Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/686

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674

��SPONTINI.

��'Der Freischutz ' was produced at the newly erected theatre in Berlin. Its immediate success may not have more than equalled that of ' Olympia,' but it soon became evident that the chief effect of the latter was astonishment, while the former set the pulse of the German people beating. 'Olympia' remained almost restricted to the stage of Berlin, while the ' Freischutz ' spread with astonishing rapidity throughout Germany and the whole world. Spontini could not conceal that he had, on the morrow of a great triumph, been completely vanquished by an obscure op- ponent, and that too after consciously doing his very utmost. Even this might not h ave discouraged him, but that in ' Der Freischutz ' he was brought face to face with a phase of the German character totally beyond his comprehension. He had no weapons wherewith to encounter this opponent. A man of weaker will would have contented himself with such success as might still be secured in Germany ; but Spontini could brook no rival, and finding that he could not outdo Weber's music, tried to suppress him by means wholly outside the circle of art. As director- general of music many such lay ready to his hand, and that he knew how to use them is shown by the fate of ' Euryanthe ' and ' Oberon ' in Berlin. The success of ' Freischutz ' did not improve Spontini's relations withBruhl,a personal friend of Weber's, and a great admirer of his music. A little incident will show what treatment the Intendant occasionally met with from the Di- rector: in March 1822 the former wished to have the ' Nozze di Figaro,' and the latter ' Der Frei- schutz,' upon which Spontini writes that the means which Briihl 'is taking to attain his end with regard to his favourite work do no credit either to his taste or his impartiality.*

On the first night of 'Der Freischiitz,' the following verses were circulated in the theatre, the allusion being to the elephants in 'Olympia': So lass dirs gefallen in unserm Eeyier, Hier bleiben, so rufen, so bitten wir ; Und wenn es auch keinem Elephantemgilt, Du jagst wohl nach anderem, edlerem Wild. l

From that hour the public was divided into two parties. The national party, far the strongest in intellect and cultivation, rallied round Weber. The king and the court persistently supported Spontini, though even their help could not make him master of the situation. The Censorship interfered to check the expression of public opinion against him, and his complaints of sup- posed slights were always attended to. 2 But his artistic star, which had shone with such lustre after the first night of ' Olympic,' was now slowly setting.

The excellence of that first performance was acknowledged even by Weber himself, 8 and this may be a good opportunity for some remarks on Spontini as a director. Whether he had a specific

i O stay in our cover We pray and entreat you ; No elephants have we, But worthier game.

2 Gubitz, ' Erlebnisse,' vol. iii. p. 241. Berlin, 1869.

3 ' Carl Maria von Weber ' by Max von Weber, vol. H. p. 806. Leip- tig, 1864.

��SPONTINI.

talent for conducting cannot be determined, for as a rule he conducted only two operas besides his own ' Armida ' and ' Don Juan,' and these he knew thoroughly.* For the rest of the work there were two conductors, Seidel and Schneider, and two leaders, Moser and Seidler. 5 When Spontini came to Berlin he had had very little practice in conducting, and at first declined to handle the bdton, but made the leader sit by him in the orchestra, and give the tempo ac- cording to his directions. Indeed he never com- pletely mastered the technicalities of the art, his manner of conducting recitatives especially being clumsy and undecided. So at least says Dorn, 6 a competent witness, who had often seen him conduct. In reading a score too he was slow and inexpert; 7 and at the Cologne Festival of 1847 could scarcely find his way in his own score of ' Olympia,' which he had not con- ducted for some time. He was thus very slow in rehearsing a work, though not for this reason only, for the same laborious accuracy which he showed in composing was carried into every detail of the performance. He never rested till each part was reproduced exactly as it existed in his own imagination, which itself had to be cleared by repeated experiments. Inconsiderate and despotic towards his subordinates, he wearied his singers and band to death by endless repeti- tions, his rehearsals not unfrequently lasting from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m., or from 5 p.m. till 1 1 at night. He only treated others, however, in the same way that he treated himself, for no trouble was too great for him to take in revising his work down to the smallest particulars. When the first night arrived, every member of the orchestra knew his work by heart, and Spontini might beat as he liked, all went like clockwork. 8 If scenery or costumes which had been expressly prepared did not please him he ordered others, regardless of cost. Being a true dramatic artist, his eye was as keen on the stage as his ear in the orchestra, and everything, down to the smallest accessories, must be arranged to express his ideas. Soon after his arrival he fell out with Briihl, because in the ' Vestalin ' he wanted Frau Milder to carry the Palladium in public, whereas Briihl maintained, on Hirt's authority, that the Palladium was never shown to the people. He was furious when it was suggested that the burn- ing of the fleet in ' Cortez ' should not take place on the stage ; and he once went so far as to send his wife to Briihl to request that a sleeve of Schulz's dress might be altered ! In choosing his actors he not only studied voice, temperament, and dramatic skill, but was most particular about appearance. A distinguished bass singer, recom- mended to him by Dorn for high-priest parts, was not even allowed to open his mouth because he was ' at least a foot and a half too short.' He

< He conducted the 99th performance of ' Der Freischutz' (Nov. 6i, 1826), for the benefit of Weber's widow and children, which wai much to bis credit considering his dislike to the piece.

5 Bernhard Weber died March 23, 1821.

' Aus meinem Leben.' Part iii. p. 3.

1 Devrient's ' Kecollections of Mendelssohn,' p. 33.

8 Blume on ' Alcidor,' in the Theatre archives.

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