Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/355

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
CHERUBINI
343
 

is shown by the 'Solféges pour l'examen de l'École,' which fill the Catalogue during the next few years, and by the 'Cours de Contrepoint et de la Fugue,' which was published in 1835. Nor are these years barren in instrumental works. In 1815 the Philharmonic Society, then recently formed, offered him the sum of £200 for a symphony, an overture, and a vocal piece, and at their invitation he paid a second visit to London. He arrived in March; the Symphony (in D) was finished on April 24, and played on the 1st of May. It was afterwards (in 1829) scored as a quartet. The Overture was performed at the concert of the 3rd of April, and another MS. overture on May 29. In addition to these the Catalogue shows a Funeral March for full orchestra (March 1820); a march for 'Faniska' (May 15, 1831); six string quartets, viz. in E♭ (1814), in C, from the Symphony, with a new Adagio (1829), in D (July 31, 1834), in E (Feb. 12, 1835), in F (June 28, 1836), in A minor (July 22, 1837); and a string quintet in E minor (Oct. 28, 1837). Cherubini died on the 15th of May, 1842 [App. p.585 "March"], highly honoured and esteemed. In addition to the works above mentioned he wrote several operas in conjunction with other composers, such as 'Blanche de Provence' in 1821, to celebrate the baptism of the Due de Bordeaux, with Boiëldieu, Paer, Berton, and Kreutzer; also a great number of canons for two, three, or more voices. The catalogue contains in all 305 numbers, some of them very voluminous, besides a supplementary list of thirty works omitted by Cherubini, as well as eighteen volumes (some of them of more than 400 pages) of music by various Italian writers, copied out by the great composer himself, a practice which he admits to have learned from his old master Sarti.

Cherubini's artistic career may be divided into three periods. The first, 1760–1791, when he was writing motets and masses à la Palestrina, and operas in the light Neapolitan vein, or may be called his Italian period. The second Operatic period opens with 'Lodoïska,' though the beginning of the change is apparent in 'Demophon' (1788) in the form of the concerted pieces, in the entrances of the chorus, and the expressive treatment of the orchestra. 'Lodoïska' however shows an advance both in inspiration and expression. 'Medée' and 'Les deux Journées' form the climax of the operatic period. In the former the sternness of the characters, the mythological background, and above all the passion of Medea herself, must have seized his imagination, and inspired him with those poignant, almost overpowering accents of grief, jealousy, and hatred in which 'Medée' abounds. But it is impossible not to feel that the interest rests mainly in Medea, that there is a monotony in the sentiment, and that the soliloquies are tedious; in a word that in spite of all its force and truth the opera will never command the wide appreciation which the music as music deserves. The 'Deux Journées' forms a strong contrast to 'Medée,' and is a brilliant example of Cherubini's versatility. Here the sphere of action is purely human, simple, even plebeian, and it is impossible not to admire the art with which Cherubini has laid aside his severe style and adapted himself to the minor forms of the arietta and couplet, which are in keeping with the idyllic situations. The finales and other large movements are more concise, and therefore more within the range of the general public, and there is an ease about the melodies, and a warmth of feeling, not to be found elsewhere in Cherubini. This period closes with the 'Abencérages' in 1813, for 'Ali Baba,' though completed in 1833, was largely founded on 'Koukourgi' (1793). The third period, that of his sacred compositions, dates properly speaking from his appointment to the Chapelle Royale in 1816, though it may be said to have begun with the Mass in F (1809), which is important as being the first sacred work of his mature life, though it is inferior to that in A, and especially to the Requiem in D minor. The three-part writing in the Mass in F seems scarcely in keeping with the broad outlines of the work, and the fugues are dry and formal. That in A, also for three voices, is concise, vocal, and eminently melodious. The Requiem in C minor is at once his greatest and most famous work. The Credo for eight voices a capella is an astonishing instance of command of counterpoint, and shows how thoroughly he had mastered the style of Palestrina, and how perfectly he could adapt it to his own individual thoughts. Technique apart, it ranks below his other great sacred works. It is probable that Cherubini intended it to be considered as a study, for only two numbers were published during his life-time, viz. the concluding fugue 'Et vitam,' and an elaborately developed 'Ricerca' in eight parts with one chief subject and three counter-subjects, in which all imaginable devices in counterpoint are employed.

In estimating Cherubini's rank as a musician, it must be remembered that though he lived so long in Paris, and did so much for the development of French opera, he cannot be classed among French composers. His pure idealism, which resisted the faintest concession to beauty of sound as such, and subjugated the whole apparatus of musical representation to the idea; the serious, not to say dry, character of his melody, his epic calmness—never overpowered by circumstances, and even in the most passionate moments never exceeding the bounds of artistic moderation—these characteristics were hardly likely to make him popular with the French, especially during the excitement of the Revolution. His dramatic style was attractive from the novelty of the combinations, the truth of the dramatic expression, the rich harmony, the peculiar modulations and brilliant instrumentation, much of which he had in common with Gluck. But his influence on French opera was only temporary. No sooner did Boieldieu appear with his sweet pathetic melodies and delicate harmonies, and Auber with his piquant elegant style, than the severer muse of Cherubini,