T. L. (Thomas Lamb) Phipson.

Voice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences online

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his engagements in London), I believe the music
is chiefly, if not all, composed by St. L^on himself.
The story is this : —

A poor old village musician, who plays only the
most commonplace dance music upon a wretched,
scrapy instrument — which, nevertheless, delights
the peasants, with whom he is a great favourite —
by some freak of fortune, is visited by the devil in
his ordinary, everyday (ballet) dress — horns, and
tail, and cloven feet — holding in his hand a violin,
which, after a rather exciting scene, he finally
presents to the old village fiddler.

The latter at once becomes younger ; he is no
longer bent with age, but stands upright, and is
lost in admiration at the gift. He is supposed to
have sold his soul for the Guarnerius violin. Soon
he draws the bow across the strings, and the most
luscious tones stream forth. But, alas ! the poor
peasants can now no longer dance to his music.
It is something quite different to what they have
been accustomed. The long expressive notes, the
sweet swelling tones, combined with the most
miraculous execution (which, with due apologies
to the shade of our illustrious friend Vieuxtemps,
is decidedly of the Paganini stamp), cause them
to stand still, as if petrified with astonishment, and
listening as if spellbound by some new form of

Whilst a delicious melody, with ballet rhythm, is


thus poured forth, an exquisite fairy form, or angel,
is called into existence, and approaches with mea-
sured steps from the back of the stage, suddenly
disappearing the moment the music ceases. This
occurs each time that the marvellous instrument —
" Violon du Diable" — is played upon.

Nothing could be more poetic than the charming
performance of St. Leon thus combined with the
exquisite dancing of Mademoiselle Plunkett (sister
of the celebrated actress Madame Doche), who
appeared in this ballet. In previous years the part
was played by Cerito, another most celebrated
dancer, who afterwards married St. Leon.

This charming star of the ballet having died at a
comparatively early age, St. Leon married again, and
left a widow, who resided for many years at Neuilly.

After the performance of the Violon du Diable at
Brussels, I induced Katto, the music-seller in the
Gallerie St. Hubert, to inquire whether any of this
lovely music was procurable. The reply which M.
St. Leon sent me was that none of it had yet been
printed, but that he hoped soon to publish some of
it. Ten years later my dear mother discovered a
piece by St. Leon, which has proved of great service
to me on many occasions, and some years after-
wards I met wath his solo called Le Reve (arpeggios),
and his romance La Voix d outre Toj?tbe, also his Ne
moubliez pas (moto perpetuo), which are all clever,
expressive, and effective compositions.


In his ballet Le Lutin de la ValUe he kept his
audience for some time highly amused by his inimi-
table reproductions of the noises of quadrupeds
and birds in a farmyard. The loud crowing of the
" early morning cock " near at hand, and its answer
by cocks in the far distance, in other keys, was

I have been told that St. Leon played upon a
Joseph Guarnerius violin, which is now known in
trade circles as the ^^ Violon du Diable," from the
title of the ballet to which I have just alluded.

I noticed that the violin given to him, in the said
ballet, by his Satanic Majesty, over which there is
a good deal of excitement and jumping about, is
adroitly changed at the wings for the artist's own

Those who have witnessed the exquisite dancing
of such an artist as Mademoiselle Plunkett, espe-
cially in the slow movements, accompanied by such
beautiful violin music, will easily realise the immense
impression made upon an enthusiastic audience on
the occasions to which I have referred. I may add
that the Theatre St. Hubert, in Brussels, is excel-
lent from an acoustic point of view, the softest
pianissimo passages can be heard in every part of
the house. I noticed that Arthur St. Leon was
slightly nervous when he appeared there for the
first time ; probably he was aware that he was
playing in presence of very superior artists in


the orchestra, and a highly critical audience, for
Brussels is a city where the cultivation of the violin
has long been very much in vogue. Thunders of
applause followed all his performances, and he soon
established himself as a favourite.

During his engagement the receipts were very
high, and great disappointment was experienced
one night when, on account of sudden indisposition,
he was unable to appear. The manager of the
theatre would not believe the doctor's certificate
which was sent to him on this occasion, and
brought an action against the violinist for breach
of contract. Wonderful to relate, the Belgian law
courts, which have long had the reputation of doing
scant justice to foreigners, gave their verdict in this
case in favour of Arthur St. Leon.



Shortly after the great pianist and composer
Henri Litolff had married Mademoiselle de la
Rochefoucault, I had the honour of taking the
bride into dinner at the house of the celebrated
Belgian painter Eeckhout, then residing in Paris,
and I was to have played a solo on the violin after
dinner. But becoming seriously indisposed, either
from fatigue or the heat of the weather, I w^as com-
pelled to leave the table and go straight off to bed.
Next day Litolff and the younger Eeckhout came to
see me, bringing Offenbach with them. I w^as much
better, and the latter told us the following extra-
ordinary story whilst we smoked our cigars on the
balcony : —

From the picturesque little village of Ungerwald,
in the Tyrol, there came to London at the beginning
of the present century a contra-bassist who might
have rivalled the immortal Bottesini, who followed
him, or the renowned Dragonetti, who preceded
him by a few years. But though he knew neither

of these distinguished men, and though his name is,



probably, quite unknown to most people, his career
was in some respects as interesting as theirs.

The name of the contra-bassist was Orazio Maboni,
and his maternal uncle and guardian was a distin-
guished violinist and conductor at Milan. As a
youth he got a position for a short time in the old
town of Botzen, where he gave lessons in music,
and performed on the contra-basso in occasional
orchestral concerts, returning to his native village
of Ungerwald in the summer, where his formidable
instrument was in frequent requisition for the
peasants' balls.

He played pretty well on the violin also, and
could teach it ; but his special gift seemed to lie in
composition, for which he had a great predilection.

He was rather tall, gaunt, and thin, though pos-
sessed of a powerfully knit frame, and his dark
eyes and bronzed features were fiery and expressive.

When he arrived in London he had not yet pro-
duced anything, and one day he found himself
wandering about the streets of the West End in the
following circumstances. He had only five shillings
in his pocket, and all the worldly goods he possessed
were upon his person in the shape of an ordinary
suit of clothes, with the exception of a fine Stainer
violin which he had brought with him from Unger-

He had three pupils in various parts of the great
metropolis, and he occasionally found an afternoon


or evening engagement, either as second violin or
contra-basso, in some concert hall or orchestra, and
so kept his larder stocked for a few days.

In this unenviable plight he had managed to get
himself engaged to an English girl, the only child
of Mrs. Blythe, widow of a courageous colonel who
had died for his country in India. This lady en-
joyed a small pension, but had no other means
of subsistence. She was the daughter of a great
singer, and had observed that her own daughter
possessed a musical gift, which, she thought, the girl
should make a source of livelihood. For this pur-
pose she had engaged the services of Maboni, whom
she knew to be a representative of the fine old
Italian school. As a child she had studied the
works of Palestrina, Handel, Sacchini, Paesiello,
Porpora, and other men of genius, who have laid
the foundation of all that is fine and noble in
modern musical composition.

It was Mrs. Blythe's intention to make her daugh-
ter a violinist. There were very few, if any, lady
violinists in those days, and it must be admitted
that Mary Blythe gave promise of becoming in a
few years' time a very accomplished artist. She was
a fair girl, nearly nineteen years of age, with clear
blue eyes, an open, frank countenance, gay spirits,
and lady-like manners. To say she was beautiful
would be an exaggeration ; but there was something
so charming in her well-proportioned figure, her in-


telligent features, and her pretty smile, that we may
easily believe she had more than one admirer.

It was Maboni's greatest ambition to make this
fair English girl his wife ; and the matter was no
secret, for she admired him, and the widowed
mother was well aware of the attachment ; but, of
course, in their precarious circumstances, she could
not encourage it.

Orazio Maboni was an orphan, who had been
brought up by his uncle, one of the violinists of the
Opera at Milan, and Capel Meister to the Grand
Duke of Lombardy. After attending to the educa-
tion of his nephew, he had given him two seasons
in the orchestra, and then sent him on his travels ;
for, it must be mentioned, this uncle had no special
affection for the child of a turbulent and dissipated

Orazio had worked his way, not without many
severe privations, through various towns and cities
of Europe — Botzen, Ancona, Pavia, Parma, Vienna,
Paris, Brussels, &c. When he arrived at Brussels
he was a very good violinist, an excellent contra-
bassist, and more or less of a composer.

At last he found himself in England, but, except-
ing Mrs. Blythe, without friends or protection of
any kind. He occupied a room near the small
house she inhabited, not far from Onslow Square,
and through her kindness he had obtained two
young men as pupils, besides her own daughter.


Orazio now determined to make his fortune, or at
least a respectable position, by his compositions.
Up to that time he had written out a few orchestral
parts, and had introduced into them, here and there,
some shght alterations or additions ; but his efforts
had not extended much further. Now, however, he
decided upon making composition the chief object
of his labours.

His favourite author for the violin was Campag-
noli ; and one fine evening that he had performed
a beautiful prelude by that master, Mary Blythe said
to him —

^' Orazio, only make me play like that, and I will
make your fortune as well as my own."

'* My dear Marietta," replied the young professor,
" I assure you it would not be so easy as you ima-
gine ; there is so much jealousy in the profession,
especially among the critics, who cannot play them-
selves. But I have composed a symphony upon
which I count a good deal."

''A symphony ! What is it called ?"

'' Sunrise."

"Oh 1 that is not enough ; it is too much like ^Moon-
shine,' and you know what that means in English.
Call it 'Sunrise on the Righi' ; or should it not be,
* Sunrise on the Righi : a Souvenir of the Alps ' ? "

" Ah ! perhaps that would be better — to be fol-
lowed immediately by ' Moonshine on the Bos-
phorus : an Oriental Fantasia,'" said Orazio, laughing.


Well, this symphony, "Sunrise on the Righi/' was
no laughing matter. It had cost the young com-
poser a considerable amount of labour ; but then
it was to bring in great results.

He had transcribed it for the violin alone, and
the effect, when he played it, was truly marvellous.
Miss Blythe said it was finer than anything by John
Sebastian Bach. However, when he showed it to
various publishers and conductors of orchestras,
although they were not parsimonious in their praises
of the composition, they made various excuses for
not producing it.

This reiterated failure quite soured the naturally
sweet temper of the young professor, who was one
of the kindest of men and most indulgent of critics.
Now his mind was disturbed ; now he became irri-
table, and openly condemned the works of others,
which hitherto he had been only too ready to praise.

Maboni lived in days when it was generally con-
sidered that fortune was the constant companion of
renown. If he could only make a name, he thought,
opulency would be sure to follow. He little heeded
how many great names have belonged to poor men
who, like the immortal Mozart, have never enjoyed
a competence, much less a fortune ! Neither did
Orazio Maboni know that great reputations can be
bought, and that it is far more truthful to say that
renown and notoriety are the constant companions
of fortune. The only consolation we have is that


bought laurels soon fade. If Homer had purchased
his celebrity we should never have heard of him.

But, after all, what good is a great reputation
unless it brings in money ?

In his new disposition of mind Orazio made no
friends, but, on the contrary, several bitter enemies.

One evening a man knocked at the door of his
room, and walked in before it was opened to

*' My name is Curwen — Jacob Curwen," he
shouted, with fire flashing from his eyes. ^* I am
the composer of the ballet music at Sadler's Wells
Theatre, and I understand that you go about scan-
dalising my compositions 1 "

*' I am quite at your disposal," replied Maboni
calmly ; *' but surely we live in a country where
criticism is not forbidden "

" It is all very well to criticise, sir," retorted the
irate musician, ^' but before you criticise you should
be able to produce."

*^ Listen ! " interrupted Orazio, taking up his

And after a beautiful passage or two by way of
prelude, he performed the transcription of his new
symphony *' Sunrise."

Curwen thought at first he was in the presence of
a madman, but before the piece was half ended he
was absolutely enraptured by the music. When it
concluded he exclaimed —


^' But that is superb — splendid ! It is the finest
thing I ever heard ! "

^' I thought you would like it," said Maboni. ** I
know it is good."

^^ Good ! — my dear sir, I tell you it is the finest
thing I ever heard on the violin — it is equal to our
very finest compositions, or, I may say, it surpasses

*' Anyhow, you hear I can produce, as you say ;
and yet I can find no one to take up my work, and
I am nearly starving for want of a little generous

^^ Leave that to me, sir," said the other, with a
curious wink of his left eye. ^' Leave that to me ;
you will soon find it all right." And he soon after
took his leave in a very different mood from that in
which he had arrived.

Next morning Orazio received another visit, from
a person who sent in his card, with the name
^^Theophilus Barton," over which was written in
pencil, '^ Introduced by Professor Curwen."

*^ Mr. Maboni, I believe," said the stranger as he

" At your service," said Orazio, bowling.

" I have just heard from my friend Professor
Curwen of your magnificent composition — your
symphony, ' Sunrise.' "

'* ^ Sunrise on the Righi,' " said Maboni.

'^ Yes, 'Sunrise on the Righi' ; and if any one


knows good music from bad, it is my friend Pro-
fessor Curwen. Now, sir, there is a great future
in store for you ; for if the well-known com-
poser Curwen pronounces anything good, it is
good, and there's an end to it. Of course, you
are aware how scarce good compositions are ; of
course, you know the value of a copyright ; and
I may take it for granted you will produce as
many similar compositions as you may have orders
for ? "

" Certainly," replied Orazio. " I have a second
piece already in my mind, ^ Moonshine on the
Bosphorus.' "

'' Ah ! just so. Well, you may consider yourself
a millionaire, or nearly so. You must leave it to
me, my dear sir, and you will see "

" I should have no objection to become rich,"
interrupted Orazio. ^' I am engaged to be married,"
he added, smiling, ^^ and I should very much like to
buy a handsome ring for my fiancee."

" Just so, just so," put in Mr. Barton. ^^ You just
give me carte-blanche to act as I like, and in a few
days you will see what I will do."

At the music lesson an hour or so later, Orazio
said to Miss Blythe —

'^ We shall not have to wait very long. Marietta
dear ; I have had a visit from a man who tells me
I may consider myself a millionaire, or nearly so."

" What on earth do you mean, Orazio ? "



" Why, the symphony ' Sunrise on the Righi ' is

to make our fortunes ! "

• ••••••

On the ground-floor of a large building in the
city, not very far from the Bank of England, there
was a spacious room, in the centre of which stood a
long table covered with a dark-green baize cloth,
and having before each of the chairs which stood
along the sides of the table a large glass inkstand,
some quill pens, and a few sheets of foolscap.

Some days after the events just related, the chair
at the end of the table was occupied by Mr. Theo-
philus Barton, a short, stout, pompous individual,
whose bloated features were covered with numerous
eruptive tokens of improper diet or bad living.

The other seats were filled by eight or ten indi-
viduals whom it would be difficult to describe. In
the passage or anteroom were a few pegs, on which
these persons had hung their hats and umbrellas.
In the hall stood a porter, in plush knee-breeches,
white stockings, buckled shoes, and a brown coat
with brass buttons, whose duty it was to usher new-
comers into the room as they arrived.

On the door of the hall was a large brass plate
on which were clearly engraved the words, ^' Theo-
philus Barton & Co."

The various individuals conversed in undertones
among themselves, and one of them passed the time
by drawing impossible houses and trees on a sheet


of the white foolscap before him, another seemed to
be studying the stock and share Hsts of a newspaper,
and a third was chatting familiarly with the chair-

The latter belonged to that class of people who
have discovered an infallible means of extracting
money from the ^^ ignorant public " ; and as the so-
called " ignorant public " form about nine-tenths of
the entire population of the globe, they have almost
the whole world at their disposal. And the means
are so simple !

A sensational prospectus is issued and distributed
by thousands of copies. The cost of this amounts
to, perhaps, a couple of hundred pounds ; and
within a fortnight subscriptions for shares come in
amounting to more than a couple of thousands. Of
this sum about fifteen hundred go straight into the
pockets of the Company promoters as the ^' price of
the business," or ^' patents," or ^' good-will," and with
the remaining five hundred some show of business is
kept up for a few months — perhaps a year or two —
until the Company, on the advice of their solicitors,
goes quietly into liquidation, — all strictly according
to law ! Poor, ignorant public, how we pity you !

" Gentlemen," said the chairman, " I have called
you here to consider what I believe to be one of the
grandest undertakings of the present day. We have
among us, in London, a musical genius, one of the
rarest of rare phenomena in this metropolis."


" I have heard some such statement before/' sug-
gested a rough-looking man^ addressed as Lord

" Pray, gentlemen, hear me out before hazarding
any conjectures," continued Mr. Barton. "Here
we have a violinist, contra-bassist, and composer of
extraordinary talent, who has actually entranced no
less a man than my friend Professor Curwen, whose
word is law in musical matters. Well, this marvel^
lous genius is willing to place at the disposal of our
Company the whole of his copyrights. We are to be
the sole publishers and producers of his works, to
trade in them, to barter and reprint them, to supply
them to the whole musical world "

" Is not music somewhat at a discount ?" inquired
a Mr. Brown. "What is the name of this new
musical genius ?"

"Orazi Maboni," said Mr. Barton. "His name
may be unknown to you, but I can assure you that
in a short time it will be more popular than that of
the great Rossini himself."

" My wife adores Rossini's music," put in the indi-
vidual who was drawing landscapes.

" The ladies will, no doubt, be great patrons of
our new Company," suggested Mr. Barton. Then,
after a slight pause, he added —

"All I have to ask of you at present is to kindly
give your attention to the prospectus which I have
drawn up, the first article of which enacts that we


become the sole proprietors of the vakiable com-
positions of this composer, which the Company will
acquire by raising the paltry sum of ;^2o,ooo."

*' How many compositions may there be?" in-
quired another director in prospective.

*' An unlimited number ! " exclaimed Mr. Barton,
^* for he makes over all his past, present, and future
copyrights. His only w^ork just at present is called
* Sunrise/ which, you see, is an appropriate name
for the origin of such a glorious enterprise."

'* Twenty thousand pounds for one musical com-
position is rather a large sum, I fancy," said Mr.
Jones (a retired butcher), who had not before spoken
at all.

" My wife never gives more than two shillings for
a piece of music," said the individual who was
covering his paper with landscapes.

'^Gentlemen, gentlemen ! " said Mr. Barton, wav-
ing his hands, and paying no attention to these
remarks, ''the prospectus of the Company states
that the shares shall be five pounds each, and that
Signor Maboni and the Company take in equal parts
one-half of these, say ;^io,ooo ; the balance to be
distributed as follows — ;£5ooo to be invested at lo
per cent, in debentures of the Company, to be held
by the said Maboni as a retaining fee, without
depriving him of the right of investing in the Com-
pany's ordinary shares to whatever extent he may
deem advisable, and to deal with the same in the


market, thus stimulating him to fresh efforts ; and
;^5ooo to defray the current expenses of printing
and pubHcation, and directors' fees."

" Hear, hear/' said a voice at the end of the table,
as the chairman threw some emphasis on the last
two words.

" For my part, as your chairman and managing
director," continued Barton, '* I shall content my-
self with watching scrupulously over the interests
of the concern for the moderate remuneration of
;^20o per annum."

This magnanimous proposal was received with
loud applause from all present.

The various articles of association were then duly
read, and agreed to unanimously. There was not
a single dissenting voice, until it came to the ques-
tion as to how many shares the new directors would
subscribe for, on the spot, in order to start the busi-
ness. Then a good many objections were raised.
At last, after half-an-hour spent in rather hot dis-
cussions, ten of the persons present agreed to take
one share each, and with these fifty pounds the
printing and posting of the prospectus was to be
put in hand at once.

When the clock struck 4 p.m. they all departed,
with the view of meeting again that day week.

When Mr. Theophilus Barton next visited Signor
Maboni he found him engaged in reading over the


answer he had just written to a letter received from
Milan. The composition of this answer had given
him almost as much pleasure, and far less labour,
than that of his " Sunrise on the Righi/'

As soon as he was informed of the result of the
meeting in the city, Maboni explained the nature of
the letter from Italy. It was from the well-known
firm of solicitors, Signori Farfolli & Notari, and
ran as follows : —

"Piazza Santa Maria, Milano,
"25 Maggio 184 — .

" Esteemed Sir, — After having, with great diffi-
culty, obtained your address from our London cor-
respondents, we hasten to inform you, with sincere
sympathy and regret, of your uncle's demise, which

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Online LibraryT. L. (Thomas Lamb) PhipsonVoice and violin : sketches, anecdotes, and reminiscences → online text (page 9 of 19)