Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/530

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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