Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/114

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AUBER.
102
AUBER.

family, although of Norman origin, had been settled in Paris for two generations, and that metropolis was always considered as his home by our composer. In his riper years he hardly ever left it for a single day, and not even the dangers of the Prussian siege could induce the then more than octogenarian to desert his beloved city. Although destined by his father for a commercial career, young Auber began to evince his talent for music at a very early period. At the age of eleven he wrote a number of ballads and 'Romances,' much en vogue amongst the elegant ladies of the Directoire; one of them called 'Bonjour' is said to have been very popular at the time. A few years later we find Auber in London, nominally as commercial clerk, but in reality more than ever devoted to his art. Here also his vocal compositions are said to have met with great success in fashionable drawing-rooms; his personal timidity however—a feature of his character which remained to him during his whole life—prevented the young artist from reaping the full benefit of his precocious gifts. In consequence of the breach of the Treaty of Amiens (1804) Auber had to leave England, and on his return to Paris we hear nothing more of his commercial pursuits. Music had now engrossed all his thoughts and faculties. His début as an instrumental composer was accompanied by somewhat peculiar circumstances. Auber had become acquainted with Lamarre, a violoncello-player of considerable reputation; and to suit the peculiar style of his friend, our composer wrote several concertos for his instrument, which originally appeared under Lamarre's name, but the real authorship of which soon transpired. The reputation thus acquired Auber increased by a violin-concerto written for and first played by Mazas at the Conservatoire with signal success; it has since been introduced here by M. Sainton. His first attempt at dramatic composition was of a very modest kind. It consisted in the re-setting of an old opera-libretto called 'Julie' for a society of amateurs (in 1811 or 12). The orchestra was composed of two violins, two violas, violoncello, and double-bass. The reception of the piece was favourable. Cherubini, the ruler of the operatic stage at that time, was amongst the audience, and recognising at once the powerful though untrained genius of the young composer, he offered to superintend his further studies. To the instruction of this great composer Auber owed his mastery over the technical difficulties of his art. As his next work, we mention a mass written for the private chapel of the Prince de Chimay, from which the beautiful a capella prayer in 'Masaniello ' is taken. His first opera publicly performed was 'Le Séjour militaire,' and was played in 1813 at the Théâtre Feydeau. Its reception was anything but favourable, and so discouraged was the youthful composer by this unexpected failure that for six years he refrained from repeating the attempt. His second opera, 'Le Testament, ou les Billets-doux,' brought out at the Opera Comique in 1819, proved again unsuccessful, but Auber was now too certain of his vocation to be silenced by a momentary disappointment. He immediately set to work again, and his next opera, 'La Bergère châtelaine,' first performed in the following year, to a great extent realised his bold expectations of ultimate success. The climax and duration of this success were, to a great extent, founded on Auber's friendship and artistic alliance with Scribe, one of the most fertile playwrights and the most skilful librettist of modern times. To this union, which lasted unbroken till Scribe's death, a great number of both comic and serious operas owe their existence, not all equal in value and beauty, but all evincing in various degrees the inexhaustible productive power of their joint authors. Our space will not allow us to insert a complete list of Auber's numerous dramatic productions; we must limit ourselves to mentioning those amongst his works which by their intrinsic value or external grace of execution have excited the particular admiration of contemporary audiences, or on which their author's claim to immortality seems chiefly to rest. We name 'Leicester,' 1822 (being the first of Auber's operas with a libretto by Scribe); 'Le Maçon,' 1825 (Auber's chef-d'œuvre in comic opera); 'La Muette de Portici' (Masaniello) 1828; 'Fra Diavolo,' 1830; 'Lestocq,' 1835 [App. p.525 "1834"]; 'Le Cheval de Bronze, 1835; 'L'Ambassadrice,' 1836; 'Le Domino noir,' 1837; 'Les Diamans de la couronne,' 1841; 'Carlo Broschi,' 1842; 'Haydée,' 1847; 'L'Enfant prodigue,' 1850; 'Zerline,' 1851 (written for Madame Alboni); 'Manon Lescaut,' 1856; 'La fiancée du Roi des Garbes,' 1867; 'Le premier jour de bonheur,' 1868; and 'Le Rêve d'amour,' first performed in December 1869 at the Opéra Comique. [App. p.525 adds "'Emma,' 1821; 'La Neige,' 1823; 'Le Concert à la Cour,' 1824; 'Léocadie,' 1824; 'Le Timide' and 'Fiorilla,' 1826; 'La Fiancée,' 1829; 'Le Dieu et la Bayadère,' 1830; 'Le Philtre,' 1831; 'Le Serment,' 1832; 'Gustave III,' 1833; 'Actéon,' 1836; 'Le Lac des Fées,' 1839; 'Zanetta,' 1840; 'Le Due d'Olonne,' 1842; 'La Part du Diable,' 1843; 'La Sirène,' 1844; 'La Barcarolle,' 1845; 'Marco Spada,' 1852; 'Jenny Bell,' 1855; and 'La Circassienne,' 1861."]

Auber's position in the history of his art may be defined as that of the last great representative of opéra comique, a phase of dramatic music in which more than in any other the peculiarities of the French character have found their full expression. In such works as 'Le Maçon' or 'Les Diamans de la couronne,' Auber has rendered the chevaleresque grace, the verve, and amorous sweetness of French feeling in a manner both charming and essentially national. It is here that he proves himself to be the legitimate follower of Boieldieu and the more than equal of Hérold and Adam. With these masters Auber shares the charm of melody founded on the simple grace of the popular chanson, the piquancy of rhythm and the care bestowed upon the distinct enunciation of the words characteristic of the French school. Like them also he is unable or perhaps unwilling to divest his music of the peculiarities of his own national type. We have on purpose cited the 'Diamans de la couronne' as evincing the charm of French feeling, although the scene of that opera is laid in Portugal. Like George Brown and the 'tribu d'Avenel' in Boieldieu's 'Dame Blanche,' Auber's Portuguese are in reality Frenchmen in disguise; a disguise put on more for the sake of pretty show than of actual