Great Italian and French Composers
by George T. Ferris
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Copyright, 1878, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.


The task of compressing into one small volume suitable sketches of the more famous Italian and French composers has been, in view of the extent of the field and the wealth of material, a somewhat embarrassing one, especially as the purpose was to make the sketches of interest to the general music-loving public, and not merely to the critic and the scholar. The plan pursued has been to devote the bulk of space to composers of the higher rank, and to pass over those less known with such brief mention as sufficed to outline their lives and fix their place in the history of music. In gathering the facts embodied in these musical sketches, the author acknowledges his obligations to the following works: Hullah's "History of Modern Music"; Fetis's "Biographie Universelle des Musiciens"; Clementi's "Biographie des Musiciens"; Hogarth's "History of the Opera"; Sutherland Edwards's "History of the Opera"; Schlueter's "History of Music"; Chorley's "Thirty Years' Musical Reminiscences"; Stendhalls "Vie de Rossini"; Bellasys's "Memorials of Cherubini"; Grove's "Musical Dictionary"; Crowest's "Musical Anecdotes"; and the various articles in the standard cyclopaedias.

"The Great Italian and French Composers" is a companion work to "The Great German Composers," which was published earlier in the series in which the present volume appears.



Piccini, Paisiello, and Cimarosa


Donizetti and Bellini


Cherubini and his Predecessors

Meiuel, Spontini, and Halevy

Boieldieu and Auber


Gounod and Thomas





The Netherlands share other glories than that of having nursed the most indomitable spirit of liberty known to mediteval Europe. The fine as well as the industrial arts found among this remarkable people, distinguished by Erasmus as possessed of the patientia laboris, an eager and passionate culture. The early contributions of the Low Countries to the growth of the pictorial art are well known to all. But to most it will be a revelation that the Belgian school of music was the great fructifying influence of the fifteenth century, to which Italy and Germany owe a debt not easily measured. The art of interweaving parts and that science of sound known as counterpoint were placed by this school of musical scholars and workers on a solid basis, which enabled the great composers who came after them to build their beautiful tone fabrics in forms of imperishable beauty and symmetry. For a long time most of the great Italian churches had Belgian chapel-masters, and the value of their example and teachings was vital in its relation to Italian music.

The last great master among the Belgians, and, after Palestrina, the greatest of the sixteenth century, was Orlando di Lasso, born in Hainault, in the year 1520. His life of a little more than three score years and ten was divided between Italy and Germany. He left the deep imprint of his severe style, though but a young man, on his Italian confreres, and the young Palestrina owed to him much of the largeness and beauty of form through which he poured his genius in the creation of such works as have given him so distinct a place in musical history. The pope created Orlando di Lasso Knight of the Golden Spur, and sought to keep him in Italy. Unconcerned as to fame, the gentle, peaceful musician lived for his art alone, and the flattering expressions of the great were not so much enjoyed as endured by him. A musical historian, Heimsoeth, says of him: "He is the brilliant master of the North, great and sublime in sacred composition, of inexhaustible invention, displaying much breadth, variety, and depth in his treatment; he delights in full and powerful harmonies, yet, after all—owing to an existence passed in journeys, as well as service at court, and occupied at the same time with both sacred and secular music—he came short of that lofty, solemn tone which pervades the works of the great master of the South, Palestrina, who with advancing years restricted himself more and more to church music." Of the celebrated penitential psalms of Di Lasso, it is said that Charles IX. of France ordered them to be written "in order to obtain rest for his soul after the horrible massacre of St. Bartholomew." Aside from his works, this musician has a claim on fame through his lasting improvements in musical form and method. He illuminated, and at the same time closed, the great epoch of Belgian ascendancy, which had given three hundred musicians of great science to the times in which they lived. So much has been said of Orlando di Lasso, for he was the model and Mentor of the greatest of early church composers, Palestrina.


The melodious and fascinating style, soon to give birth to the characteristic genius of the opera, was as yet unborn, though dormant. In Rome, the chief seat of the Belgian art, the exclusive study of technical skill had frozen music to a mere formula. The Gregorian chant had become so overladen with mere embellishments as to make the prescribed church-form difficult of recognition in its borrowed garb, for it had become a mere jumble of sound. Musicians, indeed, carried their profanation so far as to take secular melodies as the themes for masses and motetts. These were often called by their profane titles. So the name of a love-sonnet or a drinking-song would sometimes be attached to a miserere. The council of Trent, in 1562, cut at these evils with sweeping axe, and the solemn anathemas of the church fathers roused the creative powei's of the subject of this sketch, who raised his art to an independent national existence, and made it rank with sculpture and painting, which had already reached their zenith in Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Correggio, Titian, and Michel Angelo. Henceforth Italian music was to be a vigorous, fruitful stock.

Giovanni Perluigui Aloisio da Palestrina was born at Palestrina, the ancient Praeneste, in 1524.*

* Our composer, as was common with artists and scholars in those days, took the name of his natal town, and by this he is known to fame. Old documents also give him the old Latin name of the town with the personal ending.

The memorials of his childhood are scanty. We know but little except that his parents were poor peasants, and that he learned the rudiments of literature and music as a choir-singer, a starting-point so common in the lives of great composers. In 1540 he went to Rome and studied in the school of Goudimel, a stern Huguenot Fleming, tolerated in the papal capital on account of his superior science and method of teaching, and afterward murdered at Lyons on the day of the Paris massacre. Palestrina grasped the essential doctrines of the school without adopting its mannerisms. At the age of thirty he published his first compositions, and dedicated them to the reigning pontiff, Julius III. In the formation of his style, which moved with such easy, original grace within the old prescribed rules, he learned much from the personal influence and advice of Orlando di Lasso, his warm friend and constant companion during these earlier days.

Several of his compositions, written at this time, are still performed in Rome on Good Friday, and Goethe and Mendelssohn have left their eloquent tributes to the impression made on them by music alike simple and sublime. The pope was highly pleased with Palestrina's noble music, and appointed him one of the papal choristers, then regarded as a great honor. But beyond Rome the new light of music was but little known. The Council of Trent, in their first indignation at the abuse of church music, had resolved to abolish everything but the simple Gregorian chants, but the remonstrances of the Emperor Ferdinand and the Roman cardinals stayed the austere fiat. The final decision was made to rest on a new composition of Palestrina, who was permitted to demonstrate that the higher forms of musical art were consistent with the solemnities of church worship.

All eyes were directed to the young musician, for the very existence of his art was at stake. The motto of his first mass, "Illumina oculos meos," shows the pious enthusiasm with which he undertook his labors. Instead of one, he composed three six-part masses. The third of these excited such admiration that the pope exclaimed in raptures, "It is John who gives us here in this earthly Jerusalem a foretaste of that new song which the holy Apostle John realized in the heavenly Jerusalem in his prophetic trance." This is now known as the "mass of Pope Marcel," in honor of a former patron of Palestrina.

A new pope, Paul IV., on ascending the pontifical throne, carried his desire of reforming abuses to fanaticism. He insisted on all the papal choristers being clerical. Palestrina had married early in life a Roman lady, of whom all we know is that her name was Lucretia. Four children had blessed the union, and the composer's domestic happiness became a bar to his temporal preferment. With two others he was dismissed from the chapel because he was a layman, and a trifling pension allowed him. Two months afterward, though, he was appointed chapel-master of St. John Lateran. His works now succeeded each other rapidly, and different collections of his masses were dedicated to the crowned heads of Europe. In 1571 he was appointed chapel-master of the Vatican, and Pope Gregory XIII. gave special charge of the reform of sacred music to Palestrina.

The death of the composer's wife, whom he idolized, in 1580, was a blow from which he never recovered. In his latter days he was afflicted with great poverty, for the positions he held were always more honorable than lucrative. Mental depression and physical weakness burdened the last few years of his pious and gentle life, and he died after a lingering and severe illness. The register of the pontifical chapel contains this entry: "February 2, 1594. This morning died the most excellent musician, Signor Giovanni Palestrina, our dear companion and maestro di capella of St. Peter's church, whither his funeral was attended not only by all the musicians of Rome, but by an infinite concourse of people, when his own 'Libera me, Domine' was sung by the whole college."

Such are the simple and meagre records of the life of the composer, who carved and laid the foundation of the superstructure of Italian music; who, viewed in connection with his times and their limitations, must be regarded as one of the great creative minds in his art; who shares with Sebastian Bach the glory of having built an imperishable base for the labors of his successors.


Palestrixa left a great mass of compositions, all glowing with the fire of genius, only part of which have been published. His simple life was devoted to musical labor, and passed without romance, diversion, or excitement. His works are marked by utter absence of contrast and color. Without dramatic movement, they are full of melody and majesty, a majesty serene, unruffled by the slightest suggestion of human passion. Voices are now and then used for individual expression, but either in unison or harmony. As in all great church music, the chorus is the key of the work. The general judgment of musicians agrees that repose and enjoyment are more characteristic of this music than that of any other master. The choir of the Sistine chapel, by the inheritance of long-cherished tradition, is the most perfect exponent of the Palestrina music. During the annual performance of the "Improperie" and "Lamentations," the altar and walls are despoiled of their pictures and ornaments, and everything is draped in black. The cardinals dressed in serge, no incense, no candles: the whole scene is a striking picture of trouble and desolation. The faithful come in two by two and bow before the cross, while the sad music reverberates through the chapel arches. This powerful appeal to the imagination, of course, lends greater power to the musical effect. But all minds who have felt the lift and beauty of these compositions have acknowledged how far they soar above words and creeds, and the picturesque framework of a liturgy.

Mendelssohn, in a letter to Zelter on the Palestrina music as heard in the Sistine chapel, says that nothing could exceed the effect of the blending of the voices, the prolonged tones gradually merging from one note and chord to another, softly swelling, decreasing, at last dying out. "They understand," he writes, "how to bring out and place each trait in the most delicate light, without giving it undue prominence; one chord gently melts into another. The ceremony at the same time is solemn and imposing; deep silence prevails in the chapel, only broken by the reechoing Greek 'holy,' sung with unvarying sweetness and expression." The composer Paer was so impressed with the wonderful beauty of the music and the performance, that he exclaimed, "This is indeed divine music, such as I have long sought for, and my imagination was never able to realize, but which, I knew, must exist."

Palestrina's versatility and genius enabled him to lift ecclesiastical music out of the rigidity and frivolity characterizing on either hand the opposing ranks of those that preceded him, and to embody the religious spirit in works of the highest art. He transposed the ecclesiastical melody (canto fermo) from the tenor to the soprano (thus rendering it more intelligible to the ear), and created that glorious thing choir song, with its refined harmony, that noble music of which his works are the models, and the papal chair the oracle. No individual preeminence is ever allowed to disturb and weaken the ideal atmosphere of the whole work. However Palestrina's successors have aimed to imitate his effects, they have, with the exception of Cherubini, failed for the most part; for every peculiar genus of art is the result of innate genuine inspiration, and the spontaneous growth of the age which produces it. As a parent of musical form he was the protagonist of Italian music, both sacred and secular, and left an admirable model, which even the new school of opera so soon to rise found it necessary to follow in the construction of harmony. The splendid and often licentious music of the theatre built its most worthy effects on the work of the pious composer, who lived, labored, and died in an atmosphere of almost anchorite sanctity.

The great disciples of his school, Nannini and Allegri, continued his work, and the splendid "Miserere" of the latter was regarded as such an inestimable treasure that no copy of it was allowed to go out of the Sistine chapel, till the infant prodigy, Wolfgang Mozart, wrote it out from the memory of a single hearing.



Music, as speaking the language of feeling, emotion, and passion, found its first full expansion in the operatic form. There had been attempts to represent drama with chorus, founded on the ancient Greek drama, but it was soon discovered that dialogue and monologue could not be embodied in choral forms without involving an utter absurdity. The spirit of the renaissance had freed poetry, statuary, and painting, from the monopolizing elaims of the church. Music, which had become a well equipped and developed science, could not long rest in a similar servitude. Though it is not the aim of the author to discuss operatic history, a brief survey of the progress of opera from its birth cannot be omitted.

The oldest of the entertainments which ripened into Italian opera belongs to the last years of the fifteenth century, and was the work of the brilliant Politian, known as one of the revivalists of Greek learning attached to the court of Cosmo de' Medici and his son Lorenzo. This was the musical drama of "Orfeo." The story was written in Latin, and sung in music principally choral, though a few solo phrases were given to the principal characters. It was performed at Rome with great magnificence, and Vasari tells us that Peruzzi, the decorator of the papal theatre, painted such scenery for it that even the great Titian was so struck with the vraisemblance of the work that he was not satisfied until he had touched the canvas to be sure of its not being in relief. We may fancy indeed that the scenery was one great attraction of the representation. In spite of spasmodic encouragement by the more liberally minded pontiffs, the general weight of church influence was against the new musical tendency, and the most skilled composers were at first afraid to devote their talents to further its growth.

What musicians did not dare undertake out of dread of the thunderbolts of the church, a company of literati at Florence commenced in 1580. The primary purpose was the revival of Greek art, including music. This association, in conjunction with the Medicean Academy, laid down the rule that distinct individuality of expression in music was to be sought for. As results, quickly came musical drama with recitative (modern form of the Greek chorus) and solo melody for characteristic parts of the legend or story. Out of this beginning swiftly grew the opera. Composers in the new form sprung up in various parts of Italy, though Naples, Venice, and Florence continued to be its centres.

Between 1637 and 1700, there were performed three hundred operas at Venice alone. An account of the performance of "Berenice," composed by Domenico Freschi, at Padua, in 1680, dwarfs all our present ideas of spectacular splendor. In this opera there were choruses of a hundred virgins and a hundred soldiers; a hundred horsemen in steel armor; a hundred performers on trumpets, cornets, sackbuts, drums, flutes, and other instruments, on horseback and on foot; two lions led by two Turks, and two elephants led by two Indians; Berenice's triumphal car drawn by four horses, and six other cars with spoils and prisoners, drawn by twelve horses. Among the scenes in the first act was a vast plain with two triumphal arches; another with pavilions and tents; a square prepared for the entrance of the triumphal procession, and a forest for the chase. In the second act there were the royal apartments of Berenice's temple of vengeance, a spacious court with view of the prison and a covered way with long lines of chariots. In the third act there were the royal dressing-room, the stables with a hundred live horses, porticoes adorned with tapestry, and a great palace in the perspective. In the course of the piece there were representations of the hunting of the boar, the stag, and the lions. The whole concluded with a huge globe descending from the skies, and dividing itself in lesser globes of fire on which stood allegorical figures of fame, honor, nobility, virtue, and glory. The theatriccal manager had princes and nobles for bankers and assistants, and they lavished their treasures of art and money to make such spectacles as the modern stagemen of London and Paris cannot approach.

In Evelyn's diary there is an entry describing opera at Venice in 1645. "This night, having with my lord Bruce taken our places before, we went to the opera, where comedies and other plays are represented in recitative musiq by the most excellent musicians, vocal and instrumental, with variety of scenes painted and contrived with no lesse art of perspective, and machines for flying in the aire, and other wonderful motions; taken together it is one of the most magnificent and expensive diversions the wit of man can invent. The history was Hercules in Lydia. The sceanes changed thirteen times. The famous voices, Anna Rencia, a Roman and reputed the best treble of women; but there was a Eunuch who in my opinion surpassed her; also a Genoise that in my judgment sung an incomparable base. They held us by the eyes and ears till two o'clock i' the morning." Again he writes of the carnival of 1640: "The comedians have liberty and the operas are open; witty pasquils are thrown about, and the mountebanks have their stages at every corner. The diversion which chiefly took me up was three noble operas, where were most excellent voices and music, the most celebrated of which was the famous and beautiful Anna Rencia, whom we invited to a fish dinner after four daies in Lent, when they had given over at the theatre." Old Evelyn then narrates how he and his noble friend took the lovely diner out on a junketing, and got shot at with blunderbusses from the gondola of an infuriated rival.

Opera progressed toward a fixed status with a swiftness hardly paralleled in the history of any art. The soil was rich and fully prepared for the growth, and the fecund root, once planted, shot into a luxuriant beauty and symmetry, which nothing could check. The Church wisely gave up its opposition, and henceforth there was nothing to impede the progress of a product which spread and naturalized itself in England, France, and Germany. The inventive genius of Monteverde, Carissimi, Scarlatti (the friend and rival of Handel), Durante, and Leonardo Leo, perfected the forms of the opera nearly as we have them today. A line of brilliant composers in the school of Durante and Leo brings us down through Pergolesi, Derni, Terradiglias, Jomelli, Traetta, Ciccio di Majo, Galuppi, and Giuglielmi, to the most distinguished of the early Italian composers, Nicolo Piccini, who, mostly forgotten in his works, is principally known to modern fame as the rival of the mighty Gluck in that art controversy which shook Paris into such bitter factions. Yet, overshadowed as Piccini was in the greatness of his rival, there can be no question of his desert as the most brilliant ornament and exponent of the early operatic school. No greater honor could have been paid to him than that he should have been chosen as their champion by the Italianissimi of his day in the battle royal with such a giant as Gluck, an honor richly deserved by a composer distinguished by multiplicity and beauty of ideas, dramatic insight, and ardent conviction.


Niccolo Piccini, who was not less than fifty years of age when he left Naples for the purpose of outrivaling Gluck, was born at Bari, in the kingdom of Naples, in 1728. His father, also a musician, had destined him for holy orders, but Nature made him an artist. His great delight even as a little child was playing on the harpsichord, which he quickly learned. One day the bishop of Bari heard him playing and was amazed at the power of the little virtuoso. "By all means, send him to a conservatory of music," he said to the elder Piccini. "If the vocation of the priesthood brings trials and sacrifices, a musical career is not less beset with obstacles. Music demands great perseverance and incessant labor. It exposes one to many chagrins and toils."

By the advice of the shrewd prelate, the precocious boy was placed at the school of St. Onofrio at the age of fourteen. At first confided to the care of an inferior professor, he revolted from the arid teachings of a mere human machine. Obeying the dictates of his daring fancy, though hardly acquainted with the rudiments of composition, he determined to compose a mass. The news got abroad that the little Niccolo was working on a grand mass, and the great Leo, the chief of the conservatory, sent for the trembling culprit.

"You have written a mass?" he commenced.

"Excuse me, sir, I could not help it," said the timid boy.

"Let me see it."

Niccolo brought him the score and all the orchestral parts, and Leo immediately went to the concert-room, assembled the orchestra, and gave them the parts. The boy was ordered to take his place in front and conduct the performance, which he went through with great agitation.

"I pardon you this time," said the grave maestro, at the end; "but, if you do such a thing again, I will punish you in such a manner that you will remember it as long as you live. Instead of studying the principles of your art, you give yourself up to all the wildness of your imagination; and, when you have tutored your ill-regulated ideas into something like shape, you produce what you call a mass, and no doubt think you have produced a masterpiece."

When the boy burst into tears at this rebuke, Leo clasped him in his arms, told him he had great talent, and after that took him under his special instruction. Leo was succeeded by Durante, who also loved Piccini, and looked forward to a future greatness for him. He was wont to say the others were his pupils, but Piccini was his son. After twelve years spent in the conservatory, Piccini commenced an opera. The director of the principal Neapolitan theatre said to Prince Vintimille, who introduced the young musician, that his work was sure to be a failure.

"How much can you lose by his opera," the prince replied, "supposing it be a perfect fiasco?" The manager named the sum.

"There is the money, then," replied Piccini's generous patron, handing him a purse. "If the 'Dorme Despetose' (the name of the opera) should fail, you may keep the money, but otherwise return it to me."

The friends of Lagroscino, the favorite composer of the day, were enraged when they heard that the next new work was to be from an obscure youth, and they determined to hiss the performance. So great, however, was the delight of the public with the freshness and beauty of Piccini's music, that even those who came to condemn remained to applaud. The reputation of the composer went on increasing until he became the foremost name of musical Italy, for his fertility of production was remarkable; and he gave the theatres a brilliant succession of comic and serious works. In 1758 he produced at Rome his "Alessandro nell' Indie," whose success surpassed all that had preceded it, and two years later a still finer masterpiece, "La Buona Figluola," written to a text furnished by the poet Goldoni, and founded on the story of Richardson's "Pamela." This opera was produced at every playhouse on the Italian peninsula in the course of a few years. A pleasant mot by the Duke of Brunswick is worth preserving in this connection. Piccini had married a beautiful singer named Vicenza Sibilla, and his home was very happy. One day the German prince visited Piccini, and found him rocking the cradle of his youngest child, while the eldest was tugging at the paternal coat-tails. The mother, being en deshabille, ran away at the sight of a stranger. The duke excused himself for his want of ceremony, and added, "I am delighted to see so great a man living in such simplicity, and that the author of 'La Bonne Fille' is such a good father." Piccini's placid and pleasant life was destined, however, to pass into stormy waters.

His sway over the stage and the popular preference continued until 1773, when a clique of envious rivals at Rome brought about his first disaster. The composer was greatly disheartened, and took to his bed, for he was ill alike in mind and body. The turning-point in his career had come, and he was to enter into an arena which taxed his powers in a contest such as he had not yet dreamed of. His operas having been heard and admired in France, their great reputation inspired the royal favorite, Mme. du Barry, with the hope of finding a successful competitor to the great German composer, patronized by Marie Antoinette. Accordingly, Piccini was offered an indemnity of six thousand francs, and a residence in the hotel of the Neapolitan ambassador. When the Italian arrived in Paris, Gluck was in full sway, the idol of the court and public, and about to produce his "Armide."

Piccini was immediately commissioned to write a new opera, and he applied to the brilliant Marmontel for a libretto. The poet rearranged one of Quinault's tragedies, "Roland," and Piccini undertook the difficult task of composing music to words in a language as yet unknown to him. Marcnontel was his unwearied tutor, and he writes in his "Memoirs" of his pleasant yet arduous task: "Line by line, word by word, I had everything to explain; and, when he had laid hold of the meaning of a passage, I recited it to him, marking the accent, the prosody, and the cadence of the verses. He listened eagerly, and I had the satisfaction to know that what he heard was carefully noted. His delicate ear seized so readily the accent of the language and the measure of the poetry, that in his music he never mistook them. It was an inexpressible pleasure to me to see him practice before my eyes an art of which before I had no idea. His harmony was in his mind. He wrote his airs with the utmost rapidity, and when he had traced its designs, he filled up all the parts of the score, distributing the traits of harmony and melody, just as a skillful painter would distribute on his canvas the colors, lights, and shadows of his picture. When all this was done, he opened his harpsichord, which he had been using as his writing-table; and then I heard an air, a duet, a chorus, complete in all its parts, with a truth of expression, an intelligence, a unity of design, a magic in the harmony, which delighted both my ear and my feelings."

Piccini's arrival in Paris had been kept a close secret while he was working on the new opera, but Abbe du Rollet ferreted it out, and acquainted Gluck, which piece of news the great German took with philosophical disdain. Indeed, he attended the rehearsal of "Roland;" and when his rival, in despair over his ignorance of French and the stupidity of the orchestra, threw down the baton in despair, Gluck took it up, and by his magnetic authority brought order out of chaos and restored tranquillity, a help as much, probably, the fruit of condescension and contempt as of generosity.

Still Gluck was not easy in mind over this intrigue of his enemies, and wrote a bitter letter, which was made public, and aggravated the war of public feeling. Epigrams and accusations flew back and forth like hailstones.*

* See article on Gluck in "Great German Composers."

"Do you know that the Chevalier (Gluck's title) has an Armida and Orlando in his portfolio?" said Abbe Arnaud to a Piccinist.

"But Piccini is also at work on an Orlando," was the retort.

"So much the better," returned the abbe, "for then we shall have an Orlando and also an Orlandino," was the keen answer.

The public attention was stimulated by the war of pamphlets, lampoons, and newspaper articles. Many of the great literati were Piccinists, among them Marmontel, La Harpe, D'Alembert, etc. Suard du Rollet and Jean Jacques Rousseau fought in the opposite ranks. Although the nation was trembling on the verge of revolution, and the French had just lost their hold on the East Indies; though Mirabeau was thundering in the tribune, and Jacobin clubs were commencing their baleful work, soon to drench Paris in blood, all factions and discords were forgotten. The question was no longer, "Is he a Jansenist, a Molinist, an Encyclopaedist, a philosopher, a free-thinker?" One question only was thought of: "Is he a Gluckist or Piccinist?" and on the answer often depended the peace of families and the cement of long-established friendships.

Piccini's opera was a brilliant success with the fickle Parisians, though the Gluckists sneered at it as pretty concert music. The retort was that Gluck had no gift of melody, though they admitted he had the advantage over his rival of making more noise. The poor Italian was so much distressed by the fierce contest that he and his family were in despair on the night of the first representation. He could only say to his weeping wife and son: "Come, my children, this is unreasonable. Remember that we are not among savages; we are living with the politest and kindest nation in Europe. If they do not like me as a musician, they will at all events respect me as a man and a stranger." To do justico to Piccini, a mild and timid man, he never took part in the controversy, and always spoke of his opponent with profound respect and admiration.


Marie Antoinette, whom Mme. du Barry and her clique looked on as Piccini's enemy, astonished both cabals by appointing Piccini her singing-master, an unprofitable honor, for he received no pay, and was obliged to give costly copies of his compositions to the royal family. He might have quoted from the Latin poet in regard to this favor from Marie Antoinette, whose faction in music, among other names, was known as the Greek party, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." *

* I fear the Greeks, though offering gifts.

Beaumarchais, the brilliant author of "Figaro," had found the same inconvenience when acting as court teacher to the daughters of Louis XV. The French kings were parsimonious except when lavishing money on their vices.

The action of the dauphiness, however, paved the way for a reconciliation between Piccini and Gluck. Berton, the manager of the opera, gave a luxurious banquet, and the musicians, side by side, pledged each other in libations of champagne. Gluck got confidential in his cups. "These French," he said, "are good enough people, but they make me laugh. They want us to write songs for them, and they can't sing." In fact the quarrel was not between the musicians but their adherents. In his own heart Piccini knew his inferiority to Gluck.

De Vismes, Berton's successor, proposed that both should write operas on the same subject, "Iphigenia in Tauris," and gave him a libretto. "The French public will have for the first time," he said, "the pleasure of hearing two operas on the same theme, with the same incidents, the same characters, but composed by two great masters of totally different schools."

"But," objected the alarmed Italian, "if Gluck's opera is played first, the public will be so delighted that they will not listen to mine."

"To avoid that catastrophe," said the director, "we will play yours first."

"But Gluck will not permit it."

"I give you my word of honor," said De Vismes, "that your opera shall be put in rehearsal and brought out as soon as it is finished."

Before Piccini had finished his opera, he heard that his rival was back from Germany with his "Iphigenia" completed, and that it was in rehearsal. The director excused himself on the plea of its being a royal command. Gluck's work was his masterpiece, and produced an unparalleled sensation among the Parisians. Even his enemies were silenced, and La Harpe said it was the chef d'oeuvre of the world. Piccini's work, when produced, was admired, but it stood no chance with the profound, serious, and wonderfully dramatic composition of his rival.

On the night of the first performance Mile. Laguerre, to whom Piccini had trusted the role of Iphigenia, could not stand straight from intoxication. "This is not 'Iphigenia in Tauris,'" said the witty Sophie Arnould, "but 'Iphigenia in champagne.'" She compensated afterward though by singing the part with exquisite effect.

While the Gluck-Piccini battle was at its height, an amateur who was disgusted with the contest returned to the country and sang the praises of the birds and their gratuitous performances in the following epigram:

"La n'est point d'art, d'ennui scientifique; Piccini, Gluck, n'ont point note les airs. Nature seule en dicta la musique, Et Marmontel n'en a pas fait les vers."

The sentiment of this was probably applauded by the many who were wearied of the bitter recriminations, which degraded the art which they professed to serve.

During the period when Gluck and Piccini were composing for the French opera, its affairs flourished liberally under the sway of De Vismes. Gluck, Piccini, and Rameau wrote serious operas, while Piccini, Sacchini, Anfossi, and Paisiello composed comic operas. The ballet flourished with unsurpassed splendor, and on the whole it may be said that never has the opera presented more magnificence at Paris than during the time France was on the eve of the Reign of Terror. The gay capital was thronged with great singers, the traditions of whose artistic ability compare favorably with those of a more recent period.

The witty and beautiful Sophie Arnould, who had a train of princes at her feet, was the principal exponent of Gluck's heroines, while Mile. La-guerre was the mainstay of the Piccinists. The rival factions made the names of these charming and capricious women their war-cries not less than those of the composers. The public bowed and cringed before these idols of the stage. Gaetan Vestris, the first of the family, known as the "Dieu de la Danse," and who held that there were only three great men in Europe, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Voltaire, and himself, dared to dictate even to Gluck. "Write me the music of a chaconne, Monsieur Gluek," said the god of dancing.

"A chaconne!" said the enraged composer. "Do you think the Greeks, whose manners we are endeavoring to depict, knew what a chaconne was?"

"Did they not?" replied Vestris, astonished at this news, and in a tone of compassion continued, "then they are much to be pitied."

Vestris did not obtain his ballet music from the obdurate German; but, when Piccini's rival "Iphigenie en Tauride" was produced, such beautiful dance measures were furnished by the Italian composer as gave Vestris the opportunity for one of his greatest triumphs.


The contest between Gluck and Piccini, or rather the cabals who adopted the two musicians as their figure-heads, was brought to an end by the death of the former. An attempt was made to set up Sacchini in his place, but it proved unavailing, as the new composer proved to be quite as much a follower of the prevailing Italian method as of the new school of Gluck. The French revolution swept away Piccini's property, and he retired to Italy. Bad fortune pursued him, however. Queen Caroline of Naples conceived a dislike to him and used her influence to injure his career, out of a fit of wounded vanity.

"Do you not think I remember my sister, Marie Antoinette?" queried the somewhat ill-favored queen. Piccini, embarrassed but truthful, replied: "Your majesty, there maybe a family likeness, but no resemblance." A fatality attended him even to Venice. In 1792 he was mobbed and his house burned, because the populace regarded him as a republican, for he had a French son-in-law. Some partial musical successes, however, consoled him, though they flattered his amour propre more than they benefited his purse. On his return to Naples he was subjected to a species of imprisonment during four years, for royal displeasure in those days did not confine itself merely to lack of court favor. Reduced to great poverty, the composer who had been the favorite of the rich and great for so many years knew often the actual pangs of hunger, and eked out his subsistence by writing conventual psalms, as payment for the broken food doled out by the monks.

At last he was released, and the tenor, David, sent him funds to pay his journey to Paris. Napoleon, the first consul, received him cordially in the Luxembourg palace.

"Sit down," said he to Piccini, who remained standing, "a man of your greatness stands in no one's presence." His reception in Paris was, in fact, an ovation. The manager of the opera gave him a pension of twenty-four hundred francs, a government pension was also accorded, and he was appointed sixth inspector at the Conservatory. But the benefits of this pale gleam of wintry sunshine did not long remain. He died at Passy in the year 1800, and was followed to the grave by a great throng of those who loved his beautiful music and admired his gentle life.

In the present day Gluck appears to have vanquished Piccini, because occasionally an opera of the former is performed, while Piccini's works are only known to the musical antiquarian. But even the marble temples of Gluck are moss-grown and neglected, and that great man is known to the present day rather as one whose influence profoundly colored and changed the philosophy of opera, than through any immediate acquaintance with his productions. The connoisseurs of the eighteenth century found Piccini's melodies charming, but the works that endure as masterpieces are not those which contain the greatest number of beauties, but those of which the form is the most perfect. Gluck had larger conceptions and more powerful genius than his Italian rival, but the latter's sweet spring of melody gave him the highest place which had so far been attained in the Italian operatic school.

"Piccini," says M. Genguene, his biographer, "was under the middle size, but well made, with considerable dignity of carriage. His countenance was very agreeable. His mind was acute, enlarged, and cultivated. Latin and Italian literature was familiar to him when he went to France, and afterward he became almost as well acquainted with French literature. He spoke and wrote Italian with great purity, but among his countrymen he preferred the Neapolitan dialect, which he considered the most expressive, the most difficult and the most figurative of all languages. He used it principally in narration, with a gayety, a truth, and a pantomimic expression after the manner of his country, which delighted all his friends, and made his stories intelligible even to those who knew Italian but slightly."

As a musician Piccini was noticeable, according to the judgment of his best critics, for the purity and simplicity of his style. He always wished to preserve the supremacy of the voice, and, though he well knew how to make his instrumentation rich and effective, he was a resolute opponent to the florid and complex accompaniments which were coming into vogue in his day. His recorded opinion on this subject may have some interest for the musicians of the present day: "Were the employment which Nature herself assigns to the instruments of an orchestra preserved to them, a variety of effects and a series of infinitely diversified pictures would be produced. But they are all thrown in at once and used incessantly, and they thus overpower and indurate the ear, without presenting any picture to the mind, to which the ear is the passage. I should be glad to know how they will arouse it when it is accustomed to this uproar, which will soon happen, and of what new witchcraft they will avail themselves.... It is well known what occurs to palates blunted by the use of spirituous liquors. In a few months everything may be learned which is necessary to produce these exaggerated effects, but it requires much time and study to be able to excite genuine emotion." Piccini followed strictly the canons of the Italian school; and, though far inferior in really great qualities to his rival Gluck, his compositions had in them so much of fluent grace and beauty as to place him at the head of his predecessors. Some curious critics have indeed gone so far as to charge that many of the finest arias of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini owe their paternity to this composer, an indictment not uncommon in music, for most of the great composers have rifled the sweets of their predecessors without scruple.


Paisiello and Cimarosa, in their style and processes of work, seem to have more nearly caught the mantle of Piccini than any others, though they were contemporaries as well as successors. Giovanni Paisiello, born in 1741, was educated, like many other great musicians, at the conservatory of San Onofrio. During his early life he produced a great number of pieces for the Italian theatres, and in 1776 accepted the invitation of Catherine to became the court composer at St. Petersburgh, where he remained nine years and produced several of his best operas, chief among them, "Il Barbiere di Seviglia" (a different version of Beaumarchais's celebrated comedy from that afterward used by Rossini).

The empress was devotedly attached to him and showed her esteem in many signal ways. On one occasion, while Paisiello was accompanying her in a song, she observed that he shuddered with the bitter cold. On this Catherine took off her splendid ermine cloak, decorated with clasps of brilliants, and threw it over her tutor's shoulders. In a quarrel which Paisiello had with Marshal Beloseloky, the temporary favorite of the Russian Messalina, her favor was shown in a still more striking way. The marshal had given the musician a blow, on which Paisiello, a very large, athletic man, drubbed the Russian general most unmercifully. The latter demanded the immediate dismissal of the composer for having insulted a dignitary of the empire. Catherine's reply was similar to the one made by Francis the First of France in a parallel case about Leonardo da Vinci: "I neither can nor will attend to your request;' you forgot your dignity when you gave an unoffending man and a great artist a blow. Are you surprised that he should have forgotten it too? As for rank, it is in my power to make fifty marshals, but not one Paisiello."

Some years after his return to Italy, he was engaged by Napoleon as chapel-master; for that despot ruled the art and literature of his times as autocratically as their politics. Though Paisiello did not wish to obey the mandate, to refuse was ruin. The French ruler had already shown his favor by giving him the preference over Cherubim in several important musical contests, for the latter had always displayed stern independence of courtly favor. On Paisiello's arrival in Paris, several lucrative appointments indicated the sincerity of Napoleon's intentions. The composer did not hesitate to stand on his rights as a musician on all occasions. When Napoleon complained of the inefficiency of the chapel service, he said, courageously: "I can't blame people for doing their duty carelessly, when they are not justly paid." The cunning Italian knew how to flatter, though, when occasion served. He once addressed his master as "Sire."

"'Sire,' what do you mean?" answered the first consul. "I am a general and nothing more."

"Well, General," continued the composer, "I have come to place myself at your majesty's orders."

"I must really beg you," rejoined Napoleon, "not to address me in this manner."

"Forgive me, General," said Paisiello. "But I cannot give up the habit I have contracted in addressing sovereigns, who, compared with you, are but pigmies. However, I will not forget your commands, and, if I have been unfortunate enough to offend, I must throw myself on your majesty's indulgence."

Paisiello received ten thousand francs for the mass written for Napoleon's coronation, and one thousand for all others. As he produced masses with great rapidity, he could very well afford to neglect operatic writing during this period. His masses were pasticcio work made up of pieces selected from his operas and other compositions. This could be easily done, for music is arbitrary in its associations. Love songs of a passionate and sentimental cast were quickly made religious by suitable words. Thus the same melody will depict equally well the rage of a baffled conspirator, the jealousy of an injured husband, the grief of lovers about to part, the despondency of a man bent on suicide, the devotion of the nun, or the rapt adoration of worship. A different text and a slight change in time effect the marvel, and hardly a composer has disdained to borrow from one work to enrich another. His only opera composed in Paris, "Proserpine," was not successful.

Failure of health obliged Paisiello to return to Naples, when he again entered the service of the king. Attached to the fortunes of the Bonaparte family, his prosperity fell with theirs. He had been crowned with honors by all the musical societies of the world, but his pensions and emoluments ceased with the fall of Joachim Murat from the Neapolitan throne. He died June 5,1816, and the court, which neglected him living, gave him a magnificent funeral.

"Paisiello," says the Chevalier Le Sueur, "was not only a great musician, but possessed a large fund of general information. He was well versed in the dead languages, acquainted with all branches of literature, and on terms of friendship with the most distinguished persons of the age. His mind was noble and above all mean passions; he neither knew envy nor the feeling of rivalry.... He composed," says the same writer, "seventy-eight operas, of which twenty-seven were serious, and fifty-one comic, eight intermezzi, and an immense number of cantatas, oratorios, masses, etc.; seven symphonies for King Joseph of Spain, and many miscellaneous pieces for the court of Russia."

Paisiello's style, according to Fetis, was characterized by great simplicity and apparent facility. His few and unadorned notes, full of grace, were yet deep and varied in their expression. In his simplicity was the proof of his abundance. It was not necessary for him to have recourse to musical artifice and complication to conceal poverty of invention. His accompaniments were similar in character, clear and picturesque, without pretense of elaboration. The latter not only relieved and sustained the voice, but were full of original effects, novel to his time. He was the author, too, of important improvements in instrumental composition. He introduced the viola, clarinet, and bassoon into the orchestra of the Italian opera. Though, voluminous both in serious and comic opera, it was in the latter that he won his chief laurels. His "Pazza per Amore" was one of the great Pasta's favorites, and Catalani added largely to her reputation in the part of La Frascatana. Several of Paisiello's comic operas still keep a dramatic place on the German stage, where excellence is not sacrificed to novelty.


A still higher place must be assigned to another disciple and follower of the school perfected by Piccini, Dominic Cimarosa, born in Naples in 1754. His life down to his latter years was an uninterrupted flow of prosperity. His mother, an humble washerwomen, could do little for her fatherless child, but an observant priest saw the promise of the lad, and taught him till he was old enough to enter the Conservatory of St. Maria di Loretto. His early works showed brilliant invention and imagination, and the young Cimarosa, before he left the Conservatory, had made himself a good violinist and singer. He worked hard, during a musical apprenticeship of many years, to lay a solid foundation for the fame which his teachers prophesied for him from the onset. Like Paisiello, he was for several years attached to the court of Catherine II. of Russia. He had already produced a number of pleasing works, both serious and comic, for the Italian theatres, and his faculty of production was equaled by the richness and variety of his scores. During a period of four years spent at the imperial court of the North, Cimarosa produced nearly five hundred works, great and small, and only left the service of his magnificent patroness, who was no less passionately fond of art than she was great as a ruler and dissolute as a woman, because the severe climate affected his health, for he was a typical Italian in his temperament.

He was arrested in his southward journey by the urgent persuasions of the Emperor Leopold, who made him chapel-master, with a salary of twelve thousand florins. The taste for the Italian school was still paramount at the musical capital of Austria. Though such composers as Haydn, Salieri, and young Mozart, who had commenced to be welcomed as an unexampled prodigy, were in Vienna, the court preferred the suave and shallow beauties of Italian music to their own serious German school, which was commencing to send down such deep roots into the popular heart.

Cimarosa produced "Il Matrimonio Segreto" (The Secret Marriage), his finest opera, for his new patron. The libretto was founded on a forgotten French operetta, which again was adapted from Garrick and Colman's "Clandestine Marriage." The emperor could not attend the first representation, but a brilliant audience hailed it with delight. Leopold made amends, though, on the second night, for he stood in his box, and said, aloud:

"Bravo, Cimarosa, bravissimo! The whole opera is admirable, delightful, enchanting! I did not applaud, that I might not lose a single note of this masterpiece. You have heard it twice, and I must have the same pleasure before I go to bed. Singers and musicians pass into the next room. Cimarosa will come, too, and preside at the banquet prepared for you. When you have had sufficient rest, we will begin again. I encore the whole opera, and in the mean while let us applaud it as it deserves."

The emperor gave the signal, and, midst a thunderstorm of plaudits, the musicians passed into their midnight feast. There is no record of any other such compliment, except that to the Latin dramatist, Plautus, whose "Eunuchus" was performed twice on the same day.

Yet the same Viennese public, six years before, had actually hissed Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro," which shares with Rossini's "Il Barbiere" the greatest rank in comic opera, and has retained, to this day, its perennial freshness and interest. Cimarosa himself did not share the opinion of his admirers in respect to Mozart. A certain Viennese painter attempted to flatter him, by decrying Mozart's music in comparison with his own. The following retort shows the nobility of genius: "I, sir? What would you call the man who would seek to assure you that you were superior to Raphael?" Another acute rejoinder, on the respective merits of Mozart and Cimarosa, was made by the French composer, Gretry, in answer to a criticism by Napoleon, when first consul, that great man affecting to be a dilettante in music:

"Sire, Cimarosa puts the statue on the theatre and the pedestal in the orchestra, instead of which Mozart puts the statue in the orchestra and the pedestal on the theatre."

The composer's hitherto brilliant career was doomed to a gloomy close. On returning to Naples, at the Emperor Leopold's death, Cimarosa produced several of his finest works, among which musical students place first: "Il Matrimonio per Susurro," "La Penelope," "L'Olimpiade," "II Sacrificio d'Abramo," "Gli Amanti Comici," and "Gli Orazi." These were performed almost simultaneously in the theatres of Paris, Naples, and Vienna. Cimarosa attached himself warmly to the French cause in Italy, and when the Bourbons finally triumphed the musician suffered their bitterest resentment. He narrowly escaped with his life, and languished for a long time in a dungeon, so closely immured that it was for a long time believed by his friends that his head had fallen on the block.

At length released, he quitted the Neapolitan territory, only to die at Venice, in a few months, "in consequence," Stendhal says, in his "Life of Rossini," "of the barbarous treatment he had met with in the prison into which he had been thrown by Queen Caroline." He died January 11, 1801.

Cimarosa's genius embraced both the tragic and comic schools of composition. He may be specially called a genuine master of musical comedy. He was the finest example of the school perfected by Piccini, and was indeed the link between the old Italian opera and the new development of which Rossini is such a brilliant exponent. Schluter, in his "History of Music," says of him: "Like Mozart, he excels in those parts of an opera which decide its merits as a work of art, the ensembles and finale. His admirable, and by no means antiquated opera, 'Il Matrimonio Segreto' (the charming offspring of his 'secret marriage' with the Mozart opera) is a model of exquisite and graceful comedy. The overture bears a striking resemblance to that of 'Figaro,' and the instrumentation of the whole opera is highly characteristic, though not so prominent as in Mozart. Especially delightful are the secret love-scenes, written evidently con amore, the composer having practised them many a time in his youth."

This opera is still performed in many parts of Europe to delighted audiences, and is ranked by competent critics as the third finest comic opera extant, Mozart and Rossini only surpassing him in their masterpieces. It was a great favorite with Lablache, and its magnificent performance by Grisi, Mario, Tamburini, and the king of bassos, is a gala reminiscence of English and French opera-goers.

We quote an opinion also from another able authority: "The drama of 'Gli Orazi' is taken from Corneille's tragedy 'Les Horaces.' The music is full of noble simplicity, beautiful melody, and strong expression. In the airs dramatic truth is never sacrificed to vocal display, and the concerted pieces are grand, broad, and effective. Taken as a whole, the piece is free from antiquated and obsolete forms; and it wants nothing but an orchestral score of greater fullness and variety to satisfy the modern ear. It is still frequently performed in Germany, though in France and England, and even in its native country, it seems to be forgotten."

Cardinal Consalvi, Cimarosa's friend, caused splendid funeral honors to be paid to him at Rome. Canova executed a marble bust of him, which was placed in the gallery of the Capitol.



The "Swan of Pesaro" is a name linked with some of the most charming musical associations of this age. Though forty years silence made fruitless what should have been the richest creative period of Rossini's life, his great works, poured forth with such facility, and still retaining their grasp in spite of all changes in public opinion, stamp him as being the most gifted composer ever produced by a country so fecund in musical geniuses. The old set forms of Italian opera had already yielded in large degree to the energy and pomp of French declamation, when Rossini poured into them afresh such exhilaration and sparkle as again placed his country in the van of musical Europe. With no pretension to the grand, majestic, and severe, his fresh and delightful melodies, flowing without stint, excited alike the critical and the unlearned into a species of artistic craze, a mania which has not yet subsided. The stiff and stately Oublicheff confesses, with many compunctions of conscience, that, when listening for the first time to one of Rossini's operas, he forgot for the time being all that he had ever known, admired, played, or sung, for he was musically drunk, as if with champagne. Learned Germans might shake their heads and talk about shallowness and contrapuntal rubbish, his crescendo and stretto passages, his tameness and uniformity even in melody, his want of artistic finish; but, as Richard Wagner, his direct antipodes, frankly confesses in his "Oper und Drama," such objections were dispelled by Rossini's opera-airs as if they were mere delusions of the fancy. Essentially different from Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, or even Weber, with whom he has some affinities, he stands a unique figure in the history of art, an original both as man and musician.

Gioacchino Rossini was the son of a town-trumpeter and an operatic singer of inferior rank, born in Pesaro, Romagna, February 29, 1792. The child attended the itinerant couple in their visits to fairs and musical gatherings, and was in danger, at the age of seven, of becoming a thorough-paced little vagabond, when maternal alarm trusted his education to the friendly hands of the music-master Prinetti. At this tender age even he had been introduced to the world of art, for he sang the part of a child at the Bologna opera.

"Nothing," said Mme. Georgi-Righetti, "could be imagined more tender, more touching, than the voice and action of this remarkable child."

The young Rossini, after a year or two, came under the notice of the celebrated teacher Tesei, of Bologna, who gave him lessons in pianoforte playing and the voice, and obtained him a good place as boy-soprano at one of the churches. He now attracted the attention of the Countess Perticari, who admired his voice, and she sent him to the Lyceum to learn fugue and counterpoint at the feet of a very strict Gamaliel, Padre Mallei. The youth was no dull student, and, in spite of his capricious indolence, which vexed the soul of his tutor, he made such rapid progress that at the age of sixteen he was chosen to write the cantata, annually awarded to the most promising student. Success greeted the juvenile effort, and thus we see Rossini fairly launched as a composer. Of the early operas which he poured out for five years it is not needful to speak, except that one of them so pleased the austere Marshal Massena that he exempted the composer from conscription. The first opera which made Rossini's name famous through Europe was "Tancredi," written for the Venetian public. To this opera belongs the charming "Di tanti palpiti," written under the following circumstances: Mme. Melanotte, the prima donna, took the whim during the final rehearsal that she would not sing the opening air, but must have another. Rossini went home in sore disgust, for the whole opera was likely to be put off by this caprice. There were but two hours before the performance, he sat waiting for his macaroni, when an exquisite air came into his head, and it was written in five minutes.

After his great success he received offers from almost every town in Italy, each clamoring to be served first. Every manager was required to furnish his theatre with an opera from the pen of the new idol. For these earlier essays he received a thousand francs each, and he wrote five or six a year. Stendhall, Rossini's spirited biographer, gives a picturesque account of life in the Italian theatres at this time, a status which remains in some of its features to-day:

"The mechanism is as follows: The manager is frequently one of the most wealthy and considerable persons of the little town he inhabits. He forms a company consisting of prima donna, tenoro, basso cantante, basso buffo, a second female singer, and a third basso. The libretto, or poem, purchased for sixty or eighty francs from some lucky son of the muses, who is generally a half-starved abbe, the hanger-on of some rich family in the neighborhood. The character of the parasite, so admirably painted by Terence, is still to be found in all its glory in Lombardy, where the smallest town can boast of some five or six families of some wealth.

"A maestro, or composer, is then engaged to write a new opera, and he is obliged to adapt his own airs to the voices and capacity of the company. The manager intrusts the care of the financial department to a registrario, who is generally some pettifogging attorney, who holds the position of his steward. The next thing that generally happens is that the manager falls in love with the prima donna; and the progress of this important amour gives ample employment to the curiosity of the gossips.

"The company thus organized at length gives its first representation, after a month of cabals and intrigues, which furnish conversation for the town. This is an event in the simple annals of the town, of the importance of which the residents of large places can form no idea. During months together a population of eight or ten thousand people do nothing but discuss the merit of the forthcoming music and singers with the eager impetuosity which belongs to the Italian character and climate. The first representation, if successful, is generally followed by twenty or thirty more of the same piece, after which the company breaks up.... From this little sketch of theatrical arrangements in Italy some idea may be formed of the life which Rossini led from 1810 to 1816." Between these years he visited all the principal towns, remaining three or four months at each, the idolized guest of the dilettanti of the place. Rossini's idleness and love of good cheer always made him procrastinate his labors till the last moment, and placed him in dilemmas from which only his fluency of composition extricated him. His biographer says:

"The day of performance is fast approaching, and yet he cannot resist the pressing invitations of these friends to dine with them at the tavern. This, of course, leads to a supper, the champagne circulates freely, and the hour of morning steals on apace. At length a compunctious visiting shoots across the mind of the truant composer. He rises abruptly; his friends insist on seeing him home; and they parade the silent streets bareheaded, shouting in chorus whatever comes uppermost, perhaps a portion of a miserere, to the great scandal of pious Catholics tucked snugly in their beds. At length he reaches his lodging, and shutting himself up in his chamber is, at this, to every-day mortals, most ungenial hour, visited by some of his most brilliant inspirations. These he hastily scratches down on scraps of paper, and next morning arranges them, or, in his own phrase, instruments them, amid the renewed interruptions of his visitors. At length the important night arrives. The maestro takes his place at the pianoforte. The theatre is overflowing, people having flocked to the town from ten leagues distance. Every inn is crowded, and those unable to get other accommodations encamp around the theatre in their various vehicles. All business is suspended, and, during the performances, the town has the appearance of a desert. The passions, the anxieties, the very life of a whole population are centered in the theatre."

Rossini would preside at the first three representations, and, after receiving a grand civic banquet, set out for the next place, his portmanteau fuller of music-paper than of other effects, and perhaps a dozen sequins in his pocket. His love of jesting during these gay Bohemian wanderings made him perpetrate innumerable practical jokes, not sparing himself when he had no more available food for mirth. On one occasion, in traveling from Ancona to Reggio, he passed himself off for a musical professor, a mortal enemy of Rossini, and sang the words of his own operas to the most execrable music, in a cracked voice, to show his superiority to that donkey, Rossini. An unknown admirer of his was in such a rage that he was on the point of chastising him for slandering the great musician, about whom Italy raved.

Our composer's earlier style was quite simple and unadorned, a fact difficult for the present generation, only acquainted with the florid beauties of his later works, to appreciate. Rossini only followed the traditions of Italian music in giving singers full opportunity to embroider the naked score at their own pleasure. He was led to change this practice by the following incident. The tenor-singer Velluti was then the favorite of the Italian theatres, and indulged in the most unwarrantable tricks with his composers. During the first performance of "L'Aureliano," at Naples, the singer loaded the music with such ornaments that Rossini could not recognize the offspring of his own brains. A fierce quarrel ensued between the two, and the composer determined thereafter to write music of such a character that the most stupid singer could not suppose any adornment needed. From that time the Rossini music was marked by its florid and brilliant embroidery. Of the same Velluti, spoken of above, an incident is told, illustrating the musical craze of the country and the period. A Milanese gentleman, whose father was very ill, met his friend in the street—"Where are you going?" "To the Scala to be sure." "How! your father lies at the point of death." "Yes! yes! I know, but Velluti sings to-night."


An important step in Rossini's early career was his connection with the widely known impresario of the San Carlo, Naples, Barbaja. He was under contract to produce two new operas annually, to rearrange all old scores, and to conduct at all of the theatres ruled by this manager. He was to receive two hundred ducats a month, and a share in the profits of the bank of the San Carlo gambling-saloon. His first opera composed here was "Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra," which was received with a genuine Neapolitan furore. Rossini was feted and caressed by the ardent dilettanti of this city to his heart's content, and was such an idol of the "fickle fair" that his career on more than one occasion narrowly escaped an untimely close, from the prejudice of jealous spouses. The composer was very vain of his handsome person, and boasted of his escapades d'amour. Many, too, will recall his mot, spoken to a beauty standing between himself and the Duke of Wellington: "Madame, how happy should you be to find yourself placed between the two greatest men in Europe!"

One of Rossini's adventures at Naples has in it something of romance. He was sitting in his chamber, humming one of his own operatic airs, when the ugliest Mercury he had ever seen entered and gave him a note, then instantly withdrew. This, of course, was a tender invitation, and an assignation at a romantic spot in the suburb. On arriving Rossini sang his aria for a signal, and from the gate of a charming park surrounding a small villa appeared his beautiful and unknown inamorata. On parting it was agreed that the same messenger should bring notice of the second appointment. Rossini suspected that the lady, in disguise, was her own envoy, and verified the guess by following the light-footed page. He then discovered that she was the wife of a wealthy Sicilian, widely noted for her beauty, and one of the reigning toasts. On renewing his visit, he had barely arrived at the gate of the park, when a carbine-bullet grazed his head, and two masked assailants sprang toward him with drawn rapiers, a proceeding which left Rossini no option but to take to his heels, as he was unarmed.

During the composer's residence at Naples he was made acquainted with many of the most powerful princes and nobles of Europe, and his name became a recognized factor in European music, though his works were not widely known outside of his native land. His reputation for genius spread by report, for all who came in contact with the brilliant, handsome Rossini were charmed. That which placed his European fame on a solid basis was the production of "Il Barbiere di Seviglia" at Rome during the carnival season of 1816.

Years before Rossini had thought of setting the sparkling comedy of Beaumarchais to music, and Sterbini, the author of the libretto used by Paisiello, had proposed to rearrange the story. Rossini, indeed, had been so complaisant as to write to the older composer for permission to set fresh music to the comedy; a concession not needed, for the plays of Metastasio had been used by different musicians without scruple. Paisiello intrigued against the new opera, and organized a conspiracy to kill it on the first night. Sterbini made the libretto totally different from the other, and Rossini finished the music in thirteen days, during which he never left the house. "Not even did I get shaved," he said to a friend. "It seems strange that through the 'Barber' you should have gone without shaving." "If I had shaved," Rossini explained, "I should have gone out; and, if I had gone out, I should not have come back in time."

The first performance was a curious scene. The Argentina Theatre was packed with friends and foes. One of the greatest of tenors, Garcia, the father of Malibran and Pauline Viardot, sang Almaviva. Rossini had been weak enough to allow Garcia to sing a Spanish melody for a serenade, for the latter urged the necessity of vivid national and local color. The tenor had forgotten to tune his guitar, and in the operation on the stage a string broke. This gave the signal for a tumult of ironical laughter and hisses. The same hostile atmosphere continued during the evening. Even Madame Georgi-Righetti, a great favorite of the Romans, was coldly received by the audience. In short, the opera seemed likely to be damned.

When the singers went to condole with Rossini, they found him enjoying a luxurious supper with the gusto of the gourmet that he was. Settled in his knowledge that he had written a masterpiece, he could not be disturbed by unjust clamor. The next night the fickle Romans made ample amends, for the opera was concluded amid the warmest applause, even from the friends of Paisiello.

Rossini's "Il Barbiere," within six months, was performed on nearly every stage in Europe, and received universally with great admiration. It was only in Paris, two years afterward, that there was some coldness in its reception. Every one said that after Paisiello's music on the same subject it was nothing, when it was suggested that Paisiello's should be revived. So the St. Petersburg "Barbiere" of 1788 was produced, and beside Rossini's it proved so dull, stupid, and antiquated that the public instantly recognized the beauties of the work which they had persuaded themselves to ignore. Yet for this work, which placed the reputation of the young composer on a lofty pedestal, he received only two thousand francs.

Our composer took his failures with great phlegm and good nature, based, perhaps, on an invincible self-confidence. When his "Sigismonde" had been hissed at Venice, he sent his mother a fiasco (bottle). In the last instance he sent her, on the morning succeeding the first performance, a letter with a picture of a fiaschetto (little bottle).


The same year (1816) was produced at Naples the opera of "Otello," which was an important point of departure in the reforms introduced by Rossini on the Italian stage. Before speaking further of this composer's career, it is necessary to admit that every valuable change furthered by him had already been inaugurated by Mozart, a musical genius so great that he seems to have included all that went before, all that succeeded him. It was not merely that Rossini enriched the orchestration to such a degree, but, revolting from the delay of the dramatic movement, caused by the great number of arias written for each character, he gave large prominence to the concerted pieces, and used them where monologue had formerly been the rule. He developed the basso and baritone parts, giving them marked importance in serious opera, and worked out the choruses and finales with the most elaborate finish.

Lord Mount Edgcumbe, a celebrated connoisseur and admirer of the old school, wrote of these innovations, ignoring the fact that Mozart had given the weight of his great authority to them before the daring young Italian composer:

"The construction of these newly-invented pieces is essentially different from the old. The dialogue, which used to be carried on in recitative, and which, in Metastasio's operas, is often so beautiful and interesting, and now cut up (and rendered unintelligible if it were worth listening to) into pezzi concertati, or long singing conversations, which present a tedious succession of unconnected, ever-changing motives, having nothing to do with each other; and if a satisfactory air is for a moment introduced, which the ear would like to dwell upon, to hear modulated, varied, and again returned to, it is broken off, before it is well understood, by a sudden transition in an entirely different melody, time, and key, and recurs no more, so that no impression can be made, or recollection of it preserved. Single songs are almost exploded.... Even the prima donna, who formerly would have complained at having less than three or four airs allotted to her, is now satisfied with having one single cavatina given to her during the whole opera."

In "Otello," Rossini introduced his operatic changes to the Italian public, and they were well received; yet great opposition was manifested by those who clung to the time-honored canons. Sigismondi, of the Naples Conservatory, was horror-stricken on first seeing the score of this opera. The clarionets were too much for him, but on seeing third and fourth horn-parts, he exclaimed: "What does the man want? The greatest of our composers have always been contented with two. Shades of Pergolesi, of Leo, of Jomelli! How they must shudder at the bare thought! Four horns! Are we at a hunting-party? Four horns! Enough to blow us to perdition!" Donizetti, who was Sigismondi's pupil, also tells an amusing incident of his preceptor's disgust. He was turning over a score of "Semiramide" in the library, when the maestro came in and asked him what music it was. "Rossini's," was the answer. Sigismondi glanced at the page and saw 1. 2. 3. trumpets, being the first, second, and third trumpet parts. Aghast, he shouted, stuffing his fingers in his ears, "One hundred and twenty-three trumpets! Corpo di Cristo! the world's gone mad, and I shall go mad too!" And so he rushed from the room, muttering to himself about the hundred and twenty-three trumpets.

The Italian public, in spite of such criticism, very soon accepted the opera of "Otello" as the greatest serious opera ever written for their stage. It owed much, however, to the singers who illustrated its roles. Mme. Colbran, afterward Rossini's wife, sang Desdemona, and Davide, Otello. The latter was the predecessor of Rubini as the finest singer of the Rossinian music. He had the prodigious compass of three octaves; and M. Bertin, a French critic, says of this singer, so honorably linked with the career of our composer: "He is full of warmth, verve, energy, expression, and musical sentiment; alone he can fill up and give life to a scene; it is impossible for another singer to carry away an audience as he does, and, when he will only be simple, he is admirable. He is the Rossini of song; he is the greatest singer I ever heard." Lord Byron, in one of his letters to Moore, speaks of the first production at Milan, and praises the music enthusiastically, while condemning the libretto as a degradation of Shakespeare.

"La Cenerentola" and "La Gazza Ladra" were written in quick succession for Naples and Milan. The former of these works, based on the old Cinderella myth, was the last opera written by Rossini to illustrate the beauties of the contralto voice, and Madame Georgi-Righetti, the early friend and steadfast patroness of the musician during his early days of struggle, made her last great appearance in it before retiring from the stage. In this composition, Rossini, though one of the most affluent and rapid of composers, displays that economy in art which sometimes characterized him. He introduced in it many of the more beautiful airs from his earlier and less successful works. He believed on principle that it was folly to let a good piece of music be lost through being married to a weak and faulty libretto. The brilliant opera of "La Gazza Ladra," set to the story of a French melodrama, "La Pie Voleuse," aggravated the quarrel between Paer, the director of the French opera, and the gifted Italian. Paer had designed to have written the music himself, but his librettist slyly turned over the poem to Rossini, who produced one of his masterpieces in setting it. The audience at La Scala received the work with the noisiest demonstrations, interrupting the progress of the drama with constant cries of "Bravo! Maestro!" "Viva Rossini!" The composer afterward said that acknowledging the calls of the audience fatigued him much more than the direction of the opera. When the same work was produced four years after in London, under Mr. Ebers's management, an incident related by that impresario in his "Seven Years of the King's Theatre" shows how eagerly it was received by an English audience.

"When I entered the stage door, I met an intimate friend, with a long face and uplifted eyes. 'Good God! Ebers, I pity you from my soul. This ungrateful public,' he continued. 'The wretches! Why! my dear sir, they have not left you a seat in your own house.' Relieved from the fears he had created, I joined him in his laughter, and proceeded, assuring him that I felt no ill toward the public for their conduct toward me."

Passing over "Armida," written for the opening of the new San Carlo at Naples, "Adelaida di Borgogna," for the Roman Carnival of 1817, and "Adina," for a Lisbon theatre, we come to a work which is one of Rossini's most solid claims on musical immortality, "Mose in Egitto," first produced at the San Carlo, Naples, in 1818. In "Mose," Rossini carried out still further than ever his innovations, the two principal roles—Mose, and Faraoni—being assigned to basses. On the first representation, the crossing of the Red Sea moved the audience to satirical laughter, which disconcerted the otherwise favorable reception of the piece, and entirely spoiled the final effects. The manager was at his Avit's end, till Tottola, the librettist, suggested a prayer for the Israelites before and after the passage of the host through the cleft waters. Rossini instantly seized the idea, and, springing from bed in his night-shirt, wrote the music with almost inconceivable rapidity, before his embarrassed visitors recovered from their surprise. The same evening the magnificent Dal tuo stellato soglio ("To thee, Great Lord") was performed with the opera.

Let Stendhall, Rossini's biographer, tell the rest of the story: "The audience was delighted as usual with the first act, and all went well till the third, when, the passage of the Red Sea being at hand, the audience as usual prepared to be amused. The laughter was just beginning in the pit, when it was observed that Moses was about to sing. He began his solo, the first verse of a prayer, which all the people repeat in chorus after Moses. Surprised at this novelty, the pit listened and the laughter entirely ceased. The chorus, exceedingly fine, was in the minor. Aaron continues, followed by the people. Finally, Eleia addresses to Heaven the same supplication, and the people respond. Then all fall on their knees and repeat the prayer with enthusiasm; the miracle is performed, the sea is opened to leave a path for the people protected by the Lord. This last part is in the major. It is impossible to imagine the thunders of applause that resounded through the house: one would have thought it was coming down. The spectators in the boxes, standing up and leaning over, called out at the top of their voices, 'Bello, bello! O che hello!', I never saw so much enthusiasm nor such a complete success, which was so much the greater, inasmuch as the people were quite prepared to laugh.... I am almost in tears when I think of this prayer. This state of things lasted a long time, and one of its effects was to make for its composer the reputation of an assassin, for Dr. Cottogna is said to have remarked: 'I can cite to you more than forty attacks of nervous fever or violent convulsions on the part of young women, fond to excess of music, which have no other origin than the prayer of the Hebrews in the third act, with its superb change of key.'" Thus by a stroke of genius, a scene which first impressed the audience as a piece of theatrical burlesque, was raised to sublimity by the solemn music written for it.

M. Bochsa some years afterward produced "Mose" as an oratorio in London, and it failed. A new libretto, however, "Pietro L'Eremito,"* again transformed the music into an opera.

* The same music was set to a poem founded on the first crusade, all the most effective situations being dramatically utilized for the Christian legend.

Ebers tells us that Lord Sefton, a distinguished connoisseur, only pronounced the general verdict in calling it the greatest of serious operas, for it was received with the greatest favor. A gentleman of high rank was not satisfied with assuring the manager that he had deserved well of his country, but avowed his determination to propose him for membership at the most exclusive of aristocratic clubs—White's.

"La Donna del Lago," Rossini's next great work, also first produced at the San Carlo during the Carnival of 1820, though splendidly performed, did not succeed well the first night. The composer left Naples the same night for Milan, and coolly informed every one en route that the opera was very successful, which proved to be true when he reached his journey's end, for the Neapolitans on the second night reversed their decision into an enthusiasm as marked as their coldness had been.

Shortly after this Rossini married his favorite prima donna, Madame Colbran. He had just completed two of his now forgotten operas, "Bianca e Faliero," and "Matilda di Shabran," but did not stay to watch their public reception. He quietly took away the beautiful Colbran, and at Bologne was married by the archbishop. Thence the freshly-wedded couple visited Vienna, and Rossini there produced his "Zelmira," his wife singing the principal part. One of the most striking of this composer's works in invention and ingenious development of ideas, Carpani says of it: "It contains enough to furnish not one but four operas. In this work, Rossini, by the new riches which he draws from his prodigious imagination, is no longer the author of 'Otello,' 'Tancredi,' 'Zoraide,' and all his preceding works; he is another composer, new, agreeable, and fertile, as much as at first, but with more command of himself, more pure, more masterly, and, above all, more faithful to the interpretation of the words. The forms of style employed in this opera according to circumstances are so varied, that now we seem to hear Gluck, now Traetta, now Sacchini, now Mozart, now Handel; for the gravity, the learning, the naturalness, the suavity of their conceptions, live and blossom again in 'Zelmira.' The transitions are learned, and inspired more by considerations of poetry and sense than by caprice and a mania for innovation. The vocal parts, always natural, never trivial, give expression to the words without ceasing to be melodious. The great point is to preserve both. The instrumentation of Rossini is really incomparable by the vivacity and freedom of the manner, by the variety and justness of the coloring." Yet it must be conceded that, while this opera made a deep impression on musicians and critics, it did not please the general public. It proved languid and heavy with those who could not relish the science of the music and the skill of the combinations. Such instances as this are the best answer to that school of critics, who have never ceased clamoring that Rossini could write nothing but beautiful tunes to tickle the vulgar and uneducated mind.

"Semiramide," first performed at the Fenice theatre in Venice on February 3, 1823, was the last of Rossini's Italian operas, though it had the advantage of careful rehearsals and a noble caste. It was not well received at first, though the verdict of time places it high among the musical masterpieces of the century. In it were combined all of Rossini's, ideas of operatic reform, and the novelty of some of the innovations probablv accounts for the inability of his earlier public to appreciate its merits. Mme. Rossini made her last public appearance in this great work.


Henceforward the career of the greatest of the Italian composers, the genius who shares with Mozart the honor of having impressed himself more than any other on the style and methods of his successors, was to be associated with French music, though never departing from his characteristic quality as an original and creative mind. He modified French music, and left great disciples on whom his influence was radical, though perhaps we may detect certain reflex influences in his last and greatest opera, "William Tell." But of this more hereafter.

Before finally settling in the French capital, Rossini visited London, where he was received with great honors. "When Rossini entered,"* says a writer in a London paper of that date, "he was received with loud plaudits, all the persons in the pit standing on the seats to get a better view of him.

* His first English appearance in public was at the King's Theatre on the 24th of January, 1824, when he conducted his own opera, "Zelmira."

He continued for a minute or two to bow respectfully to the audience, and then gave the signal for the overture to begin. He appeared stout and somewhat below the middle height, with rather a heavy air, and a countenance which, though intelligent, betrayed none of the vivacity which distinguishes his music; and it was remarked that he had more of the appearance of a sturdy, beef-eating Englishman, than a fiery and sensitive native of the south."

The king, George IV., treated Rossini with peculiar consideration. On more than one occasion he walked with him arm-in-arm through a crowded concert-hall to the conductor's stand. Yet the composer, who seems not to have admired his English Majesty, treated the monarch with much independence, not to say brusqueness, on one occasion, as if to signify his disdain of even royal patronage. At a grand concert at St. James's Palace, the king said, at the close of the programme, "Now, Rossini, we will have one piece more, and that shall be the finale." The other replied, "I think, sir, we have had music enough for one night," and made his bow.

He was an honored guest at the most fashionable houses, where his talents as a singer and player were displayed with much effect in an unconventional, social way. Auber, the French composer, was present on one of these occasions, and indicates how great Rossini could have been in executive music had he not been a king in the higher sphere. "I shall never forget the effect," writes Auber, "produced by his lightning-like execution. When he had finished I looked mechanically at the ivory keys. I fancied I could see them smoking." Rossini was richer by seven thousand pounds by this visit to the English metropolis. Though he had been under engagement to produce a new opera as well as to conduct those which had already made him famous, he failed to keep this part of his contract. Passages in his letters at this time would seem to indicate that Rossini was much piqued because the London public received his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, with coldness. Notwithstanding the beauty of her face and figure, and the greatness of her style both as actress and singer, she was pronounced passee alike in person and voice, with a species of brutal frankness not uncommon in English criticism.

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