Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/144

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132
BALLETS.
BALLET.

more than forty-six when she arrived in London). Gaetan Vestris made his debut at the French opera in 1748; and M. Castile Blaze, in his 'Histoire de l'Académie Royale de Musique,' tells us that he saw him fifty-two years afterwards, when he danced as well as ever, executing the steps of the minuet 'avec autant de grâce que de noblesse.' The family of Vestris—originally Vestri—came from Florence. Gaetan had three brothers, all dancers; his son Auguste was not less famous than himself ('Auguste had Gaetan Vestris for his father,' the old man would say—'an advantage which nature refused me'); Auguste's nephew was Charles Vestris, and Auguste's favourite pupil was Perrot, who married Carlotta Grisi, and who by his expressive pantomime more even than by his very graceful dancing, enjoyed in London an amount of success which male dancers in this country have but rarely obtained. Innumerable anecdotes are told of the vanity and self-importance of Gaetan Vestris, the head of this family of artists. On one occasion when his son was in disgrace for having refused, on some point of theatrical honour, to dance in the divertissement of Gluck's 'Armide,' and was consequently sent to Fort-l'Evêque, the old man exclaimed to him in presence of an admiring throng: 'Go, Augustus; go to prison! Take my carriage, and ask for the room of my friend the King of Poland.' Another time he reproved Augustus for not having performed his duty by dancing before the King of Sweden, 'when the Queen of France had performed hers by asking him to do so.' The old gentleman added that he would have 'no misunderstanding between the houses of Vestris and of Bourbon, which had hitherto always lived on the best terms.' The ballet never possessed in London anything like the importance which belonged to it in France, from the beginning of the 18th century until a comparatively recent time. For thirty years, however, from 1820 to 1850, the ballet was an attractive feature in the entertainments at the King's (afterwards Her Majesty's) Theatre; and in 1821 the good offices of the British ambassador at the court of the Tuileries were employed in aid of a negotiation by which a certain number of the principal dancers were to be temporarily 'ceded' every year by the administration of the Académie Royale de Musique to the manager—at that time Mr. Ebers, of our Italian Opera. Mlles. Noblet and Mercandotti seem to have been the first danseuses given, or rather lent, to England by this species of treaty. Mlle. Taglioni, who appeared soon afterwards, was received year after year with enthusiasm. Her name was given to a stage coach, also to a great coat; and—more enduring honour—Thackeray has devoted some lines of praise to her in the 'Newcomes,' assuring the young men of the present generation that they will 'never see anything so graceful as Taglioni in La Sylphide.' Among the celebrated dancers contemporary with Taglioni must be mentioned Fanny Ellsler (a daughter of Haydn's old copyist of the same name) and Cerito, who took the principal part in the once favourite ballet of 'Alma' (music by Costa). Fanny Ellsler and Cerito have on rare occasions danced together at Her Majesty's Theatre the minuet in 'Don Giovanni.' To about the same period as these eminent ballerine belonged Carlotta Grisi, perhaps the most charming of them all. One of her most admired characters was that of Esmeralda in the ballet arranged by her husband, the before-mentioned Perrot, on the basis of Victor Hugo's 'Notre Dame de Paris.' Pugni, a composer, who made ballet music his speciality, and who was attached as composer of ballet music to Her Majesty's Theatre, wrote music for Esmeralda full of highly rhythmical and not less graceful melodies. In his passion for the ballet Mr. Lumley once applied to Heinrich Heine for a new work, and the result was that 'Mephistophela,' of which the libretto, written out in great detail, is to be found in Heine's complete works. The temptation of Faust by a female Mephistopheles is the subject of this strange production, which was quite unfitted for the English stage, and which Mr. Lumley, though he duly paid for it, never thought of producing. In one of the principal scenes of 'Mephistophela' the temptress exhibits to her victim the most celebrated danseuses of antiquity, including Salome the daughter of Herodias. King David too dances a pas seul before the ark. Probably the most perfect ballet ever produced was 'Giselle,' for which the subject was furnished by Heine, the scenario by Theophile Gautier, and the music by Adolphe Adam. Adam's music to 'Giselle' is, as Lord Mount-Edgcumbe said of Madeleine Guimard, 'full of grace and gentility.' The 'Giselle Waltz' will long be remembered: but we must not expect to see another 'Giselle' on the stage until we have another Carlotta Grisi; and it is not every day that a dancer appears for whom a Heine, a Gautier, and an Adam will take the trouble to invent a new work. Beethoven's 'Prometheus' is perhaps the only ballet which has been performed entire in the concert room, for the sake of the music alone. The Airs de Ballet from Auber's 'Gustave' and Rossini's 'William Tell' are occasionally found in concert programmes, and those in Schubert's 'Rosamunde' and Gounod's 'Reine de Saba' have immortalised those operas after their failure on the stage.

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BALLETS, compositions of a light character, but somewhat in the madrigal style, frequently with a 'Fa la' burden which could be both sung and danced to; these pieces, says Morley (Introduction), were 'commonly called Fa las.' Gastoldi is generally supposed to have invented or at all events first published ballets. His collection appeared in 1597 [App. p.530 "1591"], and was entitled 'Balletti a cinque voci, con li suore versi per cantare, suonare et ballare.' The first piece in the book is a musical 'Introduzione a i Balletto,' with directions for the performers 'Su cacciam man a gli stromenti nostri, e suoniam et cantiam qualche Balletti.' These must therefore have had both instrumental and dancing accompaniments. In 1595 Morley published a collection of 'Ballets for five voices,' professedly in imitation of Gas-