A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Opera
OPERA (Ital. Opera, abbrev. of Opera in Musica, a 'Musical Work,' Dramma per la Musica; Fr. Opéra; Germ. Oper, Singspiel). A Drama, either Tragic or Comic, sung, throughout, with appropriate Scenery and Acting, to the Accompaniment of a full Orchestra.
It may seem strange to speak of the Opera as one of the oldest institutions in existence; yet, our search for its origin leads us back to a time long antecedent to the beginning of the Christian Æra; and he who would read the story of its infancy aright, must collect its details from the History of Antient Greece: for it is as old as the Drama itself. It was nurtured at Athens, in that glorious Theatre, the acoustic properties of which have never yet been rivalled. Its earliest librettists were Æschylus and Sophocles; and its earliest Orchestra, a band of Lyres and Flutes. There is no doubt about this. It is quite certain that not only were the Choruses of the 'Agamemnon' and the 'Antigone' sung to the grandest music that could be produced at the time they were written, but also that every word of the Dialogue was musically declaimed. Musical Dialogue has been censured, by unmusical critics, as contrary to Nature. It is, undoubtedly, contrary to the practice of every-day life, but not to the principles of Art. It is necessary that the truth of this proposition should be very clearly established; for unless we make it our starting-point, we shall never arrive at the true raison d'être of the Lyric Drama, nor be prepared with a satisfactory answer to the cavils of those who, like Addison and Steele, condemn it as a monstrous anomaly. It is open to no charge of inconsistency to which the Spoken Drama is not equally exposed. The Poet writes his Tragedy in Verse, because he thereby gains the power of expressing great thoughts with the greatest amount of dignity that language can command. His Verses are sung, in order that they may be invested with a deeper pathos than the most careful form of ordinary declamation can reach. No one objects to the Iambics of the 'Seven against Thebes,' or the Blank Verse of 'King John'; yet surely our sense of the fitness of things is not more rudely shocked by the melodious Ah! soccorso! son tradito! uttered by the Commendatore after Don Giovanni has pierced him through with his sword, than by the touching couplet with which Prince Arthur, at the moment of his death, breaks forth into rhyme—
O me! my uncle's spirit is in these stones:—
Heaven take my soul, and England keep my bones!
The conventionalities of common life are violated no less signally in the one case than in the other; yet, in the Opera as well as in the Play, the result of their violation is an artistic conception, as easily defensible on logical grounds as the proportions of a statue or the colouring of a picture—neither of which are faithful imitations of Nature, though founded upon a natural Ideal.
These appear to have been the views entertained, towards the close of the 16th century, by a little band of Men of Letters and Musicians—all ardent disciples of the Renaissance—who met in Florence at the house of Giovanni Bardi, Conte di Vernio, with the avowed object of resuscitating the style of musical declamation peculiar to Greek Tragedy. This end was unattainable. The antagonism between Greek and modern tonalities would alone have sufficed to make it an impossibility, had there been no other difficulties in the way. But, just as the search for the Philosopher's Stone resulted in some of the most important discoveries known to Chemistry, this vain endeavour to restore a lost Art led to the one thing upon which, above all others, the future fate of the Lyric Drama depended—and compassed it, on this wise.
Among the Musicians who frequented the Count of Vernio's réunions were three whose names afterwards became celebrated. Vincenzo Galilei—the father of the great Astronomer—was a pupil of the old school, but burning to strike out something new. Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini were young men, with little or no knowledge of Counterpoint, but gifted with a wealth of original genius, and sufficient energy of character to enable them to turn it to the best account. All were thoroughly in earnest, thoroughly dissatisfied with the Music of the period, and longing for a style of composition better fitted to express the varying shades of human passion than that then generally cultivated. The first result of their tentative efforts to reach this long-cherished Ideal was the invention of the Cantata—a ssecular composition, for a single Voice accompanied by a single Instrument. Galilei produced a work of this description, entitled 'Il Conte Ugolino,' which has unhappily been lost. Caccini—already celebrated for the beauty of his Voice, and the excellence of his performance upon the Lute—wrote a number of shorter pieces, which he sang with unbounded applause at Bardi's house, to the Accompaniment of a Theorbo, played by Bardilla. Some of these Canzonette were published, in 1602, under the title of 'Le nuove Musiche'; and an entire verse of one of them will be found in the article Monodia in the present volume. They are, indeed, most interesting, as examples of the earliest phase of the style—fitly called Monodic—which exchanged the contrapuntal richness of the Polyphonic School for the simplest of Melodies, confined to a single part, and accompanied by a Bass, which was often not only simple, but of the rudest possible construction. The particular verse to which we have referred—Diteli voi se di me vi cale—is exceptionally symmetrical in form. As a general rule, the Melodies of this transitional period were so destitute of what we now call 'Figure' as to be all but amorphous; and it is precisely to this peculiarity that we are indebted for the extraordinary effect they wrought. All that their Composers aimed at in constructing them, was the exact oratorical rendering of the words with which they had to deal; and in striving to attain this they unconsciously, and as if by a kind of inspiration, achieved that potent medium of passionate expression which alone was needed to make the Lyric Drama possible—pure, well-accented, declamatory Recitative. Not, as they fondly imagined, the exact method of delivery cultivated by the Greek Dramatists; but, we may fairly believe, the nearest approach to it consistent with the modern Scale—the true Musica parlante, or Stilo rappresentativo, which, by regulating the inflections of the Voice in accordance with the principles of sound rhetorical science, invests them, if the experience of nearly three centuries may be trusted, with an amount of dramatic power attainable by no other means.
The necessity for some such provision as this must have been painfully apparent to all thinking men. The Polyphonic School, brought to absolute perfection by Palestrina and his great contemporaries, was utterly unfit for dramatic purposes; yet, in ignorance of a more approprial form of expression, attempts to turn it to account in that direction had not been wanting. It certain that great part of Poliziano's 'Orfeo,' written in the latter half of the 15th century, was set to Music of some kind; and Leo Allatius mentions, in his 'Drammaturgia,' the names of eight Musical Representations produced between the years 1569 and 1582. The bare titles of these works, to one of which the name of Claudio Merulo is attached, are all that now remain to us; and, unfortunately, we possess no printed copies of three still more important productions—'Il Satiro,' 'La Disperazione di Fileno,' and 'Il Giuoco della Cieca'—set to Music by Emilio del Cavaliere, the two first in 1590, and the last in 1595: but we may form a tolerably safe estimate of their style from that of Orazio Vecchi's 'L' Amfiparnasso, performed at Mantua [App. p.734 "Modena"] in 1594, and printed soon afterwards in Venice. This curious Commedia armonica, as the Composer himself calls it, is presented in the form of a series of Madrigals, for five Voices, written in the true Polyphonic Style, and equally remarkable for the beauty of their effect, and the learning displayed in their construction. There is no Overture; and no Instrumental Accompaniment, or Ritornello, of any kind. When the Stage is occupied by a single character only, the four superfluous Voices are made to sing behind the Scenes; when two persons are needed for the action, three are kept out of sight. All doubt on this point is removed by the woodcuts with which the Music is illustrated: but, before we condemn the absurdity of the arrangement, we must remember that the grand old Madrigalist only uses his unseen Voices as later Composers have used the Orchestra. He could not leave his characters to sing without any accompaniment whatever; and has therefore supported them, and, to the best of his ability, enforced the action of the Scene, by the only harmonic means within his reach.
It must be confessed that, though Orazio Vecchi was a skilful Contrapuntist and Peri was not, the Florentine Composer had all the advantage on his side, when, three years after the first performance of 'L'Amfiparnasso,' he produced his Music to Rinuccini's 'Dafne.' Count Bardi having been summoned to Rome in 1592 to act as Maestro di camera to Pope Clement VIII, the meetings formerly held at his house were transferred to that of his friend Jacopo Corsi, as enthusiastic a patron of the Fine Arts as himself. It was at the Palazzo Corsi that 'Dafne' was first privately performed, in 1597. No trace of it now remains; but Peri himself tells us, in the preface to his 'Euridice,' that he wrote it at the instigation of Signor Corsi and the Poet Rinuccini, 'in order to test the effect of the particular kind of Melody which they imagined to be identical with that used by the antient Greeks and Romans throughout their Dramas'; and we learn from the account given by Giov. Batt. Doni, that 'it charmed the whole city.' The success of the experiment was, indeed, so decided, that, in the year 1600, Peri was invited to provide a still greater work, to grace the festivities which followed the marriage of King Henri IV of France with Maria de' Medici. It was on this occasion that he produced his famous 'Euridice,' the first true Italian Opera that was ever performed in public, and the acknowledged prototype of all later developments of the Dramma per la musica. The work excited an extraordinary amount of attention. Ottavio Rinuccini furnished the Libretto. Several noblemen took part in the public performance. Behind the Scenes, Signor Corsi himself presided at the Harpsichord, assisted by three friends, who played upon the Chitarone, the Lira grande, or Viol di gamba, and the Theorbo, or Large Lute. These Instruments, with the addition of three Flutes used in a certain Ritornello, seem to have comprised the entire Orchestra: and a considerable amount of freedom must have been accorded to the performers, with regard to their manner of employing them; for, in the barred Score published at Florence, with a dedication to Maria de' Medici, in 1600, and reprinted at Venice in 1608, the accompaniment consists of little more than an ordinary Figured Bass. This Score is now exceedingly scarce. Hawkins did not even know of its existence; and Burney succeeded in discovering one example only, in the possession of the Marchese Rinuccini, a descendant of the Poet, at Florence: but a copy of the Venice edition is happily preserved in the Library of the British Museum, and from this we transcribe a portion of one of the most melodious Scenes in the Opera—that which introduces the three Flutes to which we have already alluded.
Tirsi viene in Scena, sonando ia presente Zinfonia, con un Triflauto.
Peri himself tells us, in his preface, that a portion of this interesting work was written by Caccini, though his own name alone appears upon the title-page: but Caccini also set the entire Libretto to Music, on his own account, and published it in Florence in the same year (1600), with a dedication to Giovanni Bardi. The style of the two Operas is so nearly identical, that whole Scenes might easily be transferred from one to the other, without attracting notice; though it cannot be denied that there are situations, such as that in which Orpheus returns with Euridice from Hades, wherein Peri has reached a higher level of dramatic expression than his rival. It is, perhaps, for this reason, that Caccini's 'Euridice' seems never to have been honoured with a public performance: the young Composer was, however, commissioned to produce, for the wedding festivities, another Favola in musica, entitled 'Il Rapimento di Cefalo,' some portion of which afterwards appeared among the 'Nuove musiche.'
The study of these early attempts becomes especially interesting, when we regard them as the fairest possible types of the style of composition which characterised the First Period of the history of the modern Lyric Drama.
The immediate result of their success was the recognition of the Opera as a form of Art no longer tentative, but fairly established upon true æsthetic principles, embarrassed by no grave practical difficulties, and perfectly consistent, in all its details, with the received traditions of Classical Antiquity—which last recommendation was no light one, in the estimation of men whose reverence for Greek and Roman customs amounted to a species of insanity. It was impossible that Florence could be permitted to monopolise an invention conceived in such complete accordance with the spirit of the age—the latest product of the Renaissance. Accordingly we find the scene of its triumphs transferred before long to Mantua, in which city the Second Period of its history was inaugurated with extraordinary splendour in the year 1607, on the occasion of the marriage of Francesco Gonzaga with Margherita, Infanta of Savoy. At the invitation of Vincenzo Gonzaga, the reigning Duke, Rinuccini prepared for this Festival the Libretti of two Operas, entitled 'Dafne' and 'Arianna,' the first of which was set to Music by Marco di Zanobi da Gagliano, and the second by Claudio Monteverde, the Duke's Maestro di Cappella—a man of extraordinary genius, already famous for the boldness of his opposition to the established rules of Counterpoint. Both Operas were written in the newly invented Stilo rappresentativo; and both were deservedly successful, though not in an equal degree. After the first performance of 'Dafne' we hear of it no more; but 'Arianna' produced so extraordinary an effect upon the audience, more especially in the Scene in which the forsaken Ariadne bewails the departure of her faithless lover, that Monteverde was at once invited to compose another Opera, for the ensuing year. For the subject of this he chose the never-wearying story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which was dramatised for him by some Poet whose name has not transpired. The new work—entitled 'Orfeo,' to distinguish it from Peri's illustration of the same myth—was, in many respects, immeasurably superior to any that had preceded it. Though Monteverde did not actually invent the Opera, he proved himself more competent to deal with it than any man then living. Dramatic expression was one of the most prominent characteristics of his genius. Moreover, he was an accomplished Violist: and, while his natural love for Instrumental Music tempted him to write for a far larger Orchestra than any of his predecessors had ventured to bring together, his technical skill enabled him to turn its resources to excellent account. The Instruments used on the occasion of the first performance were—
2 Contrabassi de Viola.
10 Viole da brazzo.
1 Arpa doppia.
2 Violini piccoli alla Francese.
2 Organi di legno.
3 Bassi da gamba.
1 Flautino alla vigesima seconda.
1 Clarino, con 3 Trombe sordine.
Hawkins, strangely misinterpreting the lists of Characters and Instruments given at the beginning of the printed Score, imagines every Singer to have been accompanied by an Instrument of some particular kind set apart for exclusive use. A very slight examination of the Music will suffice to expose the fallacy of this idea. Nevertheless, the Instruments are really so contrasted and combined as to invest eac Character and Scene with a marked individiality which cannot but have added greatly to the interest of the performance. The introductory Toccata—founded, throughout, upon a single Chord—is followed by a Ritornello, so gracefully conceived, that, had it been written even in our own time, its simple beauty could scarcely hav failed to please. Another Ritornello, in parts, is written in close imitation, almost resembling Canon. The Recitatives are accompanied, sometimes, by a Figured Bass only; and sometimes by two or more Instruments, the names of which are indicated at the beginning. A complete Score of the Opera was published at Venice in 1609, and reprinted in 1613 [App. p.734 "1615"]. A copy of the second edition, now preserved in the Royal Library at Buckingham Palace, was formerly in the possession of Sir John Hawkins, who quoted from it largely, in vol. iii. of his 'History of Music.' As specimens of the general style of the work, we subjoin a few bars of Recitative from a Scene in the First Act, and the 'Moresca' or 'Moorish Dance' with which the Opera concludes—a movement full of interest, as an indication of the Composer's desire to unite a graceful flow of melody with a symmetrical and well constructed Form. [See Form.]
The expense attendant upon the production of these early Operas must have been enormous. The gorgeous dresses, and other incidental appointments, occasionally mentioned by writers of the period, sufficiently explain why the Dramma in Musica was reserved exclusively for the entertainment of Princes, on occasions of extraordinary public rejoicing. No such occasions appear to have presented themselves for some considerable time after the marriage of Franceso Gonzaga. Accordingly we find, that, after following up 'Orfeo' with a grand Mythological Spectacle called 'Il Ballo delle Ingrate,' Monteverde produced no more dramatic works till the year 1624, when, having settled permanently in Venice, he wrote, at the instance of Girolamo Mocenigo, an Intermezzo, 'Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,' in which he introduced, for the first time, two important Orchestral Effects, which have remained in common use to the present day—pizzicato passages for the Stringed Instruments, and the well-known tremolo. [See Monteverde.] In 1630 he again took higher ground, and composed, for the marriage of Giustiniana Mocenigo with Lorenzo Giustiniani, a grand Opera called 'Proserpina Rapita,' which was brought out with extraordinary magnificence, and seems to have been very successful. The Music, however, was soon destined to be forgotten; for this was the year rendered memorable by the terrible plague, which, completely devastating the larger Italian Cities, rendered all intellectual advancement for the time being impossible. As we shall presently see, when it had had time to recover from this serious hindrance, Art flourished more brilliantly than ever; but, before proceeding with the history of its triumphs in Venice, it is necessary that we should glance, for a moment, at its position in some other parts of Italy.
Pietro della Valle, writing in 1640, tells us that, like Tragedy at Athens under the guidance of Thespis, the Lyric Drama made its first appearance in Rome upon a Cart. During the Carnival of 1606, this ambulant Theatre was driven from street to street, surmounted by a moveable Stage, whereon five masked performers enacted a little Play, set to Music for them by Paolo Quagliati. The idea seems to have originated with Della Valle himself. He it was who arranged the performances, and induced Quagliati to write the Music: and so great was the success of the experiment, that from four o'clock in the afternoon until after midnight, the little band of Strollers found themselves surrounded by a never-failing concourse of admiring spectators. Rough indeed must these primitive performances have been when compared with the entertainments presented to the Florentines by Peri and Caccini; yet it is strange, that, notwithstanding their favourable reception, we hear of no attempts either to repeat them or to encourage the introduction of anything better, until the year 1632, when a Musical Drama called 'Il Ritorno di Angelica nell' Indie,' by a Composer whose name is not recorded, appears to have been privately performed in the palace of one of the Roman nobles. [App. p.734 "The drama called 'Il Ritorno di Angelica,' etc., is ascribed, in Lady Morgan's 'Life and Times of Salvator Rosa,' to a composer named Tignali. This name is considered by Mr. S. S. Stratton to be a corruption of Tenaglia, whose 'Clearco' was produced at Rome in 1661."] Representations of this kind were afterwards not uncommon; but many years elapsed before any really great Opera was produced in the Eternal City.
The Bolognese claim to have encouraged the Opera in very early times, and even to have invented it; but they are far from being able to prove their case. A Chronological Catalogue, published at Bologna in 1737, gives a list of all the Musical Dramas performed in the city from the year 1600 down to that in which it was printed. The names of the Poets who furnished the Libretti are here very carefully recorded, from the earliest times; but no native Composer is mentioned until the year 1610, when Girolamo Giacobbi brought forward his 'Andromeda,' which produced so great an impression that it was again revived in 1628. The works of the Florentine and Venetian Composers seem however to have met with a more favourable reception at Bologna than the products of native genius. Peri's 'Euridice' was performed there in 1601, and again in 1616, on which occasion it attracted a vast and most enthusiastic audience; and for very many years afterwards the Bolognese were quite contented with the importation of successful Operas from Venice.
The early records of the Neapolitan Drama are lamentably imperfect. We hear of no Opera produced in Naples, until 1646, when mention is made of a Pasticcio called 'Amor non a legge,' by several different Composers, none of whose names have transpired. It seems however more reasonable to believe that our information is at fault, than that a School which afterwards became so deservedly famous, should have been first called into existence at so late a period. Still, we cannot fail to observe, that, notwithstanding the enthusiastic cultivation of Dramatic Music, the centres of its development were, at this period, very far from numerous. The more luxuriantly it flourished in any highly privileged city, the less we hear of it elsewhere.
The Third Period in the history of the Lyric Drama was preluded by the bold transfer of its patronage from the Prince to the people. In the year 1637 the famous Theorbo player, Benedetto Ferrari, and Francesco Manelli da Tivoli, the Composer, opened at their own private risk the first public Opera House in Venice, under the name of the Teatro di San Cassiano. For this new Theatre, Ferrari wrote the words, and Manelli the Music, of an Opera called 'Andromeda,' which was so well received, that in the following year the same two authors brought out a second work, 'La Maga fulminata'; while in 1639 the text of Giulio Strozzi's 'La Delia, ossia la Sposa del Sole' was set to Music, either by Manelli or Paolo Sacrati—it is difficult to say which, and Ferrari produced 'L'Armida' to poetry of his own. This was an eventful season. Before its close, Monteverde once more appeared before the public with a new Opera called 'L'Adone,' which ran continuously till the Carnival of 1640; and his pupil, Pièr-Francesco Caletti-Bruni, nicknamed by the Venetians 'Il Checco Câ-Cavalli,' made his first appearance as a Dramatic Composer with 'Le Nozze di Peleo e di Tetide'—a work which proved him to be not only the faithful disciple of an eminent Maestro, but a true genius, with originality enough to enable him to carry on that Maestro's work in a spirit free from all trace of servile imitation. His natural taste suggested the cultivation of a more flowing style of Melody than that in which his contemporaries were wont to indulge; and he was not so bigoted a disciple of the Renaissance as to think it necessary to sacrifice that taste to the insane Hellenic prejudice which would have banished Rhythmic Melody from the Opera for no better reason than that it was unknown in the time of Pericles. Vincenzo Galilei and his Florentine associates condemned such Melody as puerile and degraded to the last degree. Monteverde never ventured to introduce it, save in his Ritornelli. But Cavalli—as he is now generally called—not only employed it constantly, for the sake of relieving the monotony of continuous Recitative, but even foreshadowed the form of the regular Aria, by that return to the first part which Alessandro Scarlatti afterwards indicated by the term Da Capo. Cavalli's genius was as prolific as it was original. The author of 'Le Glorie della Poesia e della Musica' (Venice, 1730) gives the names of 34 Operas which he produced, for Venice alone, between the years 1637 and 1665. Fétis mentions 39, but Quadrio assures us that he wrote, altogether, more than 40; Burney laments that after diligent search he could meet with the Music of only one, 'L'Erismena,' produced in 1655: but, complete copies of 20, including two undoubted autographs, may be found in the Contarini collection in the Library of S. Mark at Venice; and the autograph of 'L'Egisto' is preserved in the Imperial Library at Vienna. Some interesting examples from 'L'Erismena' will be found in vol. iv. of Burney's History; and a comparison of these with the subjoined extract from an Air in 'Il Giasone' (1649), with Accompaniments for two Violins and a Bass, will shew that the Composer's feeling for Melody was by no means exhibited in one production only.
Cavalli's predilection for Rhythmic Melody was fully shared by his talented contemporary, Marc Antonio Cesti—a pupil of the celebrated Roman Maestro, Giacomo Carissimi, to whose example, though he himself did not care to write for the Stage, the Dramatic Composers of the day were indebted for a higher ideal than they could possibly have conceived without his assistance. Honest work in one branch of Art seldom fails to react favourably upon another: and it is certain, that, by transferring to the Opera the methods of phrasing and instrumentation employed by Carissimi in the Cantata di Camera, Cesti not only elevated the former to a more dignified level than it had ever before attained, but at the same time laid the foundation of his own triumphant success. His earliest attempt, 'L'Orontea'—first performed at Venice in 1649, at the Teatro dei SS. Apostoli, in the teeth of Cavalli's 'Giasone' at the rival House of S. Cassiano—retained its popularity, throughout the whole of Italy, for more than 30 years. Of his later Operas, six—'Cesare amante,' 'La Dori, o lo schiavo regio,' 'Tito,' 'Argene,' 'Genserico,' and 'Argia'—were written for Venice, and two—'La Schiava fortunata' and 'Il Pomo d'oro'—for Vienna. Many of these are, it is to be feared, irretrievably lost; but we still possess enough to give us a very clear idea of the Composer's general style. Some fragments from 'L'Orontes,' discovered in a MS. Music-book once belonging to Salvator Rosa, will be found in vol. iv. of Burney's History; and a complete Score of 'Il Pomo d'oro' is preserved at Vienna, in the Imperial Library. A Score of 'La Dori' is also mentioned in the catalogue of the collection formed by the late Abbé Santini: and the Library of Christchurch, Oxford, boasts 15 of Cesti's Cantatas, which differ but little in style from his Music written for the Theatre.
The honours of the Venetian School were upheld, about this time, by a crowd of popular Composers, the most successful of whom were Carlo Pallavicino, D. Giov. Legrenzi, Antonio Sartorio, Pietro and Marc Antonio Ziani, Castrovillari, Strozzi, and some other aspirants for public fame, who found ample employment in the numerous Opera Houses which before the close of the century sprang up in every quarter of the City. We have already had occasion to mention the inauguration of the Teatro di S. Cassiano in 1637. It was not long suffered to stand alone. The Teatro di SS. Giovanni e Paolo was opened in 1639 with 'La Delia, ossia la Sposa del Sole'; the Teatro di S. Mose in 1641 with a revival of Monteverde's 'Arianna'; the Teatro nuovo, in the same year, with Strozzi's 'La finta pazza'; the Teatro dei SS. Apostoli in 1649 with 'L'Orontes,' as already described; the Teatro di S. Aponal in 1651 with Cavalli's 'L'Oristeo'; the Teatro di S. Luca, o di San Salvatore, in 1661, with Castro villari's 'La Pasife'; the Teatro di S. Gregorio in 1670 with a Pasticcio entitled 'Adelaida'; the Teatro di S. Angelo in 1677 with Freschi's 'Elena rapita da Paride'; the Teatro di S. Giovanni Grisostomo in 1678 with Pallavicini's 'Vespasiano'; and the Teatro di S. Fantin in 1699 with Pignotta's 'Paolo Emilio.' The mere existence of these eleven Theatres proves, more clearly than any amount of written description, the readiness with which the Venetians received the Opera as one of their most cherished amusements. They had already learned to look upon it as quite a national institution; and supported it with a liberality altogether unknown elsewhere. In Rome, for instance, there were, at this time, three Opera Houses only—the Torre di Nona, opened in 1671 with Cavalli's 'Giasone'; the Sala de' Signori Capranica, for the inauguration of which Bernardo Pasquini composed his 'Dov' e Amore e Pieta 'in 1679; and a Theatre in the Palazzo Aliberti, which started with Perti's 'Penelope la casta' in 1696. No public Theatre was established in Bologna till 1680.
The Fourth Period of our history was a very significant one, and productive of results so important, that it may be said to mark the boundary between a class of works interesting chiefly from an antiquarian point of view, and those grander productions the intrinsic value of which entitles them to be remembered throughout all time.
The earlier Dramatic Composers, from Peri downwards, held the Art of Counterpoint in undisguised contempt, and trusted for success entirely to the brilliancy of their natural talents. Alessandro Scarlatti, beyond all comparison the brightest genius of the epoch we are considering, had wisdom enough to perceive that natural gifts lose more than half their force, when uncultivated by study. Acting upon this conviction, he never ceased to labour at the Science of Composition, until he found himself universally recognised as the most learned Musician of his day; and thus it was that he took even the best of his contemporaries at an incalculable disadvantage. His knowledge of Counterpoint so far aided him in the construction of his Basses and the elaboration of his Accompaniments, that, under his masterly treatment, the timidity, which, in the infancy of Modern Art, so fatally weakened its effect, and rendered it so miserable a substitute for the richer combinations of Polyphony, was exchanged for a freedom of style and breadth of design which at once elevated it to the rank of a finished School, capable indeed of future development to an unlimited extent, but no longer either tentative in conception or rudimentary in structure. On the other hand, his splendid natural talents did him good service in quite another way. Tired of the monotony of uninterrupted Recitative, he boldly started on a new path, and, rejecting the experience of his immediate predecessors as altogether effete, availed himself of three distinct forms of dramatic expression—the simple form of Recitative, called by the Italians Recitative secco; Accompanied Recitative, or Recitative stromentato; and the regular Aria. The first of these he employed for the ordinary business of the Stage; the second, for the expression of deep pathos, or violent emotion, of any kind; the third, for impassioned, or at least strongly individualised soliloquy. As these three methods of enunciation are still used, for exactly similar purposes, we shall frequently have occasion to refer to them hereafter. For the present, it is sufficient to say that no radical change has ever taken place in the structure of Recitativo secco since it was first invented. Then, as now, it was supported by a simple 'Thoroughbass,' the Chords of which were filled in, in former times, upon the Harpsichord, but are now more frequently played by the principal Violoncello, in light Arpeggios, to which the late Robert Lindley was wont to impart a charm which no old frequenter of Her Majesty's Theatre will ever forget. Accompanied Recitative, on the contrary, unknown, so far as we can discover, before the time of Scarlatti, has since passed through an infinity of changes, naturally dictated by the gradual enlargement of the Orchestra, and the increased strength of its resources. But, it is still what its inventor intended it to be—a passionate form of declamation, in which the sense of the verbal text is enforced by the continual interposition of Orchestral Symphonies of more or less elaborate construction. Lastly, the symmetrical form of the Aria had only been very imperfectly suggested, before Scarlatti completed it by the addition of a 'Second Part,' followed by that repetition of the original Strain now known as the Da Capo. Within the last hundred years this Da Capo has been discontinued, from a not unnatural objection to the stiffness of its effect; but that very stiffness was, in the first instance, a notable sign of life. We cannot but welcome it as the healthy indication of a desire to escape from the dreariness of the interminable Monologue which preceded it; and, however formal we may now think it, we owe something to the Composer who first made it a distinctive feature in the Dramatic Music he did so much to perfect, and whose love of regular design led him to introduce improvements of equal value into the form of the Instrumental Prelude which was afterwards recognised as the indispensable Overture.
Scarlatti's first Opera, 'L'Onestà nell' Amore,' produced at Rome in the Palace of Christina, ex-Queen of Sweden, in 1680, was followed by 108 others, written from Rome, Vienna, Venice, and more especially Naples, which justly claims him as the founder of its admirable School. The most successful of them seem to have been, 'Pompeo' (Naples, 1684); 'La Teodora' (Rome, 1693); 'Pirro e Demetrio,' 'Il Prigioniero fortunato,' 'Il Prigioniero superbo', 'Gli Equivochi sembiante,' 'Le Nozze col nemico,' 'Laodicea Berenice,' 'Il Figlio delle Selve' (Naples, 1694–1703); 'Il Medo' and 'Il Teodoro' (Rome, 1703–1709); 'Il Trionfo della Libertà' and 'Mitridate' (Venice, 1707); and the most celebrated of all, 'La Principessa fedele.' To these must be added an enormous collection of Cantatas, of more or less dramatic character, MS. copies of which are preserved in most of the larger European Libraries, both public and private, though very few were ever published—a circumstance the more to be regretted, since the freshness of their Melodies rarely fails to attract attention, even at the present day. It would be difficult, for instance, to find, in a composition of any date, a more delicious phrase than the following:—
The most talented of Scarlatti's contemporaries were, among Neapolitans, Alessandro Stradella and Francesco Rossi; in Venice, Antonio Caldara and Antonio Lotti; in Bologna, Antonio Perti, Francesco Pistocchi, and Giovanni Maria Buononcini; and, in Vicenza, Domenico Freschi. But for his untimely death, Stradella's genius would undoubtedly have entitled him to take rank as the founder of an original and highly characteristic School. As it was, he lived but to compose one single Opera, 'La Forza dell' Amor paterno,' the Libretto of which was printed at Genoa in 1678. Rossi, though born in Naples, wrote chiefly for Venice, where he met with very great success. Lotti produced eighteen successful Operas in that city, between the years 1683 and 1717; and one in Dresden. Caldara enriched the Venetian School with five, besides writing many more for Vienna, founded for the most part upon the Libretti of Apostolo Zeno and Metastasio. The greater number of Freschi's works were also written for Venice; but his famous 'Berenice' was first performed at Padua, in 1680, the year in which Scarlatti made his first appearance in Rome, with a mise en scene which exceeded in magnificence anything that had ever been previously attempted. Among the attractions mentioned in the printed book of the Opera, we find Choruses of 100 Virgins, 100 Soldiers, and 100 Horsemen in iron armour; besides 40 Cornets, on horseback; 6 mounted Trumpeters; 6 Drummers; 6 Ensigns; 6 Sackbuts; 6 Flutes; 12 Minstrels, playing on Turkish and other Instruments; 6 Pages; 3 Sergeants; 6 Cymbaleers; 12 Huntsmen; 12 Grooms; 12 Charioteers; 2 Lions, led by 2 Turks; 2 led Elephants; Berenice's Triumphal Car, drawn by 4 Horses; 6 other Cars, drawn by 12 Horses; 6 Chariots, for the Procession; a Stable, containing 100 living Horses; a Forest, filled with Wild-boar, Deer, and Bears; and other scenic splendours, too numerous to mention in detail, but highly significant, as indicative of a condition of the Drama in which, notwithstanding an honest desire on the part of many a true Artist to attain æsthetic perfection, the taste of the general public was as yet unable to soar above the vulgarities of a frivolous peep-show. To so great an extent was this absurdity carried, that Pistocchi's 'Leandro' (1679) and 'Girello' (1682) were performed in Venice by Puppets, and Ziani's 'Damira placata' by mechanical Figures, as large as life, while the real Singers officiated behind the scenes. Concerning the influence of such vanities upon the future prospects of Art we shall have occasion to speak more particularly hereafter.
The Fifth Period, though very nearly synchronous with the Fourth, differs from it in so many essential characteristics, that it may be said to possess, not merely a history, but an Art-life peculiar to itself. The scene of its development was Paris, to which city its leading spirit, Giovanni Battista Lulli, was brought from Florence in the year 1646, in the character of Page to Mademoiselle de Montpensier, Niece of Louis XIV. For the personal history of this extraordinary genius we must refer our readers to pp. 172-174 of the present volume; all that concerns us here is his influence upon the Musical Drama. Removed from Italy at the age of 13, he brought none of its traditions to France, and was thus left to form a School—for he did nothing less—by the aid of his own natural talent alone. He has not, indeed, escaped the charge of plagiarism; and it is well known that he profited not a little by the study of such works of Cavalli and Cesti as he could obtain in Paris: but the assertion that he imitated the forms invented by the great leaders of the Venetian School, from inability to strike out new ones for himself, is equally inconsistent with the known conditions under which his Operas were produced, and the internal evidence afforded by a careful analysis of the works themselves. The French Grand Opera was no importation from foreign parts. It had an independent origin of its own; and is as clearly traceable to the Ballet, as its Italian sister is to Classical Tragedy. As early as the year 1581, a piece, called 'Le Ballet comique de la Royne,' arranged by Baltazar de Beaujoyeaulx, with Dance Tunes, Choruses, Musical Dialogues, and Ritornelli, composed for the occasion by Beaulieu and Salmon, was acted, at the Chateau de Moutiers, in presence of Henri III, with extraordinary splendour. [ Vol. i. p. 133a.] The entire work is, fortunately, still in existence; and the Music—of which an example will be found under Orchestration—is far more likely to have suggested ideas to Lulli than the productions of his own countrymen. The first attempt to introduce Italian Music was made by Rinuccini, who visited France in the suite of Maria de' Medici in 1600; but it does not seem to have accorded with the national taste. During the reign of Louis XIII, the Ballet was more warmly patronised at Court than any other kind of musical entertainment. Cardinal Mazarin endeavoured to re-introduce the Italian Opera, during the minority of Louis XIV; but its success was very transient, and far less encouraging than that of the early attempts at French Opera. The first of these was 'Akebar, Roi de Mogol,' written and composed by the Abbé Mailly, and performed at Carpentras in 1646, in the presence of the Papal Legate, Cardinal Bichi. In 1659, Perrin wrote a Pastoral, with Music by Cambert, which was first privately performed at Issy, and afterwards, in presence of the King, at Vincennes. Louis was delighted with it; and, supported by his approval, its authors produced some other works, of which the most successful was 'Pomone,' played first in 1669 [App. p.735 "1671"] at the Hotel de Nevers, and in 1677 in the Tennis Court at the Hotel de Guénégaud. This was the first French Opera ever publicly performed in Paris. Meanwhile, Lulli was industriously engaged in the composition of Ballets, designed to meet the taste of the young King, who was passionately fond of dancing, and cared little for any kind of Music unsuited to his favourite pastime. But in March, 1672, he obtained, by Royal Patent, the entire monopoly of the 'Académie de Musique,' and then it was that he entered upon that portion of his career which exercised the strongest influence upon the subsequent progress of Dramatic Music in France. Too politic to imperil his position at Court by the introduction of unwelcome novelties, he still made Ballet Music his cheval de bataille; and, so popular were his Dance Tunes and rhythmic Choruses, that the occupants of the Parterre are said to have been constantly tempted to join in singing them. Moreover, his bold and highly cultivated taste for Instrumental Music led him to mould the Overture into a form more perfect than any with which it had been previously invested. [See Overture.] For the meagre Prelude affected by his Italian contemporaries he substituted a dignified Largo, followed by an Allegro, in the Fugato style, with a well-marked Subject, and many clever points of imitation, broadly conceived, and designed rather to please by their natural sequence than to surprise by any extraordinary display of ingenuity. Sometimes he added a third Movement, in the form of a Minuet, or other stately Dance Tune, which never failed to delight the hearer: and so successful was the general effect of the whole, that no long time elapsed before it was imitated by every Composer in Europe. Had Lulli done nothing for Art but this, posterity would still have been indebted to him for a priceless bequest: but he did far more. Inspired by the Verses of Quinault, who wrote 20 pieces for him between the years 1672 and 1686, he had genius enough to devise a style of Recitative so well adapted to the spirit of the best French Poetry, that the declamatory portions of his Operas soon became even more attractive than the scenes which depended for their success upon mere spectacular display. In order to accomplish this purpose, he availed himself of an expedient already wellknown in the Venetian School—the constant alternation of Duple and Triple Rhythm. This he used to an excess, which, while it secured the perfect rhetorical expression of the text, injured the flow of his Melody very seriously, and would be a fatal bar to the revival of his Music at the present day. But, it helped him to found the great French School; and France will ever be grateful to him for doing so. A comparison of the following extract from 'Atys' (1676) with the Scene from Cavalli's 'Giasone' given at page 503, will clearly exemplify the distinction between his style and that of the Venetian Composers:—
Lulli was the last man in the world to encourage the talent of a possible rival, or even to allow him a fair hearing. While he lived, he reigned supreme; and his successors, Colasse, Danchet, Campra, and Destouches, were quite incompetent to carry on his work. But though Art languished in France, good service was done in its cause, in our own country, by a contemporary writer, the originality of whose genius renders it necessary that we should treat of the epoch in which he flourished as a Sixth Period.
With the sole exception of Alessandro Scarlatti, no dramatic Composer of the 17th century has left behind him so great a number of works, the beauty of which time has no power to destroy, as Henry Purcell. In all essential points, he was immeasurably in advance of the age in which he lived. His Melodies sound as fresh to-day as they did when they were first written; and for the best of all possible reasons. Apart from their skilful construction, which betrays the hand of the accomplished Musician in every bar, they are pervaded throughout by a spontaneity of thought which can never grow old. Springing directly from the depths of the Composer's heart, they never fail to find, in the hearts of their hearers, a response over which the tyranny of fashion can exercise no influence. It is not surprising that their author should have created his own model, instead of following the example of the French or Italian Composers. The idea of English Opera was suggested neither by the Ballet nor the Tragedy. It was the legitimate offspring of the Masque; and the Masque, in England at least, was very far from presenting the characteristics of a true Lyric Drama. Its Music was, at first, purely incidental—as much so as that introduced into the Plays of Shakespeare. It is true, that as early as 1617 Nicolo Laniere set an entire Masque of Ben Jonson's to Music, in the Stilo recitative, and may therefore justly claim the credit of having composed the first English Opera, though he was by birth an Italian. But the practice was not continued. The Music written by Henry Lawes for Milton's 'Comus,' in 1634, is far less dramatic than Lock's 'Macbeth'; and it was really Purcell who first transformed the Masque into the Opera; or rather, annihilated the one, and introduced the other in its place: and this he did so satisfactorily, that, measuring his success by the then condition of Art in France and Italy, he left nothing more to be desired. His Recitative, no less rhetorically perfect than Lulli's, was infinitely more natural, and frequently impassioned to the last degree; and his Airs, despite his self-confessed admiration for the Italian style, shew little trace of the forms then most in vogue, but breathing rather the spirit of unfettered National Melody, stand forth as models of refinement and freedom. Purcell's dramatic compositions are very numerous, and it is not improbable that many of them have been lost. The names have been preserved of 'Dido and Æneas' (1677), 'Abelazor' (ib.) [App. p.735 "(1675), 'Abdelazar' (1677)"], 'Timon of Athens' (1678), 'The Virtuous Wife' (1680), 'Theodosius' (ib.), 'The Indian Queen,' 'Dioclesian, or the Prophetess' (1690), Dryden's 'Tempest' (ib.), 'King Arthur' (1691), 'Amphitrion' (ib.) [App. p.735 "1690"], 'The Gordian Knot untied' (ib.), 'Distressed Innocence' (ib.), 'The Fairy Queen' (1692), 'The Old Bachelor' (1693), 'The Married Beau' (1694), 'The Double Dealer' (ib.), 'Don Quixote' (ib.) [App. p.735 "1695"], and 'Bonduca' (1695). Of these, some were complete Operas; some, Plays with Incidental Music; and some, dramatic pieces for which he wrote only the Overtures and Act Tunes. The complete Score of 'Dioclesian' was published in 1691, with a dedication to Charles Duke of Somerset. A splendid edition of 'King Arthur' was published by the Musical Antiquarian Society. MS. Scores of 'Dido and Æneas,' 'Bonduca,' 'Timon of Athens,' 'Dioclesian,' and 'A Second Interlude,' will be found in the Dragonetti Collection, in the British Museum; and a large selection of Songs and other pieces from the entire series are preserved in a work called 'Orpheus Britannicus,' published by the Composer's widow in 1698, and now becoming scarce. It would be difficult to point to a finer example of his style than the following enchanting Melody from 'King Arthur':
What Lulli did for France, and Purcell for England, Reinhard Keiser, the leading Composer of our Seventh Period, did for Germany. The Opera was first imported into that country from Italy in 1627, when Rinuccini's 'Dafne,' translated into German by Martin Opitz, and set to Music by Heinrich Schütz, was performed at Torgau, on the occasion of the marriage of George II, Landgraf of Hesse, with the sister of the Elector of Saxony. At Regensburg, the Musical Drama made its first appearance with Benedetto Ferrari's 'L'Inganno d'Amore,' in 1653. Antonio Draghi's 'Alcindo,' and 'Cloridia,' were produced in 1665 at Vienna; and Giulio Riva's 'Adelaida Regia Principessa di Susa,' at Munich. But all these last-named works were sung in Italian. The true cradle of the German Opera, despite its transient success at Torgau, was Hamburg; in which city Johann Theile produced his 'Adam und Eva'—the first 'Singspiel' ever publicly performed in the German language—in 1678. This was followed, in the same year, by 'Orontes'; and from that time forward the Hamburg Theatre retained the first place among the public Opera Houses of Germany for more than half a century. Nikolaus Strunck wrote 6 operas for it, between the years 1678 and 1685. Between 1679 and 1686, Johann Franck wrote 13. Johann Förtsch wrote 12, between 1684 and 1690; Johann Conradi, 8, between 1691 and 1693; Johann Cousser, 5, between 1693 and 1697; and Mattheson, 3, between 1699 and 1704: but between 1694 and 1734, Keiser produced quite certainly not less than 116, and probably many more. Handel also brought out his 'Almira' and 'Nero' there in 1705, and his 'Daphne' and 'Florinda' in 1706; his connection with Hamburg was, however, of no long duration, and it was to Keiser's exertions alone that the Theatre was indebted for its world-wide fame. Keiser's first attempt—'Basilius'—which had already been successfully performed at Wolfenbüttel in 1693, was received in 1694 with the utmost possible enthusiasm; and, after that, his popularity continued undiminished, until, 40 years later, he took leave of his admiring audience with his last production, 'Circe.' The number of his published works is, for some unexplained reason, exceedingly small. By far the greater portion of them was long supposed to be hopelessly lost, in the city which had once so warmly welcomed their appearance; but in 1810, Pölchau was fortunate enough to discover a large collection of the original MSS., which are now safely stored in Berlin. Their style is purely German; less remarkable for its rhetorical perfection than that of Lulli, but exhibiting far greater variety of expression, and a more earnest endeavour to attain that spirit of dramatic truth which alone can render such Music worthy of its intended purpose. Their author's love for scenic splendour did indeed sometimes tempt him to place more reliance upon its effect than was consistent with the higher aspirations of his genius; yet he was none the less a true Artist; and, though Schütz and Theile were before him in the field, it would be scarcely just to deny him the honour of having founded that great German School which has since produced the finest Dramatic Composers the world has ever known.
But the advance we have recorded was not confined to one School only. The opening decades of the 18th century introduce us to a very important crisis in the annals of the Lyric Drama, in most of the principal cities of Europe. So steadily had it continued to increase in general favour, since it was first presented to a Florentine audience in the year 1600, that, after the lapse of little more than a hundred years, we find it firmly established, in Italy, France, England, and Germany, as a refined and highly popular species of entertainment. Meanwhile, its progress towards artistic perfection had been so far unimpeded by any serious difficulty, that a marked improvement in style is perceptible at each successive stage of its career; and the Eighth Period of its history, upon which we are now about to enter, is pregnant with interest, as suggestive of a far higher ideal than any that we have hitherto had occasion to consider.
Though Handel, as we have already seen, made his first essay, at Hamburg, in German Opera, his natural taste sympathised entirely with the traditions of the Italian School, which had already been ennobled by the influence of Carissimi, Colonna, and other great writers of Chamber Music, as well as by the works of Alessandro Scarlatti, and the best Dramatic Composers of the Fourth Period. Attracted by the fame of these illustrious Maestri, he studied their works with all possible diligence during his sojourn in Italy; and having learned from them all that he cared to know, put his experience to the test by producing his first Italian Opera, 'Roderigo,' at Florence, in 1706, and his second, 'Agrippina,' in the following year, at Venice, besides, composing, at Rome, a third Musical Drama, called 'Silla,' which, though never publicly performed, served afterwards as the basis of 'Amadigi.' Even in these early works, his transcendant genius asserted itself with a power which completely overcame the national exclusiveness of the Italians, who affectionately surnamed him 'Il caro Sassone': but a still more decided triumph awaited him in London, where he brought out his famous 'Rinaldo' (composed in a fortnight!) at the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, on February 24, 1711. This was, beyond all comparison, the finest opera that had ever been placed upon the Stage, in any country; and its success was both brilliant and lasting. On its first production, it was played fifteen times in succession. It had a second run, of nine nights, in the following year; a third in 1715; a fourth in 1717, and another as late as 1731. Moreover, it was enthusiastically received in 1715 at Hamburg; and equally so, three years afterwards, at Naples. For this long-continued popularity it was chiefly indebted to the exceeding beauty of its Arias, of which it contained many, such as 'Lascia ch'io pianga,' 'Cara sposa,' 'Vieni o cara,' 'Figlia mia,' 'Il tricerbero umiliato,' and others equally fine, concerning which it may be safely prophesied, that, like the magnificent March, afterwards introduced by Dr. Pepusch into the 'Beggar's Opera,' (1727), they will last for ever. The original decorations were very splendid; and, if the testimony of an avowed enemy may be trusted, not altogether conceived in irreproachable taste. Though it is pretty well understood that we owe some portion, at least, of the pleasantries contained in No. V. of the 'Spectator,' to Addison's disgust at the failure of his own so-called English Opera, 'Rosamond,' the remarks there passed upon the release of a flight of living birds during the Flute Symphony of 'Augelletti che cantate' serve to show that the puerilities which had amused the Venetians in the time of Freschi and Ziani, had not yet passed entirely out of fashion, and that the Lyric Drama was till disfigured by anomalies which needed careful excision. When Italian Operas were first introduced into this country, in place of the miserable productions which succeeded the really great works of Purcell, they were performed by a mixed company of Italians and Englishmen, each of whom sang in his own language. A similar absurdity had long prevailed in Hamburg, where the Airs of certain popular Operas were sung in Italian, and the Recitatives in German; and even in Italy the conventionalities of fashion, and the jealousies of favourite Singers, exercised a far more potent influence upon the progress of Dramatic Art than was consistent with true aesthetic principles. During the greater part of the 18th century, the laws which regulated the construction of an Opera were so severely formal, that the Composer was not permitted to use his own discretion, even withregard to the distribution of the Voices he employed. The orthodox number of Personaggi was six three Women and three Men; or, at most, three Women assisted by four Men. The First Woman (Prima donna) was always a high Soprano, and the Second or Third a Contralto. Sometimes a Woman was permitted to sing a Man's part, especially if her voice, like those of Mrs. Barbier and Mrs. Anastasia Robinson, happened to be a low one: but, in any case, it was de rigueur that the First Man (Primo uomo) should be an artificial Soprano, even though the role assigned to him might be that of Theseus or Hercules. The Second Man was either a Soprano, like the first, or an artificial Contralto; and the Third, a Tenor. When a Fourth male Character (Ultima parte) was introduced, the part was most frequently allotted to a Bass: but Operas were by no means uncommon in which, as in Handel's 'Teseo,' the entire staff of male Singers consisted of artificial Sopranos and Contraltos, who monopolised all the principal Songs, and upon whose popularity for the time being the success of the work in no small degree depended.
The Airs entrusted to these several performers were arranged in five unvarying Classes, each distinguished by some well-defined peculiarity of style, though not of general design; the same mechanical form, consisting of a First and Second Part, followed by the indispensable Da Capo, being common to all alike.
1. The Aria cantabile was a quiet Slow Movement, characterised, in the works of the best Masters, by a certain tender pathos which seldom tailed to please, and so contrived as to afford frequent opportunities for the introduction of extempore ornamentation at the discretion of the Singer. Its accompaniment, always very simple, was limited in most cases to a plain Thorough-Bass, the chords of which were filled in upon the Harpsichord. The following beautiful melody, from Handel's 'Tolomeo,' was sung with great effect by Signora Faustina, in the year 1728.
2. The Aria di portamento was also a Slow Movement, and generally a very telling one. Its Rhythm was more strongly marked than that of the Aria cantabile, its style more measured, and its Melody of a more decidedly symmetrical character, freely interspersed with sustained and swelling notes, but affording few opportunities for the introduction of extempore embellishments. Flowing and graceful in design, its expression was rather sedate and dignified than passionate; and its Accompaniment rarely extended beyond a well-phrased Thorough-Bass, with one or two Violins, used chiefly in the Symphonies. The following example is from Handel's 'Riccardo Primo,' in which Opera it was first sung, by Signora Cuzzoni, in the year 1727.
3. The Aria di mezzo carattere was open to great variety of treatment. As a general rule, it was less pathetic than the Aria Cantabile, and less dignified than the Aria di portamento, but capable of expressing greater depths of passion than either. Its pace was generally, though not necessarily, Andante; the second part being sung a little faster than the first, with a return to the original time at the Da Capo. Its Accompaniment was rich and varied, including at least the full Stringed Band, with the frequent introduction of Oboes and other Wind Instruments. Some of Handel's most celebrated Songs belong to this class, the style of which is well exemplified in the subjoined Air from 'Teseo,' sung in 1713 by Margherita de l'Epine.
4. The Aria parlante was of a more declamatory character, and therefore better adapted for the expression of deep passion, or violent emotion of any kind. Its Accompaniments were sometimes very elaborate, and exhibited great variety of Instrumentation, which the best Masters carefully accommodated to the sense of the Verses they desired to illustrate. Different forms of the Air were sometimes distinguished by special names: for instance, quiet Melodies, in which one note was accorded to each several syllable, were called Arie di nota e parola; while the terms Aria agitata, Aria di strepito, and even Aria infuriata, were applied to Movements exhibiting a greater or less amount of dramatic power. The following example, from Handel's 'Sosarme,' was sung in 1732 by Signora Bagnolesi, to an obbligato Violin Accompaniment played by Castrucci.
5. The Aria di bravura, or d'agilità, was generally an Allegro, filled with brilliant 'divisions' or passages of rapid fioritura calculated to display the utmost powers of the Singer for whom the Movement was intended. Some of the passages written for Elizabetta Pilotti Schiavonetti, Cuzzoni, Faustina, Nicolini, Farinelli, and other great Singers of the period, were so amazingly difficult, that few Artists of the present day would care to attack them without a considerable amount of preparatory study, though it is certain that the Vocalists for whom they were originally composed overcame them with ease. Among such volate we may class the following, sung in 'Ricardo Primo,' by the celebrated Sopranist, Senesino.
Though we sometimes meet with Operatic Airs of the 18th century which seem, at first sight, inconsistent with this rigid system of classification, a little careful scrutiny will generally enable us to refer them, with tolerable certainty, to one or other of the universally-recognised orders.
The Cavatina, for instance, distinguished from all other types by the absence of a Second Part and its attendant Da capo, is, in reality, nothing more than an abbreviated form, either of the Aria cantabile, the Aria di portamento, or the Aria di mezzo carattere, as the case may be. The Second Act of 'Teseo' opens with an example which establishes this fact very clearly, needing only the addition of a subordinate Strain in order to convert it into a regular Aria cantabile.
The Aria d'imitazione was written in too many varieties of style to admit the possibility of its restriction to any single Class. Warlike Airs with Trumpet obbligato, Hunting-Songs with Horn Accompaniment, Echo-Songs—such as 'Dite che fà,' in 'Tolomeo'—Airs with obbligato Flute passages or vocal trills suggestive of the warblings of birds, and descriptive pieces of a hundred other kinds, all fell within this category, and generally exhibited the prominent characteristics of the Aria di mezzo carattere, unless, as was sometimes the case, they were simple enough to be classed as Arie cantabili, or even Arie parlanti, with a more or less elaborate obbligato Accompaniment, or contained volate of sufficient brilliancy to enable them to rank as Arie d'agilità.
The Aria all' unisono is of comparatively rare occurrence. 'Bel piacer,' sung by Isabella Girardeau, in 'Rinaldo,' and generally regarded as the typical example of the style, is a pure Aria cantabile, written for an expressive Soprano, supported only by a single Violin part, playing in unison with the Voice throughout. In the Symphonies, a Violoncello part is added; but it is never heard simultaneously with the Singer. Similar Airs will be found in 'Il Pastor Fido' and 'Ariadne'; but we meet with them so seldom, that it is doubtful whether they were ever held in any great degree of favour, either by Singers or the public. The fine Song, 'Il tricerbero umiliato,' in 'Rinaldo,' represents a less rare form, wherein the Basses and other Instruments all supported the Voice in Unisons or Octaves.
The Aria concertata was simply an Aria di mezzo carattere, or an Aria parlante, with a more than usually elaborate or original Accompaniment. Among the finest-known examples of this class, we may mention 'Priva son,' in 'Giulio Cesare,' with Flute obbligato; 'Hor la tromba,' in 'Rinaldo,' with four Trumpets and Drums obbligati; an Air in 'Il Pastor Fido,' with Accompaniments for Violins, and Violoncellos in Octaves pizzicato, with a Harpsichord part, arpeggiando, throughout; 'Ma quai notte,' in 'Partenope,' accompanied by a Flutes, 2 Violins, Viola, and Theorbo, with Violoncelli and Bassi pizzicato; 'Se la mia vita,' in Ezio,' for 1 Violin, Viola, Violoncello, 2 Flutes, and 2 Horns; 'Alle sfere della gloria,' in 'Sosarme,' for the Full Stringed Band, enriched by 2 Oboes, and 2 Horns; and a highly characteristic Scena, in 'Semele'—'Somnus, awake!' for 2 Violins, Viola, Violoncello, 3 Bassoons, and Organ.
The sequence and distribution of these varied Movements was regulated by laws no less stringent than those which governed their division into separate Classes. It was necessary that every Scene in every Opera should terminate with an Air; and every member of the Dramatis personæ was expected to sing one, at least, in each of the three Acts into which the piece was almost invariably divided; but no Performer was permitted to sing two Airs in succession, nor were two Airs of the same Class allowed to follow each other, even though assigned to two different Singers. The most important Airs were played at the conclusion of the first and second Acts. In the second and third Acts, the hero and heroine each claimed a grand Scena, consisting of an Accompanied Recitative—such as 'Alma del gran Pompeo,' in 'Giulio Cesare'—followed by an Aria d'agilita calculated to display the power of the Vocalist to the greatest possible advantage; in addition to which the same two characters united their Voices in at least one grand Duet. The third Act terminated with a Chorus of lively character, frequently accompanied by a Dance: but no Trios, Quartets, or other Concerted Movements were permitted in any part of the Opera, though three or more Characters were sometimes suffered—as in 'Rinaldo'—to join in a harmonised exclamation, at the close of a Recitative.
It seems strange, that with so many Voices at command, so little advantage should have been taken of the opportunity of combining them; but the law was absolute, and no doubt owed its origin to the desire of popular singers rather to shine alone, at any cost, than to share their triumphs with rival candidates for public favour.
The effect of these formal restrictions, pressing with equal severity on the Composer and the author of the Libretto, was fatal to the development of a natural and consistent Drama. Of the numerous Poets who wrote for the Lyric Stage, during the earlier half of the 18th century, two only, Apostolo Zeno and Metastasio, succeeded in producing really good pieces, in spite of the difficulties thrown in their way. Goldoni would probably have been equally successful, had he been equally persevering; but after one or two vexatious failures, he threw up the Opera in disgust, and devoted his attention to Comedy. Among Composers, Handel alone so far overcame the trammels of pedantry as to suffer them to exercise no deleterious influence whatever upon his work. When it suited his good pleasure to submit to them, he did so with such exceeding grace that they seemed to have been instituted rather for his convenience than otherwise. When submission would have interfered with his designs, he followed the dictates of his own clear judgment, and set both Critics and Singers at defiance. For instance, contrary to all precedent, he enriched the third Act of 'Radamisto' with an elaborate Quartet; while, in 'Teseo'—the Scenes of which are distributed into five Acts—he seems, from first to last, to have made it a point of conscience to assign two Airs in succession to each of his principal Characters, as often as it was possible to find an opportunity for doing so.
That Critics should attack, and Singers openly rebel against a Composer who shewed so little consideration for their prejudices was only to be expected: but, meanwhile, the jealousies he excited, and the opposition he provoked, served the double purpose of bearing testimony to the greatness of his genius, and stimulating him to the most strenuous exertions of which it was capable. His famous contest with Giovanni Battista Buononcini was triumphantly decided, in the year 1721, by the verdict unanimously passed upon 'Muzio Scevola,' of which he composed the third Act, Buononcini the second, and Attilio Ariosti the first. A full description of the work will be found in Burney, vol. iv. pp. 273–278; and the student who desires to form his own conclusion on the subject will scarcely feel inclined, after consulting the MS. Score preserved in the Dragonetti Collection in the British Museum, to dispute the fairness of Burney's criticism. This however was by no means one of his greatest successes. He was continually working at high pressure; and, as a natural consequence, even the weakest of the 42 Grand Operas he has bequeathed to us contain beauties enough to render them imperishable. The four produced at the Opera House in the Haymarket between the years 1711 and 1715, rank among his best. In 1717 a change took place in the arrangements at the Theatre, followed, three years later, by the inauguration of the 'Royal Academy of Music,' of which he undertook the entire direction, and for which he wrote a series of fourteen Operas, beginning with 'Radamisto,' in 1720, and terminating, in 1728, with 'Tolomeo, Re d'Egitto.' Soon after the production of this last-named work, the Company became bankrupt, and the Theatre passed into the hands of a Swiss, named Heidegger—one of the heroes of Pope's 'Dunciad'—for whom Handel wrote six Operas between the years 1729 and 1733. Heidegger's management was brought to an untimely close by a quarrel between Handel and Senesino. A large party of the nobility espoused the cause of the popular Sopranist; and, under their patronage, a rival Opera Company was established at the 'Little Theatre, in Lincoln's Inn Fields.' Nearly all the Singers previously engaged at the Haymarket deserted to the opposition. Handel endeavoured to make good their defection by the engagement of the celebrated Contralto, Carestini. The rival Company secured the still more famous Farinelli. But, the result was equally disastrous to both parties. We need not enter into the details of the feud. Suffice it to say that Handel fought the battle bravely; took the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and, afterwards, Covent Garden, on his own account; and only succumbed at last under the pressure of expenses which resulted in the loss of his entire fortune, and but for the success of his Oratorios, would have reduced him to beggary. It is difficult to understand how his Singers could have been so imprudent as to quarrel with him; for no man then living understood so well as he how to make the most of their several capabilities. We see this very clearly in the Airs he wrote for Isabella Girardeau, Mrs. Robinson, Cuzzoni, Faustina, Strada, Margherita de l'Epine, and Durestanti, the artificial Sopranos, Nicolini, Bernacchi, Valentini, Valeriano, Senesino, and Carestini; and the host of illustrious Vocalists who took part, at different times, in his Operas, and no doubt benefitted largely by his advice—for he always insisted on having his own Music sung in the way which seemed to him best. In his power of adapting the most difficult melodic phrases to the varying range of the vocal register he has indeed been equalled only by very few of the best Composers of any age, and surpassed by none; and to this rare though indispensable quality his Operas are indebted for some of their most irresistible charms. It has been said that they have had their day, and can never again be placed upon the Stage; but much remains to be said on the opposite side. While preparing our materials for the present article, we subjected the entire series to a most careful and minute re-examination; and the more closely we carried out our analysis, the more deeply were we impressed by the dramatic power which proves almost every Scene to have been designed for an accomplished Actor, as well as a finished Singer. The opportunities thus afforded for histrionic display are unlimited; while, as far as the Music is concerned, it seems almost incredible that such a host of treasures should have been so long forgotten for the works contain, not merely a few beautiful Songs, here and there, but scores of deathless Melodies, which only need to be as well known as 'Angels ever bright and fair,' or 'Let the bright Seraphim,' in order to attain an equally lasting popularity. It is true that a large proportion of these Songs were written for artificial Voices, now, happily, no longer cultivated: but, the Contralto parts invariably lie well within the range of Female Voices; while those originally designed for such Singers as Nicolini or Valeriano, might safely be entrusted to an accomplished Tenor an exchange with which we are all familiar in the case of some of our best-known Oratorio Music. That the formality of the Libretti need no longer be regarded as an insuperable bar to their reproduction was sufficiently proved, in 1842, by the successful run which followed the revival of 'Acis and Galatea,' at Drury Lane, under the management of Macready. If a work never intended to be acted could command attention under such circumstances, surely it would not be too much to hope for the same success from Operas, such as 'Rinaldo,' or 'Ariadne,' full of equally beautiful Music, and expressly designed for a splendid mise en scène. An attempt has already been made by the revival of 'Almira,' Handel's first German opera, at the commemoration festival of the Hamburg Opera-house in Jan. 1878. Let us hope that some enterprising Manager will, one day, turn his attention to the still finer Italian Operas. Meanwhile, a clever party of Dilettanti might do good service to the cause of Art by testing their powers upon many detached Scenes, or even entire Acts, which they would find quite within their compass.
Though Handel's Operas so far excelled all others produced, either during his lifetime, or for many years after his death, they seem, except in a few isolated cases, to have excited very much less attention on the Continent than in our own country. While they were steadily increasing his fame and mining his fortune in London, a Ninth Period was progressing successfully on the banks of the Elbe, under the superintendence of the greatest of his contemporaries, Johann Adolph Hasse, a native of North Germany, who, after a long course of study in Naples, adopted the Italian style, and eventually settled in Dresden, where, between the years 1731 and 1763, he brought the Italian Opera to a higher state of perfection than it enjoyed in any other continental City. He died at Venice in 1783, leaving behind him more than 100 Operas, most of which exhibit great merit though little depth of inspiration, while all, probably, owed some part at least of their popularity to the matchless singing of his wife, the celebrated Faustina. To this Period belong also the Operas produced by Graun, at Brunswick and Berlin, between the years 1726 and 1759, and those written about the same time, by Fux, at Vienna. These compositions, though they never became equally famous, were undoubtedly greater, considered as works of Art, than those of Hasse; as were also those given to the world a little later by John Christian Bach. Meanwhile, good service was done, in Italy, by Vinci—one of the greatest geniuses of the age—Domenico Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, Francesco Feo, Nicolo Porpora, and many other talented Composers whose works we have not space to notice, including the now almost forgotten Buononcini, who was by no means a poor Composer, and, but for his unfortunate contest with Handel, would probably have attained an European reputation. [See vol. i. 649 note.]
The history of our Tenth Period transports us once more to Naples, where rapid progress was made, about the middle of the 18th century, in a new direction. We have already described, in our Article Intermezzo, the gradual development of the Opera Buffa from the Interludes which were formerly presented between the Acts of an Opera Seria, or Spoken Drama. These light works were, at first, of very simple character: but a significant change in their construction was introduced by Nicolo Logroscino, a Neapolitan Composer, who first entertained the idea of bringing his principal Characters on the Stage together towards the close of the piece, and combining their Voices in a more or less elaborate Concerted Finale. Originally, this consisted of a single Movement only; and that, comparatively, a simple one. Later Composers enlarged upon the idea; extended it to several Movements in succession, often in different Keys; and finally introduced it into the Opera Seria, in which it soon began to play a very important part, naturally leading to the introduction of Trios, Quartets, and the host of richly harmonised pezzi concertati upon which the dignity of the Grand Opera was afterwards made so largely to depend.
The distribution of parts in the Opera Buffa differed, in some important particulars, from that which so long prevailed in the Opera Seria; introducing fewer artificial Voices, and giving far greater prominence to the Basses. The Personaggi were grouped in two divisions. The chief, or Buffo group, consisted of two Female Performers, called the Prima and Seconda Buffa, and three Men, distinguished as the Primo Buffo, the Buffo caricato, and the Ultima parte, of whom the first was a Tenor, while the second was generally, and the third always, a Bass. The subordinate group was limited to the two inevitable lovers, entitled the Donna seria, and Homo serio. This arrangement was, originally, very strictly enforced; but, as time progressed, departures from the orthodox formula became by no means uncommon.
Most of the great Composers of this Period excelled equally in Opera Buffa and Opera Seria; and the style of their Melodies was so much more modern than that cultivated either by Handel or Hasse, that we have found it necessary to include among them some, whose names, by right of chronology, should rather have been referred to the preceding epoch, with which however they can claim but very little æsthetic connection. First among them stands Pergolesi, whose serious Opera 'Sallustia' produced a furore in Naples in 1732, while his comic Intermezzo, 'La serva padrona,' written in 1734 [App. p.735 "performed in 1733"] was received with acclamations in every Capital in Europe. Jomelli's style, though less truly Italian than Pergolesi's, so nearly resembled it, that it would be impossible to class him with any other Composer. He wrote an immense number of Operas, both Serious and Comic; and the Melodies he introduced into them obtained for him an amount of public favour which had by no means begun to wane when Burney visited him, at Naples, in 1770. The work of these great Masters was vigorously supplemented by the efforts of Sacchini, Guglielmi, Galuppi, and Perez; and still more nobly by those of Paisiello and Piccinni, both of whom brought rare and brilliant talents into the field, and enriched their School with a multitude of valuable productions. The graceful spontaneity of Paisiello's manner prevents many of his Songs from sounding 'old-fashioned,' even at the present day. Piccinni was also a most melodious writer; but our thanks are chiefly due to him for the skilful development of his Finales, which he wrought into long Concerted Pieces, not only excellent as Music, but remarkable as the earliest known instances of an attempt to make the interest of the piece culminate, as it approaches its conclusion, in the richest harmonies producible by the united Voices of the entire Dramatis personæ.
By a deplorable perversion of justice, Piccinni's real merits are too frequently passed over in silence by Critics who would lead us to believe that his only claim to remembrance rests upon the details of a miserable feud, the consideration of which will occupy our attention in connection with the Eleventh Period of our history.
The leading spirit of this eventful epoch was Christoph Willibald Gluck; a Composer whose clear judgment and unerring dramatic instinct exercised an influence upon the progress of Art which has not, even yet, ceased to make its presence felt, and to which the modern German School is largely indebted for the strength of its present position. An accomplished rather than a learned Musician, Gluck rendered himself remarkable, less by any extraordinary display of technical skill, than by his profound critical acumen; but it was not until he was well advanced in life that this great quality bore the fruit which has since rendered his name so deservedly famous. In early youth, and even after the approach of middle age, he seems to have been perfectly contented with the then prevailing Italian style, which he cultivated so successfully, that, but for a certain depth of feeling peculiar to himself, his 'Artamene,' or 'Semiramide,' might be fairly classed with the best productions of Jomelli or Sacchini, as may be seen in the following extract from the former Opera:—
His first doubt as to the logical consistency of the orthodox Italian Opera seems to have been suggested by the unsatisfactory effect of a Pasticcio, called 'Piramo e Tisbe,' which he produced in London in the year 1746. In this piece he contrived to introduce a large collection of Airs, chosen from his best and most popular works: yet it wholly failed to fulfil his expectations, not because the Music was in fault, but because it was altogether unsuited to the situations of the Drama. The reader will, it is to be hoped, remember the grand principle which we assumed as our point d'appui at the opening of the present article—that the Lyric Drama could neither be pronounced inconsistent nor illogical, so long as Music was employed as a means of intensifying the expression of Poetry, and therefore (as a natural consequence) of increasing the dramatic power of the Scenes it depicted. It was upon this principle that Peri and Caccini based their experiments, at Florence, when they first attempted to clothe the theories of Giovanni Bardi and his enthusiastic associates with a definite form; and, theoretically, the position was never disputed. But as the Art of Composition, assisted by increased orchestral resources and an improved system of Vocalisation, threw off the trammels of its early stiffness, and attained, step by step, the perfection of symmetrical Form, Composers were tempted to sacrifice the interest of the Drama to that of the Music which should have tended to illustrate it. The real force of the most striking situations was lost in the endeavour to fill them with captivating Arias, calculated to gratify, at the same time, the popular taste and the vanity of individual Singers. As the number of great Singers multiplied, the abuse grew daily more and more antagonistic to the enunciation of æsthetic truth, until the Opera was degraded into a mere collection of Songs, connected together by Recitatives which seemed designed more with the idea of providing breathing-time for the Singer, than that of developing the plot of the piece, or rendering its details intelligible to the audience. In Handel's Operas we find no trace of the weakness engendered by this ill-judged though almost universal conformity to the prevailing fashion. His Recitativo secco is designed on so grand a scale, and is made the vehicle of so much dramatic expression, that the action of his pieces is never permitted to drag: but, in the works of Hasse, and Porpora, and other popular writers of the Ninth Period, the defect we speak of is painfully apparent. Against this state of things, which Benedetto Marcello had already censured in no measured terms, Gluck's hatred of falsehood and incongruity in all that concerned his beloved Art could not fail to rebel. He felt that the system was based, from first to last, on a fatal mistake; yet could not, for the time, suggest a remedy sufficiently potent to remove an evil so deeply rooted. He therefore patiently endeavoured to attain a clearer insight into the sources of the error, studying diligently, and in the meantime making a great name by the production of Operas written in a style which he himself was rapidly learning to despise, but with which the general public were enchanted. It was not until 1762, sixteen years after his memorable visit to England, that he made any serious attempt to express his new ideas in a tangible form. He was, at that time, settled at Vienna, and on terms of intimate friendship with the Italian poet Calsabigi, who fully entered into his views, and, at his request, furnished him with a Libretto, written on principles totally opposed to those of Metastasio, with whom he had previously worked in concert. The new Opera was an experimental one, both on the part of the Composer and the Librettist. Gluck carried out his new theories, as far as he had succeeded in perfecting them; made his Music everywhere subservient to the action of the Drama; finished his Airs without the stereotyped Da capo; introduced appropriate Choruses, and other Concerted Pieces; and never sacrificed the true rendering of a dramatic situation for the sake of attracting attention to his own powers as a Composer, or of affording a popular Singer the opportunity of displaying the flexibility of his Voice. On the other hand, he was most careful to make the musical portion of the work as interesting as was compatible with due regard to the demands of its scenic construction. When it was possible to introduce a fascinating Melody, without injury to the general effect, he gladly availed himself of the opportunity of doing so—witness his delightful 'Che farò senza Euridice,' than which no lovelier Song was ever written: while, so far as the Choruses were concerned, he was equally expressive in the pathetic strains allotted to the Shepherds in the First Act, and the shrieks of the threatening Fiends in the Second. The result of this conscientious endeavour to carry out a reform, which he believed to be not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, was a truly magnificent work, which, though its success at first seemed doubtful, soon found a place in the repertoire of every theatre in Europe. Even those most violently opposed to innovation felt compelled to applaud it; for its dramatic force was irresistible, and in flow of Melody it was excelled by none of the best Operas of the period. But Gluck had not yet accomplished his full desire. Encouraged by the triumph of his first attempt in a new style, he carried out his principles still farther, in two other Operas, 'Alceste' (1767), and 'Paride ed Elena' (1769), which were not received at Vienna with very great favour. The critics of the day were not yet fully prepared for the amount of reform indicated in their construction. Metastasio and Hasse had reigned too long to be deposed in a moment; and Gluck met with so much opposition, that he determined to make his next venture in Paris, where, in 1774, he brought out his first French Opera, 'Iphigénie en Aulide,' under the patronage of his old pupil, Marie Antoinette. The result fully justified his reliance upon the critical discernment of an audience less easily influenced by the sensuous allurements of Italian Art than by the declamatory powers of their own old favourites, Lulli, and his great successor, Rameau, who both regarded the perfection of Accompanied Recitative as a matter of far greater importance than a continuous flow of rhythmic melody. To Lulli's rhetorical purity, Gluck communicated an intensity of passion, which, though it would have scandalised the courtiers of the Grand Monarque, to whom the Voice of Nature was an unknown language, was welcome enough to those of Louis XVI. He enriched his scenic effects with an orchestral background with which the most ambitious attempts of Rameau would bear no comparison whatever. In place of Lulli's formal Fugue, and Rameau's scarcely less inelastic Orchestral Prelude, he introduced an Overture, intended in his own words—'to prepare the audience for the action of the piece, and serve as a kind of argument to it.' Superior to both these popular Composers on their own ground, and gifted besides with a refinement of taste which lent charms of its own to every melodic phrase he wrote, it is not surprising that he should have taken Paris by storm. The new Opera was received with acclamation, and Parisian critics, with the Abbé Arnaud at their head, proved that they not only appreciated its beauties, but thoroughly understood the principles upon which it was conceived. The only mistake they made—a mistake which more modern critics have been only too ready to endorse—lay in supposing that these principles were new. They were not new—and it is well that we should state this fact clearly, because we shall have occasion to refer to it again. The abstract Ideal which in the year 1600 found its highest attainable expression in Peri's 'Euridice,' was not merely analogous to, but absolutely identical with that which, in 1774, the rich genius of Gluck clothed in the outward form of 'Iphigénie en Aulide.' To compare the two works in the concrete would be manifestly absurd. Peri wrote at a time when Monodic Art was in its infancy, and, with all his talent, was at heart an incorrigible pedant. To more than a century and a half of technical experience Gluck added one grand qualification with which pedantry can in no wise co-exist—a passionate love of Nature. Hence his irresistible power over all who heard him. A certain critic, speaking of a passage in 'Iphigénie en Tauride,' in which Orestes, after a Scene full of the most fearful agitation, exclaims 'Le calme rentre dans mon cœur!' found fault with it on the ground that the agitation still carried on in the Accompaniment belied the expression of the words. 'Not so,' said Gluck. 'He mistakes physical exhaustion for calmness of heart. Has he not killed his mother?' Equally thoughtful was his defence of the well-known Movement, Caron t'appelle, in 'Iphigénie en Aulide,' against the charge of monotony—'My friend, in Hell the passions are extinguished, and the Voice, therefore, needs no inflexions.' Could Shakespeare himself have studied the passions of the human heart more deeply?
Gluck's triumph was complete; but it was short-lived. A reaction soon set in. Piccinni was invited to Paris in 1776, and with the assistance of Marmontel as his Librettist, produced two Operas—'Roland' and 'Atys'—in the Italian style, both of which excited general admiration. This however was not enough to satisfy the party spirit of a large body of malcontents, who, on the arrival of the Italian Composer, divided the Art-world of Paris into two rival factions—the Gluckiste and the Piccinniste—which fought with a bitterness of prejudice infinitely greater than that displayed by the followers of Handel and Buononcini in London. Both parties were equally unjust to their opponents, and the battle raged with a violence proportioned to the unreasonableness of its exciting cause. The immense success which attended the production of Gluck's 'Iphigénie en Tauride' in 1779 brought matters to a crisis. The Piccinnists, irritated at so signal a triumph on the opposite side, urged their favourite Composer to produce another Opera on the same subject. Nothing could possibly have been more unfair to Piccinni. He was by far the most accomplished representative of the Italian School then living, and so deeply attached to its traditions that the task forced upon him was not so much beyond as opposed in every possible way to his powers. He brought out his version of the work in 1781; and, as might have been expected, it was a miserable failure: but this severe blow did not put an end to the pretensions of his party, and the feud was continued with undiminished violence on either side, until long after the Composer of 'Orfeo' had retired into private life at Vienna. Its influence upon Art has proved to be indelible. Few French Composers, with the exception of Méhul, have made any serious attempt to carry out the principles laid down by Gluck as indispensable to the perfection of Dramatic Music; but, notwithstanding their early rejection at Vienna, they were afterwards unhesitatingly adopted in Germany, and have ever since formed one of the strongest characteristics of German Opera. On the other hand, Piccinni's powerful development of the Finale enriched the Italian School with a means of effect of which it was not slow to avail itself, and which its greatest Masters have never ceased to cherish with well-directed care. Of the work wrought by one of the greatest of these Maestri we shall now proceed to speak in treating of our Twelfth Period.
We have already explained, that, after formal recognition of the Opera Buffa as a legitimate branch of Art, it was cultivated with no less assiduity than Serious Opera, and that the greatest writers attained equal excellence in both styles. Of none can this be more truly said than of Cimarosa, to whose fertility of invention Italian Opera is indebted for the nearest approach to perfection it has as yet been permitted to achieve at the hands of a native Composer. The raciness which forms so conspicuous a feature in 'Il Matrimonio segreto' is not more remarkable than the intense pathos, reached evidently without an effort, in 'Gli Orazij e Curiazij.' In neither style do we find a trace of the stiffness which no previous Composer was able entirely to shake off. Cimarosa's forms were as far removed as the latest productions of the present day from the antiquated monotony of the Da capo; and we see them moulded with equal care in Movements of every possible description. The delightful Aria, 'Pria che spunti in ciel l'aurora' (said to have been inspired by the view of a magnificent sunrise from the Hradschin, at Prag), is not more graceful in construction than the irresistibly amusing Duet, 'Se fiato in corpo avvete,' or the still more highly-developed Trio, 'Le faccio un inchino,' though these are both encumbered with the necessity for broad comic action throughout. It is, indeed, in his treatment of the Pezzo concertato that Cimarosa differs most essentially from all his predecessors. Taking full advantage of the improvements introduced by Piccinni, he bestowed upon them an amount of attention which proved the high value he set upon them as elements of general effect. Under his bold treatment they served as a powerful means of carrying on the action of the piece, instead of interrupting it, as they had too frequently done in the works of earlier Masters. This was a most important modification of the system previously adopted in Italian Art. It not only furnished a connecting link to the various Scenes of the Drama, which could no longer be condemned as a mere assemblage of Concert Arias; but it strengthened it in every way, added to the massive dignity of its effect, and gave it a logical status as unassailable as that for which Gluck had so nobly laboured in another School. Henceforward Germany might pride herself upon her imaginative power, and Italy upon her genial Melody; but neither could reproach the other with the encouragement of an unnatural Ideal.
What Haydn would have done for this Period had he devoted his serious attention to Dramatic Music, at any of the larger theatres, is of course mere matter of conjecture; though it seems impossible to believe that he would have rested satisfied with the prevailing Italian model. His 'Orfeo ed Euridice,' written for the King's Theatre in the Haymarket in 1791, but never performed, in consequence of a change in the management, is remarkable rather for its supreme refinement than for dramatic power, a qualification which it would have been unreasonable to expect from a Composer whose former Operas had been written expressly for Prince Esterhazy's private theatre, and, though well adapted for performances on a small scale, were not, as he himself confessed, calculated to produce a good effect elsewhere. The Scores of many of these were destroyed when the little theatre was burned down in 1779; but the original autograph of 'Armida,' first performed in 1783, is happily preserved in the Library of the Sacred Harmonic Society. 'Orfeo ed Euridice' was printed at Leipzig in 1806; and a beautiful Air from it, 'Il pensier sta negli oggetti,' will be found in the collection called 'Gemme d'antichità' (Ashdown & Parry), and will give a fair idea of the general style of the work. Zingarelli, Salieri, and their Italian contemporaries, though undoubtedly possessing talents of a very high order, were so far inferior to Cimarosa, in all his greatest qualities, that he will always remain the typical writer of the age; and to his works alone can we look for the link which connects it with the great Thirteenth Period—the most glorious one the Lyric Drama has ever known, since it witnessed the elevation both of the Italian and German Schools to what, in the present state of our knowledge, we must needs regard as absolute perfection.
Though Mozart was born only seven years later than Cimarosa, and died many years before him, the phase of Art he represents is infinitely more advanced than that we have just described. His sympathies, like Handel's, were entirely with the Italian School; but to him, as to Handel and the elder Scarlatti, it was given to see that the Monodists of the 17th century had committed a fatal mistake in rejecting the contrapuntal experience of their great predecessors. So carefully was his own Art-life guarded against the admission of such an error, that before he was fifteen years old (1770) he was able to write a four-part Counterpoint, upon a given Canto fermo, strict enough to justify his admission, as Compositore, into the ranks of the Accademia Filarmonica at Bologna. In later life he studied unceasingly. Founding his praxis (as Haydn had done before him, and Beethoven did afterwards) on the precepts laid down by Fux in his 'Gradus ad Parnassum' (1725), he was able to take the fullest possible advantage of the gifts bestowed upon him by Nature, and was never at a loss as to the best method of treating the inexhaustible wealth of Melody she placed at his command. In dramatic situations, of whatever character, he struck out the truth by mere force of natural instinct, where Gluck would have arrived at it by a long process of synthetic induction; and this faculty enabled him to illustrate the actual life of the Scene without for a moment interrupting the continuity of his melodic idea, and to enforce its meaning with a purity of expression diametrically opposed to the coarseness inseparable from an exaggerated conception. For instance, when Papageno prepares to hang himself, he takes leave of the world with such unaffected pathos, that we lose all thought of absurdity in our sorrow for the poor clown who is so truly sorry for himself, and who yet remains the most absurd of clowns to the end. On the other hand, when elaboration of Form was desirable, he did not disdain to avail himself of the experience of his predecessors, but enlarged a thousandfold upon the ideas of Piccinni and Cimarosa, and produced symmetrical movements the complications of which had never entered into their minds as possible. Thus the Sestets 'Sola, sola' and 'Riconosci in questo amplesso' surpass in fulness of design the grandest dénouements to be found in any other Operas of the period; while the two concerted Finales in 'Le Nozze di Figaro' contain respectively nine and seven, and those in 'Il Don Giovanni' no less than eleven distinct Movements, all written with the most masterly skill, and linked together in such natural sequence that it is impossible but to accept them, in each particular case, as the component parts of a single comprehensive idea, as homogeneous as that of a Symphony or a Concerto. Again, Mozart's command of the Orchestra, as a medium of dramatic effect, stands unrivalled. He was accused by some of his contemporaries of overloading the Voice with unmeaning Accompaniments; but the charge was made in ignorance of the principle upon which he worked. Grétry, when asked by Napoleon to define the difference between the styles of Mozart and Cimarosa, replied, 'Sire, Cimarosa places his Statue on the Stage, and its Pedestal in the Orchestra: Mozart places the Statue in the Orchestra, and the Pedestal on the Stage.' The metaphor, though pretty enough, conveyed a palpable untruth. Neither Mozart nor Cimarosa reversed the relative positions of the Statue and the Pedestal; but Cimarosa used the latter simply as a means of support; whereas Mozart adorned it with the most exquisite and appropriate Bassi-rilievi. His Accompaniments are always made to intensify the expression of the Voice, and to aid it in explaining its meaning; and he attains this end by a mode of treatment as varied as it is original. Though his system of Instrumentation has served as the basis of every other method, without exception, used by later Composers, his own combinations are marked by a freshness which never fails to make known their true authorship at the very first hearing. Unhappily we are rarely permitted, now-a-days, to hear them in their integrity—at any rate, in London or Paris. The awful tones with which the Trombones support the Voice of the Statue in 'Il Don Giovanni,' lose all their significance after we have heard them introduced into every forte passage in the previous part of the Opera. The Overture to the same great work is deprived of all its point when any attempt is made to interfere with the delicate arrangement of the Score, by means of which Mozart intended to depict the struggle between good and evil in the mind of the dissolute hero of the piece, using the stately passage of Minims and Crotchets to represent the one, and the light groups of Quavers to delineate the other. The airy lightness of 'Le Nozze di Figaro' profits us nothing when rendered inaudible by the din of a Brass Band fit only for a field-day on Woolwich Common. Mozart himself never conceived a more charming Scene than that in which Count Almaviva's clever 'Factotum' takes upon himself to lecture the little Page upon the proper bearing of a Soldier, and marches up and down the Stage in illustration of his precepts, while Susanna looks admiringly on. When the Scene was first rehearsed, at Vienna, in 1786, every performer on the Stage and in the Orchestra shouted 'Viva il grande Mozart.' Now, we are favoured, instead of it, with a vulgar Chorus, brought together in defiance of all dramatic possibility, made to sing Voice-parts which Mozart never wrote, and accompanied by a crash of Bass-drums and Ophicleides through which the voice of Stentor himself could never have been made to penetrate. If we would know what Mozart really meant, we must study him, not at the Opera, but in his own delightful Scores; and from these we shall learn that he did not arrive at his full perfection until after long years of careful study. Thoug the cachet of true genius is impressed upon earliest inspirations, it is in 'Idomeneo, Re di Creta,' produced at Munich in 1781, that we first find him claiming his right to be numbered among the greatest Composers the world has ever known. We have here the perfection of melodious grace, the perfection of dramatic truth and the perfection of choral dignity. In last-named quality—more especially as exhibited in the Choruses 'Pietà! Numi, Pietà!' and 'O voto tremendo'—it is doubtful whether 'Idomeneo' has ever been equalled, even by Mozart himself; while it is certain that, in its comprehensive grasp of a grand and always logically consistent Ideal, it has never been surpassed: but, in richness of invention and exhaustive technical development, it must undoubtedly yield to 'Così fan tutte,' 'La Clemenza di Tito,' 'Le Nozze di Figaro,' and 'Il Don Giovanni.' In these four great works Italian Opera reached a grade of excellence above which it seems extremely improbable that it will ever be fated to rise. Yet Mozart did not rest satisfied even here. It was given to him to raise German Opera to the same high level, and concerning this a few words of explanation will be necessary.
We have already spoken of Hamburg as cradle of the German Opera, and of Handel, Mattheson, and Reinhard Keiser, as the guardians of its infancy. After the death of Keiser, in 1739, the Hamburg Theatre lost much of the prestige it had acquired during his magnificent rule: but, some thirty years later, a notable impulse was given to Teutonic Art, at Leipzig, by Johann Adam Hiller, a really talented Musician, celebrated as the first Director of the Gewandhaus Concerts, and, at a later period, as Cantor of the Thomas Schule. At the instigation of Koch, the Manager of the Leipzig Theatre, Hiller devoted his attention to a light kind of dramatic effusion, with spoken dialogue, plentifully interspersed with Music of a pleasing character, based, for the most part, upon a highly-developed form of the German Lied, though sometimes taking the shape of concerted pieces of considerable completeness. These little pieces succeeded admirably, some of them, such as 'Der Teufel ist los'—founded upon the English Play, 'The Devil to pay'—'Der Dorfbarbier,' and 'Die Jagd,' attaining an enormous popularity. And thus arose that best and truest form of German Opera, the 'Singspiel,' which, though less defensible, on pure æsthetic principles, than either the Opera Seria or the Opera Buffa, has given birth to some of the grandest Lyric Dramas we possess. We say 'less defensible,' because it is evident that a Scene, partly spoken and partly sung, cannot possibly bring out the Poet's meaning with the clearness which is easily enough attainable when a single mode of expression is employed throughout. There must be a most awkward and unnatural solution of continuity somewhere. All the Composer can do is, to put it in the least inconvenient place. J. F. Reichardt afterwards made an attempt to overcome this difficulty in the 'Liederspiel'—an imitation of the French 'Vaudeville'—in which he was careful that the Action of the piece should never be carried on by the Music, which was almost entirely of a semi-incidental character. A third form of Musical Drama was introduced, at Gotha, in 1774, by George Benda, who, in his 'Ariadne auf Naxos' and 'Medea,' assisted the effect of a spoken Dialogue by means of a highly-coloured Orchestral Accompaniment, carried on uninterruptedly throughout the piece, after the manner of what is now called a Melodrama. Mozart heard some of Benda's productions at Mannheim in 1778, and, though he never adopted the method in any of his greater works, was delighted with its effect. He took, indeed, the greatest possible interest in all that concerned the advancement of German Art; and when commissioned to write a work for the National Opera founded at Vienna in 1778, by the Emperor Joseph, he threw his best energies into the welcome task, and produced, in 1782, a masterpiece—'Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail'—which at once elevated the Singspiel to the level he had already won for the Italian Opera, and secured it a recognised status as the embodiment of a conception peculiar to and truly worthy of the great Teutonic School. We rarely hear this delightful Opera now, even in Germany; but its beauty is of a kind which can never grow old. It teems with lovely Melodies from beginning to end; and the disposition of its Voices leads to the introduction of a wealth of Concerted Music of the highest order. It was received with enthusiasm both in Vienna and at Prague. Mozart followed it up in 1786 with 'Der Schauspieldirektor,' a charming little piece, filled with delightful Music; and in 1791 he crowned his labours by the production of the noblest Lyric Comedy existing in the German language—'Die Zauberflöte.' One of our best English critics has lately thought it necessary to speak apologetically of this great work, as if its finest Scenes were marred by the juxtaposition of others containing Music incapable of adding to the Composer's reputation. There can be no greater mistake. As well might we make excuses for 'The Tempest,' because the prose put into the mouth of Trinculo is less sonorous than the measured tones spoken by Prospero and Miranda. A work of Art is great in proportion, and only in proportion, to its truth. The moment its conceptions cease to be natural, it ceases to be worthy of our regard. 'Die Zauberflöte' is true to Nature, from its first note to its last; and the hand of the greatest of modern Masters is as clearly perceptible in the tinkle of Papageno's 'Glockenspiel,' as in the grandest contrapuntal triumph of the last Finale. An ingenious critic can always manufacture 'weak points'; but Mozart left none in his work; and to those who carefully study 'Die Zauberflöte' side by side with 'Le Nozze di Figaro' and 'Il Don Giovanni,' the conclusion will be inevitable that, in German as well as in Italian Opera, he soared to heights which, hitherto at least, have set all emulation at defiance.
But the history of our Fourteenth Period will teach us that the peculiar phase of German Art over which Mozart asserted such absolute supremacy was not the only one in which it was capable of manifesting itself. The possible variety of styles is unlimited; and it was evident from the first that many promising paths to excellence still remained unexplored. One of these was selected by Beethoven, with results for which the world has reason to be profoundly grateful. Over this great Master's early youth the Stage seems to have exercised none of that strange fascination which so frequently monopolises the young Composer's interest, almost before he has had time to ascertain his true vocation: and when, in the full maturity of his genius, he turned his attention to it, he does not appear to have been attracted, like Mozart, by the force of uncontrollable instinct, but rather to have arrived at perfection, as Gluck did, by the assistance of earnest thought and unremitting study. He wrote an Opera, simply because the Manager of the Theater-an-der-Wien found it worth while to offer him an engagement for that purpose: but, having undertaken the work, he threw his whole soul into it; laboured at it, as his sketch-books prove, incessantly; and identified himself so completely with its progress that he seems as much at home in it as he had ever previously been in a Sonata or a Symphony. The subject selected was Bouilly's 'Leonore, ou l'amour conjugale,' which had already been set to music as a French 'Opéra comique,' by Gaveaux, and very successfully, to Italian words, by Paër. A German translation was now made by Sonnleithner; and that Beethoven was satisfied with it, and was conscious of no inconsistency in the dialogue being spoken, must be inferred from the careful solicitude with which he strove, not only to give due effect to the various situations of the Drama, but to bring out the sense of the text, even to its lightest word. The work was produced in 1805, under the name of 'Fidelio, oder die eheliche Liebe'; and again performed, in the following year, with extensive alterations and a new Overture: but its success was more than doubtful. In 1814 it was revived at the Karnthnerthor Theater, still under the name of 'Fidelio,' with farther alterations consequent upon a thorough revision of the text by Friedrich Treitschke, and a new Overture in E—the fourth which had been written for it—and, on this occasion, its beauties were more clearly appreciated, though not to the extent they deserved. Never during the Composer's lifetime was 'Fidelio' understood as we understand it now. Perhaps no work of the kind ever caused its author more serious annoyance. Even in 1814, the Prima donna, Madame Milder-Hauptmann, presumed, on her own confession, to dispute Beethoven's will with regard to the magnificent Scena, 'Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern.' Yet the unwearying care he bestowed upon the minutest details of the piece, no less than upon its general effect, resulted in a work which really leaves no room for hostile criticism. The most censorious analyst, if he be honest, will find himself constrained to admit that, however deeply he may seek into the inner meaning of the Scenes it presents to us, Beethoven has been beforehand with him, and sought into it more deeply still. Not Gluck himself ever produced an Opera bearing traces of such intense devotion to pure dramatic truth. The principles upon which it is modelled are, indeed, almost identical with Gluck's, so far as theory is concerned; but Gluck, in his latest works, undoubtedly sacrificed musical form to dramatic expression; while Beethoven has shown that the perfection of the one is not inconsistent with the fullest possible enunciation of the other.
With these great qualities to recommend it, Fidelio stands alone, and has necessarily become immortal; while the works of Paër, Süssmayer, and other Composers who enjoyed a high degree of popularity in the earlier years of the 19th century, have been long since almost forgotten. The only other productions of the Period that can for a moment be placed in competition with it are the later Operas of Cherubini, who, after writing for many years in the light Neapolitan style, struck out, in 'Lodoiska' (1791), a manner of his own, strikingly original, and far above the possibility of imitation, but based, like Beethoven's, upon the principles laid down by Gluck, and presenting the curious anomaly of a German method, cultivated by an Italian, for the amusement of a Parisian audience. Beethoven is known to have spoken of Cherubini as 'the greatest of all living writers for the Stage,' and to have admired 'Les deux Journées' and 'Faniska' exceedingly: and it is worthy of remark, that a strong analogy is observable between the Libretti of 'Fidelio,' 'Faniska,' 'Les deux Journées,' and 'Lodoiska,' in each of which the leading incident is the rescue of an unjustly-detained prisoner, through the devotion of a faithful friend whose life is risked, though not lost, in the labour of love necessary to effect the desired object. We can scarcely believe it possible that the two great Composers would have selected subjects so exactly similar in character, and bringing into play exactly the same delicate shades of emotion, passion, and feeling, had there not been a strong community of thought between them: yet their mode of expressing that thought was, in each case, so completely a part of themselves, that not the slightest trace of similarity is discernible in their treatment even of those Scenes which most closely resemble each other as well in their outward construction as in their inner meaning. In all such cases, the most careful criticism can only lead to the conclusion that each Master did that which was best for his own work in his own peculiar way; and the more closely we analyse these works, the deeper will be our reverence for the genius of those who attained such splendid results by such very different means.
Our Fifteenth Period introduces us to new and very remarkable development of the German Opera, known among musical historians as the Romantic School—a form of Art which, since the beginning of the present century, has exercised a more decided influence upon the progress of Dramatic Music than any other recognised agent. The invention of the Romantic Opera has been almost unanimously ascribed to Weber; we must not, however, pass over in silence a claim which has been brought forward, within the last few years, in favour of Spohr, though we believe it to be indefensible. It is quite true that 'Faust,' Spohr's greatest triumph in this peculiar style, was completed and ready for performance in 1813; while Weber's masterpiece, 'Der Freischütz,' was not produced till 1821. But the decision of the controversy does not rest, as has been pretended, upon the comparative chronology of these two great works. As early as 1806 Weber had given good promise of what was to come, in a decidedly Romantic Opera, "Rübezahl,' written for the theatre at Breslau, but never publicly performed. The only portions of this Opera now known to be in existence are, a Scena, a Quintet, and a Chorus of Spirits, in MS., and the Overture—published, with extensive alterations, under the title of 'Der Beherrscher der Geister' ('The Ruler of the Spirits'). It is sad indeed to feel that the remainder is hopelessly lost; but the Overture alone affords us all the evidence we need. Not only is it the first example we meet with, in modern times, of a grand Orchestral Prelude written in 6-4 time; but its Subjects, its Instrumentation, and its general design, establish its 'Romantic' character beyond all controversy, and, taken in connection with the date of its production, remove the necessity for bringing forward any farther testimony in the Composer's favour. Priority of invention, therefore, unquestionably rests with him; while those who judge the question on æsthetic grounds have never hesitated to accept 'Der Freischütz' as an embodiment of the highest Ideal the School is capable of realising, its truest prototype as well as its brightest ornament. To Weber, therefore, the full honour must be accorded; and it is in his works that the characteristics of the School may be most profitably studied.
It is by no means indispensable that the Libretto of the Romantic Opera should deal with the Supernatural. Though it certainly finds a congenial habitat in the realm of Ghosts, Daemons, Faeries, Gnomes, Witches, Mermaids, and Sprites of all sorts and conditions, it is equally at home among the splendours of Chivalric Pageantry, in the solitude of the Black Forest, or under the arches of a Cloister. Its Dramatis personæ may be Queens and Princes, a troop of Spectres, or a company of Peasants with hearts as innocent as their dresses are homely. Only, whoever they are, they must speak in their real character, natural or imaginary. The Scene cannot very well be laid in the streets of a modern City, nor must the incidents be such as one would be likely to encounter in ordinary domestic life; but the domestic affections, and all other passions which form the common inheritance of every age and country alike, may, and necessarily must, be represented in their fullest integrity. The only condition laid upon the Composer is, that when he is called upon to deal with natural things, he must be truly and unaffectedly natural. When he soars into the regions of Fancy, he must trust entirely to the power of his Imagination; and, in proportion to the extent of that power will be the measure of his success. Let us see how these conditions are fulfilled in Weber's masterpiece.
The plot of 'Der Freischütz' consists of the simplest possible love story, surrounded by an atmosphere of horror, which, though having no real connection with it, influences its progress from beginning to end. It is by his clever recognition of this fact that Weber has proved himself the greatest Master of the style that ever lived. He presents his heroine to us as a high-souled maiden, faithful and true, and above all, earnestly and unaffectedly God-fearing. We learn all this, not from anything she says or does, but simply from the style of the Music he has given her to sing. In like manner, and by the same means of expression, he depicts his hero as an honest fellow, very much in love, but very weak and vacillating when his best affections are used as temptations to draw him into evil. We see this last-named trait in his character very clearly exemplified in the grand concerted piece, 'O! diese Sonne,' and the Terzetto, 'Wie? was? entsetzen!' and the first, in 'Durch die Wälder': but, when the shadow of Samiel appears behind him, he entirely loses his individuality. He is no longer one of ourselves. His cry of despair, 'O dringt kein Strahl durch diese Nächte,' reaches us like a wail from the other world; and we are instantly transported from the realms of human passion into those of pure imagination. Caspar, on the other hand, is never natural. He has consorted with Daemons until he has himself become a Fiend; and he betrays this fact as clearly in his rollicking Trinklied, as in his Death-Song. The same just discrimination of styles is exhibited in the Music allotted to the Peasants, the Bridesmaids, and the grisly Followers of 'The Wild Huntsman,' who are all made to sing passages so well suited to their several characters, whether real or imaginary, that no spoken words could illustrate them with equal plainness. In the famous 'Incantation Scene,' the Art of Tone-painting is used with a power which needs the aid of no scenic horrors to impress its meaning upon the most unimaginative comprehension, and which is, indeed, only too frequently distracted by the noise and confusion inseparable from a too exuberant 'Spectacle': while the Overture, a triumph of descriptive Instrumentation, furnishes us, by means of its leading themes, with an epitome of the entire story. The constant use of the Leitmotif, throughout the whole of this remarkable Opera, seems indeed to entitle Weber to the honour of its invention, notwithstanding the suggestive notes sung by the Statue in 'Il Don Giovanni.' His skill in making the Overture serve as an argument to the piece to which it is prefixed, in accordance with the principles laid down many years previously by Gluck, is, at all times, very conspicuous. In 'Euryanthe' (1823), for instance, the spirited 'First Subject' prepares us at once for the knightly pomp of the coming Drama; while the weird episode for Violini, con sordini, tells the secret of the plot with a ghastly fidelity to which the shuddering tremoli of the Viola—played senza sordini—lends an intensity truly wonderful, when we remember the extreme simplicity of the means employed. The raison d'être of this extraordinary episode—to which no one seems ever to give a thought in England—is, the temporary rising of the Curtain, for the purpose of displaying the Vault containing the Sarcophagus of Adolar's sister Emma, whence is stolen the poisoned Ring afterward brough forward in evidence of Euryanthe's faithlessness. The whole passage is treated with a dramatic force never afterwards exceeded even by Weber himself. He seems, indeed, to have 'Euryanthe,' in which he so far departed from German custom as to substitute heavily accompanied Recitative for spoken dialogue throughout—an expedient which he did not follow up in his later English opera 'Oberon,' and for the introduction of which it is certain that neither English nor German audiences were at that time prepared.
Though Spohr cannot be justly credited with the invention of the 'Romantic Opera,' his imaginative temperament and rich creative powers him to cultivate it with very great success; while his unlimited command over the intricacies of the Chromatic and Enharmonic Genera lent a peculiarly delicious colouring to his method of treatment. His 'Faust'—now temporarily thrust aside to make room for another work of the same name—contains beauties enough to remove all danger of its permanent extinction. 'Der Berggeist' (1825), though less generally known, is, in some respects, still finer; and is especially remarkable for its magnificent Overture, as well as for the skilful treatment of a Scene, in which the phantoms of the heroine's friends are sent, by the power of a magic spell, to cheer her in her solitude. The shadowy Music assigned to the ghostly forms, contrasted with that sung by the same individuals when present in their own proper persons, tells the story with true dramatic accuracy. Spohr also reached a very high standard in 'Zemire und Azor' (1819), 'Der Alchymist' (1830), and 'Der Kreuzfahrer' (1845). In 'Jessonda,' produced in 1823, and regarded by himself as his best Opera, he made an attempt, like Weber, to abolish spoken dialogue in favour of Accompanied Recitative; but found, like Weber, that popular feeling was too strong to listen to reason on a point concerning which tt still holds its ground, both in Germany, France, and England. In Italy alone has uninterrupted singing been always regarded as a sine qua non at the Opera.
Next in order of merit are the Operas of Heinrich Marschner, whose more important productions, 'Der Vampyr' (1828), 'Der Templer and die Jüdin' (1829), 'Hans Heiling' (1833), and 'Adolph von Naaman' (1844 [App. p.735 "1843"]), rank among the best works of the kind that have been produced in modern times. Of the eleven Operas written by Ernst Theodor Hoffmann, and now preserved in MS. at Berlin, one only, founded on De la Motte Fouqué's story of 'Undine,' seems to have produced any very strong impression. Weber has praised this, most enthusiastically; yet, notwithstanding its originality, its characteristic Instrumentation, and its intense dramatic power—more especially as exhibited in the part of Küleborn—nothing as ever been heard of it since it was first produced in 1817. Amost equally forgotten are the Romantic Operas of Lindpaintner, whose 'Lichtenstein,' 'Die Sicilianische Vesper,' 'Der Bergkönig,' and 'Der Vampyr,' far excel, both in artistic conception and technical development, many works which have unaccountably outlived them. Lindpaintner died in 1856; and, in noticing his works, we virtually bring our history of the German Opera down to the present time; for it is unnecessary that we should criticise the ephemeral productions of Conradin Kreutzer, Lortzing, and other writers who confessedly entertained no higher aim than that of pleasing the frequenters of the theatres at which they were severally engaged; and—except in one important instance, too grave to be either passed over in silence or discussed in company with others—we think it best to leave the inspirations of living Composers to the judgment of a future generation.
When Chernbini fulfilled his great Art-mission in Paris, he worked side by side with men, who, though wholly unworthy to be placed in the same category with himself, or with Beethoven—the only other Composer whose Dramatic Music beats the slightest analogy to his own—were, nevertheless earnest enough, in their way, and conscientiously acted up to their light. Of these Composers we now propose to speak, as the chief actors in our Sixteenth Period, the most brilliant in the history of the Opéra comique.
After the retirement of Gluck, Piccinni still enjoyed a certain term of popularity: but, when the excitement of faction had settled down into the calm of sounder judgment, the field was really open to any French Composer with talent enough to secure a fair hearing. At this juncture, Grétry and Méhul stepped forward to fill the gap. Both were men of more than ordinary talent, and the works of both became extremely popular, and held firm possession of the Stage for many years. Grétry's style was light and and exactly adapted to the taste of a Parisian audience. Méhul was even a more thorough Musician, and aimed at higher things; striving conscientiously to carry out the principles of his instructor, Gluck, for whom be entertained the deepest reverence, and to whose wise counsels he was indebted for many of the sterling qualities which tended to make his work deservedly famous. It was chiefly by the exertions of these two genial writers, and their equally talented countryman and contemporary, Boieldieu, that the Opéra comique was raised to the position which it has ever since maintained, as one of the most popular branches of French Dramatic Art—for the great works of Cherubini, though Opéras comiques in name, are, in style, much more nearly allied to the German 'Romantic Opera.' The true Opéra comique is essentially a French creation. Its title is somewhat anomalous, for it is not at afl necessary that it should introduce a single comic Scene or Character: but its dénouement must be a happy one and the dialogue must be spoken. Even Méhul's 'Joseph' (1807), though founded strictly upon the Scripture narrative, is included, by virtue of this in the category, as are many other works, the action of which is serious, or even gloomy, throughout. Since the beginning of the present century, the best French Composers have desired nothing better than to succeed in the style which was so signally adorned by their immediate predecessors. Monsigny, Berton, Isouard, Lesueur, and Catel, all cultivated it with more or leas success; as did, at a later period, Clapisson, Adam, Herold, Halevy, and Auber. The last two Composers also attained great celebrity in Grand Opera, concerning the development of which we shall have occasion to speak more particularly in a later section of the present Article; for the present, it is enough to say that their lighter works have been received little less cordially in England and Germany than at the Parisian theatres for which they were originally composed.
As Germany boasted its Romantic Opera, and France its Opéra comique, so England gave birth to a style of Opera peculiar to itself, and differing in so many important points from all other known forms, that we shall find it convenient to place it in a class by itself, and speak of it as the creation of a Seventeenth Period.
In describing the dramatic works of Purcell (see p. 507a), we stated our belief that English Opera owed its origin to the Masque. Now, the Music of the Masque was wholly incidental—that is to say, it formed no essential element of the piece, but was introduced, either for the purpose of adding to the effect of certain Scenes, of affording opportunities for certain Actors to display their vocal powers, or, of amusing or interesting the audience in any way that might be thought most desirable. The only purpose for which it was not used was that of developing the action of the Drama, which was carried on entirely in spoken dialogue: declamatory Music, therefore, was quite foreign to its character, and all that was demanded of the Composer was a succession of Songs, Dances, and tuneful Choruses. Purcell rebelled against this state of things, and introduced a decidedly dramatic feeling into much of his best Music; but he died early, and his work was not successfully followed up. The history of our Eighth Period shows how completely the Italian Opera banished native Art from the Stage, during the greater part of the 18th century. Attempts were indeed made to bring it forward, from time to time, sometimes successfully, but often with very discouraging results. Several English Operas were sung at the 'Little Theatre in the Haymarket,' while Handel's splendid works were rapidly succeeding each other at the King's Theatre across the street; and, more than once, English Operas were advertised to be performed 'after the Italian manner,'—that is to say, with Recitatives in place of dialogue, and measured Melody for the Airs. None of these, however, produced any real effect; and no success worth recording was attained until the year 1728, when Gay wrote, and Dr. Pepusch adapted Music to, the 'Beggar's Opera.' This was an embodiment of English Art, pure and simple. The plot was laid in an English Prison; the dialogues were spoken, as in an ordinary Play; and the Music consisted of the loveliest English and Scottish Melodies that could be collected, either from the inexhaustible treasury of National Song, or the most popular Ballad Music of the day. The success of this venture was quite unprecedented, and led to the production of a sequel to the story, similarly treated, and made ready for performance, in 1729, though not presented to the public until 1777, when it was played, for the first time, under the name of 'Polly.' [See Polly.]
No English Opera composed 'after the Italian manner' was ever so cordially welcomed as the 'Beggar's Opera.' Nevertheless, attempts were still made in that style. In 1733, Dr. Arne produced a piece called (after Fielding's 'Tragedy of Tragedies') 'Tom Thumb, The Opera of Operas,' in which his little brother, then known as Master Arne, sang the part of the hero with great success; and Lampe was still happier, in 1737, with his famous Burlesque 'The Dragon of Wantley.' Arne, however, aimed at higher things than these. His great ambition was the formation of a School of English Opera, based upon the then fashionable Italian model; and, with this end in view, he translated and set to Music the text of Metastasio's 'Artaserse,' and produced it, under the name of 'Artaxerxes,' in 1762. Its reception was extremely encouraging, and deservedly so, for it contained much excellent Music, and was performed by a very strong company; but its success was rendered almost nugatory, so far as its effect upon the future was concerned, by the interference of a certain class of critics—men, for the most part, with some amount of literary ability, but utterly ignorant of the first principles of Art, and therefore knowing nothing whatever of the merits of the question they pretended to decide—who, having come to the conclusion that the English language was unfitted for Recitative, reiterated this opinion until they persuaded a large section of the public to agree with them. But for this, it is quite possible that the idea, had it been conscientiously developed, might have led to results of real importance. As it was, no farther attempt was made to sing an English Opera, throughout, though no objection was raised against the introduction of any amount of Recitative, Accompanied or Unaccompanied, into an Oratorio. Arne's project, therefore, brought forth no permanent fruit, though he had no cause to be dissatisfied with the result of his own private venture: but pieces constructed more or less exactly upon the model of the 'Beggar's Opera,' though containing, for the most part, only original Music, became enormously popular, and were produced in almost incredible numbers. Between the years 1788 and 1796 Storace wrote fifteen, the most successful of which were 'The Haunted Tower,' 'No Song, no Supper,' 'The Iron Chest,' and 'Mahmoud.' Dibdin wrote a still greater number, including 'The Padlock' (1768), 'The Waterman' (1774), and 'The Quaker' (1775). His Songs were characterised by a genial raciness which brought them into universal fame at the time they were written, and has been the means of preserving many of them to our own day, though the pieces into which they were introduced have been long since utterly forgotten—with the exception, perhaps, of 'The Waterman,' which still occasionally appears, as an 'Afterpiece,' at Provincial Theatres, and in which Mr. Sims Reeves achieved, not many, years ago, a very great success. Shield was gifted with a true genius for Melody. His Songs are delightful; and, among the thirty Operas he produced between 1782 and 1807, are many, such as 'Rosina,' 'Lock and Key,' and 'The Castle of Andalusia,' [App. p.735 "omit 'The Castle of Andalusia,' since that opera is not by Shield but by Arnold"] which abound with beauties now very undeservedly forgotten. Michael Kelly was a prolific writer of English Operas, and won much fame by 'The Castle Spectre' (1797) 'Bluebeard' (1798), and 'The Wood Dæmon' (1807). Hook, Davy, Ware, Reeve, and many other equally popular writers, contributed their quota of works which have long since passed out of memory, but which our grandfathers held in no light esteem. To them succeeded Braham, whose really good Songs, so perfectly adapted to the powers of his matchless voice, commanded success for 'The English Meet' and many other pieces, which, as true works of Art, were certainly not on a level with those of Shield. Very different were the productions of Sir Henry Bishop, a thorough master of Harmony, and a more than ordinarily accomplished Musician. He made, indeed, no attempt to improve upon the form of the English Opera, which, in his hands, as well as in those of his predecessors, was still no more than a Play—generally a very poor one—diversified by a goodly collection of Songs, Duets, and Choruses. But neither his Songs nor his Concerted pieces betrayed the slightest sign of weakness. Had they formed parts of a well-constructed Drama, instead of being scattered through the various Acts of such ill-conceived medleys as 'The Knight of Snowdoun' (1810 [App. p.735 "1811"]), 'The Miller and his Men' (1813), or 'Guy Mannering' (1816); had their writer devoted his life rather to the regeneration of English Opra than to the less exalted task of adorning it with gems of which it was not worthy—the name of Bishop would not have stood very low down upon the list of the great Operatic Composers of the present century. But there seems to have been a great lack of energy in the right direction at this particular epoch. Charles Horn, another delightful Composer of English Operas, was equally content to let the general character of the piece remain as he found it. It would be scarcely just to say the same of Balfe, who first made himself famous, in 1835, by 'The Siege of Rochelle,' and, in 1843, produced the most successful modern English Opera on record, the far-famed 'Bohemian Girl.' Balfe's style was not an elevated one; but he possessed an inexhaustible fund of Melody, and by careful study of the Opéra comique, he certainly raised the standard of the pieces he wrote, so far as their general structure was concerned, though in so doing he deprived them of the most salient characteristics of the older models, and produced a novelty to which it is difficult to assign any definite artistic status—a peculiarity which is, also, to some extent observable in the works of Rooke, J. Barnett, Lavenu, Wallace, and E. J. Loder. Happily we find no such difficulty with regard to the works of our best living Operatic Composers, Sir Julius Benedict, Professor Macfarren, and Mr. Arthur Sullivan. With these talented writers it rests to raise the English School to a higher level than it has ever yet attained. They have already done much towards that most desirable end; and we cannot doubt that Artists who have hitherto so conscientiously striven to turn their gifts to the best account will continue their labour of love until they have invested our National Lyric Drama with a very different form from that which it presented during the earlier half of the present century. Should they succeed in this great work, they will certainly not fail to find a Manager able and willing to do them justice; for enterprising Managers have never been wanting when their presence was needed witness the work wrought by Arnold, Harrison, Miss Louisa Pyne, Carl Rosa, and many others. The prospects of English Opera are not, then, so dark as some of us may imagine.
The Eighteenth Period of our history takes us once more, and for the last time, to Italy, where we find the work of Cimarosa followed up by one of the most brilliant geniuses the world has ever known. While Weber was studiously developing the Romantic School in Germany, Rossini was introducing unheard-of changes—not always for the better, but always striking and effective—into the inmost constitution of Italian Art, and carrying them out with such trenchant vigour, and on so extensive a scale, that he may be said to have entirely remodelled both the Opera Seria and the Opera Buffa. Though by no means a learned Musician, he knew enough of the Grammar of his Art to enable him to do full justice to the delicious conceptions which continually presented themselves to his mind, without costing him the labour of a second thought. From first to last he never troubled himself to work. Nature had bestowed upon him the power of giving a nameless grace to everything he touched. His Melodies were more sensuous, his Instrumentation more rich and varied, and his forms more concise, than any that had been previously produced in Italy; it was but natural, therefore, that he should be hailed, at first, as Cimarosa's legitimate successor, or that he should eventually succeed in very nearly supplanting him, notwithstanding his manifest inferiority to that great Master in most, if not all, of those higher qualities which tend to make their possessor immortal. Possibly a greater amount of learning might have dimmed the lustre of his natural gifts. As it was, his country had just reason to be proud of him, for his weakest productions were infinitely stronger than the strongest of those brought forward by the best of his Italian contemporaries. Like Cimarosa and Mozart, he was equally great in Opera Seria and Opera Buffa. His first great triumph in the former style took place in the year 1813, when he produced 'Il Tancredi' at Venice and took the city by storm. This was followed by many other works of the same class; and notably, in 1816, by 'Otello,' which marks an epoch in the history of Serious Opera, inasmuch as it is written in Recitativo strumentato throughout, in place of the ordinary Recitativo secco—a peculiarity extensively adopted in the Grand Operas of a later period. It was in 1816 that he also produced his greatest Opera Buffa, 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia'—a work which, notwithstanding the extraordinary popularity of 'La Cenerentola,' 'La Gazza Ladra,' and some other equally well-appreciated favourites, has always been regarded as his chef d'œuvre. Of his 'Guillaume Tell,' written in 1829, in a style entirely different from anything he had ever previously attempted, this is not the place to speak; but the number of his Italian Operas is prodigious, and though many of them have long since been forgotten, the revival of an old one may always be looked upon as a certain success.
Rossini's greatest contemporaries and successors were Mercadante, Giovanni Pacini, Bellini, and Donizetti. The first of these cultivated a peculiar elegance of style, and won bright laurels by his 'Nitocri,' produced in 1826. In the same [App. p.735 "the previous"] year Pacini produced his best Opera, 'Niobe,' in which Madame Pasta achieved one of her most memorable triumphs. Of the masterpieces of Bellini and Donizetti it is surely unnecessary to speak, since they still hold firm possession of the Stage, and are not likely to be soon replaced by newer favourites. Bellini died in 1835, and Donizetti in 1848; and, as most of their successors are still living, including Verdi (born 1814 [App. p.735 "1813"]), their works do not fall within the compass of the present article.
In enumerating the Composers most celebrated in the history of the Opéra comique, we spoke of some who had attained equal distinction by the production of Grand Operas. To these we must again allude, in narrating the events of our Nineteenth Period.
We have already noticed the invention of the Grand Opera by Lulli, and its thorough reformation by Gluck. Gluck's greatest successors were Cherubini and Spontini; the former of whom, after many splendid successes at the Opéra comique, produced his 'Anacréon' at the Académie in 1803, 'Les Abencérages' in 1813. and 'Ali Baba' in 1833, while the latter achieved a triumph in 1807 with 'La Vestale,' and in 1809 with. Ferdinand Cortez—works which, though now most undeservedly forgotten, exhibit qualities entitling them to a place among the best Operas of their kind that have ever been placed upon the stage. Rossini enriched the répertoire in 1828 with 'Le Comte Ory,' and in 1829 with his matchless 'Guillaume Tell.' Auber produced 'La Muette de Portici' in 1828. These were followed in due time by Halévy's 'La Juive' (1835) and 'Charles VI' (1843), and the 'Benvenuto Cellini' of Hector Berlioz (1838). But though 'Les Abencérages,' 'La Vestale,' and 'Guillaume Tell' are by far the finest examples of the style we possess—so fine that they might well form the glory of any style or any age—the representative Composer of the Grand Opera is unquestionably Meyerbeer. To him it owes its present brilliant reputation, its gorgeous surroundings, its clever mixture of Ballet and Spectacle, so flattering to the national taste. He also it is who has made the most of the one great characteristic by which the style is distinguished from that of the Opéra comique—for it is indispensable that the Voices should be accompanied by the full Orchestra, or at least the full Stringed Band, throughout the entire piece, to the utter exclusion not only of spoken dialogue, but even of Recitative secco; and it is very seldom indeed that the full Stringed Band is sufficient for the expression of his ideas, without the aid of Wind Instruments. His three great works, 'Robert le Diable' (1831), 'Les Huguenots' (1836), and 'Le Prophète' (1849), exhibit in their fullest possible form of development all the most prominent features of the School, more especially those which bring it into antagonism, not only with the Classical Schools of Italy and Germany, as represented by Cimarosa and Mozart, but with the later creations of Rossini, and the imaginative productions of the successors of Weber. Since he first made known the fulness of his power in 'Robert,' no later Composer has ever attempted to rob him of his well-earned fame; and his death would have been an irreparable loss to the Académie, had he not left behind him the Composer of 'La Nonne sanglante' (1854), 'Faust' (1859), 'Mireille' (1864), and 'Polyeucte'(1878).
In approaching the Twentieth Period of our history, the last into which we have thought it necessary to subdivide it, we find ourselves brought face to face with a Master whose earnest devotion to the cause of Art entitles his opinions to a more than ordinary measure of respectful consideration. We have, it is true, expressed our intention of avoiding, as far as may be, the invidious task of criticising the productions of living authors, from a firm conviction that the time for fairly and dispassionately considering the extent of their influence upon the progress of Art has not yet arrived; but in this case no choice is left to us. The theories of Richard Wagner have already been so loudly proclaimed and so freely discussed, his works have been so fiercely attacked by one class of critics, and so extravagantly praised by another, that it is no longer possible to ignore either their present significance, their connection with the history of the past, or their probable effect upon the future. We therefore propose to conclude our rapid sketch of the changes which the Opera has undergone since its new birth in the opening years of the 17th century, by reviewing, as briefly as the nature of the case will permit, the peculiarities of the phase through which it is now passing, and thus enabling our readers to form their own opinion as to its relation to, or points of divergence from, the Schools we have already attempted to describe.
Wagner's contemplated regeneration of the Lyric Drama, as he himself explains it, demands changes far more significant than the mere adoption of a new style; changes which can only be met by the creation of an entirely new Ideal—a conception so different from any proposed since the time of Gluck, that the experience of a hundred years is utterly valueless as a guide to its elaboration, except, indeed, as affording examples of the faults to be avoided. Rejecting the very name of Opera as inapplicable—which it certainly is—to this new conception, he contents himself with the simple title of Drama. The Drama, he tells us, depends, for the perfection of its expression, upon the union of Poetry with Music, Scenery, and Action. Whenever one of these means of effect is neglected for the sake of giving undue prominence to another, the result is an anomalous production which will not bear the test of critical analysis. If we are to accept him as our oracle, we must believe that, hitherto, Composers, one and all, have erred in making the Music of the Drama the first consideration, and sacrificing all others to it. That they have weakened rhetorical delivery, for the sake of pleasing the ear by rhythmic Melodies which cannot co-exist with just dramatic expression. That they have impeded the action of the piece, by the introduction of Movements constructed upon a regular plan, which, whether good or not in a Sonata, is wholly out of place in a Musical Drama. That they have kept the Stage waiting, in order that they might give a favourite Singer the opportunity of executing passages entirely out of character with the Scene it was his duty to interpret. In place of such rhythmic Melodies, such symmetrically-constructed Movements, and such brilliant passages of execution, Wagner substitutes a species of Song, which holds a place midway between true Recitative and true Melody—a kind of Mezzo recitative, to which he gives the name of 'Melos.' This he supports by a rich and varied Orchestral Accompaniment, designed to form, as it were, the background to his picture, to enforce the expression of the words by appropiate instrumental effects, and to individualise the various members of the Dramatis personæ by assigning a special combination of harmonies, or a well-defined Leitmotif, to each. The management of this Accompaniment is incontestably his strongest point. No man now living possesses a tithe of his command over the resources of the Orchestra. The originality of his combinations is as startling as their effect is varied and beautiful. He can make them express whatever he feels to be needful for the effect of the Scenes he is treating; and he frequently does so with such complete success, that his meaning would be perfectly intelligible even were the Voice-part cancelled. His 'Melos,' thus supported, adds power and expression to the poetical text, and furnishes us with a very high type of purely declamatory Music—the only Music he considers admissible into the 'Drama,' except in an incidental form; while the infinite variety of orchestral colouring he is able to impart to it deprives it, to some extent, in his hands, of the intolerably monotonous effect it would certainly be made to produce by an inferior Composer. That he has selected this style from conviction that it is more exactly adapted to the desired purpose than any other, and not from any natural inability to produce rhythmic Melody, is certain; for his earlier Operas clearly show him to be a more than ordinarily accomplished Melodist in the best sense of the term. 'Mit Gewitter und Sturm aus fernem Meer,' 'Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an,' and 'Steuermann! lass die Wacht!' in 'Der fliegende Holländer,' would alone prove this, had he never written anything else. His principles, however, were but very faintly perceptible in 'Der fliegende Holländer.' We find them more clearly enounced in 'Tannhäuser,' more strongly still in 'Lohengrin' and 'Tristan und Isolde'; but they only attain their complete development in his last great Drama, 'Der Ring des Nibelungen,' a so-called 'Tetralogy,' consisting of four divisions, each long enough to form a complete work, and respectively named, 'Das Rheingold,' 'Die Walküre,' 'Siegfried,' and 'Götterdämmerung.' From this quadripartite conception the Aria in all its forms is strictly banished, and Music is made throughout the handmaid of the Libretto, and not its mistress. The correlation existing between the two is so intensely close, that we may well believe it could never have been satisfactorily carried out, had not the poetical text been furnished by the Composer himself. Wagner evidently takes this view of the matter, for he has written the Libretti as well as the Music of all his later Operas; and it is evident that, where this arrangement is possible—that is to say, where the Dramatist is great, and equally great, both as a Poet, and a Musician—it must of necessity lead to higher results than any which are attainable when the work is divided between two men of genius, who, however closely their ideas may be in accordance, can never think exactly alike. In the 'Tetralogy,' the subject selected, and carried on throughout the four grand divisions of the work, is founded upon certain Teutonic Myths, which it is scarcely possible for two great writers—a Word-Poet and a Tone-Poet—to contemplate from exactly the same point of view: the advantage, therefore, is immeasurable, when one mind, of great and varied attainments, can arrange the whole. Wagner inclines to the idea that Myths of this description furnish the best if not the only subjects on which the Musical Drama can be founded, though both 'Lohengrin' and 'Tristan und Isolde' are founded upon Keltic Legends. But, in this he would, perhaps, lay down no very strict law; for the Teutonic Myth could scarcely appeal very strongly to the imagination of an English audience, and, to a French one, the 'Nibelungenlied' would be utterly unintelligible.
The force of our remarks will be best understood by those who have enjoyed an opportunity of hearing Wagner's works performed in his own way; but a mere perusal of the Score will illustrate them with sufficient clearness to answer all practical purposes. In either case, the student cannot fail to be struck by the undoubted originality of the style: but, is the general conception a new one? Assuredly not. It is the fullest possible development of the Ideal which was proposed, in the year 1600, at the house of Giovanni Bardi, in Florence. Wagner looks back to Greek Tragedy as the highest available authority on the subject. So did Rinuccini. Wagner condemns rhythmic Melody as altogether opposed to dramatic truth. So did Peri. Wagner keeps his Instrumental Performers out of sight, in order that he may the better carry out the illusions of the Drama. So did Emilio del Cavaliere, and Peri after him. Wagner uses all the orchestral resources at his command, for the purpose of enforcing his dramatic meaning. So, in 1607, did Monteverde. The only difference is, that Monteverde had but a rude untutored band to work with, while Wagner has a magnificent Orchestra, fortified by the experience of two hundred and eighty years. It was not to be wondered at that Monteverde's style of Recitative grew wearisome, or that, when the power of introducing orchestral colouring was so very small, Alessandro Scarlatti endeavoured to increase the interest and beauty of his works by the introduction of measured Melody and well-constructed Movements. In process of time these well-intentioned improvements attracted too much attention, and weakened the true power of the Drama. Then Gluck arose, and resolutely reformed the abuse—but for the time only. No one can say that his principles have been fully carried out by Later Composers—that too many Operas of the present day, in more Schools than one, are not grievously lowered in tone by the pernicious habit of introducing irrelevant, if not positively flippant tunes, in situations where they are altogether out of place. Against these abuses Wagner has waged implacable war; and, in so doing, he has merited the thanks of all who have the true interests of the Lyric Drama at heart: for the evils which he has made it the business of his life to eradicate are no light ones, and he has entered upon his task with no faltering hand. Only, while giving him all due honour for what he has done, let us not wrong either himself or his cause by pretending to give him more than his due. He has called our attention, not, as some will have it, to a new creation, but to a necessary reform. He has nothing to tell us that Gluck has not already said; and Gluck said nothing that had not already been said by Peri. The reformation, so far as Recitative, Declamation, and Melody are concerned, is nothing more than a return to the first principles laid down at the Conte di Vernio's réunions. It brings us therefore not one step in advance of the position that was reached little less than three centuries ago.
These, however, are not the only points concerning which it is necessary to call the reader's attention to the strange analogy existing between the new School of the 19th century and that which flourished in the I7th. The disciples of Peri and Caccini cast aside, as mere vexatious hindrances, the restrictions imposed upon them by the laws of Counterpoint. Modern Composers have done the same; and striving, like Monteverde, to invent harmonic combinations hitherto unheard, have justified their innovations by the not very easily controvertible dictum, 'That which sounds well must, of necessity, be right.' Admitting the force of this argument, must not its converse—'That which does not sound well must, of necessity, be wrong'—be equally true? It seems difficult to dispute this; yet our ears are sometimes very sorely tried. Can any one, for instance, really take pleasure in the hideously 'outof-tune' effect of the following 'False-relation' from the Third Act of 'Der fliegende Holländer'?
The great danger attendant upon such aberrations as these, is that the progression used by the Master, in a few isolated instances, for reasons of his own, is too often mistaken by the disciple for a 'characteristic of the style,' and introduced everywhere, usque ad nauseam. Should the disciples of the School we are considering fall into this pernicious, though almost universally prevalent error, its results cannot fail to exercise a most disastrous effect upon the future prospects of the Drama. We have already said that the value of a work of Art depends entirely upon the amount of Natural Truth it embodies, whether that Truth be exhibited in the perfection of symmetrical form, as in 'Il Don Giovanni' or 'Le Nozze di Figaro,' in power of emotional expression, as in 'La Sonnambula,' 'Norma,' or 'Lucia di Lammermoor,' or in purity of harmonious concord, as in 'Il Matrimonio Segreto.' Wagner's strict adherence to Dramatic Truth distinguishes his writings from those of all other Composers of the present day. He declares himself ready to sacrifice all less important considerations for its sake, and proves his loyalty by continually doing so. No one will venture to assert that the value of his own works, strengthened as they are by his conscientious adherence to a noble principle, is materially diminished by a heterodox resolution, or an occasional exhibition of harshness in the harmony of an orchestral accompaniment; but, should his School, as a School, encourage the use of progressions which can be defended upon no natural principle whatever, we may be sure that no long time will be suffered to elapse before it is pushed aside, to make room for the creations of a Twenty-first Period.
That such a period must dawn upon us sooner or later is, of course, inevitable. Progress—even though it 'progress backwards'—is an essential condition of Art; and we cannot suppose that any exception will be made to the general law in the present instance. This being the case, it may not, perhaps, be altogether unprofitable to consider, as closely as circumstances will permit, the probable character of the Future which lies before us, more especially with regard to the influence which Wagner's works and teachings are likely to exercise upon it.
We are not left wholly without such data as may enable us to form an opinion on certain points connected with this very important subject: and, first, we may state our belief that it is simply impossible for such works as 'Der fliegende Holländer,' or 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,' to be forgotten, twenty years hence. It seems much more probable that they, and 'Tannhäuser,' and 'Lohengrin,' and perhaps also 'Tristan und Isolde,' will be better understood, and more frequently performed, than they are at present. But, what about the Tetralogy? Does there seem a reasonable hope that that, too, may live? The probable longevity of a Work of Art may be pretty accurately measured by the nobility of its conception. 'Die Zauberflöte' is as young, to-day, as it was on the evening when it first saw the light: 'Der Dorfbarbier ' is not. Now it is an universally received axiom, that, of two Works of Art, both equally true to Nature, that in which the greatest effect is produced by the least expenditure of means will prove to be the noblest. The greatest Operas we have are placed upon the Stage with wonderfully little expense. For the worthy representation of 'Fidelio,' we need only some half-dozen principal Singers, a Chorus, an ordinary Orchestra, and a couple of Scenes such as the smallest provincial theatre could provide at a few hours' notice. For 'Der Freischütz,' we only need, in addition to this, a few special 'properties,' and a pound or two of 'red fire.' But, in order that 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' might be fitly represented, it was found necessary to build a new Theatre; to construct an Orchestra, upon principles hitherto untried, and to fill it with a matchless company of Instrumentalists representing the most brilliant talent in Europe; to enrich the mise en scène with Waves, Clouds, Mists, Flames, Vapours, a Dragon—made in London, and sent to Bayreuth in charge of a special messenger—and other accessories which put the stabled Horses and led Elephants of 'Berenice,' and the SingingBirds of 'Rinaldo,' to shame; and, regardless of expense, to press into the service of the new School all the aids that modern science could contribute or modern ingenuity invent. Surely this is a great sign of weakness. There must be something wanting in a Drama which needs these gorgeous accompaniments to make it attractive; and it is difficult to believe that such a display will ever again be attempted, except under the immediate superintendence of the author of the piece. But, supposing the 'Tetralogy' should be banished from the Stage, from sheer inability to fulfil the necessary conditions of its production, will the principles upon which it is composed be banished with it? Is it not possible that Wagner's teaching may live, even though some of the grandest of his own individual conceptions should be forgotten? Undoubtedly it will live, in so far as it is founded upon purely natural principles. We have already spoken of his intense reverence for dramatic truth. He cannot have taught us the necessity for this in vain. It is absolutely certain, that, in this particular, he will leave a marked impression for good upon the coming generation. Whether or not he has carried his theories too far for successful practice is another question. His disciples say that he has not: and are so firmly convinced of the truth of their position that they will not even hear an argument to the contrary. Nevertheless, there are many, who, despite their unfeigned admiration for his undoubted talent, believe that the symmetrical forms he has so sternly banished might have been, and still may be, turned to good account, without any real hindrance to dramatic action: and many more there are who doubt whether the old Florentine Ideal, reinforced by all that modern improvement can do for it, can ever be made to take the place of that which Mozart so richly glorified, and from which even Beethoven and Weber only differed in individual treatment. The decision of these questions must be left for the future. At present, 'Non più andrai' and 'Madamina' still hold their ground, and may possibly win the day, after all.In close, and not very encouraging connection with this subject, there still remains another question, which we would willingly have passed over in silence, had it been possible: but, having entered upon our enquiry, we must pursue it to the end. We may be sure that Wagner's most enthusiastic supporters will attempt to carry out his views very much farther than he has carried them himself. Will they also think it desirable to imitate his style? It is to be hoped not. It would take a long day to tire us of Wagner—but we cannot take him at second-hand. 'Wagnerism,' nor gods nor men can tolerate. Yet there are signs of imitation already. Not only in the lower ranks—there, it is a matter of no consequence at all, one way or the other—but among men who have already made their mark and need no stepping-stones to public favour. Nor is it only at the Opera—the place in which we should naturally have sought for its earliest manifestation—but even in Instrumental Music: one whose name we all revere, and from whom we confidently expect great things, has been betrayed into this imitation, in a marked degree, in the Finale of one of his most important orchestral works. It is more than possible, that, in this case, the plagiarism of manner—it does not, of course, extend to the notes—was the result of an unconscious mental process, not unnaturally produced by too keen an interest in the controversies of the day. But, be the cause what it may, the fact remains; and it warns us of serious danger. Danger that the free course of Art may be paralysed by a soulless mannerism, worthy only of the meanest copyist. Danger, on the other hand, of a reaction, which will be all the more violent and unreasonable in proportion to the amount of provocation needed to excite it. Should the cry of the revolutionary party be for Melody, it will not be for Melody of that heavenly form which true genius alone can produce, but for the vulgar twang with which we have long been threatened, and of which we have already endured far more than enough. Between these two perils, stagnation and reaction, which beset our path like 'a ditch on one side, and a quagmire on the other,' we shall, in all probability, come to some considerable amount of grief. Yet we must not lose heart on that account. Art is not now passing through her first dangerous crisis: and our history has been written in vain if we have not shown that her worst crises have always been succeeded by her brightest triumphs. There may be such a triumph in store for her, even now. Before the new Period dawns, a Leader may arise, strong enough to remove all difficulties from her path; a Teacher, who, profiting by the experience of the last half century, may be able to point out some road, as yet untried, which all may follow in safety. Let those who are young enough to look forward to the 20th century watch cheerfully for his appearance: and, meanwhile, let them prepare for the difficult work of the Future, by earnest and unremitting study of the Past.
[ W. S. R. ]
In the United States the Opera has always lived the life of an exotic. Finding congenial soil in some of the larger and wealthier cities, it has there flourished for a while, then suddenly drooped and withered. Large and elegant theatres, to which have been applied the dignified title of Academy of Music or Opera House, have been built, it having been, in some cases, the primary purpose of the owners to devote the establishment solely to representations of the lyric drama. But in no case has it been possible to long adhere to this intention. With the single exception of New Orleans no city in the United States has proved itself capable of maintaining Opera through the months—September to May, inclusive—usually included in the theatrical season. At the close of the late Civil War New Orleans found a large part of its commerce diverted to other ports, and since the return of peace the French opera in that city, which before had borne a high reputation for enterprise, has led a fitful life. The directors of operatic troupes in the United States have been obliged, after beginning as a rule their seasons in New York, to take their companies all over the Union—from Augusta in the East to St. Louis in the West—oftentimes extending their journeys as far South as New Orleans, and in some cases even to San Francisco and other cities on the Pacific slope. All dramatic enterprises have been in the hands of private individuals. The operatic managers who have won the most reputation have been Seguin, who conducted a party in New York as early as 1838; Max Maretzek, whose checkered career in America began in November 1848; the brothers Max and Maurice Strakosch; Carl Rosa; H. L. Bateman; Bernhard Ullmann; J. H. Hackett, under whose management Grisi and Mario made their successful American tour in 1854–55; Jacob Grau and his son Maurice; C. D. Hess. Mme. Anna Bishop, Ole Bull, and Sigismund Thalberg have also been concerned in operatic speculations in the New World. Lorenzo da Ponte, in early life the friend and coadjutor of Mozart, was, in 1832, an active worker in the cause of Italian opera at New York. Ferdinand Palmo, an Italian, keeper of a famous café in New York, opened Feb. 3, 1844, with Bellini's 'Puritani,' Palme's Opera House, the first exclusively lyric theatre in the metropolis; but it did not maintain its character more than a season or two. From researches made by Mr. Joseph N. Ireland, the author of 'Records of the New York Stage' it appears that the theatre-goers of a century ago in New York were occasionally gratified with operas of the English ballad school, 'The Beggar's Opera' having been sung in 1751, 'Love in a Village' in 1768, 'Inkle and Yarico,' 'The Duenna,' 'The Tempest' (Purcell's music), in 1791, and others, whose very names are unknown to the amateurs of to-day, in 1800. 'The Archers, or The Mountaineers of Switzerland'—on the story of William Tell—brought out April 18, 1796, may lay claim to being the first American opera, though the music was by an Englishman, Benjamin Carr, a brother of Sir John Carr, who came to America in 1794. William Dunlop, of great repute in his day as an author, actor, and manager, furnished the text. 'Edwin and Angelina,' founded on Goldsmith's poem, words by Dr. E. H. Smith, of Connecticut, music by M. Pellesier, a French resident of New York, waa produced Dec. 19, 1798. M. Pellesier also set Dunlop's 'Sterne's Maria,' brought out Jan. 11, 1798. Bishop's 'Guy Mannering' (1816), and adaptations of Rossini's 'Barber' (1819) and of Mozart's 'Figaro' (1824), Davy's 'Rob Roy' (1818), with other English operas, and versions in the vernacular of standard works in Continental tongues, had, with the opportunities for hearing good singing afforded by the engagements of Incledon and Thomas Phillipps (1817), and other excellent English vocalists, gradually prepared the way for the first season of Italian Opera, which began at the Park Theatre, New York, Nov. 26, 1825, with Rossini's 'Barber.' The company, imported by Dominick Lynch, a French wine-merchant, included Manuel Garcia and his celebrated daughter Maria Felicita. [See Garcia.] At the same house there was begun, July 13, 1827, the first regular season of French opera, with Rossini's 'Cenerentola.' German opera was introduced Sept. 16, 1856, at Niblo's Garden, Meyerbeer's 'Robert der Teufel' being the work sung. The conductor was Mr. Carl Bergmann, and the leader of the orchestra Mr. Theodore Thomas, who had then barely attained his majority.
Opera-bouffe was introduced in New York, at the French Theatre, Sept. 24, 1867, by H. L. Bateman; Offenbach's 'La Grande Duchesse' was the work, with Mlle. Lucille Postée in the title-rôle. It ran for 158 nights. A troupe of Mexican children performed, in Spanish, the same work, in several cities of the Union, 1875–76.
In the winter of 1869–70, a company of Russians gave performances of operas in their native tongue, by Slavonic composers, at New York.
The theatres which have most faithfully answered their avowed purpose as opera-houses, have been the Academy of Music, New York, opened Oct. a, 1854, with Grisi and Mario, in 'Norma,' now under the management of James Henry Mapleson, of Her Majesty's Opera; and the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, opened Feb. 26, 1857, with Mme. Gazzaniga, Sig. Brignolé and Sig. Amadio, in 'Il Trovatore.' It should be recorded to the credit of American entrepreneurs that several important works have been produced at New York before they had been sung at either London or Paris—Verdi's 'Aïda,' Wagner's 'Lohengrin' and 'Die Walküre' being the most notable instances. American composers have received but little encouragement from the managers. Three works—George Bristow's 'Rip van Winkle,' Niblo's Garden, New York, Sept. 27, 1855; W. H. Fry's 'Leonora,' New York Academy, March 29, 1858; and 'Notre Dame de Paris,' by the same composer, Philadelphia Academy, April 1864—have been the most important productions: no one of these lived long beyond its birth. There is a formidable list of extravaganzas, and of operettas in the serio-comic vein or in imitation of French opéra-bouffe, by American musicians, the greater part of which have vanished after fluttering a butterfly's life in the glare of the footlights. Composers of recognised ability have written grand operas, but the scores have only gathered ignoble dust in their author's libraries, or found their only market among collectors when published. 'The Doctor of Alcantara,' an operetta by Julius Eichberg, a native of Düsseldorf, but for twenty years a resident at Boston, may be cited as the most successful work of any pretentious with an exclusively American reputation. Produced at the Boston Museum, April 7, 1862, it has been sung over a large part of the Union, and still retains its popularity. Mr. Eichberg has also written three other operettas which have been favourably received—'The Rose of Tyrol,' 'A Night in Rome,' and 'The Two Cadis.' No distinctive school of music has yet arisen in the United States, nor, so long as the Union maintains itself in its present extent, and its inhabitants present the cosmopolitan characteristics of to-day, is it likely that there will be one. But this want has not prevented the birth, education, in a large degree, and liberal encouragement, of operatic singers whose worth has been proclaimed in two hemispheres. Known nearly as well in England as in America are the names of Miss Clara Louise Kellogg, Miss Annie Louise Gary, Miss Adelaide Phillipps, Miss Emma C. Thursby, Mr. Charles R. Adams, and Mr. Myron W. Whitney. Mlle. Emma Albani, Mlle. Minnie Hauk, Mr. Jules Perkins, and Sig. Foli were also born and began their brilliant careers in the New World; and to this list should be added the names of Mme. von Zandt, Miss Julia Gaylord and Mr. F. C. Packard, now attached to Mr. Carl Rosa's English opera company. The Patti sisters, Adelina and Carlotta, gathered their first harvests of applause in America. The greater part of the facts herein presented, bear, it will be seen, reference to New York, for the reason that of no other city has there been prepared so complete and accurate a chronology as is included in the 'Records,' already cited. New York too has been for more than a century the American metropolis; and being the wealthiest city of the Union greater encouragement has been given to operatic enterprises than elsewhere, with the exception of New Orleans for a number of years before the Civil War, as already noted.In Boston the first season of Italian Opera began at the Howard Athenaeum, April 23, 1847, with 'Ernani.' The company was the famous Havana party, which had previously appeared for two nights at New York. Sig. Luigi Arditi was the conductor, and the orchestra included Sig. Bottesini, the contra-bassist. The history of opera in Boston previous to the advent of this troupe presents the same characteristics as have been noted in the case of New York.
[ F. H. J. ]
- This Scene—Lasciatemi morire—generally known as the 'Lament of Ariadne,'—is almost the only portion of the Opera that has been preserved to us. It may be found entire in C. von Winterfeld's 'Joannes Gabrieli,' and also in a Memoir of Monteverde published in the 'Musical Times' for March 1880.
- The Toccata and Ritornello will be found entire in an Essay 'On the Life, Work, and Influence, of Monteverde,' printed in the 'Musical Times' for April 1880.
- That is, 'Little Frank, of the House of Cavalli.'
- A MS. Score of this Opera will be found in the Dragonetti collection in the British Museum.
- Throughout this Article, we have used the word Period less for the purpose of expressing a definite term of years, than for that of indicating a definite stage of artistic development. Hence, though our 'Periods' will be constantly found to overlap each other in point of time, they will introduce no confusion either of styles or nationalities. Notwithstanding certain anomalies inseparable from this method of classification, we venture to offer it as the best we have been able to devise, after long and careful consideration of this very difficult subject.
- Originally written, in the form of an instrumental Sarabande, for 'Almira,' at Hamburg, in 1705.
- Once extremely popular as an English Bacchanalian Song, 'Let the waiter bring clean glasses.'
- To the words, 'Let us take the road. Hark! I hear the sound of coaches.' Another equally fine March, from 'Scipio,' afterwards appeared in 'Polly,' as 'Brave Boys, prepare.'
- This Symphony, though contained in Handel's 'conducting' Score, is not given in the early printed copies.
- More than seventy years afterwards, Mozart used the same expedient, with Irresistible effect. In 'Le Nozze di Figaro.' Old Opera-goers will scarcely need to be reminded of the frantic 'double encore' which followed the delivery of the words, 'E schiatti il Signer Conte al gusto mio.' by Mlle. Jenny Lind, Mme. Grimaldi, Signor Lablache and Herr Staudigl, at Her Majesty's Theatre, in the year 1847.
- Chrysander attributes the first Act to Filippo Mattel. In the Dragonetti Score it is said to be by 'Signor Pipo.'
- It is by no means certain that the part of Acis was not originally intended for a Soprano Voice. The subject is not free from perplexities, which are increased by Handel's frequent custom of writing Tenor and Alto parts in the Treble (Violin) clef, when intended for English Singers. Even with Italian Singers there are difficulties. Concerning such Voices as those of Senesino, Carestini, and Farinelli, we hare already been told as much as it is desirable that we should know: but we should be thankful for more detailed information touching the Voci di Falsetto, both Soprano and Contralto, which were in common use In Italy before the middle of the 17th century. We know that until some time after the close of the 16th century Boys' Voices were used, not only in the Papal Choir, but in many royal and princely chapels, both in and out of Italy—as, for instance, that of Bavaria, when under the command of Orlando di Lasso. It is even certain that the part of Dafne, in Peri's 'Euridice,' was originally sung by Jacopo Giusti, 'un fasciulletto Lucchese'; though, except in England, Boys' Voices were not much used on the Stage. Their place was afterwards supplied, In Italy, by Falsetti, who sang extremely high notes, and managed them with wonderful skill, by virtue of some peculiar method which seems to be entirely lost—like the art of playing upon the old-fashioned Trumpet. Della Valla mentions a certain Giovanni Luca, who sang roulades and other 'passages which ascended as high as the stars'; and speaks highly of another Singer, called Ludovico Falsetto, whose Voice was of so lovely a quality, that a single long note sung by him was more charming than all the effects produced by later Singers, though he seems to have possessed but little execution, and to have pleased rather by the excellence of his method and the delicate sweetness of his sustained notes than by any extraordinary display of musical ability. These Falsetti were mostly Spaniards; but they found no difficulty in obtaining employment in Italy, where at one time they were preferred to Boys, whose Voices so frequently change just when they are beginning to sing with true expression. The last Soprano falsetto who sang in the Papal Chapel was a Spaniard named Giovanni de' Sanctos, who died in 1625. The first artificial Soprano was the Padre Girolamo Rossini da Perugia, a Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory, who was appointed a member of the Pontifical Choir in 1601, and died in 1644. From this time forward, artificial Voices were preferred to all others in Italy: but they were never tolerated in France, and only at the Italian Opera in England; the Soprano parts being still sung, in this country, by Boys, and the Contralto by adult Falsetti, as well on the Stage as in Cathedral Choirs. Ben Jonson's Lament for the little Performer for whom 'Death himself was sorry,' is familiar to every one. In the Masques sung in his day, the principal parts were almost always sung by Boys, who were generally selected from the Children of the King's Chapel. It was by these Boys that Handel's 'Esther' was sung, with dramatic action, in 1731; and he frequently used Boys' Voices in his later works. Thus a Boy, named Goodwill, aang in 'Acts and Galatea' in 1732. and in 'Athaliah' in 1735; anuther, called Robinson's Boy, in 'Israel In Ægypt' in 1738; and a third, named Savage, in 'Sosarme' in 1749, and 'Jephtha' in 1751.
LOGROSCINO, Nicolò, composer of comic opens, was born at Naples about the year 1700. His contemporaries, Leo, Pergolesi, and Hasse, also wrote works in the buffo style that are justly celebrated, but Logroscino's seem to have differed from these in being more entirely and grotesquely comic. From the outset of his career his chief endeavour was to find fit subjects for the exercise of his inexhaustible vein of burlesque humour. He succeeded so well as to be called by his countrymen Il Dio dell' Opera buffo, and his operas were so popular in Naples that when the young Piccinni first came into notice as a possible rival, no small amount of diplomacy and powerful influence had to be exercised to obtain a hearing for even one of his works. These however eventually displaced those of the popular idol.
Very little of Logroscino's music exists now, although some MS. specimens are to be found in the collection of the British Museum. He never would compose but in Neapolitan dialect, and so was little known beyond his own country, even during his lifetime. But be deserves to be remembered for the invention, which is due to him, of the finale, such as we now understand it. For the duet, trio, or quartet, with which, up to that time, it had been the fashion to conclude each act of an opera, he substituted a continuous series of pieces more or less connected with each other, including several scenes, and as many musical themes, or various treatments of one principal theme, solo, concerted and choral. By this combination of forces he more vividly conveyed the dramatic situation, and immensely added to the general effect.
For a long time however these concerted finales were only introduced into comic pieces, and Paisiello was the first to extend the idea to serious opera.
In 1747 Logrosclno settled in Palermo, where the God of Comedy became first master of counterpoint in the Conservatorio of the 'Figliuoli Dispersi.' He ultimately returned to Naples, and died there in 1763. Fétis mentions by name four of his works; these are, 1. 'Giunio Bruto,' serious opera; 2. 'Il governatore'; 3. 'Il Vecchio Marito'; and 4. 'Tanto bene, tanto male,' all comic operas.
[ F. A. M. ]
- See his 'Present State of Music, in France and Italy,' p. 316, et seq.
- That is, a piece made up of Airs selected from other Operas, often by several different Composers. [See Pasticcio.]
- Ferdinand David—no over-indulgent critic—once told the writer that the Libretto of 'Die Zauberflöte' was by no means the flimsy piece it was generally supposed to be; but, that no one who was not a Freemason could appreciate its merits at their true value. For instance, the grand chords played by the Trombones at the end of the first part of the Overture, and in the First Scene in the Second Act, emulate—he said—a symbol which no Freemason could possibly fall to understand. Not many years ago, these chords were always played, in England, with the minims tied together, so that the notes were struck twice, instead of thrice at each repetition. By this false reading, which is perpetuated in Cianchettini's edition of the score, the force of the symbol is entirely lost, and the whole intention of the passage defeated.
- The lighter form of the Vaudeville so much more nearly resembles a Play, with incidental Songs, than a regular Opera, that we do not think it necessary to include a notice of it in the present Article. [See Vaudeville.]
- Two Movements from Handel's 'Water Music,' and the March to 'Scipio,' are introduced into this Opera, under the titles of 'Abroad after Misses,' 'Cheer up my Lads,' and 'Brave Boys, prepare.'
- Handel's 'Alcestus'—called, in Arnold's edition, 'Alcides'—composed in 1749 to Smollett's words, was never produced at that time, though Mr. Sims Reeves achieved a great success in it not many years since. 'Semele' was produced at Covent Garden in 1764 'after the manner of an Oratorio'—that is to say, without Scenery or Action.
- 'Excellent and attractive indeed must the Air be, that can atone to English sentiments and habits for the Recitative, and consequent destruction of all interest in the language, the incidents, and the plot.' (Mus. Rev. vol. i. p. 263.)
- Though Cherubini's 'Medée' and 'Les deux Journées,' are grander than any Grand Operas that ever were imagined, they are classed as Opéras comiques by virtue of their spoken dialogue.