Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/317

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


of confetti is a sham ? that the bon-bons are fic- titious, and probably aimed at our eyes? Can the coldest of us listen, unmoved, to the March in 'La Damnation de Faust' ? In ' Harold en Italic,' the finest picture of all, does not the Viola obbligata impersonate the hero of the Poem, as he could have been impersonated by no other means ? Could we obtain a clearer insight into his morbid train of thought, if we were per- mitted to converse with him in the flesh ? It has been said, that genius, capable of producing such works as these, would expire if trammelled by the conventional Rules of Art. We do not believe it. We believe, that, if Berlioz had worked at those Rules, as hard as Beethoven did, he might have taken rank among the greatest writers of the century. Casting them aside, he shines forth as the producer of works which may astonish, and even delight, for the moment, but which can- not last, because, like the caprices of the author himself, they can never be thoroughly understood. Another bright ornament of the Modern French School, Camille Saint Saens, has also given much attention to this particular branch of Art ; though it is not generally in his purely descriptive Music that he shows himself at his best. For instance, his Pianoforte Concerto in Eb which, notwithstanding its charmingly pic- turesque character, claims no connection what- ever with the Romantic School strikes out an idea, so original, so reasonable, and so full of artistic interest, that one cannot but regard it as marking a distinct stage of progress in the development of Instrumental Composition. Its grasp of the mutual relations existing between the Solo Instrument and the Orchestra, its exact measurement of the capabilities of both, and its skilful adaptation of the one to the other, unite in producing a variety of effect, which is height- ened every moment by the introduction of some new and unexpected combination ; while the richness of the general tone is not a little enhanced by the excellence of the ' writing,' throughout. Saint Saens has written many other works on a scale as extended as this, and rarely failed to strike out some original idea well worth remembering; but this Concerto carries out a principle so valuable, that we cannot doubt that it will take its place among the accepted truths of Art. On the other hand, the meaning of his descriptive works is often very obscure. For in- stance, his Poeme Symphonique, 'Le Rouet d'Omphale,' is lamentably deficient in the clear- ness which is indispensable in a work of the ad- vanced Romantic School. Even with prefatorial references to guide us to the exact bars in which we are to look for ' Hercules groaning under the bonds which he cannot break,' and ' Om- phale deriding his efforts,' we fail to recognise the true moral of the Scene ; while the passage for Stringed Instruments which represents the mo- tion of the Wheel, is, after all, no more than the repetition of an idea already worked out to perfection in the First Movement of Spohr's Weihe der Tone.' But, if the Composer has mis- taken his strong point in this, he has announced VOL. III. FT. 3.


it so forcibly in other works, that French or- chestral Composers must be apathetic indeed if they do not follow his example, in striving to secure some share of the fame which has hitherto been exclusively reserved, in Paris, for writers of Dramatic Music.

XXXIV. THE ENGLISH SCHOOLS OF THE ipTH CENTURY have passed through so many, and such various transitions, that it would be impossible to give a mere general sketch of their history. They must be treated in detail, or not at all.

We have seen that the death of Handel was followed by a long period of comparative inaction, relieved only by the introduction of a new School of Dramatic Music, essentially English in character, and, though overflowing with Melody, sadly deficient in scenic power. This School did not die out with the i8th century, but was carried well into the iQth, by Dibdin and Shield ; and in the hands of Braham, C. E. Horn, and Bishop, became even more popular than before. Braham, indeed, did little for it, beyond the introduction of some spirited Songs, to which his matchless Voice, and perfect method of phrasing, lent a charm which atoned for much weak Instrumenta- tion, and many still more serious shortcomings. But Bishop was a thorough Musician, a perfect master of the Orchestra, and, in many respects, a true genius. His invention was unlimited. His Melodies were always graceful, and pleasing; and his Concerted Pieces were skilfully put to- gether, with that instinctive tact, which never fails to produce the best effect attainable with the means at its command. Witness that de- lightful Finale in 'Guy Mannering,' in which the Comic and the Sentimental are blended to- gether, with such exquisite perception, that one can only wonder how the Composer failed to take rank as the greatest dramatic writer of the period. Rooke followed, worthily, with ' Amilie, or The Love- test,' ' Henrique, or The Love-pilgrim,' and 'Cagliostro' works full of merit, though no more likely to be revived than their prede- cessors. If then, even when reinforced by such exceptional talent, the old English Opera rose to no satisfactory artistic level, it must clearly have been in consequence of some radical defect in its constitution. And this was the exact truth. It demanded, for its effective representation, a prac- tical impossibility. Due justice could only be rendered to the impersonation of its principal characters, by a company of performers, equally accomplished as Vocalists and Rhetoricians. And hence it was, that, when ' Guy Mannering' was revived, some five and thirty years ago, at the Princess's Theatre, the piece owed its success en- tirely to the wonderful delineation of the parts of Meg Merrilies and Dominie Sampson by two cele- brated Comedians, neither of whom could sing a single note in other words, it succeeded, not as an Opera, but as a Play. Neither in Germany nor France, would this perversion of styles have been possible : for, neither in the modern form of the 'Singspiel,' nor in the ' OpeVa comique,' is any really important part of the Action of the Drama transacted in spoken Dialogue. The approach of


�� �