J. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) Hadden.

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

. (page 15 of 17)
Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 15 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

compared with Rossini, but they shared much of his
popularity. Only twenty-five years ago it was written
in a certain dictionary of music : " Of the masterpieces
of Bellini and Donizetti it is surely unnecessary to
speak, since they still hold firm possession of the stage,
and are not likely to be soon replaced by newer favour-
ites." It is never safe to prophesy unless one knows.
Wagner has cut into Bellini and Donizetti, as into
others of their school, and neither managers nor public
at present show any great enthusiasm for Bellini's
Norma, La Sonnambula, and / Puritani ; or for Doni-
zetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, La Favorita, and La Fille
du Regiment. Other times, other music.

Yet it is very curious to recall the fact that Wagner
praised Bellini's Norma, and selected it for his benefit
at Riga in 1837. On the playbill he wrote this : " Of
all Bellini's creations Norma is that which unites the
richest flow of melody with the deepest glow of truth,


and even the most determined opponents of the new
Italian school of music do this composition the justice
of admitting that, speaking to the heart, it shows an
inner earnestness of aim." Rossini also liked Norma.
Bellini had a pathetically brief career. He died when
he was only thirty-three, while a brother, a fourth-rate
church composer, lived to be eighty-two.

Though born at Bergamo, Donizetti was of Scottish
descent. His grandfather was a native of Perthshire,
named Izett. The young Scot was beguiled by the
fascinating tongue of a recruiting-sergeant into His
Britannic Majesty's service, and was taken prisoner
by General La Hoche during the latter's invasion of
Ireland. Already tired of a private's life, he accepted
the situation, and was induced to become the French
general's private secretary. Subsequently he drifted
to Italy, and married an Italian lady of some rank,
denationalising his own name into Donizetti. No com-
poser except Mozart had a more remarkable musical
memory than Donizetti. Wishing to procure for
Mayer a copy of an opera which was being performed
at Bologna, and which the impresario refused to lend,
Donizetti had such a lively recollection of the music
after hearing it two or three times that he was able to
put it down on paper from beginning to end. When
composing he always kept a small ivory scraper near
his hand, though he never used it. It was given him
by his father when he began his career, with the in-
junction to write as little rubbish as possible. The
scraper was meant, no doubt, for making frequent cor-


rections. But Donizetti seldom bothered about correc-
tions. He was one of the rapid composers. Some
merry friends were spending an evening with him at
Rome in 1833. Suddenly he withdrew from the room,
but returned in half an hour. " Why did you leave us?"
he was asked. " I have composed the finale of the first
act," was the reply. Lucia t which Rossini considered
his masterpiece, was written in six weeks.

Great composers become attached to their pianos,
instruments which more or less help them in their
creations. Donizetti was no exception. In 1844,
having gone to live in Vienna, he made arrangements
to sell off the furniture in his house at Naples. " But
do not at any price," he writes, " sell the piano, which
contains in it my whole artistic life. It has sounded
in my ears since 1822. Oh let it live so that I may
live ! With it I passed through the period of hope, of
conjugal life, of solitude. It has witnessed my joys,
my tears, my illusions, honours ; it has shared with
me my toils and fatigues ; in it lives every epoch of
my career." This belauded instrument, it may be
added, is now in the care of the municipality of
Bergamo. Donizetti, like Schumann, fell into melan-
choly. In fact symptoms of dementia appeared, and
he died from a second shock of paralysis.


It is a far cry from Bellini and Donizetti to
Giuseppe Verdi, who was, nevertheless, their legitimate
successor in opera. Verdi used to be called the Grand


Old Man of music, and such indeed he was, for he
lived to be eighty-eight. Born at the village of Roncole,
near Parma, within a few months of Wagner, he sur-
vived Wagner for eighteen years. His operatic career
was divided broadly into two great periods, with an
interregnum, during which he wrote nothing. And
here is the phenomenon : that he blossomed out in
his old age with a style of opera so totally different
from the works of his first period, so much grander
and more artistic, as to make us almost regard him
as two different composers. // Trovatore and La
Traviata were among the early works which received
the applause of the public and held their own, the
first especially, until quite recent years. Then, when
Wagner's influence began to be felt in opera, Verdi
regenerated his style and produced Aida, which re-
places the meaningless trivialities and vocal fireworks
of the first Verdi operas by a dignity, a power, and a
majesty that still procure it the favour of cultivated
musical people.

It was after Aida (for which he received ,3000)
that Verdi took his long rest. Sixteen years passed,
and then he began to sound the depths of his genius.
First, in 1887, when he was seventy-four, came Othello ;
and next, in 1893, when he was eighty, Falstaff. Just
think of it the very finest of a long line of operas pro-
duced when the composer was fourscore ! It was even
said that Verdi would have written still another
Shakespearean opera but for the awful labour of
putting so many notes on paper. He used to work



eight hours at a stretch and feel all the better for it.
but at eighty an hour tired him.

His vitality was no doubt due to the simple life he
had always lived. His people were poor the father
kept a small inn and for long he was poor himself.
He played the organ in the village church for six
years, and his salary was less than 5. He married
very early, and after five years was bereft of wife and
family almost at a single stroke. His bambino fell ill
first, and died in the arms of his mother, who was
beside herself with grief and despair. That was not all.
A few days after, his little daughter sickened, and her
complaint also terminated fatally. But this even was
not all. A few weeks later the composer's young life-
companion was attacked by acute brain fever, and
soon a third coffin was carried from the house. " I
was alone ! alone ! " wrote Verdi. " In the space of
about two months, three loved ones had disappeared
for ever." And in the midst of this terrible anguish,
to avoid breaking an engagement, he was compelled
to write and finish a comic opera !

Fortunately Verdi's finances prospered. His operas
paid him from the first, and with // Trovatore his
fortune was made. Theatre after theatre produced it
after it was first heard in Rome. At Naples three
houses were giving it at the same time. The composer
bought a fine country estate in 1849, and there he
continued to live in almost complete seclusion. He
was not, one gathers, a very genial person. At a
rehearsal of Falstaff the artists gave him an ovation


when he entered. " I thank you all," he said, " but
will thank you more if you do better in your perform-
ances than last time." He was not enthusiastic over
his fellow-composers of the younger school. Mascagni
ventured to ask if he would attend the first performance
of his Ratcliffe. " No," he replied. " If I did, every-
body would want to know next day what I thought
of it, and I really shouldn't know what to say." An
experience of Leoncavallo was not much happier.
Verdi did go to a rehearsal of one of Leoncavallo's
operas, but all he said was, when the composer was
pointed out to him : " Oh, so Leoncavallo is the young
fellow in the light overcoat."

There are stories which show Verdi in a better
light. This one, for instance, connected with the pro-
duction of Aida at Milan : A certain person named
Bertoni went from a neighbouring village to hear the
opera. His outing, including supper, cost him 15
francs 19 centimes. He happened not to like Aida.
However, next day, finding it praised on all hands, he
resolved to give it another trial. This time he spent
20 francs, and was more dissatisfied than ever. Full
of anger, he wrote to Verdi telling him that the opera
was a failure, doomed to early oblivion, and asking
for the return of 35 francs 90 centimes, which sum,
he alleged, he had wasted in going to hear it. Verdi
was not offended in the least ; in fact, he sided with
the aggrieved one. Taking a pen in hand, he authorised
his publisher to send Bertoni 31 francs 50 centimes,
adding : " It is not quite so much as the gentleman


demands, but then he could have had his supper at
home." The story may not be true, but, as a witty
Frenchman once said of a similar tale, St non e Verdi
I ben Trovatore. Verdi is charged with having been
very parsimonious ; but if that were really the case,
he has the thanks of his own class, for he left his
fortune, 120,000, to the home for aged and indigent
musicians which he had already founded at Milan.


Music, oh how faint, how weak,

Language fades before thy spell !
Why should Feeling ever speak,

When thou canst breathe her soul so well ?


OF the great composers who have been dealt with
in separate chapters, the nineteenth century gave us
Wagner, Schumann, Chopin, and Mendelssohn. But
these names by no means exhaust the list of that
century's notables to whom music owes debts in
various degrees and kinds. There were other stars, of
lesser magnitude to be sure, but still stars. Perhaps
among them we should reckon a few of the men who
linked the eighteenth century with the nineteenth.
Curiously enough, these were nearly all associated
with the piano.

Clementi. Taking them in their order of birth,
there was first Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), author
of the famous Gradus ad Parnassum, and of so many
studies that it was jokingly asserted not long ago
that the commission appointed to count them had not
yet arrived at the total. Upon the Gradus to this day
the art of solo piano-playing rests ; while the twelve



Clement! Sonatinas are as well known to young
pianists as anything ever written for the instrument,
dementi lived through the most memorable period in
the history of music. At his birth Handel was alive,
and before he died Beethoven, Schubert, and Weber
were buried. One writer says he was " chiefly notable
for his miserly qualities, by which he rendered miser-
able three successive wives." Anyway, he was a prince
among teachers, and during his long stay in England
he greatly influenced the art of piano-playing in the
country. His grave is in Westminster Abbey.

Pleyel. The name of Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831) is
also familiar to the piano student. He was born near
Vienna, the twenty-fourth child of a poor schoolmaster,
and for five years he resided with Haydn, who gave him
board and instruction. In 1795 he went to Paris and
established first a music firm (Kalkbrenner, who pro-
posed to teach Chopin, was a partner) and then a piano
factory. The Pleyel pianos became quite celebrated.
Chopin had one in his rooms. At one time Pleyel's
works took complete possession of the public ear ; in
fact, for ten years at least, " only for them was there
a market." It was very funny, but to stem the tide of
Haydn's popularity, the Italian faction in London
imported Pleyel to conduct rival concerts. Haydn
kept his temper, and wrote : " Pleyel behaves him-
self with great modesty. I go to all his concerts and
applaud him, but his presumption is a public laughing-
stock." Far different were the amenities that passed
between Haydn and Giardini, another imported rival.


" I won't know the German hound," exclaimed
Giardini. " I attended his concert at Ranelagh, and
he played the riddle like a hog," said Haydn.

Dussek. Then, still following chronological order,
there was J. L. Dussek (1761-1812), who takes a still
higher position in the classical piano school. After
many wanderings on the Continent, he, too, tried
publishing in London, but the business failed and
plunged him into debt. At last, in 1808, he entered
the service of Prince Talleyrand, in Paris, and re-
established his finances. Dussek, as Riemann says,
was one of the first, if not the first, to make the piano
" sing." Though they are not often heard in the con-
cert room, his piano compositions have life in them
yet, and are distinguished by their noble, pleasant
character. It is interesting to know that most of the
music of Don Giovanni was composed when Mozart
was on a visit to Dussek, whose house was a scene of
great resort and revelry while Mozart was his guest.

Cramer. Yet another name connected with music
publishing. The firm of Cramer and Co. still flourishes.
It was founded by that J. B. Cramer (1771-1858)
whose Studies have achieved immortality and made
his name a household word. He was a German, a
pupil of Clementi, but he established himself in London
after gaining Continental fame as a pianist. He wrote
many things for the piano, but nothing to match the
Studies, the poetical spirit of which has always made
them agreeable to both pupils and teachers. There
is a very good story of Cramer. Once, when filling


a professional engagement at Manchester, he went
to dine with a friend and greatly praised a dish of
turnips on the table. Not long after, Cramer received
a letter from his host saying that he had sent by
waggon a present of "a few turnips." The present
arrived a whole hogshead of turnips and Cramer
had the felicity of paying two guineas for the carriage.
Hummel. Cramer had a rival as a pianist, and
his name was J. N. Hummel (1778-1837). Hummel
received his early lessons from Mozart, and was, like
Mozart, a prodigy at the keyboard. Later on he
came into contact with Beethoven, whom he was con-
sidered to excel as an extemporiser. As has been
mentioned, he was also for some time Beethoven's
rival in love, having married a sister of the singer
Roeckel, to whom Beethoven was greatly attached.
Latterly, he renounced playing in public, and devoted
himself almost entirely to composition and teaching.
It is recorded of him that he was in the habit of
wearing a small velvet cap when in his study compos-
ing. One day a gentleman called on him to inquire
his terms for teaching composition, and after being
satisfied on that point, asked Hummel why he con-
tinually wore his velvet cap. Hummel, a bit of a wag,
having, we may suppose, already taken his visitor's
measure, said that he could not compose a bar without
it, for he never felt inspired until he had donned his
cap. Next morning the gentleman came, according to
arrangement, for his first lesson. Hummel provided
him with ruled paper and pen and ink, and was just


about to begin his instructions, when the pupil drew
from his pocket a handsome velvet cap, a long gold
tassel depending therefrom. Popping this on, he ex-
claimed, " Now for it ! " with great energy. Hummel
smiled, but allowed his pupil to enjoy his imaginary
inspiration throughout the lesson. Whether the pupil
came again history sayeth not. One or two of
Hummel's compositions survive, but his style is rather
old-fashioned and lacking in passion.

Czerny. Of Carl Czerny (1791-1857) what shall be
said ? Pianists innumerable, amateur and professional,
have been tortured by Czerny's Exercises or his School
of Velocity. There never was such a man for writing
exercises and studies. It is said he wrote one every
day. But the best of them are very good indeed, for
Czerny "understood better than any one else the
simple primitive forms from which all piano passage-
writing is evolved." He had himself been taught by
Beethoven ; and in his turn he helped to make such
giants of piano technique as Liszt and Thalberg. Liszt
used his studies until the very last for technical
purposes. Leschetizky, Paderewski's teacher, also uses
Czerny almost exclusively with his pupils. The last
time Liszt visited Vienna before his death, he was at
Leschetizky's villa. His playing even then was wonder-
ful, and Leschetizky took occasion to ask him how he
kept his technique. " I will tell you," he said : " I
practise the Czerny exercises a good half-hour every
day." Czerny lived practically all his days in Vienna,
teaching and composing.


Moscheles. Finally among the piano -virtuose
composers comes Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870), whose
Studies (Op. 70) remain to this day a standard work,
though his piano pieces and concertos have mostly
gone to oblivion. As a juvenile, Moscheles played so
well that he was noticed by Beethoven, but he was
twenty-six before he made a sensation on his recital
tours. He settled for a time in London, where he was
much sought after as a teacher ; but when Mendels-
sohn established the Leipzig Conservatorium he
tempted Moscheles to take a professorship, and he
continued in this post to the end of his life. He was
one of Mendelssohn's most intimate friends. They
would often extemporise together, " throwing a theme
to right and left as if it were a shuttlecock ; here hold-
ing it in bonds, there developing it on classical lines ;
now causing each other merriment by the conflicting
harmonies, and again playing with four hands, but only
one soul." There is an amusing story of their hiring
some chairs for a village concert. Mendelssohn said
they were for the great pianist Moscheles ; but the
mercenary inn-keeper said that great pianists had a
way of giving concerts, pocketing the money, and dis-
appearing. Cash down was demanded and paid, and
the loading up of a cab with chairs made a sufficiently
diverting picture. Moscheles and Chopin were friendly,
and the two were once invited to play before Louis
Philippe. The king sent Chopin a gold cup and
saucer, and to Moscheles a travelling-case, " the sooner
to get rid of him," Chopin jocularly said.


Cherubini. Such were the notable pianist com-
posers who bridged the two centuries. If we add to
the list the names of Cherubini (1760-1842), often
mentioned in former chapters, and Spohr (1784-1859),
we shall be ready to take up the nineteenth-century
men proper. Cherubini had the distinction of being
described by Beethoven as " the most estimable of liv-
ing musicians," but he was a somewhat pedantic person,
and we associate his name chiefly with church music
and with his theoretical treatises, though his opera
Les Deux Journtes once had some vogue. Chopin
described him as a mummy. He had pride and
dignity, and could snub even the mighty Napoleon.
The pair were once seated in the same box, listening
to one of Cherubini's operas. Napoleon's taste was
for the suave and sensuous style, and at the close
of the performance he turned to Cherubini and said :
" My dear Cherubini, you are certainly an excellent
musician ; but really your music is so noisy and com-
plicated that I can make nothing of it." To which
Cherubini replied : " My dear General, you are cer-
tainly an excellent soldier ; but in regard to music,
you must excuse me if I don't think it necessary to
adapt my music to your comprehension." This was
almost as bold as Liszt's declining to continue his
piano-playing before the Czar, because the Czar had
dared to talk while the great man was at the keyboard.
But the proud Cherubini never learned to " crook the
pregnant hinges of his knee " to the man who made
Europe tremble.


Spohr. Ludwig Spohr, a native of Brunswick,
was a great violinist rather than a great composer,
though his two violin concertos are sometimes chosen
by virtuosi for the display of their skill, and his
oratorio, The Last Judgment, is occasionally per-
formed. He travelled about a good deal, and paid a
visit to England at the invitation of the Philharmonic
Society in 1820. It was on the occasion of this visit
that he made the first use in England of the now
familiar conductor's baton. He was anxious to make
an impression on the Londoners, so before he set out
for the concert he put on a bright red waistcoat.
" Scarcely had I appeared in it in the street," he says,
"than I attracted the attention of all who passed
The grown-up people contented themselves with gaz-
ing at me with looks of surprise ; but the urchins were
loud in their remarks, which unfortunately I did not
understand, and therefore could not imagine what it
was in me that so much displeased them. By degrees,
however, they formed a regular tail behind me, which
grew constantly louder in speech and more and more
unruly. A passer-by addressed me, and probably
gave me some explanation, but as it was in English I
derived no benefit from it." Poor Spohr, thus perse-
cuted, made for the house of his friend Ferdinand
Ries, when Mrs. Ries explained to him that a general
mourning had been officially ordered for George III.,
whose death had recently taken place, and therefore
that the red waistcoat had acted as a red rag to
sorrowing John Bull !


Now we will take a quartet of stars, and once more,
with one exception, in the order of their birth.


Hector Berlioz had a curious and indeed a tragic
career. He was an innovator, and he was never under-
stood. His operas were kept off the stage by Wagner's
music dramas, while his symphonies and his religious
works suffered under the double misfortune of difficulty
and eccentricity. He made himself enemies all along
the line. As a student, he was wayward, pugnacious,
and cursed with that sardonic humour which makes
foes among fools. He did not reverence his professors
at the Conservatoire, and he had a poor opinion of
contemporary French and Italian composers. Open
enemies and secret ill-wishers surrounded him on
every hand. He said many things that music had not
said before ; and he, and he alone, brought French
music at a bound into line with all the new work that
was being done elsewhere in poetry, in prose, and in

But he threw away almost his last chance by the
enormous demands he made upon players and con-
ductors. It is this which specially characterises Berlioz
as a composer. Big things, and particularly big,
horrible things, had a fatal fascination for him. The
ordinary orchestra, the ordinary chorus, the ordinary
concert room, would never do for him ; everything
must be magnified, as it were, beyond life-size. He
once talked of an opera in which a wicked King was


to arrange a burlesque of the Day of Judgment, only
to have his performance interrupted by the real com-
ing of Christ and the blast of angel trumpeters. He
heard children singing in St. Paul's Cathedral, and
had a vision of devils burlesquing the scene in hell !
His mind seemed steeped in horrors. Wagner said of
him : " He lies buried beneath the ruins of his own
machines." Heine's estimate of him is well worth
quoting : " A colossal nightingale, a lark the size of an
eagle, such as once existed, they say, in the primitive
world. Yes, the music of Berlioz in general has for
me something primitive, almost antediluvian ; it sets
me dreaming of gigantic species of extinct animals, of
mammoths, of fabulous empires with fabulous sins, of
all kinds of impossibilities piled one on top of the
other ; these magic accents recall to us Babylon, the
hanging gardens of Semiramis, the marvels of Nineveh,
the audacious edifices of Mizra'fm." After all, Berlioz
was one of the big men who compel not only admira-
tion in what they achieve, but sympathy in what they
aim at and fail to compass. His very exaggerations
dispose one to like him, he was so desperately in
earnest, and often where he fails he commands the
respect due to an intrepid voyager in strange lands.

Hector Berlioz was born at C6te St.-Andre" in
December 1803. His father was a doctor and an opium
eater, and the general opinion is that to the opium-
eating should be attributed much that was unbalanced
and morbid in the son. The father wanted him to
be a doctor, but he rebelled. " Become a physician ! "


he cried ; " study anatomy ; dissect ; take part in
horrible operations ? No ! no ! that would be a total
subversion of the natural course of my life." So, much
against his parents' wishes, he went to Paris, and,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17

Online LibraryJ. Cuthbert (James Cuthbert) HaddenMaster musicians; a book for players, singers and listeners → online text (page 15 of 17)