Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/40

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
28
ADAM.
 

the musical composer, is pleasantly described by Adam himself in the autobiographical sketch of his life. 'Soon after my admission to the Conservatoire,' he says, 'I was asked by a school-fellow older than myself[1] to give a lesson at his solfeggio class, he being otherwise engaged. I went to take his place with sublime self-assertion, and although totally unable to read a ballad I somehow managed to acquit myself creditably, so creditably indeed that another solfeggio class was assigned to me. Thus I learnt reading music by teaching others how to do it.' We are also told of his studying counterpoint under Eler and Reicha, which however, to judge by the results, cannot have amounted to much. The only master to whom Adam owed not only an advance of his musical knowledge but to some extent the insight into his own talent, was that most sweet and most brilliant star of modern French opera, Boieldieu. He had been appointed professor of composition at the Conservatoire in 1821, and Adam was amongst his first and most favourite pupils. The intimacy which soon sprang up between the teacher and the taught has been pleasantly described by Adam in his posthumous little volume 'Derniers souvenirs d'un musicien.' It was owing to this friendship that Adam was able to connect his name with a work vastly superior to his own powers, Boieldieu's 'Dame Blanche,' of which he composed or rather combined the overture. By Boieldieu's advice and example also our composer's talent was led to its most congenial sphere of action, the comic opera. Adam's first connections with the stage were of the humblest kind. In order to acquire theatrical experience he is said to have accepted the appointment of supernumerary triangle at the Gymnase, from which post he soon advanced to that of accompanyist at the same theatre. His first independent attempt at dramatic composition was the one-act operetta of 'Pierre et Catherine,' brought out at the Opéra Comique in 1829. It was followed the next year by the three-act opera 'Danilowa.' Both were favourably received, and, encouraged by his success, Adam began to compose a number of operatic works with a rapidity and ease of productiveness frequently fatal to his higher aspirations. We subjoin a list of the more important of these works, with the dates of their first performances: 'Le Chalet,' 1834; 'Le Postillon de Longjumeau,' 1835 [App. p.518 "1836"] (Adam's best and most successful work); 'Le Brasseur de Preston,' 1838; 'Le Roi d'Yvetot,' 1842; 'Cagliostro,' 1844; 'Richard en Palestine,' same year; also the ballets of 'Faust,' 1832 (written for London); 'La jolie fille de Gand,' 1839; and 'Giselle,' 1841. Our remarks on the remaining facts of Adam's biography can be condensed into few words. In 1847 he started, at his own expense and responsibility, a new operatic theatre called Théâtre National, and destined to bring the works of young aspiring composers before the public. These laudable efforts were interrupted by the outbreak of the Revolution in the February of the ensuing year. The theatre had to close, Adam having sunk in the enterprise all his earnings, and having moreover incurred a considerable debt, to discharge which he henceforth, like Sir Walter Scott, considered the chief task of his life. This task he accomplished in the course of five years, during which time, besides producing several operas, he occupied himself in writing criticisms and feuilletons for the newspapers. His contributions to the 'Constitutionel,' 'Assemblée Nationale,' and 'Gazette Musicale,' were much appreciated by the public. Although a critic he succeeded in making no enemies. Some of his sketches, since collected, are amusing and well though not brilliantly written. In 1844 he was elected Member of the Institute; in 1849 Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire. He died suddenly in 1856 [App. p.518 "May 3"]. His reputation during his lifetime was not limited to his own country. He wrote operas and ballads for London, Berlin, and St. Petersburg, which capitals he also visited personally. His deservedly most popular opera, as we said before, is the 'Postillon de Longjumeau,' still frequently performed in France and Germany. In the latter country it owes its lasting success chiefly to the astonishing vocal feats of Herr Wachtel, whose own life seems strangely foreshadowed by the skilful and amusing libretto.

Adam attempted three kinds of dramatic composition, viz. the grand opera, in which he utterly failed, the ballet, in which he produced some of the most charming melodies choreagraphic music has to show, and the comic opera, the one and only real domain of his talent. As the most successful of his works in these respective branches of art we mention 'Richard en Palestine,' 'Giselle,' and the 'Postillon de Longjumeau.' Adam's position in the history of music, and more especially of comic opera, may be briefly described as that of the successor and imitator of Boieldieu. His early style is essentially founded on the works of that master. With him he shares, although in a lesser degree, the flowing melodiousness and rhythmical piquancy of his style, the precision of declamatory phrasing, and the charming effects of a graceful though sketchy instrumentation. When inspired by the sweet simplicity of the French popular song, Adam has occasionally effects of tenderest pathos; in other places, as for instance in the duet between the terrified accomplices in the last act of the 'Postillon,' his rollicking humour shows to great advantage. At the same time it cannot be denied that his works mark the decline of French national art. His melodies are frequently trivial to absolute vulgarity; the structure of his concerted pieces is of the flimsiest kind; dance-rhythms prevail to an immoderate extent: all this no less than the choice of hasardé subjects seems to indicate the gradual decline from the serene heights of Boieldieu's humour to the miry slough which has swamped that sweetest growth of French national art, the comic opera, and the murky surface of which reflects the features of Beethoven's countryman, Jacques Offenbach. It is a fact of ominous significance that Adam

  1. Halévy, the composer of the 'Juive.'