Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/531

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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.[1]

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

  1. 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.