Rousseau As A Critic And As A Composer Of Music

The Musical Dictionary.--Account of the French Opera from the

Nouvelle Héloise.--Le devin du Village.--Jean-Jacques Rousseau and

Granet of Lyons.

Rousseau, a man of a decidedly musical organisation, who, during his

residence in Italy, learnt, as he tells us in the Confessions, to love

the music of Italy; who wrote so earnestly and so well in favour of that

music, and against the
psalmody of Lulli and Rameau, in his celebrated

Lettre sur la Musique Française; and who had sufficient candour, or,

rather let us say, a sufficiently sincere love of art to express the

enthusiasm he felt for Gluck when all the other writers in France, who

had ever praised Italian music, felt bound to depreciate him blindly,

for the greater glory of Piccinni; this Rousseau, who cared more for

music than for truth or honour, and who has now been proved to have

stolen from two obscure, but not altogether unknown, composers the music

which he represented to be his own, in Pygmalion, and the Devin du

Village, has given in his Dictionnaire Musicale, in the

before-mentioned Lettre sur la Musique Française, but above all in

the Nouvelle Héloise, the best general account that can be obtained of

the Opera in France during the middle of the 18th century. I will begin

with Rousseau's article on the Opera (omitting only the end, which

relates to the ballet), from the Dictionnaire Musicale:--


"An opera is a dramatic and lyrical spectacle, designed to combine the

enchantments of all the fine arts by the representation of some

passionate action through sensations so agreeable as to excite both

interest and illusion.[45]

"The constituent parts of an opera are the poem, the music, and the

decoration. By poetry, the spectacle speaks to the mind; by music, to

the ear; and by painting, to the eye: all combining, through different

organs, to make the same impression on the heart. Of these three parts,

my subject only allows me to consider the first and last with reference

to the second.

"The art of combining sounds agreeably may be regarded under two

different aspects. As an institution of nature, music confines its

effects to the senses, to the physical pleasure which results from

melody, harmony, and rhythm. Such is usually the music of churches; such

are the airs suited to dancing and songs. But as the essential part of a

lyrical scene, aiming principally at imitation, music becomes one of the

fine arts, and is capable of painting all pictures; of exciting all

sentiments; of competing with poetry; of endowing her with new

strength; of embellishing her with new charms; and of triumphing over

her while placing the crown on her head.

"The sounds of a speaking voice, being neither harmonious nor sustained,

are inappreciable, and cannot, consequently, connect themselves

agreeably with the singing voice, or with instruments, at least in

modern languages. It was different with the Greeks. Their language was

so accentuated that its inflections, in a long declamation, formed,

spontaneously as it were, musical intervals, distinctly appreciable.

Thus it may be said that their theatrical pieces were a species of

opera; and it was for this very reason that they could have no operas

properly so called.

"But the difficulty of uniting song to declamation in modern languages

explains how it is that the intervention of music has given to the lyric

poem a character quite different from that of tragedy or comedy, and

made it a third species of drama, having its particular rules. The

differences alluded to cannot be determined without a perfect knowledge

of music, of the means of identifying it with words, and of its natural

relations to the human heart--details which belong less to the artist

than to the philosopher.

[Sidenote: GREEK MUSIC.]

"Confining myself, therefore, on this subject to a few observations

rather historical than didactic, I remark, first, that the Greek theatre

had not, like ours, any lyrical feature, for that which they called so,

had not the slightest resemblance to what we call so.

Their language had so much accent that, in a concert of voices, there

was little noise, whilst all their poetry was musical, and all their

music declamatory. Thus, song with them was hardly more than sustained

discourse. They really sang their verses, as they declared at the head

of their poems, a practice which gave the Romans, and afterwards the

moderns, the ridiculous habit of saying, I sing, when nothing is sung.

That which the Greeks called the lyric style was a pompous and florid

strain of heroic poesy, accompanied by the lyre. It is certain, too,

that their tragedies were recited in a manner very similar to singing,

and that they were accompanied by instruments, and had choruses.

"But if, on that account, it should he inferred that they were operas

like ours, then it must be supposed that their operas were without airs,

for it appears to me unquestionable that the Greek music, without

excepting even the instrumental, was a real recitative. It is true that

this recitative, uniting the charm of musical sounds to all the harmony

of poetry, and to all the force of declamation, must have had much more

energy than the modern recitative, which can hardly acquire one of these

advantages but at the expense of the others. In our living languages,

which partake for the most part of the rudeness of their native

climates, the application of music to speech is much less natural than

it was with the Greeks. An uncertain prosody agrees ill with regularity

of measure; deaf and dumb syllables, hard articulations, sounds not

sonorous, with little variation, and no suppleness, cannot but with

great difficulty be consorted with melody; and a poetry cadenced solely

by the number of syllables, whilst it gets but a very faint harmony in

musical rhythm, is constantly opposed to the diversity of that rhythm's

values and movements. These are the difficulties which were to be

overcome, or eluded, in the invention of the lyrical poem. The effort,

therefore, of its inventors was to form, by a nice selection of words,

by choice turns of expression, and by varied metres, a particular

language; and this language, called lyrical, is rich or poor in

proportion to the softness or harshness of that from which it is


"Having thus prepared a language for music, the question was next to

apply music to this language, and to render it so apt for the purposes

of the lyrical scene that the whole, vocal and instrumental, should be

taken for one and the same idiom. This produced the necessity of

continuous singing,--a necessity the greater in proportion as the

language employed should be unmusical, as the less a language has of

softness and accentuation, the more the alternate change from song to

speech shocks the ear.


"This mode of uniting music to poetry sufficed to produce interest and

illusion among the Greeks, because it was natural; and, for the contrary

reason, it cannot have the like effect on us. In listening to a

hypothetical and constrained language, we can hardly conceive what the

singers would say, so that with much noise they excite little emotion.

Hence the further necessity of bringing physical to the aid of moral

pleasure, and of supplying, by the charm of harmony, the lack of

distinctness of meaning and energy of expression. Thus, the less the

heart was touched the more need there was to flatter the ear, and from

sensation was sought the delight which sentiment could not furnish.

Hence the origin of airs, choruses, symphonies, and of that enchanting

melody which often embellishes modern music at the expense of its poetic


"At the birth of the Opera, its inventors, to elude that which seemed

unnatural, as an imitation of human life, in the union of music with

speech, transferred their scenes from earth to heaven, and to hell. Not

knowing how to make men speak, they made gods and devils, instead of

heroes and shepherds, sing. Thus magic and marvels became speedily the

stock in trade of the lyrical theatre. Yet, in spite of every effort to

fascinate the eyes, whilst multitudes of instruments and of voices

bewildered the ear, the action of every piece remained cold, and all its

scenes were totally void of interest. As there was no plot which,

however intricate, could not be easily unravelled by the intervention of

some god, the spectator quietly abandoned to the poet the task of

delivering his hero from his greatest dangers. Thus immense machinery

produced little effect, for the imitation was always grossly defective

and coarse. A supernatural action had in it no human interest, and the

senses refused to yield to an illusion, in which the heart had no part.

It would have been difficult to weary an assembly at greater cost than

was done by these first operas.

But the spectacle, imperfect as it was, was for a long time the

admiration of its contemporaries. They congratulated themselves on so

fine a discovery. Here, they said, is a new principle added to that of

Aristotle; here is admiration added to terror and pity. They were not

aware that the apparent riches of which they boasted were but a sign of

sterility, like flowers which cover the fields before harvest. It was

because they could not touch the heart that they aimed at surprising,

and their pretended admiration was, in fact, but a puerile astonishment

of which they ought to have been ashamed. A false air of magnificence

and enchantments, sorceries, chimeras, extravagances the most insane, so

imposed upon them that, with the best faith in the world, they spoke

with respect and enthusiasm of a theatre which merited nothing but

hisses: as if there were more merit in making the king of gods utter the

stupidest platitudes than there would be in attributing the same to the

lowest of mortals; or as if the valets of Molière were not infinitely

preferable to the heroes of Pradon.

[Sidenote: EARLY OPERAS.]

"Although the author of these first operas had had hardly any other

object than to dazzle the eye and to astound the ear, it could scarcely

happen that the musician did not sometimes endeavour to express, by his

art, some sentiments diffused through the piece in performance. The

songs of nymphs, the hymns of priests, the shouts of warriors, infernal

outcries did not so completely fill up these barbarous dramas as to

leave no moments or situations of interest when the spectator was

disposed to be moved. Thus it soon began to be felt, that independently

of the musical declamation, often ill adapted to the language employed,

the musical movement of harmony and of songs was not alien to the words

which were to be uttered, and that consequently the effect of music

alone, hitherto confined to the senses, could reach the heart. Melody,

which was at first only separated from poetry by necessity, profited by

this independence to adopt beauties absolutely and purely musical;

harmony, improved and carried to perfection, opened to it new means of

pleasing and of moving; and the measure, freed from the embarrassment of

poetic rhythm, acquired a sort of cadence of its own.

"Music, having thus become a third imitative art, had speedily its own

language, its expressions, its pictures, altogether independent of

poetry. Symphony also learnt to speak without the aid of words; and

sentiments often came from the orchestra quite as distinctly and vividly

expressed as they could be by the mouths of actors. Spectators then,

beginning to get disgusted with all the tinsel of fairy land, of puerile

machinery, and of fantastic images of things never seen, looked for the

imitation of nature in pictures more interesting and more true. Up to

this time the Opera had been constituted as it alone could be; for what

better use, at the theatre, could be made of a kind of music which could

paint nothing than by employing it in the representation of things which

could not exist? But as soon as music learnt to paint and to speak the

charms of sentiment, it brought into contempt those of the Wand; the

theatre was purged of its garden of mythology, interest was substituted

for astonishment; the machines of poets and of carpenters were

destroyed; and the lyric drama assumed a more noble and less gigantic

character. All that could move the heart was employed with success, and

gods were driven from the stage on which men were represented[46]....


"This reform was followed by another not less important. The Opera, it

was felt, should represent nothing cold or intellectual--nothing that

the spectator could witness with sufficient tranquillity to reflect on

what he saw. And it is in this especially that the essential difference

between the lyric drama and pure tragedy consists. All political

deliberations, all plots, conspiracies, explanations, recitals,

sententious maxims--in a word, all which speaks to the reason was

banished from the theatre of the heart, with all jeux d'esprit,

madrigals, and other pleasant conceits, which suppose some activity of

thought. On the contrary, to depict all the energies of sentiments, all

the violence of the passions, was made the principal object of this

drama: for the illusion which makes its charm is destroyed as soon as

the author and actor leave the spectator a moment to himself. It is on

this principle that the modern Opera is established. Apostolo Zeno, the

Corneille of Italy, and his tender pupil, who is its Racine,

[Metastasio] have opened and carried to its perfection this new career

of the dramatic art. They have brought the heroes of history on a

theatre which seemed only adapted to exhibit the phantoms of fable....

"Having tried and felt her strength, music, able to walk alone, began to

disdain the poetry she had to accompany. To enhance her own value, she

drew from herself beauties of which her companion had hitherto had a

share. She still professes, it is true, to express her ideas and

sentiments; but she assumes, so to speak, an independent language, and

though the object of the poet and of the musician is the same, they are

too much separated in their labours, to produce at once two images,

resembling each other, yet distinct, without mutual injury. Thus it

happens, that if the musician has more art than the poet, he effaces

him; and the actor, seeing the spectator sacrifice the words to the

music, sacrifices in his turn theatrical gesture and action to song and

brilliancy of voice, which transforms a dramatic entertainment into a

mere concert....

"Such are the defects which the absolute perfection of music, and its

defective application to language, may introduce into the Opera. And

here it may be remarked that the languages the most apt to conform to

all the laws of measure and of melody are those in which the duality of

which I have spoken is the least apparent, because music, lending itself

to the ideas of poetry, poetry yields, in its turn, to the inflections

of music, so that when music ceases to observe the rhythm, the accent

and the harmony of verses, verses syllable themselves, and submit to the

cadence of musical measure and accent. But when a language has neither

softness nor flexibility, the harshness of its poetry hinders its

subjection to music; a good recitation of verses is obstructed even by

the sweetness of the melody accompanying it; and one is conscious, in

the forced union of the two arts, of a perpetual constraint which shocks

the ear, and which destroys at once the charm of melody and the effect

of declamation. For this defect there is no remedy; and to apply, by

compulsion, music to a language which is not musical, is to give it more

harshness than it would otherwise have....


"Although music, as an imitative art, has more connection with poetry

than with painting, this latter is not obliged, as poetry is, at the

theatre, to make a double representation of the same object; because the

one expresses the sentiments of men, and the other gives pictures merely

of the places where they are, which strengthens much the illusion of the

whole spectacle.... But it must be acknowledged that the task of the

musician is greater than that of the painter. The imitation expressed by

painting is always cold, because it wants that succession of ideas and

of impressions which increasingly kindle the soul, all its portraiture

being conveyed to the mind at a first look. It is a great advantage,

also, to a musician that he can paint things which cannot be heard,

whilst the painter cannot paint those which cannot be seen; and the

greatest prodigy of an art which has no life but in movement is, that it

is able to give even an image of repose. Sleep, the quietude of night,

solitude, and silence, are among the number of music's pictures.

Sometimes noise produces the effect of silence and silence the effect of

noise, as when one falls asleep at a monotonous reading and wakes up the

moment the reader stops.... Further, whilst the painter can derive

nothing from the musician, the skilful musician will not leave the

studio of the painter without profit. Not only can he, at his will,

agitate the sea, excite the flames of a conflagration, make rivulets run

and murmur, bring down the rain and swell it to torrents, but he can

augment the horrors of the frightful desert, darken the walls of a

subterranean prison, calm the storm, make the air tranquil and the sky

serene, and shed from the orchestra the freshest fragrance of the

sweetest bowers.

"We have seen how the union of the three arts we have mentioned

constitute the lyric scene. Some have been tempted to introduce a

fourth, of which I have now to speak.

"The question is to know whether dancing, being a language, and

consequently capable of becoming an imitative art, should not enter with

the other three into the action of the lyrical drama, or whether it

would not rather interrupt and suspend this action and spoil the effect

and the unity of the whole piece.

"But here, I think, there can be no question at all. For every one feels

that the interest of a successive action depends upon the continuance

and growing increase of the impression its representation makes on us.

But by breaking off a spectacle and introducing other spectacles which

have nothing to do with it, the principal subject is divided into

independent parts, with no link of connection between them; and the more

agreeable the inserted spectacles are, the greater must be the deformity

produced by the mutilation of the whole.... It is for this reason that

the Italians have at last banished these interludes from their operas.

They are, separately considered, a species of spectacle very pleasing,

very piquante, and quite natural, but so misplaced in the midst of a

tragic action, that the two exhibitions injure each other mutually, and

the one can never interest but at the expense of the other."

* * * * *

[Sidenote: THE BALLET.]

Rousseau then suggests that the ballet should come after the opera,

which, as every one knows, is the rule at the Italian Opera houses of

London, and which appears to me a far preferable arrangement to that of

the French Académie, where no lyrical work is considered complete

without a divertissement introduced anyhow into the middle of it, or

of the Italian theatres where it is still the custom to perform short

ballets or divertissements between the acts of the opera. Italy, the

country of the Vestrises, of the Taglionis, and in the present day I may

add of Rosati, has always bestowed much care on the production of its

ballets. I have mentioned (Chapter I.), that the opera in its infancy

owed much to the protection of the Popes. The Papal Government in the

present day is said to pay special attention to the ballet, and to

watch with paternal solicitude the pirouettes and jetés battus of

the danseuses. At least I find a passage to that effect in a work

entitled "La Rome des Papes,"[47] the writer declaring that cardinals

and bishops attend the Operas of Italy to see that the ballerine swing

their legs within certain limits.

* * * * *

Having seen Rousseau's views of the Opera as it might be, let us now

turn to his description of the Opera of Paris as it actually was; a

description put into the mouth of St. Preux, the hero of his Nouvelle


* * * * *

"Before I tell you what I think of this famous theatre, I will tell you

what is said here about it; the judgment of connoisseurs may correct

mine, if I am wrong.

"The Opera of Paris passes at Paris for the most pompous, the most

voluptuous, the most admirable spectacle that human art has ever

invented. It is, say its admirers, the most superb monument of the

magnificence of Louis XIV.; and one is not so free as you may think to

express an opinion on so important a subject. Here you may dispute about

everything except music and the Opera; on these topics alone it is

dangerous not to dissemble. French music is defended, too, by a very

rigorous inquisition, and the first thing intimated as a warning, to

strangers who visit this country, is that all foreigners admit, there is

nothing in this world so fine as the Opera of Paris. The fact is,

discreet people hold their tongues, and dare only laugh in their


"It must, however, be conceded, that not only all the marvels of nature,

but many other marvels, much greater, which no one has ever seen, are

represented, at great cost, at this theatre; and certainly Pope[48] must

have alluded to it when he describes one on which was seen gods,

hobgoblins, monsters, kings, shepherds, fairies, fury, joy, fire, a jig,

a battle, and a ball.


"This magnificent assemblage, so well organized, is in fact regarded as

though it contained all the things it represents. When a temple appears,

the spectators are seized with a holy respect, and if the goddess be at

all pretty, they become at once half pagan. They are not so difficult

here as they are at the Comédie Francaise. There the audience cannot

indue a comedian with his part: at the Opera, they cannot separate the

actor from his. They revolt against a reasonable illusion, and yield to

others in proportion as they are absurd and clumsy. Or, perhaps, they

find it easier to form an idea of gods than of heroes. Jupiter having a

different nature from ours, we may think about him just as we please:

but Cato was a man; and how many men are they who have any right to

believe that Cato could have existed?

"The Opera is not then here as elsewhere, a company of comedians paid to

entertain the public; its members are, it is true, people whom the

public pay, and who exhibit themselves before it; but all this changes

its nature and name, for these dramatists form a Royal Academy of

Music,[49] a species of sovereign court, which judges without appeal in

its own cause, and is otherwise by no means particular about justice or


"Having now told you what others say of this brilliant spectacle, I will

tell you at present what I have seen myself.

"Imagine an enclosure fifteen feet broad, and long in proportion; this

enclosure is the theatre. On its two sides are placed at intervals

screens, on which are grossly painted the objects which the scene is

about to represent. At the back of the enclosure hangs a great curtain,

painted in like manner and nearly always pierced and torn that it may

represent at a little distance gulfs on the earth or holes in the sky.

Every one who passes behind this stage, or touches the curtain, produces

a sort of earthquake, which has a double effect. The sky is made of

certain blueish rags suspended from poles or from cords, as linen may be

seen hung out to dry in any washerwoman's yard. The sun, for it is seen

here sometimes, is a lighted torch in a lantern. The cars of the gods

and goddesses are composed of four rafters, squared and hung on a thick

rope in the form of a swing or see-saw; between the rafters is a

cross-plank on which the god sits down, and in front hangs a piece of

coarse cloth well dirtied, which acts the part of clouds for the

magnificent car. One may see towards the bottom of the machine, two or

three stinking candles, badly snuffed, which, whilst the great personage

dementedly presents himself swinging in his see-saw, fumigate him with

an incense worthy of his dignity. The agitated sea is composed of long

angular lanterns of cloth and blue pasteboard, strung on parallel spits,

which are turned by little blackguard boys. The thunder is a heavy cart

rolled over an arch, and is not the least agreeable instrument one

hears. The flashes of lightning are made of pinches of resin thrown on a

flame; and the thunder is a cracker at the end of a fusee.


"The theatre is moreover furnished with little square traps, which,

opening at need, announce that the demons are about to issue from their

cave. When they have to rise into the air, little demons of stuffed

brown cloth are substituted for them, or sometimes real chimney sweeps,

who swing about suspended on ropes till they are majestically lost in

the rags of which I have spoken. The accidents, however, which not

unfrequently happen are sometimes as tragic as farcical. When the ropes

break, then infernal spirits and immortal gods fall together, and lame

and occasionally kill one another. Add to all this, the monsters, which

render some scenes very pathetic, such as dragons, lizards, tortoises,

crocodiles and large toads, who promenade the theatre with a menacing

air, and display at the Opera all the temptations of St. Anthony. Each

of these figures is animated by a lout of a Savoyard, who has not even

intelligence enough to play the beast.

"Such, my cousin, is the august machinery of the Opera, as I have

observed it from the pit with the aid of my glass; for you must not

imagine that all this apparatus is hidden, and produces an imposing

effect. I have only described what I have seen myself, and what any

other spectator may see. I am assured, however, that there are a

prodigious number of machines employed to put the whole spectacle in

motion, and I have been invited several times to examine them; but I

have never been curious to learn how little things are performed by

great means.

* * * * *

"I will not speak to you of the music; you know it. But you can form no

idea of the frightful cries, the long bellowings with which the theatre

resounds daring the representation. One sees actresses nearly in

convulsions, tearing yelps and howls violently out of their lungs,

closed hands pressed on their breasts, heads thrown back, faces

inflamed, veins swollen, and stomachs panting. I know not which of the

two, the eye or the ear, is most agreeably affected by this ugly

display; and, what is really inconceivable, it is these shriekings alone

that the audience applaud. By the clapping of their hands they might be

taken for deaf people delighted at catching some shrill piercing sound.

For my part, I am convinced that they applaud the outcries of an actress

at the Opera as they would the feats of a tumbler or a rope-dancer at a

fair. The sensation produced by this screaming is both revolting and

painful; one actually suffers whilst it lasts, but is so glad to see it

all over without accident as willingly to testify joy. Imagine this

style of singing employed to express the delicate gallantry and

tenderness of Quinault! Imagine the muses, the graces, the loves, Venus

herself, expressing themselves in this way, and judge the effect! As for

devils, it might pass, for this music has something infernal in it, and

is not ill-adapted to such beings.

[Sidenote: THE AUDIENCE]

"To these exquisite sounds those of the orchestra are most worthily

married. Conceive an endless charivari of instruments without melody, a

drawling and perpetual rumble of basses, the most lugubrious and

fatiguing I have ever heard, and which I have never been able to

support for half an hour without a violent headache. All this forms a

species of psalmody in which there is generally neither melody nor

measure. But should a lively air spring up, oh, then, the sensation is

universal; you then hear the whole pit in movement, painfully following,

and with great noise, some certain performer in the orchestra. Charmed

to feel for a moment a cadence, which they understand so little, their

ears, voices, arms, feet, their entire bodies, agitated all over, run

after the measure always about to escape them; while the Italians and

Germans, who are deeply affected by music, follow it without effort, and

never need beat the time. But in this country the musical organ is

extremely hard; voices have no softness, their inflections are sharp and

strong, and their tones all reluctant and forced; and there is no

cadence, no melodious accent in the airs of the people; their military

instruments, their regimental fifes, their horns, and hautbois, their

street singers, and guinguette violins, are all so false as to shock

the least delicate ear. Talents are not given indiscriminately to all

men, and the French seem to me of all people to have the least aptitude

for music. My Lord Edward says that the English are not better gifted in

this respect; but the difference is, that they know it, and do not care

about it; whilst the French would relinquish a thousand just titles to

praise, rather than confess, that they are not the first musicians in

the world. There are even those here who would willingly regard music

as a state interest, because, perhaps, the cutting of two chords of the

lyre of Timotheus was so regarded at Sparta.--But to return to my


"I have yet to speak of the ballets, the most brilliant part of the

opera. Considered separately, they form agreeable, magnificent, and

truly theatrical spectacles; but it is as constituent parts of operatic

pieces that I now allude to them. You know the operas of Quinault. You

know how this sort of diversion is there introduced. His successors, in

imitating, have surpassed him in absurdity. In every act the action is

generally interrupted at the most interesting moment, by a dance given

to the actors who are seated, while the public stand up to look on. It

thus happens that the dramatis personæ are absolutely forgotten. The

way in which these fêtes are brought about is very simple: Is the prince

joyous? his courtiers participate in his joy, and dance. Is he sad? he

must be cheered up, and they dance again. I do not know whether it is

the fashion at our court to give balls to kings when they are out of

humour; but I know that one cannot too much admire the stoicism of the

monarchs of the buskin who listen to songs, and enjoy entrechats, and

pirouettes, while their crowns are in danger, their lives in peril,

and their fate is being decided behind the curtain. But there are many

other occasions for dances: the gravest actions in life are performed in


[Sidenote: THE BALLET]

"Priests dance, soldiers dance, gods dance, devils dance; there is

dancing even at interments,--dancing àpropos of everything.

"Dancing is there the fourth of the fine arts constituting the lyrical

scene. The three others are imitative; but what does this imitate?

Nothing. It is then quite extraneous when employed in this manner, for

what have minuets and rigadoons to do in a tragedy? I will say more. It

would not be less misplaced, even if it imitated something, because of

all the unities that of language is the most indispensable; and an

action or an opera performed, half in singing and half in dancing, would

be even more ridiculous than one written half in French and half in


"Not content with introducing dancing as an essential part of the

lyrical scene, the Academicians have sometimes even made it its

principal subject; and they have operas, called ballets, which so ill

respond to their title, that dancing is just as much out of its place in

them as in the others. Most of these ballets form as many separate

subjects as there are acts, and these subjects are linked together by

certain metaphysical relations, which the spectator could never

conceive, if the author did not take care to explain them to him in the

prologue. The seasons, the ages, the senses, the elements, what

connexion have these things with dancing? and what can they offer,

through such a medium, to the imagination? Some of the pieces referred

to are even purely allegorical, as the Carnival, and Folly; and these

are the most insupportable of all, because, with much cleverness and

piquancy they have neither sentiments nor pictures, nor situations, nor

warmth, nor interest, nor anything that music can take hold of, to

flatter the heart or to produce illusion. In these pretended ballets,

the action always passes in singing, whilst dancing always interrupts

the action. But as these performances have still less interest than the

tragedies, the interruptions are less remarked. Thus defect serves to

hide defect, and the great art of the author is, in order to make his

ballet endurable, to make his piece as dull as possible....

* * * * *

"After all, perhaps, the French ought not to have a better operatic

drama than they have, at least, with respect to execution; not that they

are not capable of appreciating what is good, but because the bad amuses

them more. They feel more gratification in satirising than in

applauding; the pleasure of criticising more than compensates them for

the ennui of witnessing a stupid composition, and they would rather

mockingly pelt a performance after they have left the theatre, than

enjoy themselves while there."

* * * * *


I have already remarked that, although in his Lettre sur la Musique

Française, Rousseau had praised the melody of the Italians as much as

he had condemned the dreary psalmody of the French, he expressed the

highest admiration for the genius of Gluck. He never missed a

representation of Orphée, and said, in allusion to the gratification

that work had afforded him, that "after all there was something in life

worth living for, since in two hours so much genuine pleasure could be

obtained." He observed that Gluck seemed to have come to France in order

to give the lie to his proposition that good music could never be set to

French words. At another time he observed that every one complained of

Gluck's want of melody, but that for his part he thought it issued from

all his pores.

* * * * *

Now let us turn to the Devin du Village, of which both words and music

are generally attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau; that Rousseau who, in

the Confessions, reproaches himself so bitterly with having stolen a

ribbon (it is true he had accused an innocent young girl of the theft,

and, by implication, of something more), who passes complacently over a

hundred mean and disgusting acts which he acknowledges to have

committed, and who ends by declaring that any one who may come to the

conclusion that he, Rousseau, is, "un malhonnête homme," is himself "a

man to be smothered," (un homme à étouffer).

Le Devin du Village is undoubtedly the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau,

as far as the libretto is concerned; but M. Castil Blaze has shown, on

what appears to me very good evidence,[50] that the music was the

production of Granet, a composer residing at Lyons.

One day in the year 1751, Pierre Rousseau, called Rousseau of Toulouse,

to distinguish him from the numerous other Rousseaus living in Paris,

and known as the director of the Journal Encyclopédique, received a

parcel containing a quantity of manuscript music, which, on examination,

turned out to be the score of an opera. It was accompanied by a letter

addressed, like the parcel itself, to "M. Rousseau, homme de lettres,

demeurant à Paris," in which a person signing himself Granet, and

writing from Lyons, expressed a hope that his music would be found

worthy of the illustrious author's words; that he had given appropriate

expression to the tender sentiments of Colette and Colin, &c. Pierre

Rousseau, though a journalist, understood music. He knew that Granet's

letter was intended for Jean Jacques, and that he ought to return it,

with the music, to the post-office, but the score of the Devin du

Village, from the little he had seen of it, interested him, and he not

only kept it until he had made himself familiar with it from beginning

to end, but even showed it to a friend, M. de Belissent, one of the

conservators of the Royal Library, and a man of great musical

acquirements. As soon as Pierre Rousseau and De Belissent had quite

finished with the Devin du Village, they sent it back to the

post-office, whence it was forwarded to its true destination.


Jean Jacques had been expecting Granet's music, and, on receiving the

opera in a complete form, took it to La Vaubalière, the farmer-general,

and offered it to him, directly or indirectly, as a suitable piece for

Madame de Pompadour's theatre at Versailles, where several operettas had

already been produced. La Vaubalière was anxious to maintain himself in

the good graces of the favourite, and purchased for her entertainment

the right of representing the Devin du Village. This handsome present

cost the gallant financier the sum of six thousand francs. However, the

opera was performed, was wonderfully successful, and was afterwards

produced at the Académie, when Rousseau received four thousand francs

more; so at least says M. Castil Blaze, who appears to have derived his

information from the books of the theatre, though according to

Rousseau's own statement in the Confessions, the Opera sent him only

fifty louis, which he declares he never asked for, but which he does

not pretend to have returned.

Rousseau "confesses," with studied detail, how the music of each piece

in the Devin du Village occurred to him; how he at one time thought of

burning the whole affair (a conceit, by the way, which has since been

rendered common-place by amateur authors in their prefaces); how his

friends succeeded in persuading him to do nothing of the kind; and how,

at last, he wrote the drama and sketched out the whole of the music in

six days, so that when he arrived with his work in Paris, he had nothing

to add but the recitative and the "remplissage" by which he probably

meant the orchestral parts. In the next page he tells us that he would

have given anything in the world if he could only have had the Devin du

Village performed for himself alone, and have listened to it with

closed doors, as Lulli is reported to have listened to his Armide,

executed for his sole gratification. This pleasure might, perhaps, have

been enjoyed by Rousseau if he had really composed the music himself,

for when the Académie produced his second Devin du Village, of which

the music was undoubtedly his own, the public positively refused to

listen to it, and hissed it until it was withdrawn. If the director had

persisted in representing the piece the theatre would doubtless have

been deserted by every one but the composer.


But to return to the original score which, as Rousseau himself informs

us, wanted nothing when he arrived in Paris except what he calls the

"remplissage" and the recitative. He had intended, he says, to have

Le Devin performed at the Opera, but M. de Cury, the intendant of the

Menus Plaisirs, was determined it should first be brought out at the

Court. A duel was very nearly taking place between the two directors,

when it was at last decided by Rousseau himself, that Fontainebleau,

Madame de Pompadour, and La Vaubalière should have the preference.

Whether Granet had omitted to write recitative or not, it is a

remarkable fact that recitative was wanted when the piece came to be

rehearsed, and that Rousseau allowed Jéliotte, the singer, to supply it.

This he mentions himself, as also that he was not present at any of the

rehearsals--for it is at rehearsals above all, that a sham composer

runs the chance of being detected. It is an easy thing for any man to

say that he has composed an opera, but it may be difficult for him to

correct a very simple error made by the copyist in transcribing the

parts. However, Rousseau admits that he attended no rehearsals except

the last, and that he did not compose the recitative, which, be it

observed, the singers required forthwith, and which had to be written

almost beneath their eyes.

But what was Granet doing in the meanwhile? it will be asked. In the

meanwhile Granet had died. And Pierre Rousseau and his friend M. de

Bellissent? Rousseau, of Toulouse, supported by the Conservator of the

Royal Library, accused Jean Jacques openly of fraud in the columns of

the Journal Encyclopédique. These accusations were repeated on all

sides, until at last Rousseau undertook to reply to them by composing

new music to the Devin du Village. This new music the Opera refused to

perform, and with some reason, for it appears (as the reader has seen)

to have been detestable. It was not executed until after Rousseau's

death, and at the special request of his widow, when, in the words of

Grimm, "all the new airs were hooted without the slightest regard for

the memory of the author."

It is this utter failure of the second edition of the Devin du Village

which convinces me more than anything else that the first was not from

the hand of Rousseau. But let us not say that he was "un malhonnête

homme." Probably the conscientious author of the Contrat Social adopted

the children of others by way of compensation for having sent his own to

the Enfants Trouvés.