Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/249

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BERTOLLI.
237
BERTON.

in English, the contralto music of 'Esther,' then performed first in public (April 20), and repeated six times during May; and she appeared in 'Acis and Galatea,' sung partly in English and partly in Italian. In this same year she also performed in 'Flavio' and 'Alessandro' by Handel, and in Attilio's 'Coriolano.' In 1733 she played in 'Ottone,' 'Tolomeo,' and 'Orlando,' and in 'Deborah,' Handel's second English oratorio. She followed Senesino, however, when that singer left Handel, and joined the opposition at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre: she sang in 'Onorio' in 1734, and in Veracini's 'Adriano in Siria' in 1735, as well as in other pieces. In 1737 she returned to Handel, and sang in his 'Arminio,' Jan. 12, at Covent Garden; 'Giustino,' Feb. 16; 'Berenice,' May 12; and a revival of 'Partenope.' Her name never occurs again in the libretti of the time, and her after-history is unknown.

[ J. M. ]

BERTON, Henri Montan, one of those not unfrequent instances in the history of art where a distinguished father is succeeded by a more distinguished son. Pierre Montan Berton [App. p.545 "(1727–1780)"], the father, composed and adapted several operas, and was known as an excellent conductor. He held the position of chef d'orchestre at the opera in Paris when the feud of the Gluckists and Piccinists began to rage, and is said to have acted as peacemaker between the hostile parties. His son Henri was born at Paris in 1767 [App. p.545 "Sept. 17"]. His talent seems to have been precocious; at six he could read music at sight, and became a violinist in the orchestra of the opera when only fifteen. His teachers of composition were Rey, a firm believer in Rameau's theoretical principles, and Sacchini, a prolific composer of Italian operas. But this instruction was never systematic, a defect but too distinctly visible even in the maturest scores of our composer. His musical knowledge, and particularly his experience of dramatic effect, he mainly derived from the performances he witnessed. Hence the want of independent features in his style, which makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish his workmanship from that of other masters of the French school. In 1782 he became deeply enamoured of Mdlle. Maillard, a celebrated singer, by whom he had an illegitimate son François Berton, also a composer of some note, who died in 1832. This passionate attachment seems to have awakened his latent creativeness. His first work was a comic opera, 'La dame invisible,' written about the time referred to, but not performed till four years later (Dec. 1787). It is said that the young composer being too shy to produce his work it was shown by Mdlle. Maillard to Sacchini, who at once recognised Berton's talent. This led to the connection between the two musicians already alluded to. Berton made his public début as a composer at the Concerts Spirituels, for which he wrote several oratorios. One of these, 'Absalon,' was first performed with considerable success in 1786. But he soon abandoned sacred music for the more congenial sphere of comic opera. In 1787 two dramatic works—'Les promesses de mariage' and the above named 'Dame invisible' saw the light of the stage, and were favourably received.

The excitement of the revolutionary period did not fail to leave its traces on Berton's works. His opera 'Les rigueurs du cloitre' owes its existence to this period. In it the individual merits and demerits of his style become noticeable for the first time—easy and natural melody, great simplicity and clearness of harmonic combinations, and skilful handling of stage effects; but a want of grandeur and true dramatic depth, and frequent slipshod structure of the ensembles. Amongst the masters of French comic opera Berton holds a respectable but not pre-eminent position. His power was not sufficient to inspire a whole organism with the breath of dramatic life. Hence his works have disappeared from the stage, although separate pieces retain their popularity.

During the Reign of Terror Berton had a hard struggle for existence. He even found difficulty in procuring a libretto from one of the ordinary manufacturers of that article, and to supply the want had to turn poet himself, although his literary culture was of the slightest order. The result was the opera 'Ponce de Leon,' first performed with great success in 1794. Five years later (April 15, 1799) he produced his chef d'ceuvre, 'Montano et Stéphanie,' a romantic opera, with words by Dejaure, the librettist of Kreutzer's 'Lodoiska' and many other pieces. It is by far the most ambitious piece of its composer, and the numerous ensembles were at first considered so formidable as to make the possibility of execution doubtful. Some of the songs—for instance, the beautiful air of Stéphanie, 'Oui, c'est demain que l'hymenéo'—are still heard with delight. Edouard Monnais, in his sketch entitled 'Histoire d'un chef d'œuvre,' has given a full account of the history of the work, founded partly on autobiographical fragments by the composer. Its success greatly advanced Berton's reputation, and freed him from the difficulties of the moment. It must suffice to add the titles of a few of the most celebrated of his numerous compositions:—'Le Délire' (1799), 'Aline, ou la Reine de Golconde' (1803), 'Ninon chez Madame de Sévigné' (1807), and 'Françoise de Foix' (1809). He also wrote numerous operas in co-operation with Mehul, Spontini, Kreutzer, Boieldieu, and other contemporary composers, besides several ballets.

Berton was for a long time Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire; in 1807 he became conductor at the Italian opera in Paris, and in 1815 was made a member of the Institut. French and foreign decorations were not wanting; but he survived his fame, and the evening of his life was darkened. In 1828 he suffered by the bankruptcy of the Opéra Comique, to which he had sold the right of performing his works for an annuity of 3000 francs. Moreover he could not reconcile himself to the new currents of public taste. Rossini's success filled him with anger—a feeling which he vented in