The child was already showing signs of musical talent; and diligent practise was now begun. Several chums at the beer-gardens were interviewed and great plans unfolded in beery enthusiasm. The services of several of these men were secured as tutors, and one of them, Pfeiffer, took lodgings with the Biethofens, and paid for bed and board in music-lessons.
A new thought is purifying, ideas are hygienic; and already things had begun to look brighter for the household. It wasn't exactly prosperity, but Johann had found a place in the band, and was earning as much as three dollars a week, which amount for two weeks running he brought home and placed in his wife's lap.
But things were grievous for young Beethoven: he had two taskmasters, his father and Pfeiffer. One gave him lessons on the violin in the morning, and the other took him to a tavern where there was a clavichord and made him play all the afternoon.
Then occasionally Johann and Pfeiffer would come home at two o'clock in the morning from a concert where they had been playing and where the wine was red and also free, and they would drag the poor child from his bed to make him play. This was followed up until the boy's mother rebelled, and on one occasion Pfeiffer and Johann were sent to the military hospital and dry-docked for repairs.
On the whole, this man Pfeiffer was kindly and usually capable. In after-years Beethoven testified to the valuable assistance he had received from him; and when Pfeiffer had grown old and helpless, Beethoven sent funds to him by the publishers, Simrock.
Young Ludwig was a stocky, sturdy youth, decidedly Dutch in his characteristics, with no nerves to speak of, else he would have laid him down and died of heart-chill and neglect, as did four of his little brothers and sisters. But he stood the ordeals, and at parlor, tavern and beer-garden entertainments where he played, although his cheeks were often stained with tears, he took a sort of secret pride in being able to do things which even his father could not. And then he was always introduced as "Ludvig Biethofen, the grandchild of Ludvig van Biethofen," and this was no mean introduction. His appearance, even then, bore strong resemblance to the lost and lamented grandfather; and Van den Eeden, the Court Organist, in loving remembrance of his Antwerp friend, took the lad into his keeping and gave him lessons. When Van den Eeden retired, Neefe, his successor, took a kindly interest in the boy and even protected him from his father and the zealous Pfeiffer. So well was the boy thought of that when he was twelve years of age Neefe established him as his deputy at the chapel organ.
Shortly after this, the new Elector, Max Friedrich, bestowed on "Louis van Beethoven, my well-beloved player upon the organ and clavichord, a stipend of one hundred fifty florins a year, and if his talent doth increase with his years the amount is to be also increased."
In token of the Elector's recognition Beethoven wrote three sonatas, the earliest of his compositions, and dedicated them to Max Friedrich in Seventeen Hundred Eighty-two.
In Seventeen Hundred Eighty-four, Elector Max Friedrich died, and Max Franz was appointed to take his place. His inauguration was the signal for a renewal of musical and artistic activity. Concerts, shows and military pageants followed the installation. In a list of court appointments we find that Louis van Beethoven is put down as "second organist" with a salary of forty-five pounds a year. Below this is Johann Beethoven with a salary of thirty pounds a year. And in one of the court journals mention is made of Johann Beethoven with the added line, "father of Ludwig Beethoven," showing even then the man's source of distinction.
In Seventeen Hundred Eighty-seven, when in his eighteenth year, Beethoven made a visit to Vienna in company with several musicians from the Elector's court at Bonn. This visit was a memorable event in the life of the Master, every detail of which was deeply etched upon his memory, to be effaced only by death.
It was on this visit to Vienna that he met Mozart, and played for him. Mozart gave due attention, and when the player had ceased he turned to the company and said, "Keep your eye on this youth—he will yet make a noise in the world!"
The remark, if closely analyzed, reveals itself as noncommittal; and although it has been bruited as praise the round world over, it was probably an electrotyped expression, used daily; for great musicians are called upon at every turn to listen to prodigies. I once attended "rhetoricals" where the Honorable Chauncey M. Depew was present. Being called upon to "make a few remarks," the Senator from New York arose and referred to one of the speeches given by a certain sophomore as "unlike anything I ever heard before!" Genius very seldom recognizes genius.
Beethoven had a self-sufficiency, even at that early time, that stood him in good stead. He felt his power, and knew his worth. That steadfast, obstinate quality in his make-up was not in vain. He let others quote Mozart's remark; but he had matched himself against the Master, and was not abashed.
* * * * *
Kinship is a question of spirit and not a matter of blood. How often do we find persons who, in feeling, are absolutely strangers to their own brothers and sisters! Occasionally even parents fail to understand their children. The child may hunger for sympathy and love that the mother knows nothing of, and cry itself to sleep for a tenderness withheld. Later this same child may evolve aspirations and ambitions that seem to the other members of the family mere whims and vagaries to be laughed down, or stoutly endured, as the mood prompts.
Knowing these things, do we wonder at the question of long ago, "Who is my mother, and who are my brethren"? Beethoven was a beautiful brown thrush in a nest of cuckoos. He could sing and sing divinely, and the members of his household were glad because it brought an income in which they all shared.
About the year Seventeen Hundred Ninety-five, Beethoven went to Vienna, and as he had been heralded by several persons of influence, his reception was gracious. Charity has its periods of evolving into a fad, and at this time the fashion was musical entertainments in aid of this or that. Slight suspicions exist that these numerous entertainments were devised by fledgling musicians for their own aggrandizement, and possibly patrons fanned the philanthropic flame to help on their proteges. Beethoven was of too simple and guileless a nature to aid his fortunes with the help of any social jimmy, but we see he was soon in the full tide of local popularity. His ability as a composer, his virile presence, and his skill as a player, made his company desired. From playing first for charity, then at the houses of nobility, and next as a professional musician, he gradually mounted to the place to which his genius entitled him.
Then we find his brothers, Carl and Johann, appearing on the scene, with a fussy yet earnest intent to take care of the business affairs of their eccentric and absent-minded brother. Ludwig let himself fall into their way of thinking—it was easier than to oppose them—and they began to drive bargains with publishers and managers. Their intent was to sell for cash and in the highest market; and their strenuous effort after the Main Chance put their gifted brother in a bad plight before the world of art. Beethoven's brothers seized his very early and immature compositions and sold them without his consent or knowledge. So humiliated was Beethoven by seeing these productions of his childhood hawked about that he even instituted lawsuits to get them back that he might destroy them. To boom a genius and cash his spiritual assets is a grave and delicate task—perhaps it is one of those things that should be left undone. Much anguish did these rapacious brothers cause the divinely gifted brown thrush, and when they began to quarrel over the receipts between themselves, he begged them to go away and leave him in peace. He finally had to adopt the ruse of going back to Bonn with them, where he got them established in the apothecary business, before he dared manage his own affairs. But they were bad angels, and the wind of their wings withered the great man as they hovered around him down to the day of his death.
* * * * *
Then silence settled down upon Beethoven, and every piano was for him mute, and he, the maker of sweet sounds, could not hear his own voice, or catch the words that fell from the lips of those he loved, Fate seemed to have done her worst.
And so he wrote: "Forgive me then if you see me turn away when I would gladly mix with you. For me there is no recreation in human intercourse, no conversation, no sweet interchange of thought. In solitary exile I am compelled to live. When I approach strangers a feverish fear takes possession of me, for I know that I will be misunderstood. * * * But O God, Thou lookest down upon my inward soul! Thou knowest, and Thou seest that love for my fellowmen, and all kindly feeling have their abode here. Patience! I may get better—I may not—but I will endure all until Death shall claim me, and then joyously will I go!"
The man who could so express himself at twenty-eight years of age must have been a right brave and manly man. But art was his solace, as it should be to every soul that aspires to become.
Great genius and great love can never be separated—in fact I am not sure but that they are one and the same thing. But the object of his love separated herself from Beethoven when calamity lowered. What woman, young, bright, vigorous and fresh, with her face to the sunrising, would care to link her fair fate with that of a man sore-stricken by the hand of God!
And then there is always a doubt about the genius—isn't he only a fool after all!
Art was Beethoven's solace. Art is harmony, beauty and excellence. The province of art is to impart a sublime emotion. Beethoven's heart was filled with divine love—and all love is divine—and through his art he sought to express his love to others.
But his physical calamity made him the butt and byword of the heedless wherever he went. Within the sealed-up casements of his soul Beethoven heard the Heavenly Choir; and as he walked, bareheaded, upon the street, oblivious to all, centered in his own silent world, he would sometimes suddenly burst into song. At other times he would beat time, talk to himself and laugh aloud. His strange actions would often attract a crowd, and rude persons, ignorant of the man they mocked, would imitate him or make mirth for the bystanders, as they sought to engage him in conversation. At such times the Master might be dragged back to earth, and seeing the coarse faces and knowing the hopelessness of trying to make himself understood, he would retreat in terror.
Six months or more of each year were spent in the country in some obscure village about Vienna. There he could walk the woods and traverse the fields alone and unnoticed, and there, out under the open sky, much of his best work was done. The famous "Moonlight Sonata" was shaped on one of these lonely walks by night across the fields when the Master could shake his shaggy head, lift up his face to the sky, and cry aloud, all undisturbed. In the recesses of his imagination he saw the sounds. There are men to whom sounds are invisible symbols of forms and colors.
The law of compensation never rests. Everything conspired to drive Beethoven in upon his art—it was his refuge and retreat. When love spurned him, and misunderstandings with kinsmen came, and lawsuits and poverty added their weight of woe, he fell back upon music, and out under the stars he listened to the sonatas of God. Next day he wrote them out as best he could, always regretting that his translations were not quite perfect. He was ever stung with a noble discontent, and in times of exaltation there ran in his deaf ears the words, "Arise and get thee hence, for this is not thy rest!"
And so his work was in a constant ascending scale. Richard Wagner has acknowledged his indebtedness to Beethoven in several essays, and in many ways. In fact it is not too much to say that Beethoven was the spiritual parent of Wagner. From his admiration of Beethoven, Wagner developed the strong, sturdy, independent quality of his nature that led to his exile—and his success.
Behold the face of Ludwig Beethoven—is there not something Titanic about it? What selfness, what will, what resolve, what power! And those tear-stained eyes—have they not seen sights of which no tongue can tell, nor tongue make plain?
His life of solitude helped foster the independence of his nature, and kept his mind clear and free from all the idle gossip of the rabble. He went his way alone, and played court fool to no titled and alleged nobility. The democracy of the man is not our least excuse for honoring him. He was one with the plain people of earth, and the only aristocracy he acknowledged was the aristocracy of intellect.
In the work done after his fortieth year there is greater freedom, an ease and an increased strength, with a daring quality which uplifts and gives you courage. The tragic interest and intense emotionalism are gone, and you behold a resignation and the success that wins by yielding. The man is no longer at war with destiny. There is no struggle.
We pay for everything we receive—nay, all things can be obtained if we but pay the price. One of the very few Emancipated Men in America bought redemption from the bondage of selfish ambition at a terrible price. Years and years ago he was in the Rocky Mountains, rough, uneducated, heedless of all that makes for righteousness. This man was caught in a snowstorm, on the mountainside. He lost his way, became dazed with cold and fell exhausted in the snow. When found by his companions the next day, death had nearly claimed him. But skilful help brought him back to life, yet the frost had killed the circulation in his feet. Both legs were amputated just below the knees.
This changed the current of the man's life. Footraces, boxing-matches and hunting of big game were out of the question. The man turned to books and art and questions of science and sociology.
Thirty summers have come and gone. This gentle, sympathetic and loving man now walks with a cane, and few know of his disability and of his artificial feet. Speaking of his spiritual rebirth, this man of splendid intellect said to me, with a smile, "It cost me my feet, but it was worth the price."
I shed no maudlin tears over the misfortunes of Beethoven. He was what he was because of what he endured. He grew strong by bearing burdens. All things are equalized. By the Cross is the world redeemed. God be praised, it is all good!
When generations have been melted into tears, or raised to religious fervor—when courses of sermons have been preached, volumes of criticisms been written, and thousands of afflicted and poor people supported by the oratorio of "The Messiah"—it becomes exceedingly difficult to say anything new. Yet no notice of Handel, however sketchy, should be written without some special tribute of reverence to this sublime treatment of a sublime subject. Bach, Graun, Beethoven, Spohr, Rossini and Mendelssohn have all composed on the same theme. But no one in completeness, in range of effect, in elevation and variety of conception, has ever approached Handel's music upon this one subject.
—Rev. H. R. Haweis
"Did you meet Michelangelo while you were in Rome?" asked a good Roycroft girl of me the other day.
"No, my dear, no," I answered, and then I gulped hard to keep back some very foolish tears. "No, I did not meet Michelangelo," I said, "I expected to, and was always looking for him; but these eyes never looked into his, for he died just three hundred years before I was born." But how natural was this question from this bright, country girl! She had been examining a lot of photographs of the Sistine Chapel, and had seen pictures of "Il Penseroso," the "Night" and "Morning," the "Moses"; and then she had seen on my desk a bronze cast of the hand of the "David"—that imperial hand with the gently curved wrist.
These things lured her—the splendid strength and suggestion of power in it all, had caught her fancy, and the heroic spirit of the Master seemed very near to her. It all meant pulsating life and hope that was deathless; and the thought that the man who did the work had turned to dust three centuries ago, never occurred to this naive, budding soul.
"Did you see Michelangelo while you were in Rome?" No, dear girl, no. But I saw Saint Peter's that he planned, and I saw the result of his efforts—things worked out and materialized by his hands—hands that surely were just like this hand of the "David."
The artist gives us his best—gives it to us forever, for our very own. He grows aweary and lies down to sleep—to sleep and wake no more, deeding to us the mintage of his love. And as love does not grow old, neither does Art. Fashions change, but hope, aspiration and love are as old as Fate who sits and spins the web of life. The Artist is one who is educated in the three H's—head heart and hand. He is God's child—no less are we—and he has done for us the things we would have liked to do ourselves.
The classic is that which does not grow old—the classic is the eternally true.
"Did you meet Michelangelo in Rome?" Why, it is the most natural question in the world! At Stratford I expected to see Shakespeare; at Weimar I was sure to meet Goethe; Rubens just eluded me at Antwerp; at Amsterdam I caught a glimpse of Rembrandt; in the dim cloisters of Saint Mark's at Florence I saw Savonarola in cowl and robe; over Whitehall in London I beheld the hovering smoke of martyr-fires, and knew that just beyond the walls Ridley and Latimer were burned; and only a little way outside of Jerusalem a sign greets the disappointed traveler, thus: "He is risen—He is not here!"
* * * * *
In one of his delightful talks—talks that are as fine as his feats of leadership—Walter Damrosch has referred to Handel as a contemporary. Surely the expression is fitting, for in the realm of truth time is an illusion and the days are shadows.
George Frederick Handel was born in Sixteen Hundred Eighty-five, and died in Seventeen Hundred Fifty-nine. His dust rests in Westminster Abbey, and above the tomb towers his form cut in enduring marble. There he stands, serene and poised, accepting benignly the homage of the swift-passing generations. For over a hundred years this figure has stood there in its colossal calm, and through the cathedral shrines, the aisles, and winding ways of dome and tower, Handel's music still peals its solemn harmonies.
At Exeter Hall is another statue of Handel, seated, holding in his hand a lyre. At the Foundling Hospital (which he endowed) is a bust of the Master, done in Seventeen Hundred Fifty-eight; and at Windsor is the original of still another bust that has served for a copy of the very many casts in plaster and clay that are in all the shops.
There are at least fifty different pictures of Handel, and nearly this number were brought together, on the occasion of a recent Handel and Haydn Festival, at South Kensington.
When Gladstone once referred to Handel as our greatest English Composer, he refused to take it back even when a capricious critic carped and sneezed.
Handel essentially belongs to England, for there his first battles were fought, and there he won his final victory. To be sure, he did some preliminary skirmishing in Germany and Italy; but that was only getting his arms ready for that conflict which was to last for half a century—a conflict with friends, foes and fools.
But Handel was too big a man to be undermined by either the fulsome flattery of friends, or the malice of enemies, who were such only because they did not understand. And so always to the fore he marched, zigzagging occasionally, but the Voice said to him, as it did to Columbus, "Sail on, and on, and on." Like the soul of John Brown, the spirit of Handel goes marching on. And Sir Arthur Sullivan was right when he said, "Musical England owes more to Father Handel than to any other ten men who can be named—he led the way for us all, and cut out a score that we can only imitate."
* * * * *
At the Court of George of Brunswick, at Hanover, in Seventeen Hundred Nine, was George Frederick Handel, six feet one, weight one hundred eighty, rubicund, rosy, and full of romp, aged twenty-four. George of Brunswick was to have the felicity of being King George the First of England, and already he was straining his gaze across the Channel.
At his Court were divers and sundry English noblemen. Handel was a prime favorite with every one in the merry company. The ladies doted on him. A few gentlemen, possibly, were slightly jealous of his social prowess, and yet none pooh-poohed him openly, for only a short time before he had broken a sword in a street duel with a brother musician, and once had thrown a basso profundo, who sang off key, through a closed window—all this to the advantage of a passing glazier, who, being called in, was paid his fee three times over for repairing the sash. It's an ill wind, etc.
Handel played the harpsichord well, but the organ better. In fact, he played the organ in such a masterly way that he had no competitor, save a phenomenal yokel by the name of Johann Sebastian Bach. These men were born just a month apart. Saint Cecilia used to whisper to them when they were wee babies. For several years they lived near each other, but in this life they never met.
Handel was an aristocrat by nature, even if not exactly so by birth, and so had nothing to do with the modest and bucolic Bach—even going so far, they do say, as to leave, temporarily, the City of Halle, his native place, when a contest was suggested between them. Bach was the supreme culminating flower of two hundred fifty years of musical ancestors—servants to this Grand Duke or that. But in the tribe of Handel there was not a single musical trace. George Frederick succeeded to the art, and at it, in spite of his parents. But never mind that! He had been offered the post as successor to Buxtehude, and Buxtehude was the greatest organist of his time. He accepted the invitation to play for the Buxtehude contingent. A musical jury sat on the case, and decided to accept the young man, with the proviso that Handel (taught by Orpheus) should take to wife the daughter of Buxtehude—this in order that the traditions might be preserved.
Young Handel declined the proposition with thanks, declaring he was unworthy of the honor.
Young Handel had spent two years in Italy, had visited most of the capitals of Europe, had composed several operas and numerous songs. He was handsome, gracious and talented. Money may use its jimmy to break into the Upper Circles; but to Beauty, Grace and Talent that does not shiver nor shrink, all doors fly open. And now the English noblemen requested—nay, insisted—that Handel should accompany them back to Merry England.
He went, and being introduced as Signore Handello, he was received with salvos of welcome. There is a time to plant, and a time to reap. There is a time for everything—launch your boat only at full of tide. London was ripe for Italian Opera. Discovery had recently been made in England that Art was born in Italy. It had traveled as far as Holland, and so Dutch artists were hard at work in English manor-houses, painting portraits of ancestors, dead and living. Music, one branch of Art, had made its way up to Germany, and here was an Italian who spoke English with a German accent, or a German who spoke Italian—what boots it, he was a great musician!
Handel's Italian opera, "Rinaldo," was given at a theater that stood on the site of the present Haymarket. The production was an immense success. All educated people knew Latin (or were supposed to know it), and Signore Handello announced that his Italian was an improvement on the Latin. And so all the scholars flocked to see the play, and those who were not educated came too, and looked knowing. In order to hold interest, there were English syncopated songs between the acts—ragtime is a new word, but not a new thing.
Handel was very wise in this world's affairs. He assured England that it was the most artistic country on the globe. He wrote melodies that everybody could whistle. Airs from "Rinaldo" were thrummed on the harpsichord from Land's End to John O'Groat's. The grand march was adopted by the Life Guards, and at least one air from that far-off opera has come down to us—the "Tascie Ch'io Pianga," which is still listened to with emotion unfeigned. The opera being uncopyrighted, was published entire by an enterprising Englishman from Dublin by the name of Walsh. At two o'clock one morning at the "Turk's Head," he boasted he had cleared over two thousand pounds on the sale of it. Handel was present and responded, "My friend, the next time you will please write the opera and I will sell it." Walsh took the hint, they say, and sent his check on the morrow to the author for five hundred pounds. And the good sense of both parties is shown in the fact that they worked together for many years, and both reaped a yellow harvest of golden guineas.
On the birthday of Queen Anne, Handel inscribed to her an ode, which we are told was played with a full band. The performance brought the diplomatic Handel a pension of two hundred pounds a year.
Next, to celebrate the peace of Utrecht, the famous "Te Deum" and "Jubilate" were produced, with a golden garter as a slight token of recognition.
But Good Queen Anne passed away, as even good queens do, and the fuzzy-witted George of Hanover came over to be King of England, and transmit his fuzzy-wuzzy wit to all the Georges. About his first act was to cut off Handel's pension, "Because," he said, "Handel ran away from me at Hanover."
A time of obscurity followed for Handel, but after some months, when the Royal Barge went up the Thames, a band of one hundred pieces boomed alongside, playing a deafening racket, with horse-pistol accompaniments. The King made inquiries and found it was "Water-Music," composed by Herr Handel, and dedicated in loving homage to King George the First.
When the Royal Barge came back down the river, Herr Handel was aboard, and accompanied by a great popping of corks was proclaimed Court Musician, and his back-pension ordered paid.
The low ebb of art is seen in that, in the various operas given about this time by Handel, great stress is made in the bills about costumes, scenery and gorgeous stage-fittings. When accessories become more than the play—illustrations more than the text—millinery more than the mind—it is unfailing proof that the age is frivolous. Art, like commerce and everything else, obeys the law of periodicity. Handel saw the tendency of the times, and advertised, "The fountain to be seen in 'Amadigi' is a genuine one, the pump real and the dog alive." Three hours before the doors opened, the throng stood in line, waiting.
* * * * *
But London is making head. Other good men and true are coming to town. Handel does not know much about them, or care, perhaps. His wonderful energy is now manifesting itself in the work of managing theaters and concerts, giving lessons and composing songs, arias, operas, and attending receptions where "the ladies refrain from hoops for fear of the crush," to use the language of Samuel Pepys.
In shirt-sleeves, in a cheap seat in the pit, at one of Handel's performances, is a big lout of a fellow, with scars of scrofula on his neck and cheek. Next to him is a little man, and these two, so chummy and confidential, suggest the long and short of it. They are countrymen, recently arrived, empty of pocket, but full of hope. They have a selfish eye on the stage, for the big 'un has written a play and wants to get it produced.
The little man's name is David Garrick; the other is Samuel Johnson.
They listen to the singing, and finally Samuel turns to his friend and says, "I say, Davy, music is nothing but a noise that is less disagreeable than some others." They would go away, would these two, but they have paid good money to get in, and so sit it out disgustedly, watching the audience and the play alternately.
In one of the boxes is a weazened little man, all out of drawing, in a black velvet doublet, satin breeches and silk stockings. At his side is a rudimentary sword. The man's face is sallow, and shrewdness and selfishness are shown in every line. He looks like a baby suddenly grown old. The two friends in the pit have seen this man before, but they have never met him face to face, because they do not belong to his set.
"Do you think God is proud of a work like that?" at last asked Davy, jerking his thumb toward the bad modeling in courtly black.
"God never made him." The big man swayed in his seat, and added, "God had nothing to do with him—he is the child of Beelzebub."
"Think 'ee so?" asks Davy. "Why, Mephisto has some pretty good traits; but Alexander Pope is as crooked as an interrogation-point, inside and out."
"I hear he wears five pairs of stockings to fill out his shanks, and sole-leather stays to keep him from flattening out like a devilfish," said Doctor Johnson.
"But he makes a lot o' money!"
"Well, he has to, for he pays an old woman a hundred guineas a year to dress and undress him."
"I know, but she writes his heroic couplets, too!"
"Davy, I fear you are getting cynical—let's change the subject."
It surely is a case of artistic jealousy. Our friends locate the poet Gay, a fat little man, who is with his publisher, Rich.
"They say," says Samuel, again rolling in his seat as if about to have an apoplectic fit, "they say that Gay has become rich, and Rich has become gay since they got out that last book." There comes an interlude in the play, and our friends get up to stretch their legs.
"How now, Dick Savage?" calls Samuel, as he pushes three men over like ninepins, to seize a shabby fellow whose neckcloth and hair-cut betray him as being a poet. "How now, Dick, you said that Italian music was damnably bad! Why do you come to hear it?"
"I came to find out how bad it is," replied the literary man. "Eh! your reverence?" he adds to his companion, a sharp-nosed man with china-blue eyes, in Church-of-England knee-breeches, high-cut vest, and shovel-hat.
Dean Swift replies with a knowing smirk, which is the nearest approach to a laugh in which he ever indulged. Then he takes out his snuffbox and taps it, which is a sign that he is going to say something worth while. "Yes, one must go everywhere, and do everything, just to find out how bad things are. By this means we clergymen are able to intelligently warn our flocks. But I came tonight to hear that rogue Bononcini—you know he is from County Down—I used to go to school with him," and the Dean solemnly passes the snuffbox.
Garrick here bursts into a laugh, which is broken off short by a reproving look from the Dean, who has gotten the snuffbox back and is meditatively tapping it again. The friends listen and hear from the muttering lips of the Dean, this:
Some say that Signore Bononcini, Compared to Handel is a ninny; Whilst others vow that to him Handel, Is hardly fit to hold a candle. Strange all this difference should be 'Twixt tweedledum and tweedledee.
The people are tumbling back to their seats as the musicians come stringing in. Soon there is a general tuning up—scrapings, toots, snorts, subdued screeches, raspings, and all that busy buzz-fuzz business of getting ready to play.
"The first time we came to the opera Doctor Johnson thought this was all a part of the play, and applauded with unction for an encore," says Garrick.
"And I heard nothing finer the whole evening," answers Doctor Johnson, accepting the defi, and winning by yielding.
"Why don't they tune up at home, or behind the scenes?" asks some one.
"I'll tell you why," says Savage, and he relates this: "Handel is a great man for system—he is a strict disciplinarian, as any man must be to manage musicians, who are neither men nor women, but a third sex. Often Handel has to knock their heads together, and once he shook the Cuzzoni until her teeth chattered."
"That's the way you have to treat any woman before she will respect you," interrupts the Dean. Nothing else being forthcoming, Savage continues: "Handel is absolute master of everything but Death and Destiny. Now he didn't like all this tuning up before the audience; he said you might as well expect the prima donna to make her toilet in front of the curtain"—
"I like the idea," says Johnson.
Savage praises the interruption and continues: "And so ordered every man to tune up his artillery a half-hour before the performance, and carry his instrument in and lay it on his chair. Then when it came time to commence, every musician would walk in, take up his instrument, and begin. The order was given, and all tuned up. Then the players all adjourned for their refreshments.
"In the interval a wag entered and threw every instrument out of key.
"It came time to begin—the players marched in like soldiers. Handel was in his place. He rapped once—every player seized his instrument as though it were a musket. At the second rap the music began—and such music! Some of the strings were drawn so tight that they snapped at the first touch; others merely flapped; some growled; and others groaned and moaned or squealed. Handel thought the orchestra was just playing him a scurvy trick. He leaped upon the stage, kicked a hole in the bass-viol, and smashed the kettledrum around the neck of the nearest performer. The players fled before the assault, and he bombarded them with cornets and French horns as they tumbled down the stairs.
"The audience roared with delight, and not one in forty guessed that it was not a specially arranged Italian feature. But since that evening all tuning-up is done on the stage, and no man lets his instrument get out of his hands after he gets it right."
"It's a moving tale, invented as an excuse for a man who writes music so bad that he gets disgusted with it himself, and flies into wrath when he hears it," says Johnson.
A subdued buzz is heard, and the master comes forth, gorgeous in a suit of purple velvet. His powdered wig and the enormous silver buckles on his shoes set off his figure with the proper accent. His florid face is smiling, and Garrick expresses a regret that there are to be no impromptu tragic events in way of chasing players from the stage.
"Would you like to meet him?" asks the sharp-nosed Dean.
Garrick and Johnson have enough of the rustic in them to be lion-hunters, and they reply to the question as one man, "Yes, indeed!"
"I'll arrange it," was the answer. The leader raps for attention. Johnson closes his eyes, sighs, and leans back resignedly.
The others look and listen with interest as the play proceeds.
* * * * *
The other day I read a book by Madame Columbier entitled, "Sara Barnum." Only a person of worth could draw forth such a fire of hot invective, biting sarcasm and frenzied vituperation as this volume contains. When I closed the volume it was with the feeling that Sara Bernhardt is surely the greatest woman of the age; and I was fully resolved that I must see her play at the first opportunity, no matter what the cost. And as for Madame Columbier, why she isn't so bad, either! The flashes of lightning in her swordplay are highly interesting. The book was born, as all good books, because its mother could not help it. Behind every page and between the lines you see the fevered toss of human emotion and hot ambition—these women were rivals. There were digs and scratches, bandied epithets in falsetto, and sounds like a piccolo played by a man in distress, before all this; and these are not explained, so you have to fill them in with your imagination. But the Bernhardt is the bigger woman of the two. She goes her splendid pace alone, and all the other woman can do is to bombard her with a book.
The excellence of Handel is shown in that he achieved the enmity of some very good men. Read the "Spectator," and you will find its pages well peppered with thrusts at "foreigners," and sweeping cross-strokes at Italian Opera and all "bombastic beaters of the air, who smother harmony with bursts of discord in the name of music."
These battles royal between the kings of art are not so far removed from the battles of the beasts. Rosa Bonheur has pictured a duel to the death between stallions; and that battle of the stags—horn-locked—with the morning sun revealing Death as victor, by Landseer, is familiar to us all. Then Landseer has another picture which he called "The Monarch," showing a splendid stag, solitary and alone, standing on a cliff, overlooking the valley. There is history behind this stag. Before he could command the scene alone, he had to vanquish foes; but in the main, in some way, you feel that most of his battles have been bloodless and he commands by divine right. The Divine Right of a King, if he be a King, has its root in truth.
One mark of the genius of Handel is shown in the fact that he has achieved a split and created a ruction in the Society of Scribblers. He once cut Dean Swift dead at a fashionable gathering—the doughty Dean, who delighted in making men and women alike crawl to him—and this won him the admiration of Colley Cibber, who immortalized the scene in a sonnet. People liked Handel, or they did not, and among the Old Guard who stood by him, let these names, among others, be remembered: Colley Cibber, Gay, Arbuthnot, Pope, Hogarth, Fielding and Smollett.
People who through incapacity are unable to comprehend or appreciate music, are prone to wax facetious over it—the feeble joke is the last resort of the man who does not understand.
The noisy denizens of Grub Street, drinking perdition to that which they can not comprehend, always getting ready to do great things, seem like fussy pigmies beside a giant like Handel. See the fifth act ere the curtain falls on the lives of Oliver Goldsmith, Doctor Johnson, Steele, Addison and Dean Swift (dead at the top, the last), and the others unhappily sent into Night; and then behold George Frederick Handel, in his seventy-fifth year, blind, but with inward vision all aflame, conducting the oratorio of "Elijah" before an audience of five thousand people!
The life of Handel was packed with work and projects too vast for one man to realize. That he deferred to the London populace and wrote down to them at first, is true; but the greatness of the man is seen in this—he never deceived himself. He knew just what he was doing, and in his heart was ever a shrine to the Ideal, and upon this altar the fires never died.
Handel was a man of affairs as well as a musician, and if he had loved money more than Art, he could have withdrawn from the fray at thirty years of age, passing rich.
Three times in his life he risked all in the production of Grand Opera, and once saw a sum equal to fifty thousand dollars disappear in a week, through the treachery of Italian artists who were pledged to help him. At great expense and trouble he had gone abroad and searched Europe for talent, and, regardless of outlay, had brought singers and performers across the sea to England. In several notable instances these singers had, in a short time, been bought up by rivals, and had turned upon their benefactor.
But Handel was not crushed by these things. He was philosopher enough to know that ingratitude is often the portion of the man who does well, and a fight with a fox you have warmed into life is ever imminent. At fifty-five, a bankrupt, he makes terms with his creditors and in a few years pays off every shilling with interest, and celebrates the event by the production of "Saul," the "Dead March" from which will never die.
The man had been gaining ground, making head, and at the same time educating the taste of the English people. But still they lagged behind, and when the oratorio of "Joshua" was performed, the Master decided he would present his next and best piece outside of England. Jealousy, a dangerous weapon, has its use in the diplomatic world.
Handel set out for Dublin with a hundred musicians, there to present the "Messiah," written for and dedicated to the Irish people. The oratorio had been turned off in just twenty-one days, in one of those titanic bursts of power, of which this man was capable. Its production was a feat worthy of the Frohmans at their best. The performance was to be for charity—to give freedom to those languishing in debtors' prisons at Dublin. What finer than that the "Messiah" should give deliverance?
The Irish heart was touched. A fierce scramble ensued for seats, precedence being emphasized in several cases with blackthorns deftly wielded. The price of seats was a guinea each. Handel's carriage was drawn through the streets by two hundred students. He was crowned with shamrock, and given the freedom of the city in a gold box. Freedom even then, in Ireland, was a word to conjure with. Long before the performance, notices that no more tickets would be sold were posted. The doors of the Debtors' Prison were thrown open, and the prisoners given seats so they could hear the music—thus overdoing the matter in true Irish style.
The performance was the supreme crowning event in the life of Handel up to that time.
Couriers were dispatched to London to convey the news of Handel's great triumph to the newspapers; bulletins were posted at the clubs—the infection caught! On the return of the master a welcome was given him such as he had never before known—Dublin should not outdo London! When the "Messiah" was given in London, the scene of furore in Dublin was repeated. The wild tumult at times drowned the orchestra, and when the "Hallelujah Chorus" was sung, the audience arose as one man and joined in the song of praise. And from that day the custom has continued: whenever in England the "Messiah" is given, the audience arises and sings in the "Chorus," as its privilege and right. The proceeds of the first performance of the "Messiah" in England were given to charity, as in Dublin. This act, with the splendor of the work, subdued the last lingering touch of obdurate criticism. The man was canonized by popular acclaim. Many of his concerts were now for charity—"The Foundlings' Home," "The Seamen's Fund," "Home for the Aged," hospitals and imprisoned debtors—all came in for their share.
Handel never married. That remark of Dean Swift's, "I admire Handel—principally because he conceals his petticoat peccadilloes with such perfection," does not go. Handel considered himself a priest of art, and his passion spent itself in his work.
The closing years of his life were a time of peace and honor. His bark, after a fitful voyage, had glided into safe and peaceful waters. The calamity of blindness did not much depress him—"What matters it so long as I can hear?" he said. And good it is to know that the capacity to listen and enjoy, to think and feel, to sympathize and love—to live his Ideals—were his, even to the night of his passing Hence.
Of all the operas that Verdi wrote, The best, to my taste, is the Trovatore; And Mario can soothe, with a tenor note, The souls in purgatory.
The moon on the tower slept soft as snow; And who was not thrilled in the strangest way, As we heard him sing while the lights burned low, "Non ti scordar di me"?
* * * * *
But O, the smell of that jasmine-flower! And O, the music! and O, the way That voice rang out from the donjon tower, "Non ti scordar di me, Non ti scordar di me!"
He sort of clung to the iron pickets, did the boy, and pressed his face through the fence and listened. Some one was playing the piano in the big house, and the windows with their little diamond panes were flung open to catch the evening breeze. He listened.
His big gray eyes were open wide, the pupils dilated—he was trying to see the music as well as hear it.
The boy's hair matched the yellow of his face, being one shade lighter, sun-bleached from going hatless. His clothes were as yellow as the yellow of his face, and shaded off into the dust that strewed the street. He was like a quail in a stubble-field—you might have stepped over him and never seen him at all. He listened. Almost every evening some one played the piano in the big house. He had discovered the fact a week before, and now, when the dusk was gathering, he would watch his chance and slide away from the hut where his parents lived, and run fast up the hill, and along the shelving roadway to the tall iron fence that marked the residence of Signore Barezzi. He would creep along under the stone wall, and crouching there would wait and listen for the music. Several evenings he had come and waited, and waited, and waited—and not a note or a voice did he hear.
Once it had rained and he didn't mind it much, for he expected every moment the music would strike up, you know—and who cares for cold, or wet, or even hunger, if one can hear good music! The air grew chill and the boy's threadbare jacket stuck to his bony form like a postage-stamp to a letter. Little rivulets of water ran down his hair and streamed off his nose and cheeks. He waited—he was waiting for the music.
He might have waited until the water dissolved his insignificant cosmos into just plain, yellow mud, and then he would have been simply distributed all along the gutter down to the stream, and down the stream to the river, and down the river to the ocean; and no one would ever have heard of him again.
But Signore Barezzi's coachman came along that night, keeping close to the fence under the trees to avoid the wet; and the coachman fell over the boy.
Now, when we fall over anything we always want to kick it—no matter what it is, be it cat, dog, stump, stick, stone or human. The coachman being but clay (undissolved) turned and kicked the boy. Then he seized him by the collar, and accused him of being a thief. The lad acknowledged the indictment, and stammeringly tried to explain that it was only music he was trying to steal; and that it really made no difference because even if one did fill himself full of the music, there was just as much left for other people, since music was different from most things.
The thought was not very well expressed, although the idea was all right, but the coachman failed to grasp it. So he tingled the boy's bare legs with the whip he carried, by way of answer, duly cautioning him never to let it occur again, and released the prisoner on parole.
But the boy forgot and came back the next night. He sat on the ground below the wall, intending to keep out of sight; but when the music began he stood up, and now, with face pressed between the pickets, he listened.
The wind sighed softly through the orange-trees; the air was heavy with the perfume of flowers; the low of cattle came from across the valley, and on the evening breeze from an open casement rose the strong, vibrant, yet tender, strains of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." The lad listened.
"Do you like music?" came a voice from behind. The boy awoke with a start, and tried to butt his head through the pickets to escape in that direction. He thought it was the coachman. He turned and saw the kindly face of Signore Barezzi himself.
"Do I like music? Me! No, I mean yes, when it is like that!" he exclaimed, beginning his reply with a tremolo and finishing bravura.
"That is my daughter playing; come inside with me." The hand of the great man reached out, and the urchin clutched at it as if it were something he had been longing for.
They walked through the big gates where a stone lion kept guard on each side. The lions never moved. They walked up the steps, and entering the parlor saw a young woman seated at the piano.
"Grazia, dear, here is the little boy we saw the other day—you remember? I thought I would bring him in." The young woman came forward and touched the lad on his tawny head with one of her beautiful hands—the beautiful hands that had just been playing the "Sonata."
"That's right, little boy, we have seen you outside there before, and if I had known you were there tonight, I would have gone out and brought you in; but Papa has done the service for me. Now, you must sit down right over there where I can see you, and I will play for you. But won't you tell us your name?"
"Me?" replied the little boy, "why—why my name is Giuseppe Verdi—I am ten years old now—going on 'leven—you see, I like to hear you play because I play myself, a little bit!"
* * * * *
For over a hundred years three-fourths of Italy's population had been on reduced rations. Starvation even yet crouches just around the corner.
In his childhood young Verdi used to wear a bit of rope for a girdle, and when hunger gnawed importunately, he would simply pull his belt one knot tighter, and pray that the ravens would come and treat him as well as they did Elijah. His parents were so poor that the question of education never came to them; but desire has its way, so we find the boy at ten years of age running errands for a grocer with a musical attachment. This grocer, at Busseto, Jasquith by name, hung upon the fringe of art, and made the dire mistake of mixing business with his fad, for he sold his wares to sundry gentlemen who played in bands. This led the good man to moralize at times, and he would say to Giuseppe, who had been promoted from errand-boy to clerk: "You can trust a first violin, and a 'cello usually pays, but never say yes to a trombone nor an oboe; and as for a kettle-drum, I wouldn't believe one on a stack of Bibles!"
Over the grocer's shop was a little parlor, and in it was a spinet that young Giuseppe had the use of four evenings a week. In his later years Verdi used to tell of this, and once said that the idea of prohibition and limit should be put on every piano—then the pupil would make the best of his privileges. In those days there was a tax on spinets, and I believe that this tax has never been rescinded, for you are taxed if you keep a piano, now, in any part of Italy. Several times the poor grocer's spinet stood in sore peril from the publicans and sinners, but the bailiffs were bought off by Signore Barezzi, who came to the rescue.
The note of thrift was even then in Verdi's score, for he himself has told how he induced the Barezzi household to patronize the honest grocer with musical proclivities.
When twelve years of age Verdi occasionally played the organ in the village church at Busseto. It will be seen from this that he had courage, and even then possessed a trace of that pride and self-will that was to be his disadvantage and then his blessing. Signore Barezzi's attachment to the boy was very great, and we find the youngster was on friendly terms with the family, having free use of their piano, with valuable help and instruction from Signorina Grazia. When he was seventeen he was easily the first musician in the place, and Busseto had nothing more to offer in the way of advantages. He thirsted for a wider career, and cast longing looks out into the great outside world. He had played at Parma, only a few miles away, and the Bishop there, after hearing him improvise on the organ, had paid him a doubtful compliment by saying, "Your playing is surely unlike anything ever before heard in Parma." Fair fortune smiled when Signore Barezzi secured for young Verdi a free scholarship at the Conservatory at Milan.
The youth went gaily forth, attended by the blessings of the whole village, to claim his honors.
Arriving at the Conservatory, the directors put him through his paces, after the usual custom, to prove his fitness for the honor that had been thrust upon him. He played first upon the piano, and the committee advised together in whispered monotone. Then they asked him to play on the organ, and there was more consultation, with argument which was punctuated by rolling adjectives and many picturesque gesticulations. Then they asked him to play the piano again. He did so, and the great men retired to deliberate and vote on the issue.
Their decision was that the youth was self-willed, erratic, and that he had some absurd mannerisms and tricks of performance that forbade his ever making a musician. And therefore, they ruled that his admission to the Conservatory was impossible.
Barezzi, who was present with his protege, stormed in wrath, and declared that Verdi was the peer of any of his judges; in fact, was so much beyond them that they could not comprehend him.
This only confirmed the powers in the stand they had taken, and they intimated that a great musician in Busseto was something different in Milan—Signore Barezzi had better take his young man home and be content to astonish the villagers with noisy acrobatics. There being nothing else to do, the advice was first flouted and then followed. They arrived home, and Grazia and the grocer were informed that the Conservatory at Milan was a delusion and a snare—"a place where pebbles were polished and diamonds were dimmed." Shortly after, the townspeople, to show faith in the home product, had Verdi duly installed as organist of the village church at a salary equal to forty dollars a year.
Under the spell of this good fortune, Verdi proposed marriage to the daughter of Jasquith, the grocer, his friend and benefactor. Gratitude to the man who had first assisted him had much to do with the alliance; and in wedding the daughter, Verdi simply complied with what he knew to be the one ardent desire of the father.
The girl was a frail creature, of fine instincts, but her intellect had been starved just as her body had been. Her chief virtue seems to have been that she believed absolutely in the genius of Verdi.
The ambition of Verdi began to show itself. He wrote an opera, and offered it to Merelli, the impresario of "La Scala" at Milan. The impresario had heard of Verdi, through the fact that the Conservatory had blackballed him. This of itself would have been no passport to fame, but the Committee saw fit to defend themselves in the matter by making a public report of the considerations which had moved them to shut the doors on the young man from Busseto. This gave the subject a weight and prominence that simple admission never would have given.
Merelli, the Major Pond of Milan, saw the expressions "bizarre," "erratic," "peculiar," "unprecedented," and kept his eye on Verdi. And so when the opera was written he pounced upon it, thinking possibly a new star had appeared on the horizon. The opera was accepted. Verdi, feverish with hope, moved his scanty effects to Milan, and there, with his frail and beautiful girl-wife and their baby-boy, lived in a garret just across from the theater.
Preparations for the performance were going on apace. The night of November Seventeenth, Eighteen Hundred Thirty-nine came, and the play was presented. The critics voted it a failure. Merelli, the manager, saw that it was not strong enough with which to storm the town, and so decided to abandon it. He liked the young composer, though, and admired his work; and inasmuch as he had brought him to Milan, he felt a sort of obligation to help him along. So Verdi was given an order for an opera bouffe. That's it! Opera bouffe!—the people want comedy—they must be amused. Even Verdi's serious work ran dangerously close to farce—bouffe is the thing!
Merelli's hope was infectious. Verdi began work on the new play that was to be presented in the Spring. The winter rains began. There was no fire in the garret where the composer and his frail girl-wife lived. They were so proud that they did not let the folks at Busseto know where they were: even Merelli did not know their place of abode. Under an assumed name Verdi got occasional work as an underling in one of the theaters, and also played the piano at a restaurant. The wages thus earned were a pittance, but he managed to take home soup-bones that the baby-boy sucked on as though they were nectar.
Another baby was born that winter. The mother was unattended, save by her husband—no other woman was near. Verdi managed to bring home scraps of food by stealth from the restaurant where he played, but it was not the kind that was needed. There was no money to buy goat's milk for the new-born babe, and the famishing mother, ever hopeful, assured the husband it wasn't necessary—that the babe was doing well. The child grew aweary of this world before a month had passed, and slept to wake no more.
But the opera bouffe was taking shape. It was rehearsed and hummed by husband and wife together. They went over it all again and again, and struck out and added to. It was splendid work—subtle, excruciatingly funny, and possessed a dash and go that would sweep all carping and criticism before it.
Food was still scarce, and there was no fuel even to cook things; but as there was nothing to cook, it really made no difference. Spring was coming—it was cold, to be sure, but the buds were swelling on the trees in the park. Verdi had seen them with his own eyes, and he hastened home to tell his wife—Spring was coming!
The two-year-old boy didn't seem to thrive on soup-bones. The father used to hold him in his arms at night to warm the little form against his own body. He awoke one morning to find the child cold and stiff. The boy was dead.
The mother used to lie abed all day now. She wasn't ill she said—just tired! She never looked so beautiful to her husband. Two bright pink spots marked her cheeks, and set off the alabaster of her complexion. Her eyes glowed with such a light as Verdi had never before seen. No, she was not ill—she protested this again and again. She kept to her bed merely to be warm; and then if one didn't move around much, less food was required—don't you see?
Spring had come. The opera was being rehearsed. The title of the play was "Un Giorno di Regno." Merelli said he thought it would be a success; Verdi was sure of it.
The night of presentation came. After the first act Verdi ran across the street, leaped up the stairs three steps at a time, and reached the garret. The play was a success. The worn woman there on her pallet, the pale moonlight streaming in on her face, knew it would be. She raised herself on her elbow and tried to call, "Viva Verdi!" But the cough cut her words short. Verdi kissed her forehead, her hands, her hair, and hurried back in time to see the curtain ascend on the second act. This act went without either applause or disapproval. Verdi ran home to say that the audience was a trifle critical, but the play was all right—it was a success! He said he would remain at home now, he would not go to hear the third and last act. He would attend his wife until she got well and strong. The play was a success!
She prevailed upon him to leave her and then come back at the finale and tell her all about it.
He went away.
When he returned he stumbled up the stairway and slowly entered the door.
The last act had not been completed—the audience had hissed the players from the stage!
Upon the ashen face of her husband, the stricken woman read all. She tried to smile. She reached out one thin hand on which loosely hung a marriage-ring. The hand dropped before he could reach it. The eyes of the woman were closed, but upon the long, black lashes glistened two big tears. The spirit was brave, but the body had given up the great struggle.
* * * * *
The calamities that had come sweeping over Verdi well-nigh broke his proud heart. He was only twenty-six, but he had had a taste of life and found it bitter.
He lost interest in everything. All his musical studies were abandoned, his excursions into science went by default, and he was quite content to bang the piano in a concert saloon for enough to secure the bare necessaries of life. Suicide seemed to present the best method of solving the problem, and the various ways of shuffling off this mortal coil were duly considered. Meanwhile he filled in the time reading trashy novels—anything to forget time and place, and lose self in poppy-dreams of nothingness.
Two years of such blankness and blackness followed. He was sure that the desire to create, to be, to do, would never come again—these were all of the past. One day on an idle stroll through the park he met Merelli. As they walked along together, Merelli took from his pocket a book, the story of "Nabucco," and handing it to Verdi, asked him to look it over, and see if he thought there was a chance to make an opera out of it. Verdi responded that he was not in the business of writing operas—he had quit all such follies. He took the volume, however, but neglected to look at it for several days. At last he read the pages. He laid the book down and began to pace the floor. Possibilities of creation were looming large before him—a rush of thought was upon him. His soul was not dead—it had only been lying fallow.
He secured the loan of a piano and set to work. In a month the opera was completed. Merelli hesitated about accepting it—twice he had lost money on Verdi. Finally he decided he would put the play on, if Verdi would waive all royalties for the first three performances, if it were a success, and then sell the opera outright "at a reasonable price," if Merelli should chance to want it. The "reasonable price" was assumed to be about a thousand francs—two hundred dollars—pretty good pay for a month's work.
Verdi took no interest in the production of the piece. He had come to the conclusion that the public was a fickle, foolish thing, and no one could tell what it would hiss or applaud. Then he remembered the blackness of the night when only two years before his other opera was produced.
He made his way to his dingy little room and went to bed.
Very early the next morning there was a loud pounding on his door. It was Merelli. "How much for your opera?" asked the impresario, pushing his way into the room.
"Thirty thousand francs," came a voice, loud and clear out of the bedclothes.
"Don't be a fool," returned Merelli—"why do you ask such a sum!"
"Because you are here at five o'clock in the morning—the price will be fifty thousand this afternoon."
Ten minutes of parley followed, and then Merelli drew his check for twenty thousand francs, and Verdi gave his quitclaim, turned over in bed, and went to sleep again.
* * * * *
The success of "Nabucodonosor" was complete. Its author had his twenty thousand francs, but Merelli made more than that. From Eighteen Hundred Forty-two to Eighteen Hundred Fifty-one may be called the First Verdi Period. A dozen successful operas were produced, and simultaneously at Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan, Genoa and Florence, Verdi's compositions were being presented. The master was a businessman, as well as an artist—the combination is not so unusual as was long believed—and knew how to get the most for the mintage of his mind. Money fairly flowed his way.
Verdi married again in Eighteen Hundred Fifty. His life now turns into what may be called the Second Verdi Period. After this we shall see no more such curious exhibitions of bad taste as a ballet of forty witches in "Macbeth," capering nimbly to a syncopated melody, with "Lady Macbeth" in a needlessly abbreviated skirt singing a drinking-song to an absent lover. In strenuous efforts to avoid coarseness Verdi may occasionally give us soft sentimentality, but the change is for the best.
His mate was a woman of mind as well as heart. She was his intellectual companion, his friend, his wife. For nearly fifty years they lived together. Her dust now lies in the "House of Rest," at Milan, a home for aged artists, founded by Verdi. This "House of Rest" was a Love-Offering, dedicated to the woman who had given him, without stint, of the richness of her nature; who had bestowed rest, and peace, and hope and gentle love. She had no feverish ambitions and petty plans and schemes for secretly corralling pleasure, power, place, attention, or selfish admiration. By giving all, she won all. She devoted herself to this man in whom she had perfect faith, and he had perfect faith in her. She ministered to him. They grew great together. When each was over eighty years of age, Henry James met them at Cremona, at a musical festival in honor of the birthday of Stradivari. And thus wrote Henry James: "Verdi and his wife were there, admired above all others. And why not? Think of whom they are, and what they stand for—nearly a century of music, and a century of life! The master is tall, straight, proud, commanding. He has a courtly old-time grace of bearing; and he kissed his wife's hand when he took leave of her for an hour's stroll. And the Madame surely is not old in spirit; she is as sprightly as our own Mrs. John Sherwood, who translated 'Carcassonne' so well that she improved on the original, because in her heart spring fresh and fragrant every day the flowers of tender, human, Godlike sympathy."
* * * * *
"Rigoletto," produced in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-one at Venice, is founded on Victor Hugo's "Le Roi s'Amuse"; and the music has all the dramatic fire that matches the Hugo plot. Verdi's devotion to Victor Hugo is seen again in the use of "Hernani" for operatic purposes. "Il Trovatore" and "La Traviata" followed "Rigoletto," and these three operas are usually put forward as the Verdi masterpieces. The composer himself regarded them with a favor that may well be pardoned, since he used to say that he and his wife collaborated in their production—she writing the music and he looking on. The proportion of truth and poetry in this statement is not on record. But the simple fact remains that "Il Trovatore" was always a favorite with Verdi, and even down to his death he would travel long distances to hear it played. A correspondent of the "Musical Courier," writing from Paris in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-seven, says: "Verdi and his wife occupied a box last evening at the Grand Opera House. The piece was 'Il Trovatore,' and many smiles were caused by the sight of the author and his spouse seemingly leading the claque as if they would split their gloves."
The flaming forth of creative genius that produced the "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore," and "La Traviata," subsided into a placid calm.
The serene happiness of Verdi's married life, the fortune that had come to him, and the consciousness of having won in spite of great obstacles, led him to the thought of quiet and well-earned rest. The master interested himself in politics, and was elected to represent the district of Parma in the Italian Parliament. He proved himself a man of power—practical, self-centered and businesslike—and as such served his country well.
The sentiment of the man is shown in his buying the property at Busseto, his old home, which was owned by Signore Barezzi. He removed the high picket fence, replacing it with a low stone wall; remodeled the house and turned the conservatory into a small theater, where free concerts were often given with the help of the villagers. The adjoining grounds and splendid park were free to the public.
The master's attention to music was now limited to enjoying it. So passed the days.
Ten years of the life of a country gentleman went by, and the Shah of Persia, who had been on a visit to Italy and met Verdi, sent a command for an opera. The plot must be laid in the East, the characters Moorish, and the whole to be dedicated to the immortal Son of the Sun—the Shah.
It is a little doubtful whether the Shah knew that operas are produced only in certain moods and can not be done to order as a carpenter builds a fence. But it was the way that Eastern Royalty had of showing its high esteem.
Verdi smiled, and his wife smiled, and they had quite a merry little time over the matter, calling in the neighbors and friends, and drinking to the health of a real live Shah who knew a great musical genius when he found one. But suddenly the matter began to take form in the master's mind. He set to work, and the result was that in a few weeks "Aida" was completed. The stories often told of the long preparation for composing this opera reveal the fine imagination of the men who write for the newspapers. Verdi seized upon knowledge as a devilfish absorbs its prey—he learned in the mass.
"Aida" was first produced at Cairo in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-one, with a grand setting and the best cast procurable. A new Verdi opera was an event, and critics went from London, Paris, and other capitals to see the performance.
The first thing the knowing ones said was that Verdi was touched with Wagnerism, and that he had studied "Lohengrin" with painstaking care. If Verdi was influenced by Wagner it was for good; but there was no servile imitation in it. The "Aida" is rich in melody, reveals a fine balance between singers and orchestra, and the "local color" is correct even to the chorus of Congo slaves that was introduced at the performance in Cairo.
All agreed that the rest had done the master good, and the correspondents wrote, "We will look anxiously for his next." They thought the stream had started and there would be an overflow.
But they were mistaken. Sixteen years of quiet farming followed. Verdi was more interested in his flowers than his music, and told Philip Hale, who made a pious pilgrimage to Busseto in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-three, that he loved his horses more than all the prima donnas on earth.
But in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-seven, the artistic and music-loving world was surprised and delighted with "Otello." This grand performance made amends for the mangling of "Macbeth." James Huneker says: "The character-drawing in 'Otello' is done with the burin of a master; the plot moves in processional splendor; the musical psychology is subtle and inevitable. At last the genius of Verdi has flowered. The work is consummate and complete."
"Falstaff" came next, written by a graybeard of eighty as if just to prove that the heart does not grow old. It is the work of an octogenarian who loved life and had seen the world of show and sense from every side. Old men usually moralize and live in the past—not so here. The play flows with a laughing, joyous, rippling quality that disarmed the critics and they apologized for what they had said about Wagnerian motives. There were no sad, solemn, recurring themes in the full-ripened fruit of Verdi's genius. When he died, at the age of eighty-seven, the curtain fell on the career of a great and potent personality—the one unique singer of the Nineteenth Century.
Mozart composed nine hundred twenty-two pieces of which we know. He is considered the greatest composer the world has ever seen, judged by the versatility and power of his genius. In every kind of composition he was equally excellent. Beside being a great composer he was a great performer, being the most accomplished pianist of his day. He was also an excellent player on the violin.
Apology: The Mozart "Little Journey" was written, and as over a month had been taken to do the task, the result was something of which I was justly proud. It was quite unlike anything ever before written. The printers were ready to take the work in hand, but I begged them to allow me two more days for careful revision; and as I was just starting away to give a lecture at Janesville, Wisconsin, I took the manuscript with me, intending to do the final work of revision on the train.
All went well on the journey, the lecture had been given with no special tokens of disapproval on part of the audience, and I was on board the early morning train that leaves for Chicago. And as my mind is usually fairly clear in the early hours, I began work retouching the good manuscript. We were nearing Beloit when I bethought me to go into the Buffet-Car for a moment.
When I returned the manuscript was not to be seen. I looked in various seats, and under the seats, asked my neighbors, inquired of the brakeman, and then hunted up the porter and asked him if he had seen my manuscript. He did not at first understand what I meant by the term "manuscript," but finally inquired if I referred to a pile of dirty, dog-eared sheets of paper, all marked up and down and over and crisscross, ev'ry-which-way.
I assured him that he understood the case.
He then informed me that he had "chucked the stuff," that is to say, he had tossed it out of the window, as he was cleaning up his car, just as he always did before reaching Chicago.
I made a frantic reach for the bell-cord, but was restrained. A sympathetic passenger came forward and explained that five miles back he had seen the sheets of my precious manuscript sailing across the prairie. We were going at the rate of a mile a minute and the wind was blowing fiercely, so there was really no need of backing up the train to regain the lost goods.
"I hope dem scribbled papers was no 'count, boss!" said the porter humbly, as I stood sort of dazed, gazing into vacancy.
I shook myself into partial sanity. "Oh, they were of no value—I was looking for them so as to throw them out of the window myself," I answered.
"Brush?" said he.
"Yes," said I.
I placed the expected quarter in his dusky palm, still pondering on what I should do.
To reproduce the matter was impossible, for I have no verbal memory—something must be written, though. I decided to leave Chicago in an hour by the Lake Shore Railroad, and have the copy ready for the Roycroft boys when I reached home.
This I did, and as I had no reference-books, maps or memoranda to guide me, the matter seems to lack synthesis. I say seems to lack—but it really doesn't, for the facts will all be found to be as stated. Still the form may be said to be slightly colored by the environment, so some explanation is in order—hence this apology to the Gentle Reader. And further, if the Reader should find in these pages that, at rare intervals, I use the personal pronoun, he must bear in mind that I live in the country, and that it is the privilege and right, established by long precedent and custom of country folk, to talk about themselves and their own affairs if they are so minded.
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Chicago: Talent is usually purchased at a high price, and if the gods give you a generous supply of this, they probably will be niggardly when it comes to that. But one thing the artist is usually long on, and that is whim. Let us all pray to be delivered from whim—it is the poisoner of our joys, the corrupter of our peace, and Dead-Sea fruit for all those about us.
Heaven deliver us from whim!
I am told by a famous impresario, who gained some valuable experience by marrying a prima donna, and therefore should know, that whim is purely a feminine attribute. This, though, is surely a mistake, for there have lived men, as well as women, who had such an exaggerated sense of their own worth, that they lost sight, entirely, of the rights and feelings of everybody else. All through life they kept the stage waiting without punctilio. These men thought dogs were made to kick, servants to rail at, the public to be first crawled to and then damned, and all rivals to be pooh-poohed, cursed or feared, as the mood might prompt. Further than this they considered all landlords robbers, every railroad-manager a rogue, and businessmen they bunched as greedy, grasping Shylocks. They always used the word "commercial" as an epithet.
Devotees of the histrionic art can lay just claim to having more than their share of whim, but the musical profession has no reason to be abashed, for it is a good second. However, the actor's and the musician's art are often not far separated. In speaking to James McNeil Whistler of a certain versatile musician, a lady once said, "I believe he also acts!"
"Madame, he does nothing else," replied Mr. Whistler.
Art is not a thing separate and apart—art is only the beautiful way of doing things. And is it not most absurd to think, because a man has the faculty of doing a thing well, that on this account he should assume airs and declare himself exempt along the line of morals and manners? The expression "artistic temperament" is often an apologetic term, like "literary sensitiveness," which means that the man has stuck to one task so long that he is unable to meet his brother men on a respectful equality.
The artist is the voluptuary of labor, and his fantastic tricks often seem to be only Nature's way of equalizing matters, and showing the world that he is very common clay, after all. To be modest and gentle and kind, as we all can be, is just as much to God as to be learned and talented, and yet be a cad.
Still, instances of great talent and becoming modesty are sometimes found; and in no great musician was the balance of virtues held more gracefully than with Mozart. He had humor.
Ah! that is it—he knew values—had a sense of proportion, and realized that there is a time to laugh. And a good time to laugh is when you see a mighty bundle of pretense and affectation coming down the street. Dignity is the mask behind which we hide our ignorance; and our forced dignity is what makes the imps of comedy, who sit aloft in the sky, hold their sides in merriment when they behold us demanding obeisance because we have fallen heir to tuppence worth of talent.
* * * * *
Laporte: Mozart had a sense of humor. He knew a big thing from a little one. When yet a child the tendency to comedy was strong upon him. When nine years of age he once played at a private musicale where the Empress, Maria Theresa, was present. The lad even then was a consummate violinist. He had just played a piece that contained such a tender, mournful, minor strain that several of the ladies were in tears. The boy seeing this, relentingly dashed off into a "barnyard symphony," where donkeys brayed, hens cackled, pigs squealed and cows mooed, all ending with a terrific cat-fight on a wood-shed roof. This done, the boy threw his violin down, ran across the room, climbed into the lap of the Empress and throwing his arms around the neck of the good lady, kissed her a resounding smack first on one cheek, then on the other. It was all very much like that performance of Liszt, who one day, when he was playing the piano, suddenly shouted, "Pitch everything out of the windows!" and then proceeded to do it—on the keyboard, of course.
On the same visit to the palace, when Mozart saluted Maria Theresa in his playful way, he had the misfortune to slip and fall on the waxed floor.
Marie Antoinette, daughter of Maria Theresa, just budding into womanhood, ran and picked him up and rubbed his knee where it was hurt. "You are a dear, good lady," said the boy in gratitude, "and when I grow up I am going to marry you." Liszt never made any such promise as that. Liszt never offered to marry anybody. But it is too bad that Marie Antoinette did not hold the lad to his promise. It would have probably proved a valuable factor for her in the line of longevity; and her husband's circumstances would have saved her from making that silly inquiry as to why poor people don't eat cake when they run short of bread. These moods of merriment continued with Mozart, as they did with Liszt, all his life—not always manifesting themselves, though, in the way just described.
As a companion I would choose Mozart—generous, unaffected, kind—rather than any other musician who ever played, danced, sang or composed—excepting, well, say Brahms.
* * * * *
South Bend: We take an interest in the lives of others because we always, when we think of another, imagine our relationship to him. "Had I met Shakespeare on the stairs I would have fainted dead away," said Thackeray.
Another reason why we are interested in biography is because, to a degree, it is a repetition of our own life.
There are certain things that happen to every one, and others we think might have happened to us, and may yet. So as we read, we unconsciously slip into the life of the other man and confuse our identity with his. To put yourself in his place is the only way to understand and appreciate him. It is imagination that gives us this faculty of transmigration of souls; and to have imagination is to be universal; not to have it is to be provincial. Let me see—wouldn't you rather be a citizen of the Universe than a citizen of Peoria, Illinois, which modest town the actors always speak of as being one of the provinces?
As I read biography I always keep thinking what I would have done in certain described circumstances, and so not only am I living the other man's life, but I am comparing my nature with his. Everything is comparative; that is the only way we realize anything—by comparing it with something else. As you read of the great man he seems very near to you. You reach out across the years and touch hands with him, and with him you hope, suffer, strive and enjoy: your existence is all blurred and fused with his.
And through this oneness you come to know and comprehend a character that has once existed, very much better than the people did who lived in his day and were blind to his true worth by being ensnared in cliques that were in competition with him.
* * * * *
Elkhart: I intimated a few pages back that I would have liked to have Mozart for a friend and companion. Mozart needed me no less than I need him. "Genius needs a keeper," once said I. Zangwill, probably with himself in mind. We all need friends—and to be your brother's keeper is very excellent if you do not cease being his friend. And poor Mozart did so need a friend who could stand between him and the rapacious wolf that scratched and sniffed at his door as long as he lived. I do not know why the wolf sniffed, for Mozart really never had anything worth carrying away. He was so generous that his purse was always open, and so full of unmixed pity that the beggars passed his name along and made cabalistic marks on his gateposts. Every seedy, needy, thirsty and ill-appreciated musician in Germany regarded him as lawful prey. They used to say to Mozart, "I can not beg and to dig I am ashamed—so grant me a small loan, I pray thee."
Yes, Mozart needed me to plan his tours and market his wares. I'm no genius, and although they say I was an infant terrible, I never was an infant prodigy. At the tender age of six, Mozart was giving concerts and astonishing Europe with his subtle skill. At a like age I could catch a horse with a nubbin, climb his back, and without a saddle or bridle drive him wherever I listed by the judicious use of a tattered hat. Of course I took pains to mount only a horse that had arrived at years of discretion, matronly brood-mares or run-down plow-horses; but this is only proof of my practical turn of mind. Mozart never learned how to control either horse or man by means of a tattered hat or diplomacy: music was his hobby, and it was long years after his death before the world discovered that his hobby was no hobby at all, but a genuine automobile that carried him miles and miles, clear beyond all his competitors: so far ahead that he was really out of shouting distance.
Indeed, Mozart took such an early start in life and drove his machinery so steadily, not to say so furiously, that at thirty-five all the bearings grew hot for lack of rebabbitting, and the vehicle went the way of the one-horse shay—all at once and nothing first, just as bubbles do when they burst.
At the age which Mozart died I had seen all I wanted to of business life, in fact I had made a fortune, being the only man in America who had all the money he wanted, and so just turned about and went to college. This I firmly hold is a better way than to be sent to college and then go into trade later and forget all you ever learned at school. I had rather go to college than be sent. Every man should get rich, that he might know the worthlessness of riches; and every man should have a college education, just to realize how little the thing is worth.
Yes, Mozart needed a good friend whose abilities could have rounded out and made good his deficiencies. Most certainly I could not do the things that he did, but I should have been his helper, and might, too, had not a century, one wide ocean, and a foreign language separated us.
* * * * *
Waterloo: Friendship is better than love for a steady diet. Suspicion, jealousy, prejudice and strife follow in the wake of love; and disgrace, murder and suicide lurk just around the corner from where love coos. Love is a matter of propinquity; it makes demands, asks for proofs, requires a token. But friendship seeks no ownership—it only hopes to serve, and it grows by giving. Do not say, please, that this applies also to love. Love bestows only that it may receive, and a one-sided passion turns to hate in a night, and then demands vengeance as its right and portion.
Friendship asks no rash promises, demands no foolish vows, is strongest in absence, and most loyal when needed. It lends ballast to life, and gives steadily to every venture. Through our friends we are made brothers to all who live.
I think I would rather have had Mozart for a friend than to love and be loved by the greatest prima donna who ever warbled in high C. Friendship is better than love. Friendship means calm, sweet sleep, clear brain and a strong hold on sanity. Love I am told is only friendship, plus something else. But that something else is a great disturber of the peace, not to say digestion. It sometimes racks the brain until the world reels. Love is such a tax on the emotions that this way madness lies. Friendship never yet led to suicide.
* * * * *
Toledo: Yes, just at the age when Mozart wrote and played his "Requiem," getting ready to die, I was going to school and incidentally falling in love. I was thirty-four and shaved clean because there were gray hairs coming in my beard. Love has its advantages, of course, and the benefits of passionate love consist in scarifying one's sensibilities until they are raw, thus making one able to sympathize with those who suffer. Love sounds the feelings with a leaden plummet that sinks to the very depths of one's soul. This once done the emotions can return with ease, and so this is why no singer can sing, or painter paint, or sculptor model, or writer write, until love or calamity, often the same thing, has sounded the depths of his soul. Love makes us wise because it makes room inside the soul for thoughts and feelings to germinate; but passionate love as a lasting mood would be hell. Henry Finck says that is why Nature has fixed a two-year limit on romantic or passionate love. "War is hell," said General Sherman. "All is fair in Love and War," says the old proverb. Love and War are one, say I. Love is mad, raging unrest and a vain, hot, reaching out for nobody knows what. Of course the kind which I am talking about is the Grand Passion, not the sort of sentiment that one entertains towards his grandmother.
"But it is good to fall in love, just as it is well to have the measles," to quote Schopenhauer. Still, there is this difference: one only has the measles once, but the man who has loved is never immune, and no amount of pledges or resolves can ere avail.
Just here seems a good place to express a regret that the English language is such a crude affair that we use the same word to express a man's regard for roast-beef, his dog, child, wife and Deity. There are those who speedily cry, "Hold!" when one attempts to improve on the language, but I now give notice that on the first rainy day I am going to create some distinctions and differentiate for posterity along the line just mentioned.
* * * * *
Elyria: As intimated in a former chapter, I was a successful farmer before I went to college. I was also a manufacturer, and made a success in this business, too. I made a fortune of a hundred thousand dollars before I was thirty, and should have it yet had I sat down and watched it. If you go into a railroad-car and sit down by the side of your valise (or manuscript), in an hour your valuables will probably be there all right.
But if you leave the valise (or the manuscript) in a seat and go into another car, when you come back the goods may be there and they may not. That is the only way to keep money—fasten your eye right on it. If you leave it in the hands of others, and go away to delve in books, the probabilities are that, when you get back, certain obese attorneys have divided your substance among them.
However, there is good in every exigency of life, and to know that your fortune is gone is a great relief. When the trial is ended and the prisoner has received his sentence, he feels a great relief, for it is only the unknown that fills our souls with apprehension.
* * * * *
Cleveland: In all the realm of artistic history no record of such extremes can be found in one life as those seen in the life of Mozart. The nearest approach to it is found in the career of Rembrandt, who won fame and fortune at thirty, and then holding the pennant high for ten years, his powers began to decline. It took twenty-six years of steady down grade to ditch his destinies in a pauper's grave.
But Rembrandt, during his lifetime, was scarcely known out of Holland, whereas Mozart not only won the nod of nobility, and the favor of the highest in his own land, but he went into the enemy's country and captured Italy. Mozart's art never languished: he held a firm grip on sublime verities right to the day of his death. The high-water mark in Mozart's career was reached in those two years in Italy, when in his thirteenth and fourteenth years. The arts all go hand in hand, for the reason that strong men inspire strong men, and each does what he can do best. In painting, sculpture and music (not to mention Antonio Stradivari of Cremona) Italy has led the world. A hundred years ago no musician could hope for the world's acclaim until Italy had placed its stamp of approval upon him.
Savants in Milan, Florence, Padua, Rome, Verona, Venice and Naples, tested the powers of young Mozart to their fullest; and although he had to overcome doubt and the prejudice arising from being "a barbaric German," yet the highest honors were at the last ungrudgingly paid him. He was enrolled as an honorary member of numerous musical societies, old musicians gave their blessings, proud ladies craved the privilege of kissing his fair forehead, and the Pope conferred upon the gifted boy the Order of the Golden Spur, which gave him the right to have his mail come directed to "The Signor Cavaliere Mozarti."
At Naples the result of his marvelous playing was ascribed to enchantment, and this was thought to be centered in a diamond ring that had been presented to the lad by a fair lady in a mood of ecstasy. To convince the Neapolitans of their error Mozart was obliged to accept their challenge and remove the ring. He wrote home to his mother that he had no time to practise, as in every city where he went artists insisted on his sitting for his portrait.
The acme of attention and applause was reached at Milan, where he was commissioned to write an opera for the Christmas festivities. The production of this opera at La Scala was the most glorious item in the life of Mozart. A boy of fourteen conducting an opera of his own composition before enraptured multitudes is an event that stands to the credit of Mozart, and Mozart alone. "Evviva the Little Master—Evviva the Little Master!" cried the audience. "It is music for the stars," and against all precedent aria after aria had to be repeated. The boy, always rather small for his age, stood on a chair to wield his baton, and the flowers that were rained upon him nearly covered the lad from view.