Gluck And Piccinni In Paris

Gluck at Vienna.--Iphigenia in Aulis.--A rehearsal at Sophie

Arnould's.--Gluck and Vestris.--Piccinni in Italy.--Piccinni in

Paris.--The two Iphigenias.--Iphigenia in Champagne.--Madeleine

Guimard, Vestris, and the Ballet.

Fifteen years before the French Revolution, of which, in the present

day, every one can trace the gradual approach, the important question

that occupied the
capital of France was not the emancipation of the

peasants, nor the reorganisation of the judicial system, nor the

equalisation of the taxes all over the country; it was simply the merit

of Gluck as compared with Piccinni, and of Piccinni as compared with

Gluck. Paris was divided into two camps, each of which had its own

special music. The German master was declared by the partisans of the

Italian to be severe, unmelodious and heavy: by his own friends he was

considered profound, full of inspiration and eminently dramatic.

Piccinni, on the other hand, was accused by his enemies of frivolity and

insipidity, while his supporters maintained that his melodies touched

the heart, and that it was not the province of music to appeal to the

intellect. Fundamentally, the dispute was that which still exists as to

the superiority of German or Italian music. Severe classicists continue

to despise modern Italian composers as unintellectual, and the Italians

still sneer at the music of Germany as the "music of mathematics."

Rossini, Donizetti, and Verdi have been undervalued in succession by the

critics of Germany, France and England; and although there can be no

question as to the inferiority of the last to the first-named of these

composers, Signor Verdi, if he pays any attention to the attacks of

which he is so constantly the object, can always console himself by

reflecting that, after all, not half so much has been said against his

operas as it was once the fashion to say against Rossini's. The

Italians, on the other hand, can be fairly reproached with this, that,

to the present day, they have never appreciated Don Giovanni. They

consent to play it in London, Paris and St. Petersburgh because the

musical public of the capitals know the work and are convinced that

nothing finer has ever been written; (this is, however, less in Paris

than in the other two capitals of the Italian Opera), but the singers

themselves do not in their hearts like Mozart. They are kind enough to

execute his music, because they are well paid for it, but that is all.


In the present century, which is above all an age of eclecticism, we

find the natural descendants of Piccinni going over to the Gluckists,

while the legitimate inheritors of Gluck abandon their succession to

adopt the facile forms and sometimes unmeaning if melodious phrases of

the Piccinnists. Certainly there are no traces of the grand old German

school in the light popular music of Herr Flotow (who, if not a German,

is a Germanised Russian); and, on the other hand, Signor Verdi in his

emphatic moments quite belies his Italian origin; indeed, there are

passages in several of this composer's operas which may be traced

directly not to Rossini, but to Meyerbeer.

The history of the quarrels between the Gluckists and Piccinnists has no

importance in connection with art. These disputes led to no sound

criticism, nor have the attacks and replies on either side added

anything to what was already known on the subject of music as applied to

the expression and illustration of human passion. As for deciding

between Gluckism and Piccinnism (I say nothing about the men, who

certainly were not equal in point of genius), that is impossible. It is

almost a question of organisation. It may be remarked, however, that no

composer ever began as a Gluckist (so to speak) and ended as a

Piccinnist, whereas Rossini, in his last and greatest work, approaches

the German style, and even Donizetti, in his latest and most dramatic

operas, exhibits somewhat of the same tendency. It will be remembered,

too, that the great Mozart, and in our own day Meyerbeer, wrote their

earlier operas in the Italian mode, and abandoned it when they

recognised its insufficiency for dramatic purposes. Indeed, Gluck's own

style, as we shall presently see, underwent a similar change. But it

would be rash to conclude from these instances, that Italians, writing

in the Italian style, have produced no great dramatic music. Rossini's

Otello and Bellini's Norma at once suggest themselves as convincing

proofs of the contrary.

All that remains now of the Gluck versus Piccinni contest is a number

of anecdotes, which are amusing, as showing the height musical

enthusiasm and musical prejudice had reached in Paris at an epoch when

music and the arts generally were about the last things that should have

occupied the French. But before calling attention to a few of the

principal incidents in this harmonious civil war, let me sketch the

early career of each of the great leaders.

Gluck was born, in 1712, of Bohemian parents, so that he was almost

certainly not of German but of Slavonian origin.[51] Young Gluck learnt

the scale simultaneously with the alphabet (why should not all children

be taught to read from music-notes as they are taught to read from

ordinary typography?) and soon afterwards received lessons on the

violoncello, which, however, were put a stop to by the death of his



Little Christopher was left an orphan at a very early age. Fortunately,

he had made sufficient progress on the violoncello to obtain an

engagement with a company of wandering musicians. Thus he contrived to

exist until the troupe had wandered as far as Vienna, where his talent

attracted the attention of a few sympathetic and generous men, who

enabled him to complete his musical education in peace.

After studying harmony and counterpoint, Gluck determined to leave the

capital of Germany for Italy; for in those days no one was accounted a

musician who had not derived a certain amount of his inspiration from

Italian sources. After studying four years under the celebrated Martini,

he felt that the time had come for him to produce a work of his own. His

"Artaxerxes" was given at Milan with success, and this opera was

followed by seven others, which were brought out either at Venice,

Cremona or Turin. Five years sufficed for Gluck to make an immense name

in Italy. His reputation even extended to the other countries of Europe

and the offers he received from the English were sufficiently liberal to

tempt the rising composer to pay a visit to London. Here, however, he

had to contend with the genius and celebrity of Handel, compared with

whom he was as yet but a composer of mediocrity. He returned to Vienna

not very well pleased with his reception in England, and soon afterwards

made his appearance once more in Italy, where he produced five other

works, all of which were successful. Hitherto Gluck's style had been

quite in accordance with the Italian taste, and the Italians did not

think of reproaching him with any want of melody. On the contrary, they

applauded his works, as if they had been signed by one of their most

esteemed masters. But if the Italians were satisfied with Gluck, Gluck

was not satisfied with the Italians; and it was not until he had left

Italy, that he discovered his true vein.

Gluck was forty-six years of age when he brought out his Alcestis, the

first work composed in the style which is now regarded as peculiarly his

own. Alcestis, and Orpheus, by which it was followed, created a

great sensation in Germany, and when the Chevalier Gluck composed a work

"by command," in honour of the Emperor Joseph's marriage, it was played,

not perhaps by the greatest artists in Germany, but certainly by the

most distinguished, for the principal parts were distributed among four

arch-duchesses and an arch-duke. Where are the dukes and duchesses now

who could play, not with success, but without disastrous failure, in an

opera by Gluck?

[Sidenote: GLUCK AT VIENNA.]

It so happened that at Vienna, attached to the French embassy, lived a

certain M. du Rollet, who was in the habit of considering himself a

poet. To him Gluck confided his project of visiting Paris, and composing

for the French stage. Du Rollet not only encouraged the musician in his

intentions, but even promised him a libretto of his own writing. The

libretto was not good--indeed what libretto is?--except, perhaps, some

of Scribe's libretti for the light operas of Auber. But it must be

remembered that the Opéra Comique is only a development of the

vaudeville; and in the entire catalogue of serious operas, with the

exception of Metastasio's, a few by Romani and Da Ponte's Don Giovanni

(with a Mozart to interpret it), it is not easy to find any which, in a

literary and poetical sense, are not absurd. However, Du Rollet

arranged, or disarranged, Racine's Iphigénie, to suit the requirements

of the lyric stage, and handed over "the book" to the Chevalier Gluck.

Iphigenia in Aulis was composed in less than a year; but to write an

opera is one thing, to get it produced another. At that time the French

Opera was a close borough, in the hands of half a dozen native

composers, whose nationality was for the most part their only merit.

These musicians were not in the habit of positively refusing all chance

to foreign competitors; but they interposed all sorts of delays between

the acceptance and the production of their works, and did their best

generally to prevent their success. However, the Dauphiness Marie

Antoinette, had undertaken to introduce the great German composer to

Paris, and she smoothed the way for him so effectually, that soon after

his arrival in the French capital, Iphigenia in Aulis was accepted,

and actually put into rehearsal.

Gluck now found a terrible and apparently insurmountable obstacle to his

success in the ignorance and obstinacy of the orchestra. He was not the

man to be satisfied with slovenly execution, and many and severe were

the lessons he had to give the French musicians, in the course of almost

as many rehearsals as Meyerbeer requires in the present day, before he

felt justified in announcing his work as ready for representation. The

young Princess had requested the lieutenant of police to take the

necessary precautions against disturbances; and she herself, accompanied

by the Dauphin, the Count and Countess of Provence, the Duchesses of

Chartres and of Bourbon, and the Princess de Lamballe, entered the

theatre before the public were admitted. The ministers and all the

Court, with the exception of the king (Louis XV.) and Madame Du Barry

were present. Sophie Arnould was the Iphigenia, and is said to have been

admirable in that character, though the charming Sophie seems to have

owed most of her success to her acting rather than to her singing.

The first night of Iphigenia, Larrivée, who took the part of

Agamemnon, actually abstained from singing through his nose. This is

mentioned by the critics and memorialists of the time as something

incredible, and almost supernatural. It appears that Larrivée, in spite

of his nasal twang, was considered a very fine singer. The public of the

pit used to applaud him, but they would also say, when he had just

finished one of his airs, "That nose has really a magnificent voice!"


The success of Iphigenia was prodigious. Marie Antoinette herself gave

the signal of the applause, and it mattered little to the courtiers

whether they understood Gluck's grand, simple music, or not.

All they had to do, and all they did, was to follow the example of the


Never did poet, artist, or musician have a more enthusiastic patroness

than Marie Antoinette. She not only encouraged Gluck herself, but

visited with her severe displeasure all who ventured to treat him

disrespectfully. And it must be remembered that in those days a Grand

Seigneur paid a great artist, or a great writer, just what amount of

respect he thought fit. Thus, one Grand Seigneur had Voltaire caned

(and afterwards from pride or from cowardice refused his challenge),

while another struck Beaumarchais, and, after insulting him in the court

of justice over which he presided, summoned him to leave the bench and

come outside, that he might assassinate him.

The first person with whom Gluck came to an open rupture was the Prince

d'Hennin, the "Prince of Dwarfs," as he was called. The chevalier, in

spite of his despotic, unyielding nature, could not help giving way to

the charming Sophie Arnould, who, with a caprice permitted to her alone,

insisted on the rehearsals of Orpheus taking place in her own

apartments. The orchestra was playing, and Sophie Arnould was singing,

when suddenly the door opened, and in walked the Prince d'Hennin. This

was not a grand rehearsal, and all the vocalists were seated.

"I believe," said the Grand Seigneur, addressing Sophie Arnould in the

middle of her air, "that it is the custom in France to rise when any

one enters the room, especially if it be a person of some


Gluck leaped from his seat with rage, rushed towards the intruder, and

with his eyes flashing fire, said to him:--

"The custom in Germany, sir, is to rise only for those whom we esteem."

Then turning to Sophie, he added:--

"I perceive, Mademoiselle, that you are not mistress in your own house.

I leave you, and shall never set foot here again."

When the story was told to Marie Antoinette, she was indignant with the

Prince, and compelled him to make amends to the chevalier for the insult

offered to him. The Prince's pride must have suffered terribly; for he

had to pay a visit to the composer, and to thank him for having assured

him in the plainest terms, that he looked upon him with great contempt.

This Prince d'Hennin was a favourite butt for the wit of the vivacious

Count de Lauragais, who, as the reader, perhaps, remembers, was one of

Sophie Arnould's earliest and most devoted admirers. One day when the

interesting Sophie was unwell, the Count asked her physician whether it

was not especially necessary to think of her spirits, and to keep away

everything that might tend to have a depressing effect upon them.

The doctor answered the Count's sagacious question in the affirmative.


"Above all," continued De Lauragais, "do you not consider it of the

greatest importance that the Prince d'Hennin should not be allowed to

visit her?"

The physician admitted that it would be as well she should not see the

prince; but De Lauragais was not satisfied with this, and he at last

persuaded the obliging doctor to put his opinion in the form of a direct

recommendation. In other words, he made him write a prescription for

Mdlle. Arnould, forbidding her to have any conversation with the Prince

d'Hennin. This prescription he sent to the prince's house, with a letter

calling his particular attention to it, and entreating him, for the sake

of Mdlle. Arnould's health, not to forget the injunction it contained.

The consequence was a duel, which, however, was attended with no bad

results, for, in the evening, the insultor and the insulted met at

Sophie Arnould's house.

It now became the fashion at the Court to attend the rehearsals of

Orpheus, which took place once more in the theatre. On these

occasions, the doors were besieged long before the performance

commenced; and numbers of persons were unable to gain admission. To see

Gluck at a rehearsal was infinitely more interesting than to see him at

one of the ordinary public representations. The composer had certain

habits; and from these he would not depart for any one. Thus, on

entering the orchestra, he would take his coat off to conduct at ease in

his shirt sleeves. Then he would remove his wig, and replace it by a

cotton night-cap of the remotest fashion. When the rehearsal was at an

end, he had no necessity to trouble himself about the articles of dress

which he had laid aside, for there was a general contest between the

dukes and princes of the Court as to who should hand them to him.

Orpheus is said to have been quite as successful as Iphigenia. One

thing, however, which sometimes makes me doubt the completeness of this

success, in a musical point of view, is the recorded fact, that "the

ballet, especially, was very fine." The ballet is certainly not the

first thing we think of in William Tell, or even in Robert. It

appears that Gluck himself objected positively to the introduction of

dancing into the opera of Orpheus. He held, and with evident reason,

that it would interfere with the seriousness and pathos of the general

action, and would, in short, spoil the piece. He was overruled by the

"Diou de la Danse." What could Gluck's opinion be worth in the eyes of

Auguste or of Gaetan Vestris, who held that there were only three great

men in Europe--Voltaire, Frederick of Prussia, and himself. No! the

dancer was determined to have his "Chacone," and he was as obstinate,

indeed, more obstinate, than Gluck himself.

"Write me the music of a chacone, Monsieur Gluck," said the god of


"A chacone!" exclaimed the indignant composer; "Do you think the Greeks,

whose manners we are endeavouring to depict, knew what a chacone was?"


"Did they not!" replied Vestris, astonished at the information; and in a

tone of compassion, he added, "Then they are much to be pitied."

Alcestis, on its first production, did not meet with so much success

as Orpheus and Iphigenia. The piece itself was singularly

uninteresting; and this was made the pretext for a host of epigrams, of

which the sting fell, not upon the author, but upon the composer.

However, after a few representations, Alcestis began to attract the

public quite as much as the two previous works had done. Gluck's

detractors were discomfited, and the theatre was filled every evening

with his admirers. At this juncture, the composer of Alcestis was

thrown into great distress by the death of his favourite niece. He left

Paris, and his enemies, who had been unable to vanquish, now resolved to

replace him.

I have said that Madame Du Barry did not honour the representation of

Gluck's operas with her presence. It was, in fact, she who headed the

opposition against him. She was mortified at not having some favourite

musician of her own to patronize when the Dauphiness had hers, and now

resolved to send to Italy for Piccinni, in the hope that when Gluck

returned, he would find himself neglected for the already celebrated

Italian composer. Baron de Breteuil, the French ambassador at Rome, was

instructed to offer Piccinni an annual salary of two thousand crowns if

he would go to Paris, and reside there. The Italian needed no pressing,

for he was as anxious to visit the French capital as Gluck himself had

been. Just then, however, Louis XV. died, by which the patroness of the

German composer, from Dauphiness, became Queen. Madame Du Barry's party

hesitated about bringing over a composer to whom they fancied Marie

Antoinette must be as hostile as they themselves were to Gluck. But the

Marquis Caraccioli, the Neapolitan ambassador at the Court of France,

had now taken the matter in hand, and from mere excess of patriotism,

had determined that Piccinni should make his appearance in Paris to

destroy the reputation of the German at a single blow. As for Marie

Antoinette, she not only did not think of opposing the Italian, but,

when he arrived, received him most graciously, and showed him every

possible kindness. But before introducing Piccinni to our readers as the

rival of Gluck in Paris, let us take a glance at his previous career in

his native land.

* * * * *


Nicolas Piccinni, who was not less than fifty years of age when he left

Naples, for Paris, with the avowed purpose of outrivalling Gluck, was

born at Bari, in the Neapolitan territory, in 1728. His father was a

musician, and apparently an unsuccessful one, for he endeavoured to

disgust his son with the art he had himself practised, and absolutely

forbade him to touch any musical instrument. No doubt this injunction of

the father produced just the contrary of the effect intended. The

child's natural inclination for music became the more invincible the

more it was repressed, and little Nicolas contrived, every day, to

devote a few hours in secret to the study of the harpsichord, the piano

of that day. He knew nothing of music, but guided by his own instinct,

learnt something of its mysteries simply by experimenting (for it was

nothing more) on the instrument which his father had been imprudent

enough, as he would have said himself, to leave within his reach.

Gradually he learnt to play such airs as he happened to remember, and,

probably without being aware himself of the process he was pursuing,

studied the art of combining notes in a manner agreeable to the ear; in

other words, he acquired some elementary notions of harmony. And still

his father flattered himself that little Nicolas cared nothing for

music, and that nothing could ever make him a musician.

One day, old Piccinni had occasion to visit the Bishop of Bari. He took

his son with him, but left the little boy in one room while he conversed

on private business with His Eminence in another. Now it chanced that in

the room where Nicolas was left there was a magnificent harpsichord, and

the temptation was really too great for him. Harpsichords were not made

merely to be looked at, he doubtless thought. He went to the instrument,

examined it carefully, and struck a note. The tone was superb.

Next he ventured upon a few notes in succession; and, then, how he

longed to play an entire air!

There was no help for it; he must, at all events, play a few bars with

both hands. The harpsichord at home was execrable, and this one was

admirable--made by the Broadwood of harpsichord makers. He began, but,

carried away by the melody, soon forgot where he was, and what he was


The Bishop, and especially Piccinni père, were thunderstruck. There

was a roughness and poverty about the accompaniment which showed that

the young performer was far from having completed his studies in

harmony; but, at the same time, there was no mistaking the fire, the

true emotion, which characterised his playing. The father thought of

going into a violent passion, but the Bishop would not hear of such a


"Music is evidently the child's true vocation," said the worthy

ecclesiastic; "He must be a musician, and one day, perhaps, will be a

great composer."


The Bishop now would not let old Piccinni rest until he promised to send

his son to the Conservatory of Music, directed by the celebrated Leo.

The father was obliged to consent, and Nicolas was sent off to Naples.

Here he was confided to the care of an inferior professor, who was by no

means aware of the child's precocious talent. The latter was soon

disgusted with the routine of the class, and conceived the daring

project of composing a mass, being at the time scarcely acquainted even

with the rudiments of composition. He was conscious of the audacity of

the undertaking, and therefore confided it to no one; but, somehow or

other, the news got abroad that little Nicolas had composed a grand

mass, and, before long, Leo himself heard of it.

Then the great professor sent for the little pupil, who arrived

trembling from head to foot, thinking apparently that for a boy of his

age to compose a mass was a species of crime.

Leo was grave, but not so severe as the young composer had expected.

"You have written a mass?" he commenced.

"Excuse me, sir, I could not help it;" said the youthful Piccinni.

"Let me see it?"

Nicolas went to his room for the score, and brought it back, together

with the orchestral parts all carefully copied out.

After casting a rapid glance at the manuscript, Leo went into the

concert-room, assembled an orchestra, and distributed the orchestral

parts among the requisite number of executants.

Little Nicolas was in a state of great trepidation, for he saw plainly

that the professor was laughing at him. It was impossible to run away,

or he would doubtless have made his escape. Leo advanced towards him,

handed him the score, and with imperturbable gravity, requested him to

take his place at the desk in front of the orchestra. Nicolas, with the

courage of despair, took up his position, and gave the signal to the

orchestra which the merciless professor had placed under his command.

After his first emotion had passed away, Nicolas continued to beat time,

fancying that, after all, what he had composed, though doubtless bad,

was, perhaps, not ridiculous. The mass was executed from beginning to

end. As he approached the finale, all the young musician's fears

returned. He looked at the professor, and saw that he did not seem to be

in the slightest degree impressed by the performance. What did he,

what could he think of such a production?

"I pardon you this time," said the terrible maestro, when the last

chord had been struck; "but if ever 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 think, no doubt, that you have composed a masterpiece."

Nicolas burst into tears, and then began to tell Leo how he had been

annoyed by the dry and pedantic instruction of the sub-professor. Leo,

who, with all his coldness of manner, had a heart, clasped the boy in

his arms, told him not to be disheartened, but to persevere, for that he

had real talent; and finally promised that from that moment he himself

would superintend his studies.


Leo died, and was succeeded by Durante, who used to say of young

Piccinni, "The others are my pupils, but this one is my son." Twelve

years after his entrance into the Conservatory the most promising of its

alumni left it and set about the composition of an opera. As Piccinni

was introduced by Prince Vintimille, the director of the theatre then

in vogue was unable to refuse him a hearing; but he represented to His

Highness the certainty of the young composer's work turning out a

failure. Piccinni's patron was not wanting in generosity.

"How much can you lose by his opera," he said to the manager, "supposing

it should be a complete fiasco?"

The manager named a sum equivalent to three hundred and twenty pounds.

"There is the money, then," said the prince, handing him at the same

time a purse. "If the Donne Dispetose (that was the name of Piccinni's

opera) should prove a failure, you may keep the money, otherwise you can

return it to me."

Logroscino was the favorite Italian composer of that day, and great was

the excitement when it was heard that the next new opera to be produced

was not of his writing. Evidently, his friends had only one course open

to them. They decided to hiss Logroscino's rival.

But the Florentine public had reckoned without Piccinni's genius. They

could not hiss a man whose music delighted them, and Piccinni's Donne

Dispetose threw them into ecstacies. Those who had come to hoot

remained to applaud. Piccinni's reputation had commenced, and it went on

increasing until at last his was the most popular name in all musical


Five years afterwards, Piccinni (who in the meanwhile had produced two

other operas) gave his celebrated Cecchina, otherwise La Buona

Figliuola, at Rome. The success of this work, of which the libretto is

founded on the story of Pamela, was almost unprecedented. It was

played everywhere in Italy, even at the marionette theatres; and still

there was not sufficient room for the public, who were all dying to see

it. This little opera filled every playhouse in the Italian peninsula,

and it had taken Piccinni ten days to write! The celebrated Tonelli,

who, being an Italian, had naturally heard of its success, happened to

pass through Rome when it was being played there. He was not by any

means persuaded that the music was good because the public applauded it;

but after hearing the melodious opera from beginning to end, he turned

to his friends and said, in a tone of sincere conviction, "This Piccinni

is a true inventor!"

Of course the Cecchina was heard of in France. Indeed, it was the

great reputation achieved by that opera which first rendered the

Parisians anxious to hear Piccinni, and which inspired Madame Du Barry

with the hope that in the Neapolitan composer she might find a

successful rival to the great German musician patronised by Marie



Piccinni, after accepting the invitation to dispute the prize of

popularity in Paris with Gluck, resolved to commence a new opera

forthwith, and had no sooner reached the French capital than he asked

one of the most distinguished authors of the day to furnish him with a

libretto. Marmontel, to whom the request was made, gave him his

Roland, which was the Roland of Quinault cut down from five acts to

three. Unfortunately, Piccinni did not understand a word of French.

Marmontel was therefore obliged to write beneath each French word its

Italian equivalent, which caused it to be said that he was not only

Piccinni's poet, but also his dictionary.

Gluck was in Germany when Piccinni arrived, and on hearing of the

manoeuvres of Madame du Barry and the Marquis Caraccioli to supplant

him in the favour of the Parisian public, he fell into a violent

passion, and wrote a furious letter on the subject, which was made

public. Above all, he was enraged at the Academy having accepted from

his adversary an opera on the subject of Roland, for he had agreed to

compose an Orlando for them himself.

"Do you know that the Chevalier is coming back to us with an Armida

and an Orlando in his portfolio?" said the Abbé Arnaud, one of Gluck's

most fervent admirers.

"But Piccinni is also at work at an Orlando?" replied one of the


"So much the better," returned the Abbé, "for then we shall have an

Orlando and also an Orlandino."

Marmontel heard of this mot, which caused him to address some

unpleasant observations to the Abbé the first time he met him in


But the Abbé was not to be silenced. One night, when Gluck's Alceste

was being played, he happened to occupy the next seat to Marmontel.

Alceste played by Mademoiselle Lesueur, has, at the end of the second

act, to exclaim--

"Il me déchire le coeur."

"Ah, Mademoiselle," said the Academician quite aloud, "vous me

déchirez les oreilles."

"What a fortunate thing for you, Sir," said the Abbé, "if you could get

new ones."

Of course the two armies had their generals. Among those of the

Piccinnists were some of the greatest literary men of the

day--Marmontel, La Harpe, D'Alembert, &c. The only writers on Gluck's

side were Suard, and the Abbé Arnaud, for Rousseau, much as he admired

Gluck, cannot be reckoned among his partisans. Suard, who wrote under a

pseudonym, generally contrived to raise the laugh against his

adversaries. The Abbé Arnaud, as we have seen, used to defend his

composer in society, and constituted himself his champion wherever there

appeared to be the least necessity, or even opportunity, of doing so.

Volumes upon volumes were written on each side; but of course no one was


The Gluckists persisted in saying that Piccinni would never be able to

compose anything better than concert music.

The Piccinnists, on the other hand, denied that Gluck had the gift of

melody, though they readily admitted that he had this advantage over his

adversary--he made a great deal more noise.


In the meanwhile the rehearsals of Piccinni's Orlando, or

Orlandino, as the Abbé Arnaud called it, were not going on favourably.

The orchestra, which had been subdued by the energetic Gluck, rebelled

against Piccinni, who was quite in despair at the vast inferiority of

the French to the Italian musicians.

"Everything goes wrong," he said to Marmontel; "there is nothing to be

done with them."

Marmontel was then obliged to interfere himself. Profiting by Piccinni's

forbearance, directors, singers, and musicians were in the habit of

treating him with the coolest indifference. Once, when Marmontel went to

rehearsal, he found that none of the principal singers were present, and

that the opera was to be rehearsed with "doubles." The author of the

libretto was furious, and said he would never suffer the work of the

greatest musician in Italy to be left to the execution of "doubles."

Upon this, Mademoiselle Bourgeois had the audacity to tell the

Academician that, after all, he was but the double of Quinault, whose

Roland (as we have seen) he had abridged. One of the chorus singers,

too, explained, that for his part he was not double at all, and that it

was a fortunate thing for M. Marmontel's shoulders that such was the


At last, when all seemed ready, and the day had been fixed for the first

representation, up came Vestris, the god of dancing, with a request for

some ballet music. It was for the thin but fascinating Madeleine

Guimard, who was not in the habit of being refused. Piccinni, without

delay, set about the music of her pas, and produced a gavot, which

was considered one of the most charming things in the Opera.

When Piccinni started for the theatre, the night of the first

representation, he took leave of his family as if he had been going to

execution. His wife and son wept abundantly, and all his friends were in

a state of despair.

"Come, my children," said Piccinni, at last; "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."

Piccinni's success was complete. It was impossible for the Gluckists to

deny it. Accordingly they said that they had never disputed Piccinni's

grace, nor his gift of melody, though his talent was spoiled by a

certain softness and effeminacy, which was observable in all his


Marie Antoinette, whom Madame du Barry and her clique had looked upon as

the natural enemy of Piccinni, because she was the avowed patroness of

Gluck, astonished both the cabals by sending for the Italian composer

and appointing him her singing-master. This was, doubtless, a great

honour for Piccinni, though a very unprofitable one; for he was not only

not paid for his lessons, but incurred considerable expense in going to

and from the palace, to say nothing of the costly binding of the operas

and other music, which he presented to the royal circle.


Beaumarchais had found precisely the same disadvantages attaching to the

post of Court music-master, when, in his youth, he gave lessons to the

daughters of Louis XV.

When Berton assumed the management of the Opera, he determined to make

the rival masters friends, and invited them to a magnificent supper,

where they were placed side by side. Gluck drank like a man and a

German, and before the supper was finished, was on thoroughly

confidential terms with his neighbour.

"The French are very good people," said he to Piccinni, "but they make

me laugh. They want us to write songs for them, and they can't sing."

The reconciliation appeared to be quite sincere; but the fact was, the

quarrel was not between two men, but between two parties. When the

direction of the Opera passed from the hands of Berton into those of

Devismes, a project of the latter, for making Piccinni and Gluck compose

an opera, at the same time, on the same subject, brought their

respective admirers once more into open collision. "Here," said Devismes

to Piccinni, "is a libretto on the story of Iphigenia in Tauris. M.

Gluck will treat the same subject; and the French public will then, for

the first time, have the pleasure of hearing two operas founded upon the

same incidents, and introducing the same characters, but composed by two

masters of entirely different schools."

"But," objected Piccinni, "if Gluck's opera is played first, the public

will think so much of it that they will not listen to mine."

"To avoid that inconvenience," replied the director, "we will play yours


"But Gluck will not permit it."

"I give you my word of honour," said Devismes, "that your opera shall be

put into rehearsal and brought out as soon as it is finished, and before


Piccinni went home, and at once set to work.

He had just finished his two first acts when he heard that Gluck had

come back from Germany with his Iphigenia in Tauris completed.

However, he had received the director's promise that his Iphigenia

should be produced first, and, relying upon Devismes's word of honour,

Piccinni merely resolved to finish his opera as quickly as possible, so

that the management might not be inconvenienced by having to wait for

it, now that Gluck's work, which was to come second, was ready for


Piccinni had not quite completed his Iphigenia, when, to his horror,

he heard that Gluck's was already in rehearsal! He rushed to Devismes,

reminded him of his promise, reproached him with want of faith, but all

to no purpose. The director of the Opera declared that he had received a

"command" to produce Gluck's work immediately, and that he had nothing

to do but to obey. He was very sorry, was in despair, &c.; but it was

absolutely necessary to play M. Gluck's opera first.


Piccinni felt that he was lost. He went to his friends, and told them

the whole affair.

"In the first place," said Guinguenée, the writer, "let me look at the

poem?" The poem was not merely bad, it was ridiculous. The manager had

taken advantage of Piccinni's ignorance of the French language to impose

upon him a libretto full of absurdities and common-places, such as no

sensible schoolboy would have put his name to. Guinguenée, at Piccinni's

request, re-wrote the whole piece--greatly, of course, to the annoyance

of the original author.

In the meanwhile the rehearsals of Gluck's Iphigenia were continued.

At the first of these, in the scene where Orestes, left alone in

prison, throws himself on a bench saying "Le calme rentre dans mon

coeur," the orchestra hesitated as if struck by the apparent

contradiction in the accompaniment, which is still of an agitated

character, though "Orestes" has declared that his heart is calm. "Go

on!" exclaimed Gluck; "he lies! He has killed his mother!"

The musicians of the Académie had a right, so many at a time, to find

substitutes to take their places at rehearsals. Not one profited by this

permission while Iphigenia was being brought out.

The Iphigenia in Tauris is known to be Gluck's masterpiece, and it is

by that wonderful work and by Orpheus that most persons judge of his

talent in the present day. Compared with the German's profound, serious,

and admirably dramatic production, Piccinni's Iphigenia stood but

little chance. In the first place, it was inferior to it; in the second,

the public were so delighted with Gluck's opera that they were not

disposed to give even a fair trial to another written on the same

subject. However, Piccinni's work was produced, and was listened to with

attention. An air, sung by Pylades to Orestes, was especially

admired, but on the whole the public seemed to be reserving their

judgment until the second representation.

The next evening came; but when the curtain drew up, Piccinni

discovered, to his great alarm, that something had happened to

Mademoiselle Laguerre, who was entrusted with the principal part.

Iphigenia was unable to stand upright. She rolled first to one side,

then to the other; hesitated, stammered, repeated the words, made eyes

at the pit; in short, Mdlle. Laguerre was intoxicated!

"This is not 'Iphigenia in Tauris,'" said Sophie Arnould; "this is

'Iphigenia in Champagne.'"

That night, the facetious heroine was sent, by order of the king, to

sleep at For-l'Evèque, where she was detained two days. A little

imprisonment appears to have done her good. The evening of her

re-appearance, Mademoiselle Laguerre, with considerable tact, applied a

couplet expressive of remorse to her own peculiar situation, and,

moreover, sang divinely.


While the Gluck and Piccinni disputes were at their height, a story is

told of one amateur, doubtless not without sympathizers, who retired in

disgust to the country and sang the praises of the birds and their

gratuitous performances in a poem, which ended as follows:--

Là n'est point d'art, d'ennui scientifique;

Piccinni, Gluck n'ont point noté les airs;

Nature seule en dicta la musique,

Et Marmontel n'en a pas fait les vers.

The contest between Gluck and Piccinni (or rather between the Gluckists

and Piccinnists) was brought to an end by the death of the former. An

attempt was afterwards made to set up Sacchini against Piccinni; but

Sacchini being, as regards the practice of his art, as much a Piccinnist

as a Gluckist, this manoeuvre could not be expected to have much


The French revolution ruined Piccinni, who thereupon retired to Italy.

Seven years afterwards he returned to France, and, having occasion to

present a petition to Napoleon, was graciously received by the First

Consul in the Palace of the Luxembourg.

"Sit down," said Napoleon to Piccinni, who was standing; "a man of your

merit stands in no one's presence."

Piccinni now retired to Passy; but he was an old man, his health had

forsaken him, and, in a few months, he died, and was buried in the

cemetery of the suburb which he had chosen for his retreat.

In the present day, Gluck appears to have vanquished Piccinni, because,

at long intervals, one of Gluck's grandly constructed operas is

performed, whereas the music of his former rival is never heard at all.

But this, by no means, proves that Piccinni's melodies were not

charming, and that the connoisseurs of the eighteenth century were not

right in applauding them. The works that endure are not those which

contain the greatest number of beauties, but those of which the form is

most perfect. Gluck was a composer of larger conceptions, and of more

powerful genius than his Italian rival; and it may be said that he built

up monuments of stone while Piccinni was laying out parterres of

flowers. But if the flowers were beautiful while they lasted, what does

it matter to the eighteenth century that they are dead now, when even

the marble temples of Gluck are antiquated and moss-grown?

I cannot take leave of the Gluck and Piccinni period without saying a

few words about its principal dancers, foremost among whom stood

Madeleine Guimard, the thin, the fascinating, the ever young, and the

two Vestrises--Gaetan, the Julius of that Cæsar-like family, and Auguste

its Augustus.

One evening when Madeleine Guimard was dancing in Les fêtes de l'hymen

et de l'amour, a very heavy cloud fell from the theatrical heavens upon

one of her beautiful arms, and broke it. A mass was said for

Mademoiselle Guimard's broken arm in the church of Notre Dame.[52]


Houdon, the sculptor, moulded Mademoiselle Guimard's foot.

Fragonard, the painter, decorated Mademoiselle Guimard's magnificent,

luxuriously-furnished hotel. In his mural pictures he made a point of

introducing the face and figure of the divinity of the place, until at

last he fell in love with his model, and, presuming so far as to show

signs of jealousy, was replaced by David--yes Louis David, the fierce

and virtuous republican!

David, the great painter of the republic and of the empire was, of

course, at this time, but a very young man. He was, in fact, only a

student, and Madeleine Guimard, finding that the decoration of her

"Temple of Terpsichore" (as the danseuse's artistic and voluptuous

palace was called) did not quite satisfy his aspirations, gave him the

stipend he was to have received for covering her walls with fantastic

designs, to continue his studies in the classical style according to his

own ideas.

This was charity of a really thoughtful and delicate kind. As an

instance of simple bountiful generosity and kindheartedness, I may

mention Madeleine Guimard's conduct during the severe winter of 1768,

when she herself visited all the poor in her neighbourhood, and gave to

each destitute family enough to live on for a year. Marmontel, deeply

affected by this beneficence, addressed the celebrated epistle to her


"Est il bien vrai, jeune et belle damnée," &c.

"Not yet Magdalen repentant, but already Magdalen charitable," exclaimed

a preacher in allusion to Madeleine Guimard's good action, (which soon

became known all over Paris, though the dancer herself had not said a

word about it); and he added, "the hand which knows so well how to give

alms will not be rejected by St. Peter when it knocks at the gate of


Madeleine Guimard, with all her powers of fascination, was not beautiful

nor even pretty, and she was notoriously thin. Byron used to say of thin

women, that if they were old, they reminded him of spiders, if young and

pretty, of dried butterflies. Madeleine Guimard's theatrical friends, of

course, compared her to a spider. Behind the scenes she was known as

L'araignée. Another of her names was La squelette des grâces. Sophie

Arnould, it will be remembered, called her "a little silk-worm," for the

sake of the joke about "la feuille," and once, when she was dancing

between two male dancers in a pas de trois representing two satyrs

fighting for a nymph, an uncivil spectator said of the exhibition that

it was like "two dogs fighting for a bone."


Madeleine Guimard is said to have preserved her youth and beauty in a

marvellous manner, besides which, she had such a perfect acquaintance

with all the mysteries of the toilet, that by the arts of dress and

adornment alone, she could have made herself look young when she was

already beginning to grow old. Marie-Antoinette used to consult her

about her costume and the arrangement of her hair, and once when, for

insubordination at the theatre, she had been ordered to For-l'Evèque,

the danseuse is reported to have said to her maid, "never mind,

Gothon, I have written to the Queen to tell her that I have discovered a

style of coiffure; we shall be free before the evening."

I have not space to describe Mademoiselle Guimard's private theatre,[53]

nor to speak of her liaison with the Prince de Soubise, nor of her

elopement with a German prince, whom the Prince de Soubise pursued,

wounding him and killing three of his servants, nor of her ultimate

marriage with a humble "professor of graces" at the Conservatory of

Paris. I must mention, however, that in her decadence Madeleine Guimard

visited London (a dozen Princes de Soubise would have followed her with

drawn swords if she had attempted to leave Paris during her prime); and

that Lord Mount Edgcumbe, the author of the interesting "Musical

Reminiscences," saw her dance at the King's Theatre in the year 1789.

This was the year of the taking of the Bastille, when a Parisian artist

might well have been glad to make a little tour abroad. The dancers who

had appeared at the beginning of the season had been insufferably bad,

and the manager was at last compelled to send to Paris for more and

better performers. Amongst them, says Lord Mount Edgcumbe, "came the

famous Mademoiselle Guimard, then near sixty years old, but still full

of grace and gentility, and she had never possessed more." Madeleine

Guimard had ceased to be the rage in Paris for nearly ten years, ("Vers

1780," says M. A. Houssaye, in his "Galerie du Dix-huitième Siècle",

elle tomba peu à peu dans l'oubli"), but she was not sixty or even

fifty years of age when she came to London. M. Castil Blaze, an

excellent authority in such matters, tells us in his "Histoire de

l'Académie Royale de Musique," that she was born in 1743.


By way of contrast to Madeleine Guimard, I may call attention to

Mademoiselle Théodore, a young, pretty and accomplished danseuse, who

hesitated before she embraced a theatrical career, and actually

consulted Jean Jacques Rousseau on the subject; who remained virtuous

even on the boards of the Académie Royale; and who married Dauberval,

the celebrated dancer, as any respectable bourgeoise (if Dauberval had

not been a dancer) might have done. Perhaps some aspiring but timid and

scrupulous Mademoiselle Théodore of the present day would like to know

what Rousseau thought about the perils of the stage? He replied to the

letter of the danseuse that he could give her no advice as to her

conduct if she determined to join the Opera; that in his own quiet path

he found it difficult to lead a pure irreproachable life: how then

could he guide her in one which was surrounded with dangers and


Vestris, I mean Vestris the First, the founder of the family, was as

celebrated as Mademoiselle Guimard for his youthfulness in old age. M.

Castil Blaze, the historian of the French Opera, saw him fifty-two years

after his début at the Académie, which took place in 1748, and

declares that he danced with as much success as ever, going through the

steps of the minuet "avec autant de grâce que de noblesse." Gaetan

left the stage soon after the triumphant success of his son Auguste, but

re-appeared and took part in certain special performances in 1795, 1799

and 1800. On the occasion of the young Vestris's début, his father, in

court dress, sword at side, and hat in hand, appeared with him on the

stage. After a short but dignified address to the public on the

importance of the art he professed, and the hopes he had formed of the

inheritor of his name, he turned to Auguste and said, "Now, my son,

exhibit your talent to the public! Your father is looking at you!"

The Vestris family, which was very numerous, and very united, always

went in a body to the opera when Auguste danced, and at other times made

a point of stopping away. "Auguste is a better dancer than I am," the

old Vestris would say; "he had Gaetan Vestris for his father, an

advantage which nature refused me."

"If," said Gaetan, on another occasion, "le dieu de la danse (a title

which he had himself given him) touches the ground from time to time, he

does so in order not to humiliate his comrades."

This notion appears to have inspired Moore with the lines he addressed

in London to a celebrated dancer.

"---- You'd swear

When her delicate feet in the dance twinkle round,

That her steps are of light, that her home is the air,

And she only par complaisance touches the ground."


The Vestrises (whose real name was Vestri) came from Florence. Gaetan,

known as le beau Vestris, had three brothers, all dancers, and this

illustrious family has had representatives for upwards of a century in

the best theatres of Italy, France and England. The last celebrated

dancer of the name who appeared in England, was Charles Vestris, whose

wife was the sister of Ronzi di Begnis. Charles Vestris was Auguste's

nephew. His father, Auguste's brother, was Stefano Vestris, a stage poet

of no ability, and Mr. Ebers, in his "Seven Years of the King's

Theatre,"[54] tells us (giving us therein another proof of the excellent

esprit de famille which always animated the Vestrises) that when

Charles Vestris and his wife entered into their annual engagement, "the

poet was invariably included in the agreement, at a rate of

remuneration for his services to which his consanguinity to those

performers was his chief title."

We can form some notion of Auguste Vestris's style from that of Perrot

(now ballet-master at the St. Petersburgh Opera), who was his favourite

pupil, and who is certainly by far the most graceful and expressive

dancer that the opera goers of the present day have seen.