Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/269

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VERDI.

is mysticism in Bach and Handel, while there is drama in Verdi, and the dramatic character of the work is the chief fault that has been found with it, and apparently on good ground. Still, though commonly believed, and blindly we would almost say instinctively accepted that the Messiah and the ' Matthew-Passion ' are the patterns and diapason for all religious music, it remains to be proved whether this is an axiom or not : and whether the musical forms adopted by Bach and Handel were chosen because of their being ab- stractedly the fittest for the expression of- the subject, or simply because at that time the purely melodic development was nearly unknown.

No doubt Bach and Handel are up to this day unsurpassed by any religious composer. Neither Marcello nor Lotti, Mozart, Beethoven, Cherubini, Mendelssohn nor Berlioz, have in their sacred music on the whole come up to the mark of the two great Germans : this, however, means that the genius of the latter was greater than that of the former, but does not at all show that they were in the right and others in the wrong track of composition. A man of genius can convey to the mind of an audience the full and deep meaning of a religious passage by a mere melody with a simple accompaniment, or even without any at all : while a learned musician may make the same passage meaningless and even tedious by setting it as a double fugue. Of this fact we might quote many instances : but it will be enough to hint at Schubert's Ave Maria, and even that of Gounod, though founded on another work noble and simple melodies, and certainly fuller of pathos and religious feeling than many of the elaborate works in which for centuries the church composers have exercised their skill and their proficiency in the architectural and orna- mental branch of their art.

It is equally safe to assert that no special form can be declared to be the only one suitable for sacred music, and that even Bach and Handel wrote their masterpieces as they did, because that was the then universally accepted style of composition. There is certainly something in the stilo fugato nobler and sterner than in a purely melodic composition ; still, we repeat that even simple melodies rouse high and noble feelings, and we see no objection to the praises of God being sung in melodies, instead of 'chorales,' or 'fugatos,' or Gregorian themes. Verdi's Kequiem, it has been said, puts the hearer too often in mind of the stage ; its melodies would do as well for an opera ; its airs, duets, and concerted pieces would be wonderfully effective in 'Rigoletto,' 'Trovatore,' and 'Aida,' and are therefore too vulgar to be admitted in a sacred composition, in which everything that has any connection with earth must be carefully avoided. But this is our judgment and not the composer's. Did Palestrina choose for his sacred music a different style from the one in which he wrote his madrigals ? Did not Handel in the 'Messiah' itself adapt the words of the sacred text to music that he had previously written with other intentions? And why should not Verdi be

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��allowed to do as they did, and give vent to his feelings in the way that is most familiar to him? Of all branches of art there is one that must necessarily be in accordance with the feelings of the multitude, and that is religious art ; and on that ground we think that Verdi has been right in setting the Requiem to music in a style that is almost entirely popular. Whether it was pos- sible for him, or will be possible for others to do better while following the same track, we wil- lingly leave the musical critics to decide.

As an operatic composer, we have already said that Verdi is the most popular artist of the second half of the present century we might say of the whole century, because, not in quality, but in number, his operas that still enjoy the honour of pleasing the public, surpass those ex- tant of Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti. How he won his popularity in Italy can be easily explained ; how his name came to be almost a household word amongst all music-loving nations, is more difficult to understand when we think that no less men than Wagner, Meyerbeer, and Gounod were, at the same time, in the full bloom of their glory the last two, of their activity: for this widespread popularity there are however very good reasons, arising entirely from Verdi's intellectual endowments and not from fashion, or mere good fortune.

Though Italian operatic composers may be reckoned by scores, yet after Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti, only one man has had power enough to fight his way up. After Donizetti's death Verdi remained the only composer to up- hold the glory of Italian opera, and from 1845 to this day nobody in ' the land of music ' has shown any symptom of rivalling him, with the exception of Arrigo Boito, and he, notwithstand- ing the promise of his Mefistofele, has as yet brought out no other work.

As regards Italy, the attention of foreign audiences was naturally enough concentrated on Verdi. But on the other side of the Alps there were men who could stand comparison with him on every ground, viz. Wagner, Gounod, and Meyerbeer. To run the race of popularity with these men, and win the prize, would seem to require even a greater power than that of Verdi ; still, by looking carefully at the peculiar qualities of each composer we may be able to discover why the Italian maestro, with endow- ments and acquirements perhaps inferior to those of the German and French artists, has left them behind as far as public favour is concerned.

The opera or musical drama considered from a philosophical point of view, is undoubtedly the highest artistic manifestation of which men are capable. All the most refined forms of art are called in to contribute to the expression of the idea. The author of a musical drama is no more a musician, or a poet, or a painter : he is the supreme artist, not fettered by the limits of one art, but able to step over the boundaries of all the different branches of aesthetic expression, and find the proper means for the rendering of his thought wherever he wants it. This was

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