Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/318
306 SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.
a scenic climax is always heralded by a return to the more powerful language of Music; and it was simply to the neglect of this condition that the older School of English Opera owed its ruin. A foolish prejudice against English Recitative had long been prevalent in musical circles; and had, by this time, become so general, that when ' Der Freischiitz' was produced at Covent Garden in 1824, it was mutilated in the most shame- less manner to meet the popular taste, the last grand Finale being represented solely by its con- cluding Chorus. Even the Libretto of ' Oberon' (by Planche") contained scenes in which the whole interest was centred in the Dialogue ; and, when German, Italian, or French Operas, were 'adapted to the English Stage/ their finest movements were excised, in obedience to this Procrustean law. What wonder that a School based on so false a foundation should fall to the ground !
Without one tithe of Bishop's talent, or a vestige of his reverence for Art, Balfe saw this weak point ; and remedied it, by substi- tuting Music for Dialogue, in the more impor- tant situations of the Drama, and thus assimi- lating it more nearly to the lighter phases of the ' Ope"ra comique.' In this he certainly did well. Compared with Bishop's, his Music was worth- less. But, by introducing it in the right places, he saved the English Opera a work in which he was ably supported by Benedict, whose earlier Operas were based upon similar views. Wallace followed with ' Maritana' and ' Lurline' ; Lucas, with 'The Regicide'; Lavenu, with 'Loretta'; Howard Glover, with ' Ruy Bias,' 'Aminta,' ' Once too often,' and ' The Coquette ' ; Henry Smart with 'The Gnome of Harzburg' ; Hatton, with ' Pascal Bruno ' produced at Vienna and 'Rose, or Love's Ransom'; Mellon, with ' Vic- torine'; and Edward Loder, with 'The Night- Dancers.' Our best Composers were, by this time, fully convinced, that, if any good was to be effected for the English Lyric Drama, it could only be by the full recognition of principles, which, ages before, had been received as canons of Art in every other country in Europe. The performances of a German Opera Company, in London, in 1840- 1842, did much towards the illustration of these principles, in a form both practical and instructive. The German 'Singspiel' was heard, in its normal purity, interpreted by German Singers of highest rank. The objectors to English Recitative were put out of Court ; for the Dialogue of the ' Singspiel ' is spoken. We know, now, that this is a mistake ; and, that the only true principle is that maintained by the Italians, who insist that everything must be sung, or nothing. But, in those days, it was a great thing that even the German theory should be accepted ; and its acceptance was followed by great results.
The eyes of John Barnett had already been opened to the necessity of this modification of form, as early as 1834, when he brought out his best Opera, 'The Mountain Sylph, 'at the Lyceum. Before this, he had produced a lengthy series of dramatic works, abounding in beautiful Songs, but based upon the approved English model, and
��SCHOOLS OF COMPOSITION.
therefore doomed to speedy extinction. But in 'The Mountain Sylph' he proved himself the possessor of an unsuspected amount of dramatic power ; and, while faithful to his melodic talent, took care to employ it as in the clever Trio, 'This magic-wove scarf' in combination with sufficient Action to ensure its good effect. But, though the Opera proved a great success, the new principle was not followed up, until, after the arrival of the German Company, English audiences became alive to its immense import- ance. Then it was that George Macfarren ap- peared upon the scene, with his 'Don Quixote'; a delightful work, which was received at Drury Lane in 1846 with acclamation. No less suc- cessful were his 'Charles the Second,' produced at the Princess's Theatre in 1849, and 'Robin Hood,' at 'Her Majesty's Theatre' in 1860. These, and some later works of similar tendency, are all written in true English style; but with an honest appreciation of the form which pre- vailed uninterruptedly in Germany, from the time of Mozart until the first outbreak of the revolution which has condemned it as a relique of the dark ages. With this revolution, Macfarren has never shown the slightest sympathy, either in theory or practice : but, honestly striving to carry out the principles which underlie ' Der Freischiitz,' ' Die Entfuhrung,' and ' Les deux Journeys,' he has accomplished a work which may possibly be more fully appreciated after a certain inevitable reaction has set in, than it is now.
Not many English Operas of note have been produced in London since Macfarren's later works ; but within the last few years a taste has been developed for a lighter kind of Operetta, the success of which has surpassed anything that the most devoted admirers of playful Music could have anticipated. In nothing does a true Artist declare himself more unmistakeably, than in his power of adapting himself to circumstances. We all know that Opera buffa is a lower form of Art than Opera seria ; yet Cimarosa and , Rossini achieved some success in it, to say nothing of Mozart. In like manner, though we do not say that English Comic Operetta is, in itself, a noble conception, we do say, that, since the English public is determined to have it, Arthur Sullivan has proved himself a true Artist, by meeting the demand in so conscientious a spirit that his re- putation as a Musician will rest, eventually, on his Operettas, as much as on his more serious Compositions. A strong affinity may be traced between these pretty trifles, and the older forms of Italian Opera buffa. The Tunes are catching, in the highest degree. If they were not so, no Operetta would live a week. But, they are also put together with so much genuine Musician-like feeling, that, though they may be ground on the barrel-organ, and whistled in the street, they can never sound vulgar. And, the brightest fun of the piece, the real vis comica, lies as in 'II Barbiere,' and 'La Cenerentola" not in the words, but in the Music. ' Hardly ever' would not have passed into a proverb, if it had been spoken. It makes us laugh, only