Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/315

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��SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.

In strange contrast to these crudities, the news is brought to us of the discovery of an unfinished Opera ' II Duca d'Alba * by Donizetti. The authenticity of the MS. has been established, beyond all doubt ; and the possibility of com- pleting and performing the work has already been discussed. It is to be hoped that the task of supplying the missing portions will be entrusted to an Artist capable of thoroughly sympathising with the intentions of a Composer who never heard of amenerismo, and, if he had, could not have countenanced it ; for, its introduction into one of his tuneful inspirations would have been like the introduction of vitriol into the human eye. Should this point be borne in mind, and should the Opera prove to be in the Master's best style, it will come upon us like a Voice from the Dead, and may do much towards the direction of Italian taste into a characteristic Italian channel.

XXXIII. THE FRENCH SCHOOL OP THE IQTH CENTURY is a very important one, for it represents the 'Grand Opera' in a very interesting phase of its development, and the 'Ope*ra Comique* in the nearest approach it has made to perfection.

The history of the 'Grand Opera' is remark- able for the long periods of almost unredeemed sterility interposed between its most brilliant triumphs. Forty-six years elapsed between the death of Lulli and the production of Kameau's 1 Hippolyte et Aricie'; ten between the death of Eameau' and the first performance of Gluck's ' Jphige'nie en Aulide,' and twenty-five between Gluck's last Opera, 'Echo et Narcisse,' and Cherubini's ' Anacreon,' produced in 1 803. ' Anacreon ' was succeeded, after an interval of four years, by Spontini's ' La Vestale ' ; and this, two years later, by the same Composer's ' Ferdi- nand Cortez ' : works which remained deservedly popular, until the appearance of Rossini's ' Guil- laume Tell,' in 1829, caused all earlier successes to be forgotten. It is singular that this beautiful Composition should alone retain its place upon the stage, as the permanent representative of a period which owes more to Cherubinj, Spontini, and Rossini, than to any other Composer, whether native or foreign ; for even the best productions of later years, notwithstanding their extraordinary popularity, will bear no comparison with those of these three masters, on purely artistic grounds. 1

Nevertheless, these later works must not be lightly esteemed ; nor must the names of the Masters who produced them be passed over with- out due notice. For many years, Auber and HaleVy enjoyed an almost exclusive monopoly of popular favour. The lead was afterwards trans- ferred to Meyerbeer, who, having once obtained a hearing, suffered no rival to approach him. It was no small thing for a German Composer, attracted like Gluck at the outset of his career, by the graces of the Italian School, to settle down into a style so well adapted to Parisian tastes that a Librettist, like Scribe, French to the back- bone, should find himself immortalised by the con- nection of his Verses with the stranger's powerful

i See vol. 11. p. 525.

���SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION. 303

Music. The cosmopolitan spirit that dictated this vigorous course deserved success, and commanded it being based upon a foundation of undeniable talent. For Meyerbeer's French Operas are no weak rehabilitations of an effete formula. They teem with Melodies which, however eccentric in construction, haunt the ear too effectually to be easily forgotten. Their grasp of the business of the Stage, too comprehensive to overlook the smallest detail, never fails to penetrate the in- most depth of the situation, be it what it may. And most important of all, when we remember the character of the audiences to which they were originally addressed they rise, where dra- matic truth demands that they should do so, to a climax which carries everything before it. How many Composers could have continued the Action of the Drama, with increasing interest, after the fervid passion of ' Robert toi que j'aime'? Yet 'Robert toi que j'aime' is but an episode in a powerful Duet, which itself is but a single member of a still more exciting Finale. How many, after the ' Blessing of the Poignards,' could have escaped the chill of a wretched anti-climax ? Yet it is only after the last crash of Orchestra and Chorus has been silenced, that the Scene begins to work up to its true culminating-point, in the Duet which concludes the Act. Truly these are master-strokes : and the Composer who imagined them deserves to live.

Meyerbeer's legitimate successor is Gounod, a genius of a very different order, but of no mean capability. Like Meyerbeer, he has listened to the counsels of Gluck, and profited by them largely; though, no doubt, in many cases, un- consciously. But, this remark applies only to the theoretical principles by which his practice is guided. In the details of his work, he has taken counsel from no one. His style is essen- tially his own ; and, if it be tinged, sometimes, with a shade of mannerism, the peculiarity is only just strong enough to enable us to recognise our author with pleasure. It is impossible to mistake the tone of his harmonic colouring. Even when he writes progressions which bear not the most distant resemblance to each other, we constantly find him using the Chords he most delights in, for the production of certain sensuous effects, certain shades of pathetic expression, which distinguish his Music so plainly that it cannot be misunderstood. The dramatic power exhibited in Faust ' is very striking ; and much of its Music is quite good enough to live, apart from the Stage a quality growing daily more and more rare, and regarded, by advanced thinkers, as a sign of weakness, though it is difficult to understand why really good Music should not sound good, anywhere. At any rate, Gounod's inspirations are always welcome, either in the Theatre, or the Concert Room ; whether from 'Faust,' or ' Mireille,' or 'La Nonne Sanglante,' or other Operas less known here : and though 'Faust' is the work on which his fame chiefly rests, he has done so much, in other ways, that we cannot believe he will re- main contented with the laurels he has already

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