J. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) Hadden.

Master musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners online

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' You break my ears," to which a Gluckist promptly
replied, " What luck ! for you can get a better pair."
Gluck went on in the path of progress undismayed by
all this ; and when, in 1779, he produced his Iphigenie
en Tauride, it created such a furore of enthusiasm in
Paris that the rival composition of Piccini on the same
subject, two years later, was consigned to oblivion.
It is fair, however, to say that the ultimate failure of
Piccini's opera was largely due to the prima donna
appearing intoxicated at the second performance.
About which incident Sophie Arnould, a rival singer,
wittily observed : " This is not Iphignie en Tauride,
but Iphignie en Champagne."

The triumph of Iphigenie practically closed Gluck's


career. He was a wealthy man by this time, for he
had made money by his operas, and had been hand-
somely pensioned by both Marie Antoinette and Maria
Theresa. He retired to Vienna, to live a life of ease
and intemperance. He had always been fond of
wine, and now his wife had constant anxiety about
keeping the bottle from him. One day a friend came
to dine, and liqueurs were placed on the table. The
temptation was too strong. Gluck seized the bottle
of brandy, and before his .wife could stop him he had
drained its contents. That night he fell down in an
apoplectic fit, and he died November 25, 1787, aged

In his early days Gluck was handsome, vivacious,
and witty, but as he grew older he changed consider-
ably. His face was badly pitted with smallpox.
Burney described him as " very coarse in figure and
look " ; but he was dressed, nevertheless, magnificently
in a grey suit embroidered with silver, and carrying a
heavy gold-headed cane. His nature was kindly, and
there is a pleasant story of his asking young Mozart
and his wife to dinner after applauding one of Mozart's
symphonies in public. His method of composing has
been described by Me"hul, a brother musician, who
watched him one day through an opening in a screen.
Me"hul says :

" He had on a black velvet cap of the German
fashion. He was in slippers ; and his stockings were
negligently pulled over his drawers. As for the re-
mainder of his dress, he had on an Indian jacket of


a large flower pattern, which came no lower than his
waist. I thought him superb in this accoutrement.
All the pomp of Louis the Fourteenth's toilette would
not have excited my admiration like the deshabille of

" Suddenly I saw him dart from his seat, seize the
chairs, range them about the room to represent the
wings of a scene, return to his harpsichord to give the
air, and there was my man holding in each hand the
corner of his jacket, humming an air de ballet,
curtseying like a young dancer, making glissades
round the chairs, cutting capers, describing the atti-
tudes, and acting all the tricks and pretty allurements
of an opera nymph. He then appeared to wish to
manoeuvre the whole corps de ballet ; but space fail-
ing him, he desired to enlarge his stage, and for this
purpose came with a bang of his fist against the first
wing of the screen, which suddenly opened and lo !
I was discovered."


After Gluck comes Carl Maria von Weber, who
was born at Eutin, a small town of Oldenburg, in 1786,
and died in 1826. His father was a travelling actor,
once a man of wealth and good social position, and it
was his cousin, Constance, who married Mozart.
Weber was an invalid from birth, and suffered all his
life from disease of the hipbone, which lamed him badly.
He could not walk till he was four years old. His
chief teacher was that same Abb Vogler who is the


subject of Browning's fine poem. Mozart called Vogler
a quack. He boasted himself that he could make a
composer in three weeks and a singer in six months.
He taught Meyerbeer, and he exclaimed more than
once : " Oh how sorry I should have been had I died
before I formed these two" Weber and Meyerbeer.
He certainly did well for both.

Weber wandered about a good deal in his youth,
and at Breslau nearly destroyed his beautiful voice by
accidentally drinking a glass of nitric acid. A curious
episode in his life was his connection with the royal
family of Wiirtemberg, where he found a dissolute
Court, and a whimsical, arrogant, half-crazy king.
Here he remained for four years, in a semi-official
musical position, his nominal duty being that of
secretary to the king's brother. He hated the king
himself, who was so enormously fat that a space had
to be cut in the dining-table to allow him to get near
enough to feed. One day he had a stormy interview
with his majesty, and revenged himself by ushering
into the royal presence an elderly female whom he
found inquiring for the Court laundress. The king,
who hated old women, sent poor Weber to prison for
this trick ; and it is said that while there he got access
to a wretched piano, tuned it with a door-key, and
composed one of his best-known songs at it.

He settled down at Dresden in 1816, and it was
there that he wrote Der Freischiitz> the opera which
brought him fame. When it was first produced in
1821 the entire German nation was "carried by storm,



and the learned pundits of music looked on in amaze-
ment at the demonstration of popular feeling." Soon
the opera was the rage everywhere. When it was at
the height of its popularity in London, a gentleman
advertised for a servant who should be unable to
whistle its airs. Something of the same kind happened
when Oberon was staged for the first time in London
in 1826. Charles Kemble, the lessee of Covent
Garden, had commissioned this opera (at 1000, too),
and had given Weber three months to complete it.
" Three months ! " exclaimed Weber, who wrote
slowly ; " that will only afford me time to read the
piece and design the plan." He took in reality eight-
een months, and then he came to London to conduct
the opera himself. The performance proved a great
triumph. Weber wrote to his wife that the overture
was encored, and every air interrupted twice or thrice
with bursts of applause.

An interesting anecdote connected with the pro-
duction was related some years ago by Mrs. Keeley,
who, as Miss Coward, sang the well-known "Mermaid's
Song " at the performance. The song was successively
declined by two other vocalists ; then Sir George
Smart said : " Little Coward will sing it." And she
did. The Mermaid had to sing at the back of the
stage, where it was very difficult to hear the extremely
soft accompaniment. At the first general rehearsal the
effect was not quite satisfactory, and the stage-manager
impatiently exclaimed : " That must come out ; it
won't go." Weber was standing in the pit, leaning


on the back of the orchestra, and he shouted, " Where-
fore shall it not go ? " Then, leaping over the parti-
tion like a boy, he took the place of Sir George Smart,
who was temporarily conducting, and thus saved the
excision of this favourite song.

Schumann once begged an admiring correspondent
not to place him between Beethoven and Weber, but
somewhere near them, so that he might continue to
learn from them. The conjunction of names sounds
strange enough to-day ; but Oberon and Der Freischutz
attained a success that Beethoven never attained with
his Fidelia. This was due largely to the fact that
Weber caught the spirit of the romantic movement
that was stirring Germany in his time, and gave it
fitting expression in his music. The strongest feature
of his works is their melodic flow, though his melodies
are at times weak, sugary, and affected. The man
himself is described as small and narrow-chested, with
long arms and large hands ; thin, pale, irregular face,
with brilliant blue eyes ; a " mighty forehead, fringed
by a few straggling locks " ; awkward and clumsy, but
charming in spite of all. As opera director at Dresden,
he wore a blue frock-coat with metal buttons, tight
trousers, Hessian boots with tassels, a cloak with
several capes, and a broad round hat a truly operatic
figure, one would say.

Weber's death was very tragic. It took place sud-
denly in London, after that first performance of Oberon.
Like Chopin, he had long suffered from consumption,
and like Chopin on his last London visit, he had often


to be carried upstairs. People were so distressed by his
coughing that they sent him presents of jellies, lozenges,
and all sorts of chest remedies. He took it himself with
a sort of grim humour. Thus he wrote to his wife that
" Mr. Cough is very capricious, coming and going with-
out any reason, but is a right good aid to early rising."
His mother married when only sixteen, and died of
consumption, so that the trouble was hereditary. Two
days before his intended departure for Dresden, he
went to bed at Sir George Smart's house, 103 Great
Portland Street. He was very ill, and when he had
wound up his watch he said to a friend : " Now let
me sleep." Next morning he was found to have passed
into his last sleep. They buried him in London ; but
two years later, mainly upon the initiative of Wagner,
his remains were exhumed and carried for re-interment
to Dresden.


And now follows Jacob Meyerbeer. Meyerbeer was
disliked by Wagner because he was a Jew, and by
Schumann because he wrote, not for art, but to curry
favour with the public. In // Crociato Schumann said
he was inclined to place Meyerbeer among musicians ;
in Robert le Diable he began to doubt whether he had
not made a mistake in so doing ; in Les Huguenots he
found that the music was best fitted for circus people !
And yet Les Huguenots and Robert le Diable had both
a long run of popularity, while // Crociato was speedily
forgotten. Le Prophete had less favour than its two


companions just named ; but the two efforts in the
field of opera comique, L'toile du Nord y and Dinorah,
were great favourites with a former generation.

Meyerbeer was born in Berlin in 1791, the son of
a rich father, who had been in the sugar-refining busi-
ness. There is here a parallel with Mendelssohn, the
son of another moneyed Jew. Meyerbeer made large
sums by his operas, and was probably the wealthiest
of German composers. His mother used to say,
apologetically : " He is a musician, but not of
necessity." Mendelssohn's teacher, Zelter, gave him
some lessons, and then he went to Darmstadt to study
with Abb6 Vogler. He gained his first distinctions as
a pianist, but he took to opera, and achieved one or
two triumphs in Italy in direct rivalry with Rossini.
Rossini and he were good friends, all the same ; in
fact, when Rossini heard of his death he fainted away.
There is a story to the effect that shortly after this
event an amateur called to show Rossini an elegy he
had written on Meyerbeer. " Well," said Rossini,
after looking it through, " I think it would have been
better if you had died, and Meyerbeer had written the
elegy." It was Rossini's joke to say that he and
Meyerbeer could never agree, because Meyerbeer liked
sauer-kraut better than macaroni. Rossini, let it be
understood, was prouder of his manner of cooking
macaroni than of his compositions.

Meyerbeer settled in Paris after marrying his
cousin, Minna Mosson. Here, though possessed of
millions, he lived in an almost miserly style, with only


one servant. If he had no need to be a musician he
did not show it by his labours, which were as industrious
as if he had been poor. " I am above all an artist,"
he said, " and it gives me satisfaction to think that I
might have supported myself with my music from the
time I was seven. I have no desire to stand aloof
from my associates and play the rich amateur."
Meyerbeer of course met Chopin in Paris. And he
had good reason to like Chopin's music. He had one
day a quarrel with his wife, a cousin, "sweet as she
was fair." He sat down to the piano and played a
Nocturne sent him by Chopin ; the wife was so much
taken with the piece that she went and kissed the
player. Then Meyerbeer wrote to Chopin, telling him
of the incident, and inviting him to come and witness
the domestic calm after the storm. Meyerbeer died in
Paris in May 1863. He was curiously afraid of being
buried alive. In his pocket-book after his death was
found a paper giving directions that small bells should
be attached to his hands and feet, and that his body
should be carefully watched for four days, after which it
should be sent to Berlin, to be interred by the side
of his mother.

No composer's works have been more diversely
criticised than Meyerbeer's. Berlioz called Les Hugue-
nots a musical encyclopaedia, with material enough for
twenty ordinary operas. Another called it " banker's
music " luxury music for la haute finance. Wagner
cried out against the blatant vulgarity of Meyerbeer's
style, and described him as " a most miserable music-


maker." But Wagner's antipathy to the Jews led him
to the wildest exaggerations of criticism. After all is
said and done, there is no denying that Meyerbeer's
operas contain many passages of supreme beauty, and
the best of them would well bear revival.


Now we come to the Frenchmen. Here the great
names, so far as surviving popularity is concerned,
are Gounod and Bizet, the composers respectively of
Faust and Carmen. But a word or two may be said
about one or two of their predecessors. There was
BOIELDIEU, for instance (1775-1834), whose La Dame
Blanche not so long ago held a leading place in the
operatic repertoire, and is still popular in France.
Boieldieu was the son of a Norman family, but in
Paris was obliged to tune pianos for a living, and was
glad to sell his brilliant chansons for a few francs apiece.
Then there was DANIEL AUBER (1784-1871), for
many years director of the Paris Conservatoire. He
devoted himself principally to opera, and had a big
run of luck with Fra Diavolo, Masaniello, and Le
Domino Noir. Rossini had a very poor opinion of his
work. " You know what pretty dance tunes Auber has
always written," he sarcastically said, the fact being
that Auber never wrote any dance tunes. On the
other hand, Wagner even Wagner highly praised
Masaniello, especially its instrumentation and its
dramatic choral effects. Auber was unique in never
attending the performance of his own works. He was


noted for wit, and many of his bons mots are recorded.
While directing a musical soiree when over 80, a
gentleman having taken a white hair from his shoulder,
he said : " This hair must belong to some old fellow
who passed near me." Then, still later, came AMBROISE
THOMAS (1811-1896), who began by imitating Auber,
but soon struck out a style of his own, as we see in
the popular Mignon, the only one of his baker's dozen
of operas which has survived. The dainty gavotte
from Mignon is as familiar as anything of its kind.
These and other opera composers of lesser note lead
us directly up to Gounod.

Ignaz Moscheles, the great pianist, wrote in 1861 :
"In Gounod I hail a real composer. I have heard
his Faust both at Leipzig and Dresden, and am
charmed with that refined, piquant music. Critics
may rave if they like against the mutilation of Goethe's
masterpiece ; the opera is sure to attract, for it is
fresh, interesting work, with a copious flow of melody
and lovely instrumentation." It is close on fifty years
since that was written, yet Faust is to-day the only
serious rival to Tannhauser, Lohengrin, and Carmen.
Gounod wrote in all departments of music, but it is
by his Faust that he will live. His other operas, with
the single exception of Romeo and Juliet, have not
enjoyed any measure of popularity.

Charles Francois Gounod was born in Paris in 1818,
and died there in 1893. Like Bizet and Berlioz, he
carried off the Prix de Rome at the Conservatoire,
and his three years' stay in Rome fostered in him a




powerful religious sentiment. In fact he came very
near entering upon a monastic life. The religious
fervour returned to him in his old age, when he pro-
duced the oratorios The Redemption (for which a
London firm paid him 1000) and Mors et Vita.
His first operas failed completely, and this temporarily
drove him back to sacred music. Faust, however,
written when he was forty, changed all that. Strange
to say, no manager would at first produce it, and no
publisher would bring out the score. A publisher was
found at last who bought it for 10,000 francs, and by so
doing laid the foundation of the fortunes of his house.
In thirty years the modest sum he timidly advanced
brought in nearly three million francs. The manager
who did finally agree to stage the opera was less fortu-
nate. He had faith in its final triumph, and pushed
it on to a fifty-seventh performance, at which point
he failed and the theatre was closed. It is staggering
to think that the public of that time were so long in
waking up to the fact that here was a work of beauty
and charm, destined to live. But what could be ex-
pected of the public when Berlioz (jealous, of course)
declared that Gounod had not the smallest conception
of the subject he sought to treat? One music critic
cynically said that Faust had only a waltz and a chorus ;
another hoped that Gounod would never repeat the
experiment. We wish he had !

Of later years the greatest French name in opera is
that of Bizet. Everybody who knows anything about
opera knows Carmen. It is one of the surest " draws "


in the manager's list. And the sad thing is that Bizet
died only a few months after its successful production,
and while it was still impossible to forecast the brilliant
career in store for it. Though Bizet had written a great
deal before he wrote Carmen, he had never really tasted
the sweets of success ; and he went to his grave much
as Keats went his end hastened by the rebuffs and
disappointments which he had experienced.

Georges Bizet, who came of a musical family, was
born in Paris in 1838. He could distinguish the degrees
of the scale before he knew the alphabet. His father
wanted to send him to the Conservatoire, but the rules
would not admit one so young. Rubinstein and Liszt
had both been refused admission when Cherubini was
head, because Cherubini detested prodigies. However,
Bizet's father resolved to interview the director on the
subject. " Your child is very young," said the official,
casting a supercilious glance at the boy. " That's true,"
replied the parent, " but if he is small by measurement,
he is great in knowledge." " Really ! And what can he
do ? " " Place yourself at the piano, strike chords, and
he will name them all without a mistake." Georges
Bizet did, and the rules of the Conservatoire were
relaxed for once.

He made a brilliant student and carried off prize
after prize. He played the piano so well that even
Liszt praised him. He won the coveted Prix de Rome,
and that took him to the Eternal City for three years.
When the time was up, he had to get his living, and he
did it very much as Wagner had done in that same gay


Paris. He composed " pot-boilers" of all kinds. "Be
assured," he wrote to a friend, " that it is aggravating
to interrupt my cherished work for two days to write
solos for the cornet. One must live." Again he tells
that he is working fifteen or sixteen hours a day ; more
sometimes, for he has lessons to give, proofs to correct.
Once he says he has not slept for three nights. Such
was the hard fate of the composer of Carmen. Alas !
he fell just when victory was within his grasp. Carmen
had been produced at the Ope"ra Comique, Paris, on the
3rd of March 1875 ; and on the 3rd of June Bizet lay
dead. The hour of midnight sounded when his heart
ceased to beat, far away in the country ; and in Paris
they were lowering the curtain on the thirty-third per-
formance of the dead man's masterpiece.


So much for the Germans and the Frenchmen.
Three popular masters of Italian opera were all work-
ing about the same time : Rossini (1792-1868), Doni-
zetti (1797-1848), and Bellini (1802-1831). The most
distinguished of the trio was, of course, Rossini. He
had a tremendous vogue at one period, and even over-
shadowed Beethoven. His first great success was with
II Tancredi, which took Venice by storm in 1813.
This was followed by many other operas, notably by
The Barber of Seville and William Tell. Rossini had
a fatal facility of composition, and the number of his
operas, mostly forgotten now, is prodigious. His music
is brilliant, but often devoid of dramatic significance.


The man himself was more interesting. He was of low
parentage the son of a village inspector of slaughter-
houses. The father got into prison for some political
offence, and young Rossini was given over to the care
of a pork-butcher. He was born on February 29, in
leap year. This meant a birthday only once in four
years, and when he was seventy-two he facetiously
invited his friends to celebrate his eighteenth birthday.
He was a great humorist, and hundreds of good stories
are told about him. Prince Poniatowski, the composer
of the popular " Yeoman's Wedding Song," had written
two operas, and wanted very much to have Rossini's
opinion as to which of the two he should choose for
production. Rossini reluctantly consented to hear the
composer play them through. He settled himself in his
easy-chair and placed a huge handkerchief over his
eyes. Poniatowski sat down to the piano and worked
away lustily for an hour or so. When he was about to
begin on the second opera, Rossini awoke from a doze
into which he had fallen, and touched him lightly on
the shoulder so as to arrest his progress. " Now, my
friend, I can advise you," he said sleepily : " have the
other performed." A kindred joke was tried on Liszt.
Liszt had just played one of his so-called " symphonic
poems " to Rossini. " I prefer the other," said Rossini
laconically. Liszt naturally inquired which "other."
" The chaos in Haydn's Creation," was the withering
reply. Rossini had scant respect for amateur com-
posers. One such sent him the manuscript of his latest
composition, accompanied by a Stilton cheese. The


composer hoped, of course, for a letter praising his
work. The letter came, but all it said was : " Thanks !
I like the cheese very much." An amateur drummer
once came to Rossini pleading for an engagement at
the Opera. He had brought his instrument with him,
and Rossini said he would hear him "play." It chanced
that the piece selected had a rest of seventy-eight bars,
and the drummer naturally proposed to skip these.
" Oh no," said Rossini ; " by all means count the
seventy-eight bars ; I particularly wish to hear them"
There are many stories connected with William Tell.
It was always too long, and even in Paris, soon after
its production, the management began to perform only
one act at a time. " I hope you won't be annoyed," said
the manager one morning to Rossini, " but to-night we
propose to perform the second act." "What, the whole
of it ? " Rossini asked in reply. He was altogether an
original character. Sir Arthur Sullivan once found him
writing a piece for his dog's birthday. Like Ruskin,
he was opposed to railways, and used to transport him-
self about in a caravan. He was as fat as Falstaff
himself, and was a prodigious snuffer. All his life he
had a dread of the number thirteen, as well as of
Fridays. He would never invite more than twelve
guests to dinner, and when once he had fourteen,
he made sure of an "understudy" who would at a
moment's notice have been ready to come should one
guest have failed him. And, though this was a double
superstition, he died on Friday, November 13 (1868).



After the production of William Tell at Paris in
1829, Rossini ceased to write for the stage ; practically
ceased, in fact, to write music at all. That he should
suddenly retire from public life before he had reached
his prime and when his fame was at its zenith, is a pheno-
menon difficult to explain except by his own statement
that he had " a passion for idleness." His withdrawal
was, however, a boon to Bellini, and also to Donizetti.
It gave them both a chance, of which they made the
best use. Bellini and Donizetti were very minor stars

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Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 14 of 17)