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Dragon Ash Viva La Revolution Full !NEW! Album Zip

If Music be, among the arts, 'Heaven's youngest-teemed star', the latest of the art-forms she herself has brought forth is unquestionably Opera. Three hundred years does not at first seem a very short time, but it is not long when it covers the whole period of the inception, development, and what certainly looks like the decadence, of an important branch of man's artistic industry. The art of painting has taken at least twice as long to develop; yet the three centuries from Monteverde to Debussy cover as great a distance as that which separates Cimabue from Degas. In operatic history, revolutions, which in other arts have not been accomplished in several generations, have got themselves completed, and indeed almost forgotten, in the course of a few years. Twenty-five years ago, for example, Wagner's maturer works were regarded, by the more charitable of those who did not admire them, as intelligible only to the few enthusiasts who had devoted years of study to the unravelling of their mysteries; the world in general looked askance at the 'Wagnerians', as they were called, and professed to consider the shyly-confessed admiration of the amateurs as a mere affectation. In that time we have seen the tables turned, and now there is no more certain way for a manager to secure a full house than by announcing one of these very works. An even shorter period covers the latest Italian renaissance of music, the feverish excitement into which the public was thrown by one of its most blatant productions, and the collapse of a set of composers who were at one time hailed as regenerators of their country's art.

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In spite of their transcendent beauties, the form of Handel's operas has long banished them from the stage. Handel, with all his genius, was not one of the great revolutionists of the history of music. He was content to bring existing forms to the highest possible point of perfection, without seeking to embark upon new oceans of discovery. Opera in his day consisted of a string of airs connected by recitative, with an occasional duet, and a chorus to bring down the curtain at the end of the work. The airs were, as a rule, fully accompanied. Strings, hautboys, and bassoons formed the groundwork of the orchestra. If distinctive colouring or sonority were required, the composer used flutes, horns, harps, and trumpets, while to gain an effect of a special nature, he would call in the assistance of lutes and mandolins, or archaic instruments such as the viola da gamba, violetta marina, cornetto and theorbo. The recitativo secco was accompanied by the harpsichord, at which the composer himself presided. The recitativo stromentato, or accompanied recitative, was only used to emphasise situations of special importance. Handel's incomparable genius infused so much dramatic power into this meagre form, that even now the truth and sincerity of his songs charm us no less than their extraordinary melodic beauty. But it is easy to see that in the hands of composers less richly endowed, this form was fated to degenerate into a mere concert upon the stage. The science of vocalisation was cultivated to such a pitch of perfection that composers were tempted, and even compelled, to consult the tastes of singers rather than dramatic truth. Handel's successors, such as Porpora and Hasse, without a tithe of his genius, used such talent as they possessed merely to exhibit the vocal dexterity of popular singers in the most agreeable light. The favourite form of entertainment in these degraded times was the pasticcio, a hybrid production composed of a selection of songs from various popular operas, often by three or four different composers, strung together regardless of rhyme or reason. Even in Handel's lifetime the older school of opera was tottering to its fall. Only the man was needed who should sweep the mass of insincerity from the stage and replace it by the purer ideal which had been the guiding spirit of Peri and Monteverde.

The musical education of Grétry (1741-1831) was perhaps more elaborate than that of Monsigny, but it fell very far short of profundity. His music excels in grace and humour, and he rarely treated serious subjects with success. Such works as 'Le Tableau Parlant,' 'Les Deux Avares,' and 'L'Amant Jaloux' are models of lightness and brilliancy, whatever may be thought of their musicianship. 'Richard Coeur de Lion' is the one instance of Grétry having successfully attempted a loftier theme, and it remains his masterpiece. The scene is laid at the castle of Dürrenstein in Austria, where Richard lies imprisoned, and deals with the efforts of his faithful minstrel Blondel to rescue him. In this work Grétry adapted his style to his subject with wonderful versatility. Much of the music is noble and dignified in style, and Blondel's air in particular, 'O Richard, O mon roi,' has a masculine vigour which is rarely found in the composer's work. But as a rule Grétry is happiest in his delicate little pastorals and fantastic comedies, and, for all their slightness, his works bear the test of revival better than those of many of his more learned contemporaries. Philidor (1726-1797) was almost more famous as a chess-player than as a composer. He had the advantage of a sound musical education under Campra, one of the predecessors of Rameau, and his music has far more solid qualities than that of Grétry or Monsigny. His treatment of the orchestra, too, was more scientific than that of his contemporaries, but he had little gift of melody, and he was deficient in dramatic instinct. He often visited England, and ended by dying in London. One of the best of his works, 'Tom Jones,' was written upon an English subject. Philidor was popular in his day, but his works have rarely been heard by the present generation.

Much of 'Die Entführung' is so thoroughly and characteristically German, that at first sight it may be thought surprising that it should have succeeded so well in a city like Vienna, which was inclined to look upon the Singspiel as a barbarian product of Northern Germany. But there is a reason for this, and it is one which goes to the root of the whole question of comic opera. Mozart saw that Italian comic operas often succeeded in spite of miserable libretti, because the entire interest was concentrated upon the music, and all the rest was forgotten. The German Singspiel writers made the mistake of letting their music be, for the most part, purely incidental, and conducting all the dramatic part of their plots by dialogue. Mozart borrowed the underlying idea of the opera buffa, applied it to the form of the Singspiel, which he kept intact, and produced a work which succeeded in revolutionising the history of German opera. But, apart from the question of form, the music of 'Die Entführung' is in itself fine enough to be the foundation even of so imposing a structure as modern German music. The orchestral forces at Mozart's disposal were on a smaller scale than at Munich; but though less elaborate than that of 'Idomeneo,' the score of 'Die Entführung' is full of the tenderest and purest imagination. But the real importance of the work lies in the vivid power of characterisation, which Mozart here reveals for the first time in full maturity. It is by the extraordinary development of this quality that he transcends all other writers for the stage before or since. It is no exaggeration to say that Mozart's music reveals the inmost soul of the characters of his opera as plainly as if they were discussed upon a printed page. In his later works the opportunities given him of proving this magical power were more frequent and better. The libretto of 'Die Entführung' is a poor affair at best, but, considering the materials with which he had to work, Mozart never accomplished truer or more delicate work than in the music of Belmont and Constanze, of Pedrillo, and greatest of all, of Osmin.

While Weber was reconstructing opera in Germany and laying the foundations upon which the vast structure of modern lyrical drama was afterwards reared by the composers of our own day, reforms, or at any rate innovations, were being introduced into Italian opera by a musician scarcely less gifted even than the founder of the romantic school himself. Rossini (1792-1868) owed but little of his fame to instruction or study. As soon as he had been assured by his master that he knew enough of the grammar of music to write an opera, he relinquished his studies once for all, and started life as a composer. In this perhaps he showed his wisdom, for his natural gifts were of such a nature as could scarcely have been enhanced by erudition, and the mission which he so amply fulfilled in freeing his national art from eighteenth-century convention was certainly not one which depended upon a profound knowledge of counterpoint. Nature had fortunately endowed him with precisely the equipment necessary for the man who was to reform Italian opera. The school of Paisiello, notwithstanding its many merits, had several grievous weaknesses, of which the most prominent were uniformity of melodic type, nerveless and conventional orchestration, and intolerable prolixity. Rossini brought to his task a vein of melody as inexhaustible in inspiration as it was novel in form, a natural instinct for instrumental colour, and a firm conviction that brevity was the soul of wit. He leapt into fame with 'Tancredi,' which was produced in 1813 and established his reputation as a composer of opera seria. In opera buffa, a field in which his talents shone even more brilliantly, his earliest success was made with 'L'Italiana in Algeri' (1813), which was followed in 1815 by the world-famous 'Barbiere di Siviglia.' This was originally produced in Rome under the name of 'Almaviva,' and strangely enough, proved an emphatic failure. For this, however, the music was scarcely responsible. The people of Rome were at that time devotees of the music of Paisiello, and resented the impertinence of the upstart Rossini in venturing to borrow a subject which had already been treated by the older master. 'Il Barbiere' soon recovered from the shock of its unfriendly reception, and is now one of the very few of Rossini's works which have survived to the present day. The story is bright and amusing and the music brilliant and exhilarating, but it is to be feared that the real explanation of the continued success of the little opera lies in the opportunity which it offers to the prima donna of introducing her favourite cheval de bataille in the lesson scene. The scene of the opera is laid at Seville. Count Almaviva has fallen in love with Rosina, a fascinating damsel, whose guardian, Bartolo, keeps her under lock and key, in the hope of persuading her to marry himself. Figaro, a ubiquitous barber, who is in everybody's confidence, takes the Count under his protection, and contrives to smuggle him into the house in the disguise of a drunken soldier. Unfortunately this scheme is frustrated by the arrival of the guard, who arrest the refractory hero and carry him off to gaol. In the second act the Count succeeds in getting into the house as a music-master, but in order to gain the suspicious Bartolo's confidence he has to show him one of Rosina's letters to himself, pretending that it was given him by a mistress of Almaviva. Bartolo is delighted with the news of the Count's infidelity and hastens to tell the scandal to Rosina, whose jealousy and disappointment nearly bring Almaviva's deep-laid schemes to destruction. Happily he finds an opportunity of persuading her of his constancy while her guardian's back is turned, and induces her to elope before Bartolo has discovered the fraud practised upon him. The music is a delightful example of Rossini in his gayest and merriest mood. It sparkles with wit and fancy, and is happily free from those concessions to the vanity or idiosyncrasy of individual singers which do so much to render his music tedious to modern ears. Of Rossini's lighter works, 'Il Barbiere' is certainly the most popular, though, musically speaking, it is perhaps not superior to 'La Gazza Ladra,' which, however, is saddled with an idiotic libretto. None of his tragic operas except 'Guillaume Tell,' which belongs to a later period, have retained their hold upon the affections of the public. Nevertheless there is so much excellent music in the best of them, that it would not be strange if the course of time should bring them once more into favour, provided always that singers were forthcoming capable of singing the elaborate fioriture with which they abound. Perhaps the finest of the serious operas of Rossini's Italian period is 'Semiramide' a work which is especially interesting as a proof of the strong influence which Mozart exercised upon him. The plot is a Babylonian version of the story of Agamemnon, telling of the vengeance taken by Arsaces, the son of Ninus and Semiramis, upon his guilty mother, who, with the help of her paramour Assur, had slain her husband. Much of the music is exceedingly powerful, notably that which accompanies the apparition of the ghost of Ninus (although this is evidently inspired by 'Don Giovanni'), and the passionate scene in which the conscience-stricken Assur pours forth his soul in tempest. More thoroughly Italian in type is 'Mosé in Egitto,' a curious though effective version of the Biblical story, which is still occasionally performed as an oratorio in this country, a proceeding which naturally gives little idea of its real merits. In 1833 it was actually given under the proper conditions, as a sacred opera, strengthened by a generous infusion of Handel's 'Israel in Egypt,' under the direction of Mr. Rophino Lacy. It would be an idle task to give even the names of Rossini's many operas. Suffice it to say that between 1810 and 1828 he produced upwards of forty distinct works. In 1829 came his last and greatest work, 'Guillaume Tell,' which was written for the Grand Opéra in Paris. The libretto was the work of many hands, and Rossini's own share in it was not a small one. It follows Schiller with tolerable closeness. In the first act Tell saves the life of Leuthold, who is being pursued by Gessler's soldiers; and Melchthal, the patriarch of the village, is put to death on a charge of insubordination. His son Arnold loves Matilda, the sister of Gessler, and hesitates between love and duty. Finally, however, he joins Tell, who assembles the men of the three forest cantons, and binds them with an oath to exterminate their oppressors or perish in the attempt. In the third act comes the famous archery scene. Tell refuses to bow to Gessler's hat, and is condemned to shoot the apple from his son's head. This he successfully accomplishes, but the presence of a second arrow in his quiver arouses Gessler's suspicions. Tell confesses that had he killed his son, the second arrow would have despatched the tyrant, and is at once thrown into prison. In the last act we find Arnold raising a band of followers and himself accomplishing the rescue of Tell; Gessler is slain, and Matilda is united to her lover.


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