VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
     Home - All Operas - Opera Stories - Opera History - Opera Physiology

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

Introduction Of The Opera Into France And England

French Opera not founded by Lulli.--Lulli's elevation from the
kitchen to the orchestra.--Lulli, M. de Pourceaugnac, and Louis
XIV.--Buffoonery rewarded.--A disreputable tenor.--Virtuous
precaution of a prima donna.--Orthography of a stage Queen.--A
cure for love.--Mademoiselle de Maupin.--A composer of sacred
music.--Food for cattle.--Cambert in England.--The first English
Opera.--Music under Cromwell.--Music under Charles II.--Grabut and


In a general view of the history of the Opera, the central figures would
be Gluck and Mozart. Before Gluck's time the operatic art was in its
infancy, and since the death of Mozart, no operas have been produced
equal to that composer's masterpieces. Mozart must have commenced his
Idomeneo, the first of his celebrated works, the very year that Gluck
retired to Vienna, after giving to the Parisians his Iphigénie en
Tauride; but, though contemporaries in the strict sense of the word,
Gluck and Mozart can scarcely be looked upon as belonging to the same
musical epoch. The compositions of the former, however immortal, have at
least an antique cast. Those of the latter have quite a modern air; and
it must appear to the audiences of the present day that far more than
twenty-three years separate Orfeo from Don Giovanni, though that is
the precise interval which elapsed between the production of the opera
by which Gluck, and of the one by which Mozart, is best known in this
country. Gluck, after a century and a half of opera, so far surpassed
all his predecessors that no work by a composer anterior to him is ever
performed. Lulli wrote an Armide, which was followed by Rameau's
Armide, which was followed by Gluck's Armide; and Monteverde wrote
an Orfeo a hundred and fifty years before Gluck produced the Orfeo
which was played only the other night at the Royal Italian Opera. The
Orfeo, then, of our existing operatic repertory takes us back through
its subject to the earliest of regular Italian operas, and similarly
Gluck, through his Armide appears as the successor of Rameau, who was
the successor of Lulli, who usually passes for the founder of the Opera
in France, a country where it is particularly interesting to trace the
progress of that entertainment, inasmuch as it can be observed at one
establishment, which has existed continuously for two hundred years, and
which, under the title of Académie Royale, Académie Nationale, and
Académie Impériale (it has now gone by each of those names twice), has
witnessed the production of more operatic masterpieces than any other
theatre in any city in the world. To convince the reader of the truth of
this latter assertion I need only remind him of the works produced at
the Académie Royale by Gluck and Piccinni immediately before the
Revolution; and of the Masaniello of Auber, the William Tell of
Rossini, and the Robert the Devil of Meyerbeer,--all written for the
said Académie within sixteen years of the termination of the Napoleonic
wars. Neither Naples, nor Milan, nor Prague, nor Vienna, nor Munich, nor
Dresden, nor Berlin, has individually seen the birth of so many great
operatic works by different masters, though, of course, if judged by the
number of great composers to whom they have given birth, both Germany
and Italy must be ranked infinitely higher than France. Indeed, if we
compare France with our own country, we find, it is true, that an opera
in the national language was established there earlier than here, though
in the first instance only as a private entertainment; but, on the other
hand, the French, until Gluck's time, had never any composers, native or
adopted, at all comparable to our Purcell, who produced his King
Arthur as far back as 1691.

Lulli is generally said to have introduced Opera into France, and,
indeed, is represented in a picture, well known to Parisian opera-goers,
receiving a privilege from the hands of Louis XIV. as a reward and
encouragement for his services in that respect. This privilege, however,
was neither deserved nor obtained in the manner supposed. Cardinal
Mazarin introduced Italian Opera into Paris in 1645, when Lulli was only
twelve years of age; and the first French Opera, entitled Akébar, Roi de
Mogol, words and music by the Abbé Mailly, was brought out the year
following in the Episcopal Palace of Carpentras, under the direction of
Cardinal Bichi, Urban the Eighth's legate. Clement VII. had already
appeared as a librettist, and it has been said that Urban VIII. himself
recommended the importation of the Opera into France; so that the real
father of the lyric stage in that country was certainly not a scullion,
and may have been a Pope.


The second French Opera was La Pastorale en musique, words by Perrin,
music by Cambert, which was privately represented at Issy; and the third
Pomone, also by Perrin and Cambert, which was publicly performed in
Paris in 1671--the year in which was produced, at the same theatre,
Psyché, a tragédie-ballet, by the two greatest dramatic poets France
has ever produced, Molière and Corneille. Pomone was the first French
Opera heard by the Parisian public, and it was to the Abbé Perrin, its
author, and not to Lulli, that the patent of the Royal Academy of Music
was granted. A privilege for establishing an Academy of Music had been
conceded a hundred years before by Charles IX. to Antoine de Baif,--the
word "Académie" being used as an equivalent for "Accademia," the
Italian for concert. Perrin's license appears to have been a renewal, as
to form, of de Baif's, and thus originated the eminently absurd title
which the chief operatic theatre of Paris has retained ever since. The
Academy of Music is of course an academy in the sense in which the
Théâtre Français is a college of declamation, and the Palais Royal
Theatre a school of morality; but no one need seek to justify its title
because it is known to owe its existence to a confusion of terms.

Six French operas had been performed before Lulli, supported by Madame
de Montespan, succeeded in depriving Perrin of his "privilege," and
securing it for himself--at the very moment when Perrin and Cambert were
about to bring out their Ariane, of which the representation was
stopped. The success of Lulli's intrigue drove Cambert to London, where
he was received with much favour by Charles II., and appointed director
of the Court music, an office which he retained until his death. Lulli's
first opera, written in conjunction with Quinault, being the seventh
produced on the French stage, was Cadmus and Hermione (1673).


The life of the fortunate, unscrupulous, but really talented scullion,
to whom is falsely attributed the honour of having founded the Opera in
France, has often been narrated, and for the most part very
inaccurately. Every one knows that he arrived from Italy to enter the
service of Mademoiselle de Montpensier as page, and that he was degraded
by that lady to the back kitchen: but it is not so generally known that
he was only saved through the influence of Madame de Montespan from a
shameful and horrible death on the Place de Grève, where his accomplice
was actually burned and his ashes thrown to the winds. Mademoiselle de
Montpensier, in one of her letters, speaks of Lulli asking for his
congé; but it is quite certain that he was dismissed, though it would be
as impossible to give a complete account of the causes of his dismissal
as to publish the original of the needlessly elaborate reply attributed
to a certain French general at Waterloo.[4] We may mention, however,
that Lulli had composed a song which was a good deal sung at the court,
and at which the Princess had every right to be offended. A French
dramatist has made this affair of the song the subject of a very
ingenious little piece, which was represented in English some years
since at the Adelphi Theatre, but in which the exact nature of the
objectionable composition is of course not indicated. Suffice it to say,
that Lulli was discharged, and that Louis XIV., hearing the libellous
air, and finding it to his taste, showed so little regard for
Mademoiselle de Montpensier's feelings, as to take the young musician
into his own service. There were no vacancies in the king's band, and it
was, moreover, a point of etiquette that the court-fiddlers should buy
their places; so to save trouble, and, perhaps, from a suspicion that
his ordinary players were a set of impostors, his majesty commissioned
Lulli to form a band of his own, to which the name of "Les petits
violons du roi" was given. The little fiddles soon became more expert
musicians than the big ones, and Louis was so pleased with the little
fiddle-in-chief, that he entrusted him with the superintendence of the
music of his ballets. These ballets, which corresponded closely enough
to our English masques, were entertainments not of dancing only, but
also of vocal and instrumental music; the name was apparently derived
from the Italian ballata, the parent of our own "ballad."

Lulli also composed music for the interludes and songs in Molière's
comedies, in which he sometimes appeared himself as a singer, and even
as a burlesque actor. Once, when the musical arrangements were not quite
ready for a ballet, in which the king was to play four parts--the House
of France, Pluto, Mars and the Sun--he replied, on receiving a command
to proceed with the piece--"Le roi est le maitre; il peut attendre tant
qu'il lui plaira." His majesty did not, as I have seen it stated, laugh
at the facetious impertinence of his musician. On the contrary, he was
seriously offended; and great was Lulli's alarm when he found that
neither the House of France, nor Pluto, nor Mars, nor the Sun, would
smile at the pleasantries with which, as the performance went on, he
endeavoured to atone for his unbecoming speech. The wrath of the Great
Monarch was not to be appeased, and Lulli's enemies already began to
rejoice at his threatened downfall.

[Sidenote: LULLI A BUFFOON.]

Fortunately, Molière was at Versailles. Lulli asked him at the
conclusion of the ballet to announce a performance of M. de
Pourceaugnac, a piece which never failed to divert Louis; and it was
arranged that just before the rise of the curtain Molière should excuse
himself, on the score of a sudden indisposition, from appearing in the
principal character. When there seemed to be no chance of M. de
Pourceaugnac being played, Lulli, that the king might not be
disappointed, nobly volunteered to undertake the part of the hero, and
exerted himself in an unprecedented manner to do it justice. But his
majesty, who generally found the troubles of the Limousin gentleman so
amusing, on this occasion did not even smile. The great scene was about
to begin; the scene in which the apothecaries, armed with their terrible
weapons, attack M. de Pourceaugnac and chase him round the stage. Louis
looked graver than ever. Then the comedian, as a last hope, rushed from
the back of the stage to the foot lights, sprang into the orchestra,
alighted on the harpsichord, and smashed it into a thousand pieces. "By
this fall he rose." Probably he hurt himself, but no matter; on looking
round he saw the Great Monarch in convulsions of laughter. Encouraged by
his success, he climbed back through the prompter's box on to the stage;
the royal mirth increased, and Lulli was now once more reinstated in the
good graces of his sovereign.

Molière had a high opinion of Lulli's facetious powers. "Fais nous
rire, Baptiste," he would say, and it cannot have been any sort of joke
that would have excited the laughter of the greatest of comic writers.
Nevertheless, he fell out with Lulli when the latter attained the
"privilege" of the Opera, and, profiting by the monopoly which it
secured to him, forbade the author of Tartuffe to introduce more than
two singers in his interludes, or to employ more than six violins in his
orchestra. Accordingly, Molière entrusted the composition of the music
for the Malade Imaginaire, to Charpentier. The songs and symphonies of
all his other pieces, with the exception of Mélicerte, were composed
by Lulli.

The story of Lulli's obtaining letters of nobility through the
excellence of his buffoonery in the part of the Muphti, in the
Bourgeois Gentilhomme has often been told. This was in 1670, but once
a noble, and director of the Royal Academy of Music, he showed but
little disposition to contribute to the diversion of others, even by the
exercise of his legitimate art. Not only did he refuse to play the
violin, but he would not even have one in his house. To overcome Lulli's
repugnance in this respect, Marshal de Gramont hit upon a very ingenious
plan. He used to make one of his servants who possessed the gift of
converting music into noise, play the violin in Lulli's presence. Upon
this, the highly susceptible musician would snatch the instrument from
the valet's hands, and restore the murdered melody to life and beauty;
then, excited by the pleasure of producing music, he forgot all around
him, and continued to play to the great delight of the marshal.

Many curious stories are told of Lafontaine's want of success as a
librettist; Lulli refused three of his operas, one after the other,
Daphné, Astrée, and Acis et Galathée--the Acis et Galathée set
to music by Lulli being the work of Campistron. At the first
representation of Astrée, of which the music had been written by
Colasse (a composer who imitated and often plagiarised from Lulli),
Lafontaine was present in a box behind some ladies who did not know him.
He kept exclaiming every moment, "Detestable! detestable!"


Tired of hearing the same thing repeated so many times, the ladies at
last turned round and said, "It is really not so bad. The author is a
man of considerable wit; it is written by M. de la Fontaine."

"Cela ne vaut pas le diable," replied the librettist, "and this
Lafontaine of whom you speak is an ass. I am Lafontaine, and ought to

After the first act he left the theatre and went into the Café Marion,
where he fell asleep. One of his friends came in, and surprised to see
him, said--"M. de la Fontaine! How is this? Ought you not to be at the
first performance of your opera?"

The author awoke, and said, with a yawn--"I've been; and the first act
was so dull that I had not the courage to wait for the other. I admire
the patience of these Parisians!"

* * * * *

Compare this with the similar conduct of an English humourist, Charles
Lamb, who, meeting with no greater success as a dramatist than
Lafontaine, was equally astonished at the patience of the public, and
remained in the pit to hiss his own farce.

* * * * *

Colasse, Lafontaine's composer, and Campistron, one of Lulli's
librettists--when Quinault was not in the way--occasionally worked
together, and with no very favourable result. Hence, mutual reproaches,
each attributing the failure of the opera to the stupidity of the other.
This suggested the following epigram, which, under similar
circumstances, has been often imitated:--

"Entre Campistron et Colasse,
Grand débat s'émeut au Parnasse,
Sur ce que l'opéra n'a pas un sort heureux.
De son mauvais succès nul ne se croit coupable.
L'un dit que la musique est plate et misérable,
L'autre que la conduite et les vers sont affreux;
Et le grand Apollon, toujours juge équitable,
Trouve qu'ils ont raison tous deux."

Quinault was by far the most successful of Lulli's librettists, in spite
of the contempt with which his verses were always treated by Boileau.
Boileau liked Lulli's music, but when he entered the Opera, and was
asked where he would sit, he used to reply, "Put me in some place where
I shall not be able to hear the words."


Lulli must have had sad trouble with his orchestra, for in his time a
violinist was looked upon as merely an adjunct to a dancing-master.
There was a king of the fiddles, without whose permission no cat-gut
could be scraped; and in selling his licenses to dancing-masters and the
musicians of ball-rooms, the ruler of the bows does not appear to have
required any proof of capacity from his clients. Even the simple
expedient of shifting was unknown to Lulli's violinists, and for years
after his death, to reach the C above the line was a notable feat. The
pit quite understood the difficulty, and when the dreaded démanchement
had to be accomplished, would indulge in sarcastic shouts of "gare
l'ut! gare l'ut!"

The violin was not in much repute in the 17th, and still less in the
16th, century. The lute was a classical instrument; the harp was the
instrument of the Troubadours; but the fiddle was fit only for servants,
and fiddlers and servants were classed together.

"Such a one," says Malherbe, "who seeks for his ancestors among heroes
is the son of a lacquey or a fiddler."

Brantôme, relating the death of Mademoiselle de Limeuil, one of the
Queen's maids of honour, who expired, poor girl, to a violin
accompaniment, expresses himself as follows:--

"When the hour of her death had arrived, she sent for her valet, such as
all the maids of honour have; and he was called Julien, and played very
well on the violin. 'Julien,' said she, 'take your violin and play to me
continually, until you see me dead, the Defeat of the Swiss,[5] as
well as you are able; and when you are at the passage All is lost,
sound it four or five times as piteously as you can; which the other
did, while she herself assisted him with her voice. She recited it
twice, and then turning on the other side of her pillow said to her
companions, 'All is lost this time, as well I know,' and thus died."

These musical valets were as much slaves as the ancient flute players of
the Roman nobles, and were bought, sold, and exchanged like horses and
dogs. When their services were not required at home, masters and
mistresses who were generously inclined would allow their fiddlers to go
out and play in the streets on their own account.

* * * * *

Strange tales are told of the members of Lulli's company. Duménil, the
tenor, used to steal jewellery from the soprano and contralto of the
troop, and get intoxicated with the baritone. This eccentric virtuoso is
said to have drunk six bottles of champagne every night he performed,
and to have improved gradually until about the fifth. Duménil, after one
of his voyages to England, which he visited several times, lost his
voice. Then, seeing no reason why he should moderate his intemperance at
all, he gave himself up unrestrainedly to drinking, and died.


Mdlle. Desmâtins, the original representative of Armide was chiefly
celebrated for her beauty, her love of good living, her corpulence, and
her bad grammar. She it was who wrote the celebrated letter
communicating to a friend the death of her child, "Notre anfan ai
maure, vien de boneure, le mien ai de te voire." Mlle. Desmâtins took
so much pleasure in representing royal personages that she assumed the
(theatrical) costume and demeanour of a queen in her own household, sat
on a throne, and made her attendants serve her on their knees. Another
vocalist, Marthe le Rochois, accused of grave flirtation with a bassoon,
justified herself by showing a promise of marriage, which the gallant
instrumentalist had written on the back of an ace of spades.

The Opera singers of this period were not particularly well paid, and
history relates that Mlles. Aubry and Verdier, being engaged for the
same line of business, had to live in the same room and sleep in the
same bed.

Marthe Le Rochois was fond of giving advice to her companions. "Inspire
yourself with the situation," she said to Desmâtins, who had to
represent Medea abandoned by Jason; "fancy yourself in the poor woman's
place. If you were deserted by a lover, whom you adored," added Marthe,
thinking, no doubt, of the bassoon, "what should you do?" "I should look
out for another," replied the ingenuous girl.

But by far the most distinguished operatic actress of this period was
Mlle. de Maupin, now better known through Théophile Gauthier's
scandalous, but brilliant and vigorously written romance, than by her
actual adventures and exploits, which, however, were sufficiently
remarkable. Among the most amusing of her escapades, were her assaults
upon Duménil and Thévenard, the before-mentioned tenor and baritone of
the Academie. Dressed in male attire she went up to the former one night
in the Place des Victoires, caned him, deprived him of his watch and
snuff-box, and the next day produced the trophies at the theatre just as
the plundered vocalist was boasting that he had been attacked by three
robbers, and had put them all to flight. She is said to have terrified
the latter to such a degree that he remained three weeks hiding from her
in the Palais Royal.

Mlle. de Maupin was in many respects the Lola Montes of her day, but
with more beauty, more talent, more power, and more daring. When she
appeared as Minerva, in Lulli's Cadmus, and taking off her helmet to
the public, showed all her beautiful light brown hair, which hung in
luxuriant tresses over her shoulders, the audience were in ecstacies of
delight. With less talent, and less powers of fascination, she would
infallibly have been executed for the numerous fatal duels in which she
was engaged, and might even have been burnt alive for invading the
sanctity of a convent at Avignon, to say nothing of her attempting to
set fire to it. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Lola Montes
was the Mlle. Maupin of her day; a Maupin of a century which is
moderate in its passions and its vices as in other things.


Moreau, the successor of Lulli, is chiefly known as having written the
music for the choruses of Racine's Esther, (1689). These choruses,
re-arranged by Perne, were performed in 1821, at the Conservatoire of
Paris, and were much applauded. Racine, in his preface to Esther,
says, "I cannot finish this preface without rendering justice to the
author of the music, and confessing frankly that his (choral) songs
formed one of the greatest attractions of the piece. All connoisseurs
are agreed that for a long time no airs have been heard more touching,
or more suitable to the words." Nevertheless, Madame de Maintenon's
special composer was not eminently religious in his habits. The musician
whose hymns were sung by the daughters of Sion and of St. Cyr sought his
inspiration at a tavern in the Rue St. Jacques, in company with the poet
Lainez and with most of the singers and dancers of the period. No member
of the Opera rode past the Cabaret de la Barre Royale without tying his
horse up in the yard and going in for a moment to have a word and a
glass with Moreau. Sometimes the moment became an hour, sometimes
several. The horses of Létang and Favier, dancers at the Académie, after
being left eight hours in the court-yard without food, gnawed through
their bridles, and, looking no doubt for the stable, found their way
into a bed-room, where they devoured the contents of a dilapidated straw
mattrass. "We must all live," said Lainez, when he saw a mattrass
charged for among the items of the repast, and he hastened to offer the
unfortunate animals a ration of wine.

* * * * *


When Cambert arrived in London he found Charles II. and his Court fully
disposed to patronise any sort of importation from France. Naturally,
then, the founder of French Opera was well received. Even Lock, in many
of his pieces, had imitated the French style; and though he had been
employed to compose the music for the public entry of Charles II., at
the Restoration, and was afterwards appointed composer in ordinary to
His Majesty, Cambert, immediately on his arrival, was made master of the
king's band; and two years afterwards an English version of his
Ariadne was produced. "You knew Cambert," says de Vizé, in Le Mercure
Galant; "he has just died in London (1677), where he received many
favours from the King of England and from the greatest noblemen of his
Court, who had a high opinion of his genius. What they have seen of his
works has not belied the reputation he had acquired in France. It is to
him we owe the establishment of the operas that are now represented. The
music of those of Pomona, and of the Pains and Pleasures of Love, is
by him, and since that time we have had no recitative in France that has
appeared new." In several English books, Grabut, who accompanied
Cambert to England, is said to have arranged the music of Ariadne, and
even to have composed it; but this is manifestly an error. This same
Grabut wrote the music to Dryden's celebrated political opera Albion
and Albanius, which was performed at the Duke's Theatre in 1685, and of
which the representations were stopped by the news of Monmouth's
invasion. Purcell, who was only fifteen years of age when Ariadne was
produced, was now twenty-six, and had written a great deal of admirable
dramatic music. Probably the public thought that to him, and not to the
Frenchman, might have been confided the task of setting Albion and
Albanius, for in the preface to that work Dryden says, as if
apologetically, that "during the rehearsal the king had publicly
declared more than once, that the composition and choruses were more
just and more beautiful than any he had heard in England." Then after a
warm commendation of Grabut Dryden adds, "This I say, not to flatter
him, but to do him right; because among some English musicians, and
their scholars, who are sure to judge after them, the imputation of
being a Frenchman is enough to make a party who maliciously endeavour to
decry him. But the knowledge of Latin and Italian poets, both of which
he possesses, besides his skill in music, and his being acquainted with
all the performances of the French operas, adding to these the good
sense to which he is born, have raised him to a degree above any man who
shall pretend to be his rival on our stage. When any of our countrymen
excel him, I shall be glad, for the sake of Old England, to be shown my
error: in the meantime, let virtue be commended, though in the person of
a stranger."

Neither Grabut nor Cambert was the first composer who produced a
complete opera in England. During the Commonwealth, in 1656, Sir William
Davenant had obtained permission to open a theatre for the performance
of operas, in a large room, at the back of Rutland House, in the upper
end of Aldersgate Street; and, long before, the splendid court masques
of James I. and Charles I. had given opportunities for the development
of recitative, which was first composed in England by an Italian, named
Laniere, an eminent musician, painter and engraver. The Opera had been
established in Italy since the beginning of the century, and we have
seen that in 1607, Monteverde wrote his Orfeo for the court of Mantua.
But it was still known in England and France only through the accounts,
respectively, of Evelyn and of St. Evrémond.


The first English opera produced at Sir William Davenant's theatre, the
year of its opening, was The Siege of Rhodes, "made a representation
by the art of perspective in scenes, and the story sung in recitative
music." There were five changes of scene, according to the ancient
dramatic distinctions made for time, and there were seven performers.
The part of "Solyman" was taken by Captain Henry Cook, that of "Ianthe"
by Mrs. Coleman, who appears to have been the first actress on the
English stage--in the sense in which Heine was the first poet of his
century (having been born on the 1st of January, 1800)[6] and
Beaumarchais the first poet in Paris (to a person entering the city from
the Porte St. Antoine).[7] The remaining five parts were "doubled." That
of the "Admiral" was taken by Mr. Peter Rymon, and Matthew Lock, the
future composer of the music to Macbeth; that of "Mustapha," by Mr.
Thomas Blagrave, and Henry Purcell, the father of the composer of King
Arthur, and himself an accomplished musician. The vocal music of the
first and fifth "entries" or acts, was composed by Henry Lawes; that of
the second and third, by Captain Henry Cook, afterwards master of the
children of the Chapel Royal; that of the fourth, by Lock. The
instrumental music was by Dr. Charles Coleman and George Hudson, and was
performed by an orchestra of six musicians.

The first English opera then was produced, ten years later than the
first French opera; but the Siege of Rhodes was performed publicly,
whereas, it was not until fifteen years afterwards (1671) that the first
public performance of a French opera (Cambert's Pomone) took place.
Ordinances for the suppression of stage plays had been in force in
England since 1642, and in 1643, a tract was printed under the title of
The Actor's Remonstrance, showing to what distress the musicians of
the theatre had been already reduced. The writer says, "But musike that
was held so delectable and precious that they scorned to come to a
tavern under twenty shillings salary for two hours, now wander with
their instruments under their cloaks (I mean such as have any) to all
houses of good fellowship, saluting every room where there is company
with 'will you have any musike, gentlemen.'" In 1648, moreover, a
provost-marshal was appointed with power to seize upon all ballad
singers, and to suppress stage plays.

Nevertheless, Oliver Cromwell was a great lover of music. He is said to
have "entertained the most skilful in that science in his pay and
family;" and it is known that he engaged Hingston, a celebrated
musician, formerly in the service of Charles, at a salary of one hundred
a-year--the Hingston, at whose house Sir Roger l'Estrange was playing,
and continued to play when Oliver entered the room, which gained for
this virtuoso the title of "Oliver's fiddler." Antony à Wood, also
tells a story of Cromwell's love of music. James Quin, one of the senior
students of Christ Church, with a bass voice, "very strong and exceeding
trouling," had been turned out of his place by the visitors, but, "being
well acquainted with some great men of those times that loved music,
they introduced him into the company of Oliver Cromwell, the Protector,
who loved a good voice and instrumental music well. He heard him sing
with great delight, liquored him with sack, and in conclusion, said,
'Mr. Quin, you have done well, what shall I do for you?' To which Quin
made answer, 'That your highness would be pleased to restore me to my
student's place,' which he did accordingly." But the best proof that can
be given of Oliver Cromwell's love for music is the simple fact that,
under his government, and with his special permission, the Opera was
founded in this country.


We have seen that in Charles II's reign, the court reserved its
patronage almost exclusively for French music, or music in the French
style. When Cambert arrived in London, our Great Purcell (born, 1659)
was still a child. He produced his first opera, Dido and Æneas, the
year of Cambert's death (1677); but, although, in the meanwhile, he
wrote a quantity of vocal and instrumental music of all kinds, and
especially for the stage, it was not until after the death of Charles
that he associated himself with Dryden in the production of those
musical dramas (not operas in the proper sense of the word) by which he
is chiefly known.

In 1690, Purcell composed music for The Tempest, altered and
shamefully disfigured by Dryden and Davenant.

[Sidenote: PURCELL.]

In 1691, King Arthur, which contains Purcell's finest music, was
produced with immense success. The war-song of the Britons, Come if you
Dare, and the concluding duet and chorus, Britons strike Home, have
survived the rest of the work. The former piece in particular is well
known to concert-goers of the present day, from the excellent singing
of Mr. Sims Reeves. Purcell died at the age of thirty-six, the age at
which Mozart and Raphael were lost to the world, and has not yet found a
successor. He was not only the most original, and the most dramatic, but
also the most thoroughly English of our native composers. In the
dedication of the music of the Prophetess to the Duke of Somerset,
Purcell himself says, "Music is yet but in its nonage, a forward child,
which gives hope of what it may be hereafter in England, when the
masters of it shall find more encouragement. 'Tis now learning Italian,
which is its best master, and studying a little of the French air to
give it somewhat more of gaiety and fashion." Here Purcell spoke in all
modesty, for though his style may have been formed in some measure on
French models, "there is," says Dr. Burney, "a latent power and force in
his expression of English words, whatever be the subject, that will make
an unprejudiced native of this island feel more than all the elegance,
grace and refinement of modern music, less happily applied, can do; and
this pleasure is communicated to us, not by the symmetry or rhythm of
modern melody, but by his having tuned to the true accents of our mother
tongue, those notes of passion which an inhabitant of this island would
breathe in such situations as the words describe. And these indigenous
expressions of passion Purcell had the power to enforce by the energy of
modulation, which, on some occasions, was bold, affecting and sublime.
Handel," he adds, "who flourished in a less barbarous age for his art,
has been acknowledged Purcell's superior in many particulars; but in
none more than the art and grandeur of his choruses, the harmony and
texture of his organ fugues, as well as his great style of concertos;
the ingenuity of his accompaniments to his songs and choruses; and even
in the general melody of the airs themselves; yet, in the accent,
passion and expression of English words, the vocal music of Purcell
is, sometimes, to my feelings, as superior to Handel's as an original
poem to a translation."

Next: On The Nature Of The Opera And Its Merits As Compared With Other Forms Of The Drama

Previous: The Origin Of The Opera In Italy And Its Introduction Into Germany

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 1918