Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/269

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BOIELDIEU.
257
 

feared. But Boieldieu had not been forgotten by his old admirers. The revival of 'Ma tante Aurore' and the first performance in Paris of an improved version of 'Rien de trop' were received with applause, which increased to a storm of enthusiasm when in 1812 one of the composer's most charming operas, 'Jean de Paris,' saw the light. This is one of the two masterpieces on which Boieldieu's claim to immortality must mainly rest. As regards refined humour and the gift of musically delineating a character in a few masterly touches, this work remains unsurpassed even by Boieldieu himself; in abundance of charming melodies it is perhaps inferior, and inferior only, to the 'Dame Blanche.' No other production of the French school can rival either of the two in the sustained development of the excellences most characteristic of that school. The Princess of Navarre, the Page, the Seneschal, are indestructible types of loveliness, grace, and humour. After the effort in 'Jean de Paris' Boieldieu's genius seemed to be exhausted: nearly fourteen years elapsed before he showed in the 'Dame Blanche' that his dormant power was capable of still higher flights. We will not encumber the reader's memory with a list of names belonging to the intervening period, which would have to remain names only. Many of these operas were composed in collaboration with Cherubini, Catel, Isouard, and others; only 'Le nouveau seigneur de village' (1813) and 'Le petit Chaperon rouge' (1818), both by Boieldieu alone, may be mentioned here. After the successful production of the last-named opera, Boieldieu did not bring out a new entire work for seven years. In December 1825 the long expected 'Dame Blanche' saw the light, and was received with unprecedented applause. Boieldieu modestly ascribes part of this success to the national reaction against the Rossini-worship of the preceding years. Other temporary causes have been cited, but the first verdict has been confirmed by many subsequent audiences. Up till June 1875 the opera has been performed at one and the same theatre 1340 times, and yet its melodies sound as fresh and are received with as much enthusiasm as on that eventful night of December 10, 1825, so graphically described by Boieldieu's pupil Adam. Such pieces as the cavatina 'Viens gentille dame,' the song 'D'ici voyez ce beau domaine,' or the trio at the end of the first act will never fail of their effect as long as the feeling for true grace remains.

The 'Dame Blanche' is the finest work of Boieldieu, and Boieldieu the greatest master of the French school of comic opera. It is therefore difficult to speak of the composer, and of the work most characteristic of his style, without repeating to some extent, in a higher key of eulogy, what has already been said in these pages of other masters of the same school. With Auber, Boieldieu shares verve of dramatic utterance, with Adam piquancy of rhythmical structure, while he avoids almost entirely that bane of modern muaic, the dance-rhythm, which in the two other composers marks the beginning of the decline and fall of the school. Peculiar to Boieldieu is a certain homely sweetness of melody, which proves its kinship to that source of all truly national music, the popular song. The 'Dame Blanche' might indeed be considered as the artistic continuation of the chanson, in the same sense as Weber's 'Der Freischütz' has been called a dramatised Volkslied. With regard to Boieldieu's work this remark indicates at the same time a strong development of what in a previous article has been described as the 'amalgamating force of French art and culture'; for it must be borne in mind that the subject treated is Scotch. The plot is a compound of two of Scott's novels, the 'Monastery' and 'Guy Mannering.' Julian, (alias George Brown), comes to his paternal castle unknown to himself. He hears the songs of his childhood, which awaken old memories in him; but he seems doomed to misery and disappointment, for on the day of his return his hall and his broad acres are to become the property of a villain, the unfaithful steward of his own family. Here is a situation full of gloom and sad foreboding. But Scribe and Boieldieu knew better. Their hero is a dashing cavalry officer, who makes love to every pretty woman he comes across, the 'White Lady of Avenel' amongst the number. Yet nobody who has witnessed the impersonation of George Brown by the great Roger can have failed to be impressed with the grace and noble gallantry of the character.

The Scotch airs, also, introduced by Boieldieu, although correctly transcribed, appear, in their harmonic and rhythmical treatment, thoroughly French. The tune of 'Robin Adair,' described as 'le chant ordinaire de la tribu d'Avenel,' would perhaps hardly be recognised by a genuine North Briton; but what it has lost in raciness it has gained in sweetness.

So much about the qualities which Boieldieu has in common with all the good composers of his school; in one point however he remains unrivalled by any of them, viz. in the masterly and thoroughly organic structure of his ensembles. Rousseau, in giving vent to his whimsical aversion to polyphony, says that it is as impossible to listen to two different tunes played at the same time as to two persons speaking simultaneously. True in a certain sense; unless these tunes represent at once unity and divergence—oneness, that is, of situation, and diversity of feelings excited by this one situation in various minds. We here touch upon one of the deepest problems of dramatic music, a problem triumphantly solved in the second act of the 'Dame Blanche.' In the finale of that act we have a large ensemble of seven solo voices and chorus. All these comment upon one and the same event with sentiments as widely different as can well be imagined. We hear the disappointed growl of baffled vice, the triumph of loyal attachment, and the subdued note of tender love—all mingling with each