Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/415

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'Zaide,' in which he made use of the melodrama by Benda which he admired so much, has neither overture nor finale, and once set aside, its subject is too much like that of the 'Entführung'[1] to allow of its being again performed. To this period also belongs the heroic drama 'Thamos, König von Egypten,' consisting of three choruses and four instrumental pieces. The choruses, like those of Racine's 'Athalie,' were intended to add dignity to the action, and as choruses were at that time his 'most favourite composition,' he worked at them with great satisfaction. They are on a far grander scale, especially as regards the orchestral accompaniments, than those of his masses of the same period. Unfortunately the play had been given up in Vienna, and he much regretted not being able to use his music. The choruses were published with Latin words—'Splendente te,' 'Ne pulvis,' 'Deus tibi'—in which form they are well known in England.[2] With 'Idomeneo' he started on a fresh career, for which all his previous works had been merely preparatory. Oulibicheff declares that in it three styles may be easily distinguished, the first in which he is still fettered by the formalism of opera seria, the second in which he strives to imitate Gluck and French opera, and the third in which his own artist nature developes itself freely. Jahn says, 'In Idomeneo we have the genuine Italian opera seria brought to its utmost perfection by Mozart's highly cultivated individuality.' He put his best work into the parts of Ilia and Electra, which most struck his fancy. The choruses form a prominent feature, especially those which so much enhance the beauty of the second Finale. The handling of the orchestra is still admirable and worthy of study. In fact, this opera is the work of one who, though in the prime of manhood, has not lost the vigour and freshness of youth. Mozart was very anxious to have it performed in Vienna, when he intended to rearrange it more after the French model; but we have seen that he had to be content with a private performance by distinguished amateurs, for which he made several alterations, and composed a duet for two soprani (489), and a scena with rondo for soprano and violin solo (490).

In the 'Entführung' it is interesting to observe the alterations in Bretzner's libretto which Mozart's practical acquaintance with the stage has dictated, to the author's great disgust.[3] Indeed Osmin, one of the most original characters, is entirely his own creation at Fischer's suggestion. Jahn quotes Weber's [4]excellent remark on this opera—'Here I seem to see what the bright years of youth are to every man, a tune of blossom and exuberance which he can never hope to read again. As time goes on defects are eradicated, but with them many a charm is rooted up also. I venture to affirm that in the Entführung Mozart had reached the full maturity of his powers as an artist, and that his further progress after that was only in knowledge of the world. Of such operas as Figaro and Don Juan we might have had many more; but with all the good will in the world he could never have written another Entführung.'

In 'Figaro' we admire 'the spontaneous growth of the whole organism, the psychological truth and depth of sentiment, which make the characters so life-like, and resulting from these the striking harmony in the use of means and forms, and the mixture of dignity and grace, all founded on something higher than mere sensuous beauty.' In it 'we feel the throbbing of our own life-blood, recognise the language of our own hearts, and are captivated by the irresistible charm of unfading beauty—it is Art, genuine, immortal, making us free and happy.'

'Don Giovanni,' inferior perhaps to 'Figaro' as regards artistic treatment, has one manifest superiority; all the moods and situations are essentially musical. There is scarcely a feeling known to humanity which is not expressed in some one of the situations or characters, male or female. 'Così fan tutte,' taken either as a whole or in detail, is unquestionably a falling off from the two previous operas, and yet even here in detached pieces, especially in the chief rôles, many brilliant touches show the master-hand. Even this opera, therefore, we can in some respects consider an enlargement of his boundaries. 'Titus' (Clemenza di Tito) carries us back to the old opera seria. 'Così fan tutte' had recalled the old opera buffa, and Metastasio's libretto, written in 1734, required considerable modifications to suit the taste of the day; the most important being the introduction of ensembles wherever the situations allowed, and the curtailment of the original three acts to two. Nothing however availed to make the plot or characters interesting; throughout it was evident that the characteristics which had most attracted in Metastasio's day, were now only so many obstacles and hindrances to the composer. Moreover two of the singers, imported purposely from Italy, demanded special opportunities for display; Mozart was ill, had the 'Zauberflöte' in his head, and was deep in the 'Requiem'—a combination of unfavourable circumstances, sufficient of itself to preclude success. 'Making due allowance for these facts,' writes [5]Rochlitz, 'Mozart found himself compelled to take one of two courses, either to furnish a work of entire mediocrity, or one in which the principal movements should be very good, and the less interesting ones treated lightly and in accordance with popular taste; he wisely chose the latter alternative.'

We now come to the 'Zauberflöte,' which made an impression on the public such as no work of art had ever produced before. The libretto is so extraordinary that it is necessary

  1. André added an overture and finale, and a new libretto was written by Gollmick. A performance in Frankfort, Jan. 27, 1866, is only of historical interest. Mozart's unfinished 'L'Oca del Cairo' (1783), completed from others of his works, was performed in Paris (Théâtre des Fantaisles-Parisiennes. June 6, 1887) under the title 'L'oie du Caire'; in Vienna in March, 1868, at the Carltheater, and at Drury Lane, May 12, 1870.
  2. Von Vincke wrote a connecting poem for concert use. They were afterwards translated into German.
  3. Berliner Litt. und Theater-Zeitung, 1783, ii. 398.
  4. C. M. von Weber, Ein Lebensbild, iii. 191.
  5. Allg. Mus. Zeitung. i. 154.