Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

gured get lly inhe ch

[ocr errors]

а

ce m n e

[ocr errors]

ART. II.--1. The Life of Rossini. By H. SUTHERLAND

EDWARDS. 8vo. London: 1869. 2. Mémoires de Hector Berlioz; comprenant ses Voyages en

Italie, en Allemagne, en Russie, et en Angleterre. Paris :

1870. THE The biographies and autobiographies of musicians, whether

creative or executive, make up a group of books, the interest of which equals, if, indeed, it does not outvie, that of the lives of artists who have passed with the world (and not altogether causelessly) as a more thoughtful and lettered company of men

- the painters. To name only some half dozen among many examples-there are few pleasanter works of their class than Grétry's Memoirs, which, however, are known to have been re-written, if not altogether written, by Marmontel. Even the oppressive heaviness of Dr. Jahn's four volumes cannot extinguish the interest of Mozart's life, with its brilliant opening, its revelations of one of the sweetest and most fascinating natures ever bestowed by good fairies on a genius, and its melancholy. close. Canon Schmidt's biography of Gluck--the Bohemian forester's child, who had to struggle through a life of some sixty years ere his colossal genius expressed itself in that classical yet not austere form, which by its perfection will remain to be a model so long as dramatic music shall exist-is full of character and of anecdotes twenty times told; yet not once too often. Who has not heard of the feuds to which the appearance of Gluck's works at the Grand Opéra of Paris gave rise; of the energetic championship by him of Marie-Antoinette of Austria, his countrywoman; of the heat with which the most brilliant wits and encyclopædists marshalled themselves on his side, or against him in favour of his rival, the gentler Piccini? The life of Germany's best song writer--the irregular, uncouth, and magnificently gifted Schubert, whose genius is only now beginning to be understood -by Herr Kreissle von Helborn, translated into English, with wise retrenchments, by Mr. A. Coleridge, is no less rich in pictures of a strange and singular existence. We ourselves reviewed not long ago the romantic career of Carl Maria von Weber. A more individual revelation has hardly ever been put forth than the autobiography of Spohr--that heavy German not without genius; shrewd in observation ; untiring in industry, excellent in the desire to gather manifested by him—but portentous in the all-engrossing self-importance, which comfortably restricted his sympathies to his own performances and triumphs.

VOL. CXXXIII. NO. CCLXXI.

D

[ocr errors]

And who is there, whether he be musical or unmusical, that can refrain from referring, with as much affection as admiration, to Mendelssohn's letters, which-even in the mutilated form they must, for the present, wear in publication--can hardly be overpraised as a treasury of wit, wisdom, poetical enthusiasm, pictorial clearness of touch, admirable common sense, and revelations of the healthiest home affections that ever beat in mortal breast? But these can only be adverted to briefly and in passing ;-the present task being to offer some notice of a biography and an autobiography, each, after its kind, as peculiar and as vivid as any contained in the library devoted to Art, with its manifold and significant forms of expression.

No greater contrast could be imagined than the works and fortunes of the two musicians here to be considered. Both men made some stir in their world; the one as a real, the other as a self-imagined, man of genius. The life of Rossini, after a few years of early struggle, hardly, it may be, felt as a hardship by him, was a life of as much ease and enjoyment as one poet out of a hundred is privileged or permitted to lead. His singular,

a almost instinctive, clear-sightedness enabled him to avoid most of the sunken rocks on which, so to say, many gifted men have writhed and perished. His happy temperament, not without a strong tincture of indolence, enhanced every enjoyment which Fame, Love, and Fortune could minister. As we shall see, he knew how to grow old wisely. The life of Berlioz was, from the cradle to the grave, the career of a pretender, passed in a whirlwind of corroding ambition, of fierce defiance and arrogant self-assertion; a life not denied such good chances as belong to a more genuine notoriety, but poisoned by overweening vanity, passing by its exaggeration into cynicism and utter despair. The record of this by himself, besides being a book psychologically curious, is one of painful interest and instruction to any youth about to enter the chequered career of musical effort and creation.

A biography of Rossini, such as shall possess permanent literary value, is a book still to be written. The inflated yet meagre sketch by M. Stendhal, published while the Pesarese master was still in the young freshness and brilliancy of his fame as a composer—the catch-penny pamphlets which have appeared in France and Germany, the silly art-novels of which the composer has been the hero-rather say, the victim—are, one and all, unsatisfactory. The newest attempt, that before us, by Mr. Sutherland Edwards is ambitious in form, but has very little value as indicating research, or shrewdness and delicacy

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

of musical perception. 'Further, the author has been strangely neglectful in hurrying out his book. The misprints contained in its pages go far to render it valueless to anyone who cannot correct the text, or interleave it with annotations. Meanwhile, the large amount of floating material, existing in the form of anecdote, reminiscence, and correspondence, is well worth the labour of being brought together and sifted. Should this be ever accomplished, the result of the effort will be to place Rossini as a man of genius, generosity, culture, and intelligence on a pedestal far higher than he can be said, till now, to occupy in public estimation. He was sensual, it is true; brimming with farcical humour; too little scrupulous in administering the comfort of false praise to those who beset him; but that he had strong serious preferences and opinions, a width of special and general knowledge, a wealth of generous sympathy with all true fellow-musicians, are truths and characteristics not to be forgotten by any who had the opportunity of approaching him, or the desire of studying him closely in his relations with art and society.

An attempt was made some years since, by the publication of a pedigree, to claim for Rossini the honours, such as they are, of ancestry. One of the Russinis-to follow the old spelling--was governor of Ravenna in the 16th century. The heraldic arms on the family escutcheon are said to have been made up of three stars, a hand holding a rose, and a nightingale; picturesque foreshadowings of the greatness of him who was to ennoble the name. Gioacchino was born, to the humblest of humble fortunes, on the 29th of February, 1792. His father was merely trumpeter to the town of Pesaro in the Romagna; his mother, who had a beautiful voice, sang in the small local theatres. The two led a precarious, wandering life, to the maintenance of which their boy was expected to contribute. At the early age of seven years he played the part of second, to his father's first, horn in the opera orchestras. At the age of twelve, he was brought under the notice of Professor Tesei, of Bologna, who, for two years, gave him lessons in pianoforteplaying and singing ; his voice being then rarely beautiful. When he was fourteen he directed the music for a strolling opera company. In 1807 he returned to Bologna,—there studied composition under Padre Mattei, and added to his knowledge of the pianoforte by making acquaintance with one Prinetti, an eccentric, half-mad professor, who used to sleep at night in the town arcades-propped up against some wall, and who pretended to play the scales with his finger and thumb only; in this the precursor of one Herr Haberbier, whose empirical

a

freaks of the kind amused our London world only a few years ago.

In 1808 Rossini was selected, as the best student in the Lyceum, to write the show Cantata annually presented to the public by the establishment. The success of this—a · Pianto • d'Armonia per la Morte d'Orfeo '— led to his appointment as director to the Philharmonic Concerts of the town and to his directing performances of Haydn's Creation and · Seasons ; and thence to his intimacy with the composer's symphonies and quartetts. Better studies for a modern musician could not be named; since for purity of style, limitless variety of resource, and such total absence of mannerism as provides against -- if it do not preclude, imitation — they are un

rivalled. Certain biographers of the transcendental or sensational schools, who will have wonders at the expense of truth,

, have been used to represent Rossini as one of those heavenborn men of genius who owe nothing to culture. If such human creatures there be-an assumption which may be gravely questioned-Rossini, at all events, was not one of the number. He retained everything that he learned, with a memory as tenacious as his readiness of comprehension was quick and piercing. But that his studies had been as sound as they were versatile cannot be doubted.

The first Italian opera produced by Rossini was a trifle in one act, La Cambiale di Matrimonio,' given at the Teatro San Mosè of Venice in the year 1810.

. His last work of the kind was .Semiramide,' written also for the Sea City' in 1823. More than thirty operas were written in the interval, with a rapidity which is all but miraculous, the composer's known indolence of temperament and the excellence of the fruits of his labour considered. He was used to speak of not having been hurried over · Semiramide?! because it took him only some thirty days to write that opera. It is true that when he was at work for Italy, he availed himself of his right to employ in any new production the best pieces of music which had belonged to his former operas flung out without success ; and the pedants and small composers jealous of his fame, on this ground, accused him of having written himself out;' a charge brought against every man whose creative genius is prolific;

-against Handel the gorgeous and unscrupulous--and, in another time and a less limited world, against Scott, ere one · half of the novelist's career was run.

No former thirteen years of musical production for the stage by one man ever yielded so much, to delight, to intoxicate, and to revolutionise the public of Europe, as Rossini's operas. The swarm of rival composers, swept away by the force of the

[ocr errors]

6

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

new enchantment, looked on it with bitter envy. Only two among them may be said to have stood their ground. One of

. these was Pacini, who died recently at a patriarchal age, having poured forth hosts of productions in every style and form;

among the last and most ambitious, his Symphony a few years ago written for the solemnity at Florence, when Dante was commemorated and his statue was placed in the Piazza di Santa Croce. The other was Mercadante, still living, whose

, best works, though more carefully composed than Pacini's, and showing worthier aspirations, rarely rise above a certain ample and stately mediocrity, and whose less good contributions are at once vapid and heavy. Donizetti and Bellini and Signor Verdi belong to another dispensation, if not to a later period. Both Pacini and Mercadante, throughout their long prolific career, traded on Rossini's forms--amplifying or varying them, as Rossini had done in the case of Mosca's and Paër's—but adding little or nothing original to the singer's library.

There are amateurs of all countries still extant who can distinctly remember the commotion caused by the outburst of a genius so audacious and so fascinating as Rossini's. The cant of criticism was in some small degree justified by licenses and slips of the pen which could be cited in his hastily improvised scores; but it was embittered beyond its wont by personal narrowness and envy, not in England only, but also on the Continent. Spiteful and gross attacks against the sorcerer, who was turning so many heads and melting so many hearts-by the pedants and the pedagogues, who ordered their judgments as they had made their works on the principle of the pyramid,'-- were circulated by the thousand. What did they all avail ? The writers only fevered and weakened themselves, and further confused every one's perceptions of what is old and what is new--of right and of wrong—by their forcibly feeble attempts to arrest the course of a triumph which was irresistible. The composer, who could afford to be careless of jealousies in proportion as he was rich in resources, heeded little the heavy noise made by his disappointed contemporaries and his stupid critics,--and went

What was worse—this wicked impenetrable being, who was driving Dulness and Envy into bilious frenzies, had been endowed also by partial Nature with a handsome presence, a shrewd wit, and that tongue of a charmer, which few women whose world he frequented were able or cared to resist. His , gallantries were countless; and, after he had added celebrity to

[ocr errors]

a

his own way.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »