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Donizetti And Bellini
French Opera From Lulli To The Death Of Rameau
General View Of The Opera In Europe In The Eighteenth Century Until The Appearance Of Gluck
Gluck And Piccinni In Paris
Introduction And Progress Of The Ballet
Introduction Of Italian Opera Into England
Introduction Of The Opera Into France And England
Manners And Customs At The London Opera Half A Century Since
On The Nature Of The Opera And Its Merits As Compared With Other Forms Of The Drama
Opera In France After The Departure Of Gluck
Opera In France Under The Consulate Empire And Restoration
Opera In Italy Germany And Russia During And In Connection With The Republican And Napoleonic Wars
Rossini And His Period
Rossini Spohr Beethoven Weber And Hoffmann
Rousseau As A Critic And As A Composer Of Music
The French Opera Before And After The Revolution
The Italian Opera Under Handel
The Opera In England At The End Of The Eighteenth And Beginning Of The Nineteenth Century
The Origin Of The Opera In Italy And Its Introduction Into Germany


History Of The Opera From Its Origin In Italy To The Present Tim




Rousseau As A Critic And As A Composer Of Music








The Musical Dictionary.--Account of the French Opera from the
Nouvelle Héloise.--Le devin du Village.--Jean-Jacques Rousseau and
Granet of Lyons.


Rousseau, a man of a decidedly musical organisation, who, during his
residence in Italy, learnt, as he tells us in the Confessions, to love
the music of Italy; who wrote so earnestly and so well in favour of that
music, and against the psalmody of Lulli and Rameau, in his celebrated
Lettre sur la Musique Française; and who had sufficient candour, or,
rather let us say, a sufficiently sincere love of art to express the
enthusiasm he felt for Gluck when all the other writers in France, who
had ever praised Italian music, felt bound to depreciate him blindly,
for the greater glory of Piccinni; this Rousseau, who cared more for
music than for truth or honour, and who has now been proved to have
stolen from two obscure, but not altogether unknown, composers the music
which he represented to be his own, in Pygmalion, and the Devin du
Village, has given in his Dictionnaire Musicale, in the
before-mentioned Lettre sur la Musique Française, but above all in
the Nouvelle Héloise, the best general account that can be obtained of
the Opera in France during the middle of the 18th century. I will begin
with Rousseau's article on the Opera (omitting only the end, which
relates to the ballet), from the Dictionnaire Musicale:--

[Sidenote: ROUSSEAU'S DEFINITION OF OPERA.]

"An opera is a dramatic and lyrical spectacle, designed to combine the
enchantments of all the fine arts by the representation of some
passionate action through sensations so agreeable as to excite both
interest and illusion.[45]

"The constituent parts of an opera are the poem, the music, and the
decoration. By poetry, the spectacle speaks to the mind; by music, to
the ear; and by painting, to the eye: all combining, through different
organs, to make the same impression on the heart. Of these three parts,
my subject only allows me to consider the first and last with reference
to the second.

"The art of combining sounds agreeably may be regarded under two
different aspects. As an institution of nature, music confines its
effects to the senses, to the physical pleasure which results from
melody, harmony, and rhythm. Such is usually the music of churches; such
are the airs suited to dancing and songs. But as the essential part of a
lyrical scene, aiming principally at imitation, music becomes one of the
fine arts, and is capable of painting all pictures; of exciting all
sentiments; of competing with poetry; of endowing her with new
strength; of embellishing her with new charms; and of triumphing over
her while placing the crown on her head.

"The sounds of a speaking voice, being neither harmonious nor sustained,
are inappreciable, and cannot, consequently, connect themselves
agreeably with the singing voice, or with instruments, at least in
modern languages. It was different with the Greeks. Their language was
so accentuated that its inflections, in a long declamation, formed,
spontaneously as it were, musical intervals, distinctly appreciable.
Thus it may be said that their theatrical pieces were a species of
opera; and it was for this very reason that they could have no operas
properly so called.

"But the difficulty of uniting song to declamation in modern languages
explains how it is that the intervention of music has given to the lyric
poem a character quite different from that of tragedy or comedy, and
made it a third species of drama, having its particular rules. The
differences alluded to cannot be determined without a perfect knowledge
of music, of the means of identifying it with words, and of its natural
relations to the human heart--details which belong less to the artist
than to the philosopher.

[Sidenote: GREEK MUSIC.]

"Confining myself, therefore, on this subject to a few observations
rather historical than didactic, I remark, first, that the Greek theatre
had not, like ours, any lyrical feature, for that which they called so,
had not the slightest resemblance to what we call so.

Their language had so much accent that, in a concert of voices, there
was little noise, whilst all their poetry was musical, and all their
music declamatory. Thus, song with them was hardly more than sustained
discourse. They really sang their verses, as they declared at the head
of their poems, a practice which gave the Romans, and afterwards the
moderns, the ridiculous habit of saying, I sing, when nothing is sung.
That which the Greeks called the lyric style was a pompous and florid
strain of heroic poesy, accompanied by the lyre. It is certain, too,
that their tragedies were recited in a manner very similar to singing,
and that they were accompanied by instruments, and had choruses.

"But if, on that account, it should he inferred that they were operas
like ours, then it must be supposed that their operas were without airs,
for it appears to me unquestionable that the Greek music, without
excepting even the instrumental, was a real recitative. It is true that
this recitative, uniting the charm of musical sounds to all the harmony
of poetry, and to all the force of declamation, must have had much more
energy than the modern recitative, which can hardly acquire one of these
advantages but at the expense of the others. In our living languages,
which partake for the most part of the rudeness of their native
climates, the application of music to speech is much less natural than
it was with the Greeks. An uncertain prosody agrees ill with regularity
of measure; deaf and dumb syllables, hard articulations, sounds not
sonorous, with little variation, and no suppleness, cannot but with
great difficulty be consorted with melody; and a poetry cadenced solely
by the number of syllables, whilst it gets but a very faint harmony in
musical rhythm, is constantly opposed to the diversity of that rhythm's
values and movements. These are the difficulties which were to be
overcome, or eluded, in the invention of the lyrical poem. The effort,
therefore, of its inventors was to form, by a nice selection of words,
by choice turns of expression, and by varied metres, a particular
language; and this language, called lyrical, is rich or poor in
proportion to the softness or harshness of that from which it is
derived.

"Having thus prepared a language for music, the question was next to
apply music to this language, and to render it so apt for the purposes
of the lyrical scene that the whole, vocal and instrumental, should be
taken for one and the same idiom. This produced the necessity of
continuous singing,--a necessity the greater in proportion as the
language employed should be unmusical, as the less a language has of
softness and accentuation, the more the alternate change from song to
speech shocks the ear.

[Sidenote: MUSIC AND LANGUAGE.]

"This mode of uniting music to poetry sufficed to produce interest and
illusion among the Greeks, because it was natural; and, for the contrary
reason, it cannot have the like effect on us. In listening to a
hypothetical and constrained language, we can hardly conceive what the
singers would say, so that with much noise they excite little emotion.
Hence the further necessity of bringing physical to the aid of moral
pleasure, and of supplying, by the charm of harmony, the lack of
distinctness of meaning and energy of expression. Thus, the less the
heart was touched the more need there was to flatter the ear, and from
sensation was sought the delight which sentiment could not furnish.
Hence the origin of airs, choruses, symphonies, and of that enchanting
melody which often embellishes modern music at the expense of its poetic
accompaniment.

"At the birth of the Opera, its inventors, to elude that which seemed
unnatural, as an imitation of human life, in the union of music with
speech, transferred their scenes from earth to heaven, and to hell. Not
knowing how to make men speak, they made gods and devils, instead of
heroes and shepherds, sing. Thus magic and marvels became speedily the
stock in trade of the lyrical theatre. Yet, in spite of every effort to
fascinate the eyes, whilst multitudes of instruments and of voices
bewildered the ear, the action of every piece remained cold, and all its
scenes were totally void of interest. As there was no plot which,
however intricate, could not be easily unravelled by the intervention of
some god, the spectator quietly abandoned to the poet the task of
delivering his hero from his greatest dangers. Thus immense machinery
produced little effect, for the imitation was always grossly defective
and coarse. A supernatural action had in it no human interest, and the
senses refused to yield to an illusion, in which the heart had no part.
It would have been difficult to weary an assembly at greater cost than
was done by these first operas.

But the spectacle, imperfect as it was, was for a long time the
admiration of its contemporaries. They congratulated themselves on so
fine a discovery. Here, they said, is a new principle added to that of
Aristotle; here is admiration added to terror and pity. They were not
aware that the apparent riches of which they boasted were but a sign of
sterility, like flowers which cover the fields before harvest. It was
because they could not touch the heart that they aimed at surprising,
and their pretended admiration was, in fact, but a puerile astonishment
of which they ought to have been ashamed. A false air of magnificence
and enchantments, sorceries, chimeras, extravagances the most insane, so
imposed upon them that, with the best faith in the world, they spoke
with respect and enthusiasm of a theatre which merited nothing but
hisses: as if there were more merit in making the king of gods utter the
stupidest platitudes than there would be in attributing the same to the
lowest of mortals; or as if the valets of Molière were not infinitely
preferable to the heroes of Pradon.

[Sidenote: EARLY OPERAS.]

"Although the author of these first operas had had hardly any other
object than to dazzle the eye and to astound the ear, it could scarcely
happen that the musician did not sometimes endeavour to express, by his
art, some sentiments diffused through the piece in performance. The
songs of nymphs, the hymns of priests, the shouts of warriors, infernal
outcries did not so completely fill up these barbarous dramas as to
leave no moments or situations of interest when the spectator was
disposed to be moved. Thus it soon began to be felt, that independently
of the musical declamation, often ill adapted to the language employed,
the musical movement of harmony and of songs was not alien to the words
which were to be uttered, and that consequently the effect of music
alone, hitherto confined to the senses, could reach the heart. Melody,
which was at first only separated from poetry by necessity, profited by
this independence to adopt beauties absolutely and purely musical;
harmony, improved and carried to perfection, opened to it new means of
pleasing and of moving; and the measure, freed from the embarrassment of
poetic rhythm, acquired a sort of cadence of its own.

"Music, having thus become a third imitative art, had speedily its own
language, its expressions, its pictures, altogether independent of
poetry. Symphony also learnt to speak without the aid of words; and
sentiments often came from the orchestra quite as distinctly and vividly
expressed as they could be by the mouths of actors. Spectators then,
beginning to get disgusted with all the tinsel of fairy land, of puerile
machinery, and of fantastic images of things never seen, looked for the
imitation of nature in pictures more interesting and more true. Up to
this time the Opera had been constituted as it alone could be; for what
better use, at the theatre, could be made of a kind of music which could
paint nothing than by employing it in the representation of things which
could not exist? But as soon as music learnt to paint and to speak the
charms of sentiment, it brought into contempt those of the Wand; the
theatre was purged of its garden of mythology, interest was substituted
for astonishment; the machines of poets and of carpenters were
destroyed; and the lyric drama assumed a more noble and less gigantic
character. All that could move the heart was employed with success, and
gods were driven from the stage on which men were represented[46]....

[Sidenote: OPERATIC SUBJECTS.]

"This reform was followed by another not less important. The Opera, it
was felt, should represent nothing cold or intellectual--nothing that
the spectator could witness with sufficient tranquillity to reflect on
what he saw. And it is in this especially that the essential difference
between the lyric drama and pure tragedy consists. All political
deliberations, all plots, conspiracies, explanations, recitals,
sententious maxims--in a word, all which speaks to the reason was
banished from the theatre of the heart, with all jeux d'esprit,
madrigals, and other pleasant conceits, which suppose some activity of
thought. On the contrary, to depict all the energies of sentiments, all
the violence of the passions, was made the principal object of this
drama: for the illusion which makes its charm is destroyed as soon as
the author and actor leave the spectator a moment to himself. It is on
this principle that the modern Opera is established. Apostolo Zeno, the
Corneille of Italy, and his tender pupil, who is its Racine,
[Metastasio] have opened and carried to its perfection this new career
of the dramatic art. They have brought the heroes of history on a
theatre which seemed only adapted to exhibit the phantoms of fable....

"Having tried and felt her strength, music, able to walk alone, began to
disdain the poetry she had to accompany. To enhance her own value, she
drew from herself beauties of which her companion had hitherto had a
share. She still professes, it is true, to express her ideas and
sentiments; but she assumes, so to speak, an independent language, and
though the object of the poet and of the musician is the same, they are
too much separated in their labours, to produce at once two images,
resembling each other, yet distinct, without mutual injury. Thus it
happens, that if the musician has more art than the poet, he effaces
him; and the actor, seeing the spectator sacrifice the words to the
music, sacrifices in his turn theatrical gesture and action to song and
brilliancy of voice, which transforms a dramatic entertainment into a
mere concert....

"Such are the defects which the absolute perfection of music, and its
defective application to language, may introduce into the Opera. And
here it may be remarked that the languages the most apt to conform to
all the laws of measure and of melody are those in which the duality of
which I have spoken is the least apparent, because music, lending itself
to the ideas of poetry, poetry yields, in its turn, to the inflections
of music, so that when music ceases to observe the rhythm, the accent
and the harmony of verses, verses syllable themselves, and submit to the
cadence of musical measure and accent. But when a language has neither
softness nor flexibility, the harshness of its poetry hinders its
subjection to music; a good recitation of verses is obstructed even by
the sweetness of the melody accompanying it; and one is conscious, in
the forced union of the two arts, of a perpetual constraint which shocks
the ear, and which destroys at once the charm of melody and the effect
of declamation. For this defect there is no remedy; and to apply, by
compulsion, music to a language which is not musical, is to give it more
harshness than it would otherwise have....

[Sidenote: MUSIC AND PAINTING.]

"Although music, as an imitative art, has more connection with poetry
than with painting, this latter is not obliged, as poetry is, at the
theatre, to make a double representation of the same object; because the
one expresses the sentiments of men, and the other gives pictures merely
of the places where they are, which strengthens much the illusion of the
whole spectacle.... But it must be acknowledged that the task of the
musician is greater than that of the painter. The imitation expressed by
painting is always cold, because it wants that succession of ideas and
of impressions which increasingly kindle the soul, all its portraiture
being conveyed to the mind at a first look. It is a great advantage,
also, to a musician that he can paint things which cannot be heard,
whilst the painter cannot paint those which cannot be seen; and the
greatest prodigy of an art which has no life but in movement is, that it
is able to give even an image of repose. Sleep, the quietude of night,
solitude, and silence, are among the number of music's pictures.
Sometimes noise produces the effect of silence and silence the effect of
noise, as when one falls asleep at a monotonous reading and wakes up the
moment the reader stops.... Further, whilst the painter can derive
nothing from the musician, the skilful musician will not leave the
studio of the painter without profit. Not only can he, at his will,
agitate the sea, excite the flames of a conflagration, make rivulets run
and murmur, bring down the rain and swell it to torrents, but he can
augment the horrors of the frightful desert, darken the walls of a
subterranean prison, calm the storm, make the air tranquil and the sky
serene, and shed from the orchestra the freshest fragrance of the
sweetest bowers.

"We have seen how the union of the three arts we have mentioned
constitute the lyric scene. Some have been tempted to introduce a
fourth, of which I have now to speak.

"The question is to know whether dancing, being a language, and
consequently capable of becoming an imitative art, should not enter with
the other three into the action of the lyrical drama, or whether it
would not rather interrupt and suspend this action and spoil the effect
and the unity of the whole piece.

"But here, I think, there can be no question at all. For every one feels
that the interest of a successive action depends upon the continuance
and growing increase of the impression its representation makes on us.
But by breaking off a spectacle and introducing other spectacles which
have nothing to do with it, the principal subject is divided into
independent parts, with no link of connection between them; and the more
agreeable the inserted spectacles are, the greater must be the deformity
produced by the mutilation of the whole.... It is for this reason that
the Italians have at last banished these interludes from their operas.
They are, separately considered, a species of spectacle very pleasing,
very piquante, and quite natural, but so misplaced in the midst of a
tragic action, that the two exhibitions injure each other mutually, and
the one can never interest but at the expense of the other."

* * * * *

[Sidenote: THE BALLET.]

Rousseau then suggests that the ballet should come after the opera,
which, as every one knows, is the rule at the Italian Opera houses of
London, and which appears to me a far preferable arrangement to that of
the French Académie, where no lyrical work is considered complete
without a divertissement introduced anyhow into the middle of it, or
of the Italian theatres where it is still the custom to perform short
ballets or divertissements between the acts of the opera. Italy, the
country of the Vestrises, of the Taglionis, and in the present day I may
add of Rosati, has always bestowed much care on the production of its
ballets. I have mentioned (Chapter I.), that the opera in its infancy
owed much to the protection of the Popes. The Papal Government in the
present day is said to pay special attention to the ballet, and to
watch with paternal solicitude the pirouettes and jetés battus of
the danseuses. At least I find a passage to that effect in a work
entitled "La Rome des Papes,"[47] the writer declaring that cardinals
and bishops attend the Operas of Italy to see that the ballerine swing
their legs within certain limits.

* * * * *

Having seen Rousseau's views of the Opera as it might be, let us now
turn to his description of the Opera of Paris as it actually was; a
description put into the mouth of St. Preux, the hero of his Nouvelle
Héloise.

* * * * *

"Before I tell you what I think of this famous theatre, I will tell you
what is said here about it; the judgment of connoisseurs may correct
mine, if I am wrong.

"The Opera of Paris passes at Paris for the most pompous, the most
voluptuous, the most admirable spectacle that human art has ever
invented. It is, say its admirers, the most superb monument of the
magnificence of Louis XIV.; and one is not so free as you may think to
express an opinion on so important a subject. Here you may dispute about
everything except music and the Opera; on these topics alone it is
dangerous not to dissemble. French music is defended, too, by a very
rigorous inquisition, and the first thing intimated as a warning, to
strangers who visit this country, is that all foreigners admit, there is
nothing in this world so fine as the Opera of Paris. The fact is,
discreet people hold their tongues, and dare only laugh in their
sleeves.

"It must, however, be conceded, that not only all the marvels of nature,
but many other marvels, much greater, which no one has ever seen, are
represented, at great cost, at this theatre; and certainly Pope[48] must
have alluded to it when he describes one on which was seen gods,
hobgoblins, monsters, kings, shepherds, fairies, fury, joy, fire, a jig,
a battle, and a ball.

[Sidenote: OPERATIC INCONGRUITY.]

"This magnificent assemblage, so well organized, is in fact regarded as
though it contained all the things it represents. When a temple appears,
the spectators are seized with a holy respect, and if the goddess be at
all pretty, they become at once half pagan. They are not so difficult
here as they are at the Comédie Francaise. There the audience cannot
indue a comedian with his part: at the Opera, they cannot separate the
actor from his. They revolt against a reasonable illusion, and yield to
others in proportion as they are absurd and clumsy. Or, perhaps, they
find it easier to form an idea of gods than of heroes. Jupiter having a
different nature from ours, we may think about him just as we please:
but Cato was a man; and how many men are they who have any right to
believe that Cato could have existed?

"The Opera is not then here as elsewhere, a company of comedians paid to
entertain the public; its members are, it is true, people whom the
public pay, and who exhibit themselves before it; but all this changes
its nature and name, for these dramatists form a Royal Academy of
Music,[49] a species of sovereign court, which judges without appeal in
its own cause, and is otherwise by no means particular about justice or
truth....

"Having now told you what others say of this brilliant spectacle, I will
tell you at present what I have seen myself.

"Imagine an enclosure fifteen feet broad, and long in proportion; this
enclosure is the theatre. On its two sides are placed at intervals
screens, on which are grossly painted the objects which the scene is
about to represent. At the back of the enclosure hangs a great curtain,
painted in like manner and nearly always pierced and torn that it may
represent at a little distance gulfs on the earth or holes in the sky.
Every one who passes behind this stage, or touches the curtain, produces
a sort of earthquake, which has a double effect. The sky is made of
certain blueish rags suspended from poles or from cords, as linen may be
seen hung out to dry in any washerwoman's yard. The sun, for it is seen
here sometimes, is a lighted torch in a lantern. The cars of the gods
and goddesses are composed of four rafters, squared and hung on a thick
rope in the form of a swing or see-saw; between the rafters is a
cross-plank on which the god sits down, and in front hangs a piece of
coarse cloth well dirtied, which acts the part of clouds for the
magnificent car. One may see towards the bottom of the machine, two or
three stinking candles, badly snuffed, which, whilst the great personage
dementedly presents himself swinging in his see-saw, fumigate him with
an incense worthy of his dignity. The agitated sea is composed of long
angular lanterns of cloth and blue pasteboard, strung on parallel spits,
which are turned by little blackguard boys. The thunder is a heavy cart
rolled over an arch, and is not the least agreeable instrument one
hears. The flashes of lightning are made of pinches of resin thrown on a
flame; and the thunder is a cracker at the end of a fusee.

[Sidenote: SCENERY AND DECORATIONS.]

"The theatre is moreover furnished with little square traps, which,
opening at need, announce that the demons are about to issue from their
cave. When they have to rise into the air, little demons of stuffed
brown cloth are substituted for them, or sometimes real chimney sweeps,
who swing about suspended on ropes till they are majestically lost in
the rags of which I have spoken. The accidents, however, which not
unfrequently happen are sometimes as tragic as farcical. When the ropes
break, then infernal spirits and immortal gods fall together, and lame
and occasionally kill one another. Add to all this, the monsters, which
render some scenes very pathetic, such as dragons, lizards, tortoises,
crocodiles and large toads, who promenade the theatre with a menacing
air, and display at the Opera all the temptations of St. Anthony. Each
of these figures is animated by a lout of a Savoyard, who has not even
intelligence enough to play the beast.

"Such, my cousin, is the august machinery of the Opera, as I have
observed it from the pit with the aid of my glass; for you must not
imagine that all this apparatus is hidden, and produces an imposing
effect. I have only described what I have seen myself, and what any
other spectator may see. I am assured, however, that there are a
prodigious number of machines employed to put the whole spectacle in
motion, and I have been invited several times to examine them; but I
have never been curious to learn how little things are performed by
great means.

* * * * *

"I will not speak to you of the music; you know it. But you can form no
idea of the frightful cries, the long bellowings with which the theatre
resounds daring the representation. One sees actresses nearly in
convulsions, tearing yelps and howls violently out of their lungs,
closed hands pressed on their breasts, heads thrown back, faces
inflamed, veins swollen, and stomachs panting. I know not which of the
two, the eye or the ear, is most agreeably affected by this ugly
display; and, what is really inconceivable, it is these shriekings alone
that the audience applaud. By the clapping of their hands they might be
taken for deaf people delighted at catching some shrill piercing sound.
For my part, I am convinced that they applaud the outcries of an actress
at the Opera as they would the feats of a tumbler or a rope-dancer at a
fair. The sensation produced by this screaming is both revolting and
painful; one actually suffers whilst it lasts, but is so glad to see it
all over without accident as willingly to testify joy. Imagine this
style of singing employed to express the delicate gallantry and
tenderness of Quinault! Imagine the muses, the graces, the loves, Venus
herself, expressing themselves in this way, and judge the effect! As for
devils, it might pass, for this music has something infernal in it, and
is not ill-adapted to such beings.

[Sidenote: THE AUDIENCE]

"To these exquisite sounds those of the orchestra are most worthily
married. Conceive an endless charivari of instruments without melody, a
drawling and perpetual rumble of basses, the most lugubrious and
fatiguing I have ever heard, and which I have never been able to
support for half an hour without a violent headache. All this forms a
species of psalmody in which there is generally neither melody nor
measure. But should a lively air spring up, oh, then, the sensation is
universal; you then hear the whole pit in movement, painfully following,
and with great noise, some certain performer in the orchestra. Charmed
to feel for a moment a cadence, which they understand so little, their
ears, voices, arms, feet, their entire bodies, agitated all over, run
after the measure always about to escape them; while the Italians and
Germans, who are deeply affected by music, follow it without effort, and
never need beat the time. But in this country the musical organ is
extremely hard; voices have no softness, their inflections are sharp and
strong, and their tones all reluctant and forced; and there is no
cadence, no melodious accent in the airs of the people; their military
instruments, their regimental fifes, their horns, and hautbois, their
street singers, and guinguette violins, are all so false as to shock
the least delicate ear. Talents are not given indiscriminately to all
men, and the French seem to me of all people to have the least aptitude
for music. My Lord Edward says that the English are not better gifted in
this respect; but the difference is, that they know it, and do not care
about it; whilst the French would relinquish a thousand just titles to
praise, rather than confess, that they are not the first musicians in
the world. There are even those here who would willingly regard music
as a state interest, because, perhaps, the cutting of two chords of the
lyre of Timotheus was so regarded at Sparta.--But to return to my
description.

"I have yet to speak of the ballets, the most brilliant part of the
opera. Considered separately, they form agreeable, magnificent, and
truly theatrical spectacles; but it is as constituent parts of operatic
pieces that I now allude to them. You know the operas of Quinault. You
know how this sort of diversion is there introduced. His successors, in
imitating, have surpassed him in absurdity. In every act the action is
generally interrupted at the most interesting moment, by a dance given
to the actors who are seated, while the public stand up to look on. It
thus happens that the dramatis personæ are absolutely forgotten. The
way in which these fêtes are brought about is very simple: Is the prince
joyous? his courtiers participate in his joy, and dance. Is he sad? he
must be cheered up, and they dance again. I do not know whether it is
the fashion at our court to give balls to kings when they are out of
humour; but I know that one cannot too much admire the stoicism of the
monarchs of the buskin who listen to songs, and enjoy entrechats, and
pirouettes, while their crowns are in danger, their lives in peril,
and their fate is being decided behind the curtain. But there are many
other occasions for dances: the gravest actions in life are performed in
dancing.

[Sidenote: THE BALLET]

"Priests dance, soldiers dance, gods dance, devils dance; there is
dancing even at interments,--dancing àpropos of everything.

"Dancing is there the fourth of the fine arts constituting the lyrical
scene. The three others are imitative; but what does this imitate?
Nothing. It is then quite extraneous when employed in this manner, for
what have minuets and rigadoons to do in a tragedy? I will say more. It
would not be less misplaced, even if it imitated something, because of
all the unities that of language is the most indispensable; and an
action or an opera performed, half in singing and half in dancing, would
be even more ridiculous than one written half in French and half in
Italian.

"Not content with introducing dancing as an essential part of the
lyrical scene, the Academicians have sometimes even made it its
principal subject; and they have operas, called ballets, which so ill
respond to their title, that dancing is just as much out of its place in
them as in the others. Most of these ballets form as many separate
subjects as there are acts, and these subjects are linked together by
certain metaphysical relations, which the spectator could never
conceive, if the author did not take care to explain them to him in the
prologue. The seasons, the ages, the senses, the elements, what
connexion have these things with dancing? and what can they offer,
through such a medium, to the imagination? Some of the pieces referred
to are even purely allegorical, as the Carnival, and Folly; and these
are the most insupportable of all, because, with much cleverness and
piquancy they have neither sentiments nor pictures, nor situations, nor
warmth, nor interest, nor anything that music can take hold of, to
flatter the heart or to produce illusion. In these pretended ballets,
the action always passes in singing, whilst dancing always interrupts
the action. But as these performances have still less interest than the
tragedies, the interruptions are less remarked. Thus defect serves to
hide defect, and the great art of the author is, in order to make his
ballet endurable, to make his piece as dull as possible....

* * * * *

"After all, perhaps, the French ought not to have a better operatic
drama than they have, at least, with respect to execution; not that they
are not capable of appreciating what is good, but because the bad amuses
them more. They feel more gratification in satirising than in
applauding; the pleasure of criticising more than compensates them for
the ennui of witnessing a stupid composition, and they would rather
mockingly pelt a performance after they have left the theatre, than
enjoy themselves while there."

* * * * *

[Sidenote: LE DEVIN DU VILLAGE.]

I have already remarked that, although in his Lettre sur la Musique
Française, Rousseau had praised the melody of the Italians as much as
he had condemned the dreary psalmody of the French, he expressed the
highest admiration for the genius of Gluck. He never missed a
representation of Orphée, and said, in allusion to the gratification
that work had afforded him, that "after all there was something in life
worth living for, since in two hours so much genuine pleasure could be
obtained." He observed that Gluck seemed to have come to France in order
to give the lie to his proposition that good music could never be set to
French words. At another time he observed that every one complained of
Gluck's want of melody, but that for his part he thought it issued from
all his pores.

* * * * *

Now let us turn to the Devin du Village, of which both words and music
are generally attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau; that Rousseau who, in
the Confessions, reproaches himself so bitterly with having stolen a
ribbon (it is true he had accused an innocent young girl of the theft,
and, by implication, of something more), who passes complacently over a
hundred mean and disgusting acts which he acknowledges to have
committed, and who ends by declaring that any one who may come to the
conclusion that he, Rousseau, is, "un malhonnête homme," is himself "a
man to be smothered," (un homme à étouffer).

Le Devin du Village is undoubtedly the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau,
as far as the libretto is concerned; but M. Castil Blaze has shown, on
what appears to me very good evidence,[50] that the music was the
production of Granet, a composer residing at Lyons.

One day in the year 1751, Pierre Rousseau, called Rousseau of Toulouse,
to distinguish him from the numerous other Rousseaus living in Paris,
and known as the director of the Journal Encyclopédique, received a
parcel containing a quantity of manuscript music, which, on examination,
turned out to be the score of an opera. It was accompanied by a letter
addressed, like the parcel itself, to "M. Rousseau, homme de lettres,
demeurant à Paris," in which a person signing himself Granet, and
writing from Lyons, expressed a hope that his music would be found
worthy of the illustrious author's words; that he had given appropriate
expression to the tender sentiments of Colette and Colin, &c. Pierre
Rousseau, though a journalist, understood music. He knew that Granet's
letter was intended for Jean Jacques, and that he ought to return it,
with the music, to the post-office, but the score of the Devin du
Village, from the little he had seen of it, interested him, and he not
only kept it until he had made himself familiar with it from beginning
to end, but even showed it to a friend, M. de Belissent, one of the
conservators of the Royal Library, and a man of great musical
acquirements. As soon as Pierre Rousseau and De Belissent had quite
finished with the Devin du Village, they sent it back to the
post-office, whence it was forwarded to its true destination.

[Sidenote: LE DEVIN DU VILLAGE.]

Jean Jacques had been expecting Granet's music, and, on receiving the
opera in a complete form, took it to La Vaubalière, the farmer-general,
and offered it to him, directly or indirectly, as a suitable piece for
Madame de Pompadour's theatre at Versailles, where several operettas had
already been produced. La Vaubalière was anxious to maintain himself in
the good graces of the favourite, and purchased for her entertainment
the right of representing the Devin du Village. This handsome present
cost the gallant financier the sum of six thousand francs. However, the
opera was performed, was wonderfully successful, and was afterwards
produced at the Académie, when Rousseau received four thousand francs
more; so at least says M. Castil Blaze, who appears to have derived his
information from the books of the theatre, though according to
Rousseau's own statement in the Confessions, the Opera sent him only
fifty louis, which he declares he never asked for, but which he does
not pretend to have returned.

Rousseau "confesses," with studied detail, how the music of each piece
in the Devin du Village occurred to him; how he at one time thought of
burning the whole affair (a conceit, by the way, which has since been
rendered common-place by amateur authors in their prefaces); how his
friends succeeded in persuading him to do nothing of the kind; and how,
at last, he wrote the drama and sketched out the whole of the music in
six days, so that when he arrived with his work in Paris, he had nothing
to add but the recitative and the "remplissage" by which he probably
meant the orchestral parts. In the next page he tells us that he would
have given anything in the world if he could only have had the Devin du
Village performed for himself alone, and have listened to it with
closed doors, as Lulli is reported to have listened to his Armide,
executed for his sole gratification. This pleasure might, perhaps, have
been enjoyed by Rousseau if he had really composed the music himself,
for when the Académie produced his second Devin du Village, of which
the music was undoubtedly his own, the public positively refused to
listen to it, and hissed it until it was withdrawn. If the director had
persisted in representing the piece the theatre would doubtless have
been deserted by every one but the composer.

[Sidenote: LE DEVIN DU VILLAGE.]

But to return to the original score which, as Rousseau himself informs
us, wanted nothing when he arrived in Paris except what he calls the
"remplissage" and the recitative. He had intended, he says, to have
Le Devin performed at the Opera, but M. de Cury, the intendant of the
Menus Plaisirs, was determined it should first be brought out at the
Court. A duel was very nearly taking place between the two directors,
when it was at last decided by Rousseau himself, that Fontainebleau,
Madame de Pompadour, and La Vaubalière should have the preference.
Whether Granet had omitted to write recitative or not, it is a
remarkable fact that recitative was wanted when the piece came to be
rehearsed, and that Rousseau allowed Jéliotte, the singer, to supply it.
This he mentions himself, as also that he was not present at any of the
rehearsals--for it is at rehearsals above all, that a sham composer
runs the chance of being detected. It is an easy thing for any man to
say that he has composed an opera, but it may be difficult for him to
correct a very simple error made by the copyist in transcribing the
parts. However, Rousseau admits that he attended no rehearsals except
the last, and that he did not compose the recitative, which, be it
observed, the singers required forthwith, and which had to be written
almost beneath their eyes.

But what was Granet doing in the meanwhile? it will be asked. In the
meanwhile Granet had died. And Pierre Rousseau and his friend M. de
Bellissent? Rousseau, of Toulouse, supported by the Conservator of the
Royal Library, accused Jean Jacques openly of fraud in the columns of
the Journal Encyclopédique. These accusations were repeated on all
sides, until at last Rousseau undertook to reply to them by composing
new music to the Devin du Village. This new music the Opera refused to
perform, and with some reason, for it appears (as the reader has seen)
to have been detestable. It was not executed until after Rousseau's
death, and at the special request of his widow, when, in the words of
Grimm, "all the new airs were hooted without the slightest regard for
the memory of the author."

It is this utter failure of the second edition of the Devin du Village
which convinces me more than anything else that the first was not from
the hand of Rousseau. But let us not say that he was "un malhonnête
homme." Probably the conscientious author of the Contrat Social adopted
the children of others by way of compensation for having sent his own to
the Enfants Trouvés.





Next: Gluck And Piccinni In Paris

Previous: French Opera From Lulli To The Death Of Rameau



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