Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/678

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



��and ' Julie ' considerably less. I only know the latter, which was also produced (without success) in Berlin, Dec. 5, 1808. Here and there some isolated bit of melody recalls the composer of the 'Vestale,' but that is all. Fe'tis remarks that the forms of this opera are identical with those of the earlier Neapolitans, Guglielmi, Cimarosa, and Paisiello. This is true; but it must be added that Spontini by no means at- tains to the sprightliness and charm of his prede- cessors. The melodies, though very attractive, are often trivial. Stronger work than this was needed to beat the French composers, with MeTiul at their head, and Boieldieu, who had already written the ' Calife de Bagdad,' in their ranks. Spontini, however, was not discouraged. During this period Fetis met him occasionally at a pianoforte-maker's, and was struck with his in- vincible confidence in himself. He was making a livelihood by giving singing-lessons.

Seeing that he had no chance of making an impression with his present style he broke away from it entirely, and tried a new ideal. His very next opera, 'Milton' (Nov. 27, 1804), a little work in one act, is of an entirely different character, the melodies more expressive, the har- mony and orchestration richer, the whole more carefully worked out, and the sentiment alto- gether more earnest. But the most interesting point in the score is the evidence it affords of Mozart's influence. One is driven to the con- clusion that Spontini had now for the first time made a solid acquaintance with the works of the German masters. As Cherubini saw in Haydn, BO Spontini henceforth saw in Mozart (and shortly afterwards in another German composer) a pat- tern of unattainable excellence. Even in old age he used to speak of Don Juan as ' that im- mortal chef-d'oeuvre,' and it was one of the very few works besides his own which he conducted when director-general at Berlin. No. 3 in ' Mil- ton ' (C major, 3-8) is in many passages so like 'Vedrai, carino' as to be obviously due to Mozart's direct influence. Milton's fine hymn to the Sun (no. 4) has something of the mild solemnity which Mozart contrived to impart to the ' Zauberflote/ and also to his compositions for the Freemasons. The most remarkable number is the quintet (no. 7). Here warmth and nobility of melody, impressive declamation, rich accom- paniment, and charm of colour are all united. Such a piece as this is indeed scarcely to be found in his later works. With the Neapolitan school it has nothing in common, but is for the most part drawn from the Mozartean fount of beauty, with traces of that grandeur and nobility so emphatically his own. The change of style which separates his later works from his earlier ones is, at any rate in this quintet, already com- plete. In other pieces of the opera the Neapo- litan is still discernible, as for instance in the crescendo, which became so celebrated in Ros- sini's works, though known to others besides Spontini before Rossini's day.

'Milton' took at once with the French, and made its way into Germany, being produced in


Berlin (translation by Treitschke) March 24, i8o6, 1 Weimar, Dresden, and Vienna.

The writer of the libretto, Etienne Jouy, played a considerable part in Spontini's life. He was present at the performance of 'La petite Maison,' but its complete fiasco (the work of a jealous clique) had no effect upon him. He saw in Spontini a man of great dramatic talent, and found in the despised work a host of beauties of the first rank. Meeting the composer the following morning, he offered him a libretto of his own, which Spontini, in no way disheartened by his failure, immediately accepted. This li- bretto was not ' Milton,' but ' La Vestale.' 2 It was originally intended for Cherubini, but he could not make up his mind to compose it, and after a long delay returned it. 3 To Spontini it afforded the means of ranking himself at once with the first operatic composers of the day.

How ' Milton* and the 'Vestale' stand to each other in matter of date it is impossible to ascer- tain. That the latter was composed before ' Milton ' was put on the stage is not probable, since in that case the two must have been written within less than six months. What probably happened was this an opportunity offered to- wards the close of 1804 of producing a small opera at the Theatre Feydeau, and Spontini then broke off the longer work upon which he was already engaged to avail himself of this new chance. He may not have been sorry too to make a preliminary trial of his new style upon the public. On the other hand, we know for cer- tain that the score of the ' Vestale ' was finished in 1805. Jouy says that it took three years to overcome the opposition to its production, and the first performance took place Dec. 15, 1807.

He was now fortunately in favour with the Empress Josephine to whom he dedicated the score of ' Milton'- and was appointed her cham- ber-composer ' Compositeur particulier,' etc. A cantata, ' L'Eccelsa Gara,' performed Feb. 8, 1806, at the fetes given in honour of Austerlitz, helped to increase this goodwill, which proved of vital importance to Spontini in maintaining his ground against the opposition of the Conser- vatoire. To such a length was this opposition carried that at one of the Concerts Spirituels in Holy Week, 1807, an oratorio of his was yelled off the stage by the students. Meantime, how- ever, through the Empress's patronage, ' La Vestale' was in rehearsal at the Opera. But so prejudiced were the artists against the work that the rehearsals went on amid ridicule and opposition, both inside and outside the theatre. Some foundation for this no doubt did exist.

1 -Teichmann's Literary Remains, edited by Dingelstedf (Stutt-

^Se^Jouy's own' account, 'Notes anecdotiques sur 1'op^ra de 1* Vestale,' in the 'Theatre d'Etienne Jouy (Paris 1824), vol. ii. p. 149,

e Vso says Fe'tis. Others have stated that besides Cherubini it had been offered to MAul. Boieldieu. Paer, and others and that the then unknown Spontini was a last resource. That the latter part of the statement is positively untrue we know from Jouy himself, and the rest will not bear examination. The mistakes as to the details of Spontini's life are very numerous. Jouy even did not know the cor- rect date of his birth, for he speaks of him in 1804 as a peme &?6 de vingt-cinq an*.' For a long time he was universally supposed to hav been born in 1778.

�� �