Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/21

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ACADEMIE DE MUSIQUE.
9
 

democratic purification, were again heard. In 1799 Glucks 'Armide' was revived. During the consulate no new works of importance were brought forward at the Théatre des Arts, eventually the scene of two conspiracies against the First Consul, which, had they been successful, would have altered seriously the subsequent history of Europe. On the occasion of the first of these the 'Horaces' of Porta, and on that of the second the 'Creation' of Haydn were performed, the latter for the first time in Paris. During the ten years which follow 1804 French opera was much developed through the labours both of foreign and of native composers; among the former, Spontini, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and Cherubini; among the latter Lesueur and Catel. Among the most important of their works were 'Les Bardes' of Lesueur and 'La Vestale' of Spontini—the latter an enormous success won despite bitter and long-continued opposition. To Spontini, on account of it, was awarded the prize of io,oco francs, decreed at Aix-la-Chapelle by Napoleon for the best opera produced at the Académie (now) Imperiale. In 1814 the allies occupied Paris, and the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia assisted at a performance of 'La Vestale' on April 1. On May 17 following 'Œdipe a Colone' and a Ballet de Circonstance were played before Louis XVIII. On April 18, 1815, Napoleon witnessed another performance of 'La Vestale,' and on July 9 of the same year the same opera was again performed before Louis XVIII, the Emperor of Austria, and the King of Prussia. The assassination of the Duc de Berri on the evening of Feb. 13, 1820, interrupted for several months the performances of the Académie. The act and its consequences were attended by every conceivable circumstance that could add to their ghastliness. The dying victim, who could not be removed from the theatre, lay, surrounded by his weeping family, separated only by a thin partition from an audience, unconscious of course of the tragedy in progress behind the scenes, convulsed with laughter at the antics of Polichinelle! The last sacraments of the church were administered to the duke on condition—exacted, it may be presumed, by the clergy in attendance—that the building in which these horrors were being enacted should be forthwith demolished. On May 3, 1821, the Académie troupe resumed its performances in the Salle Favart, with an Opéra de Circonstance, the combined work of Berton, Boieldieu, Kreutzer, Cherubini, and Paer, in honour of the infant Duc de Bourdeaux. In the next year the Academic was again transferred—this time to the Rue Le Peletier, the salle of which was destined to be for many succeeding years its home, and the scene of even greater glories than any it had yet known. About this time a change of taste in music, mainly attributable to a well-known critic, Castil-Blaze, showed itself among the opera habitués of Paris. French adaptations of the German and Italian operas of Mozart, Rossini, Meyerbeer, and even Weber, were produced in rapid succession and received with great favour. The 'Freischütz' of the last great master was performed at the Odeon 387 times in succession. The inevitable result soon followed. The foreign composers who had so effectually served the Académie indirectly, were called upon to serve it directly. The career of Mozart, alas! had many years before come to an untimely end, and that of Weber was about to prove scarcely more extended. But Rossini and Meyerbeer, though already renowned and experienced, had not yet reached the age when it is impossible or even very difficult to enter on a new career. They became and remained French composers. Meanwhile Hérold, Auber, and other native musicians, had made themselves known by works of more than promise; and the services of a body of operatic composers, foreign and French, unprecedented in number and ability, were made to contribute at the same time to the pleasure of a single city and the prosperity of a single institution. By a fortunate coincidence too, there flourished during this period a playwright, Augustin Eugène Scribe, who, despite his style impossible, must be regarded as the greatest master the theatre has known of that most difficult and thankless of literary products, the libretto. The two years immediately preceding and the eighteen following the revolution of July form the period during which the Académie attained its highest excellence and success. Not to speak of a large number of works which in other times might have deserved special mention, this period includes the composition and production of the 'Comte Ory' and the 'Guillaume Tell' of Rossini, the 'Muette' of Auber, the 'Robert le Diable' and 'Huguenots' of Meyerbeer, the 'Juive' and 'Charles VI' of Halévy, the 'Favorite' of Donizetti, and the 'Benvenuto Cellini' of Berlioz. These works were performed almost exclusively by native artists, whose excellence has especial claims on our admiration from the fact that, fifty years before, singing as an art can scarcely be said to have existed in France. Writing from Paris in 1778, Mozart says—'And then the singers!—but they do not deserve the name; for they do not sing, but scream and bawl with all their might through their noses and their throats.' With the times, like many other things, French singing had certainly changed in 1830. Transitory as is the reputation of the average vocalist, the names of Cinti-Damoureau, Falcon, Nourrit, Levasseur, and the later Duprez, are as little likely to be forgotten as those of the admirable masters of whose works they were the first interpreters. Since 1848 the lyric dramas produced at the Académie hold no place besides those of earlier date. Few of them—this is the best of tests—have been performed with any success, or even at all, out of France. The 'Prophete' of Meyerbeer and the 'Vêpres Siciliennes' of Verdi present all but the only exceptions; and the composition of the former of these belongs to an earlier epoch. In 1861, when the second empire was, or seemed to be,