Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/683

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in this school Spontini had never been properly disciplined, and the neglect makes itself felt in his larger dramatic forms. These are monotonous and wearisome, while his basses are poor, and his accompaniments wanting in variety. It seems strange that with his great reverence for Mozart the great model in this respect also he should never have been aware of this want in himself. His melodies lack plasticity, that bold free move- ment which is absolutely essential if the melody is to remain dominant over all the accumulated masses of sound. He has not sufficient command of language to have always ready to his hand suitable means of expression for the rapid changes of sentiment in the course of a scene. Nor has he the power of assigning the instrumental music its due share in the dramatic development. If all the work is done by the singing and acting, one is tempted to ask what is the object of all this overwhelming apparatus in the orchestra ? The important part played by the instrumental music in an opera, that of preparing and elucid- ating the sentiments, making them subjectively more credible, and objectively clearer, this pro- blem Spontini either did not grasp, or felt himself unable to solve. In all these respects he was far surpassed by Cherubini and Weber, each in his own line.

Whilst Spontini was busy in Paris composing ' Olympic,' the way was being prepared for the most important event in the second half of his life his summons to Berlin. As no authentic account of the circumstances of his going there, or of his twenty-two years' sojourn and work in the Prussian capital, has yet been published, we must treat the subject somewhat in detail, from MS. authorities hitherto unused. 1 King Frederic William III, during a visit of two months to Paris (March 31 to the beginning of June 1814), heard Spontini's operas several times, and was deeply impressed by them. Not only was ' Cortez ' at once put in rehearsal at Berlin and produced Oct. 15, 1814, but the king, on the return of peace, occupied himself with various plans for improving the state of music in Prussia. An establishment for the promotion of church music was thought of; a Conservatoire for music and declamation was projected, like that at Paris, and, above all, fresh impulse was to be given to the Court Opera by engaging a conductor of ac- knowledged ability. For this last post Spontini was the man fixed upon. So far back as the autumn of 1814 proposals had been made to him at Vienna, offering him the then immense salary of 5000 thalers (750) on condition of his furnish- ing two operas a year for Berlin. Spontini was inclined to accept, but the plan did not meet with the approval of the Intendant of the Royal theatre Count Briihl, who had succeeded Inland in Feb. 1815. Bruhl's opinion was entitled to the more weight as there had scarcely ever been a theatrical manager in Germany who knew his business so well. He was himself an actor of great experience,

i The principal sources upon which we have drawn are papers belonging to the royal theatres of Berlin, and to the Prussian Royal Family.



��had studied several parts at Weimar under Goethe's direction, had sung Sacchini's (Edipus in French, and taken other parts in grand operas at Rheins- berg, Prince Henry's palace. He had even played the horn for months together in the band. He was no inefficient scene-painter ; had studied drawing with Genelli, and archaeology with Hirt and Botticher, had devoted some time to architec- ture, and was personally acquainted with nearly all the important theatres in Germany, Paris, and London. Add to this his refined taste, ideal turn of mind, and high social position, and it will be seen that he possessed qualities rarely found united in the person of a theatrical manager. It is not to be supposed that Briihl ignored the advantage of having so distinguished an artist at the head of the Berlin opera. It was however by no means certain that Spontini had had the necessary practice as a conductor, for at Paris no composer conducts his own operas. His ignorance of German would not only make it difficult for him and his musicians to understand each other, but would also prevent his composing a German opera. As yet he had only composed two operas of acknowledged merit, and it was possible that he would not be able to supply two new ones each year ; and if he were able, the price paid for them would be exorbitant, unless it were quite certain that as interpreted under his own direction they would mark a decided step in advance. At this point therefore the negotiations hung fire, until the king returned to Paris in July 1815, when he renewed his offer to Spontini in person, and accepted the dedication of a piece of military music. At his request Spontini sent a collection of his marches to Briihl, following it on Dec. 22,

1815, with a letter, in which he begged him to exert his influence in arranging the matter. Thia not availing, he got a personal appeal made to him from the Prussian embassy. On March 28,

1816, Bruhl returned an evasive answer, and on Nov. 3 wrote decisively that the king had settled the affair adversely to Spontini's wishes, and that he must abandon with regret the pleasure of seeing him settled in Berlin.

The matter now appeared wholly at an end ; the king having yielded to the representations of his Intendant. Spontini had at that time no settled appointment in Paris, beyond that of court-composer, and it is easy to understand how tempting so brilliant an offer from Berlin must have seemed. He now entered into a fresh con- nection with Naples, and received in the follow- ing year the title of maestro di capella to the King of the Two Sicilies. The French king also gave him a salary of 2000 francs, and thus all thoughts of Berlin seemed for the time to have vanished.

In 1817 King Frederic William came to Paris for the third time, heard * Cortez ' in its new form, was so delighted that he attended four repre- sentations, and directed that the score should be secured at once for Berlin. Spontini received the title of Premier maitre de chapelle honoraire, and was permitted to dedicate to the king his grand ' Bacchanale,' composed for the ' Danaides.' This he was shrewd enough to arrange for a

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