Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/529

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

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