Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/258

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


242

��VERDI.

��and all this in such earnest that old Provesi began to notice Giuseppe with approval, and give him the foundation of a sound musical knowledge. Provesi may be considered the man who led the first steps of Verdi into the right track, and lucky it was for the pupil to have come across such a man. He was an excellent contrapuntist, a composer of several comic operas, of which he had written both words and music, and a man well read in general literature. He was the first man in Busseto to understand Verdi's real vocation, and to advise him to devote himself to music. Don Pietro Seletti, the boy's Latin teacher, and a fair violinist, bore a grudge to Provesi for a certain poem the latter had written against the clergy. The fact that Provesi encouraged Verdi to study music was therefore enough for Don Pietro to dissuade him as strongly from it. * What do you want to study music for ? You have a gift for Latin, and it will be much better for you to become a priest. What do you expect from your music ? Do you fancy that some day you may become organist of Busseto ? . . Stuff and nonsense. . . That can never be 1 '

But a short time after this admonition there was to be a mass at a chapel in Busseto where Don Pietro Seletti was the officiating priest. The organist was unable to attend, and Don Pietro was induced to let Verdi preside at the organ. The mass over, Don Pietro sent for him. 'Whose music did you play?' said he;

  • it was a most beautiful thing.' ' Why,' timidly

answered the boy, ' I had no music, and I was playing extempore, just as I felt.' ' Ah ! indeed,' rejoined Don Pietro ; ' well, I am a fool, and you cannot do better than study music, take my word for it.'

Under the intelligent guidance of Provesi, Verdi studied till he was 16. During this period he often came to the help of his old master both as organist and as conductor of the Philharmonic Society. The archives of the society still contain several works written by Verdi at that time, and composed, copied, taught, rehearsed, and conducted by himself. None of these compositions have been published, though it would be a matter of interest to examine the first attempts of his musical genius. [See p. 2546.]

It became evident that Busseto was too narrow a field for the aspirations of the young composer, and efforts were made to afford him the means of going to Milan, the most important Italian town, musically speaking. The financial question came again to the front, and, thanks to the good-will of the Bussetesi, it had a happy solu- tion. The Monte di Pieta, an institution grant- ing four premiums of 300 francs a year, each given for four years to promising young men wanting means for undertaking the study of science or art, was induced by Barezzi to award one of the four premiums to Verdi, with the important modification of allowing him 600 francs a-year for two years, instead of 300 for four years. M. Barezzi himself advanced the money

��VERDI.

necessary for music lessons, board and lodging in Milan ; and Seletti gave him an introduction to his nephew, a professor there, who most heartily welcomed him, and would not hear of his find- ing lodgings for himself.

We come now to an incident of Verdi's artistic life, to which a very undue importance has been often attached ; we mean his being refused a scholarship at the Conservatorio dl Musica of Milan, on the ground of his showing no special aptitude for music. If a board of pro- fessors were now to be found to declare that the author of ' Rigoletto,' ' Ballo in Maschera,' and 'Aida,' had no musical disposition, such de- claration would undoubtedly reflect very little credit on the institution to which the board belonged, or on the honesty and impartiality of the professors; but things were not so bad at that time as we are made to believe they were nay, it is probable that in the best conducted musical schools of the world, some Verdi, Bee- thoven, or Bach is every year sent back to his home and his country organ, as was the case with Verdi. Without following Fe'tis in his study of the preposterous fact, we think that a true idea may be formed of it by looking at the way in which matters of this kind proceed now-a-days, and will proceed so long as there are candidates, scholarships, and examiners.

To a vacant scholarship for pianoforte, sing- ing or composition there is always a number of candidates, occasionally amounting to as many as a hundred. A committee of professors, under the presidence of the Principal is appointed to examine all the competitors, and choose the best. The candidates, male and female, have each a different degree of instruction, ranging from mere children with no musical education, to such as have already gone through a regular course of study. To determine whether there is more hope of future excellence in a girl who plays sixteen bars of an easy arrangement of a popular tune, or a boy who can perhaps sing something by heart just to show that he has a certain feeling and a right perception of rhythm and tonality, or in an advanced pupil who sub- mits the score of a grand opera in five acts (not impossibly written by some friend or fore- father) to be able to determine this is a thing beyond the power of the human intellect. The committee can only select one amongst those that have the least disqualifications, but nobody can accuse them of ignorance or ill-will if the chosen candidate, after five years' tuition, turns out to be a mere one-two-three-and-four conductor of operettas, while one of the ninety-nine dismissed, after ten years' hard study elsewhere, writes a masterpiece of operatic or sacred music. Not to get a scholarship does not imply that a candidate is unable to pursue a musical career; it means only that there being but one place vacant, and twenty who passed as good an examination as he, he shares with nineteen others the ill luck of not being the happy one chosen. Moreover there are no settled rules as to the time when musical genius breaks out in unmistakeable light. We are ready

�� �