Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/314

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302 SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.

good effect apart from its Stage surroundings ; but it is always there. And so long as Verdi preserves it as an indispensable feature in his work, so long will that work outlive the greatest successes of the best of his imitators. That he means to preserve it is evident ; for, not many months ago, he brought out at Milan a revised edition of ' Simone Boccanegra,' with a new Li- bretto by his friend Boito, in which the original Melodies are retained, while the dramatic por- tions of the work are brought into even greater prominence than the corresponding divisions of 'A'ida': and in this form the Opera has achieved an immense success.

Of the ' Requiem,' composed in honour of Manzoni, we shall speak elsewhere. But, what- ever our opinion of Verdi's merits, as a Composer of Sacred Music, it seems certain, that, in his later dramatic works, he has proved himself a convert to opinions, which, thirty years ago, he would probably have emphatically condemned.

We have said, that the Libretto of ' Simone Boccanegra' was remodelled, not long ago, by Arrigo Bo'ito. This profound Scholar, and true Italian Poet, exercises, upon the Lyric Drama of the present day, an influence somewhat ana- logous to that of Metastasio upon the 'Opera seria' of the I7th century. He it was who furnished Bottesini with the Libretto of 'Hero and Leander,' and Ponchielli with that of 'Gioconda' both Poems worthy to live for their own sake. It is much to be able to say this ; for there are but few Libretti endurable, in the absence of the Music to which they are adapted. But Boito's Poems are different indeed from those which have served as the basis of most Italian Operas, for many years past. He is a profound thinker, as well as a learned scholar ; a Philosopher, as well as a Poet. In a fourth Libretto, more carefully constructed than either of the three we have mentioned, he has given us an Italian illustration of Goethe's ' Faust.' This famous Libretto he has himself set to Music. And here we have to grapple with one of the greatest difficulties with which the later Schools of Dramatic Music are called upon to contend. Their demands upon the individual are excessive. How can one man shine, in the first rank, as a Poet and a Musician, a Philosopher and a Machinist, a Maestro di Canto and a designer of Scenery ? Had Bo'ito studied Music as he has studied Poetry, 'Mefistofele' would have been simply immortal. As it is, it can only give pleasure to those who are incapable of listening with patience to 'Fidelio' or II Don Giovanni.' We will not stay to analyse its Music. Suffice it to say that the Libretto has been written with so clear an insight into Goethe's meaning, and so conscientious a desire to do justice to his intention, that it cannot but be regarded as a valuable commentary upon the Poem. It has been said that very great Music may sometimes save a very bad Libretto. It remains to be seen whether the converse of the proposition be equally true.

Among the most conscientious adherents to

��SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.

the principles of the new School, we find a num- ber of young Composers, who have already earned a reputation which bids fair to increase very rapidly. First among these stands Ponchielli, whose three best works, 'I promessi Sposi,' ' Gio- conda,' and 'II Figluol prodigo,' exhibit, in their highest development, the most prominent charac- teristics of the movement. Bottesini, in his ' Hero and Leander' and ' La Regina del Nepal,' inclines rather to the standard adopted by Verdi, striving hard to attain dramatic power, but refusing to betray the cause of Italian Melody. Catalani, happily for his successful Opera, ' Elda,' pro- duced in 1880, has hitherto chosen the same line of action, which has been even more fully carried out by Anteri-Manzocchi, in his really melodious works ' Dolores ' and ' Stella.' Marchetti, on the other hand, has attached himself to the most ad- vanced section of the party, and, in his 'Ruy Bias ' and ' Don Giovanni d' Austria,' acts as the champion of its most violent utterances.

Reviewing the School, as a whole, we can- not but see that it must necessarily exercise a powerful influence upon the Future of Dramatic Art. It has its weak points, as well as its strong ones : and, if it is ever to attain real greatness, its supporters must dare to look the former resolutely in the face, and fight with them, hand to hand. Among the weakest of these weak points are three which merit more than ordinary attention : neglect of Melody ; neglect of that indispensable care for the Voice, and its possibilities, without which the Opera must eventually degenerate into a mere vulgar crash of Instrumental inani- ties ; and neglect of that careful system of Part-writing, which, in the Italian School of fifty years ago, was less indispensable than it has since become. A very slight knowledge of the Theory of Music sufficed for the enrichment of a graceful Melody with a passable Accompaniment. But the new School aims at higher things than this; and study is needed for their attainment. Hitherto, Part- writing has not been very deeply studied in Italy. It must be cultivated, now; or the School must, sooner or later, collapse. Music has its Grammar as well as Poetry ; and the rules of the one can no more be neglected than those of the other. What would the author of 'Mefistofele' think of an Italian Libretto, beginning with the words

Avi Signer delle Angelo ed della Santi? What, then, must an educated Musician, ac- customed to the Harmonies of Mozart and Bee- thoven, think of such a passage as the following ?

�� ��Surely this passage, and a similar one in the Scene at the beginning of the Prologue of ' Me- fistofele,' must have been written, like the Scherzo sung by the Cherubim, for fun.

�� �