Rossini Spohr Beethoven Weber And Hoffmann

[Sidenote: ROSSINI.]

Bellini and Donizetti were contemporaries of Rossini; so were Paisiello

and Cimarosa; so are M. Verdi and M. Meyerbeer; but Rossini has outlived

most of them, and will certainly outlive them all. It is now forty-eight

years since Tancredi, forty-five since Otello, and forty-five since

Il Barbiere di Siviglia were written. With the exception of Cimarosa's

Matrimonio Segretto, which at
ong intervals may still occasionally be

heard, the works of Rossini's Italian predecessors have been thrown into

utter obscurity by the light of his superior genius. Let us make all due

allowances for such change of taste as must result in music, as in all

things, from the natural changeableness of the human disposition; still

no variation has taken place in the estimation in which Rossini's works

are held. It was to be expected that a musician of equal genius, coming

after Paisiello and his compeers, young and vigorous, when they were old

and exhausted, would in time completely eclipse them, even in respect to

those works which they had written in their best days; but the

remarkable thing is, that Rossini so re-modelled Italian opera, and gave

to the world so many admirable examples of his own new style, that to

opera-goers of the last thirty years he may be said to be the most

ancient of those Italian composers who are not absolutely forgotten. At

the same time, after hearing William Tell, it is impossible to deny

that Rossini is also the most modern of operatic composers. That is to

say, that since William Tell was produced, upwards of thirty years

ago, the art of writing dramatic music has not advanced a step. Other

composers have written admirable operas during Rossini's time; but if no

Italian opera seria, produced prior to Otello, can be compared to

Otello; if no opera, subsequent to William Tell, can be ranked on a

level with William Tell; if rivals have arisen, and Rossini's operas

of five-and-forty years ago still continue to be admired and applauded;

above all, if a singer,[103] the favourite heroine of a composer[104]

who is so boastfully modern that he fancies he belongs to the next age,

and who is nothing if not an innovator; if even this ultra modern

heroine appears, when she wishes really to distinguish herself in a

Rossinian opera of 1813;[105] then it follows that of our actual

operatic period, and dating from the early part of the present century,

Rossini is simply the Alpha and the Omega. Undoubtedly his works are

full of beauty, gaiety, life, and of much poetry of a positive,

passionate kind, but they are wanting in spiritualism, or rather they

do not possess spirituality, and exhibit none of the poetry of romance.

It would be difficult to say precisely in what the "romantic"

consists;--and I am here reminded that several French writers have

spoken of Rossini as a composer of the "romantic school," simply (as I

imagine) because his works attained great popularity in France at the

same time as those of Victor Hugo and his followers, and because he gave

the same extension to the opera which the cultivators and naturalisers

in France of the Shakspearian drama gave, after Rossini, to their

plays.[106] I may safely say, however, that with the "romantic," as an

element of poetry, we always associate somewhat of melancholy and

vagueness, and of dreaminess, if not of actual mystery. A bright

passionate love-song of Rossini's is no more "romantic" than is a

magnificent summer's day under an Italian sky; but Schubert's well known

Serenade is essentially "romantic;" and Schubert, as well as Hoffmann,

(a composer of whom I shall afterwards have a few words to say), is

decidedly of the same school as Weber, who is again of the same school,

or rather of the same class, as Schubert and Beethoven, in so far that

not one of the three ever visited Italy, or was influenced, further than

was absolutely inevitable, by Italian composers.

[Sidenote: SPOHR.]

As a romantic composer Weber may almost be said to stand alone. As a

thoroughly German composer he belongs to the same class as Beethoven and

Spohr. Spohr, greatly as his symphonies and chamber compositions are

admired, has yet never established himself in public favour as an

operatic composer--at least not in England, nor indeed anywhere out of

Germany. I may add, that in Germany itself, the land above all others of

scientific music, the works which keep possession of the stage are, for

the most part, those which the public also love to applaud in other

countries. The truth is, that the success of an opera is seldom in

proportion to its abstract musical merit, just as the success of a drama

does not depend, or depends but very little, on the manner in which it

is written. We have seen plays by Browning, Taylor (I mean the author of

Philip Von Artevelde), Leigh Hunt, and other most distinguished writers,

prove failures; while dramas and comedies put together by actors and

playwrights have met with great success. This success is not to be

undervalued; all I mean to say is, that it is not necessarily gained by

the best writers in the drama, or by the best composers in the opera;

though the best composers and the best writers ought to take care to

achieve it in every department in which they present themselves. In the

meanwhile, Spohr's dramatic works, with all their beauties, have never

taken root in this country; while even Beethoven's Fidelio, one of the

greatest of operas, does not occupy any clearly marked space in the

history of opera; nor is it as an operatic composer that Beethoven has

gained his immense celebrity.

[Sidenote: BEETHOVEN.]

All London opera-goers remember Mademoiselle Sophie Cruvelli's admirable

performance in Fidelio; and like Mademoiselle Cruvelli (or Cruwel),

all the great German singers who have visited England--with the single

exception of Mademoiselle Titiens--have some time or other played the

part of the heroine in Beethoven's famous dramatic work: but Fidelio

has never been translated into English or French,--has never been played

by any thoroughly Italian company, and admired, as it must always be by

musicians--nor has ever excited any great enthusiasm among the English

public, except when it has been executed by an entire company of

Germans,--the only people who can do justice to its magnificent

choruses. It is a work apart in more than one sense, and it has not had

that perceptible influence on the works which have succeeded it, either

in Germany or in other countries, that has been exercised by Weber's

operas in Germany, and by Rossini's everywhere. For full particulars

respecting Beethoven and his three styles, and Fidelio and its three

overtures, the reader may be referred to the works published at St.

Petersburgh by M. Lenz in 1852 (Beethoven et ses trois styles), at

Coblentz, by Dr. Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries in 1838, and at Munster, by

Schindler (that friend of Beethoven's, who, according to the malicious

Heine, wrote "Ami de Beethoven" on his card), in 1845. Schindler's

book is the sourse of nearly all the biographical particulars since

published respecting Beethoven; that of M. Lenz is chiefly remarkable

for the inflated nonsense it contains in the shape of criticism. Thus

Beethoven's third style is said to be "un jugement porté sur le cosmos

humain, et non plus une participation à ses impressions,"--words which,

I confess, I do not know how to render into intelligible English. His

symphonies in general are "events of universal history rather than

musical productions of more or less merit." Those who have read M.

Lenz's extravagant production, will remember that he attacks here and

there M. Oulibicheff, author of the "Life of Mozart," published at

Moscow in 1844. M. Oulibicheff replied in a work devoted specially to

Beethoven (and to M. Lenz), published at St. Petersburgh in 1854;[107]

in which he is said by our best critics not to have done full justice to

Beethoven, though he well maintains his assertion; an assertion which

appears to me quite unassailable, that the composer of Don Juan

combined all the merits of all the schools which had preceded him. I

have already endeavoured, in more than one place, to impress this truth

upon such of my readers as might not be sufficiently sensible of it, and

moreover, that all the important operatic reforms attributed to the

successors of Mozart, and especially to Rossini, belong to Mozart

himself, who from his eminence dominates equally over the present and

the past.


Karl Maria von Weber has had a very different influence on the opera

from that exercised by Beethoven and Spohr; and so much of his method of

operatic composition as could easily be imitated has found abundance of

imitators. Thus Weber's plan of taking the principal melodies for his

overtures from the operas which they are to precede, has been very

generally followed; so also has his system of introducing national airs,

more or less modified, when his great object is to give to his work a

national colour.[108] This process, which produces admirable results in

the hands of a composer of intelligence and taste, becomes, when adopted

by inferior musicians, simply a convenient mode of plagiarism. Without

for one moment ranking Rossini, Bellini, or Donizetti in the latter

class, I may nevertheless observe, that the cavatina of La Gazza Ladra

is founded on an air sung by the peasants of Sicily; that the melody of

the trio in the Barber of Seville (Zitti, Zitti), is Simon's air in

the Seasons, note for note; that Di tanti palpiti was originally a

Roman Catholic hymn; that the music of La Sonnambula is full of

reminiscences of the popular music of Sicily; and that Donizetti has

also had recourse to national airs for the tunes of his choruses in La

Favorite. In the above instances, which might easily be multiplied the

composers seem to me rather to have suited their own personal

convenience, than to have aimed at giving any particular "colour" to

their works. However that may be, I feel obliged to them for my part for

having brought to light beautiful melodies, which but for them might

have remained in obscurity, as I also do to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven,

and Mendelssohn, for the admirable use they also have occasionally made

of popular themes. It appears to me, however, (to speak now of operatic

composers alone) that there is a great difference between borrowing an

air from an oratorio, a collection of national music, or any other

source, simply because it happens to be beautiful, and doing so because

it is appropriate to a particular personage or scene. We may not blame,

but we cannot praise Rossini for taking a melody of Haydn's for his

Zitti, Zitti, instead of inventing one for himself; nor was there any

particular merit, except that of civility, in giving "Berta," in the

same opera, a Russian air to sing, which Rossini had heard at the house

of a Russian lady residing at Rome, for whom he had a certain

admiration. But the Ranz des Vaches, introduced with such admirable

effect into Guillaume Tell, where it is marvellously embellished, and

yet loses nothing of its original character; this Ranz des Vaches at

once transports us amongst the Swiss mountains. So Luther's hymn is in

its proper place in the Huguenots;[109] so is the Persian air, made

the subject of a chorus of Persian beauties by the Russian composer

Glinka, in his Rouslan e Loudmila; so also is the Arabian march (first

published by Niebuhr in his "Travels in Arabia"), played behind the

scenes by the guards of the seraglio in Oberon, and the old Spanish

romance employed as the foundation to the overture of Preciosa.

[Sidenote: WEBER.]

Weber had a fondness not only for certain instrumental combinations and

harmonic effects, but also for particular instruments, such as the

clarionet and the horn, and particular chords (which caused Beethoven to

say that Weber's Euryanthe was a collection of diminished sevenths).

There are certain rhythms too, which, if Weber did not absolutely

invent, he has employed so happily, and has shown such a marked liking

for them (not only in his operas, but also in his pianoforte

compositions, and other instrumental works), that they may almost be

said to belong to him. With regard to the orchestral portion of his

operas generally, I may remark that Weber, though too high-souled a poet

to fall into the error of direct imitation of external noises, has yet

been able to suggest most charmingly and poetically, such vague natural

sounds as the rustling of the leaves of the forest, and the murmuring of

the waves of the sea. Finally, to speak of what defies analysis, but to

assert what every one who has listened to Weber's music will I think

admit, his music is full of that ideality and spirituality which in

literature is regarded in the present day, if not as the absolute

essence of poetry, at least, as one of its most essential elements. Read

Weber's life, study his letters, listen again and again to his music,

and you will find that he was a conscientious, dutiful, religious man,

with a thoroughly musical organization, great imaginative powers,

inexhaustible tenderness, and a deep, intuitive appreciation of all that

is most beautiful in popular legends. He was an artist of the highest

order, and with him art was truly a religion. He believed in its

ennobling effect, and that it was to be used only for ennobling

purposes. Thus, to have departed from the poetic exigencies of a subject

to gratify the caprice of a singer, or to attain the momentary applause

of the public would, to Weber, with the faith he held, have been a

heresy and a crime.

Weber has not precisely founded a school, but his influence is

perceptible in some of the works of Mendelssohn, (as, for instance, in

the overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream) and in many portions of

Meyerbeer's operas, especially in the fantastic music of Robert le

Diable, and in certain passages of Dinorah--a legend which Weber

himself would have loved to treat. Meyerbeer is said to have borrowed

many of his instrumental combinations from Weber; but in speaking of the

points of resemblance between the two composers, I was thinking not of

details of style, but of the general influence of Weber's thought and

manner. If Auber is indebted to Weber it is simply for the idea of

making the overture out of the airs of an opera, and of colouring the

melodic portion by the introduction of national airs. Only while Weber

gives to his operas a becoming national or poetic colour throughout, the

musical tints in M. Auber's dramatic works are often by no means in

harmony. The Italian airs in La Muette are appropriate enough, and the

whole of that work is in good keeping; but in the Domino Noir,

charming opera as it is, no one can help noticing that Spanish songs,

and songs essentially French, follow one another in the most abrupt

manner. As nothing can be more Spanish than the second movement of

"Angèle's" scene (in the third act) so nothing can be more French, more

Parisian, more vaudevillistic than the first.

[Sidenote: DER FREISCHÃœTZ.]

But to return to Weber and his operas. Der Freischütz, decidedly the

most important of all Weber's works, and which expresses in a more

remarkable manner than any other of his dramatic productions the natural

bent of his genius, was performed for the first time at Berlin in 1821.

Euryanthe was produced at Vienna in 1823, and Oberon at London in

1826. Der Freischütz is certainly the most perfect German opera that

exists; not that it is a superior work to Don Giovanni, but that Don

Giovanni is less a German than a universal opera; whereas Der

Freischütz is essentially of Germany, by its subject, by the

physiognomy of the personages introduced, and by the general character

of the music. There is this resemblance, however, between Don Giovanni

and Der Freischütz: that in each the composer had met with a libretto

peculiarly suited to his genius--the librettist having first conceived

the plan of the opera, and having long carried its germ in his mind.

Lorenzo da Ponte, in his memoirs (of which an interesting account was

published some years ago by M. Scudo, the accomplished critic of the

Revue des Deux Mondes) states, that he had long thought of Don Juan as

an admirable subject for an opera, of which he felt the poetic

truthfulness only too well, from reflecting on his own career; and that

he suggested it to Mozart, not only because he appreciated that

composer's high dramatic genius, but also because he had studied his

mental and moral nature; and saw, from his simplicity, his loftiness of

character, and his reverential, religious disposition, that he would do

full justice to the marvellous legend. Frederic Kind has also published

a little volume ("Der Freischütz-Buch"), in which he explains how the

circumstances of his life led him to meditate from an early age on such

legends as that which Weber has treated in his master-piece. When Weber

was introduced to Kind, he was known as the director of the Opera at

Prague, and also, and above all, as the composer of numerous popular and

patriotic choruses, which were sung by all Germany during the national

war of 1813. He had not at this time produced any opera; nor had Kind,

a poet of some reputation, ever written the libretto of one. Kind was

unwilling at first to attempt a style in which he did not feel at all

sure of success. One day, however, taking up a book, he said to Weber:

"There ought to be some thing here that would suit us, and especially

you, who have already treated popular subjects." He at the same time

handed to the musician a collection of legends, directing his attention

in particular to Apel's Freischütz. Weber, who already knew the story,

was delighted with the suggestion. "Divine! divine!" he exclaimed with

enthusiasm; and the poet at once commenced his libretto.

[Sidenote: DER FREISCHÃœTZ.]

No great work ever obtained a more complete and immediate triumph than

Der Freischütz; and within a few years of its production at Berlin it

was translated and re-produced in all the principal capitals of Europe.

It was played at London in English, at Paris in French, and at both

cities in German. In London it became so popular, that at the height of

its first success a gentleman, in advertising for a servant, is said to

have found it necessary to stipulate that he should not be able to

whistle the airs from Der Freischütz. In Paris, its fate was curious,

and in some respects almost inexplicable. It was brought out in 1824 at

the Odéon, in its original form, and was hissed. Whether the intelligent

French audience objected to the undeniable improbability of the chief

incidents in the drama, or whether the originality of the music offended

their unprepared ears, or whatever may have been the cause, Weber's

master-piece was damned. Its translator, M. Castil Blaze, withdrew it,

but determined to offer it to the critical public of the Odéon in

another form. He did not hesitate to remodel Der Freischütz, changing

the order of the pieces, cutting out such beauties as the French thought

laughable, interpolating here and there such compositions of his own as

he thought would please them, and finally presenting them this

remarkable medley (which, however, still consisted mainly of airs and

choruses by Weber) nine days after the failure of Der Freischütz,

under the title of Robin des Bois. The opera, as decomposed and

recomposed by M. Castil Blaze, was so successful, that it was

represented three hundred and fifty-seven times at the Odéon. Moreover,

it had already been played sixty times at the Opéra Comique, when the

French Dramatic Authors' Society interfered to prevent its further

representation at that theatre, on the ground that it had not been

specially written for it. M. Castil Blaze, in the version he has himself

published of this curious affair, tells us, that his first version of

Der Freischütz, in which his "respect for the work and the author had

prevented him from making the least change" was "sifflé, meurtri,

bafoué, navré, moqué, conspué, turlupiné, hué, vilipendié,

terrassé, déchiré, lacéré, cruellement enfoncé, jusqu'au

troisiéme dessous." This, and the after success of his modified

version, justified him, he thinks, in depriving Weber's work of all its

poetry, and reducing it to the level of the comprehension of a French

musical audience in the year 1824.

Strangely enough, when Berlioz's version of Der Freischütz was

produced at the Académie in 1841, it met with scarcely more success than

had been obtained by Der Freischütz in its original musical form at

the Odéon. The recitatives added by M. Berlioz, if not objectionable in

themselves, are at least to be condemned in so far that they are not

Weber's, that they prolong the music beyond Weber's intentions, and,

above all, that they change the entire character of the work. I cannot

think, after Meyerbeer's Dinorah, that recitative is an inappropriate

language in the mouths of peasants. Recitative of an heroic character,

would be so, no doubt; but not such as a composer of genius, or even of

taste or talent, would write for them. Nevertheless, Weber conceived his

master-piece as a species of melodrama, in which the personages were now

to sing, now to speak, "through the music," (to adopt an expressive

theatrical phrase), now to speak without any musical accompaniment at

all. If, at a theatre devoted exclusively to the performance of grand

opera, it is absolutely necessary to replace the spoken dialogue by

recitative, then this dialogue should, at least, be so compressed as to

reduce the amount of added recitative to a minimum quantity. Der

Freischütz, however, will always be heard to the greatest advantage in

the form in which it was originally produced. The pauses between the

pieces of music have, it must be remembered, been all premeditated, and

their effect taken into account by the composer.

[Sidenote: DER FREISCHÃœTZ.]

But the transformations of Der Freischütz are not yet at an end. Six

years ago M. Castil Blaze re-arranged his Robin des Bois once more,

restored what he had previously cut out, cut out what he had himself

added to Weber's music, and produced his version, No. 3 (which must have

differed very little, if at all, from his unfortunate version, No. 1),

at the Théâtre Lyrique.

Every season, too, it is rumoured that Der Freischütz is to be

produced at one of the Italian theatres of London, with Mademoiselle

Titiens or Madame Csillag in the principal part. When managers are tired

of tiring the public with perpetual variations between Verdi and

Meyerbeer, (to whose monstrously long operas my sole but sufficient

objection is, that there is too much of them, and--with the exception of

the charming Dinorah--that they are stuffed full of ballets,

processions, and other pretexts for unnecessary scenic display), then we

shall assuredly have an opportunity of hearing once more in England the

masterpiece of the chief of all the composers of the romantic and

legendary school. In such a case, who will supply the necessary

recitatives? Those of M. Berlioz have been tried, and found wanting. Mr.

Costa's were not a whit more satisfactory. M. Alary, the mutilator of

Don Giovanni, would surely not be encouraged to try his hand on

Weber's masterpiece? Meyerbeer, between whose genius and that of Weber,

considerable affinity exists, is, perhaps, the only composer of the

present day whom it would be worth while to ask to write recitatives for

Der Freischütz. The additions would have to be made with great

discretion, so as not to encumber the opera; but who would venture to

give a word of advice, if the work were undertaken by M. Meyerbeer?

Weber's Preciosa was produced at Berlin in 1820, a year before Der

Freischütz, which latter opera appears to have occupied its composer

four years--undoubtedly the four years best spent of all his artistic

life. The libretto of Preciosa is founded on Cervantes' Gipsy of

Madrid, (of which M. Louis Viardot has published an excellent French

translation); and here Weber, faithful to his system has given abundant

"colour" to his work, in which the Spanish romance introduced into the

overture, and the Gipsies' march are, with the waltz (which may be said

to be in Weber's personal style), the most striking and characteristic


[Sidenote: EURYANTHE.]

Euryanthe was written for Vienna, where it was represented for the

first time in 1823, the part of "Euryanthe" being filled by Mademoiselle

Sontag, that of "Adolar," by Heitzinger. The libretto of this opera,

composed by a lady, Madame Wilhelmine de Chézy is by no means

interesting, and the dulness of the poem, though certainly not

communicated to the music, has caused the latter to suffer from the mere

fact of being attached to it. Euryanthe was received coldly by the

public of Vienna, and was called by its wits--professors of the

"calembourg d'à-peu-près"--Ennuyante. If such facetiousness as this

was thought enlivening, it is easy to understand how Weber's music was

considered the reverse. I have already mentioned Beethoven's remark

about Euryanthe being "a collection of diminished sevenths." Weber was

naturally not enchanted with this observation; indeed it is said to

have pained him exceedingly, and some days after the first production of

Euryanthe he paid a visit to Beethoven, in order to submit the score

to his judgment. Beethoven received him kindly, but said to him, with a

certain roughness which was habitual to him: "You should have come to me

before the representation, not afterwards...." Nevertheless," he added,

"I advise you to treat Euryanthe as I did Fidelio; that is to say,

cut out a third."

Euryanthe, however, soon met with the success it deserved, not only at

Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig, but at Vienna itself, where the part

created by Mademoiselle Sontag was performed in 1825 by Madame

Schroeder-Devrient, in a manner which excited general enthusiasm. The

passionate duet between "Adolar" and "Euryanthe," in the second act, as

sung by Heitzinger and Madame Schroeder, would alone have sufficed to

attract the public of Vienna to Weber's opera, now that it was revived.

Oberon, Weber's last opera, was composed for Covent Garden Theatre, in

1826. Some ingenious depreciators of English taste have discovered that

Weber died from grief, caused by the coldness with which this work was

received by the London public. With regard to this subject, I cannot do

better than quote the excellent remarks of M. Scudo. After mentioning

that Oberon was received with enthusiasm on its first production at

Covent Garden--that it was "appreciated by those who were worthy of

comprehending it"--and that an English musical journal, the

Harmonicon, "published a remarkable article, in which all the beauties

of the score were brought out with great taste," he observes that "it is

impossible to quote an instance of a great man in literature, or in the

arts, whose merit was entirely overlooked by his contemporaries;" while,

"as for the death of Weber, it may be explained by fatigue, by grief,

without doubt, but, above all, by an organic disease, from which he had

suffered for years." At the same time "the enthusiasm exhibited by the

public, at the first representation of Oberon, did not keep at the

same height at the following representations. The master-piece of the

German composer experienced much the same fate as William Tell in


[Sidenote: OBERON.]

Weber himself, in a letter written to his wife, on the very night of the

first performance, says:--"My dear Lina; thanks to God and to his all

powerful will, I obtained this evening the greatest success in my life.

The emotion produced in my breast by such a triumph, is more than I can

describe. To God alone belongs the glory. When I entered the orchestra,

the house, crammed to the roof, burst into a frenzy of applause. Hats

and handkerchiefs were waved in the air. The overture had to be executed

twice, as had also several of the pieces in the opera itself. The air

which Braham sings in the first act was encored; so was Fatima's

romance, and a quartett in the second act. The public even wished to

hear the finale over again. In the third act, Fatima's ballad was

re-demanded. At the end of the representation I was called on to the

stage by the enthusiastic acclamations of the public, an honour which

no composer had ever before obtained in England. All went excellently,

and every one around me was happy."

In spite of the enthusiasm inspired by Weber's works in England, when

they were first produced, and for some years afterwards, we have now but

rarely an opportunity of hearing one of them. Oberon, it is true, was

brought out at Her Majesty's Theatre at the end of last season, when,

not being able to achieve miracles, it did not save the manager from

bankruptcy; but the existence of Weber's other works seems to be

forgotten by our directors, English as well as Italian, though from time

to time a rumour goes about, which proves to be a rumour and nothing

more, that Der Freischütz is to be performed by one of our Italian

companies. In the meanwhile Weber has found an abundance of appreciation

in France, where, at the ably and artistically-conducted Théâtre

Lyrique, Der Freischütz, Oberon, Euryanthe and Preciosa have all

been brought out, and performed with remarkable success during the last

few years.

A composer, whose works present many points of analogy with those of

Weber, and which therefore belong essentially to the German romantic

school, is Hoffmann--far better known by his tales than by his

Miserere, his Requiem, his airs and choruses for Werner's Crusade

of the Baltic, or his operas of Love and Jealousy, the Canon of

Milan, or Undine. This last production has always been regarded as

his master-piece. Indeed, with Undine, Hoffmann obtained his one great

musical success; and it is easy to account for the marked favour with

which that work was received in Germany. In the first place the

fantastic nature of the subject was eminently suited to the peculiar

genius of the composer. Then he possessed the advantage of having an

excellent libretto, written by Lamotte-Fouqué, the author of the

original tale; and, finally, the opera was admirably executed at the

Royal Theatre of Berlin. Probably not one of my readers has heard

Hoffmann's Undine, which was brought out in 1817, and I believe was

never revived, though much of the music, for a time, enjoyed

considerable popularity, and the composition, as a whole, was warmly and

publicly praised by no less a personage than Karl Maria von Weber

himself. On the other hand, Undine, and Hoffmann's music generally,

have been condemned by Sir Walter Scott, who is reported not to have

been able to distinguish one melody from another, though he had, of

course, a profound admiration for Scotch ballads of all kinds. M. Fétis,

too, after informing us that Hoffmann "gave music lessons, painted

enormous pictures, and wrote licentious novels (where are Hoffmann's

licentious novels?) without succeeding in making himself remarked in any

style," goes on to assure us, without ever having heard Undine, that

although there were "certain parts" in which genius was evinced, yet

"want of connexion, of conformity, of conception, and of plan, might be

observed throughout;" and that "the judgment of the best critics was,

that such a work could not be classed among those compositions which

mark an epoch in art."


Weber had studied criticism less perhaps than M. Fétis; but he knew

more about creativeness, and in an article on the opera of Undine, so

far from complaining of any "want of connexion, of conformity, of

conception, and of plan," the author of Der Freischütz says: "This

work seems really to have been composed at one inspiration, and I do not

remember, after hearing it several times, that any passage ever recalled

me for a single minute from the circle of magic images that the artist

evoked in my soul. Yes, from the beginning to the end, the author

sustains the interest so powerfully, by the musical development of his

theme, that after but a single hearing one really seizes the ensemble

of the work; and detail disappears in the naïveté and modesty of his

art. With rare renunciation, such as can be appreciated only by him who

knows what it costs to sacrifice the triumph of a momentary success, M.

Hoffmann has disdained to enrich some pieces at the expense of others,

which it is so easy to do by giving them an importance, which does not

belong to them as members of the entire work. The composer always

advances, visibly guided by this one aspiration--to be always truthful,

and keep up the dramatic action without ceasing, instead of checking or

fettering it in its rapid progress. Diverse and strongly marked as are

the characters of the different personages, there is, nevertheless,

something which surrounds them all; it is that fabulous life, full of

phantoms, and those soft whisperings of terror, which belong so

peculiarly to the fantastic. Kühleborn is the character most strikingly

put in relief, both by the choice of the melodies, and by the

instrumentation which, never leaving him, always announces his sinister

approach.[110] This is quite right, Kühleborn appearing, if not as

destiny itself, at least as its appointed instrument. After him comes

Undine, the charming daughter of the waves, which, made sonorous, now

murmur and break in harmonious roulades, now powerful and commanding,

announce her power. The 'arietta' of the second act, treated with rare

and subtle grace, seems to me a thorough success, and to render the

character perfectly. 'Hildebrand,' so passionate, yet full of

hesitation, and allowing himself to be carried away by each amorous

desire, and the pious and simple priest, with his grave choral melody,

are the next in importance. In the back-ground are Bertalda, the

fisherman, and his wife, and the duke and duchess. The strains sung by

the suite of the latter breathe a joyous, animated life, and are

developed with admirable gaiety; thus forming a contrast with the sombre

choruses of the spirits of the earth and water, which are full of harsh,

strange progressions. The end of the opera, in which the composer

displays, as if to crown his work, all his abundance of harmony in the

double chorus in eight parts, appears to me grandly conceived and

perfectly rendered. He has expressed the words--'good night to all the

cares and to all the magnificence of the earth'--with true loftiness,

and with a soft melancholy, which, in spite of the tragic conclusion of

the piece, leaves behind a delicious impression of calm and

consolation. The overture and the final chorus which enclose the work

here give one another the hand. The former, which evokes and opens the

world of wonders, commences softly, goes on increasing, then bursts

forth with passion; the latter is introduced without brusqueness, but

mixes up with the action, and calms and satisfies it completely. The

entire work is one of the most spiritual that these latter times have

given us. It is the result of the most perfect and intimate

comprehension of the subject, completed by a series of ideas profoundly

reflected upon, and by the intelligent use of all the material resources

of art; the whole rendered into a magnificent work by beautiful and

admirably developed melodies."

M. Berlioz has said of Hoffmann's music, adding, however, that he had

not heard a note of it, that it was "de la musique de littérateur." M.

Fétis, having heard about as much of it, has said a great deal more;

but, after what has been written concerning Hoffmann's principal opera

by such a master and judge as Karl Maria von Weber, neither the opinion

of M. Fétis, nor of M. Berlioz, can be of any value on the subject. The

merit of Hoffmann's music has probably been denied, because the world is

not inclined to believe that the same man can be a great writer and also

a great musician. Perhaps it is this perversity of human nature that

makes us disposed to hold M. Berlioz in so little esteem as an author;

and I have no doubt that there are many who would be equally unwilling

to allow M. Fétis any tolerable rank as a composer.