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Title: Famous composers and their works, Vol. 3

Editor: John Knowles Paine

Karl Klauser

Theodore Thomas

Release date: January 29, 2024 [eBook #72822]

Language: English

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Transcriber’s Note:

New original cover art included with this eBook is granted to the public domain.


Famous Composers and their Works

Edited by
John Knowles Paine
Theodore Thomas and Karl Klauser
J. B. Millet Company
Copyright, 1891, by
J. B. Millet Company.


Reproduction of a photograph from life, made in 1878 by Mondel & Jacob, in Wiesbaden.

497 [Fleuron]


Joseph Joachim Raff, was the son of an organist and teacher, Franz Joseph Raff, who early in 1822 left the little Würtemberg city of Weisenstetter in the Horb district of the Black Forest to settle in Lachen on the lake of Zurich in the canton Schwyz. Here on May 27 of the same year the boy was born. In his early childhood he displayed that mental ability which does not always fulfill its promise in years of maturity. He was able to translate Homer at the age of seven and generally preferred books to rude outdoor sports. He displayed musical tendencies, too, learning to play the organ and to sing in the choir; but no special attention was given to his musical training, probably because his facility in this art was regarded as only an evidence of his general activity of mind. He was first put to school at the Würtemberg Institute, and after a thorough preparation there, was sent to the Schwyz Jesuit Lyceum. He was graduated with distinction, carrying off prizes in Latin and mathematics, but his means were not sufficient to enable him to take a university course. He obtained the post of tutor of Latin at St. Gallen, where he remained a short time, afterward going as a teacher to Rapperswyl. He was at this time hardly twenty years of age. He now began his study of music, for which his fondness had been growing. He was unable to afford a teacher, but he diligently practised at the piano and made many earnest attempts at composition.

The patron saint of musical Germany in 1842 was Mendelssohn and in August of that year he set off on one of his tours in Switzerland. No date is recorded, but we may be sure that Raff seized upon this visit as his opportunity. Mendelssohn, with his customary promptness in recognizing and assisting aspirants, gave the young man a warm letter of recommendation to the great publishing house of Breitkopf & Härtel. So effective were the master’s words that Raff’s first work was published in January, 1843. Thenceforward the current of his life could not be checked, and despite the opposition of his parents, he devoted his future to music. No critical notice of Raff’s opus 1 has been found, but opus 2 (“Trois Pièces Caracteristique” for piano) is mentioned with kindness in Schumann’s journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, of Aug. 5, 1844. The critic found in the composition “something which points to a future for the composer.” One readily discerns here the keen insight of the greatest of all music critics, Schumann himself. Favorable comments were made on the young composer’s works numbered opus 2 to 6 in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung of Aug. 21 in the same year, and we may readily understand that with such encouragements Raff bent his whole mind to the production of music.

In 1845 the wizard Liszt appeared in Switzerland. The great pianist was not long in discovering Raff’s gifts and was equally quick to see that the young man was struggling against privations that would have overwhelmed a weaker nature. Liszt invited Raff to accompany him on a concert tour, and thus laid the foundations of the beginner’s reputation. Together they travelled in the principal German cities, the tour ending at Cologne. Thence Liszt returned to Paris, but Raff remained. This stay in Cologne was a happy one, for it led to a personal acquaintance with Mendelssohn. The famous master, who had given the young composer his first help, now displayed fresh interest in him and made him a proposition to go to Leipsic and continue his studies under Mendelssohn’s own guidance. Such an offer was not to be refused, but the fates were not propitious. Just as Raff was making his preparations to go to Leipsic in the fall of 1847 Mendelssohn’s untimely death put an end to his hopes. He had not been idle while in Cologne, however, for he had studied composition with great earnestness, and had sent to the Cäcilia, published in Berlin by the noted contrapuntist, Siegfried Dehn, many contributions displaying wide knowledge of musical science. Later he published “Die Wagnerfrage” (“The Wagner Question”), a pamphlet which attracted much attention, as did all discussions of the works of the Bayreuth genius.

Raff now became anxious to make a permanent home for himself in one of the larger German cities. He appealed once more to Liszt, who gave him a letter of introduction to Mechetti, at that time a prominent publisher of Vienna. It seemed as if ill luck relentlessly pursued Raff, for while he was actually on the way to visit Mechetti, the latter died. In spite of such obstacles to his advancement the composer continued his labors with undaunted spirit. He returned to his old home at Würtemberg and resumed his studies. For a short time he taught and studied at Stuttgart, seeking in the latter city to fill the gaps in his early training. That his ambition was unconquered is well proved by the fact that in Stuttgart he wrote his first large work, an opera in four acts entitled “King Alfred.” In Stuttgart, too, he was in some measure recompensed for his many trials and adversities by making the acquaintance of one who was destined to be his life-long friend and his champion after death. This was Hans von Bülow, then a youth of barely twenty, not yet the famous pupil of Liszt, but a law student who was neglecting his studies for the pursuit of music. Von Bülow, no doubt, perceived that to introduce to the public a new composer of merit would add to his own success as a player, and he accordingly performed from memory a recently finished composition of Raff’s, which he had seen for the first time two days before. The result was a storm of applause for both player and composer. This success cemented the friendship of the two, and, as all who have often heard the pianist well know, Dr. von Bülow very rarely plays a miscellaneous programme on which the name of Raff does not appear.

It was in 1850 that the young man met Liszt again, this time in Hamburg, and followed the magnet of attraction to Weimar. Here at last it seemed as if Raff had found the atmosphere for which his spirit hungered. Music, literature and art permeated the air; and the foreign artists who came to lay their tributes of flattery before the throne of the musical idol of the hour had smiles of approval for Raff, who basked in the sunlight and let the essence of the new German ideas in music saturate his soul. He went to work with renewed vigor, and inspired by the presence of competent performers wrote his first chamber music (Quatuor No. 1 in D minor for strings), some of his best piano suites, his setting of Geibel’s “Traum König und Sein Lieb” (“Dream King and his Love”), “Wachet auf” and other well known works. Raff made himself popular and respected in the artistic circles of Weimar by his learning. When Berlioz, who was ignorant of German, was there and a banquet was given in his honor, Raff relieved the situation of some difficulty by making the address to the guest in Latin, an attention which highly delighted the Frenchman.

In the meantime Raff had found his domestic fate in Doris Genast, an actress, grand-daughter of Goethe’s favorite actor. This young lady having accepted an engagement in Wiesbaden, the composer followed her thither in 1856. He speedily became the most popular music teacher in the city, but his compositions still failed to find a ready market. Nevertheless he employed his spare hours unceasingly in writing. In 1859 he and Fräulein Genast were married, and a daughter was the result of their union. Previous to his marriage he composed in 1858 his second violin sonata and the incidental music to “Bernhard von Weimar,” a drama by Wilhelm Genast. The overture to this drama became a favorite and was played frequently in many parts of Germany. In the summer of 1859, however, he began the work which was to establish his fame. This was his first symphony, “In the Fatherland.” It was ready for the publisher in 1861, when the composer was informed of the prize offered by the “Society of the Friends of Music of the Austrian Empire” (“Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde”), for the best symphony offered in competition. Raff sent in his new work, and in 1863 a committee consisting of Ferdinand Hiller, Carl Reinecke, Dr. Ambros, Robert Volkmann and Vincenz Lachner adjudged it the best of thirty-two compositions. Other large works followed, and their success enabled him to give up teaching to devote himself wholly to composing. No artist’s life shows more plainly than Raff’s the result of escape from poverty’s iron control. Hitherto he had written copiously for the drawing-room, but now he sought to produce works wholly artistic in purpose. His retirement after the beginning of the year 1870 was almost idyllic, being broken only by the visits of fellow artists. It is impossible to agree with the oft-repeated statement that his best works date from this period, for the beautiful “Im Walde” (“In the Forest”) symphony appeared in 1869; but there is every proof of a higher purpose in the compositions after 1870 than in the majority of those originating earlier than that year. Perhaps, too, Raff’s lack of business ability may be accepted as an evidence of his artistic sincerity. For his first, second and fourth symphonies he received no cash payment; for the third (“Im Walde”) he got sixty thalers, the same amount being paid him again, when the work was sold to a French publisher. Thereafter, however, he seems to have acquired courage enough to ask fair prices for his works.

In 1877 Raff left Wiesbaden to become director of the new Conservatory of Music at Frankfort. He taught composition himself, arranged the library, and conducted the institution upon such a broad-minded plan that its success was assured from the beginning. He continued his labors in composition, his symphonies after the seventh, having been written at Frankfort together with other important works. Ignorant of the fact that a mortal disease had fastened upon him he worked with undiminished zeal till 1882, when on the night of June 24, heart disease ended his career.

Fac-simile autograph letter from Raff to a personal friend.

Raff’s principal works are the following: operas—“King Alfred,” Weimar, 1850; “Dame Kobold,” (comic) Weimar, 1870; “Benedetto Marcello,” (lyric), not performed; “Samson” (opera seria), not performed.

For voices and orchestra—“Wachet Auf” (“Be on Guard”), opus 80; “Deutschland’s Auferstehung” (“Germany’s Resurrection”), opus 100; festival cantata for the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Leipsic; “De Profundis” (Psalm CXXX.) for eight voices and orchestra, opus 141; and “Morgenlied” (“Morning Song”), for mixed chorus and orchestra, opus 171.

For orchestra: symphonies—“In the Fatherland,” opus 96; No. 2, in C, opus 140; No. 3, “Im Walde,” in F, opus 153; No. 4, in G minor, opus 167; No. 5, “Lenore,” in E, opus 177; No. 6, in D minor, opus 189; No. 7, “In den Alpen,” B flat, opus 201; No. 8, “Frühlingsklänge,” (“Sounds of Spring”) in A, opus 205; No. 9, “Im Sommer” (“In the Summer”) in E minor, opus 208; No. 10, “Im Herbstzeit” (“In Autumn”), F minor, opus 213; No. 11, “Der Winter,” A minor, opus 214; four suites in C, F, E minor and B flat; and nine overtures, including those to “Romeo and Juliet,” “Othello,” “Macbeth” and the “Tempest.”

For piano with orchestra—“Ode to Spring,” opus 76; concerto in C minor, opus 185; and suite in E flat, opus 200.

For violin with orchestra—concerto No. 1 in B minor, opus 161; concerto No. 2, in A minor, opus 206.

In addition to these principal works there is a great mass of chamber music, piano compositions, songs and ’cello pieces.

It may, perhaps, be unfortunate for Raff’s fame that his dramatic works are unknown in this country, though it is indisputable that none of them has achieved high repute in German. It is probable, although we in America know far less about the music of this gifted man than the Germans do, the estimate of his abilities generally accepted on this side of the Atlantic is a wise one. He is regarded as a composer who, possessing exceptional fecundity of melodic invention and rare mastery of orchestral tone-color, sought to impose upon music a definiteness of expression somewhat beyond its power. This eagerness to delineate in detail a chain of feelings or impressions led Raff into diffuseness of style and to frequent sacrifices of those formal elaborations which are regarded as essential to the construction of artistic music. He has been generally thought to lack self-criticism and a want of restraint resulting therefrom; but it has always seemed to the present writer that Raff’s errors were not in the direction of criticism, but of fundamental belief. In other words he let the beautiful vision of a genus of pictorial programme music which is to be more expressive than speech run away with his reason. The preface to his “In the Fatherland” symphony clearly exhibits his idea of the possibilities of music.

Now it is neither necessary nor expedient to repeat here any of the familiar discussion as to the expressive power of music. The most serious thinkers about the art, even when they disagree in details, are generally of the opinion that music can express only the broader emotions, and requires text to make clear the cause of the feelings. We are able to get great pleasure, and at times genuine emotional exaltation from the music of Raff provided we are willing to approach it in the only fair spirit in which programme music can be approached—that of willingness to accept the composer’s premises. The first movement of the “Fatherland” symphony has strength and aspiration, and we have only to accept Raff’s explanation that he is singing of Germany to enter into the heart of his composition. In the same way we are obliged to approach the “Lenore,” the “Im Walde” and his other symphonies. The grisly story of Burger’s “Lenore” is told in detail in the finale of the symphony, but in order to follow the music we need the poem. Having that, we perceive the aptness and peculiar fitness of the composer’s rhythmic and melodic fancies. Nothing could have a more stimulating effect upon the imagination—once the key to the secret is possessed—than the inexorable persistence of the groups of a quaver and two semi-quavers by which the infernal flight of the lovers is indicated. If perchance we find an instrumental representation of a gallop not new (it having been invented by Claudio Monteverde in the beginning of the seventeenth century) we can at any rate get all the effect designed by Raff in his woodwind shrieks of the nightbirds and his trombone hymn for the dead.

Pensée fugitive—Joachim Raff

Fac-simile autograph manuscript of an “Album Leaf” by Raff.

He has achieved a greater fidelity of feeling and a subtler realism of tones, however, in his “Im Walde,” which is generally looked upon as his masterpiece. The first movement is intended to bring to the hearer’s mind the woods in the sunlit beauty of noon. The second reveals them to us in the suggestive shadow of twilight. In the third movement the composer entertains us with an airy and delicate dance of Dryads, a woodland scherzo in deed and in truth. In the fourth and last movement we have a musical embodiment of the familiar German legend of the Wild Huntsman. A gentle fugal thought pictures the repose of the woods. Suddenly the rhythm of the galloping hunt is heard, as it were, in the distance. Nearer and nearer it comes, till the whole orchestra thunders with its riotous fury. It dies away in the distance, returns and dies away again. Then comes the glory of sunrise. This symphony makes less demands in the way of preparation than many of Raff’s other works. The single suggestion that he is painting the forest and that there is a wild hunt is all that the imagination needs to give it complete enjoyment of this work. Freedom of form is a natural result of the kind of composition in which Raff excelled and his ability to write quickly and with little effort prevented his feeling the necessity of working out his compositions with the care and science of the classical school. One gets much less intellectual satisfaction, therefore, out of Raff’s work than out of Schumann’s, who was his precursor, and still less than out of Mozart’s. But the ear and the imagination are delighted by the clear intelligibility of his melodic ideas, their unfailing poetic sentiment and musical grace. It is these qualities of his themes, together with the splendid colors in which his orchestral palette is so rich, that have given to his symphonic works their wide popularity, and have made the name of Raff recognized as that of one of the really gifted followers of the romantic school founded by Schumann and Schubert. In the general outline his symphonies follow the laws of the earlier masters, notably in the distribution of the movements. His separate movements, however, are not always built according to the old rules, his finales being notably free and irregular. It can only be said, then, in concluding this brief estimate of his symphonic writing, that his works in the large orchestral form are admirable examples of that class of modern composition in which structural skill and scientific development are sacrificed to warmth of sentiment and opulence of color. In a word, they belong to what may be called the impressionist school of music.

Lest it be supposed that Raff was deficient in musical learning, let us note that his chamber music, always melodious and graceful, frequently displays profound mastery of the resources of his art. His sextet in G minor, opus 178, deserves especial mention because it is one of his most carefully written productions. It is written for two violins, two violas and two ’cellos in six real parts, and every trick of canon and imitation is introduced. One commentator enthusiastically describes it as “a veritable triumph of counterpoint.” In his treatment of the first subject of his “In the Fatherland” symphony, too, he writes a canon in augmentation and double augmentation that would have delighted the eye of Bach himself. Dr. Franz Gehring, of Vienna, in his article on Raff in Grove’s “Dictionary of Music” calls attention to the interesting fact that “in the pianoforte concerto in C minor (opus 185) in each movement all the subjects are in double counterpoint with one another, yet this is one of Raff’s freshest and most melodious works.” The composer’s piano music is very popular, and some of it, notably the variations on an original theme (opus 179) and most of the suites, is remarkable for its fertility of resource as well as for the composer’s usual readiness for the production of new melodies. His songs are equally rich in tunefulness and many of them have attained the rare distinction of becoming the common property of the German people.

Raff may not deserve a seat among the Titans of music. Yet his originality, his grace of thought and his oriental gorgeousness of utterance lift him above the level of mediocrity and stamp him as a man possessed of rare and valuable gifts. His larger works show every evidence of artistic earnestness, and had he been less imbued with impressionistic ideas and more free from the burdens of poverty, he might have attained perfection of art.

N. J. Henderson.


Reproduction of a triplex photograph from life, made in 1889 by Brasch.

503 [Fleuron]


The spirit of modern civilization is preëminently a critical one. A vast amount of knowledge and talent is constantly put in its service and it seems as though education had no higher purpose than to enable man to become as early as possible a critic of everything offered for material or spiritual use or enjoyment. In no field have these tendencies become more conspicuous than in the most delicate and complicated art of music. Our generation is brought up not so much for a life-long devotion, study and true appreciation, as for a most premature forming and uttering of opinions as to the merits, and particularly the shortcomings, of any production. Most of our critics, too, work in this wrong direction, instead of preaching that modesty and prudence and earnest devotion which alone enables us to become familiar with new talent or works of a higher order. Goethe accuses critics in general, that they have the habit of ignoring really great things and of showing an unusual interest in mediocrity. He ascribes to them a bad influence upon creative artists, saying that these can only follow the path dictated by their nature, while arrogant criticism, which assumes to prescribe to them how to do or not to do a thing, may destroy them. He doubts whether in modern England, with the criticising daily press, such an astounding appearance as that of a Shakespeare would be possible, and, as an expert, declares that great things can be accomplished only in a state of absolutely undisturbed, innocent, almost somnambulistic creation, attained by complete isolation. That such self-chosen isolation, resting upon a strong personal and artistic character, yet combined with a hearty interest in all human concerns and the most comprehensive general culture, is possible, even in our modern time, and that it can be crowned with most wonderful results, is splendidly shown by the career of Johannes Brahms, whose greatness rests mainly on this unswerving fidelity to his genius in spite of all adverse criticism during the years of his development and attained mastership.

He was born in Hamburg, May 7th, 1833, being the eldest of three children of Johann Brahms, a remarkable musician, who played double bass at the theatre, and Christiane Nissen, a lady of an affectionate, noble character. There was never a doubt as to his becoming a musician. Under the instruction first of O. Cossel and, from his tenth year, of Eduard Marxsen, a most thorough musician and excellent teacher in the sister city Altona, the boy made rapid progress on the piano. Marxsen soon began also to give him theoretical instruction and was at once attracted by the rare keenness of the intellect of his pupil. Indeed, in his first productions he recognized a spirit which convinced him of a profound latent talent. He therefore spared no effort to awaken and guide this talent that his pupil might become another priest of art to “preach in a new way what is high, true and imperishable.”

As a lad of fourteen Brahms played for the first time in public, pieces of his favorite masters, Bach and Beethoven, and original variations on a folk-song, thus showing an early liking not only for popular melodies, but for a musical form which he has cultivated more assiduously and for higher purposes than any other modern composer. Indeed this combination of popular elements with most artistic and complicated forms has perhaps remained the most characteristic feature of Brahms’ music.

After giving a few other concerts, Marxsen kept him for several years from appearing in public, until in 1853 he could send him as a master of his instrument upon his first journey with the Hungarian violin virtuoso Remenyi. In Hanover, where he played much before the king, he met Joachim, who became his life-long friend, and Joachim was especially impressed when Brahms, in one of these concerts with Remenyi, transposed on account of the low pitch of the piano, without any preparation and even without notes, a Beethoven violin sonata, raising it a semitone. Marxsen was not surprised; for years Brahms had been accustomed to transpose great pieces at sight into any key, and so astonishing was his memory, that he never carried notes with him upon a concert trip. The compositions of Beethoven and Bach and a long list of modern concert pieces were safely committed to memory by him. Brahms remained several weeks in Weimar as the guest of Liszt, who delighted in playing the young composer’s manuscripts. Then he parted from Remenyi and went with Joachim’s recommendation to Robert Schumann in Düsseldorf. The impression which his personality, playing, and works made upon the latter was profound. Nothing in his later career, rich in honors and triumphs, can be dearer to his memory than the enthusiastic greeting with which Schumann introduced him to the musical world.

Without some citation from an oft-reprinted article in the “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik” no sketch of Brahms’ life is complete. Schumann greets him as the one whom he had expected to appear to utter the highest ideal expression of his times, claiming the mastership not by a gradual development, but appearing suddenly before us fully equipped as Minerva sprang from the brain of Jupiter. “And he has come, a youth at whose cradle graces and heroes kept watch.” “Sitting at the piano he began to unveil wonderful regions. We were drawn into more and more magical circles by his playing, full of genius, which made of the piano an orchestra of lamenting and jubilant voices. There were sonatas, or rather veiled symphonies; songs, whose poetry might be understood without words; piano pieces both of a demoniac nature and of the most graceful form; sonatas for violin and piano—string quartets—each so different from every other, that they seemed to flow from many different springs.” “Whenever he bends his magic wand, there, when the powers of orchestra and chorus lend him their aid, further glimpses of the ideal world will be revealed to us. May the highest genius strengthen him; meanwhile the spirit of modesty dwells within him. His comrades greet him at his first step into the world of art, where wounds may perhaps await him, but bay and laurel also; we welcome him as a valiant warrior.”

This cordial introduction created quite a sensation, yet it was by no means a guaranty of an enthusiastic reception of the young composer’s works. For, far from being an imitator of Schumann’s style, he appeared at once in his own strong personality and as a stranger, who even in Leipsic was not understood. Yet he found publishers for three pianoforte sonatas, a scherzo, a trio and several songs. For years the interest in him was confined to a small circle. He stayed for a while in Hanover, making from there several concert tours with Joachim or Stockhausen, the great singer, another devoted friend, visiting also Schumann in his retreat in the Endenich hospital. In his variations on a theme from Schumann’s Op. 99, he gave a touching expression to his sympathy with the master’s sufferings. After the publication of these and the ballads Op. 10, Brahms devoted several years to profound study. Schumann’s praise had not spoiled him, nor was he discouraged by the lack of success. For a few seasons he was the director of the orchestra and chorus in Detmold, spending also some time in Hamburg and in travelling. Meanwhile he finished many songs and choruses, two serenades for orchestra, and two sextets. In Jan., 1859, he played in Leipsic his first great pianoforte concerto; most of the criticisms thereon were, however, such as to now excite our mirth. It was in Switzerland and Vienna that his genius found a sincere recognition. About thirty years ago the writer first saw Brahms in his Swiss home; at that time he was of a rather delicate slim-looking figure, with a beardless face of ideal expression. Since then he has changed in appearance, until now he looks the very image of health, being stout and muscular, the noble, manly face surrounded by a full gray beard. The writer well remembers singing under his direction, watching him conduct orchestra rehearsals, hearing him play alone or with orchestra, listening to an after-dinner speech or private conversation, observing him when attentively listening to other works, and seeing the modest smile with which he accepted, or rather declined, expressions of admiration.

The Alpine summits and glaciers had great attractions for Brahms, but also the welcome which he was always sure to find in Basel and Zürich. For his permanent home he selected Vienna, in 1862, where he was surrounded by the spirits of the classic masters. He was received most favorably. His interpretation of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann was particularly praised. He was appointed chorus master of the Sing-Academie for a season, and prepared a memorable performance of Bach’s Passion Music. Yet his genius would not allow him to devote much time to such services, and once only in later years he accepted a similar appointment, directing from 1872–1875 the concerts of the “Society of the Friends of Music.” Aside from this all his time was devoted to composing, interrupted only by frequent journeys to performances of his works, and by giving valuable assistance in the revision of the works of Couperin, Mozart and Chopin. During the first years of his residence in Vienna he finished many important chamber works, variations, waltzes and Hungarian dances for the pianoforte, and vocal compositions of every kind. The first great success was won by the “German Requiem,” begun after the death of his mother in 1866, and completed, for the greater part, in Switzerland, in the two following years. After the first famous performance in the Bremen Cathedral in the spring of 1868, it was soon heard in other cities and was greatly admired, although certain features were severely criticised. Other works of high importance followed: the “Song of Destiny,” “Rinaldo,” the “Rhapsody,” Op. 53, the “Song of Triumph” for the celebration of the happy ending of the Franco-German war, besides many songs, chamber works, and the charming Love-Song Waltzes. By all these works Brahms rose gradually higher and higher in the general estimation both at home and abroad. But he steadfastly avoided the one field in the reform of which all musical interest seemed to centre,—the opera. Perhaps the time will come when we may be fully informed as to his relation to dramatic music and the reasons which kept him away from the stage. Much might be guessed. But it is needless to pay attention to mere rumors and suppositions. There were other fields in which he was called upon to achieve great things. Nothing shows better the greatness of Brahms’ artistic character than the fact that, in spite of Schumann’s prophecy and many early instrumental masterpieces, he waited with his first symphony until he was a man of over forty years. Four great symphonies have appeared between 1876 and 1885, preceded by orchestral variations on a theme of Haydn; also, during the same time, two overtures, a second pianoforte concerto, one for violin, two smaller choruses with orchestra, chamber works, piano pieces and songs. Another great choral composition, “Deutsche Fest-und Gedenksprüche,” a double concerto for violin and violoncello, Gipsy songs and many other vocal and chamber works complete the list of his more recent compositions. And more great things may be expected from him. If there is anything inspiring in the present aspect of musical art, it is the fact that Johannes Brahms is still among us, physically and mentally as strong as if perpetual youth were granted to him. Indeed, the graces and heroes have not only kept watch at his cradle, but guided him throughout his long career.


In early youth.

Those who have met him will never forget the impression of his strong personality. Nor will those who saw him conduct or heard him play ever enter into the superfluous discussion whether he was a great leader of orchestra and chorus or a master of his instrument. For in both directions he was not only equal to the most exacting demands, but always appeared as if inspired, and inspiring everybody who sang or played under him or listened to the genius of his music. At the pianoforte and the conductor’s desk he is a king, but socially he appears unaffected and easy, neither reticent nor predominating in conversation, jolly and kind among friends and children. He has never married. Many honors have been conferred upon him: the degrees of Doctor of Music by the University of Cambridge, England, in 1877, and of Doctor of Philosophy by the Breslau University in 1879; also several orders and the membership of many societies and institutes. Throughout the musical world his music, especially his instrumental works, is now received with enthusiasm, although still finding a strong opposition on the part of many critics of either too conservative or too progressive tendencies. Yet the time is not far distant when it will be generally granted a high position in the history of our art.

Fac-simile autograph manuscript of Canon by Brahms. “An Album Leaf.”

Fac-simile autograph letter from Johannes Brahms to Karl Klauser.

Three prominent characteristics of Brahms’ works command our admiration. From the start he appeared as a strong individuality, and notwithstanding a leaning towards Bach’s polyphonic art and harmonic wealth, Beethoven’s virile pathos and ideality of purpose, and Schubert’s melodic charm, he has spoken his own distinct language. In every field of composition except the opera he has contributed masterpieces which show that in each he has to-day no superior, and in but few an equal. Throughout he impresses us by the fact that to him art has always been something sacred, worthy of highest effort and noblest purpose. In this respect one may well compare him to Bach or Beethoven or Schiller, of whom Goethe so beautifully said, that “far behind him lay that which conquers us all,—vulgarity.” Whoever honestly strives for the sympathy of his genius must be filled with a like earnest spirit, willing to be guided by his subtle art into ideal regions full of higher joys than common musical amusements afford.

The wealth of his melodic, rhythmic and harmonic invention is truly astonishing; his combinations are so new and often intricate, the thematic material so rich or peculiar, its development so elaborate, that it is a commonly expressed opinion that his music has to do more with the intellect than with imagination and feeling. The truth is, that no modern composer has expressed deeper and more fervent feelings, either jubilant or sad, than Brahms. His great intellect only guides the wealth of emotion in order to find a well balanced, wholly original and artistic construction for the creatures of his rich imagination. And he is an eminently modern composer; with all his so-called conservative tendencies there is hardly a page in his works which could have been written at an earlier stage of musical art. Familiar with all the subtleties of modern expression and innovations of harmony, rhythm, and instrumentation, he has himself introduced many new and bold features.

To speak in detail of the one hundred and fifteen published works of Brahms would require a space far beyond the limits of this sketch. Thus only a summary classification is possible. Looking first at the instrumental compositions, one cannot praise Brahms too highly, that in opposition to prevailing tendencies towards a neglect of cyclic forms in favor of free, rhapsodic or programmatic fantasias, he has cultivated the former with supreme devotion, enriching and modifying them in many ways, but so that they still appear as worthy representatives of their types.

The three pianoforte sonatas and the Scherzo Op. 4 reveal the cardinal features of his later chamber and orchestral works: a most excellent thematic material, consisting often of but a few notes, awakening highest expectations; a rich, ingenious development, always coherent and logical; a Beethovenish virility; distinct contrasts and wonderful climaxes in the lively opening and closing movements, usually beginning directly with the principal subject, the working-out section being especially interesting and elaborate, the coda often of rare charm; the slow movements of delicate or intense, always noble feeling, in the form of variations or a long cantilena; the scherzos on a large plan, in three-four or six-eight time, very spirited, with a quieter trio preceding the finale, except in No. 3, where a short intermezzo is interpolated. Everywhere we note an ample and effective use of syncopations, a peculiar style of accompaniments, bold modulations and rhythmic devices, occasionally even some programmatic suggestions. Few masters have shown such originality and maturity in their first works.

Of independent pianoforte variations there are sixteen on a touching theme of Schumann, eleven on a beautiful original theme, thirteen on a Hungarian theme (with a combination of three-four and four-four time), twenty-five splendid variations on a short theme of Handel ending with a great fugue, some very difficult variations on a theme of Paganini, and—in a more romantic spirit—nine for four hands on that peculiar theme which Schumann had received “from the spirits of Schubert and Mendelssohn.” Some of these important works have a suggestive and refined sentimental character, others are virtuoso pieces of the highest order. As regards free conception of the variation form and variety of construction and mood, Brahms goes decidedly farther than Beethoven or Schumann. He seems inexhaustible in this form, which he used later most ingeniously also in chamber and orchestra works. The four poetic ballads Op. 10, the capriccios and intermezzos Op. 76 and two Rhapsodies Op. 79 are fine concert pieces of a freer but always coherent style, often very difficult. More popular are the famous Hungarian dances (fascinating settings of melodies, the authorship of which Brahms has never claimed), which he has orchestrated and arranged for four hands. His waltzes Op. 39, also for four hands, are short character-pieces of a bright, graceful or passionate spirit, in certain features recalling Schubert and Schumann, yet so original that they have been much imitated by younger composers. Several piano works for technical study (after Weber, Chopin and Bach), and fine arrangements of most of his chamber works and orchestra serenades and of a gavotte of Gluck may at least be mentioned. The difficulties of his pianoforte style, so rich in polyphonic figuration, harmonic and rhythmic combinations, syncopations, and wide stretches, especially abound in the two seldom-played concertos. Yet, without the highest appreciation and sympathetic devotion, the greatest virtuosity would never be able to make their inner life clear.

Like a giant appears the early written D minor concerto. Quick modulations, syncopations, chains of trills and a Beethovenish importance of themes and development impress us mightily in the passionate first movement, divine sweetness in the long adagio, while the finale, with its fantasia-like cadenza, rises from a simple mood to the acme of enthusiasm. The B flat concerto Op. 83 has even four movements, the long and romantic opening allegro being followed by an allegro appassionato of a superior scherzo character, the delightful andante by a highly effective allegro grazioso as finale. In spite of the elaborate development and the variety of contrasting moods, the whole work retains a bright and inspiring character. In both concertos the important and richly scored symphonic accompaniment only raises the solo part to greater prominence.

A fugue and a choral prelude with fugue are Brahms’ only but significant compositions for the organ.

The chamber works secure our master a place of honor beside the greatest representatives of this high branch of composition; they comprise three sonatas for violin and two for violoncello and pianoforte, five pianoforte trios (one with horn and one with clarinet), three string quartets, three pianoforte quartets, three string quintets (one with clarinet), one pianoforte quintet and two string sextets. In the older works one feels often the struggle of a great soul with strong passions, longings, hopes and anxieties, joys and pains, yet not lacking in sunshine and humor, while in the more recent compositions a quieter, more contemplative spirit prevails. The classic arrangement of four movements forms the rule, most of them being very elaborate and extensive, rich in themes of importance and beauty, the working out and coda showing Brahms’ genius in the finest light, the treatment of the different instruments being throughout masterly. The complicated development often prevents an immediate enjoyment, but increases our desire for a closer acquaintance; for this counterpoint goes always hand in hand with true feeling. In the opening movements the first part is not always repeated, and other novel features are introduced; the slow movements in the form of variations or of a long developed cantilena often lift us into high and unwonted regions; the scherzos are so full of genius that one wonders why Brahms has not used this form in his symphonies. The finales are of the highest order, seldom reached by other modern composers. In the works with horn and clarinets these much neglected instruments have received a wonderful treatment in music of great beauty. Unusual and complicated rhythms appear frequently, but treated in a surprisingly easy way. The details are throughout deeply interesting, yet often strange, even the most peaceful movements requiring closest attention. If one of all these great works must be distinguished as the greatest, we would name the pianoforte quintet in F minor, Op. 34. Yet the very latest work, the clarinet quintet, shows the same freshness and originality of invention, wonderful thematic net-work, variety of distinctly expressed moods, and the finale displaying an unsurpassed skill in variations.

The two orchestra serenades are real gems of spirited, delightful, well constructed music, one being for complete orchestra, the other for violas, ’celli, basses, reed instruments and horns. Besides the lively first and last movements and adagios they contain each a scherzo and one of them two minuets.

The theme for the nine orchestra variations Op. 56 is taken from one of Haydn’s divertimenti for wind instruments. They crown Brahms’ glorious achievements in the writing of variations; for, far from being “mere algebraic experiments,” they are delightful and ingenious tone pictures of distinct character and mood, with a nearer or more remote relation to the principal theme. The composer has thus initiated a new field of independent orchestral music, already successfully followed by others. The instrumentation is prominently interesting. It is generally admitted that Brahms is very conservative compared with Wagner and Berlioz in the matter of instrumentation. At least he never allows orchestral colors to divert our attention from the higher, inner meaning of a work. Yet in this score and in all his other works for or with orchestra, there are many features either of wonderful brilliancy or peculiar colors, which as novelties are worth studying. The finale, built upon a much repeated bass figure, successively joined by the different groups of the orchestra with other themes, reaches a beautiful climax in the pompous return of the original melody.


From an engraving by Weger, after a photograph from life.

The four symphonies in C minor, D, F and E minor are justly regarded as the most important orchestral works of our generation. Much is still written against them, and not everybody is willing or able to share the enthusiasm which their good performance arouses among the majority of cultivated audiences. Yet nothing can shake their high position among all symphonic works written since the great master of the immortal Ninth has left this earth. They have each a very individual character and, although in the main the old form is retained, new features are to be found in almost every movement. The first symphony opens with an impressive sostenuto introduction, the others begin at once with the principal subject of the allegro. Usually the first part of the latter is brought to a formal close and repeated; only in the fourth symphony, so rich in thematic material, no repetition occurs, but a very elaborate working out prepares for the climax reached in the concentrated recapitulation. Everywhere noble themes are finely contrasted, wonderfully developed, wholly or in fragments, in the working out, so as to hold the listener in breathless suspense. The allegros of the first and second symphonies have particularly fine codas. The slow movements are not very extensive and are easily enjoyed, their quieter and lofty mood being but little disturbed. However, the adagio in No. 2 is more complicated, has richer material, more frequent changes of key and rhythm, a more elaborate figure work and a peculiarly intimate spirit. A remarkable innovation is the consequent substitution for a minuet or scherzo of a sort of intermezzo, full of grace, sunshine and innocent playfulness, hardly disturbed by more serious episodes. Most extended is this in No. 4, a rondo with themes of an almost grotesque character, surprising details in their development and a spirit of true Beethoven-like humor. Yet those of the first three symphonies are of no less importance, having two distinct parts, of which the second one (contrary to the older trio) has a livelier character. Especially that of No. 2 is one of the most delightful orchestral pieces of modern literature. That Brahms is indeed a symphonist of the highest rank, is particularly evident in his finales. That of No. 1 is conceived in the grandest spirit, opened by a solemn introduction of overwhelming beauty and impressiveness, the allegro based on themes of rare inspiration, their wonderful development rising from climax to climax like a great triumphal procession. Still the finale of No. 2 is not less inspiring; even more brilliant, with its glorious themes, the splendid instrumentation and exciting coda. In No. 3 the closing movement has the unusual minor key, is less dithyrambic, yet not lacking in life, a choral-like episode forming a fine contrast, and the whole ending happily in a long, quiet coda in F major with a poetic reminiscence of the principal subject of the opening movement. One may justly regard the finale of No. 4 as a musical wonder, a new experiment gloriously carried out. It has the shape of a passacaglia, an old dance constructed upon a ground bass. The theme consists of eight bars, each represented by a chord, and is treated in about thirty variations of the most ingenious contrapuntal devices, greatly contrasted, yet so coherently that it sounds like an uninterrupted logical development, holding our interest keenly alive and increasing our enjoyment till the splendid end is reached.

We have thus seen how many strong features Brahms has introduced in the symphonic form, without departing from its classic foundation; but it is still more important that as a genius of a superior mind and noble soul he had the right material in himself to fill this greatest form of instrumental music with an adequate and original inner life, reflecting the highest spirit of modern German civilization.

The characteristic feature of the Academic Festival Overture is the successive introduction of several German student melodies, not in the form of a potpourri, as it has been unjustly regarded, but as themes developed with consummate art, expressing the inspiration of a solemn festival, of loyalty to the fatherland, of merrymaking and youthful exultation. Every page shows the hand of a superior master. Still greater is the tragic overture, its spirit reflecting a heroic struggle, gloom, solemnity, but also hope and comfort; its form being particularly interesting by an ingenious combination of the working out and recapitulation into a sort of free, yet coherent, wonderfully constructed and deeply impressive fantasia.

How much we should like to speak in detail of the two concertos for violin and for violin and ’cello! It would be a misnomer to call them symphonies with obligato solo parts, notwithstanding the very elaborate orchestral score, but more incorrect to compare them with any virtuoso concertos. Enormous technical difficulties are to be conquered in the service of high musical purposes. The arrangement is after the classic model, in three movements. Of these the slow movements with their melodic breadth are the more enjoyable, while the extensive outer movements, with their rich development of peculiarly fine and original themes, require repeated hearings to reveal all their innate beauty and greatness. And these works, too, belong to the future and can afford to await their time for a general appreciation.

Brahms’ earlier chorus works are an Ave Maria for female chorus and orchestra, a funeral chant with wind instruments, four female choruses with harp and two horns, seven Marianan songs, a setting of the 23d Psalm for female chorus and organ, several motets and part songs for four, five or six voices, sacred songs, and twelve romances for female chorus, partly with piano accompaniment. Now and then we are reminded of the style of Palestrina or old German folk-songs, then again of Bach’s polyphonic art with fugues, simple and double canons, yet throughout of a new, peculiar mode of expression, full of poetic sentiment. Among the works of later years we mention two motets, which are praised as Brahms’ highest achievements in polyphonic writing, seven songs for mixed voices, and many arrangements of old German folk-songs.

The German Requiem is of such great importance, that without a knowledge of it neither a full estimation of Brahms’ individual genius nor of the significance of the latest epoch of music in general can be obtained. Taking from the old Latin funeral mass only the name, Brahms selected certain verses from the Bible, expressing not only the sadness and terror of death and judgment, but also hope and consolation,—even thankfulness and praise. His work, independent of any church service and to be sung in a living language, contains in each note music which came from the depth of a noble soul and was written by a master of the highest and most complicated field of vocal composition. Entirely free from conventionalities or dry learning, each of the seven numbers gives completely what his genius was able to accomplish. It is indeed the great funeral chant of modern music, at least for Germans and Protestants. Choruses I., IV., V. and VII. have a quiet character, finely expressing the milder feelings above mentioned, yet with all their seeming simplicity showing a consummate art in the details of their construction, No. V. being mainly given to a difficult soprano solo. No. II. (“Behold all flesh is as the grass”) is a peculiar funeral march in three-four time, the chorus singing partly in unison to strange and impressive orchestral music; after a touching animato (“Be patient unto the coming of Christ”) the principal melody is repeated, followed by a long fugue (“The redeemed of the Lord shall return again”). No. III. opens with a baritone solo, lamenting the frailty of life, soon joined by the chorus, rising to a climax expressive of hope. Then follows that famous fugue, in an astonishingly rich polyphonic treatment, moving over an uninterrupted, much criticised pedal point on D to emphasize the words, that “the righteous souls are in the hand of God.” No. VI. is regarded as the culmination of the work. After the chorus’ lament that “Here on earth we have no continuing place,” comfort is brought by the baritone voice unfolding the mystery of the resurrection. The chorus repeat this and burst out in an ecstatic vivace, “The trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised!...” “... Grave, where is thy victory, death, where is thy sting?” In wonderful modulations climax after climax is reached; finally in glorious C major a double fugue is added, a hymn of praise to “the Lord of honor and might,” whose proportion, art and impressiveness alone suffice to make Brahms a compeer of the greatest masters of polyphonic music. Throughout, chorus, orchestra and soloists have to overcome the greatest difficulties, but seldom are their efforts directed to more ideal purposes.


From a photograph from life by Fr. Luckhardt, Vienna.

For the “Song of Triumph” Brahms selected some mysterious verses from the Apocalypse. Of the three large numbers for double chorus, orchestra and organ, some portions have been called direct imitations of Handel; yet even there one finds enough of Brahms’ individuality and throughout an intense heartiness and directness of feeling. In singing this music, one is overwhelmed by its grandeur. The second number, more purely Brahms’, is of particular beauty, the chorus “Let us rejoice” being joined by a cantus firmus of the wood instruments on the choral “Now, thank ye all the Lord!” In No. III., opened by a baritone solo, an enthusiasm is reached in the Hallelujah surpassing any jubilant chorus music written since the Ninth Symphony.

The “Deutsche Fest-und Gedenksprüche” have a uniform patriotic purpose. There are again three large and most difficult numbers for double chorus, without solo or accompaniment. No. I. refers to the battle of Leipsic in 1813 and the regained liberty from the Napoleonic bondage (“Our fathers hoped in thee, thou helpedst them,” etc.), and has an imposing character of resolution and vigor. No. II., referring to the collapse of the French in 1870, illustrates in lively contrasting colors “a palace guarded by one strongly armed and remaining in peace” and “an empire that falls in discord and becomes waste.” No. III. praises the splendor of the new united empire, but warns its people “to beware and guard thy soul well, that it shall never forget the story which thine eyes have seen.” A deeply religious spirit also pervades this great and but little known work.

The Rhapsody for alto solo, male chorus and orchestra treats a portion of Goethe’s “Journey through the Hartz in Winter.” Once in 1777 the poet left a hunting party to pay an incognito visit to a young admirer of his genius, who was in a Wertherish despondent condition of mind. The impression received by this adventure gave rise to one of his deepest yet somewhat mysterious poems, which inspired Brahms to one of his greatest works. The opening orchestral sounds touch our inmost heart; sighs and the anguish of a trembling soul is their spirit; then the solo voice in tones of intense feeling asks for comfort for one “who from the fullness of love drank hate of man and in loneliness devours all that hath worth in him.” A peculiar combination of three-two and six-four time illustrates finely this anguish and restlessness. Gradually the music becomes more quiet, till with a harp-like accompaniment, chorus and soloist sing a hymn of indescribable beauty and loftiness, imploring “the all-loving Father to enlighten the heart of the unfortunate, if but one tone from his psalter can reach His ears.” The solo part requires a truly inspired musician, whose voice is the instrument of his soul. The short chorus is also a difficult task. Many times has the writer heard this heavenly work, but never without its repetition being demanded and given. Yet how little known it is in this country!

An extensive work for male chorus with tenor solo and orchestra is the cantata “Rinaldo,” the text being again from Goethe. It deals with a romantic story from Tasso’s “Jerusalem Delivered,” has partly a solemn, partly a lively dramatic character and breathes the refreshing air of the sea. The more or less extensive and elaborate choruses are very different from the conventional style, the solo part is unusually difficult and so exacting that an adequate performance is seldom secured.

In three works Brahms has illustrated the relentlessness of Fate, selecting poems of almost Greek grandeur and beauty. Hölderlin’s “Song of Destiny” contrasts the blessed abode of the divine spirits with the fate of the “restless, grief-laden mortals, who blindly wander from one sad hour to another.” Schiller’s “Nänie” mourns “that even the Beautiful fades and the Highest must die,” and “The Song of the Fates,” from Goethe’s “Iphigenia,” warns the human race “to fear the gods, doubly those whom they have exalted, for they turn from entire races the light of their eyes.” The last work is for six, the others for four chorus voices. Everywhere the orchestra is important, rich in weird, characteristic effects. Bold modulations and rhythmic combinations always in keeping with the composer’s high conception of the poetry affect deeply ear and heart. Who but Brahms could have found music so worthy of such profound poetical subjects! In the “Song of Destiny” he even surpasses the poet by repeating at the end the wonderful orchestral introduction indicating hope for our own final attainment of the abode of the blessed spirits. The “Nänie” is dedicated to the mother of the lamented painter Feuerbach, who had been a true art companion of Brahms. Only a careful, sympathetic rendering will reveal the beauty of this work. In the “Song of the Fates” there is a movement of a quiet, melodious character, which many critics have declared to be entirely contrary to the meaning of the text. To us it seems more like a well justified, touching expression of pious submission, wonderfully calming our excitement for the mysterious ending with its harmonies and orchestral sounds never heard before.

Brighter is the character of some works belonging to a field which Schumann had specially cultivated, yet where Brahms shows again such originality that he has been much imitated. His delightful vocal quartets with piano accompaniment, graceful and bright or deep and gloomy, charm greatly by their artistic construction, beauty of thought, feeling and sound and peculiarity of colors. Still more famous are the two collections of Love-Song Waltzes for voices and piano for four hands, resembling the sparkling pianoforte waltzes Op. 39, most varying in shape and mood, the words being mainly from Daumer’s “Polydora,” those of the fine, quiet closing movement in nine-four time being selected from Goethe. The eleven Gipsy Songs Op. 102 are also meeting with an enthusiastic reception, Hungarian spirit and rhythm giving them a peculiar color, the moods being either humorous or passionate, melancholy or exuberant, quartets alternating with solos, the accompaniment being as elaborate as it is effective.

Of the twenty highly remarkable duets some have, in spite of many harmonic and rhythmic finesses, quite a plain character, while others are very elaborate, the voices either joining or alternating. As particularly typical we mention “The Seas,” “The Nun and the Knight,” “The Sisters,” “The Messengers of Love,” “Edward,” and “Let us wander.”

Finally we have reached the field in which Brahms has been especially fertile and original, his “Lieder.” To speak of them only in a general way is difficult indeed. Thirty-one of the published 115 works contain nearly 200 songs. Throughout his whole career Brahms has been writing songs; there was in his soul a lyric element, kindled again and again by the beauty of feeling, thought and diction of the great German poets, and he found a style of song-writing so independent, that in spite of some more or less striking exceptions one can hardly trace his relation to Schubert, Schumann and Franz. He is their equal as regards wealth of invention, noble conception of the text, finishing of details. Yet in treatment of the voice, relation between vocal and instrumental part, and construction of the latter he opens a new path. In the selection of poems he shows eminent knowledge and taste. Many half-forgotten poems of a superior order he has awakened to fresh life; others, which on account of their peculiar metre or meaning have been avoided, have found in him an unexpectedly effective interpreter. However, it seems to us as if the poems often suffer transformation. They have inspired the composer with certain tone-pictures, which in turn impose upon them very distinctly the spirit of his own strong individuality. This individuality is by no means always deep and heavy, for smiles and dancing are no strangers to it. Often the melodies are as plain as folk-songs, but always of great nobility. With a few notes the composer reaches our hearts and lifts us at once into a higher region. Other melodies again are as elaborate as a dramatic scene. The accompaniment, inexhaustible in forms, yet never conventional, simple or with great harmonic wealth and peculiar figuration, rivals the singer in expressing the moods of the poem. Of the so-called folk-songs (old German, Swiss, Bohemian, Scotch, Italian, etc.) some are treated most artistically, others with a touching simplicity. Very few poems composed by other masters are found among his list, and the favorite poets Heine, Eichendorff, Chamisso are almost avoided. A remarkable exception is the separately published “Moon-night,” very different from Schumann’s jewel song, yet not inferior. Goethe, Hölty, Platen, Tieck, Schenkendorf, Groth and Möricke are fully represented, often by poems of an antique spirit and form. Keller, Daumer, Heyse, Schack, Herder and many others inspired Brahms too, and it is noteworthy that he had no music for meaningless trivialities. The majority of these songs are devoted to love in all possible phases and moods, often wonderfully reflected in scenes of nature. There is perhaps more of twilight and autumn than of sunshine and spring, but exultant and happy moods are well represented,—also flowers, birds, woods, oceans and storms and the stillness of the fields,—but all these more in a symbolic than realistic conception and with a wonderful coloring of the prevailing mood. The sweet little “Cradle song,” “Erinnerung,” “Minnelied,” “Wie bist du, meine Königin?” “Meine Liebe ist grün,” “Von ewiger Liebe,” “Ruhe, Süssliebchen,” “Mainacht,” “Vergebliches Ständchen” are only a few familiar jewels among the rich collection; how many more deserve the same sympathy and study from singers with noble artistic ambitions! Special mention is due to the two fine songs for alto with viola obligato Op. 91 and to the fifteen romances from Tieck’s half-forgotten fairy tale “Die schöne Magelone,” which have a most elaborate form and an intensely emotional character. Nowhere indeed can one get a better estimate of Brahms’ high significance as a song writer than here, where the poet appears like a dwarf in the light of the composer’s higher genius.

Greatness indeed remains Brahms’ characteristic feature, wherever we look at him or at his works; greatness in ideas, purposes and powers; greatness in self-criticism and faithfulness to the dignity of his art; greatness in the devotion to past masters and independence of contemporary influences; greatness in the sincerity and simplicity of his manners and relation to the outer world. Never appearing as a revolutionary spirit, yet he has himself introduced many strong innovations in various fields, and for a long time his works will not only afford profound enjoyment to earnest lovers of our art, but be a source of the most valuable studies for those to whom its further development will be entrusted. Long has he been ignored, patiently has he waited, till the world has come to him to respect in him the noblest musical genius of our time.

Louis Keeserborn


Reproduction of a photograph from life, made by J. Löwy in Vienna.

515 [Fleuron]


The date of the birth of Carl Goldmark, the eminent Austrian composer, is incorrectly given in the various biographical dictionaries to which the writer has had access. For correct information on this point and for the facts contained in the following sketch of the musician’s life, thanks are due to Leopold Goldmark, his brother. Carl Goldmark was born at Keszthely, Hungary, May 18, 1830. He came by his musical inclinations naturally, for his father, Ruben Goldmark, was a precentor, much esteemed on account of his fine voice. The son showed a fondness for music at an early age and when very young began to take lessons on the violin at the Musikverein of Oedenburg. His progress was such that at the age of twelve his father permitted him to play in public. Soon afterward he began to play professionally in theatre orchestras. He continued to do so until the revolution of 1848, when he was obliged to go into service in the army under the landsturm law.

When his term of service had come to an end he went to Vienna, where, with the assistance of his eldest brother, Dr. Joseph Goldmark, he resumed his studies, becoming a pupil in the Böhm Conservatorium. Unfortunately for the young man, Dr. Goldmark had been an active participant in the insurrection and was suspected of implication in the killing of Minister of War, La Tour. He was compelled to leave Austria and came to America, where he died in 1863. His flight threw Carl on his own resources, and the young musician succeeded in obtaining an engagement in the theatre orchestra at Raab, Hungary. Toward the end of 1850, however, he returned to Vienna, where he secured employment in the orchestra of the Theatre in the Josefstadt.

Young Goldmark at this time showed very plainly of what sort of material he was made. His salary amounted to about $8 a month, but his ambition was worth hundreds. He was consumed by a desire to learn to play the piano, but he could not afford to pay a teacher. He managed, however, to hire an instrument, and began to study by himself with occasional hints from friends. Returning late from the theatre to his humble lodgings, he would spend half the night in practising by the light of a tallow candle. It may as well be said here that he became sufficiently proficient as a pianist to give lessons in later years, and he also taught himself the art of singing with such success that he became the instructor of Mme. Bettelheim, a contralto who attained prominence on the Austrian stage. With the exception of his violin lessons and a short course in composition at the Vienna Conservatory under Sechter, self-instruction was all the teaching enjoyed by young Goldmark. He studied assiduously the scores of Mozart, Weber and Beethoven, and attended the Helmesberger chamber music concerts in Vienna, thus gaining a valuable acquaintance with the instrumental works of the best masters. Goldmark was, however, not only a student of music. He made himself conversant with the German, French, Italian and English Languages. He also became a devoted student of philosophy, and learned to look up to Schopenhauer with a truly Wagnerian admiration. In 1850 he became a contributor to the Grenzboten and to some of the Leipsic musical papers. His writings have always shown evidence of his wide culture.

It was in 1855 that he began to compose, and in 1857 he gave a concert of his own works at the Vienna Musikverein-Halle. The compositions presented were an overture, a piano quartet, a ballad for tenor, chorus and orchestra, and two songs. He was at that period of his career a devoted follower of Mendelssohn, and the works played at his concert were in that master’s style. Goldmark’s fondness for his early offspring was short-lived and the works were not published. He outlived his Mendelssohnian devotion and subsequently became a fervent admirer of Schumann, whose influence is clearly discernible in some of his later works.

The composer’s first decided success was the overture to “Sakuntala,” opus 13, written in 1864, and now known favorably all over Europe and in this country. In 1865, while walking in one of the principal streets of Vienna, he saw a picture of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. The picture made a vivid impression on his imagination, and at length he went to H. S. Mosenthal, the well known dramatist, author of “Leah, the Forsaken,” and begged him to undertake the task of constructing a libretto out of the story which had grown up in the composer’s mind. In three years the opera was finished in its first shape, but Goldmark was dissatisfied with it. Mosenthal made the desired changes in the book, and about one-half of the score was rewritten, the work being finished early in 1872. Goldmark then submitted it to Joseph Herbeck, conductor of the court opera at Vienna. It is believed that Herbeck was jealous of Goldmark, because the latter had defeated him in a competition for a Government prize of 800 gulden. At any rate Herbeck kept the score of “The Queen of Sheba” locked up for two years. Finally, at a musicale given by the Princess Hohenlohe, whose husband was master of ceremonies to the Emperor, Ignatz Brüll, then a rising young pianist, played some selections from Goldmark’s opera. The Princess and others, pleased by the music, asked Brüll some questions about the work, and the story of Herbeck’s delay over the score came out. The influence of the Princess and the Countess Andrassy led to an imperial command for the production of the opera, and it was accordingly performed on March 10, 1875. The success of the opera was great and the composer was called out nearly forty times. “The Queen of Sheba” has been given in various European cities, and was first performed in America at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1885, with the following cast: Sulamith, Frau Lilli Lehman; the Queen, Frau Krämer-Wiedl; Astaroth, Fräulein Marianne Brandt; Solomon, Herr Robinson; Assad, Herr Stritt; Baal Hanan, Herr Alexi; High Priest, Herr Fischer. The conductor was Anton Seidl. It was the most successful opera in the repertory of the house that season, being presented fifteen times, to aggregate receipts of $60,000. It was given four times the following season, and again five times in the season of 1889–90, always to audiences of good size.

His second opera, “Merlin,” was produced in Vienna Nov. 19, 1886, and at the Metropolitan Opera House Jan. 3, 1887, with the following cast: Viviane, Lilli Lehmann; Morgana, Brandt; Artus, Robinson; Modred, Kemlitz; Gawein, Heinrich; Lancelot, Basch; Merlin, Alvary; Dämon, Fischer. The conductor was Walter Damrosch. It was performed five times in the course of the season, but did not achieve the success of its predecessor. While waiting for the production of “The Queen of Sheba,” Goldmark wrote his B flat quartet and his suite for piano and violin.

Goldmark has devoted his life to composition. He takes no pupils and has refused not only all orders and distinctions, but all offers of posts as conductor. The only office he has ever held—and that but briefly—is the presidency of the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein. His home is in Vienna, but about May 1st of every year he goes to Gmunden, on the Traunsee in upper Austria. There he remains till October, working incessantly except during four weeks in midsummer. He then takes a vacation, going to the Fusch valley, near Salzburg, where he spends six to eight hours a day in mountain climbing. All his composing is done at Gmunden. He is a widower and has a daughter twenty years of age.

Goldmark’s principal works are the two operas already mentioned, the “Sakuntala,” “Penthesilea,” “Spring” and “Prometheus” overtures, the symphony in E flat and the “Ländliche Hochzeit” symphony, and the violin concerto in A minor, opus 28. These are the works by which he is best known in this country, his chamber music being played infrequently. The composer’s musical development is readily divided into two periods. He made the division himself when, in 1875, he decided that he would abandon his earlier style of writing, in which he had made extensive use of Oriental melody and color. He imbibed a fondness for this style when in his childhood he listened to the voice of his father in the synagogue. He himself seems to have felt, however, that in giving his music a local or racial coloring he was detracting from its universality, and after the production of the “Queen of Sheba,” he said to his friends that he would write no more eastern music. It was doubtless this determination which led him to select the story of Merlin as the subject for his next opera. The most thoughtful critics of Goldmark’s music are of the opinion that he was not wise in his determination. As an Oriental colorist in music, he certainly has no superior, and probably no equal, while his “Merlin” is without the most interesting manifestations of his individuality. Goldmark without his color is Swinburne without his versification. The composer’s best works, except the overture to “Prometheus,” are surely those written before the resolution of 1875.

The story of “The Queen of Sheba” is not taken from the Bible, but is purely imaginary. It deals with the fascination of Assad, a courtier, by the beautiful Queen, who has indulged in a passage of love with him on her journey to Solomon’s court. When Assad recognizes her in Solomon’s palace, she denies having met him before, but both Solomon and Sulamith, Assad’s promised bride, see that something is wrong. The Queen again shows herself to Assad by night, and the next day in the palace. Assad proclaims the truth. Solomon decrees that the youth must work out his salvation by defeating the powers of evil, and banishes him to the desert. Sulamith seeks him and he dies in her arms, while the Queen and her caravan are seen in the distance returning homeward. Dr. Mosenthal’s libretto is not a fine poetic achievement, but it is theatrically very effective, blending spectacular and dramatic scenes in a telling manner. The composer has made excellent use of his opportunities. Assad’s recital of his first adventure with the Queen, is set to admirably descriptive music, and it is followed by a most captivating ballet and an inspiring chorus of greeting to the Queen. The ensuing scene is richly dramatic. The duet between the Queen and Assad in the moonlit garden is intensely passionate and glows with the warm color of eastern melody. The instrumental richness of the score seems to be quite as natural an outcome of the composer’s fancy as his easy adoption of Oriental rhythms and cadences, which he handled as one to the manner born. The most important objection which has been made to this music is that it is “so unvaryingly stimulated that it wearies and makes the listener long for a fresher and healthier musical atmosphere.” The production of “The Queen of Sheba” in New York was one of the most brilliant spectacles ever seen in America, and the performances were rich in musical merit.

The comparative failure of “Merlin” was due largely to the effort of the librettist, Herr Siegfried Lipiner, to mingle the supernatural with the story of Merlin and Vivien and to drag in Goethe’s principle of saving womanhood—a favorite theme with Wagner. Indeed, there are many things in the libretto which indicate that it was suggested by Wagnerian works, chiefly “Parsifal.” The librettist’s greatest success was in his characterization of Vivien, which is excellent. The composer also fell into the Wagnerian pit and strove vainly to handle the Leitmotif. His music, moreover, suffered, as has already been intimated, from his determined effort to rid himself of the Oriental color which was his natural garb. Nevertheless it must be said in justice to Goldmark, that no operatic writer of our time has shown a greater seriousness of purpose than that manifested in “Merlin.” The musical dialogue of the opera is nobly elevated in style, but lacks variety. The orchestration is rich and glowing in color, yet is without complexity of construction, and there is a delightful absence of the set forms of the old-fashioned opera. But “Merlin” lacks the inspiration and the spontaneity of style which are displayed by the composer when laboring in his congenial Oriental field.

The “Ländliche Hochzeit” symphony is a symphony in name rather than in fact. It is a series of descriptive movements, written with a little of the composer’s characteristic tinge of Orientalism and with all of his mastery of instrumental coloring. It is fluent, melodious and strongly rhythmical. In short, it is music that pleases a miscellaneous audience without offending the discriminating music-lover. The symphony in E flat, like the violin concerto, the present writer regards as one of the composer’s least happy achievements. It is but just to say, however, that some good judges do not hold this opinion of the work. The first movement is built on a flowing and rhythmic theme announced by the violins, and from this the second subject is very happily deduced; but neither is fruitful in itself. The scherzo is by far the best movement, and is, indeed, a bit of writing of which any recent symphonist might be proud. It is light and airy in theme and the instrumentation is effective.

The violin concerto in A minor is lacking in spontaneity of thought.

When we turn to Goldmark’s overtures, however, we find the composer at his best. All his overtures are admirable, one is exceptionally fine, and another is great. The “Sakuntala” overture is deemed Goldmark’s best by many critics, but the present writer prefers the “Prometheus.” The story of the love of King Dushyanta for Sakuntala, daughter of the Saint Viswamitra and the water nymph Menaka, is one of the most beautiful in the Hindoo mythology. The maiden is reared in the forest by Kanwa, and there Dushyanta, while hunting, meets and loves her. The principal themes in Goldmark’s overture are the melodies representing Sakuntala’s loneliness in the forest, the royal hunt, and the love of the king and the maiden. The composition is opulent in its Oriental richness of color and is full of the passionate intensity and vigorous aggressiveness of the strongest scenes in the “Queen of Sheba.”

The “Prometheus” overture, a product of Goldmark’s maturity, is a superb work, one of the most admirable produced in recent years, and one that ought to live. The composer has chosen some of the salient features of Æschylus’s sublime tragedy, and has expressed them eloquently. The opening measures speak of the loneliness of the chained Prometheus, surrounded by the empty infinity of space. A beautiful theme in the wood is said to signify the prostrate god’s hope, but such an interpretation is not justified by the tragedy. The writer prefers to regard it as an expression of the repose of the sea, whence floats up a few measures later the sympathetic chorus of sea-nymphs, represented by two themes, one a lovely undulating melody in the wood, the other, speaking more eloquently of their yearning over Prometheus, a flowing melody for the strings. The bold, restless spirit of the god is finely expressed by the allegro, with which the sea-nymph music is worked out in effective contrast. An increase in tempo and a change in the melody near the end of the work lead to a forcible proclamation of Jove’s sentence by the trombones, and the whole closes with the music of space and the sea. In form, in instrumentation and in elaboration, as well as in emotional content, the overture is noble.

The “Penthesilea” overture is founded on the Homeric episode of the emotion of Achilles over the beautiful corpse of the Amazon queen, slain by him in battle. The composition is very clear in purpose and is well written. The “Spring” overture is the least striking of the works under consideration, yet it displays much of the composer’s mastery of orchestral technique.

Goldmark’s music, on the whole, is distinguished by a deep and manly warmth, a restless aggressiveness and a hyperbolic instrumental language. In this latter respect it resembles Eastern poetry in the extravagance of its forms of expression, at times approaching bombast. At his best, however, as in the “Prometheus” overture, the composer is capable of strong, serious, lofty feeling, noble dignity of utterance and reposeful symmetry of form. It is because this overture exhibits these powers of Goldmark in a higher form than his other compositions that the present writer looks upon it as his greatest work. His operas are eclectic in style and the result is something between Meyerbeer and Wagner; but in his overtures the individuality of Goldmark is most clearly revealed. Admirable as much of his chamber music is, it suffers by comparison with his larger works because of the lack of those instrumental colors which the composer uses with such dazzling effect. It is impossible to predict the future of Goldmark’s music; but it certainly belongs to the present, and some of it seems likely to live.

N. J. Henderson.


Reproduction of a photograph from life, made by Falk in New York.

519 [Fleuron]


In the latter part of the nineteenth century probably no composer has done more for the development of the chorus, and especially of the Maennerchor, than Max Bruch, and although he has achieved much in orchestral scoring, and has written fine concertos, symphonies, and even large operas, it is upon his great choruses that his fame as a composer, and his right to admission to the ranks of the masters, chiefly rests. He was born in Cologne, Jan. 6, 1838, and his musical powers developed very early, for by the time that he had reached his fourteenth year, he had already written upwards of seventy compositions, although wisely forbearing to print them and thereby take rank as a “musical prodigy.” One of these juvenile works was a symphony, and received a public performance in Cologne in 1852. As with the first compositions of Mendelssohn, however, these early works are to be regarded merely as records of juvenile possibilities and are not reckoned with the great and serious contributions to music which Bruch was able to make in riper years.

His parents gladly aided his efforts to develop his musical abilities by thorough training, and to his mother he owes much of the success of his juvenile studies. This lady, once famous as Fräulein Almenräder, was herself a distinguished singer, and came of a well-known musical family of the lower Rhine country. She personally attended to the elementary steps of Bruch’s musical curriculum, but he was early sent to Professor Heinrich Karl Breidenstein of Bonn, who took charge of his theoretical studies. These succeeded so well that the compositions of the nine-year-old boy attracted the notice of Ferdinand Hiller, who soon after took him in charge and developed his abilities so rapidly and thoroughly that at fourteen years the boy was able to enter for the Mozart scholarship awarded in Frankfort. The string quartette which he wrote for this occasion won the prize. This obtained for him a yearly stipendium of four hundred gulden, which he enjoyed for four years, and which enabled him to continue his studies with Hiller, and also to obtain instruction from Professors Carl Reinecke and Ferdinand Breuning, studying piano under the latter with especial zeal and success. Long visits to Munich, Leipsic and other musical centers followed, and continued to broaden the musical horizon of the young genius. At Munich he made the personal acquaintance of the poet Emanuel Geibel, who had much influence upon his later work in the large musical forms. The winter of 1857–8, passed in Leipsic, seems to have also wielded a great influence in awakening Bruch’s enthusiasm for the higher walks of music. After this year, we find him once more in his native city of Cologne, enjoying a reputation which even at that time was much more than local. He had, until this time, published only compositions in the small forms, piano pieces, songs, and duets, but with his first two choruses we find the first ocular evidences of talent, and from the very beginning the massing of voices seems to have possessed a peculiar charm for, and to have been well understood by him.

In 1862, after the death of his father, Bruch began a two-years’ stay in Mannheim, and his friendship with Vincenz Lachner, which began at this time, undoubtedly had an influence on his compositions. In 1865, he went to Coblentz to assume the directorship of the musical institute there, and this was the beginning of the period of his greatest creative activity. In 1867, he became director of the court orchestra in Sondershausen, a position which had been held by such masters as Spohr and Weber, and for three years we find him diligently perfecting himself in the art of conducting, in which he has become very celebrated, being one of the few composers who are successful on the conductor’s stand. In 1870, Bruch went to Berlin, where he lived some years, not accepting any position, but busying himself entirely with composition. After this he settled in Bonn for a short time. In 1878 he was called to Berlin to succeed Julius Stockhausen as director of the famous Stern Gesangverein. His next engagement took him across the seas, and he went to Liverpool to succeed Sir Julius Benedict as director of the Philharmonic society in 1880. This engagement ended in the Spring of 1883 (some biographies commit an error here, in setting the date a year earlier), and he immediately came to America where he conducted a number of his compositions. In the summer of 1883 he returned to Germany, and from September of that year he was the director of the Breslau Orchestral Society.


From a wood engraving at the British Museum.

This continued until the spring of 1890, when he closed his labors as conductor and settled in Friedenau, near Berlin, where he is at present; but he is so fond of travel, so full of energy and activity, that he is not likely to remain in retirement very long. In 1890 he received the honorary title of Royal Professor.

In personal appearance Bruch is by no means as majestic as one would suppose from his works. He is small of stature, and his dark eyes peer through his spectacles with the sharp glance of a teacher rather than of a creator of heroic cantatas. He is quick and nervous in motion and, when directing an orchestra or chorus, his gestures are spontaneous and expressive.

It is pleasant to notice that the juvenile compositions of Bruch had their origin in filial affection and that one of the earliest of his works is a prayer for his parents, which the nine-year-old boy arranged as a song. But the actual career of the composer commenced with the choruses, which he began to write in his twenty-first year.

The first of these choruses (Op. 8) bore the title of “Birken und Erlen” (“Birches and Alders”), and the second (Op. 3) “Jubilate, Amen.” In both of the works a soprano voice is used obligato against four-part chorus, and there are not only rich harmonies, but a wonderful blending of the solo with the chorus part. Just before these works, Bruch had written a little one-act opera, his Opus I, entitled “Scherz, List, und Rache,” on Goethe’s libretto, but it made no very marked impression; soon after, however, he turned his attention to larger opera, and the result was that Emanuel Geibel’s libretto, “Loreley,” which had been written years before, for Mendelssohn (that master was at work upon this subject when he met his early death), was now brought to the operatic stage by him. At first the poet opposed the thought of presenting the work save on the concert platform, but finally consented to allow it a trial at the theatre of Mannheim. The opera deals with one of the most poetical conceptions of the Rhine-witch, which makes her appear at first as a pure and beautiful maiden, named Leonore, but heartbroken and frenzied by betrayal and desertion, she seals a bond with the spirits of the stream, and with them wages war on mankind. Mendelssohn had already composed the scene of the invocation of the river-demons, and the festival of the vintagers, and Bruch’s music to these scenes bears the test of comparison, which is saying much when it is considered that the earlier setting was the last work of the more celebrated composer, and this was composed at the beginning of Bruch’s career. Bruch’s “Vintage Chorus” is frequently given by male choruses as a concert selection. The performance at Mannheim was successful and the opera was afterwards presented at many other theatres, and notably at Hamburg and Leipsic, in both of which cities it won great applause from public and press. Yet the work has now totally disappeared from the stage, since it is not really a dramatic subject, the change of the heroine from an innocent and confiding maiden to a fierce and revengeful spirit, a first cousin to the Greek Sirens, is rather a metaphysical than a theatrical one, and the plot occasioned some repetition of style which weakened the music. About ten years later Bruch once more essayed opera, and failed. This time Shakespeare was the librettist, and under the title of “Hermione” the new work, which was the “Winter’s Tale,” was performed in Berlin and Dresden, but in neither city did it win more than a succès d’estime. It has disappeared from the repertoire altogether, yet the second act is a gem that will bear rescuing from oblivion. It represents Hermione in prison, and at her trial, and so well is the pathos and intensity of the music fitted to the situation, that it is not exaggeration to speak of this portion of the opera as being among the finest things that Bruch has ever written, and it may be ranked with the very best of modern music.

Fac-simile manuscript of beginning of Adagio in Max Bruch’s first Violin Concerto.

Original in possession of Prof. Dr. Emil Naumann, in Dresden.

We now approach the epoch when Bruch produced a work which at once drew the attention, not of Germany alone, but of the entire musical world towards his labors; we have intimated that the composer’s fame rests chiefly on what he has done for chorus singing, and it is in the treatment of male chorus that Bruch is unsurpassed; it was with such a work,—“Frithjof” (Op. 23),—that he won his first great triumph. The text, by Esaias Tegner, taken from the grand old Sagas, afforded a sombre dignity that suited well to a massive use of maennerchor, and once more Bruch added a female voice, not in combination, but rather in contrast to the chorus work, to illustrate the character of the unhappy Ingeborg. The baritone solos, the utterances of the viking Frithjof, are full of expression, and the chorus of the returning heroes at the beginning of the cantata is melodious in the highest degree. Seldom, in a modern work, has so much of melody been employed, without weakening the dramatic treatment, but the final chorus of the departing warriors may be cited as a perfect example of this happy combination in Bruch’s choruses. “Frithjof” may also stand as a model of condensation in dramatic music; every note has its purport, and there is not a measure in the entire work that is supererogatory. The contrasts are also managed with a master-hand, so that the emotions of peace and war are given in kaleidoscopic, yet logical, succession.

Immediately following this there came an almost equally important contribution to the repertoire of mixed chorus; this was “Schön Ellen,” a cantata for chorus combined with soprano and baritone solos. The subject taken was again a warlike one, being founded on the fabulous tale invented by a newspaper correspondent, that during the siege of Lucknow, a Scotch girl named Jessie Brown heard the bagpipes of the regiments sent to the relief of the place, long before they were audible to the rest of the garrison, and was able thereby to prevent a surrender to the merciless Sepoys surrounding it. Emanuel Geibel, the poet, turned the mythical Jessie Brown into an equally mythical “Fair Ellen,” and gave the libretto to the composer, who began its composition within sound of the cannon at the battle of Sadowa the culmination of the Austro-Prussian war. The subject was full of dramatic possibilities, and Bruch used these in the condensed manner characteristic of the preceding work. Naturally he was impelled towards Scotch music by the color of the poem, and the entire cantata is founded on “The Campbells are comin’,” which is omnipresent in it, and forms a grand climax to the whole as a hymn of thanksgiving. Yet many may have blamed Bruch for departing from the Scotch character of the theme in this lofty finale; few musicians will join in this censure, for the composer has but allowed himself the freedom of the Fantasie in this development of a folk-theme. It is not the only time that a German composer has used this melody in a developed musical work, for Robert Volkmann employed it in his overture “Richard III.”; a Scotch theme written in 1568, in an English battle fought in 1485!

It may be fitting in this place to speak of the influence which the Scotch folk-music exerted upon Bruch. He once assured the writer of this article that he was familiar with over four hundred of the Scotch folk-songs. After the completion of “Fair Ellen” his taste in this direction was again shown in the “Scotch Fantasie” (Op. 46) for violin and orchestra, which is one of Sarasate’s favorite solos, and he also arranged twelve Scotch folk-songs with considerable success. Yet it may fairly be doubted whether Bruch has ever been able to reproduce the lilt so characteristic of Gaelic music; in this failure, however, he is not alone, for Beethoven, Schumann, and others among the German masters have attempted this vein fruitlessly; Mendelssohn alone, among the ranks of these, accomplished the transplanting of the delicate flower of Scotch folk-music into German classical works.

The immense success that followed the production of “Frithjof,” and the almost equal favor extended to “Fair Ellen,” was reflected on Bruch’s earlier works, and the “Roman Song of Triumph” (Op. 19, No. 1) was brought into popularity in its wake, and once more we hear the stern notes of war and victory sounding in the massive chords of the male chorus. Soon after the triumph of “Frithjof” we find the composer returning to the subject, and Op. 27 deals with “Frithjof at the grave of his father,” but it was like Milton’s “Paradise Regained” after “Paradise Lost,” a weak work after a masterpiece, and this concert-scene for baritone solo, female chorus, and orchestra, fell rather flat.

The true successor of “Frithjof” was to come later in the shape of another warrior, this time a Grecian; in the “Odysseus,” Op. 41, with Ulysses as his hero, we find the composer rising to the height of the preceding subject, but in another and less stern manner. This had been preceded by yet another tone-picture of warriors, in the “Normannen-zug,” a stately union of baritone solo, with unison male chorus and orchestra (all the above-mentioned cantatas have orchestral accompaniment) but in “Odysseus” all the resources of modern scoring are employed and both mixed and male choruses are present in most effective numbers. “Odysseus” exhibits Bruch’s instrumentation in the best light, and proves him a master of the modern orchestral resources. These instrumental forces are always employed with the most perfect taste, and the accompaniment of the great unison male chorus of the Rhapsodes by tremendous pizzicato chords, as of a giant harp, is a touch of indescribable dignity; some of the finest mixed choruses which the composer has written are to be found in this work.

Other large compositions for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, followed. “Arminius” (this time a German warrior was the hero) may not be ranked with the inspired works mentioned above, but is nevertheless a favorite with the composer, and all creators in art have the privilege of loving their weakest children best; “The Song of the Bell,” on Schiller’s great poem, although a fine work, full of power and majesty, does not bring out all the dramatic possibilities of the subject, but is never-less far more effective than the Romberg setting; “Achilleus” (again a martial theme) is one of the most recent works of the master, and in his Op. 52 he turns again to Scotia and in the “Fiery Cross” we find Sir Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake” appearing in some of its warlike phases.

So much for the chief vocal works of this master; it will be seen that he loves historic pictures, and the poets Geibel, Lingg, and Scheffel have helped him by libretto and advice in this direction; and he sings so constantly of war and warriors, that he may be called the Tyrtæus of modern music. But it must not be supposed that his entire work has been in this field only; he has won much success in some of the large instrumental forms as well. His three symphonies in E flat, F minor, and E major, are but seldom performed, but it is difficult to discover the cause of this neglect; possibly the earnest, sombre, even gloomy tints of the second are not to the taste of those who seek only pleasure in music. But the third symphony in E is genial and attractive and would please almost any cultured audience although it is not in the strictest form. The first two symphonies are built in classical style, and Bruch seems to have taken Beethoven for his model in this field. It must be confessed, however, that none of the three works has yet received due appreciation. Vastly different is it with the two violin concertos, the first of which is dedicated to Joachim, the second to Sarasate; these are very frequently heard in our concert rooms and the first, (in G minor, Op. 26) may be mentioned as one of the chief works in this form, and equal, and by some held superior, to Mendelssohn’s well-known violin concerto.

The third violin concerto is scarcely known yet in America. It was played at the music festival of Düsseldorf, by Joseph Joachim, with great success. It has a dreamy, prayerful, second movement, and a most martial and brilliant finale, but its first movement is prolix when compared with the power of the themes of the G minor concerto.

It may be of interest to append a list of the most important of Bruch’s published compositions; they are as follows:—

Op. 1. “Scherz, List und Rache.” (Goethe.) A comic opera in one act.

Op. 3. “Jubilate, Amen.” For Soprano, Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 8. “The Birches and the Alders.” Soprano solo, Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 9. String Quartette. C minor.

Op. 10. Quartette in E major. (Both rather too broad in their ideas for the vehicle of expression.)

Op. 12. Six pieces for Piano. (Simple, yet beautiful in expression, and showing the composer in a very different field from that of his majestic cantatas.)

Op. 16. “Loreley.” Grand romantic opera.

Op. 19. “Römischer Triumphgesang”; “Wessobrunner Gebet.” Male choruses with orchestra; the first has become celebrated.

Op. 20. “The Flight of the Holy Family.” (Libretto by Eichendorff.) A great work for Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 22. Does not exist! By a clerical error the Frithjof music was numbered Opus 23 instead of 22.

Op. 23. “Frithjof.” (See above.)

Op. 24. “Schön Ellen”: “Fair Ellen.” (See above.)

Op. 25. “Salamis.” Words by Lingg. Male Chorus and Orchestra. One of the large choral works; a grand historical tone-poem.

Op. 26. Violin Concerto. No. 1. G minor. (See above.)

Op. 27. “Frithjof at his Father’s Grave.” Baritone. Female Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 28. Symphony in E flat.

Op. 29. “Rorate Coeli.” Chorus, Orchestra, and Organ. Probably this is the loftiest of Bruch’s sacred works.

Op. 31. “The Flight into Egypt,” and “Morning Hours.” (By Lingg.) Soprano, Female Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 32. “Normannen-zug.” Baritone, Chorus in unison and Orchestra.

Op. 34. “Römische Leichenfeier”: “Roman Funeral Sacrifice.” Mixed Chorus and Orchestra. (Has been erroneously classified as a male chorus.)

Op. 35. “Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.” Choral work.

Op. 36. Symphony in F minor.

Op. 37. “Song of the German Emperor.” Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 39. “Dithyrambe.” (Schiller.) Tenor voice, Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 40. “Hermione.” (“Winter’s Tale.”) Grand Opera.

Op. 41. “Odysseus.” (See above.)

Op. 43. “Arminius.” A large work for Chorus and Orchestra. Sometimes classified as an oratorio.

Op. 44. Violin Concerto. No. 2. D minor.

Op. 45. “The Song of the Bell.” (Schiller.) Chorus, four solo voices, Orchestra and Organ. This is the most ambitious work of the composer; by some it is accounted his greatest, but whoever undertakes the setting of this masterpiece of a great poet, will find his music overshadowed by the grandeur of the poetry.

Op. 46. Scotch Fantasie. Violin and Orchestra.

Op. 47. “Kol Nidrei.” A wonderfully effective setting of the ancient Hebrew hymn (many believe this to be the oldest piece of Hebrew music in existence) for Violoncello and Orchestra.

Op. 50. “Achilleus.” Solo voice, Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 51. Third Symphony. E major. The most free in form, and the brightest in character, of all of Bruch’s symphonies.

Op. 52. “The Fiery Cross.” Dramatic Cantata upon portions of Scott’s “Lady of the Lake” (arranged by H. Bulthaupt). Solo, Chorus and Orchestra.

Op. 53. “Thermopylae”; “War Song of Tyrtaeus.” Two Male Choruses, with Orchestra.

Op. 54. Songs. (Text by Heyse.) Piano and Violin accompaniment.

Op. 55. Canzone. ’Cello and Orchestra.

Op. 56. Adagio on Celtic Melodies. ’Cello and Orchestra.

Op. 57. Adagio Appassionato. Violin and Orchestra.

Op. 58. Third Violin Concerto. (D minor.) Dedicated to Joachim.

Without Opus number. One Male Chorus, and a set of Hebrew Melodies for Chorus, Orchestra and Organ.

Louis C. Elson


Reproduction of a photograph from life, made by Fr. Muller, in Munich.

525 [Fleuron]


Most of the more or less prominent German composers of the present time may be easily divided in two different classes. On one side we may place those who seem to be all their lives in a period of “Sturm und Drang;” who are always bitterly in earnest, ever appearing either melancholy or passionate, always longing and striving for the unattainable, often mournful, despairing and reticent. These composers present, even in their normal state, gloomy D minor physiognomies, quite in harmony with the prevailing pessimistic philosophy. On the opposite side are those who look more at the bright and sunny side of life and art, who are the good friends and neighbors of their fellow beings, with simpler, quieter feelings, perhaps also with less high, less far fetched aspirations, and who are less anxious to introduce in every work some new and original feature. The musical physiognomies of this class reflect more the peaceful F, the lively D or the festive E flat keys. To be sure, this is rather a queer and fanciful generalization of the truth, and the most remarkable exceptions could be named on either side, both in regard to the sincerity of such domineering tendencies and to the degree of acquired knowledge and ability or inborn talent of the respective composers. There are particularly some of the second class, to whom art is as high and sacred as it is to the others, and who are worthy of a more prominent position, owing to the possession of rare creative powers and a complete mastery in the use of old and modern means of musical expression, as well as of all the different forms of composition. Such a master is Rheinberger. Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger was born the 17th of March, 1839, being the son of a revenue officer in Vaduz, the small capital of the principality of Lichtenstein, between Switzerland and Tyrol. At a very early age it became evident that nature had destined for him a musical career. He was not five years old, when the piano lessons of his eldest sister attracted his attention in a way which induced her teacher to also begin a musical instruction with the little boy; and so great and rapid was his progress, both on the pianoforte and the organ, that after two years he was competent to fill the position of organist at the church. Even his productive instincts manifested themselves in these tender years, and the little tot of eight years was allowed to have a short mass in three parts with organ accompaniment of his own composition performed at church. Thus his musical vocation was beyond all question, and fortunately the best possible professional education was granted to him very early in life.

From 1851 till 1854 young Rheinberger was a pupil of the Royal Conservatory at Munich, having as teachers Leonard for the pianoforte, Herzog for the organ, and Maier for composition. Since then the Bavarian capital has been Rheinberger’s second home. When he had graduated with high honors, he took his permanent residence there as a music teacher, and in 1859 was appointed Leonard’s successor at the Conservatory, which was then directed by Hauser, the famous baritone and vocal teacher. Later on he began teaching composition, a work in which he has won particular distinction. In 1865 Hauser was pensioned, the conservatory reorganized, and Rheinberger appointed as solo-repetitor of the Opera, but in 1867, when Bülow assumed the directorship of the newly organized “Royal Music School,” Rheinberger again received a call as Professor and Inspector at the new institution. This position he has held ever since, teaching composition and organ. For many years he has also conducted the Munich Oratorio Society, and after Wüllner’s departure in 1877, for some time he led the choir of the Royal Chapel, which was once so justly celebrated for its marvelous rendering of unaccompanied choral works, but which unfortunately has now disappeared from Munich’s musical life. Rheinberger has been the recipient of many honors, titles and orders, and is an honorary member of the Berlin Academy of fine Arts, and of numberless choral societies in and outside of Germany. Yet he has found the most intimate sympathizer with his artistic work in his wife, the poetess Franziska von Hoffnaass, who has written the text to so many of his best known choral works.

As Munich has been Rheinberger’s home since boyhood, it may be interesting to examine the influence, which the life in this metropolis of arts, sciences, literature, music and drama, must necessarily have had upon the development of his talents. It is well known how much the musical life of Munich has changed during the last thirty years. At the time of Rheinberger’s arrival there, Franz Lachner stood in the zenith of his long musical career; he was the highly respected, influential General Music Director of Bavaria and a representative of the old strictly methodical art of composition, and of the old-fashioned, strictly objective mode of rendering the works of the classic masters in the field of opera and concert. Twelve years later King Max II., who had surrounded himself with eminent poets, artists and scientists, was succeeded by Ludwig II., the young enthusiastic admirer of R. Wagner and his ideas. The great opera reformer was invited to live in Munich and his ardent pupil Bülow was appointed as court pianist and director of the orchestra and of the new Music School. How soon master and pupil had to leave Munich again every one knows. Nevertheless their powerful influence remained, especially at the Royal opera house, which became the headquarters of Wagner’s music-dramas. The change in the concert life was slower. Gradually the musicians and the public were forced to become accustomed to Brahms and other modern composers, whose art rests mainly upon the classical models, till of late Berlioz and Liszt also have found at last a more general recognition.

Besides Lachner, Wagner and Bülow we may name as the principal representatives of Munich’s musical life, and the colleagues of Rheinberger during the last thirty years, Peter Cornelius, the long neglected composer, intendant and composer von Perfall, Max Zenger, directors Wüllner, Levi, Fischer and Porges, the æstheticians Riehl, Nohl and Carrère, the pianists Baermann and Bussmeyer, the violinists Walter, Abel, Venzl, all the famous singers of the opera and many others. Through his position at the opera and at the Music School, Rheinberger stood in a close personal and active relation to almost all these men, as well as to this transformation of the musical life of Munich. Yet it certainly speaks very well in his favor, and honors both the originality of his talent and his artistic character, that under all these circumstances he has never been untrue to himself and his individuality, has never stepped beyond his sphere nor trodden a path unsuited to him. An early knowledge of his own nature happily protected him, and his early acquired thorough technical and theoretical education stood him in good stead.

A review of Rheinberger’s published compositions shows at once his great versatility; no field was neglected by him, in many he has written excellent works, in others, if he did not reach the same degree, at least his musical skill and fine musicianship awaken our sincere interest and high consideration. If he was not in every work guided by inspiration, his rare knowledge, ability and artistic instinct preserved him against failure or triviality. Even in his compositions of smaller forms the hand of a master is always to be recognized. What a truly musical character have his themes, how clever and tasteful is his use of all the different instrumental or vocal means, how broad and melodic his cantilena, how fine and charmingly rich and varying his modulations, how fresh and energetic his rhythm, how well does he understand how to find the right tone for the intended mood, and how carefully are all the details finished and connected into a most harmonious whole! Often his pieces give the impression that the composer had really found the truest expression and most beautiful form for what he wished to say or illustrate. Certain chamber works, piano or organ pieces, are so delightful, that they awaken a desire for their immediate repetition, and there are quite a number of his choral compositions which one cannot hear or sing often enough.


From a photograph by Karl Lützel, Munich.

As a sincere Catholic, Rheinberger has contributed very considerably to the sacred literature of his church, these works being directly intended for the service more than for concert purposes. They are partly in a plain, easy style, and partly on a grander scale, where the composer found ample opportunity to show his complete mastery of contrapuntal and polyphonic art, especially of the fugue. Yet he always keeps himself free from uninteresting features and all mere exhibition of learning. A mood of pious devotion prevails in these works, among the large number of which special mention must be made of the great mass for double chorus, dedicated to Pope Leo XIII., two settings of the Stabat Mater and the Requiem for the victims of the war of 1870–71; besides many hymns and motets. Of even greater importance are Rheinberger’s compositions for the musical instrument of the church, the organ. His many sonatas, belong to the most valuable contributions to organ literature. They have the usual three or four movements, an intermezzo taking the place of the less appropriate scherzo, and a great fugue forming the finale. And they are by no means tedious, antiquarian imitations of old masters, but are full of warm, modern sentiment, in spite of the strictness of form bearing a thoroughly modern physiognomy, yet never going beyond the limits of dignity, becoming this sacred instrument. Some movements have become especially famous and are favorite numbers of organ recitals, as for instance, the Passacaglia of No. 8. Not less valuable are the many monologues and fughettes and the organ concerto with accompaniment of strings and horns.

A review of Rheinberger’s pianoforte compositions may justly be opened with his beautiful concerto in A flat, dedicated to Carl Baermann. It is written in a truly symphonic style and contains throughout in its three extended movements noble and sympathetic music, rich in colors, contrasts and climaxes, the orchestra accompaniment being raised to great importance, yet the solo part always remaining brilliant and effective, especially in the splendid cadenza. The same thorough mastery of the classic forms also appears in several of the great sonatas for either two or four hands; yet the old forms breathe all the modern romantic spirit and even their construction occasionally shows modern influences. Particularly interesting is the great “symphonic sonata,” opus 47, with a charming minuet and a magnificent tarantella in the last movement, the entire work betraying quite a distinct influence of Brahms and his early sonatas. In tarantellas Rheinberger has been as fertile as successful, illustration being found in the violin sonata in E flat and in several independent piano works for two, four, or even eight hands. This happy combination of old strict forms with modern expression and feeling is also the distinguishing feature of his several toccatas, some of which require a great virtuosity of playing. And thus it is with his Fugues, Capriccios, Gavottes, Scherzinos, Etudes, etc., while many other pieces such as Humoresken, Romances, Mazurkas or the collections “From Italy” and “Vacation Pieces” remind us more of the character-pieces which Mendelssohn and Schumann had cultivated. With a Scherzoso and Capriccio on a theme by Handel, Rheinberger paid a special tribute to his admiration of the genius of Brahms, whereas a most interesting improvisation on themes from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” bears some resemblance to Liszt’s virtuoso style, yet showing a decidedly better musical workmanship

In looking at Rheinberger’s chamber works we at once admire his complete familiarity with the old quartet style, and his eminent skill in counterpoint, but these do not hide the bright, charming, sympathetic character of his music, the energetic life of the allegros, the broad, smooth, coherent cantilena of the slow movements, and the grace and spirit of the Scherzos. Beauty of feeling and sound go most happily hand in hand. Of the two violin sonatas in E flat major and E minor the former has become particularly well known, and the effective treatment of this string instrument makes us regret that Rheinberger has never written a complete violin concerto in a great symphonic style. He has, however, composed several suites for violin or violoncello with organ.

In E flat major, which is apparently a favorite key with our master, are the splendid and justly famous pianoforte quartet, opus 38, and the more recently written nonet for horn, four string and four wood instruments. Besides these there are three pianoforte trios, a great pianoforte quintet in C, a string quintet in A minor, variations for five strings, and his latest contribution to this class of music, the string quartet in F. This very remarkable and noble production is distinguished by the most masterly treatment of attractive themes, by the charm and grace of the middle movements and an unsurpassed skill in the closing fugue.

It is not surprising, that a composer of such prominent qualities both in regard to the mastery of the old sonata form and the excellent use of the different instruments, has written some works for complete orchestra; rather are we surprised that he has not cultivated this field more. However his works of this kind are certainly not his best and it is not unlikely that a clear estimation of his own powers has prevented him from further attempts in this field. Of his two symphonic works the more recent one entitled “Florentine Symphony” is far less known and appreciated than the symphonic tone-picture, “Wallenstein,” which was composed much earlier. Both in the old and new world this work still appears in concert programmes, the part performed most frequently being the fascinating Scherzo “Wallenstein’s Camp” with the amusing sermon of the garrulous capuchin in the trio. The opening Allegro is superscribed “Prelude,” the adagio “Thekla,” the finale “Wallenstein’s Death.” The latter is unduly long, and without the help of a direct programme hardly comprehensible and enjoyable. In spite of the undeniably noble and high purpose, the marked skill in technical respects and the truly musical character of the thematic material, we doubt whether Rheinberger, an ever growing representative of old theories and absolute music, would to-day write another such programmatic work. The above mentioned passacaglia for organ, has, in a most magnificent orchestral arrangement, found a very sympathetic reception in many concert rooms, and quite often one reads of performances of his overtures to Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” and to Schiller’s “Demetrius.”

We now approach the theatre, for which Rheinberger has also written. He was once connected in a practical way with the operatic stage, and at that time composed the incidental music to dramas of Raimund and Calderon, as well as a great romantic fairy opera, “The Seven Ravens.” The writer remembers with pleasure an excellent performance of this delightful work at the Munich Opera House, though it was many years ago. There was a wealth of beautiful, delicate or strong music full of poetry and romanticism of a truly fairy character, yet not lacking in stronger dramatic emotions. This work was followed later on by a comic opera, “Thürmer’s Töchterlein,” which was quite successfully given on the Munich stage. The preludes of both operas are often heard in orchestral concerts. One of Rheinberger’s most recent works is a little “Singspiel” for young folks, in two acts, with piano accompaniment, “das Zauberwort.”

At last we reach in our review the field, in which Rheinberger has been especially fertile and successful, his many choral compositions. As a writer of chorus-ballads, he occupied a similar high position as that held by Loewe for solo ballads, and as by far the worthiest successor of Schumann and Gade, if not in some respects their superior. His choral works afford ample opportunity to admire his fine sense for novel, charming vocal effects, for a correct, grateful and always effective treatment of the human voice, a careful finishing of details, a great variety of colors and a distinct and fine characterization of the various moods of the poems. Whenever a piano or orchestra accompaniment is added, it is most refined, truly musical, and adequately arranged. Many such happy features could be quoted, but it is impossible to enter further into details. Most of these works do not require a very large chorus or the mastery of unusual difficulties, and have therefore justly become favorites with smaller choral societies. Others however, particularly those for male voices, demand numerous, well-trained voices and a very thorough study, as their difficulties are quite extraordinary.

Motette. Jos: Rheinberger.

Fac-simile autograph manuscript written by Jos. Rheinberger in Munich in 1891.

Of the large works for mixed chorus, soli and orchestra, we mention the often sung cycle of romances, “Toggenburg,” “Montfort” (a saga from the Rhine), “Christoforus” (an old Christian legend), and his latest work, “The Star of Bethlehem,” a Christmas cantata, the words of all of which were written by Rheinberger’s wife, Fanny von Hoffnaass. Less extensive and with only a pianoforte accompaniment are “King Erich,” “The Willow Tree,” “The Water Sprite,” “The Shepherdess from the Country,” “The Dead Bride,” “May Dew,” “Harald,” “Night,” etc. Of smaller part songs for mixed voices we mention those contained in the collection, “Love’s Garden,” and some sacred hymns. Those for male voices are of greater prominence and rise far above the plane of the conventional “Liedertafel” style. They are true works of art in every respect, of a very noble, interesting and impressive musical character, sweet and characteristic melodically, richly colored and surprisingly original harmonically, while each one is a real tone-picture, clearly reflecting the various poetical moods and situations. Some, too, are quite extensive and have a piano or orchestral accompaniment, such as the wonderful “Valley of the Espingo,” “The Roses of Hildesheim,” “Wittekind,” and “St. John’s Eve.” Most of the part songs, too, are perfect gems of modern male chorus music, although they are very difficult as vocal music and require the most careful preparation. Rheinberger has also written a number of solo songs, some of which in cyclic form such as “Love’s Life,” “On the Seashore,” etc.

In reviewing this great number of compositions, we must admit that Rheinberger does not rank as an epoch-making genius in musical history. But in sincere admiration and gratitude we recognize that the latest period of German music is not wanting in those whose music reflects the sunshine and serenity of a clear blue sky, the happiness of a sound heart and refined mind, whose first purpose it is, by a masterly and thoughtful use of all musical means of expression, to delight hearers and performers alike.

This, then, is Rheinberger’s position as a composer. We will not, however, forget to do full justice to his eminent ability as a teacher, which enables him to impart to his pupils that thorough and systematic theoretical education, which must remain the indispensable basis for the productions of even the most gifted composers, especially at a time when many are inclined to parade with immature experiments of a fiery, but inordinate imagination, long before the necessary technical ability corresponds with their enthusiastic, and perhaps really worthy intentions.

Louis Kellerbaum
Richard Wagner.

Reproduction of a steel engraving made by Krauss, after a photograph.

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The life of the great German reformer of the lyric stage is a most instructive story. In no respect is it more so than in its illustration of the fact that genius sometimes requires development, that the aspirations of a young man of promise may be altogether out of the line of the inspirations of maturity. Wagner began his musical career as the admirer and imitator of that which was most popular and facile in the lyric drama, and became at last the regenerator of that art which some of his early models had dragged in the mire of time-service and gain. There seems to have been a special providence in the utter failure of his inartistic attempts, which forced him in his despair to write what was in him without hope of pecuniary reward. Destiny drove him toward the goal of fame with the stinging whip of adversity.

Wilhelm Richard Wagner was born in Leipsic, May 22, 1813. His father, Friedrich Wagner, a man of considerable education though simply a police superintendent, died in October of the same year of a nervous fever caused by the carnage at the battle of Leipsic. Left with a family of seven children, of whom Albert, the oldest, was only fourteen, the widow married again. Her second husband was Ludwig Geyer, an actor at the Dresden Court Theatre. He was a man of artistic tastes, a poet, and a portrait painter, and withal a kindly man, who had a fatherly regard for his stepchildren. After removing with his family to Dresden, Geyer died in 1821, and Wagner was once more without a father. The day before his death Geyer bade little Richard play two simple pieces which he had learned to strum on the piano, and said feebly to the mother, “Has he perchance a talent for music?” The next day, when the stepfather lay dead, Wagner’s mother said to him, “He hoped to make something of thee.” And the composer adds in his autobiographic sketch, “I remember, too, that for a long time I imagined that something indeed would come of me.”

In his ninth year Wagner went to the Kreuzschule, where he studied Greek, Latin, mythology, and ancient history, and in secret worshipped Weber, whom he saw daily passing by. The boy received some piano lessons, but beguiled his time with attempts to play “Der Freischütz” overture with “fearful fingering.” He never became a good pianist. More important for his future were his poetic studies. On the death of a schoolfellow he wrote a lament which was printed. He made a metrical translation of Romeo’s monologue, and he built a terrible tragedy, compounded of “Lear” and “Hamlet,” in which forty-two persons died, most of them returning as ghosts to finish the play. In 1828 he left Dresden and entered the Nicolaischule in Leipsic. At the Gewandhaus concerts he heard Beethoven’s music. The effect he afterwards described thus: “One evening I heard, for the first time, a Beethoven symphony. I then fell sick of a fever, and when I recovered I found myself a musician.” He tried to write music for one of his tragedies, but discovered that he needed instruction. Gottlieb Müller tried to teach him, but found his pupil too wilful. His wilfulness, however, secured the performance of an overture at the theatre in 1830. The public laughed at it because of the persistent thumping of the bass drum. Fortunately he realized his lack of knowledge, and applied to Theodore Weinlig, cantor at the Thomasschule. Weinlig led him in the right direction, and in less than six months dismissed him as competent to “solve with ease the hardest problems of counterpoint.” The immediate results of this course were an overture, applauded at a Gewandhaus concert, and a symphony in C major, modelled on Beethoven and Mozart.

In 1832 he wrote his first opera libretto, “Die Hochzeit” (“The Wedding”), the music for which he abandoned after a few numbers. In 1833 he visited his brother Albert, tenor and stage manager at the Würzburg theatre, and accepted the position of chorus master. He now had leisure to write another opera. This was “Die Feen” (“The Fairies”), founded on Gozzi’s “La Donna Serpente.” Beethoven, Weber, and Marschner were his models. The work was accepted by Ringelhardt, of the Leipsic Theatre, but not produced. It was resurrected, however, in 1891, and was performed ten times in Germany. In 1834, Wagner heard Wilhelmina Schroeder-Devrient sing in Bellini’s “Montecchi e Capuletti,” and her power as an actress seems to have set his mind to work on the possibility of an intimate union of music with acting. A performance of “Massaniello,” with its quick succession of incidents, completed the formulation of his idea of the road to success. As Adolphe Jullien remarks, his object was “first to imagine an animated scene of action, then to write music easy to sing, and of a nature to catch the public ear.” He now began his second opera, “Das Liebesverbot” (“The Love Veto”), based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” but so altered as to become practically a glorification of free love.


From a photograph.

In 1834 he secured the post of musical director at the Magdeburg Theatre, and there, in the season of 1835–36, he produced his new work after only ten days’ rehearsals. The result was failure, penury, and debt. In Magdeburg he fell in love with Wilhelmina Planer, an actress, and following her to Königsberg, when she was engaged there, he became conductor at the theatre. On Nov. 24, 1834, they were married. In 1837 he read Bulwer’s “Rienzi,” and conceived the idea of using it as an opera plot. In the fall of that year he became conductor at Riga, where in 1838 he finished his libretto and began the music. He now wrote without hope of an immediate production, but with a view to future performance at some theatre of large resources. His mental eye, however, fixed itself on Paris, and his “Rienzi” began to develop along lines suggested by the popular composers of the time, Spontini, Meyerbeer, Bellini, and Rossini. In 1839 he and his wife started for Paris, by way of London, on a sailing ship. Stormy weather and the legend of “The Flying Dutchman,” told by the sailors, sowed in his mind seed which grew and subsequently blossomed. At Boulogne he became acquainted with Meyerbeer, who gave him letters to Parisians of note in music, and in September, 1839, he arrived in the French capital.

“Das Liebesverbot” was accepted by Jolly, director of the Renaissance Theatre, which went into bankruptcy before the work was rehearsed. Wagner wrote “A Faust Overture,” which also failed to come to a performance, and other attempts were fruitless. He was now reduced to arranging music for a publisher, and contributing to a musical journal. He wrote at this time some charming songs and his notable article, “A Pilgrimage to Beethoven,” and he worked hard at his “Rienzi.” An overture, “Columbus,” was played, but was not liked. He tried to get a position as a chorus singer at a small theatre, but was rejected. In “the last stage of his misery,” Meyerbeer arrived, and Leon Pillet, under his influence, allowed Wagner to have hopes of preparing a work for the Grand Opéra. He wrote a sketch of the book of “Der Fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”), and to his disgust, Pillet proposed to buy it of him and have some one else write the music. Finally, reserving the German rights, he did sell the sketch to Pillet for five hundred francs. Then he wrote the libretto and began to compose his own fine music. He had not composed for so long a time that he doubted his powers. “As soon as the piano had arrived,” he writes, “my heart beat fast for very fear; I dreaded to discover that I had ceased to be a musician. I began first with the ‘Sailors’ Chorus’ and the ‘Spinning Song’; everything sped along as though on wings, and I shouted for joy as I felt within me that I still was a musician.” His sketch, sold to Pillet, was made into a French opera under the title of “Le Vaisseau Fantôme,” music by Dietsch, and failed signally. Wagner, taking no thought for the future, but working according to his own artistic impulses, completed his own version in seven weeks, and began to develop the system which was to remodel opera. In the mean time “Rienzi” had been accepted by the Dresden Court Theatre, and early in 1842 the “Holländer” was accepted. “As regards Paris itself,” he writes, “I was completely without prospects for several years; I therefore left it in the spring of 1842. For the first time I saw the Rhine; with hot tears in my eyes, I, poor artist, swore eternal fidelity to my German fatherland.”


Reproduction of a portrait painted by himself. Original now in possession of the Brockhaus family in Leipsic.

“Rienzi” was produced on Oct. 20, 1842, with the following cast: Rienzi, Tichatschek; Irene, Frl. Wüst; Stefano, Dettmer; Adriano, Mme. Schroeder-Devrient; Paolo, Wachter; Raimondo, Rheinhold; Baroncelli, Vestri; Cecco, Risse; Messenger, Frl. Thiele. The opera achieved an immediate and emphatic success, which fifty years of popularity have approved. “Der Fliegende Holländer” was now hurried upon the stage, and produced at Dresden, Jan. 2, 1843, with Schroeder-Devrient as Senta, and Mitterwurzer as Vanderdecken. The great change in style from “Rienzi,” the sombreness of the story, the simplicity of the action, and the originality of the music surprised and disappointed the public. Only Spohr seemed to perceive its real value. He said, “Among composers for the stage pro tem., Wagner is the most gifted.” Spohr produced the “Holländer” at Cassel on June 5, 1843, and was to the end an admirer of Wagner.

Immediately after finishing this work in Paris, Wagner cast about for new material. He read a new version of the story of “Tannhäuser,” which set him to work to trace to its source the connection of this tale with that of the Wartburg song contest. Thus he came to read “Der Wartburgkrieg,” which introduces the story of “Lohengrin,” and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzival”; “and thus,” as he says, “an entirely new world of poetical matter suddenly opened before me.” Before the rehearsals of “Rienzi” he began the book of “Tannhäuser.” He completed the opera (though he afterwards made some changes) on April 13, 1844. In the mean time (January, 1843) he was made court conductor at Dresden, where he served seven years, producing the masterpieces of Gluck, Mozart, Weber, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Spontini, and even Palestrina in the most artistic manner. He produced “Tannhäuser” at Dresden, Oct. 19, 1845, with Tichatschek in the title rôle; Schroeder-Devrient as Venus; his niece, Johanna Wagner, as Elizabeth; and Mitterwurzer, as Wolfram. The work pleased neither the public nor the critics. The music, except the simple broad march and chorus of Act. II., was pronounced ugly. Even the mellifluous “Evening Star” song was disliked; Tannhäuser’s dramatic story of his pilgrimage was called “a pointless and empty recitation,” and Wagner was blamed for not marrying his hero and heroine. Even Spohr, though he saw much that was “new and beautiful,” was troubled. Schumann alone declared of the work: “It contains deeper, more original, and altogether an hundred-fold better things than his previous operas; at the same time, a good deal that is musically trivial.” Wagner was discouraged, but instead of losing faith in his ideals, he decided on a course of literary propagandism: “to induce the public to understand and participate in my aims as an artist.” From this resolve sprang his subsequent theoretical writings: “Art and Revolution” (1849), “The Art Work of the Future” (1850), “Opera and Drama” (1851), etc.


Reproduction of a portrait painted by Ludwig Geyer. Original now in possession of the Brockhaus family in Leipsic.

Before the production of “Tannhäuser,” he had made sketches for the books of “Lohengrin” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (“The Mastersingers of Nuremberg”). He finished the former work in March, 1848. In the mean time failure had brought debt and trouble upon him. Even his wife, though an admirable woman in other respects, did not comprehend his intellect, and grieved at his preference of artistic works over paying operas of the familiar sort. Restless and irritated, he plunged into the revolutionary movement and gave utterance to radical opinions, even arguing in a lecture that the king ought to proclaim Saxony a free state. In May, 1849, Dresden streets were barricaded against troops sent to disperse rioters, and in spite of assertions to the contrary, there is good evidence that Wagner was fighting on the people’s side.[1] The Prussian troops scattered the revolutionists, and Wagner fled to Weimar, where he was received with open arms by Franz Liszt, thenceforward his most devoted friend. The police were on his track, however, and he hastened by way of Paris to Zurich, Switzerland.

Wagner’s exile lasted from 1849 till 1861, and this period embraces the climax of his creative labors. He began his career as a citizen of Zurich by pouring forth a long series of literary works, of which those above mentioned and “Judaism in Music” may be regarded as the most important. There will be occasion to speak later of those bearing on his operatic ideas, but the “Judaism” article produced bitter comment at the time, and has remained a source of offence to many. It was published in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, over the nom de plume K. Freigedank. The chief contentions of the article were that the Jews, being of no nation, but of all nations, are without national feeling; that their art work, especially in music, lacks that genuineness which is one of the products of nationality; and that an instinct for gain causes them to sacrifice pure art for the profitable fashion of the time. His examples were Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, the latter of whom he again censured in “Opera and Drama.” The authorship of the strictures on the Jews was speedily suspected, and a host of pamphlets appeared in answer to it. The principal result was that Wagner’s writings sold well. In a letter written in 1847 he declared that he esteemed Meyerbeer as a man, but as a composer viewed him as the embodiment of “all that is repellent in the incoherency and empty striving after outward effect of the operatic music of the day.” This was his only answer to the charge that he had repaid Meyerbeer’s early assistance with ingratitude.


Richard Wagner’s Residence on Lake Lucerne, where the “Meistersinger,” “Rheingold,” and “Götterdämmerung” were composed.

His opera, “Lohengrin,” was produced by Liszt at Weimar, Aug. 28, 1850, with the following cast: Lohengrin, Beck; Telramund, Milde; King Henry, Höfer; Elsa, Frl. Agthe; Ortrud, Frl. Faisstlinger. It was received very much as “Tannhäuser” had been, but it gradually won its way through Germany, being brought out at Wiesbaden in 1853, Leipzic, Schwerin, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Breslau, and Stettin, in 1854; Cologne, Hamburg, Riga, and Prague, 1855; Munich and Vienna, in 1858; Berlin and Dresden, 1859. In the mean time Wagner was laboring on the largest, if not the greatest, of his works, “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Nibelung’s Ring”). In 1848 he had considered two subjects, the story of Frederick Barbarossa and that of Siegfried, the hero of the “Nibelungen Lied.” The latter was his choice, and he wrote an essay entitled “Der Nibelungen Mythus als Entwurf zu einem Drama” (“The Nibelung Myth as Subject for a Drama”). Immediately afterward, in the fall of 1848, he wrote “Siegfried’s Tod” (“Siegfried’s Death”) in three acts and a prologue, and even conceived some of the musical ideas for the setting. In May, 1850, he had this poem printed and read parts of it as illustrations in a lecture on the music-drama delivered at Zurich. The prospects of “Lohengrin” moved him to take it up again, and we find him writing to Liszt thus:—

“You offer to me the artistic association which might bring ‘Siegfried’ to light. I demand representatives of heroes, such as our stage has not yet seen; where are they to come from? Not from the air, but from the earth, for I believe you are in a good way to make them grow from the earth by dint of your inspiring care.... Well, then, as soon as you have produced ‘Lohengrin’ to your own satisfaction, I shall also produce my ‘Siegfried,’ but only for you and for Weimar. Two days ago I should not have believed that I should come to this resolution; I owe it to you.”[2]


The home of Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. From a photograph.

The immediately subsequent letters are full of his determination soon to begin work on “Siegfried’s Death”; but when he attempted it, he found that there was too much explanatory matter, and he decided to embody that in a prefatory drama to be called “Young Siegfried.” Here again, however, he found the same difficulty, and on Nov. 20, 1851, he writes to Liszt that “this ‘Young Siegfried’ also is no more than a fragment.” He continues thus:—

“Two principal motives of my myth, therefore, remain to be represented, both of which are hinted at in ‘Young Siegfried,’ the first in the long narrative of Brünnhilde after her awakening (Act III.), and the second in the scene between Alberich and the Wanderer in the second act, and between the Wanderer and Mime in the first. That to this I was led not only by artistic reflection, but by the splendid and, for the purpose of representation, extremely rich material of these motives, you will readily understand when you consider the subject more closely. Think then of the wondrously fatal love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, of Wotan, in his deep, mysterious relation to that love, in his dispute with Fricka, in his terrible self-contention when, for the sake of custom, he decrees the death of Siegmund; finally of the glorious Valkyrie Brünnhilde, as, divining the innermost thought of Wotan, she disobeys the god, and is punished by him; consider this wealth of motive indicated in the scene between the Wanderer and the Wala, and at greater length in the above-mentioned tale of Brünnhilde, as the material of a drama which precedes the two ‘Siegfrieds’; and you will understand that it was not reflection, but rather enthusiasm, which inspired my latest plan. That plan extends to three dramas: (1) ‘The Valkyrie’; (2) ‘Young Siegfried’; (3) ‘Siegfried’s Death.’ In order to give everything completely, these three dramas must be preceded by a grand introductory play, ‘The Rape of the Rhinegold.’ The object is the complete representation of everything in regard to this rape; the origin of the Nibelung treasure, the possession of that treasure by Wotan, and the curse of Alberich, which in ‘Young Siegfried’ occur in the form of narration.”


From a photograph of a painting by R. Steche.

Thus we find him impelled by the demands as well as the artistic possibilities of a fruitful story to the construction of his great tetralogy, consisting of the dramas eventually named “Das Rheingold” (“The Rhinegold”), “Die Walküre” (“The Valkyrie”), “Siegfried,” and “Die Götterdämmerung” (“The Dusk of the Gods”). A further incentive to the creation of this four-part work was his belief that the true lyric play should be modelled after the Greek drama, in whose literature he found the trilogy of Æschylus—the “Agamemnon,” “Chœphoræ,” and “Eumenides” and “The Seven against Thebes,” believed to have been the final play of a tetralogy. He began to labor at this gigantic undertaking without any definite hope of its performance; indeed, with doubts as to his living to complete it. So great, however, was his enthusiasm that, in spite of the formidable artistic problems which he had to solve and the novelty and complexity of his own musico-dramatic system, now to be developed for the first time to its logical outcome, he had the poem completed and printed for private circulation early in 1853.[3]

“During the summer of 1853 he visited a place near Saint Maurice, and from there he undertook a trip into the North of Italy.... It was during a sleepless night at Spezzia that the first ideas of the ‘Rheingold’ music passed through his mind. He brought his journey to an end, and hastened to regain his tranquil home at Zurich, that he might not commence such a work on Italian soil.”[4] The score of “Das Rheingold” was completed in May, 1854. The next month he began “Die Walküre” and finished all save the instrumentation in the winter of 1854–55. The score was done in 1856, and in 1857 most of the first two acts of “Siegfried” were composed and orchestrated. His labors had been interrupted by the production of “Tannhäuser” at Zurich in 1855, by a visit from his best of friends, Liszt, and by a journey to London to conduct the concerts of the Philharmonic Society from March to June, 1855. He felt that he must accept this engagement or, as he said in a letter to Praeger, “renounce the public and all relations with it once and for all.”[5]


From a photograph.

A more important interruption, however, was to come. In 1851, Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Parerga und Paralipomena” was published, and created a sensation which called attention to his earlier philosophical work, “The World as Will and Representation” (1818), hitherto unnoticed in the glare of Hegel’s and Schelling’s success. Wagner plunged into Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy with ardor. At the same time he was reading Godfrey von Strassburg’s “Tristan,” and conceived the idea of embodying Schopenhauer’s pessimism in a story of unhappy passion. He read Strassburg’s poem to Praeger, who was visiting him, and spoke of its adaptability to operatic treatment. The next morning at breakfast, in a fit of abstraction, he conceived some of the love music. Now the desire seized him to write a work which could be completed and produced. Moreover he needed money. And to end all, a mysterious agent appeared with a commission for an opera from the Emperor of Brazil. Wagner hesitated about the commission, but he began “Tristan and Isolde.” He finished the poem early in 1857, the music of the first act in the winter, the second act in Venice, March 2, 1859, and the third act in Lyons, August, 1859.


From a photograph.

In September of the same year he went to Paris with a faint hope of getting the new work, or one of his earlier ones, produced. M. Carvalho, of the Théâtre-Lyrique, was favorably inclined toward “Tannhäuser,” but afraid. Wagner gave a concert and lost money. Then help came from an unexpected quarter. Under the persuasion of the Princess de Metternich the Emperor ordered a production of “Tannhäuser” at the Grand Opéra. The text was translated into French, a great number of rehearsals was held, $40,000 were spent on the mounting, and Wagner was allowed to select his own singers. The cast he chose was as follows: Tannhäuser, Niemann; Elizabeth, Mlle. Saxe; Venus, Mlle. Tedesco; the Shepherd, Mlle. Reboux; the Landgrave, Cazaux; and Wolfram, Morelli. In his first interview with the director of the Opera, Wagner was informed that a ballet in the second act was an absolute necessity, because the subscribers, chiefly members of the Jockey Club, never arrived till the middle of the evening, and they demanded a ballet at that time for their especial delectation. Wagner refused to introduce a meaningless dance into his second act, but “saw in the first act, at the luxurious court of Venus, a most perfect opportunity for a choreographic scene of some real meaning.”[6] In accordance with this idea he rewrote the Venus scene, arranging what is now known as the Paris version of “Tannhäuser.” M. Adolphe Jullien’s account of the production on March 13, 1861, and the ensuing performances (Chap. VIII.) is careful and candid; and it settles conclusively the fact that the failure of the work was due to the persistent opposition of the members of the Jockey Club, who blew hunting whistles, indulged in hisses and catcalls, and otherwise made such a disturbance that the work did not get a fair hearing. Wagner withdrew it after three performances, in spite of the increase of receipts, which ran as follows: first, 7,491 francs (subscription, 2,790); second, 8,415 francs (subscription, 2,758); third, 10,764 francs (subscription, 230). The smallness of the subscription at the third performance is accounted for by its having been given on Sunday night in order to get rid of the irate subscribers, who, nevertheless, went en masse, buying admission tickets. Wagner fully comprehended the meaning of it all. “Never,” he said, “have I been in the least disposed to doubt the Parisian public when it is upon an impartial ground.”

Through the intercession of the Princess de Metternich he received permission in 1861 to return to Germany. The succeeding three years, owing to the smallness of the royalties on his operas, were years of pecuniary distress. His hopes in “Tristan” were shattered, for after fifty-seven rehearsals at Vienna it was shelved as impracticable. In 1861 (May 15) at Vienna he had the pleasure of hearing “Lohengrin” for the first time. He was encouraged to begin a new work, and he took up his old sketch of “Die Meistersinger” made in 1845. In “Tannhäuser” he had drawn a picture of a contest of song among knightly minnesingers; in this comic opera he gave a humorous representation of a contest among the common people. In the winter of 1861–62 he finished the libretto, though he afterwards made alterations. He went to a little place opposite Mayence to work on the music. He gave a number of concerts to keep the wolf from the door, and in 1864 published the poem of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” with a pathetic renunciation of all hope of living to see it completed or performed. Pecuniary distress finally broke his spirit, and in 1864 he accepted an invitation to live in Switzerland. He was on his way thither when his earthly providence intervened.

This providence was the young King Ludwig II. of Bavaria, a sincere lover of art and a warm admirer of Wagner. Hardly had he mounted the throne before he sent a messenger after the composer with the words, “Come here and finish your work.” Wagner’s joy may be imagined. He went to Munich, where he was provided with a stipend of $500 a year from the king’s private purse. One of the musician’s first acts was to compose his familiar “Huldigungs Marsch” (“March of Allegiance”). He received the royal order to complete the “Nibelungen” in the fall of 1864; his allowance was increased, and a house given him. The king began to talk about building a theatre for the production of the tetralogy; “Tristan und Isolde” was put in preparation, and Hans von Bülow was summoned to conduct it. On June 10, 1865, this formidable work was produced in exact accordance with the composer’s ideas. The original cast was as follows: Tristan, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld; Isolde, Frau Schnorr von Carolsfeld; King Mark, Zottmayer; Kurvenal, Mitterwurzer; Melot, Heinrich; Brangäne, Frl. Deinet; Shepherd, Simons; Steersman, Hartmann. In December, 1865, the composer went to live at the Villa Triebschen, on Lake Lucerne, where he finished “Die Meistersinger,” twenty-two years after he had made the first sketch. It was produced under Von Bülow at Munich on June 21, 1868, with these principals: Eva, Frl. Mallinger; Magdalena, Frau Dietz; Hans Sachs, Betz; Walther, Nachbauer; David, Schlosser; Beckmesser, Hölzel. While at Triebschen he also continued his work on the “Nibelungen,” and in June, 1870, had finished the first act of “Die Götterdämmerung.”

It was in this year that he married a second time. His first wife had never understood his artistic ideas, and the two were wholly without sympathy, though Wagner never ceased to speak with kindness of Mina. His professional intercourse with Von Bülow led to his intimate acquaintance with Cosima von Bülow, the daughter of Liszt. Wagner found in her the comprehension and sympathy which he craved. Mina was unable to endure the supremacy of the more brilliant woman, and in 1861 left her husband and went to Dresden. She died in 1866, and in 1870, Cosima, having secured a divorce from Von Bülow, became Mme. Wagner, destined to survive her husband and perpetuate his triumphs.

Now began the remarkable series of events with which Wagner’s career culminated. The king abandoned his idea of building a Wagner theatre in Munich, and the composer selected Bayreuth as a place adapted, by reason of its seclusion, to the consummation of his ambitious plans. Money had to be raised, and Emil Heckel, of Mannheim, conceived the notion of Wagner Societies. The success of his scheme was beyond expectation. Such organizations were founded all over the world—even in Milan and New York—and more than $200,000 was subscribed. Wagner settled in Bayreuth in April, 1872, and on May 22 gave a concert to celebrate the beginning of the building of the theatre. The music of the tetralogy was finished in November, 1874, and rehearsals were begun under Hans Richter. The first performances were given on Aug. 13, 14, 16, and 17. The work was twice repeated in the same month. The principals were: Wotan, Betz; Loge, Vogel; Alberich, Hill; Mime, Schlosser; Fricka, Frau Grün; Donner and Gunther, Gura; Erda and Waltraute, Frau Jaïde; Siegmund, Niemann; Sieglinde, Frl. Schefzky; Brünnhilde, Frau Materna; Siegfried, Unger; Hagen, Siehr; Gutrune, Frl. Weckerlin; Rhinedaughters, Frl. Lili and Marie Lehmann and Frl. Lambert; concert-master, Wilhemj; conductor, Hans Richter. The performances, like all successive festivals at Bayreuth, attracted music lovers from all over the world and called forth volumes of criticism, favorable and bitterly unfavorable.


From a photograph.

A very large deficit caused Wagner to try the experiment of grand concerts in London in 1877; but he made only $3,000 out of that venture. Wagner’s last work was now well under way. Early in life, as already noted, he had read Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzival,” and in 1857, at Zurich, he began his own “Parsifal,” with a sketch of the Good Friday music. The completed libretto was published Dec. 25, 1877. The sketch of the first act was finished early in 1878, and the whole was completed April 25, 1879. The instrumentation was finished at Palermo, Jan. 13, 1882.[7] The first performance took place at Bayreuth on July 25, 1882, and the work was given altogether sixteen times that summer. The performers who alternated in the principal parts were as follows: Parsifal, Winklemann, Gudehus, and Jäger; Kundry, Materna, Brandt, and Malten; Gurnemanz, Scaria and Siehr; Amfortas, Reichmann and Fuchs; Klingsor, Hill, Degele, and Plank. Conductors, Hermann Levi and Franz Fischer. “Parsifal” was assailed fiercely by the now numerous opponents of Wagner’s musical system, but it has continued to draw great crowds to Bayreuth years after its creator’s death. The power of this and the other dramas was due not only to their inherent truth and beauty, but also to the manner of their production. As an American newspaper correspondent (W. S. B. Mathews) wrote:—

“‘Parsifal,’ as here given, is a revelation. The performance is of such a consistently elevated character, and so evenly carried out in every department, as to make one realize that in his whole life he has never before witnessed an artistic presentation of opera.”


Richard Wagner’s Venetian Gondolier. Drawn by Giacomo Favretto.

In the autumn of 1882, Wagner went to live in Venice. His health had been failing. He recuperated sufficiently to conduct a performance of his youthful Symphony in C; but on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1883, as M. Jullien relates, “as he was about to step into his gondola, some discussion arose, and he gave way to a fit of anger; suddenly he started up from his seat, choking, and cried, ‘I feel very badly!’ He fell fainting. They carried him to his bed, and when his physician, Dr. Keppler, arrived, in all haste, he found him dead in the arms of his wife, who believed him sleeping.” On Feb. 18 he was buried in the garden of his villa, “Wahnfried” (“Fulfillment of Ideal”), at Bayreuth. He left one son, Siegfried, the fruit of his second union.

This outline of a remarkable career, in which artistic success was pursued by pecuniary embarrassment, in which envy, malice, and vituperation barked at the heels of progressive intellect, will best be closed by the quotation of a few lines concerning the man’s personality. M. Jullien, who writes with kindness and yet with candor, says:—

“The most striking thing about Richard Wagner, at first sight, was the extraordinary life and energy which animated this insignificant body, surmounted by a very large head, with an enormous frontal development.... His bright eyes and pleasant glance softened the strongly marked face, and his mouth, notwithstanding the undue prominence of nose and chin, had a singular expression of sweetness and affability. With his extreme rapidity of movement, gait, and gesture, he gave from the first an impression of unusual and powerful originality; he fascinated by his conversation, so animated was he on all subjects which interested him, and he always acted out his discourse. He was violent, even explosive in temper; with him gayety, like wrath, was tempestuous and overflowing.”


Reproduction of a photograph from life, made in 1877, by Elliott & Fry in London.

Mr. Dannreuther, who knew him well, testifies that he was most amiable among his friends, with whom he was a very different person from “the aggressive critic and reformer who addressed himself to the public.” There is no doubt that Wagner was fully convinced of the tremendous importance of his own work, and that he developed to its fullest extent the exasperating egotism of a man whose whole soul is absorbed in his aims. He was intolerant of opposition, and ungenerous in his views of other musicians. He was dogmatic in style, even when most logical in thought; and like many another genius, he had some very small weaknesses, such as a sybaritic love for silk and satin clothing, and a belief that the world ought to gratefully pay the expenses of his support while he completed his great works. With all his peculiarities, which were largely the outcome of his fierce struggle for recognition, he possessed “a simple kindness of heart, an extreme sensibility.” As to his manner of work, Dr. Praeger has given testimony:—

“Wagner composed at the piano, in an elegantly well-arranged studio. With him composing was a work of excitement and much labor.... He labored excessively. Not to find or make up a phrase; no, he did not seek his ideas at the piano. He went to the piano with his idea already composed, and made the piano his sketch book wherein he worked and reworked his subject, steadily modelling his matter until it assumed the shape he had in his mind.”

The names, dates of production, and principal singers of his music-dramas have already been given, together with some mention of his minor compositions. An overture (“Faust”), three marches, the “Siegfried Idyll,” built on themes from the drama, a chorus, a male quartet, a funeral march for Weber, five piano pieces, a few lovely songs (two of them studies for “Tristan” music), and nearly a dozen arrangements (among them piano scores of “La Favorita,” and “L’Elisir d’Amore,” pathetic mementoes of his starving days in Paris), are the musical remains of this genius, outside of his operatic works. The lyric stage was the theatre of his career, and in the works prepared for it he expended the force of his intellect, and developed the ideas that proclaim him an epoch-maker. Let us, therefore, turn our attention to the Wagner theories, and their practical exposition in the so-called “music of the future,” which has become so intensely that of the present. What is the Wagnerian theory of the opera? How does it differ from that which preceded it? From what germs did Wagner develop it? How has he embodied it? These are questions which naturally arise, and which demand answers.

It may well be questioned whether Wagner had a wholly comprehensive view of the essence and results of his own artistic theories. There can be no doubt that much of his work was the fruit of what were in his own mind vaguer inspirations, which he himself was unable to reduce to theoretical formulæ. Therefore, while we may appeal to his prose writings for evidence as to the sincerity and direction of his intentions, we may readily agree with the assertion of Mr. Hadow that “the arguments which have established the Wagnerian theory of opera are to be found not in ‘Opera and Drama,’ but in the pages of ‘Tristan’ and ‘Parsifal.’”[8] It behooves us, therefore, to endeavor to trace the development of the Wagnerian theory in the mind of its inventor, and in order to do that we must follow the plan of Mr. Krehbiel,[9] and make some inquiry into “the origin and nature of the lyric drama.”

Of the origin of the drama it is not the province of this article to speak, but we may note that the introduction of music into plays was a natural movement. In Italy, where the opera was born, choruses had been sung in plays as far back as 1350, but up to 1597 the ecclesiastical contrapuntal style prevailed, and in that year the speeches of a single personage, in a comedy of Orazzi Beechi’s, were sung in five-part choruses of sombre canonic form. The younger and more progressive minds in Florence began to perceive the unsuitability of this kind of music to the drama. In their search after a new form they were guided by the revival of interest in classic antiquity, known as the Renaissance; and they set about reconstructing the musical declamation of the Greeks. Their work began with the production of “monodies,” or what we should call to-day dramatic scenes for one voice. Encouraged by their success in this direction, two of these enthusiasts, Ottavio Rinuccini, poet, and Jacopo Peri, musician, wrote a pastoral called “Daphne.” This had all the elements of modern opera, and its favorable reception at a private performance led the two men to try again. This time they wrote “Eurydice,” performed in public in 1600, and recognized as the first opera. The pregnant achievement of Peri in these works was the foundation of dramatic recitation. It was nothing like the recitation of the Greeks, but it was a new and noble art form, in which music strove to imitate the nuances of speech without ceasing to be music. “Soft and gentle speech he interpreted by half-spoken, half-sung tones [modern parlando], on a sustained instrumental bass; feelings of a deeper emotional kind, by a melody with greater intervals, and a lively tempo, the accompanying instrumental harmonies changing more frequently.”[10] Peri’s theory, in short, was that recitative should copy speech, and that his new art form, which was christened drama per musica, should follow the Greek tragedies as its models. Claudio Monteverde advanced along the path indicated by Peri, and furthermore began to make the orchestra a potent factor in the musical exposition. But instrumental music now exercised a baneful effect on the opera, and in Cavalli’s “Giasone,” produced in 1649, we find the germs of the operatic aria, modelled on the simple cyclical forms used by the fathers of the sonata. Cavalli was opposed to recitative, and furthered the cause of simple rhythmical tune in opera. This new style was easy of comprehension and popular. Alessandro Scarlatti took it up and developed the aria so that it became the central sun of the operatic system. The result was inevitable. The person who could most beautifully sing an aria captured the public heart; the singer became the dominating power in opera, and the composer was relegated to a secondary place. From that time onward, the history of the artistic development of opera is a series of contests between the singer and the composer, with the supremacy mostly on the side of the former. The result of this was the imposition upon the opera of a number of meaningless, artificial forms, in which a musical purpose was manifest, but a dramatic design wholly undiscernible. In Handel’s time this artificiality had reached an absurd stage. The different kinds of arias were labelled with extreme minuteness in the matter of distinctions, and the composer was required to produce just so many in each opera and in each act. No vocalist might have two consecutive arias, nor might two arias of the same kind be sung in succession. But in the second and third act the hero and the heroine each had a claim to one grand scena followed by an aria di bravura, the latter being designed simply to display agility in ornamental passages. These laws were afterwards modified, but down to the time of Wagner’s supremacy an opera librettist was expected to construct his book so that arias, duets, trios, quartets, and ensemble numbers should be found at places suitable to the composer. In short, the nature and purpose of the opera had been lost sight of; it was no longer drama per musica, but drama pro musica,—a vastly different thing.

The first resolute opposition to this style of thing was made by Gluck, who had the same high regard for the classics of antiquity as Peri and his confreres had. Gluck’s theories and purposes are succinctly expressed in his preface to “Alceste.” He says:—

“I endeavored to reduce music to its proper function, that of seconding poetry by enforcing the expression of the sentiment and the interest of the situations without interrupting the action or weakening it by superfluous ornament. My idea was that the relation of music to poetry was much the same as that of harmonious coloring and well-disposed light and shade to an accurate drawing, which animates the figure without altering the outlines.... My idea was that the overture ought to indicate the subject and prepare the spectators for the character of the piece they are about to see; that the instruments ought to be introduced in proportion to the degree of interest and passion in the words; and that it was necessary above all to avoid making too great a disparity between the recitative and the air of a dialogue, so as not to break the sense of a period or awkwardly interrupt the movement and animation of a scene. I also thought that my chief endeavor should be to attain a grand simplicity; and consequently I have avoided making a parade of difficulties at the cost of clearness.”

Fac-simile autograph letter from Richard Wagner, written in Zurich, May 30, 1853, addressed to some musical director, and advising him to give “Tannhäuser” before producing “Lohengrin.”

Fac-simile autograph musical manuscript written by Richard Wagner for lithographic reproduction. Opening bars of the “Song to the Evening Star,” from the full score of his “Tannhäuser” thus reproduced. The original is in the Bibliotheca Musica Regia in Dresden.

These words make it plain that Gluck distinctly perceived the fundamental principle of artistic truth in opera,—that the music must be considered as a means and not an end. He felt that the music should be devoted, not to the exploitation of musical possibilities, but to the faithful expression of the emotions of the characters on the stage. His reforms met with determined opposition, and some of his contemporaries complained bitterly that they were compelled to pay two florins “to be passionately excited and thrilled instead of amused.” But while Gluck made sweeping changes for the better, he failed to reach the root of all evil. He did not abolish from the operatic stage the set forms, which made the musician the superior officer of the poet, commanding the insertion of here a solo and there a duet. The continuance of these forms was conserved, too, by the splendid genius of Mozart, who breathed into them a verisimilitude which they had not before possessed. The glorious boy had no reformer’s blood in his veins, but with the instinct of spontaneous mastership he made the spirit of his music vital, even though its form was conventional. He founded no school, but he was an excuse for the continuance of old traditions by others less gifted than himself. So only twenty-six years after Gluck’s death all Europe went mad over “Ditanti palpiti,” and the name of Rossini became the watchword of the lyric stage. The opera was regarded as a parade ground for great singers, and its music was expected to be cast in the simplest melodic moulds, so that it could be hummed, strummed, whistled, or indifferently sung by the most poorly equipped amateurs. All conception of the opera as a drama employing music as a means of expression had been lost, and a man who asserted that its model had originally been and ought always to be the Greek play would have been stared at as one unsound of mind. That there were a few who were ready to raise from triviality so splendid an art form was proved by the gathering of warm and faithful adherents around the banner of reform raised by Wagner.

Like most young artists he began his career by imitating the work of the acknowledged masters of his time. As we have already seen, he had no novel ideas in the composition of “Die Feen.” He simply tried to imitate Beethoven, Weber, and Marschner. At this time the music of Beethoven was his ideal. Heinrich Dorn has testified that no young musician could possibly have known the works of the immortal symphonist more thoroughly. But Wagner soon saw very clearly that it was not in his power to adopt the Beethovenian style to the lyric drama. For models for his second work, therefore, he chose Auber and Bellini. The former’s “Massaniello” had opened his eyes to the value of action with brisk music to accompany it. The latter’s “Montecchi e Capuletti,” or rather Schroeder-Devrient’s inspiring performance of Romeo, had given him suggestions as to the dramatic possibilities of vocal melody. In his second work, “Das Liebesverbot,” he tried to effect a combination of the styles of these two masters. It must not be supposed that he was searching merely for popular applause. He was intensely in earnest even at that stage of his career, and his aim was to produce real art. He did not yet perceive the utter falsity of the prevailing system, though he was honest in his endeavor to make it tell the truth. In his autobiographical sketch he records thus the ideas raised in his mind by the Bellini performance:—

“I grew doubtful as to the choice of the proper means to bring about a great success; far though I was from attaching to Bellini a signal merit, yet the subject to which his music was set seemed to me to be more propitious and better calculated to spread the warm glow of life than the painstaking pedantry with which we Germans, as a rule, brought naught but laborious make-believe to market. The flabby lack of character of our modern Italians, equally with the frivolous levity of the latest Frenchmen, appeared to me to challenge the earnest, conscientious German to master the happily chosen and happily exploited means of his rivals, in order then to outstrip them in the production of genuine works of art.”

Artistic sincerity of purpose, then, was already the man’s moving force. The immediate impulse which led him to take the first step in the development of his own individuality was the conviction that the provincial public of the smaller German cities was incapable of forming a judgment as to the value of a new work. He, therefore, began “Rienzi” with a determination to write an opera which could be produced only at a grand opera house, and he decided not to trouble his mind as to what theatre of that rank would give him an entrance. He says:—

“I allowed naught to influence me except the single purpose to answer to my subject. I set myself no model, but gave myself entirely to the feeling which now consumed me, the feeling that I had already so far progressed that I might claim something significant from the development of my artistic powers, and expect some not insignificant result. The very notion of being consciously weak or trivial, even in a single bar, was appalling to me.”

Wagner never wrote words fraught with greater significance. To sit down with a determination to not be weak or trivial in a single bar, and to be always faithful to his subject, and yet to construct his opera on the prevailing models, was for a man of Wagner’s intellectual power and artistic temperament to discover the radical defects of the opera of his day. He could not follow his models without being consciously weak or trivial at times. An examination of the libretto of “Rienzi” shows that while there is carelessness in the poetry, the dramatic construction is excellent. No better opera libretto dates from the time of its production. But it was constructed, as Wagner confessed, to enable him “to display the principal forms of grand opera, such as introductions, finales, choruses, arias, duets, trios, etc., with all possible splendor.” Consequently, while there is much in the music that is noble, dignified, and characteristic of Wagner, there is more that is weak, trivial, and imitative. “Rienzi” is a very good opera of the old sort, and the dramatic force of its book, together with the excellence of much of its music, has kept it favorably before the public. But it lacks artistic coherency, because its fundamental principle is false; and Wagner knew it before he had completed the work. The writer of this article does not believe that this master, as some of his warmest admirers have asserted, began “Rienzi” with a deliberate intention of catering to a depraved public taste for the sake of success. Wagner earnestly craved success at that time; he needed money, and he yearned for public recognition; but his own words show that he was deluded into supposing that artistic work could be done on the lines of the popular opera of his day. It required the writing of “Rienzi” to bring to his mind the convictions, which were put to test in “The Flying Dutchman,” after he had abandoned the hope of pecuniary success. This is not the place for a discussion of the relative importance of objectivity and subjectivity in art; but it is certain that “The Flying Dutchman” is the result of an overwhelming desire for self-expression. Wagner at this period of his mental growth could have cried with Omar Khayyám:—

“I sent my soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that after-life to spell;
And by and by my soul returned to me,
And answered, ‘I myself am heaven and hell.’”

Overcome by his first real draught of the bitterness of life, he found that his emotional moods were clamoring for expression. With the splendid egotism of genius, he discerned the sorrow of a world in his own suffering. To dramatize this became his burning desire. The legend of the Ahasuerus of the sea, cursed by his own determination to overcome obstacles, opposed by all the powers of nature, seemed to Wagner the embodiment of his own experience; and he turned to the work of making an opera out of it, with no purpose except a complete and convincing expression of the prevailing moods of his own soul. And it was thus that he came upon the fundamental principles of the theory which set the musical world agog and raised up lions in his path. The first conviction that came to him was that of the superiority of a legendary over a historical story. He subsequently wrote of it thus:—

“In this and all succeeding plans, I turned for the selection of my material once for all from the domain of history to that of legend.... All the details necessary for the description and presentation of the conventionally historic, which a fixed and limited historical epoch demands in order to make the action clearly intelligible,—and which are therefore carried out so circumstantially by the historical novelists and dramatists of to-day,—could be here omitted. And by this means the poetry, and especially the music, were freed from the necessity of a method of treatment entirely foreign to them, and particularly impossible as far as music was concerned. The legend, in whatever nation or age it may be placed, has the advantage that it comprehends only the purely human portion of this age or nation, and presents this portion in a form peculiar to it, thoroughly concentrated, and therefore easily intelligible.... This legendary character gives a great advantage to the poetic arrangement of the subject for the reason already mentioned, that, while the simple process of the action—easily comprehensible as far as its outward relations are concerned—renders unnecessary any painstaking for the purpose of explanation of the course of the story, the greatest possible portion of the poem can be devoted to the portrayal of the inner motives of the action,—those inmost motives of the soul, which, indeed, the action points out to us as necessary, through the fact that we ourselves feel in our hearts a sympathy with them.”[11]

The second conviction that came to him was that of the folly of writing music at random, instead of clinging to the musical investiture of a mood once formed. This led him to the abandonment of the set forms of the established opera, and to the adoption of his own plan of making the music and poetry an artistic unit. His words in regard to this matter are worth quoting:—

“The plastic unity and simplicity of the mythical subjects allowed of the concentration of the action on certain important and decisive points, and thus enabled me to rest on fewer scenes with a perseverance sufficient to expound the motive to its ultimate dramatic consequences. The nature of the subject, therefore, could not induce me, in sketching my scenes, to consider in advance their adaptability to any particular musical form, the kind of musical treatment being in each case necessitated by these scenes themselves. It could, therefore, not enter my mind to engraft on this my musical form, growing, as it did, out of the nature of the scenes, the traditional forms of operatic music, which could not but have marred and interrupted its organic development. I therefore never thought of contemplating on principle and as a deliberate reformer the destruction of the aria, duet, and other operatic forms; but the dropping of those forms followed consistently from the nature of my subjects.”[12]


From a photograph from life taken in Vienna about 1875 by Fr. Luckhardt.

He found the germs of his future musical system in the ballad of Senta. In this the legend of the unhappy Hollander is told, and in its musical investiture Wagner invented two melodic themes with distinct purposes. The first was intended to illustrate the personality of the Dutchman as an embodiment of yearning for rest. The second was designed to represent the redeeming principle, the ewig weibliche, the eternal womanhood, which became the ruling ethical feature of all Wagner’s lyric works. Here are the two themes:—


These two themes being designed to represent certain ideas, it was inevitable that the composer should use them whenever those ideas recurred. As he tells us himself in the essay quoted above:—

“I had merely to develop, according to their respective tendencies, the various thematic germs comprised in the ballad, to have, as a matter of course, the principal mental moods in definite thematic shapes before me. When a mental mood returned, its thematic expression also, as a matter of course, was repeated, since it would have been arbitrary and capricious to have sought another motive so long as the object was an intelligible representation of the subject, and not a conglomeration of operatic pieces.”

We have now traced the origin of the three elementary principles out of which Wagner elaborated his system: First, the dramatic advantage of mythological or legendary subjects; second, the “intelligible representation of the subject”; and third, the use of the representative theme, “typical phrase” or leit motif. In “The Flying Dutchman” we find his system in its embryonic state, but the perfected system, as displayed in “Tristan” and “The Ring,” is only a logical outcome of these first thoughts, intensified, as it were, by his realization that the whole thing was simply a modernization of the practice of the greatest Greek dramatists. This realization caused him to question whether, through the medium of an art founded on his theories, the modern stage could not acquire a national importance and influence, such as the Greek theatre possessed. It will undoubtedly be easier for the reader now to take a comprehensive survey of the full-blown Wagnerian system than to try to follow its growth through the transitional stage of “Tannhäuser” and “Lohengrin.”

Wagner’s first law, as formulated succinctly by W. F. Apthorp in a magazine article, is: “That the text—what in old-fashioned dialect was called the libretto—once written by the poet, all other persons who have to do with the work—composer, stage architect, scene painter, costumer, stage manager, conductor, and singing actors—should aim at one thing only: the most exact, perfect, and lifelike embodiment of the poet’s thought.” So far as the composition of the music is concerned, this is precisely what Peri and Gluck believed. But Peri had to invent dramatic recitative; and standing, as it were, just on the hither side of chaos, he could not be expected to produce at once a perfected art world. The materials of operatic art were in process of making; the first builder had not the wherewith to rear a musical cathedral. Gluck erred in preserving the cut-and-dried operatic forms which made it impossible for him to achieve his sincere design,—“to reduce music to its proper function, that of seconding poetry by enforcing the expression of the sentiment and the interest of the situations, without interrupting the action, or weakening it by superfluous ornament.” It was comparatively easy to get rid of the “superfluous ornament”; but the methodical distribution of the old forms was found to interrupt the action. It remained for Wagner to see that these forms were unavailable for the composer who aimed at the complete embodiment of the poet’s thought; and it remained for him also to discern that the ideal lyric drama demanded an ideal harmony among its various elements. In other words, the perfected Wagnerian theory of the lyric drama contemplates the compact union of poetry, music, painting, action, and all the other factors of dramatic illusion on a basis of common interdependence, so binding that it shall be impossible to say that one is more important than another, so perfect that no separation can be made without a loss of vital force.

Wagner discerned in the theatre the source of such art influence as reached the great mass of the people. Looking upon its managers and its public as they actually appeared before his eyes, he saw the theatre in the hands of those to whom art was nothing and gain everything, while the public, jaded and sated, ceaselessly clamored for new sensations. Continued attempts of the money-seeking managers to satisfy this public demand, which was in its very nature insatiable, had led to a condition of opera in which the music had no organic connection with the text, the pageantry and ballets no logical relation to the pictorial ensemble. Turning his gaze backward to the home of true art, Greece, he saw a drama in which poetry, action, and music were indissolubly united.

“Thus,” he says, “we can by no means recognize in our theatrical art the genuine drama; that one, indivisible, supreme creation of the mind of man. Our theatre merely offers the convenient locale for the tempting exhibition of the heterogeneous wares of art manufacture. How incapable is our stage to gather up each branch of art in its highest and most perfect expression—the drama—it shows at once in its division into the two opposing classes, play and opera; whereby the idealizing influence of music is forbidden to the play, and the opera is forestalled of the living heart and lofty purpose of actual drama. Thus on the one hand the spoken play can never, with but few exceptions, lift itself up to the ideal flight of poetry; but, for very reason of the poverty of its means of utterance,—to say nothing of the demoralizing influence of our public life,—must fall from height to depth, from the warm atmosphere of passion to the cold element of intrigue. On the other hand the opera becomes a chaos of sensuous impressions jostling one another without rhyme or reason, from which each one may choose at will what pleases best his fancy; here the alluring movements of a dancer, there the bravura passage of a singer; here the dazzling effect of a triumph of the scene painter, there the astounding efforts of a Vulcan of the orchestra....”

“The public art of the Greeks, which reached its zenith in their tragedy, was the expression of the deepest and the noblest principles of the people’s consciousness; with us the deepest and noblest principle of man’s consciousness is the direct opposite of this, namely, the denunciation of our public art. To the Greeks the production of a tragedy was a religious festival, where the gods bestirred themselves upon the stage and bestowed on men their wisdom; our evil conscience has so lowered the theatre in public estimation that it is the duty of the police to prevent the stage from meddling in the slightest with religion; a circumstance as characteristic of our religion as of our art. Within the ample boundaries of the Grecian amphitheatre the whole populace was wont to witness the performances: in our superior theatres loll only the affluent classes. The Greeks sought the instruments of their art in the products of the highest associate culture: we seek ours in the deepest social barbarism. The education of the Greek, from his earliest youth, made himself the subject of his own artistic treatment and artistic enjoyment in body as in spirit: our foolish education, fashioned for the most part to fit us merely for future industrial gain, gives us a ridiculous, and withal arrogant, satisfaction with our own unfitness for art, and forces us to seek the subjects of any kind of artistic amusement outside ourselves.”[13]

Making due allowance for the heated utterance of one to whom the questions at issue had such grave personal importance as to prevent judicial calmness of speech, we cannot fail to perceive that Wagner had penetrated to the essence of the difference between the stage of Greece and that of Europe in his day. The compact union of the arts tributary to the stage had been at once the outcome and the embodiment of that intensely national art-feeling which he contrasted so bitterly with the modern European lack of art-feeling, as he saw it. With the downfall of the Athenian, state tragedy fell also, and “art became less and less the expression of the public conscience.” In Wagner’s mind this downfall resembled that of the tower of Babel, with its subsequent dispersion of the tribes. The dramatic union of arts was dismembered. Poetry, painting, music, rhetoric, all separated, and each went its own way in pursuit of its own ends. No one who has reviewed the history of the fine arts in the Middle Ages can fail to have observed how blindly they seemed to grope their way toward the gates of truth until the guiding light of the Renaissance, with its new revelation of the classic antiquity, was turned upon Italy by the scholars driven out of Constantinople by the fall of Rome’s Eastern Empire. Wagner has reviewed the dissevered condition of the arts and their employment as means, and not ends, in a few terse sentences in the essay already quoted; and then he says:—

“Each one of these dissevered arts, nursed and luxuriously tended for the entertainment of the rich, has filled the world to overflowing with its products; in each great minds have brought forth marvels; but the one true art has not been born again, either in or since the Renaissance. The perfect art work, the great united utterance of a free and lovely public life, the Drama, Tragedy,—howsoever great the poets who have here and there indited tragedies,—is not yet born again; for the reason that it cannot be reborn, but must be born anew.”[14]

This, then, was the herculean task which this self-appointed reformer of the drama set before him; to demonstrate that the modern theatre had the power to bring itself into the same relation to the noblest ideal life of man as the Greek theatre had; and in order that this might be achieved it was necessary, in his opinion, to return to that union of the arts, which has been mentioned so often. He believed that in his day each art had done all that it could do without the aid of the other. Music unaided could go no further than it had in Beethoven’s symphonies. Indeed, even the mighty Ludwig had called in the help of poetry to complete his Ninth Symphony. Poetry could rise no higher than the wings of Shakespeare, Goethe, and Schiller had carried her. At this point, then, must come that fusion of the arts, in which each would sacrifice something of its egotism for the sake of the splendid whole; and that whole would be the art work of the future, the drama for the people. In order fairly to appreciate Wagner’s purposes we must pause here to inquire, what people? The answer to this question lies at the root of the whole controversy which has arisen about Wagner’s works; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is the neglect to make and properly answer this inquiry which leads insufficiently informed persons to look upon Wagner as a rabid iconoclast. The people for whom he sought to rear anew the ideal drama was the German people. As Mr. Krehbiel has expressed it: “Wagner believes that the elements of the lyric drama ought to be adapted to the peculiarities, and to encourage the national feeling of the people for whom it is created.... One of Wagner’s most persistent aims was to reanimate a national art spirit in Germany. The rest of the world he omitted from his consideration.”[15] This was an inevitable result of his conviction, acquired from study of the Greek stage, that the ideal drama should be national in spirit.

We have already seen that, according to his ideas, the union of poetry, painting, music, and action in the “art work of the future” could be effected only by some sacrifice on the part of each art. Wagner plainly saw, as we must see, that the special feature which must yield to the necessary modification was form, or, more strictly speaking, formality. It was not form in the abstract that must be sacrificed, but forms in the concrete,—forms which owed their preservation to tradition, and not to any intrinsic worth or imperative demand of art. To preserve the old-fashioned operatic forms would have been to continue the dominance of music in the drama; for the poet would still have been a mere librettist, bound to provide for the aria, the duet, and the finale. To introduce a distinctive kind of versification, such as the Alexandrine, or the Spencerian stanza, would have made poetry the controlling element. The first problem set before Wagner, then, was to find subjects which would admit of the utmost freedom and unconventionality of treatment. Already in the embryonic state of his theories, the myth had forced itself upon his mind as the necessary kind of subject; and in the final working out of those theories to their end, the myth stood the test, with this important corollary, that it must be a myth embodying one of the great elementary thoughts of mankind. Turn which way he would, he found support for his belief. Did the legendary beings of the Greek stage lack the humanity and the ethical conditions necessary for great tragedy? On the contrary, as Mr. Stedman has put it:—

“The high gods of Æschylus and Sophocles for the most part sit above the thunder: but the human element pervades these dramas; the legendary demigods, heroes, gentes, that serve as the personages,—Hermes, Herakles, the houses of Theseus, Atreus, Jason,—all are types of human kind, repeating the Hebraic argument of transmitted tendency, virtue and crime, and the results of crime especially from generation to generation.”[16]

And when Wagner turned from the Greek drama to the philosophy of his beloved Schopenhauer, he found the same convictions forced upon him again by his teacher’s art theory. This theory is propounded in Book III. of “The World as Will and Representation.” The writer begs leave to quote a summary of it which he has made in a study of “Tristan”:—

“Divested of its robes of metaphysical terminology, it is this: When the human mind rises from the study of the location, period, causes, and tendencies of things to the undivided examination of their essence, and when, further, this consideration takes place, not through the medium of abstract thought, but in calm contemplation of the immediately present natural object, then the mind is brought face to face with eternal ideas. Art, the work of genius, repeats these eternal ideas, which are the essential and permanent things in the phenomena of the world. In other words, art endeavors to exhibit to us the eternal essence of things by means of prototypes.”[17]


From a family group, photographed shortly before his death.

Of course, Wagner could not find prototypes embodying “the eternal essence of things” in the small and shallow stories to which the librettists of the majority of the popular operas of his time had turned. He must seek for material which had its roots in the great heart of the people; which was not the fancy of a single mind, but the formulation of a people’s ideal. To the myth, then, he turned, impelled by his own reasoning, by the arguments of divine philosophy, as he read them, and by the equally eloquent example of revered antiquity. And, indeed, we must all admit that the true myth is the individualization of an abstract ideal, and if we accept the Wagnerian theory, that abstract ideal should be embodied in the personages of the drama, we must also accept the myth. Even if we refuse to believe that ideals, or even types, should be the actors in a drama, we shall probably have no hesitation in admitting that for musical exposition only the broad, elementary emotions of humanity are well suited; and these are always found most freely and powerfully displayed in the great world-thoughts of mythology. Thus Wagner’s Tristan and his Isolde are plainly intended to be embodiments of the elementary man and woman, standing in primeval barbarian grandeur at gaze one upon the other, and overwhelmed by the tragic power of mastering passion. The history of the Tristan legend, which has found its way in different forms into the literature of several languages, is proof that the world has so regarded it. For six hundred years poets have accepted Tristan and Isolde as the most convincing representatives of the mastery and the misery of love. In this they stand sharply distinguished from the hero and heroine of Wagner’s comedy, “Die Meistersinger.” Walther and Eva, moving in a story whose design is to touch the manners of a time with the gentle reproof of satire, are not the embodiments of elementary thoughts, but are circumscribed by the manifest environments of locality and period. But Tristan and Siegfried are the unfettered, unconventioned man of all times and places; while Brünnhilde and Isolde are visible forms of the highest of Wagner’s ideals, the eternal womanhood. It is a significant fact that this master, in the first works produced after he had abandoned the old style,—“The Flying Dutchman,” and “Tannhäuser,”—dealt with these eternal types, while in “Lohengrin” he confined himself within comparatively narrower limits, returning to his first position when he had fully formulated the theories whose promptings rose within him as only vague, artistic instincts in his early works. And having cleared his theories from all doubts in his own mind, he emphasized the humanity of his mythical characters by some of his finest touches.

“The northern Scalds created tremendous myths. The spirit of their poems was colossal. Passions and sweetness stood side by side and were delineated with master strokes. Lofty sentiment and heroic deed were darkened by unspeakable crime and black tragedy. The German bards denuded these old poems of their glory and made their personages small. The heroes and heroines of the Sagas were enormous unrealities; those of the Nibelungen Lied were almost pretentious nonentities. Wagner seized upon every trait of character and every incident that was most human and made masterly use of it. It is the ease with which we recognize in the people of ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ primeval human types that makes us receptive of their influence and movable by their greatness.”[18]

Having found his people, the next object of the poet-composer was to select a flexible and yielding form for their utterance. He must find a form of verse which could be organically united with music, which would suggest a rhythmical basis for the melody, yet not control its construction. The various forms of modern versification, founded on the rhetorical accent of words, offered him no advantages, but, on the contrary, placed difficulties in the path of his movement. Rhyme, for instance, has no value whatever for the composer, unless he constructs the phrases and sections of his melody with the same number of feet and the same metrical pauses as are found in the verse; and this method, of course, gives the mere formalism of the poetry the government of the process of composition. On the other hand, blank verse is bound to find the same treatment in music as prose does. Wagner, therefore, turned to the metrical basis of all Teutonic poetry, namely, the alliterative line, as it is found in the “Eddas.” The peculiarity of this line is the emphasizing of its rhythm by the employment of similar sounds at the beginning of the accented syllables. A fair specimen of it is the opening of Siegmund’s love song in “Die Walküre”:—

Winterstürme wichen
Dem Wonnemond;
In milden Lichte
Leuchtet der Lenz;
Auf linden Lüften,
Leicht und lieblich,
Wunder webend
Er sich wiegt.
Siegfried. Richard Wagner. H. Levi. Richter. Betz. Niemann. v. Schukowsky. Fr. v. Lenbach. Cosima. Materna. Fr. Brandt. Liszt. Gräfin Sch. Gräfin U. Scaria. Fr. Fischer.


A clause such as “Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond” readily suggests to the ear the position of musical accents which will be identical with those of the verse, but which leave the composer wholly free in his melodic treatment of lines. A single glance will demonstrate to the reader that the above words can be placed in lines three or four times as long without making the slightest change in the rhythmical effect produced by the alliteration.

We now come to Wagner’s musical method, the nature of which has already been briefly indicated in the account of the birth in his mind of his new ideas. In his search after a modern substitute for the sustained intonation of the Greek drama, he had before him for study the dramatic recitative of Peri and the dramatic arioso style of Gluck. The former was wholly unavailable. Years of use had fastened upon it a collection of traditional phrases, familiar to the ear of every one who goes often to hear opera or oratorio. These traditional phrases, hopelessly inflexible, made dramatic recitative a thing of conventionalities, and unconventionality was the only hope for Wagner’s system. The Gluck arioso style was equally unsuited to his purpose, because, as we have been obliged to note before, it preserved the formalities of the old-fashioned opera,—those very formalities which Wagner felt that he must abandon if he would secure his compact union of the arts tributary to the stage. He needed a style of composition which would permit the music to flow freely from the words and which would impose no obligation on the composer to repeat certain words or lines in order that certain passages of music might be rounded out to a pretty close as in the old-fashioned aria. He was in search of lyric expressiveness freed from lyric conventionality. He therefore decided that each act of any one of his music-dramas must consist of one unbroken stream of melody. In other words, as long as there were persons or scenes before the audience, there must be a musical exposition of their moods, and that exposition must be unbroken and apparently unartificial in form, just as a train of moods is.

But to make the actors sing without cessation would fatigue both them and the audience; and, moreover, it would be untrue to nature, since men and women do not frame every thought and emotion in words. Hence Wagner conceived the idea of allotting the voicing of the ceaseless melody to the orchestra, while the personages of the drama should utter their words in a form of lyric recitative based on the broader principles of Peri, as expressed in his preface to “Eurydice,” but freed from acquired conventions and modified according to the promptings of Wagner’s own musical genius. Naturally, then, the question arose in the composer’s mind, “What form is my melody to have?” For he knew as well as Schumann did that music demands first of all things form. Now, the basis of musical form is the repetition of melodic phrases. There is no form, and therefore no coherence, no sense, in music consisting of disjointed phrases, each of which is heard once and never again. Yet to repeat them in any of the old-fashioned ways would have been to load himself down with some one of the set forms which he was trying to escape. Consequently this formidable problem was before him: How was he to make his endless melody intelligible to the auditor, to give it a palpable significance, to convey through it to the hearer the emotional moods of his personages, and yet impose upon it musical form, based upon repetition, but free from the artificiality of the older formulas? He found the solution in the suggestion which had come to him when he invented the two principal themes of Senta’s ballad in “The Flying Dutchman.” The solution of the problem was the perfection of this system of representative themes, each designed to stand for a particular person, thought, mood, or action, and to be repeated by the orchestra or vocalist whenever its subject had significance, though not necessarily presence, in the scene before the audience.

How are these representative themes obtained? Does Wagner construct a melody arbitrarily according to his fancy, and label it the “Siegfried” motive, the “Brünnhilde” motive? A moment’s reflection will suffice to convince the reader that such a system would be worse than puerile. It would not be in any sense as good as the method of Donizetti, who could at least give a pathetic color to the aria of his moribund tenor. Wagner’s high purpose was to make an indissoluble organic union between the poem and the music, and this purpose forbade all arbitrary or haphazard procedure in the construction of a leit motif. Music has a certain power of emotional expression; therefore Wagner’s endeavor was to invent themes representative of characteristic traits or emotional tendencies of his personages. In some cases when he required a musical representation of an inanimate object, he invented a theme which would suggest the object by suggesting emotions associated with it. Another class of themes is descriptive of externals, and belongs to what has been well called scenic music. The last class is the smallest, for, as a rule, Wagner’s scenic music serves its purpose but once. When it is intended for only one hearing, it is simply descriptive music, freely composed. When intended for more than one hearing, it has a deeper significance. Let us make a closer examination of the master’s processes in the construction of these leading motives, and that we may be logical, let us begin with the lowest order, the scenic.


After a portrait by Herkomer, etched by himself.

The central and the most picturesque character of “The Rheingold” is Loge, the god of fire. In this prologue of the tetralogy he appears as the evil counsellor of Wotan, and while his character is indicated in many striking ways, his entrance is heralded by a purely scenic bit of music known as the magic fire music.


This music is intended solely to represent the flickering, ascending fire. It reappears with most picturesque effect at the close of “Die Walküre,” when Wotan, having put Brünnhilde to sleep upon her rock, summons the fire from the earth to keep her couch inaccessible to all save the yet unborn hero who shall know no fear.[19] Examples of the free descriptive or scenic music, composed without leading motives, may be found in “Tristan” (the sailors’ music, and the shepherd’s piping), in “Siegfried” (the familiar “Waldweben”), and in “Parsifal” (the dance of the flower maidens). Of the class of music a step higher in respect of significance,—that in which an inanimate object is represented by an appeal to the emotions associated with it,—the most brilliant example is the sword motive. The sword of Siegmund, which is to be welded anew by Siegfried and used by him in wresting the Rhine treasure from the grasp of the giant Fafner, is one of the most potent agents in the advancement of the action of the tetralogy. It is always indicated musically by this bold, martial theme, whose brilliant challenge rings with the pride of combat:—


It is a notable evidence of the depth of Wagner’s artistic purpose that he first uses this motive in “Das Rheingold,” before the sword has been fashioned, when only the idea of creating the race of Siegmund has dawned in Wotan’s mind. Another motive of this kind is that which represents the tarn helm, the magic cap whose possessor can make himself invisible or change his appearance. The motive is so uncertain in its tonality—a quality obtained by the use of the empty fifth—that it adequately depicts the mysterious nature of the tarn helm.


But the most beautiful and significant development of this remarkable musical system is to be found in the construction of those motives which are designed to illustrate the emotions and dramatic principles of the plays. Of these there are some which have also a scenic aspect and at first will seem to the new hearer of Wagner’s works to belong wholly to the external class. The most easily comprehended is that commonly described as the smithy motive. The Nibelungs were dwarfs, dwellers in the hollows of the earth, and workers in precious metals. They were a crushed, tyrannized race, and after one of their number, Alberich, had obtained power over the worldly possession of a ring of Rhine gold, they became the most abject of slaves. Two things appeal to us in the contemplation of this race: first, ceaseless labor at the smithy; second, the bitterness of spirit caused by the drudgery. Wagner invented for the theme representative of this race the smithy motive, founded on a rhythm imitative of the beating of hammers.


The host of Hotel de Prusse, in Leipsic.


It seems at first as if this theme could picture for us only that beating. But in the second act Alberich’s brother, Mime, who has been plotting to get the Rhine treasure for himself, is slain by Siegfried. Then Alberich, who is concealed in the forest and witnesses the scene, laughs aloud in bitter scorn of his fallen foe; and his laugh consists of that Nibelung theme sung fortissimo. Then we perceive that the theme fully embodies both of the characteristics of the dwarfs, of which the second is the product of the first. To rise a step higher, in the first act of “Die Walküre,” when Siegmund and Sieglinde, the only living members of the race of Volsungs, are gazing into one another’s eyes and learning to sympathize with one another’s sorrows, the orchestra, always revealing to us the most secret feelings of the actors, plays this passage:—


The bass phrase is the motive of the Volsung race, and its melancholy character is intended to remind us that this is a race of tragic heroes whose heritage is woe. The treble phrase is the motive of sympathy. It is, therefore, written in thirds, the closest and most elementary of those harmonic agreements called consonances, and it is, in melody as well as harmony, expressive of sympathy. In the second act of the drama of “Siegfried,” when the young hero lies under the tree in the forest and wonders what manner of being his mother was, the orchestra reminds us that he is a Volsung by intoning the motive in this form:—


And again when Siegfried in “Die Götterdämmerung” has sobbed forth his last words and lies dead among Gunther’s appalled vassals, the basses of the orchestra once more wail out this sad motive, accentuated by muttered beats of the kettle drums. Thus we see that this motive is always heard when the two thoughts—Volsung race and its woe—are especially significant in the drama. We learn that it refers to these two things by the text with which it is associated, and we then find that it intensifies for us the feeling of that text.


Last work of Lorenz Gedon, in possession of Friedrich Schön, of Worms.

The association with the text is, of course, the key-note of Wagner’s leit motif system. There can be no successful refutation of the assertion that a few of the leading themes of the Bayreuth music-dramas are arbitrary in their formation. There are themes which are intended to represent purely intellectual processes, and this is something that music cannot do. But we need never be at a loss as to Wagner’s intent. No lecturer nor handbook is necessary as a guide through the music of these works when the hearer has once grasped the idea that every leit motif is associated with the words or the acts which explain its design, and this, too, almost invariably on its first appearance. All that the hearer needs to know is the text. It was not a part of Wagner’s theory that his listeners should commit to memory a string of titles of motives, such as the “Love Renunciation Motive,” the “Hero Idea,” the “Love Thrills,” the “Decree of Fate.” Many of these titles have been invented by the handbook makers, who, in their eagerness to explain Wagner to the world, have done much to persuade the world that he is incomprehensible. The student of Wagner needs no translation of the music, except the text. Wagner did not believe, as many have asserted, that music was capable of definite expression as words are. On the contrary, in his prose works, he again and again declared that music was incapable of telling a story, that it demanded the assistance of text, and that the two must be joined in such close wedlock that they would operate upon the mind and emotions of the hearer as a single indivisible force. Therefore the student of these works needs only to make himself master of the poems, and then to note carefully the music that accompanies every sentiment or deed. In the Nibelung tetralogy, the music of “Rheingold” is the foundation of all that follows, and it must be known first. As each new motive appears in that work, it is explained. Two or three illustrations will suffice. In the first scene, the three Rhine-maidens sing this:—

Rhinegold, Rhinegold, lustrous delight,
Thou laughest in radiance rare.

When Siegfried, having slain the dragon, comes out of the cave, that music is heard in the orchestra. Does any one need a handbook to tell him that it refers to the hero’s being now the master of the Rhine gold? Again, after telling Alberich that he who can make a ring out of the Rhine gold will have unlimited power, one of the girls sings this:—

But he who passion’s power forswears,
And from delights of love forbears,
But he the magic commandeth the prize to mould to a ring.

Here the text fully identifies the music as the motive of renunciation, and as such we recognize this melody when Wotan in the last scene of “Die Walküre” parts from his best beloved daughter, Brünnhilde. This first identification of a theme enables the composer to attain some of his finest effects, for he makes some motives have an air of prophecy. For instance, two motives are especially connected with Siegfried, and one of them refers to his being a great hero. This motive is first heard in the last scene of “Die Walküre” before Siegfried is born, and before Brünnhilde knows that he is to be her lover. Yet it is Brünnhilde who voices it in foretelling his birth to Sieglinde:—

The highest hero of worlds hid’st thou,
O wife, in sheltering shrine.

Thenceforward we know that melody to be the theme of Siegfried, the hero. Immediately following this is introduced a theme which appears again in the full voicing of the orchestra after Brünnhilde has restored the Rhine gold to its rightful owners and immolated herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre at the end of the last drama of the series. If we wonder at its meaning there, we refer to its first appearance in “Die Walküre,” and find that Sieglinde utters it as a proclamation of the divine womanhood of Brünnhilde:—

Oh, marvelous sayings,
Maiden divine.

Another example will show how a representative theme may be modified, according to the development of the person whom it represents, without losing its identity. The theme which has special reference to Siegfried’s buoyancy of spirit, the producer of youthful enthusiasm, is intoned by the hero on his horn thus:—


In “Die Götterdämmerung,” when Siegfried has become a fully developed man, this melody is modified so as to signify his mature heroism. It is then proclaimed by the orchestra thus:—


As the writer has had occasion to say elsewhere, “The alteration to which the music is subjected is one of rhythm. The motif changes from six-eight to common rhythm. The effect produced is one of those which are founded upon the nature of music. A six-eight rhythm is light and tripping; a four-beat rhythm is firm and solid.” This alteration of the representative theme, then, “develops the character of the melody along the same lines as Siegfried’s character has developed,—from lightness and ebulliency to firmness and solidity.” These examples should be sufficient to give the reader a tolerable comprehension of the manner in which Wagner worked out his new operatic form. It seems necessary now only to lay special stress upon the suggestion already offered, that the listener at the performance of a Wagner music-drama does not treat either himself or the composer fairly when he busies his mind wholly with the identification of the themes as they present themselves successively to his hearing. The proper effort is to get at the organic connection between action or thought and the music, to read each by the light of the other, and to see whether it is not possible to penetrate by means of the two into the spirit of the drama. If the hearer accomplishes this, he will have at least the right to say that he has approached the consideration of this art work of Wagner’s in a spirit of fairness; and though he may not know the title of a single theme, he will have a far better understanding of their meaning than they who have committed to memory some one of the thematic handbooks.

This exposition of Wagner’s theories will have failed to achieve its purpose if the reader does not now clearly perceive that its fundamental postulate is that the opera is a drama in which music is merely the chief vehicle of expression. This ruling idea led Wagner not only to abandon the old formulæ, but to do many things which would, perhaps, be inexpedient to attempt in absolute music. The great Bayreuth master has been severely censured, by those who cling to the belief that music should always be pretty, for having written many harsh progressions and for having indulged in remarkable boldness in his harmonies. These so-called sins of the master must find their justification in the fact that he was not aiming at purely musical beauty. The whole purpose of his work was “exact and lifelike embodiment of the poet’s thought.” When the emotion of an actor was harsh, the music had to be harsh. When the emotions were grand and beautiful, the music had to be of a similar character. It is for these reasons that we find the snarling anger of Alberich and Mime, the bitter hatred of Ortrud, the fury of Isolde, voiced in music which is not pretty, but which is truthful. But on the other hand, when Wagner has to express the sorrows of the Volsungs, the fierce and sudden passion of Siegmund and Sieglinde, the awful revulsion of feeling in the death of Siegfried, or the highest elevation of woman’s love in the last moments of Isolde, he rises to a sublime height of melody, an overwhelming dignity of harmony, and an irresistible eloquence of instrumentation not equalled by any other composer. As Louis Ehlert, not a Wagnerite, has well said: “Wagner’s music always impresses us with the idea that we are in the presence of genius. It may at times be ugly, obtrusive, and noisy; but it is never silly and insignificant.”[20]

Much of the pungency of Wagner’s music, which makes it disagreeable to timid ears, is due to his progressiveness in the matter of harmony. He has gone to the furthest limit in the use of passing notes, as primarily embodied in the polyphony of Bach. He has followed the rule thus formulated by Dr. Parry:—

“Suspensions are now taken in any form and position which can in the first place be possibly prepared even by passing notes, or in the second place be possibly resolved even by causing a fresh discord, so long as the ultimate resolution into concord is feasible in an intelligible manner.”[21]

Many of Wagner’s harmonic progressions belong to that class which instruct rather than obey the theorists. These progressions have all been found capable of justification by analysis, and will therefore remain as part of Wagner’s contributions to the development of musical science and art. In considering these novelties, we must remember that genius is usually in advance of its day, and what sounded strange at first by reason of its novelty will in good time become part of the common diction of the art. In instrumentation, Wagner also made many innovations, and it is indisputable that he was the greatest master of the art of scoring who has ever lived. He showed a profounder insight into the individual capacity of every instrument than any composer except Berlioz, and in fecundity of combination he excelled even the gifted Frenchman. He enriched the body of tone of the modern orchestra by the employment of the tenor tuba, and emphasized the value of the neglected bass trumpet. His addition to the customary number of horn parts splendidly improved the mellow tone and solidity of the brass choir, and his use of the bass clarinet, not simply as a solo instrument, but as a re-enforcement of the organ-like bass of the woodwind department, was a stroke of genius. He further developed the expressiveness of the woodwind band by the novelty of his distribution of harmony among its members. Not only did he allot solos to them with unerring judgment, but departing from the conventional style of the classic symphonists, who used their wood instruments in pairs playing in thirds and sixths, he wrote for these instruments in a marvellously effective dispersed harmony. In writing for the strings, Wagner divided them more frequently than his predecessors had done, often making six or eight real parts among the violins alone. Altogether his instrumentation is richer in its polyphony and more solid in its body of tone than that of any other composer. He has been accused of being noisy, but power of sound is not necessarily noise. There is more noise in some of Verdi’s shrieking piccolo passages, accentuated with bass-drum thumps, than in the loudest passage that Wagner ever wrote.

Taking him by and large, as the sailors say, Wagner is the most striking figure in the history of music. Whether the future will or will not accord to him the position granted by the musical world of the present—that of the greatest genius (though not the profoundest musician) the art has produced—he will remain fixed upon the records as the most commanding intellect that ever sought to express its thought and accomplish its purposes though the medium of music. His influence upon his contemporaries has been larger than that of any other master since the science of modern music began. One has only to study the latest operas of that real genius, Verdi, to perceive how one of the most gifted musical minds of our time was forced to yield to the convincing truth of Wagner’s ideas. As for those of less original force than Verdi, they have one and all—even Mascagni, who is as purely Italian as Wagner was purely Teutonic—been swayed by his irresistible influence. Even the symphonic writers have been guided by him, and no man can ever again write an orchestral score as if Wagner had not lived. The futile controversy about his theories and his style will probably be kept alive for some years by those who persistently refuse to remodel their inflexible conceptions of what ought to be after the splendid pattern of what is. But Wagner’s theories will live, for he was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Herder on Gluck: “The progress of the century led us to a man, who, despising the frippery of wordless tones, perceived the necessity of an intimate connection of human feeling and of the myth itself with his tones. From that imperial height on which the ordinary musician boasts that poetry serves his art he stepped down and made his tones only serve the words of feeling, the action itself. He has emulators, and perhaps some one will soon outstrip him in zeal, overthrowing the whole shop of slashed and mangled opera-jingle, and erecting an Odeon, a consistently lyric edifice, in which poetry, music, action, and decoration unite in one.”

N. J. Henderson.




Reproduction of a painting by W. Lindenschmit.

Music in Germany
569 [Fleuron]


Germany, the foremost of musical nations, owes her present supremacy not only to the genius of her great masters, from Bach to Wagner, but also in a large degree to the native impulse of her people, who for centuries have been distinguished for their earnest love of music.

In the Middle Ages the Germans possessed in their folk-songs (Volkslieder), Minnesongs and church chorals a rich fund of music, inexpressibly dear to the people. These precious heirlooms have been cherished and preserved, and their peculiar earnestness, purity of style, and depth of sentiment have rendered them sources of lofty inspirations to the great masters who have achieved for Germany her world-wide fame in music. It is unfortunate that our knowledge of German popular music in the Middle Ages is not as full and trustworthy as that concerning the beginnings of contrapuntal art in the Netherlands,[22] and the development of Catholic Church music. We have the best inferential evidence that the sense of melody and rhythm existed in definite form among the people earlier than in church music. This evidence comes to us from an observation of the devices to which the monks of St. Gallen resorted, in order to popularize the Gregorian song in Germany. For, whereas the plain chant of Gregory seems never to have been musically enjoyable to the Germans, certain sequentiæ introduced by these monks, notably by Notker, surnamed the Stammerer († 912), became universally popular among the people. These “sequences” should not be confounded with the so-called sequences defined in our modern treatises on harmony. A sequentia was a hymn, with words in rhymed Latin set to fitting music. Such sequentiæ were sung by trained choirs at certain moments in the service, and the congregation joined in the phrases like “Kyrie” and “Alleluia” which followed. “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” “Stabat Mater,” and “Dies Iræ” are sequences of this sort. These sequences are really concessions to the popular taste of the time. The mass of the people loved melody and rhythm, characteristics which were ultimately recognized as necessary to church music.

The folk-songs of Germany are quite unlike the Minnelieder (love-songs). This is evident both in the words and melodies. The folk-song is more naïve, tender and rhythmical than the heavy and solemn Minnelied. In most cases the latter resembles the choral in having slow and equal notes. Comparatively few of the old folk-songs have come down to us unchanged, and of still fewer do we know the date of composition. Probably we owe many of them to travelling minstrels, who went about from place to place.

During the sway of the Troubadours, the love of poetry and song spread over Europe, and Germany was directly influenced by them. The Minnesingers were a similar class of knightly lyrists. Their favorite meeting-place was the Wartburg, near Eisenach, at the Court of Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia. Among the most celebrated of these poet-singers were Wolfram von Eschenbach, Walther von der Vogelweide, Heinrich Schreiber and Heinrich von Zwetschin. The influence of the Minnesingers was greatest in the thirteenth century, and rapidly died out in the following. They were succeeded by the Mastersingers who were of the burgher class, and included in their ranks schoolmasters, clerks and mechanics. The foremost Mastersinger was Hans Sachs, the famous poet-cobbler, who lived in Nuremberg in the sixteenth century. The music of the Mastersingers was in general heavy and expressionless, very much like church psalmody.

Wagner has immortalized both classes of mediæval singers in his “Tannhäuser” and “Mastersingers,” but the true source of his inspiration was not their music, but the poetic and dramatic characteristics of the picturesque life of those days.

The folk-songs were more rhythmical and melodious than either the Minnesongs or Mastersongs. It is certain that as an element of influence in the practice and development of music in the latter part of the Middle Ages and at the time of the Reformation, popular music in Germany had risen to an eminence hardly second to the Gregorian song.

Some of the music of the Minnesingers was a direct outgrowth from the folk-songs. Their poems were composed principally to interest those who lived at court, but the music, so far as it had melodic character, was imitated and developed from the melodies of the people. A rude and simple instrumental accompaniment was characteristic of these productions. The element of declamation, too, must have been very important, for even up to the thirteenth century the “singing” and the “saying” of poetry were identical in meaning.

The folk-songs had great influence, as we have seen, on the melodic invention of composers of the Reformation. Other influences were potent, however, in determining the various forms of composition. The development of counterpoint in the Netherlands, and the higher a capella church style in Italy, were important for Germany. Attempts were made to treat secular melodies in the elaborate style of the Netherlanders, with the melody in the tenor, accompanied by several contrapuntal parts.

Heinrich Isaak, who was a member of the choir of the Emperor Maximilian from 1493 to 1519, enjoyed Italian training, and wrote sacred and secular music in the prevailing Flemish style. He won for himself the title of the “German Orpheus.” His contemporary, Heinrich Finck, was likewise famous and beloved. Also Stephan Mahu, a singer in the choir of Ferdinand I., was of the same school, and wrote motets and “lamentations” in a simple but sublime style. The earliest Protestant music was in the style of these masters, and the choral with contrapuntal accompaniment was suggested by their treatment of sacred chants and secular melodies. Under the influence of the Reformation, sacred music was cultivated with renewed fervor.

Martin Luther, the head and front of the great movement, took a profound interest in music, which he exemplified by his noble “Ein’ feste Burg,” and other melodies and hymns. Associated with him were the musicians Johann Walther and Louis Senfl. Their labors did not extend beyond the middle of the sixteenth century, and may be said to mark the first period of Protestant Church music. Walther was court musician at Torgau when called by Luther to Wittenberg to collaborate with the singer, Conrad Rupff, concerning the arrangement of the German mass. Walther’s choral book was the first one published. It appeared at Wittenberg in 1524, under the supervision of Luther, who wrote a preface to the work.


The most able musical character of the period was Ludwig Senfl. He was born and educated in Switzerland, and was a pupil of Heinrich Isaak. He became a member of the choir of Emperor Maximilian, and in 1530 was chosen director of church music at the Bavarian court in Munich, a position afterward held by Orlando Lasso.

Senfl was not only a composer of motets and other church music, but also, according to the custom of his day, set to music many ancient odes, particularly those of Horace. A collection of these odes was published in 1534 at Nuremberg. Senfl did not compose original chorals, but in his contrapuntal treatment of them displayed a higher degree of skill and taste than his contemporaries, and he was clearly the forerunner of masters like Eccard and Michael Prætorius. A pure, religious spirit animates his works, and the chaste style of his themes and counterpoint renders his music interesting. Among other masters of this period who were influenced by the Flemish school may be mentioned Heinrich Finck, Rahw, Resinarius, Agricola, Duces, Dietrich and Stolzer. Finck is especially noted for his motet-like arrangements of chorals; and Rahw published in 1544 a collection of chorals to which the above-named composers and others contributed.

As has been said, this activity in Protestant music was not without parallel in Catholic music. Indeed, the works of these same composers were sung in the Catholic cathedrals of their native land. Heinrich Isaak, who has already been mentioned, was the only noteworthy composer of this time who devoted himself exclusively to Catholic Church music. His work, in common with that of a multitude of lesser masters, was surpassed infinitely by the achievements of Orlando Lasso. This great musician, although a Belgian by birth, spent much of his life in Germany, and from his prominent position at Munich wielded a powerful influence on the musical life of his age.

The second period in the development of Protestant Church music may be said to have begun about the middle of the sixteenth century, when it became the fixed custom to place the melody in the highest part of the harmony. When given to the tenor, the melody could never assert its rights, for it was often lost in the polyphonic complexity of the other voices. Its transference to the soprano—a reform suggested by the stile familiare of Josquin de Près and by the Italian frottole and villanelle—had been determined by the Calvinist psalm collections of 1542 and later. This new style of composition was assiduously cultivated during the latter half of the century, and its ablest representatives were Hassler, Eccard and Michael Prætorius.

Hans Leo Hassler was born at Nuremberg in 1564, and died in 1612. He was educated in music by Andreas Gabrieli at Venice. He was one of the first organists of his time, and a clever contrapuntist and composer. Although a disciple of the Venetian school, his compositions have a genuine German simplicity and strength; but the most justly celebrated German composer of the century was Johannes Eccard, who was born at Mülhausen in 1553. It was conjectured that he was a pupil of Lasso. Eccard’s music is simple compared with that of his contemporaries of the Venetian and Roman schools. He was content to use his gifts in a less pretentious way, but nevertheless his Festival Songs deserve a place among the best church music. They are a perfect embodiment of religious devotion, and show a complete mastery of the peculiar form which he adopted in his music. In his works the melody appears in the soprano, but is not sufficiently individualized to be separated from the harmony. The parts are generally five in number, they move freely, and are well adapted to the voices of the singers. Eccard was likewise the composer of sacred songs, which are noble in comparison with similar music of his day; but his attention was devoted chiefly to church music. Two of his pupils became celebrated musicians, Johann Stobäus and Heinrich Albert. The latter had an important influence on the early development of the German Lied.



(See page 573.)

573One of the most prominent masters of the early part of the seventeenth century was Michael Prætorius (1571–1621). He witnessed the great change which was then taking place in music, but contributed nothing to it himself. He endeavored, however, to educate his countrymen to appreciate the new style of secular music which, in Italy, was then making rapid headway in the operas of Peri, Caccini and others. For a number of years he was organist and director of music at Brunswick, where he died. In his great admiration and study of the new Italian masters, he did not, like his eminent successor, Heinrich Schütz, lose his nationality. The number of works he composed, collected, and elaborated is two thousand.

His most important contribution to music, however, is his “Syntagma Musicum,” a theoretical work of great value to students of musical history. Concerning instruments and the theory of music, it is a rich source of knowledge.

During the seventeenth century the opera was invented and ardently cultivated in Italy. With the adoption of the new lyric style of recitative and aria, much greater scope was possible for artistic instrumental music than ever before. The violas and other bowed instruments were brought into prominence, and in the course of the seventeenth century formed the basis of the orchestra. Yet, during the latter half of the sixteenth century considerable use was made of instrumental accompaniment in church music. In the choir, directed by Orlando Lasso, in Munich, from 1569 till 1595 there were twelve bass singers, fifteen tenors, thirteen altos, twenty sopranos, and thirty instrumentalists. The Dresden band had ninety-three wind and percussion instruments, and only thirteen stringed instruments. The curious character of some of these combinations is indicated in the clearest possible way on the title-page of Prætorius’ “Syntagma Musicum.” Here we see three separate choruses, each accompanied by a separate organ. In the first of these (at the left of the illustration) the voices are supported by stringed instruments, in the second (at the right), by reed instruments, and in the third, by trombones and bassoon.

Hand in hand with the development of orchestral accompaniment, the seventeenth century witnessed a wonderful development of organ and clavier playing. In this also Italy took the lead. The first great artists in organ playing were Italians; the most prominent of whom were Claudio Merulo and Giovanni Gabrieli, appointed organists at St. Mark’s in Venice in 1551 and 1557. A noted disciple of this Venetian organ school was the Netherlander, Jan Pieters Sweelinck, who studied under Zarlino and Cyprian de Rore. Later he was the teacher of various German organists, among whom was Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654). The “father of true organ playing,” Girolamo Frescobaldi (1587–1640), organist of St. Peter’s in Rome, wielded even greater influence on Germany through his famous pupils, Caspar Kerl and Jacob Froberger. Various forms of composition, whose names suggest their Italian origin, became common in Germany at this time; such as the capriccio, the canzona, the toccata and the ricercata. In all these forms fugal imitation is predominant, and the modern fugue begins to take determined shape. Pachelbel (1653–1706), a pupil of Kerl, was the first to combine the various advantages of both the German and Italian schools, and his works also mark the establishment of the modern tonal system. He made important advances in fugal art. We of to-day recognize the wonderful artistic consistency of Bach’s master-works in the fugue form. We note that they are composed of various sections which include separate developments of a principal theme, and that these sections are connected by episodical passages of a character similar to that of the rest of the composition. But we are apt to lose sight of the fact that this perfection of form was of very gradual growth. Pachelbel was the first to feel the necessity of attaining such artistic unity by careful attention to these details of construction. His successful endeavors to individualize and to group his ideas give a hitherto unknown clearness of form to his organ fantasias and toccatas. In his fantasias especially he employs rich figurations, but always with the evident purpose of making such ornamentation naturally grow out of the thematic material of the work, and all is carefully designed with reference to the nature of the instrument. His contemporary, Johann Adam Reinken, who died in 1732, at the age of ninety-nine, was, as composer and player, a veritable virtuoso. Sebastian Bach made two journeys to Hamburg for the purpose of hearing this master play. But, among all the predecessors of Bach in this branch, the most prominent was Dietrich Buxtehude, organist at Lübeck from 1669 to 1707. In all respects he elevated the art of organ composition and organ playing. The structure of his themes shows the greatest appreciation of the peculiar character of the instrument. Two years before Buxtehude’s death Bach became his pupil, and the influence of Buxtehude[23] is seen in the earlier organ compositions of Bach.

Clavier, or clavichord, composition was of later growth. At first, indeed, the same principles were applied to both instruments. The earlier English and Italian clavier masters used the various forms of organ composition with little regard for the different construction of the instruments. But as time went on the less ponderous of the two instruments became the exponent of the gayer moods, as represented by various forms of the dance. Under French masters, especially, the clavier began to have a style of its own. The clavier suite, or partita, was the favorite form, and consisted of a succession of dance movements. The name sonata, now of such definite meaning in connection with chamber music, was at first represented by short Venetian organ pieces. Subsequently, in the seventeenth century, the sonata was a composition for one or more violins with clavier. This originated in Italy under Corelli and others, and was imitated in England by Purcell, and in Germany by Biber and others. The first application of the name sonata to a solo for clavier was made by Johann Kuhnau, Bach’s predecessor as cantor of the St. Thomas School at Leipzig. His “Fresh Clavier Fruits; or, Seven Sonatas of good Invention and adapted to the Clavier,” shows by its title that this branch of composition was receiving some attention at a time which has been wholly eclipsed by the splendor of the succeeding period.

From this rapid sketch of the progress of organ and clavier music during this period, which produced but few works that have survived, we see how steady was the development of the art which became grand and ultimate in the works of Sebastian Bach, and how intimate was this master’s connection with the musical activity of his time. A similar review of the course of the opera and the oratorio will enable us to trace the growth of certain other art forms which took definite shape before the dawn of Germany’s musical greatness.

We have already spoken of the important influence exerted by the folk-song on the German church music of the sixteenth century. Hassler was the first to attain a blending of the folk-song style with that of older counterpoint. He was aided in his striving by a study of the Italian madrigals and villanelle. His dance-songs are especially rich in melodic feeling, and show that in the art of melodic phrasing he followed closely in the footsteps of the Italians. With the development of the instrumental accompaniment early in the seventeenth century there came certain changes of style. The ever-increasing tendency of the time to allow the melody to stand forth more prominently began to modify the nature of the harmonic setting. The songs of Jeep (1582–1650), and of his rival, Valentin Hausmann, show degeneracy, while the songs of Adam Krieger (1634–66) and Johann Krieger (1652–1736) are noble examples of the new style. The melodies of Johann Krieger are particularly charming, and show strong rhythmical character and real artistic power. He employs simple harmonies, yet shows more freedom and naturalness in modulation than any of his predecessors.

We perceive in the music of these German masters the universal sway which Italian opera already began to exercise. The opera—as the special article on Italian music fully describes—had its beginning in Italy just at the dawn of the seventeenth century. “Mysteries” and “liturgical dramas”—both of them crude stage representations of episodes in biblical history—had been common in Germany long before this time; and the church musicians—Isaak, Senfl, Walther, Lasso and others—had worked to some extent in this field. But it was not until the great Monteverde (1568–1643) had embodied in his operatic works the results obtained by the Bardi society of connoisseurs, and not until Carissimi had done similar service for the oratorio, that the new principles began to take root and develop in Germany. Johann Kapsberger, a composer, who resided at Rome from 1610 to 1630, was the first German to adopt, to a considerable extent, the new ideas concerning vocal composition. But there soon arose in Germany a number of composers who cultivated the new style, especially the oratorio, without losing their German characteristics. Johann Gottlieb Staden (1581–1636), for instance, was a Nuremberg composer of operettas. He had for his motto in art, “Italians know not all, for Germans, too, have thoughts.” The works of Staden show that the Germans from the outset had a tendency to characterize the personages of the drama by the accompanying music. Unfortunately the music of the first serious opera, “Dafne,” by Heinrich Schütz, the words of which were translated from the text of Rinuccini, has been lost. Although a considerable amount of creative energy was bestowed on “Singspiele” and operas, especially by amateurs, it was not until theatres were established in Germany that the opera enjoyed a cultivation equal to that of the oratorio and church music.

The experiment of a permanent theatre was first made at Hamburg in 1678. The determined zeal of Gerhard Schott, an influential jurist of that city, made the attempt successful, and as long as he lived the opera did not lack encouragement. This period embraces over sixty years. The first performance at this theatre was a musical play by Johann Theile (1646–1724), who had been under the instruction of Schütz in Weissenfels and a former choir-master in Gottorp. This sacred, allegorical work was succeeded by a number of similar pieces by the same composer. Other successful masters of the same period were Franck, Strungk, the celebrated violinist; also Förtsche, Conradi and Kusser. The last-mentioned composer was appointed conductor in 1693, and was a worthy forerunner of Keiser.


Reinhard Keiser was twenty-one years old when, in 1694, he was appointed director of the Hamburg opera. He was a man of undoubted genius. His productivity as a composer was immense. His works number about one hundred and twenty operas, many of which contain, in addition to choruses, recitatives, etc., no less than forty airs. In all his serious operas there was no spoken dialogue. His works were very popular throughout Germany. His activity was not confined to the stage, for he composed church music, passion music and cantatas. He had a rare and seemingly inexhaustible gift of melody, and his recitatives are masterly, but his music lacks the breadth and massive strength of his successor, Handel. “All that Keiser wrote,” says Mattheson, “was uncommonly easy to sing, and was so easily caught by the ear that one enjoys it without feeling any respect or intense admiration for it.” Keiser lacked earnestness, and did not exert an enduring influence for good on the Hamburg opera. He was willing to lend his art to the most trivial and nonsensical farce, in order to afford amusement to the rough and common people. Mattheson compares him with his more earnest contemporary, Rosenmüller, whose sonatas were “like the fresh blue salmon of the Elbe,” while Keiser’s light music was “like the smoked golden herrings of the North Sea, which tickle the palate, but awake a thirst for drink.” In place of the sacred spectacles and plays which at the outset had formed the subject of the drama on the Hamburg stage, in the course of time the gods and heroes of mythology, and vulgar farces, began to divide the attention of the public. The stage spectacle grew more and more sensational. Fireworks, devils, serpents, dragons, battle scenes and all kinds of noises and sights were introduced. Not content with mere humanity on the stage, various animals became personages in the drama, and mingled their outcries with the music of the orchestra. Then again, in some operas, no less than four different languages were spoken and sung indiscriminately; yet in spite of all these absurdities, the Hamburg opera remained worthy of the services of a Handel or a Mattheson.



John Mattheson was a Hamburger by birth, and began his musical career as a singer at the opera. He made his last appearance in that capacity in Handel’s “Nero” in 1705. Mattheson was a man of remarkable versatility of talent. He was a very prolific composer, but did not possess great originality nor depth of conception. He was a good actor, singer, and a finished performer on the harpsichord. As a literary musician he still holds an eminent place. He used his facile pen in the composition of an opera, or passion, or in the preparation of a musical essay; also in the translation of some such pamphlet as that on “The Properties and Virtues of Noble Tobacco.” His music, which once found so many enthusiastic admirers, is no longer performed, but his writings are still of value to students of musical literature. His most famous books are “The Complete Art of Conducting,” “The Newly Opened Orchestra,” and the “Triumphal Arch.” The last is especially valuable as a source of information concerning the lives of musical artists. These works have a place in every complete musical library.

A more gifted musician was Georg Philipp Telemann, who was born four years earlier than Handel and Bach. Telemann was the last famous composer for the Hamburg theatre. His works are more distinctly German than the majority of those of the period, which was thoroughly under the influence of Italy in all matters pertaining to opera Telemann’s name marks the decline of the Hamburg stage. The time was not yet ripe for a distinctively national style of opera. It was destined for Gluck and Mozart, half a century later, to reform and develop German opera.

It has already been said that the oratorio enjoyed at first a steadier and more constant development in Germany than the opera. Heinrich Schütz, whom we have mentioned as the author of the first opera given in Germany, was also the first prominent oratorio composer. He was born in 1585. By frequent visits to Venice, where he studied with Gabrieli, he kept himself in touch with the musical life of Italy. Although Dresden was the scene of his principal labors, the last twenty-five years of his life were spent in Weissenfels, where he died in 1672. His larger works are “The Passion” according to the four Evangelists, the “Story of the Resurrection,” and the “Seven Last Words.” In the second of these works, produced in Dresden in 1623, the form of the modern oratorio is clearly defined. The customary “Introitus” is for six-part chorus, and the words of the Evangelist are intoned. The more significant passages of the text are selected for characteristic music. The dramatis personæ—the Saviour, the Angel, Mary Magdelene, and some of the disciples—are given prominence and individuality in various cantilene movements, sometimes for one or two voices. This distinguishes the new form of oratorio from the older, in which everything was performed by choral masses. In Schütz’s sacred symphonies and concertos he attained far greater finish and variety in the solo numbers, and greater mastery in general. By his attempts to tell the story in dramatic form, without the aid of scenery or action, Schütz became the real founder of the modern German oratorio. We cannot suppose, however, that Handel was acquainted with the music of Schütz, for before the end of the seventeenth century his works were generally forgotten; but his greater freedom of treatment, and dramatic interest, established ideals in Germany which prevented the oratorio from yielding in that country to the degenerating theatrical influence which had such baneful effect on all forms of sacred music in Italy at this period.

Contemporary with Schütz was J. H. Schein, who was noted for his sacred concertos. Johannes Rosenmüller, who died in 1680, effected a more regular construction of the concerto. His works in this form consist of a series of separate movements, which show unity of character by the repeated presence of some principal thought. Thus the form of the cantata was established, in which Bach afterwards displayed such wonderful activity. The immediate predecessors of Bach were Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625–73), and his son Georg Ahle (1650–1706). In the oratorios of the latter the form of the aria is clearly defined.

The account that has been given of the development of Protestant Church music, and organ and clavier music, previous to Handel and Bach, may serve to show the foundations on which their monumental works were built. It was Handel’s mission to reconcile the church and secular styles in his great oratorios. His long career as a dramatic composer served as an admirable school for his talents; and when in middle life he abandoned the field of Italian opera for the oratorio, he was so well equipped that his triumphs were but as the natural result of his former discipline. His forty operas shared the fate of all operas of that time; not one holds a place on the modern stage. The operas of Handel are not musical dramas in the sense of the present day. They consist chiefly of a string of airs, with little or no dramatic action. His stage heroes are generally trivial and insipid. It was destined for Gluck and Mozart to reform the traditional Italian opera. Handel was content to avail himself of the conditions of the opera as they then existed. His opera airs are the best of his time; they are lyric, but not dramatic.

The dramatic talent of Handel did not find expression in his operas but in his oratorios. The great heroes of Jewish history, like Samson, Saul and Judas Maccabæus, are represented in a combined narrative and dramatic form. Many of his oratorio solos are more dramatic than his opera airs.

In the oratorio of “Samson,” for instance, the characters of Samson, Delila, Minoah and Micah naturally suggest the dramatic scene. But it is especially in the conflicting ideas and emotions of the people—the chorus of Israelites, in opposition to the chorus of Philistines, the heathen priests of Dagon, and the chorus of Virgins of Delila—that the dramatic conflict is sharply defined with sublime choral effects. His choruses are elemental in their irresistible and overwhelming power when sung by large masses of voices. In this respect his choruses are unique and have never been equalled. While Handel’s oratorios in general hold the middle ground between the secular and church style of his time, Bach’s great choral works belong more distinctly to the older church style of Schütz and others.

As Palestrina marks the culmination of the unaccompanied (a capella) church music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, so Bach is the highest representative of Protestant Church music. Yet he is more than this, for in his sacred cantatas and passions he reveals a nature more profoundly religious than even Handel or Palestrina. His Passion music to St. Matthew has no rival in its special form. It is the sublimest conception in music of the trials and death of Jesus. Among similar works before and during Bach’s time, his passions are the only ones that have lived. The oratorio has replaced the passion; but the older form as perfected by Bach possesses a certain reality and intensity of religious fervor that not even the grandest oratorios of Handel can match, except possibly the “Messiah.” Notwithstanding the sublimity, variety and vocal effectiveness of the latter work, the St. Matthew Passion surpasses it in lyric pathos and dramatic fire. Handel’s long experience with the public, his Italian vocal training, the example of Purcell and other masters of the English anthem, were important factors in his artistic development, and enabled him to carry the art of solo and chorus composition to the highest perfection. On the other hand, Bach’s difficult choral style suggests the organ, and his airs, though full of religious pathos, are often stiff and archaic in style.

Great as Bach is in his vocal works, he is still greater in his instrumental music. Through him, for the first time in history, instrumental music reaches a point of influence where it predominates. He is justly considered as the true progenitor of modern instrumental music, and largely to his influence we owe the subsequent wonderful development of this youngest branch of art. Handel, on the other hand, had little influence on instrumental music. His counterpoint is more vocal than instrumental; he makes a more limited use of dissonances and modulation. Bach stood far in advance of his time in these respects, and anticipated many of the effects of the present day. His remarkable use of chromatic and enharmonic modulation is exhibited in all his principal works, especially in such movements as the great organ Fantasia in G minor. (Volume II., Peters’ Edition.)

As a master of the fugue, nay, of all polyphonic writing, Bach stands pre-eminent, a model for all time. We are overcome by the inexhaustible wealth of his ideas, that seem as boundless as the forces of nature, and we constantly feel the emotional depth and romantic sentiment of this wonderful artist.

He not only perfected the stricter forms of counterpoint, but the older, lighter forms found their ideal in his charming clavier suites, violin sonatas, etc. His “Well-Tempered Clavichord” is a unique work, one of the corner-stones of modern music.

Above all, his organ works are the very central point and acme of his achievement. The great Prelude and Fugue in A minor, the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, the Toccata in F, the Passacaglia, and other organ compositions are to be classed with Beethoven’s symphonies as among the greatest works of art.

Notwithstanding the attempt to establish German opera at Hamburg, Italian opera held full sway in Germany until the influence of Gluck and Mozart was felt.

At the time when the great achievements of Sebastian Bach were almost entirely unrecognized and unappreciated by his countrymen, his contemporaries, Hasse and Graun, were lauded to the skies, and the operas of the Neapolitan school, with their singer-triumphs, held all Europe in subjection.

The Italians Steffani, Cimarosa, and Jomelli lived in Germany, and their works were often given in the principal opera houses. It was then only natural that Germans should seek public favor by adopting the prevailing musical style. Chief among the writers in the Italian style were Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783), Karl Heinrich Graun, and Johann Gottlieb Naumann. The number of Hasse’s compositions is extremely great. They include operas, oratorios, masses, cantatas, and instrumental movements of every kind. The florid style of Italian vocal composition predominated in his music. The harmonic structure is of the simplest nature, and his instrumentation is without individuality. He had better taste than most Italians of his time, and showed greater dramatic instinct. On the whole it may be said that he represents the highest attainment of the Italian opera of the school of Scarlatti. The music of Graun, who was born in 1701, is not so purely Italian in style, and certain of his sacred works, notably his passion music, entitled “Tod Jesu” (Death of Jesus), are known at the present time. His recitatives, like those of Hasse, are dry and insignificant. On the contrary, his arias are more pleasing, and show the influence of Keiser. The songs of Graun deserve mention. The compositions of Naumann (1741–1801) display perfect facility in the Italian style; his career, however, was interrupted by the appearance of Gluck and Mozart in the operatic field.

Gluck had a long experience as a dramatic composer before he entered on the path which has rendered his name illustrious in the annals of music. He was already advanced in years when he turned his back on the Italian opera, and disclosed his plan of reform. His principles applied only in their full force to the degenerate opera seria of that period. These ideas were by no means original with him; they had previously been accepted, and realized by other musicians. They were, however, first brought into the foreground by the production of his “Alcestis,” “Orpheus,” “Iphigenia,” and other mature works, and divided the musical world of that time into opposite parties.

R. Bong. X.A.


It is remarkable that Gluck, who fought against the musical inconsistencies and defects of his time, should not have felt the necessity of reforming the dramatic construction of the opera, for he showed a much keener insight and appreciation of dramatic effect than the poets whose librettos he composed. He knew how to give characteristic expression to the personalities of the play. His characters may be read like an open book. In simplicity and dignity of style he approached the Greek ideal.

While Gluck increased the significance of accompanied recitative and insisted on truer methods of declamation, he would not allow the air the same prominence that the Italians did. His airs are divested of all richness of ornament and colorature. Many of them are noble in their simplicity, but in general they lack sensuous charm and beauty. The chorus was a very important feature of his operas, and fulfilled something like its original object in ancient tragedy. In his dramatic use of the orchestra, Gluck stood in advance of his time. He added new instruments, and produced original and impressive effects which render his orchestration interesting to musicians of the present day.

Notwithstanding the nobility and grandeur of his conceptions, he neither fulfilled the ideal of the musical drama from the point of view of Wagner, nor of the opera as perfected by Mozart. The latter embodied Gluck’s ideas in works which surpass his in every respect except dramatic simplicity.

The field of music in which Mozart stands pre-eminent is the opera. He was endowed by nature and favored by opportunity to bring this form to ideal perfection, at least as regards the musical element of the opera of his time. He learned first of the Italians and then of Gluck, and surpassed the highest accomplishments of both. “Don Giovanni” and “Figaro” are the greatest of Italian operas. No one has ever united more perfectly than Mozart precision and energy of dramatic expression with the richest and purest melody. His dramatic characters are thoroughly individualized by the music. Each one appears on the stage to remain true and consistent to his or her individuality in every phase of passion and conflict of action. This power of contrasting characters is especially vivid in his concerted music, in the inimitable quartets and sextets of his latest operas. For this purpose, Mozart exercised his perfect command of vocal composition and polyphony.

Before his time the orchestra, as a means of dramatic expression and coloring, was not appreciated, although Gluck pointed out the way. Under Mozart it became more symphonic and massive in character. The solo instruments became refined organs of feeling, giving color and sensuous beauty to the vocal parts. The orchestration intensified the dramatic fire of the scene from beginning to end. In his operas every feeling of the heart finds utterance. A divine harmony and classic purity of form distinguish his dramatic music, as, indeed, all his music, from the little minuets which he composed as a child to his last operas and symphonies. During the time of Gluck and Mozart the German operetta came into existence. Mozart’s “Entführung” (Belmont and Constanza) is the noblest example of this style. This new form of musical drama was suggested by the French comic opera. It adopted the spoken dialogue for the less dramatic moments of the play. It resembled, however, the French operetta only externally, and soon developed a genuine German character. This new species of musical play sought to do that which the brilliant and conventional Italian opera could not accomplish, namely, interest the great masses of the people. This was at first possible only through inartistic exaggeration of the realities of life, and by the introduction of humorous elements of a distinctly coarse kind. But the general demand for musical plays of this class gradually attracted to their composition writers of real musical and dramatic ability.

Johann Adam Hiller (1728–1804) was the first German who became prominent as a composer of operettas. “Lottchen at Court,” “Rustic Affection,” and “The Hunt” are his principal operettas. The last named was given not less than forty times during a short theatre season in Berlin in 1771. Even before this time the operetta had become so generally popular that a writer had had occasion to remark that tragedies and legitimate comedies were being driven to the wall. Yet there was one serious obstacle to the operetta’s rapid artistic development. The good singers were monopolized by theatres giving Italian opera, and operetta managers had to take what was left.

Vienna soon began to acquire the prominence in operetta performances for which it is distinguished at the present day. In 1778, the erection by Joseph II. of the “Deutsches Nationalsingspiel” was a sign of the growing popularity of this new form of entertainment, and gave a powerful incentive to the composers of such works. Operettas of Gluck, Mozart, Salieri, Umlauf, Schenck and others attained great popularity here. In 1786, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf scored a signal success with his “Doctor and Apothecary.” This versatile musician soon became a favorite of the entire nation. Born at Vienna in 1739, he first became prominent as a violinist. Later his symphonies, concertos, quartets, oratorios, etc., became well known. In all these forms, however, he was surpassed by others. He possessed, it is true, much cleverness, but his counterpoint was not faultless, and he wrote too much and too superficially. In comedy and farce he took the lead. His melodies are lively and flowing, characteristic and very catching. He learned much from Haydn, but something also from French composers. His “Doctor and Apothecary,” “Jeremiah Knicker,” and “Red Riding Hood” gained for him great popularity. In all, he wrote twenty-eight such works. His autobiography, published in 1801, two years after his death, is also a work of remarkable freshness and interest.

In Gotha, the conductor, George Benda (1721–99), produced operas which became popular in Germany. His melodramas, in which the text was spoken to the accompaniment of fitting music, were novelties, and became even more favorably known. Munich was identified with more serious undertakings in dramatic music through Peter von Winter (1754–1825), Court Kapellmeister. This once highly esteemed master composed numerous operas, the most popular of which were “The Labyrinth,” “Marie of Mantalban,” and “Unterbrochene Opferfest.” The last is still occasionally performed. Likewise Mannheim—which from Mozart’s time until to-day has been devoted to the highest interests of music—became the scene of serious operatic endeavors. Ignaz Holzbauer (1711–83) wrote several operas during his conductorship of the theatre in that city.

The most prominent of the composers who succeeded Dittersdorf was Johann Friedrich Reichardt, whose interesting literary work, “Letters of an Observant Traveller,” is full of useful information. Born in 1752, he became orchestral conductor to Frederick the Great in 1775, and was salt-inspector in a town near Halle, at the time of his death in 1814. He was liberally educated, travelled much, and was acquainted with many of the prominent persons of his time. Few of his works have lived, and those which have survived are chiefly songs. He produced, however, an enormous amount of music. His imagination was not equal to his understanding or his artistic intentions, and, indeed, he was to a great extent a mere copyist. A single new form is due to him, the “Liederspiel,” the musical part of which, as the name suggests, consists only of songs.

The development of the opera in Germany, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has now been traced, and next we will turn our attention to the progress of instrumental music after Sebastian Bach.

No more remarkable instance of lack of appreciation of a great man’s genius has ever been known than that furnished by the history of Bach’s works. The reasons for this are perhaps twofold. Like Shakespeare, Bach must have been ignorant of the supreme excellence of his artistic creations. Hence, like many other great men, he occupied himself little with the dissemination of his works, except those used in teaching. Not only the musical world, but even Bach’s immediate family and pupils were unable to appreciate his significance and to use his compositions in a way most advantageous to the development of music. It would indeed be interesting to know what difference it might have made in the development of music in Germany if Haydn, and especially Mozart, had enjoyed opportunities of intimate acquaintance with Bach’s works.[24]


Only a few of his organ compositions, the “Well-Tempered Clavichord” and some of his other clavier music, seem to have been generally known in Haydn’s and Mozart’s time. It was only indirectly through his sons and other pupils that his powerful influence on instrumental music was then felt.

Among Bach’s numerous pupils the most noted, besides his own sons, were Krebs, Altnickol, Agricola, Vogler, and the theorists, Marpurg and Kirnberger. His most distinguished sons were, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich, known as the Bückeburg Bach, and Johann Christian, called the Milanese Bach. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–84) was the eldest son of Sebastian Bach. He was a genius, and his father bestowed great care on his musical training, and had great hopes of his future. He studied at the St. Thomas School and university of Leipsic, where he distinguished himself in mathematics. For a number of years he held a position as organist at Dresden. In 1747 he became director and organist at Halle. In later years he led a wild and wandering life, and finally died in utter want and misery in Berlin. He was perhaps the greatest organist of his time, and was famous for his wonderful improvisations. He wrote a large number of compositions, many of which are preserved in the Berlin Royal Library, but few of which are published.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born at Weimar in 1714. In his youth he studied law thoroughly, and busied himself with music rather as an amateur than as one who intended to make it a profession. His attention was devoted chiefly to piano playing and the art of improvisation, which, thanks to his father’s rare teaching, he carried to the highest degree of perfection. He was destined, after all, to make music his life-work. He had hardly completed his university studies when he received an invitation from the crown prince of Prussia, afterward Frederick the Great, to accept a musical position at court. He accepted, and remained in his service for a number of years. In 1767 he became successor of Telemann as conductor of the opera at Hamburg, where he remained until his death. By his daily practice in improvisation, Emanuel Bach acquired a freedom and elegance of style equalled by no other German master except his father. His position and intercourse with the best society were not without good influence on his music. He possessed hardly a tithe of his father’s genius; but, as he lived more in the world, he became a man of fashion and popularity. In his day his name was far better known than that of his father, and musicians looked upon Emanuel Bach as the great authority. Even Mozart said of him: “He is the father; we are mere children. Those of us who can do anything right in music have learned it of him. Although we could not be satisfied nowadays to do what he did, nevertheless, no one was able to equal him in what he did.” He was an inferior vocal composer. It was chiefly as a clavichord player and composer that he took first rank. His refined style and uncommon finish of execution excited universal wonder. Emanuel Bach’s vocal works embrace two oratorios; twenty-two passions; sacred cantatas; Singspiele; sanctus for two choirs; sacred and secular songs, etc. His works for clavier are very numerous, consisting of sonatas, concertos and solos. Eighteen of his orchestral compositions are published by Breitkopf and Härtel.

Emanuel Bach’s talent as a teacher was evinced in his celebrated treatise, “On the True Art of Playing the Clavichord,” which contains the principles of all good piano playing. But his greatest services to modern music were rendered in his sonatas and symphonies, in which he not only enlarged the form, but also increased the means of expression and of instrumental effects. Emanuel Bach exercised a great influence on the clavier sonata, and first brought it into prominence. The so-called sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti were single, brilliant movements which resembled the prelude. Sebastian Bach’s sonatas for the organ, clavier and violin, etc., in three or four movements, were more or less fugal and strict. Emanuel Bach combined the solidity of the style of his father with the brilliancy and lightness of Scarlatti. Although it remained for Haydn to develop fully the principle of free thematic music, the germ of the modern style existed in the sonatas of Emanuel Bach. The habit of improvisation gave full scope to the play of his imagination, and consequently his works are characterized by a certain ease and brilliancy which distinguish him from his predecessors. He made more use than formerly of contrasted themes in the several movements of the sonata, and they were brought into relation to each other by means of free passages. His “Salon” style is distinguished for its elegance and grace, ornateness and playfulness, and well represents the polite world in which he lived.

Having traced the early development of organ and clavier music, we will turn our attention, for a moment, to the growth of orchestral music to the advent of Haydn, and the so-called classical period of modern instrumental music. During the first half of the seventeenth century the instruments used in connection with the opera served a subordinate position. The accompaniments of the recitatives and arias consisted of a ground bass (basso continuo) for chittarone, organ, clavier, etc., which supplied the chords indicated by figures. In the opera-madrigals the orchestral accompaniment was simply a reproduction of the vocal parts, on wind and stringed instruments. In the course of time instrumental ritornelli were introduced to relieve the solo voices, and melodic phrases were given to the instruments. The first operas generally opened with a flourish of trumpets or with a madrigal played by the instruments alone; sometimes dances played by the instruments were introduced in course of the opera.

The opera overture was invented subsequently, probably by Lully. It consisted, at first, of three short movements, slow, quick, slow. Scarlatti and his contemporaries adopted the overture, and changed the order of the movements to allegro, adagio, allegro.

With the perfection of the violin and the other stringed instruments, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, solo playing became more and more artistic. With Corelli, sonatas and suites for one or more violins and clavier became the fashion. At this time the orchestra was well organized, so far as the true relation of the string band to the wind instruments is concerned.

The cultivation of chamber music was encouraged by titled and fashionable people, and virtuosos on various orchestral instruments appeared. Thus instrumental music began to be cultivated independent of the opera and church music.


The three-movement form suggested by the overture was the type of this independent orchestral music, under the names of symphony, concerto, or suite. Such were the orchestral symphonies of Sammartini, the famous Milanese conductor of the first half of the eighteenth century. His is the first prominent name in this field. He was soon followed by German composers, among whom were Stamitz, J. C. Bach, Abel, Wagenseil, Cannabich and Emanuel Bach.

Among noted German instrumental soloists of this period were Johann Georg Pisendel (1687–1755), who was celebrated as a violinist, and composed concertos for solo violin and string quartet, which were considered as among the best of that time.

Franz Benda (1709–86), Georg Benda and Ignaz Holzbauer (1711–83) were likewise able masters of the violin, and had large experience as orchestral musicians.

Under Stamitz and Cannabich the Mannheim orchestra became a famous organization.

Johann Karl Stamitz, who was born in 1719, became in 1745 director of music for the Elector of Mannheim. His works have no interest for the hearers of to-day, but in the characteristic elements of the modern form, they represent a distinct advance over those of his predecessors. In general, they are imitations of the symphonies of Sammartini. The pupil and successor of Stamitz, Christian Cannabich, was born in 1731. Considering the superlative praise which Mozart bestowed upon this conductor, we cannot doubt that the playing of the Mannheim band was of great service to Mozart in his orchestral works, by increasing his knowledge of instrumental expression.

In 1756, the year of Mozart’s birth, this orchestra had two concert masters, ten first and ten second violins, four violas, four violoncellos, two contra-basses, two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, four horns, twelve trumpets, two kettle drums, two organists, besides twenty-four singers. About 1767 clarinets were added, and years later Mozart learned how to use the clarinets from hearing them in the Mannheim orchestra.

Burney says of the Mannheim orchestra, “This is the birthplace of the crescendo and diminuendo”; and the philosopher, Schubart, is recorded as saying of the orchestra under Cannabich, “Here the forte is a thunder, the crescendo a cataract, the diminuendo a crystal stream babbling away into the far distance, the piano a breeze of spring.” As for the symphonies of Cannabich, they do not seem to represent any advance toward the establishment of modern form.

From the preceding account it will be seen that the external form of the symphony was already partly determined when Haydn began his artistic career. Under his treatment and that of his successors its growth, in all respects, was marvellous.

Haydn is justly called the real creator of the modern symphony and string quartet. He enlarged the works, as a whole, extended the separate movements in their larger and smaller divisions, and developed the so-called art of free thematic treatment. He first gave musical clearness, order and variety to the form, and adapted it to the expression of the multitude of different phases of musical thought. The stricter thematic imitations of the older masters gave way to that free thematic play which has been an element of all concert music since his time.

In Haydn’s development of this principle we recognize a power of invention and fertility of imagination only equalled by few others. The originality of Haydn cannot be over-estimated. He discovered a new world in music. An infinite variety of musical effect was produced by his new art of motive-building. Haydn also laid the foundation of modern orchestration. He understood, as no one before his day, the true scope of the combined stringed instruments. In his string quartets, even more than his symphonies, his mastery of the technical effects of the solo strings is most complete; for though the possibilities of tone-color are greater with the full orchestra, yet in Haydn’s quartets there is a wealth of musical expression and a certain charm of style which place them beside those of Mozart and Beethoven.

The tragic fire and grandeur of thought so characteristic of Beethoven have their counterpart in the geniality, humor and playfulness of Haydn. The symphonies of Beethoven may be compared with tragedies, Haydn’s with comedies. “Papa” Haydn is never tragic nor sarcastic. His seriousness is imbued with contentment, never tinged with despair. He overflows with good humor, and is fond of a musical joke now and then; yet he is intensely serious at heart, and his mirthful compositions never leave the impression of superficiality. Haydn prepared the ground for Mozart and Beethoven. One master cannot be considered without reference to the other. Mozart and Beethoven obtained the form of the symphony from Haydn; on the other hand, it was not until Mozart’s last works had appeared that Haydn produced his finest symphonies and quartets. In his use of the wind instruments, Mozart was the indispensable teacher of both Haydn and Beethoven.


From a photograph.

Mozart did not enlarge the general form of the symphony, etc., as given by Haydn, but he rounded and beautified the details of the several movements. His themes and melodies are more beautiful and expressive, and their working up more impressive and emotional. Mozart’s last works have that perfection of form and depth of sentiment which belong only to the highest manifestations of genius. Mozart left his stamp on all branches of music; he is rightly considered as the universal master. It was his mission to unite and beautify the national differences of style, and give them the impress of his own rare individuality. European music, for the first time in history, was concentrated in him.

Beethoven in his earlier period shows the influence of Haydn and Mozart, yet he set the stamp of originality on his very first works. He was destined to bring the higher forms of instrumental music to the highest point of development. Although he ultimately revealed a new world in his mature works, he remained true to the “sonata” form from first to last. He did not seek to revolutionize musical form; on the contrary, he built on the solid foundations already laid. Great as were his achievements as a musician, in the grand outlines and proportions, dynamic expression, thematic treatment and instrumentation of his works, we lose sight of the musician in contemplating the greater tone-poet, who touched every chord of the heart, who uplifted and broadened the minds and souls of men, whose long struggle to rise above the sorrows and ills of life endowed his music with a spirituality and religiousness beyond that of all others, and which places him among the greatest poets and prophets of humanity. Further considerations on Beethoven as composer are contained in the special article of this work. (See page 337.)

Before Beethoven fully entered on his great life-work, Haydn and Mozart had spread the fame of German music throughout the world. Their influence was universal, and they had many disciples and imitators, of whom Gyrowetz, Pleyel, Wranitsky, Kozeluch, Romberg, F. E. Fesca, Eybler, Süssmayer and Seyfried were prominent. These composers enjoyed great popularity for a time, and assisted in spreading the love of instrumental music among the people; but as their music was devoid of originality and marked individuality, it has not survived. Of these masters, perhaps the most noteworthy were Pleyel, Romberg and Gyrowetz.

Ignaz Joseph Pleyel (1757–1831) was the favorite pupil of Haydn, who had a high opinion of Pleyel’s abilities. Though not so productive as his teacher, Pleyel was a very facile and pleasing composer; his many symphonies, quartets and quintets were very popular for a long time. Greater things were expected of him than he fulfilled; even Mozart, on hearing one of Pleyel’s earlier quartets, thought that he might some day replace Haydn. But Pleyel did not progress; his later works copied Haydn’s style without his spirit, and consequently his music has entirely died out.

Andreas Romberg (1767–1821) sprang from a very musical family, which counted among its members a number of noted musicians. His cousin, Bernhard Romberg, was the celebrated violoncello virtuoso and composer.

Andreas began his career as a concert violinist; subsequently he was court chapelmaster at Gotha. He composed several operas, church music, six symphonies, and chamber music. His most popular cantata, “The Lay of the Bell,” is still occasionally sung in England and America. The music of Romberg is pleasing and well written. Mozart was evidently his model.

The most eminent of all these epigones was Adalbert Gyrowetz (1763–1850), who presents the melancholy example of an able and worthy master who entirely outlived his fame. As a young man he had a brilliant reputation in France and England. From 1804 to 1831 he was conductor of the Imperial Opera at Vienna, where many of his operas were produced. Gyrowetz composed thirty operas, Singspiele, and melodramas, and over forty ballets.

Among his best operas were “Der Augenarzt,” “Die Prüfung” (which Beethoven liked), “Agnes Sorel” and “Helene.” He also composed four Italian operas, nineteen masses, besides many other vocal works. He was equally prolific in all forms of instrumental music, and wrote over sixty symphonies and as many string quartets, besides quintets, overtures, serenades, marches and dances and numerous sonatas, trios, nocturnes, etc., for the pianoforte. Gyrowetz possessed many of the qualifications of a great composer, yet he lacked the one thing needful,—originality. His facility betrayed him into weakness, and unconsciously he became an imitator of Haydn and Mozart. He witnessed the entire rise and culmination of Beethoven’s genius. As he outlived Beethoven by twenty-three years, he must have fully realized the epoch-making character of his great works. Gyrowetz suffered from neglect and poverty in his old age. None of his music is known to the present age, and his name is hardly remembered, except by those familiar with musical history. In the annals of music there is no more striking example of one who accomplished so much who was destined to see it all pass away and fall into oblivion.

In the course of the eighteenth century, under the sway of the opera and the free forms of instrumental music, the style of church music in general became more melodious, ornate, and sensuous, but less earnest and religious in tone, than in the time of Bach and Handel. Eberlin and Michael Haydn were prominent representatives of this lighter style. Mozart’s earlier church compositions were modelled on theirs.

Michael Haydn (1737–1806), brother of Joseph Haydn, wrote a large number of masses, requiems, litanies, vespers, offertories, oratorios, cantatas, German sacred songs, as well as operas. Mozart and his father had a high opinion of his church music; Joseph Haydn considered it superior to his own: time, however, has reversed his judgment. Michael Haydn’s mass in D minor, “Lauda Sion,” and “Tenebræ” in E flat are still prized by musicians, but the mass of his works are forgotten.

Representatives of the more severe church style in Germany during the eighteenth century were Fux, Fasch and Albrechtsberger. Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741) was chapelmaster of St. Stephan’s and court composer in Vienna.

Fux had a rare mastery of counterpoint, which he exercised in his numerous church compositions. His “Missa canonica” is a marvel of canonic skill and ingenuity, and replete with effects of modulation. His fame, however, rests on his transcendent abilities as a musical theorist. His treatise on counterpoint, “Gradus ad Parnassum,” has remained in use for more than a century and a half. There have been many editions; it has been translated from the original Latin into German, French, Italian and English. Both Joseph and Michael Haydn were indebted to the “Gradus” for their knowledge of counterpoint, and Mozart studied it with equal diligence.

Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736–1800) is known chiefly as the founder of the celebrated Singakademie of Berlin. Fasch was industrious as a composer in the a capella style. His sixteen-part mass is his most important work.

Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736–1809) was court organist and chapelmaster at St. Stephan’s of Vienna. He composed over two hundred and sixty works, among which his “Te Deum” is best known. Albrechtsberger was especially distinguished as a musical theorist and teacher. Among his pupils were Beethoven, Hummel, Seyfried and Eybler. His strict system did not satisfy Beethoven; yet the exercises published as Beethoven’s “Studienbuch” show the benefit that he had received from Albrechtsberger’s instruction.

One of the most curious and remarkable characters of this period was George Joseph Vogler, called Abt Vogler (1749–1814), whose exact place in musical history is not easy to determine. In his own day a wide divergence of opinion was expressed as to his merits; by some, including Mozart, he was considered to be a veritable charlatan, by others an “epoch-making” artist. Want of space precludes an extended account of his career, which was full of picturesque incidents. Vogler travelled much, and tried his fortune in various places; wherever he went he drew attention by his organ playing, his revolutionary ideas on teaching harmony, and innovations in organ building. Vogler was a religious devotee; at Rome he was made Chamberlain to the Pope, Knight of the Golden Spur, and Abbé. He was remarkably active as composer, teacher, organ player, and theorist. He wrote for the theatre as well as the church. Although most of his music is shelved, his Requiem and Symphony in C are not forgotten. Mendelssohn bought out his symphony at the Gewandhaus; the Requiem contains original and impressive effects.

Vogler’s vanity led him to harmonize chorals in order to show how much he could improve on Sebastian Bach. His organ playing was degraded by descriptive “thunder-storms” and other claptrap effects. With all his faults, he was a man of ideas, and as a teacher aroused genuine enthusiasm among his pupils. His attacks on various established errors and prejudices of music appealed strongly to his young disciples, Von Weber and Meyerbeer, and fired them with knightly ardor. All his pupils were devoted to him; he was equally fond of them, and called them his “boys.” The picture of Vogler’s home life at the Tonschule at Darmstadt is charming. His pupils were his friends and companions. Weber wrote, on hearing of Vogler’s death, “Our beloved master will ever live in our hearts.” Browning has celebrated Abt Vogler in his remarkable poem bearing that name.

During the later half of the eighteenth century the pianoforte gradually superseded the older clavichord. With the rapid improvements in piano-making, piano playing and composing became more and more artistic. Haydn, Mozart and Clementi were influenced at first by the clavier style of Emanuel Bach, but soon developed new features in their piano works. Clementi, especially, carried technique to a point beyond others of his time. His celebrated studies, “Gradus ad Parnassum,” are indispensable in the training of pianists.


Portrait from a bust by Callamard, engraved by Quenedey.

Mozart brought the piano concerto into prominence, and set the example followed by Beethoven and others in this form. The concertos of Mozart are his chief compositions for the pianoforte. The best of them have a place beside his last symphonies and string quartets. The grace and elegance of his piano style, and the perfect balance between the solo instrument and the orchestra, render his concertos models of form and beauty. Among the contemporaries and followers of Mozart and Clementi in this branch were Steibelt (176 –1823), Sterkel (1750–1817), Kozeluch (1753–1814), Hässler (1747–1822), Gelinde (1757–1825), Dussek, Woelfl, Hummel, Cramer and Field. Johann Ludwig Dussek (1760–1872) was a brilliant representative of the piano style, who showed originality in his modulations and use of dissonances. There is a certain romantic feeling that characterizes his best piano compositions, as for instance, his “La Consolation” and “La Chasse.”

Joseph Woelfl (1772–1812) had a brilliant career as a piano virtuoso. He visited Paris and London and other cities, where his playing created great astonishment. At Vienna he met Beethoven (in his younger days) as a friendly rival in extemporaneous playing. Notwithstanding the partisan feeling among their audiences, personally they appeared to have a mutual respect for each other. Though Woelfl had greater execution and equal facility in improvising, Beethoven excelled him and all others in imagination and inspiration, in the power of moving the feelings of his listeners. Woelfl was noted for his breadth of style, as well as his breadth of hand-grasp; with his enormous hands he could cover two thirds of the key-board.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) was the favorite pupil of Mozart. To Mozart’s example Hummel owed his delicate touch, his elegant and finished execution, his skill in improvisation, the clearness and solid construction of his pieces,—characteristics which rendered him in his prime the best representative of the expressive style. For a time he was even considered as the equal of Beethoven as a piano composer. Nowadays Hummel is underrated and called a “dull classic.” His septet in D minor is a masterpiece, and a few of his best piano concertos and sonatas are worthy of study. His two masses are sterling works. 589Johann Baptist Cramer (1771–1858) forms the link between Clementi and Hummel. Cramer was noted for his expressive touch on the piano. His numerous sonatas, etc., are shelved, but his noble piano studies live as classical models. They hold almost a unique place, for they combine beautiful musical ideas with systematic technical training. In these respects they excel the “Gradus” of his teacher, Clementi. They are indispensable to every thorough student of the instrument.

Two other talented pupils of Clementi should be mentioned: Ludwig Berger (1777–1838), the distinguished pianist, composer, and teacher of Mendelssohn, Taubert, Henselt and others; and August Klengel (1784–1852), who is less known as a pianist than as the composer of canons and fugues, which show a remarkable command of counterpoint.

Beethoven’s great influence on piano music is dwelt upon in the special article (see page 337). His pupil, Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838), was one of the leading pianists of his day, and was also a productive composer in all branches of music. As he was under the spell of Beethoven’s genius, he failed to show any marked individuality of style.

His contemporary, Wenzel Tomaschek (1774–1850), displayed more originality, though he, too, was overshadowed by Beethoven’s greatness. Tomaschek, during his long career, was highly esteemed as a composer, pianist and teacher. His admirers called him the “Schiller of music,” on account of his pure and elevated musical thought. His numerous piano compositions merit more appreciation than they have generally received. Schumann admired his music. His “Eclogues” and “Rhapsodies” are charming, naïve, imaginative and original.

Having given an account of the principal contemporaries of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in dramatic, church and instrumental music, a few words should be added on the subject of German song composers prior to Schubert.

The national sentiment which encouraged native opera led also to a revival of interest in the German Lied. It was not until the second half of the century, when operettas had become the rage in Germany, that talented musicians turned their attention to this neglected branch.


Portrait by F. H. Müller, engraved by Esslinger.

Emanuel Bach and two other pupils of his father, Christian Nichelman (1717–81) and Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720–74), devoted themselves considerably to song composing. All the operetta composers we have previously mentioned composed separate songs, which, together with single numbers of their operettas, attained widespread popularity. One of the best song composers of the time was Johann Peter Schulz (1747–1800). His “Lieder in Volkston” were modelled on the old folk-songs of Germany. Schulz had true German lyric feeling; he pointed out the way followed by Schubert a generation later. Schulz’s songs have long been universal favorites. It is a strong evidence of the innate naturalness and strength of his songs that they should have retained their place in the affections of the youth of Germany. They are still sung in German school-rooms.

As German literature began to free itself from French influence, which had been so potent during the reign of Frederick the Great, poets arose who gave voice to true German feeling and sentiment. The lyrics of Hagedorn, Gellert, Klopstock, Gleim, Kleist and others furnish material for composers. Bürger, the celebrated author of “Lenore,” enriched German literature with his ballads, many of which became popular in musical form. It was Herder who revived true enthusiasm and feeling for the old Volkslied, and with the rise of Goethe’s genius a new era dawned on lyric poetry, and inspired song composers to take higher flights. Johann Rudolph Zumsteeg (1760–1803) was the pioneer composer of ballads.

Reichardt, of whom mention has already been made, was the first to win general approbation by his settings of Goethe’s lyrics. Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758–1833) was more closely identified with Goethe, both as friend and composer. In 1800, Zelter became director of the Berlin Singakademie. He established the first male chorus club (Männergesangverein) of Germany, which became the model of the many similar clubs.

Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven did not devote special attention to song composing; their life-work was accomplished in a larger field. Yet the canzonets of Haydn, the charming “Veilchen” of Mozart and the romantic “An die ferne Geliebte” of Beethoven are songs of much greater merit than any others of their time, prior to Schubert.

The example and presence of Beethoven inspired Schubert to take the highest flights in his music. Like his great pattern and guide, he lived withdrawn from the public, and devoted himself heart and soul to the pursuit of his beloved calling. Schubert’s numerous symphonies, quartets, sonatas, masses, cantatas and oratorios are among the priceless possessions of musical art. It is, however, as a song composer that Schubert stands forth as a great and original master. In Schubert’s instrumental music the fecundity of musical ideas, the profusion and beauty of melody, which never failed him,—in a word, the wealth of his lyric power,—often stand in the way of the clear and cogent thematic development of his music.

Schubert speaks the sincere language of the heart, and captivates the ear with the exquisite beauty of his melody. He gave new significance to the instrumental accompaniment, using it both to intensify the emotional expression and to enhance the effectiveness of the vocal part. His rhythm is manifold and animated; his harmony strong and daring. “He understood how to make the hearer believe that the keys of C major and F sharp minor are twin sisters,” says a well-known critic. Nor is it alone the lyric power which moves us in listening to Schubert’s songs. When the situation demands it, certain epic and dramatic characteristics come to light: as in the “Erlking,” perhaps the most popular of all ballads. The unflagging spontaneity which distinguishes his songs has not been matched by any of his successors; and his productiveness was something marvellous. “If fruitfulness,” says Schumann, “be a characteristic of genius, Schubert is certainly one of the greatest.”


(See page 589.)

It has been the custom among historians of music to consider the epoch of the older masters as the “classic period,” and to apply the term “romantic school” to a long list of modern composers of which Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Spohr and Weber are the most important names. Such a classification is of considerable convenience; particularly as the so-called romantic movement which pervaded literature was not far from contemporary with the appearance of these composers. But it would be difficult to define and enumerate the various elements which enter into the adjective “romantic” as used in this connection; for nearly all the praiseworthy characteristics of these later composers are present in certain great works of the so-called classical composers, not excepting him who is considered so “unsympathetic” by many of the enthusiastic admirers of modern music, Sebastian Bach. It is certainly true that the tone-poems of Beethoven possess romantic characteristics which have been misunderstood or ignored by those who claim for his successors a wholly new direction of musical development. But in a general way we recognize in modern “romantic” music the tendency to set less value on musical construction or form for its own sake than on the subjective expression of musical ideas. Further than this there has been a tendency to enlarge the scope of descriptive music, not only in connection with the drama, but in the application of fanciful titles to instrumental movements as exemplified by the piano pieces of Schumann.


As we have said, the same period was not without strong indications of similar changes in the domain of letters. We have not space to give details of literary history, but it may suffice to point out that, with the advent of the music of Weber, Schumann and others, Germany was overflowing with intense sympathy and enthusiasm for the writings of Byron and of the prose-poetizer, Jean Paul Richter.

In the general mental and emotional tendencies of the epoch, classic calm and reflectiveness began to be lost in “romantic” storm and stress. The first indications of the new school of composition are to be found in the works of two musicians whose lack of appreciation of Beethoven’s genius is one of the anomalies of musical history. Both of them—Spohr and Weber—were great men, epoch-makers in certain things. The compositions of the former have, indeed, been eclipsed by later achievements in music; but we ought not to underrate Spohr’s progressive zeal. His musical individuality was narrowed by mannerism; and yet within the limits of that individuality the variety of his work is enormous. In the development of violin technique his activity as teacher and soloist has borne rich fruit. His double quartets for strings have become well known, but perhaps the general popularity of Spohr’s works in this exceptional form has militated against their performance, and consequently against the appreciation of other interesting works for odd combinations of a small number of instruments, as for instance his octet and nonet.


Weber, more than Spohr or any previous master, realized for the German people their ideal of a truly national style of opera. His “Der Freischütz” appealed irresistibly to the popular taste for the romantic and supernatural, a phase of imagination embodied in the fairy tales and domestic poetry of Germany. Spohr, in his “Berggeist,” “Faust” and “Jessonda,” had already worked in this field with considerable success; but Weber, with greater musical genius, created in his “Der Freischütz” an opera which was destined to take as deep a root in the hearts of the German people as the “Zauberflöte” of Mozart, or “William Tell” of Schiller.

On the other hand, “Euryanthe,” the most important work of Weber from the musical dramatic point of view, did not win universal favor at first; but nowadays it is estimated at its true worth. In this masterpiece, Weber pointed out the direction which Wagner instinctively followed, a new path which led to stupendous results in his music-dramas.

Heinrich Marschner as a dramatic composer was stimulated and influenced by his friend and associate, Weber. “Hans Heiling” is considered his masterpiece. We feel the influence of Weber and Marschner in the earlier operas of Wagner, though almost from the outset his powerful originality asserted itself. Lesser lights of the so-called romantic school were Lindpaintner (1791–1858) and Reissiger (1798–1856). The best of Lindpaintner’s numerous operas were “Der Vampyr,” “Der Bergkönig” and “Die Sicilianische Vesper.” Some of his symphonies, overtures, etc., were highly esteemed by his contemporaries, but his most popular works were his songs, of which his “Roland” and “Standard Bearer” are celebrated. Lindpaintner was one of the foremost orchestral conductors of his time. Reissiger succeeded Weber as conductor of the Royal Opera at Dresden. His most popular operas were “Turandot,” “Ahnenschatz” and “Adele von Foix.” They are no longer given on the German stage. “Kapellmeister” music well describes the works of both Reissiger and Lindpaintner. They had nothing in particular to say, and said it thoroughly.

Before Wagner’s conquest of the stage the opera-loving public of Germany were largely under the sway of foreign composers. The sudden and universal popularity of Rossini, Bellini and other Italian composers absorbed public attention, and native composers were cast into the shade. The example of Meyerbeer was hardly stimulating to the national musical feeling. Meyerbeer, it is true, was a German, trained by German masters, but his masterpieces were written for the Paris Opera: his “Robert,” “Prophet” and “Huguenots” are eclectic in character, in which Italian, French and German elements of style are blended; hence his world-wide influence has not been as a German, but as a cosmopolitan in music.

This indifference of the German public was not confined to the field of opera; even Beethoven was neglected during the era of Rossini, and did not live to see his symphonies appreciated by the many. With the rise of Mendelssohn and Schumann, however, a new impulse was given to German music, and the great public trained to appreciate the older as well as newer masters. Under the shadow of the St. Thomas School of Leipsic, with its glorious musical traditions, a group of gifted artists assembled, who represent a new and bright epoch in the further development of modern music. Mendelssohn’s noble character as a man, his earnest, aspiring devotion to his art, cannot be over-estimated. His remarkable gifts as composer, pianist, and conductor served to gain the attention of the public everywhere; and this advantage, combined with his personal magnetism, enabled him to accomplish more for the advancement of music than others of his time.

Mendelssohn’s genius was exercised in almost every form of musical composition, except the opera.

There are two peculiar phases of his musical individuality which are most remarkable: first, the fantastic, imaginative vein so happily brought to light in his scherzos, the most charming of which is the scherzo in the “Midsummer Night’s Dream”; second, the lyric element, which is not only characteristic of his “Songs without Words,” but of nearly all his slow movements. His most poetical and romantic works are his concert overtures to “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Fingal’s Cave,” “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” “Melusina” and “Ruy Blas.” These overtures are “program” music in the best sense of the term, and hold a unique place among the foremost.

Mendelssohn’s genial and refined nature mirrored itself in his music. Nevertheless, with all the beauty, sweetness, classic form, and purity of his music, one thing is missed,—tragic depth and fire. He did not touch the deepest chords of the heart like Beethoven and Bach, perhaps because his existence was not clouded by adversity, or because he arrived without serious struggles at the complete development of his artistic powers.


Schumann, on the contrary, for years was denied the artistic opportunities and companionships for which he longed. It was only in his maturity that he acquired the technical facility which had become second nature with Mendelssohn long before he was of age.

In depth of sentiment and emotional power, Schumann was the worthy successor of Beethoven. Like Mendelssohn, he was an earnest student of Bach’s music, and we perceive the influence of the older master in such compositions as Schumann’s fugues on Bach’s name, the finales of his piano quartet and quintet, and the grand polyphonic opening of his C major Symphony. Like the old Leipsic cantor, Schumann was a subtle ponderer and deep thinker. As a harmonist he showed more freedom and boldness than Mendelssohn. In his orchestration he followed the footsteps of Mendelssohn, but does not show equal mastery. His piano works stand higher, and here he owed much to Chopin, whom he appreciated more keenly than did Mendelssohn, and followed his example in the use of extended chords, unusual figures of accompaniment, pedal effects, etc., as well as in poetical imagination, that rendered every little dance or melody a miniature poem in tones.

In his four great symphonies, Schumann ranks next to Beethoven and Schubert. As a song composer he stands nearest to Schubert in spontaneity and poetic feeling. In spite of the gloomy melancholy that broods in some of his music, he, like Beethoven, was a true humorist. Schumann did not abandon the symphonic form, as perfected by Beethoven, but, like Schubert and others, stamped it with his own individuality; his poetical and romantic nature are revealed in all his creations.

Among the gifted associates and disciples of Mendelssohn and Schumann were the following composers:—

Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817–91) first attracted attention by his “Ossian” overture. The production of his first symphony, under Mendelssohn’s direction at the Gewandhaus in Leipsic, made his name generally known; and subsequently Gade was associated with Mendelssohn as conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts. Although Gade was under the influence of Mendelssohn and Schumann, his musical nature was not the reflex of theirs; on the contrary, his Danish nationality comes to light in his works. His style is truly poetical and vigorous.

William Sterndale Bennett (1816–75), the most gifted English composer since Purcell, should be mentioned here as the friend of Mendelssohn and Schumann. He profited by their advice and enthusiasm, but his style is his own, although undoubtedly influenced by Mendelssohn. His charming overtures, “The Naiads” and “The Wood Nymph,” have a place among classical orchestral music.


From a photograph from life by Eilender, of Cologne.

Ferdinand Hiller (1811–85) followed more or less in the footsteps of Mendelssohn, and his works, though finished in form and pleasing, lack strong individuality, and, with few exceptions, have remained unfamiliar except to cultivated musicians. His pianoforte concerto in F sharp minor, and his oratorio “Destruction of Jerusalem” are among his best works. Hiller occupied a very influential position as a pianist, conductor and writer. His extended and intimate acquaintance with most of the musical celebrities of his time renders his writings of particular value. His “Aus dem Tonleben” and “Persönliches und Musikalisches” are delightful reading and the source of useful information.

Julius Rietz (1812–77) was closely associated with Mendelssohn and influenced by his style. His concert overture in A major, Lustspiel overture, and Symphony in E flat are his most successful works. His best reputation rests on his great abilities as an orchestral conductor and his technical scholarship.


From a photograph from life by Brokesch, of Leipsic.

While Rietz was conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra, from 1848 to 1860, he accomplished the most important work of his life, namely, the correction of errors that had crept into the scores of the great masters. In the complete edition of Beethoven’s works, published by Breitkopf and Härtel, Rietz edited the symphonies. He was also editor of the complete edition of Mendelssohn’s works. Carl Reinecke (born 1827), the present conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, stands at the head of musical life in Leipsic. As a composer he is to be considered to some extent as a follower of Schumann. He has been productive in nearly all forms of composition, and exhibits everywhere thorough practical experience and refined musical taste, yet few of his larger works have won great prominence. On the other hand, his smaller piano compositions are highly prized. His overture, “König Manfred,” and his piano concerto in F sharp minor are favorites.

Woldemar Bargiel (born 1828) is considered as one of the foremost disciples of Schumann. Some of his chamber music and especially his noble overture to “Medea” have taken high rank among later compositions.

Adolph Jensen (1837–79) was an enthusiast for Schumann, and took him as his model. He wrote cantatas and piano compositions that are much admired, and his songs have made his name famous. Jensen was a born song composer, and his melodies have rare sensuous charm and sentiment.

Friedrich Robert Volkmann (1815–83) belongs also to the romantic school. Schumann exercised a great influence on him in his piano works, which bear fanciful titles.

His two symphonies and his string quartets are admired for their solid style, yet this music is not sufficiently spontaneous in melody and marked in style to gain universality.

Norbert Burgmüller (1810–36) and Hermann Goetz (1846–76) were not spared to fulfil the promise of their gifts. Burgmüller left two symphonies, an overture, and other compositions which are of decided merit. Schumann declared that since the untimely death of Schubert there was no more deplorable event than the loss of Burgmüller.

Goetz was first made known to the musical world by his opera, “The Taming of the Shrew,” which achieved a rapid success. He did not live to finish his second opera, “Francesca di Rimini,” which was subsequently completed by his friend Frank. His Symphony in F has been played in Europe and America.

595Franz Lachner (1804–90) was one of the most popular composers of South Germany. He sprang from a musical family. His father was an organist, and his brothers Ignaz and Vincenz were prominent musicians. Like so many other “Kapellmeister” composers, Lachner has been wonderfully prolific and facile in all forms of music, without accomplishing anything truly original or great. His best symphonies are those in C minor, D minor and D major. His suite in D has been much admired. Kalliwoda, Vierling, Dorn, and Taubert belong to this same class.

Wilhelm Taubert (born 1811) was fellow-student with Mendelssohn under Ludwig Berger. He was a brilliant pianist and well-trained composer. For many years he was conductor of the Royal Opera at Berlin. His operas, symphonies and other large works have not prominence, but his songs have a pleasing quality that has made them universal favorites.

Mention should be made of Julius Otto Grimm (born 1827), whose ingenious and effective “Suite in Canon form” has found a place everywhere on concert programmes; and Salomon Jadassohn (born 1831), the eminent musical theorist of the Leipsic Conservatorium. His treatises on Harmony, Counterpoint, Fugue, etc., are among the best. His powers as a composer have been displayed in his symphonies, chamber music, etc. His serenades for orchestra are especial favorites. He shows great facility in canonic writing.


From a photograph from life by Keller & Borsos, of Budapest.

Among German composers of choral works, during the present century, the following have been prominent:—

Friedrich Schneider (1786–1853) was eminent as a teacher and conductor, and as a composer excelled in the church and oratorio style. His oratorios, “Das Weltgericht” and “The Deluge,” are his best known works. (Robert Franz was one of his pupils.) Bernhard Klein (1793–1832) was also a worthy representative of the sacred style. His oratorio of “Job,” his motets and other church compositions are pure and religious in feeling.

Moritz Hauptmann (1792–1868), one of the most eminent musical theorists of the nineteenth century, was also a composer of true merit. His earlier compositions were mainly for the violin, in which he showed his affinity with Spohr. His vocal works are more important, and include two masses, motets, three-part vocal canons, and sacred songs; these works hold a place among classical church music.

Eduard Grell (1800–86), director of the Berlin Singakademie, was an able representative of a capella choral music. His sixteen-part mass is a masterpiece of polyphonic skill.

Friedrich Kiel (1821–85) is pre-eminent among recent masters of sacred music for his depth of religious feeling and perfect polyphonic art. His “Requiem,” “Missa Solemnis” and oratorio, “Christus,” are noble and profound works.

Albert Becker (born 1834), the well-known Berlin conductor, is the composer of a “Reformation Cantata” and “Mass in B flat minor” which take high rank among compositions of their class. Among numberless works for male voices, none have been more highly esteemed than those of Carl Friedrich Zöllner (1800–60) and Heinrich Esser (1818–75). The latter is distinguished for his refined and melodious style. His numerous songs and part songs are universal favorites, and are held in high esteem by cultivated musicians. His symphonies and suites are also well known. Wagner entrusted Esser with the arrangement of his “Meistersinger” for the piano. Esser’s arrangements for orchestra of Bach’s organ “Passacaglia” and “Toccata in F” are skilfully done.

The lighter style of opera has been well represented in Germany, during the present century, by Lortzing, Flotow, Von Suppe, Brühl, Johann Strauss and others.

Albert Lortzing (1803–51) is known and loved by all Germans in his operas, “Die beiden Schützen,” “Czar und Zimmermann,” “Der Wildschütz” and “Der Waffenschmied.” These are stock pieces in the repertory of every German theatre, and never fail to delight audiences. The “Czar und Zimmermann” is a universal favorite. His serious opera, “Undine,” on the contrary, is a labored effort in an uncongenial field; but it has succeeded in holding its place on the German stage. As a composer of comic opera, Lortzing is thoroughly delightful in his naturalness and straightforwardness. His opera texts—written by himself—are full of movement and variety, and their naïveté is never synonymous with dulness. His “character” rôles are especially full of possibilities for clever actors. Lortzing’s pleasing operas have shed the light of wholesome and lively entertainment into many millions of lives.

596The “Nachtlager in Granada,” by Conradin Kreutzer (1782–1849), is familiar enough to all German theatregoers, although its composer has retained his popularity rather by his songs and male choruses.

More famous than Lortzing, though less meritorious, was Friedrich Flotow (1812–83). Of his fifteen or more operas, “Stradella” and “Martha” are the only ones universally known. The artistic aim of Flotow was not high, yet his talent enabled him to make a distinct contribution to the “light literature” of music. Certain of the melodies of “Stradella” and “Martha” have more sentiment than is usual with the music of this class. Nevertheless, the popularity of these two operas seems to be on the wane, and it is possible that Flotow may be known only by name to the next generation.


From a photograph from life by Luckhardt, of Vienna.

(See page 595.)

Otto Nicolai (1810–49), director of the Domchor and Royal Opera of Berlin, composed a number of conventional Italian operas and other works. His “Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of the most popular comic operas of the present time. The overture is especially charming, and a great favorite in the concert-room.

Franz von Suppe (1820–92), “the German Offenbach,” composed an immense number of pleasing operettas and vaudevilles, of which his “Fatinitza” is celebrated. His overture to the “Poet and Peasant” is one of the most popular light overtures ever written.

Ignaz Brüll in his opera “Golden Cross,” and Victor Nessler in his “Piper of Hamelin” and “Trumpeter of Säkkingen,” have achieved success. Their great popularity in Germany is an illustration of the fact that the opera public in general have a different standard of taste than cultivated musicians.

Johann Strauss (born 1825), the younger, has won great success with his operettas. His “Fledermaus” and “Der Lustige Krieg” are known all over the world.

In the field of dance music Germany leads the world. The strains of Lanner, Gungl, Waldteufel and Strauss are heard in every land. For piquancy, sensuous charm of melody, rhythmical swing, thematic contrast and effective orchestration, the waltzes of Lanner and Strauss are to be classed with the most artistic productions of modern Germany.

Since Schubert’s day, the German Lied-form has been cultivated by many composers, the noblest of whom are Loewe, Schumann, Franz, Rubinstein and Brahms. Loewe and Franz were specialists, but their songs are very unlike. In Germany, Loewe has been especially popular with the masses, while Franz, by his exquisite taste and feeling, appeals more strongly to cultivated musicians. In certain respects Franz and Schumann share with Schubert in the fulfilment of the highest ideal of the German Lied.

Carl Loewe (1796–1869) was a productive composer in various fields of music, but his reputation rests on his merits as a ballad composer.

The number of his ballads which have gained universal popularity is very great. Among them may be mentioned “Edward,” “Herr Oluf,” “Abschied,” “Goldschmieds Töchterlein,” “Der Wirthin Töchterlein,” “Die Braut von Corinth,” “Heinrich der Vogler,” “Erlkönig,” and “Die Gruft der Liebenden.” His musical style is remarkable for its dramatic picturesqueness and justness of declamation. With him everything is made to contribute to a full rendering of the meaning of the text. His works have become very popular, and their popularity is by no means on the wane. It is remarkable, however, that beyond the boundaries of Germany his ballads are but little known.

597The musical productiveness of modern Germany has been displayed in no single branch so overwhelmingly as in songs. It may truly be said that every composer, great and small, has produced his sets of Lieder, though it has been vouchsafed to only a chosen few to merit distinction in this over-crowded field. Among the multitude who have composed songs in a light style are several whose services to popular music ought not to be underestimated. The most prominent of this class are Heinrich Proch (1809–78), Friedrich Kücken (1810–82), and Franz Abt (1819–85). Of these, Abt is the ablest and the most widely known. Most of his songs are trivial in character, but a few, like “When the Swallows Homeward Fly,” have touched the popular heart and deserve their widespread fame.

The preceding brief account of the minor composers of Germany, belonging to the “classical” and “romantic” periods, may serve to show that in art as well as nature the “survival of the fittest” seems to be the governing principle of evolution. Comparatively few works of musical art are monumental, and survive the changes of fashion, the inconstancy of the public, and the ravages of time. Among the crowd of masters who are grouped around the central figures are some who merit a better fate than has befallen them. Some day, no doubt, their now forgotten works will be revived, just as those of neglected poets and painters have been. Surely fame is to some extent the accident of fortune. The case of Sebastian Bach is the most striking illustration. Of the majority of imitators or epigones, however, it may briefly be written, as the abstract of the historian’s page,—they lived—and died.


From a photograph from life by Naumann, of Leipsic.

(See page 595.)

We come now to the more recent and widely celebrated composers, Raff, Brahms, Rubinstein, Goldmark, Bruch and Rheinberger, who form the subject of special articles in this work. These masters are not to be classed with the new movement inaugurated by Berlioz and Liszt in concert music and by Wagner in the music-drama, but with the “classical-romantic” masters. Raff, it is true, wrote “program” music, but he differs from Berlioz and Liszt in holding almost strictly to the regular construction of the symphonic form. Though Raff, in his earlier days, was a warm advocate of the ideas of Wagner, his own music bears little relation to the great works of the musical dramatist. Raff has a style of his own. He never repeated himself, notwithstanding the enormous amount of music he composed. This fertility of ideas was in fact a source of weakness, since it rendered him careless in the choice of themes, and blunted his feeling for what was truly refined and elevated. He often failed to keep to the high level of the true symphonic spirit and style. His “salon” style crops out here and there. The “Lenore” and “Im Walde” symphonies are his most celebrated works.


From a portrait loaned for reproduction by C. Weikert, of New York.

(See page 595.)

No living German composer represents the tragic and intellectual side of modern subjective music so impressively as Brahms. The strong outlines of his character are impressed on all his music. He is entirely opposed to the so-called “new German school” of Liszt and Wagner, and adheres strictly to the classical forms. No comparison, however, ought to be made between him and Wagner, as Brahms has never turned his attention to dramatic music. Brahms defends his own art-principles on the ground of absolute music. His love for the strict, logical process of thematic development proves his affinity with Bach. The leading theme is the germ of the whole movement; and notwithstanding the episodes and secondary themes, he is not usually drawn away from the main idea. Brahms has no living peer in the art of developing themes; here he shows wonderful ingenuity and infinite skill. In general, however, his themes do not captivate us like the heaven-born melodies of Schubert and Schumann. Strength, purity, nobility and profundity of thought, rather than sensuous beauty, grace, lightness, naturalness and spontaneousness, are his leading characteristics as a composer. A certain heaviness of spirit and gloom, nay, asceticism, prevail in his music. He appears at his best in his “German Requiem,” which many musicians consider to be his greatest work. His symphonies and other instrumental compositions occupy the foreground at present. Although musicians are still divided in opinion as to the ultimate position of Brahms among the great masters, no one can deny that his music is gaining public appreciation year by year. He is universally recognized as the foremost living composer of Germany.

The so-called “musical reform,” inaugurated in Germany more than a generation ago, was not incited by Germans, but by the adopted composers, Berlioz and Liszt. Their aim was simply to make poetical ideas the motive and governing principle of the form and material of their tone-works. The idea of “program” music, however, was not original with them; in fact, it is centuries old. Beethoven was the first great master to write elaborate program music; but his “Pastoral Symphony” was, in his own words, “more expression of emotions than tone-painting.” In this short statement of his faith he has clearly defined the true scope of descriptive music. He gave poetic titles to certain other works, as, for instance, the “Heroic Symphony,” the “Passionate” and “Farewell” sonatas, which serve to indicate in a general way the poetical motive that swayed his imagination. Spohr, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Raff, Rubinstein and other later composers have followed Beethoven’s example. Most of the program music of these masters does not modify the traditional form of musical construction. Berlioz went much further, and conceived the idea of using elaborate word descriptions to give a detailed and minute exposition of his pseudo-symphonies. Berlioz shot beyond his mark. Berlioz made his program serve as a kind of running commentary on the music. Liszt did not attempt this; his aim was a simpler and a better one. Symphonic Poem is the happy name for an original form which he created in orchestral music. Some character or event was chosen as a poetical motive easily realizable in music; as, for instance, the Lament and Triumph of Tasso, in which the passion and struggle of the great poet are vividly portrayed, or the wild ride of Mazeppa, which, as in Victor Hugo’s poem, has a symbolical meaning. Mazeppa represents the gifted man, or genius, tied down by fate, but destined to free himself and ultimately to triumph over evil. The galloping horse is suggested by wild triplets, and the final triumph is expressed in the march with which the work culminates.

The symphonic poems of Liszt, and those who follow strictly his example, are not divided into a number of distinct, separate movements like the symphony, but the changes of tempo or movement follow each other without break. Liszt made a prominent use of the Leitmotiv (leading-motive) principle, which he adopted from Wagner. It will be observed that the result, however, is wholly different, for Wagner in the course of one of his music-dramas uses a variety of dissimilar and strongly contrasted leading motives. His music, therefore, is based on the polythematic principle, whereas the symphonic poems of Liszt are generally monothematic. The leading-motive is one thing in connection with the drama, another as employed in the concert-room. In the latter case it serves the same purpose that it has in the fugues of Bach (mostly founded on one theme) or in certain movements of symphonies. It is simply the working up on the imitative principle of a leading idea, which is modified, enlarged, curtailed and varied according to the conditions of counterpoint, harmony, rhythm, etc. So far as thematic imitation is concerned, the symphonic poem is an offshoot of the symphony or overture. What the symphonic poem has gained in conciseness of form it has lost in grandeur and impressiveness. The symphonic poem relates to the symphony as a noble and beautiful church does to a grand, awe-inspiring cathedral. In treating his grandest subjects—“The Divine Comedy” of Dante, and “Faust” of Goethe—Liszt returned to the general outlines of the symphony.


(See page 595.)

The symphonic poem is a welcome addition to modern music, but it is capable of further development both in form and character. There is no reason why the polythematic principle should not be applied to it, or why the movements should not be extended. In the future the symphonic poem may rival the symphony, but is not likely to supplant it. The symphony has undergone many changes of detail since Beethoven, and in the course of time it is probable that new forms of instrumental music will be invented, but it will be difficult to reach as high an ideal as that attained by the great masters of the symphony. In grandeur, emotional intensity, thematic variety, contrast of movements, the symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and others stand on a higher plane than the symphonic poems of Liszt, Saint-Saëns and many less conspicuous composers who have cultivated this form.

It would much exceed the narrow limits set by this article to attempt to discuss the far-reaching questions connected with the great musical and dramatic reform of Wagner. This forms the subject of an able special article, to which the reader is referred. Wagner’s world-wide influence has not been confined to the dramatic stage. His bold independence of thought and creative originality served to break down the barriers of formalism and conservatism, which held back German music after the death of Mendelssohn and Schumann. The Napoleon of music cleared the way, not only for himself, but other young composers who were struggling for recognition. Since his death no German has yet appeared able to follow in his footsteps, or to strike out a path for himself in dramatic music. At the same time all serious dramatic composers, Italian, French, etc., of the present day, have consciously or unconsciously been affected by Wagner’s musico-dramatic ideas.

Among all the German composers who have gathered inspiration from the theories and music of Wagner, only a single one seems to have produced a musical drama which bears the stamp of real genius and clearly defined individuality.



From a steel portrait engraved from a photograph by Weger, of Leipsic.

(See page 596.)

Peter Cornelius (1824–74) first became prominent at the time when Liszt at Weimar was doing so much for the advancement of the so-called “new German school of composition.” Cornelius at once identified himself with this modern movement. It was on account of the indifference of the court and the public toward Cornelius’s “The Barber of Bagdad” that Liszt gave up his directorship of the theatre at Weimar in 1858. In the same year, Cornelius’s opera, “The Cid,” was produced at Weimar. The completion of a third opera, “Gunlöd,” was prevented by his death, which occurred at Mayence in 1874.

His comic opera, “The Barber of Bagdad,” gives Cornelius a unique position among the composers of the new German school. This seems to be the only work of genius which has been produced in Germany as a result of the Wagnerian cult; and it remains the single but the sufficient ground for a denial of the charge made by disbelievers, that the theories of Wagner can lead to nothing beautiful and good in opera. The opera-poem is by Cornelius himself, and is a marvel of bubbling humor and literary ingenuity; and the music is of exceeding complexity and intensely difficult to render. The methods of treatment are distinctly Wagnerian, but there is not a suggestion of Wagner in the character of the melodies or in the instrumentation. All is delightful and individual, in short, the work of a genius. On the other hand, in the “Cid,” a tragic opera founded on Herder’s poem, Cornelius was not so successful. It is certain that “The Barber” will ultimately be appreciated; for its sparkling wit and delightful music are irresistible, matched only among German composers by the “Figaro” of Mozart.

Cornelius was far from being a Wagner, but he has done one thing which Wagner probably could not have done: he has written an opera libretto which is considered superlatively witty and entertaining by other people than Germans, and set it to music which is noble, charming and characteristic.

Anton Bruckner has also been prominently identified with the new German school. In his heavy and massive instrumentation and style of writing he is pronouncedly Wagnerian, but he has not endeared himself to the lovers of sweet sounds.

Another prominent disciple of Liszt and Wagner is Felix Draeseke, born 1835, who became enthusiastic for the new school, and contributed to the literature devoted to the propagation of the ideas of Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner. He was one of the few who were openly praised by Wagner. His numerous compositions consist of symphonies, chamber music, songs and piano pieces. Draeseke has written two operas, “Herrat” and “Gundrun,” the latter of which has been performed with success. Among his latest orchestral productions are two symphonic preludes to dramas by Calderon and Kleist.

Jean Louis Nicodé (born 1853) is another staunch believer in the new tendencies in modern music. His compositions for orchestra include “Symphonic Variations,” the symphonic poem, “Maria Stuart,” Suite in B minor, Introduction and Scherzo. He has written piano and chamber music, and several large choral works. His “Symphonic Variations” are especially admired. Nicodé manifests the most astounding technique in composition, and delights in producing startling orchestral effects.

Edward Lassen (born 1830), though a Dane by birth, has been identified with music in Germany for the greater part of his life. He was first made known as a composer through the kind offices of Liszt, who produced on the Weimar stage Lassen’s “Le Roi Edgard,” “Frauenlob,” and “Der Gefangene.” These operas met with a decided success. Lassen succeeded Liszt as chief director of the Weimar opera, and still holds that position. His published works include the music to Hebbel’s “Nibelungen,” Sophocles’ “Œdipus,” Calderon’s “Circe,” and Goethe’s “Faust” and “Pandora,” “Fest Cantate,” “Te Deum,” and several symphonies. During the last few years he has occupied himself principally with the composition of songs, which are much admired. His latest work of importance is his violin concerto.

601Another worthy representative of the new German music is Alexander Ritter, the composer of numerous vocal works, including operas. There is no doubt concerning the seriousness of his artistic endeavors, nor of his great abilities; but, as with Nicodé, he has large utterance, and but little of real importance to say.


From a photograph from life by Luckhardt, of Vienna.

(See page 596.)

By far the most interesting and the most promising of this class of modern composers is Richard Strauss. He is not related to the Vienna Strauss family. Young Strauss is now Lassen’s assistant director at the Weimar theatre, and has shown remarkable ability both as an opera and concert conductor. Although not yet thirty years old, he has produced a considerable number of large works and numerous smaller ones. His earlier efforts show the influence of Brahms, but for the last few years he has adopted the Wagner-Liszt manner. Three symphonic poems, “Death and Redemption,” “Macbeth” and “Don Juan,” as well as a symphonic fantasia, “In Italy,” have been greatly admired. Evidently this young composer has a more promising future than any of his young contemporaries.

Felix Weingartner, the talented conductor of the Royal Opera of Berlin, is a young composer of promise. Besides numerous songs and a serenade for string orchestra, he has written two operas. The second of these, “Genesius,” was produced in Berlin in November, 1892, but, as might have been expected, it was not warmly received by the public. Weingartner, like Strauss, is extremely modern in his musical tendencies, and his works, although interesting to connoisseurs and lauded by certain critics, will not at once find public recognition.

It would far exceed the limits of this article to give a complete account of pianoforte playing and composition in Germany since Beethoven’s time. The influence of the piano on modern music has been greater than that of any other single instrument. It is not only the favorite of the amateur, but is par excellence the composer’s instrument. As almost every modern German composer has written for the piano, its literature is far more voluminous than that of any other instrument, and piano players are as countless as the sands of the sea.

Modern representatives of piano style may be classed as follows:

1. Composers with whom technical execution is held subordinate to musical thought and feeling, perfect form, and poetic beauty. Beethoven, Schubert, Von Weber, Mendelssohn, Schumann, represent this class. 2. Piano specialists who have brought manual execution into the foreground and have carried it to an extreme, chiefly for its own sake; as for example, Kalkbrenner, Herz, Henselt, Döhler, Thalberg, Dreyschock, Litolff and Liszt in the earlier period of his career. 3. Remarkable teachers of technique and style, like Czerny, Moscheles, Kullak and Wieck. 4. Virtuosos who unite great technique with remarkable powers of interpretation, like Tausig, Von Bülow and others. 5. Composers who are likewise great virtuosos and interpreters, like Liszt and Rubinstein.


(See page 597.)

Between 1830 and 1840 piano virtuosity as regards mere technical execution was at its height. Kalkbrenner, Herz, and other “finger knights” created furore everywhere by their pyrotechnic feats. This was the era of the “opera fantasia.” Let us be thankful that audiences nowadays demand a different kind of musical pabulum. Thalberg (1812–71) marks the highest attainment of this style. He was pre-eminent for his finished execution and rich singing quality of tone. His scales, octaves, arpeggios, trills, and every detail of technique were of marvellous perfection. His style influenced a number of pianists, as for example, Leopold de Meyer, Goria, Döhler, Willmers and Prudent.

Under Thalberg, Liszt, Tausig, Rubinstein, Paderewski, etc., piano virtuosity has reached its apex. Mr. Ernst Pauer, the noted pianist and editor of “Alte Clavier Musik,” justly observes: “With regard to rapidity, force, ingenuity of combinations, and dazzling effect, it is not too much to assert that the highest point has been gained, and that with respect to quantity of notes and effects our present players are unrivalled; whether the quality is as good as it formerly was may be questioned.”

The world-wide influence of Chopin and Liszt on piano style is discussed in special articles of this work.

In the time of Bach and Handel the organ was the foremost instrument as the exponent of musical ideas even more than the pianoforte is during the present century. To-day it has its own high place in the temple of art, and counts among its devotees artists of great repute and dignity. During the present century German organists have followed the school of Sebastian Bach, of whom the most prominent are Rink, Johann Schneider, Hesse, Fischer, Thiele, Haupt, Ritter, Becker, Merkel, Herzog, Faisst and Rheinberger. August Haupt and Johann Schneider were remarkable interpreters of Bach’s organ works. The former was also a rare teacher, beloved and venerated by his American and German pupils. The most important organ compositions of modern German masters are the difficult and massive concert pieces of Thiele, and the noble sonatas, etc., of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Ritter, Merkel and Rheinberger.

In solo violin playing Germany at first followed the lead of Italy. Mention has been made of the most noted German violinists of the last century. About the beginning of the present century Paris was the centre of violin playing under Viotti, Rode, Kreutzer and Baillot. These masters laid down the principles of violin playing as practised to-day. They were followed by Alard, the modern French teacher, and the so-called Belgian school of De Beriot, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski and others. As regards finish, brilliancy of style, and purity of tone these Franco-Belgian masters have had a strong influence on Germany. In violin playing Spohr is considered as the direct heir of Rode and Viotti. The contemporaries of Spohr in Germany were Schuppanzigh, Mayseder, Maurer, Molique, Lipinski and others, all of whom contributed to violin literature. Spohr’s most distinguished pupil was Ferdinand David (1810–73). He was eclectic and many-sided in his taste and knowledge. As regards technique and style he set high value on the French masters of the violin. He was the first to play Bach’s difficult violin solos in public. Among his numerous pupils was the famous virtuoso, Wilhelmj, who is unsurpassed for his wonderful tone and execution. Joachim also benefited by David’s advice.

The violin school, of Vienna, founded by Joseph Boehm (1798–1876), has had a wide influence in training virtuosos. Ernst, G. Helmesberger, Ludwig Strauss, Joachim, J. Helmesberger, Auer and Neruda were trained in this school. Pupils of Pixis at Prague were the renowned violinists Kalliwoda and Ferdinand Laub (1832–74). The latter was a wonderful quartet player, and stood in the front rank as a virtuoso.

Joseph Joachim (born 1831) is the most eminent of living violinists. He has had the widest influence of any violin master as an interpreter of the great masters. Perfect technique, a rich and full tone, purity and elevation of style, and fidelity of interpretation are the leading characteristics of Joachim as a violinist. It may be said of Joachim, as of Liszt, that he not only interprets but recreates the music of the great masters. He is equally great as a quartet player and as a soloist. Joachim’s compositions are chiefly for the violin. His style is grave and earnest, and suggestive of Schumann. His most important work is the “Hungarian Concerto,” which has noble characteristics.

The most noted masters of the violoncello are Bernhard Romberg (1767–1841), Kummer (1797–1879), and his successor in the Dresden orchestra, Grützmacher (born 1832), and the virtuoso composers, Popper, Davidoff and De Swert.


From a photograph by Albert, of Munich.

(See page 600.)

Among the many fine solo players on wind instruments were the renowned clarinetists, Joseph Baermann (1784–1847) and his son Carl (1811–1885). Von Weber was intimately associated with the elder Baermann, and wrote for him the fine clarinet concertos and concert pieces which have become classical. The high artistic character and ability of this family of musicians is exemplified in the person of the thorough musician and gifted pianist, Carl Baermann, Junior. He was formerly professor at the Munich Royal Conservatory, and is now a resident of Boston, where he exerts a noble influence as concert pianist and teacher. Germany has not produced so many singers of world-wide fame as composers or virtuosos, yet during the last half-century, and especially in connection with the Wagnerian drama, the number of celebrated singers has increased. As dramatic artists these German singers are surpassed by none, though in pure vocalism they may not rank as high as those of the Italian and French school. Among the most renowned are Sontag, Milder, Tichatschek, Pauline Lucca, Gerster, Unger, Wachtel, Formes, Stockhausen, Staudigl, Henschel, Wranitzky, Loewe and Schröder-Devrient (1804–60). This last-named singer was one of the most highly gifted artists who ever appeared on the operatic stage. She created the part of Leonore in Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” In later years she appeared in Wagner’s earlier operas, and was of great assistance to him in realizing his ideal of dramatic singing. In his writings Wagner eulogizes her. The musical dramas of Wagner have not only been the high school for orchestral virtuosos and conductors, but above all for dramatic singers. The most famous German singers of the present day have been associated with Bayreuth and the established opera houses of Germany where Wagner’s works are performed. The most noteworthy of these Wagner singers are Frau Materna, Marianne Brandt, Malten, Lehmann-Kalisch, Mallinger, Dietz, Kindermann, Ludwig, Schnorr von Carolsfeld, to whom Wagner pays such a tribute of praise in the eighth volume of his collected writings; Winkelmann, Vogl, Gura, Niemann, Scheidemantel, Van Dyck, Alvary, Betz, Scaria and Emil Fischer.


From a photograph from life by Hanfstaengl, of Munich.

(See page 601.)

One of the results of Germany’s high development in music, and consequent “division of labor” in the executive part of the art, has been to give great importance to the conductors of orchestras and of large musical societies. Until recently there have been but few cases of really great conductors who were not at the same time prominent composers. Weber, Wagner, Spohr, Mendelssohn, Marschner, Lindpaintner, Rietz and Hiller were all Kapellmeister-composers. The remarkable advance in orchestral technique and the increased work demanded of conductors have given rise to the necessity of training men exclusively for this exacting profession. There are at present in Germany a half-dozen specialists in this branch who are particularly distinguished. Foremost among them is the gifted Hans von Bülow (born 1830). Great as are this master’s merits as a piano virtuoso, it is chiefly as a conductor that he has had important influence upon the musical activity of his time. His long connection with the Meiningen orchestra, at a period when it made frequent concert tours through Germany, was of great service in raising the standard of orchestral interpretation throughout the country.

Hans Richter (born 1843) also enjoys an international reputation as a conductor. He is chief conductor of the Imperial opera and Philharmonic concerts of Vienna. He has also frequently conducted the concerts of the London Philharmonic Society. Richter was intimately associated with Wagner, and directed the first Bayreuth performance in 1876.

A conductor of perhaps even greater ability, but of less extended reputation, is Hermann Levi (born 1839), the chief conductor of the Munich theatre. He also was intimately associated with Wagner, and conducted the first performance of “Parsifal” at Bayreuth in 1882. He is at present the conductor-in-chief at Bayreuth. His principal claim to superiority lies in the fact that he conducts equally well the daintiest Haydn symphony and the most complex Wagner music-drama. He is as a conductor what Liszt was as a pianist, universally sympathetic in his interpretations.

Felix Mottl (born 1856) of Carlsruhe, and Ernst Schuch (born 1848) of Dresden, are worthy to be grouped with Germany’s great conductors. The former is one of the Bayreuth conductors. The young composers, Strauss and Weingartner, are also able Kapellmeister.

Any consideration of the history of music in Germany would be incomplete without some mention of her great achievements in musical criticism, history, theory, philosophy and æsthetics. In these departments of literary and scientific work, Germany has accomplished infinitely more than any other nation. We have already had occasion, in speaking of certain composers, to mention their literary works. But the majority of writers on music have left no record as artists.

During the eighteenth century the most noted German writers on musical history and criticism were Forkel, Gerbert, Mattheson, Scheibe, Reichardt and J. A. Hiller; on musical theory and instruction, Fux, Albrechtsberger, Marpurg, Kirnberger, Sorge, Knecht, Quantz, Em. Bach and Leopold Mozart. During the present century the principal writers on the general subject of musical history have been Brendel, von Dommer, Reissmann, Naumann, Langhans and August Wilhelm Ambros (1816–76). For original research, profound learning, and remarkable critical insight the “Geschichte der Musik” by Ambros ranks first among all works on the subject.

R. G. Kiesewetter (1773–1850), the uncle of Ambros, shows equal thoroughness in treating the special subjects of musical history. His monographs on the Netherland masters, on secular song, on Arabian music, etc., are sources of important information. Carl von Winterfeld is the great authority on German church music. His “Der Evangelische Kirchengesang” is a work of great learning.

In the field of musical biography the list is a long one, and includes Marx, Schindler, Nohl, Nottebohm, Lenz, Bitter, Chrysander, Jahn and Spitta.


From a photograph from life by Bieber, of Hamburg.

Otto Jahn’s “Life of Mozart,” and Philipp Spitta’s “Life of Bach,” are masterly biographies, which are an honor to the authors and the nation that produced them. They are monuments of exhaustive research and profound critical analysis. Mention should be made of the biography of Beethoven by Alexander W. Thayer, which was published in Germany as the fruits of many years of patient and thorough investigation. The author is an American by birth and education, but has long been identified with German musical literature, and is considered as the authority in all that pertains to the life of the great composer.

Musical criticism has been well represented by Friedrich Rochlitz (1770–1808), the founder of the “Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung” of Leipsic; Adolf Bernhard Marx (1799–1866), one of the most broadly educated musical writers of his time; Gottfried Weber (1779–1839), editor of the musical periodical, “Cæcilia”; Thibaut, whose “Purity in Musical Art” is a highly esteemed essay; Schumann, the composer, who gave a new and higher direction to musical criticism in his “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.” Schumann’s gifted poetical nature is revealed in his critical reviews as well as in his music, and he set an example followed by others, though at a distance, among whom Eduard Hanslick, of Vienna, is perhaps the most worthy of mention; Wilhelm Tappert, the editor of the “Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung,” is a zealous partisan of Wagner. His “Wagner Lexicon” is a curious compilation of all the slang and abuse that have been hurled at the composer and his friends.

Among the imaginative writers on musical subjects, the most remarkable was Ernst T. R. Hoffmann, whose romantic tales have given him a prominent place in German literature. He was composer, poet, singer, teacher, conductor and theatrical manager; he was especially gifted as an improvisator. Everything this eccentric genius did, he did well. Among his works are eleven operas and two symphonies. Schumann was much influenced by the fantastic tales of Hoffmann. His “Kreisleriana” was suggested by Hoffmann’s fragments of the imaginary “Kreisler the Kapellmeister.” Beethoven wrote a humorous canon addressed to Hoffmann, and Weber loved him.


From a photograph.

Germany, during the present century, has produced almost endless works on musical theory and speculation. The most prominent representatives are G. Weber; Hauptmann, whose “Harmony and Metre” is a profound work; Marx and Lobe, whose general systems treat of all branches of musical composition, including instrumentation, and are valuable as books of reference; E. F. Richter and Jadassohn, whose treatises on harmony, counterpoint and fugue are excellent text-books. Other well-known theoretical writers are Weitzmann, Paul, Sechter, Riemann, Friedrich and Heinrich Bellermann and Westphal.


From an engraving published about 1860.

The æsthetics of music have been extensively treated by the foremost German philosophers. Hegel and his followers Vischer and Kahlert, laid the foundation of a comprehensive consideration of the subject. The philosophers outside the Hegelian school, Krüger, Schelling, Krause, Carriere, Karl Köstlin, Fechner, Wundt and Lötze, have included in larger works more or less extensive treatments of musical æsthetics, and the interest which Wagner felt for the theories of Schopenhauer is well known. In addition to these, several writers—Schubart, Hand, Schilling, Heinrich Köstlin, Reissmann, Riemann, Kullak, Stumpf, Engel—have written large treatises devoted exclusively to the subject. The object has been to establish, if possible, the psychological relations of music, and to deduce the raison d’être of the various musical forms; but no one has yet established conclusions which have been generally accepted. Opposed to these writers are a small number of advocates of a purely formalistic theory of music,—Herbart, Zimmermann and Hanslick. The last-named is the author of a book entitled “Concerning the Musically Beautiful,” which has been perhaps more generally read and commented upon than any other single work on musical æsthetics. It is safe to assert that this work of Hanslick does not solve the mystery of the power of music on the soul. Certainly it seems to be a superficial idea of Hanslick that music has no inward meaning (or Inhalt), and is only a mere play of form (Formspiel). But this interesting little book is so brilliantly written and so carefully considered that it still holds its own, and is known throughout the musical world.

In this connection mention should be made of “The Sensations of Tone,” published in 1863 by Hermann Helmholtz, the great Berlin physicist. This work is not only one of the greatest achievements of German science, but is also unique among all works published on the subject of music. It embodies the results of exhaustive research into all phenomena connected with the production of tone and its perception by the human consciousness. In a word, it establishes a firm physical foundation for all future philosophical speculations concerning music.

It is commonly and truly said that the time is not yet ripe for an exhaustive history of music. An enormous amount of material, it is true, has been collected, but in most divisions of the subject the sources of information have not yet been thoroughly explored. At present Germany is distancing all other nations in the contributions made to the sum of historical knowledge concerning music. Not to mention the numberless treatises and monographs which are continually appearing, the regularly published musical periodicals are numerous and excellent, and frequently make important contributions to musical scholarship.

Although the present article is far from professing to present a complete account of all that Germany has accomplished in music, it may serve to show the many-sided character of musical culture in that land. Not one of the many branches of musical activity has failed to feel the influence of Germany, and in only a few branches does she hold any other than the leading position. In our own day her musical zeal remains unabated. The number of musical compositions and books published year by year in Germany is enormous, and the proportion of her young men who enter on the career of teacher or performer seems to be increasing rather than diminishing. While it is true that there are very few great composers now living in Germany, and that they are rivalled by the living composers of other nationalities, and even though in the latest music of over-cultivated Germany there is a want of freshness, naturalness and naïveté that belong only to musical youth, yet there is no reason for supposing that any other nation will, in the near future, usurp Germany’s well-merited title of “laureate amongst all musical nations.”

John K. Paine
Leo R. Lewis


Reproduction from the rare folio print engraved by Roullet, after Mignard.

609 [Fleuron]


Lully is justly considered the founder of opera in France, although he was not the first to compose operas in the French language. Several of his biographers assure us that he was of noble birth, supporting their statements by the letters of naturalization granted him by Louis XIV., in December, 1661, in which the composer is called the son of Laurent Lully, a man of quality, and Catherine del Sarte. It is, however, more probable that he was the offspring of an obscure country miller who dwelt near Florence, as stated by Guichard in a celebrated memoir which he drew up at the time of his lawsuit for dissolution of partnership with Lully, who had co-operated with him in the management of the Opéra.

By chance it came to pass that the Chevalier de Guise, when travelling in Italy, discovered young Baptiste Lully in Florence, his native place. The nobleman was impressed by the precocious intelligence that sparkled so brightly in the boy’s eyes. He who was destined to become the founder of lyric tragedy in France was singing popular songs, accompanying himself upon the guitar, from instinct rather than training, for he had never been taught to play that instrument, and possessed, as yet, only the most primitive ideas regarding music. He was then about twelve years of age.

At that time, people were not very musical in France, Italy being much more advanced in that respect. In the era of Le Grande Monarque, “Le Roi Soleil,” there were neither orchestras nor singers in the true sense of the words, and opera was, so to speak, quite unknown.

The first musical play ever seen in France was produced on the occasion of the marriage of Mlle. de Vaudemont, Marguerite de Lorraine, sister-in-law of King Henri III., to the Duc de Joyeuse. It was performed on the 15th of October, 1579, at the Château de Moustier, in presence of ten thousand spectators, and the Italian, Baltazarini, fulfilled the duties of impressario. He was ever afterwards known by the name of Baltazar de Beaujoyeuse, and in this way the Duc de Joyeuse may be said to have ennobled him.

This Italian had been brought to France by the Comte de Brissac, and Catherine de Médicis appointed him musical director, with the dignity of valet, to her court. He played the violin after the manner of a virtuoso—for his time. It was this same Baltazarini who composed the dance music in the opera-ballet “Cérès,” of which Claudin wrote the vocal score.

Cardinal Mazarin was fond of musical plays, and in 1644 he caused to be brought from Italy dramatic singers who, in the hall of the Petit-Bourbon and in presence of the king, Louis XIV., gave a representation of the “Festa della finta pazza,” a melodrama in five acts interspersed with comic interludes. Two years later, the Abbé Mailly organized a representation of a lyric tragedy entitled “Akebar, Roi du Mogol,” which was given in one of the halls of the episcopal palace of Carpentras.

The taste for music was gradually extending in the ranks of cultivated French society, and Mlle. de Montpensier had asked the Chevalier de Guise to bring for her from Italy—the cradle of opera—“a young musician to enliven my house.”

“Will you come with me to Paris?” asked the Chevalier, addressing the little singer and guitarist: to which the lad, without a moment’s hesitation, and as if impelled by his destiny, joyfully answered, “Yes.” Thereupon the twain set out for the French capital, and the Chevalier gave his Italian musician to “Mademoiselle.”

The grand-daughter of Henri IV. received Baptiste as she would have received a pug dog,—an animal then very fashionable. For a few days she amused herself with her little musician, then wearily cast him aside, finally relegating him to her kitchens, where he was enrolled among the scullions. It was thus that the nobility and clergy of that day were wont to treat musicians, great and small. It must not be forgotten that the Archbishop of Salzburg, who kept the divine Mozart in his service for a certain time, made him wear livery and sent him to take his meals in the kitchen with the servants.

While washing the dishes or stirring the kitchen fire, and possibly while tasting the sauces, unknown to the chef, the little Florentine lifted up his voice in song. In his spare time he played the guitar or practised the violin, upon which instrument he is said to have become an accomplished player.

Occasionally he was given verses, which he set to music with great facility. To Lully is attributed the air which became so popular and which is still sung, more particularly in the country districts, to the words “Au clair de la lune, mon ami Pierrot.”

One day were sent to him some couplets that were far from laudatory of the proud princess, his mistress. The verses greatly diverted Baptiste, who composed a pretty air to the words, and sang it to every one. This afforded much amusement in the kitchen of haughty “Mademoiselle,” who, hearing of the insult, caused her audacious and disrespectful scullion-composer to be expelled from her house.

In his secret heart, the great musician, that was to be, felt glad when thus disgraced. He was free; penniless, it is true, but courageous and full of hope in the future. He began to study harmony under Gigault, the organist of St. Nicolas-des-Champs, and ultimately succeeded in gaining admittance to the Grande Bande des Violons du Roi, which consisted of forty performers. Some few airs which he wrote for the violin were favorably received and rendered in the presence of the Le Grande Monarque himself. His Majesty was, indeed, so pleased with the young artist (Lully was then nineteen), that he appointed him Inspector of the violins. And this was not all, for the king organized for Lully’s satisfaction another band of musicians, called Les Petits Violons, in order to distinguish them from the “Grande Bande.”

From that moment a brilliant future awaited the composer. His agreeable manners, docile spirit, and a certain wild audacity, that did not diminish his profound deference for his benefactor, the king, won and retained the royal favor; genius did the rest.

The little band of violinists, thanks to their skilful training under the direction of Lully, achieved wonders, far outstripping the original band in regard to both time and accuracy of execution.

Being now in high favor at court, Lully was authorized to compose dance tunes for the ballets that Louis XIV. caused to be performed nearly every year, and in which his Majesty himself participated. Later he composed the entire musical portion of these entertainments, which were sometimes called “Mascarades.” He was uniformly successful, and Fortune had evidently chosen him for her own.

Enterprising and full of confidence in his talent and savoir-faire, Lully, having formed a friendship with Molière, did not hesitate to appear as a comedian and to perform in the pieces that were represented in the great dramatist’s theatre. In 1669, he took the rôle of Pourceaugnac in the piece of that name, and the Mufti in “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.”

Certain writers, contemporaries of Lully, foremost among whom must be mentioned the great Racine and the no less illustrious La Fontaine, have passed a somewhat harsh judgment on the composer’s character. It is true that he sometimes showed himself a most abject sycophant in presence of the nobility at court, and especially before the king. But what courtier was not humble in presence of the sovereign of that court? Still, in spite of his humility before the great, Lully did not completely lose his dignity. On certain occasions his retorts to influential persons at court, and even to the king himself, were characterized by remarkable boldness. Two examples may be given to show the droll and daring humor of the celebrated composer.

It happened, one day, that the Marquis de Louvois, the powerful minister of Louis XIV., taunted Lully with having secured the king’s friendship solely by his talent for buffoonery. To this the musician, drawing up his head proudly, made the fearless reply, “Zounds! you would do as much if you could!”

Again, at the first performance of “Armide” at Versailles, Félix Clément tells us, some unforeseen difficulties prevented the raising of the curtain at the appointed time. The king, becoming impatient at the delay, sent one of the officers of his guard to inform Lully of his dissatisfaction. The words, “The king is waiting,” elicited from the composer a reply as sharp as it was wanting in respect. “The king,” said he, “is master here, and nobody has the right to prevent him waiting as long as he likes!”—a quip more witty than prudent. The courtiers believed that the man who dared to make such a reply was irretrievably lost; and when “Armide” was given at the Royal Academy of Music on the 15th of February, 1686, the audience, fearful of compromising themselves if they applauded the work, received it in a depressingly frigid manner. Convinced of the merit of his score, Lully had it executed a few days later for his own satisfaction (as did the king of Bavaria, recently, with Wagner’s lyric dramas at the theatre of Bayreuth). Louis XIV. hearing of this, and feeling that a work which had been pronounced good by his musician could not be otherwise, set the seal of his praise on the score of “Armide,” which immediately obtained a signal success and was even proclaimed the best work that Lully had written.


From an engraving by Bonnart at the British Museum.

It has also been said that the founder of French opera, though humble and abject in the presence of the powerful, was proportionately insolent and despotic with his artists and the persons employed at the Opéra. It is true that Lully often flew into a passion and accused the performers of clumsiness, and he went so far, on one occasion, as to break the violin belonging to one of the members of the orchestra upon the head of the unfortunate performer, because he had failed to render a somewhat difficult passage in a satisfactory manner. The composer made amends for his violence, however, by presenting to the insulted violinist three times the value of the broken instrument, and also by inviting him to dinner.

Apart from the acts he committed in moments of passion, Lully was a model director and far outshone any who preceded him. He found time to do everything; he composed, attended the court, saw to the mise-en-scène of his operas, and superintended the rehearsals of both the vocal and instrumental elements of the piece. He paid great attention to the scenic effects, which were very complicated in that day, and being a clever comedian and an accomplished dancer, he acted as stage manager and general director of all dramatic performances.

Lully married the daughter of Lambert, who is mentioned by Boileau in his third satire; and their union was a happy one. In the course of time the composer became wealthy, and the owner of several houses in Paris. His death was brought about by a curious accident. Louis XIV. having been ill, on his recovery, Lully composed, as a thanks-offering, a “Te Deum” which was performed under his direction at the Feuillants in the Rue Saint-Honoré, on the 8th of February, 1687. During one of the rehearsals Lully was beating time with his cane, and, in so doing, accidentally struck his toe, inflicting a bruise. The injury, which seemed at first nothing more than a slight concussion, speedily developed into a serious sore; an abscess appeared, and of such a malignant character that the doctors considered it would be necessary to amputate the affected part. Lully hesitated to sanction this extreme step, and in a short time it became a question, not of amputating merely the toe, but the entire foot. The patient would not consent to this, however, and the disease, making rapid progress, soon affected the whole leg, and the one hope of saving his life lay in the amputation of that member. Unfortunately, at the very moment when he appeared willing to undergo the operation, a quack came on the scene and offered to cure the patient without recourse to amputation; but the efforts of this empirical pretender were in vain, and the illustrious composer passed away at Paris, on Saturday, the 22d of March, 1687, aged fifty-four years. Of him Mme. de Sévigné wrote, after listening to some of his more serious music, “If there be music in heaven, it must be the music of Lully.”

The distinguishing qualities of Lully’s dramatic music are nobility of style, correct declamation, and truth of sentiment, dramatic and scenic. Most of the ornate effects in vocal music which were then fashionable in Italy were excluded from French opera by Lully.

In “Alceste,” a lyric tragedy in five acts, with prologue, the words by Quinault, Lully’s third work, performed in the month of January, 1674, we find the celebrated air sung by Charon. It is a veritable masterpiece of lyric declamation, and is still frequently sung and has not become old-fashioned, for it embodies that supreme quality that knows no date, human sentiment voiced in a truthful manner.

“Cadmus et Hermione” was the first great work produced by Lully. The master had just taken possession of the Palais-Royal hall, as director of the Opéra, by royal favor, and it was with this piece that he inaugurated his control. So far, the composer had written only interludes, interspersed with songs and dance music, among which the most important were those written for pieces by Molière, “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” “La Princesse d’Elide,” “Le Mariage Forcé,” “L’Amour Médecin,” “Monsieur de Pourceaugnac,” and “Psyché.” He had also written, prior to his brilliant début as a dramatic composer, the music for the ballets “La Raillerie,” “Le Ballet des Muses,” “Cariselli,” “Les Amours Déguisés,” and several others.

Before his first tragic work, Lully had produced the pasticcio, composed of airs borrowed from his own répertoire, “Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus,” a pastoral in three acts for which Molière, Benserade, and Quinault wrote the words. The composer, ever fortunate, had the pleasure of seeing, at a performance at which the king was present, the Duke of Monmouth, the Duc de Villeroy, and the Marquis de Rassen dance in this pastoral; for, with a view to acquire graceful deportment, they were content to mix with professional dancers. This fact is significant of the manners of society during that period in the history of France, and the applause bestowed by Louis XIV. upon the noble dancers, also redounded to the credit of Lully and contributed to his promotion.

“Atys” was a particularly fortunate piece, for it gave especial pleasure to Le Grande Monarque, who might have said, without undue exaggeration, “La France, c’est moi!” This work, on which Quinault collaborated, was produced for the first time at the Château of St. Germain, in the month of January, 1678, in the presence of Louis XIV., and was not brought to the notice of the Parisians before the month of August of the following year. “Atys” was therefore called the “Opéra du Roy.”


From an engraving in Clément’s Musiciens Célèbres. Probably suggested by the Mignard portrait, although the face is reversed.

The first performance of this lyric tragedy at St. Germain was made especially attractive because the dances were executed by lords and ladies of the court, in conjunction with the ordinary dancers of the Royal Academy of Music. Many of the morceaux in “Atys” are worthy of mention. The critics of the time have greatly eulogized the air “Le Sommeil” in the third act, on account of the persistence of the rhythm in the bass (four quarter notes).

Just as “Atys” was called the “King’s Opera,” so “Isis” received the name of the “Musicians’ Opera.” A music critic of the times writes as follows concerning the work: “This opera is the most erudite ever written by Lully, who spent an infinite time upon it. At the court performance, the great number of instruments, played by the most accomplished masters, contributed not a little to emphasize the beauties of the music.”

M. de Lajarte, formerly the librarian of the Opéra library, and one of the principal collaborators of the publisher, Michaelis, of Paris, has recently realized the happy idea of reconstituting and condensing, with piano accompaniment, the masterpieces of the French opera of the seventeenth century, and he makes the following interesting remark respecting this “great number” of instruments: “The extraordinary number spoken of by Fresneuse dwindles down to trumpets in the prologue, and flutes at the end of the third act. But, by a happy coincidence, these two symphonic members of the work which so astonished our forefathers are also a subject of astonishment for us modern critics, at least in the matter of the trumpets. The degree of skill and certainty in tonguing displayed by the trumpet players in Lully’s orchestra was nothing short of marvellous.” The trumpet parts in the works of Bach and Handel are not less difficult of execution, and at this day it would seem that they could not possibly be played.

Now that the music known as imitative has made such notable progress, frequently exceeding the limits of good taste, now that Meyerbeer, Berlioz, and, above all, Wagner have carried to such perfection the complicated art of orchestration, it is very interesting to read in the score of “Isis” the air imitative of the noises in nature and called the “air de Pan.” It enables us to realize the extraordinary progress made in instrumentation since Lully’s time. This air was exceedingly popular at that day. In addition to the sounds heard in nature, which are not made very prominent, however, this page of music is rich in declamation, and is not without charm. But sweeter to the ear, in our opinion, is the duet of nymphs in the second act. It is simple, clear, and remarkably graceful.

It will be readily understood that the limits of this biography will not admit of an exhaustive criticism of Lully’s works. We can only point out, in a somewhat cursory manner, the finest passages of his better-known operas, “Psyché,” “Bellerophon,” “Proserpine,” “Armide,” etc. In “Bellerophon” one is fain to quote the entire prologue, in order to show the ideas, the subjects, or, to put it in another way, the mere melody. This grand spectacular lyric tragedy was performed with great success during ten consecutive months, and it was afterward reproduced several times.

“Phaéton”—for some inexplicable cause—has been called the “people’s opera,” just as “Armide” has been styled the “women’s opera.”

Lully’s “Armide,” although much inferior to the “Armide” of Gluck, must nevertheless be included among his works best adapted for the stage, and the most concentrated in style. Only eight years before the appearance of Gluck’s immortal “Armide,” that is to say, in 1764, the Academy of Music performed the opera of the same name by Lully for the last time, and with brilliant success.

“Persée” is, without doubt, one of Lully’s finest works. The score abounds with charming morceaux, the product of a skilled and fertile pen. This opera held its place for long in the répertoire, and each time it was revived the public accorded it a favorable reception. The libretto, by Quinault, the faithful collaborator of the musician, is written in a superior style, offering excellent situations for the musician. Nor should we forget to mention “Proserpine,” Lully’s tenth opera in order of representation.

We have already observed that the distinguishing trait of the dramatic music of Lully, as compared with his contemporaries, is pre-eminently the grandeur of his style, with a declamation so exact that it may be described as perfect. His music is the embodiment of the art of moderation in the recitative, and the accessories of song so lavishly employed by nearly all the Italian composers of the seventeenth century are not permitted by him to overwhelm the essential note of the melody. Lully shows less variety, less flexibility in the ensemble of his productions, than do Carissimi, Léo, Pergolèse, and Marcello, but he comes nearer dramatic truth than any of these masters. His music, for the most part, has the killing frost of age upon it; but that he was a man of genius is scarcely in need of demonstration. He was an innovator, as surely as was Gluck, and, moreover, was an epoch-maker in operatic music. As a musician he was not without learning, as an examination of his overtures will clearly evidence. Some charming pieces for the clavecin show him as a pleasing and skilful writer for that instrument. The student can still find much in Lully’s scores that will repay thoughtful attention.

The name of Lully is inseparable from that of his faithful collaborator, Quinault, the versatile and imaginative poet who aided the composer by providing him subjects which were not only suited to the taste of the time, but contained situations adapted for the purposes of the musician. Before all and beyond all, Quinault, who in no wise deserved the bitter satires that Boileau showered upon him, thoroughly understood the genius of Lully, and knew how to adapt that genius to the tragedies which he was thereby inspired to write.

It will be understood why we do not give a facsimile reproduction of Lully’s musical manuscript, when we say that neither in the musical library of the Opéra, nor in that of the Conservatoire, nor at the National Library of Paris, nor anywhere else, can a single note of music from the pen of the founder of French opera be discovered. The same is true of his handwriting, not a line of which has come down to us. All that remains of it are three signatures. The composer of the music of “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” has this in common with its author, Molière, of whose writing only two or three signatures are extant.

Oscar Comettant


Reproduction of an excellent lithograph portrait of Rameau.

615 [Fleuron]


Just as Lully was the glory of the seventeenth century, so French musical genius is represented in the eighteenth by Rameau, the most learned theorist and illustrious composer of his time.

Jean Philippe Rameau was born at Dijon on the 25th of September, 1683. His father and mother were amateur musicians, and they carefully taught their son the elements of the art of which he was destined to become such a celebrated master. The little Rameau made very rapid progress, and his numerous biographers are agreed that at the age of seven there was no musical score which he could not execute at sight on the harpsichord.

In spite of his extraordinary talent for music, Rameau’s parents did not wish him to become an artist. They desired that he should enter the magistracy, and placed him as a student in the care of the Jesuits. He did not make much progress, however, and did not get beyond the fourth class in Latin; for his head was full of music and he could not apply himself to study, insomuch that he became a deplorable example for his school-fellows. His copy-books were annotated with fragments of music which passed through his mind and which he took a great pleasure in putting upon paper. He was at last sent away from the Jesuit college as an intractable pupil; he had but a very slight knowledge of Latin, French, or history, and the same might be said of other subjects.

On returning to his family he gave himself up completely to the study of the harpsichord and the organ, and also learned to play upon the violin. As regards harmony, the youthful Rameau failed to get beyond the first principles of that art-science, as he could not find in Dijon any musician sufficiently well informed on the rules and practice of counterpoint to perfect his knowledge of harmony. Who knows whether it was not precisely this unfortunate blank in his studies which caused him later on to undertake the theoretical inquiries into the formation of chords that are the subject of his admirable treatises on harmony?

Before he had thoroughly learned the laws of harmony, Rameau, as yet a beardless youth, yielded to the law laid down by the little winged god whose name is Cupid. He fell madly in love with a widow who was his neighbor. Everybody knows that nothing exercises a more unfortunate or more beneficial influence over the mind of a young lover than the advice given him by the woman he loves. Happily the widow gave good advice to her adorer. She went so far one day as to reproach him with his ignorance of the French language. “You spell like a scullion!” she told him. Rameau did not die on the spot in consequence of this outrage, for he was a strong-minded youth; but his face became scarlet, and he promised to study—a promise he kept.

Rameau’s father, however, who desired to put an end to the intrigue carried on by his son—who was as precocious in passionate gallantry as he was talented on the harpsichord—broke off the liaison by sending him to travel in Italy. Rameau did not tear himself away from his fair neighbor without great emotion, his heart beating prestissimo appassionato; but he was bound to obey the paternal behest.

The future author of “Castor and Pollux” was not yet eighteen years of age when he arrived in Milan. The works of the Italian composers then in vogue did not at all modify his taste, which was entirely the outcome of his own peculiar character. He heard the music of Scarlatti, Lotti, Duni, Caldara, Leo, and it caused him surprise rather than satisfaction. He remained but a short time in the capital of Lombardy, and did not continue his Italian excursion further than that point. He had but one desire, and that was to return to France. Chance having brought him into contact with a theatrical manager, who had come to Milan to get together an orchestra and an operatic troupe for a tour in the south of France, Rameau accepted an engagement as violinist. It was several years later when he returned to Dijon. Whether or not he sought the widow for whom he had felt such an affection history does not say. We are rather inclined to think that he did not see her again, as he remained at Dijon but a very short time. Henceforth, he patiently awaited the moment when he should be able to go to Paris, to sit at the feet of eminent masters who would perfect him in the art of composition.

Finally he left for the French capital, and arrived there in the course of the year 1717, being then about thirty-four years of age. It was very late to commence the study of an art of which he as yet only imperfectly understood the technique. Especially was it late to dream of attaining celebrity in theatrical music, access to which was always very difficult for unknown composers.

Rameau at last believed that he had found a protector and a professor who would be disposed to complete his musical education, in the person of the organist Marchand, who was held in great esteem in Paris. But Marchand at once detected the superior genius—although it was then in a latent state—of the Dijon musician, and under the influence of fear and jealousy he sent him away. He acted indeed in a most culpable manner towards Rameau and showed unjust partiality to others, as we shall see.

The position of organist at the Church of St. Paul becoming vacant, it was submitted to public competition. Rameau, being obliged to work to keep the pot boiling, presented himself as a competitor against one Daquin, who was an indifferent organist, and still more indifferent composer. Marchand was appointed judge of the competition. According to the testimony of all who were present at this interesting trial, Rameau stood forth immensely superior to Daquin. Nevertheless Marchand decided in favor of the latter, and consequently the position was given to him. After this check, Rameau was obliged to accept a place as organist at Lille. He left Paris regretfully; but his departure was a source of great satisfaction to Marchand, who feared his presence there.

Rameau did not remain long at Lille. He had a brother at Clermont, in Auvergne, who was a musician of some talent, and organist of the cathedral of that city. Wishing to retire, he offered Jean Philippe the position which he was leaving, and the place being a remunerative one, Rameau accepted. He was, however, to his deep regret, obliged to enter into an engagement for a certain number of years, for towards Paris his eyes were ever turned.

Situated in the midst of the mountains, the town of Clermont was at that time very little visited by strangers, and Rameau concentrated himself in his own personality. He wrote motets and pieces for the harpsichord. There, too, he reflected upon the natural laws governing the formation of chords, the theory of which had not then been expounded. After deep and continuous study—like Newton when he discovered the law of gravitation—Rameau at last discovered the secret of harmony. To him belongs the glory of being the first to formulate these laws, in his first work, of which we shall speak presently.

Four years had passed away, yet Rameau was bound to remain at Clermont for several years more, in accordance with the terms of his agreement; but he still saw Paris in his dreams, Paris, the only city where he could produce his compositions and his book on theory. He was, however, held in great esteem at Clermont, and in spite of his repeated attempts to cancel the agreement he was unable to do so. He then devised a plan by which he should be sent away from his church for reasons contrary to those which were advanced by the friends and admirers who desired him to remain there. They thought that he was an inspired organist and that his harmonies were of an elevated and powerful character. Rameau suddenly began to play on his noble instrument like an ignorant musician, destitute of ideas, bringing forth such discordant and frightful sounds that the clergy were scandalized and the faithful stopped their ears. Remonstrances were made to him. He answered that he could do no better; that it was in this wise that the noble art of the organist had been suddenly revealed to him, and that he should always play in this manner. He was accordingly dismissed and received his discharge with infinite joy. At the last service which he attended, when his successor sat by his side, he ceased his practical joking and played upon the organ in such a manner as to compel the admiration of all who heard it. He was determined that they should regret his departure, and he succeeded marvellously.

Thus Rameau returned to Paris, where, in the course of a short time, he published his treatise on harmony. But the subject was so novel and the explanations given by the author so abstruse that musicians failed to understand it. This, however, did not prevent them from speaking of it malevolently, with the naive and base assurance born of ignorance and vanity. Profoundly saddened but not discouraged by this result, he turned to composition for the renown which was not accorded to him as a theorist.

Rameau wrote with rare facility cantatas with choruses, sonatas, and other pieces for the harpsichord, which caused him to be regarded with great interest by the public. Pupils came to him and he obtained the position of organist at the church of Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie. He would have been perfectly happy in this position, had he not yearned for a grander destiny, of which mention has already been made—success as a composer of grand opera.

To test his strength he made his debut in a small theatre, as the author of the scores for several pieces written by his fellow-Dijonais, the poet Piron, of happy memory, with songs and dance-tunes, which did not pass unnoticed. Then, resuming his labors on musical theory, he published his second book on the subject. This book, like the first, did not escape the malevolent criticism of ignorant persons; but this tended to spread abroad the name of the author, which came to be talked of in spite of the efforts made to keep it secret. Rameau’s instrumental music began to be sought after, and his pieces for the harpsichord were played everywhere. This result was not what he had hoped to attain: conscious of his superiority as a dramatic composer, his goal, as we know, was the Académie de Musique. He applied to the echoes of the neighborhood, that is to say, to all the lyric poets who had a reputation. These turned a deaf ear to his request, being fearful of collaborating at the debut (always an uncertain matter) of a composer in so difficult, so complex an art as lyric tragedy.


From a lithograph at the Paris Opera Library, made after a drawing by E. Nesle.

At last, however, Rameau found the golden key which, so the proverb says, opens every door, even the door of the Opera, in the person of the great financier, M. de la Popelinière, whose wife was one of his pupils and took lessons on the harpsichord. M. de la Popelinière arranged a meeting at his house between the most illustrious Voltaire and Rameau, the humble aspirant to musical glory. Voltaire promised to write an opera for the protégé of the great Farmer-General, and this piece appears in the complete works of Voltaire under the title of “Samson.” The literary masterpiece of the great writer pleased Rameau greatly, and he set to work upon the accompanying music with great enthusiasm. When the score was finished the musician rendered it at de la Popelinière’s house, in presence of Voltaire and a chosen few. Rameau emerged from the ordeal triumphant; but, alas! there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip. The director of the Académie de Musique would have nothing to do with the piece, which he considered unsuitable for the opera, because founded on a biblical subject. It is interesting to remember what Voltaire has written on this question.

“Rameau,” says he, in speaking of “Samson,” “Rameau, the greatest musician in France, set this opera to music about the year 1732. It was about to be produced, when the same cabal which at a later date succeeded in causing the representations of ‘Mahomet’ (one of Voltaire’s tragedies) to be suspended, prevented the production of ‘Samson’ at the Opéra.”

I do not know whether the cabal spoken of by the author of the “Dictionnaire Philosophique” was responsible in this matter. I should be inclined to think that the director of the Opéra simply took counsel with himself. Whatever the fact, Voltaire adds:

“And at the very time when permission was given for this piece (“Samson”) to be played at the Theatre of the Comédie Italienne, and when ‘Samson’ worked miracles conjointly with Arlequin, permission was not granted for the same subject to be represented in a noble and worthy manner at the Theatre of the Académie de Musique. Our musician has since made use of nearly all the airs in ‘Samson’ in other lyric compositions, which envy was unable to suppress.”

It is quite true that Rameau utilized, but long afterwards, a part of the music in “Samson” for his opera “Zoroastre.” This work was not his début at the opera. The composer appeared before the Académie de Musique with “Hippolyte et Aricie,” by the Abbé Pellegrin, a worldly abbé if there ever was one, and a great playwright, concerning whom these verses were written:

Le matin catholique et le soir idolâtre,
Il dîne de l’autel et soupe du théâtre.

M. de la Popelinière advanced 500 livres to the Abbé to secure him against the possible failure of the piece, and Rameau set to work again. This opera was given on the first of October, 1733. The composer attained renown in his fiftieth year: he was old in years but young in fame, as we have seen.


From a copperplate engraved by J. W. Bellinger, Berlin, 1802.

Before examining the dramatic works of Rameau and forming an opinion as to their influence upon French art, we will add a few words concerning the composer’s personal appearance. He was tall in stature and extraordinarily thin. His face was furrowed by deep wrinkles; he had an aquiline nose, a broad and open forehead and prominent cheek-bones. The mouth was large, the look frank and bold and indicative of energy, perseverance and will power. One might have supposed him a person of delicate health, although he was never seriously ill, owing to the very sober regime which he had adopted. Given much to reflection, he was not talkative and never spoke of himself. He married a young lady named Marie Louise Mangot, who was a good musician and had a very fine voice, and she made her illustrious husband very happy in his home circle by her amiable character and her kindness of heart. He had by her three children, one son and two daughters. Rameau died at the age of about eighty-one, in the same month as that which saw his birth—the 12th of September, 1764—leaving behind him a considerable quantity of dramatic music, although he had only begun to write for the theatre, as we know, at an age when many men have finished their career.


Reproduced from a photograph made for this work by special permission. One of four life-size statues placed in the vestibule of the Opera House, at the foot of the grand marble staircase.

“Hippolyte et Aricie” met with but doubtful success, about which there was difference of opinion. Accustomed as the public was to the flowing music of Lully, that of Rameau was considered brusque and his harmonies rough and dissonant. They were indeed very bold for the time. What astonished the amateurs and put to rout the imitators of Lully, such as Colasse, Desmarets, Blamont, was the novelty of the modulation, the suddenness of the changed chords, the character and style of the instrumentation. With Rameau, the flutes, hautbois, bassoons, manifested themselves at intervals, without any interruption of the general theme of the symphony. Rameau sought to give and gave to each instrument its own particular force and value, which enhanced the interest without detracting in any degree from the unity of style of the piece.

At a later date, when he had attained the full measure of his experience, Rameau certainly produced better work than “Hippolyte et Aricie.” At the same time this first opera of the great French master is full of dramatic beauty and attractive conceptions. We may cite, as an example, the charming chorus of nymphs in the prologue, the graceful gavotte which was sung: “A l’Amour rendons les armes.” And again, the fine air sung by Aricie in the first act, the chorus, “Dieux vengeurs, lancez le tonnerre”; with a purely instrumental page to imitate the thunder, which certainly does not equal the storm of the pastoral symphony, but which at the same time is not wanting in effect, particularly the violin arpeggios. The second act, the scene of which is laid in the infernal regions, is characterized by a boldness of harmony and a striking novelty for the period. The two first movements of the first scene are simply pure Weber. The rest is of the same fantastic character.

There is no musician, however humble his attainments, who does not know and admire the trio of the Fates, “Quelle soudaine horreur.” The succession of chords on the words, “Où cours-tu, malheureux?” are striking in their expression. This would appear even at the present day as a happy and wonderfully effective discovery.

“Les Indes Galantes,” an heroic ballet, was the second work that Rameau gave to the Opéra. He was then fifty years of age. The public, who had become more accustomed to the musician’s peculiarly characteristic style, received this work in the most favorable manner. From that time forth, the master who had experienced such difficulty in obtaining access to the Opéra, was rewarded with one long series of triumphs. He reigned in the opinion of the musicians and the habitués of the Académie de Musique as an omnipotent sovereign of the art. “Les Fêtes d’Hébé,” “Dardanus,” “Zoroastre,” “Anacréon,” “Platée,” “Les Fêtes de Polymnie,” “Les Fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour,” are works which bear the impress of Rameau’s genius. His talent appeared to the most advantage, however, in “Castor et Pollux,” his dramatic masterpiece, which indeed is a fine example of theatrical music.

We mentioned above the theoretical works of Rameau, and now propose to make further reference to them. Rameau’s theory, which threw a flood of light upon what before his time was darkness and empiricism, is entirely based upon the eternal law governing the creation of chords by the resonances of the monochord. Rameau found in these resonances the fundamental bass of the different chords composed of a succession of thirds. This discovery of the fundamental bass showed the true nature of the inversions of chords which before the theoretical exposition of the great Dijon master had been considered as so many peculiar kinds of chords.

Rameau had discovered the natural formation of chords, a thing wonderful in itself and sufficient to make his name immortal; but in thus establishing the principles of harmony he had not established all its laws. He left to his didactic successors the work of laying down the important rules of the attraction of notes for the determination of chords, as also the rules governing their movement in modulation. It is thus that we find in Rameau’s work certain hazardous harmonies which are more due to the non-observance of these laws than offences against good taste or fancies of the composer’s imagination. We see, indeed, in the music of this artistic genius successions of fifths, faulty relation of notes, brusque modulations offensive to the ear, which are nothing more than faults in writing. Thus he who has been truly called the “Father of Harmony,” made mistakes in harmony which, even at the present day, in spite of the great liberty taken by composers of the advanced school with their successions of modified chords, still remain faults in musical grammar.

Rameau wrote his last opera, “Les Paladins,” at the age of seventy-seven. In reading this score we find nothing to indicate any failing of the vigorous mind of this extraordinary musician, who, following Lully, was the pioneer in the great field of dramatic music that Gluck was destined to cover with incomparable power and genius.

Fac-simile musical manuscript written by Rameau.

Reproduced from original in the Paris Opera Library.

This article would be very incomplete were we not to say a few words concerning the pieces for the harpsichord composed by Rameau, which form such an important item in the fine work by A. Mereaux, “Les Clavecinistes,” containing a selection of pieces by these musicians from 1637 to 1790, classed in their chronological order, and revised, annotated and accented with the variations and ornaments of the period and in full notation. What pianist of the present day has not delighted in playing, from amongst the numerous compositions by Rameau for the harpsichord, his “Musette,” “Tambourin,” “Poule,” “Rappel des Oiseaux,” “Fanfarinette,” “Egyptienne,” and “Entretiens des Muses,” etc. Few pianists, however, have succeeded in executing these delightful inspirations on the instrument for which they were written, and which gives them their full effect, with all the freshness of idea, color, and ingenious accompaniment. It is a feast for a musical epicure to hear music by Couperin, or Frescobaldi, or Scarlatti played by an educated musician and pianist of taste, in conjunction with music by Rameau executed upon a well-preserved or newly-manufactured harpsichord. For the celebrated piano manufactory of Pleyel, Wolff et Cie., of Paris, yielding to the desire expressed by a few artists and amateurs, has made for them a limited number of harpsichords which out-rival in a remarkable manner, both as to quality of sound and the number of pedals, the finest instrument of the celebrated Taskin.

In 1888, the Paris Society of Musical Composers gave an exclusively artistic soirée in the Salle Pleyel, the memory of which yet remains. By the side of magnificent grand pianos, the most noble instruments produced by this musical establishment, was a harpsichord, which gave promise of great things. It was not found wanting when put to the test; for, in the hands of M. Diémer and Mme. Roger-Miclos, two virtuosos whose reputation is well established, it rendered the music of the composers who wrote for the harpsichord in a wonderful manner, particularly the pieces by Rameau.

A statue has been erected to the memory of Rameau in his native town of Dijon, due to the initiative of a Dijon composer of considerable talent, M. Poisot, who opened a subscription in order to put on record the public admiration for this great and illustrious musician of Burgundy.

Oscar Comettant


From a rare engraving by Fessard.


Reproduction of a portrait by Quenedey painted in 1808.

Grétry at the age of sixty-seven.

623 [Fleuron]


André Ernest Modeste Grétry, the author of “Richard Cœur de Lion,” was born at Liège on the 11th of February, 1741. At the age of seven years he was placed by his father, a poor musician and one of the violinists of the Collegiate Church of St. Denis, as a chorister in that church.

The unfortunate little boy, who was of a delicate constitution and who suffered from hemorrhages throughout the whole of his laborious existence, was obliged to walk six times every day from his home to the church—a distance of about a mile—in order to take part in the services. Matins were sung, even in the most rigorous days of winter, between five and six o’clock in the morning. One day the child arrived somewhat late at this early service, and although he was not to blame, the choir-master obliged him to remain upon his knees for two hours in the midst of his fellow choristers. This punishment had such an effect upon little Grétry, who was naturally of a timid disposition, that he would awake several times during the night in a state of fear lest he should arrive too late. “Without considering the hour or the weather, I would often start off as early as three o’clock in the morning, through snow and ice, and would sit down at the door of the church, warming my hands at my little lantern, which I held on my knees. In this way I used to sleep more peacefully, because I was sure that they could not open the door without waking me.”

Grétry finally emancipated himself from this choir, which was a veritable scholastic place of torment, having learned scarcely anything of music. His first professor of any importance was the organist of the Church of St. Pierre at Liège, M. Renekin, who gave him lessons in counterpoint for two years, and kindly encouraged him in his early essays in instrumental music. The young musician also studied under Moreau, a talented musician and a methodical and conscientious professor.

In order to finish his musical studies and because of an ardent desire to visit other countries, Grétry conceived the idea of going to Rome to establish himself there. The idea of separation was not a pleasant one for his father. He opposed it for two reasons: his son’s delicate health, and the expense which would necessarily be incurred. However, there was no choice but to yield before the determination expressed by this young aspirant to musical glory; and Grétry, who was then eighteen years of age, started from Liège for Rome. He set forth on foot—being destitute of the means which would enable him to make this long journey by coach or on horseback—after having seen performed a mass of his own composition, in recognition of which a present was made him by the canons of St. Denis.

With a small stock of money and a pair of pistols given him by his grandfather to defend himself against the highwaymen—there were highwaymen then, and many of them on the roads of beautiful Italy—Grétry set out with a guide named Remacle, who, in spite of his sixty years, was accustomed to travel on foot from Liège to Rome, and from Rome to Liège, regularly twice a year. His ostensible profession was that of a guide, but he also followed the less respectable and more remunerative calling of smuggler. Remacle fraudulently carried into Rome quantities of fine Flanders lace, while from Rome he brought back relics and Popes’ slippers which he supplied to the convents in the Netherlands. Whether these slippers had really been worn by his Holiness and whether the relics had the origin ascribed to them by the honest Remacle, it is not necessary to inquire here: rumor said so, and by faith we attain salvation.

When the day fixed for the departure of the young musician arrived, the guide went to the house of Grétry’s parents. His coming might be likened to the appearance of a spectre to this poor couple, so deeply affected were they by the departure of their child. Without a word the little fellow laid hold of his valise and strapped it on his back; then knelt down with his hands clasped before his father and mother and asked their blessing. “God bless thee, dear child!” were the simple words pronounced by the broken-hearted parents, and then the traveller disappeared with his guide.

The son was not less moved than his father and mother, whose kindly faces were bathed in tears and wore the ashy hue of death. “As soon as I was able to think calmly,” writes the musician, “I felt tears trickling down my cheeks, and I said: ‘O God, grant that thy poor creature may one day become the support and consolation of his unfortunate parents!’” How touching is this simple scene, how eloquently does it speak in favor of this patriarchal household which Grétry, by his genius, has made illustrious; and how strongly are our sympathies moved by the immortality earned for it by this most sensible of sons!

The brave youth, who was accompanied by a young surgeon, walked regularly ten leagues a day with his knapsack upon his back. Those were hard day’s marches. At Trèves the two young men began to fear that they would not be able to go any farther, but their energetic determination gave them strength, and they continued their journey, still at the rate of ten leagues a day. They passed through the Tyrol, singing the while, and braved the dangers of the avalanches, and a few days later stood in rapt admiration of the beautiful land of the Milanese. They afterward visited the artistic curiosities of Florence. Every part of Italy was in their eyes an enchanted region. At last Grétry saluted the Eternal City, which he entered by the Porta del Popolo. He had ample time to make himself thoroughly familiar with Rome and to carefully study the works of the Italian masters, then so greatly renowned; for he remained at least nine years in Italy. Here he made his early efforts in sacred and in theatrical music, but without achieving any brilliant success. He was then feeling his way, and did not as yet know for what particular style of music he was best fitted. Chance, however, brought to his notice a comic opera by Monsigny, and he at once felt that his true vocation was the music best suited to comedy. But as Paris was the only field which offered him the means of making himself known to advantage in this branch of musical art, he resolved to settle in the French capital.

In this biography of Grétry it would be unjust to omit the name of the Swedish Envoy, the Comte de Creutz, who raised the musician’s hopes and helped him to continue his struggle at times when he felt greatly depressed. M. de Creutz had divined the degree of genius exhibited in the early attempts of our musician, although they had not been publicly successful, and it is fitting that his name should be mentioned in connection with the successes of his illustrious protégé. Grétry never lost an opportunity of testifying his deep gratitude to M. de Creutz.

When, after his long sojourn in Italy, the composer was guided by his lucky star to settle in Paris, he had neither harpsichord nor pianoforte, and it appears that for some time he pursued his studies without having one of these instruments which are of the first necessity for a composer. It was upon a clavichord lent him by M. Louet that the composer wrote: “Les Mariages Samnites,” “Lucile,” “Le Huron,” “Le Tableau Parlant,” “Le Sphinx,” “Les Deux Avares,” “L’Amitié à l’Epreuve,” and “Zemire et Azor.”

In the clavichord, which was the predecessor of the spinet, brass rods are used instead of pen nibs to make the chords vibrate. Grétry’s clavichord, which may be found in the interesting collection of the Instrumental Museum at the Paris Conservatoire, possesses only four octaves and two notes, as was usually the case with the clavichords of the seventeenth century. We asked permission of M. Pillaut, the learned conservator of the Instrumental Museum, to take a photograph of this clavichord, which is not only highly interesting in itself, but because it was the faithful confidant of the master’s inspiration. M. Pillaut gave the permission asked, and we think it right to tender him our thanks.


From a photograph made by special permission.

Grétry passed the last years of his life at Montmorency, near Paris, in a house called the Hermitage, where the celebrated writer Jean Jacques Rousseau lived for some time and died. Here, retired from the world, Grétry received his faithful friends of the last days, notably D’Alayrac and Boieldieu, who lived in a cottage near the Hermitage. The old master loved to talk about his art to those who succeeded him in the career, and he lavished upon them the precious counsels of his experience. It was in acknowledgment of this great service that Boieldieu dedicated to Grétry his charming Opera-Comique, “Jean de Paris.” During the latter part of his life Grétry composed nothing, and after the death of his wife, which occurred March 17, 1807, he very rarely visited the theatre. In 1812 Grétry partially rewrote his score of Elisa, which was his last bit of composition. On Sept. 12, 1813, feeling very ill, he wrote the following letter to M. Le Breton, life secretary of the department of Fine Arts at the Institute:—

“My dear colleague: It is impossible for me to be present at the Institute for the judgment of the musical prize. On arriving at the Hermitage, still convalescent, I was attacked with a hemorrhage which lasted three days, and from which I lost a pint and a half of blood, leaving me extremely weak. I now await the end of my long sufferings. I am resigned, but in leaving this life, I feel that one of my keenest regrets will be never again to meet my dear colleagues whom I love no less than I honor them. I pray you to let them see this letter. Adieu, my dear colleague; I embrace you with all my heart.



A few days later, Sept. 26, 1813, the author of Richard Cœur de Lion passed away. The funeral ceremony took place in Paris, with great solemnity. The pall-bearers were Méhul, Berton, Marsallier and Bouilly.

Grétry’s heart has been the object of much discussion, and even a tedious law suit. The composer had often expressed in his lifetime the desire that his heart should be offered to his native city, Liège. M. Flamand, one of Grétry’s nephews, having obtained from the prefect of police at Paris the authorization to have the body exhumed in order to send the heart to Liège, wrote to the mayor of that city and offered him this precious token of the illustrious composer’s ardent love for his native country. The mayor responded in such terms as to cause M. Flamand to reconsider his proposition, and the heart was kept at the Hermitage.

In 1821 the city of Liège reclaimed the bequest which had been made it, but this time M. Flamand absolutely refused to deliver it up. A lawsuit followed which was decided by the court substantially as follows: that since the extraction of Grétry’s heart had been demanded by the family and granted by public authority solely for the purpose of paying homage to the city of Liege, which had prepared a monument to receive it, therefore it should be withdrawn from the garden of the Hermitage, and sent to the commissioners of the city of Liège. This decree was not carried out. The prefect of the Seine and the minister of the interior objected. The question was then carried before the council of state, and in 1828, fifteen years after Grétry’s death, the precious leaden box containing the heart of the illustrious composer was carried to Liège.



Formerly inhabited by Jean Jacques Rousseau.



View from the garden behind house.



Erected by M. and Mme. Flamand Grétry in Enghien, Montmorency, to receive the heart of the illustrious Grétry.



We cannot close this biography of the most celebrated musician of Liège—one of the most musical cities in Europe—without mentioning the Musée Grétry at the conservatory in the capital of the Walloon country. This most interesting museum, where may be seen the objects which either formerly belonged to the celebrated composer or serve to remind us of him, is the personal work of the present director of the Liège Conservatoire, the learned and distinguished composer, Theodore Radoux. We have had the pleasure of visiting this museum—a veritable shrine—accompanied by M. Radoux, who described the various objects exhibited, in a most lucid and instructive manner.

Grétry left Rome for Geneva in the month of January, 1767. A short time before, Favart’s “Isabelle et Gertrude” had been represented at the Comédie Italienne in Paris. It was a success, but the music seemed to be weak. Grétry seized upon this comedy and wrote new airs for it. “Isabelle et Gertrude” was represented at Geneva, and was very well received.

In Paris Grétry was present at a representation of “Dardanus,” by Rameau, which he did not altogether understand, and which, as he admitted later, he found to be almost wearisome. He was still too full of the memories of Italian music—although it had exercised very little real influence on his genius—to be able to thoroughly appreciate at its proper value this essentially dramatic French music, which was at times somewhat crude as to harmony and melodious expression, but always suited to the action. Nevertheless, although this work of the immediate predecessor of Gluck did not appeal to him strongly, Grétry was not long in recognizing its true merit. He told himself that Music, although not merely the humble handmaid of Poesy, with which she is allied, ought to aid her to express her feelings with due effect, and that consequently theatrical music should, as far as possible, be subject to the rules of pure elocution. Following the example of Lully—for whom Grétry always expressed great admiration—he was wont to attend the Théâtre-Français to find the notes, so to speak, of spoken declamation, and unite it intimately with song and melody. Moreover, the difficulty he experienced in finding a piece to set to music gave him a good deal of leisure; indeed the first two years of Grétry’s stay in Paris were devoted to a search for a poem. At last he obtained from an unknown poet named du Rozoy, “Les Mariages Samnites,” a piece in three acts which was destined for the Comédie Italienne but was not accepted at that theatre and was afterwards rewritten for the Opera. The work was represented there, but with great difficulty and bitter mortification for the composer.

This essay, which failed to impress the public of the Académie de Musique, was followed by “Le Huron,” a comedy in two acts by Marmontel, which was represented for the first time at the Italiens on the 20th of August, 1769. The piece was unanimously and we might say even enthusiastically applauded, both by the audience and by the critics. Above all, the care taken by the composer as to good prosody and the proper feeling peculiar to the dramatis personæ, was greatly applauded. The songs were considered very happy, although they did not exhibit that graceful variety of form and contour then characteristic of the music which the public were accustomed to hear at the Italiens by masters like Piccinni, Pergolèse, Jomelli, Galuppi, etc.

After “Le Huron” was given “Lucile,” also a poem by Marmontel, in which a quartet on the words: “Où peut-on être mieux qu’au sein de sa famille?” was long celebrated. But in reality “Le Tableau Parlant,” the comic opera which followed “Lucile,” consisting of one act in verse by Ansaume, produced at the Italiens, was the starting point of Grétry’s fortune. While fully preserving the good humor of the subject of the piece and the words which are sung during its progress, the composer succeeded in clothing the work of the author of the words with impressive sonorousness, the telling and well-chosen passages being at the same time instinct with frank gaiety.

From that day forth, it may be said that the celebrated composer thoroughly realized his capacity, and it was easy to see that he would take his place in the first rank of comedy in music.

Fac-simile musical manuscript written by Grétry; from Cherubini’s collection.

The name in upper left-hand corner was written by Cherubini.

Grétry did not and could not succeed in grand opera music. Nature had not endowed him with the lofty sentiment of lyric tragedy; he would have needed a courage bordering upon temerity or a high-strung imagination to dare to measure himself with the formidable Gluck, surnamed the Æschylus of music. But if lyric tragedy was a closed book to him, he nevertheless succeeded at the theatre of the Grand Opera in lyric comedy, which he was the first to bring to the notice of the Academy. Grétry himself takes care to tell us this fact in the following passage of his book: “When I introduced lyric comedy on the stage of the opera, I was looked upon as a culpable innovator, and yet I saw that the public was weary of tragedy, which was always on the boards. I heard many lovers of dancing murmur because their favorite art was only allowed to play a subsidiary and frequently a useless rôle in tragedy. I saw the managers who were desirous of adopting the best possible productions, and were feeling their way, unsuccessfully revive fragments or pastorals of former times, and I said as often as I had the opportunity that two styles of music placed in opposition lent each other mutual charms; that the French comedians alternately produced tragedy and comedy, and that if they were obliged to give up these two styles they would not know what to do.” It would appear that the public of the Grand Opera shared Grétry’s opinion, as the composer gave several comedies to that theatre which were brilliantly successful, in particular “La Caravane du Caire,” which had a long and fashionable run. This piece was represented for the first time before the Court at Fontainebleau in October, 1783, and a little later at the Opera. At court, as before the general public, the piece and its music gave the greatest delight to the spectators. The short but brilliant and extremely graceful overture of this work speedily became popular, not only in France but all over Europe. The morceaux of song are gay but elevated and are all agreeable, although the public would have liked them better had they been more strongly tinged with oriental color than they are. If Grétry did not possess the dramatic afflatus in lyric tragedy, he exhibited in all his operas of a semi-character an elevated style which, combined with his exceptional wealth of melody, places him in the first rank of the French masters of the last century. He gave to pathetic scenes a wonderful sublimity, an admirable instance of which may be found in the beautiful prison scene in “Richard Cœur de Lion.” In this work, the fruit of such a rich imagination, Grétry has exhibited the full measure of his genius and all the talent of which he was possessed as a harmonist. It is interesting to remark in regard to this opera that Grétry made of certain portions of the celebrated ballad, “Une Fievre brûlante,” a sort of leit motiv after the manner of Wagner. Indeed, this fragmentary theme returns again and again under different aspects at least nine times in the course of the score. But we shall see later that Grétry was Wagner’s predecessor not only for the leit motiv, but that he was also the first to suggest an invisible orchestra such as that of the theatre of Bayreuth. As to the characteristic theme of “Richard Cœur de Lion” (the fragmentary ballad considered in its transformations as playing the part of the modern leit motiv), it is curious to notice that Grétry used it in this comic opera with exactly the same idea as Wagner in his lyric dramas. Whenever allusion is made to the royal prisoner, described in the ballad sung by Blondel, a fragment of this air appears. And when Blondel sings to this same air, but in common measure, the following words:

Sa voix a pénétré mon âme,
Je la connais, Madame,

“is it not,” writes Grétry, “as though he said: ‘His voice has gone to my heart while he sang the air which he made for you.’”


From an engraving after a painting by Mme. Vigée-Lebrun, in 1785, the year of the first representation of “Richard Cœur de Lion.”

“Richard Cœur de Lion”—the denouement of which was changed by the author of the piece, Sedaine, at least three times—marks the culminating point of the master’s career. The piece had a great and lasting success, and it remains still in the répertoire of the Opéra Comique. The instrumentation has been reconstructed in a very careful and happy manner by Adolphe Adam.

After this work Grétry produced several others, which did not, however, meet with the same good fortune. Nevertheless, Grétry occupies a place of honor in the history of theatrical music, and his style is remembered as original. If he never acquired the dexterity of the adepts at counterpoint then in renown, and if his harmonies are at times awkward and even faulty, they still have a peculiar attraction which makes them not only acceptable but original and charming.

One day when I went to see Auber in his little house in the Rue St. Georges I found the author of “La Muette de Portici” and the “Domino Noir” at the piano with one of Grétry’s scores in front of him. “Just look at this passage,” said Auber, “it is very curious, considered as to the succession of chords. This harmony is certainly not correct, and would never have entered the mind of what is called a musical savant. And yet if you try to change it you may make it more accurate, but it will be wanting in relief and expression.” That is because the awkwardness of Grétry is the awkwardness of an artistic genius, and awkwardness of that kind is a thousand times better than the accuracy of the cold and unimaginative musician.

I said above that Grétry had the first intuition of the leit motiv in “Richard Cœur de Lion,” as a device for recalling to the spectator either an event, a scene, an essential object or a personage, with their distinctive peculiarities, at the same time preserving unity of style in the general construction of his work;—I said that he also imagined an invisible orchestra such as that which exists in the Wagner Theatre at Bayreuth. Grétry speaks as follows in his work, “Mémoires et Essais sur la Musique,” in the chapter entitled: “Plan for a new Theatre”:

“I should like the auditorium of my theatre to be small, holding at the most a thousand persons, and consisting of a sort of open space without boxes, small or great, because these nooks only encourage scandal or worse. I should like the orchestra to be concealed so that neither the musicians nor the lights on their music-stands would be visible to the spectators. The effect would be magical, the more so as it is always understood that the orchestra is not supposed to be there. A solid stone wall ought, in my opinion, to separate the orchestra from the theatre, so that the sound may reverberate in the auditorium.”


“Grétry in crossing the Styx plays upon his lyre to beguile the time. ‘Why do you not row?’ he asks Charon.... ‘Because I am listening!’”

Drawn by Joly and engraved by Duplessi-Berlaus.


Reproduction of a lithograph portrait by Grevedon, 1826, after a painting by Riesener.

633 [Fleuron]


On December 15, 1775, there was born in Rouen a composer who was to leave an indelible imprint of his abilities upon the operatic music of France. At the beginning of his career there was nothing in his circumstances that could have presaged his future greatness. He was the son of the secretary of Archbishop Larochefoucauld, and his mother kept a small millinery store in the old-fashioned city. His parents did not enjoy perfect conjugal felicity, and finally their quarrels led to a divorce, soon after which the father married again. The young Boieldieu was designed for a musical career, and his father soon sent him to the cathedral as a choir-boy. In those days music was frequently made a matter of apprenticeship, and was studied almost as if it had been a handicraft; it is therefore not surprising to find the lad indentured to the cathedral organist Broche, who led him a sorry life. Those who are familiar with the early life of Haydn will recall how that composer was forced for a time to be merely the lackey of Porpora; Boieldieu was in still worse case, for his master was both a drunkard and a martinet, and many a corporal punishment was inflicted on the apprentice merely because of errors in musical exercises. It seems strange that the rough induction into the art did not cause the lad to hate music and finally desert it, but, as was the case with Beethoven, the tears of childhood only seem to have cemented the foundation of his education. Broche made the curriculum hard and dry enough, and the companions of the lad (“le petit Boiel” they called him then) added to his discomforts by laughing at his shyness and awkward ways.

Naturally enough Boieldieu stood in mortal terror of his brutal taskmaster, and the culmination of his fright came one day when he accidentally upset an ink bottle on one of Broche’s books; expecting nothing less than capital punishment for such a heinous crime, the boy took to his heels, and, at the age of twelve, ran away to Paris. How he managed to get there without money or assistance is not clearly known, but he eventually arrived and sought out some relatives who dwelt in the French metropolis. These gave him shelter, but at the same time notified his parents, who soon took him back to his musical and menial drudgery. Nevertheless his condition seems to have been bettered by his escapade, for Broche was warned to use milder measures with him, and he remained at his studies with the organist until he was sixteen. During these four years his taste for operatic music began to awaken, and he was a constant attendant at the performances in the provincial theatre. As he had no money he was obliged to resort to all kinds of expedients to obtain admission, and there are many anecdotes extant of his ingenious efforts to hear this or that opera without going through the slight preliminary of paying for his admission. At times he would slip into the theatre early in the morning, carrying a bundle of music, as if he had been sent as messenger to some of the orchestra, and then, by hiding through the day, often without food, he managed to stand through the performance in the evening, after which he would hurry home well contented with his good fortune. The operas which he heard at this period of his career were chiefly those of Grétry or of Mehul, as both composers were much in vogue at that time, and he was much influenced by their light and melodious style. It was not long before his ambition was awakened to an attempt to imitate them and to compose an opera himself. He was eighteen years old when he accomplished this task. He had sought in vain for a libretto, and finally had recourse to his father, who gave him the text for an opera which enjoyed an evanescent success. “La Fille Coupable” was the name of this Opus 1, which was completed in 1793 and has now disappeared. One can imagine that the audiences were neither over-refined or hypercritical in those days of the Reign of Terror, but a more cultivated era soon followed, and the second opera, which came two years later, and was entitled “Rosalie et Myrza,” was less favorably received. Boieldieu was not yet ripe for operatic composition, but at least these works furthered his career in that they obtained him the privilege of free entrance to other operatic performances, and thus his experience and taste were gradually expanded.


From the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

The partial success fired his heart sufficiently for him to leave Rouen and seek Paris for the second time. This time he carried with him thirty francs, an operatic score, and an abundance of self-confidence. He was now nineteen years old. His reception was the chilling one usually accorded to young composers in Paris, and very soon he began to feel the nippings of hunger, which put the thoughts of public success out of his head for the nonce, and drove him to teaching piano. He however had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the celebrated tenor Garat, and this gentleman became interested in him, and finally sang some of his chansons in public and in fashionable drawing-rooms. These little songs soon found favor, and Boieldieu became gradually known through them. M. Cochet, the publisher, paid him twelve francs each for these productions, a figure which seems ridiculous until one remembers that Schubert sometimes accepted a franc or two for some of his immortal lieder. Some of these early works of Boieldieu are still in the musical repertoire, and are occasionally heard in concerts, as for example, “O toi que j’aime,” and “Menestrel,” and they served at the time to spread the social success of the composer. Finally Boieldieu made the acquaintance of Fiévée, the novelist, who wrote for him a short libretto in one act, “La Dot de Suzette,” and this opera, after many intrigues and jealousies, achieved performance and success, thanks to a bright libretto, sparkling melodies, and the excellent performance of Madame St. Aubin.

Boieldieu’s prospects now changed with Aladdin-like suddenness, for his next opera, “La Famille Suisse,” was performed at the Theatre Feydeau for thirty nights in alternation with Cherubini’s “Medee,” and thus early began that connection with the great Italian maestro, at that time the best musician in France, which was to be so fruitful of good results to the new favorite. In 1798 Boieldieu turned for a while from operatic work, and composed a number of piano sonatas, piano and harp duets, and a piano concerto. Although these exercised no permanent influence on the art, they obtained for him the appointment of professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire, two years later. In this position, however he was not very successful; he was too much wrapped up in composition to make a good teacher. The musical historian Fétis, who was his pupil, confirms this estimate; but the post at the Conservatoire led to a close acquaintance with Cherubini, by which Boieldieu began to remedy his lack of knowledge of counterpoint and fugal work. Although Fétis denies that Boieldieu was ever the pupil of Cherubini, there is every reason to believe that this was the case, even if a regular stipend was not paid for the tuition. The very fact that in 1799 the two worked in collaboration on “La Prisonnière” might tend to show that Boieldieu was anxious to attain something of Cherubini’s musical learning, and his submission of many later operas to the judgment of this master proves that he was willing to be guided by him.

About this time Boieldieu produced two operas that carried his fame beyond his native country; these were the Polish “Benjowski” and the very tuneful “Caliph of Bagdad,” both of which will receive further mention in the analytical portion of this article. A little later there appeared a more advanced work,—“Ma Tante Aurore.” The success was now so well established that all Parisian managers sought for works from the gifted pen, and opera followed opera.


From a lithograph.

Boieldieu now lived on contentedly in Paris until 1802, when he almost wrecked his career in the same manner that his father had done; on March 19th of that year he married a ballet-dancer named Clotilde Mafleuroy, and immediately began to taste the bitterness of conjugal misery. He suddenly left Paris on this account and sought employment in Russia. He was received in St. Petersburg with open arms, and the Czar Alexander at once appointed him capellmeister of the court. He produced little on this barren soil however, and although he stayed there eight years, and his contract called for three new operas and a number of military marches annually, scarcely anything of this period has been preserved. In 1810 the political horizon began to darken, and trouble between Russia and France became so imminent that our composer again suddenly packed up and returned to his beloved Paris, arriving at the beginning of 1811. Here however he found everything changed. The Napoleonic wars had exerted a deleterious influence on operatic patronage, and the taste, too, had changed in some degree; Cherubini and Mehul were silent, and Isouard alone ruled Opera Comique. Considerable jealousy of Boieldieu was at this time displayed, and at first he was unsuccessful in having any of the works he had written in Russia performed in Paris; therefore he set himself to producing an original work, and in 1812, “Jean de Paris,” a masterpiece of its kind, was produced at the Theatre Feydeau. Again a success was won, although not such a phenomenal one as the “Caliph of Bagdad” had attained, and for the next six years another series of operas proved that the composer had not lost his hold upon the Parisian public, and in addition to his own operas Boieldieu collaborated with Cherubini and Isouard. Two years later a great success attended the first production of “Le Chaperon Rouge,” but the composer was so exhausted by this effort that he was obliged to rest for a while from further composition. He now received the position of professor of composition at the Conservatoire, taking the place of Mehul, and for seven years he produced nothing more in opera. The crowning work was however to come later. During a stay at his brother’s farm in Cormeilles Boieldieu began composing once more. This time it was something far beyond his previous efforts, it was a chef d’œuvre in the domain of comic opera,—the ever-beautiful “La Dame Blanche.” This masterwork was performed in December, 1825, and at once awakened boundless enthusiasm. Boieldieu was not much exhilarated by the result, for he seemed to feel that he could never hope to equal this work again. Nevertheless he soon attempted another subject, as if to ascertain if his surmises were correct. Bouilly’s dull libretto, “Les Deux Nuits” was accepted, as much from friendship as from any other motive. The new opera was finished in 1829, and made a flat failure, a result which hurt Boieldieu’s feelings in an inordinate degree. He had brought back a pulmonary trouble from Russia, and his disappointment seemed to aggravate the disease. He gave up his position at the Conservatoire, feeling too weak to continue teaching. The director of the Opera Comique had given Boieldieu a pension of 1200 francs for his great services to the art, but the expulsion of Charles X. now came about, a new direction was installed, the institution was found to be bankrupt, and the income from this source ceased just when it was most needed. He had married again in 1827, and this time the union was a fortunate one, for in these final days of trial, sickness, and pecuniary difficulty, his wife sustained his drooping spirits with unswerving fidelity. She was a singer, Philis by name, and was the mother of Boieldieu’s only son, a composer of good attainments, but overshadowed by his father’s ability. Finally Louis Philippe was established on the throne of France, and his minister, M. Thiers, made speedy recognition of the value of Boieldieu’s work by granting him an annual pension of 6,000 francs. It could not give back the composer’s health, however, and, after a tour to Pisa he came back worse. He had been obliged by poverty to take back his old position at the Conservatoire, and made a brave effort to continue in it, but it was useless; in another tour in hopeless search for health, he died at Jarcy, October 8th, 1834. At the tomb his old companion and teacher, Cherubini, gave a last tribute to the modest and talented nature that had passed away so prematurely.

Boieldieu may be summed up in a single phrase as a Parisian Mozart. He had Mozart’s gift of melody and grace, and in his later years something of Mozart’s skill in harmonic and contrapuntal combination, but, unlike Mozart, his work can be divided into three epochs, the third only being comparable in ensemble to the works of the German master. Boieldieu has been ranked as the best composer of opera comique that France ever produced, and it is not too much to say that only Bizet has approached him in characteristic touches and poetic inspiration. Three works are at present the chief representatives of Boieldieu’s fame, “The Caliph of Bagdad,” which shows his earliest method, “Jean de Paris,” which is a good example of his second period, and “La Dame Blanche,” which is the finest of all his operas, the best outcome of the French opera comique school, and shows the composer in his third and best period of growth.

Boieldieu was never misled by the popular applause which was showered upon him before it was fairly deserved. It has been well said that “there is no heavier burden than a great name acquired too soon,” and it is to the credit of Boieldieu that, although he acquired this burden with “The Caliph of Bagdad,” which has had over a thousand performances in France, he did not continue in the rather frivolous vein which had so captivated his earliest audiences. His modest desire to advance may be proven by the fact that when this opera was achieving its greatest success, Cherubini reproached him with “Malheureux! are you not ashamed of such an undeserved success?” when Boieldieu mildly begged for further instruction, that he might do better in the future. He even courted the opinions of his pupils in the Conservatoire as to portions of his work, a rather dangerous meekness. Pretty tunes and marked rhythms are the characteristics of this period. “Zoraime et Zulnare,” although at present almost unknown, always remained a favorite of the composer, but it is only another example of musicians not being the best judges of their own works.

Fac-simile musical manuscript written by Boieldieu.

“Benjowski” is a transition towards his second period. It has a Polish plot written by Kotzebue, and its music has much local color. It was composed in 1800, but was retouched by Boieldieu a quarter of a century later, when he wittily said, “It smells of Russia leather!” The opening quartette in this work is very dramatic.

“Ma Tante Aurore” may be said to begin the second period. It preserves the brightness of the first period, but is much finer in its scoring, and it is no exaggeration to say that in this matter Boieldieu surpassed all of his contemporaries in France, with the sole exception of Cherubini. The versatility displayed in this period speaks of growth.

The eight years spent in Russia may be passed over with but slight comment, for of all that he wrote there, he cared to preserve but three operas, “Rien de Trop,” “La Jeune Femme,” and “Les Voitures Versées.” One cause of the weakness of the works of this period was the fact that no good librettos were obtainable, and the composer was even obliged to use many that had been set by other musicians.

Some commentators class “Jean de Paris” in the third period of Boieldieu’s work. It is a beautiful and characteristic opera; the song of the Princess, full of charming grace, the bold and dashing measures of the page, and the stiff, ceremonious style of the music of the Seneschal, are a few of the striking touches that go to make up a very brilliant work which has not yet disappeared from the repertoire, but when compared with “La Dame Blanche” the ensemble-writing is seen to be inferior. In this latter opera, the climax of his works, Boieldieu did not depart from the melodious character of his first and second periods, but rather added to it. All through his career he clung to the folk-song, and exactly as “Der Freischütz” was evolved by Weber from the German Volkslied, so “La Dame Blanche” had its root in the French Chanson. The libretto was evolved by Scribe from Scott’s works by amalgamating the “Monastery” and “Guy Mannering,” but spite of the introduction of “The Bush aboon Traquier” and “Robin Adair” (the latter not a true Scotch song) the flavor is by no means Scotch either in libretto or music. The harmonization of the finales of this opera is beyond anything that has been attained in French opera comique, and shows Boieldieu as a master in a school of which we find no traces in “The Caliph of Bagdad.” Yet through all the three periods one finds the thread of the Chanson running melodiously. Music that is sincerely national can never die, and the secret of the success of Boieldieu’s operas, and their perennial freshness may be found in the fact that the composer builded upon the music of his country, and there is no firmer foundation possible.

Louis C. Elson


Reproduced from an aquatint portrait by Quenedey.

639 [Fleuron]


One of the most unique and interesting figures in the French musical world of the close of the eighteenth century is Etienne Nicolas Méhul. Sprung from comparative obscurity, he mounted to a world-wide fame. Starting out in life with the scantiest educational advantages, he reached a high degree of elegant culture. Living in a most dissolute period, he retained through life an irreproachable character. The son of a cook in a regimental barracks, he was tendered the position of chapelmaster by the great Napoleon.

Méhul was born at Givet, in the Ardennes, June 22, 1763. Like many other great composers, he was of low degree, had but few opportunities for study at the start, and struggled hard to gain his musical footing. His talent displayed itself at an early age and he himself never had a doubt as to his ultimate vocation in life, though his naturally religious disposition had predetermined his parents to send him to a monastery. At ten years of age he played in the Franciscan Church at Givet, such qualifications as he may have had being the result of his studies with a blind organist. Shortly after this time, Wilhelm Hauser, a distinguished German organist, arrived at the neighboring convent of La Val Dieu, whither the boy repaired to pursue his studies. He was fortunate enough to attract the favorable attention of the Abbé Lissoir, under whose auspices he studied for three years with Hauser. He made such rapid progress that he soon equalled his master and was appointed deputy organist at the convent. It is altogether probable that he would have been his successor had not good fortune attended him again. His playing attracted the notice of an officer of the garrison, who was a musical amateur, and it needed but little solicitation to induce the boy to go to Paris. He arrived at the capital in his sixteenth year and placed himself under the tuition of Edelmann, a Strasburg composer of eminence, who some years afterward deserted music for politics and perished ultimately upon the same scaffold to which he had consigned many a victim. With Edelmann he studied both the piano and composition, supporting himself meanwhile by giving lessons and writing sonatas and minor compositions for that instrument. The genius of his good fortune did not desert him in these days of stress. It was shortly after his arrival in Paris that Gluck’s “Iphigénia en Tauride” was placed in rehearsal. The popular interest in the performance had been heightened by the feud which had raged so bitterly between the Gluck and Piccini factions. Méhul caught the infection and, being without the money to purchase a ticket, he smuggled himself into the theatre the day before, intending to remain in concealment until the next eventful evening. He was discovered, however, by one of the inspectors, and as the latter was on the point of ejecting him, Gluck’s attention was drawn to him. He made some inquiries, and upon learning the facts in the case gave the young man a ticket. It was the turning-point in his career and decided the direction he should take; for Gluck followed up the chance acquaintance, took a decided interest in Méhul, gave him the benefit of his experience and advice and instructed him in the dramatic qualities of music. The young composer already had produced a cantata at the Concert Spirituel, written upon the subject of Rousseau’s Sacred Ode, and was ambitious to become known as a composer of church music, for the religious element was always strong in him; but Gluck changed all this and set his feet in the path of the opera, which he was destined to follow to the end of his life.


From a lithograph portrait loaned by the British Museum.

Méhul began his dramatic work by writing three operas (“Psyché et l’Amour,” “Anacréon” and “Lausus et Lydie”) merely for the sake of practice. He was testing his wings before flight. He made his debut before the public with “Euphrosine et Coradin” in 1790 and achieved a brilliant success, though his first opera was “Cora et Alonzo,” which was produced later and met with only a moderately favorable reception. He was now in the full tide of musical activity, and opera after opera came from his prolific genius. “Stratonice” followed “Euphrosine,” and by many was considered his masterpiece, especially for the fine treatment of the ’cello parts, which instrument he had specially studied, and for the general excellence of the orchestration as well as its dramatic strength, in which quality he showed his close study of Gluck. The revolutionary period which now ensued was not favorable to the opera, and as if in sympathy with the depressing character of the time, Méhul brought forward such works as “Doria,” “Horatius Cocles,” “La Caverne,” and others, which did not add to his reputation. There were others, however, that proved an exception to the rule. “Le jeune Henri” for instance, was hissed because it introduced a royal personage, but the overture, with its lively and picturesque representation of the chase, was demanded several times over at the close of the performance. The overtures to both “Adrien” and “Ariodant” were also general favorites, as well as the romanzas in the latter. It was about this time (1799) that Méhul had his first encounter with some of the French critics, particularly Geoffroy, a well-known writer, who declared that he could not write in any other than a severe and heavy style. Shortly afterwards the opera of “Irato,” written in the Italian style, appeared anonymously. After its first performance the journalist wrote: “This is the way in which Méhul should compose.” The composer had his revenge on declaring himself the author and followed it up with another opera, “Une Folie,” in which his critic was satirized. Soon afterwards, however, he lapsed into the serious style. In 1806 he produced “Uthal,” in which he made the daring innovation, at the suggestion of Napoleon it is said, of doing away with the violins entirely and filling their places with the violas, as better adapted to the sombre Ossianic character of the composition. The result was so depressing that Grétry, who was present at the first performance, made the remark: “I would give a louis to hear the sound of a chanterelle, or the E string of the violin.” Undismayed by the reception of “Uthal,” Méhul followed it up with “Joanna,” “Hélène,” “Les Amazones” and “Gabrielle d’Estrées,” all written in the same serious style, showing high scholarship in counterpoint, but lacking in those light and elegant graces of composition which were so popular with the French. His activity was great during this period. Between 1791 and 1807 he wrote no less than twenty-four operas, besides six symphonies; music to poems of Chénier, Arnault and Sontanes, composed in honor of the Republican fêtes at which Napoleon presided, among them the “Chant du Départ,” “Chant de Victoire” and “Chant de Retour”; choruses to the tragedy of “Timoleon”; the incidental music to “Oedipus” and the drama of “The Hussites”; four ballets, “Le Jugement de Paris” (1793), “La Dansomanie” (1800), “Le Retour d’Ulyss” (1807), and “Persée et Andromède” (1810); besides many operettas and smaller works. He had enjoyed the favor of Napoleon to such an extent that upon the death of Paisiello he was offered the position of chapelmaster. Méhul, who was a devoted friend of Cherubini, was anxious that the latter should share the office with him, but Napoleon, who was incensed at a sharp reply Cherubini had made him in Vienna, sent word back to Méhul: “What I want is a chapelmaster who will make music and not noise,” and at once nominated M. Sueux to the position. Méhul was not without his honors, however, having been appointed a member of the Institute in 1795, and of the Legion of Honor in 1802.

In 1807 he achieved the crowning success of his career. “Joseph,” written on a Biblical subject, was produced and spread his fame all over France and Germany. Though not often heard in this country, it still remains a great favorite to-day among the Germans by its dignity, nobility and elevated style. It made ample compensation for his many failures and regained for him all the advantages he had lost. After 1810 he wrote but little, “Le Prince Troubadour” (1813) and “L’Oriflamme” (1814), written with Berton, Kreutzer and Paer, being his most important works.


From a portrait in Clément’s “Les Musiciens Célèbres.”

Méhul made his parting bow to the public with the opera of “La Journée aux Aventures,” which was produced in 1817 with considerable success. The same year closed his earthly labors. He had been in ill health for some time, and shortly after the production of his last opera he went, upon the advice of friends, to the south of France, where he had a residence, hoping thereby to regain his strength. His ailment, consumption, however, had so weakened his constitution that the change was fruitless. Moreover, he was homesick for Paris. In writing to a friend he mournfully says: “I have broken up all my habits. I am deprived of all my old friends, I am alone at the end of the world, surrounded by people whose language I can scarcely understand—and all this sacrifice to obtain a little more sun. The air which best agrees with me is that which I breathe among you.” He returned to Paris, warmly welcomed by his friends and the public. He made one, and only one more visit to the opera. He was soon stricken down in his last illness and died Oct. 18, 1817, in his fifty-fourth year, universally lamented both in France and Germany, for, like his pupil Hérold, he was as much of a favorite in the latter country as in the former. In fact neither of these composers was appreciated to the full extent of his ability in France, at least until after death, a neglect which was not confined to them, however: Berlioz shared the same fate. More than one French composer indeed has made his greatest success in Germany. Tributes of respect and admiration were shown to his memory in both countries. His funeral was attended by a great concourse of persons, and the pupils of the Conservatory with which he had been identified so many years, covered his grave with flowers. On the day of his interment memorial services were held in many places in Germany and France at which public addresses were made. Méhul married a daughter of Dr. Gastoldi, but having no children adopted his nephew, M. Daussoigne, a young musician of excellent promise. His posthumous opera, “Valentine de Milan,” was finished by the nephew and was performed in 1822, upon which occasion the composer’s bust was publicly crowned. The popular success, indeed, which he achieved as a composer, was unquestionably expedited by his high character as a man. His uprightness and natural tenderness had commended him to all the pupils of the Conservatory, and his strong affections did the same service for him with his friends. His generosity and benevolence were proverbial. The utter absence of jealousy in his disposition especially commended him to musicians. He had a particular abhorrence of intrigue and of those small rivalries which were abundant at that time, and which sometimes developed into great wars, as has already been hinted at in the reference to the famous struggle between the factions of Gluck and Piccini, which not only enrolled musicians, composers and opera-goers in opposing ranks, but even brought courtiers, the nobility and members of the royal family into fierce antagonism. In the midst of all this small turbulence Méhul had carried himself with even poise, working for the best interest of his art and always true to its canons, though he made many tentative innovations when fortune frowned upon him. At a time of more than ordinary dissipation and immorality, he maintained the highest moral principles and a sterling manhood. It was but natural, therefore, that such a man should have been mourned sincerely, and it may have added to public admiration that he had reached his high distinction by his own efforts, rising from rude and obscure beginnings to the summit of European fame.

Méhul was the legitimate successor of Gluck. It was that composer’s “Iphigénie,” as we have seen, that first caught his fancy, fired his ambition and directed his attention to dramatic composition. It was owing to Gluck himself, who at once recognized the ability of the young musician, that his feet were set in the right path, and it was to his advice and instruction—the instruction of a friend rather than of a teacher—that he owed his discovery and appreciation of the dramatic quality of music. Other composers, among them Cherubini, had a certain influence upon him, but Gluck was the all in all of his system, the source of his inspiration and the dominant element of his methods of treatment. He clung to dramatic truth with as much tenacity as did the great author of “Orpheus” and the “Iphigénias” and strove with the same earnestness to make his music a close and perspicuous illustration of the text, and to keep it elevated in style. Meanwhile his own nature was assisting him. Style and character are closely related, and Méhul’s music is a reflection of his own personal traits, namely, refinement of sentiment, seriousness and earnestness of presence, strong religious tendencies as shown in the opera—or shall we not call it oratorio—of “Joseph,” and nobility of character as shown in all his dramatic work. His style is always elevated, though at times he made the effort to unite light and graceful melodies of the effervescent and short-lived sort which find so much favor on the French stage. He was not successful in these, however. He was more at home in passion and pathos, in strong, broad motives, rich harmony and ingenious and elaborate accompaniments. In a word, his standards, like those of Gluck, in whose steps he followed so closely, were classical and of the highest romantic type. At times he was daring and ingenious in his innovations, as in “Ariodant,” where four horns and three ’cellos carry on an animated conversation; in “Phrosine et Mélidore,” where four horns have a full part in the score; and in “Uthal,” where the violas are substituted for the violins, as already has been mentioned. These, however, were only experiments, though they serve to show his originality of conception as well as his curious scholarship—a scholarship all the more remarkable when the poverty of his early training is considered. And yet he did more than almost any other of his contemporaries to elevate the Opera Comique, and has come down in musical history as one of the principal founders of the modern French School.

Fac-simile musical manuscript by Méhul, from Cherubini’s collection.

Méhul’s name, in upper left-hand corner, was written by Cherubini.

Méhul’s activity was almost incessant. He has left forty operas, of which the following are the more important: “Alonzo et Cora” and “Euphrosine et Coradin” (1790); “Stratonice” (1792); “Le jeune Sage et le vieux Fou” (1793); “Horatius Cocles,” “Arminius,” “Phrosine et Mélidore” and “Scipion” (1794); “La Caverne,” “Tancrède et Chlorinde” and “Sesostris” (1795); “Le jeune Henri” and “Doria” (1797); “Adrien” and “Ariodant” (1799); “Epicure” (with Cherubini) and “Bion” (1800); “L’Irato” (1801); “Une Folie,” “Le Trésor Supposé,” “Joanne” and “L’Heureux malgré lui” (1802); “Helena” and “Le Baiser et la Quittance,” with Kreutzer, Boieldieu and Nicolo (1803); “Uthal,” “Les deux Aveugles de Tolède” and “Gabrielle d’Estrées” (1806); “Joseph” (1807); “Les Amazones” (1811); “Le Prince Troubadour” (1813); “L’Oriflamme” with Berton, Kreutzer and Paer, (1814); “Le Journée aux Aventures” (1816); and the posthumous opera, “Valentine de Milan,” finished by his nephew, M. Daussoigne, and first performed in 1822. Besides these dramatic works he has left four ballets, several symphonies, songs, operettas and incidental dramatic music to which reference has been made in the body of this article. Méhul’s literary ability, though never specially cultivated, was of a surprising kind, considering his early disadvantages. He has left two reports which have been greatly admired,—one upon the future state of music in France and the other upon the labors of the pupils in the Conservatory. Taken all in all, he was one of the most earnest, high-minded, conscientious and thoroughly artistic composers France has produced. He carried on the great work of Gluck and is one of the important links in the evolution of music which led up to Richard Wagner and his music-dramas.

Geo. P. Upton


Reproduction of Hérold’s best known portrait, drawn from life on stone by his friend L. Dupré with the epigraphVirtute non ambitu, laurum meruit.

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Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold, who played a conspicuous part in the elevation and enrichment of the opera comique, though now principally known by only two of his many operas, “Zampa” and “Le Pré aux Clercs,” was born at Paris, Jan. 28, 1791. His father, François Joseph, an Alsatian by birth, was a musician of more than ordinary ability. He had been a pupil of Philip Emmanuel Bach, was a professor of the piano, and also composed music for that instrument. Little is known of the mother except that she sympathized with her son’s talent, which displayed itself at a very tender age, for in his sixth year the precocious boy was writing little pieces for the piano. Upon the advice of Grétry, the composer, whom the parents consulted, he was sent to the Institution Hix, where he had his first lessons in music. He made such rapid progress that in 1806, the year in which his father died, he was encouraged by Fétis and other competent critics to make music his profession. He entered the Conservatory in the same year as a member of the piano class of Louis Adam, his godfather, and won his first honor by taking the piano prize in 1810. He subsequently extended his curriculum, studying harmony with Catel, the violin with Kreutzer, and composition with Méhul, who years afterward said of him on his deathbed: “I can die now that I know I leave a musician to France.” The success which marked his career in the Conservatory is indicated by his securing the Prix de Rome in 1812 with his cantata, “Mlle. de la Vallière.” The coveted honor opened wide the doors of music to him with the added advantages of foreign travel. The next two years were spent by the young musician in Italy, during which period there was a notable change in his style of composition. His first works were a hymn for four voices, two symphonies in C and D, and three quartets in D, C and G minor. The quality of these works, which are now treasured in the Conservatory, gives ample promise that he would have been a successful instrumental composer, but circumstances ordered otherwise. During his stay in Naples he was attached to the court of Queen Caroline as pianist, and to please her majesty he devoted himself to dramatic composition with an enthusiasm which soon aroused an ambition to excel in this class of writing. His aspirations were still further heightened by the success of his first dramatic work, “La Jeunesse de Henri V,” produced in 1815, and to the opera he now devoted himself with an industry that never flagged. Well schooled and practiced as he might have been in instrumental writing, it evidently had limitations which were not agreeable to a composer of strong emotions, vivid imagination and distinctly dramatic tendencies.

Hérold returned to Paris shortly after the successful production of his first opera, stopping en route in Vienna, where he made many musical acquaintances. Arrived at the French capital he at once made his arrangements for an active and busy season of writing for the stage. His first concern was to find a libretto adapted to his purpose, and it was while engaged in this difficult search that good fortune came to him in the request of Boieldieu that he would write the last half of an opera upon which he was then engaged, “Charles de France,” and which was brought forward in June, 1816. Collaboration of this kind was far from being uncommon at that period, particularly in France. He not only wrote “Charles de France” with Boieldieu, but “Vendome en Espagne” with Auber, and “L’Auberge d’Auray” with Carafa, while in “La Marquise de Brinvilliers” no less than nine composers of prominence were represented—Hérold, Auber, Batton, Berton, Blangini, Boieldieu, Carafa, Cherubini and Paër. The rage for collaboration also spread to literature and has been continued even into our time by Erckmann-Chatrian. The results of such work are more tolerable however in literature than in music, where unity of style is one of the essentials. His association with Boieldieu was of special advantage in introducing him to the theatrical world of writers, and he soon was at no loss to find libretti, good, bad and indifferent, many of them, it must be confessed, of the last two sorts. His first opera after the Boieldieu collaboration was “Les Rosières,” in three acts, (1817), which proved to be a success. Flushed with the prestige of this work the young composer immediately set about another, and before the year closed had finished “La Clochette,” which not only was successful, but as its fresh and taking airs caught the popular fancy, at once made him a favorite in the gay city. His industry now became prodigious. He was seized with the very demon of work and while in this mood he eagerly accepted everything that was offered him in the way of a libretto as affording a new outlet for his musical activity. The result was detrimental. Year after year he produced operas for the stage, some of which had but one or two hearings, while others were vigorously hissed, not on account of the music, but by reason of the weakness and commonplaceness of the stories and their utter lack of dramatic merit. Among such operas were “Le premier Venu” (1818); “Les Troqueurs” (1819); “L’Auteur mort et vivant” (1820); “Lasthénie” (1823); and “Le Lapin Blanc” (1825). Now and then, however, an opera was produced which made compensation for so many failures, and among these was “Le Muletier” (1823), which was highly esteemed, especially by those whose opinions were of value. In fact Hérold had no idle moments. During all of this period, and for two or three years later (1820–29), he was actively connected with the stage. In 1820 he accepted the position of piano accompanist for the Italian Opera and held it for seven years. In 1821 he was dispatched to Italy with a commission to engage artists, and from 1827 to 1829 was chorus master at the Académie de Musique. All this was practical experience of a valuable kind in the accessories and environments of his profession, and undoubtedly contributed many of the elements which led up to his ultimate success as an operatic composer by giving him a knowledge of the details of the stage, the habits and peculiarities of singers, and the limitations of the dramatic art which are so essential to the complete equipment of the composer. During a portion of this period he turned to other forms of composition. In 1827, he devoted himself to ballets. Of these, “Astolphe et Joconde,” “La Sonnambule,” “La Fille mal gardée,” “La Belle au bois dormant” and “Sylvie” are the most conspicuous. All of them are characterized by the same graceful and romantic style which is to be found so often in his operas. During this same period he wrote a voluminous amount of piano music, such as sonatas, caprices, rondos, fantasies, divertissements and variations, the most notable being a sonata in A flat, the “L’Amante disperato” sonata, the Rondo Dramatique, the “Pulcinella” caprice, variations on “Au clair de la lune,” “Marlbrook,” an arrangement of the “Moses in Egypt” of Rossini, whose music largely influenced his style, and incidental music to the drama of “Missolonghi,” which was produced at the Odeon. A letter written by his friend Chanlieu refers to this period. In speaking of the failure of some of his operas, M. Chanlieu says: “How many times in our solitary walks he lamented lost time and forced inaction! Disgust mastered him and made itself felt even in his piano music which, with the exception of two or three other works, was a species of current money to which he attached no value. It was, however, at that time that he wrote his fantasias on themes by Rossini, which had a great sale and at which he was the first to laugh. The spirit of youth still sustained him; he was gay and vivacious in private, but in public morose and caustic.” Rossini not alone influenced his musical style. It was through his courteous and kindly offices that Hérold received the decoration of the Legion of Honor, Rossini going so far even as to refuse it for himself unless it were also awarded to his friend.


Reproduction of a proof before letters of an etching.

To return to his operatic compositions, there were some others during this gloomy period of frequent failures which achieved success, among them, “Vendome en Espagne” (1823), which he wrote with Auber, “Le Roi Réné” composed for the fête of Louis XVIII., “Marie” (1826) and “L’Illusion” (1829), which enhanced his reputation and paved the way for the two works which were to be the crowning successes of his life. “Zampa” was produced May 3, 1831, and aroused something like a furor in Paris, though its most enduring success has been made in Germany. It still keeps the boards upon the continent, and though rarely heard in this country, its overture remains a conspicuous feature of concert programmes. With “Zampa” Hérold’s success was firmly grounded, though the work bears unmistakable indications of German influence and is written in the broad, serious style characteristic of the German composers. It is for this reason that it has been more favorably received in Germany than in France, though its merit was fully recognized by Hérold’s own countrymen. It restored the waning fortunes of the Opera Comique, saved it from ruin, and made Hérold a popular favorite. At this time he was chorus master, but a few weeks after his success he was dismissed by the new director upon the excuse that it was necessary to retrench. He had only a verbal contract, but he appealed to the courts, and his appeal was sustained after nine months of litigation, the courts holding that there was an implied contract. He accordingly was reinstated, but soon the fortunes of the Opera were involved in another financial crisis. The director sought to retrieve them with a sensation and in 1831 brought out the musical play of the “Marquise de Brinvilliers.” Scribe and Castil-Blaze wrote the text together, and nine composers, whose names have been given elsewhere, arranged the musical setting. The combined efforts of the collaborators, however, failed to produce anything more than a nine days’ wonder, and the doors of the Opera were reluctantly closed. Six months later a new location was chosen and the opera once more made its appeal to the public with a new work by Hérold, “La Médecine sans Médecin.” Its success fell far short of that which “Zampa” had enjoyed, but it served the purpose of keeping the Opera on its feet until Hérold had finished another work which was destined to complete his fame and to restore the Opera Comique to its old prestige. It was, alas, his swan song. “Le Pré aux Clercs” was performed Dec. 15, 1832. It had a success of enthusiasm. Unlike “Zampa,” it was a purely national opera, with an historical theme treated with genuine French grace and spirit, and abounding in characteristic French music which commended it to the Parisians. Its reception was attended with a remarkable display of excitement and popular acclamations. The audience rose to a man and called for the composer but he was unable to make an appearance. The fatigues of rehearsals and the tumultuous events of the evening were too much for his already enfeebled condition. He was taken home, but had hardly arrived there when he had a dangerous hemorrhage. He lived but four weeks after his great success, dying of consumption Jan. 19, 1833, the same disease which had proved fatal in his father’s case. His funeral took place on the 21st. He was buried at Père la Chaise, near Méhul, and addresses were made at the grave by Fétis and Saint-George. He left a widow, Adèle Elise Rollet-Hérold, to whom he was married in 1827, and three children, Ferdinand, an attorney, Adèle, and Eugenie who also was a musician. “Le Pré aux Clercs” was not his last work in the list of performances, for after his death the overture and four numbers of another opera, “Ludovic,” were found among his papers. The work was completed and produced with success by Halévy. His biographer, M. Jouvin, says of it: “In what proportion did this posthumous child of Hérold belong to its father and its godfather? I know not. I have not the opera of ‘Ludovic’ under my eye. I have not been admitted into the secret of the work done by the musician who two years later wrote ‘La Juive’ and ‘L’Eclair’ without taking breath. I only charge myself to report, without guaranteeing, a tradition which attributes to Hérold the overture and four pieces in the first act of this lyric drama.”


The peculiarities of Hérold’s style which distinguished him from the other operatic composers of his period were the freshness and originality of his ideas, the grace and refinement of his conceptions, which are displayed to special advantage in his ballets, the variety of his melodies, and the highly emotional and imaginative character of the man himself. He was the legitimate successor of Boieldieu and reflected his romantic moods, and it will be remembered coöperated with him in his first work after his return to Paris from Italy. With these purely subjective qualities he combined an instrumentation that is always rich in color and dramatic in effect, an intimate knowledge of the stage and its resources, and a superior degree of literary taste and culture, though the latter distinction did not always save him from accepting commonplace and sometimes worthless libretti. The reason for this is probably to be found in his prodigious activity, which induced him to accept such poor books in the hope that his music would excuse them, rather than spend his time in idleness. Though possessed of undoubted originality if not of actual inspiration, he was greatly influenced by the works of the composers, though in no sense can he be considered a copyist. During his Italian visit he was much impressed with Paisiello. In a letter to his mother about the year 1815 he says: “I have fallen into one error here—that of neglecting M. Paisiello.... I can say that I study much the music of Paisiello and find it delicious.” The Italian influences did not last long however. Upon his return to Paris he was devoted to the music of Méhul, with whom he had studied in the Conservatory. Rossini influenced him greatly for a time and how far he had studied Mozart is shown in “Zampa,” which was constructed upon the lines of “Don Juan.” In this connection, M. Scudo, in his criticism of “Zampa,” makes the following pertinent remarks: “The side of this work that stands open to criticism is, as nearly always with Hérold, confusion of styles. The austere and sober phrase of Méhul is found in company with Italian bravura. The chansonette disperses with its importunate cockcrow all the phantoms worked from the supernatural. Mozart, Méhul, Weber, Rossini, Auber, how many more?—may be found in the hybrid formation of this superb monster. Under the mobile structure of that orchestra, so full of presentiments and mysteries, you distinguish Weber. Those duets, those Venetian colored finales, conceived, worked with the vigorous authority of a master, speak to you of Rossini, while here and there the small details, the grace, the spirit, the lively and piquant features murmur in your ears the names of Boieldieu and Auber.” His own thoughts which he committed to paper, however, and which were found among his documents after his death, will give a clue to his style and to his ideas of what constituted artistic excellence. Among many other things he says: “Melodies must come from the soul to reach the soul of the auditors.” “Try to find a just medium between the vague music of Sacchini and the vigor of Gluck. Think often of Mozart and his beautiful airs de mouvement.” “Lean always to the side of melodies free from platitude.” “In all arts, and particularly in music for some time past, people are skilful in finishing and polishing without reflecting how much more important is a good general design.” “Of melody as much as possible.” “Declaim with truth and strength.” “Find themes which bring tears.” “‘Great sorrows are silent’ observed Seneca. Thus Hero seeing the floating corpse of Leander held her peace. He who goes to the Opera only to hear the music had better frequent the concert-room. The musical tragedian ought above all to sing but ever in agreement with the situation.” And then, as if to answer the comments of some of his critics: “Why not use several styles in a great work? A chief priest can sing in the ancient manner, the others in the modern.” “Church music ought to pray for those who listen to it, as said Salieri.” M. Gustave Chouquet, the keeper of the Museum of the Paris Conservatory, has well summed up the characteristics of Hérold in his analysis of “Zampa”: “In a word we recognize in ‘Zampa’ the hand of a master, who to the spirit of Italian music unites the depth of the German and the elegance of the French School.”

The principal works of Hérold include twenty-two operas, one cantata, five ballets, three sonatas, three string quartets, two symphonies, seven caprices, seventeen rondos and divertissements, seven fantasies and three variations. Of the operas the following have been the most successful: “La jeunesse de Henri V.” (1815); “Charles de France” (1816); “Les Rosières” (1817); “La Clochette” (1817); “Le Muletier” (1823); “Vendome en Espagne” (1823); “Marie” (1826); “L’lllusion” (1829); “Zampa” (1831); “La Médecine sans Médecin” (1832) and “Le Pré aux Clercs” (1832). Though none of these works can be called familiar in this country, it can hardly be doubted that the two operas “Zampa” and “Le Pré aux Clercs,” which saved the Opera Comique, and which paved the way for Ambroise Thomas, Bizet, Massenet and the modern French school, would repay revival and achieve fresh popularity.

Geo. P. Upton

Fac-simile musical manuscript written by Hérold.

Fac-simile autograph letter from Hérold to his mother.


By David d’Angers, in 1816.


From an engraving by C. Deblois, 1867.

653 [Fleuron]


A life more peaceful, happy and regular, nay, even monotonous, or one more devoid of incident than Auber’s, has never fallen to the lot of any musician. Uniformly harmonious, with but an occasional musical dissonance, the symphony of his life led up to its dramatic climax when the dying composer lay surrounded by the turmoil and carnage of the Paris Commune. Such is the picture we draw of the existence of this French composer, in whose garden of life there grew only roses without thorns; whose long and glorious career as a composer ended only with his life; who felt that he had not lived long enough, and who clung tenaciously to life, energetically refusing to drop this mantle of mortality, postponing the final moment by the mere strength of his powerful determination to live.

Auber, the most Parisian of Parisians, who could never tear himself away from his dear native city, even for a short excursion in the summer, was born,—as it happened—at Caen, towards the end of the month of January, 1782. I say, “as it happened,” because the composer’s parents were not settled in that town and were only staying there temporarily when the future author of “La Muette de Portici” made his entrance upon the stage of life. His father was a print-seller in Paris. Being a thorough business man he wished his son to become a business man also. To this end, when his child had received a somewhat summary education, and had almost reached man’s estate, he sent him to London to begin his career in a house of business.

Even at this early period the young Auber was considered a distinguished amateur musician. He played the piano well, and had made successful attempts at minor composition, such as ballads, small morceaux for the piano, etc. Realizing that he was not fitted for a business life, but for that of a musician, Auber returned to Paris, where he was not long in making for himself a reputation in the fashionable world. He was looked upon as an agreeable pianist and a graceful composer, with sparkling and original ideas. He pleased the ladies by his irreproachable gallantry and the sterner sex by his wit and vivacity. During this early period of his life Auber produced a number of lieder, serenade duets, and pieces of drawing-room music, including a trio for the piano, violin and violoncello, which was considered charming by the indulgent and easy-going audience who heard it. Encouraged by this success, he wrote a more important work, a concerto for violins with orchestra, which was executed by the celebrated Mazas at one of the Conservatoire concerts. He also composed, for his friend Lamare, concertos which were applauded by the general public. This Lamare was a violoncellist of great talent and erudition, but so barren of musical creative power that he could not originate the simplest melody nor compose a note for his own instrument. Auber adapted his music so cleverly to the playing of the eminent instrumentalist that Lamare said to him: “Nobody would think, my dear Auber, that I was not the composer of these concertos, so strongly are they impressed with my personality.” To which Auber replied: “Since that is so, my dear Lamare, the concertos shall be published in your name.” And as a matter of fact they were so published, successively, under the name of the violoncellist. The public thought he was the author of them, but musicians were aware of the truth, which has been an open secret for a considerable time.

It is evident that although Auber made his début as a dramatic composer at a late period, he early practised this art as an amateur, producing his compositions in the Paris drawing-rooms. These drawing-rooms were his academy of music up to the time when, convinced that he had still much to learn in the practice of counterpoint, he sought assistance from the illustrious Cherubini, whom he was destined one day to succeed as director of the Paris Conservatoire.

The first work that Auber submitted to public judgment was a comic opera in one act, entitled “Le Séjour Militaire,” which was produced at the Théâtre Feydeau in 1813. Auber was then thirty-two years old. This piece was not his first attempt in theatrical work, however; for he had previously written a comic opera for the Prince de Chimay, and before this, still another work for a small orchestra, which was represented in an amateur theatre. He had also composed a Mass, with orchestra, in which occurred the admirable chant which he used at a later date in the famous prayer in his masterpiece, “La Muette de Portici.” “Le Séjour Militaire” may be regarded merely as marking a date in the biography of the French composer. This piece, of somewhat doubtful buffoonery, passed unnoticed by the general public. Indeed the musician himself was very slightly impressed with it, being but imperfectly inspired when he wrote it. Nevertheless a writer then celebrated, M. Martinville, discovered in this score several pretty motifs and a great deal of wit.

From 1813 to 1819 Auber remained silent, and it might have been thought that he had ceased to exist. What became of him during this long period? He still continued to appear in society and, when in the humor, to write as an amateur fugitive pieces of music set to subjects of the same character. He asked dramatic poets to write pieces for him, but they were not very anxious to do so after the failure of “Le Séjour Militaire.”

About this time the composer’s father died, leaving a widow and two sons without fortune. During this period, when the eminent musician that was to be was still pursuing his studies, he found himself face to face with pecuniary difficulties; but he supported them bravely, never complaining.

Planard, the most fashionable librettist of that day, was accustomed to gather around him in his little house at Passy—which was not then considered one of the districts of Paris—a company of amateurs and artists. There was music, and Auber, one of the most assiduous habitués of the house, accompanied on the piano. In this way it came to pass that Madame Planard took a great interest in Auber and espoused his cause.

“My dear,” she said to her husband, “can you not entrust one of your poems to poor Auber, who is so well-bred, so witty, and so good an accompanist? I am convinced that he will earn himself a name among our composers. It is a pity that he should compose operatic airs without words because he has none to work on.”

Women always gain the day, whenever they plead in favor of the unknown and the lowly, and Auber was then both unknown and lowly. Madame Planard pleaded so well in this particular instance that her protégé obtained from Planard two pieces instead of one to set to music. The first was a piece in one act, entitled “Le Testament et le Billet Doux,” which unfortunately met with a much less favorable reception from the public than “Le Séjour Militaire,” and that had been a failure. The next venture was “La Bergère Châtelaine,” in three acts, and it made ample amends for all previous mortifications. Its success was unanimous and brilliant. None too soon indeed. Had the author lost this opportunity his future as a composer would have been irretrievably ruined, for no poet would have entrusted him with a libretto.

At the time when Auber produced “La Bergère Châtelaine,” the turning-point in his artistic career, he was thirty-eight years of age, just a year younger than Rossini when he closed his with that immortal masterpiece “Guillaume Tell.”

Planard, having witnessed the failure of “Le Testament,” would have liked to take back the libretto of “La Bergère Châtelaine” which he had handed over to Auber some time before. But now he was very happy to have another of his pieces, in three acts, entitled “Emma,” set to music by the composer. This work was represented at the Théâtre Feydeau in 1821, and was an extraordinary success. The high road to fortune was now open, and for more than forty years the composer’s career was one long series of triumphs, which continued to the last day of his life. One might have thought, after the complete success of the two last comic operas upon which Auber and Planard collaborated, that they would have continued to work together for a long time; but it was not so. Scribe had just then attained his brilliant position as a writer of vaudevilles. Fate had decided that there should be a partnership between him and Auber, a partnership which of all the combinations that ever existed between word-writer and musician was the happiest and most lasting.

What was the secret of the union of these two minds, these two talented beings who were so well constituted to understand each other that they seem to have been born the one for the other, to work together for their common glory and to the great delight of the public who applauded them so well? It was in this wise.

A vaudeville by Scribe had just been accepted at the Théâtre de Madame, which he rightly expected would meet with success. For a certain morceau to be sung during the progress of the play he thought that the air of the round in “La Bergère Châtelaine” was wonderfully well adapted. Although he had never yet had an opportunity of seeing Auber, Scribe did not on that account hesitate to write to him. This historic letter and Auber’s reply to it have been preserved, and they are too interesting not to be reproduced here, the more so as they are comparatively unknown. They are as follows:

To Monsieur Auber:—

“Will you kindly permit me, Sir, to place in a vaudeville which I am just now writing for the Théâtre de Madame, your round from ‘La Bergère Châtelaine’ which is so delightful and justly popular? I will not conceal from you, Sir, that I have promised my director to make the piece succeed, and that I have counted upon using your charming music.”

This note is quite gallant, but Auber replies to it with just as much gallantry:

To Monsieur Scribe:—

“My round is but a trifle, Sir, and you are so gifted that you can dispense with my poor assistance. However, if I grant you what you ask, although you do not really need it, and you will allow me to lend you at the same time the fine voice and pretty face of Mme. Boulanger, I think we should both do a good stroke of business.”

The good stroke of business consisted in the thrice-happy collaboration which resulted from this exchange of letters, a collaboration only broken by the death of Scribe, which took place many years before that of Auber. On one occasion Auber said to me: “I owe my successes to Scribe. Without his assistance I feel that I should never have obtained the place I occupy in the musical world.” Without detracting in any degree from the value of Auber’s music, it may be said that this statement is true; for the composer needed a librettist of such versatile wit and resource of imagination that I do not see amongst the comic-opera librettists a single poet who could have taken Scribe’s place in this work. During the whole of his life Auber was accustomed to compose the principal airs of his operas before the libretto was written and almost without regard to the character of the scene in which these airs would be used; and to these melodies Scribe wrote words with extraordinary ease. Auber sang the airs, accompanying himself on the piano, while Scribe, pencil in hand, instantly found the verses naturally suited to the character of the music, cleverly adapting himself to its rhythm, oftentimes very strange. I may mention the “Seguidille” in “Le Domino Noir,” which was a singularly difficult test of Scribe’s powers. Another instance is the song of Henriette in “L’Ambassadrice,” which was also written by Auber without words. It was an astonishing feat on the part of Scribe to find the comic and original verses which he adapted to this melody, the scansion of which is so very singular.


From the Paris Charivari.


By Danton; in the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

It was on horseback or while riding in his carriage during his daily excursions to the Bois de Boulogne that Auber found his happiest motifs. On returning home he set them to music and inserted them in the opera upon which he was working, and then Scribe supplied the words. In the principal scenes, however, Auber wrote to the verses of his collaborator, and he would begin to work on his return from the theatre, whither he went nearly every evening. In this way he would write on a little table by the side of his piano up to four or five o’clock in the morning. As often as not, he did not go to bed, but slept in his arm-chair. Many of his scores bear traces of the ink which dropped from his pen as he let it fall from his hand when overcome by slumber. The manual of his old square piano bears numerous inkstains on the white keys of the upper octave, which indicate the moment when Auber fell asleep at his work. The musician never needed more than from three to four hours of sleep daily, and throughout his life he took only one meal in twenty-four hours, namely, dinner. On rising, he would drink a cup of camomile, which he swallowed fasting. This was sufficient to sustain him without undue fatigue to the digestive organs up to the time of his only meal at six o’clock. He frequently invited to his table, frugal as it was, young professional lady singers, for he was extremely susceptible to the attractions of the fair sex, and remained a worshipper of beauty even unto death. Venus was his goddess, and he ever adored her most conscientiously.

Auber had eight domestics in his service, and never was man worse served than he. One evening he invited to dinner several professional ladies, as also the learned Mr. Weckerlin, librarian of the Conservatoire. The dinner was good and well served. Music and song followed the repast. One of the ladies being thirsty, the master rang for a glass of water. There was no answer. The housekeeper, the old Sophie, whose face had been familiar for half a century to all Auber’s friends, had gone to bed; the cook had followed her example; the valet-de-chambre had gone out for a walk with John, the English coachman, who remained more than thirty years in the composer’s service: in short, all the servants had disappeared. Auber did not fall into a passion: he never became angry at anything. “As we cannot get anything here,” said he to his guests, “let us go and take an ice at Tortoni’s.”

We have already referred to the numerous inkstains on the old piano, made by the pen which fell from Auber’s hand as sleep overpowered him during his long nocturnal labors, and we now propose to give some details of this interesting and historic instrument, which remains an object of curiosity to all the admirers of the master who visit the instrumental museum at the Conservatoire, and of which we have been able to take a photograph by the gracious permission of M. Pillaut, the learned Conservator of the Museum.

This piano, oblong in form, very light and built of mahogany, was bought by Auber on the 17th of February, 1812, in the showrooms of the celebrated Erard. The manufacturer’s number is 8414. It is a double-stringed instrument, and its compass is only five and a half octaves. When, in 1842, Auber succeeded Cherubini as director of the Conservatoire, he had this piano brought thither and placed it in his study. It was upon this instrument, from which the master could never be separated, and which had become his true friend and harmonious confidant, an indefatigable and never-failing source of inspiration, that Auber composed those charming and spirituel comedies which, so often performed and always with success, have remained models of French comic opera in common with the works of Monsigny, Dalayrac, Grétry, Boïeldieu, Hérold, and other great masters.

Besides the old piano which stood in his private room at the Conservatoire, Auber had another at home, in his house in the Rue St. Georges. This latter was an upright piano which I have often seen. Like his oblong piano, it was stained with ink on the two upper octaves. Auber never thought, like Ambroise Thomas and Charles Gounod, of having made by the firm of Pleyel what is called a composer’s piano, which is both an excellent instrument and a secretary.


Reproduced from a photograph made by special permission.

Auber once related to me that two days before the first performance of “La Muette” (which he completed in three months!) the overture was not yet ready. He composed it with all the fervor which comes of improvisation. The evening before the first production the orchestra rehearsed it for the first time, and the musicians accorded this instrumental preface an enthusiastic reception. On the first night the public were so enchanted with it that it received a double encore. I have never seen this fact mentioned in any of the biographies of the illustrious composer, but I learnt it from Auber himself.


From a photograph.

In this house Auber lived for forty years, and it was here that he died in May, 1871, during the battle with the Paris Commune.

It has been a matter of astonishment that this French musician, who did not know Italy, who never left Paris—with the exception of a journey to London when he was a very young man—should have been able to introduce into “La Muette” so much of Italian local color, and assimilate in so wonderful a manner the musical genius of the Neapolitans. We are in imagination as thoroughly in Naples as it is possible to be without actually being there, the moment we hear that victorious march, so full of freedom, rhythm and melody, and see on the stage the crowd of triumphant lazzaroni now masters of the land. One would gladly learn in what circumstances this beautiful and marvellously characteristic air came into the mind of the Parisian composer. Jouvin will tell us, and he has made no mistake, for this curious information reached him from the lips of the composer himself: “Would you know where the composer found the motif of this march, the melody of which is so free and unconventional? He found it in a shaving dish! It was when he was shaving himself, with his face covered with soap, that there came upon him the rhythm and melody of this inspiration; and he seized and secured it before it was lost. Such is the origin of the inspiration which twice in the overture and at the end of the fourth act, so powerfully appeals to the spectator in the auditorium. O Genius, behold thy handiwork! Have not sixty winners of the grand Prix de Rome passed no inconsiderable time seeking inspiration in the land of classic song and returned home without a single idea? M. Auber, who could never tear himself away from Paris, discovers the sky of Naples in the lather at the bottom of a basin!”


From a photograph.

The extraordinary effort made by Auber in the composition of “La Muette,” in less time than would have been needed by a copyist to transcribe this voluminous score, completely deprived him of his mental powers for the moment, and he was obliged to take absolute rest for some time. His ideas were exhausted, and he would have found it impossible even to find a melody for a simple song. He thought that the fountain of musical invention was dried up within him, and for all time. But his faculties, thank God, were not extinguished, and there yet remained in the composer’s brain living fountains from whence were to gush forth his best, his most characteristic works, and those which are most strongly impressed with the author’s style and personality.

In many respects, Auber was not an irreproachable director of the Conservatoire, where he remained, however, a number of years. He was all his life too fashionable a man, too kind, too weak to direct with the necessary firmness a school so difficult to govern as the Ecole Nationale de Musique et de Déclamation of Paris. He attempted no improvements in the arrangement of the studies, and while all public institutions throughout France were being modified in accordance with progressive ideas, the Conservatoire alone remained stationary and, as it were, fossilized in its ancient condition. Ultimately the Administration des Beaux-Arts became alarmed at this state of things, and on the 2d of April, 1870, the following order was issued:—

“In the name of the Emperor, the Minister of Fine Arts issues the following order:

“Art. 1. A committee is hereby formed the mission of which shall be to revise the present government of the Conservatoire, and to consider and propose such modifications as may be made, especially in regard to the teaching in this institution, so that the studies pursued there may be made as profitable as possible.

“Art. 2. This committee, which shall sit under the presidency of the Minister of Fine Arts, shall be constituted as follows:

“MM. Auber, Emile Augier, Edmond About, Azévédo, Chaix d’Estange, de Charnacé, Oscar Comettant, Félicien David, Camille Doucet, Théophile Gautier, Gevaert, Charles Gounod, Guiroult, Jouvin, Ernest Legouvé, Nogent-Saint-Laurens, Emile Perrin, Prince Poniatowski, H. Prévost, Reber, Ernest Reyer, de Saint-Georges, de Saint-Valry, Albéric Second, Edouard Thierry, Ambroise Thomas, J. Weiss.”

The sittings of this committee were of a most interesting character. Auber, then eighty-eight years of age, was never absent from any of them; but he remained silent all the while. It seemed as though he were there in the presence of judges rather than before a committee in which he had full and complete liberty of discussion. Of all the propositions made by the committee only one was ever put into execution, by Ambroise Thomas, who succeeded Auber as director of the Ecole Nationale de Musique et de Déclamation of Paris. This proposition was that Sol-fa classes should be established especially for the pupils of both sexes in the singing classes.

Auber was Maître-de-chapelle to the Emperor Napoleon III. He was a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and he received a number of foreign decorations. He never married.

It was Auber’s misfortune to see the siege of Paris and the terrible deeds of the Commune. At that time he had two horses to which he was very much attached, named Figaro and Almaviva. When famine began to stalk through the land he was called upon to give up the first-named animal to be used as food. The other met with perhaps a still more cruel fate, for it was taken from the elegant coupé of the composer to draw a cart at St. Denis. In the midst of the successive misfortunes which befell his beloved city of Paris, Auber became deeply downcast. His strength rapidly ebbed away, and after a terrible struggle lasting several days, during which he fought desperately with death—for he still clung tenaciously to life,—he breathed his last, cared for in turn by Ambroise Thomas, Marmontel and Weckerlin, on the 12th of May, 1871. When public order had been re-established, he was accorded a solemn public funeral on the 15th of July following.

Auber’s labors were devoted to one long series of sparkling comic operas due to the happy partnership of Scribe and Auber, a partnership in which Mélesville was often associated. The first comic opera produced by the triple partnership was “Leicester,” the subject of which was taken by the authors from Sir Walter Scott’s romance, “Kenilworth.” Although, from the character of the dramatis personæ, “Leicester,” was somewhat remarkable compared with the plays usually produced at the Théâtre Feydeau, it was nevertheless well received by the public.

After this came “La Neige,” a pretty score which, however, the critics (who in those days were generally literary men not at all competent to judge of musical matters) declared bore some resemblance to the work of Rossini. But at that time what musician was there who could entirely withstand Rossini’s style, which had conquered the universe, not even excepting Germany?

“La Neige” was succeeded by “Le Maçon,” in which there occur at least two or three morceaux that are marvels of wit and grace.

Fac-simile autograph musical manuscript by Daniel François Auber.

Fac-simile autograph letters from Auber to Alfred de Beauchesne, Secretary of the Conservatoire.

“Le Maçon” was followed by “Le Timide,” “Fiorella,” “La Muette de Portici,” a grand opera in five acts, produced by Scribe and Casimir Delavigne, which was represented at the Académie de Musique on the 19th of February, 1828. It had considerable success the first night and the succeeding representations only strengthened the good opinion formed of it. After more than sixty years and in spite of certain features which are now looked upon as old-fashioned, as well as an orchestration which would better suit present ideas were it more powerful and contrapuntal, at least in certain parts of the score, this admirable work would still be quite presentable anywhere. The impartial public, which does not yield to the influence of schools of music and does not hide its impressions, would still warmly applaud in this rich treasury of sweet melody the chorus, “O Dieu puissant”; the barcarolle, “Amis, la matinée est belle”; the duet by the two men, “Amour Sacré de la Patrie”; the market scene; the beautiful and impressive prayer; the delicious air of “Sleep”; the air sung by the woman in the fourth act, “Arbitre d’une Vie,” which has become classical; and that other barcarolle, “Voyez du haut de ce rivage”; the tarantella, etc.

The original and singularly bold idea of making a dumb girl the heroine of a grand opera was received at the outset with censure on the part of the critics; and it must be admitted as a general principle that the critics were perfectly right. Slowly, however, the public became accustomed to this creation, and it has now for a long time been admitted that the rôle of Fenella is a mark of genius. The whole of this part played in dumb show seems to be voiced, as it were, by the orchestra, which renders in a wonderfully happy manner and with extraordinary dexterity the sentiments felt by the sister of the fisher Massaniello.

As to the overture, it has earned public approval in every part of the world where an orchestra can be found capable of executing it. It is brilliant, dramatic, pathetic, and the motif of the triumphal march which constitutes the allegro is superb and truly irresistible in its power to move the audience.

Space would fail us were we to stop, even for a moment, to speak of each one of his works, and we cannot do more than name them. Yet their names alone will sing in the reader’s memory those varied songs, so spirituel, so well suited to the works which they designate that they have nearly all continued to hold the musical stage of Europe ever since they were first produced. They are as follows: “La Fiancée,” “Fra Diavolo,” “Le Dieu et la Bayadère,” “Gustave III.,” “Lestocq,” “Le Cheval de Bronze,” “Actéon,” “Les Chaperons Blancs,” “L’Ambassadrice,” “Le Domino Noir,” “Le Lac des Fées,” “Zanetta,” “Les Diamants de la Couronne,” “Le Duc d’Aloune,” “La Part du Diable,” “La Sirène,” “La Barcarolle,” “Haydée,” “L’Enfant Prodigue,” “Zerline, ou la Corbeille d’Oranges,” “Marco Spada,” “Jenny Bell,” “Manon Lescaut,” “La Circassienne,” “La Fiancée du Roi de Garbes,” “Le Premier Jour de Bonheur,” “Rêve d’Amour.” This last-named comic opera was the last of the long series of the dramatic works of our author. It was represented on the 20th of December, 1869, and truth compels us to state that it was received with some reserve. Quite the reverse was the fate of “Le Premier Jour de Bonheur,” which obtained a full measure of success. In this opera occurs an exquisite melody that speedily became popular, “Les Djinns.”

Rossini has described Auber’s talent in a remarkably pithy manner. “Auber,” said he, “may have produced light music, but he produced it like a great musician.” So much meaning could not be condensed into fewer words. Even so, Auber, in spite of the slight appearance of his work, was one of the most learned musicians of his time. But he took as much pains to conceal his knowledge as others do to exhibit theirs. His great desire was, evidently in obedience to the nature of the man, to be always clear, melodious, lovable, spirituel, attractive in every way; never wearisome. In this he was perhaps wrong. Possessing as he did the science of counterpoint and a wonderful dexterity in instrumentation, he would have done well to make himself, from time to time at least, more obscure, mystical, symbolical and enigmatical, for in so doing he would have risen in the esteem of the pedants who affect to like only that kind of music which is wearisome and to understand only that which is incomprehensible. Such obscurity on his part would have thrown into still higher relief the inspirations born of his truly creative faculties, I mean his songs and his motifs. Whenever he desired to do so, Auber well knew how to rise to the lofty and pathetic, and he could produce what is called grand high class music. Let such as doubt this read the fourth act of “Manon Lescaut,” and they will be convinced that there was in the mind and heart of Auber something more than dance music. We have there grand and beautiful music, and I find it difficult to mention any orchestration richer or more impressive and more beautifully conceived than that which occurs in “La Circassienne.” We have only to read the many solfeggios that he wrote during the long years when he was director of the Conservatoire for competition among the pupils learning the sol-fa system, and we shall find in these minor masterpieces the sure hand of an eminent and profound harmonist.

Oscar Comettant


by David.

From Paris Opera Archives.


Reproduction of a portrait by Weger, engraved after a photograph.

665 [Fleuron]


Jacques François Fromental Elias Halévy was born in Paris, May 27, 1799, of Jewish parents, whose family name was Lévi. The same considerations of expediency that induced Meyerbeer to change his name from Beer to that which he afterwards made famous, proved similarly potent with Halévy. His father was by birth a Bavarian, his mother was born in Lorraine. The former was greatly honored among French Israelites for his upright character and as a Hebrew scholar profoundly versed in the Talmud. While yet very young, Halévy developed such remarkable musical precocity that he was sent to the Conservatory when only ten years of age. He was at once placed in the class of Berton, then in the full flush of his triumph as the composer of “Montano et Stéphanie,” his masterpiece. Berton outlived his fame, and his music is now forgotten. It may be mentioned in passing, that Berton was greatly piqued by the success of Rossini, and published two acrimonious pamphlets attacking the Italian composer. One of these was entitled, “De la Musique Mécanique et de la Musique Philosophique,” and the other, “Epître à un célèbre compositeur Français précédée de quelques observations sur la Musique Mécanique et la Musique Philosophique.” Of course, “la musique mécanique” was the music of Rossini, and “la musique philosophique” was that of Berton. The “célèbre compositeur” was Boieldieu, who was greatly mortified by a dedication that identified him with sentiments wholly in conflict with those he entertained toward Rossini.

Halévy prosecuted his studies so industriously under the guidance of Berton, who was an admirable musician, and progressed so rapidly, that one year after he entered the Conservatory, he won a prize in solfeggio, and the year following, the second prize in harmony was bestowed on him. From Berton’s instruction he passed to that of Cherubini, who subjected him to a rigid course of counterpoint, fugue and composition. Here again, he advanced with such speed that at the end of seven years, and while yet a boy of seventeen, he competed for the Grand Prix de Rome, obtaining the second prize for his cantata, “Les dernières moments de Tasse.” The next year the second prize again fell to his lot, and the year following, 1819, he reached the height of his ambition, carrying off the Grand Prix itself for his “Herminie.”

This much-coveted distinction is awarded at the annual competitive examinations of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The successful candidates become government pensioners for four years, and as such are sent to Rome, where they reside in the Villa Medici, in the Académie de France. The prize composition was, at first, a cantata for one voice and orchestra, and after, for one male and one female voice and orchestra. The prize was established in 1803, and since then, a winner has been sent, at the cost of the government, to Rome, every year, except in those years when no composition was considered worthy the prize. It is somewhat curious that of the sixty and odd students whose achievements and future promise won for them this honor, so few attained to permanent fame. The only prize-winners whose names have made the tour of the world are Hérold, Halévy, Berlioz, A. Thomas, Gounod, Bizet, and Massenet.

Before his departure for Rome, he composed a Funeral March and a “De Profondis” on the death of the Duc de Berri (1820), for three voices and orchestra. He dedicated it to Cherubini, and it was performed in the synagogue in Rue St. Avoye. In Italy he devoted himself with his accustomed energy to serious and unflagging study; wrote an opera, which was not performed, and some works for the church, which remain unpublished. At the end of his prescribed term abroad, he returned home, eager to prove to his fellow countrymen that he had not studied in vain. He turned his eyes in the direction of the opera stage, but experienced the usual disappointments, in his early attempts to obtain a hearing, and was almost in despair at the discouraging difficulties that stood in his way. He composed “Les Bohémiennes” and offered it to the Grand Opera, but it was not accepted. He was more successful with “Pygmalion,” which was received and placed in rehearsal, but it was suddenly withdrawn and never performed. An opera comique, “Les deux Pavillons,” met the same depressing fate. Halévy began to lose hope, when in 1827, and when he was twenty-eight years of age, the Théâtre Feydeau accepted his “L’Artisan,” which was produced in the same year without making any very marked impression. It is an unambitious work of no special interest, except for some piquant couplets, and a well-written chorus. The following year he collaborated with Rifaut in the score of “Le Roi et le Batelier,” written for the fête of Charles X. In the same year “Clari” was given at the Théâtre Italien. This was a three-act opera, and up to that time, his most important work. Malibran sung the principal part, and for the first time the young composer experienced the intoxication of success. There is, however, nothing in the score to indicate the Halévy of “La Juive” and of “L’Eclair.”

In 1829 he was appointed, at the Théâtre Italien, to share with Hérold the duties of chef du chant. In that year was produced, at the Opera Comique, his “Le Dilletante d’Avignon,” a parody on Italian opera librettos, which was heartily applauded, and of which the chorus, “Vive, vive l’Italie,” was hummed and whistled and attained to the honor of adoption by vaudeville writers. His next work was “La Langue Musicale,” which, despite some pretty music, failed, owing to the silliness of the libretto. In the spring of 1830, “Manon Lescaut,” a ballet, charming in melody and brilliant in orchestration, was produced with great success, and was published. Then came in 1832 the ballet-opera, “La Tentation,” written in collaboration with Casimir Gide, and though it was well received it brought no fame to Halévy. He had worked faithfully and indefatigably, but as yet without winning the recognition for which he so fervently hoped. Opera after opera was composed with remarkable rapidity, to meet with no greater prosperity than a succès d’estime. A one-act comic opera, “Les Souvenirs de Lafleur,” brought him no better fortune. Hérold dying in 1833, and leaving his opera, “Ludovic,” unfinished, Halévy completed it, composing for the first act a fine quartet that was always encored, and writing the whole of the second act. Still, the composer failed to win fame; but the clouds were about to dissipate suddenly and to display his sun at once, in its fullest glory.

In 1835, “La Juive” was given at the Grand Opera, and Halévy was hailed as a master composer. The work was received with a frenzy of delight, and in the wild enthusiasm it aroused, the composer enjoyed all that follows recognized genius and well-earned fame in the capital of France. This work opened to him every opera house in Europe, and a career of brilliant success. In the same year in which this masterpiece saw the light, he produced a work of a character so wholly different as to excite wonder that it could have come from the same composer. It is, however, no less great in its way, and was no less overwhelmingly successful. This was “L’Eclair,” a musical comedy for two tenors and two sopranos only, and without choruses. It is exquisitely charming, a model of artistic skill and profound knowledge gracefully employed. These works won for him admission to the Institute, where he succeeded Reiche. Halévy was then thirty-seven years old, and had reached his highest point of greatness, for though he wrote many more operas, he never again equalled “La Juive” and “L’Eclair.”

The year after “La Juive” was produced, Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots” appeared and proved to be an epoch-making opera. Its instant and enormous success had an unfavorable effect on Halévy, for he abandoned his own peculiar individuality of style, and became a follower, if not an imitator of Meyerbeer. Still worse, for in his eagerness to compose, he was not particular in his choice of librettos, and accepted any to which music could be written. The result was a series of opera books, mostly of a gloomy turn, that no music could deprive of their tiresomeness or make interesting. Under this unwise course of action he soon exhausted his musical invention and became nearly as dull as were his librettos. “Les Mousquetaires de la Reine,” and “Le Val d’Andorre,” two fine operas, must be excepted.

His industry was astonishing, as will be seen by the following complete list of the works that succeed his two crowning triumphs: “Guido et Ginevra,” grand opera, five acts, 1838; “Les Treize,” comic opera, three acts, and “Le Shérif,” comic opera, three acts, 1839; “Le Drapier,” comic opera, three acts, 1840; “Le Guiterrara,” comic opera, three acts, and “La Reine de Chypre,” grand opera, five acts, 1843; “Le Lazzarone,” comic opera, two acts, 1844; “Les Mousquetaires de la Reine,” comic opera, three acts, 1846; “Le Val d’Andorre,” comic opera, three acts, 1848; incidental music for “Prométhée Enchainé,” and “La Fée aux Roses,” comic opera, three acts, 1849; “La Tempesta,” grand opera, three acts, and “La Dame de Pique,” comic opera, three acts, 1850; “Le Juif Errant,” grand opera, five acts, 1852; “Le Nabab,” comic opera, three acts, 1853; “Jaquarita l’Indienne,” comic opera, three acts, 1855; “Valentine d’Aubigny,” comic opera, three acts, 1856; “La Magicienne,” grand opera, five acts, 1858; “Noé,” grand opera, five acts (unfinished); “Les Plages du Nil,” cantata with chorus and orchestra, besides numerous vocal pieces and some music for the pianoforte. Of all these operas only “Les Mousquetaires” and “Le Val d’Andorre” survive through occasional performances. The latter, when originally produced, saved the Opéra Comique from bankruptcy, and ten years later relieved the Théâtre-Lyrique from pecuniary difficulties against which it then struggled.


From the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.

In addition to the production of this immense mass of operatic music, Halévy was able to fill the part of one of the principal professors at the Conservatoire. In 1831 he was made professor of counterpoint and fugue, and in 1840 he became professor of composition. He wrote a book of instruction, entitled, “Leçons de lecture musicale,” which first appeared in 1857. It remains, in a revised form, the accepted text-book for teaching solfeggio in the primary schools of Paris. Among his more distinguished pupils were Gounod, Victor Massé, Bazin and Bizet, the last-named of whom married Halévy’s daughter.

In 1854 he was made permanent secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. It was a part of his duties in this office to pronounce eulogiums. These he published, with additions, in 1869, under the title, “Souvenirs et Portraits, études sur les beaux arts.” They are gracefully written, and are entertaining and edifying reading. In 1861 the severe work to which he had subjected himself, began to tell on his health. A southern climate was ordered by his physicians. He selected Nice, whither he departed with his family in December, 1861. It was too late, and moreover, in the comparative quiet of his new abode he missed the excitement to which he had been accustomed. His debility rendered work almost impossible, and his depression in consequence was painfully intensified. The end came March 17, 1862. His body was taken to Paris and buried on the 24th of the same month, with great ceremony. “La Juive” was revived at the Grand Opera in honor of his memory, on the 29th of May, and his bust, the work of his widow, was crowned on the stage.


From a photograph made specially for this work.

Halévy was a highly gifted man. In addition to his genius for music, he had innate talent for writing and was an excellent poet and a brilliant literateur. He was acquainted with German, Italian, English and Latin and also with Hebrew and Greek. As a composer, though he was a musician of rare talents, he wrote too much, too rapidly and too carelessly, to do himself full justice. His two masterpieces are almost immeasurably above any of his other operas. In these latter, we meet, now and then, with moments of great beauty, with scenes of thrilling dramatic power, but they are in the midst of much that is oppressively dull owing to the rigid obscurity of style in which they are written. He seems to have had so sensitive a fear of falling into commonplace that he went to the opposite extreme, even avoiding clearly marked rhythms. His mannerisms were a persistent resort to the minor key, a fondness for a soft pianissimo effect on the lower notes, long held, to be regularly and suddenly opposed by a loud crash of the whole orchestra on the upper notes; unexpected and violent contrasts in dynamics that are mere capricious effects without any logical cause; prolixity and over-deliberately following a sombre strain with one of great brilliancy, and vice versa. In all his scores, however, his fine genius is manifested, and it is impossible to study one of them carefully without becoming impressed by the vigor, the affluence and the flexibility of his genius. He was equally at home in the gloom of tragedy and the gaiety of piquant comedy. In scenes of pomp in which the stage is crowded with characters concerned in some high festivity, he is peculiarly felicitous. He was a master of passion in its every aspect, and when he is at his best here, he never sounds a false note. His characters are always strongly defined, and no composer has left behind him a more masterly collection of vivid stage portraits than has he. He was essentially the bard of melancholy, as his many exquisitely tender and mournful melodies testify. One of the typical characteristics of his music is its refined distinction. His abhorrence of triviality was so keen that it caused him often to go too far out of his way to avoid it, and the result was that he overfrequently fastened on his music a labored aspect that was fatal to the impression of spontaneity in effect. When he was less self-conscious, however, his music flows with delightful ease, lucidity and naturalness. His instrumentation is that of a thorough master. He had a fine sense of tone-color, and his scores are rarely overloaded. He was an innovator in the use and treatment of wind instruments, and anticipated many effects that have been claimed for those who came after him.

Fac-simile autograph manuscript by Halévy in possession of the Paris Opera Library.

In “La Juive” the orchestration is, in point of richness, originality and variety of powerful contrasts, much in advance of anything previously known in French opera; and his instrumentation of “L’Eclair,” in its freshness, vivacity and piquancy, was no less innovating, and notable in a lighter direction. In “La Juive” he had a libretto which is among the finest that were ever set to music. Its tragic story is told with immense effect, and the poet’s knowledge of the needs of a composer is manifested with masterly ability. Halévy never again obtained such a book. How felicitously it inspired him, is seen in the first act in the impressive reply of the Cardinal to Eleazar’s contempt for the Christians; in the romance sung by Leopold to Rachel; in the chorus of the people at the fountain which runs with wine; in the magnificent chorus and march which precede the brilliant entrance of the Emperor, and ending with the stirring Te Deum and the welcome to the Emperor. In the second act, the Passover scene in Eleazar’s house is full of interest in its Jewish elements, with which Halévy, himself a Jew, must have been in complete sympathy. In the same act there are the fiery duet between Eudoxia and Leopold, and the other duet, equally spirited and intense in effect, between Rachel and Leopold, both masterpieces in their way, and speedily followed by the no less splendid dramatic aria sung by Rachel to her father, and in which she announces her love for Leopold; the climax of this wonderful act being reached in the thrilling trio, in which Eleazar pronounces the curse. The next act, with its brilliant pageantries, falls short of that which precedes it, but has an immensely dramatic, concerted number which culminates in the anathema by the Cardinal. The fourth act rises to the level of the second, with its noble duet between Eleazar and the Cardinal, the tremendous scene of the Jew in which he savagely defies his Christian foes and welcomes death. The last act is for the most part declamatory, and has no such numbers as those we have named, but the impressive dramatic intensity of the work is maintained to the end.

In “Guido et Ginevra,” he tries to repeat the success of “La Juive,” but despite several fine flights of genius he failed, not only owing to the morbidly sad and dull nature of the play, but to the heaviness of the music. He was more successful with “La Reine de Chypre,” an essentially spectacular opera, which, by the way, was analyzed by Wagner in one of his Paris letters (1841). The score is often brilliant and melodious, and it contains some movingly pathetic melodies, but it is uneven in excellence, and has pages on pages of music so obscure in meaning and so dull in effect that its interest is often impaired. Almost the same criticism may be made on his next grand opera, “Charles VI.” Moreover, by this time, Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots” had been produced, and Halévy, carried away by the enthusiasm with which that work filled him, consciously or otherwise, deserted his own marked individuality and became, to all intents and purposes, a follower of Meyerbeer, at least in grand opera. In his “Le Val d’Andorre” he became himself again, for the time being, and produced a lyric drama that fell little short of perfection in the complete sympathy with which the composer identified himself with the poet. There Halévy sounded the very depths of passionate grief, in the music he has given to Rosa after her lover has been drawn as conscript. In “Les Mousquetaires de la Reine” he produced a delightful score, sparkling, chivalrous in spirit and full of beauties. For the rest there is little to be said that would not be in the way of repetition. His “La Tempesta,” written for Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, was received there with enthusiastic favor, but although there are some genuine beauties in the work, especially in the finely characteristic music given to Caliban, it has nothing in it that entitles it to live. Halévy was greatly piqued that the one melody most praised by the artists, and that was hummed by everybody, was Dr. Arne’s “Where the bee sucks,” which he had retained for Ariel. With all his fecundity in melody Halévy rarely wrote one that achieved general popularity. The most noted exception is “Quand de la nuit l’épais nuage” from “L’Eclair,” a charming air, simple, chaste, and delicious in its tender grace. He seldom, however, vouchsafed so unaffected a tune, the harmonies of which are for the most part confined to the tonic and dominant. The romance “Pendant la fête une inconnue,” from “Guido et Genevra,” is another morceau, scarcely less naïve and delicate, that long survived the opera in which it appeared, but it did not make the tour of the world as did the other. His comic operas abound in fascinating music which is buried, and must remain so, in the uninteresting librettos that he so thoughtlessly accepted. In that dreary book, “Le Drapier,” there is a glorious duet, “Ah! devenez mon père.” But there is not an opera of his in which some perfect gem is not to be found. His fecundity in melody is impressively exemplified in the fairy opera “La Fée aux Roses,” of which the score is affluent in charming music, sensuously oriental in style, beautiful in local color, and of striking originality in orchestral treatment. He made an attempt to revive the enharmonic scale of the Greeks in his “Prométhée Enchainé,” the translation of which had been made by his brother. It was a bold adventure, but it failed. It must be confessed that it is monotonous because of lack of variety in the orchestration, owing to the almost continuous use of wind instruments to the neglect of the strings. The recitatives are noble, and the chorus of the Océanides is one of his most classical and beautiful compositions.


From the Paris illustrated paper “Le Gaulois.”

Halévy, despite all his industry and the fame he enjoyed through his greatest successes, made no lasting impression on the music of his day. Even “La Juive,” notwithstanding its power and its brilliancy, found no imitators, and “L’Eclair” still stands alone, the only example in its genre. It is sad that an artist should have labored so long and so well, should have been a thorough master of his art, and yet have fallen almost into obscurity thirty years after his death. A careful examination of some of his more ambitious operas shows that he was, in some respects, slightly in advance of his time, especially in his tendency to avoid purely rhythmical airs in favor of what is now called “Endless Melody,” but there is no likelihood that the future will revive his works. It was his misfortune that Meyerbeer’s star rose so early after the appearance of “La Juive,” and that Halévy was drawn into the vortex that the rage for the composer of “Les Huguenots” made. If he had followed the example of the latter, had written music to none but good librettos, economized his talents instead of wasting them in a reckless ambition to produce music; if he had also adhered firmly to his own individual originality instead of permitting himself to be unreasonably influenced by the success of another, his operas might have had a stronger claim than they have on the favorable consideration of posterity. When Halévy wrote “La Juive,” the time was ripe for a great revolution in French grand opera, and he just escaped becoming an epoch-maker at his art. Meyerbeer appeared at that moment, and to him fell the honor that was just within Halévy’s grasp. Whether the latter would have seized it if his rival’s career had been delayed, it is hard to say, for his lack of discrimination in the choice of opera books was already deep-seated. Saint Beuve says of him: “‘La Juive,’ ‘Guido,’ ‘La Reine de Chypre,’ ‘Charles VI,’ are true lyric tragedies on which are the seal of beauties that time cannot obliterate. Some works, that appeal more readily to the tastes of the masses, have been dowered with greater popularity, but the decision of those who know is the only one that appeals to a conscientious artist, and of this, Halévy received an ample share. We think we are not mistaken in saying that as musical education becomes more widespread, the popularity of Halévy will grow.” This, however, is doubtful, and it is more than probable that Halévy himself felt that he had not wholly accomplished his mission, for Saint Beuve, who knew him well, also says, “It is strange that this estimable man, always full of work, should sometimes have nursed a secret sorrow. What it was, not even his most cherished and trusted friends ever knew. He never complained.” Who shall say that this secret sorrow, so silently guarded, was not born of a sense of failure, or at least, of self-disappointment! It is not improbable that toward the close of his busy art-life he saw, with prophetic eye, the fate that was to attend the greater part of what he had composed; that he had written for his own time and not for the future. Already he has become little more than a name to nearly all, except students of musical history. The works on which his fame chiefly rests are seldom performed, and the others, admirable as many of them are, have gone into oblivion, and in all probability, never to see the light again. That he was a master in his art, is unquestionable, but it would seem also that he was lacking in that highest quality of genius that confers immortality on its possessor.

B. E. Woolf


Reproduction of a portrait engraved by A. Gilbert after a painting by G. Courbet.

675 [Fleuron]


More than a score of years have passed since Berlioz died, in Paris, that city which was the object of his youthful dreams, the scene of his bitter struggles and his sublime defeats. It was in the midst of those Parisians, who had accorded him little more than mockery and scorn, that he had wished to die, weighed down by sadness and discouragement, supported by a few intimate friends and rare disciples. Moreover, did he not foresee that sad end when writing the following lines which subsequent events proved only too true? “It was about that time of my academic life that I experienced again the attack of a cruel malady (moral, nervous, imaginary, whatever you like) which I will call sickness of isolation, and which will kill me some day.... This is not spleen, though it leads to that later on; it is the boiling away, the evaporation of the heart, the senses, the brain, the nervous fluid. Spleen is the congelation of all that, it is the block of ice.” Therefore death was for him a blessed release. For some years before, there remained of Hector Berlioz nothing but an earthly frame, an inert and suffering body; the moral being was crushed. The fall of The Trojans was the rudest possible shock to that nature so well tempered to receive it; hitherto the proud artist had returned blow for blow; never had a defeat, however grave, completely overthrown him. For the first time, in witnessing the downfall of the work of his predilection, the athlete had faltered. He had laid down his arms and thenceforth, weary of life and of the struggle, had contented himself with the hollow diversions which the capital offered him, “preoccupied solely with material interests, inattentive and indifferent to that which impassions poets and artists, having a morbid taste for scandal and mockery, laughing with a dry and mirthless laugh when this strange taste is gratified.” A certain heartache, a vague suffering of the soul, vain regrets, preyed upon him at least as much as bodily ills; his shade alone wandered among us, dumb, taciturn, isolated, and one beautiful morning in the month of March it vanished.

Berlioz’s militant career may be divided into two distinct periods; that in which he struggles for position, and which lasts from his arrival in Paris until after Romeo and Juliet and the Funeral and Triumphal Symphony, in 1842; that in which, tired of struggling without profit though not without glory, he starts off to establish his reputation outside the frontier, and to return afterwards to Paris, victorious and triumphant; this lasts until his death. So soon as he achieved a success abroad, great or small, “Be sure that Paris knows it!” was the cry to his friends. And Paris, being informed of it, had forgotten it instantly. It was during the intervals between these tours, when he came back to France to see if his foreign successes had given him a better standing in the eyes of his countrymen, that his last principal works were produced: The Damnation of Faust, The Childhood of Christ, The Te Deum and Beatrice and Benedict, finally The Trojans.

It was towards the end of 1821 that Berlioz came to Paris, ostensibly to study medicine, but with a secret longing to devote himself to music. He was then nearly eighteen years of age, being born at La Côte Saint-André (Isère), Dec. 11, 1803, and had already received some lessons in music from the poor stranded artists at La Côte. We are indebted to Berlioz himself for the names of these artists, which were Imbert and Dorant.

On arriving at Paris, where his father, a simple health officer, but a devotee to the sciences and to medicine, had allowed him to come on the express condition that he should follow exactly the course of the Faculty, he set to work as best he could to carry out this program. But one evening he goes to the Opera to hear Salieri’s Danaïdes: immediately music regains possession of his soul, and he spends all his spare time in the library of the Conservatoire, studying the scores of Gluck’s operas; there he meets a pupil of Lesueur who introduces him to that master, and he attaches himself with much affection to the author of the Bardes, who admits him to his class. At length he informs his family of his settled determination to devote himself to music, and he has performed at Saint-Roch a mass which he burns almost immediately after, saving only the Resurrexit which obtains grace in his sight, at least for a time. He then took part in the preparatory concours for the prize of Rome, and was not even judged worthy to be a competitor. Immediately summoned home by his parents, who had no faith in his “pretended irresistible vocation,” he arrived there so sad, so crushed, so misanthropic, that his father, uneasy about him, permitted him to return to try once more his fortune in Paris. He came back for the winter of 1826, having nothing to live on but a small allowance from his family, on which he was obliged to economize in order to pay back, little by little, a loan which a friend had made him for the execution of his mass. His existence at this time, which was shared by another student, his friend Carbonnel, was a very miserable one, their meals consisting on certain days of vegetables and dried fruits. He gave lessons in solfeggio at a franc a lesson, and even applied for the position of chorus singer at the Théâtre des Nouveautés. But artistic pleasures counterbalanced the material privations, and his heart danced for joy whenever he could go to the Opéra or to the Odéon and hear some masterpiece by Spontini, Gluck or Weber; his fourth god, Beethoven, was not revealed to him till two years later, when Habeneck founded the Société des concerts du Conservatoire for the dissemination of the works of that prodigious genius. He continued however in the classes of Lesueur and Reicha, so that he was able to pass the preliminary examination for the concours of 1828. The subject given out by the board of examiners was a scene from Orpheus torn to pieces by Bacchantes, and Berlioz’s music was declared by the judges as impossible to be played. His only response was to prepare for its performance at the concert to be given at the Conservatoire, the superintendent of the Beaux-Arts, M. de Larochefoucauld, to whom he had been recommended, having placed that hall at his disposal, notwithstanding the violent protestations of the director, Cherubini. But chance favored the self-love of the members of the Institute, for Berlioz was obliged to give up his plan, on account of an indisposition of the singer Alexis Dupont.

It would have been strange indeed, if Berlioz, with his ardent imagination and brain always on fire, had allowed the romantic movement to pass by without attaching himself to it with all the fury and passion which he threw into everything. He soon became one of the leaders of the new school, poor enough in musicians, counting only himself and Monpau, whereas it abounded in writers and artists. Like all his comrades in romanticism, even exceeding them all, Berlioz was an enthusiastic and constant visitor at the Odéon, where some of Shakespeare’s plays were then being given by a company of English tragedians. Here he received a double blow; from Shakespeare who floored him, as he said, and from Miss Smithson who intoxicated him. It was to attract the attention of the beautiful tragedienne that he organized, with his overtures to Waverley and Francs-Juges and his cantata of la Mort d’Orphée, a concert which she never heard anything about. It was also this idea of reaching her through the medium of music which inspired him to write his Fantastic Symphony, in which he put himself in the scene with his beloved, and which, in fact, was to end by gaining him Miss Smithson’s heart.

As these first attempts of Berlioz are little known, it is well to specify them, if for no other reason than because one may find in these forgotten pieces the plan of certain pages of the Damnation of Faust and the Childhood of Christ. His overtures to Waverley and to the Francs-Juges were performed for the first time at the concert which he gave at the Conservatoire, in honor of Miss Smithson, May 26, 1828; on this occasion he also had played the Resurrexit from his first mass, in place of The Death of Orpheus, which could not be given owing to the illness of Alexis Dupont, a march of the Magi going to visit the manger, and a grand scene on the Greek Revolution. Finally, on the 1st of November, 1829, he had his two overtures repeated, together with his Resurrexit under a new title, The Last Judgment, and a new work entitled Chorus of Sylphs, the plan of which is as follows: “Mephistopheles, in order to excite in Faust’s soul the love of pleasure, assembles the sprites of the air and bids them sing. After a prelude on their magic instruments, they describe an enchanted country, the inhabitants of which are intoxicated with perpetual delights. Gradually the charm operates, the voices of the Sylphs die away and Faust, fallen asleep, remains plunged in delicious dreams.” Everybody knows to-day what this adorable bit has become.

In the meantime Berlioz obtained the “Prix de Rome” in July, 1830, after having tried for it four times in vain. He set out at once for Rome, first giving, however, a farewell concert at which was played his cantata of Sardanapalus and the Fantastic Symphony, aimed at Miss Smithson whom Berlioz execrated because of her ignorant indifference, and who, moreover, had not the slightest suspicion of his mad passion and frantic hatred. The young composer departed quite proud of his success and also of the sharp response of Cherubini who said, when asked if he was going to hear the new production of Berlioz, “I do not need to go to find out how things should not be done.” He stayed in Italy nearly two years, in order to conform to the regulations of the Academy, but it was time wasted for him from an artistic point of view. With his just and profound distaste for Italian music, he was in no condition to be benefited by it. The only comfort he took was in fleeing to the country, where he strolled with his new friend Mendelssohn; but this companionship proved uncongenial and was short-lived. He shortened his sojourn in Italy as much as possible, and as soon as the director Horace Vernet gave him leave, he returned to Paris, taking with him an overture to King Lear and the monodrama of Lelio or the Return to Life, a series of old pieces worked over, which completed the Fantastic Symphony. This work he could have done just as well in Paris as in Rome; indeed he would probably have accomplished more by remaining in Paris, instead of strolling about the country near Rome playing on his guitar and frittering away his time.


Reproduction of a French lithograph portrait by Francis—published in 1827.

On his return to Paris he felt a reawakening of his passion for Miss Smithson, who had been temporarily forgotten and patronizingly dubbed “the Smithson girl,” while his heart was interested elsewhere. At the time of his setting out for Rome, he had thoughts for none but the young and attractive pianiste, Marie Moke, whom he had known through his friend Ferdinand Hiller; to her he had shown some attention, finally declaring to her his uncontrollable passion.

This young lady had coolly married Camille Pleyel—a name which she was to make famous as a virtuoso—while her mad lover, her pretended fiancé, was in Italy.

He made haste, as soon as he got back to Paris, to organize a concert for the purpose of performing in honor of Miss Smithson, the Fantastic Symphony, and on that day (Dec. 9, 1832) he experienced a double triumph, since this masterpiece, which she believed to be inspired by herself, deeply touched the tragedienne and won her heart for Berlioz. Little did she suspect that this composition had been written with a view to stigmatize her, at the time when Berlioz was madly in love with Mademoiselle Moke, and that before going to Rome he had it played in honor of Mademoiselle Moke, as it was now being given in Miss Smithson’s honor. Meanwhile, the families of the two lovers made just opposition to their fine projects for the future; but Berlioz and his fiancée taking the lead, strove their utmost to overcome these obstacles, and to tie the indissoluble bond which was to render them equally miserable.

During all these negotiations the English Theatre of Paris was obliged to close its doors, and Miss Smithson, who had assumed direction of it, found herself without resources, not having enough to pay the debts of the enterprise. To make matters worse, she broke her leg while getting out of a carriage, in which she was going about to organize a benefit concert. While she was confined to the house by her accident, Berlioz had the customary “respectful summons” to make to her family, and as soon as she was well he married her; “she was mine,” he said, “and I bade defiance to every thing!” The young household was not rolling in wealth; the wife had nothing but her debts, and the husband had but three hundred francs which a friend had lent him. No matter, even a sad life is not without its sunshine. Berlioz was obliged to have recourse to his pen, and began to write for the newspapers through sheer necessity, a thing which he had hitherto done through love of controversy and in self-defence.

His first appearance in literature was made in 1829 in the Correspondent, with a pretty well developed article on Beethoven, whom the artists and amateurs of Paris were just beginning to know, thanks to Habeneck and his Société des Concerts at the Conservatoire. He also furnished some articles to the Revue Européenne and the Courrier de l’Europe; finally, that influential paper, the Gazette musicale de Paris, which in 1881 ended a glorious career of forty-seven years, espoused Berlioz’s cause, and worked faithfully for his success. Shortly after, in 1835 he allied himself with the Journal des Débats as musical critic, a post which he held for thirty years, finding in its proprietors, MM. Bertin, staunch friends and protectors. Besides giving him a comfortable living, Berlioz’s articles served him at first in establishing relations with the press, as much as they injured him later by exciting bitter jealousy and enmity.

It was in the midst of financial difficulties that Berlioz wrote the symphony Harold in Italy, inspired no doubt by his own excursions in the vicinity of Rome. In this he introduced a viola part for Paganini, but the part was too much subordinated to the orchestra to suit the great violinist, who desired a veritable concerto with a simple orchestral accompaniment; fortunately Berlioz did not give heed to this demand. The performance of Harold (Nov. 23, 1834) made Berlioz known to connoisseurs, and soon after M. de Gasparin, Minister of the Interior, ordered of him a Requiem for the anniversary service of the victims, not of the Revolution of 1830, but of the Fieschi outrage. This Requiem did not reach its destination, but was performed at the celebrated service in the church of the Invalides, Dec. 5, 1837, for the French soldiers and General Danrémont, killed at the siege of Constantine.

Fortune seemed at last to smile on the persistent efforts of the young composer, when a failure came to overturn his fond hopes. His opera Benvenuto Cellini, written on a poem by Léon de Nailly and Auguste Barbier, was performed at the Opéra Sept. 10, 1838; it was well sustained by Mmes. Stolz and Dorus-Gras, but badly rendered by Duprez, and disappeared from the bills after three performances, the celebrated tenor not wishing to appear in a work in which he was quite eclipsed by the two prima donnas. Berlioz, in order to recover from the effect of this failure, organized two Conservatoire concerts, thinking that the performance of the Fantastic Symphony would recompense him for the loss of his rights at the Opéra. The first concert barely covered expenses, but the second had a memorable result. Scarcely was the symphony ended when a man jumped upon the platform, and kissed the hands of the stupefied composer. The next day Berlioz received a letter in which, as a token of admiration, he was asked to accept a sum of twenty thousand francs, and this letter was signed by the enthusiastic listener of the evening before, Nicolo Paganini. This sum—whether it was, as some think, a secret manifestation of Bertin’s liberality, or whether it was really given by Paganini for the purpose of defending himself in the eyes of the Parisians against an accusation of avarice—made Berlioz easy in his finances for some little time, and enabled him to work with an unperturbed mind. He profited by the first hours of leisure which he had found since his return, and wrote first his symphony with solos and choruses, Romeo and Juliet, which he dedicated to his official benefactor and which was first heard Nov. 24, 1839, and then the grand Funeral and Triumphal Symphony, performed at the inauguration of the column of July in 1840. He also wrote, about this time, a number of songs or choral compositions, and the brilliant overture Le Carnival Romain.


From a drawing by Ingres in Rome, 1818. Engraved by Calamatta. Paganini in his thirty-fourth year.

The year 1842 was an important date in Berlioz’s career. From that time his life was a divided one. Misunderstood in his own country, disheartened by his unsuccessful attempts to win the heart of the great public, inconsolable for the failure of Benvenuto which closed to him forever the doors of the Academy of Music, he resolved to undertake an artistic tour through Europe, and began with Belgium in the latter part of the year 1842. He met with rather more success there than in France, though he was still the subject of heated discussion. He took with him a decidedly mediocre singer, Mademoiselle Martin Recio, who had made a failure at the Opéra, and had managed to attach herself to him. He married her later, soon after the death of Miss Smithson, from whom he had been separated; but he was no happier in his second marriage than in his first; his first wife drank, his second made unjustifiable pretensions as a singer, which always exasperated him. After this little excursion to Belgium, Berlioz determined to try his fortune in Germany, where already some of his works had found their way; from this time onward, his life was nothing more than a series of journeys through France and foreign countries. His first grand tour was through northern Germany. At Leipsic he saw Mendelssohn, whom he met on the best of terms, forgetting all about their youthful quarrels; at Dresden he inspired an equal devotion on the part of Richard Wagner, who received him as a brother and treated him as a master; at Berlin he was no less warmly welcomed by Meyerbeer, who recruited the necessary artists for him and enabled him to direct a part of his Requiem.

On his return to Paris he organized, first, a monster festival at the Exposition of the Products of Industry, in August, 1844, then four grand concerts at the Circus of the Champs Elysées, early in 1845; but these gigantic concerts which it had always been his aim to direct, brought him no profit. Not discouraged by this, however, he gave grand concerts at Marseilles and at Lyons, the modest success of which was due partly to curiosity, partly to surprise. After that he went to Austria, Bohemia and Hungary; this tour was scarcely finished when he rushed off to Lille to organize a grand festival there on the occasion of the inauguration of the Northern railroad. Finally in the summer of 1846 he returned to Paris, and after having given a magnificent performance of his Requiem in the Saint Eustache church, he decided to bring before the public his most important work, The Damnation of Faust. The first performance took place on December 6, before a small audience. The solos were sung by Roger, Hermann, Leon, Henri, and Madame Duflôt-Maillard, who had no better comprehension of the music than the public. The second performance was given on Sunday the 20th, before an equally small house, with a tenor who had to omit the Invocation to Nature. This convinced Berlioz that he was still far from having conquered his own country. He departed for Russia, deeply wounded by the indifference of his countrymen.

Some of his Paris friends had clubbed together to furnish him the means to go to St. Petersburg, whence he had received some brilliant offers. He achieved the greatest success there, with musicians as well as with the public, and the fact of his having formerly befriended Glinka at Paris had its effect in enlisting sympathies for him in Russia. On his way back he stopped at Berlin, where the Damnation of Faust was given with little enough appreciation, but where he received recognition from the sovereign and the princess of Prussia. When he got back again to Paris, crowned with laurels, and with money enough to settle all the debts incurred by the performance of the Damnation of Faust at the Opéra Comique, he worked hard to get the appointment at the Opéra of Duponchel and Roqueplan, who were talking of an immediate revival of Benvenuto Cellini, of mounting la Nonne sanglante, etc. Berlioz succeeded in getting them nominated directors, through the aid of the Bertins, but they no sooner had the official notice in their pockets than they utterly ignored Berlioz. The latter understood that he was holding a restraint upon them, and since, as he said, he was accustomed to this sort of proceedings, he took himself off to London in order to rid them of his troublesome presence. The affair of the Drury Lane concerts, unwisely entered into with the eccentric conductor Julien, terminated in bankruptcy, and the Revolution which followed in 1848 would have left Berlioz without a sou had not Victor Hugo and Louis Blanc obtained for the sworn disciple of the romantic school the humble post of librarian at the Conservatoire.

In August, 1848, Berlioz experienced one of the keenest sorrows of his life in the loss of his father. He went to Grenoble to attend his father’s funeral, and in his Mémoires he gives a most touching account of the sad visit. It was about this time that his little Chœur de Bergers was given under the pseudonym of Pierce Ducré, at the concerts of the Philharmonic Society, Saint Cecilia hall, Chaussée d’Antin. In 1852 his Benvenuto was given with great success at Weimar under the fervent direction of Liszt, but the next year the same opera utterly failed in London, where the Italians, said Berlioz, conspired to ruin it. By “Italians” Berlioz meant the orchestral conductor Costa and his party. Berlioz had accepted the preceding year the leadership of the New Philharmonic, and had made by his success, and attacks, a bitter enemy of the leader of the old Philharmonic Society.


Reproduced from a portrait engraved after a painting by M. Signol—Rome—1831.

After the Empire had been restored in France, Berlioz would have liked to see reëstablished in his own favor the high position which his master Lesueur had occupied under the first Empire; but all that he obtained was the privilege of performing a Te Deum, which he was holding in reserve for the coronation of the new sovereign, and it was Auber who was appointed master of music of the Imperial Chapel. In December, 1854, his sacred trilogy of the Childhood of Christ, completed and remodelled, was given with great success, and if it was performed but twice, it was only because Berlioz,—he had taken great care to announce it in advance,—was on the point of departing for Gotha, Weimar, and Brussels, where there was great eagerness to hear this new work. He returned to Paris the following March, and on the evening of April 30, 1855, the day preceding the Universal Exposition, he gave in Saint Eustache church the first performance of his grand Te Deum for three choruses, orchestra and organ. Afterwards when it became a question of engraving it, Berlioz was able to see how greatly he was admired in foreign lands, for the first subscribers were the kings of Hanover, Saxony, Prussia, the emperor of Russia, the king of Belgium and the queen of England. The following year he published a final and much enlarged edition of his excellent Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration, originally brought out in 1844; he dedicated this work to the king of Prussia. On the 21st of June, 1856, after four tours de scrutin, he was nominated member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, replacing Adolphe Adam, who had refused to vote for him two years before and had helped to form the majority in favor of Clapisson. The following years were spent by Berlioz in organizing concerts at Weimar and in England, and above all in the composition of the great work on which he built his supreme hope of success in France, his tragedy of Les Troyens. Since 1856 he had been invited every year to Baden by Bénazet, contractor for the gaming tables, to organize grand concerts for the benefit of the visitors. Thus when the king of Baden, as Bénazet was called, concluded to build a new entertainment hall, it occurred to him at once that it would be a fine idea to get Berlioz to write something for its inauguration, and the latter, from the first mention of the subject, felt a reawakening of the desire which had been haunting him for thirty years, to write a comic opera, at once sentimental and gay, on certain scenes arranged by himself after Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing. He acquitted himself of this agreeable task by fits and starts; the performance of the work at Baden took place three days sooner than he hoped, and the success was great enough with that cosmopolitan audience, in which the French predominated, to find an immediate echo at Paris. The following year Mesdames Viardot and Vendenheuvel-Duprez sang the delicious nocturne which closes the first act. For an instant Berlioz indulged in the hope that they were going to play his bit of comedy at the Opéra Comique, and in this fond hope he wrote two more things and had them engraved; but he was soon obliged to recognize that it would be impossible with such a director as Emile Perrin, and so thought no more about it. Besides, he was entirely occupied with his dear Troyens and the production of this beloved work absorbed his every thought. In 1857 he was all in the heat of the composition; he talked about his antique tragedy to M. Bennett, to Auguste Morel, to Hans von Bülow; in default of the music he read his poem at the salons, sometimes at M. Edouard Bertin’s house, sometimes at his own, and everywhere he received the warmest congratulations. At a soirée at the Tuileries, the Empress spoke to him at length in regard to it, and immediately he proposed to read his poems to the sovereigns if the Emperor could find an hour to give him, but not until three acts were completed, so that they might order the immediate study of it at the Opéra. Alas, the Emperor, unlearned in matters of music, did not respond favorably to Berlioz’s demands; he took no notice of his poem, and did not give the longed-for order to mount Les Troyens at the Opéra. But while Berlioz was chafing with impatience at seeing La Favorite and Lucie, translated by Alphonse Royer, played over and over again, and Halévy’s La Magicienne and Félicien David’s Herculanum pass him by, the Emperor, through the solicitations of the princess Metternich, opened the doors of the Opéra to Richard Wagner, and decreed that his Tannhäuser should be given with great pomp and magnificence.

The blow was a cruel one, and Berlioz, beside himself with rage and disappointment, attacked this unexpected rival and his opera with a fury that knew no bounds. He did not understand, unhappy man, that his cause was closely allied to that of Richard Wagner; the public, influenced by such critics as Scudo, Jouvin, Lasalle, Azevedo and Chadeuil, was equally hard on both of them and classed them together as a couple of dangerous madmen; no distinction was made between the two. The fall of Tannhäuser, towards which Berlioz had worked with all his energies, resulted in closing to him the stage of the Opéra, and it also assured in advance the unpopularity of les Troyens with the public ready to extol or condemn the two innovators without discrimination. Moreover he saw Gounod, Gevaert and many others gain access to the Opéra in preference to himself. At last quite worn out with disappointment, Berlioz decided to accept the offers of M. Carvalho. This manager had just reopened the Théâtre-Lyrique and wished to make a great hit in order to obtain from the government a subsidy of a hundred thousand francs.

But it was no longer a question of playing the whole of les Troyens at the Théâtre-Lyrique; they would content themselves now with playing the first three acts, subdivided into five, under the title of les Troyens à Carthage. The first part of the work Berlioz had published as la Prise de Troie, but he never heard it performed. Les Troyens à Carthage was given at the Théâtre-Lyrique Nov. 4, 1863, and scored a failure, although nothing particularly hostile or unpleasant occurred on the opening night; the poor author even entertained faint hopes of future success. It was the cumulative effect of the scornful articles in nearly all the large newspapers, the ridicule of the smaller press and of the theatrical parodies, above all the absolute indifference of the public, leaving his cherished work to drag itself miserably through a score of performances, that disheartened Berlioz and killed him. His whole life, indeed, had hung upon this last hope of success, and with the conviction of genius, at the close of the general rehearsal he had exclaimed with tears coursing freely down his cheeks, “It is beautiful, it is sublime!” He retired to his house and lived there, taciturn, desolate, seeing only a few chosen friends who tried to console him, and cared for like a child by his mother-in-law; he had buried his second wife (June, 1862) by the side of the first, in Montmartre cemetery.

Thanks to the income from his compositions he was able to give up his post of musical critic of the Débats, which had become insupportable to him, and was made an officer of the Legion of Honor. He had been a chevalier for twenty-four years, having been appointed by M. de Gasparin in 1839, six months before the performance of Romeo and Juliet. At Paris he found some consolation in listening to selections from the Childhood of Christ at the concerts of the Conservatoire, and in seeing people give serious attention to his compositions and sometimes applaud them heartily, at the Popular Concerts recently founded by Pasdeloup. Only two or three times did he consent to go out of France; once to direct the Damnation of Faust at Vienna, whither he was invited by Herbeck, court capellmeister; once to conduct the Harold Symphony at Cologne by the invitation of Ferdinand Hiller; finally to St. Petersburg at the very urgent solicitations of the grand duchess Helen, an enthusiastic admirer of his works. But on the eve of his departure he learned of the death of his son Louis in a distant country. It was a terrible blow to Berlioz, who was devotedly attached to this son, a frail, dissipated youth, always discontented with his lot, and little more than a source of anxiety to his father. He set out for St. Petersburg with a broken heart, and though overwhelmed with successes and triumphs, entertained and received like a friend by his young admirer, the grand duchess, he felt his health failing and his strength leaving him day by day. On his return he went south, thinking that the Mediterranean might have a beneficial effect upon his health and spirits; but twice while walking on the beach, once at Monaco, afterwards at Nice, he was attacked with vertigo, and fell fainting to the ground. He returned to Paris, and at the end of two months believed himself cured of these fainting spells, but the nervous trouble increased daily. He still had desire and strength enough left to drag himself to Grenoble in August, 1868, to attend a musical solemnity at which he was made honorary president by his colleagues, who were proud of him at last. This was the end; on Monday morning the 8th of March, 1869, Hector Berlioz quietly and painlessly breathed his last.


Reproduced from a Russian photograph, selected by von Bulow as being the best likeness of Berlioz in his later years.

Just a year later the conversion of the public to Berlioz music was accomplished by means of a grand festival at the Opéra in honor of the master, organized by his disciple Ernest Reyer. Even up to this time it was possible to hear Berlioz’s music only at the Popular Concerts, and then often in the midst of confusion and protestations. The announcement of this concert gave rise to many pleasantries, and people agreed, with nods and chuckles, that the best way to pay honor to such a man was to play music as unlike his as possible. However, the festival took place on the day appointed, with a program made up entirely of the master’s works, and some of the pieces, such as the Waltz of the Sylphs, and the Hungarian March, caused the liveliest surprise. They had come to laugh and they listened; they even applauded, and better than with the tips of their fingers. This was the signal for a reaction, and from that day the sudden change of opinion was only intensified as the musical public, who had hitherto tolerated only a few selections, familiarized themselves with the superb creations of this master and insisted on hearing successively all his complete works.

His wonderful La Damnation de Faust in particular, so little appreciated at first, finally had an amazing success and an irresistible attraction for the crowd, perhaps because the result was assisted by two or three concert performances. But there is nothing half-way about a French audience, it has no lukewarm sentiments, and it praises as immoderately as it condemns. Having once taken the stand, it accepted and applauded everything from Berlioz’s pen, and when it had exhausted mere bravos, it easily persuaded itself to erect a monument to his memory. First it was a question of a simple bust to be placed upon his tomb in Montmartre Cemetery, then it was proposed to erect a statue to him in his native city; but Paris did not wish to do less than Côte-Saint-André, and so it happened that Alfred Lénoir’s statue of the composer was erected in Vintimille square near the rue de Calais, the quarter where he spent a long period of his life and where he died. An exact duplicate of the statue was erected at Côte-Saint-André in 1890, and surely two statues are not too many to honor the great artist of whom Auber said with a little spice of wickedness,—“Yes, this Berlioz is certainly worth something, but what a pity that his education began so late.”

To-day Berlioz is at the topmost height of fame, and this renown he has achieved by one work. To the whole musical world he is the composer of La Damnation de Faust, and neither Romeo et Juliette, nor L’Enfance du Christ, nor the Requiem, each a masterpiece in its way, has obtained the widespread success of the first-named work. It is singular that a purely orchestral composition, La Symphony Fantastique, should be accorded a second rank in the general judgment. Strictly speaking, this symphony and La Damnation present, outside the music written by him for the stage, the quintessence of Berlioz’s genius. They are the two poles between which his affluent inspiration oscillates. In the former of these scores is to be found all the romantic exuberance of youth; the fury of a latent rebellion against discipline and yet wholly master of itself; a dazzling wealth of instrumentation; a poetic and delightful coloring. In the other, of which the style is more varied, burst forth a passion, an irony, a burning heat, a prodigious intuition of the effects of vast numbers, a fantastic raillery, a power of dramatic expression without equal. It is none the less true that genius radiates from many pages of his other works: the Pilgrim’s March in Harold: the Offertory and the Tuba Mirum in the Requiem; the Repose of the Holy Family in L’Enfance du Christ; the Night of the Ball, and the Love Scene from Roméo et Juliette; the nocturne-duet from Béatrice et Bénédict; the love-duet, the quintet and the septet in Les Troyens are all bright inspirations among creations of the highest worth, that met with great favor, although the works of which they are a part had not the power to win the masses as they were won by La Symphonie Fantastique and La Damnation de Faust. These last gratify the public taste (using the term in its broadest acceptation) because they are not merely concert music, but have a close affinity with the stage, in the dramatic stories they illustrate. I believe that the minute descriptive programme which Berlioz has attached to La Symphonie Fantastique has been largely instrumental in assuring the success of this work with a public that mentally follows the imaginary drama, step by step as the orchestra depicts the various episodes; now melodramatic, now rustic, now loving, sanguinary and demoniac. Such is still more the case with La Damnation de Faust. Berlioz’s work has certainly benefited by the attention drawn to Goethe’s poem by M. Gounod’s opera; the great mass of the public knew nothing of the original when La Damnation was first heard by them in 1846. Nowadays music lovers everywhere are equally well informed on this point; they understood, from the time that the opera was given, the meaning of what was recited to them by Berlioz’s singers, clad in black dress suits and white neckties; they filled in the gaps in his libretto from what the opera of Faust taught them; they compared number with number; in fact, by reason of placing side by side two works so widely unlike each other, they learned to appreciate the warm, passionate and magnificent power of Berlioz’s older composition. Thus little by little this product of genius has forced itself on general admiration as the model on which Gounod’s Faust was planned.

It is no exaggeration to proclaim La Damnation de Faust a work of genius, and it excites all the more admiration when we know that certain numbers, among others, the scene in which Faust is lulled to sleep by elfins, came from the brain of a composer only twenty-five years old, and appeared almost perfect in the Huit scènes de Faust which Berlioz published in 1829, not being able to have it performed, and which he dedicated to M. de Larochefoucauld. This fine scene, therefore, dates back to 1828, as does the beautiful song La Fête de Pâques and also the joyous rondo sung by the peasants. In fact, not only the grand choruses, but the shorter pieces, the songs of Le Rat and of La Puce; the ballad, Le Roi de Thule; the romance of Marguerite, joined arbitrarily to the soldiers’ chorus and La Sérenade du diable are all fragments of his youthful work that Berlioz retained in the score of his maturer period and had the skill to combine anew in several scenes of extraordinary poetic beauty and richness of effect. How inspired the pretty rustic scene into which he has inserted, judiciously or otherwise, his admirable Rakoczy March, written to gain the good will of the Hungarians; the superb monologue of the doctor, introducing the Easter chorus; the animated scene at the Auerbach tavern with its bizarre songs and the ironical fugue on the word Amen; the marvellous scene on the banks of the Elbe with the fine appeal to the demon; the delightful slumber chorus of the spirits and the exquisite ballet of the sylphs; the double chorus of students. Does it not seem that they were all conceived, composed and written down at a white heat and without a pause between them? How fascinating and impressive appears the really devilish serenade of Mephisto, the charming Ménuet des Follets after the ecstatic air of Faust, the archaic ballad of Marguerite, the extremely tender love-duet, and the grand final trio with its chorus of neighbors. The last part is, from beginning to end, absolutely above criticism. It opens with Marguerite’s sad lament interrupted by the chorus of students and leads up to the sublime invocation of nature; to the fantastic path of the abyss; to the lovely song of Seraphim after the furious suggestions of hell. What a splendid culmination!

Surely La Damnation de Faust is a masterpiece; but Roméo et Juliette is another and should have enjoyed as great a success. That it did not is perhaps owing to the fact that in Berlioz’s symphony, vocal music has only a small place, the instruments alone translating the sentiments of the characters, the two not being in juxtaposition as they are in many of the familiar operas of Romeo and Juliet by Gounod and others which ought to have led to an appreciation of Berlioz’s score. The seven movements that form this composition are all of marked worth and are appropriate to the strange plan of the work. In the first place, the prologue, imitated from Shakespeare, and of which M. Gounod, later, adopted Berlioz’s idea, presents a résumé of the work at once complete, grand and delightful, and comprises the fine verses that Berlioz, strangely enough, caused to be sung by a Muse in honor of Shakespeare and Poetry. The opening part includes three incomparable numbers: the poetic and piquantly agitated revery of Romeo wandering in the garden during the ball; the love scene between Juliet and Romeo, a masterpiece of orchestration; the Queen Mab movement, a model of fantastic airiness; also three numbers in the second part, the funeral of Juliet, with its penetrating sadness; the death of Romeo, in which Berlioz has given free rein to his passion for descriptive music, and the oath of reconciliation, preceded by a stirring recitative and the noble prayer of the monk. These are so many magnificent fragments, which, placed side by side according to the composer’s design, form a creation of a wholly superior order.


From an engraving by Auguste Hüssener.

After Faust and Romeo, comes the Requiem,—another triumph; a romantic composition of the first class, written with feverish enthusiasm by a master who rather sought to paint a striking picture to each line of the Requiem than to probe to the literal sense of the Latin text. The Kyrie is the least eccentric and the most expressive number. The Tuba Mirum, in particular, produces a tremendous effect with its four orchestras of brass; an idea that Félicien David and Verdi borrowed from this. Berlioz has given to the Lacrymosa a searching pathos. Perhaps the finest movement in the work to which Schumann rendered such ample justice, is the Offertorium. The requiem ends with a Sanctus for tenor solo, seraphic in sentiment, followed by a beautiful Agnus and a lovely, unfugued Amen. It is fitting to bring together, for comparison, this composition and the Te Deum written about 1850, of which the finest page is the hymn of the seraphim, Tibi omnes angeli, that rises to a magnificent crescendo and dies away at the close on a long and distant chord of the organ. The prayer for tenor solo, Te ergo quæsumus is equally perfect, and the final chorus is a majestic number to which Berlioz has attached a brilliant and thrilling triumphal march for the “presentation of flags.” It recalls by the vastness of its proportions and its orchestral massiveness, his Symphonie funèbre et triumphale, so much admired by Richard Wagner, and of which the peroration, entitled Apothéose, forced a flattering exclamation of praise from even the savage Habeneck.

The Symphonie Fantastique, to return to the most applauded work of Berlioz, after Faust, is one of the most bizarre eccentricities ever hatched in a composer’s brain; but it is also one of the most impressive. The first movement, Rêveries-passions, at once so sad and tender, is, however, excelled by the Scène aux champs, which soothes and charms us with its peacefulness. It is the most inspired movement of the symphony. Le Bal and the Marche au supplice are aflame with the extraordinary verve of the composer, who, taking motives that are neither very striking nor very original in themselves, develops them with extraordinary power, and with such fullness that each movement attains an almost incredible expressiveness. Though in the Songe d’une nuit de Sabbat, the Dies Iræ is burlesqued and degraded by the mocking accents of the piccolo, the tinkling of bells, the bellowing of ophicleides, yet this last part produces an irresistible effect and drags the hearer along in the train of the hellish turmoil. In Harold en Italie Berlioz pushes this seeking for extremely varied tone-colors, and unexpected contrasts, and curious surprises for the ear so far, that he frequently falls into excess. The fine Marche des Pélerins has eclipsed the other portions of the symphony, but the first movement, Harold aux montagnes, is full of poetic melancholy, and the Serénade d’un montagnard, breathes a tranquil peace with which the fiery and tumultuous Orgie de brigands forms a powerful, nay, almost exaggerated contrast.

In the exquisite religious legend L’Enfance du Christ, and the graceful opera comique, Béatrice et Bénédict we make the acquaintance of a Berlioz tempered by age and who no longer seeks to “make a noise in the world.” The second part of his oratorio-drama La Fuite en Egypte, is universally known through its delightful chorus of shepherds and its lovely tenor recitative; there is also much charm in the first duet of Mary and Joseph as they watch over Jesus. The third part includes a powerfully dramatic scene in which the fugitives knock in vain at every door, followed by a patriarchal scene with the beautiful phrase of the father of the family welcoming Jesus, and the trio, with two flutes and harps, of young Ishmaelites. This is music that delights the world. It is the same with the famous duet-nocturne in Béatrice et Bénédict, whose beauty dwells in the opening strain of Hero’s air, and in the splendid andante, à la Gluck, sung by Beatrice. What gaiety, perhaps a little forced now and then, emanates from the mocking duet between Beatrice and Benedict; from the trio of men and the trio of women. What exquisite sweetness there is in the Chant d’hyménée heard from afar; what verve in the piquant rondo sung at the close by the reconciled lovers!

Benvenuto Cellini, a work that has never been revived, is not one of the finer achievements of Berlioz; in it we meet too many concessions to the virtuosity of the conventional opera prima-donna, but it is pervaded by a spirit wholly youthful, set off by sparkling instrumentation. The trio of the first act, and the sad air of Teresa; the grand quartet in the Place Colonne with its different themes ingeniously blended and strongly marked; the couplets of Ascanio; the narrative air of Cellini; the scene in which the poltroon Fieramosca simulates a duel; the charming love-duet between Teresa and Cellini,—here, indeed, are page after page of limpid melody that delight their hearers, as did the opening brilliant overture with the following long carnival scene, which reproduces with extraordinary effect the mutterings and rumblings of a crowd. This is, in truth, the climax of the work. To this opera must be joined the overture, Le Carnaval Romain, written later by Berlioz, and perhaps the most beautiful of his isolated overtures. In any case, it is that which has had the greatest success, eclipsing the overture, Les Francs Juges, even in Germany where it was at first so much applauded, as well as the overtures, Waverly, The Corsair, and King Lear, the last, though so expressive, having never enjoyed equal favor with Le Carnaval Romain.

The tragedy Les Troyens, imitated from Virgil, marked the return to first principles made by Berlioz when maturity had calmed the effervescence of youth and the ebulition of middle age. It was taken up again in a moment of classic aspiration and shows how much the teachings of Lesueur influenced him. La Prise de Troie and Les Troyens à Carthage, separate works, but performed together for the first time at Carlsruhe in December, 1870, are of equal worth and of a superior order. In La Prise de Troie the despairing appeals of Cassandra, the tender replies of Corèbe; the fiery choruses, the ballet music, of which the local color is so appropriate; the epic grandeur of the benediction of Astyanax by Paris; the excited joy of the Trojan people welcoming the entrance of the wooden horse; the woe-fraught prophecies of Cassandra. In Les Troyens à Carthage the peaceful songs of the Trojans; the sublimely touching melodies of Dido; the caressing responses of Anna; Æneas’ call to arms, and the stirring orchestral scene of the royal hunt; the third act, an unmistakable masterpiece, with its pretty dance tunes, its quintet, its incomparable septet, and its fine love-duet; the last two acts, with the sweet plaint of the sailor, Hylas; the pathetic farewell of Æneas and the splendid death scene of Dido,—all prove that both parts of Les Troyens must be placed in the same rank as two great works that blend into one perfect whole.

Berlioz, in addition to his large symphonic and vocal works, wrote numerous detached songs with orchestral or pianoforte accompaniment. La Captive, which was greatly extended from the original sketch written in Italy; Le 5 mai, a magnificent song glorifying the first Napoleon; Sara la baigneuse, and La Mort d’Ophélie, lovely works for two female voices; a fine Hymne à la France; Neuf mélodies Irlandaises, a youthful effort, inspired by the poems of Thomas Moore; Les nuits d’été, six settings of poems by Théophile Gautier, are the most notable of this class of compositions. By adding to these the pieces collected to form Lelio; Rêverie et Caprice, for violin solo and orchestra; a charming Meditation religieuse, after Thomas Moore; and a striking Marche Funêbre for the interment of Hamlet; we have enumerated all the works of Berlioz, great and small, that are worth remembering.

The true domain of Berlioz, that in which he is really king, is the orchestra. He gave an extraordinary impetus to the art of instrumentation,—even after Beethoven and Weber, on whom he leaned,—by his marvellous instinct for blending the various timbres of orchestral instruments, by his indefatigable search for new combinations of tone, by his constant effort to add to the power and the expressiveness of the orchestra in order to make it translate the most diverse sentiments, thus giving to his music a stronger relief, a more animated color. The prodigious result was, that he almost recreated the art of orchestration, opened a new horizon to it, and therefore deserves the title of the French Beethoven. Is it not also astonishing that his genius, audaciously innovating in regard to instrumentation, exercised an influence not only on all those musicians who began their career after his success was established, but on others who were his elders by age and reputation, such as Meyerbeer, or somewhat younger, such as Richard Wagner? These two composers, not the least able of their day, having heard the works of Berlioz at a time when very few took him seriously, had an intuition of his worth and from the very first felt instinctively even more than Schumann, that it was necessary to respect this young man gifted with such extraordinary imagination.


By Benjamin—Nov. 1, 1838.

Thenceforward Meyerbeer, one of those rare musicians, be it said to his honor, who feel a concern for other creations than their own, took a lively and permanent interest in all that Berlioz produced. Wagner, on his side, admitted to friends that he no sooner reached Paris than he made a profound study of Berlioz’s instrumentation; that he had since reread his scores many times, and that he had often profited by the works of “that devilishly clever man.” Moreover, from 1841, he regarded Berlioz as a musician filling a place of his own, mingling with none, while loving, understanding, worshipping Beethoven; dreaming perhaps to be German in the hours when his genius urged him to write in imitation of this great master; but unable to assimilate French love of external effect with Beethoven’s profound symphonic style; possessing a wonderful fancy, an imagination of extraordinary energy; torn between his artistic impulses and the tastes of his fellow countrymen, whom he wished to win; incapable of asking or of receiving advice; possessed of that virtue, rare even among Germans, of not wishing to write for money; turning his back on all musical triviality; eminently fitted by reason of these qualities and of these faults to create great works, popular or national as in the Symphonie de Juillet, the best in his eyes, of Berlioz’s works, and the only one which, to him, seemed destined to live.


By Carjat.

The portrait is pretty, and coming from the pen of Wagner, is flattering enough, save in its conclusion, which appears somewhat absurd to-day. But this amazing aptitude for obtaining from an orchestra more than any other composer had been able to compass, was exactly the origin of the misunderstanding between Berlioz and the public. Certainly the so-called learned criticisms of the most serious journals and the chaffing of the less dignified press, contributed much to transform Berlioz, in the eye of the masses, into a species of charlatan hungry for fame and banging his drum vigorously to attract the mob; denying him genius except for drawing attention to himself. These slurs, however, would not have taken a firm hold in the minds of their readers if the adverse criticisms had been wholly without an appearance of justice. In brief, with what did they reproach him? of lacking melodic invention and of replacing it by inextricable orchestral tangles; of rejoicing in diabolical noise and of entertaining a positive contempt for all music except his own. Nevertheless, Berlioz was not wanting in melody. His themes, when separated from their complicated accompaniments, have even a family likeness to the romanzas of 1840 in the style of Madame Duchambage or of Blangini; his themes, vocal or instrumental, have generally a dreamy melancholy, which seem to recall his birthplace, with its tender and tremulous songs so loved by the peasants of Dauphiny. These perfectly clear melodies, whenever he was content to give them simple accompaniments, met with instant recognition and success from the public. Among them is La Captive in its first version; also the tenor recitative in La Fuite en Egypte. It seemed surprising that the composer of these delicate melodies should be the one who wrote such complicated music, and so the ignorant were taught that these melodic treasure-troves were wholly exceptional with this troublesome, demented and blustering composer.

What repelled the public and assisted its misunderstanding on this point, were the intricacies of his deeply-studied and curiously-strange method of orchestration. In carrying out the idea that by the aid of the most varied tone combinations every shade of meaning in a piece of music can be made clear to the listener, Berlioz, imbued as he was with the teachings of Lesueur, had a tendency to overcharge the more novel touches of his musical picture, in order to indicate the secondary details with that distinctness which seemed indispensable to him. From this practice arose confusion in the mind of the inexperienced hearer, and produced cloudiness in the music from which the dominant idea could not be detached without an effort. On the other hand he gave utterance to many noble and touching thoughts with pathetic declamation, poetic and richly-colored orchestration, and impressive sonority; essential qualities in Berlioz that are really wonderful and on which his enemies, notably Fétis, were careful not to throw light. On the contrary, they did their uttermost to discourage the public from bestowing attention on these works, and they succeeded only too well and too long.

Here then is one of the causes that made amateurs rebel, on principle, against the innovations of this great composer; but another cause, inherent in the soul of Berlioz, repelled timid people. It was his spirit of intolerance and of exclusive self-admiration. Carried along by the impulse of the time and the desire to insure victory for his art theories, Berlioz did not hesitate to attack the reputations of the most cherished idols of the hour; therefore, whether he wrote, or whether he spoke, he indulged his natural disposition to exaggerate everything with virulent indignation, and outbursts of mad enthusiasm in support of the artistic faith that swayed him. The public did not and could not understand him, and irritated by his fierce aggressive tone, held itself instinctively on guard against the creations of this fighting innovator and stood ready to pay him the price of his contempt for it. Between a rancorous public offended by the disdain this iconoclast manifested for its tastes, and an artist who never exhausted the taunts he had in store for it, there was always an antagonism, skilfully intensified by the personal foes of the master and which ceased only at his death.

Antagonism is the true word, for Berlioz in his vocal works at least never departed from the models so dear to the public. In fact, so far as opera is concerned, he remained ever the disciple and admirer of Spontini and of Gluck, without dreaming that he was destined soon to initiate a revolution in this branch of musical art. Even when, at the height of his own romantic fervor, he broke down the barriers of the symphony, there always remained in Berlioz an instinctive respect for consecrated forms; and as soon as he passed from the concert-room to the stage he conformed in the most ingenious manner imaginable to the old methods in all his works written with an eye to the opera house. He was deliberately revolutionary in the symphony only, and that chiefly in respect to instrumentation.

With this creator, endowed with a phenomenal genius in a certain way, the ideas regarding the essential conditions of musical art were so unsettled, and changed so often from one time and from one style to another, that he would have been puzzled to formulate them with any exactness. He emitted fire and flames, he hurled curses and roared bitter denunciations, but when it came to deciding the ideal that an artist should follow or the absolute principles he should adopt, he did nothing.

There exists a radical difference between the two great musicians who have convulsed the musical world in the second half of this century. The later-comer, Richard Wagner, pursued a fully defined ideal, a single problem, on the solving of which he had long concentrated his thoughts and all the force of his genius, viz.:—the fusion of music and the drama. He kept steadily in this one path and brought the music-drama to the highest point it is possible for it to attain. Berlioz, on the contrary, realized at one stroke all the modifications that seemed to him desirable to fasten upon the symphony and the opera. He did not seek an integral reform, but simply wished to enrich each branch of musical art with new descriptive and picturesque elements. But while his flexible brain turned now toward the stage, now toward the church, or the concert-room, he did not deviate much from the traditional forms, though he endowed them with new and wonderful characteristics.

Warmly romantic with Shakespeare, purely classic with Virgil, who were his literary deities, he was eclectic in literature as in music. The splendid lyric accents of Gluck are not in full harmony with the deep poetic and chivalric inspiration of Weber, and the lack of resemblance between Spontini and Beethoven is still more striking, yet Berlioz loved them all. It matters not that Berlioz confounded these masters in his religious admiration of them and made for himself a double personality, repudiating all rule and tradition when he wrote for the orchestra and for the concert stage, and becoming a pious observer of hallowed forms when he turned to the theatre. In his Les Troyens, the voice parts are of a wholly classic purity while the orchestra abounds in modern romanticism; in Béatrice et Bénédict, delightful inspirations, exquisite in their poetry, are mingled with the conventional forms that Berlioz mercilessly condemned in the works of others: inexplicable vocal flourishes, repetitions of words, outrages on prosody, the clipping of rebellious words; all this by a composer in whose eyes correct declamation was a fundamental essential of song.

Such was the composer Berlioz, such the critic, and the critic was not unhelpful to the composer. In fact, all that he was in France, all that he was able to win, during his lifetime, he owed to his position as a writer for the press and as the friend of influential journalists. But he made many enemies, less by the aggressiveness of his writings than by his caustic wit. There was in him an imperative necessity to tell the public his hates and his loves, and if he did not always feel free to give bold expression to the disgust with which certain works filled him, he invariably let his contempt be seen through his polished and even laudatory phrases. At least, nobody was ever deceived. The musician in Berlioz is impassioned, now tender, now vigorous. It is the same with the writer. His style is picturesque and incisive, sometimes trivial. Side by side are exclamations of admiration and contempt; quasi religious respect and genuinely holy anger, all equally energetic and sincere—the word and the blow. To appreciate this at its full value, it suffices to select at hazard one of the collection of articles published by himself in book form under the titles, Les Soirées de l’orchestra, Les Grotesques de la musique, in which the humorist tone prevails and A travers chants, which contains his most serious thoughts; the two volumes of letters published after his death, Correspondance inédite et lettres intimes; and finally his amusing and fascinating Mémoires, in which he travesties himself unreservedly and confuses somewhat the dates and facts. This book is a genuine romance.

Berlioz, bitter and unsympathetic as it here pleases him to appear, was wholly unconventional; he was the athlete constantly stripped for the combat, and armed for the fight. How different from the Berlioz seen in his profession and in society! As much as those, who knowing him but slightly, judged him hard and unsociable, so much did those to whom his affections went out, laud his extreme kindness and his tenderness of feeling. He was not prepossessing in appearance or manner. His esteem and friendship had to be won little by little, in order to open by some means or other, the way to his heart. He no sooner found himself among friends, than his spirits rose and often urged him into countless pleasantries. Nevertheless, even toward these he showed the most variable disposition: he would arrive sullen and morose, and then without warning, would break into wild and infectious gaiety, to fall just as suddenly into icy reserve. A troublesome thought would suffice for this, and it only needed an inopportune word to make him intractable. If he chanced to be in the mood for brilliant paradoxes or merry persiflage, it was necessary to refrain from interrupting or opposing him. In the heat of conversation, no matter how serious, he loved to utter wretched puns, and absurd verbal extravagances. These irrepressible sallies, at which he was generally the only one to laugh, were something very serious in his eyes. “Genius is akin to madness.”

“Berlioz, one of the most eminent musicians of all time, perhaps the most extraordinary artist in every way who ever lived.” Thus he was characterized by M. Reyer in speaking at the foot of Berlioz’s statue. He was, truly, an extraordinary artist in every sense; apostle and sectarian at one and the same time; one who conceived great things and sometimes partly realized them; who was in turn sarcastic and sentimental, emotional and passionate almost to weeping; who nourished an intolerant worship of his art and never knew moderation in his judgments; who was gifted with admirable creative faculties and opened new paths to the art of instrumentation; who was in perpetual strife with the pretenders of true melody, to whom he never yielded; who aimed to be at once as noble and as majestic as Spontini, as imaginative and as impassioned as Weber, as sweet and as tender as Virgil, as sublime and as trivial as Shakespeare, as grand and pathetic as Goethe and Beethoven, yet who knew how to be himself by force of will and loftiness of genius. Berlioz had a rare grasp of mind, and was keenly sensitive to the beauties of certain great literary works, hence the “romantic movement” in France deeply influenced him. With enormous will power and bordering on insanity, he aspired in his youthful dreams to be considered, some day, the Victor Hugo, the Delacroix of musical art, and, in some respects, his aspiration was more than realized—after he was dead!

Ad. Julien


Reproduction of a photograph from life, by E. Pirou, Paris.

691 [Fleuron]


Ambroise Thomas was born in Metz on the fifth day of August, 1811. He was the son of a musician and received his first instruction in music from his father. In his earliest childhood he developed a talent for music and when only four years of age he began his musical studies. Three years later he had instruction on the violin and piano, for which latter instrument he manifested a special gift, and he was already an excellent performer on it, when, in 1828, at the age of seventeen, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire and became the pupil of Zimmermann in piano playing, of Dourien for harmony, and of Lesueur for composition. Kalkbrenner, then in the height of his fame, took a great interest in the boy and aided his study of the piano, while Barbereau gave him lessons in counterpoint. He was a diligent student, and one year after his entrance to the Conservatoire he won the first prize for piano playing. The year following, he carried off the first prize for harmony, and two years later the Grand Prix was awarded him; and when only twenty-one, he went to Italy at the expense of the State, remaining there for the prescribed three years, and studying conscientiously. During this period he wrote a string quintet; a quartet for strings; a trio for pianoforte, violin, and ’cello; a fantasia for pianoforte and orchestra; a fantasia on Scotch melodies, for piano; six capriccios in the form of waltzes, for piano; two nocturnes for piano, a rondo for four hands, for the same instrument; six Italian songs; three motets, with organ, and a requiem, with orchestra. These works were all published, as was also his prize cantata “Hermann and Ketty.” They are now forgotten, but they were then evidences of great industry and of a leaning in the direction of what was most worthy in the art into which the young musician had been born, and they attracted earnest critical attention.

He returned to Paris early in 1836, and at once sought for a hearing at the Opéra Comique, the first ambition of a young French composer. He did not have long to wait, for in August, 1837, his one-act opera, “La Double Echelle,” was performed, and so favorably received that he obtained a firm foothold at the opera house and produced there “Le Perruquier de la Régence,” three acts (1838); “Le Panier Fleuri,” one act (1839). In the meanwhile, encouraged by his success, he aspired to the Académie, and in 1839 produced there, in collaboration with Benoist, La “Gipsy,” a ballet in two acts. He also composed for the same establishment “Le Comte de Carmagnola” (1841); “Le Guerillero” (1842); and “Betty,” a ballet in two acts (1846). None of these was successful. At that time Auber, Halévy, Meyerbeer and Donizetti were composing for the Académie, and it was not easy for a young artist to hold his own against them. Thomas had not neglected the Opéra Comique, for which he wrote “Carline” (1840); “Angélique et Médor” (1843); “Mina” (1843), all of which failed to make any favorable impression on the public. Discouraged by the lack of success that attended his efforts, he ceased to write for the lyric stage, and for five years remained silent. When he was heard again it was in “Le Caïd,” a three-act comic opera, which was produced in 1849, and achieved a brilliant success, making a tour of Europe. It was followed in 1850 by “Le Songe d’une nuit d’été,” in three acts. This opera was no less fortunate in the reception accorded it, and at once gave Thomas a foremost place among the young French composers of the day. Then came “Raymond,” three acts (1851); “La Tonelli” (1853); “La Cour de Célimène” (1855); “Psyché” (1857); “Le Carnaval de Venise” (1857); “Le Roman d’Elvire.” Some of these obtained slight temporary success, but not one of them won the popularity that attended “Le Caïd” and “Le Songe.” Again Thomas retired from view, and this time it was six years before he produced another opera.

In 1851 he became a member of the Institute, and in 1852, Professor of Composition in the Conservatoire. Up to this time Thomas had distinguished himself as a fluent and refined melodist, and by his piquant orchestration; he was also noted as a master of musical comedy. Nevertheless he had not yet been able to win for himself a rank equal to that of Auber, and in French comic opera, “Le Maçon,” “Fra Diavolo,” “Le Domino Noir,” and “Les Diamants de la Couronne,” which had been composed before Thomas went into his second seclusion, still surpassed all that the latter had produced, and survive to this day, while, with the exception of “Le Caïd,” none of Thomas’s operas antecedent to 1850 are ever performed.

In 1866 “Mignon” was heard, and Thomas at once leaped to world-wide fame. The work had an overwhelming success, and has been given in every opera house in the world. Two years later this masterpiece was followed by “Hamlet,” which was equally successful in France, though it has not, elsewhere, proved as popular as “Mignon.” On the strength of these two fine operas he was appointed, in 1871, to fill the position of Director of the Conservatoire, left vacant by the death of Auber. His other compositions, not yet mentioned, are a cantata composed for the inauguration of a statue to Lesueur (1852); a “Messe Solennelle” (1857); a “Marche Réligieuse” (1865); “Hommage à Boïeldieu,” composed for the centenary of Boïeldieu (1875), and many part songs, among them “La Vapeur,” “Le Chant des Amis,” “Le Tyrol,” “France,” “L’Atlantique,” “Le Carnaval de Rome,” “Le Traineaux,” “Le Temple de la Paix,” “La Nuit du Sabbat,” some of which are works of the highest merit, in their order. In 1874 was produced “Gille et Gilleton,” a one-act comic opera, written, however, in 1861. “Psyché” was revived in 1878 with additions, but though the music is full of graceful beauty, and was warmly praised, it made no marked impression on the general public. After “Hamlet,” Thomas did not bring forward another opera for fourteen years, and then he made another brilliant success with “Françoise di Rimini” (1882), in which was some of the finest music he had ever written, especially in the prologue and in the fourth act. He was now seventy-one years of age, and could well rest on the laurels he had won. From that date until the present (1893), he has produced no new lyric work, his only contribution to the stage of the opera being a ballet founded on “The Tempest,” by Shakespeare (1889), which, though remarkable as the effort of a man seventy-eight years old, was not destined to be numbered among his successes. In fact, with this work his career as a composer appears to have ended. He received the grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1880. At the age of eighty-two, he is still fulfilling his duties at the Conservatoire, in which institution he has worked many important and useful reforms. He has improved the method of instruction, has instituted lectures on the general history of music; has founded an orchestral class and compulsory vocal classes for reading at sight, and has raised the standard of solfeggio teaching. Not only this, but he has been largely instrumental in increasing the salaries of the professors, and has enlarged the prosperity of the institution until it has reached a point that makes it almost self-paying. Thomas has lived a wholly artistic life and has, fortunately, escaped most of the severer trials experienced by the majority of those who have devoted themselves to that branch of his art which has brought him fame and competence. He is given to physical exercise, is fond of country life, has a villa at Argenteuil and an island home at Zillieo, in Brittany. He is not without literary talent and his tastes are refined. He is an enthusiastic collector of bric-a-brac, and rarely fails attendance at any of the more important auctions at the Hotel Druot.

Fac-simile autograph manuscript of an “Album Leaf” written by Ambroise Thomas.

Ambroise Thomas’ life as a composer for the Paris opera houses covered fifty-two years. In that time he wrote much charming music, but he never developed any individuality of style, never wrote anything so distinctively his own that it could at once be attributed to him by reason of any characteristics belonging peculiarly and distinguishingly to him. His earlier operas, produced between 1837 and 1848, are marked by refinement of taste, and graceful finish in workmanship. After that and until 1860 his method underwent a change, and he sought brilliancy and piquancy, as instanced in “Le Caïd,” and gradually warmed into poetic feeling and deeper sentiment, departing, in the meanwhile, from the conventionalities that Rossini and other Italian composers had fastened on French opera music. His growth in his art has been steady from the very outset, but if he has ceased to write after “Le Roman d’Elvire,” which ended this period of his musical development, his fame as a composer would hardly have survived down to the present time. From the opera just named to “Mignon” was an enormous stride, and the brilliant reputation this work made for him was sustained by “Hamlet” and “Françoise di Rimini.” But even these, his masterpieces, do not present him in the light of a composer who had something to say that had not been said before. His art evolution had enlarged his method of thought and had enabled him to give a wider scope to his talents, but it had not endowed him with a style that set him apart from other composers. We hear of the style of Auber, and it brings a clear idea of a strongly marked musical individuality to our mind. The same may be said of the style of Meyerbeer and also that of Gounod; but to speak of the style of Thomas would be to convey no such distinct and instant suggestion of a definite and an unmistakable originality, like that which pertains essentially to Bizet.

The music of Thomas is always polished and delicate; his operas show that he has an innate feeling for dramatic effect; his musical comedies are models for the intimate blending of music with the spirit of the words and the stage situations. His harmonies are rich and flowing, and impart to his work a decided air of refined elegance. His instrumentation emphasizes convincingly his thorough mastery over the resources of the modern orchestra and a sensitive appreciation of the characteristic tone-color of the different instruments. His scores are never overloaded, and as the rule the right touch is always put by him in the right place. The voice is never overwhelmed by the orchestra. With all these merits he is rarely if ever emphatic, and strength and intensity of passion are not among his musical gifts. Love, melancholy, gaiety and poetic tenderness are the sentiments in which he excels. Fire, and a vigorous sweep of emotional feeling are not within his power to depict. The changes in the style of his scores are the changes that the varying musical tastes of the times brought about. He never formed these tastes, but he invariably followed them. His earlier operas are in the vein of Auber or of Rossini, sometimes of both in combination. When the fashion of the day called for more dramatic expression he followed in the footsteps of Halévy. Later, when brilliancy, tunefulness and graceful commonplace were the vogue, he had no scruple against modelling himself on Clapisson. It was not until Gounod had risen into fame and “Faust” became the rage, filling the music-loving world with delight, that Thomas found it possible to write “Mignon” and “Hamlet,” in both which operas the influence of the younger composer is shown on almost every page. Thomas has not the gift of originality, but he has the gift of receptivity and the faculty of assimilation largely developed. Twice he went into seclusion, and each time when he reappeared it was with a style in harmony with that of the favorite opera composers of the hour. There is nothing culpable in this, for it proves conclusively, that Thomas was always an untiring student. It is undeniable, that on every occasion his style underwent a radical change, it showed an advance in the broader and more impressive essentials of his art, and added to the fame of the composer. The works in which he will live are those which belong to his last period.


Reproduction of a lithograph portrait published by Becquet of Paris.

Not so with his greater confrère Halévy, whose first grand successes, “La Juive” and “L’Eclair,” were his only masterpieces. Thomas has not reached the height to which Halévy soared in either of these operas. “Mignon” and “Hamlet” are, however, works of no common order. The former has won a place in the repertory of every opera house in Europe. There is much of genuine poetic feeling in the music, and the score, as a whole, is distinguished by grace, melodiousness, delicacy of taste, and that effect of spontaneity that is understood as inspiration. Fine discrimination has been shown in giving each character its appropriate musical expression, and the skill with which the people of the story are contrasted cannot be too warmly praised. The “Connais-tu le pays,” the “swallow” duet, the prayer of Mignon, the romance of Wilhelm, the polonaise of Felina, have become justly celebrated. The orchestration is exquisite in its delicate finish and its ingeniously varied but always artistic color. That it has achieved a permanent place on the opera stage is beyond question. “Hamlet” is more ambitious, and though not without a certain nobility of style, is little else than a more elaborate “Mignon.” In it the composer says nothing that he has not already said in the last-named work, the only change being a somewhat more earnest method of expression. In this opera it was claimed that Thomas “has indicated to young composers the line at which the new school should stop, under penalty of exceeding the bounds of lyric art”; but Thomas, though undoubtedly a musician of talent, knowledge and experience, has never shown such originality as to entitle him to be considered a reformer, and as yet there has not been, even in his own country, any propaganda to spread a knowledge of him through the world. “Hamlet” may be considered the extreme point that French grand opera had reached in the direction of the Wagnerian music-drama up to the time that it appeared. The Gounod influence is still clearly apparent in it, but the Wagner influence also makes itself felt in the effort to break away from conventional models and to substitute expressive declamation for more rhythmical melody. The mad song of Ophelia is, perhaps, the most effective number in the opera. “Françoise de Rimini” went a step further than did “Hamlet” toward a predetermined departure from the old school of operatic music to the new. The composer authorized the statement that the prologue to the work would be a profession of musical faith, which he had long contemplated and in which he would mark definitely how closely symphonic music can be allied with the lyric drama; after which the curtain was to rise on music essentially “theatrical,” or, if a better word should be demanded, “human.” The prologue is certainly as strong and masterly, but it has in it nothing of a symphonic quality, and, as a profession of faith, proved to be of no permanent value save as an evidence of the highest point which the composer’s musical development had reached. This portion of the opera and the fourth act are by far the finest achievements of Thomas. The orchestra through the whole opera is treated with consummate power, notably in the beautiful effects obtained by unaccustomed groupings of the different instruments. In the ingenious blendings of tone-color that are produced by combining widely varying timbres with a skill as profound as felicitous; the richness, ripeness, and perfection of the scoring generally; as well as the masterly discretion observed in maintaining a judicious balance between the orchestra and the singers, the score may be justly given a place among the most masterly that modern musical art has produced. For the rest, despite some splendid dramatic moments in the work and the faultless finish of its workmanship as a whole, it is to be doubted if it will live. But how few works do live! Many glorious operas have been written since “Don Giovanni” and “Fidelio” saw the light, and yet not one has appeared that has yet been accorded a place by their side. Hundreds of operas that met with a brilliant and deserved success in their day, have fallen gradually into the background; operas by Spontini, who, in “La Vestale,” just escaped producing an immortal masterpiece; by Cherubini, whose “Les Deux Journées” came nearer winning the third place than any opera since; by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Meyerbeer, whose “Les Huguenots” is his only work that bids fair to survive; by Weber, whose “Der Freischütz” alone promises to last. The supreme operas of the world might be named on the fingers of one hand. Mention of Wagner has been avoided because he is yet to experience the test of time,—that incorruptible and most pitiless of critics. It is the fate of some admirable and justly honored composers to learn their ultimate reputation with posterity during their lifetime. Among these, we think, is Ambroise Thomas, and that reputation will include respectful consideration for an eminent and able musician, who constantly grew in his art; while it will accord him a prominent place in the ranks of wholly estimable opera composers of the second order.

B. E. Woolf


Reproduction of a photograph from life, by Carjat & Cie., Paris.

697 [Fleuron]


Alexandre César Léopold Bizet was born in Paris, Oct. 25th, 1838. His godfather called him “Georges,” and as “Georges,” Bizet is known to the world at large.

The father of Bizet was an artisan, who, at the age of twenty-five, studied music, and became a teacher of singing. He outlived his son. The mother was a sister of the wife of Delsarte. She was a pianist of ability, a “first prize” of the Conservatory. From her Bizet learned the alphabet and musical notation. From his father he learned the use of the pianoforte, and the elements of harmony.

The boy did not wish to be a musician; he hankered after the literary life. “When I was a child,” Bizet told Gallet, “they hid my books to keep me from abandoning music for literature.”

Although he was not of the required age, Bizet passed brilliantly, in his tenth year, the entrance-examination of the Conservatory, where he studied the pianoforte under Marmontel, the organ under Benoist, counterpoint and fugue under Zimmermann; and after the death of the latter, he studied composition under Halévy. He won a prize before he was eleven years old, the first of many prizes:—

First solfeggio prize (1849); second pianoforte prize (1851), and the first pianoforte prize (1852); first “accessit d’orgue” (1853), second prize (1854), first prize (1855); second prize in fugue (1854), first prize (1855); second “grand prix de Rome” of the Institute (1856), and first “grand prix” (1857).

In 1856 Offenbach, manager of the Bouffes-Parisiens, proposed a competition in operetta. The libretto was “Doctor Miracle.” Seventy-eight composers appeared; six were found worthy, and the prizes was awarded ex aequo, to Bizet and Lecocq. The music of the latter was first heard April 8th, 1857; the music of Bizet was heard April 9th. The public was impartially cold.

Toward the end of 1857 Bizet started on his journey to Rome. He journeyed leisurely, and entered the city Jan. 28, 1858. It was in 1859 that he sent, according to rule, a composition to the “Académie des Beaux-Arts”; it was not a mass however; it was an operetta in Italian: “Don Procopio,” in two acts. The reviewer, Ambroise Thomas, praised the ease, the brilliancy, “the fresh and bold style” of the composer, and he deplored the fact that Bizet had not given his attention to a work of religious character. The score of this operetta is lost. In 1859 Bizet traveled in Italy and obtained permission to remain in Rome during the one year, that, according to tradition, should be spent in Germany. He sent to the Académie “Vasco de Gama,” a descriptive orchestral composition with choruses; three numbers of an orchestral suite; and, if Pougin is correct, an operetta in one act, “La Guzla de l’Emir”; but Pigot claims that this latter work was not begun until after the return to Paris.

He returned and found his mother on her deathbed. He was without means, without employment; and he was crushed by the death of the one for whom he was eager to work day and night. He once wrote to her from Rome, “100,000 francs, the sum is nothing! Two successes at the Opéra Comique! I wish to love you always with all my soul, and to be always as to-day the most loving of sons.”

He was a “prix de Rome,”—too often an honor that brings with it no substantial reward. He was a “prix de Rome,” as was the unfortunate described by Legouvé:

“Listen to the wretched plight
Of a melancholy man,
A young man of sixty years,
Whom they call ‘un prix de Rome.’”

Burning with desire to write for the operatic stage, he gave music lessons. Dreaming of dramatic situations and grand finales, he made pianoforte arrangements of airs from operas written by others.

The Count Walewski granted Carvalho, the manager of the Théâtre-Lyrique, a subsidy of 100,000 francs, on the condition that an important work by a “prix de Rome” should be produced each year. Bizet was the first to profit thereby. He wrote the music for “The Pearl Fishers.” The text was by Carré and Cormon, and the opera was produced with gorgeous scenic setting, Sept. 30, 1863. The opera was given eighteen times, and it was not sung again in Paris until 1889, at the Gaité, and in Italian, with Calvé and Talazac, when it was only heard six times.

It is stated in Pigot’s “Bizet et son Œuvre” that Blau and Gallet wrote a libretto, “Ivan, the Terrible,” which was set to music by Bizet in the style of Verdi. Gallet says that neither he nor Blau wrote a word of such a libretto.

In 1866 Bizet worked at the orchestral composition which three years later was played at a Concert Pasdeloup and was then called “Souvenirs de Rome”; he temporarily abandoned it on the receipt of a libretto by Saint-Georges and Adenis, founded on Sir Walter Scott’s “The Fair Maid of Perth.” While he composed the music of this opera, he supported himself by giving lessons, correcting proofs, arranging dance music for orchestra, and writing songs. He often worked fifteen or sixteen hours a day. His letters of this year end with one and the same cry: “I must make my living.” This pursuit of a living brought early death.

The score of “The Fair Maid of Perth” was finished in six months, but the opera was not produced at the Théâtre-Lyrique until the 26th of December, 1867. There were twenty-one representations. In 1890 there were eleven representations at the Eden Theatre (Théâtre-Lyrique).

It was in 1867 that Bizet wrote the first act of “Malbrough,” an opérette bouffe, which was given at the Athénée. In 1868 or 1869 he wrote the music of an opérette-vaudeville, “Sol-si-ré-pif-pan,” for the Menus-Plaisirs, and he did not sign the score.

It was also in 1867 that he appeared as a writer on musical subjects. His first and last article was published in the first number of the Revue Nationale, Aug. 3rd. His pseudonym was “Gaston de Betzi.”

And then Bizet busied himself in the completion of “Noah,” a biblical opera left unfinished by Halévy; in arranging operas for pianoforte solo; in original compositions for the pianoforte, as his “chromatic variations.” He wrote music for the text of “The Cup of the King of Thule”; he called it “wretched stuff” and destroyed it. His “Souvenir de Rome, fantaisie symphonique” was played at a Concert Populaire in 1869. In that same year, June 3rd, he was married to Geneviève Halévy, the daughter of the composer. After the invasion of France, Bizet served in the National Guard, and his letters during those bloody days reveal the depth of his patriotism and his disgust at the incompetence and corruption in high places.

In 1872 (May 22) a little work in one act was brought out at the Opéra Comique. It was called “Djamileh”; the text was by Gallet, the music was by Bizet. It was given ten or eleven times; and Saint-Saëns, infuriated at the Parisian public, wrote biting verses:

“The ruminating bourgeois, pot-bellied and ugly, sits in his narrow stall, regretting separation from his kind; he half-opens a glassy eye, munches a bon-bon, then sleeps again, thinking that the orchestra is a-tuning.”

Carvalho, manager of the Vaudeville, dreamed of reviving the melodrama. He first caught his playwright, Daudet; he secured Bizet as the musician; the result was “L’Arlésienne,” which was first produced Oct. 1, 1872. The music included twenty-four numbers, orchestral and choral. The score was designed for the particular orchestra of the Vaudeville. Bizet rearranged for full orchestra the numbers that make up the Suite No. 1, and the Suite was first played at a Concert Populaire Nov. 10, 1872. He also revised the other numbers, and the revision was used at the revivals at the Odéon in 1885 and 1887. The Suite No. 2 was arranged by Ernest Guiraud.

The overture, “Patrie,” was first played at a Concert Populaire in February, 1874. Bizet experimented with texts suggested for an opéra comique; he finally chose “Carmen,” the text of which was drawn by Meilhac and Halévy from a tale by Merimée. The opera was produced at the Opéra Comique, March 3, 1875, with the following cast: Carmen, Galli-Marié; Micaëla, Marguerite Chapuis; Don Jose, Lhérie; Escamillo, Bouhy. It was about this time that Bizet was decorated with the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor.

“Carmen” was no more successful than its predecessors. Bizet mourned its failure. For some time he had fought bravely against melancholy. At the age of thirty-six, he exclaimed, “It is extraordinary that I should feel so old.” Attacks of angina had been periodical for some years. He would jest at his suffering: “Fancy a double-pedal, A flat, E flat, which goes through your head from ear to ear.” He had abused his strength by over-work. Suddenly, at midnight, he died in Bougival, where he was resting. It was June 3rd, three months after the first performance of “Carmen.” The widow was left with a five-year-old son.


From a photograph made specially for this work.

Bizet left few manuscripts. He burned many shortly before his death. The fragments of “Don Rodrigue” and “Clarisse Harlowe” were left in a curious notation that is nearly hieroglyphical, not to be deciphered.

When Louis Gallet first met Bizet, he saw a forest of blonde hair, thick and curly, which surrounded a round and almost child-like face. Bizet’s figure was robust. In later years his features were firm, and his expression was energetic, tempered by the trust, the frankness, and the goodness that characterized his nature. He was very short-sighted, and he wore eyeglasses constantly. His mouth lent itself as easily to expression of mocking wit as to kindness. His love for his parents has been already mentioned; his devotion toward his wife was such that she told Gounod there was not one minute of the six years of marriage which she would not gladly live over. He was a welcome companion, fond of jest and paradox, frank and loyal. At the house of Saint-Saëns he played gladly the part of Helen in Offenbach’s operetta. He was ever firm, even extravagant in friendship, as when at Baden-Baden in ‘62 he challenged a man who spoke lightly of Gounod’s “Queen of Sheba.” When the talk was concerning musicians whom he loved, Bach, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Gounod, his voice would lose its peculiar sibilance, and his hot eloquence showed honesty as well as nimble wit and power of expression. In all of the recollections of troops of friends, in his letters to acquaintances and friends there is not a suggestion of mean action, scheming purpose, low or narrow thought.

At the age of fourteen Bizet was a master of the pianoforte; his technique was above reproach; he was particularly skilful in mixing his colors: an exquisitely defined melody had its proper and characteristic background. Halévy and Liszt are of the many witnesses to his extraordinary talent for reading from score at sight. Reyer speaks of his remarkable memory. And yet Bizet never appeared in public as a pianist; although in certain salons of Paris his abilities excited lively admiration.

So too his gifts as a composer for orchestra were more than ordinary; but whenever he had an opportunity to write for the stage, he abandoned any instrumental work that had interested him.

For Bizet obeyed the instincts of the French musician and looked to the stage for enduring fame.

There is no need of close examination of “The Pearl Fishers,” and “The Fair Maid of Perth.” We know the later works of Bizet, and therefore we find hints of genius in the early operas. With the exception of the duet of Nadir and Zurga and of a few pages saturated with local color, there is little in “The Pearl Fishers” to herald the arrival of a master of the stage. There are delightful examples of instrumentation in “The Fair Maid of Perth”: the opera as a whole is conventional, and the solo passages and the ensemble are often reminiscent: there is continual homage to famous men: Gounod, Halévy, Verdi, Thomas, et al. Bizet had not yet found the use of his own voice.

Nor would “Djamileh,” the satisfaction of the longing of Camille du Locle for ideal musical revery, the sounding of the revolt against the school of Scribe, carry the name of Bizet to after years. Its perfume is subtle and penetrating; its colors delight trained eyes. It is a tour de force. It has the affected frankness of a pastel in prose. The hearer must be mastered by the spirit of the Orient to thoroughly enjoy. The three comedians should be seen as in an opium dream.

The fame of Bizet must rest eventually on two works: “L’Arlésienne” and “Carmen.”

I believe “L’Arlésienne” is the more artistic, the greater work. In “Carmen” is the greater promise of what Bizet might have done. The music of “L’Arlésienne,” is inseparably associated with success or failure of the play itself and the abilities of play-actors. If the concert-suite is played, it pleases; but apart from the representation of the dramatic scenes, the music loses its true significance. The saxophone solo in the Prelude, with its marvellous accompaniment, gratifies the ear in the concert-room; but its haunting and melancholy beauty is intensified tenfold when it is associated with the apparition of “The Innocent.” It is impossible to over-rate the beauty, the passion, the dramatic fitness of the music that accompanies the various scenes in the simple and terrible drama of Daudet. The dialogue between Mère Renaud and Balthazar when they meet after fifty years is touching; but the adagietto, that softly tells of humble heroism, love preserved without shame, the kiss given at last and without passion, longings and regrets endured in silence, rises to a height of pathos that is beyond the reach of words or pantomime. In connection with the scene and the dialogue the adagietto is irresistible in its effect; in the concert room, it is simply a beautiful piece for muted strings. This play of Daudet is so simple, so devoid of trickery that its popular and universal success is extremely doubtful. The average spectator would fain see the unworthy Woman of Arles for whom Fréderi burns in agony; the shepherd Balthazer seems to him a good, tiresome old man with a beard; The Innocent, unless the part is played with rare finesse, becomes almost ludicrous. Not until there is a return to the appreciation of simplicity will this music of Bizet be known as the supreme example of music in the domain of melodrama.

Meilhac and Halévy in the libretto of “Carmen,” feel constantly the pulse of the audience.

The opera is not a sustained masterpiece. The want of action in the third act is not atoned for by a display of musical inspiration. With the exception of the trio of card-players, the music of this act is far below that of the other three. But, with the omission of this act, how frank, how intense, how characteristic, is the music that tells of a tragedy of universal and eternal interest.

For Carmen lived years before she was known by Merimée. She dies many deaths, and many are her resurrections. When the world was young, they say her name was Lilith, and the serpent for her sake hated Adam. She perished that wild night when the heavens rained fire upon the Cities of the Plain. Samson knew her when she dwelt in the valley of Sorek. The mound builders saw her and fell at her feet. She disquieted the blameless men of Ethiopia. Years after she was the friend of Theodora. In the fifteenth century she was noticed in Sabbatic revels led by the four-horned goat. She was in Paris at the end of the last century, and she wore powder and patches at the dinners given by the Marquis de Sade. In Spain she rolled cigarettes and wrecked the life of Don José.

The dramatic genius of Bizet is seen fully in his treatment of this character. She sings no idle words. Each tone stabs. There are here no agreeable or sensuous love passages; as Bellaigue remarks, there is not a touch of voluptuousness in the opera. The soldier is under the spell of a vain, coarse, reckless gipsy of maddening personality. He knows the folly, the madness of his passion; he sees “as from a tower the end of all.” These characters are sharply drawn and forcibly painted. There is free use of the palette knife; there is fine and ingenious detail. The singers sing because it is the natural expression of their emotions; they do not sing to amuse the audience or accommodate the stage carpenter. The orchestra with wealth of rhythm and color italicizes the song; prepares the action; accompanies it; or moralizes. Apart from the technical skill shown in the instrumentation, the great ability of Bizet is seen in his combining the French traditions of the past and the German spirit of the present without incongruity. Here is a departure from old models, and yet a confirmation. The quintet is sung because thereby the feeling of the scene is best expressed; five people are not introduced because the quintet is an agreeable combination of voices. The unmeaning vocal ornaments found in the earlier operas of Bizet have disappeared. He uses his own manly, intense speech. He expresses his own thoughts in his own way. He does not care whether his work is opéra comique or grand opera, or melodrama. His sole object is to tell his story as directly and as forcibly as possible.

In a world of art that is too often ruled by insincerity, a lusty, well-trained voice aroused the attention. Suddenly the voice was hushed. Only with the silence, came the hearty approval of the great audience. Bizet met with no popular success during his lifetime. Now “Carmen” holds the stage; “L’Arlésienne” excites the admiration of all musicians; the earlier operas have been revived and sung in foreign languages. In his own country he was from the start known vulgarly as “one of the most ferocious of the French Wagnerian school”: an absurd charge: for in no one of his operas is there recognition of the peculiar theories of Wagner. Bizet followed the traditional formulas: he used the air, the concerted pieces, the formal divisions and subdivisions. The orchestra assists the singer; it does not usurp his place. Without doubt he learned from Wagner in the matter of orchestral expression, as Wagner learned from Weber and Meyerbeer; as one sensible man does from his predecessors. There was nothing new in Bizet’s use of the typical motive; it was similarly employed by Grétry, Auber, Halévy.

Melody, expressive harmony, ingenious counterpoint, an unerring sense of the value of a peculiar tone of an instrument or the advantage of a combination of instruments,—these were used by the Bizet of later years simply to express truth. This was the purpose of his life; this was the motto of his existence. No one could be more refined than he in musical expression; no one could be more seemingly brutal. The glowing words that he wrote concerning Verdi in the Revue Nationale show his one prevailing thought: “Let us then be frank and true; let us not demand of a great artist qualities which he lacks, and let us profit from the qualities which he possesses. When a passionate, violent, even brutal temperament; when a Verdi presents us with a strong and living work full of gold and mud, of gall and blood, let us not go to him and say coldly, ‘But, my dear Sir, this is wanting in taste, it is not distingué.’ Distingué! Are Michael-Angelo, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Cervantes, and Rabelais distingués?”

It is presumptuous, it is impossible to anticipate the verdict of Time the Avenger. It is not improbable, however, that the future historian of the opera will class Bizet with Wagner and Verdi as the men of mighty influence over the opera of the last years of this century. “Carmen” was, perhaps, a promise, a starting point, rather than a fulfillment. But if the young and fiery composers of Italy of to-day turn reverently toward Verdi and Wagner, they also read lovingly the score of “Carmen.”

Philip Hale


Reproduction of a photograph from life, by Eug. Pirout, Paris.

703 [Fleuron]


The eminent composer, Camille Saint-Saëns, was born in Paris, October 9, 1835. While yet an infant he manifested an innate gift for music. We are informed by the most reliable of his biographers, his grand-aunt, that, observing the deep attention with which the child listened to music, she gave him his first lessons on the piano when he was scarcely three years old. It would not be easy to find a record of earlier precocity. His mother relates, when her son began to play the first exercise, C, D, E, F, G, she discovered him playing it with only the right hand, using the other hand to press the weak little fingers down, in order to sound each note distinctly. It was ingenious, almost virtuosity! That a child like Saint-Saëns should make rapid progress was inevitable. When his fingers were sufficiently strong to strike the keys of the pianoforte without great effort, his grand-aunt, believing that she had reached the end of her task with him, placed him in charge of a professional teacher of the pianoforte. It was not long before this teacher was replaced in turn, by a master worthy of such a pupil, and wholly capable of guiding his studies. This master was Stamaty, and the choice was admirable. In addition to Stamaty, who was only a teacher of the pianoforte, M. Maledan, an able instructor in harmony and theory and a man of decided talent, was engaged to guide the more serious musical studies of young Saint-Saëns.

The boy was ten years old when his mother resolved that he should make the acquaintance of some of the notabilities of the musical world before making his first appearance in public. To this end she gave a private soirée at her house, the result of which was echoed through the press of Paris. The lad performed, with Stamaty, one of Mozart’s Sonatas for four hands with surprising ease and in remarkable sympathy with the composer’s style. Then, with a quartet accompaniment, he performed some of the works of the great masters, including fugues by Bach, a concerto by Hummel, and Beethoven’s concerto in C minor.

A few months later, he made his début before the public in a concert given in the Pleyel Salon, so much favored of artists, and where Chopin and Rubinstein, not to name other great pianist-composers, also made their first bow before a Parisian audience. Little Camille, as he was then styled, achieved a flattering success. The most eminent critics sang his praises and predicted a great future for him. Never did they prophesy with more true foresight than they did on that occasion. L’Illustration published his portrait, and there were some who went so far as to draw a comparison between him and the incomparable Mozart!

This brilliant début in nowise spoiled the young pianist; on the contrary, its effect only increased his zeal for study. He attended the course of lessons in composition under Halévy at the Conservatoire as an élève auditeur, literally, a listening pupil, for one year. He then obtained admission to the organ class where he won the first prize. Encouraged by his success he next appeared as a competitor at the Institut (Prix de Rome), but failed. He never again crossed the threshold of the Institut de France until long afterward, when he was received with honor and glory as a member of the “Section Musicale.” When he competed for the Prix de Rome, he was only seventeen years of age, but he had already attained celebrity as a pianist and an organist, and had also distinguished himself as the composer of several important scores. One of these was an ode to St. Cecilia, for chorus, solo, and grand orchestra, which was performed by the Société Sainte Cécile, of which Seghers was the leader. The newspapers were as severe upon Saint-Saëns as a composer, as they had been satisfied with his début as a pianist. “In the absence of inspiration of the first order, or of brilliant genius,” writes the critic of the Gazette Musicale, “it could be wished that the composer showed a little more fougue and dash, were it only in a few paltry flights which reveal a young artist’s desire to create for himself an individual style.”

With Saint-Saëns inspiration came later, and it was pure inspiration, without fault, and was not wanting in originality.

The young composer soon avenged himself for these harsh criticisms, by composing his first symphony, in E flat, which was also executed by the Société Sainte Cécile. The great artist of the future had not then reached his sixteenth year. The work was well calculated to encourage the highest hopes for the future of the symphonist, and these hopes were abundantly realized by his last and admirable symphony in C minor, a composition which indeed may be considered a genuine masterpiece. The first symphony by the lad of sixteen met with a full measure of applause; it has been published and is still frequently played with success. It appears in the catalogue of his complete works as the musical leaflet No. 2. The second symphony, in F major, was performed for the first time in 1856 by the Philharmonic Society of Bordeaux, and also met with a warm welcome. A third symphony in D does not appear in the catalogue, which also does not mention the second symphony, the only symphonies named being those in E flat, in A minor (Leaflet 56) and in C minor (Leaflet 78). It would seem, therefore, either that two of the five symphonies written by Saint-Saëns have not been published, or that this complete catalogue, printed by his publishers, Durand et Schoenewerk, of Paris, is incomplete.

I have purposely omitted to mention four concertos for piano and orchestra, because these productions, which are of a high order, have brought to mind an incident which is worthy a special place in this biography.

These four fine works were brilliantly performed on the same evening in the Salle Pleyel by Mme. Marie Jaëll, the pianist so famous for her extraordinary, not to say marvellous, powers of execution. This was, indeed, a feat on the part of the virtuoso as well as an interesting exhibition of artistic talent, and its success was complete. The performances began at nine o’clock in the evening and ended at half-past eleven. Throughout this long and difficult test there was not the slightest momentary defect, either in the playing of the orchestra or in that of the experienced and skilful pianist. For the success of so difficult a task the most subtle artistic feeling and exceptional muscular force were necessary. Mme. Jaëll possessed these qualities in such measure that the soirée devoted to the four concertos of Saint-Saëns will never fade from the memory of those who were present. Besides these concertos we should mention a concerto-fantaisie for piano and orchestra written in 1891 for Mme. Roger-Niclos, which she played with great success at the Colonne concerts. This work has recently been published.

In his work entitled “Virtuoses Contemporains,” our dear master and friend, Marmontel, has felicitously described the style of piano playing characteristic of Saint-Saëns. “Saint-Saëns is as accomplished a pianist as he is an organist. He attacks the piece in hand with great energy, and keeps perfect time. His fiery and brilliant execution is flawless even in the most rapid passages. His powerful but admirably modulated playing is full of majesty and breadth; and the only fault that can be found with his masterly execution is, perhaps, the excess of rhythmical precision. Ever master of himself, Saint-Saëns leaves nothing to chance and does not, perhaps, always yield sufficiently to the pathetic. On the other hand, the virtuoso always acquits himself with irreproachable accuracy.”

For many years Saint-Saëns has quitted Paris in the winter, to seek the warm sunshine under the blue skies of those favored countries to which the sun remains ever faithful. In order to travel and pass his time free from all annoyance, the composer has adopted the excellent custom of departing from Paris without any flourish of trumpets, without informing anyone where he intends to sojourn, and often without knowing, himself, exactly where he will pitch his tent. On leaving Paris on the 30th of November, 1889, he charged his worthy friend and colleague, Guiraud, of the Institut, now no more, alas! in case the Académie de Musique should authorize the rehearsals of his “Ascanio,” to begin during the composer’s absence. It was put in hand, and M. Guiraud, with score before him, followed the rehearsals with the utmost care and assiduity.


Reproduction of a photograph from life by Raschkow, Jr.—Breslau.

The preparations for the opera had made great progress, and everybody expected, at any moment, the composer’s return. Not only did he refrain from reappearing in Paris to assist at the last rehearsals and to give his final hints to the singers and the orchestra, but he did not even write to anyone. Nobody knew where he had concealed himself. This extraordinary and unheard-of act of a composer, who goes abroad to amuse himself by chasing butterflies or collecting plants, while at home the theatrical managers are making preparations for the first performance of a work of such importance as a grand five-act opera, excited all Paris. It even disturbed the Government, which caused inquiry to be made for the musician by its diplomatic agents throughout the world. The search was a vain one. It was generally thought that Saint-Saëns had died in some part of Ceylon, where certain French travellers believed they had seen him as he was making his way to Japan. The first performance of “Ascanio” was given at a moment when it was in doubt whether Saint-Saëns was dead or alive. Happily, he was still of this world and in very good health; but careless of his glory, was basking in the sunshine of the Canary Islands, busily engaged in finishing a volume of verse which appeared in Paris last year; for Saint-Saëns is a poet as well as a musician. It was a relief to the public when an announcement was at last made by Louis Gallet, the composer’s fellow-worker and friend, that the fugitive, at the very moment when “Ascanio” was under active rehearsal at the Opéra, was peacefully and contentedly breathing the warm and balmy air of Palma. As soon as the newspapers betrayed his sojourn in this verdant and flowery retreat, the authorities of the city and the principal inhabitants proposed to confer honors upon the master. But the composer had not gone all the way to Teneriffe for this purpose, and thanking the authorities for the homage they wished to pay him, immediately disappeared again!

Saint-Saëns is a husband and a father, but his married life has unfortunately not been a very happy one. His two children both died at an early age. One of them fell from the balcony of his father’s house, and was killed, while the other suddenly died a short time afterward. Thus it sometimes happens that a man may have, like Saint-Saëns, everything that goes to make up the sum of human happiness—talent, success, honor and fortune,—and yet yearn in vain for that complete felicity which is denied him. Concealed like the statue of Isis, whose veil no mortal has ever been permitted to draw aside, is the condition of unalloyed happiness on this earthly sphere. We know that it exists; we seek it; ofttimes we think it within our grasp, and yet it eludes us!

We cannot more fitly terminate this sketch of the great personality of Saint-Saëns than by adding that he is one of the most masterly readers of piano and organ music who has ever lived, and an improviser of the first rank.

As a child pianist and composer, Camille Saint-Saëns was what is called an infant prodigy. The child has come to man’s estate and is, at the present moment, one of the most learned and able artists in every branch of his art, that can be found in the ranks of modern musicians. Since the death of Beethoven, Schumann and Mendelssohn, he wields in Europe the sceptre of symphony; he is renowned as a composer for the church and the theatre, and as an organist; and the mastery he has shown in the concerto, the oratorio and chamber music, of which he has produced a large number of works, is of world-wide fame.

Of his purely instrumental music we may mention, in chronological order: “Tarentelle,” for flute and clarinet with orchestra; “Orient et Occident,” a military march; Ballade for piano, organ and violin; Introduction and Rondo Capricioso, for violin and piano; “Le Rouet d’Omphale,” a symphonic poem; Concerto for violoncello in A minor; Sonato for piano and violoncello; Heroic March for full orchestra; Ballade for horn or violoncello and piano, in F; Ballade for flute or violin and piano; Lullaby for piano and violin, in B flat; “Phaéton,” a symphonic poem; “Danse Macabre,” for Orchestra, arranged for piano, for one or two performers, and for one or two pianos; also for piano duet, with violin or violoncello; for military band, etc; Quartet for piano, violin, alto and violoncello; Allegro appassionata, for violoncello and piano; Ballade for violin and piano, in C; Suite for orchestra; prelude, saraband, gavotte, ballade and finale; “La Jeunesse d’Hercule,” symphonic poem; Ballade for violoncello and piano in D; Concerto for violin in C major; “Suite Algérienne,” for orchestra; Concerto for violin, in B minor; Concert piece for violin and piano; “Une Nuit à Lisbonne,” barcarolle for orchestra; “La Jota Aragonaise,” for orchestra; Septet for trumpet, two violins, alto, violoncello, contra-bass and piano; Hymn to Victor Hugo, for orchestra; Sonata for piano and violin in D minor; “Wedding-Cake,” Caprice Valse for piano and stringed instruments; Caprice on Danish and Russian airs, for flute, oboe, clarinet and piano; “Havanaise” for violin and piano; “La Fiancée du Timbalier,” for orchestra; etc., etc.

Fac-simile autograph musical manuscript contributed by the composer for use in this work

We bear in mind several scores by Saint-Saëns which do not appear in the general catalogue of his works. First of all, there is a very fine composition for a military band, which the illustrious musician was good enough to write at my request, in 1868, for the celebration of Hoche’s centenary at Versailles. A short time ago I asked Saint-Saëns why he had not published this beautiful work, written as a tribute to the memory of the great French general, and which is so full of stirring patriotic sentiment. The composer replied that he did not know what had become of this music since the day on which it was solemnly performed before the statue of Hoche at Versailles. The full score and the orchestral parts have remained undiscovered up to the present time. I may also mention, as among the compositions of Saint-Saëns, which are not included in the catalogue of his works, an extremely original, bright and thoroughly artistic work written for several instruments and called “Le Carnaval des Animaux.” Only one of the animals in this merry Carnival has been honored by publication, viz.: “The Swan,” whose song is interpreted in this zoölogical symphony by the violoncello.

The works by Saint-Saëns for piano solo, duet, and for two pianos are very numerous. All of them are vigorously characteristic of the decided and learned style of the master, and are also marked by a certain individuality peculiar to this famous pianist-composer.

It is well known that the composer is one of the most renowned organists in Europe. As might be expected, he has written specially for this instrument, which, figuratively speaking, is the embodiment of all other instruments. We will only mention the Rhapsodies on the Breton canticles; also the “Bénédiction Nuptiale” and “Elévation et Communion,” which are noble works for the King of Instruments.

Saint-Saëns succeeded Lefébvre Wely as organist at the Madeleine. Among his church compositions he has composed a Grand Mass for four voices, soli and orchestra; “Tantum Ergo,” a Chorus; a “Christmas Oratorio” for chorus, soli and orchestra; Psalm XVIII.—“Cœli enarrant” for soli, chorus and orchestra; “Le Déluge,” biblical poem for soli, chorus and orchestra; and a Requiem which, with the oratorio “Le Déluge,” we include among his best works. There is also a collection of twenty separate motets for the Holy Communion, motets to the Virgin, and other miscellaneous motets.

We may further mention among the characteristic compositions which are not in the religious or the dramatic style:—Scene from Corneille’s “Les Horaces,” for soprano, baritone and orchestra; six Persian melodies, vocal and instrumental (piano); “Les Soldats de Gédéon,” double chorus without accompaniment; “Chanson du Grand-papa,” chorus for female voices; “Chanson d’un Ancêtre,” chorus for male voices with baritone solo; “La Lyre et la Harpe,” soli, chorus and orchestra; two choruses with piano accompaniment: “Calme des Nuits” and “Les Fleurs et les Arbres”; two choruses for male voices without accompaniment: “Les Marins de Kermor” and “Les Titans”; “Les Guerriers,” chorus for male voices; several other choruses, besides some fifty duets and melodies with piano accompaniment. We abridge the list in order to mention the composer’s dramatic works: “Le Timbre d’Argent”; “La Princesse Jaune,” comic opera in one act; “Proserpine,” lyric drama in four acts; “Etienne Marcel,” opera in four acts; “Samson et Dalila,” biblical opera in three acts; “Henry VIII.,” opera in four acts; and lastly, “Ascanio,” opera in five acts.

It has been said with truth that Saint-Saëns is of all composers the one who differs most from himself, in his dramatic works. We mean by this that he has emancipated himself from the hard and fast lines of any particular school; that he has no system and is guided wholly by his own inspiration, tempered and strengthened by great musical learning. He could, if he so desired, write according to the theories or in the manner of this or of that composer, but he prefers to write as his genius follows its own individual vein, agreeing, no doubt, with his famous colleague and friend, Charles Gounod, that if there are many systems of composition, there are, after all, only two kinds of music: that which is good and that which is bad. His admiration for all the great masters is profound, but he strives to imitate none, this has caused certain critics to subject him to the reproach of eclecticism. He has expressed himself on this point with frank sincerity (for Saint-Saëns is a man as well as a musician) in a highly interesting volume entitled “Harmonie et Mélodie.” After declaring that he had never belonged to any religion in music, he adds: “I claim to preserve my liberty, to like what pleases me and to reject the rest; to believe good that which is good, discordant that which is discordant, absurd that which is absurd. This is precisely what the more ardent disciples of Wagner refuse to concede. They grasp you by the throat, and insist that you must admire everything Wagnerian, no heed what it may be. With them there is something beyond love of art: the spirit of sectarianism. I am afraid of sectarians, and so keep myself prudently aloof from them.”

It was of these Wagnerian critics, who carry their love for the composer of “music-dramas” to the point of fanatic intolerance, even of ferocity, that Saint-Saëns was thinking when he wrote these lines, as well as others that we shall quote presently; and these same critics accused our composer of the crime of refusing to enlist under the banner of the master of Bayreuth. They sought to crush Saint-Saëns in their criticisms of his last great opera, “Ascanio,” by saying, not only had he here perpetrated the heresy of adhering to that form of opera that prevailed before Wagner propounded his theories of the “lyric drama,” but that he had also forgotten himself so far as to write airs in the Italian style! These amiable censors showed themselves more royalist than the king himself, for as a matter of fact Wagner by no means despised Italian airs; on the contrary, he liked them very much if we may believe what he has said. The following words of the composer of “Lohengrin” are worth remembering: “After listening to an opera by Bellini, that has delighted us, we discover on reflection, that its charm is owing to the clear melody, to the simple, lofty and beautiful song of the Italian composer. To treasure in the memory these delightful melodies is certainly no grave sin. Nor is it a heavier one to pray to heaven, before retiring to rest, that it may inspire German composers with the secret of these melodies and a like manner of using them.”

The truth is that in music, as in all other arts, we do what we can rather than what we should most like to do, and he is wisest who is guided by his own genius. The genius of Camille Saint-Saëns is so rich in resources that he can safely trust himself and let the spirit work within him as it wills. There are composers who, forgetting that beauty is inseparable from high art, strive after eminence by seeking originality at any cost, and who do not disdain to make that art, harmonious before and beyond all other arts, the art of torturing our ears with music that is per se inharmonious. Is not Saint-Saëns right when, in speaking of these psychological and hysterical composers, he says with peculiar felicity: “It is certain that we cannot work too hard to instil in the public a taste for pleasures of an elevated order; but to offer it what is ingeniously described as ‘painful pleasure,’ to offer a feast consisting of ‘exquisite suffering’ and ‘poetic perversion,’ merely ends in mortification. When we wish to mortify our souls we do not go to the theatre but to a convent.”

We may be asked for the opinion of the composer of “Faust,” “Roméo et Juliette” and “Mireille,” concerning the composer of “Samson et Dalila,” “Henry VIII.” and “Ascanio.” I am in a position to answer the question. Gounod has spoken of Saint-Saëns in connection with his last opera as follows: “That in the lyric drama, music should coalesce with the drama and blend in one harmonious whole is an excellent theory, but only on condition that in this indissoluble union, music shall still be true and beautiful music; otherwise the union is no more than a cruel bondage for one of the arts so joined, and that art is Music. Throughout the works of Saint-Saëns we are in communion with an artist who never for an instant forgets or sacrifices his art; everywhere and always is the great musician present, and everywhere, too, the drama appears before him as a law, not as a yoke. Passions, characters, situations, are felt by him with the same certainty of discernment, whether in song, declamation, recitative, or in the dramatic part which must be played by his orchestra; and all this in an idiom and a form which are musically irreproachable, insomuch that he has created true and lasting ‘morceaux de musique’ even where the librettist did not provide the frame-work expected of him.”

Were we not limited as to space, it would be a pleasing task to present here a technical and æsthetic analysis of the operas of the French master concerning whom we write thus briefly; but this would carry us too far. Suffice it, from what we have already written, for the reader to form a satisfactory judgment on the instrumental and vocal works of Saint-Saëns. In the “Timbre d’Argent,” which has something in common with the fable of “Faust,” we are in the midst of a musical and choreographic fantasy. This score is very attractive and well emphasizes a very pretty performance.

“La Princesse Jaune” transports us into the East, where reality seems as a dream. It is a drawing-room comedy, the scene of which is laid in a Japanese village, where Dutch tulips grow as rank as does the grass in the fields; where the sky is blue, where everything is full of color and appears smiling, joyous and lovable.

In “Etienne Marcel,” the illustrious Prévôt des Marchands, we have historical drama, in the civil war waged for the triumph of communal liberties. The rioters force a violent entrance into the Palais de la Cité, and the voices of scoffers are heard alternating with the cries of raving fanatics. It is terrible, and quite characteristic of the Parisian mind in the troublous times when the streets became one great battle-field. Love, of course, finds its place in “Etienne Marcel,” a love gentle and searching. Some of the contrasts are most happy, the choruses are superb, the volume of sound is sublime.

“Samson et Dalila,” as is sufficiently indicated by the title, is a biblical opera, almost an oratorio, reminding us of the “Joseph” of Méhul. I was overflowing with enthusiasm on coming out from the representation of “Samson et Dalila.” This score and the symphony in C minor are, I believe, the two finest jewels in the crown of this musical king. They are works full of the highest inspiration, of a most sublime cast, wonderfully elaborate in style, and masterpieces in the fullest sense of the word.

The gloomy subject of “Henry VIII.” opened up new fields to Saint-Saëns, and afforded him a local color that influenced his music. The moment the score opens, we feel that we know exactly where we are and whither we are going. The principal personages in the drama have been each and all instantaneously portrayed and their diverse characters are accurately represented. The king of England, the Pope’s nightmare and the terror of his queenly wives and victims, is, from a musical point of view, especially well portrayed in his wild orgies and brutal amours. Anne Boleyn fails to hide the pride that lies behind her love, although its expression is not less charming on that account. Catherine of Arragon, the noble and unfortunate forsaken one, is superb in her insulted majesty, her pathetic and sweet melancholy. The choruses are treated in a masterly manner, and there is one important “morceau d’ensemble” which is a signal triumph of expressive and dramatic counterpoint. The airs in the ballet impress us as being thoroughly English. As to the orchestra, the importance of which cannot be over-estimated, it plays in a measured and finished style and produces the effect of a powerful organ. Here we have local color again, cleverly used.

“Ascanio” is the last dramatic work of Saint-Saëns. The fanatical partisans of the Wagnerian theories, as we have already observed, were not sparing of bitter criticism. Saint-Saëns must have found ample consolation for this in the continuous applause showered upon him by the public which always cordially welcomes whatever affords it pleasure. “Ascanio” is indeed equal in all respect to “Henry VIII.,” and worthy the composer, which is saying not a little of a man who has given such treasures to all lovers of music.

Oscar Comettant


Reproduction of a photograph from life by Nadar of Paris.

711 [Fleuron]


Jules Emile Frédéric Massenet was born on the 12th of May, 1842, at Montaud, in the department of the Loire, and was the eleventh child of his parents. His musical talent developed at an early age. When only eleven years old he was sufficiently acquainted with the theoretical elements of the art to take his place in François Bazin’s harmony class in the Conservatoire. It is by no means uncommon for a professor to mistake the capacity of his pupils. Unfortunately Bazin failed to foresee the splendid future reserved for his young pupil Massenet: on the contrary, he believed him to be destitute of all musical talent and requested that he might be dismissed from his class. The poor little musician felt so deeply humiliated by this insult that he was almost inclined to renounce music forever. It was five years before he reappeared at the Conservatoire, but luckily, at the end of that long term, he returned to study under the learned Henri Reber in the harmony class.

One day, shortly after Massenet joined this class, Reber addressed him thus in presence of his fellow-pupils: “Monsieur, I urge you, for your own welfare, to quit my class and go into a higher one, a class where fugue and composition are taught. You understand as much of harmony, so called, as I can teach you, and you will waste your time if you remain with me. Follow my advice, for if I am a true prophet, you will make your mark.”

Thus it was that, dismissed from Bazin’s harmony class as a dunce, Massenet was advised to leave Reber’s class because he learned too rapidly. The youngster followed the advice given by the composer of “Le Père Gaillard” and “La Nuit de Noël,” and studied fugue and composition with Ambroise Thomas, the composer of “Mignon” and “Hamlet,” who had been appointed director of the school after the death of Auber.

In the composition class young Massenet so distinguished himself by his ardor and application to study, that he won, and ever after retained, the friendship of Ambroise Thomas. At each lesson he submitted to his master, in addition to fugues and exercises in counterpoint, instrumental and vocal works of various kinds, each bearing witness to his lively imagination and to his instinct to produce something new. Of course all these efforts of the future composer of “Manon” were not irreproachable, and sometimes his comrades rallied him on what they called his fits of musical intoxication. “Let him sow his wild oats,” said Ambroise Thomas, “and you will find that when he has sobered down and become more reflective he will achieve something. He is a genius.”

The time was close at hand when Massenet was to fulfil this flattering prophecy. In the very same year, 1863, he obtained the first prize in counterpoint and fugue at the Conservatoire and the Grand Prize for musical composition (Grand Prix de Rome) at the Institut de France. He was then, we believe, already married, although physically he did not look more than fifteen years of age.

As he had an annual allowance accorded him by the State, he set out for the Eternal City and made a tour in Italy, proceeding thence to Germany to seek inspiration from the masters of symphony. The winner of the Grand Prix de Rome is expected during his sojourn abroad, to send at least one work to the Institute as a proof that he has turned his time to good account and has made due progress. Whether or not young Massenet left his light-heartedness behind him when he crossed the French frontier we cannot say; but the composition he sent from Rome was a Requiem. Massenet wrote a large work for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, entitled “Pompéia,” which in form as well as in instrumentation showed the influence of Berlioz. This indicated an inquiring and meditative mind in the young composer, who was thus feeling his way through the boldest and most modern school of music.

Massenet sent a second envoy from Rome, which was his first orchestral suite. With this suite is associated an event of great importance in the musical career of the composer. Massenet tells the story himself.

The composer had just returned to France, after passing in Italy and Germany the regulation period accorded the laureates of the Institute. While walking in the street, he met Pasdeloup, the founder and director of the celebrated “Popular Concerts.” Pasdeloup was one of the best men in the world, but he had the habit of treating young composers in a brusque and patronizing manner. He had only seen Massenet once, and that was during the performance of the cantata for which he was awarded the Grand Prize. As has already been stated, Massenet always looked much younger than he really was, and from his twentieth to his twenty-fourth year he had the face and air of a boy of sixteen. Pasdeloup accosted him with a frown, as though he had something disagreeable to tell him, and speaking in an offensively familiar and condescending manner, said:—

“Ah, so you have returned to France. What have you been doing during your absence?”

“I have been writing music, M. Pasdeloup.”

“That is all very well; but it is not sufficient to write music; you must write good music. Is your music really good?”

“Sir, it is not for me to pass judgment upon it.”

“You have written, I believe, an orchestral suite?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, but everybody writes orchestral suites. Is yours a good one? Are you satisfied with it yourself?”

“Well, Monsieur Pasdeloup, I feel obliged to admit that it pleases me when I play it on the piano, but I have not yet heard it performed by an orchestra.”

“Of course it pleases you. But how much music is there that pleases its composer, and yet is not worth a button. Can I see your manuscript?”

“You do me too much honor, Monsieur Pasdeloup. I will send my score to you this very evening.”

“Good. I will tell you what I think of it and whether it pleases me as much as it pleases you. Let me say that I think very little of the music of young men who win the Prix de Rome. They only know how to imitate the faults of the masters they study. However, we shall see.”

And Pasdeloup quitted Massenet with an air of utter dissatisfaction.

The young composer hastened home and told his family of the interview and of the faint hope he cherished that his suite might possibly be performed at the famous Popular Concerts. He then rolled up his score, took it to Pasdeloup’s residence, and left it with the concierge. Ten days later Massenet received, by post, a gift which filled him with equal joy and surprise. It was a ticket admitting him to a rehearsal. He was invited to the Cirque d’Hiver, where the Popular Concerts were given, to hear a rehearsal of his orchestral suite.

Next day, full of excitement, he set out for the rehearsal. On arriving at the door, however, he had not sufficient courage to enter, so overcome was he by his emotions. “Perhaps,” thought he, “the orchestral effect may not be what I intended,” and he felt that he had not strength to brave the severe criticisms of Pasdeloup and the jeers of the members of the orchestra.

Massenet returned home without having dared to listen to the rehearsal of his work and wholly discontented with himself. He called himself a coward and a pretender, and as he passed along the boulevard, his eye mechanically seeking the announcement of the performances at the theatres and concerts, he was suddenly astounded to see his own name on the programme of the Pasdeloup Concert to be given on the following Sunday. They were really going to play his suite! He ran rather than walked home to announce the glorious news.

“They play—my suite—Sunday—Popular Concert!—Oh! how my heart beats!”

And the great composer, as the memory of the beginning of his musical career came back to him, bowed his head on my breast and burst into tears. I wept with him.

“Ah!” said he, “I was happier then than I am to-day. Anticipation is better than the reality.”


Reproduced from a photograph from life made by Dornac & Co., Paris, 1891.

The opera “Manon” has a curious history which Massenet related to me one day. Everybody knows in what singular circumstances the author of “Manon Lescaut” (Abbé Prévost) took refuge at The Hague. It was in that city that he wrote his “Mémoires d’un Homme de Qualité” to which “Manon Lescaut” seems to belong as a species of postscript or sequel. In a like manner, and in that Dutch town, Massenet, owing to certain circumstances, chanced to write the score of “Manon” the substance of which is taken from the Abbé Prévost’s romance. Wishing to remain apart from the rest of the world, in order to be quite undisturbed, he took lodgings as a boarder under an assumed name at a house in The Hague. To prevent all suspicion as to identity, he did not send for a piano, for, unlike some composers, Massenet does not need a piano to enable him to compose. He thinks out his music, which he hears inwardly, already arranged for the orchestra. Absorbed in his work, the composer labored unceasingly. He never went forth to take necessary exercise until after nightfall, that he might run no risk of being recognized. After his walk, which lasted about an hour, he returned home with coat collar turned up to conceal his face.

He was accustomed to write at a large table littered with music-paper, each sheet bearing thirty staves. When not actually engaged in composing he amused himself by reading the Abbé Prévost’s romance, written by the French author in that same foreign town, possibly even in that same house, more than a century before. And Massenet’s artistic imagination saw in this fact a happy prognostic. “Why,” thought he, “should not my score of ‘Manon’ be as successful as was Prévost’s immortal novel? Grant, O, Sovereign God of Inspiration, that I may cause the sweet and loving Manon to sing, after a lapse of a hundred years, under the same sky, far away from Paris, and in the same happy strain as that in which the most worldly of abbés made her speak!”

The existence of the mysterious foreigner who was always writing music but who never played any instrument, greatly exercised Massenet’s landlord. The inmates of the house were not less mystified than was he. The gossips agreed that this French musician was a choir-master—and a very original one. At last the composer was recognized, and the next day the newspapers informed the public that Massenet had been for some time at The Hague. People flocked to see him, and his apartments were speedily crowded with friends or with persons who came from mere curiosity. Happily, however, the score of “Manon” was completed.

Massenet is one of the most estimable of men, kind and sympathetic to a fault, and possessed of great delicacy and consideration for others. He would enjoy the friendship of all men, were he less talented and consequently less liable to inspire jealousy. Of medium stature, spare but well made and of striking appearance, he has always looked younger than he really was, a happy privilege among the many others enjoyed by this favored son of genius, who is an honor and glory of the present generation of French composers. He is now a member of the Institute of France, a professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Paris and an Officer of the Legion of Honor.

As we close this biographical sketch, the distinguished composer has just given the first performance of his latest opera, “Werther,” at the Grand Theatre of Vienna, where it met with brilliant success. Massenet has been kind enough to bestow on us a page of the work to place in this biography, with a specimen of his handwriting, and we tender him our warmest thanks. By the time these lines meet the eye of the reader, “Werther” will have been put upon the stage at the Opéra Comique, in Paris.

Massenet’s debut in theatrical work dates from the third of April, 1866, when “La Grand’tante,” a pretty little piece full of melody and freshness, was represented at the Opéra Comique. It was he who, on the Emperor’s fête, August 12 of the following year, wrote the official cantata performed at the Opéra.

After this first attempt in theatrical music, and his cantata, Massenet produced various concert works, among others, “Poèmes et Souvenirs” and “Poèmes d’Avril,” the words of which are by Armand Sylvestre; also a bouffe scene entitled “L’Improvisateur.” His second Suite d’Orchestre,—a Suite Hongroise, was played at the Concerts Populaires. For the Société Classique Armingaud he composed “Introductions et Variations,” a quartet for stringed and wind instruments. In 1872 he produced his second dramatic work, “Don César de Bazan,” at the Opéra Comique; but the public did not give it a very cordial reception. It had been written under unfavorable conditions, improvised, as it were, in three weeks. The managers of the theatre proposed terms to the young composer which he was obliged to accept or decline without amendment. Massenet took his revenge for this treatment, however, in the very same year, with the delightful scenic music for the drama, “Les Errynies,” by the Comte de Lisle, which was represented at the Odéon. The next year, 1873, the composer produced one of his most exquisite scores, which shows his warm poetic talent in the most characteristic manner. This was “Marie Madeleine,” a sacred drama in three acts, which has had a world-wide success. So successful was it indeed that Massenet was encouraged to write “Eve,” a mystery in three acts. This latter, so intimately related in character to “Marie Madeleine,” has been given at the concerts of sacred harmony established by Lamoureux. In this, too, the composer’s personality is emphasized by exquisitely delicate and poetic touches. The same may be said of “La Vierge,” a sacred legend in four parts, written for the Opéra concerts and played for the first time in 1880. The “Sleep of the Virgin” in this legend is one of those inspirations which prove beyond all doubt the measure of a composer’s genius.

A year before the production of “La Vierge,” Massenet had given the French National Academy of Music his first great opera, “Le Roi de Lahore,” in five acts, the success of which was not at first evident. The public considered this beautiful music slightly cold, and instrumental rather than vocal. They said the composer had shown himself wanting in melody, and that he had sacrificed too much to his love for scientific combinations, although wild applause greeted a certain number of happily-conceived songs, among others the aria so splendidly rendered by Lassalle and which has always been honored with an encore.

It is only when great works are reproduced after a certain interval of time that we can determine whether they are really worthy a place in the musical repertory. The reproduction at the Opéra of the “Roi de Lahore” was a great success, and it has always been enthusiastically received in the principal theatres of Europe and America.

The Théâtre de la Monnaie, at Brussels, enjoyed the privilege of giving, in 1881, the first performance of Massenet’s second grand opera, “Hérodiade” in three acts and five tableaux. This time success was beyond all doubt, and from the first representation onward, the piece was received with enthusiasm. Whatever M. Massenet may hereafter give to the world, “Hérodiade” will undoubtedly remain one of the finest works that have originated in the fertile brain of this distinguished musician. Throughout the work the divine afflatus is maintained, and melody fills the auditorium. The opera is full of passion and sentiment, at once human and religious, just as in “Marie Madeleine.” It might be said that “Hérodiade” is the same sacred drama brought upon the stage, with this difference, that Madeleine becomes Salome, and Christ is transformed into John.

After “Hérodiade,” in Brussels, we had, in 1884, “Manon” at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Were I asked to make a definite choice between “Hérodiade” and “Manon” I should hesitate; but I should choose “Manon.” From the first to the last note the work is delightful. It is not less beautiful when softly sung at home to the accompaniment of the piano, than in the theatre, where our delight never for an instant moderates.

Following “Manon” in 1885, Massenet’s “Le Cid” in four acts, was performed at the Grand Opéra in Paris, and although reproduced several times, this work still maintains its place in the repertory.

In 1889, the indefatigable composer returned to the Opéra Comique with “Esclarmonde,” which drew crowds to this theatre during several months.

In the chronological order of the musician’s dramatic works, “Esclarmonde” is followed by “Le Mage,” a grand opera in four acts and six tableaux, the poem by M. Richepin, performed at the National Academy of Music in Paris. I have witnessed several renderings of this work, and have read the piano score. The more I have studied the opera the more am I impressed by its wonderful beauty. The individuality of the work, its passion and grace and delicacy, its originality as to form and harmony, are so numerous that it is unnecessary to criticise it more particularly.

All lovers of music know the extent of Massenet’s skill as a master of harmony. He is a master in the full meaning of the expression. It would be impossible for a musician to carry to a higher degree than he has done the complex art of orchestration or of counterpoint, so much honored of late years, though so often abused; or to have more happy facility as a harmonist. Were I to presume to criticise anything in the author of “Le Mage,” I should limit myself to mentioning his too clearly apparent striving after effect by means of fresh combinations of instruments. Massenet has too great a wealth of truly musical ideas for him to labor so hard for material effects. The true effects in music are produced by the thought, by the idea, apart from the application of the thought or idea to any special instrument. There is scarce any charm of emotion produced by music save through the musician’s imagination, that is, by the invention which results from the inward and profound emotion felt by the composer. Were it only necessary to be learned in any given art, only necessary to possess the power of cleverly combining notes and the tones of musical instruments, so as to produce fine musical works, every artist now living would write masterpieces; for, in truth, the study of technique has never been carried so far as it has been during the past twenty years. Technique is undoubtedly indispensable, but of itself it serves no purpose and is of no value, unless it be used as the exponent of the melodic conception which is the very soul of music.

M. Massenet has published seven suites for orchestra, which may be found in the repertory of every great musical society. To him we owe various scenes for chorus and orchestra: “Narcisse,” and “Biblis”; a symphonic poem entitled “Visions,” and a large number of fugitive melodies with pianoforte accompaniment. He has also completed the score of a ballet, “Le Carillon,” as yet unpublished.

Oscar Comettant

Fac-simile of musical manuscript written by Massenet.


Reproduction of a photograph from life by Nadar, of Paris.

719 [Fleuron]


Gounod, the greatest living musician of France is descended from a family of artists. His grandfather, a very distinguished enchaser, bore the title of “sword cutler to the king,” and as such occupied an apartment in the Louvre buildings, a favor which was granted to only artists of renown. His son, Jean François Gounod, who was born about 1760, was a painter of considerable talent. He was a pupil of Lépicié, and he and Carle Vernet, who occupied the same studio, competed at the Académie des Beaux-Arts for the “Prix de Rome.” Carle Vernet obtained the first prize at this concours in 1782, and Jean François Gounod carried off the second in 1783. The latter, however, devoted himself especially to engraving, in order that he might always live with his father who was getting old and needed all his care and attention.

J. F. Gounod was serious, melancholy and quite original in character, as was shown by his conduct on the death of his father, who lived to be over ninety years of age. This loss was a great grief to him, and in the hope of diverting his mind and driving off melancholy, he undertook a tramp to Versailles. He had very little money in his pocket. However, being fatigued by his journey he entered a public house and went to bed. He remained several days at Versailles, but, far from being relieved of his sad thoughts, he was so overwhelmed by them that he dreaded to return to his rooms in the Louvre, where he had witnessed his father breathe his last. He wrote to a friend to say that he should not return to Paris, but intended to start immediately for Italy; he begged him to go to his room, take from his secretary all the money he might find there, and bring it to him at Versailles, receiving at the same time his adieux. Once in possession of his money, Gounod, who disliked encumbrance of any sort, furnished himself with a light carpet bag, and with this baggage set off on a journey which was at that time very long and very difficult. He travelled all over Italy, remaining there four or five years; then he returned to Paris, and to his rooms where nothing had been disturbed, and resumed work as if he had left it only the evening before.

One of J. F. Gounod’s friends has written the following lines concerning him: “M. Gounod has made a reputation in engraving. He has produced little and his income could scarcely have been enough to suffice him. Nevertheless, he liked to work and engraving offered him the quiet and deliberation which suited his disposition. In general he spoke but little. When he was obliged to quit the Louvre, he was quite helpless in regard to the great confusion which always characterized his apartment; it was one mass of books, pasteboard, drawings and articles of all sorts scattered about, including a dismembered skeleton, whose bones were all pretty effectually separated from each other. Fortunately one of his cousins undertook to transfer for him everything that was transferable, otherwise Gounod would have abandoned all. He concluded to marry, for it was absolutely necessary that somebody should aid him in finding himself again. He was, nevertheless, a good and excellent man. His wife was charming, a very good musician, and it was she who educated her son. He was getting along in years when he married, and at his death this son was still very young.”

Very young indeed, for the future author of “Faust,” “Roméo et Juliette” and “Mireille,” Charles Gounod, was scarcely five years old when he lost his father, whom he had not learned to know. Like Hérold, like Adam, like Halévy, Charles Gounod was born at Paris, where he first saw the light June 17, 1818. His mother, a woman of fine character and high intelligence, neglected nothing that could contribute to his literary and artistic education. She was his first music teacher. He began very young to feel an intense love for this art, which he was to make illustrious. A pupil of the Saint Louis lyceum, he was already an excellent pianist while still pursuing his classical studies at this establishment, and before completing these studies he took up a course of harmony with the famous theoretician, Reicha. He took the degree of bachelor when he was little more than sixteen years old, and was admitted to the Conservatoire in the class of counterpoint and fugue directed by Halévy, and soon after in the composition class of Lesueur, one of the greatest masters that ever glorified the French school. In the following year Gounod took part in the concours of the Institute for the “Prix de Rome,” and carried off without opposition a second grand prize. He was thus exempted from the military service, since the rules of the “Concours de Rome” established at that time this exemption for any pupil having obtained a prize before the age of twenty. This was in 1837, and Gounod was only nineteen.

At the close of this same year Lesueur died, and Gounod passed under the instruction of Paër, with whom he finished his studies. In 1838 he presented himself again at the Institute, this time without success, but in 1839 he carried off a brilliant first prize with a cantata entitled “Fernand,” the words of which were written by the marquis de Pastoret. This first prize was almost unanimously awarded to him, twenty-five votes out of twenty-seven being in his favor. He left at once for Rome and there devoted himself almost exclusively for three or four years, to the study and composition of religious music, being especially charmed and influenced by the works of the great Palestrina. In 1841 he had performed in the Saint-Louis-des Français church, on the occasion of the fête of king Louis-Philippe, a grand orchestra mass, with contralto and tenor solos. Towards the end of the following year he made a trip through Germany, pausing for a time in Vienna, where he gave in the Saint Charles church a Requiem mass which produced upon its hearers a most profound impression. Some idea of the effect produced may be had from an account addressed to one of the Paris papers of the day, and which seemed invested with a spirit of prophecy: “On All Soul’s Day” said this writer, “there was performed at the Saint Charles church a Requiem, a quite recent work by M. Charles Gounod. One recognizes in this composition not only a very marked musical talent which has already obtained by its assiduity and experience a high degree of independence, but one sees in it also a great and wholly individual comprehension, which breaks away from the beaten tracks in order to create new forms. In the melodic phrases there are things which deeply touch and impress the hearer, things which disclose a grandeur of conception become very rare in our day, and which engrave themselves ineffaceably upon the soul, things which would do honor to any musician, and which seem to point to a great future. The solos were sung perfectly, and the choruses as well as the orchestra likewise deserve praise. M. Gounod directed in person the performance of his work.”

It is plain that the pace of the young musician was not that of an ordinary artist, and that his first steps were directed toward glory, for rarely does one hear such praise accorded a composer of twenty-five years.

Meanwhile Gounod, already haunted by an idea which was long to pursue him, had dreamed of bidding farewell, not to his art, but to the world, and had seriously considered taking ecclesiastic orders. His mind possessed by this fancy, he had, during the latter part of his stay at Rome, left the villa Médécis, where at that time the French school was established, and had retired to the seminary. As soon as he returned to Paris, he entered as precentor the Missions Etrangères, where he wore the long robe and costume of the conventual house, and his resolution seemed thenceforth so certain that it was accepted as an accomplished fact. Indeed a special sheet, the Revue et Gazette Musicale, published the following under date of Feb. 15, 1846: “M. Gounod, composer and former winner of the grand Institute prize, has just taken orders.” From this moment, Gounod was called “l’Abbé Gounod,” just as, sixty years before, his master Lesueur was called “l’Abbé Lesueur,” when he became precentor of the Metropolitan church. There was this difference, however, that Lesueur had never desired to become a priest, but according to the usage then in vogue at the Notre Dame church, Paris, he was obliged, in order to fulfill the functions of precentor, to don the priestly garb. Gounod, on the other hand, seemed to have made up his mind to a religious life, since in 1846 a publisher brought out a series of religious choruses entitled “Offices of Holy Week, by the Abbé Charles Gounod.”

In his retreat Gounod continued to occupy himself with religious music, and in 1849 he had performed at the Saint Eustache church a grand solemn mass which was very well received. At this moment he seemed absolutely lost to profane art, and as he was brought very little before the public, people began to forget about him, when there appeared in the London Athenæum early in 1851, an article which was immediately republished in the Revue et Gazette Musicale of Paris, and which contained an enthusiastic eulogium on several of Gounod’s compositions recently performed at a concert at St. Martin’s Hall. “This music,” said the writer, “brings before us no other composer ancient or modern, either by the form, the melody or the harmony. It is not new in the sense of being bizarre or whimsical; it is not old, if old means dry and stiff, the bare scaffolding, with no fine construction rising behind it; it is the work of an accomplished artist, it is the poetry of a new poet. * * * * * That the impression produced upon the audience was great and real there can be no doubt, but it is the music itself, not its reception, which to our minds presages for M. Gounod an uncommon career; for if there be not in his works a genius at once true and new, then must we go back to school and relearn the alphabet of the art and of criticism.”

This article fell like a thunderclap on Paris, where people were scarcely giving Gounod a thought. A very distinguished French musical critic, Louis Viardot, was then in London with his wife, the worthy and noble sister of Malibran. This Athenæum article was attributed to him, not without reason, I think, and it was soon known that Mme. Viardot, whose experience, taste and musical knowledge everyone knows, was struck by the music of the young master, and that she was far from concealing her admiration for a talent so pure, so elegant and so exquisite.

Excited by such a success Gounod at once renounced his orders, and entered without more delay upon the militant career of the art interrupted for so many years. He soon produced in public a pretty symphony in E flat, which, performed in a remarkable manner by the Saint Cecilia Society, then a worthy rival of that of the Conservatoire, won him the congratulations and sincere encouragement of the critics. Then, thanks to the assistance of Mme. Viardot, he was charged with writing for the Opéra the score of a work in three acts, “Sapho,” the libretto of which had been confided to a young poet, Emile Angier, who was likewise in the morning of his career, and likewise destined for glory, and in this work the great artist whom we have just named, was to take the principal rôle. Notwithstanding all, “Sapho” was not well received by the public, or at least only moderately so and scarcely achieved more than what is called in France a success of esteem. Yet the work was an exceedingly good one, but the first step on a stage so important as that of the Opéra is so difficult for a young composer to make! It must be said, however, that if the work as a whole was not judged entirely satisfactory, especially in regard to the scenic effects, etc., it presented a value which a fastidious critic stated in these terms: “The opera of “Sapho,” without being a good dramatic work, is the work of a distinguished musician who has style and lofty tendencies. M. Gounod has perfectly seized and happily rendered all the lyric parts of the subject which he has treated, but he has been less happy in trying to express the conflict of passions and the contrast of characters.” Certain pages in the score of “Sapho” were remarked as being quite individual in flavor, and the public were especially delighted with the beautiful song of the young shepherd, “Brontez le Thym, Brontes mes chêvres,” as well as the admirable couplets of “Sapho,” of a character so melancholy, and an inspiration so full of a delicate poetry. The work was performed on the 16th of April, 1851.

A year later the Comédie-Française produced a tragedy by Pousard, “Ulysse,” for which Gounod had written a number of beautiful choruses, redolent with the perfume of antiquity and full of a manly energy. Very soon the young composer appeared again at the Opéra with a grand work in five acts called “La Nonne Sanglante,” the libretto of which, although signed by the names of Scribe and Germain Delavigne, was absolutely devoid of interest. He made a mistake in accepting this libretto, previously refused by several of his colleagues, among others Meyerbeer and Halévy, and which could not excite his inspiration. Notwithstanding some remarkable bits, some vigorous and beautiful scenes, the score of “La Nonne Sanglante” was really only secondary in value, and the work achieved a very mild success when it was produced Oct. 18, 1854, with Mlles. Werthermber, Poinsot and Dameron, MM. Gueymard, Depassio and Merly for interpreters. Its career was short, and it only lived through eleven performances. Gounod had not yet found his vein.

But better fortune was in store for him, and after a few years of silence he began the series of his successes by giving to the Théâtre-Lyrique, then very flourishing and very brilliant under the direction of M. Carvalho, “Le Médécin Malgré Lui.” The libretto of this had been arranged for Opéra Comique by MM. Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, who had preserved the greater part of Molière’s prose. Although from a general point of view the comic sentiment may not be the dominant quality of his talent, yet that quality is far from lacking in Gounod, as is proved by “Le Médécin Malgré Lui,” which remains one of the most curious and most original of his attempts. In this work, which was performed Jan. 15, 1858, the composer revived with a rare cleverness the old forms of French music, while adding thereto the most ingenious and most piquant artifices of the modern science, and by clothing the whole with his masterly style he produced a work of a very unique color, flavor and character. “Le Médécin Malgré Lui,” which the public received with marked favor, seemed to prepare the great day of Gounod’s artistic life. Fourteen months after the appearance of this work, that is to say, on March 19, 1859, the composer gave to the same theatre the work which was to establish his fame upon a fixed basis. The reader of course divines that I refer to “Faust,” that masterpiece which can boast of such a brilliant, prolonged and universal success, and which will remain, perhaps, the author’s best title to the remembrance and recognition of posterity.

But let it not be supposed that the triumphal career of “Faust” was not confronted at the outset with difficulties and obstacles which appeared insurmountable. When it was carried by the authors to the Théâtre-Lyrique, there was in preparation at the Porte Saint Martin theatre another drama built on Goethe’s poem, and bearing the same name. M. Carvalho told Gounod that it would be necessary to await the result of the “Faust” at the Porte Saint Martin, for if that work won a success, it would be very difficult and very hazardous to offer another “Faust” to the public. So they waited, and the drama not proving a success, it was decided to proceed with the study of the opera. Gounod’s “Faust” was presented in the form styled in France Opéra Comique, that is to say, the singing parts being interspersed with spoken dialogue. (It was not until later when “Faust” passed into the repertoire of the Opéra that this dialogue was replaced by recitatives.) The rôle of Marguerite was first given to Mme. Ugalde, but Mme. Carvalho having expressed a desire to take the rôle, after becoming acquainted with the music, the authors transferred it to her and consoled Mme. Ugalde by giving her the part of Mélodine in Victor Massé’s opera, “La Fée Carabosse,” which was being mounted at the same time. The rehearsals of “Faust” were very laborious. M. Carvalho, disconcerted by the new and daring character of the music, and by the poetic sentiment revealed in it, which he judged incompatible with stage requirements, picked a quarrel with the composer, declared his score too much developed, and constantly demanded new cuts and changes. Gounod, made uneasy by this lack of confidence, had yielded to several of these demands and had already consented to several suppressions, when at last M. Carvalho came to him one day with a proposition to suppress the beautiful final scene in the garden, fearing that this quiet scene, with no outburst or noise of any kind, would seem cold to the public and fail to produce an effect. This time Gounod, who had faith in his work and was conscious of its value, stood fast and immovable, declaring he would rather withdraw his score than to yield this point and consent to such a sacrifice. In short, after a whole series of combats and discussions of this sort, which were renewed daily, the work was finally brought out. Truth compels the confession that it was not fully understood at first; that the critics stood hesitating and undecided in the presence of a work so new in form, and that the public itself was of two minds regarding the value of the work, some applauding with enthusiasm while others harshly criticised. It is certain that the first reception was more cold and reserved than could have been desired, but gradually people began to understand and appreciate the beauties abounding in this exquisite score, and at last its success was complete, brilliant and incontestable, spreading first throughout France, then over Europe, then over the entire world, where “Faust” is to-day, and long has been, considered a great masterpiece, and its author’s best work. “Faust” has been played in all countries and translated into all languages. It is one of the first French works which Italy, before then so hostile and impenetrable to French music, has applauded with a sort of furor. In Germany, where for a number of years Spohr’s “Faust” reigned supreme, it was received in a triumphal manner, and completely dethroned the latter. It excited enthusiasm, not only in Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Baden, Leipsic, Frankfort, Stuttgart and Darmstadt, not only in Milan, Rome, Venice, Naples, Florence, Genoa, Parma and Bologna, but in London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Varsovie, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, etc., and even finally crossed the seas and became popular in the two Americas. It is perhaps the first work by a French composer which had such a rapid, complete and universal success. In Paris, “Faust” had been played more than four hundred times at the Théâtre-Lyrique when the Opéra signified a desire to appropriate it. The authors consented; but certain modifications were necessitated by this change of scene, and first of all the spoken dialogue had to be suppressed and replaced by recitatives. These changes effected, the work made its appearance at the Opéra March 3, 1869, and there continued its successful career, counting five hundred performances in the space of eighteen years. The five hundredth was given on the 4th of November, 1887, and the six hundredth took place in the beginning of the year 1892, so that in Paris alone, “Faust” has already reached its thousandth performance. Such a success is without parallel in the annals of the theatre in France.


Reproduction of an engraving made from a photograph in 1859, about the time of the first production of Faust, Gounod being then in his forty-first year.

Gounod had borrowed “Le Médécin Malgré Lui” from Molière; he had appropriated material from Goethe’s “Faust;” it was La Fontaine who furnished him the subject of a pretty opera, somewhat light in character, called “Philémon et Baucis,” performed at the Théâtre-Lyrique, Feb. 18, 1860. The score of “Philémon et Baucis” is a pleasant one, full of charm, in which tenderness and grace alternates with fun and buffoonery. The work, which was in three acts, achieved only a moderate success at the Théâtre-Lyrique; its real success dates from its transfer to the Opéra Comique, reduced to two acts. Since then it has never been taken from the repertoire of that theatre. But soon Gounod was to appear on the grand stage of the Opéra with a work of large proportions, “La Reine de Saba.” Notwithstanding the fame which his previous works had made for him, he was no more fortunate with “La Reine de Saba” (Feb. 29, 1862) than he had been with “La Nonne Sanglante.” It is true that this time the trouble lay principally in the libretto of his collaborators, which was absolutely devoid of interest. For it is but just to say that if the score of “La Reine de Saba” is of unequal merit and of a secondary character, it nevertheless contains some superb and exquisite pages, like the noble air of Balkis, and the beautiful chorus of the Jewesses and the Sabians. However, it only lived through fifteen performances at Paris, though it should be remarked that in certain foreign cities it was received with great favor, and that in Brussels and Darmstadt, among others, its success was considerable.

Gounod’s unfortunate attempts at the Opéra led him to turn his attention anew to the Théâtre-Lyrique, where he brought out, March 19, 1864, a work entitled “Mireille,” the subject of which was taken from a pretty provincial poem by Frederic Mistral, bearing the same title, (Mireio). This poem is an exquisite pastorale, written in that provincial language at once so musical, so sweet and harmonious, a language which is melody in itself. Unhappily, the libretto which Gounod set to music on this subject was badly chosen, being ill adapted to the stage, and therefore militated against the composer’s work, although the latter contained some truly charming pages. The first act, particularly, radiant with light and sunshine, is charmingly poetic, and especially deserving of mention is the beautiful chorus of the magnarelles and the touching duet of Mireille and Vincent. The score contains still other charming bits, such as Magali’s beautiful song and Taven’s couplets: Voici la saison, mignonne. However, the defective libretto stood in the way of the success of the work, which at first remained undecided. It was found necessary to entirely rewrite the work, to make large suppressions, and reduce it from five to three acts, which did not result in its being any better received by the public. It was not until later, when it was transferred to the Opéra Comique after having been subjected to still further revisions and cast in its final form, that “Mireille” at last found the success which its incontestable musical value merited. Thereafter, it never left the repertoire of that theatre.

No particular importance can be attached to a little work in two acts, “La Colombe,” which Gounod gave to the Opéra Comique in 1866, and which he had written some years before for the theatre at Baden; it was a sort of salon operetta, without special character or consequence. But the composer was yet to carry off one of the most brilliant victories of his career with “Roméo et Juliette” which made its first appearance at the Théâtre-Lyrique on the 27th of April, 1867. More fortunate than “Faust” and “Mireille,” whose success had been so difficult to establish, “Roméo et Juliette” was well received from the very outset, and this superb score in which the passion of love and the sentiment of chivalry are so happily united, immediately found favor with the public. Nor has it ever ceased to excite public sympathy, and it has changed its biding-place from the Théâtre-Lyrique to the Opéra Comique, and from that theatre to the Opéra without experiencing any diminution of public interest. “Roméo et Juliette” has exceeded the number of five hundred performances in Paris, one hundred of which were at the Théâtre-Lyrique, about three hundred at the Opéra Comique and more than one hundred at the Opéra. Outside of France it has not been less successful, and it has made a part of the repertoire of all the great theatres of Europe.

Moreover, “Roméo et Juliette” marks the culminating point in the career of Gounod, who since then has not been able to equal its success. In 1870 the master went to London where he remained for several years, working and producing much. There it was that he wrote, among other things, an opera called “George Dandin,” to the prose of Molière, which has not yet been performed; it was there also that he wrote, for the Universal Exposition at London in 1871, a grand cantata entitled “Gallia,” which was performed later at Paris, where it was very favorably received. A warm welcome was also given to the music which Gounod wrote for “Jeanne d’Arc,” a drama in verse by Jules Barbier which was performed at the Gaiety on Nov. 8, 1873. This music consisted of melodramas, interludes, choruses, etc., and contained some very interesting pages. The preceding year the Ventadour theatre had brought out a drama in verse by Ernest Legouvé for which Gounod had written a score of the same kind; this drama was called “Les Deux Reines de France.”

In these two works the music was merely an accessory, and the composer was only the humble servant of the poet, whom he discreetly aided and supplemented. But Gounod had not given up the idea of appearing again before the public as a true dramatic musician. Ten years had elapsed since he had given “Roméo et Juliette,” and the public were growing impatient for a new work from him, when in 1877 the Opéra Comique announced the performance of “Cinq-Mars.” This was an artistic treat in which all Paris desired to participate, but which did not wholly justify the hopes which it had raised. The score of “Cinq-Mars” was certainly far from being worthless; it was written in a musical language that was superb and noble in style, but aside from a few exquisite pages, it did not have the freshness, the abundance and the generosity of inspiration which had hitherto characterized Gounod’s work. It was unequal, cold at intervals, and one no longer felt that vigor of youth, that warmth of accent which had made the triumph of the master’s great productions. In a word “Cinq-Mars” was received with sympathy but not enthusiasm, and as soon as the novelty had passed it disappeared without causing any disquietude.


From a photograph made in April, 1891.

The following year Gounod presented himself again at the Opéra. For a long time past he had felt the desire to attempt one of the Corneille’s masterpieces, and he had formed the plan of setting “Polyeucte” to music, and transforming it into a lyric drama. It was a subject half religious, half profane, which seemed peculiarly suited to his intellectual temperament. He charged his friend, Jules Barbier, with fashioning a libretto from Corneille’s celebrated tragedy, which the latter followed step by step, even preserving some of the great poet’s verses, and he wrote the music of this new “Polyeucte,” which was performed at the Opéra, Oct. 7, 1878. But it was said that the author of “Faust” and “Roméo,” both so successful at the Opéra, after having been born and bred elsewhere, could never succeed at that theatre with a work written expressly for it. “Polyeucte,” indeed, was not well received, and scarcely deserved to be, and its career ended with a series of twenty-nine performances. The composer was not much more fortunate with “Le Tribut de Zamora,” another work which he gave to the Opéra, April 1, 1881. This work, however, had been staged with great splendor and magnificence, the costumes and decorations were very rich and elaborate, and what was still more important, the two principal rôles were taken by artists of the first rank, M. Lassalle and Mme. Gabrielle Krauss, the latter especially being very fine in the character of Xaïma. But nothing could counteract the insipidity and insignificance of the work, and notwithstanding the luxury brought to its support, notwithstanding the incontestable talent of its interpreters, “Le Tribut de Zamora” scarcely lived through fifty performances. This was the last dramatic effort of Charles Gounod, who seems to-day to have finally given up the theatre, and whose health has been steadily declining for a number of years.

But Gounod has not confined himself exclusively to the theatre; his very remarkable fertility has exercised itself in all directions, particularly in the religious genre, so well suited to his nature. Gounod’s religious compositions are very numerous, and since he has renounced the stage he has achieved some striking successes in oratorio. “La Redemption,” (1882) a sacred trilogy, of which he wrote the music and the French words, and “Mors et Vita,” another sacred trilogy, the Latin text of which he arranged himself from the Catholic liturgy and the Vulgate, won for him triumphs which the great merit of these beautiful compositions fully justified. Since his youth Gounod has produced a great number of sacred works, several of which are of rare beauty, such as the “Messe des Orphéonistes” (1853), the “Messe de Sainte Cécile” (1855), a mass in C minor (1867), a mass of the Sacred Heart (1876), a mass to the memory of Joan of Arc (1887), a mass for two voices, a short mass in C major, three solemn masses, two Requiem masses, a “Stabat Mater,” a “Te Deum,” a hymn to Saint Augustin, “Les Sept Paroles du Christ,” “Jésus sur le lac de Tibériade,” a choral psalmody, “Tobie,” a little oratorio, and a considerable number of motets of different kinds.

In profane music, and aside from the theatre, Gounod has shown himself scarcely less fertile. His two symphonies, (first in D, second in E flat) and his “Temple de l’Harmonie,” cantata with choruses, are all compositions of great merit. I would mention also “Biondina,” a pretty little lyric poem, and especially would I call attention to his beautiful male choruses, and to his songs of which he has written more than a hundred, and among which are to be found veritable masterpieces of poetry and sentiment, such as “Le Vallon,” “Le Soir,” “Medjé,” “l’Envoi de Fleurs,” “Le Printemps,” “La Prière du Soir,” “Venise,” etc. In this style of composition Gounod’s repertoire is varied, substantial and charming, and few French writers have given us a note so personal and original.

In attempting to characterize the genius of Gounod, and to determine the place which he should occupy in the history of contemporaneous art, it is necessary to consider principally “Faust” and “Roméo et Juliette.” These are his two masterpieces, and it is through these works that the composer has truly revealed his personality and his genius; it is through these works that his name has become famous and will go down to posterity. It is of these works, then, that we must demand the secret of that powerful influence which Gounod has exerted for more than a quarter of a century over the art, over artists and over the public.

Fac-simile autograph manuscript from Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Although not performed until a year after “Le Médécin Malgré Lui,” “Faust” was written first. In this work the musician had been intelligently served by his collaborators, who had taken from Goethe’s masterpiece all that which pertained to the action and to the dramatic passion, and left judiciously alone all the psychological, philosophical and metaphysical dissertations. The libretto was admirably cut for the stage, varied in tone and coloring, and contained a fair quota of that fantastic element so effective on the stage and so well liked by the public. And never was the musician better inspired. The Kermesse scene is full of warmth and sunshine; the garden scene is one of an ethereal and enchanting poetry, and the words of passion are by turns softly languishing or full of an intense energy; the scene in the church, where Mephistopheles, pursuing Marguerite even to the very shades of the sanctuary, tries to arrest her prayer, and prevent the unfortunate victim from taking refuge in the Divine mercy, is stamped with a rare feeling of grandeur, and reveals a profoundly dramatic character. Finally, the episode of the death of Valentine and his malediction of Marguerite forms a pathetic and superb scene, which, with its numerous and varied incidents is surely one of the best of this remarkable work.

It is a singular thing that the two musicians whose personal and original genius characterize in some sort, from points of view otherwise very different, the reform tendencies of the present French school, should both fall upon these two great masterpieces, “Faust” and “Roméo et Juliette,” each interpreting them after his own manner and according to his own temperament. It was Berlioz who first conceived the idea of appropriating them, and long before Gounod had dreamed of such a thing, had given us “Roméo et Juliette” and his “Damnation de Faust.” Comparison between the works of these two artists is impossible, because of the dissimilarity of their natures and aspirations. In regard to “Faust,” however, we may say that Berlioz, who did not make an opera of it, but a grand musical legend, preserving thus one of the peculiar characteristics of the original work, treated especially the energetic and picturesque part of the drama, whereas Gounod chose rather to reproduce the love poetry, the exalted reverie and that mystic and supernatural perfume which characterizes Goethe’s poem. Although the charming Kermesse scene in Gounod’s score, which is an episode apart from the action, is very well executed, highly colored, of a really exceptional musical interest, it cannot be denied that in picturesque sentiment Berlioz has singularly surpassed his rival in the various and typical episodes of his “Damnation de Faust,” the latin song of the students, the soldier’s chorus, the Hungarian march, the ballet of the sylphs, the military retreat, the chorus of the sylphs and gnomes, etc. On the other hand, whatever is tender and emotional, dreamy and poetic, has been admirably treated by Gounod, and it is by certain unobtrusive fragments, certain almost hidden passages in his score that the hand of a master, the inspiration of a poet is betrayed, that the man of genius is revealed. Witness Marguerite’s response to Faust as he approaches her at the entrance of the chapel:

Non, monsieur, je ne suis demoiselle ni belle,
Et je n’ai pas besoin qu’on me donne la main.

or Marguerite’s reflection in her garden,

Je voudrais bien savoir quel était ce jeune homme,
Si c’est un grand seigneur et comment il se nomme.

Not only are these two fragments perfect, finished, exquisite, from a musical point of view, but they exhale besides I know not what mysterious perfume. They give the hearer so complete a perception of the sentiment which Marguerite is fated to prove for “Faust,” that they have, aside from the scenic import, a kind of mystic and profound meaning which seems impossible to translate into music, and which strikes, nevertheless, the most indifferent ears. It is this peculiar, we may say hitherto unknown sense, which gives Gounod’s “Faust” its true color, its character at once tender and dreamy, mysterious and fascinating, melancholy and passionate, and which assigns to it a place apart, a unique place among the number of the most original works of contemporary art. It is easy to see in this work that Gounod’s intellectual tendencies, his youthful sympathies, his leanings toward a religious and monastic life, have not been without influence on his musical temperament, and on the very nature of his talent.

If “Faust” is an exquisite work, “Roméo et Juliette” is a superb one, of a grand and spirited style, in which the external and material picture of a chivalric world contrasts strikingly with the internal analysis of a passionate love, constrained to conceal itself from all eyes, yet from this very cause becoming all the more powerful. If one wished to enter into what might be called a psychological analysis of the score, it would be necessary to discover how great were the difficulties of the composer in writing “Roméo” without repeating himself, after having written “Faust.” For, although the subjects of the two works differ widely, we see the same situations reproduced in each, under the same scenic conditions, and the stumbling block was all the more troublesome since these situations were the most salient ones, and constituted, as it were, the very core of the dramatic action. Witness the balcony scene of “Roméo” and the garden scene of “Faust” or the duel of Roméo and Tybalt with the death of the latter, in the first, and the duel of Faust and Valentine, also mortal, in the second. Truly a musician must have a singular power, a very remarkable faculty of reiteration, to attempt successfully such a repetition of similar episodes.


Reproduction of a photograph from life made by Dornac & Cie., Paris.

And what scene so marvelous as that balcony scene of Roméo, chaste and passionate throughout! What earnest and trembling accents on the lips of the two fond lovers whom the world—a world of strife and contention—seems bound to separate forever! And what newness, what a winning fearlessness, what a balmy freshness in the melodic sentiment which the composer employs to express the sensations which stir the hearts of his tender heroes! Could love be expressed in a more exquisite and more touching manner?

On the other hand, and by contrast, what scene more striking in its grandeur, more spirited, more manly, than that of the double duel, Tybalt and Mercutio, Roméo and Tybalt! Here the musician has so wonderfully colored his inspiration that he has raised up a world of the past before our very eyes, and, while listening, we feel that surely we must be present at one of the cruel episodes of that long and bloody struggle between the Capulets and the Montagues. The insult slung by Tybalt in the face of Roméo, agitated, but contained, Mercutio’s objurgations, the first duel of the latter with Tybalt, who strikes him to the heart, Roméo’s rage at seeing his friend expire, the fury with which he throws himself in his turn upon Tybalt, and the second combat, fatal to the latter, all this the composer has rendered in an admirable manner, with a spirit, a verve, a power, a dramatic movement and a picturesque feeling which make of this episode a page full of grandeur, and worthy to compete with the painting of a Titian or of a Veronese. In considering this remarkable score, so rich from beginning to end and so varied in its unity, we cannot pass over the austere and touching marriage scene, the lark duo and the episode of the death of the two lovers. Truly, it is a work of the highest order, which yields in nothing to “Faust,” and is perhaps superior to it in certain parts and in certain ways.

It is in “Faust” and “Roméo” that Gounod has not only given the full measure of his genius, but has made most conspicuous the true personal tendencies of that genius and his own originality. It is there that his musical phrase, so fascinating, so new in form and characteristic in outline, is developed in all its fullness and all its freedom. It is there that his harmonies, so rich, so refined, so piquant, and sometimes so unexpected, are the most abundantly and happily displayed. It is there that his ingenious instrumentation, full of color and grace and always elegant, that transparent instrumentation we might say, at the same time dignified and full, has embraced those exquisite passages which always thrill delicate and sensitive ears. It is there that passion speaks a truly enchanting language, that emotion attains the highest limits of its power, and it is the aggregate of all these qualities which make the master’s genius stand out in bold relief and which shows it off in the most complete and striking fashion.

But if “Faust” and “Roméo” are worthy of so much admiration, that does not mean that no importance or sympathy should be attached to the composer’s other works, which, though less perfect and less lofty in character, are none the less deserving of the most active appreciation on the part of the public and of true artists. “Philémon et Baucis,” “Mireille,” “Le Médécin Malgré Lui,” are productions of unquestionable merit, and even in “Sapho” and “La Reine de Saba,” weak and unequal as they undoubtedly are, one may find pages of the rarest beauty. It should be remarked that even in his least successful works, what we may always admire in Gounod is the noblesse of his language and the splendor of his style. It is necessary to add that if, as is generally believed, fertility is a sign of force, Gounod deserves to be classed among the strongest! Few artists, indeed, have produced more or in greater variety, opera, oratorio, symphony, religious music, cantatas, vocal chamber music, (set to French, English or Italian words) choruses with or without accompaniment, compositions for piano or organ, he has touched them all, and in all has given proof of the most substantial and brilliant qualities.

A very convincing proof of the power of Gounod’s personality is the influence which he has exerted for more than quarter of a century on the young French school of music. The author of Faust has brought into the art a note entirely new and unknown before him. This dreamy, poetic note is stamped with a grace and melancholy which characterizes all of Gounod’s work, and vainly have young musicians sought to reproduce and tried their best to imitate the methods of a master whose genius they did not possess, and who remained for them inimitable. Nevertheless, this influence of Gounod is the sign and the proof of his creative power.

One could scarcely pass over, in speaking of such an artist, his literary proclivities, and the desire which he manifested on different occasions to set forth his ideas and the principles which he professed in matters of art. All French musicians of the present period are afflicted with a mania for writing. Not only great artists like Reyer and Saint-Saëns, following the example of Berlioz, Halévy and Adolpe Adam, undertake to criticise and make themselves the judges of their colleagues, but the most inconsequential composer of operettas gives himself to-day the airs of a writer, and believes himself called upon to deliver himself of long esthetic and philosophic discussions on the art of which he deems himself one of the noblest representatives.

Gounod has not escaped the general contagion. It is only just to state, however, that he has not abused his pen in this connection, and that usually it has been occasion, rather than preconceived desire, that has caused him to take it up. The most important writing which we owe to Gounod is the remarkable volume which he has published under the title of “Le ‘Don Juan’ de Mozart,” in which he expresses very clearly his profound admiration for the master, of whom he declares himself to be one of the most ardent, respectful and faithful of disciples. In addition to this Gounod has given to various journals or periodicals some articles of running criticism or of musical philosophy (“De la Routine en Matière d’Art,” “Le Public,” “La Critique,” “Les Compositeurs Chefs d’Orchestre,” “La Propriété Artistique,” “l’Enseignement,” “La Critique Musicale Anglaise,” “Les Pères de l’Eglise de la Musique,” etc.) He has also given an interesting preface to the volume of “Lettres Intimes” by Berlioz, and he has published a preface intended to accompany his score of “George Dandin,” a score which has not yet seen the light and perhaps never will. He enumerated and discussed in this curious preface the reasons which led him to set prose to music—and what prose! That of Molière; in other words, the most compact, substantial and solid prose which it is possible to imagine. Some years since a report was spread abroad that Gounod was preparing a book in which he would refute the doctrines and theories of Richard Wagner. I do not know whether he really ever conceived such a project, but if he did I regret that he did not put it in execution. For it seems to me that whatever might be his ideas on this subject it would be an exceedingly interesting thing, to have an artist like Gounod express his opinions on an artist like Wagner.

I return to Gounod the composer. However little enthusiasm his detractors—for he has them—may feel for his genius, they are none the less obliged to confess that genius, and the power and influence exerted by him upon the public—a public which everywhere, in all the countries of the world, has applauded his works. The artists who are sharply discussed are usually the ones who possess true worth. More noble than majestic, more tender than pathetic, more pensive than enthusiastic, more deliberate than spontaneous, the immense talent of the author of “Faust” glitters with a multitude of rare qualities, and in that talent one may almost say that study, constant and indefatigable study, has as great a part as inspiration. Not only is Gounod a fine man of letters, well versed in the knowledge of the languages and of masterpieces, but, from a musical point of view, few artists have, like him, been nourished by the marrow of lions. There is no great musician whom Gounod does not know, as it were, by heart, and he has only enthusiastic admiration for the old masters. It was he, who, listening one day at the Conservatoire to Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, ran up to a friend and cried, his face all aglow and wildly waving the score, “It is the Bible of the musician!” On another occasion when, at a certain salon, conversation fell on music, and the proper rank of the different musicians was under discussion, he delivered himself of the following sentiment. “If the greatest masters, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, could be annihilated by an unheard-of cataclysm, as the painters might be by fire, it would be easy to reconstruct all the music with Bach. In the firmament of art, Bach is a nebula which has not yet condensed.”

I have said that study is almost as great a part as inspiration in the talent of Gounod, which may be said of all truly superior artists; one might add that this talent acquired a very individual color from the alliance of the artist’s almost mystic sentiments with a very keen comprehension of the human passions and the storms of the heart. There has remained by Gounod a sort of recollection of his first years vowed by him to theological studies and of his leaning toward a monastic life and the seclusion of the cloister; possibly it is this which characterizes his genius in such a special way, which gives it its originality, its peculiar and its exceptional flavor, although it is difficult to determine with precision how much his artistic personality gained and how much it lost by the influence of the ideas and aspirations of his youth upon his later imagination.

Musically and dramatically Gounod is more of a spiritualist than materialist, more poet than painter, more elegiac and vigorous than deeply pathetic; this is perhaps the reason that some have pronounced him lacking in dramatic sense. In this they are mistaken, for it is not dramatic sense, that is to say, impassioned perception, which sometimes fails Gounod; it is, properly speaking, temperament. But after all is said, the author of “Faust,” of “Mireille” and of “Roméo” remains a true poet, an inspired creator, an artist of the first rank, and if not one of those who illumine the world with a dazzling light, at least one of those who charm it, who touch it, who make it listen and make it think, His part is a sufficiently beautiful one, with which he may well be satisfied.

Arthur Pougin

Publishers’ Note.—Since the foregoing was written, the death of Charles Gounod has been announced. On October 16, 1893, he was stricken with apoplexy, and lingered until the 18th. He died at St. Cloud, and was buried in the family vault at Auteuil.

1. Compare Ferdinand Praeger’s “Wagner as I knew Him,” Chaps. XIV. and XV., with “1849: A Vindication,” by W. Ashton Ellis. See also letter of Aug. 9, 1849, to Theodore Uhlig. [Letters to Uhlig, Fischer, and Heine, London, H. Grevel & Co.]

2. “Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt,” Vol. I., p. 77. H. Grevel & Co., London.

3. “You are a truly wonderful man, and your Nibelungen poem is surely the most incredible thing which you have ever done.”—Letter of Liszt, Feb. 20, 1853.

4. See Praeger’s “Wagner as I knew Him,” Chaps. XVIII. and XIX., for full account of this visit.

5. “Richard Wagner; his Life and Works,” by Adolphe Jullien. Boston, J. B. Millet Co.

6. “Production of ‘Tannhäuser’ in Paris,” Wagner, translated by E. L. Burlingame, in “Art Life and Theories of Wagner.” Henry Holt & Co.

7. “Wagner,” by Edward Dannreuther, in Grove’s Dictionary of Music. Also “The ‘Parsifal’ of Richard Wagner,” by Maurice Kufferath.

8. “Studies in Modern Music,” by W. A. Hadow. Macmillan & Co.

9. “Studies in the Wagnerian Drama,” by H. E. Krehbiel. Harper & Bros.

10. “History of Music,” Emil Naumann, Vol. I., p. 524. Cassell & Co.

11. “The Music of the Future,” E. L. Burlingame’s translation.

12. Condensation, by F. Hueffer, of a passage from “A Communication to my Friends.”

13. “Art and Revolution,” W. Ashton Ellis’s translation.

14. The writer of this article does not wish to be understood as agreeing with Wagner in all the utterances quoted; the selections have been made with the design of throwing light upon the workings of Wagner’s mind in the formulation of his theories.

15. “Studies in the Wagnerian Drama.”

16. E. C. Stedman, “The Nature and Elements of Poetry,” p. 99.

17. “Preludes and Studies,” p. 112.

18. “Preludes and Studies,” p. 48.

19. See Kleinmichel piano score of “Die Walküre,” p. 304.

20. “From the Tone World,” by Louis Ehlert. Charles Tretbar, New York.

21. Article “Harmony,” in Grove’s Dictionary of Music, by C. H. H. Parry.

22. See articles on “Music in Italy,” and on the Netherland masters.

23. A complete edition of Buxtehude’s works has recently been published in Leipzig.

24. Mozart, it will be remembered, saw none of Bach’s choral works until two years before his death.

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  1. Silently corrected obvious typographical errors and variations in spelling.
  2. Retained archaic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as printed.
  3. Re-indexed footnotes using numbers and collected together at the end of the last chapter.
  4. In the HTML version of this e-book, you can click on the [Listen] link to hear an mp3 audio file of the music. Click on the [MusicXML] link to download the notation in MusicXML format. These music files are the music transcriber’s interpretation of the original notation and are placed in the public domain.