I must and will


An ardent disciple of Wagner sums up his ideas of the mania for
the Rossini music, which possessed Europe for fifteen years, in the
following: "Rossini, the most gifted and spoiled of her sons [speaking
of Italy] sallied forth with an innumerable army of Bacchantic melodies
to conquer the world, the Messiah of joy, the breaker of thought and
sorrow. Europe, by this time, had tired of the empty pomp of French
declamation. It lent but too willing an ear to the new gospel, and
eagerly quaffed the intoxicating potion, which Rossini poured out in
inexhaustible streams." This very well expresses the delight of all the
countries of Europe in music which for a long time almost monopolized
the stage.

The charge of being a mere tune-spinner, the denial of invention, depth,
and character, have been common watchwords in the mouths of critics
wedded to other schools. But Rossini's place in music stands unshaken by
all assaults. The vivacity of his style, the freshness of his melodies,
the richness of his combinations, made all the Italian music that
preceded him pale and colorless. No other writer revels in such luxury
of beauty, and delights the ear with such a succession of delicious
surprises in melody.

Henry Chorley, in his "Thirty Years' Musical Recollections," rebukes the
bigotry which sees nothing good but in its own kind: "I have never been
able to understand why this [referring to the Rossinian richness of
melody] should be contemned as necessarily false and meretricious--why
the poet may not be allowed the benefit of his own period and time--why
a lover of architecture is to be compelled to swear by the _Dom_
at Bamberg, or by the Cathedral at Monreale--that he must abhor and
denounce Michel Angelo's church or the Baths of Diocletian at Rome--why
the person who enjoys 'Il Barbiere' is to be denounced as frivolously
faithless to Mozart's 'Figaro'--and as incapable of comprehending
'Fidelio,' because the last act of 'Otello' and the second of 'Guillaume
Tell' transport him into as great an enjoyment of its kind as do
the duet in the cemetery between 'Don Juan' and 'Leporello' and the
'Prisoners' Chorus.' How much good, genial pleasure has not the world
lost in music, owing to the pitting of styles one against the other!
Your true traveler will be all the more alive to the beauty of Nuremberg
because he has looked out over the 'Golden Shell' at Palermo; nor
delight in Rhine and Danube the less because he has seen the glow of a
southern sunset over the broken bridge at Avignon."

As grand and true as are many of the essential elements in the Wagner
school of musical composition, the bitterness and narrowness of spite
with which its upholders have pursued the memory of Rossini is equally
offensive and unwarrantable. Rossini, indeed, did not revolutionize
the forms of opera as transmitted to him by his predecessors, but he
reformed and perfected them in various notable ways. Both in comic
and serious opera, music owes much to Rossini. He substituted genuine
singing for the endless recitative of which the Italian opera before him
largely consisted; he brought the bass and baritone voices to the front,
banished the pianoforte from the orchestra, and laid down the principle
that the singer should deliver the notes written for him without
additions of his own. He gave the chorus a much more important part than
before, and elaborated the concerted music, especially in the _finales_,
to a degree of artistic beauty before unknown in the Italian opera.
Above all, he made the operatic orchestra what it is to-day. Every new
instrument that was invented Rossini found a place for in his brilliant
scores, and thereby incurred the warmest indignation of all writers
of the old school. Before him the orchestras had consisted largely of
strings, but Rossini added an equally imposing clement of the brasses
and reeds. True, Mozart had forestalled Rossini in many if not all these
innovations, a fact which the Italian cheerfully admitted; for, with
the simple frankness characteristic of the man, he always spoke of his
obligations to and his admiration of the great German. To an admirer who
was one day burning incense before him, Rossini said, in the spirit of
Cimarosa quoted elsewhere: "My 'Barber' is only a bright farce, but in
Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro' you have the finest possible masterpiece
of musical comedy."

With all concessions made to Mozart as the founder of the forms of
modern opera, an equally high place must be given to Rossini for the
vigor and audacity with which he made these available, and impressed
them on all his contemporaries and successors. Though Rossini's
self-love was flattered by constant adulation, his expressions of
respect and admiration for such composers as Mozart, Gluck, Beethoven,
and Cherubini display what a catholic and generous nature he possessed.
The judgment of Ambros, a severe critic, whose bias was against Rossini,
shows what admiration was wrung from him by the last opera of the
composer: "Of all that particularly characterizes Rossini's early operas
nothing is discoverable in 'Tell;' there is none of his usual mannerism;
but, on the contrary, unusual richness of form and careful finish of
detail, combined with grandeur of outline. Meretricious embellishment,
shakes, runs, and cadences are carefully avoided in this work, which is
natural and characteristic throughout; even the melodies have not the
stamp and style of Rossini's earlier times, but only their graceful
charm and lively coloring."

Rossini must be allowed to be unequaled in genuine comic opera, and
to have attained a distinct greatness in serious opera, to be the most
comprehensive and at the same time the most national composer of Italy,
to be, in short, the Mozart of his country. After all has been admitted
and regretted--that he gave too little attention to musical science;
that he often neglected to infuse into his work the depth and passion of
which it was easily capable; that he placed too high a value on merely
brilliant effects _ad captandum vulgus_--there remains the fact that his
operas embody a mass of imperishable music, which will live with the
art itself. Musicians of every country now admit his wondrous grace,
his fertility and freshness of invention, his matchless treatment of the
voice, his effectiveness in arrangement of the orchestra. He can
never be made a model, for his genius had too much spontaneity and
individuality of color. But he impressed and modified music hardly less
than Gluck, whose tastes and methods were entirely antagonistic to his
own. That he should have retired from the exercise of his art while in
the full flower of his genius is a perplexing fact. No stranger story
is recorded in the annals of art with respect to a genius who filled
the world with his glory, and then chose to vanish, "not unseen." On
finishing his crowning stroke of genius and skill in "William Tell," he
might have said with Shakespeare's enchanter, Prospero:

     ".... But this magic I here abjure; and when I have required
     Some heavenly music (which even now I do)
     To work mine end upon their senses that
     This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff--
     Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
     And, deeper than did ever plummet sound, I'll drown my book."

A bright English critic, whose style is as charming as his judgments are
good, says, in his study of the Donizetti music: "I find myself thinking
of his music as I do of Domenichino's pictures of 'St. Agnes' and the
'Rosario' in the Bologna gallery, of the 'Diana' in the Borghese Palace
at Rome, as pictures equable and skillful in the treatment of their
subjects, neither devoid of beauty of form nor of color, but which
make neither the pulse quiver nor the eye wet; and then such a sweeping
judgment is arrested by a work like the 'St. Jerome' in the Vatican,
from which a spirit comes forth so strong and so exalted, that the
beholder, however trained to examine, and compare, and collect, finds
himself raised above all recollections of manner by the sudden ascent
of talent into the higher world of genius. Essentially a second-rate
composer,* Donizetti struck out some first-rate things in a happy hour,
such as the last act of 'La Favorita.'"

     * Mr. Chorley probably means "second-rate" as compared with
     the few very great names, which can be easily counted on the

Both Donizetti and Bellini, though far inferior to their master in
richness of resources, in creative faculty and instinct for what may
be called dramatic expression in pure musical form, were disciples of
Rossini in their ideas and methods of work. Milton sang of Shakespeare--

     "Sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
     "Warbles his native wood-notes wild!"

In a similar spirit, many learned critics have written of Rossini, and
if it can be said of him in a musical sense that he had "little Latin
and less Greek," still more true is it of the two popular composers
whose works have filled so large a space in the opera-house of the last
thirty years, for their scores are singularly thin, measured by the
standard of advanced musical science. Specially may this be said of
Bellini, in many respects the greater of the two. There is scarcely
to be found in music a more signal example to show that a marked
individuality may rest on a narrow base. In justice to him, however, it
may be said that his early death prevented him from doing full justice
to his powers, for he had in him the material out of which the great
artist is made. Let us first sketch the career of Donizetti, the author
of sixty-four operas, besides a mass of other music, such as cantatas,
ariettas, duets, church music, etc., in the short space of twenty-six

Gàetano Donizetti was born at Bergamo, September 25, 1798, his father
being a man of moderate fortune.*

     * Admirers of the author of "Don Pasquale" and "Lucia" may
     be interested in knowing that Donizetti was of Scotch
     descent. His grandfather was a native of Perthshire, named
     Izett. The young Scot was beguiled by the fascinating tongue
     of a recruiting-sergeant into his Britannic majesty's
     service, and was taken prisoner by General La Hoche during
     the latter's invasion of Ireland. Already tired of a
     private's life, he accepted the situation, and was induced
     to become the French general's private secretary.
     Subsequently he drifted to Italy, and married an Italian
     lady of some rank, denationalizing his own name into
     Donizetti. The Scottish predilections of our composer show
     themselves in the music of "Don Pasquale," noticeably in
     "Com' e gentil;" and the score of "Lucia" is strongly
     flavored by Scottish sympathy and minstrelsy.

Receiving a good classical education, the young Gäetano had three
careers open before him: the bar, to which the will of his father
inclined; architecture, indicated by his talent for drawing; and music,
to which he was powerfully impelled by his own inclinations. His
father sent him, at the age of seventeen, to Bologna to benefit by the
instruction of Padre Mattel, who had also been Rossini's master. The
young man showed no disposition for the heights of musical science as
demanded by religious composition, and, much to his father's disgust,
avowed his determination to write dramatic music. Paternal anger, for
the elder Donizetti seems to have had a strain of Scotch obstinacy and
austerity, made the youth enlist as a soldier, thinking to find time for
musical work in the leisure of barrack-life. His first opera, "Enrico
di Borgogna," was so highly admired by the Venetian manager, to whom, it
was offered, that he induced friends of his to release young Donizetti
from his military servitude. He now pursued musical composition with a
facility and industry which astonished even the Italians, familiar with
feats of improvisation. In ten years twenty-eight operas were produced.
Such names as "Olivo e Pasquale," "La Convenienze Teatrali," "Il
Borgomaestro di Saardam," "Gianni di Calais," "L'Esule di Roma," "Il
Castello di Kenilworth," "Imelda di Lambertazzi," have no musical
significance, except as belonging to a catalogue of forgotten titles.
Donizetti was so poorly paid that need drove him to rapid composition,
which could not wait for the true afflatus.

It was not till 1831 that the evidence of a strong individuality was
given, for hitherto he had shown little more than a slavish imitation
of Rossini. "Anna Bolena" was produced at Milan and gained him great
credit, and even now, though it is rarely sung even in Italy, it is
much respected as a work of art as well as of promise. It was first
interpreted by Pasta and Rubini, and Lablache won his earliest London
triumph in it. "Marino Faliero" was composed for Paris in 1835, and
"L'Elisir d'Amore," one of the most graceful and pleasing of Donizetti's
works, for Milan in 1832. "Lucia di Lammermoor," based on Walter Scott's
novel, was given to the public in 1835, and has remained the most
popular of the composer's operas. _Edgardo_ was written for the great
French tenor, Duprez, _Lucia_ for Persiani.

Donizetti's kindness of heart was illustrated by the interesting
circumstances of his saving an obscure Neapolitan theatre from ruin.
Hearing that it was on the verge of suspension and the performers
in great distress, the composer sought them out and supplied their
immediate wants. The manager said a new work from the pen of Donizetti
would be his salvation. "You shall have one within a week," was the

Lacking a subject, he himself rearranged an old French vaudeville, and
within the week the libretto was written, the music composed, the parts
learned, the opera performed, and the theatre saved. There could be no
greater proof of his generosity of heart and his versatility of talent.
In these days of bitter quarreling over the rights of authors in their
works, it may be amusing to know that Victor Hugo contested the rights
of Italian librettists to borrow their plots from French plays. When
"Lucrezia Borgia," composed for Milan in 1834, was produced at Paris
in 1840, the French poet instituted a suit for an infringement of
copyright. He gained his action, and "Lucrezia Borgia" became "La
Rinegata," Pope Alexander the Sixth's Italians being metamorphosed into

     * Victor Hugo did the same thing with Verdi's "Ernani," and
     other French authors followed with legal actions. The matter
     was finally arranged on condition of an indemnity being paid
     to the original French dramatists. The principle involved
     had been established nearly two centuries before. In a
     privilege granted to St. Amant in 1653 for the publication
     of his "Moïse Sauvé," it was forbidden to extract from that
     epic materials for a play or poem. The descendants of
     Beaumarchais fought for the same concession, and not very
     long ago it was decided that the translators and arrangers
     of "Le Nozze di Figaro" for the Théâtre Lyrique must share
     their receipts with the living representatives of the author
     of "Le Mariage de Figaro."

"Lucrezia Borgia," which, though based on one of the most dramatic of
stories and full of beautiful music, is not dramatically treated by the
composer, seems to mark the distance about half way between the styles
of Rossini and Verdi. In it there is but little recitative, and in the
treatment of the chorus we find the method which Verdi afterward came to
use exclusively. When Donizetti revisited Paris in 1840 he produced in
rapid succession "I Martiri," "La Fille du Regiment," and "La Favorita."
In the second of these works Jenny Lind, Sontag, and Alboni won bright
triumphs at a subsequent period.


"La Favorita," the story of which was drawn from "L'Ange de Nigida,"
and founded in the first instance on a French play, "Le Comte de
Commingues," was put on the stage at the Académie with a magnificent
cast and scenery, and achieved a success immediately great, for as
a dramatic opera it stands far in the van of all the composer's
productions. The whole of the grand fourth act, with the exception of
one cavatina, was composed in three hours. Donizetti had been dining at
the house of a friend, who was engaged in the evening to go to a ball.
On leaving the house, his host, with profuse apologies, begged
the composer to stay and finish his coffee, of which Donizetti was
inordinately fond. The latter sent out for music paper, and, finding
himself in the vein for composition, went on writing till the completion
of the work. He had just put the final stroke to the celebrated "_Viens
dans un autre patrie_" when his friend returned at one in the morning
to congratulate him on his excellent method of passing the time, and to
hear the music sung for the first time from Donizetti's own lips.

After visiting Rome, Milan, and Vienna, for which last city he wrote
"Linda di Chamouni," our composer returned to Paris, and in 1843 wrote
"Don Pasquale" for the Theatre Italien, and "Don Sebastian" for
the Académie. Its lugubrious drama was fatal to the latter, but the
brilliant gayety of "Don Pasquale," rendered specially delightful by
such a magnificent cast as Grisi, Mario, Tamburini, and Lablache, made
it one of the great art attractions of Paris, and a Fortunatus purse for
the manager. The music of this work perhaps is the best ever written by
Donizetti, though it lacks the freshness and sentiment of his "Elisir
d'Amore," which is steeped in rustic poetry and tenderness like a rose
wet with dew. The production of "Maria di Rohan" in Vienna the same
year, an opera with some powerful dramatic effects and bold music, gave
Ronconi the opportunity to prove himself not merely a fine buffo singer,
but a noble tragic actor. In this work Donizetti displays that rugged
earnestness and vigor so characteristic of Verdi; and, had his life been
greatly prolonged, we might have seen him ripen into a passion and power
at odds with the elegant frivolity which for the most part tainted
his musical quality. Donizetti's last opera, "Catarina Comaro" the
sixty-third one represented, was brought out at Naples in the year 1844
without adding aught to his reputation. Of this composer's long list of
works only ten or eleven retain any hold on the stage, his best serious
operas being "La Favorita," "Linda," "Anna Bolena," "Lucrezia Borgia,"
and "Lucia;" the finest comic works, "L'Elisir d'Amore," "La Fille du
Regiment," and "Don Pasquale."

In composing Donizetti never used the pianoforte, writing with great
rapidity and never making corrections. Yet curious to say, he could
not do anything without a small ivory scraper by his side, though never
using it. It was given him by his father when commencing his career,
with the injunction that, as he was determined to become a musician, he
should make up his mind to write as little rubbish as possible, advice
which Donizetti sometimes forgot.

The first signs of the malady, which was the cause of the composer's
death, had already shown themselves in 1845. Fits of hallucination and
all the symptoms of approaching derangement displayed themselves with
increasing intensity. An incessant worker, overseer of his operas on
twenty stages, he had to pay the tax by which his fame became his ruin.
It is reported that he anticipated the coming scourge, for during the
rehearsals of "Don Sebastian" he said, "I think I shall go mad yet."
Still he would not put the bridle on his restless activity. At last
paralysis seized him, and in January, 1846, he was placed under the
care of the celebrated Dr. Blanche at Ivry. In the hope that the mild
influence of his native air might heal his distempered brain, he was
sent to Bergamo, in 1848, but died in his brother's arms April 8th.
The inhabitants of the Peninsula were then at war with Austria, and
the bells that sounded the knell of Donizetti's departure mingled their
solemn peals with the roar of the cannon fired to celebrate the victory
of Goïto.

His faithful valet, Antoine, wrote to Adolphe Adam, describing his
obsequies: "More than four thousand persons," he relates, "were present
at the ceremony. The procession was composed of the numerous clergy of
Bergamo, the most illustrious members of the community and its environs,
and of the civic guard of the town and the suburbs. The discharge of
musketry, mingled with the light of three or four thousand torches,
presented a fine effect; the whole was enhanced by the presence of
three military bands and the most propitious weather it was possible to
behold. The young gentlemen of Bergamo insisted on bearing the remains
of their illustrious fellow-townsman, although the cemetery was a league
and a half from the town. The road was crowded its whole length by
people who came from the surrounding country to witness the procession;
and to give due praise to the inhabitants of Bergamo, never, hitherto,
had such great honors been bestowed upon any member of that city."


The future author of "Norma" and "La Sonnambula," Bellini, took his
first lessons in music from his father, an organist at Catania.*

     * Bellini was born in 1802, nine years after his
     contemporary and rival, Donizetti, and died in 1835,
     thirteen years before.

He was sent to the Naples Conservatory by the generosity of a noble
patron, and there was the fellow-pupil of Mercadante, a composer who
blazed into a temporary lustre which threatened to outshine his fellows,
but is now forgotten except by the antiquarian and the lover of church
music. Bellini's early works, for he composed three before he was
twenty, so pleased Barbaja, the manager of the San Carlo and La Scala,
that he intrusted the youth with the libretto of "Il Pirata," to be
composed for representation at Florence. The tenor part was written for
the great singer, Rubini, whose name has no peer among artists, since
male sopranos were abolished by the outraged moral sense of society.
Rubini retired to the country with Bellini, and studied, as they were
produced, the simple touching airs with which he so delighted the public
on the stage.

La Scala rang with plaudits when the opera was produced, and Bellini's
career was assured. "I Capuletti" was his next successful opera,
performed at Venice in 1829, but it never became popular out of Italy.

The significant period of Bellini's life was in the year 1831, which
produced "La Sonnambula," to be followed by "Norma" the next season.
Both these were written for and introduced before the Neapolitan public.
In these works he reached his highest development, and by them he is
best known to fame. The opera-story of "La Sonnambula," by Romani,
an accomplished writer and scholar, is one of the most artistic and
effective ever put into the hands of a composer. M. Scribe had already
used the plot both as the subject of a vaudeville and a chorégraphie
drama; but in Romani's hands it became a symmetrical story full of
poetry and beauty. The music of this opera, throbbing with pure melody
and simple emotion, as natural and fresh as a bed of wild flowers, went
to the heart of the universal public, learned and unlearned; and, in
spite of its scientific faults, it will never cease to delight future
generations, as long as hearts beat and eyes are moistened with human
tenderness and sympathy. And yet, of this work an English critic wrote,
on its first London presentation:

"Bellini has soared too high; there is nothing of grandeur, no touch of
true pathos in the common-place workings of his mind. He cannot reach
the _opera semiseria_; he should confine his powers to the musical
drama, the one-act _opera buffa_." But the history of art-criticism is
replete with such instances.

"Norma" was also a grand triumph for the young composer from the outset,
especially as the lofty character of the Druid priestess was sung by
that unapproachable lyric tragedienne, the Siddons of the opera, Madame
Pasta. Bellini is said to have had this queen of dramatic song in
his mind in writing the opera, and right nobly did she vindicate his
judgment, for no European audience afterward but was thrilled and
carried away by her masterpiece of acting and singing in this part.

Bellini himself considered "Norma" his _chef d'oeuvre_. A beautiful
Parisienne attempted to extract from his reluctant lips his preference
of his own works. The lady finally overcame his evasions by the query:
"But if you were out at sea, and should be shipwrecked--" "Ah!" he
cried, without allowing her to finish. "I would leave all the rest and
try to save 'Norma.'"

"I Puritani" was composed for and performed at Paris in 1834, by that
splendid quartette of artists, Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache.
Bellini compelled the singers to execute after _his_ style. While Rubini
was rehearsing the tenor part, the composer cried out in rage: "You put
no life into your music. Show some feeling. Don't you know what love
is?" Then changing his tone: "Don't you know your voice is a goldmine
that has not been fully explored? You are an excellent artist, but that
is not sufficient. You must forget yourself and represent _Gualtiero_.
Let's try again." The tenor, stung by the admonition, then gave the part
magnificently. After the success of "I Puritani," the composer received
the Cross of the Legion of Honor, an honor then not often bestowed.
The "Puritani" season is still remembered, it is said, with peculiar
pleasure by the older connoisseurs of Paris and London, as the
enthusiasm awakened in musical circles has rarely been equaled.

Bellini had placed himself under contract to write two new works
immediately, one for Paris, the other for Naples, and retired to the
villa of a friend at Puteaux to insure the more complete seclusion.
Here, while pursuing his art with almost sleepless ardor, he was
attacked by his fatal malady, intestinal fever.

"From his youth up," says his biographer Mould, "Vincenzo's eagerness in
his art was such as to keep him at the piano night and day, till he was
obliged forcibly to leave it. The ruling passion accompanied him through
his short life, and by the assiduity with which he pursued it brought on
the dysentery which closed his brilliant career, peopling his last
hours with the figures of those to whom his works owed so much of their

During the moments of delirium which preceded his death, he was
constantly speaking of Lablache, Tamburini, and Grisi; and one of his
last recognizable impressions was that he was present at a brilliant
representation of his last opera at the Salle Favart. His earthly career
closed September 23, 1835, at the age of thirty-one.

On the eve of his interment, the Théâtre Italien reopened with the
"Puritani." It was an occasion full of solemn gloom. Both the
musicians and audience broke from time to time into sobs. Tamburini, in
particular, was so oppressed by the death of his young friend that his
vocalization, generally so perfect, was often at fault, while the faces
of Grisi, Rubini, and Lablache too plainly showed their aching hearts.

Rossini, Cherubini, Paer, and Carafa had charge of the funeral, and M.
Habeneck, _chef d'orchestre_ of the Académie Royale, of the music. The
next remarkable piece on the funeral programme was a _Lacrymosa_ for
four voices without accompaniment, in which the text of the Latin
hymn was united to the beautiful tenor melody in the third act of
the "Puritani." This was executed by Rubini, Ivanoff, Tamburini, and
Lablache. The services were performed at the Church of the Invalides,
and the remains were interred in Père Lachaise.

Rossini had ever shown great love for Bellini, and Rosario Bellini,
the stricken father, wrote to him a touching letter, in which, after
speaking of his grief and despair, the old man said:

"You always encouraged the object of my eternal regret in his labors;
you took him under your protection, you neglected nothing that could
increase his glory and his welfare. After my son's death, what have
you not done to honor my son's name and render it dear to posterity? I
learned this from the newspapers; and I am penetrated with gratitude for
your excessive kindness as well as for that of a number of distinguished
artists, which also I shall never forget. Pray, sir, be my interpreter,
and tell these artists that the father and family of Bellini, as well as
of our compatriots of Catania, will cherish an imperishable recollection
of this generous conduct. I shall never cease to remember how much you
did for my son. I shall make known everywhere, in the midst of my tears,
what an affectionate heart belongs to the great Rossini, and how kind,
hospitable, and full of feeling are the artists of France."

Bellini was affable, sincere, honest, and affectionate. Nature gave him
a beautiful and ingenuous face, noble features, large, clear blue eyes,
and abundant light hair. His countenance instantly won on the regards
of all that met him. His disposition was melancholy; a secret depression
often crept over his most cheerful hours. We are told there was a
tender romance in his earlier life. The father of the lady he loved,
a Neapolitan judge, refused his suit on account of his inferior social
position. When Bellini became famous the judge wished to make amends,
but Bellini's pride interfered. Soon after the young lady, who loved him
unalterably, died, and it was said the composer never recovered from the


Donizetti and Bellini were peculiarly moulded by the great genius of
Rossini, but in their best works they show individuality, color, and
special creative activity. The former composer, one of the most affluent
in the annals of music, seemed to become more fresh in his fancies
with increased production. He is an example of how little the skill and
touch, belonging to unceasing work, should be despised in comparison
with what is called inspiration. Donizetti arrived at his freshest
creations at a time when there seemed but little left for him except the
trite and threadbare. There are no melodies so rich and well fancied as
those to be found in his later works; and in sense of dramatic form
and effective instrumentation (always a faulty point with Donizetti) he
displayed great progress at the last. It is, however, a noteworthy fact,
that the latest Italian composers have shown themselves quite weak
in composing expressly for the orchestra. No operatic overture since
"William Tell" has been produced by this school of music, worthy to be
rendered in a concert-room.

Donizetti lacked the dramatic instinct in conceiving his music. In
attempting it he became hollow and theatric; and beautiful as are the
melodies and concerted pieces in "Lucia," where the subject ought to
inspire a vivid dramatic nature with such telling effects, it is in the
latter sense one of the most disappointing of operas.

He redeemed himself for the nonce, however, in the fourth act of "La
Favorita," where there is enough musical and dramatic beauty to condone
the sins of the other three acts. The solemn and affecting church chant,
the passionate romance for the tenor, the great closing duet in which
the ecstasy of despair rises to that of exaltation, the resistless
sweep of the rhythm--all mark one of the most effective single acts ever
written. He showed himself here worthy of companionship with Rossini and

In his comic operas, "L'Elisir d'Amore," "La Fille du Regiment," and
"Don Pasquale," there is a continual well-spring of sunny, bubbling
humor. They are slight, brilliant, and catching, everything that
pedantry condemns, and the popular taste delights in. Mendelssohn, the
last of the German classical composers, admired "L'Elisir" so much that
he said he would have liked to have written it himself. It may be said
that while Donizetti lacks grand conceptions, or even great heauties
for the most part, his operas contain so much that is agreeable, so many
excellent opportunities for vocal display, such harmony between sound
and situation, that he will probably retain a hold on the stage when
much greater composers are only known to the general public by name.

Bellini, with less fertility and grace, possessed far more
picturesqueness and intensity. His powers of imagination transcended his
command over the working tools of his art. Even more lacking in exact
and extended musical science than Donizetti, he could express what came
within his range with a simple vigor, grasp, and beauty, which make
him a truly dramatic composer. In addition to this, a matter which many
great composers ignore, Bellini had extraordinary skill in writing music
for the voice, not that which merely gave opportunity for executive
trickery and embellishment, but the genuine accents of passion, pathos,
and tenderness, in forms best adapted to be easily and effectively

He had no flexibility, no command over mirthful inspiration, such as
we hear in Mozart, Rossini, or even Donizetti. But his monotone is in
sublile rapport with the graver aspects of nature and life. Chorley sums
up this characteristic of Bellini in the following words:

"In spite of the inexperience with which the instrumental score is
filled up, the opening scene of 'Norma' in the dim druidical wood
bears the true character of ancient sylvan antiquity. There is daybreak
again--a fresh tone of reveille--in the prelude to 'I Puritani.' If
Bellini's genius was not versatile in its means of expression, if it had
not gathered all the appliances by which science fertilizes Nature, it
beyond all doubt included appreciation of truth, no less than instinct
for beauty."



In 1872 the Khédive of Egypt, an oriental ruler, whose love of western
art and civilization has since tangled him in economic meshes to escape
from which has cost him his independence, produced a new opera with
barbaric splendor of appointments, at Grand Cairo. The spacious theatre
blazed with fantastic dresses and showy uniforms, and the curtain rose
on a drama which gave a glimpse to the Arabs, Copts, and Francs present
of the life and religion, the loves and hates of ancient Pharaonic
times, set to music by the most celebrated of living Italian composers.

That an eastern prince should have commissioned Giuseppe Verdi to write
"Aida" for him, in his desire to emulate western sovereigns as a patron
of art, is an interesting fact, but not wonderful or significant.

The opera itself was freighted, however, with peculiar significance as
an artistic work, far surpassing that of the circumstances which gave it
origin, or which saw its first production in the mysterious land of the
Nile and Sphinx.

Originally a pupil, thoroughly imbued with the method and spirit of
Rossini, though never lacking in original quality, Verdi as a young man
shared the suffrages of admiring audiences with Donizetti and Bellini.
Even when he diverged widely from his parent stem and took rank as the
representative of the melodramatic school of music, he remained true to
the instincts of his Italian training.

The remarkable fact is that Verdi, at the age of fifty-eight, when it
might have been safely assumed that his theories and preferences were
finally crystallized, produced an opera in which he clasped hands with
the German enthusiast, who preached an art system radically opposed to
his own and lashed with scathing satire the whole musical cult of the
Italian race.

In "Aida" and the "Manzoni Mass," written in 1873, Verdi, the leader
among living Italian composers, practically conceded that, in the long,
bitterly fought battle between Teuton and Italian in music, the former
was the victor. In the opera we find a new departure, which, if not
embodying all the philosophy of the "new school," is stamped with its
salient traits, viz.: The subordination of all the individual effects
to the perfection and symmetry of the whole; a lavish demand on all the
sister arts to contribute their rich gifts to the heightening of the
illusion; a tendency to enrich the harmonic value in the choruses, the
concerted pieces, and the instrumentation, to the great sacrifice of the
solo pieces; the use of the heroic and mythical element as a theme.

Verdi, the subject of this interesting revolution, has filled a very
brilliant place in modern musical art, and his career has been in some
ways as picturesque as his music.

Verdi's parents were literally hewers of wood and drawers of water,
earning their bread, after the manner of Italian peasants, at a small
settlement called La Roncali, near Busseto, where the future composer
was born on October 9, 1814.

His earliest recollections were with the little village church, where
the little Giuseppe listened with delight to the church organ, for, as
with all great musicians, his fondness for music showed itself at a very
early age. The elder Verdi, though very poor, gratified the child's love
of music when he was about eight by buying a small spinet, and placing
him under the instruction of Provesi, a teacher in Busseto. The boy
entered on his studies with ardor, and made more rapid progress than the
slender facilities which were allowed him would ordinarily justify.

An event soon occurred which was destined to wield a lasting influence
on his destiny. He one day heard a skillful performance on a fine piano,
while passing by one of the better houses of Busseto. From that time
a constant fascination drew him to the house; for day after day he
lingered and seemed unwilling to go away lest he should perchance lose
some of the enchanting sounds which so enraptured him. The owner of
the premises was a rich merchant, one Antonio Barezzi, a cultivated
and high-minded man, and a passionate lover of music withal. 'Twas his
daughter whose playing gave the young Verdi such pleasure.

Signor Barezzi had often seen the lingering and absorbed lad, who
stood as if in a dream, oblivious to all that passed around him in the
practical work-a-day world. So one day he accosted him pleasantly and
inquired why he came so constantly and stayed so long doing nothing.

"I play the piano a little," said the boy, "and I like to come here and
listen to the fine playing in your house."

"Oh! if that is the case, come in with me that you may enjoy it more
at your ease, and hereafter you are welcome to do so whenever you feel

It may be imagined the delighted boy did not refuse the kind invitation,
and the acquaintance soon ripened into intimacy, for the rich merchant
learned to regard the bright young musician with much affection, which
it is needless to say was warmly returned. Verdi was untiring in study
and spent the early years of his youth in humble quiet, in the midst of
those beauties of nature which have so powerful an influence in molding
great susceptibilities. At his seventeenth year he had acquired as much
musical knowledge as could be acquired at a place like Busseto, and he
became anxious to go to Milan to continue his studies. The poverty of
his family precluding any assistance from this quarter, he was obliged
to find help from an eleemosynary fund then existing in his native town.
This was an institution called the Monte di Pietà, which offered yearly
to four young men the sum of twenty-five _lire_ a month each, in order
to help them to an education; and Verdi, making an application and
sustained by the influence of his friend the rich merchant, was one of
the four whose good fortune it was to be selected.

The allowance thus obtained with some assistance from Barezzi enabled
the ambitious young musician to go to Milan, carrying with him some
of his compositions. When he presented himself for examination at the
conservatory, he was made to play on the piano, and his compositions
examined. The result fell on his hopes like a thunder-bolt. The pedantic
and narrow-minded examiners not only scoffed at the state of his musical
knowledge, but told him he was incapable of becoming a musician. To
weaker souls this would have been a terrible discouragement, but to his
ardor and self-confidence it was only a challenge. Barezzi had equal
confidence in the abilities of his _protégé_, and warmly encouraged him
to work and hope. Verdi engaged an excellent private teacher and pursued
his studies with unflagging energy, denying himself all but the barest
necessities, and going sometimes without sufficient food.

A stroke of fortune now fell in his way; the place of organist fell
vacant at the Busseto church, and Verdi was appointed to fill it. He
returned home, and was soon afterward married to the daughter of the
benefactor to whom he owed so much. He continued to apply himself with
great diligence to the study of his art, and completed an opera early
in 1839. He succeeded in arranging for the production of this work,
"L'Oberto, Conte de San Bonifacio," at La Scala, Milan; but it excited
little comment and was soon forgotten, like the scores of other shallow
or immature compositions so prolifically produced in Italy.

The impresario, Merelli, believed in the young composer though, for
he thought he discovered signs of genius. So he gave him a contract to
write three operas, one of which was to be an _opera buffa_, and to be
ready in the following autumn. With hopeful spirits Verdi set to work
on the opera, but that year of 1840 was to be one of great trouble and
trial. Hardly had he set to work all afire with eagerness and hope,
when he was seized with severe illness. His recovery was followed by the
successive sickening of his two children, who died, a terrible blow to
the father's fond heart. Fate had the crowning stroke though still to
give, for the young mother, agonized by this loss, was seized with a
fatal inflammation of the brain. Thus within a brief period Verdi was
bereft of all the sweet consolations of home, and his life became a
burden to him. Under these conditions he was to write a comic opera,
full of sparkle, gayety, and humor. Can we wonder that his work was a
failure? The public came to be amused by bright, joyous music, for it
was nothing to them that the composer's heart was dead with grief at his
afflictions. The audience hissed "Un Giorno di Regno," for it proved
a funereal attempt at mirth. So Verdi sought to annul the contract. To
this the impresario replied: "So be it, if you wish; but, whenever you
want to write again on the same terms, you will find me ready."

To tell the truth, the composer was discouraged by his want of success,
and wholly broken down by his numerous trials. He now withdrew from all
society, and, having hired a small room in an out-of-the-way part of
Milan, passed most of his time in reading the worst books that could
be found, rarely going out, unless occasionally in the evening, never
giving his attention to study of any kind, and never touching the piano.
Such was his life from October, 1840, to January, 1841. One evening,
early in the new year, while out walking, he chanced to meet Merelli,
who took him by the arm; and, as they sauntered toward the theatre, the
impresario told him that he was in great trouble, Nicolai, who was to
write an opera for him, having refused to accept a _libretto_ entitled

To this Verdi replied:

"I am glad to be able to relieve you of your difficulty. Don't you
remember the libretto of 'Il Proscritto,' which you procured for me, and
for which I have never composed the music? Give that to Nicolai in place
of 'Nabucco.'"

Merelli thanked him for his kind offer, and, as they reached the
theatre, asked him to go in, that they might ascertain whether the
manuscript of "Il Proscritto" was really there. It was at length found,
and Verdi was on the point of leaving, when Merelli slipped into his
pocket the book of "Nabucco," asking him to look it over. For want
of something to do, he took up the drama the next morning and read it
through, realizing how truly grand it was in conception. But, as a lover
forces himself to feign indifference to his coquettish _innamorata_, so
he, disregarding his inclinations, returned the manuscript to Merelli
that same day.

"Well?" said Merelli, inquiringly.

"Musicabilissimo!" he replied; "full of dramatic power and telling

"Take it home with you, then, and write the music for it."

Verdi declared that he did not wish to compose, but the worthy
impresario forced the manuscript on him, and persisted that he should
undertake the work. The composer returned home with the libretto, but
threw it on one side without looking at it, and for the next five months
continued his reading of bad romances and yellow-covered novels.

The impulse of work soon came again, however. One beautiful June day the
manuscript met his eye, while looking listlessly over some old papers.
He read one scene and was struck by its beauty. The instinct of musical
creation rushed over him with irresistible force; he seated himself at
the piano, so long silent, and began composing the music. The ice was
broken. Verdi soon entered into the spirit of the work, and in three
months "Nabucco" was entirely completed. Merelli gladly accepted it, and
it was performed at La Scala in the spring of 1842. As a result Verdi
was besieged with petitions for new works from every impresario in


From 1812 to 1851 Verdi's busy imagination produced a series of operas,
which disputed the palm of popularity with the foremost composers of his
time. "I Lombardi," brought out at La Scala in 1843; "Ernani," at Venice
in 1844; "I Due Foscari," at Rome in 1844; "Giovanna D'Arco," at Milan,
and "Alzira," at Naples in 1845; "Attila," at Venice in 1846; and
"Macbetto," at Florence in 1847, were--all of them--successful works.
The last created such a genuine enthusiasm that he was crowned with a
golden aurel-wreath and escorted home from the theatre by an enormous
crowd. "I Masnadieri" was written for Jenny Lind, and performed first
in London in 1847 with that great singer, Gardoni, and Lablache, in the
cast. His next productions were "Il Corsaro," brought out at Trieste
in 1848; "La Battaglia di Legnano" at Rome in 1849; "Luisa Miller" at
Naples in the same year; and "Stiffelio" at Trieste in 1850. By this
series of works Verdi impressed himself powerfully on his age, but in
them he preserved faithfully the color and style of the school in which
he had been trained. But he had now arrived at the commencement of his
transition period. A distinguished French critic marks this change in
the following summary: "When Verdi began to write, the influences of
foreign literature and new theories on art had excited Italian
composers to seek a violent expression of the passions, and to leave
the interpretation of amiable and delicate sentiments for that of sombre
flights of the soul. A serious mind gifted with a rich imagination,
Verdi became the chief of the new school. His music became more intense
and dramatic; by vigor, energy, _verve_, a certain ruggedness and
sharpness, by powerful effects of sound, he conquered an immense
popularity in Italy, where success had hitherto been attained only by
the charm, suavity, and abundance of the melodies produced."

In "Rigoletto," produced in Venice in 1851, the full flowering of his
genius into the melodramatic style was signally shown. The opera story
adapted from Victor Hugo's "Le Roi s'amuse" is itself one of the most
dramatic of plots, and it seemed to have fired the composer into music
singularly vigorous, full of startling effects and novel treatment. Two
years afterward were brought out at Rome and Venice respectively two
operas, stamped with the same salient qualities, "Il Trovatore" and
"La Traviata," the last a lyric adaptation of Dumas _fils's_ "Dame
aux Camélias." These three operas have generally been considered his
masterpieces, though it is more than possible that the riper judgment of
the future will not sustain this claim. Their popularity was such that
Verdi's time was absorbed for several years in their production at
various opera-houses, utterly precluding new compositions. Of his later
operas may be mentioned "Les Vêpres Siciliennes," produced in Paris in
1855; "Un Ballo in Maschera," performed at Rome in 1859; "La Forza del
Destino," written for St. Petersburg, where it was sung in 1863; "Don
Carlos," produced in London in 1867; and "Aida" in Grand Cairo in
1872. When the latter work was finished, Verdi had composed twenty-nine
operas, beside lesser works, and attained the age of fifty-seven.

Verdi's energies have not been confined to music. An ardent patriot, he
has displayed the deepest interest in the affairs of his country, and
taken an active part in its tangled politics. After the war of 1859 he
was chosen a member of the Assembly of Parma, and was one of the most
influential advocates for the annexation to Sardinia. Italian unity
found in him a passionate advocate, and, when the occasion came, his
artistic talent and earnestness proved that they might have made a
vigorous mark in political oratory as well as in music.

The cry of "Viva Verdi" often resounded through Sardinia and Italy, and
it was one of the war-slogans of the Italian war of liberation. This
enigma is explained in the fact that the five letters of his name are
the initials of those of Vittorio Emanuele Rè D'Italia. His private
resources were liberally poured forth to help the national cause, and in
1861 he was chosen a deputy in Parliament from Parma. Ten years later he
was appointed by the Minister of Public Instruction to superintend the
reorganization of the National Musical Institute.

The many decorations and titular distinctions lavished on him show the
high esteem in which he is held. He is a member of the Legion of Honor,
corresponding member of the French Academy of Fine Arts, grand cross
of the Prussian order of St. Stanislaus, of the order of the Crown of
Italy, and of the Egyptian order of Osmanli. He divides his life between
a beautiful residence at Genoa, where he overlooks the waters of the
sparkling Mediterranean, and a country villa near his native Busseto,
a house of quaint artistic architecture, approached by a venerable,
moss-grown stone bridge, at the foot of which are a large park and
artificial lake. When he takes his evening walks, the peasantry, who are
devotedly attached to him, unite in singing choruses from his operas.

In Verdi's bedroom, where alone he composes, is a fine piano--of which
instrument, as well as of the violin, he is a master--a modest library,
and an oddly-shaped writing-desk. Pictures and statuettes, of which he
is very fond, are thickly strewn about the whole house. Verdi is a
man of vigor' ous and active habits, taking an ardent interest in
agriculture. But the larger part of his time is taken up in composing,
writing letters, and reading works on philosophy, politics, and history.
His personal appearance is very distinguished. A tall figure with sturdy
limbs and square shoulders, surmounted by a finely-shaped head; abundant
hair, beard, and mustache, whose black is sprinkled with gray; dark-gray
eyes, regular features, and an earnest, sometimes intense, expression
make him a noticeable-looking man. Much sought after in the brilliant
society of Florence, Rome, and Paris, our composer spends most of his
time in the elegant seclusion of home.


Verdi is the most nervous, theatric, sensuous composer of the present
century. Measured by the highest standard, his style must be criticised
as often spasmodic, tawdry, and meretricious. He instinctively adopts
a bold and eccentric treatment of musical themes; and, though there are
always to be found stirring movements in his scores as well as in his
opera stories, he constantly offends refined taste by sensation and

With a redundancy of melody, too often of the cheap and shallow kind, he
rarely fails to please the masses of opera-goers, for his works enjoy
a popularity not shared at present by any other composer. In Verdi a
sudden blaze of song, brief spirited airs, duets, trios, etc., take
the place of the elaborate and beautiful music, chiseled into order and
symmetry, which characterizes most of the great composers of the past.
Energy of immediate impression is thus gained at the expense of that
deep, lingering power, full of the subtile side-lights and shadows of
suggestion, which is the crowning benison of great music. He stuns the
ear and captivates the senses, but does not subdue the soul.

Yet, despite the grievous faults of these operas, they blaze with gems,
and we catch here and there true swallow-flights of genius, that the
noblest would not disown. With all his puerilities there is a mixture
of grandeur. There are passages in "Ernani," "Rigoletto," "Traviata,"
"Trovatore," and "Aida," so strong and dignified, that it provokes a
wonder that one with such capacity for greatness should often descend
into such bathos.

To better illustrate the false art which mars so much of Verdi's
dramatic method, a comparison between his "Rigoletto," so often claimed
as his best work, and Rossini's "Otello" will be opportune. The air sung
by _Gilda_ in the "Rigoletto," when she retires to sleep on the eve of
the outrage, is an empty, sentimental yawn; and in the quartet of
the last act, a noble dramatic opportunity, she ejects a chain of
disconnected, unmusical sobs, as offensive as _Violetta's_ consumptive
cough. _Desdemona's_ agitated air, on the other hand, under Rossini's
treatment, though broken short in the vocal phrase, is magnificently
sustained by the orchestra, and a genuine passion is made consistently
musical; and then the wonderful burst of bravura, where despair and
resolution run riot without violating the bounds of strict beauty in
music--these are master-strokes of genius restrained by art.

In Verdi, passion too often misses intensity and becomes hysterical.
He lacks the elements of tenderness and humor, but is frequently
picturesque and charming by his warmth and boldness of color. His
attempts to express the gay and mirthful, as for instance in the
masquerade music of "Traviata" and the dance music of "Rigoletto," are
dreary, ghastly, and saddening; while his ideas of tenderness are apt
to take the form of mere sentimentality. Yet generalities fail in
describing him, for occasionally he attains effects strong in their
pathos, and artistically admirable; as, for example, the slow air for
the heroine, and the dreamy song for the gypsy mother in the last act
of "Trovatore." An artist who thus contradicts himself is a perplexing
problem, but we must judge him by the habitual, not the occasional.

Verdi is always thoroughly in earnest, never frivolous. He walks on
stilts indeed, instead of treading the ground or cleaving the air,
but is never timid or tame in aim or execution. If he cannot stir the
emotions of the soul he subdues and absorbs the attention against
even the dictates of the better taste; while genuiue beauties gleaming
through picturesque rubbish often repay the true musician for what he
has undergone.

So far this composer has been essentially representative of melodramatic
music, with all the faults and virtues of such a style. In "Aida,"
his last work, the world remarked a striking change. The noble
orchestration, the power and beauty of the choruses, the sustained
dignity of treatment, the seriousness and pathos of the whole work,
reveal how deeply new purposes and methods have been fermenting in the
composer's development. Yet in the very prime of his powers, though
no longer young, his next work ought to settle the value of the hopes
raised by the last.



In France, as in Italy, the regular musical drama was preceded by
mysteries, masks, and religious plays, which introduced short musical
parts, as also action, mechanical effects, and dancing. The ballet,
however, where dancing was the prominent feature, remained for a long
time the favorite amusement of the French court until the advent of Jean
Baptiste Lulli. The young Florentine, after having served in the king's
band, was promoted to be its chief, and the composer of the music of
the court ballets. Lulli, born in 1633, was bought of his parents
by Chevalier de Guise, and sent to Paris as a present to Mlle, de
Montpensier, the king's niece. His capricious mistress, after a year
or two, deposed the boy of fifteen from the position of page to that of
scullion; but Count Nogent, accidentally hearing him sing and struck by
his musical talent, influenced the princess to place him under the care
of good masters. Lulli made such rapid progress that he soon commenced
to compose music of a style superior to that before current in
divertissements of the French court.

The name of Philippe Quinault is closely associated with the musical
career of Lulli; for to the poet the musician was indebted for his best
librettos. Born at Paris in 1636, Quinault's genius for poetry displayed
itself at an early age. Before he was twenty he had written several
successful comedies. Though he produced many plays, both tragedies and
comedies, well known to readers of French poetry, his operatic poems are
those which have rendered his memory illustrious. He died on November
29,1688. It is said that during his last illness he was extremely
penitent on account of the voluptuous tendency of his works. All his
lyrical dramas are full of beauty, but "Atys," "Phaeton," "Isis," and
"Armide" have been ranked the highest. "Armide" was the last of the
poet's efforts, and Lulli was so much in love with the opera, when
completed, that he had it performed over and over again for his own
pleasure without any other auditor. When "Atys" was performed first in
1676, the eager throng began to pour in the theatre at ten o'clock in
the morning, and by noon the building was filled. The King and the Count
were charmed with the work in spite of the bitter dislike of Boileau,
the Aristarchus of his age. "Put me in a place where I shall not be able
to hear the words," said the latter to the box-keeper; "I like Lulli's
music very much, but have a sovereign contempt for Quinault's words."
Lulli obliged the poet to write "Armide" five times over, and the
felicity of his treatment is proved by the fact that Gluck afterward set
the same poem to the music which is still occasionally sung in Germany.

Lulli in the course of his musical career became so great a favorite
with the King that the originally obscure kitchen-boy was ennobled. He
was made one of the King's secretaries in spite of the loud murmurs of
this pampered fraternity against receiving into their body a player
and a buffoon. The musician's wit and affability, however, finally
dissipated these prejudices, especially as he was wealthy and of
irreproachable character.

The King having had a severe illness in 1686, Lulli composed a "Te Deum"
in honor of his recovery. When this was given, the musician, in beating
time with great ardor, struck his toe with his baton. This brought on a
mortification, and there was great grief when it was announced that he
could not recover. The Princes de Vendôme lodged four thousand pistoles
in the hands of a banker, to be paid to any physician who would cure
him. Shortly before his death his confessor severely reproached him for
the licentiousness of his operas, and refused to give him absolution
unless he consented to burn the score of "Achille et Polyxène," which
was ready for the stage. The manuscript was put into the flames, and
the priest made the musician's peace with God. One of the young princes
visited him a few days after, when he seemed a little better.

"What, Baptiste," the former said, "have you burned your opera? You were
a fool for giving such credit to a gloomy confessor and burning good

"Hush, hush!" whispered Lulli with a satirical smile on his lip. "I
cheated the good father. I only burned a copy."

He died singing the words, "Il faut mourir, pécheur, il faut mourir" to
one of his own opera airs.

Lulli was not only a composer, but created his own orchestra, trained
his artists in acting and singing, and was machinist as well as
ballet-master and music-director. He was intimate with Corneille,
Molière, La Fontaine, and Boileau; and these great men were proud to
contribute the texts to which he set his music. He introduced female
dancers into the ballet, disguised men having hitherto served in this
capacity, and in many essential ways was the father of early French
opera, though its foundation had been laid by Cardinal Mazarin. He
had to fight against opposition and cabals, but his energy, tact, and
persistence made him the victor, and won the friendship of the leading
men of his time. Such of his music as still exists is of a pleasing and
melodious character, full of vivacity and lire, and at times indicates
a more deep and serious power than that of merely creating catching
and tuneful airs. He was the inventor of the operatic overture, and
introduced several new instruments into the orchestra. Apart from his
splendid administrative faculty, he is entitled to rank as an original
and gifted, if not a great, composer.

A lively sketch of the French opera of this period is given by Addison
in No. 29 of the "Spectator." "The music of the French," he says, "is
indeed very properly adapted to their pronunciation and accent, as their
whole opera wonderfully favors the genius of such a gay, airy people.
The chorus in which that opera abounds gives the parterre frequent
opportunities of joining in concert with the stage. This inclination of
the audience to sing along with the actors so prevails with them that
I have sometimes known the performer on the stage to do no more in a
celebrated song than the clerk of a parish church, who serves only
to raise the psalm, and is afterward drowned in the music of the
congregation. Every actor that comes on the stage is a beau. The queens
and heroines are so painted that they appear as ruddy and cherry-cheeked
as milkmaids. The shepherds are all embroidered, and acquit themselves
in a ball better than our English dancing-masters. I have seen a couple
of rivers appear in red stockings; and Alpheus, instead of having
his head covered with sedge and bulrushes, making love in a fair,
full-bottomed periwig, and a plume of feathers; but with a voice so
full of shakes and quavers, that I should have thought the murmur of a
country brook the much more agreeable music. I remember the last opera
I saw in that merry nation was the 'Rape of Proserpine,' where Pluto,
to make the more tempting figure, puts himself in a French equipage, and
brings Ascalaphus along with him as his _valet de chambre_. This is what
we call folly and impertinence, but what the French look upon as gay and


The French musical drama continued without much chance in the hands of
the Lulli school (for the musician had several skillful imitators and
successors) till the appearance of Jean Philippe Rameau, who inaugurated
a new era. This celebrated man was born in Auvergne in 1683, and was
during his earlier life the organist of the Clermont cathedral church.
Here he pursued the scientific researches in music which entitled him
in the eyes of his admirers to be called the Newton of his art. He had
reached the age of fifty without recognition as a dramatic composer,
when the production of "Hippolyte et Aricie" excited a violent feud
by creating a strong current of opposition to the music of Lulli. He
produced works in rapid succession, and finally overcame all obstacles,
and won for himself the name of being the greatest lyric composer which
France up to that time had produced. His last opera, "Les Paladins," was
given in 1760, the composer being then seventy-seven.

The bitterness of the art-feuds of that day, afterward shown in the
Gluck-Piccini contest, was foreshadowed in that waged by Rameau against
Lulli, and finally against the Italian newcomers, who sought to take
possession of the French stage. The matter became a natioual quarrel,
and it was considered an insult to France to prefer the music of an
Italian to that of a Frenchman--an insult which was often settled by the
rapier point, when tongue and pen had failed as arbitrators. The subject
was keenly debated by journalists and pamphleteers, and the press
groaned with essays to prove that Rameau was the first musician in
Europe, though his works were utterly unknown outside of France. Perhaps
no more valuable testimony to the character of these operas can be
adduced than that of Baron Grimm:

"In his operas Rameau has overpowered all his predecessors by dint of
harmony and quantity of notes. Some of his choruses are very fine.
Lulli could only sustain his vocal psalmody by a simple bass; Rameau
accompanied almost all his recitatives with the orchestra. These
accompaniments are generally in bad taste; they drown the voice rather
than support it, and force the singers to scream and howl in a manner
which no ear of any delicacy can tolerate. We come away from an opera
of Rameau's intoxicated with harmony and stupefied with the noise of
voice and instruments. His taste is always Gothic, and, whether his
subject is light or forcible, his style is equally heavy. He was not
destitute of ideas, but did not know what use to make of them. In his
recitatives the sound is continually in opposition to the sense, though
they occasionally contain happy declamatory passages.... If he had
formed himself in some of the schools of Italy, and thus acquired a
notion of musical style and hahits of musical thought, he never would
have said (as he did) that all poems were alike to him, and that he
could set the 'Gazette de France' to music."

From this it may be gathered that Rameau, though a scientific and
learned musician, lacked imagination, good taste, and dramatic
insight--qualities which in the modern lyric school of France have been
so preeminent. It may be admitted, however, that he inspired a taste for
sound musical science, and thus prepared the way for the great Gluck,
who to all and more of Rameau's musical knowledge united the grand
genius which makes him one of the giants of his art.

Though Rameau enjoyed supremacy over the serious opera, a great
excitement was created in Paris by the arrival of an Italian company,
who in 1752 obtained permission to perform Italian burlettas and
intermezzi at the opera-house. The partisans of the French school took
alarm, and the admirers of Lulli and Rameau forgot their bickerings to
join forces against the foreign intruders. The battle-field was strewed
with floods of ink, and the literati pelted each other with ferocious

Among the literature of this controversy, one pamphlet has an
imperishable place, Rousseau's famous "Lettre sur la Musique Française,"
in which the great sentimentalist espoused the cause of Italian music
with an eloquence and acrimony rarely surpassed. The inconsistency of
the author was as marked in this as in his private life. Not only did he
at a later period become a great advocate of Gluck against Piocini,
but, in spite of his argument that it was impossible to compose music to
French words, that the language was quite unfit for it, that the French
never had music and never would, he himself had composed a good deal
of music to French words and produced a French opera, "Le Devin du
Village." Diderot was also a warm partisan of the Italians. Pergolesi's
beautiful music having been murdered by the French orchestra players at
the Grand Opera-House, Diderot proposed for it the following witty and
laconic inscription: "Hic Marsyas Apollinem."*

     * Here Marsyas flayed Apollo.

Rousseau's opera, "Le Devin du Village," was performed with considerable
success, in spite of the repugnance of the orchestral performers,
of whom Rousseau always spoke in terms of unmeasured contempt, to do
justice to the music. They burned Rousseau in effigy for his scoffs.
"Well," said the author of the "Confessions," "I don't wonder that they
should hang me now, after having so long put me to the torture."

The eloquence and abuse of the wits, however, did not long impair the
supremacy of Rameau; for the Italian company returned to their own
land, disheartened by their reception in the French capital. Though this
composer commenced so late in life, he left thirty-six dramatic works.
His greatest work was "Castor et Pollux." Thirty years later Grimm
recognized its merits by admitting, in spite of the great faults of the
composer, "It is the pivot on which the glory of French music turns."
When Louis XIV. offered Rameau a title, he answered, touching his breast
and forehead, "My nobility is here and here." This composer marked a
step forward in French music, for he gave it more boldness and freedom,
and was the first really scientific and well-equipped exponent of
a national school. His choruses were full of energy and fire, his
orchestral effects rich and massive. He died in 1764, and the mortuary
music, composed by himself, was performed by a double orchestra and
chorus from the Grand Opera.


A distinguished place in the records of French music must be assigned to
André Ernest Grétry, born at Liege in 1741. His career covered the
most important changes in the art as colored and influenced by national
tastes, and he is justly regarded as the father of comic opera in his
adopted country. His childish life was one of much severe discipline and
tribulation, for he was dedicated to music by his father, who was first
violinist in the college of St. Denis when he was only six years old. He
afterward wrote of this time in his "Essais sur la Musique": "The hour
for the lesson afforded the teacher an opportunity to exercise his
cruelty. He made us sing each in turn, and woe to him who made the least
mistake; he was beaten unmercifully, the youngest as well as the oldest.
He seemed to take pleasure in inventing torture. At times he would place
us on a short round stick, from which we fell head over heels if we made
the least movement. But that which made us tremble with fear was to
see him knock down a pupil and beat him; for then we were sure he would
treat some others in the same manner, one victim being insufficient to
gratify his ferocity. To maltreat his pupils was a sort of mania with
him; and he seemed to feel that his duty was performed in proportion to
the cries and sobs which he drew forth."

In 1759 Grétry went to Rome, where he studied counterpoint for five
years. Some of his works were received favorably by the Roman public,
and he was made a member of the Philharmonic Society of Bologna. Pressed
by pecuniary necessity, Grétry determined to go to Paris; but he stopped
at Geneva on the route to earn money by singing-lessons. Here he met
Voltaire at Ferney. "You are a musician and have genius," said the great
man; "it is a very rare thing, and I take much interest in you." In
spite of this, however, Voltaire would not write him the text for an
opera. The philosopher of Ferney feared to trust his reputation with an
unknown musician. When Grétry arrived in Paris he still found the same
difficulty, as no distinguished poet was disposed to give him a libretto
till he had made his powers recognized. After two years of starving and
waiting, Marmontel gave him the text of "The Huron," which was brought
out in 1769 and well received. Other successful works followed in rapid

At this time Parisian frivolity thought it good taste to admire the
rustic and naive. The idyls of Gessner and the pastorals of Florian
were the favorite reading, and Watteau the popular painter. Gentlefolks,
steeped in artifice, vice, and intrigue, masked their empty lives under
the as sumption of Arcadian simplicity, and minced and ambled in the
costumes of shepherds and shepherdesses. Marie Antoinette transformed
her chalet of Petit Trianon into a farm, where she and her courtiers
played at pastoral life--the farce preceding the tragedy of the
Revolution. It was the effort of dazed society seeking change. Grétry
followed the fashionable bent by composing pastoral comedies, and
mounted on the wave of success.

In 1774 "Fausse Magie" was produced with the greatest applause. Rousseau
was present, and the composer waited on him in his box, meeting a most
cordial reception. On their way home after the opera, Grétry offered
his new friend his arm to help him over an obstruction. Rousseau with
a burst of rage said, "Let me make use of my own powers," and
thenceforward the sentimental misanthrope refused to recognize the
composer. About this time Grétry met the English humorist Hales, who
afterward furnished him with many of his comic texts. The two combined
to produce the "Jugement de Midas," a satire on the old style of music,
which met with remarkable popular favor, though it was not so well
received by the court.

The crowning work of this composer's life was given to the world in
1785. This was "Richard Coeur de Lion," and it proved one of the great
musical events of the period. Paris was in ecstasies, and the judgment
of succeeding generations has confirmed the contemporary verdict, as
it is still a favorite opera in France and Germany. The works afterward
composed by Grétry showed decadence in power. Singularly rich in fresh
and sprightly ideas, he lacked depth and grandeur, and failed to suit
the deeper and sounder taste which Cherubini and Méhul, great followers
in the footsteps of Gluck, gratified by a series of noble masterpieces.
Grétry's services to his art, however, by his production of comic
operas full of lyric vivacity and sparkle, have never been forgotten nor
underrated. His bust was placed in the opera-house during his lifetime,
and he was made a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts and
Inspector of the Conservatory. Grétry possessed qualities of heart which
endeared him to all, and his death in 1813 was the occasion of a
general outburst of lamentation. Deputations from the theatres and
the Conservatory accompanied his remains to the cemetery, where Méhul
pronounced an eloquent eulogium. In 1828 a nephew of Grétry caused the
heart of him who was one of the glorious sons of Liege to be returned to
his native city.

Grétry founded a school of musical composition in France which has since
been cultivated with signal success, that of lyric comedy. The efforts
of Lulli and Rameau had been turned in another direction. The former had
done little more than set courtly pageants to music, though he had
done this with great skill and tact, enriching them with a variety
of concerted and orchestral pieces, and showing much fertility in the
invention alike of pathetic and lively melodies. Rameau followed in the
footsteps of Lulli, but expanded and crystallized his ideas into a more
scientific form. He had indeed carried his love of form to a radical
extreme. Jean Jacques Rousseau, who extended his taste for nature and
simplicity to music, blamed him severely as one who neglected genuine
natural tune for far-fetched harmonies, on the ground that "music is a
child of nature, and has a language of its own for expressing emotional
transports, which can not be learned from thorough bass rules." Again
Rousseau, in his forcible tract on French music, says of Rameau, from
whose school Grétry's music was such a significant departure:

"One must confess that M. Rameau possesses very great talent, much fire
and euphony, and a considerable knowledge of harmonious combinations and
effects; one must also grant him the art of appropriating the ideas of
others by changing their character, adorning and developing them, and
turning them around in all manner of ways, On the other hand, he shows
less facility in inventing new ones. Altogether he has more skill than
fertility, more knowledge than genius, or rather genius smothered
by knowledge, but always force, grace, and very often a beautiful
_cantileana_. His recitative is not as natural but much more varied than
that of Lulli; admirable in a few scenes, but bad as a rule." Rousseau
continues to reproach Rameau with a too powerful instrumentation,
compared with Italian simplicity, and sums up that nobody knew better
than Rameau how to conceive the spirit of single passages and to produce
artistic contrasts, but that he entirely failed to give his operas
"a happy and much-to-be-desired unity." In another part of the quoted
passage Rousseau says that Rameau stands far beneath Lulli in _esprit_
and artistic tact, but that he is often superior to him in dramatic

A clear understanding of the musical position of Rameau is necessary to
fully appreciate the place of Grétry, his antithesis as a composer.
For a short time the popularity of Rameau had been shaken by an Italian
opera company, called by the French _Les Bouffons_, who had created a
genuine sensation by their performance of airy and sparkling operettas,
entirely removed in spirit from the ponderous productions of the
prevailing school. Though the Italian comedians did not meet with
permanent success, the suave charm of their music left behind it
memories which became fruitful.*

     * In its infancy Italian comic opera formed the _intermezzo_
     between the acts of a serious opera, and--similar to the
     Greek sylvan drama which followed the tragic trilogy--was
     frequently a parody on the piece which preceded it; though
     more frequently still (as in Pergolcsi's "Serra Padrona") it
     was not a satire on any particular subject, but designed to
     heighten the ideal artistic effect of the serious opera by
     broad comedy. Having acquired a complete form on the boards
     of the small theatres, it was transferred to the larger
     stage. Though it lacked the external splendor and consummate
     vocalization of the elder sister, its simpler forms endowed
     it with a more characteristic rendering of actual life.

It furnished the point of departure for the lively and facile genius
of Grétry, who laid the foundation stones of that lyric comedywhich has
flourished in France with so much luxuriance. From the outset merriment
and humor were by no means the sole object of the French comic opera,
as in the case of its Italian sister. Grétry did not neglect to turn the
nobler emotions to account, and by a judicious admixture of sentiment
he gave an ideal coloring to his works, which made them singularly
fascinating and original. Around Grétry flourished several disciples and
imitators, and for twenty years this charming hybrid between opera and
vaudeville engrossed French musical talent, to the exclusion of other
forms of composition. It was only when Gluck * appeared on the scene,
and by his commanding genius restored serious opera to its supremacy,
that Grotry's repute was overshadowed. From this decline in public
favor he never fully recovered, for the master left behind him gifted
disciples, who embodied his traditions, and were inspired by his lofty
aims--preeminently so in the case of Cherubini, perhaps the greatest
name in French music. While French comic opera, since the days of
Grétry, has become modified in some of its forms, it preserves the
spirit and coloring which he so happily imparted to it, and looks back
to him as its founder and lawgiver.

     *See article on "Gluck," in "The Great German Composers"
     (a companion volume to this), in which his connection with
     French music is discussed.


One of the most accomplished of historians and critics, Oulibischeff,
sums up the place of Cherubini in musical art in these words: "If on the
one hand Gluck's calm and plastic grandeur, and on the other the tender
and voluptuous charm of the melodies of Piccini and Zacchini, had suited
the circumstances of a state of society sunk in luxury and nourished
with classical exhibitions, this could not satisfy a society shaken to
the very foundations of its faith and organization. The whole of the
dramatic music of the eighteenth century must naturally have appeared
cold and languid to men whose minds were profoundly moved with troubles
and wars; and even at the present day the word languor best expresses
that which no longer touches us in the operas of the last century,
without even excepting those of Mozart himself. What we require for the
pictures of dramatic music is larger frames, including more figures,
more passionate and moving song, more sharply marked rhythms, greater
fullness in the vocal masses, and more sonorous brilliancy in the
instrumentation. All these qualities are to be found in 'Lodoi'ska'
and 'Les Deux Journées'; and Cherubini may not only be regarded as the
founder of the modern French opera, but also as that musician who, after
Mozart, has exerted the greatest general influence on the tendency of
the art. An Italian by birth and the excellence of his education, which
was conducted by Sarti, the great teacher of composition; a German by
his musical sympathies as well as by the variety and profundity of his
knowledge; and a Frenchman by the school and principles to which we
owe his finest dramatic works, Cherubini strikes me as being the most
accomplished musician, if not the greatest genius, of the nineteenth

Again the English composer Macfarren observes: "Cherubini's position
is unique in the history of his art; actively before the world as
a composer for threescore years and ten, his career spans over more
vicissitudes in the progress of music than that of any other man.
Beginning to write in the same year with Cimarosa, and even earlier than
Mozart, and being the contemporary of Verdi and Wagner, he witnessed
almost the origin of the two modern classical schools of France and
Germany, their rise to perfection, and, if not their decline, the
arrival of a time when criticism would usurp the place of creation, and
when to propound new rules for art claims higher consideration than
to act according to its ever unalterable principles. His artistic life
indeed was a rainbow based on the two extremes of modern music which
shed light and glory on the great art-cycle over which it arched....
His excellence consists in his unswerving earnestness of purpose, in
the individuality of his manner, in the vigor of his ideas, and in the
purity of his harmony."

"Such," says M. Miel, "was Cherubim; a colossal and incommensurable
genius, an existence full of days, of masterpieces, and of glory.
Among his rivals he found his most sincere appreciators. The Chevalier
Seyfried has recorded, in a notice on Beethoven, that that grand
musician regarded Cherubini as the first of his contemporary composers.
We will add nothing to this praise: the judgment of such a rival is, for
Cherubini, the voice itself of posterity."

Luigi Carlo Zanobe Salvadore Maria Cherubini was born at Florence on
September 14, 1700, the son of a harpsichord accompanyist at the Pergola
Theatre. Like so many other great composers, young Cherubini displayed
signs of a fertile and powerful genius at an early age, mastering the
difficulties of music as if by instinct. At the age of nine he was
placed under the charge of Felici, one of the best Tuscan professors of
the day; and four years afterward he composed his first work, a mass.
His creative instinct, thus awakened, remained active, and he produced
a series of compositions which awakened no little admiration, so that he
was pointed at in the streets of Florence as the young prodigy. When he
was about sixteen the attention of the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany was
directed to him, and through that prince's liberality he was enabled
to become a pupil of the most celebrated Italian master of the age,
Giuseppe Sarti, of whom he soon became the favorite pupil. Under the
direction of Sarti, the young composer produced a series of operas,
sonatas, and masses, and wrote much of the music which appeared under
the maestro's own name--a practice then common in the music and painting
schools of Italy. At the age of nineteen Cherubini was recognized as
one of the most learned and accomplished musicians of the age, and his
services were in active demand at the Italian theatres. In four years
he produced thirteen operas, the names and character of which it is not
necessary now to mention, as they are unknown except to the antiquary
whose zeal prompts him to defy the dust of the Italian theatrical
libraries. Halévy, whose admiration of his master led him to study these
early compositions, speaks of them as full of striking beauties, and,
though crude in many particulars, distinguished by those virile and
daring conceptions which from the outset stamped the originality of the

Cherubini passed through Paris in 1784, while the Gluck-Piccini
excitement was yet warm, and visited London as composer for the Royal
Italian Opera. Here he became a constant visitor in courtly circles, and
the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Queensbury, and other noble amateurs,
conceived the warmest admiration for his character and abilities. For
some reason, however, his operas written for England failed, and
he quitted England in 1786, intending to return to Italy. But the
fascinations of Paris held him, as they have done so many others,
noticeably so among the great musicians; and what was designed as a
flying visit became a life-long residence, with the exception of brief
interruptions in Germany and Italy, whither he went to fill professional

Cherubini took up his residence with his friend Viotti, who introduced
him to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, and the highest society of the
capital, then as now the art-center of the world. He became an intimate
of the brilliant salons of Mme. de Polignac, Mme. d'Etiolés, Mme. de
Richelieu, and of the various bright assemblies where the wit, rank, and
beauty of Paris gathered in the days just prior to the Revolution. The
poet Marmontel became his intimate friend, and gave him the opera story
of "Demophon" to set to music. It was at this period that Cherubini
became acquainted with the works of Haydn, and learned from him how to
unite depth with lightness, grace with power, jest with earnestness, and
toying with dignity.

A short visit to Italy for the carnival of 1788 resulted in the
production of the opera of "Ifigenia in Aulide" at La Scala, Milan.
The success was great, and this work, the last written for his native
country, was given also at Florence and Parma with no less delight and
approbation on the part of the public. Had Cherubini died at this time,
he would have left nothing but an obscure name for Fétis's immense
dictionary. Unlike Mozart and Schubert, who at the same age had reached
their highest development, this robust and massive genius ripened
slowly. With him as with Gluck, with whom he had so many affinities,
a short life would have been fatal to renown. His last opera showed a
turning point in his development. Halévy, his great disciple, speaks of
this period as follows: "He is already more nervous; there peeps out
I know not exactly how much of force and virility of which the Italian
musicians of his day did not know or did not seek the secret. It is the
dawn of a new day. Cherubini was preparing himself for the combat. Gluck
had accustomed France to the sublime energy of his masterpieces. Mozart
had just written 'Le Nozze di Figaro' and 'Don Giovanni.' He must not
lag behind. He must not be conquered. In that career which he was about
to dare to enter, he met two giants. Like the athlete who descends into
the arena, he anointed his limbs and girded his loins for the fight."


Marmontel had furnished the libretto of an opera to Cherubini, and the
composer shortly after his return from Turin to Paris had it produced at
the Royal Academy of Music. Vogel's opera on the same text, "Demophon,"
was also brought out, but neither one met with great success.
Cherubini's work, though full of vigor and force, wanted color and
dramatic point. He was disgusted with his failure, and resolved
to eschew dramatic music; so for the nonce he devoted himself to
instrumental music and cantata. Two works of the latter class, "Amphion"
and "Circe," composed at this time, were of such excellence as to retain
a permanent hold on the French stage. Cherubini, too, became director of
the Italian opera troupe, "Les Bouffons," organized under the patronage
of Léonard, the Queen's performer, and exercised his taste for
composition by interpolating airs of his own into the works of the
Italian composers, which were then interesting the French public as
against the operas of Rameau.

"At this time," we are told by Laf age, "Cherubini had two distinct
styles, one of which was allied to Paisiello and Cimarosa by the grace,
elegance, and purity of the melodic forms; the other, which attached
itself to the school of Gluck and Mozart, more harmonic than melodious,
rich in instrumental details." This manner was the then unappreciated
type of a new school destined to change the forms of musical art.

In 1790 the Revolution broke out and rent the established order
of things into fragments. For a time all the interests of art were
swallowed up in the frightful turmoil which made Paris the center of
attention for astonished and alarmed Europe. Cherubini's connection had
been with the aristocracy, and now they were fleeing in a mad panic or
mounting the scaffold. His livelihood became precarious, and he suffered
severely during the first five years of anarchy. His seclusion was
passed in studying music, the physical sciences, drawing, and botany;
and his acquaintance was wisely confined to a few musicians like
himself. Once, indeed, his having learned the violin as a child was the
means of saving his life. Independently venturing out at night, he was
arrested by a roving band of drunken _Sansculottes_, who were seeking
musicians to conduct their street chants. Somebody recognized Cherubini
as a favorite of court circles, and, when he refused to lead their
obscene music, the fatal cry, "The Royalist, the Royalist!" buzzed
through the crowd. At this critical moment another kidnapped player
thrust a violin in Cherubini's hands and persuaded him to yield. So
the two musicians marched all day amid the hoarse yells of the drunken
revolutionists. He was also enrolled in the National Guard, and obliged
to accompany daily the march of the unfortunate throngs who shed their
blood under the axe of the guillotine. Cherubini would have fled from
these horrible surroundings, but it was difficult to evade the vigilance
of the French officials; he had no money; and he would not leave the
beautiful Cécile Tourette, to whom he was affianced.

One of the theatres opened during the revolutionary epoch was the
Théâtre Feydeau. The second opera performed was Cherubini's "Lodoïska"
(1791), at which he had been laboring for a long time, and which was
received throughout Europe with the greatest enthusiasm and delight, not
less in Germany than in France and Italy. The stirring times aroused a
new taste in music, as well as in politics and literature. The dramas of
Racine and the operas of Lulli were akin. No less did the stormy
genius of Schiller find its counterpart in Beethoven and Cherubini. The
production of "Lodoïska" was the point of departure from which the great
French school of serious opera, which has given us "Robert le Diable,"
"Les Huguenots," and "Faust," got its primal value and significance. Two
men of genius, Gluck and Grétry, had formed the taste of the public in
being faithful to the accents of nature. The idea of reconciling this
taste, founded on strict truth, with the seductive charm of the Italian
forms, to which the French were beginning to be sensible, suggested to
Cherubini a system of lyric drama capable of satisfying both. Wagner
himself even says, in his "Tendencies and Theories," speaking of
Cherubini and his great co-laborers Méhul and Spontini: "It would be
difficult to answer them, if they now perchance came among us and asked
in what respect we had improved on their mode of musical procedure."

"Lodoïska," which cast the old Italian operas into permanent oblivion,
and laid the foundation of the modern French dramatic school in music,
has a libretto similar to that of "Fidelio" and Grétry's "Coeur de Lion"
combined, and was taken from a romance of Faiblas by Fillette Loraux.
The critics found only one objection: the music was all so beautiful
that no breathing time was granted the listener. In one year the opera
was performed two hundred times, and at short intervals two hundred more
representations took place.

The Revolution culminated in the crisis of 1793, which sent the King to
the scaffold. Cherubini found a retreat at La Chartreuse, near Rouen,
the country seat of his friend, the architect Louis. Here he lived in
tranquillity, and composed several minor pieces and a three-act opera,
never produced, but afterward worked over into "Ali Baba" and "Faniska."
In his Norman retreat Cherubini heard of the death of his father, and
while suffering under this infliction, just before his return to Paris
in 1794, he composed the opera of "Elisa." This work wras received
with much favor at the Feydeau theatre, though it did not arouse the
admiration called out by "Lodoïska."

In 1795 the Paris Conservatory was founded, and Cherubini appointed
one of the five inspectors, as well as professor of counterpoint, his
associates being Lesueur, Grétry, Gossec, and Méhul. The same year
also saw him united to Cécile Tourette, to whom he had been so long and
devotedly attached. Absorbed in his duties at the Conservatory he
did not come before the public again till 1797, when the great tragic
masterpiece of "Médée" was produced at the Feydeau theatre. "Lodoïska"
had been somewhat gay; "Elisa," a work of graver import, followed;
but in "Médée" was attained the profound tragic power of Gluck and
Beethoven. Hoffman's libretto was indeed unworthy of the great music,
but this has not prevented its recognition by musicians as one of the
noblest operas ever written. It has probably been one of the causes,
however, why it is so rarely represented at the present time, its
overture alone being well known to modern musical audiences. This opera
has been compared by critics to Shakespeare's "King Lear," as being a
great expression of anguish and despair in their more stormy phases.
Chorley tells us that, when he first saw it, he was irresistibly
reminded of the lines in Barry Cornwall's poem to Pasta:

     "Now thou art like some winged thing that cries
     Above some city, flaming fast to death."

The poem which Chorley quotes from was inspired by the performance of
the great Pasta in Simone Mayer's weak musical setting of the fable of
the Colchian sorceress, which crowded the opera-houses of Europe. The
life of the French classical tragedy, too, was powerfully assisted by
Rachel. Though the poem on which Cherubini worked was unworthy of his
genius, it could not be from this or from lack of interest in the theme
alone that this great work is so rarely performed; it is because there
have been not more than three or four actresses in the last hundred
years combining the great tragic and vocal requirements exacted by the
part. If the tragic genius of Pasta conld have been united with the
voice of a Catalani, made as it were of adamant and gold, Cherubini's
sublime musical creation would have found an adequate interpreter.
Mdlle. Tietjens, indeed, has been the only late dramatic singer who
dared essay so difficult a task. Musical students rank the instrumental
parts of this opera with the organ music of Bach, the choral fugues
of Handel, and the symphonies of Beethoven, for beauty of form and
originality of ideas.

On its first representation, on the 13th of March, 1797, one of the
journals, after praising its beauty, professed to discover imitations
of Méhul's manner in it. The latter composer, in an indignant rejoinder,
proclaimed himself and all others as overshadowed by Cherubini's genius:
a singular example of artistic humility and justice. Three years after
its performance in Paris, it was given at Berlin and Vienna, and stamped
by the Germans as one of the world's great musical masterpieces. This
work was a favorite one with Schubert, Beethoven, and Weber, and
there have been few great composers who have not put on record their
admiration of it.

As great, however, as "Médée" is ranked, "Les Deux Journées,"* produced
in 1800, is the opera on which Cherubim's fame as a dramatic composer
chiefly rests.

     * In German known as "Die Wassertràger," in English "The

Three hundred consecutive performances did not satisfy Paris; and
at Berlin and Frankfort, as well as in Italy, it was hailed with
acclamation. Bouilly was the author of the opera-story, suggested by the
generous action of a water-carrier toward a magistrate who was related
to the author. The story is so interesting, so admirably written, that
Goethe and Mendelssohn considered it the true model for a comic opera.
The musical composition, too, is nearly faultless in form and replete
with beauties. In this opera Cherubini anticipated the reforms of
Wagner, for he dispensed with the old system which made the drama a web
of beautiful melodies, and established his musical effects for the most
part by the vigor and charm of the choruses and concerted pieces. It
has been accepted as a model work by composers, and Beethoven was in the
habit of keeping it by him on his writing-table for constant study and

Spohr in his autobiography says: "I recollect, when the 'Deux Journées'
was performed for the first time, how, intoxicated with delight and
the powerful impression the work had made on me, I asked on that very
evening to have the score given me, and sat over it the whole night;
and that it was that opera chiefly that gave me my first impulse to
composition." Weber, in a letter from Munich written in 1812, says:
"Fancy my delight when I beheld lying upon the table of the hotel the
play-bill with the magic name _Armand_. I was the first person in the
theatre, and planted myself in the middle of the pit, where I waited
most anxiously for the tones which I knew beforehand would elevate and
inspire me. I think I may assert boldly that 'Les Deux Journées' is a
really great dramatic and classical work. Everything is calculated so
as to produce the greatest effect; all the various pieces are so much in
their proper place that you can neither omit one nor make any addition
to them. The opera displays a pleasing richness of melody, vigorous
declamation, and all-striking truth in the treatment of situations, ever
new, ever heard and retained with pleasure." Mendelssohn, too, writing
to his father of a performance of this opera, speaks of the enthusiasm
of the audience as extreme, as well as of his own pleasure as surpassing
anything he had ever experienced in a theatre. Mendelssohn, who never
completed an opera, because he did not find until shortly before
his death a theme which properly inspired him to dramatic creation,
corresponded with Planché, with the hope of getting from the latter a
libretto which should unite the excellences of "Fidelio" with those of
"Les Deux Journées." He found, at last, a libretto, which, if it did not
wholly satisfy him, at least overcame some of his prejudices, in a story
based on the Rhine myth of Lorelei. A fragment of it only was finished,
and the finale of the first act is occasionally performed in England.


Before Napoleon became First Consul, he had been on familiar terms with
Cherubini. The soldier and the composer were seated in the same box
listening to an opera by the latter. Napoleon, whose tastes for music
were for the suave and sensuous Italian style, turned to him and said:
"My dear Cherubini, you are certainly an excellent musician; but really
your music is so noisy and complicated that I can make nothing of it;"
to which Cherubini replied: "My dear general, you are certainly an
excellent soldier; but in regard to music you must excuse me if I
don't think it necessary to adapt my music to your comprehension." This
haughty reply was the beginning of an estrangement. Another illustration
of Cherubini's sturdy pride and dignity was his rejoinder to Napoleon,
when the latter was praising the works of the Italian composers, and
covertly sneering at his own. "Citizen General," he replied, "occupy
yourself with battles and victories, and allow me to treat according to
my talent an art of which you are grossly ignorant." Even when Napoleon
became Emperor, the proud composer never learned "to crook the pregnant
hinges of his knee" to the man before whom Europe trembled.

On the 12th of December, 1800, a grand performance of "The Creation"
took place at Paris. Napoleon on his way to it narrowly escaped being
killed by an infernal machine. Cherubini was one of the deputation,
representing the various corporations and societies of Paris, who waited
on the First Consul to congratulate him upon his escape. Cherubini kept
in the background, when the sarcasm, "I do not see Monsieur Cherubini,"
pronounced in the French way, as if to indicate that Cherubini was not
worthy of being ranked with the Italian composers, brought him promptly
forward. "Well," said Napoleon, "the French are in Italy." "Where would
they not go," answered Cherubini, "led by such a hero as you?" This
pleased the First Consul, who, however, soon got to the old musical
quarrel. "I tell you I like Paisiello's music immensely; it is soft and
tranquil. You have much talent, but there is too much accompaniment."
Said Cherubini, "Citizen Consul, I conform myself to French taste."

"Your music," continued the other, "makes too much noise. Speak to me
in that of Paisiello; that is what lulls me gently." "I understand,"
replied the composer; "you like music which doesn't stop you from
thinking of state affairs." This witty rejoinder made the arrogant
soldier frown, and the talk suddenly ceased.

As a result of this alienation Cherubini found himself persistently
ignored and ill-treated by the First Consul. In spite of his having
produced such great masterpieces, his income was very small, apart from
his pay as Inspector of the Conservatory. The ill will of the ruler of
France was a steady check to his preferment. When Napoleon established
his consular chapel in 1802, he invited Paisiello from Naples to become
director at a salary of 12,000 francs a year. It gave great umbrage to
the Conservatory that its famous teachers should have been slighted for
an Italian foreigner, and musical circles in Paris were shaken by petty
contentions. Paisiello, however, found the public indifferent to his
works, and soon wearied of a place where the admiration to which he had
been accustomed no longer flattered his complacency. He resigned, and
his position was offered to Méhul, who is said to have declined it
because he regarded Cherubini as far more worthy of it, and to have
accepted it only on condition that his friend could share the duties and
emoluments with him. Cherubini, fretted and irritated by his condition,
retired for a time from the pursuit of his art, and devoted himself to
flowers. The opera of "Anacreon," a powerful but unequal work, which
reflected the disturbance and agitation of his mind, was the sole fruit
of his musical efforts for about four years.

While Cherubini was in the deepest depression--for he had a large
family depending on him and small means with which to support them--a
ray of sunshine came in 1805 in the shape of an invitation to compose
for the managers of the opera at Vienna. His advent at the Austrian
capital produced a profound sensation, and he received a right royal
welcome from the great musicians of Germany. The aged Haydn, Hummel,
and Beethoven became his warm friends with the generous freemasonry of
genius, for his rank as a musician was recognized throughout Europe.

The war which broke out after our musician's departure from Paris
between France and Austria ended shortly in the capitulation of Ulm,
and the French Emperor took up his residence at Schônbrunn. Napoleon
received Cherubini kindly when he came in answer to his summons, and
it was arranged that a series of twelve concerts should be given
alternately at Schonbrunn and Vienna. The pettiness which entered into
the French Emperor's nature in spite of his greatness continued to be
shown in his ebullitions of wrath because Cherubini persisted in holding
his own musical views against the imperial opinion. Napoleon, however,
on the eve of his return to France, urged him to accompany him, offering
the long-coveted position of musical director; but Cherubini was under
contract to remain a certain length of time at Vienna, and he would not
break his pledge.

The winter of 1805 witnessed two remarkable musical events at the
Austrian capital, the production of Beethoven's "Fidelio" and the last
great opera written by Cherubini, "Faniska." Haydn and Beethoven were
both present at the latter performance. The former embraced Cherubini
and said to him, "You are my son, worthy of my love." Beethoven
cordially hailed him as "the first dramatic composer of the age." It is
an interesting fact that two such important dramatic compositions should
have been written at the same time, independently of each other; that
both works should have been in advance of their age; that they should
have displayed a striking similarity of style; and that both should
have suffered from the reproach of the music being too learned for the
public. The opera of "Faniska" is based on a Polish legend of great
dramatic beauty, which, however, was not very artistically treated
by the librettist. Mendelssohn in after years noted the striking
resemblance between Beethoven and our composer in the conception
and method of dramatic composition. In one of his letters to Edouard
Devrient he says, speaking of "Fidelio": "On looking into the score,
as well as on listening to the performance, I everywhere perceive
Cherubim's dramatic style of composition. It is true that Beethoven did
not ape that style, but it was before his mind as his most cherished
pattern." The unity of idea and musical color between "Faniska" and
"Fidelio" seems to have been noted by many critics both of contemporary
and succeeding times.

Cherubini would gladly have written more for the Viennese, by whom
he had been so cordially treated; but the unsettled times and his
homesickness for Paris conspired to take him back to the city of his
adoption. He exhausted many efforts to find Mozart's tomb in Vienna, and
desired to place a monument over his neglected remains, but failed to
locate the resting-place of one he loved so much. Haydn, Beethoven,
Hummel, Salieri, and the other leading composers reluctantly parted
with him, and on April 1, 1806, his return to Paris was celebrated by
a brilliant fête improvised for him at the Conservatory. Fate, however,
had not done with her persecutions, for fate in France took the shape of
Napoleon, whose hostility, easily aroused, was implacable; who aspired
to rule the arts and letters as he did armies and state policy; who
spared neither Cherubini nor Madame de Staël. Cherubini was neglected
and insulted by authority, while honors were showered on Méhul, Grétry,
Spontini, and Lesueur. He sank into a state of profound depression, and
it was even reported in Vienna that he was dead. He forsook music and
devoted himself to drawing and botany. Had he not been a great musician,
it is probable he would have excelled in pictorial art. One day the
great painter David entered the room where he was working in crayon on a
landscape of the Salvator Rosa style. So pleased was the painter that he
cried, "Truly admirable! Courage!" In 1808 Cherubini found complete
rest in a visit to the country-seat of the Prince de Chimay in Belgium,
whither he was accompanied by his friend and pupil Auber.


With this period Cherubini closed his career practically as an operatic
composer, though several dramatic works were produced subsequently, and
entered on his no less great sphere of ecclesiastical composition.
At Chimay for a while no one dared to mention music in his presence.
Drawing and painting flowers seemed to be his sole pleasure. At last the
president of the little music society at Chimay ventured to ask him to
write a mass for St. Cecilia's feast day. He curtly refused, but
his hostess noticed that he was agitated by the incident,'as if his
slumbering instincts had started again into life. One day the Princess
placed music paper on his table, and Cherubini on returning from his
walk instantly began to compose, as if he had never ceased it. It is
recorded that he traced out in full score the "Kyrie" of his great
mass in F during the intermission of a single game of billiards. Only
a portion of the mass was completed in time for the festival, but,
on Cherubini's return to Paris in 1809, it was publicly given by an
admirable orchestra, and hailed with a great enthusiasm, that soon
swept through Europe. It was perceived that Cherubini had struck out
for himself a new path in church music. Fétis, the musical historian,
records its reception as follows: "All expressed an unreserved
admiration for this composition of a new order, whereby Cherubini
has placed himself above all musicians who have as yet written in
the concerted style of church music. Superior to the masses of Haydn,
Mozart, and Beethoven, and the masters of the Neapolitan school, that of
Cherubini is as remarkable for originality of idea as for perfection in
art." Picchiante, a distinguished critic, sums up the impressions made
by this great work in the following eloquent and vigorous passage: "All
the musical science of the good age of religious music, the sixteenth
century of the Christian era, was summed up in Palestrina, who
flourished at that time, and by its aid he put into form noble and
sublime conceptions. With the grave Gregorian melody, learnedly
elaborated in vigorous counterpoint and reduced to greater clearness and
elegance without instrumental aid, Palestrina knew how to awaken among
his hearers mysterious, grand, deep, vague sensations, that seemed
caused by the objects of an unknown world, or by superior powers in
the human imagination. With the same profound thoughtfulness of the old
Catholic music, enriched by the perfection which art has attained in two
centuries, and with all the means which a composer nowadays can make
use of, Cherubini perfected another conception, and this consisted in
utilizing the style adapted to dramatic composition when narrating the
church text, by which means he was able to succeed in depicting man in
his various vicissitudes, now rising to the praises of Divinity, now
gazing on the Supreme Power, now suppliant and prostrate. So that, while
Palestrina's music places God before man, that of Cherubini places man
before God." Adolphe Adam puts the comparison more epigrammatically in
saying: "If Palestrina had lived in our own times, he would have been
Cherubini." The masters of the old Roman school of church music had
received it as an emanation of pure sentiment, with no tinge of human
warmth and color. Cherubini, on the contrary, aimed to make his music
express the dramatic passion of the words, and in the realization of
this he brought to bear all the resources of a musical science unequaled
except perhaps by Beethoven. The noble masses in F and D were also
written in 1809 and stamped themselves on public judgment as no less
powerful works of genius and knowledge.

Some of Cherubini's friends in 1809 tried to reconcile the composer
with the Emperor, and in furtherance of this an opera was written
anonymously, "Pimmalione." Napoleon was delighted, and even affected to
tears. Instantly, however, that Cherubini's name was uttered, he became
dumb and cold. Nevertheless, as if ashamed of his injustice, he sent
Cherubini a large sum of money, and a commission to write the music for
his marriage ode. Several fine works followed in the next two years,
among them the Mass in D, regarded by some of his admirers as his
ecclesiastical masterpiece. Miel claims that in largeness of design and
complication of detail, sublimity of conception and dramatic intensity,
two works only of its class approach it, Beethoven's Mass in D and
Niedermeyer's Mass in D minor.

In 1811 Halévy, the future author of "La Juive," became Cherubini's
pupil, and a devoted friendship ever continued between the two. The
opera of "Les Abencérages" was also produced, and it was pronounced
nowise inferior to "Médée" and "Les Deux Journées." Mendelssohn many
years afterward, writing to Moscheles in Paris, asked: "Has Onslow
written anything new? And old Cherubini? There's a matchless fellow!
I have got his 'Abencérages,' and can not sufficiently admire the
sparkling fire, the clear original phrasing, the extraordinary delicacy
and refinement with which it is written, or feel grateful enough to the
grand old man for it. Besides, it is all so free and bold and spirited."
The work would have had a greater immediate success, had not Paris been
in profound gloom from the disastrous results of the Moscow campaign and
the horrors of the French retreat, where famine and disease finished the
work of bayonet and cannon-ball.

The unsettled and disheartening times disturbed all the relations of
artists. There is but little record of Cherubini for several years. A
significant passage in a letter written in 1814, speaking of several
military marches written for a Prussian band, indicates the occupation
of Paris by the allies and Napoleon's banishment in Elba. The period of
"The Hundred Days" was spent by Cherubini in England; and the world's
wonder, the battle of Waterloo, was fought, and the Bourbons were
permanently restored, before he again set foot in Paris. The restored
dynasty delighted to honor the man whom Napoleon had slighted, and gifts
were showered on him alike by the Court and by the leading academies of
Europe. The walls of his studio were covered with medals and diplomas;
and his appointment as director of the King's chapel (which, however, he
refused unless shared with Lesueur, the old incumbent) placed him above
the daily demands of want. So, at the age of fifty-five, this great
composer for the first time ceased to be anxious on the score of his
livelihood. Thenceforward the life of Cherubini was destined to flow
with a placid current, its chief incidents being the great works in
church music, which he poured forth year after year, to the admiration
and delight of the artistic world. These remarkable masses, by their
dramatic power, greatness of design, and wealth of instrumentation,
excited as much discussion and interest throughout Europe as the operas
of other composers. That written in 1816, the C minor requiem mass, is
pronounced by Berlioz to be the greatest work of this description ever

We get some pleasant glimpses of Cherubini as a man during this serene
autumn of his life. Spohr tells us how cordially Cherubini,
generally regarded as an austere and irritable man, received him.
The world-renowned master, accustomed to handle instruments in great
orchestral masses, was not familiar with the smaller compositions known
as chamber music, in which the Germans so excelled. He was greatly
delighted when the youthful Spohr turned his attention to this form of
music, and he insisted on the latter directing little concerts over and
over again at his house.

In 1821 Moscheles writes in his diary, apropos of Cherubini and his
artistic surroundings: "I spent the evening at Ciceri's, son in-law of
Isabey, the famous painter, where I was introduced to one of the most
interesting circles of artists. In the first room were assembled the
most famous painters, engaged in drawing several things for their own
amusement. In the midst of these was Cherubim, also drawing. I had the
honor, like every one newly introduced, of having my portrait taken in
caricature. Bégasse took me in hand and succeeded well. In an adjoining
room were musicians and actors, among them Ponchard, Levasseur, Dugazon,
Panseron, Mlle, de Munck, and Mme. Livère, of the Theatre Français. The
most interesting of their performances, which I attended merely as
a listener, was a vocal quartet by Cherubini, performed under his
direction. Later in the evening, the whole party armed itself with
larger or smaller 'mirlitons' (reed-pipe whistles), and on these small
monotonous instruments, sometimes made of sugar, they played, after
the fashion of Russian horn music, the overture to 'Demophon,'
two frying-pans representing the drums." On the 27th of March this
"mirliton" concert was repeated at Ciceri's, and on this occasion
Cherubini took an active part. Moscheles relates of that evening:
"Horace Vernet entertained us with his ventriloquizing powers, M. Salmon
with his imitation of a horn, and Dugazon actually with a mirliton solo.
Lafont and I represented the classical music, which, after all, held its

The distinguished pianist, in further pleasant gossip about Cherubini,
tells us of hearing the first performance of a pasticcio opera, composed
by Cherubini, Paër, Berton, Boïeldieu, and Kreutzer, in honor of the
christening of the Duke of Bordeaux. Of the part written by Cherubini he
speaks in the warmest praise, and says quizzically of the composer:
"His squeaky sharp little voice was sometimes heard in the midst of his
conducting, and interrupted my state of ecstasy caused by his presence
and composition."

In 1822 Cherubini became Director of the reestablished Conservatory,
that institution having fallen into some decay, and displayed great
administrative power and grasp of detail in bringing order out of chaos.
His vigilance and experience, seconded by an able staff of professors,
including the foremost musical names of France, soon made the
Conservatory what it has since re? mained, the greatest musical college
of the world. He was incessant in the performance of his duties, and
spared neither himself nor his staff of professors to build up the
institution. His spirit communicated itself both to masters and pupils.
Ten o'clock every morning saw him at his office, and interviews even
with the great were timed watch in hand. This law of order even prompted
him to rebuke the Minister of Fine Arts severely when one day that
functionary met an appointment tardily. Fétis tells us: "To his new
functions he brought the most scrupulous exactitude of duty, that spirit
of order which he possessed during the whole of his life, and an entire
devotion to the prosperity of the establishment. Severe and exacting
toward the professors and servants as he was with himself, he brought
with him little love in his connections with the artists placed under
his authority." His official duties finished, this incessant worker
occupied his time with original composition, or copying out the scores
of other composers from memory.

Though habitually cold and severe in his manner during these latter
years, there was a spring of playful tenderness beneath. One day a child
of great talent was brought by his father, a poor man, to see Cherubini.
The latter's first exclamation was: "This is not a nursing hospital for
infants." Relenting somewhat, he questioned the boy, and soon discovered
his remarkable talents. The same old man was charmed and caressed the
youngster, saying, "Bravo, my little friend! But why are you here, and
what can I do for you?" "A thing that is very easy, and which would make
me very happy," was the reply; "put me into the Conservatory." "It's a
thing done," said Cherubini; "you are one of us." He afterward said to
his friends playfully: "I had to be careful about pushing the questions
too far, for the baby was beginning to prove that he knew more about
music than I did myself."

His merciless criticism of his pupils did not surpass his own modesty
and diffidence. One day, when a symphony of Beethoven was about to be
played at a concert, just prior to one of his own works, he said, "Now I
am going to appear as a very small boy indeed." The mutual affection of
Cherubini and Beethoven remained unabated through life, as is shown by
the touching letter written by the latter just before his death, but
which Cherubini did not receive till after that event. The letter was as

Vienna, March 15,1823.

Highly esteemed Sir: I joyfully take advantage of this opportunity to
address you.

I have done so often in spirit, as I prize your theatrical works beyond
others. The artistic world has only to lament that in Germany, at least,
no new dramatic work of yours has appeared. Highly as all your works
are valued by true connoisseurs, still it is a great loss to art not to
possess any fresh production of your great genius for the theatre.

True art is imperishable, and the true artist feels heartfelt pleasure
in grand works of genius, and that id what enchants me when I hear a new
composition of yours; in fact, I take greater interest in it than in my
own; in short, I love and honor you. Were it not that my continued bad
health stops my coming to see you in Paris, with what exceeding delight
would I discuss questions of art with you! Do not think that this is
meant merely to serve as an introduction to the favor I am about to ask
of you. I hope and feel sure that you do not for a moment suspect me of
such base sentiments. I recently completed a grand solemn Mass, and have
resolved to offer it to the various European courts, as it is not my
intention to publish it at present. I have therefore asked the King of
France, through the French embassy here, to subscribe to this work, and
I feel certain that his Majesty would at your recommendation agree to do

My critical situation demands that I should not solely fix my eyes upon
heaven, as is my wont; on the contrary, it would have me fix them also
upon earth, here below, for the necessities of life.

Whatever may be the fate of my request to you, I shall for ever continue
to love and esteem you; and you for ever remain of all my contemporaries
that one whom I esteem the most.

If you should wish to do me a very great favor, you would effect this by
writing to me a few lines, which would solace me much. Art unites all;
how much more, then, true artists! and perhaps you may deem me worthy of
being included in that number.

With the highest esteem, your friend and servant,



Cherubini's admiration of the great German is indicated in an anecdote
told by Professor Ella. The master rebuked a pupil who, in referring
to a performance of a Beethoven symphony, dwelt mostly on the executive
excellence: "Young man, let your sympathies be first wedded to the
creation, and be you less fastidious of the execution; accept the
interpretation, and think more of the creation of these musical works
which are written for all time and all nations, models for imitation and
above all criticism."


As a man Cherubini presented himself in many different aspects.
Extremely nervous, _brusque_, irritable, and absolutely independent, he
was apt to offend and repel. But under his stern reserve of character
there beat a warm heart and generous sympathies. This is shown by the
fact that, in spite of the unevenness of his temper, he was almost
worshiped by those around him. Auber, Halévy, Berton, Boïeldieu, Méhul,
Spontini, and Adam, who were so intimately associated with him, speak of
him with words of the warmest affection. Halévy, indeed, rarely alluded
to him without tears rushing to his eyes; and the slightest term of
disrespect excited his warmest indignation. It is recorded that, after
rebuking a pupil with sarcastic severity, his fine face would relax with
a smile so affectionate and genial that his whilom victim could feel
nothing but enthusiastic respect. Without one taint of envy in his
nature, conscious of his own extraordinary powers, he was quick to
recognize genius in others; and his hearty praise of the powers of
his rivals shows how sound and generous the heart was under his
irritability. His proneness to satire and power of epigram made him
enemies, but even these yielded to the suavity and fascination which
alternated with his bitter moods. His sympathies were peculiarly open
for young musicians. Mendelssohn and Liszt were stimulated by his warm
and encouraging praise when they first visited Paris; and even Berlioz,
whose turbulent conduct in the Conservatory had so embittered him at
various times, was heartily applauded when his first great mass was
produced. Arnold gives us the following pleasant picture of Cherubini:

"Cherubini in society was outwardly silent, modest, unassuming,
pleasing, obliging, and possessed of the finest manners. At the same
time, he who did not know that he was with Cherubini would think
him stern and reserved, so well did the composer know how to conceal
everything, if only to avoid ostentation. He truly shunned brag or
speaking of himself. Cherubini's voice was feeble, probably from
narrow-chestedness, and somewhat hoarse, but was otherwise soft and
agreeable. His French was Italianized.... His head was bent forward,
his nose was large and aquiline; his eyebrows were thick, black,
and somewhat bushy, overshadowing his eyes. His eyes were dark, and
glittered with an extraordinary brilliancy that animated in a wonderful
way the whole face. A thin lock of hair came over the center of his
forehead, and somehow gave to his countenance a peculiar softness."

The picture painted by Ingres, the great artist, now in the Luxembourg
gallery, represents the composer with Polyhymnia in the background
stretching out her hand over him. His face, framed in waving silvery
hair, is full of majesty and brightness, and the eye of piercing luster.
Cherubini was so gratified by this effort of the painter that he sent
him a beautiful canon set to wrords of his own. Thus his latter years
were spent in the society of the great artists and wits of Paris,
revered by all, and recognized, after Beethoven's death, as the musical
giant of Europe. Rossini, Meyerbeer, Weber, Schumann--in a word, the
representatives of the most diverse schools of composition--bowed
equally before this great name. Rossini, who was his antipodes in genius
and method, felt his loss bitterly, and after his death sent Cherubini's
portrait to his widow with these touching words: "Here, my dear madam,
is the portrait of a great man, who is as young in your heart as he is
in my mind."

Actively engaged as Director of the Conservatory, which he governed with
consummate ability, his old age was further employed in producing that
series of great masses which rank with the symphonies of Beethoven. His
creative instinct and the fire of his imagination remained unimpaired
to the time of his death. Mendelssohn in a letter to Moscheles speaks
of him as "that truly wonderful old man, whose genius seems bathed
in immortal youth." His opera of "Ali Baba," composed at seventy-six,
though inferior to his other dramatic works, is full of beautiful and
original music, and was immediately produced in several of the principal
capitals of Europe; and the second Requiem mass, written in his
eightieth year, is one of his masterpieces.

On the 12th of March, 1842, the old composer died, surrounded by his
affectionate family and friends. His fatal illness had been brought on
in part by grief for the death of his son-in-law, M. Tureas, to whom he
was most tenderly attached. His funeral was one of great military and
civic magnificence, and royalty itself could not have been honored
with more splendid obsequies. The congregation of men great in arms
and state, in music, painting, and literature, who did honor to the
occasion, has rarely been equaled. His own noble Requiem mass, composed
the year before his death, was given at the funeral services in the
church of St. Roch by the finest orchestra and voices in Europe. Similar
services were held throughout Europe, and everywhere the opera-houses
were draped in black. Perhaps the death of no musician ever called forth
such universal exhibitions of sorrow and reverence.

Cherubini's life extended from the early part of the reign of Louis XVI.
to that of Louis Philippe, and was contemporaneous with many of the
most remarkable events in modern history. The energy and passion which
convulsed society during his youth and early manhood undoubtedly had
much to do in stimulating that robust and virile quality in his mind
which gave such character to his compositions. The fecundity of his
intellect is shown in the fact that he produced four hundred and thirty
works, out of which only eighty have been published. In this catalogue
there are twenty-five operas and eleven masses.

As an operatic composer he laid the foundation of the modern French
school. Uniting the melody of the Italian with the science of the
German, his conceptions had a dramatic fire and passion which were,
however, free from anything appertaining to the sensational and
meretricious. His forms were indeed classically severe, and his style is
defined by Adolphe Adam as the resurrection of the old Italian school,
enriched by the discoveries of modern harmony. Though he was the creator
of French opera as we know it now, he was free from its vagaries
and extravagances. He set its model in the dramatic vigor and
picturesqueness, the clean-cut forms, and the noble instrumentation
which mark such masterpieces as "Faniska," "Alédée," "Les Deux
Journées," and "Lodoïska." The purity, classicism, and wealth of ideas
in these works have always caused them to be cited as standards of ideal
excellence. The reforms in opera of which Gluck was the protagonist, and
Wagner the extreme modern exponent, characterize the dramatic works
of Cherubini, though he keeps them within that artistic limit which a
proper regard for melodic beauty prescribes. In the power and propriety
of musical declamation his operas are conceded to be without a
superior. His overtures hold their place in classical music as ranking
with the best ever written, and show a richness of resource and
knowledge of form in treating the orchestra which his his contemporaries
admitted were only equaled by Beethoven.

Cherubini's place in ecclesiastical music is that by which he is best
known to the musical public of to-day; for his operas, owing to the
immense demands they make on the dramatic and vocal resources of the
artist, are but rarely presented in France, Germany, and England, and
never in America. They are only given where music is loved on account
of its noble traditions, and not for the mere sake of idle and luxurious
amusement. As a composer of masses, however, Cherubini's genius is
familiar to all who frequent the services of the Roman Church. His
relation to the music of Catholicism accords with that of Sebastian Bach
to the music of Protestantism. Haydn, Mozart, and even Beethoven,
are held by the best critics to be his inferiors in this form of
composition. His richness of melody, sense of dramatic color, and
great command of orchestral effects, gave him commanding power in the
interpretation of religious sentiments; while an ardent faith inspired
with passion, sweetness, and devotion what Place styles his "sublime
visions." Miel, one of his most competent critics, writes of him in this
eloquent strain: "If he represents the passion and death of Christ, the
heart feels itself wounded with the most sublime emotion; and when
he recounts the 'Last Judgment' the blood freezes with dread at the
redoubled and menacing calls of the exterminating angel. All those
admirable pictures that the Raphaels and Michael Angelos have painted
with colors and the brush, Cherubini brings forth with the voice and
orchestra." In brief, if Cherubini is the founder of a later school
of opera, and the model which his successors have always honored and
studied if they have not always followed, no less is he the chief of
a later, and by common consent the greatest, school of modern church



The influence of Gluck was not confined to Cherubini, but was hardly
less manifest in molding the style and conceptions of Méhul and
Spontini,* who held prominent places in the history of the French opera.

     * It is a little singular that some of the most
     distinguished names in the annals of French music were
     foreigners. Thus Gluck was a German, as also was Meyerbeer,
     while Cherubini and Spontini were Italians.

Henri Etienne Méhul was the son of a French soldier stationed at the
Givet barracks, where he was born June 24, 1763. His early love of music
secured for him instructions from the blind organist of the Franciscan
church at that garrison town, under whom he made astonishing progress.
He soon found he had outstripped the attainments of his teacher, and
contrived to place himself under the tuition of the celebrated Wilhelm
Hemser, who was organist at a neighboring monastery. Here Méhul spent a
number of happy and useful years, studying composition with Hemser and
literature with the kind monks, who hoped to persuade their young charge
to devote himself to ecclesiastical life.

Méhul's advent in Paris, whither he went at the age of sixteen, soon
opened his eyes to his true vocation, that of a dramatic composer. The
excitement over the contest between Gluck and Piccini was then at its
height, and the youthful musician was not long in espousing the side of
Gluck with enthusiasm. He made the acquaintance of Gluck accidentally,
the great ehevalier interposing one night to prevent his being ejected
from the theatre, into one of whose boxes Méhul had slipped without
buying a ticket. Thence forward the youth had free access to the opera,
and the friendship and tuition of one of the master minds of the age.

An opera, "Cora et Alonzo," had been composed at the age of twenty and
accepted at the opera; but it was not till 1790 that he got a hearing in
the comic opera of "Euphrasque et Coradin," composed under the direction
of Gluck. This work was brilliantly successful, and "Stratonice," which
anpeared two years afterward, established his reputation. The French
critics describe both these early works as being equally admirable in
melody, orchestral accompaniment, and dramatic effect. The stormiest
year of the revolution was not favorable to operatic composition, and
Méhul wrote but little music except pieces for republican festivities,
much to his own disgust, for he was by no means a warm friend of the

In 1797 he produced his "Le Jeune Henri," which nearly caused a riot in
the theatre. The story displeased the republican audience, who hissed
and hooted till the turmoil compelled the fall of the curtain. They
insisted, however, on the overture, which is one of great beauty,
being performed over and over again, a compliment which has rarely been
accorded to any composer. Méhul's appointment as inspector and professor
in the newly organized Conservatory, at the same time with Cherubini,
left him but little leisure for musical composition; but he found time
to write the spectacular opera "Adrian," which was fiercely condemned by
a republican audience, not as a musical failure, but because their alert
and suspicious tempers suspected in it covert allusions to the dead
monarchy. Even David, the painter, said he would set the torch to the
opera-house rather than witness the triumph of a king. In 1806 Méhul
produced the opera "Uthal," a work of striking vigor founded on an
Ossianic theme, in which he made the innovation of banishing the violins
from the orchestra, substituting therefor the violas.

It was in "Joseph," however, composed in 1807, that this composer
vindicated his right to be called a musician of great genius, and
entered fully into a species of composition befitting his grand style.
Most of his contemporaries were incapable of appreciating the greatness
of the work, though his gifted rival Cherubini gave it the warmest
praise. In Germany it met with instant and extended success, and it is
one of the few French operas of the old school which still continue to
be given on the German stage. In England it is now frequently sung as an
oratorio. It is on this remarkable work that Méhul's lasting reputation
as a composer rests outside of his own nation. The construction of
the opera of "Joseph" is characterized by admirable symmetry of form,
dramatic power, and majesty of the choral and concerted passages,
while the sustained beauty of the orchestration is such as to challenge
comparison with the greatest works of his contemporaries. Such at
least is the verdict of Fétis, who was by no means inclined to be
over-indulgent in criticising Méhul. The fault in this opera, as in all
of Méhul's works, appears to have been a lack of bright and graceful
melody, though in the modern tendencies of music this defect is rapidly
being elevated into a virtue.

The last eight years of Méhul's life were depressed by melancholy and
suffering, proceeding from pulmonary disease. He resigned his place in
the Conservatory, and retired to a pleasant little estate near Paris,
where he devoted himself to raising flowers, and found some solace in
the society of his musical friends and former pupils, who were assiduous
in their attentions. Finally becoming dangerously ill, he went to the
island of Hyères to find a more genial climate. But here he pined for
Paris and the old companionships, and suffered more perhaps by fretting
for the intellectual cheer of his old life than he gained by balmy air
and sunshine. He writes to one of his friends after a short stay at
Hyères: "I have broken up all my habits; I am deprived of all my old
friends; I am alone at the end of the world, surrounded by people whose
language I scarcely understand; and all this sacrifice to obtain a
little more sun. The air which best agrees with me is that which I
breathe among you." He returned to Paris for a few weeks only, to
breathe his last on October 18, 1817, aged fifty-four.

Méhul was a high-minded and benevolent man, wrapped up in his art,
and singularly childlike in the practical affairs of life. Abhorring
intrigue, he was above all petty jealousies, and even sacrificed the
situation of chapel-master under Napoleon, because he believed it should
have been given to the greatest of his rivals, Cherubini. When he
died Paris recognized his goodness as a man as well as greatness as a
musician by a touching and spontaneous expression of grief, and funeral
honors were given him throughout Europe. In 1822 his statue was crowned
on the stage of the Grand Opera, at a performance of his "Valentine de
Rohan." Notwithstanding his early death, he composed forty-two operas,
and modern musicians and critics give him a notable place among those
who were prominent in building up a national stage. A pupil and disciple
of Gluck, a cordial co-worker with Cherubini, he contributed largely to
the glory of French music, not only by his genius as a composer, but
by his important labors in the reorganization of the Conservatory,
that nursery which has fed so much of the highest musical talent of the


Luigi Gaspardo Pacifico Spontini, born of peasant parents at Majolati,
Italy, November 14, 1774, displayed his musical passion at an early age.
Designed for holy orders from childhood, his priestly tutors could not
make him study; but he delighted in the service of the church, with its
or^an and choir effects, for here his true vocation asserted itself. He
was wont, too, to hide in the belfry, and revel in the roaring orchestra
of metal, when the chimes were rung. On one occasion a stroke of
lightning precipitated him from his dangerous perch to the floor below,
and the history of music nearly lost one of its great lights. The bias
of his nature was intractable, and he was at last permitted to study
music, at first under the charge of his uncle Joseph, the cure of Jesi,
and finally at the Naples Conservatory, where he was entered at the age
of sixteen.

His first opera, "I Puntigli delle Donne," was composed at the age of
twenty-one, and performed at Rome, where it was kindly received. The
French invasion unsettled the affairs of Italy, and Spontini wandered
somewhat aimlessly, unable to exercise his talents to advantage till he
went to Paris in 1803, where he found a large number of brother Italian
musicians, and a cordial reception, though himself an obscure and
untried youth. He produced several minor works on the French stage,
noticeably among them the one-act opera of "Milton," in which he stepped
boldly out of his Italian mannerism, and entered on that path afterward
pursued with such brilliancy and boldness. Yet, though his talents began
to be recognized, life was a trying struggle, and it is doubtful if he
could have overcome the difficulties in his way when he was ready to
produce "La Vestale," had he not enlisted the sympathies of the
Empress Josephine, who loved music, and played the part of patroness as
gracefully as she did all others.

By Napoleon's order "La Vestale" was rehearsed against the wish of the
manager and critics of the Academy of Music, and produced December 15,
1807. Previous to this some parts of it had been performed privately
at the Tuileries, and the Emperor had said: "M. Spontini, your opera
abounds in fine airs and effective duets. The march to the place of
execution is admirable. You will certainly have the great success you
so well deserve." The imperial prediction was justified by consecutive
performances of one hundred nights. His next work, "Fernand Cortez,"
sustained the impression of genius earned for him by its predecessor.
The scene of the revolt is pronounced by competent critics to be one of
the finest dramatic conceptions in operatic music.

In 1809 Spontini married the niece of Erard, the great pianoforte-maker,
and was called to the direction of the Italian opera; but he retained
this position only two years, from the disagreeable conditions he had to
contend with, and the cabals that were formed against him. The year 1814
witnessed the production of "Pelage," and two years later "Les Dieux
Rivaux" was composed, in conjunction with Persuis, Berton, and Kreutzer;
but neither work attracted much attention. The opera of "Olympic,"
worked out on the plan of "La Vestale" and "Cortez," was produced in
1819. Spontini was embittered by its poor success, for he had built many
hopes on it, and wrought long and patiently. That he was not in his best
vein, and like many other men of genius was not always able to estimate
justly his own work, is undeniable; for Spontini, contrary to the
opinion of his contemporaries and of posterity, regarded this as his
best opera. His acceptance of the Prussian King's offer to become
musical director at Berlin was the result of his chagrin. Here he
remained for twenty years. "Olympic" succeeded better at Berlin, though
the boisterousness of the music seems to have called out some sharp
strictures even among the Berlinese, whose penchant for noisy operatic
effects was then as now a butt for the satire of the musical wits.
Apropos of the long run of "Olympic" at Berlin, an amusing anecdote
is told on the authority of Castel-Blaze. A wealthy amateur had become
deaf, and suffered much from his deprivation of the enjoyment of his
favorite art. After trying many physicians, he was treated in a novel
fashion by his latest doctor. "Come with me to the opera this evening,"
wrote down the doctor. "What's the use? I can't hear a note," was the
impatient rejoinder. "Never mind," said the other; "come, and you will
see something at all events." So the twain repaired to the theatre to
hear Spontini's "Olympie." All went well till one of the overwhelming
finales, which happened to be played that evening more _fortissimo_
than usual. The patient turned around beaming with delight, exclaiming,
"Doctor, I can hear." As there was no reply, the happy patient again
said, "Doctor, I tell you, you have cured me." A blank stare alone met
him, and he found that the doctor was as deaf as a post, having fallen
a victim to his own prescription. The German wits had a similar joke
afterward at Halévy's expense. The "Punch" of Vienna said that Halévy
made the brass play so loudly that the French horn was actually blown
quite straight.

Among the works produced at Berlin were "Nurmahal," in 1825; "Alcidor,"
the same year; and in 1829, "Agnes von Hohenstaufen." Various other new
works were given from time to time, but none achieved more than a brief
hearing. Spontini's stiff-necked and arrogant will kept him in continual
trouble, and the Berlin press aimed its arrows at him with incessant
virulence: a war which the composer fed by his bitter and witty
rejoinders, for he was an adept in the art of invective. Had he not been
singularly adroit, he would have been obliged to leave his post. But
he gloried in the disturbance he created, and was proof against the
assaults of his numerous enemies, made so largely by his having come
of the French school, then as now an all-sufficient cause of Teutonic
dislike. Spontini's unbending intolerance, however, at last undermined
his musical supremacy, so long held good with an iron hand; and an
intrigue headed by Count Brühl, intendant of the Royal Theatre, at last
obliged him to resign after a rule of a score of years. His influence on
the lyric theatre of Berlin, however, had been valuable, and he had the
glory of forming singers among the Prussians, who until his time had
thought more of cornet-playing than of beautiful and true vocalization.
The Prussian King allowed him on his departure a pension of 16,000

When Spontini returned to Paris, though he was appointed member of the
Academy of Fine Arts, he was received with some coldness by the musical
world. He had no little difficulty in getting a production of his
operas; only the Conservatory remained faithful to him, and in their
hall large audiences gathered to hear compositions to which the
opera-house denied its stage. New idols attracted the public, and
Spontini, though burdened with all the orders of Europe, was obliged to
rest in the traditions of his earlier career. A passionate desire to see
his native land before death made him leave Paris in 1850, and he went
to Majolati, the town of his birth, where he died after a residence of a
few months. His cradle was his tomb.


A well-known musical critic sums up his judgment of Halévy in these
words: "If in France a contemporary of Louis XIV., an admirer of Racine,
could return to us, and, full of the remembrance of his earthly career
under that renowned monarch, he should wish to find the nobly pathetic,
the elevated inspiration, the majestic arrangements of the olden times
upon a modern stage, we would not take him to the Theatre Français, but
to the Opera on the day in which one of Halévy's works was given."

Unlike Méhul and Spontini, with whom in point of style and method Halévy
must be associated, he was not in any direct sense a disciple of Gluck,
but inherited the influence of the latter through his great successor
Cherubini, of whom Halévy was the favorite pupil and the intimate
friend. Fromental Halévy, a scion of the Hebrew race, which has
furnished so many geniuses to the art world, left a deep impress on
his times, not simply by his genius and musical knowledge, which was
profound, varied, and accurate, but by the elevation and nobility which
lifted his mark up to a higher level than that which we accord to
mere musical gifts, be they ever so rich and fertile. The motive that
inspired his life is suggested in his devout saying that music is an
art that God has given us, in which the voices of all nations may unite
their prayers in one harmonious rhythm.

Halévy was a native of Paris, born May 27, 1799. He entered the
Conservatory at the age of eleven years, where he soon attracted the
particular attention of Cherubini. When he was twenty the Institute
awarded him the grand prize for the composition of a cantata; and he
also received a government pension which enabled him to dwell at Rome
for two years, assiduously cultivating his talents in composition.
Halévy returned to Paris, but it was not till 1827 that he succeeded
in having an opera produced. This portion of his life was full of
disappointment and chilled ambitions; for, in spite of the warm
friendship of Cherubini, who did everything to advance his interests, he
seemed to make but slow progress in popular estimation, though a number
of operas were produced.

Halévy's full recognition, however, was found in the great work of "La
Juive," produced February 23, 1835, with lavish magnificence. It is said
that the managers of the Opera expended 150,000 francs in putting it
on the stage. This opera, which surpasses all his others in passion,
strength, and dignity of treatment, was interpreted by the greatest
singers in Europe, and the public reception at once assured the composer
that his place in music was fixed. Many envious critics, however,
declaimed against him, asserting that success was not the legitimate
desert of the opera, but of its magnificent presentation. Halévy
answered his detractors by giving the world a delightful comic opera,
"L'Éclair," which at once testified to the genuineness of his musical
inspiration and the versatility of his powers, and was received by the
public with even more pleasure than "La Juive."

Halévy's next brilliant stroke (three unsuccessful works in the mean
while having been written) was "La Reine de Chypre," produced in 1841.
A somewhat singular fact occurred during the performance of this opera.
One of the singers, every time he came to the passage,

     Ce mortel qu'on remarque
     Tient-il Plus que nous de la Parque
     Le fil?

was in the habit of fixing his eyes on a certain proscenium box wherein
were wont to sit certain notabilities in politics and finance. As
several of these died during the first run of the work, superstitious
people thought the box was bewitched, and no one cared to occupy it. Two
fine works, "Charles VI." and "Le Val d'Andorre," succeeded at intervals
of a few years; and in 1849 the noble music to Æschylus's "Prometheus
Bound" was written with an idea of reproducing the supposed effects of
the enharmonic style of the Greeks.

Halévy's opera of "The Tempest," written for London, and produced in
1850, rivaled the success of "La Juive." Balfe led the orchestra, and
its popularity caused the basso Lablache to write the following epigram:

     The "Tempest" of Halévy
     Differs from other tempests.
     These rain hail,
     That rains gold.

The Academy of Fine Arts elected the composer secretary in 1854, and
in the exercise of his duties, which involved considerable literary
composition, Halévy showed the same elegance of style and good taste
which marked his musical writings. He did not, however, neglect his own
proper work, and a succession of operas, which were cordially received,
proved how unimpaired and vigorous his intellectual faculties remained.

The composer's death occurred at Nice, whither he had gone on account of
failing strength, March 17, 1862. His last moments were cheered by
the attentions of his family and the consolations of philosophy and
literature, which he dearly loved to discuss with his friends. His
ruling passion displayed itself shortly before his end in characteristic
fashion. Trying in vain to reach a book on the table, he said: "Can I do
nothing now in time?" On the morning of his death, wishing to be turned
on his bed, he said to his daughter, "Lay me down like a gamut," at
each movement repeating with a soft smile, "Do, re, mi," etc., until the
change was made. These were his last words.

The celebrated French critic Sainte-Beuve pays a charming tribute to
Halévy, whom he knew and loved well:

"Halévy had a natural talent for writing, which he cultivated and
perfected by study, by a taste for reading which he always
gratified in the intervals of labor, in his study, in public
conveyances--everywhere, in fine, when he had a minute to spare. He
could isolate himself completely in the midst of the various noises of
his family, or the conversation of the drawing-room if he had no part in
it. He wrote music, poetry, and prose, and he read with imperturbable
attention while people around him talked.

"He possessed the instinct of languages, was familiar with German,
Italian, English, and Latin, knew something of Hebrew and Greek. He was
conversant with etymology, and had a perfect passion for dictionaries.
It was often difficult for him to find a word; for on opening the
dictionary somewhere near the word for which he was looking, if his eye
chanced to fall on some other, no matter what, he stopped to read that,
then another and another, until he sometimes forgot the word he sought.
It is singular that this estimable man, so fully occupied, should at
times have nourished some secret sadness. Whatever the hidden wound
might be, none, not even his most intimate friends, knew what it was.
He never made any complaint. Halévy's nature was rich, open and
communicative. He was well organized, accessible to the sweets of
sociability and family joys. In fine, he had, as one may say, too many
strings to his bow to be very unhappy for any length of time. To define
him practically, I would say he was a bee that had not lodged himself
completely in his hive, but was seeking to make honey elsewhere too."


MÉHUL labored successfully in adapting the noble and severe style of
Gluck to the changing requirements of the French stage. The turmoil and
passions of the revolution had stirred men's souls to the very roots,
and this influence was perpetuated and crystallized in the new forms
given to French thought by Napoleon's wonderful career. Méhul's
musical conceptions, which culminated in the opera of "Joseph," were
characterized by a stir, a vigor, and largeness of dramatic movement,
which came close to the familiar life of that remarkable period. His
great rival Cherubini, on the other hand, though no less truly dramatic
in fitting musical expression to thought and passion, was so austere
and rigid in his ideals, so dominated by musical form and an accurate
science which would concede nothing to popular prejudice and ignorance,
that he won his laurels, not by force of the natural flow of popular
sympathy, but by the sheer might of his genius. Cherubini's severe works
made them models and foundation stones for his successors in French
music; but Méhul familiarized his audiences with strains dignified yet
popular, full of massive effects and brilliant combinations. The people
felt the tramp of the Napoleonic armies in the vigor and movement of his

Spontini embodied the same influences and characteristics in still
larger degree, for his musical genius was organized on a more massive
plan. Deficient in pure graceful melody alike with Méhul, he delighted
in great masses of tone and vivid orchestral coloring. His music was
full of the military fire of his age, and dealt for the most part with
the peculiar tastes and passions engendered by a condition of chronic
warfare. Therefore dramatic movement in his operas was always of the
heroic order, and never touched the more subtile and complex elements
of life. Spontini added to the majestic repose and ideality of the Gluck
music-drama (to use a name now naturalized in art by Wagner) the keenest
dramatic vigor. Though he had a strong command of effects by his power
of delineation and delicacy of detail, his prevalent tastes led him to
encumber his music too often with overpowering military effects, alike
tonal and scenic. Riehl, a great German critic, says: "He is more
successful in the delineation of masses and groups than in the portrayal
of emotional scenes; his rendering of the national struggle between the
Spaniards and Mexicans in 'Cortez' is, for example, admirable. He
is likewise most successful in the management of large masses in
the instrumentation. In this respect he was, like Napoleon, a great
tactician." In "La Vestale" Spontini attained his _chef-d'oeuvre_.
Schülter in his "History of Music" gives it the following encomium: "His
portrayal of character and truthful delineation of passionate emotion
in this opera are masterly indeed. The subject of 'La Vestale' (which
resembles that of 'Norma,' but how differently treated!) is tragic and
sublime as well as intensely emotional. Julia, the heroine, a prey to
guilty passion; the severe but kindly high priestess; Licinius, the
adventurous lover, and his faithful friend Cinna; pious vestals,
cruel priests, bold warriors, and haughty Romans, are represented with
statuesque relief and finish. Both these works, 'La Vestale' (1802)
and 'Cortez' (1809), ire among the finest that have been written for the
stage; they are remarkable for naturalness and sublimeness, qualities
lost sight of in the noisy instrumentation of his later works."

Halévy, trained under the influences of Cherubini, was largely inspired
by that great master's musical purism and reverence for the higher laws
of his art. Halévy's powerful sense of the dramatic always influenced
his methods and sympathies. Not being a composer of creative
imagination, however, the melodramatic element is more prominent than
the purely tragic or comic. His music shows remarkable resources in the
production of brilliant and captivating though always tasteful effects,
which rather please the senses and the fancy than stir the heart and
imagination. Here and there scattered through his works, notably so
in "La Juive," are touches of emotion and grandeur; but Halévy must
be characterized as a composer who is rather distinguished for the
brilliancy, vigor, and completeness of his art than for the higher
creative power, which belongs in such preeminent degree to men like
Rossini and Weber, or even to Auber, Meyerbeer, and Gounod. It is
nevertheless true that Halévy composed works which will retain a high
rank in French art. "La Juive," "Guido," "La Reine de Chypre," and
"Charles VI." are noble lyric dramas, full of beauties, though it is
said they can never be seen to the best advantage off the French stage.
Halévy's genius and taste in music bear much the same relation to the
French stage as do those of Verdi to the Italian stage; though the
former composer is conceded by critics to be a greater purist in musical
form, if he rarely equals the Italian composer in the splendid bursts
of musical passion with which the latter redeems so much that is
meretricious and false, and the charming melody which Verdi shares with
his countrymen.



The French school of light opera, founded by Givtry, reached its
greatest perfection in the authors of "La Dame Blanche" and "Fra
Diavolo," though to the former of these composers must be accorded the
peculiar distinction of having given the most perfect example of this
style of composition. François Adrien Boïeldieu, the scion of a Norman
family, was born at Rouen, December 16, 1775. He received his early
musical training at the hands of Broche, a great musician and the
cathedral organist, but a drunkard and brutal taskmaster. At the age of
sixteen he had become a good pianist and knew something of composition.
At all events his passionate love of the theatre prompted him to try his
hand at an opera, which was actually performed at Rouen. The revolution
which made such havoc with the clergy and their dependents ruined
the Boïeldieu family (the elder Boïeldieu had been secretary of the
archiépiscopal diocese), and young François, at the age of nineteen, was
set adrift on the world, his heart full of hope and his ambition bent
on Paris, whither he set his feet. Paris, however, proved a stern
stepmother at the outset, as she always has been to the struggling and
unsuccessful. He was obliged to tune pianos for his living, and was glad
to sell his brilliant _chansons_, which afterward made a fortune for his
publisher, for a few francs apiece.

Several years of hard work and bitter privation finally culminated in
the acceptance of an opera, "La Famille Suisse," at the Théâtre Faydeau
in 1796, where it was given on alternate nights with Cherubini's
"Médée." Other operas followed in rapid succession, among which may be
mentioned "La Dot de Suzette" (1798) and "Le Calife de Bagdad" (1800).
The latter of these was remarkably popular, and drew from the severe
Cherubim the following rebuke: "Malheureux! Are you not ashamed of such
undeserved triumph?" Boïeldieu took the brusque criticism meekly and
preferred a request for further instruction from Cherubini--a proof
of modesty and good sense quite remarkable in one who had attained
recognition as a favorite with the musical public. Boïeldieu's three
years' studies under the great Italian master were of much service, for
his next work, "Ma Tante Aurore," produced in 1803, showed noticeable
artistic progress.

It was during this year that Boïeldieu, goaded by domestic misery
(for he had married the danseuse Clotilde Mafleuray, whose notorious
infidelity made his name a byword), exiled himself to Russia, even then
looked on as an El Dorado for the musician, where he spent eight years
as conductor and composer of the Imperial Opera. This was all but a
total eclipse in his art-life, for he did little of note during the
period of his St. Petersburg career.

He returned to Paris in 1811, where he found great changes. Méhul and
Cherubini, disgusted with the public, kept an obstinate silence; and
Nicolo was not a dangerous rival. He set to work with fresh zeal, and
one of his most charming works, "Jean de Paris," produced in 1812, was
received with a storm of delight. This and "La Dame Blanche" are the two
masterpieces of the composer in refined humor, masterly delineation,
and sustained power both of melody and construction. The fourteen years
which elapsed before Boïeldieu's genius took a still higher flight
were occupied in writing works of little value except as names in a
catalogue. The long-expected opera "La Dame Blanche" saw the light in
1825, and it is to-day a stock opera in Europe, one Parisian theatre
alone having given it nearly 2,000 times. Boïeldieu's latter years were
uneventful and unfruitful. He died in 1834 of pulmonary disease, the
germs of which were planted by St. Petersburg winters. "Jean de Paris"
and "La Dame Blanche" are the two works, out of nearly thirty operas,
which the world cherishes as masterpieces.


Daniel François Esprit Auber was born at Caen, Normandy, January 29,
1784. He was destined by his parents for a mercantile career, and was
articled to a French firm in London to perfect himself in commercial
training. As a child he showed his passion and genius for music, a fact
so noticeable in the lives of most of the great musicians. He composed
ballads and romances at the age of eleven, and during his London life
was much sought after as a musical prodigy alike in composition and
execution. In consequence of the breach of the treaty of Amiens in
1804, he was obliged to return to Paris, and we hear no more of the
counting-room as a part of his life. His resetting of an old libretto
in 1811 attracted the attention of Cherubini, who impressed himself
so powerfully on French music and musicians, and the master offered to
superintend his further studies, a chance eagerly seized by Auber. To
the instruction of Cherubini Auber owed his mastery over the technical
difficulties of his art. Among the pieces written at this time was
a mass for the Prince of Chimay, of which the prayer was afterward
transferred to "Masaniello." The comic opera "Le Séjour Militaire,"
produced in 1813, when Auber was thirty, was really his début as a
composer. It was coldly received, and it was not till the loss of
private fortune set a sharp spur to his creative activity that he set
himself to serious work. "La Bergère Châtelaine," produced in 1820,
was his first genuine success, and equal fortune attended "Emma" in the
following season.

The duration and climax of Auber's musical career were founded on his
friendship and, artistic alliance with Scribe, one of the most fertile
librettists and playwrights of modern times. To this union, which lasted
till Scribe's death, a great number of operas, comic and serious, owe
their existence: not all of equal value, but all evincing the apparently
inexhaustible productive genius of the joint authors. The works on which
Auber's claims to musical greatness rest are as follows: "Leicester,"
1822; "Le Maçon," 1825, the composer's _chef-d'ouvre_ in comic opera; "La
Muette de Portici," otherwise "Masaniello," 1828; "Fra Piavolo," 1830;
"Lestocq," 1835; "Le Cheval do Ihonze," 1835; "L'Ambassadrice," 1836;
"Le Domino Noir," 1837; "Les Diamants de la Couronne," 1841; "Carlo
Braschi," 1842; "Haydée," 1847; "L'Enfant Prodigue," 1850; "Zerline,"
1851, written for Madame Alboni; "Manon Lescaut," 1856; "La Fiancée du
Roi de Garbe," 1867; "Le Premier Jour de Bonheur," 1868; and "Le Rêve
d'Amour," 1869. The last two works were composed after Auber had passed
his eightieth year.

The indifference of this Anacreon of music to renown is worthy of
remark. He never attended the performance of his own pieces, and
disdained applause. The highest and most valued distinctions were
showered on him; orders, jeweled swords, diamond snuffboxes, were poured
in from all the courts of Europe. Innumerable invitations urged him to
visit other capitals, and receive honor from imperial hands. But Auber
was a true Parisian, and could not be induced to leave his beloved city.
He was a Member of the Institute, Commander of the Legion of Honor,
and Cherubini's successor as Director of the Conservatory. He enjoyed
perfect health up to the day of his death in 1871. Assiduous in his
duties at the Conservatory, and active in his social relations, which
took him into the most brilliant circles of an extended period, covering
the reigns of Napoleon I., Charles X., Louis Philippe, and Napoleon
III., he yet always found time to devote several hours a day to
composition. Auber was a small, delicate man, yet distinguished in
appearance, and noted for wit. His _bons mots_ were celebrated. While
directing a musical _soirée_ when over eighty, a gentleman having taken
a white hair from his shoulder, he said laughingly, "This hair must
belong to some old fellow who passed near me."

A good anecdote is told _à propos_ of an interview of Auber with Charles
X. in 1830. "Masaniello," a bold and revolutionary work, had just been
produced, and stirred up a powerful popular ferment. "Ah, M. Auber,"
said the King, "you have no idea of the good your work has done me."
"How, sire?" "All revolutions resemble each other. To sing one is
to provoke one. What can I do to please you?" "Ah, sire! I am not
ambitious." "I am disposed to name you director of the court concerts.
Be sure that I shall remember you. But," added he, taking the artist's
arm with a cordial and confidential air, "from this day forth you
understand me well, M. Auber, I expect you to bring out the 'Muette' but
_very seldom_." It is well known that the Brussels riots of 1830, which
resulted in driving the Dutch out of the country, occurred immediately
after a performance of this opera, which thus acted the part of
"Lillibulero" in English political annals. It is a striking coincidence
that the death of the author of this revolutionary inspiration, May 13,
1871, was partly caused by the terrors of the Paris Commune.


Boïeldieu and Auber are by far the most brilliant representatives of the
French school of Opéra Comique. The work of the former which shows his
genius at its best is "La Dame Blanche." It possesses in a remarkable
degree dramatic _verve_, piquancy of rhythm, and beauty of structure.
Mr. Franz Hueffer speaks of this opera as follows:

"Peculiar to Boïeldieu is a certain homely sweetness of melody which
proves its kinship to that source of all truly national music, the
popular song. The 'Dame Blanche' might be considered as the artistic
continuation of the _chanson_, in the same sense as Weber's 'Der
Freischtitz' has been called a dramatized _Volkslied_. With regard
to Boïeldieu's work, this remark indicates at the same time a strong
development of what has been described as the 'amalgamating force of
French art and culture'; for it must be borne in mind that the subject
treated is Scotch. The plot is a compound of two of Scott's novels: the
'Monastery' and 'Guy Mannering.' Julian, _alias_ George Brown, comes
to his paternal castle unknown to himself. He hears the songs of his
childhood, which awaken old memories in him; but he seems doomed to
misery and disappointment, for on the day of his return his hall and
his broad acres are to become the property of a villain, the unfaithful
steward of his own family. Here is a situation full of gloom and sad
foreboding. But Scribe and Boïeldieu knew better. Their hero is a
dashing cavalry officer, who makes love to every pretty woman he comes
across, the 'White Lady of Avenel' among the number. Yet no one who has
witnessed the impersonation of George Brown by the great Roger can
have failed to be impressed with the grace and noble gallantry of the

The tune of "Robin Adair," introduced by Boïeldieu and described as "le
chant ordinaire de la tribu d'Avenel," would hardly be recognized by a
genuine Scotchman; but what it loses in homely vigor it has gained in
sweetness. The musician's taste is always gratified in Boïeldieu's two
great comic operas by the grace and finish of the instrumentation, and
the carefully composed _ensembles_, while the public is delighted with
the charming ballads and songs. The airs of "La Dame Blanche" are more
popular in classic Germany than those of any other opera. Boïeldieu may
then be characterized as the composer who carried the French operetta
to its highest development, and endowed it in the fullest sense with all
the grace, sparkle, dramatic symmetry, and gamesome touch so essentially
the heritage of the nation.

Auber's position in art may be defined as that of the last great
representative of French comic opera, the legitimate successor of
Boïeldieu, whom he surpasses in refinement and brilliancy of individual
effects, while he is inferior in simplicity, breadth, and that firm
grasp of details which enables the composer to blend all the parts into
a perfect whole. In spite of the fact that "La Muette," Auber's greatest
opera, is a romantic and serious work, full of bold strokes of
genius that astonish no less than they please, he must be held to be
essentially a master in the field of operatic comedy. In the great opera
to which allusion has been made the passions of excited public feeling
have their fullest sway, and heroic sentiments of love and devotion are
expressed in a manner alike grand and original. The traditional forms
of the opera are made to expand with the force of the feeling bursting
through them. But this was the sole flight of Auber into the higher
regions of his art, the offspring of the thoroughly revolutionized
feeling of the time (1828), which within two years shook Europe with
such force. Aside from this outcome of his Berserker mood, Auber is
a charming exponent of the grace, brightness, and piquancy of French
society and civilization. If rarely deep, he is never dull, and no
composer has given the world more elegant and graceful melodies of
the kind which charm the drawing-room and furnish a good excuse for
young-lady pianism.

The following sprightly and judicious estimate of Auber by one of the
ablest of modern critics, Henry Chorley, in the main lixes him in his
right place:

"He falls short of his mark in situations of profound pathos (save
perhaps in the sleep-song of 'Masaniello'). He is greatly behind his
Italian brethren in those mad scenes which they so largely affect. He is
always light and piquant for voices, delicious in his treatment of the
orchestra, and at this moment of writing--though I believe the patriarch
of opera-writers (born, it is said, in 1784), having begun to compose
at an age when other men have died exhausted by precocious labor--is
perhaps the lightest-hearted, lightest-handed man still pouring out
fragments of pearl and spangles of pure gold on the stage.... With all
this it is remarkable as it is unfair, that among musicians--when
talk is going around, and this person praises that portentous piece
of counterpoint, and the other analyzes some new chord the uoliness of
which has led to its being neglected by former composers--the name of
this brilliant man is hardly if ever heard at all. His is the next name
among the composers belonging to the last thirty years which should be
heard after that of Rossini, the number and extent of the works produced
by him taken into account, and with these the beauties which they



Few great names in art have been the occasion of such diversity of
judgment as Giacomo Meyerbeer, whose works fill so large a place in
French music. By one school of critics he is lauded beyond all measure
as one whose scientific skill and gorgeous orchestration are only
equaled by his richness of melody and genius for dramatic and scenic
effects; "by far the greatest composer of recent years;" by another
class we hear him stigmatized as "the very caricature of the universal
Mozart... the Cosmopolitan Jew, who hawks his wares among all nations
indifferently, and does his best to please customers of every kind." The
truth lies between the two, as is wont to be the case in such extremes
of opinion. Meyerbeer's remarkable talent so nearly approaches genius
as to make the distinction a difficult one. He can not be numbered among
those great creative artists who by force of individuality have molded
musical epochs and left an undying imprint on their own and succeeding
ages. On the other hand, his remarkable power of combining the resources
of the lyric stage in a grand mosaic of all that can charm the eye and
car, of wedding rich and gorgeous music with splendid spectacle, gives
him a unique place in music; for, unlike Wagner, whose ideas of stage
necessities are no less exacting, Meyerbeer aims at no reforms in lyric
music, but only to develop the old forms to their highest degree of
effect, under conditions that shall gratify the general artistic sense.
To accomplish this, he spares no means either in or out of music. Though
a German, there is but little of the Teutonic _genre_ in the music of
Weber's fellow pupil. When at the outset he wrote for Italy, he showed
but little of that easy Assomption of the genius of Italian art which
many other foreign composers have attained. It was not till he formed
his celebrated art partnership with Scribe, the greatest of librettists,
and succeeded in opening the gates of the Grand Opera of Paris with all
its resources, more vast than exist anywhere else, that Meyerbeer found
his true vocation, the production of elaborate dramas in music of the
eclectic school. He inaugurated no clearly defined tendencies in his
art; he distinctively belongs to no national school of music; but his
long and important connection with the French lyric stage classifies him
unmistakably with the composers of this nation.

The subject of this sketch belonged to a family of marked ability. Jacob
Beer was a rich Jewish banker of Berlin, highly honored for his robust
intellect and scholarly culture as well as his wealth. William, one of
the sons, became a distinguished astronomer; another, Michael, achieved
distinction as a dramatic poet; while the eldest, Jacob, was the
composer, who gained his renown under the Italianized name of Giacomo
Meyerbeer, a part of the surname having been adopted from that of the
rich banker Meyer, who left the musician a great fortune.

Meyerbeer was born at Berlin, September 5, 1794, and was a musical
prodigy from his earliest years. When only four years old he would
repeat on the piano the airs he heard from the hand-organs, composing
his own accompaniment. At five he took lessons of Lanska, a pupil of
Clementi, and at six he made his appearance at a concert. Three years
afterward the critics spoke of him as one of the best pianists in
Berlin. He studied successively under the greatest masters of the time,
Clemcnti, Bernhard Anselm Weber, and Abbé Vogler. While in the latter's
school at Darmstadt, he had for fellow pupils Carl von Weber, Winter,
and Gansbachcr. Every morning the abbé called together his pupils after
mass, gave them some theoretical instruction, then assigned each one a
theme for composition. There was great emulation and friendship between
Meyerbeer and Weber, which afterward cooled, however, owing to Weber's
disgust at Meyerbeer's lavish catering to an extravagant taste. Weber's
severe and bitter criticisms were not forgiven by the Franco-German

Meyerbeer's first work was the oratorio "Gott und die Natur," which was
performed before the Grand Duke with such success as to gain for him
the appointment of court composer. Meyerbeer's concerts at Darmstadt
and Berlin were brilliant exhibitions; and Moscheles, no mean judge, has
told us that if Meyerbeer had devoted himself to the piano, no performer
in Europe could have surpassed him. By advice of Salieri, whom Meyerbeer
met in Vienna, he proceeded to Italy to study the cultivation of
the voice; for he seems in early life to have clearly recognized how
necessary it is for the operatic composer to understand this, though,
in after-years, he treated the voice as ruthlessly in many of his most
important arias and scenas as he would a brass instrument. He arrived in
Vienna just as the Rossini madness was at its height, and his own blood
was fired to compose operas _à la Rossini_ for the Italian theatres.
So he proceeded with prodigious industry to turn out operas. In 1818 he
wrote "Romilda e Costanza" for Padua; in 1819, "Semiramide" for Turin;
in 1820, "Emma di Resburgo" for Venice; in 1822, "Margherita d'Anjou"
for Milan; and in 1823, "L'Esule di Granata," also for Milan. These
works of the composer's 'prentice hand met with the usual fate of the
production of the thousand and one musicians who pour forth operas in
unremitting flow for the Italian theatres; but they were excellent drill
for the future author of "Robert le Diable" and "Les Huguenots." On
returning to Germany Meyerbeer was very sarcastically criticised on the
one side as a fugitive from the ranks of German music, on the other as
an imitator of Rossini.

Meyerbeer returned to Venice, and in 1824 brought out "Il Crociato
in Egitto" in that city, an opera which made the tour of Europe, and
established a reputation for the author as the coming rival of Rossini,
no one suspecting from what Meyerbeer had then accomplished that he
was about to strike boldly out in a new direction. "II Crociato" was
produced in Paris in 1825, and the same year in London. In the latter
city, Veluti, the last of the male sopranists, was one of the principal
singers in the opera; and it was said by some of the ill-natured critics
that curiosity to see and hear this singer of a peculiar kind, of whom
it was said, "Non vir sed Veluti," had as much to do with the success
of the opera as its merits. Lord Mount Edgcumbe, however, an excellent
critic, wrote of it "as quite of the new school, but not copied from
its founder, Rossini; original, odd, flighty, and it might be termed
fantastic, but at times beautiful. Here and there most delightful
melodies and harmonies occurred, but it was unequal, solos being as rare
as in all the modern operas." This was the last of Meyerbeer's operas
written in the Italian style. In 1827 the composer married, and for
several years lived a quiet, secluded life. The loss of his first two
children so saddened him as to concentrate his attention for a while
on church music. During this period he composed only a "Stabat," a
"Miserere," a "Te Deum," and eight of Klopstock's songs. But he was
preparing for that new departure on which his reputation as a great
composer now rests, and which called forth such bitter condemnation
on the one hand, such thunders of eulogy on the other. His old fellow
pupil, Weber, wrote of him in after-years: "He prostituted his profound,
admirable, and serious German talent for the applause of the crowd which
he ought to have despised." And Mendelssohn wrote to his father in words
of still more angry disgust: "When in 'Robert le Diable' nuns appear one
after the other and endeavor to seduce the hero, till at length the lady
abbess succeeds; when the hero, aided by a magic branch, gains access
to the sleeping apartment of his lady, and throws her down, forming
a tableau which is applauded here, and will perhaps be applauded in
Germany; and when, after that, she implores for mercy in an aria; when,
in another opera, a girl undresses herself, singing all the while that
she will be married to-morrow, it may be effective, but I find no
music in it. For it is vulgar, and if such is the taste of the day, and
therefore necessary, I prefer writing sacred music."


"Robert le Diable" was produced at the Académie Royale in 1831, and
inaugurated the brilliant reign of Dr. Véron as manager. The bold
innovations, the powerful situations, the daring methods of the
composer, astonished and delighted Paris, and the work was performed
more than a hundred consecutive times. The history of "Robert le Diable"
is in some respects curious. It was originally written for the Vontadour
Theatre, devoted to comic opera; but the company were found unable
to sing the difficult music. Meyerbeer was inspired by Weber's "Der
Freischtitz" to attempt a romantic, semi-fantastic legendary opera, and
trod very closely in the footsteps of his model. It was determined to so
alter the libretto and extend and elaborate the music as to fit it for
the stage of the Grand Opera. MM. Scribe and Delavigne, the librettists,
and Meyerbeer, devoted busy days and nights to hurrying on the work. The
whole opera was remodeled, recitative substituted for dialogue, and one
of the most important characters,--Rainibaud, cut out in the fourth and
fifth acts--a suppression which is claimed to have befogged a very clear
and intelligible plot. Highly suggestive in its present state of Weber's
opera, the opera of "Robert le Diable" is said to have been marvelously
similar to "Der Freischtitz" in the original form, though inferior in
dignity of motive.

Paris was all agog with interest at the first production. The critics
had attended the rehearsals, and it was understood that the libretto,
the music, and the ballet were full of striking interest. Nourrit
played the part of _Robert_; Levasseur, _Bertram_; Mme. Cinti Damoreau,
_Isabelle_; and Mile. Dorus, _Alice_. The greatest dancers of the
age were in the ballet and the brilliant Taglioni led the band of
resuscitated nuns. Ilabeneck was conductor, and everything had been done
in the way of scenery and costumes. The success was a remarkable one,
and Meyerbeer's name became famous throughout Europe.

Dr. Véron, in his "Mémoires d'un Bourgeois de Paris," describes a
thrilling yet ludicrous accident that occurred on the first night's
performance. After the admirable trio, which is the _d'enoûment_ of
the work, Levasseur, who personated Bertram, sprang through the trap
to rejoin the kingdom of the dead, whence he came so mysteriously.
_Robert_, on the other hand, had to remain on the earth, a converted
man, and destined to happiness in marriage with his princess,
_Isabelle_. Nourrit, the _Robert_ of the performance, misled by the
situation and the fervor of his own feelings, threw himself into the
trap, which was not properly set. Fortunately the mattresses beneath had
not all been removed, or the tenor would have been killed, a doom which
those on the stage who saw the accident expected. The audience supposed
it was part of the opera, and the people on the stage were full of
terror and lamentation, when Nourrit appeared to calm their fears.
Mile. Dorus burst into tears of joy, and the audience, recognizing the
situation, broke into shouts of applause.

The opera was brought out in London the same year, with nearly the same
cast, but did not excite so much enthusiasm as in Paris. Lord Mount
Edgcumbe, who represented the connoisseurs of the old school, expressed
the then current opinion of London audiences: "Never did I see a more
disagreeable or disgusting performance. The sight of the resurrection
of a whole convent of nuns, who rise from their graves and begin dancing
like so many bacchantes, is revolting; and a sacred service in a church,
accompanied by an organ on the stage, not very decorous. Neither does
the music of Meyerbeer compensate for a fable which is a tissue of
nonsense and improbability."*

     * Yet Lord Mount Edgcumbe is inconsistent enough to be an
     ardent admirer of Mozart's "Zauberflote."

M. Véron was so delighted with the great success of "Robert" that he
made a contract with Meyerbeer for another grand opera, "Les Huguenots,"
to be completed by a certain date. Meanwhile, the failing health of Mme.
Meyerbeer obliged the composer to go to Italy, and work on the opera was
deferred, thus causing him to lose thirty thousand francs as the penalty
of his broken contract. At length, after twenty-eight rehearsals, and
an expense of more than one hundred and sixty thousand francs in
preparation, "Les Huguenots" was given to the public, February 26, 1836.
Though this great work excited transports of enthusiasm in Paris, it was
interdicted in many of the cities of Southern Europe on account of the
subject being a disagreeable one to ardent and bigoted Catholics. In
London it has always been the most popular of Meyerbeer's three great
operas, owing perhaps partly to the singing of Mario and Grisi, and more
lately of Titiens and Giuglini.

When Spontini resigned his place as chapel-master at the Court of
Berlin, in 1832, Meyerbeer succeeded him. He wrote much music of an
accidental character in his new position, but a slumber seems to have
fallen on his greater creative faculties. The German atmosphere was not
favorable to the fruitfulness of Meyerbeer's genius. He seems to have
needed the volatile and sparkling life of Paris to excite him into full
activity. Or perhaps he was not willing to produce one of his operas,
with their large dependence on élaborât e splendor of production,
away from the Paris Grand Opera. During Meyerbeer's stay in Berlin he
introduced Jenny Lind to the Berlin public, as he afterward did indeed
to Paris, her _début_ there being made in the opening performance of
"Das Feldlager in Schlesien," afterward remodeled into "L'Étoile du

Meyerbeer returned to Paris in 1849, to present the third of his great
operas, "Le Prophète." It was given with Roger, Viardot-Garcia, and
Castellan in the principal characters. Mme. Viardot-Garcia achieved one
of her greatest dramatic triumphs in the difficult part of _Fides_.
In London the opera also met with splendid success, having, as Chorley
tells us, a great advantage over the Paris presentation in "the
remarkable personal beauty of Signor Mario, whose appearance in his
coronation robes reminded one of some bishop-saint in a picture by Van
Eyck or Durer, and who could bring to bear a play of feature without
grimace into the scene of false fascination, entirely beyond the reach
of the clever French artist Roger, who originated the character."

"L'Étoile du Nord" was given to the public February 16, 1854. Up to this
time the opera of "Robert" had been sung three hundred and thirty-three
times, "Les Huguenots" two hundred and twenty-two, and "Le Prophète" a
hundred and twelve. The "Pardon de Ploërmel," also known as "Dinorah,"
was offered to the world of Paris April 4, 1859. Both these operas,
though beautiful, are inferior to his other works.


Meyerbeer, a man of handsome private fortune, like Mendelssohn, made
large sums by his operas, and was probably the wealthiest of the great
composers. He lived a life of luxurious ease, and yet labored with
intense zeal a certain number of hours each day. A friend one day begged
him to take more rest, and he answered smilingly, "If I should
leave work, I should rob myself of my greatest pleasure; for I am
so accustomed to work that it has become a necessity." Probably few
composers have been more splendidly rewarded by contemporary fame and
wealth, or been more idolized by their admirers. No less may it be said
that few have been the object of more severe criticism. His youth was
spent amid the severest classic influences of German music, and the
spirit of romanticism and nationality, which blossomed into such
beautiful and characteristic works as those composed by his friend
and fellow pupil Weber, also found in his heart an eloquent echo. But
Meyerbeer resolutely disenthralled himself from what he appeared to have
regarded as trammels, and followed out an ambition to be a cosmopolitan
composer. In pursuit of this purpose he divested himself of that fine
flavor of individuality and devotion to art for its own sake which marks
the highest labors of genius. He can not be exempted from the criticism
that he regarded success and the immediate plaudits of the public as
the only satisfactory rewards of his art. He had but little of the lofty
content which shines out through the vexed and clouded lives of
such souls as Beethoven and Gluck in music, of Bacon and Milton in
literature, who looked forward to immortality of fame as the best
vindication of their work. A marked characteristic of the man was
a secret dissatisfaction with all that he accomplished, making him
restless and unhappy, and extremely sensitive to criticism. With this
was united a tendency at times to oscillate to the other extreme of
vaingloriousness. An example of this was a reply to Rossini one night at
the opera when they were listening to "Robert le Diable." The "Swan
of Pesaro" was a warm admirer of Meyerbeer, though the latter was a
formidable rival, and his works had largely replaced those of the other
in popular repute. Sitting together in the same box, Rossini, in his
delight at one portion of the opera, cried out in his impulsive Italian
way, "If you can write anything to surpass this, I will undertake to
dance upon my head." "Well, then," said Meyerbeer, "you had better soon
commence practicing, for I have just commenced the fourth act of 'Les
Huguenots.'" Well might he make this boast, for into the fourth act of
his musical setting of the terrible St. Bartholomew tragedy he put the
finest inspirations of his life.

Singular to say, though he himself represented the very opposite pole
of art spirit and method, Mozart was to him the greatest of his
predecessors. Perhaps it was this very fact, however, which was at the
root of his sentiment of admiration for the composer of "Don Giovanni"
and "Le Nozze di Figaro." A story is told to the effect that Meyerbeer
was once dining with some friends, when a discussion arose respecting
Mozart's position in the musical hierarchy. Suddenly one of the guests
suggested that "certain beauties of Mozart's music had become stale with
age. I defy you," he continued, "to listen to 'Don Giovanni' after the
fourth act of the 'Huguenots.'" "So much the worse, then, for the
fourth act of the 'Huguenots,'" said Meyerbeer, furious at the clumsy
compliment paid to his own work at the expense of his idol.

Critics wedded to the strict German school of music never forgave
Meyerbeer for his dereliction from the spirit and influences of his
nation, and the prominence which he gave to melodramatic effects and
spectacular show in his operas. Not without some show of reason, they
cite this fact as proof of poverty of musical invention. Mendelssohn,
who was habitually generous in his judgment, wrote to the poet Immermann
from Paris of "Robert le Diable": "The subject is of the romantic order;
i.e., the devil appears in it (which suffices the Parisians for romance
and imagination). Nevertheless, it is very bad, and, were it not for
two brilliant seduction scenes, there would, not even be effect....
The opera does not please me; it is devoid of sentiment and feeling....
People admire the music, but where there is no warmth and truth, I can
not even form a standard of criticism."

Schlüter, the historian of music, speaks even more bitterly of
Meyerbeer's irreverence and theatric sensationalism: "'Les Huguenots'
and the far weaker production 'Le Prophète' are, we think, all the more
reprehensible (nowadays especially, when too much stress is laid on
the subject of a work, and consequently on the libretto of an opera),
because the Jew has in these pieces ruthlessly dragged before the
footlights two of the darkest pictures in the annals of Catholicism, nor
has he scrupled to bring high mass and chorale on the boards."

Wagner, the last of the great German composers, can not find words too
scathing and bitter to mark his condemnation of Meyerbeer. Perhaps his
extreme aversion finds its psychological reason in the circumstance that
his own early efforts were in the sphere of Meyerbeer and Halé-vy, and
from his present point of view he looks back with disgust on what he
regards as the sins of his youth. The fairest of the German estimates of
the composer, who not only cast aside the national spirit and methods,
but offended his countrymen by devoting himself to the French stage, is
that of Vischer, an eminent writer on aasthetics: "Notwithstanding
the composer's remarkable talent for musical drama, his operas
contain sometimes too much, sometimes too little--too much in the
subject-matter, external adornment, and effective 'situations'--too
little in the absence of poetry, ideality, and sentiment (which are
essential to a work of art), as well as in the unnatural and constrained
combinations of the plot."

But despite the fact that Meyerbeer's operas contain such strange scenes
as phantom nuns dancing, girls bathing, sunrise, skating, gunpowder
explosions, a king playing the flute, and the prima donna leading a
goat, dramatic music owes to him new accents of genuine pathos and an
addition to its resources of rendering passionate emotions. Through
much that is merely showy and meretricious there come frequent bursts of
genuine musical power and energy, which give him a high and unmistakable
rank, though he has had less permanent influence in molding and
directing the development of musical art than any other composer who has
had so large a place in the annals of his time.

The last twelve years of Meyerbeer's life were spent, with the exception
of brief residences in Germany and Italy, in Paris, the city of his
adoption, where all who were distinguished in art and letters paid their
court to him. When he was seized with his fatal illness he was hard at
work on "L'Africaine," for which Scribe had also furnished the libretto.
His heart was set on its completion, and his daily prayer was that his
life might be spared to finish it. But it was not to be. He died May 2,
1864. The same morning Rossini called to inquire after the health of the
sick man, equally his friend and rival. When he heard the sad news he
sank into a fit of profound despondency and grief, from which he did not
soon recover. All Paris mourned with him, and even Germany forgot its
critical dislike to join in regret at the loss of one who, with all his
defects, was so great an artist and so good a man.

Meyerbeer seems to have been greatly afraid of being buried alive. In
his pocketbook after his death was found a paper giving directions that
small bells should be attached to his hands and feet, and that his body
should be carefully watched for four days, after which it should be sent
to Berlin to be interred by the side of his mother, to whom he had been
most tenderly attached.

The composer was the intimate friend of most of the celebrities of his
time in art and literature. Victor Hugo, Lamartine, George Sand, Balzac,
Alfred de Musset, Delacroix, Jules Janin, and Théophile Gautier were his
familiar intimates; and the reunions between these and other gifted
men, who then made Paris so intellectually brilliant, are charmingly
described by Liszt and Moscheles. Meyerbeer's correspondence, which was
extensive, deserves publication, as it displays marked literary faculty,
and is full of bright sympathetic thought, vigorous criticism, and
playful fancy. The following letter to Jules Janin, written from Berlin
a few years before his death, gives some pleasant insight into his

Your last letter was addressed to me at Konigsberg; but I was in Berlin
working--working away like a young man, despite my seventy years, which
somehow certain people, with a peculiar generosity, try to put upon me.
As I am not at Konigsberg, where I am to arrange for the Court concert
for the eighteenth of this month, I have now leisure to answer
your letter, and will immediately confess to you how greatly I was
disappointed that you were so little interested in Rameau; and yet
Rameau was always the bright star of your French opera, as well as your
master in the music. He remained to you after Lulli, and it was he who
prepared the way for the Chevalier Gluck: therefore his family have a
right to expect assistance from the Parisians, who on several occasions
have cared for the descendants of Racine and the grandchildren of the
great Corneille. If I had been in Paris, I certainly would have given
two hundred francs for a seat; and I take this opportunity to beg you
to hand that sum to the poor family, who can not fail to be unhappy in
their disappointment. At the same time I send you a power of attorney
for M. Guyot, by which I renounce all claims to the parts of my
operas which may be represented at the benefit for the celebrated and
unfortunate Rameau family. Why will you not come to Konigsberg at the
festival? Why, in other words, are you not in Berlin? What splendid
music we have in preparation! As to myself, it is not only a source of
pleasure to me, but I feel it a duty, in the position I hold, to compose
a grand march, to be performed at Konigsberg while the royal procession
passes from the castle into the church, where the ceremony of crowning
is to take place. I will even compose a hymn, to be executed on the day
that our king and master returns to his good Berlin. Besides, I have
promised to write an overture for the great concert of the four nations,
which the directors of the London exhibition intend to give at the
opening of the same, next spring, in the Crystal Palace. All this keeps
me back: it has robbed me of my autumn, and will also take a good part
of next spring; but with the help of God, dear friend, I hope we shall
see each other again next year, free from all cares, in the charming
little town of Spa, listening to the babbling of its waters and the
rustling of its old gray oaks. Truly your friend, Meyerbeer.


Meyerbeer's operas are so intricate in their elements, and travel so far
out of the beaten track of precedent and rule, that it is difficult to
clearly describe their characteristics in a few words. His original
flow of melody could not have been very rich, for none of his tunes have
become household words, and his excessive use of that element of opera
which has nothing to do with music, as in the case of Wagner, can have
but one explanation. It is in the treatment of the orchestra that he
has added most largely to the genuine treasures of music. His command of
color in tone-painting and power of dramatic suggestion have rarely been
equaled, and never surpassed. His genius for musical rhythm is the most
marked element in his power. This is specially noticeable in his dance
music, which is very bold, brilliant, and voluptuous. The vivacity
and grace of the ballets in his operas save more than one act which
otherwise would be insufferably heavy and tedious. It is not too much
to say that the most spontaneous side of his creative fancy is found in
these affluent, vigorous, and stirring measures.

Meyerbeer appears always to have been uncertain of himself and his work.
There was little of that masterly prevision of effect in his mind which
is one of the attributes of the higher imagination. His operas, though
most elaborately constructed, were often entirely modified and changed
in rehearsal, and some of the finest scenes both in the dramatic and
musical sense were the outcome of some happy accidental suggestion at
the very last moment. "Robert," "Les Huguenots," "Le Prophète," in the
forms we have them, are quite different from those in which they
were first cast. These operas have therefore been called "the most
magnificent patchwork in the history of art," though this is a harsh
phrasing of the fact, which somewhat outrides justice. Certain it
is, however, that Meyerbeer was largely indebted to the chapter of

The testimony of Dr. Véron, who was manager of the Grand Opera during
the most of the composer's brilliant career, is of great interest, as
illustrating this trait of Meyerbeer's composition. He tells us in his
"Mémoires," before alluded to, that "Robert" was made and remade
before its final production. The ghastly but effective color of the
resuscitation scene in the graveyard of the ruined convent was a
change wrought by a stage manager, who was disgusted with the chorus of
simpering women in the original. This led Meyerbeer to compose the
weird ballet music which is such a characteristic feature of "Robert le
Diable." So, too, we are told on the same authority, the fourth act of
"Les Huguenots," which is the most powerful single act in Meyerbeer's
operas, owes its present shape to Nourrit, the most intellectual and
creative tenor singer of whom we have record. It was originally
designed that the St. Bartholomew massacre should be organized by _Queen
Marguerite_, but Nourrit pointed out that the interest centering in the
heroine, Valentine, as an involuntary and horrified witness, would be
impaired by the predominance of another female character. So the plot
was largely reconstructed, and fresh music written. Another still more
striking attraction was the addition of the great duet with which
the act now closes--a duet which critics have cited as an evidence
of unequaled power, coming as it does at the very heels of such an
astounding chorus as "The Blessing of the Swords." Nourrit felt that
the parting of the two lovers at such a time and place demanded such an
outburst and confession as would be wrung from them by the agony of
the situation. Meyerbeer acted on the suggestion with such felicity and
force as to make it the crowning beauty of the work. Similar changes
are understood to have been made in "Le Prophète" by advice of Nourrit,
whose poetical insight seems to have been unerring. It was left to
Duprez, Nourrit's successor, however, to be the first exponent of _John
of Leyden_.

These instances suffice to show how uncertain and unequal was the grasp
of Meyerbeer's genius, and to explain in part why he was so prone to
gorgeous effects, aside from that tendency of the Israelitish nature
which delights in show and glitter. We see something in it akin to the
trick of the rhetorician, who seeks to hide poverty of thought under
glittering phrases. Yet Meyerbeer rose to occasions with a force that
was something gigantic. Once his work was clearly defined in a mind not
powerfully creative, he expressed it in music with such vigor, energy,
and warmth of color as can not be easily surpassed. With this composer
there was but little spontaneous flow of musical thought, clothing
itself in forms of unconscious and perfect beauty, as in the case of
Mozart, Beethoven, Cherubini, Rossini, and others who could be cited.
The constitution of his mind demanded some external power to bring forth
the gush of musical energy.

The operas of Meyerbeer may be best described as highly artistic and
finished mosaic work, containing much that is precious with much that is
false. There are parts of all his operas which can not be surpassed
for beauty of music, dramatic energy, and fascination of effect. In
addition, the strength and richness of his orchestration, which contains
original strokes not found in other composers, give him a lasting claim
on the admiration of the lovers of music. No other composer has united
so many glaring defects with such splendid power; and were it not that
Meyerbeer strained his ingenuity to tax the resources of the singer
in every possible way, not even the mechanical difficulty of producing
these operas in a fashion commensurate with their plan would prevent
their taking a high place among popular operas.



Moscheles, one of the severe classical pianists of the German school,
writes as follows in 1861 in a letter to a friend: "In Gounod I hail a
real composer. I have heard his 'Faust' both at Leipsic and Dresden, and
am charmed with that refined, piquant music. Critics may rave if they
like against the mutilation of Goethe's masterpiece; the opera is sure
to attract, for it is a fresh, interesting work, with a copious flow of
melody and lovely instrumentation."

Henry Chorley in his "Thirty Years' Musical Recollections," writing of
the year 1851, says: "To a few hearers, since then grown into a European
public, neither the warmest welcome nor the most bleak indifference
could alter the conviction that among the composers who have appeared
during the last twenty-five years, M. Gounod was the most promising one,
as showing the greatest combination of sterling science, beauty of idea,
freshness of fancy, and individuality. Before a note of 'Sappho' was
written, certain sacred Roman Catholic compositions and some exquisite
settings of French verse had made it clear to some of the acutest judges
and profoundest musicians living, that in him at last something true and
new had come--may I not say, the most poetical of French musicians that
has till now written?" The same genial and acute critic, in further
discussing the envy, jealousy, and prejudice that Gounod awakened in
certain musical quarters, writes in still more decided strains: "The
fact has to be swallowed and digested that already the composer of
'Sappho,' the choruses to 'Ulysse,' 'Le Médecin malgré lui,' 'Faust,'
'Philemon et Baucis,' a superb Cecilian mass, two excellent symphonies,
and half a hundred songs and romances, which may be ranged not far from
Schubert's and above any others existing in France, is one of the very
few individuals left to whom musical Europe is now looking for its
pleasure." Surely it is enough praise for a great musician that, in the
domain of opera, church music, symphony, and song, he has risen above
all others of his time in one direction, and in all been surpassed by

It was not till "Faust" was produced that Gounod's genius evinced its
highest capacity. For nineteen years the exquisite melodies of this
great work have rung in the ears of civilization without losing one whit
of the power with which they first fascinated the lovers of music. The
verdict which the aged Moscheles passed in his Leipsic home--Moscheles,
the friend of Beethoven, Weber, Schumann, and Mendelssohn; which was
reechoed by the patriarchal Rossini, who came from his Passy retirement
to offer his congratulations; which Auber took up again, as with tears
of joy in his eyes he led Gounod, the ex-pupil of the Conservatory,
through the halls wherein had been laid the foundation of his musical
skill--that verdict has been affirmed over and over again by the world.
For in "Faust" we recognize not only some of the most noble music ever
written, but a highly dramatic expression of spiritual truth. It is
hardly a question that Gounod has succeeded in an unrivaled degree in
expressing the characters and symbolisms of _Mephistopheles, Faust,
and Gretchen_ in music not merely beautiful, but spiritual, humorous,
subtile, and voluptuous, accordingly as the varied meanings of Goethe's
masterpiece demand.

Visitors at Paris, while the American civil war was at its height, might
frequently have observed at the beautiful Theatre Lyrique, afterward
burned by the Vandals of the Commune, a noticeable-looking man, of
blonde complexion and tawny beard, clear-cut features, and large,
bright, almost somber-looking eyes. As the opera of "Faust" progresses,
his features eloquently express his varying emotions, now of approval,
now of annoyance at different parts of the performance. M. Gounod is
criticising the interpretation of the great opera, which suddenly lifted
him into fame as perhaps the most imaginative and creative of late

An aggressive disposition, an energy and faith that accepted no rebuffs,
and the power of "toiling terribly," had enabled Gounod to battle his
way into the front rank. Unlike Rossini and Auber, he disdained social
recreation, and was so rarely seen in the fashionable quarters of Paris
and London that only an occasional musical announcement kept him before
the eyes of the public. Gounod seems to have devoted himself to the
strict sphere of his art-life with an exclusive devotion quite foreign
to the general temperament of the musician, into which something
luxurious and pleasure-loving is so apt to enter. This composer,
standing in the very front rank of his fellows, has injected into the
veins of the French school to which he belongs a seriousness, depth, and
imaginative vigor, which prove to us how much he is indebted to German
inspiration and German models.

Charles Gounod, born in Paris June 17, 1818, betrayed so much
passion for music during tender years, that his father gave him every
opportunity to gratify and improve this marked bias. He studied under
Reicha and Le Sueur, and finally under Halévy, completing under
the latter the preparation which fitted him for entrance into the
Conservatory. The talents he displayed there were such as to fix on
him the attention of his most distinguished masters. He carried off the
second prize at nineteen, and at twenty-one received the grand prize for
musical composition awarded by the French Institute. His first published
work was a mass performed at the Church of St. Eustache, which, while
not specially successful, was sufficiently encouraging to both the young
composer and his friends.

Gounod now proceeded to Rome, where there seems to have been some
inclination on his part to study for holy orders. But music was not
destined to be cheated of so gifted a votary. In 1841 he wrote a second
mass, which was so well thought of in the papal capital as to gain for
the young composer the appointment of an honorary chapel-master for
life. This recognition of his genius settled his final conviction that
music was his true life-work, though the religious sentiment, or
rather a sympathy with mysticism, is strikingly apparent in all of his
compositions. The next goal in the composer's art pilgrimage was the
music-loving city of Vienna, the home of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and
Schubert, though its people waited till the last three great geniuses
were dead before it accorded them the loving homage which they have
since so freely rendered. The reception given by the capricious Viennese
to a requiem and a Lenten mass (for as yet Gounod only thought of sacred
music as his vocation) was not such as to encourage a residence. Paris,
the queen of the world, toward which every French exile ever looks with
longing eyes, seemed to beckon him back; so at the age of twenty-five
he turned his steps again to his beloved Lutetia. His education was
finished; he had completed his _Wanderjahre_; and he was eager to enter
on the serious work of life.

He was appointed chapelmaster at the Church of Foreign Missions, in
which office he remained for six years, in the mean while marrying
a charming woman, the daughter of Herr Zimmermann, the celebrated
theologian and orator. In 1849 he composed his third mass, which made a
powerful impression on musicians and critics, though Gounod's ambition,
which seems to have been powerfully stimulated by his marriage, began
to realize that it was in the field of lyric drama only that his powers
would find their full development. He had been an ardent student in
literature and art as well as in music; his style had been formed on the
most noble and serious German models, and his tastes, awakened into full
activity, carried him with great zeal into the loftier field of operatic

The dominating influence of Gluck, so potent in shaping the tastes and
methods of the more serious French composers, asserted itself from the
beginning in the work of Gounod, and no modern composer has been so
brilliant and effective a disciple in carrying out the formulas of
that great master. More free, flexible, and melodious than Spontini and
Halévy, measuring his work by a conception of art more lofty and ideal
than that of Meyerbeer, and in creative power and originality by far
their superior, Gounod's genius, as shown in the one opera of "Faust,"
suffices to stamp his great mastership.

But he had many years of struggle yet before this end was to be
achieved. His early lyric compositions fell dead. Score after score was
rejected by the managers. No one cared to hazard the risk of producing
an opera by this unknown composer. His first essay was a pastoral opera,
"Philemon and Baucis," and it did not escape from the manuscript for
many a long year, though it has in more recent times been received by
critical German audiences with great applause. A catalogue of Gounod's
failures would have no significance except as showing that his industry
and energy were not relaxed by public neglect. His first decided
encouragement came in 1851, when "Sappho" was produced at the French
Opera through the influence of Madame Pauline Viardot, the sister of
Malibran, who had a generous belief in the composer's future, and such
a position in the musical world of Paris as to make her requests almost
mandatory. This opera, based on the fine poem of Emile Augier, was well
received, and cheered Gounod's heart to make fresh efforts. In 1852
he composed the choruses for Poussard's classical tragedy of "Ulysse,"
performed at the Theatre Français. The growing recognition of the world
was evidenced in his appointment as director of the Normal Singing
School of Paris, the primary school of the Conservatory. In 1854 a
five-act opera, with a libretto from the legend of the "Bleeding Nun,"
was completed and produced, and Gounod was further gratified to see that
musical authorities were willing to grant him a distinct place in the
ranks of art, though as yet not a very high one.

For years Gounod's serious and elevated mind had been pondering on
Goethe's great poem as the subject of an opera, and there is reason to
conjecture that parts of it were composed and arranged, if not fully
elaborated, long prior to its final crystallization. But he was not yet
quite ready to enter seriously on the composition of the masterpiece.
He must still try his hand on lesser themes. Occasional pieces for the
orchestra or choruses strengthened his hold on these important elements
of lyric composition, and in 1858 he produce "Le Médecin malgré lui,"
based on Molière's comedy, afterward performed as an English opera under
the title of "The Mock Doctor." Gounod's genius seems to have had no
affinity for the graceful and sparkling measures of comic music, and
his attempt to rival Rossini and Auber in the field where they were
preeminent was decidedly unsuccessful, though the opera contained much
fine music.


The year of his triumph had at last arrived. He had waited and toiled
for years over "Faust," and it was now ready to flash on the world with
an electric brightness that was to make his name instantly famous.
One day saw him an obscure, third-rate composer, the next one of the
brilliant names in art. "Faust," first performed March 19, 1859, fairly
took the world by storm. Gounod's warmest friends were amazed by
the beauty of the masterpiece, in which exquisite melody, great
orchestration, and a dramatic passion never surpassed in operatic art,
were combined with a scientific skill and precision which would vie
with that of the great masters of harmony. Carvalho, the manager of the
Theatre Lyrique, had predicted that the work would have a magnificent
reception by the art world, and lavished on it every stage resource.
Madame Miolan-Carvalho, his brilliant wife, one of the leading sopranos
of the day, sang the rôle of the heroine, though five years afterward
she was succeeded by Nilsson, who invested the part with a poetry and
tenderness which have never been quite equaled.

"Faust" was received at Berlin, Vienna, Milan, St. Petersburg, and
London, with an enthusiasm not less than that which greeted its Parisian
début. The clamor of dispute between the different schools was for the
moment hushed in the delight with which the musical critics and public
of universal Europe listened to the magical measures of an opera which
to classical chasteness and severity of form and elevation of motive
united such dramatic passion, richness of melody, and warmth of
orchestral color. From that day to the present "Faust" has retained its
place as not only the greatest but the most popular of modern operas.
The proof of the composer's skill and sense of symmetry in the
composition of "Faust" is shown in the fact that each part is so nearly
necessary to the work, that but few "cuts" can be made in presentation
without essentially marring the beauty of the work; and it is therefore
given with close faithfulness to the author's score.

After the immense success of "Faust," the doors of the Academy were
opened wide to Gounod. On February 28, 1862, the "Reine de Saba" was
produced, but was only a _succès d'estime_, the libretto by Gérard de
Nerval not being fitted for a lyric tragedy.*

     * It has been a matter of frequent comment by the ablest
     musical critics that many noble operas, now never heard,
     would have retained their place in the repertoires of modern
     dramatic music, had it not been for the utter rubbish to
     which the music has been set.

Many numbers of this fine work, however, are still favorites on concert
programmes, and it has been given in English under the name of "Irene."
Gounod's love of romantic themes, and the interest in France which
Lamartine's glowing eulogies had excited about "Mireio," the beautiful
national poem of the Provençal, M. Frederic Mistral, led the former to
compose an opera on a libretto from this work, which was given at the
Théâtre Lyrique, March 19, 1864, under the name of "Mireille." The
music, however, was rather descriptive and lyric than dramatic, as
befitted this lovely ideal of early French provincial life; and in spite
of its containing some of the most captivating airs ever written,
and the fine interpretation of the heroine by Miolan-Carvalho, it was
accepted with reservations. It has since become more popular in
its three-act form to which it was abridged. It is a tribute to the
essential beauty of Gounod's music that, however unsuccessful as operas
certain of his works have been, they have all contributed charming
_morceaux_ for the enjoyment of concert audiences. Not only did the airs
of "Mireille" become public favorites, but its overture is frequently
given as a distinct orchestral work.

The opera of "La Colombe," known in English as "The Pet Dove," followed
in 1866; and the next year was produced the five-act opera of "Roméo
et Juliette," of which the principal part was again taken by Madame
Miolan-Carvalho. The favorite pieces in this work, which is a highly
poetic rendering of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy, are the song of
_Queen Mab_, the garden duet, a short chorus in the second act, and
the duel scene in the third act. For some occult reason, "Roméo et
Juliette," though recognized as a work of exceptional beauty and merit,
and still occasionally performed, has no permanent hold on the operatic
public of to-day.

The evils that fell on France from the German war and the horrors of the
Commune drove Gounod to reside in London, unlike Auber, who resolutely
refused to forsake the city of his love, in spite of the suffering and
privation which he foresaw, and which were the indirect cause of the
veteran composer's death. Gounod remained several years in England, and
lived a retired life, seemingly as if he shrank from public notice
and disdained public applause. His principal appearances were at the
Philharmonic, the Crystal Palace, and at Mrs. Weldon's concerts, where
he directed the performances of his own compositions. The circumstances
of his London residence seem to have cast a cloud over Gounod's life
and to have strangely unsettled his mind. Patriotic grief probably had
something to do with this at the outset. But even more than this as
a source of permanent irritation may be reckoned the spell cast over
Gounod's mind by a beautiful adventuress, who was ambitious to attain
social and musical recognition through the _éclat_ of the great
composer's friendship. Though newspaper report may be credited with
swelling and distorting the naked facts, enough appears to be known to
make it sure that the evil genius of Gounod's London life was a woman,
who traded recklessly with her own reputation and the French composer's

However untoward the surroundings of Gounod, his genius did not lie
altogether dormant during this period of friction and fretfulness,
conditions so repressive to the best imaginative work. He composed
several masses and other church music; a "Stabat Mater" with orchestra;
the oratorio of "Tobie"; "Gallia," a lamentation for France; incidental
music for Legouvé's tragedy of "Les Deux Reines," and for Jules
Barbier's "Jeanne d'Arc"; a large number of songs and romances, both
sacred and secular, such as "Nazareth," and "There is a Green Hill";
and orchestral works, a "Salterello in A," and the "Funeral March of a

At last he broke loose from the bonds of Delilah, and, remembering that
he had been elected to fill the place of Clapisson in the Institute,
he returned to Paris in 1876 to resume the position which his genius
so richly deserved. On the 5th of March of the following year his
"Cinq-Mars" was brought out at the Theatre de l'Opéra Comique; but
it showed the traces of the haste and carelessness with which it was
written, and therefore commanded little more than a respectful hearing.
His last opera, "Polyeucte," produced at the Grand Opera, October 7,
1878, though credited with much beautiful music, and nobly orchestrated,
is not regarded by the French critics as likely to add anything to the
reputation of the composer of "Faust." Gounod, now at the age of sixty,
if we judge him by the prolonged fertility of so many of the great
composers, may be regarded as not having largely passed the prime of
his powers. The world still has a right to expect much from his genius.
Conceded even by his opponents to be a great musician and a thorough
master of the orchestra, more generous critics in the main agree to rank
Gounod as the most remarkable contemporary composer, with the possible
exception of Richard Wagner. The distinctive trait of his dramatic
conceptions seems to be an imagination hovering between sensuous images
and mystic dreams. Originally inspired by the severe Greek sculpture
of Gluck's music, he has applied that master's laws in the creation of
tone-pictures full of voluptuous color, but yet solemnized at times by
an exaltation which recalls the time when as a youth he thought of the
spiritual dignity of the priesthood. The use he makes of his religious
reminiscences is familiarly illustrated in "Faust." The contrast between
two opposing principles is marked in all of Gounod's dramatic works, and
in "Faust" this struggle of "a soul which invades mysticism and which
still seeks to express voluptuousness" not only colors the music with a
novel fascination, but amounts to an interesting psychological problem.


Gounod's genius fills too large a space in contemporary music to be
passed over without a brief special study. In pursuit of this no better
method suggests itself than an examination of the opera of "Faust," into
which the composer poured the finest inspirations of his life, even
as Goethe embodied the sum and flower of his long career, which had
garnered so many experiences, in his poetic masterpiece.

The story of "Faust" has tempted many composers. Prince Radziwill tried
it, and then Spohr set a version of the theme at once coarse and cruel,
full of vulgar witchwork and love-making only fit for a chambermaid.
Since then Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, and Berlioz have treated the story
orchestrally with more or less success. Gounod's treatment of the poem
is by far the most intelligible, poetic, and dramatic ever attempted,
and there is no opera since the days of Gluck with so little weak music,
except Beethoven's "Fidelio."

In the introduction the restless gloom of the old philospher and the
contrasted joys of youth engaged in rustic revelry outside are expressed
with graphic force; and the Kirmes music in the next act is so quaint
and original, as well as melodious, as to give the sense of delightful
comedy. When _Marguerite_ enters on the scene, we have a waltz and
chorus of such beauty and piquancy as would have done honor to Mozart.
Indeed, in the dramatic use of dance music Gounod hardly yields in
skill and originality to Meyerbeer himself, though the latter composer
specially distinguished himself in this direction. The third and fourth
acts develop all the tenderness and passion of _Marguerite's_ character,
all the tragedy of her doom.

After _Faust's_ beautiful monologue in the garden come the song of the
"King of Thule" and _Marguerites_ delight at finding the jewels, which
conjoined express the artless vanity of the child in a manner alike full
of grace and pathos. The quartet that follows is one of great beauty,
the music of each character being thoroughly in keeping, while the
admirable science of the composer blends all into thorough artistic
unity. It is hardly too much to assert that the love scene which closes
this act has nothing to surpass it for fire, passion, and tenderness,
seizing the mind of the hearer with absorbing force by its suggestion
and imagery, while the almost cloying sweetness of the melody is such
as Rossini and Schubert only could equal. The full confession of the
enamored pair contained in the brief _adagio_ throbs with such rapture
as to find its most suggestive parallel in the ardent words commencing
"Gallop apace, ye fiery-looted steeds," placed by Shakespeare in the
mouth of the expectant _Juliet_.

Beauties succeed each other in swift and picturesque succession, fitting
the dramatic order with a nicety which forces the highest praise of
the critic. The march and chorus marking the return of _Valentine's_
regiment beat with a fire and enthusiasm to which the tramp of
victorious squadrons might well keep step. The wicked music of
_Mephistopheles_ in the sarcastic serenade, the powerful duel trio, and
_Valentine's_ curse are of the highest order of expression; while the
church scene, where the fiend whispers his taunts in the ear of the
disgraced _Marguerite_, as the gloomy musical hymn and peals of the
organ menace her with an irreversible doom, is a weird and thrilling
picture of despair, agony, and devilish exultation.

Gounod has been blamed for violating the reverence due to sacred things,
employing portions of the church service in this scene, instead of
writing music for it. But this is the last resort of critical hostility,
seeking a peg on which to hang objection. Meyerbeer's splendid
introduction of Luther's great hymn, "Ein' feste Burg," in "Les
Huguenots," called forth a similar criticism from his German assailants.
Some of the most dramatic effects in music have been created by this
species of musical quotation, so rich in its appeal to memory and
association. Who that has once heard can forget the thrilling power of
"La Marseillaise" in Schumann's setting of Heinrich Heine's poem of "The
Two Grenadiers"? The two French soldiers, weary and broken-hearted after
the Russian campaign, approach the German frontier. The veterans are
moved to tears as they think of their humiliated Emperor. Up speaks one
suffering with a deadly hurt to the other: "Friend, when I am dead,
bury me in my native France, with my cross of honor on my breast, and
my musket in my hand, and lay my good sword by my side." Until this time
the melody has been a slow and dirge-like stave in the minor key. The
old soldier declares his belief that he will rise again from the clods
when he hears the victorious tramp of his Emperor's squadrons passing
over his grave, and the minor breaks into a weird setting of the
"Marseillaise" in the major key. Suddenly it closes with a few solemn
chords, and, instead of the smoke of battle and the march of the phantom
host, the imagination sees the lonely plain with its green mounds and
moldering crosses.

Readers will pardon this digression illustrating an artistic law, of
which Gounod has made such effective use in the church scene of his
"Faust" in heightening its tragic solemnity. The wild goblin symphony
in the fifth act has added some new effects to the gamut of deviltry in
music, and shows that Weber in the "Wolf's Glen" and Meyerbeer in the
"Cloisters of St. Rosalie" did not exhaust the somewhat limited field.
The whole of this part of the act, sadly mutilated and abridged often
in representation, is singularly picturesque and striking as a musical
conception, and is a fitting companion to the tragic prison scene.
The despair of the poor crazed _Marguerite_; her delirious joy in
recognizing _Faust_; the temptation to fly; the final outburst of faith
and hope, as the sense of Divine pardon sinks into her soul--all these
are touched with the fire of genius, and the passion sweeps with an
unfaltering force to its climax. These references to the details of a
work so familiar as "Faust," conveying of course no fresh information to
the reader, have been made to illustrate the peculiarities of Gounod's
musical temperament, which sways in such fascinating contrast between
the voluptuous and the spiritual. But whether his accents belong to
the one or the other, they bespeak a mood flushed with earnestness and
fervor, and a mind which recoils from the frivolous, however graceful it
may be.

In the Franco-German school, of which Gounod is so high an exponent, the
orchestra is busy throughout developing the history of the emotions, and
in "Faust" especially it is as busy a factor in expressing the passions
of the characters as the vocal parts. Not even in the "garden scene"
does the singing reduce the instruments to a secondary importance. The
difference between Gounod and Wagner, who professes to elaborate the
importance of the orchestra in dramatic music, is that the former has a
skill in writing for the voice which the other lacks. The one lifts the
voice by the orchestration, the other submerges it. Gounod's affluence
of lovely melody can only be compared with that of Mozart and Rossini,
and his skill and ingenuity in treating the orchestra have wrung
reluctant praise from his bitterest opponents.

The special power which makes Gounod unique in his art, aside from those
elements before alluded to as derived from temperament, is his unerring
sense of dramatic fitness, which weds such highly suggestive music
to each varying phase of character and action. To this perhaps one
exception may be made. While he possesses a certain airy playfulness,
he fails in rich broad humor utterly, and situations of comedy are by no
means so well handled as the more serious scenes.

A good illustration of this may be found in "Le Médecin malgré lui,"
in the couplets given to the drunken _Sganarelle_. They are beautiful
music, but utterly unflavored with the _vis comica_.

Had Gounod written only "Faust," it should stamp him as one of the
most highly gifted composers of his age. Noticeably in his other works,
preeminently in this, he has shown a melodic freshness and fertility,
a mastery of musical form, a power of orchestration, and a dramatic
energy, which are combined to the same degree in no one of his rivals.
Therefore it is just to place him in the first rank of contemporary


Among contemporary French composers there is no name which suggests
itself in comparison with that of Gounod so worthily as that of Ambroise
Thomas, famous in every country where the opera is a favorite form of
public amusement, as the author of "Mignon" and "Hamlet." Lacking the
depth and passion of Gounod, he is distinguished by a peculiar sparkle,
grace, and Gallic lightness of touch; and if we do not find in him the
earnestness and spiritual significance of his rival's conceptions,
there is, on the other hand, in the works of Thomas, a glow of poetic
sentiment which invests them with a charming atmosphere, peculiarly
their own. Perhaps in his own country Thomas enjoys a repute still
higher than that of Gounod, for his genius is more peculiarly French,
while the composer of "Faust" shows the radical influence of the German
school, not only in the cast of his thoughts and temperament, but in his
technical musical methods. Still, as all artists are profoundly moved
by the tendencies of their age, it would not be difficult to find in the
later works of Thomas, on which his celebrity is based, some unconscious
modeling of form wrought by that musical school of which Richard Wagner
is the most advanced type.

Ambroise Thomas was born at Metz, France, on August 5, 1811, and is
therefore by seven years the senior of Charles Gounod. His aptitudes for
music were so strong that he learned the notes as quickly as he acquired
the letters of the alphabet. At the age of four he was instructed in his
_solfeggi_ by his father, who was a professor of music, and three years
later he began to take lessons on the violin and piano. When he was
seventeen he was thoroughly proficient in all the preparatory studies
demanded for admission to the Paris Conservatoire, and he easily
obtained admission into that great institution. He first studied under
Zimmermann and Kalkbrenner, and afterward under Dourlen, Barbereau, Le
Sueur, and Reicha. For successive years he carried off first prizes: for
the piano in 1829; for harmony, in 1830; and in 1832 the highest honor
in composition was awarded him, the Prix de Rome, which allowed him to
go to Italy as a government stipendiary.

Our young laureate passed three years in Italy, spending most of his
time at Rome and Naples. The special result of his Italian studies was
a requiem mass, which was performed with great approbation from its
musical judges at Paris and Rome. After traveling in Germany, Thomas
returned to Paris in 1836, thoroughly equipped for his career as
composer, for he had been an indefatigable student, and neglected no
opportunity of perfecting his knowledge. The first step in the brilliant
career of Thomas was the production of a comic opera in one act, "La
Double Échelle," produced in 1837. This met with a good reception,
and it was promptly followed by the production of several other light
scores, that further enhanced his reputation for talent. He was not
generally recognized by musicians as a man of marked promise till he
produced "Mina," a comic opera in three acts, which was represented in
1843. The beauty of the instrumentation and the melodious richness of
the work were unmistakable, and henceforth every production of the young
composer was watched with great interest.

Ambroise Thomas could not be said to have reached a great popular
success until he produced "Le Caïd," a work of the _opéra-boitffe_
type, which instantly became an immense public favorite. This was first
represented in 1849, and it has always held its place on the French
stage as one of the most delightful works of its class, in spite of
the competition of such later outgrowths of the opera-bouffe, school
as Offenbach, Lecocq, and others. The score of this work proved to be
immensely amusing and brightly melodious, and it was such a pecuniary
success that the more judicious friends of Thomas feared that he might
be seduced into cultivating a field far below the powers of his poetic
imagination and thorough musical science. Strong heads might easily be
turned by such lavish applause, and it would not have been wonderful had
Thomas, dazzled by the reception of "Le Caïd," remained for a long
time a wanderer from the path which lay open to his great talents. The
composer's ambition, however, proved to be too high to content itself
with ephemeral success, or cultivating the more frivolous forms of his
art, however profitable aid pleasant these might be.

In 1850 Ambroise Thomas produced two operas: "Le Songe d'une Nuit
d'Été," resembling in style somewhat that masterpiece produced in
after-years, "Mignon," and a somber work based on the legend of "The Man
with the Iron Mask," "Le Secret de la Reine." The melodramatic character
of this latter work seems to have been imitated from the highly accented
and artificial style of Verdi, instead of possessing the bright and airy
charm natural to Thomas. The vacancy left by Spontini's death in the
French Institute was filled by the election of M. Thomas, who was deemed
most worthy, among all the musical names offered, of taking the place of
the author of "La Vestale." He justified the taste of his co-members by
his production in 1853 of the comic opera of "La Tonelli," a work
which, though not greatly successful with "hoi polloi," was an admirable
specimen of light and graceful opera at its best. The new academician
was recompensed for the public indifference by the cordial appreciation
which connoisseurs gave this tasteful and scientific production.
Another comic opera, "Psyche," which soon appeared, though full of witty
burlesque and humor in the libretto, and marked by delicious melody in
every part, failed to please, perhaps on account of the predominance
of feminine rôles, and the absence of a good tenor part. Still a third
comic opera, the "Carnaval de Venise" saw the light the same season,
which was written in large measure to show the marvelous flexibility of
Mme. Cabal's voice. Very few singers have been able to sing the rôle of
_Sylvia_, who warbles a violin concerto from beginning to end, under the
title of an "Ariette without Words."

Ambroise Thomas remained silent now for half a dozen years, aside from
the composition of a few charming songs. It is natural to suppose that
he was brooding over the conception of his greatest work, which was next
to see the light of day, and add one more to the great operas of the
world. Such compositions are not hastily manufactured, but grow
for years out of the travail of heart and brain, deep thought, high
imaginings, passionate sensibilities, elaborately wrought by time and
patience, till at last they are crystallized into form.

"Mignon," a comic opera in three acts, was first represented at the
Théâtre Lyrique, on November 17, 1866, before one of the most brilliant
and enthusiastic audiences ever gathered in Paris. Its success was
magnificent. This was seven years after Gounod had made such a great
stride among the composers of the age, by the production of "Faust";
and it is within bounds to say that, since "Faust," no opera had been
produced in Paris so vital with the breath of genius and great purpose,
so full of sentiment and poetry, so symmetrical and balanced in its
differentiation of music measured by its dramatic value, so instantly
and splendidly recognized by the public, cultured and ignorant, gentle
and simple.

Like "Faust," too, the opera of Thomas was based on a creation of
Goethe. Without the pathetic episode of "Mignon," the novel of "Wilhelm
Meister" would lose much of its dramatic strength and quality. Of
course, every libretto must part with some of the charm of the story
on which it is built; but in this instance the author succeeds in
preserving nearly all the intrinsic worth of the Mignon episode. The
music is admirably suited to a noble theme. There is hardly a weak
bar in it from beginning to end; and some of the work here done by the
composer will compare favorably with any operatic music ever hoard. In
this opera melodic phrase goes hand in hand with character and motive,
and _Mignon, Philina, Wilhelm Meister, and Lothario_, are distinguished
in the music with the finest dramatic discrimination.

Among the operas of recent years, "Mignon" ranks among the first for
its taste, grace, and poetry. The first act is vigorous, bright, and
picturesque; the second, touched with the finest points of passion and
humor; the third is inspired with a pathos and poetic ardor which lift
the composer to do his most magnificent work. But to describe "Mignon"
to the public of today, which has heard it almost an innumerable number
of times, is, as much as in the case of Gounod's "Faust," "carrying
coals to Newcastle."

In 1868 Thomas produced "Hamlet," and it was represented at the Grand
Opera, with Mile. Christine Nilsson in the rôle of _Ophelia_, the
same singer having, if we mistake not, created the rôle of _Mignon_.
"Hamlet," though a marked artistic success, has failed to make the
same popular impression as "Mignon," possibly because the theme is less
suited to operatic treatment; for the music _per se_ is of a fine type,
and full of the genuine accents of passion.

In addition to the works named above, Ambroise Thomas has written "La
Gypsy," "Le Panier Fleuri," "Carline," "Le Roman d'Elvire," several
fine masses, many beautiful songs, a requiem, and miscellaneous
church-pieces. Thomas is famous in France for the generous encouragement
and help which he extends to all young musicians, assistance which his
position in the Paris Conservatoire helps to make most valuable. He
is now seventy-one years old, and, should he add nothing more to the
musical treasures of the present generation, much of what he has already
done will give him a permanent place in the temple of lyric music.



In the long list of brilliant names which have illustrated the fine
arts, there is none attached to a personality more interesting and
impressive than that of Hector Berlioz. He stands solitary, a colossus
in music, with but few admirers and fewer followers. Original, puissant
in faculties, fiercely dogmatic and intolerant, bizarre, his influence
has impressed itself profoundly on the musical world both for good
and evil, but has failed to make disciples or to rear a school.
Notwithstanding the defects and extravagances of Berlioz, it is safe to
assert that no art or philosophy can boast of an example of more perfect
devotion to an ideal. The startling originality of Berlioz as a musician
rests on a mental and emotional organization different from and in some
respects superior to that of any other eminent master. He possessed an
ardent temperament; a gorgeous imagination, that knew no rest in its
working, and at times became heated to the verge of madness; a most
subtile sense of hearing; an intellect of the keenest analytic turn; a
most arrogant will, full of enterprise and daring, which clung to its
purpose with unrelenting tenacity; and passions of such heat and fervor
that they rarely failed when aroused to carry him beyond all bounds
of reason. His genius was unique, his character cast in the mold of a
Titan, his life a tragedy. Says Blaze de Bussy: "Art has its martyrs,
its forerunners crying in the wilderness, and feeding on roots. It has
also its spoiled children sated with bonbons and dainties." Berlioz
belongs to the former of these classes, and, if ever a prophet lifted up
his voice with a vehement and incessant outcry, it was he.

Hector Berlioz was born on December 11, 1803, at Côte Saint André,
a small town between Grenoble and Lyons. His father was an excellent
physician of more than ordinary attainments, and he superintended his
son's studies with great zeal in the hope that the lad would also become
an ornament of the healing profession. But young Hector, though an
excellent scholar in other branches, developed a special aptitude
for music, and at twelve he could sing at sight, and play difficult
concertos on the flute. The elder regarded music only as a graceful
ornament to life, and in no wise encouraged his son in thinking of music
as a profession. So it was not long before Hector found his attention
directed to anatomy, physiology, osteology, etc. In his father's library
he had already read of Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, etc., and had found a
manuscript score of an opera which he had committed to memory. His
soul revolted more and more from the path cut out for him. "Become a
physician!" he cried, "study anatomy; dissect; take part in horrible
operations? No! no! That would be a total subversion of the natural
course of my life."

But parental resolution carried the day, and, after he had finished the
preliminary course of study, he was ordered up to Paris to join the army
of medical students. So at the age of nineteen we find him lodged in
the Quartier Latin. His first introduction to medical studies had been
unfortunate. On entering a dissecting-room he had been so convulsed with
horror as to leap from the window, and rush to his lodgings in an agony
of dread and disgust, whence he did not emerge for twenty-four hours.
At last, however, by dint of habit he became somewhat used to the
disagreeable facts of his new life, and, to use his own words, "bade
fair to add one more to the army of bad physicians," when he went to
the opera one night and heard "Les Danaïdes," Salieri's opera, performed
with all the splendid completeness of the Académie Royale. This awakened
into fresh life an unquenchable thirst for music, and he neglected his
medical studies for the library of the Conservatoire, where he learned
by heart the scores of Gluck and Rameau. At last, on coming out one
night from a performance of "Iphigénie," he swore that henceforth music
should have her divine rights of him, in spite of all and everything.
Henceforth hospital, dissecting-room, and professor's lectures knew him
no more.

But to get admission to the Conservatoire was now the problem; Berlioz
set to work on a cantata with orchestral accompaniments, and in the mean
time sent the most imploring letters home asking his father's sanction
for this change of life. The inexorable parent replied by cutting off
his son's allowance, saying that he would not help him to become one
of the miserable herd of unsuccessful musicians. The young enthusiast's
cantata gained him admission to the classes of Le Sueur and Reicha at
the Conservatoire, but alas! dire poverty stared him in the face. The
history of his shifts and privations for some months is a sad one. He
slept in an old, unfurnished garret, and shivered under insufficient
bedclothing, ate his bread and grapes on the Pont Neuf, and sometimes
debated whether a plunge into the Seine would not be the easiest way
out of it all. No mongrel cur in the capital but had a sweeter bone to
crunch than he. But the young fellow for all this stuck to his work with
dogged tenacity, managed to get a mass performed at St. Roch church, and
soon finished the score of an opera, "Les Francs Juges." Flesh and
blood would have given way at last under this hard diet, if he had
not obtained a position in the chorus of the Théâtre des Noveauteaus.
Berlioz gives an amusing account of his going to compete with the horde
of applicants--butchers, bakers, shop-apprentices, etc.--each one with
his roll of music under his arm.

The manager scanned the raw-boned starveling with a look of wonder.
"Where's your music?" quoth the tyrant of a third-class theatre. "I
don't want any, I can sing anything you can give me at sight," was the
answer. "The devil!" rejoined the manager; "but we haven't any music
here." "Well, what do you want?" said Berlioz. "I sing every note of all
the operas of Gluck, Piccini, Salieri, Rameau, Spontini, Grétry, Mozart,
and Cimarosa, from memory." At hearing this amazing declaration, the
rest of the competitors slunk away abashed, and Berlioz, after singing
an aria from Spontini, was accorded the place, which guaranteed him
fifty francs per month--a pittance, indeed, and yet a substantial
addition to his resources. This pot-boiling connection of Berlioz was
never known to the public till after he became a distinguished man,
though he was accustomed to speak in vague terms of his early dramatic
career as if it were a matter of romantic importance.

At last, however, he was relieved of the necessity of singing on the
stage to amuse the Paris _bourgeoisie_, and in a singular fashion. He
had been put to great straits to get his first work, which had won him
his way into the Conservatoire, performed. An application to the great
Chateaubriand, who was noted for benevolence, had failed, for the author
of "La Génie de Christianisme" was then almost as poor as Berlioz. At
last a young friend, De Pons, advanced him twelve hundred francs. Part
of this Berlioz had repaid, but the creditor, put to it for money, wrote
to Berlioz père, demanding a full settlement of the debt. The father was
thus brought again into communication with his son, whom he found nearly
sick unto death with a fever. His heart relented, and the old allowance
was resumed again, enabling the young musician to give his whole time to
his beloved art, instantly he convalesced from his illness.

The eccentric ways and heretical notions of Berlioz made him no favorite
with the dons of the Conservatoire, and by the irritable and autocratic
Cherubini he was positively hated. The young man took no pains to
placate this resentment, but on the other hand elaborated methods of
making himself doubly offensive. His power of stinging repartee stood
him in good stead, and he never put a button on his foil. Had it been in
old Cherubini's power to expel this bold pupil from the Conservatoire,
no scruple would have held him back. But the genius and industry of
Berlioz were undeniable, and there was no excuse for such extreme
measures. Prejudiced as were his judges, he successively took several
important prizes.


Berlioz's happiest evenings were at the Grand Opéra, for which he
prepared himself by solemn meditation. At the head of a band of students
and amateurs, he took on himself the right of the most outspoken
criticism, and led the enthusiasm or the condemnation of the audience.
At this time Beethoven was barely tolerated in Paris, and the great
symphonist was ruthlessly clipped and shorn to suit the French taste,
which pronounced him "bizarre, incoherent, diffuse, bustling with
rough modulations and wild harmonies, destitute of melody, forced in
expression, noisy, and fearfully difficult," even as England at the same
time frowned down his immortal works as "obstreperous roarings of
modern frenzy." Berlioz's clear, stern voice would often be heard,
when liberties were taken with the score, loud above the din of the
instruments. "What wretch has dared to tamper with the great Beethoven?"
"Who has taken upon him to revise Gluck?" This self-appointed arbiter
became the dread of the operatic management, for, as a pupil of the
Conservatoire, he had some rights which could not be infringed.

Berlioz composed some remarkable works while at the Conservatoire,
among which were the "Ouverture des Francs Juges," and the symphonie
"Fantastique," and in many ways indicated that the bent of his genius
had fully declared itself. His decided and indomitable nature disdained
to wear a mask, and he never sugar-coated his opinion, however
unpalatable to others. He was already in a state of fierce revolt
against the conventional forms of the music of his day, and no
trumpet-tones of protest were too loud for him. He had now begun to
write for the journals, though oftentimes his articles were refused on
account of their fierce assaults. "Your hands are too full of stones,
and there are too many glass windows about," was the excuse of one
editor, softening the return of a manuscript. But Berlioz did not fully
know himself or appreciate the tendencies fermenting within him until
in 1830 he became the victim of a grand Shakespearean passion. The great
English dramatist wrought most powerfully on Victor Hugo and Hector
Berlioz, and had much to do with their artistic development. Berlioz
gives a very interesting account of his Shakespearean enthusiasm, which
also involved one of the catastrophes of his own personal life. "An
English company gave some plays of Shakespeare, at that time wholly
unknown to the French public. I went to the first performance of
'Hamlet' at the Odéon. I saw, in the part of _Ophelia_, Harriet
Smithson, who became my wife five years afterward. The effect of her
prodigious talent, or rather of her dramatic genius, upon my heart and
imagination, is only comparable to the complete overturning which the
poet, whose worthy interpreter she was, caused in me. Shakespeare, thus
coming on me suddenly, struck me as with a thunderbolt. His lightning
opened the heaven of art to me with a sublime crash, and lighted up its
farthest depths. I recognized true dramatic grandeur, beauty, and truth.
I measured at the same time the boundless inanity of the notions of
Shakespeare in France, spread abroad by Voltaire,

     '... ce singe de génie,
     Chez l'homme en mission par le diable envoyé--'

(that ape of genius, an emissary from the devil to man),' and the
pitiful poverty of our old poetry of pedagogues and ragged-school
teachers. I saw, I understood, I felt that I was alive and must arise
and walk." Of the influence of "Romeo and Juliet" on him, he says:
"Exposing myself to the burning sun and balmy nights of Italy, seeing
this love as quick and sudden as thought, burning like lava, imperious,
irresistible, boundless, and pure and beautiful as the smile of angels,
those furious scenes of vengeance, those distracted embraces, those
struggles between love and death, was too much. After the melancholy,
the gnawing anguish, the tearful love, the cruel irony, the somber
meditations, the heart-rackings, the madness, tears, mourning, the
calamities and sharp cleverness of _Hamlet_; after the gray clouds and
icy winds of Denmark; after the third act, hardly breathing, in pain as
if a hand of iron were squeezing at my heart, I said to myself with the
fullest conviction: 'Ah! I am lost.' I must add that I did not at that
time know a word of English, that I only caught glimpses of Shakespeare
through the fog of Letourneur's translation, and that I consequently
could not perceive the poetic web that surrounds his marvelous creations
like a net of gold. I have the misfortune to be very nearly in the same
sad case to-day. It is much harder for a Frenchman to sound the
depths of Shakespeare than for an Englishman to feel the delicacy
and originality of La Fontaine or Molière. Our two poets are rich
continents; Shakespeare is a world. But the play of the actors, above
all of the actress, the succession of the scenes, the pantomime and the
accent of the voices, meant more to me, and filled me a thousand times
more with Shakespearean ideas and passion than the text of my colorless
and unfaithful translation. An English critic said last winter in the
'Illustrated London News,' that, after seeing Miss Smithson in _Juliet_,
I had cried out, 'I will marry that woman and write my grandest symphony
on this play.' I did both, but never said anything of the sort."

The beautiful Miss Smithson became the rage, the inspiration of poets
and painters, the idol of the hour, at whose feet knelt all the _roués_
and rich idlers of the town. Delacroix painted her as the _Ophelia_
of his celebrated picture, and the English company made nearly as much
sensation in Paris as the Comédie Française recently aroused in London.
Berlioz's mind, perturbed and inflamed with the mighty images of
the Shakespearean world, swept with wide, powerful passion toward
Shakespeare's interpreter. He raged and stormed with his accustomed
vehemence, made no secret of his infatuation, and walked the streets at
night, calling aloud the name of the enchantress, and cooling his heated
brows with many a sigh. He, too, would prove that he was a great artist,
and his idol should know that she had no unworthy lover. He would give
a concert, and Miss Smithson should be present by hook or by crook.
He went to Cherubini and asked permission to use the great hall of the
Conservatoire, but was churlishly refused. Berlioz however, managed to
secure the concession over the head of Cherubini, and advertised his
concert. He went to large expense in copyists, orchestra, solo-singers,
and chorus, and, when the night came, was almost fevered with
expectation. But the concert was a failure, and the adored one was not
there; she had not even heard of it! The disappointment nearly laid
the young composer on a bed of sickness; but, if he oscillated between
deliriums of hope and despair, his powerful will was also full of
elasticity, and not for long did he even rave in the utter ebb of
disappointment. Throughout the whole of his life, Berlioz displayed this
swiftness of recoil; one moment crazed with grief and depression,
the next he would bend to his labor with a cool, steady fixedness of
purpose, which would sweep all interferences aside like cobwebs. But
still, night after night, he would haunt the Odéon, and drink in the
sights and sounds of the magic world of Shakespeare, getting fresh
inspiration nightly for his genius and love. If he paid dearly for this
rich intellectual acquaintance by his passion for La Belle Smithson, he
yet gained impulses and suggestions for his imagination, ravenous of new
impressions, which wrought deeply and permanently. Had Berlioz known the
outcome, he would not have bartered for immunity by losing the jewels
and ingots of the Shakespeare treasure-house.

The year 1830 was for Berlioz one of alternate exaltation and misery;
of struggle, privation, disappointment; of all manner of torments
inseparable from such a volcanic temperament and restless brain. But he
had one consolation which gratified his vanity. He gained the Prix de
Rome by his cantata of "Sardanapalus." This honor had a practical value
also. It secured him an annuity of three thousand francs for a period of
five years, and two years' residence in Italy. Berlioz would never let
"well enough" alone, however. He insisted on adding an orchestral part
to the completed score, describing the grand conflagration of the palace
of Sardanapalus. When the work was produced, it was received with a
howl of sarcastic derision, owing to the latest whim of the composer. So
Berlioz started for Italy, smarting with rage and pain, as if the Furies
were lashing him with their scorpion whips.


The pensioners of the Conservatoire lived at Rome in the Villa Medici,
and the illustrious painter, Horace Vernet, was the director, though he
exercised but little supervision over the studies of the young men under
his nominal charge. Berlioz did very much as he pleased--studied little
or much as the whim seized him, visited the churches, studios, and
picture-galleries, and spent no little of his time by starlight and
sunlight roaming about the country adjacent to the Holy City in search
of adventures. He had soon come to the conclusion that he had not much
to learn of Italian music; that he could teach rather than be taught. He
speaks of Roman art with the bitterest scorn, and Wagner himself never
made a more savage indictment of Italian music than does Berlioz in his
"Mémoires." At the theatres he found the orchestra, dramatic unity, and
common-sense all sacrificed to mere vocal display. At St. Peter's and
the Sistine Chapel religious earnestness and dignity were frittered away
in pretty part-singing, in mere frivolity and meretricious show. The
word "symphony" was not known except to indicate an indescribable
noise before the rising of the curtain. Nobody had heard of Weber and
Beethoven, and Mozart, dead more than a score of years, was mentioned by
a well-known musical connoisseur as a young man of great promise! Such
surroundings as these were a species of purgatory to Berlioz, against
whose bounds he fretted and raged without intermission. The director's
receptions were signalized by the performance of insipid cavatinas, and
from these, as from his companions' revels in which he would sometimes
indulge with the maddest debauchery as if to kill his own thoughts, he
would escape to wander in the majestic ruins of the Coliseum and see the
magic Italian moonlight shimmer through its broken arches, or stroll on
the lonely Campagna till his clothes were drenched with dew. No fear of
the deadly Roman malaria could check his restless excursions, for, like
a fiery horse, he was irritated to madness by the inaction of his life.
To him the _dolce far niente_ was a meaningless phrase. His comrades
scoffed at him and called him "_Père la Joie_," in derision of the
fierce melancholy which despised them, their pursuits and pleasures.

At the end of the year he was obliged to present, something before
the Institute as a mark of his musical advancement, and he sent on a
fragment of his "Mass" heard years before at St. Roch, in which the wise
judges professed to find the "evidences of material advancement, and the
total abandonment of his former reprehensible tendencies." One can
fancy the scornful laughter of Berlioz at hearing this verdict. But his
Italian life was not altogether purposeless. He revised his "Symphonie
Fantastique," and wrote its sequel, "Lelio," a lyrical monologue, in
which he aimed to express the memories of his passion for the beautiful
Miss Smithson. These two parts comprised what Berlioz named "An Episode
in the Life of an Artist." Our composer managed to get the last six
months of his Italian exile remitted, and his return to Paris was
hastened by one of those furious paroxysms of rage to which such
ill-regulated minds are subject. He had adored Miss Smithson as a
celestial divinity, a lovely ideal of art and beauty, but this had not
prevented him from basking in the rays of the earthly Venus. Before
leaving Paris he had had an intrigue with a certain Mile. M------,
a somewhat frivolous and unscrupulous beauty, who had bled his not
overfilled purse with the avidity of a leech. Berlioz heard just before
returning to Paris that the coquette was about to marry, a conclusion
one would fancy which would have rejoiced his mind. But, no! he was
worked to a dreadful rage by what he considered such perfidy! His one
thought was to avenge himself. He provided himself with three loaded
pistols--one for the faithless one, one for his rival, and one for
himself--and was so impatient to start that he could not wait for
passports. He attempted to cross the frontier in women's clothes, and
was arrested. A variety of _contretemps_ occurred before he got to
Paris, and by that time his rage had so cooled, his sense of the
absurdity of the whole thing grown so keen, that he was rather willing
to send Mile. M------his blessing than his curse.

About the time of Berlioz's arrival, Miss Smithson also returned
to Paris after a long absence, with the intent of undertaking the
management of an English theatre. It was a necessity of our composer's
nature to be in love, and the flames of his ardor, fed with fresh fuel,
blazed up again from their old ashes. Berlioz gave a concert, in which
his "Episode in the Life of an Artist" was interpreted in connection
with the recitations of the text. The explanations of "Lelio" so
unmistakably pointed to the feeling of the composer for herself, that
Miss Smithson, who by chance was present, could not be deceived, though
she never yet had seen Berlioz. A few days afterward a benefit concert
was arranged, in which Miss Smithson's troupe was to take part, as well
as Berlioz, who was to direct a symphony of his own composition. At
the rehearsal, the looks of Berlioz followed Miss Smithson with such
an intent stare, that she said to some one, "Who is that man whose eyes
bode me no good?" This was the first occasion of their personal meeting,
and it may be fancied that Berlioz followed up the introduction with his
accustomed vehemence and pertinacity, though without immediate effect,
for Miss Smithson was more inclined to fear than to love him.

The young directress soon found out that the rage for Shakespeare, which
had swept the public mind under the influence of the romanticism led by
Victor Hugo, Dumas, Théophile Gautier, Balzac, and others, was spurious.
The wave had been frothing but shallow, and it ebbed away, leaving the
English actress and her enterprise gasping for life. With no deeper
tap-root than the Gallic love of novelty and the infectious enthusiasm
of a few men of great genius, the Shakespearean mania had a short
life, and Frenchmen shrugged their shoulders over their own folly, in
temporarily preferring the English barbarian to Racine, Corneille, and
Molière. The letters of Berlioz, in which he scourges the fickleness
of his countrymen in returning again to their "false gods," are
masterpieces of pointed invective.

Miss Smithson was speedily involved in great pecuniary difficulty, and,
to add to her misfortunes, she fell down stairs and broke her leg,
thus precluding her own appearance on the stage. Affairs were in this
desperate condition, when Berlioz came to the fore with a delicate and
manly chivalry worthy of the highest praise. He offered to pay Miss
Smithson's debts, though a poor man himself, and to marry her without
delay. The ceremony took place immediately, and thus commenced a
connection which hampered and retarded Berlioz's career, as well as
caused him no little personal unhappiness. He speedily discovered that
his wife was a woman of fretful, imperious temper, jealous of mere
shadows (though Berlioz was a man to give her substantial cause), and
totally lacking in sympathy writh his high-art ideals.

When Mme. Berlioz recovered, it was to find herself unable longer to
act, as her leg was stiff and her movements unsuited to the exigencies
of the stage. Poor Berlioz was crushed by the weight of the obligations
he had assumed, and, as the years went on, the peevish plaints of an
invalid wife, who had lost her beauty and power of charming, withered
the affection which had once been so fervid and passionate. Berlioz
finally separated from his once beautiful and worshiped Harriet
Smithson, but to the very last supplied her wants as fully as he
could out of the meager earnings of his literary work and of musical
compositions, which the Paris public, for the most part, did not care to
listen to. For his son, Louis, the only offspring of this union, Berlioz
felt a devoted affection, and his loss at sea in after-years was a blow
that nearly broke his heart.


Owing to the unrelenting hostility of Cherubini, Berlioz failed to
secure a professorship at the Conservatoire, a place to which he was
nobly entitled, and was fain to take up with the position of librarian
instead. The paltry wage he eked out by journalistic writing, for the
most part as musical critic of the "Journal des Débats," by occasional
concerts, revising proofs, in a word anything which a versatile and
desperate Bohemian could turn his hand to. In fact, for many years the
main subsistence of Berlioz was derived from feuilleton-writing and
the labors of a critic. His prose is so witty, brilliant, fresh, and
epigrammatic that he would have been known to posterity as a clever
_litterateur_, had he not preferred to remain merely a great musician.
Dramatic, picturesque, and subtile, with an admirable sense of art-form,
he could have become a powerful dramatist, perhaps a great novelist. But
his soul, all whose aspirations set toward one goal, revolted from the
labors of literature, still more from the daily grind of journalistic
drudgery. In that remarkable book, "Mémoires de Hector Berlioz," he
has made known his misery, and thus recounts one of his experiences:
"I stood at the window gazing into the gardens, at the heights of
Montmartre, at the setting sun; reverie bore me a thousand leagues from
my accursed comic opera. And when, on turning, my eyes fell upon the
accursed title at the head of the accursed sheet, blank still, and
obstinately awaiting my word, despair seized upon me. My guitar rested
against the table; with a kick I crushed its side. Two pistols on the
mantel stared at me with great round eyes. I regarded them for
some time, then beat my forehead with clinched hand. At last I wept
furiously, like a schoolboy unable to do his theme. The bitter tears
were a relief. I turned the pistols toward the wall; I pitied my
innocent guitar, and sought a few chords, which were given without
resentment. Just then my son of six years knocked at the door [the
little Louis whose death, years after, was the last bitter drop in the
composer's cup of life]; owing to my ill-humor, I had unjustly scolded
him that morning. 'Papa,' he cried, 'wilt thou be friends?' 'I _will_ be
friends; come on, my boy'; and I ran to open the door. I took him on
my knee, and, with his blonde head on my breast, we slept together....
Fifteen years since then, and my torment still endures. Oh, to be always
there!--scores to write, orchestras to lead, rehearsals to direct. Let
me stand all day with _bâton_ in hand, training a chorus, singing their
parts myself, and beating the measure until I spit blood, and cramp
seizes my arm; let me carry desks, double basses, harps, remove
platforms, nail planks like a porter or a carpenter, and then spend the
night in rectifying the errors of engravers or copyists. I have done,
do, and will do it. That belongs to my musical life, and I bear it
without thinking of it, as the hunter bears the thousand fatigues of the
chase. But to scribble eternally for a livelihood--!"

It may be fancied that such a man as Berlioz did not spare the lash,
once he griped the whip-handle, and, though no man was more generous
than he in recognizing and encouraging genuine merit, there was none
more relentless in scourging incompetency, pretentious commonplace, and
the blind conservatism which rests all its faith in what has been.
Our composer made more than one powerful enemy by this recklessness in
telling the truth, where a more politic man would have gained friends
strong to help in time of need. But Berlioz was too bitter and reckless,
as well as too proud, to debate consequences.

In 1838 Berlioz completed his "Benvenuto Cellini," his only attempt at
opera since "Les Francs Juges," and, wonderful to say, managed to get it
done at the opera, though the director, Duponchel, laughed at him as a
lunatic, and the whole company already regarded the work as damned in
advance. The result was a most disastrous and _éclatant_ failure, and
it would have crushed any man whose moral backbone was not forged of
thrice-tempered steel. With all these back-sets Hector Berlioz was not
without encouragement. The brilliant Franz Liszt, one of the musical
idols of the age, had bowed before him and called him master, the great
musical protagonist. Spontini, one of the most successful composers of
the time, held him in affectionate admiration, and always bade him be
of good cheer. Paganini, the greatest of violinists, had hailed him as
equal to Beethoven.

On the night of the failure of "Benvenuto Cellini," a strange-looking
man with disheveled black hair and eyes of piercing brilliancy had
forced his way around into the green-room, and, seeking out Berlioz, had
fallen on his knees before him and kissed his hand passionately. Then
he threw his arms around him and hailed the astonished composer as the
master-spirit of the age in terms of glowing eulogium. The next morning,
while Berlioz was in bed, there was a tap at the door, and Paganini's
son, Achille, entered with a note, saying his father was sick, or he
would have come to pay his respects in person. On opening the note
Berlioz found a most complimentary letter, and a more substantial
evidence of admiration, a check on Baron Rothschild for twenty thousand
francs! Paganini also gave Berlioz a commission to write a concerto for
his Stradivarius viola, which resulted in a grand symphony, "Harold
en Italie," founded on Byron's "Childe Harold," but still more an
inspiration of his own Italian adventures, which had had a strong flavor
of personal if they lacked artistic interest.

The generous gift of Paganini raised Berlioz from the slough of
necessity so far that he could give his whole time to music. Instantly
he set about his "Romeo and Juliet" symphony, which will always remain
one of his masterpieces--a beautifully chiseled work, from the hands
of one inspired by gratitude, unfettered imagination, and the sense of
blessed repose. Our composer's first musical journey was an extensive
tour in Germany in 1841, of which he gives charming memorials in
his letters to Liszt, Heine, Ernst, and others. His reception was as
generous and sympathetic as it had been cold and scornful in France.
Everywhere he was honored and praised as one of the great men of the
age. Mendelssohn exchanged _bâtons_ with him at Leipsic, notwithstanding
the former only half understood this stalwart Berserker of music. Spohr
called him one of the greatest artists living, though his own direct
antithesis, and Schumann wrote glowingly in the "Neue Zeitschrift": "For
myself, Berlioz is as clear as the blue sky above. I really think there
is a new time in music coming." Berlioz wrote joyfully to Heine: "I came
to Germany as the men of ancient Greece went to the oracle at Delphi,
and the response has been in the highest degree encouraging." But his
Germanic laurels did him no good in France. The Parisians would have
none of him except as a writer of _feuilletons_, who pleased them by
the vigor with which he handled the knout, and tickled the levity of
the million, who laughed while they saw the half-dozen or more victims
flayed by merciless satire. Berlioz wept tears of blood because he had
to do such executioner's work, but did it none the less vigorously for
all that.

The composer made another musical journey in Austria and Hungary in
1844-'45, where he was again received with the most enthusiastic praise
and pleasure. It was in Hungary, especially, that the warmth of his
audiences overran all bounds. One night, at Pesth, where he played the
"Rackoczy Indulé," an orchestral setting of the martial hymn of the
Magyar race, the people were worked into a positive frenzy, and they
would have flung themselves before him that he might walk over their
prostrate bodies. Vienna, Pesth, and Prague, led the way, and the other
cities followed in the wake of an enthusiasm which has been accorded
to not many artists. The French heard these stories with amazement, for
they could not understand how this musical demigod could be the same
as he who was little better than a witty buffoon. During this absence
Berlioz wrote the greater portion of his "Damnation de Faust," and, as
he had made some money, he obeyed the strong instinct which always ruled
him, the hope of winning the suffrages of his own countrymen.

An eminent French critic claims that this great work, of which we shall
speak further on, contains that which Gounod's "Faust" lacks--insight
into the spiritual significance of Goethe's drama. Berlioz exhausted all
his resources in producing it at the Opéra Comique in 1846, but again
he was disappointed by its falling stillborn on the public interest.
Berlioz was utterly ruined, and he fled from France in the dead of
winter as from a pestilence.

The genius of this great man was recognized in Holland, Russia, Austria,
and Germany, but among his own countrymen, for the most part, his name
was a laughing-stock and a by-word. He offended the pedants and the
formalists by his daring originality, he had secured the hate of rival
musicians by the vigor and keenness of his criticisms. Berlioz was in
the very heat of the artistic controversy between the classicists and
romanticists, and was associated with Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas,
Delacroix, Liszt, Chopin, and others, in fighting that acrimonious
art-battle. While he did not stand formally with the ranks, he yet
secured a still more bitter portion of hostility from their powerful
opponents, for, to opposition in principle, Berlioz united a caustic
and vigorous mode of expression. His name was a target for the wits. "A
physician who plays on the guitar and fancies himself a composer," was
the scoff of malignant gossips. The journals poured on him a flood
of abuse without stint. French malignity is the most venomous and
unscrupulous in the world, and Berlioz was selected as a choice victim
for its most vigorous exercise, none the less willingly that he had
shown so much skill and zest in impaling the victims of his own artistic
and personal dislike.


To continue the record of Berlioz's life in consecutive narrative would
be without significance, for it contains but little for many years
except the same indomitable battle against circumstance and enmity,
never yielding an inch, and always keeping his eyes bent on his own
lofty ideal. In all of art history is there no more masterful heroic
struggle than Berlioz waged for thirty-five years, firm in his belief
that some time, if not during his own life, his principles would be
triumphant, and his name ranked among the immortals. But what of the
mean while? This problem Berlioz solved, in his later as in earlier
years, by doing the distasteful work of the literary scrub. But never
did he cease composing; though no one would then have his works, his
clear eye perceived the coming time when his genius would not be denied,
when an apotheosis should comfort his spirit wandering in Hades.

Among Berlioz's later works was an opera of which he had composed both
words and music, consisting of two parts, "The Taking of Troy," and
"The Trojans at Carthage," the latter of which at last secured a few
representations at a minor theatre in 1863. The plan of this work
required that it should be carried out under the most perfect
conditions. "In order," says Berlioz, "to properly produce such a work
as 'Les Trojans,' I must be absolute master of the theatre, as of the
orchestra in directing a symphony. I must have the good-will of all, be
obeyed by all, from prima donna to scene-shifter. A lyrical theatre, as
I conceive it, is a great instrument of music, which, if I am to play,
must be placed unreservedly in my hands." Wagner found a King of Bavaria
to help him carry out a similar colossal scheme at Bayreuth, but ill
luck followed a man no less great through life. His grand "Trojans"
was mutilated, tinkered, patched, and belittled, to suit the Theatre
Lyrique. It was a butchery of the work, but still it yielded the
composer enough to justify his retirement from the "Journal des Débats,"
after thirty years of slavery.

Berlioz was now sixty years old, a lonely man, frail in body, embittered
in soul by the terrible sense of failure. His wife, with whom he had
lived on terms of alienation, was dead; his only son far away, cruising
on a man-of-war. His courage and ambition were gone. To one who remarked
that his music belonged to the future, he replied that he doubted if it
ever belonged to the past. His life seemed to have been a mistake, so
utterly had he failed to impress himself on the public. Yet there were
times when audiences felt themselves moved by the power of his music
out of the ruts of preconceived opinion into a prophecy of his coming
greatness. There is an interesting anecdote told by a French writer:

"Some years ago M. Pasdeloup gave the _septuor_ from the 'Trojans' at
a benefit concert. The best places were occupied by the people of the
world, but the _elite intelligente_ were ranged upon the highest seats
of the Cirque. The programme was superb, and those who were there
neither for Fashion's nor Charity's sake, but for love of what was
best in art, were enthusiastic in view of all those masterpieces. The
worthless overture of the 'Prophète,' disfiguring this fine _ensemble_,
had been hissed by some students of the Conservatoire, and, accustomed
as I was to the blindness of the general public, knowing its implacable
prejudices, I trembled for the fate of the magnificent _septuor_ about
to follow. My fears were strangely ill-founded, no sooner had ceased
this hymn of infinite love and peace, than these same students, and the
whole assemblage with them, burst into such a tempest of applause as I
never heard before. Berlioz was hidden in the further ranks, and, the
instant he was discovered, the work was forgotten for the man; his
name flew from mouth to mouth, and four thousand people were standing
upright, with their arms stretched toward him. Chance had placed me near
him, and never shall I forget the scene. That name, apparently ignored
by the crowd, it had learned all at once, and was repeating as that of
one of its heroes. Overcome as by the strongest emotion of his life,
his head upon his breast, he listened to this tumultuous cry of 'Vive
Berlioz!' and when, on looking up, he saw all eyes upon him and all
arms extended toward him, he could not withstand the sight; he trembled,
tried to smile, and broke into sobbing."

Berlioz's supremacy in the field of orchestral composition, his
knowledge of technique, his novel combination, his insight into the
resources of instruments, his skill in grouping, his rich sense of
color, are incontestably without a parallel, except by Beethoven and
Wagner. He describes his own method of study as follows:

"I carried with me to the opera the score of whatever work was on
the bill, and read during the performance. In this way I began to
familiarize myself with orchestral methods, and to learn the voice and
quality of the various instruments, if not their range and mechanism.
By this attentive comparison of the effect with the means employed to
produce it, I found the hidden link uniting musical expression to the
special art of instrumentation. The study of Beethoven, Weber,
and Spontini, the impartial examination both of the _customs_ of
orchestration and of _unusual_ forms and combinations, the visits I
made to _virtuosi_, the trials I led them to make upon their respective
instruments, and a little instinct, did for me the rest."

The principal symphonies of Berlioz are works of colossal character
and richness of treatment, some of them requiring several orchestras.
Contrasting with these are such marvels of delicacy as "Queen Mab," of
which it has been said that the "confessions of roses and the complaints
of violets were noisy in comparison." A man of magnificent genius and
knowledge, he was but little understood during his life, and it was
only when his uneasy spirit was at rest that the world recognized his
greatness. Paris, that stoned him when he was living, now listens to his
grand music with enthusiasm. Hector Berlioz to the last never lost
faith in himself, though this man of genius, in his much suffering from
depression and melancholy, gave good witness to the truth of Goethe's

     "Who never ate with tears his bread,
     Nor, weeping through the night's long hours,
     Lay restlessly tossing on his bed--
     He knows ye not, ye heavenly Powers!"

A man utterly without reticence, who, Gallic fashion, would shout his
wrongs and sufferings to the uttermost ends of the earth, yet without
a smack of Gallic posing and affectation, Berlioz talks much about
himself, and dares to estimate himself boldly. There was no small
vanity about this colossal spirit. He speaks of himself with outspoken
frankness, as he would discuss another. We can not do better than to
quote one of these self-measurements: "My style is in general very
daring, but it has not the slightest tendency to destroy any of the
constructive elements of art. On the contrary, I seek to increase the
number of these elements. I have never dreamed, as has foolishly been
supposed in France, of writing music without melody. That school exists
to-day in Germany, and I have a horror of it. It is easy for any one to
convince himself that, without confining myself to taking a very short
melody for a theme, as the very greatest masters have, I have always
taken care to invest my compositions with a real wealth of melody. The
value of these melodies, their distinction, their novelty, and charm,
can be very well contested; it is not for me to appraise them. But to
deny their existence is either bad faith or stupidity; only as these
melodies are often of very large dimensions, infantile and short-sighted
minds do not clearly distinguish their form; or else they are wedded
to other secondary melodies which veil their outlines from those same
infantile minds; or, upon the whole, these melodies are so dissimilar
to the little waggeries that the musical _plebs_ call melodies that they
can not make up their minds to give the same name to both. The dominant
qualities of my music are passionate expression, internal fire, rhythmic
animation, and unexpected changes."

Heinrich Heine, the German poet, who was Berlioz's friend, called him
a "colossal nightingale, a lark of eagle-size, such as they tell us
existed in the primeval world." The poet goes on to say: "Berlioz's
music, in general, has in it something primeval if not antediluvian to
my mind; it makes me think of gigantic species of extinct animals, of
fabulous empires full of fabulous sins, of heaped-up impossibilities;
his magical accents call to our minds Babylon, the hanging gardens the
wonders of Nineveh, the daring edifices of Mizraim, as we see them in
the pictures of the Englishman Martin." Shortly after the publication of
"Lutetia," in which this bold characterization was expressed, the first
performance of Berlioz's "Enfance du Christ" was given, and the poet,
who was on his sick-bed, wrote a penitential letter to his friend for
not having given him full justice. "I hear on all sides," he says, "that
you have just plucked a nosegay of the sweetest melodious flowers, and
that your oratorio is throughout a masterpiece of _naivete_. I shall
never forgive myself for having been so unjust to a friend."

Berlioz died at the age of sixty-five. His funeral services were held
at the Church of the Trinity, a few days after those of Rossini. The
discourse at the grave was pronounced by Gounod, and many eloquent
things were said of him, among them a quotation of the epitaph of
Marshal Trivulce, "_Hic tandem quiescit qui nunquam quievit_" (Here is
he quiet, at last, who never was quiet before). Soon after his death
appeared his "Mémoires," and his bones had hardly got cold when the
performance of his music at the Conservatoire, the Cirque, and the
Chatelet began to be heard with the most hearty enthusiasm.


Théophile Gautier says that no one will deny to Berlioz a great
character, though, the world being given to controversies, it may be
argued whether or not he was a great genius. The world of to-day has but
one opinion on both these questions. The force of Berlioz's character
was phenomenal. His vitality was so passionate and active that brain
and nerve quivered with it, and made him reach out toward experience at
every facet of his nature. Quietude was torture, rest a sin, for this
daring temperament. His eager and subtile intelligence pierced every
sham, and his imagination knew no bounds to its sweep, oftentimes even
disdaining the bounds of art in its audacity and impatience. This big,
virile nature, thwarted and embittered by opposition, became hardened
into violent self-assertion; this naturally resolute will settled back
into fierce obstinacy; this fine nature, sensitive and sincere, got torn
and ragged with passion under the stress of his unfortunate life. But,
at one breath of true sympathy how quickly the nobility of the man
asserted itself! All his cynicism and hatred melted away, and left only
sweetness, truth, and genial kindness.

When Berlioz entered on his studies, he had reached an age at which
Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and others, had already done
some of the best work of their lives. Yet it took only a few years to
achieve a development that produced such a great work as the "Symphonic
Fantastique," the prototype of modern programme music.

From first to last it was the ambition of Berlioz to widen the domain
of his art. He strove to attain a more intimate connection between
instrumental music and poetry in the portrayal of intense passions, and
the suggestion of well-defined dramatic situations. In spite of the fact
that he frequently overshot his mark, it does not make his works one
whit less astonishing. An uncompromising champion of what has been
dubbed "programme" music, he thought it legitimate to force the
imagination of the hearer to dwell on exterior scenes during the
progress of the music, and to distress the mind in its attempt to find
an exact relation between the text and the music. The most perfect
specimens of the works of Berlioz, however, are those in which the music
speaks for itself, such as the "Scène aux Champs," and the "Marche au
Supplice," in the "Symphonie Fantastique," the "Marche des Pèlerins," in
"Harold"; the overtures to "King Lear," "Benvenuto Cellini," "Carnaval
Romain," "Le Corsaire," "Les Francs Juges," etc.

As a master of the orchestra, no one has been the equal of Berlioz in
the whole history of music, not even Beethoven or Wagner. He treats the
orchestra with the absolute daring and mastery exercised by Paganini
over the violin, and by Liszt over the piano. No one has showed so deep
an insight into the individuality of each instrument, its resources, the
extent to which its capabilities could be carried. Between the phrase
and the instrument, or group of instruments, the equality is perfect;
and independent of this power, made up equally of instinct and
knowledge, this composer shows a sense of orchestral color in combining
single instruments so as to form groups, or in the combination of
several separate groups of instruments by which he has produced the most
novel and beautiful effects--effects not found in other composers.
The originality and variety of his rhythms, the perfection of his
instrumentation, have never been disputed even by his opponents. In many
of his works, especially those of a religious character, there is a
Cyclopean bigness of instrumental means used, entirely beyond parallel
in art. Like the Titans of old, he would scale the very heavens in
his daring. In one of his works he does not hesitate to use three
orchestras, three choruses (all of full dimensions), four organs, and
a triple quartet. The conceptions of Berlioz were so grandiose that he
sometimes disdained detail, and the result was that more than one of his
compositions have rugged grandeur at the expense of symmetry and balance
of form.

Yet, when he chose, Berlioz could write the most exquisite and dainty
lyrics possible. What could be more exquisitely tender than many of
his songs and romances, and various of the airs and choral pieces
from "Beatrice et Benedict," from "Nuits d'Été," "Irlande," and from
"L'Enfance du Christ"?

Berlioz in his entirety, as man and composer, was a most extraordinary
being, to whom the ordinary scale of measure can hardly be applied.
Though he founded no new school, he pushed to a fuller development the
possibilities to which Beethoven reached out in the Ninth Symphony.
He was the great _virtuoso_ on the orchestra, and on this Briarean
instrument he played with the most amazing skill. Others have surpassed
him in the richness of the musical substance out of which their
tone-pictures are woven, in symmetry of form, in finish of detail; but
no one has ever equaled him in that absolute mastery over instruments,
by which a hundred become as plastic and flexible as one, and are made
to embody every phase of the composer's thought with that warmth of
color and precision of form long believed to be necessarily confined to
the sister arts.


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