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A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) online

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Kreutzer), 18'2o ; and 'La Marquise de Brinvilliers ' vwith Auber,
Batton, Berton. Blangini, Carafa. Cherubini, Herold, and PaSr),
1S31. (Pougin's Supplement to Fetis's Dictionary.)

BOITO, Akrigo, an Italian poet and com-
poser, born at Padua, Feb. 24, 1842. His father
1 Jugend-briefe. Letter to Ton Fricken. » Ibid,




was an Italian painter, and his mother a Polish
lady, which to a great extent accounts for the
blending of northern and southern inspiration
that is the characteristic of all Arrigo Boito's
poetical and musical works. From an elder
brother, Camillo, an eminent architect, critic
and novelist, Arrigo acquired from his early
years a taste for poetry. It may be said here
that it was Camillo Boito who directed his
brother's attention to Goethe's Faust as the
proper subject for a grand opera, and this years
before Gounod's masterpiece was written.

In 1856 Boito's mother left Padua and settled in
Milan so that he might study at the Conservatorio
there. Arrigo Avas admitted as a pupil in the
composition class of the late Alberto Mazzucato.
It is asserted on excellent authority that during
the first two years at the school, he showed so
little aptitude for music, that more than once the
director, Lauro Eossi, and the examiners, were
on the point of dismissing him, and it was only
owing to the determinate and steady opposition of
his professor that the decisive measure was not
earned out. This fact, compared with a similar
incident in the career of Verdi, who at a com-
paratively advanced age was refused admission to
the same institution on the ground that he had no
aptitude for the study of music, will not fail to
strike the reflective mind, and to show how in
some cases genius may be latent, and may
reveal itself only after years of well-directed

The musical lessons at the Conservatorio being
over before noon, the j'oung Arrigo would
regularly spend his afternoons and evenings in
the library of the Brera studying literature.
The time thus spent was soon productive of
excellent fruit : before he had reached his
eighteenth year, he was familiar with the
Greek and Latin classics, had acquired a perfect
mastery of the Italian and French languages,
and his first essays in the Italian and French
press at once attracted the attention of scholars in
both countries to him. Some articles on a Frencli
review were the cause of Victor Hugo's writing
a most flattering letter to the unknown author,
while in Italy Andrea MafFei and others publicly
complimented him on his early poems.

It is a custom at the Conservatorio of Milan
that the most successful puijils of composition on
leaving school should write either an operetta or
a cantata to be perfoi-med on the occasion of the
annual distribution of prizes. On leaving the
Conservatorio, Arrigo Boito and Franco Faccio
set to work together and produced a cantata,
' Le Sorelle d'ltalia ' (the Sisters of Italy), the
poem by Boito, the music of the first part by
Faccio, the music of the second part by Boito.
By the time this cantata was performed, musical
circles were greatlj' interested in the two pupils,
as it was known that Faccio was already far
advanced in his opera 'I profughi Fiamminghi,'
and that Boito had already written and composed
several numbers of his 'Faust,' — the garden
scene, just as it now stands in ' Mefistofele,'
belongs entirely to that period.


'Le Sorelle d'ltalia ' was an enormous succi
so much that the Italian government, whict
perhaps the least musical in Europe, and ■
least inclined to patronise art, found it-
almost forced by the current of public opia
to award the two maestri a sum of mon
besides the gold medal, to enable them to res
for two years in various capitals of Europe.

As some twenty years ago the staple, and
may almost say, the only paying article in 1
music market in Italy was operatic music, th
was not the remotest thought of publishing
cantata, successful as it had been, and only t
short duets for female voices, the one by Fac
and the other by Boito were printed. Unluck
the manuscript score, which ought to be
posited at the library of the Conservatoj
through the carelessness of the keejier of 1
library and of the director Lauro Rossi, v
lent and never returned, so that, unless cliai
throws the manuscript in the way of so
musician, no hope can be entertained of e-
hearing again that interesting work, the autli
themselves having kept no copy.

The subject was an allegorical one, intenc
to represent the four sister nations, Ita]
Hungary, Greece and Poland, in their strug;
for political independence. The cantata was
two parts, preceded by a prologue and concluc
bythe stimng ' Hymn of Tirteo,'from the origii
Greek, by way of epilogue ; the peculiar a
spontaneous blending of northern and southc
inspirations, already hinted at, was conspicuc
in the poem. The first part, ' Italy and Hi
gary ' was, musically speaking, as character
tic of Faccio's genius as the second, ' Gre(
and Poland,' was of Boito's. Those who hes
the performance twenty-five years ago, rememl
still the ' Litanie dei Polacchi,' a choral numi
which opened the second part, new in treatme
and grand in conception. The theme of tj|!
final chorus reappears in a somewhat alteip
condition in the fourth act of ' Mefistofele.' ^

During his residence abroad, Boito spent mi9
of his time in Paris, and a consideiable pattp
the rest in Germany. Strange as it may seeyv
Wagner's operas, which he had now an occasiv
of hearing for the first time, did not alter in ti
least his musical opinions and feelings.: tj
change came over his mind many j'ears aft
when he began the critical study of the wor
of Sebastian Bach. He left Milan lioldi
Marcello, Beethoven, Verdi and Meyerbeer
the greatest composers in their respective fid(
and when he came back he was even strengthen
in his belief, though he had had many opport
nities of hearing excellent performances of t
best music. Yet — perhaps unconsciously —
did not feel at one, on musical subjects, with t
majority of his countrymen. His genius, I
keen appreciation of the beautiful, his devoti'
to Beethoven and Marcello, had enlarged 1
ideas beyond the limits that were imposed upi
an operatic composer, and whilst leisurely wor
ing at his ' FausD' he could not bring himself
give it the fashionable and only accepted foi


the Italian opera. He was too modest to

:ach a new faith, too honest to demolish before

3wing how and what to build, and too noble

write with the sole end of amusing his fellow

atures. This, and the success of Gounod's

aust ' in Milan, a success that obliged him to

e up any idea of having his own ' Faust '

•formed, gave gradually a different turn to his

ad, and he eventually found himself more

3y with literature than with music. All his

ics bear the date from 1861 to 1867 (they

re afterwards published at Turin in 1877) :

novel, 'L'Alfier Meno,' was also written

these years. He started, together with

lilio Praga and other friends, a lively, brilliant

t short-lived newspaper ' Figaro ' ; he con-

buted critical essays to Italian and French

dews, and was one of the most active and

luable contributors to the 'Giornale della

lietk del Quartetto di Milano,' a musical

per edited by Alberto Mazzucato, whose aim

a to excite an interest in, and spread a taste

, the study of instrumental music.

Englishmen, accustomed to numberless con-

•ts where music of the great composers may be

ard, will hardly realise what the condition of

ilan — by far the most advanced musical town

Italy — was twenty-five years ago. Music

d opera were synonymous words, and no one

red for anything that had not been or could

t be performed with success at ' La Scala.'

Kjh, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schu-

inn, were as much unknown as if they had

ver been born. Even as late as ten years

0, the only copy of Beethoven's Symphonies to

had at the library of the Conservatorio, was

oheap edition printed at Mendrisio, and so full

mistakes as to be in some parts unintelligible.

lis state of things was absolutely alarming, and

veral more enlightened persons, amongst them

: e pubhsher Eicordi, Mazzucato, Boito, Filippi,

iC, decided to start a Society of Concerts and a

;wspaper in order to improve the public taste,

id make it at least possible for the new com-

I'Sers to have a chance of being heard and


Boito did much useful work in this direction :
s articles were full of enthusiasm, and were
teresting and readable. Amongst various
iscellaneous articles he contributed one essay
1 ' Mendelssohn in Italy,' published by instal-
ents, in which he spoke of his hero in such a
anner that it was considered disrespectful
iwards Italian composers and the Italians at
Jge, and led to a duel, wherein the ardent
lUsician was worsted, and in consequence of
hich he had to cai-ry his right arm in a sling
>r several weeks afterwards.
In 1866 the war with Austria put a stop to all
iUsical business, and Boito, Faccio, Tagliabue,
Imilio Praga, and others, joined the volunteer
)rps under the command of General Garibakii.
'uring the campaign they fought bravely, some
t them even receiving a special mention for
lilitary valour. When the campaign was over,
loito felt tired of the comparative idleness of



artistic life in Milan, and decided to leave Italy
and take up his residence in Paris : Victor Hugo
encouraged him to do so, and exhorted him to
join the Parisian press, and gave him the warmest
and most affectionate introduction to Emile de
Girardin. Accordingly Boito went to Paris in the
spring of 1867, fully determined to give up music
and throw in his lot with French journalists.

Thus Boito's career as a musician would have
absolutely been over for ever, but for a succession
of unforeseen and trifling incidents. When he ar-
rived in Paris, Emile de Girardin, who was to act
as his sponsor on his entering the Parisian press,
was the hero of a political cause celebre attracting
for the moment the interest of all France, and
the introduction had no practical consequences.
After some time spent in vain suspense, Boito
went to visit a sister in Poland.

The monotonous, tranquil, humdrum country
life, and the many forced leisure hours he had
there, put him again in mind of 'Faust,' and
just to please his own fancy he sketched a
musical setting of an arrangement of the entire
poem, from the Prologue in Heaven to Faust's
Death, and also completed some of the principal

While he was waiting for the autumn to go
back to Paris and try his fortune again, Signori
Bonola and Brunello, the managers of La Scala,
who were making arrangements for the operas to
be produced in the ensuing winter season of
1867-68, and had already secured two novelties,
Gounod's ' Giulietta e Eomeo ' and Verdi's ' Don
Carlos,' heard that ' Faust ' was again occupying
Boito, and they managed to obtain the opera,
so that when the general public was thinking
that Boito was on the staff of some Paris news-
paper, unexpectedly the advertisements an-
nounced 'Mefistofele' as the new opera d'ohbligo
for the next season.

No doubt in the interest of art it was well
that Boito entered into the engagement, but it
was nevertheless a very rash step on his part, of
which the effects were demonstrated by the me-
morable first performance of the original ' Mefis-
tofele ' which took place at La Scala of Milan
on March 5, 1868. It must be fairly owned
that the public was not ready to imderstand the
new language he intended to speak, nor did
the poet and composer know clearly what he
was going to say to them. There is no denying
that the original 'Mefistofele,' though poetically
and philosophically admirable, was, taken as an
opera, both incongruous and amorphous. It was
an interminable work, with very deficient and
feeble orchestration, no dramatic interest, and
composed without the most distant thought of
pleasing the taste of opera-goers. The conception
was sublime and the outline bold and startling ;
but it was little more than a sketch, or a cartoon
for a fresco, and the real work was absolutely
wanting. It would have taken at least a year
to get it properly ready, if the author had chosen
to follow up the original scheme ; but Boito found
himself with very few months before him, barely
sufficient to put the materials together.




The process of rehearsing at La Scala is a very
long one, as it is done in the most conscientious
manner : in the case of Mefistofele it was extra-
ordinarily long, owing to the enormous difficulties
the chorus and the orchestra had to grapple
with ; partial and general rehearsals- amounted,
if we remember right, to fifty-two, and during
the many weeks spent in this way, all the inter-
preters had grown so accustomed to Boito's style,
and his music had become so clear and familiar
to them, that their heart warmed toward the
young composer, they tliought him the greatest
composer in Italy, and answered to the numerous
questions directed to them by known and un-
known persons about the merit of the new opera,
' a second Guglielmo Tell.' ' Mefistofele ' had ab-
sorbed the attention of all Milan, and of all
musicians and amateurs of Italy : all seats and
standing places had been sold weeks before the
performance, and never after or before has been
witnessed such an interest taken in the produc-
tion of a young composer's first, opera. In order
to centre entirely the public interest in Boito, it
was decided to mnke a breach of custom and let
the composer conduct his own work; and another
breach of custom was made by publishing and
selling the libretto a few days before the per-
formance. The first edition wns bought up in a
few hours, and eagerly, almost savagely, read,
commented on, dissected, submitted to the most
minute analysis. Boito, in poetry as well as in
music, belonged to the advanced school, so-called
' deir avvenire ' : as everywhere else, in Italy
also, the poet's 'dell' avvenire ' were not looked
at very kindly, and in INIilan less than in any
other Italian to'wn, because the Milanese were
justly proud of their great citizen Alessandro
Manzoni, the author of ' I promessi sposi,' who at
that time was still to be seen taking his after-
noon walk on the bastioni every day, and of
whom it was given out that the poets of the
new school did not entertain a sufficiently rever-
ential opinion — a statement- M'hich, if it was in a
certain measure true as regarded some of the
young poets, was not so for Boito. An incident
may be related here which will show at once the
natural modesty of Boito, and his keen and quick
appreciation of what is really beautiful in itself
even when expressed in the style of a school dia-
metrically opposed to his own. A few months
after his poems had been published, or rather
re-published, in Turin, he was one evening walk-
ing with a couple of friends and the talk was of
poetry. One of his friends, alluding to the justly
famous stanza by Manzoni in ' Ermengarda's

Masa en-ante, o tepidi
Lavacri d' Acquisgrano, etc.f

made some remarks and said it was a little old-
fashioned: ' Well, it may be so,' interposed Boito,
'yet I would rather have written that single
stanza, than all my Libro dei rersi.' Notwith-
standing, his poems created in the general public
and in old Alessandro Manzoni himself an ex-
cellent impression, and since the poet had fully
come up to the great expectations of the public,



the curiosity to hear what the musician had d

was kindled to the highest degree.

The long-expected day came at length, ;
though the performance was to begin at 7.
shortly after 2 o'clock the fortunate possessor!
unnumbered seats could already be seen to gat
near the large doors, in order to secure the b
places. Boito's appearance was the signal for "Z
applause as spontaneous as it was unanimoKX
that began simultaneously in all quarters of ■
house, and lasted several minutes. During
the prologue perfect silence pervaded the wh
house, and an attempt to applaud the ' vo
scherzo ' was instantly suppressed ; the cho:
and orchestra sang and played magnificent
and the effect seemed irresistible, and yet e\
towards the very end not the slightest gu
could be given as to the result, so that the n
vousness of all the admirers and friends of Bo
was increasing every minute ; but when
choir gave out the last chord of E major, th
came such a sudden thunder of applause that 1
last bars were perfectly inaudible, though plaj
fortissimo by the full orchestra and military bai
Six times Boito had to bow his acknowledgmei
and yet the sound of applause still ran
minutes through the house ; the cheering w
taken up in the piazza outside the theatre, a:
it even reached the surrounding caffes, whe
hundreds of musicians had gathered with the
friends to be in advance of any intelligence.

The friends of Boito were wild with excit
ment, and prophesied the triumph of the open
but these prophecies were not destined to I
realised. We have already alluded to the i:
trinsic reasons that made the original ' Mefistofel
unfit for the stage ; in addition to these thai
was a very powerful accidental one that hastens
the fall of the work, i. e. the utter inadequacy
the interpreters of the chief characters.

The first act did not produce any impressioi
only it went a good way to cool down th
enthusiasm : the garden scene in the second ac
displeased the public, who contrasted it with th
parallel scene in Gounod's third act, and foun
Boito's music decidedly inferior : the ' Sabb.
Eomantico' turned the scales altogether. A
the moment of Mefistofele's coronation tb
wizards, witches, and all the infernal crew
knelt down, and satirising the ceremonies of th'
Roman Catholic Church, sang the plainsong o
the ' Tanfum ergo.' From a poetical and musica
point of view it was a splendid effect, but il
was unquestionably in very bad taste to parodj
one of the most popular hymns of the church.
The audience considered it as irreverent, lost
all patience, and began to hiss as lustily and
heartily as they had applauded before. Boito's ^
partisans stood him in good stead, and kept up i
to the very end of the opera a strong opposition |
to the majority, but tiiis of course served only i
to increase the distui-bance. Challenges were
exchanged, resulting in duels the next morning,
the confusion and clamour in the theatre reached
such a pitch that during the fourth and fith act
it was at times utterly impossible to hear either


lorus or orchestra. When the curtain fell for

le last time, all the members of the orchestra

>se to their feet like one man and enthusi-

^itically cheered the unfortunate composer; a

; ish was made from the pit into the stalls, and

- shrieking and howling crowd hissing and ap-

lauding wildly rushed forward toward the

xhestra. The house was cleared and the

antic audience fought it out in the streets until

le next morning. The performance had lasted

3arly six hours.

During the week another performance took
iace : one night the prologue, ist, 2nd and 3rd
its were given ; on the following night prologue,
jh and 5th acts ; but the conflicting parties
)uld not agree, and at last the chief of the
)lice thought wise to interfere, and ' Mefis-
fele ' had to be withdrawn hy order.

The idea of having the score of the oiiginal
VIefistofele' printed, has been unfortunately aban-
)ned, yet it may be hoped that in time the
;heme may be carried out. For even if the
lought of having the original opera performed
I its entirety were to be dismissed, it would be

matter of regret that musicians should not
ave the opportunity of becoming acquainted
ith that gi-and conception, either by reading

or by partial performances. The ' Mefistofele '
I its present form bears the same relation to
le oiiginal work as a recent performance at the
yceum to Goethe's masterpiece : it is an adap-
,tion for the stage, of more practical use than
le original, but of far less artistic import.

The only decided improvement in the re-
Taiigement is the assignment of the part of
aust to a tenor instead of a baritone : the ab-
mce of a tenor makes an opera acoustically dull
id engenders monotony, especially in a long
ork. The parts that have suffered more by the
.terations are the scene at Frankfort in the
rst act, and the ' Sabba Homantico ' in the
icond act. These two parts were much more
eely developed, and might now-a-days be per-
■rmed by themselves as cantatas ; and the same
jplies to the grand scene at the Emperor's
alace, now entirely abandoned. A strikingly
•iginal ' intermezzo Sinfonico' (a clever ar-
vngement of which by Marco Sala, for piano
aet has been published by Messrs. Eicordi of
lilan) stood between the fourth and fifth acts ;
was meant to illustrate the battle of the
mperor against the pseudo-Emperor, supported
^ the infernal legions led by Faust and Mefis-
ifeles — the incident which in Goethe's poem
axis to the last period of Faust's life. The
iree themes — thatis, the i^a?j/are of the Emperor,
16 Fanfare of the pseudo-Emperor, and the
anfare infernale, were beautiful in conception
id interwoven in a masterly manner, and the
ene was brought to a close by Mefistofele
ading off with ' Te Deum laudamus ' after the

From the spring of 1868 to Oct. 4, 1875,
hen the revised Mefistofele was for the first
me performed at the Teatro Comunale of
ologna, thus beginning its popular career in



Italy and abroad, Boito worked hard and in
good earnest, yet of the two grand operas which
took up most of his time at that period none
but a few privileged friends have heard any-
thing. They are ' Ero e Leandro ' and ' Nerone.'
'Ero e Leandro' when finished, did not please
its author ; at one time he contemplated the
idea of having the libretto performed as a
poetical idyll with musical intermezzos and
choruses, then he dismissed the subject altogether,
and gave the libretto to Bottesini, who set
it not unsuccessfully to music. Of Boito's music
nothing remains except four themes ; two he
made use of in his ' Mefistofele,' one he had
printed as a, barcarola for four voices, and the
other he adapted to an ode he had to write
for the opening of the ISTational Exhibition of
Turin in the spring of 1882 (unpublished).
' Nerone,' so far, seems to be the opus magmim
of the artist's life, but no one can say positively
when it will be performed. For a long time
the work has been so far advanced that if the
author chooses it maj' be got ready in a few
weeks, but there are excellent reasons for not
giving the finishing touches to it ; these reasons
of course are not made public, but it is not
difficult to give a guess at them in the right
direction. Another work, of no less importance
than ' Nerone,' on which Signer Boito is now
bent, is ' Orestiade,' but this is surrounded by
a still deeper mystery than that in which
'Nerone' is wrapped, though it is perhaps
more likely that ' Orestiade ' may be submitted
to the public earlier tlian the other.

It is rather early days to pronounce ex ca-
thedra an opinion as to the place which Arrigo
Boito will take amongst the great masters ; yet
one thing is beyond doubt, and that is, that
Boito has a right to a conspicuous place amongst
the greatest living artists. There are certainly
in Europe, and perhaps even in Italy, poets
of higher attainment than he : and confronted
as a musician with Brahms, Goldmark, Dvofkk,
Saint-Saens amongst foreigners, and Sullivan,
Stanford, and others, amongst Englishmen, it
is very probable that he will not bear off the
palm ; yet amongst these few privileged artists
who, like the Proven9al troubadours, can say
' trove il suono col il nioto ' ? Boito, since Wag-
ner's death, has no rivals, and it remains still
to be seen whether, when ' Nerone ' is brought
within reach of criticism, it will not ultimately
be accepted as the greatest musical drama of
the 19th century. This is not a groundless
supposition; the greatest part of the poem of
' Nerone ' is not unknown to the present writer,
who is supported by the opinion of an indis-
putable authority, the late Italian dramatist
Cossa. Signer Cossa, who had won his fame by
his tragedy ' Nerone,' was allowed by Boito
to read his libretto. His opinion was as follows :
' Vi sono dei momenti degni di Shakspeare ; il
mio Nerone, in confronto al suo a roba da ra-
gazzi.' (There are conceptions worthy of Shak-

Online LibraryGeorge GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) → online text (page 130 of 194)