Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/670

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


658

��SPOHR.

��was performed at a concert. In 1807 he made a very successful tour with his wife through Ger- many, visiting Leipzig, Dresden, Prague, Munich, Stuttgardt (where he met Weber), Heidelberg, and Frankfort. In 1808 he wrote his second opera, ' Alruna,' but this again never reached the stage, although accepted for representation at Weimar and apparently gaining the approval of Goethe, at that time manager of the Weimar theatre, who was present at a trial-rehearsal of the work. In the course of this year Napoleon held the famous congress of princes at Erfurt. Spohr, naturally anxious to see the assembled princes, went to Erfurt, where a French troupe, comprising Talma and Mars, performed every even- ing to a pit of monarchs. But on arrival he heard to his great disappointment that it was impossible for any but the privileged few to gain admittance to the theatre. In this dilemma he hit on a happy expedient. He persuaded the second horn- player of the band to allow him to take his place, but as he had never before touched a horn, he had to practise for the whole day in order to produce the natural notes of the instrument. When the evening came, though his lips were black and swollen, he was able to get through the very easy overture and entr'actes. Napoleon and his guests occupied the first row of stalls ; but the musicians had strict orders to turn their backs to the audience, and not to look round. To evade this fatal regulation Spohr took with him a pocket looking-glass, and by placing it on his desk got a good view of the famous per- sonages assembled.

In 1809 he made another tour through the north of Germany, and at Hamburg received a commission for an opera, ' Der Zweikampf mit der Geliebten' or 'The Lovers' Duel' which was produced with great success the year after. At this time he had already written six of his violin- concertos, and as a player had hardly a rival in Germany. The year 1809 is memorable for the first Music Festival in Germany, which was celebrated under Spohr's direction at Franken- hausen, a small town in Thuringia. It was fol- lowed by another, in 1811, for which Spohr composed his first symphony, in Eb. In 1812 he wrote his first oratorio, ' Das jiingste Gericht ' (not to be confounded with 'Die letzten Dinge,' so well known in England as ' The Last Judg- ment), on the invitation of the French Governor of Erfurt, for the 'Fete Napoldon' on Aug. 15. He naively relates 1 that in the composition of this work he soon felt his want of practice in counterpoint and fugue- writing ; he therefore ob- tained Marpurg's treatise on the subject, studied it assiduously, wrote half a dozen fugues after the models given therein, and then appears to have been ^ quite satisfied with his proficiency! The oratorio was fairly successful, but after two more performances of it at Vienna in the fol- lowing year, the composer became dissatisfied, and laid it aside for ever. In autumn 1812 he made his first appearance at Vienna, and achieved as performer a brilliant, as composer an

1 Selbstbiogr. i. 169.

��SPOHR.

honourable success. The post of leader of the band at the newly established Theatre an-der-Wien being offered to him under brilliant conditions, he gave up his appointment at Gotha and settled at Vienna. During the next summer he com- posed his opera ' Faust,' one of his best works, and soon afterwards, in celebration of the battle of Leipsic, a great patriotic cantata. But neither of these works was performed until after he had left Vienna. D uring his stay there Spohr naturally came into contact with Beethoven ; but in spite of his admiration for the master's earlier compo- sitions, especially for the quartets, op. 18, which he was one of the first to perform at a time when they were hardly known outside Vienna (in- deed he was the very first to play them at Leipsic and Berlin) yet he was quite unable to un- derstand and appreciate the great composer's character and works, as they appeared even in his second period. His criticism of the C minor and Choral Symphonies has gained for Spohr, as a critic, an unenviable reputation. He disap- proves of the first subject of the C minor as un- suited for the opening movement of a symphony ; considers the slow movement, granting the beauty of the melody, too much spun out and tedious and though praising the Scherzo, ac- tually speaks of ' the unmeaning noise of the Finale.' The Choral Symphony fares still worse : he holds the first three movements, though not without flashes of genius, to be inferior to all the movements of the previous eight symphonies, and the Finale he calls ' so monstrous and taste- less, and in its conception of Schiller's Ode so trivial, that he cannot understand how a genius like Beethoven could ever write it down.' After this we cannot wonder that he finishes up by saying : ' Beethoven was wanting in aesthetic culture and sense of beauty.' 2 But perhaps no great artist was ever so utterly wrapped up in himself as Spohr. What he could not measure by the standard of his own peculiar talent, to him was not measurable. Hence his complete absence of critical power, a quality which in many other cases has proved to be by no means inseparable from creative talent.

Although his stay at Vienna was on the whole very successful, and did much to raise his reputation, he left it in 1815, after having quitted his appointment on account of dis- agreements with the manager of the theatre. He passed the summer at the country seat of Prince Carolath in Bohemia, and then went to conduct another festival at Frankenhausen, where he brought out his Cantata ' Das befreite Deutschland,' after which he set out for a tour through the west and south of Germany, Alsace, Switzerland and Italy. On his road, with the special view of pleasing the Italian public, he wrote the 8th Concerto the well-known ' Scena Cantante.' He visited all the principal towns of the Peninsula, played the concerto in Eome and Milan, and made acquaintance with Rossini and his music, without, as will be readily be- lieved, approving much of the latter. Selbstbiogr. 1. 202, etc.

�� �