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Germany, and this master, who had studied in Italy with Vallotti and
Martini, was considered one of the first theoreticians of his time. One
thing is certain, and that is, that he turned out excellent pupils,
of whom some won great renown, and others became more or less famous.
Among these were Knecht and Ritter, who themselves became remarkable
theoreticians; the composers who were formed by the lessons and counsels
of Vogler were Winter, Gänsbacher and the two immortal artists Carl Maria
von Weber and Meyerbeer. It was at Vogler's house that these last two met
for the first time, and formed a friendship which was broken only by the
death of Weber. In after years Weber deplored the Italian tendencies of
Meyerbeer, who, in the first days of his career, threw his whole being
into the imitation of Rossini's style, but in spite of this divergence of
artistic views the affection which these two friends felt for one another
was never altered nor disturbed for a single instant.

Indeed, all the pupils who lived at the Abbé Vogler's house entertained
pleasant and affectionate relations toward each other, and a touching
respect and profound tenderness for their excellent master. One proof of
this, among many others, is the fact that after Weber's death a cantata
was found among his papers, bearing the following inscription: "Cantata
written by Weber for Vogler's birthday, and set to music by Meyerbeer and
Gänsbacher." In fact, Weber, who was a very ready verse-maker, had written
the words of this cantata, while Meyerbeer had composed the music of the
choruses and a trio, and Gänsbacher had been charged with that of the
_soli_. It is probable also that the cantata was sung by the pupils of the

This house of Vogler's was patriarchal; the life there was very austere,
very much occupied, and the time of the pupils was exclusively devoted to
severe study and practice of the art. In the morning, after the regular
exercises, the master gave his class an oral lesson in counterpoint.
Then, giving them for treatment any musical subject, sacred or profane,
a psalm, motet, _kyrie_, ode, dramatic scene, he demanded of them a
severe composition. In the evening, all being assembled in the presence
of the master, the compositions were performed, after which each work was
analyzed theoretically, commented on, criticised, estimated, not only by
the professor, but again by all the pupils, so that each of them, after
having been judged, became in his turn the judge of his own attempts and
those of his rivals. It cannot be denied that this was an excellent system
of education, and one calculated to foster in the minds of the pupils
reflection and the sentiment of criticism. On a Sunday the whole household
went to the cathedral, which contained two organs; Vogler played one of
them, while each of his pupils, in turn, took his place at the other,
after the fashion of a kind of academic tourney, in which each endeavored
to develop in a happy and artistic manner the subject improvised and set
forth by the master.

It was during his residence at the Abbé Vogler's house that Meyerbeer
wrote, for the purpose of forming his hand, a great number of pieces of
sacred music, which he always refused to make known to the public. It was
at this period also that he composed an oratorio, _Gott und die Natur_,
which was his first piece publicly performed. He had been two years at
Darmstadt, when Vogler, wishing to give his pupils a rest, and to fortify
their minds by the contemplation of the beauties of nature, closed his
school and undertook with them an excursion through Germany. It was just
before his departure on this expedition that Meyerbeer had obtained a
performance of his oratorio, which resulted in the grand duke of Hesse
conferring on him the title of composer to the court. This oratorio was
brought out at Berlin a short time after, May 8, 1811, in a concert given
by Weber at the Royal Theatre, where the solos were sung by Eunike, Grell
and Frl. Schmalz.


From large lithograph Memorial published at the time of his death.

This portion commemorates his first appearance in Berlin, where he was
praised for his smooth performance of Mozart's Concertos.]

This was the starting point of Meyerbeer's active career. We shall soon
see him make his appearance as composer and virtuoso at the same time (for
Meyerbeer was an exceptional pianist), then promptly abandon his success
as a performer in order to give himself up without reserve to composition,
with the theatre for his objective point. He was eager for glory and aimed
at a great reputation, feeling himself equal to any effort for reaching
his end; it is this which explains the hesitations and evasions of his
youth. Desirous of meeting success, withal patient, persevering and gifted
with an energy which nothing could baffle, he sought it in all possible
ways, but, whatever his critics may say, without ever sacrificing his
convictions, and while always preserving for his art, as well as for the
public, the most complete, the most absolute respect. His first works
performed in Germany, written in a somewhat scholastic form, perhaps a
little pedantic, did not succeed according to his desire, because Germany
at that time, like Italy herself, was under the spell of Rossini's music.
He accordingly betook himself to Italy, and there wrote several operas in
which he forced himself to adopt the style and methods of that master. It
was this that brought down upon him the reproaches of Weber, irritated
to see him, a German, deny the national genius, and submit, like so many
others, to the influence of the author of the _Barber of Seville_. But
in spite of the criticisms of his friend, Meyerbeer, who had seen his
works received with favor in Italy, continued his career in that country,
where he trained his hand and prepared the evolution which was to free
his genius and direct him to France, there to write his incomparable
masterpieces. For Meyerbeer, like Gluck before him, gave to France alone
the full measure of his worth; like Gluck, it is to France that he owes
his greatest triumphs and the best part of his glory; like Gluck, he lived
to see his Italian operas laid aside and well-nigh forgotten, whereas his
French operas made the tour of civilized lands, and are still played on
all the stages of the world.


From the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.]

It was after his trip with Vogler and his fellow-students that Meyerbeer
decidedly entered his career, though not without some fumbling. In 1813
we find him at Munich, where he gave an unsuccessful performance of
_Jephtha's Daughter_, an opera in three acts, which had much the flavor
and style of an oratorio. Disheartened by the result, he left very soon
for Vienna, resolved to make known there his exceptional talent as
pianist. In this capacity he achieved triumph after triumph in the capital
of Austria; his execution was solid and brilliant, and at the same time
full of poetry and charm. He played at these concerts a great number of
his own compositions, which have never been published. At the same time
he came twice before the Vienna public as dramatic composer, first with
a mono-drama for soprano, clarinet obligato and chorus (the clarinetist
figured as a personage of the drama) entitled _The Loves of Tevelind_,
then with a comic opera in two acts, entitled _Abimelek, or The two
Caliphs_, performed at the court theatre. This latter, written in the
somewhat heavy style of _Jephtha's Daughter_, found no favor with a public
which, at that period, was under the complete influence of Italian music.
Meyerbeer was very much affected by this failure, and took his troubles to
Salieri, who was then imperial capellmeister at Vienna. Salieri, who had
taken a great fancy to him, and who had confidence in his future, consoled
him as best he could, lavished encouragement upon him, and counselled him
to make a trip into Italy. "There," said he, "you will learn to ripen your
talent, to train your hand, and particularly to make a better disposition
of the voices in your compositions and to write for them in a more
rational and less fatiguing manner."

At that time Rossini was the king of musical Italy, and the enthusiasm
produced by his works was beginning to take from the renown of such
richly inspired artists as Cimarosa, Guglielmo, Sarti, Paisiello, his
immediate predecessors. Everybody knows the influence which was exerted
all over musical Europe for half a century, by the exuberant and sensual,
though charming and seductive, genius of the author of the _Barber_ and
_Cenerentola_. All the artists, not only of Italy, but of France as
well and some even of Germany, came under this influence to a greater
or less extent. Meyerbeer escaped it no more than the rest; one might
even say that he had no desire to escape it. He went straight from
Vienna to Venice, where he arrived just at the height of _Tancredi's_
immense success in that city; this opera, by the way, was one of the most
personal, most vivacious and most savory works from Rossini's pen. He
could not resist the charm of this chivalresque and enchanting music, and
he was so captivated by the _èclat_ of the Rossinian forms that he began
to assimilate them as rapidly as possible.


From the Carnavalet Museum, Paris.]

It is probable, however, that he reflected longer than people have
hitherto given him credit for, on the transformation which he allowed to
operate in his talent, for it was not until he had spent several years
in Italy, that is to say in 1818, that he appeared to the public of that
country for the first time. With his calm and meditative mind, with his
studious and persevering nature, we may suppose that he employed his
time in working silently, in solitude, to modify his style, to acquire
the assurance which he lacked, to give elegance and facility to the
forms of his melody, without compromising thereby the sentiment of a
rich and abundant harmony, the beauties of an original and vigorous
instrumentation. It was not, then, until after this complete remodelling
of his early education, this training of his faculties, that he decided
to brave the stage anew, and to solicit the approbation of a public to
whom he was quite unknown. If this Italian career of Meyerbeer, of which
I am about to give a brief review, offers only a secondary interest from
the standpoint of the value of his works, it offers a very great one as
a transitional stage, covering as it does the period of the development
of his genius, and the evolution by which he was preparing himself for
the great masterpieces with which he was to endow the French lyric stage,
those masterpieces which were to seal his glory and render his fame


From collection of prints at the Paris Opera.]

It was at Padua, July 10, 1818, that he gave his first Italian opera,
_Romilda e Costanza_, the principal rôle of which was written for
Pisaroni, one of the most illustrious _cantatrices_ of that period.
From the very first performance the opera was a great success, and he
immediately wrote another work, _Semiramide riconosciuta_, on an ancient
poem of Métastasio, which he brought out at the Royal Theatre at Turin in
1819. The following year he gave to the San Benedetto Theatre of Venice,
his third opera, _Emma di Resburgo_, which met with enthusiastic success
at a moment when, on this very stage, Rossini had just triumphed with
his _Edouardo e Christina_. This work fully established his reputation
in Italy, all the great cities esteemed it an honor to present him to
their public, and everywhere he obtained the most complete success. This
was not all. The Germans themselves, who made a point of disparaging
Italian music, made two translations of this opera; one of them, _Emma
von Leicester_, was played at Vienna, Dresden, Munich and Frankfort; the
other, _Emma von Roxburg_, was performed at Berlin and Stuttgart. It may
be well to recall here that the subject of this work was borrowed from the
French opera _Héléna_, by Méhul.

This colossal success opened to Meyerbeer the doors of the largest
theatres of Italy. The first of them all, the Scala of Milan, immediately
ordered a great work of him. It was _Margherita d'Angiù_, which was
performed at this theatre Nov. 14, 1820, where it was sung by Tacchinardi,
Levasseur and Rosa Mariani. Here, again, the success was complete, and
_Margherita d'Angiù_, almost immediately translated and performed in
Germany, was afterwards translated into French for representation at the
Odéon. On March 12, 1822, Meyerbeer gave to the Scala theatre the opera
_l'Esule di Granata_, the first rôles of which were confided to the tenor
Winter, to Lablache, to Mmes. Pisaroni, Adelaide Tosi and Carolina Bassi.
But the last triumphs of the composer had excited envy; jealousy awoke on
every side, and a cabal was organized for the purpose of crushing this new
work. The first act indeed fell flat, thanks to this cabal, and the second
seemed doomed to the same fate, when a beautiful _duo_, admirably sung by
Lablache and Pisaroni came just in time to save all, and change into a
triumph the fall which had appeared inevitable.

After this new success, Meyerbeer's health failed him. He had gone to
Rome, where he was to bring out an opera in two acts entitled _Almanzor_.
He had begun to write the score, when the state of his health obliged him
to stop work and seek absolute rest. As soon as he was able he went to
Germany, where he passed the whole of the year 1823, now at Berlin, now at
some watering place. In the course of this year he wrote a German opera,
_The Brandeburg Gate_, which was intended for the Königstadt theatre,
but which, it is not known why, was never performed. He then returned to
Italy, where awaited him the last and greatest triumphs in that country.

It is here that this second phase of Meyerbeer's remarkably active and
productive career will come to a close. We may be sure that he had already
felt a desire to work for the French stage, whither the very nature of
his powerful and profoundly dramatic genius seemed to call him. We are
now to see him direct his efforts towards this end, preparing himself
for the change by his last Italian work, written in a more elevated,
loftier strain than the preceding ones, and which seemed to indicate on
his part a fixed determination to create another distinct manner. In
order to attain this third and last manner, ingrafted, as it were, on the
two preceding ones, it was necessary for him to adopt a method analogous
to the one which he had used on arriving in Italy. Just as he had to
abandon, on touching foot to Italian soil, everything in his style which
might appear too scholastic, heavy and formal, so, in going to France,
he was obliged to lay aside the affected elegance, frivolous grace and
superficial language of the Italian forms. He endeavored to retain and
combine the best elements in the various schools, - to unite the melodic
sentiment of Italy to the harmonic richness of Germany, and to join to
these the picturesque coloring, the passionate ardor, and above all the
sense of dramatic truth which are the characteristic qualities of the
French musical school. It was then, after he had transformed his style by
this fusion of three different but not antagonistic elements, the union of
which must form a harmonious and well balanced whole, after he had become
master both of his thought and of the idea which should clothe it, it was
then that he found himself in full possession of himself and of his genius
and that he became the great man whose name was universally known and
whose works everywhere challenged admiration.

The great work of transition with which Meyerbeer was to crown his
brilliant career in Italy and prepare his future triumphs on the French
stage, was called _il Crociato Egitto_. This opera, conceived in a broad
and severe style, plainly showed the new preoccupations of his mind and
gave a glimpse of his approaching evolution. The distinct individuality
of the composer showed itself in this remarkable score, in which it was
easy to see his inclination for energetic and vigorous expression of
the grand dramatic situations. _Il Crociato_, brought out at the Fenice
theatre, Venice, Dec. 26, 1824, had for its principal interpreters Mme.
Mérie-Lalande, Lablache and Velluti. Its success was immense, and it soon
made the tour of all Italy. This success was so great as to move Paris,
and the duke of Rochefoucauld, then superintendent of the royal theatres,
immediately arranged to have _il Crociato_ played at the _Thèâtre
Italien_. He wrote to the composer, inviting him to come and supervise the
staging of his opera and direct the rehearsals. The rôles were given to
Danzelli, Levasseur, Mmes. Pasta, Monbelli, Schiasetti and Giovanola. This
was the first of Meyerbeer's works performed at Paris, and its success was
as great as in Italy.


From woodcut in "L'Univers Illustré," Paris.]

Henceforth Meyerbeer was to belong entirely to France. After having seen
his _Crociato_ played at the _Italien_, he had the satisfaction of seeing
his _Margherita d'Angiù_ translated into French and performed successfully
at the _Odéon_. It was to this last fact that he owed the speedy
gratification of his desire to work for the musical stages of France,
although, owing to an unexpected series of events, he was obliged to await
for several years the representation of his first work, and this work,
written with the _Opéra Comique_ in view, had to be completely transformed
and adapted for the _Opéra_. This is the way it happened.

The subject of the Italian opera of _Margherita d'Angiù_ had been taken
from a French drama, _Marguérite d'Anjou_, played in 1810 at the _Gaité_
theatre, and the author of which was Guilbert de Pièxèrcourt. The two very
naturally made each other's acquaintance, Pièxèrcourt's authorization
being necessary for the representation on a French stage of a foreign
opera whose subject belonged to him. An intimacy sprung up between them,
and Meyerbeer profited by it to ask Pièxèrcourt for a poem to set to
music for the _Opéra Comique_. The latter willingly consented, confided
to him _Robert le Diable_, by Scribe, and the composer immediately set to
work. The rôles of _Robert le Diable_ were to be distributed as follows:
Ponchard (Robert), Huet (Bertram), Mme. Boulanger (Alice) and Mme. Rigaud
(Isabella). Obliged in the meantime to make a trip to Berlin, Meyerbeer
took the poem with him, in order to continue the work during his absence.
But while he was in Germany a little revolution took place at the _Opéra
Comique_ which resulted in Guilbert de Pièxèrcourt being dispossessed
of his office of director. What happened then? All the particulars are
not known, but _Robert_ was withdrawn from the _Opéra Comique_, Scribe
enlarged and transformed his poem, Meyerbeer rewrote his score, and the
work was carried to the _Opéra_. It is easy to understand that all this
occasioned a long delay. But this was not all. The revolution of 1830
occurred, which brought everything to a standstill, and which, after the
change of dynasty at the head of the country, brought about a change in
the management of the _Opéra_, where Lubbert was replaced by the famous
Dr. Véron. The latter hesitated a good deal about mounting so important a
work by a composer as yet little known in France, although he had achieved
great success elsewhere. He finally decided in its favor, however, the
rôles were distributed to Nourrir, Levasseur, Mmes. Dorus-Gras and
Cinti-Damoreau, and _Robert le Diable_ was finally performed Nov. 22, 1831.

However, Meyerbeer was still to grow, and _les Huguenots_, performed at
the _Opéra_, Feb. 21, 1836, was to be the crowning point of his glory. It
should be said that he was admirably served by his collaborator Scribe.
The latter, after having given him the fantastic poem of _Robert_, wrote
for him the the passionate, pathetic and dramatic poem of the _Huguenots_,
which revived at the same time a splendid page of history, in which he
introduced, in the happiest manner, a picturesque element which permitted
the artist to vary his palette and give to each episode a color of its
own. The most diverse and powerful situations abound in this superb poem,
and it is just to declare that Meyerbeer has interpreted them with an
incomparable genius.

After the _Huguenots_ three years passed during which France received
no new work from Meyerbeer. Meanwhile people had much to say about the
_Prophète_; but Meyerbeer, exceptionally anxious about the good execution
of his works, not finding in the _personnel_ of the _Opéra_ at that time
the artists of whom he had dreamed for this work, waited patiently.
Moreover, the office of capellmeister of the king of Prussia, to which he
had been appointed, called him often to Berlin during this period. It was
in this capacity that he composed a grand Italian cantata, _la Festa nella
corte di Ferrara_, which was performed at court in 1843, and a German
opera in three acts, _A Camp in Silesia_, composed for the inauguration of
the new royal theatre of Berlin (Dec. 7, 1844) and which was rather coldly
received. It was at this time also that he published, with French words, a
great number of admirable songs, of which a collection in four volumes has
recently been formed in Paris. It was during this period that he composed
the beautiful music for his brother's drama, _Struensée_, and his first
March (Fackeltanz), performed for the marriage of the princess Wilhelmina
of Prussia with the king of Bavaria.

Finally, on April 16, 1849, the _Prophète_, so long expected, made its
appearance at the Paris _Opéra_, interpreted by Roger (Jean de Leyde),
Levasseur (Jacharie), Mme. Viardot (Fidès) and Mme. Castellan (Bertha).

_Le Pardon de Plöermel_ was the last of Meyerbeer's works brought out
before his death, which occurred at Paris, May 2, 1864. For nearly twenty
years _l'Africaine_ had been under consideration, but the master waited
for this work as he had done for _le Prophète_, until the _personnel_ of
the _Opéra_ could offer him such artists as he deemed necessary for its
proper execution. Meanwhile, he had drawn up instructions relative to this
_Africaine_, which he wished to have carried out after his death. Among
other things he requested that the rôle of Sélika be confided to Mme.
Marie Lasse, and that of Vasco to M. Naudin, whose voice he had admired at
the _Théâtre Italien_. The direction of the _Opéra_ took pains to conform
to this posthumous desire and _l'Africaine_ appeared at this theatre,
under the conditions specified by the composer, April 28, 1865. While
fully taking into account the great value of certain episodes of this
work, it will surely be no violation to Meyerbeer's memory to say that
_l'Africaine_ has added nothing to his glory. Even without _l'Africaine_
he would still have remained one of the most magnificent geniuses that has
illumined the art of the nineteenth century.


From large lithograph Memorial published at the time of Meyerbeer's death.]

* * * * *

The transformation of the _genre_ of the French grand opera had begun
with Auber's _La Muette de Portici_, performed in 1828. _La Muette_ was
the first work conceived in the new forms and in the vast proportions of
the school which was to succeed the school of Gluck and his followers.
The scenic development, the pursuit of new and piquant harmonies, the
importance given to the orchestra; all this, joined to a more varied
and less uniform melodic expression, had produced a deep impression on
the public, and dethroned with a single blow the ancient opera which
had reigned for more than half a century. Rossini had come later with
his _William Tell_, in which the splendor of the style, the richness
of inspiration and the fullness of dramatic expression, all carried to
their highest degree, had marked an advance over the remarkable work of
the French composer, without, however, surpassing the latter's elegance
and originality. With _Robert le Diable_, Meyerbeer, in his turn, struck
a note entirely personal, and in this work the passionate vigor of
accent, the power of orchestral combinations, the particular character
and relief given to each of the personages, indicated a musician of a

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 30 of 32)