Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/20

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8
ACADEMIE DE MUSIQUE
 

en ce qui regarde la musique et les opera' (1704), one of a considerable number of essays which assisted in preparing the way for a new style, should a composer present himself of sufficient genius, culture and courage, to introduce it. Such an one at length did present himself in Jean Philippe Rameau, whose arrival in Paris in 1721, at the somewhat mature age of forty-two, forms an epoch in the history not merely of French opera but of European music. In the face of much opposition this sturdy Burgundian succeeded first in obtaining a hearing from and eventually in winning the favour—though never to the same extent as Lully—the affections of the French people. Between 1737 and 1760, irrespective of other work, he set to music no less than twenty-four dramas, the majority of them grand operas. The production of these at the Académie he personally superintended; and some idea of his activity and influence as a director may be gathered from the fact that in 1750, fourteen years before the close of his career, the number of performers engaged at the Académie had risen to 149; a number doubtless to some extent rendered necessary by the increased craving of the public ear for intensity, but more by the varieties of musical effect of which he himself had been the inventor. In 1763 the theatre of the Palais Royal, built by Lemercier, so long resonant with the strains of Lully and Rameau, was destroyed by fire. The ten years which connected the death of Rameau with the arrival in Paris of Gluck were marked by the production of no work of more than secondary rank. On April 19, 1774, the 'Iphigenie en Aulide' of this master was heard for the first time. The production of this work was followed by that of a series of others from the same hand, one and all characterised by a direct application of musical form and colour to dramatic expression before unknown to the French or any other theatre. The arrival in Paris shortly after of the admirable Piccinni brought Gluck into relation with a master who, while not unworthy to cope with him as a musician, was undoubtedly his inferior as a diplomatist. Between these two great composers the parts of the typical ‘rusé Italian' and the 'simple-minded German' were interchanged. The latter left no means untried to mar the success of the former, for whose genius he openly professed, and probably felt, high admiration; and in the famous war of the Gluckists and Piccinnists—whose musical knowledge for the most part was in inverse ratio to their literary skill—the victory which fell eventually to the former was the result no less of every species of chicanery on the part of Gluck than of genius especially adapted to captivate a people always more competent to appreciate dramatic than musical genius. In 1781 the second Palais Royal theatre, like its predecessor, was burnt to the ground. The Académie, for many weeks without a home, at length took temporary refuge in the Salles des Menus-Plaisirs. Meanwhile the architect Lenoir completed the Salle de la Porte Saint-Martin in the short space of three months. The result of this extravagant speed was that, after the first performance, said to have been attended (gratis) by 10,000 persons, the walls were found to have 'settled' two inches to the right and fifteen lignes to the left. In 1784 an Ecole Royale de Chant et de Declamation, afterwards developed into the Conservatoire, was grafted on to the Académie. In 1787 the Académie troupe is said to have consisted of 250 persons—an increase of 100 on that of Rameau. The unfortunate Louis XVI took great interest in the Académie, and even gave much personal attention to its regulation. He reduced the working expenses by nearly one-half; not at the cost of the working members, but by the abolition of sinecures and other incumbrances on its income. In 1784 he established prizes for libretti, and in 1787 issued several well-considered ordonnances for the regulation of the establishment. But from 1789 the thoughts of the ill-starred king were exclusively occupied by more weighty and more difficult subjects. On April 20, 1791, the royal family attended the Académie for the last time. The opera was the 'Castor et Pollux' of Rameau. Shortly after this the 'protection,' or exclusive right of performance of grand opera, was withdrawn from the Académie and the liberté des théatres proclaimed. Hitherto the names of the artists concerned in the Académie performances had never been published. This rule was violated for the first time in the affiche announcing 'L' Offrande à la Liberte,' an opera-ballet by Gardel and Gossec. The history of the Académie during the next few years is a part of the history of the French Revolution, and could only be made intelligible by details out of all proportion with our space. The sociétaires, as public officers, were largely occupied in lending the charms of their voices and instruments—the only charms of which they were receptive—to 'Fêtes de la Raison,' ' Sans-Culottides,' and more lately 'Hymnes à l'Etre Suprème,' alike unmeaning, indecent, or blasphemous. In many of these the talents of the illustrious Cherubini, who had taken up his residence in Paris in 1788, were employed. The chronological 'Notice' of his compositions, which he himself drew up (Paris, 1845 [App. p.517 "1843"]), contains the titles of a large number of productions of this class—'Hymne à la Fraternité,' 'Chant pour le Dix Août,' 'Le Salpêtre Républicain,' and the like. In 1794 the Académie was transferred to the Rue de Richelieu, a locality (the site of the Hôtel Louvois) chosen it was said by Henriot, convinced of 'the inutility of books,' in the hope that an establishment so liable to conflagration as a theatre might lead to the destruction of the Bibliothêque Nationale contiguous to it! In its new abode the Académie took a new name—Théatre des Arts. Here for the first time the pit was provided with seats. In the four or five years following this removal, the habitués of the Académie became weary of a repertoire having constant ultimate reference to liberté, fraternité, or egalité. The old operas, subjected always to