T. L. (Thomas Lamb) Phipson.

Voice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences online

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'' What is that ? " anxiously inquired the com-

" It is too long," replied Lesueur.

The greatest composers have had numerous
failures ; young musicians should remember that,
and never be disheartened. Out of the forty
operas written by Rossini, twelve only were per-
formed with great success. Out of the sixty-six
composed by Donizetti, nine only have met with
popularity ; and out of ten operas composed by
Bellini (who died at the early age of thirty-four),
five only were received with enthusiasm.

Tartini, the celebrated Florentine violinist, who,
at twenty-four years of age, composed his well-
known Sonata del Diavoloj left a remarkable letter


to his pupil Madame Sirman/ on the study of the
vioHn, to which I have referred in a former work.
BelHni also has left a letter upon his method of
composition, of which I will here give an exact
translation for the benefit of my younger readers.
He says —

^^ Since I have decided upon writing a certain
number of operas — never more than one a year — I
have also determined upon throwing all my efforts
into the task. Being thoroughly persuaded that a
great portion of their ultimate success depends
upon the choice of an interesting subject, upon the
contrast of the passions, the harmony of the
verses, and the warmth of expression in their
recital, quite as much as upon dramatic situations,
it was necessary for me, in the first place, to meet
with some writer who had experience in this style
of composition, and this I have done in choosing
Romani, a powerful genius, evidently born for
musical drama.

^' As soon as his poem is finished, I study most
attentively the characters of the various person-
ages, in order to become familiar with the pre-
dominant passions of each, and the sentiments
which animate them.

*' Once well penetrated with all this, I put my-
self in their places, and I endeavour to feel, and to
express my feelings, as they would feel and act if

^ Signorina Lombardini.


real living personages. Just as music is the re-
sult of a variety of sounds, so men's passions are
revealed also, in language, by means of diversely
modified tones, and I endeavour, by incessant
observation, to accomplish with my art the exact
manifestation of these various sentiments.

'^ Enclosed securely in my room, I begin by re-
citing the part of each personage in the drama
with all the passionate ardour which I can bring
to bear upon it. I note, as much as possible, the
rising and falling of my voice as I do this, the
accelerated or slackened diction, and, finally, the
accent, and tone of expression, which Nature gives
to man when a prey to his passions ; and I find
thus the airs and musical rhythm which are neces-
sary to convey these impressions to an audience
by means of harmony.

^' I immediately note this down on paper, then
I try it over on the piano, and when I feel a corre-
sponding emotion to that which I desire to repre-
sent, I conclude that I have succeeded. In the
contrary case, I recommence, and persevere in my
work until I have realised my object."

The greatest of modern Italian composers, Giu-
seppe Verdi (born 1813), who wrote his Falstaff 2X
the age of eighty-two, had no special professor :
he educated himself by studying the works of his
contemporaries, and imitating them. At first his
work showed much inexperience ; but his natural


gifts soon raised him to the very highest rank of
dramatic composers.

Rossini's method of study was to take either the
bass or the treble of a well-known composer, and
fill up the one or the other in his own manner.
This method is used in the Paris Conservatoire,
and is considered one of the best exercises for
students, after they have acquired the technics of
modulation, melodic ornamentation, fugue, &c., or
what is called the ^' grammar of music."

For the encouragement of young composers
who may have met with disappointments, I will
report here the translation of a portion of a letter
which Bellini wrote to his friend Florimo — the
author of so many sweet Italian melodies, and for
many years keeper of the Archives at the Naples
Conservatorio — on the occasion of the failure of
his opera of Norma at its first representation : —

" Milan, 26//1 Dccejuher 1831.

^' Dearest Florimo, — I write under the im-
pression of grief — a deep, bitter grief which I can-
not express, but which you will understand. I
come this moment from La Scala, where my Norma
has just been performed for the first time. Will
you believe it ? fiasco! fiasco ! solemn fiasco ! "

These words will bring a smile to the lips of
any one who may have heard Grisi sing the cava-
tina Casta diva, &c.



Towards the latter part of the eighteenth century,
when the great quahties of the Amati vioHns were
beginning to be highly appreciated, a certain rich
Bey of Tunis, named Muftareddin, was well known
to be a great amateur of music. He had an
orchestra composed of the finest artists he could
collect. His agents travelled all over Europe and
Asia, and along the coast of Africa, to engage any
musician of extraordinary merit whom they might
happen to meet.

The orchestra was required more especially to
play the sprightly dance music of that day — horn-
pipes, jigs. Oriental ditties, valses, &c. — which were
performed every evening in the open air after dinner,
when the heat of the sun had subsided, and the Bey,
with his counsellors and friends, lounged upon a
capacious balcony, smoking their chibooks, and
enjoying the soft, cool breezes which set in about
that hour from the blue waters of the Mediterranean.

One morning, shortly after daybreak, an agent of
the Bey was ushered into his private apartment, and
informed him that in his travels in Sicily he had met



with a violinist of marvellous talent, compared to
whom the best performers in the orchestra of his
palace were a mere nothing. The name of this
wonderful artist was Tomarissen. He was a young
man of Arabian origin, born at Palermo, and a great
favourite in his native town.

The agent said he had used every endeavour to
induce this violinist to visit Tunis, in order to
delight the Bey by his playing, but that he had
completely failed to procure his services.

The fact was, nothing could induce Tomarissen
to travel. Not only was he the first musician in
Palermo, and made much of by all the inhabitants
of that ancient city, but he was affianced to a beau-
tiful girl of nineteen years of age, named Roxelana,
whom he intended to marry as soon as he had
saved a little money.

But Tomarissen was very poor. His reputation
was great, but his purse was small — and often
empty. As he was very generous, his performances
were frequently given away in aid of charities, or
for other purposes, and he had only a few pupils.
Nevertheless, he earned sufficient to live respect-
ably, paid his rent and his taxes regularly, and
enjoying as he did the fond affection of Roxelana,
he lived at Palermo very contentedly.

When the Bey of Tunis was made acquainted
with the news, he determined at any cost to have
this wonderful violin-player. He could not sleep


at night for thinking of all that his agent had told
him, or maybe it was because he slept so much in
the daytime. Anyhow, he insisted on despatching
his agent in a special boat to Palermo, instructing
him to offer the Sicilian virtuoso magnificent pre-
sents of money and jewels, which he felt thoroughly
convinced no violinist could fail to accept.

But when Tomarissen received this very liberal
offer, he firmly refused to depart with the officer of
the Bey, and the latter was obliged to return alone
to Tunis. As soon as this functionary had departed,
Tomarissen wrote a gracious letter of thanks to
the Bey, in which he promised that his Serene High-
ness should soon hear him play if he would mean-
while send him a small gift of money, some of which
he w^ould require for the journey, and the remainder
for the support of his family during his absence.

It should be understood that his music contri-
buted rather largely tow^ards the maintenance of his
aged parents, not to mention all the little presents
that he purchased and bestowed upon the beautiful
Roxelana. However much Tomarissen would have
liked to play before such a distinguished individual
as his Serene Highness the Bey of Tunis, he felt
certain that if he ventured to visit him he w^ould be
kept a prisoner for an indefinite length of time,
perhaps for ever, and such a thing did not at all
suit his tastes.

Meanwhile the Bey, in answer to the letter, sent

76 voicp: and violin

a handsome sum of money and some valuable pre-
sents to the violinist of Palermo, on the strength of
his promise to pay him a visit and play to him,
which his Highness felt assured would be strictly
kept, for he knew by experience that a true artist
never breaks his word.

A short time afterwards, indeed, Tomarrisen pre-
pared to start on this little adventure. He packed
up his beautiful violin, an Antonio Amati ; bade a
fond farewell to Roxelana, promising to return very
soon ; hired a stout fishing-boat and five men to sail
to Tunis, and to await him there until he was ready
to return ; disguised himself thoroughly as a wander-
ing minstrel, and arrived at the palace just as the
Bey and his attendants were enjoying the usual
evening concert.

He repaired to the great hall, and giving his
name as Glutini, a favourite pupil of the renowned
Tomarissen, requested, as a favour, that he might
be allowed to play before the Bey and his Court.

The Bey of Tunis was highly pleased at this an-
nouncement, and at once dismissing the members
of his orchestra, he had the strange violinist sum-
moned to his presence.

The latter soon found himself in a large apart-
ment where the Bey and the whole of his com-
panions were lounging in a vast circle upon luxurious
sofas, sipping their coffee and smoking their fragrant


After making several low bows and salutations in
the Eastern fashion, the foreign artist was requested
to step upon a small raised platform, where, after a
few kind words from the Bey, he drew forth his
beautiful Amati violin and his bow, and at once
commenced his performance.

At the first sounds of the instrument every person
in the room was very much delighted. No one in
that country had ever heard such music.

It began by an allegro movement, which attracted
keen attention, and decidedly raised the spirits of
the audience. Every one was enchanted, and ap-
plauded heartily. Presently there came some ipizzi-
cato and harmonic passages, which caused the Bey
and his companions to smile ; then with these were
intermingled some imitations of the crowing of a
cock and the braying of an ass, which were at once
responded to by some animals belonging to the
Bey, the sounds having reached them through the
open windows, and this caused great laughter.
Finally came the most inimitable mewing of a
cat, the bellowing of a bull, and the warbling of
little birds, like canaries, so natural as to be easily
mistaken for real birds; and the whole concluded
in a brilliant and fantastic display of execution of
so comical a character that the whole audience was
convulsed with laughter ; the Bey held his sides,
and the courtiers rolled one against the other in
uncontrollable fits of hilarity, mingled with a loud


clapping of hands whilst the violinist bowed his

Then the music changed to a soft, plaintive melody
of the most tender and expressive kind, the long,
luscious notes of the violin being evidently listened
to with rapture.

Soon the features of the audience betokened
emotion, signs of sadness appeared, and tears were
actually seen to rise in the usually ferocious eyes of
the Bey of Tunis. In a short time, indeed, there
was not a dry eye in the whole room. Every one
was completely enchanted ; all listened with the
most profound attention to this truly marvellous

When this had lasted for a few minutes, the
Sicilian violinist continued his performance with
a succession of vigorous chords and arpeggios
mingled with brisk staccato passages. The music
took such a martial complexion that not only were
the tears of the audience soon dried up, but every
one felt inclined to rise and march.

Some beat time with their feet or their hands,
their heads swayed to and fro with the rhythm of the
music, and a general state of excitement and rest-
lessness prevailed. The Bey raised his arms and
flourished them above his head, keeping time with
the music, and in this he was imitated by numbers
of his favourites. Thunders of applause and deafen-
ing cheers followed this part of the performance.


Once again the character of the music changed ;
this time to a lovely berceuse or lullaby, so calm and
quiet, and so intensely soothing, that before many
minutes elapsed the entire audience was reclining
with half-closed eyelids upon the capacious cushions
of the sofas ; an uncontrollable drowsiness over-
came first one, then another, until the whole
assembly, including the ferocious Bey himself, had
gone off into a deep slumber, whilst the violinist
continuing, piaitOy pianissimo^ and at the same time
withdrawing himself gradually from the hall, passed
out of the large folding doors, leaving the Bey and
his companions fast asleep !

When outside the palace the Sicilian made his
way quickly towards the coast, where he found his
boatmen awaiting him. They set sail and departed
without delay.

On arriving at home Tomarissen wrote another
letter to the Bey of Tunis, explaining that he had
duly kept his promise of performing in his august
presence. He added that the money he had re-
ceived had enabled him not only to defray the
expenses of the journey, but to marry his charming

The Bey was wrapped in utter amazement when
he received that letter. For many months he could
talk of nothing but the wonderful playing of the
violinist of Palermo ; and he made the latter profuse
offers to come and reside at Tunis.


But now that he was married, and had made
some provision for his parents, Tomarissen decided
to travel in another direction; ^'for," he surmised,
^' if my viohn-pkiying proves such an attraction to
the Bey, what might he think of Roxelana ? "

So he made a prolonged tour in Southern Europe,
and whilst the Bey of Tunis continued to listen as
before to the dance music of his evening orchestra,
Tomarissen enraptured still more powerful poten-
tates, until one of them created him a nobleman,
which pleased Roxelana immensely, but lost to the
world both the name and the performances of this
truly wonderful violinist.

In the little cemetery near the fine old cathedral
of Montreale, about five miles from Palermo, his
native city, is a modest stone upon which are in-
scribed the words —


and the date 1842. That is the last resting-place
of this extraordinary man. He lies in ground
that has been consecrated for no less than seven
hundred years.

Just as I am writing these lines the sad news
reaches me from Genoa that the Italian stage has
lost one of its brightest ornaments by the death of
the famous tenor, Roberto Stagno, who has just
died at the birthplace of Paganini.


Stagno was a very handsome man, with a most
delicious voice, and still retained the greater part of
his manly beauty though sixty years of age. His
favourite operas were the Elisire d^Amorej of Doni-
zetti, and RigolettOy of Verdi. He was, also, a native
of Palermo, but meeting with great success at
Madrid, he sang there for seven consecutive seasons.
In Italy he once had the honour of singing a duet
with her Majesty Queen Margheritta.



To the numerous anecdotes related of Paganini,
most of which I have given in my two former works/
new facts now and then crop up, which must be
added, as they throw hght upon the career of that
celebrated violinist. One of the most astounding
revelations regarding the life of ^^ the illustrious
Genoese/' as he is sometimes called, has been re-
cently recorded in the ^^ Life and Letters '" of the
late Sir Charles Halle, the celebrated pianist and
conductor, which was published in London in 1896.
This excellent work may be consulted advantageously
for many interesting traits connected with the noted
musicians who were Charles Halle's contemporaries;
it is a volume which bears the impress of truth and
honest conviction on every page, and with the recent
works of the same kind by Arditi and Kuhe, forms
a valuable addition to the musical literature of this

Like many hard-working and poor artists who
have had to cut out their career entirely by them-

^ "Biographical Sketches of Celebrated Violinists" (1877), and

" Famous Violinists and Fine Violins" (1S96).



selves, Paganini has been generally looked upon
as a man of mean habits. Many have accused
him of selfishness, and of driving hard bargains.
On the other hand, he has been known to do several
generous actions. He is said to have presented to
Sivori the fine Vuillaume violin upon which the
latter produced such marvellous effects in his con-
certs ; he has been known occasionally to give
concerts for charitable purposes ; and a few other
liberal acts have been attributed to him, such as the
way in which he transformed Ciandelli, a violon-
cellist, from a second-rate performer into an artist
of the first rank, in return for kindness done to

Nevertheless, Paganini has been generally re-
garded by his contemporaries, and by those who
have studied his career, as a man who was both
taciturn and stingy.

Suddenly he acquired the reputation of being
one of the most generous men that ever lived !

At a time when Berlioz was struggling to keep
misery from his door, it was reported that his friend
and fellow-musician, Paganini, had made him a
present of 10,000 francs (;£40o). This trait of gene-
rosity was talked about all over Europe at the time,
and had the effect of drawing attention to the works
of Berlioz. Up to the present time this anecdote
has been considered as absolutely correct.

Alas ! it is not true. It is absolutely incorrect,


both as regards the sum mentioned and the donor.
Thanks to Halle, the true facts have at last come to


The money that was presented to Berlioz at the
time in question was not 10,000 francs, but 20,000
(;^8oo) ; and the actual donor was certainly Paga-
nini, but the money was that of another man who
induced the great violinist to hand it over to BerHoz
as if it were a gift from himself.

Why all this mystery ? We shall see.

Berlioz, the well-known composer and conductor,
was, about 1834 to 1837, in very poor circumstances ;
his compositions did not please the public ; his en-
gagements were few and far between. Like many
other men of his class, he found it, no doubt, very
difficult to keep money in his pocket, when he
happened to have any, and he was eking out a
precarious living by writing musical articles for
the Journal des Debats,

The proprietor of that influential newspaper was
M. Armand Bertin, a very wealthy man, and, it
appears, not devoid of generosity. He had a high
regard for Berlioz, and knew of all his struggles,
which he, Bertin, was anxious to lighten, and he
resolved to make him a present of 20,000 francs.
In order to enhance the moral effect of this gift,
according to Charles Halle, he persuaded Paganini
to appear as the donor of the money.

That Bertin had judged well was proved immedi-


ately afterwards. " What would have been a simple
gracieusete from a rich and powerful editor towards
one of his staff/' says Halle, " became a significant
tribute from one genius to another, and had a
colossal retejitissement. The secret was well kept,
and was never divulged to Berlioz. It was known,
I believe, to but two of Bertin's friends besides
myself, one of whom is Mottez, the celebrated
painter. I learned it about seven years later, when
I had become an intimate friend of the house, and
Madame Armand Bertin had been for years one of
my best pupils."

This throws a very different light upon the affair
than that in which musical writers have hitherto
viewed it ; and I believe that it is confirmed by a
passage in the ^* Memoirs of Berlioz," a work which
I have not yet seen.

Another matter which has more than once at-
tracted attention, and given rise to a large amount
of criticism, is the so-called " duel " between Paga-
nini and Lafont.

There can be no doubt that the well-known
French violinist Lafont never committed a more
rash action than when he challenged Paganini on
his own native soil, at Milan, to compete with him
as a virtuoso.

The natural gifts of Paganini as a violinist were
so great that, could the most eminent artists of the
present day undergo with him the same ordeal, they


would most assuredly come out ^' second best."
Whatever drawbacks may attach to the private
character of Paganini, as a professional violinist he
was an artist such as this world will probably never
see again.

It has been my good fortune to converse with
men who have heard Paganini, and were thus able
to compare him with the best of our modern violin-
ists, and though some preferred the grander style of
De Beriot, as regarded mere execution their verdict
was always unanimous, and to the effect that, with
the sole exception of Camillo Sivori, no one has
ever approached him, and that in Sivori's case it
was only an approach.

Few indeed now remain who have attended the
concerts of Nicolo Paganini, and they are mostly
well over eighty years of age. But they are all
agreed that in his case it was not a matter of
vogue or fashion, or unscrupulous pufting for
trade purposes (though there was some of that),
but he actually realised what no other human being
could do. It was the peculiar nervous organisation
of the man which was the chief cause of all ; and in
this respect no two men are exactly alike. Every
artist must be content with his own style. Imitate
nobody, as Viotti said to De Beriot, but endeavour
to perfect your own talent as far as Nature will
allow you to do so.

Let it also be clearly understood that in music,


as in painting and poetry, there is no single leader
whose style and manner should alone be imitated.
As soon as a certain level of excellence has been
attained, it becomes a simple matter of taste as to
who should be considered the first, and de gustibus
non est disputanduiUy said the ancients.

Some people may prefer one violinist to another,
but when it is a question of artists of the first rank
it is rather absurd to speak of any individual as
the "king of violinists." There is no king, it
is a republic now. There never was a king but
once, and then only for a few years, and his name
was Paganini.

At the present day, when such an array of talent
is before the world as was never previously known,
the expressed preference for any great violinist is
like declaring that you prefer an apple or a pear to
a peach or a plum. They are all perfect in their
particular manner.

Young violinists will do well to remember this,
and not to imitate any one in particular, but endea-
vour to derive instruction from all, while perfecting
their own individual styles. No two contemporaries
ever reached the pinnacle of fame by more different
routes than Spohr and Paganini ; yet they both
rose as high as it is allotted to an artist to rise in
this world.

The celebrated " duel " came about in the follow-
ing manner : In March 1816, Paganini, being then


in his native town, Genoa, heard accidentally that
the French violinist Lafont v^as at Milan ; and
being very curious to hear him play, he left at once
for that city, a much longer journey in those days
than it is now.

" His performance," says the Italian virtuoso^
" pleased me exceedingly."

A week later Paganini himself announced a con-
cert at the opera-house La Scala, on which occa-
sion Lafont was present. The day after the concert,
Paganini received a letter from the latter, in which

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Online LibraryT. L. (Thomas Lamb) PhipsonVoice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences → online text (page 5 of 19)