Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/520

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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 [1]pianga,' 'Cara sposa,' 'Vieni o cara,' 'Figlia mia,' 'Il tricerbero [2]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,'[3] (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[4] of 'Augelletti che

  1. Originally written, in the form of an instrumental Sarabande, for 'Almira,' at Hamburg, in 1705.
  2. Once extremely popular as an English Bacchanalian Song, 'Let the waiter bring clean glasses.'
  3. 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.'
  4. This Symphony, though contained in Handel's 'conducting' Score, is not given in the early printed copies.