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Verdi: Man and Musician By Frederick James Crowest Characters: 57437

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Verdi's popularity-An important personality in music-Most successful composer of the nineteenth century-Verdi's opportuneness-Keynote of future struck in Nabucco-Its characteristics-Distinguishing features of Verdi's music-Stereotyped pattern operas-Change of style imminent in Luisa Miller-Altered second period style of Rigoletto-This maintained in Il Trovatore-La Traviata forebodings-Basevi's charge of an altered style therein-La Traviata and déb?tantes-True Verdi style in Les Vêpres Siciliennes-Simon Boccanegra and Un Ballo in Maschera-Third period works-A?da-Alleged Wagner influence-Mistaken criticism-Orchestration of Otello-Its style and technique compared with A?da-Falstaff-Its position as an opera-A saviour of Italian art-The Illustrated London News defends Verdi from early critics-Later critics silenced-Verdi vindicated.

There is no need to ask "Who is Verdi?" He is that Italian master who has put a girdle of melody literally round the world. Not to the accomplished musician, the cultured amateur, the plodding student, and the happy home musical circle is he known only, but, to take England alone, he is familiar by name and tune to thousands of the poorest and lowest, whose only music is the street organ, and whose main musical literature is the opera-house announcements on the theatre doors and public hoardings. Men and women who cannot pronounce the name of Mendelssohn articulate Verdi, and outcasts and arabs, whose opera-house is the wide, wide metropolis, and whose only orchestra is engined by the Saffron Hill fraternity, have the Italian maestro, in name and tune, at their tongue-tips. All this may not be art, but it is magnificent.

Verdi becomes a great art-study. He stands distinctly an epoch-making musician. A composer who in 1845 had not been heard in England, and who at the present time commands the lyric stage of this and every European country, to say nothing of other continents, furnishes necessarily solid ground for critical musical inquiry. His artistic career is most instructive in its steady growth to mature ripeness. His efforts, too, have been almost entirely confined to opera, and if we examine Verdi's operas from first to last, it will not be difficult to trace the change that has taken place in the fashion of opera during the past three-quarters of a century. This has been as progressive as it has been emphatic, and no composer's works reflect it so decidedly as do Verdi's. The man and the musician went on in company. As he matured, so his art-work ripened. The three periods of his artistic career furnish a history of nineteenth-century operatic fashion and style.

While the most popular musician of the nineteenth century, he is, of all Italy's famous exponents of dramatic-musical art, indisputably the greatest. The land of song has produced many notable musicians, many wondrous melodists; but not one of them, not even Rossini, has so modified and influenced the national art as has Verdi. The entire extent of his impress will only be fully known when the Italians come to write their country's musical history. Verdi will be found to be the master who made Italian opera a grand national art-form, something of a social requirement in this closing nineteenth century.

To win a reputation such as belongs to Verdi, even if some discover it to be ephemeral only, is, indeed, a great achievement. Other pre-eminent musicians have laboured in every branch of their art-sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental, oratorio and opera, symphony and quartet, song and dance-with all which some of them have hardly become known during their lifetimes outside the range of their own country. There seems to be a profound musical problem here, but the solution is at hand. The greatest of the great composers were each and all before their time. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schumann came in an age that was all unprepared for them. Verdi, on the other hand, whose phenomenal success is unlike theirs, was born at the moment. The musical world was waiting with open arms for him; for it had been satiated with opera music of a meretricious order, though written by his own countrymen, from which any deliverance could not fail to be a relief. The rescuer proved eventually to be Verdi.

Certain critics seem assured that Verdi copied, imitated, and transferred Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, and other composers. If this be true, then, in a sense, they stand indebted to him; for Verdi is the best-heard Italian composer to-day. Verdi, however, was something more than a musical chef, with the knack of serving up the rechauffés of brother musicians.

The public, apt to be blamed for the majority of its judgments, made no mistake concerning Nabucco. Verdi's countrymen were "lifted along" by the magic music, and, from Nabucco to Falstaff-an unparalleled instance of consistent artistic unfolding-this distinct power of the master's has acted similarly upon thousands who have flocked to hear the Verdi operas. Their passion, fire, and strong dramatic character have proved irresistible.

The Milanese had heard Rossini, Mercadante, and Bellini to the full; of the melodious phrases of Donizetti they were already tiring, when, suddenly, a musician with rare force and passionate melodiousness came upon them. Donizetti, mainly through his melodic prolificness, had brought Italian grand opera to a level of triviality and mediocrity; Verdi, with his depth of feeling and breadth of melody, promised an exactly opposite musical manner. The public, ever ready for some new thing, seized hold, willing to stand by him only as long as he could stir and amuse them. This he has ever been able to do.

The natural qualities which characterise Verdi's music so decidedly, stamped his first work, as they mark his latest. The underlying secret of it all is furnished in the word Advance. It is not only Verdi's superior, or particular melody and harmony which operate; it is the common-sense, up-to-date way in which the composer has always regarded his subject. By intuition, he took a greater and a deeper view of Italian opera than any of his predecessors, and he went on advancing with the times. His countrymen had melody mainly at their pen-tips. Verdi used this and much more, and, while Wagner, for example, came along "great guns" with his German national opera, Verdi was proceeding to show that Italian grand opera could be brought to equal importance, musically and materially. Verdi, in his first work, unquestionably gave the lovers of opera something more than they had ever had before. That "something" was below the surface, and did not affect the outward forms so much as the hidden soul of the music. It was, however, discernible enough. In this direction mainly did Verdi's early operas differ from other Italian dramatic musical compositions. His later works, dating from A?da, are illustrations of the new Italian national operatic art-form, which can never be surpassed, and will rarely be approached in Italy.

I Due Foscari, a colourless, tame work which followed Nabucco, did not enhance its composer's reputation. Of all Verdi's operas, it would be difficult to find one showing fewer traces of his undoubted steady development of style than this. Giovanna d'Arco, Alzira, Attila, Macbeth, I Masnadieri, Il Corsari, La Battaglia di Legnano, were all on the accepted Italian lines of Bellini and his predecessors; but in Luisa Miller there came a decided and suggestive advance. There was a greater heightening of the dramatic interest, while many of the vocal and instrumental combinations had never been equalled in Italian opera. Certainly, Verdi was already doing more than perpetuating the accepted Bellini-Donizetti method. It was yet early to give the world an A?da; but Verdi, we shall believe, was feeling his way towards a more perfect Italian opera-form. What did the country's opera lack that was so distinctly a born quality in him? Dramatic fire, continuity, oneness of conception,-a whole, instead of a piecemeal dramatic-musical composition. The first strivings after this-a perfection that has been so undoubtedly attained in Verdi's most advanced operas-were apparent in Luisa Miller.

Therein the choruses are exceedingly attractive with their striking contrasts, while the brilliancy of, say the bravura, "Lo vedi," and the pathos and fire of other solos and concerted pieces, combine to produce a truly fine opera. Verdi has also so developed the situations and heightened the interest, that a climax of overwhelming effect is reached in the last act. The orchestration is replete with richness and variety. The whole style of Luisa Miller is musician-like to a degree, despite occasional reflections of his own and other men's compositions. The alleged defect of Luisa Miller was a lack of melody. None of the fervour and force that were heralded in Nabucco were wanting, but the composer's melodic vein appeared to be drying up! So thought the critics. Not quite! Verdi was contemplating greater things, and in a while was to step into a new plane of creative musical art. His first opera had been unrestrained melodic settings-after the Italian fashion-of morbid and gloomy stories. He was to curb all this; and what in Luisa Miller were merely indications of this change became realities in Rigoletto.

In a critical examination into Verdi's artistic development, Rigoletto occupies an important place. In it the composer, throwing off his early First style, adopts a less popular mould, which, while new in the history of Italian operatic art, was more characteristic of himself. As it has been well put-"Verdi is the rough, fiery composer no longer. Charm and grace are more to him now than mere noise and hubbub. In Rigoletto and Trovatore he gets rid of all that. Consequently we, who have often blamed him, have now only praise to bestow upon him-a change that he himself has brought about, and on which we congratulate him sincerely."[71]

This criticism describes exactly the situation. Not only was melodic exuberance stemmed in Rigoletto for a mixture of tune and recitative or musica parlante, but the orchestration had met a chastening process. While vocally the score was adjudged poor in melody and entirely deficient in pezzi concertanti, the orchestration was decidedly less noisy- its general character being uniformly calm and tranquil.

The Trovatore music is an excellent embodiment of Verdi's Second period style. It is less studied and more spontaneous than Rigoletto, but it sustains the advance in style. Uninviting as the libretto was, it had striking situations, with its black story and its gross improbabilities, which afforded Verdi scope for passionate expression and effect in more than one vivid scene. It found the people's favour immediately, and continues to hold audiences, despite the dinning suggestions that it is "not popular," "is dying out," and should be "placed on the retired list."

Though the public stamped Il Trovatore with the imprimatur of its approval, it did not altogether please the critics. There has ever been an endeavour to depreciate the opera, probably because so vast a success was gained by such simple means. Thus it has been described as "from beginning to end a direct plagiarism of Beethoven,"[72] as if such a charge could be sustained either to the discredit of Verdi, or to the credit of the Bonn master. Notwithstanding censorship, the work has proved one of those few operas that have been "the rage" all over Europe, and we repeat it still possesses the power to charm and attract large, if not fashionable, audiences. Yet, what a span divides it from Otello! No two of the master's works show his change and development of style more distinctly than these operas. To say nothing about conception and construction, the vocal and instrumental music in one and the other is as removed as a storm is from the rippling of a rivulet. The two works have to be heard in the same week-as they were at Covent Garden during the 1895 season with the hidden orchestra-to realise and appreciate rightly, the mighty step (especially in the instrumental department) between the two operas. La Traviata foreshadowed something of what was to be accomplished in A?da, Otello, and Falstaff. There was the familiar appeal to the popular ear, through that never-failing and ever-welcome channel-melody; and the construction was similar to the Trovatore; the treatment orchestrally and vocally, if curtailed and controlled, being much after the old Verdinian manner. There was undoubtedly a lessening of excessiveness, due more to the melancholy nature of the book probably, than to a striving for a fresh style.

Basevi, the Italian critic, has thus written of La Traviata: "It is a composition which, by the quality of the characters, by the nature of its sentiment, by the want of spectacle, bears semblance to a comedy. Verdi has discovered a third manner, which in several points resembles the French method of the Opéra Comique. This style of music, although it has not been tried on the stage in Italy, is, however, not unknown in private circles. In these latter years, we have seen Luigi Gordigiani and Fabio Campana making themselves known principally in this style of music, called da camera. Verdi with his Traviata has transported this chamber-music on to the stage, and with happy success, to which the subject he has chosen well lends itself. We meet with more simplicity in this work than in the others of the same composer, especially as regards the orchestra, where the quartet of stringed instruments is almost always predominant; the parlanti occupy a greater part of the score; we meet with several of those airs which repeat under the form of verses; and, finally, the principal vocal subjects are, for the most part, developed in short binary and tertiary movements, and have not in general the extension which the Italian style demands."[73]

That the music indicates another and Third style in Verdi's musical manner we prefer to forget; such a classification would need to rest upon this single score, and would involve us in a Fourth style, if we wished to classify the operas of the composer's closing years. Three periods in which to locate Verdi's art-progress and work are quite sufficient. Wagner was yet not influencing Verdi! No one will doubt that its music gave the opera its permanent position. Not only the nervous débutante, but every prima donna has seen in the character of Violetta a r?le admitting of the finest touches and varied emotions which a leading lady can be called upon to express in the exercise of her art. From the day when Piccolomini roused the excited habitués of Mr. Lumley's house to a fever enthusiasm, a long list of singers-including a Patti, Nilsson, and Albani-have studied and played the part with varying advantage and delight, and whatever the verdict has been, the grace and charm of the music has always commanded the admiration of opera-singers, whether soli or chorus. And vocalists are as a rule better judges than are reporters and critics of what music should be.

Notwithstanding criticisms, good, bad, and indifferent, the fact remains that La Traviata, like Il Trovatore, is still with us; and although we have long been warned that it is "declining in popularity, like other operas of its period,"[74] it defers its final departure! Why does the music continue to please the public?-the uneducated section let us say. How is it that the cantatrice and queen of song loves the part still? The answer is found in the natural and graceful character of Verdi's music, and in nothing else. To us it has always seemed a more original and satisfactory opera than Il Trovatore. More equal throughout in quality, it contains some of the most touching natural music that has ever been heard from the opera stage.

Spontaneous beauty and brilliant period were not wanting in Les Vêpres Siciliennes, or in Un Ballo in Maschera, albeit the master-mind appears disturbed. No Italian opera music could be more thoroughly Verdi's than the numbers, "Giorno di Pianto," a reflection of the Donna è mobile canzone, and "Ma se m'e forza perderti" romanza in Les Vêpres Siciliennes and Un Ballo in Maschera respectively.

As has been already suggested, in La Forza del Destino and Don Carlos came unmistakable traces of a change in Verdi's manner. Although in these operas his habit of portraying human passions at their strongest pitch-in their noblest and sometimes their basest moods-still remains, Verdi's mature or Third period works embody to the fullest extent all that was generating in his mind nine years previously. A?da in form and conception is clearly based upon La Forza del Destino and Don Carlos. Strikingly successful as the master has been with his First and Second period operas, they were not productions that reflected the fullest power of the high-minded musician. Profitable financially they had indeed proved to their composer; but they did not take Italian art one great step onwards. Verdi was keenly sensible of this. The desire to achieve something that would really advance his country's art taking possession of him, therefore, and what was more, finding grand, speedy expression at a time of life when most successful men seek repose-all this was, indeed, most admirable and artist-like.

The instant A?da appeared, critics discovered much that was novel in its style. It was a combination of old and new-the accepted Italian opera mixed up with the best and latest in French and German Grand opera. No one expected it of Verdi, yet here it was before the world's eyes. On its production, doubts were freely expressed concerning its permanent qualities. "It is easy to see that the work will never achieve the lasting success of Rigoletto, the Trovatore, and the Traviata," wrote one critic. Another said, "Except as a spectacle, that it will be preferred by Verdi's old admirers to some of his earlier and less pretentious works, or that it will gain for him new disciples, we cannot think is in any high degree probable." Unhappily for these predictions, the work saw something like a hundred representations in Paris within the next three or four years!

A score of years and more have now passed, and yet A?da draws crowded Royal Italian opera audiences, from which we conclude that the work has always possessed real musical merit-merit which the critics, as a body, first failed to recognise and acknowledge. The splendid opera also, has proved one of a triad which have raised Verdi considerably in the estimation of every right-minded musician. Before A?da, Otello, and Falstaff, he was dubbed by critics the "sanguinary Italian melodist," the "morbid imitator of Meyerbeer," the "sensational, commonplace composer," with other similarly inelegant, inaccurate, and offensive epithets. Those who have lived long enough, however, have discovered something more than the musical blackleg in Verdi.

The opera of modern times must possess merit as a drama; it does not suffice for it to be but a peg, hanging upon which is a series of pretty tunes. The old-fashioned plan of chopping up each act into a series of recitatives, airs, duets, etc., is now discarded in favour of more musical declamation. In the new opera there are less frequent repetitions of the words, and consequently the dramatic action gains in continuity. The orchestra too plays a more exalted part, being resorted to not only to accompany and illustrate the text, but to provide a general local colour throughout. All this Verdi supplied in A?da, and the cry at once raised was that he had been Wagner-hunting. Critics in the musical profession and out of it-critics who know a little about music, and a considerably larger number who knew nothing of the art-declared that Italy had at last gone over to the German musical method. But thirty years previously we were told that "Signor Verdi's forte is declamatory music of the highest passion"; also that "the composer's music becomes almost intolerable, owing to his immoderate employment of brass instruments." Undoubtedly in A?da the master adopts a deeper and more dramatic character than had been usually shown by Italian masters; but he could have as easily done this had Wagner never lived. The ambition of a master-mind like Verdi's would be to raise his country's art to the level of other countries; and the crowning life-work of Verdi has been to place Italian opera on a higher plane, and to furnish an example of Italian national opera that would compare with that of France and Germany. To accomplish this the Bellini-Donizetti type of opera needed to be newly planned, orchestrated, and shaped into a far more comprehensive homogeneous whole. It was all this that A?da pretended to meet; and it, Otello, and Falstaff have left their composer's mind thoroughly at ease probably concerning the place of Italy in dramatic music for the future. Certainly they should have done.

In composing A?da Verdi had something more in view than pleasing the ears of the Khedive and his Egyptians. He had before him the operatic universe; and it was to arouse this that he sat him down to write when almost a septuagenarian. To cut himself adrift from the conventionalities of Italian opera, and place before the public a grand and beautiful dramatic lyric work, comparable with any opera that had preceded it, was indeed a great proceeding. With its modern characteristics the first alarm raised by musical public and critics alike was Wagner; but after many years' experience and trial of the work it is discovered that there is very little, if any, Wagner device or manner in it!

In the nineteen numbers of which the opera consists there is much that is musically novel and beautiful. The descriptive music, especially when removed from the tragic parts of the work, shows the composer in his happiest mood. The emotional (even sensational) nature of the music too is very marked, and this is where the master, retaining his country's manner, rises triumphantly over French and German dramatic music. The vocal music is thoroughly characteristic of Verdi. There are few solos, yet the charm of such pieces as "Celeste A?da," "L'insana parola," and A?da's romance, "O cieli azzurri," wherein she recalls the beauty of her own country, makes ample amends in quality for the absence of quantity. The duets, of which there are six, are not unusually striking, but the finales are exceedingly fine, and the effect of the ensemble is most imposing. The vocal and instrumental combinations are undoubtedly happy and effective.

It was the orchestration of A?da mainly which led public and critics away concerning Verdi's supposed conversion to the Wagner or some other "ism." No sooner were heard the grand choral and orchestral combinations in the finales of the work,-movements remarkable alike for their breadth, grandeur, and dramatic reality,-than it was bellowed forth that Verdi had been imitating Berlioz, and the host of modern manipulators of the orchestra. The ponderous instrumentation, some say too much so, carried all minds at once to Wagner, when, really, Verdi could still be Verdi if, exercising his privilege, he elected to blow his theatre down with brass. "The work," wrote a critic, "is very heavily scored, over-instrumented in the brass particularly, and it would exact double the number and twice the tone of the strings at Covent Garden to counterbalance the blatant effects,"[75]- from which we are to believe, we suppose, that in this opera the talented, experienced composer had taken leave of his senses! Quite an unlucky hit, coming as it did at a time when the musical world was only too ready to see in such criticism a hidden suggestion of Wagnerian influence. It was unfortunate, too, inasmuch as the charges of "over-instrumenting" and "undue declamation" were arraigned against Verdi as far back as 1846, when Nabucco was produced-long before Wagner was heard of. "As we have had occasion to remark more than once,"[76] wrote the Athen?um critic, speaking of Nino, i.e. Nabucco, "its composer's music becomes almost intolerable, owing to his immoderate employment of brass instruments." Again, "Signor Verdi's forte is declamatory music of the highest passion."

Yet, thirty years afterwards, these very characteristics are traced to some recent French or German influence! Some few think otherwise. The A?da subject, in its Eastern origin and character, calls for an excess of broad, semi-barbaric effects, as any one acquainted with oriental manners, life, and literature knows. Brass instruments convey this admirably, better than all the "string" and "wood" in the world. It is from this profuse employment of brass instruments, particularly the six genuine Egyptian trumpets used in the triumphal march of Radamès and his army, that the charge of imitating Wagner, or of becoming "Germanised," has probably arisen. But if the truth be told, this Verdi development has as much to do with Wagner as with Adam, the departures being a consequence of the master's desire to write a thoroughly up-to-date national opera, which his talent and learning fully warranted him in doing. Both vocal and instrumental music aimed at that illustrative local colour which the book and situation needed; hence the lavish use of oriental scales, Persian songs, the dance of black boys, with all the resplendent paraphernalia of Eastern temple, pagoda, and palace.

With all its "new style," the effort to get away from old methods by the employment of theoretical devices, novel and extreme harmonies, abundant recitative, curtailed melody, magnificent finales, and unlimited stage resources, A?da is still distinctly Verdinian. The solos are peculiarly in Verdi's vein, and frequently suggestions of Trovatore and other works crop up, while the entire opera abounds in dramatic, passionate expression peculiar to Verdi. All this is as it should be from the Verdinian point of view; but if the result of this laudable attempt to formulate a modern Italian opera must be to brand it with some guiding influence or subject-model, then, instead of making Wagner that power, it should be Meyerbeer. If Verdi has followed any model at all, which we do not admit, it is the sumptuous richness and picturesque variety of the composer of Les Huguenots, Le Prophète, and L'Africaine. But Verdi wanted no model. At a distance of twenty years we can look back and discover that Verdi had something more in his mind when composing A?da than the slavish imitation of this or that composer. He was about to crown his career with an opera, or more, of a style which many circumstances debarred him from attempting earlier.

All told, there is ample evidence in this first great work of Verdi's Third period to show that the composer is still wholly himself. That faculty, which was particularly Verdi's, of expressing extreme emotion, and of raising his audience to the highest pitches of sensational excitement, is present, notably in the finale of the second act. Then the composer's old command of melodious imagery and pathos, together with the expression of varied and conflicting passions, stamp the work from beginning to end-the love duet in the second act, between soprano and tenor, a romance in the third act, a soprano and contralto duet, a quartet and chorus, and all the music, from the consecration of Radamès down to his victorious return with A?da's captive father, being particularly Verdinian. Even the composer's supposed weaknesses are present in A?da. The whole subject is melodramatic; the principal characters are killed, as usual; his alleged morbid preference for dismal dirge-music finds ample vent in the funeral of the lovers, and other tragic parts of the opera; from beginning to end can be heard melodic suggestions recalling the old familiar operas. All this, and page after page of imaginative, fancy tone-painting, A?da contains, and yet we have been asked to believe that it is not Verdi!

The student of comparative musical science will see in Otello a further development of style. The composer confirms A?da, and while further stultifying the detractory criticism passed on A?da, furnishes ample proof of a marvellous vitality, and a freshness and originality, with depth of learning, which his greatest of admirers could scarcely have expected. Even with A?da thrown in (as a sort of operatic abnormalism) many still regarded Verdi as the mere seductive, melodramatic Italian melodist; the profound musician never. Otello settled matters. The majesty, power, inspiration, and learning, the command of theoretical device, a

nd orchestral technique, were overwhelming. Nobody expected it from Italy, still less from Verdi. Quite a surprise! Here was a work wherein all the lights and shades of human passion were depicted with a truthfulness and reality which no living musician could equal. The greatest of the world's poets and dramatists was set in a fashion to dispute which, or to disparage, would be useless. There could be no other conclusion, and whether performed in Italy, France, or in England, one opinion only has been possible as to the Otello music. This must be held to be a great triumph for the justly famed, though long abused, musician, especially when, as we contend, this perfected art-style is Verdi's own-the man's musical genius, characteristics, and great learning at their highest pitch, uninfluenced, unaffected (save in that legitimate manner which experience brings) by any foreign composer or school. The developed mind and man in Verdi's case gives us the splendid spectacle of the developed musician, particularly en evidence in Otello. If we delight to watch the growth and ripening of Verdi's genius from Oberto, Conte di S. Bonifacio, to the Missa di Requiem, we can become still more interested in pondering over the nuova maniera which marked A?da, a manner which is heightened in the Otello masterpiece, and accentuated in Falstaff.

Otello is a perfectly modern opera, thoroughly up-to-date in design, material, and construction. Of its four acts, the last is distinctly the most masterly; the second being a little inferior to the third. The initial act is marked with Verdi's matured manner less than either of the others. Though somewhat fragmentary in places, the opera holds together with perfect homogeneity, and it must be regarded as a wholly uninfluenced score, more so than A?da. The "Love duet" and Iago's "Credo" are the only pieces in the opera that recall Wagner, and they have too much of the Verdi and the intensely Italian about them to be mistaken. No! Otello is an opera which only an Italian could write; a work which will always rank as a brilliant example of latest Italian grand-opera. In advanced thought and reasoning, together with depth of learning and exercise of the declamatory branch of vocal art, it is somewhat superior to A?da, but it is doubtful whether it will ever become as popular, because it lacks the glorious picturesqueness and inspiration of that grand work.

Had Verdi's career ended with Otello there would have been no difficulty in determining his place-a very forward one-in the world's history, and notably in the world of dramatic music. With the production of Falstaff, however, the wonderful vitality, resource, and inspiration of the giant mind broke out afresh, bewildering everybody concerning the art-possibilities that were still in store behind the more than octogenarian composer. It is the swan-song perhaps of the illustrious master, and a great song it indeed is. To think that such a score should be the easy pleasurable outcome of the brain of a man bordering upon his eightieth year was, at the time, one of the most extraordinary features in connection with the production of Falstaff, and the fact will ever stand amongst remarkable efforts in musical annals. Il Trovatore is a monument of melody, a standing example of what passionate tune can be and is as an element of art; Otello was an extraordinary development in breadth of style and usage, vocal and instrumental; but Falstaff surpassed all. It sums up all that is best in Verdi's musical mind and method, and will ever serve as a standard of Italian national art, nemine dissentiente. It is the most brilliant, the most masterly, of all his operatic productions. Gorgeous in its wealth of invention and consummate skill, it places Verdi on his highest artistic pedestal. Like A?da and Otello it is pre-eminently a musician's work, and shows the widened style of the composer, which used to be regarded as a Wagner imitation more than either of its predecessors. With all its delightful, unceasing humour the work does not appeal readily to the popular mind, the fact being that to understand and enjoy it the taste must be educated. Like Wagner's operas, Falstaff is a score that taxes the critical sense, and the more musical and highly cultivated the listener is, the more will Verdi's latest music command attention. Nor does this mean that the opera will not live. On the contrary, as musical knowledge becomes more and more spread, Falstaff and Otello, the advanced handiwork of Verdi, will prove to be music of a far more satisfactory nature than that luxuriant passionate sort which abounds in Trovatore, Traviata, and other young Italy operas.

If the music of Falstaff proved a revelation to those who first heard it, it was also a revolution. Nobody had ever credited Verdi with the preponderating quality in this opera; it was Mozart come to life again! The humanity of the man who had ever depicted the morbid, treacherous, worst-passioned natures was suddenly reflected in the light-hearted, innocent frolic of youth, music as light and babbling as a child's speech. All that was so cheerful in Le Nozze di Figaro, the fun of the Barbiere di Siviglia, with much of the Verdi characteristic, shot out in Falstaff in a way that simply electrified the musical world. The tragic, melodramatic Verdi was no more: in his place stood the exalted, the chastened master of art. No other composer had ever made such a change of front, a change that brought him on good terms with the whole musical world. Falstaff was indeed a new apocalypse. Perhaps the most striking feature of the Falstaff music after its jovialness is its consistent character-one of high quality and finely detailed workmanship. It is not a case of sandwiching a good tune, dramatic chorus, or an overwhelming ensemble, between a mass of meagre indifferent writing, but from first to last the music is of a most elevated, high-pitched order-tune, harmony, scholarship, ensemble-these abound; but the whole is so well balanced and dexterously planned, as to make the opera a delightful study for the theatrical musician as well as for the careless listener. As has been well said, "Falstaff is not a mere string of pretty tunes, ensembles, and choruses of every-day pattern, but a colossal work, a mass of intricacy, such as musicians alone can dive into and comprehend whilst uncultivated listeners can yet find enchantment upon the surface. For to the cunning of a Wagner has here been allied the simplicity of a Mozart."

Undoubtedly Falstaff is the most remarkable example of the master's genius, and when we reflect that while it was being evolved there was a gaping world, with ears all open, waiting to learn how much of Wagner would resolve into Verdi, it becomes truly astonishing that its composer has steered so clear of any appreciable influence or model. It is the unaided work of the one master-hand. Assuming that Verdi has anywhere imitated Wagner, then in Falstaff the Italian is certainly further removed from the German than in any other of his operas. There is hardly a recurring theme in the whole opera; and the everchanging, constantly varying tints of emotional expression, the brilliant ensembles, the ingeniously contrived pieces, where three and more rhythms are expressing chattering views and sentiments at one and the same time; beautiful solo pieces, duets, and notably an accompanied quartet-all these, and the highly dramatic and well-judged finales, have no more to do with Wagner, or any other composer save Verdi, than they have with Homer. As a whole, Falstaff is an astounding masterpiece. In form, construction, scholarship, and musicianly result, it is the finest opera Verdi, or any Italian, has written. Its vocal and instrumental play and device are such as were never thought to be in Verdi, and, like its two immediate predecessors, it places Verdi in the first rank of the world's operatic composers. Falstaff must ever be regarded as a wondrous specimen of humorous music, constructed upon perfectly legitimate and classical lines. No nobler work could crown an artist's life-efforts; no other work shows so well the advanced and chastened style of Verdi's Third and matured period. Falstaff, as a creation, has immortalised Verdi. It has done more. Finem respice! It has saved artistic Italy in this fin de siècle age. This last work of Verdi's furnishes the culminating point in the history of Italian opera.

How then can the punishment which Verdi received at the hands of his first English musical critics be explained? How came it that a composer, who had lovingly placed many splendid tributes upon the high altar of his art, was so estimated, by at least one responsible critic, as to merit severe castigation of such a character as this:-

"Signor Verdi is the one prophet of Italian opera, and since this paragraph was penned, the waning of the coarse light of his star is pretty distinctly to be observed. It is hardly possible to imagine his violence outdone by any successors; yet this would seem to be the law of Italian movement in such shows of art as are to be popular."[77]

Thirty and forty years ago, music here was hardly deemed worthy of criticism in newspaper columns, albeit a journal here and there-the Athen?um, for instance-recognised the art. If, however, there were then few musical representatives of the English Press, the disadvantage appears to have been atoned for by the character of the criticisms. Some few of the musical scribes deigned to notice, and were deemed capable of considering, Verdi. These began, from the first, to hunt him à outrance, neither discerning nor expecting any good from the Italian. Never was there a more abused man than Verdi. If "best things are moulded out of faults," then to distinguish "faults" in such a musical renegade was out of the question. The whole was, according to certain critics, hopelessly unregenerate!

"Verdi's career in this country has been curiously chequered. If artistical anathemas could have annihilated his fame, then would he have long since ceased to have been heard of; but he appears to enjoy a cat-like vitality amongst our amateurs. Never was there one of his works produced, either at Her Majesty's Theatre or at the Royal Italian Opera, but he received a terrific castigation from criticisers, and the musical public were assured, after these awful denunciations of indignant journalism at the performance of such 'unmitigated trash,' that the name of Verdi could be no more uttered in this musical metropolis. And yet the thus extinguished composer-on paper-the very next season was sure to be brought forward in the shape of a revival of one of his 'failures,' or in the representation of his latest continental novelty. What then is the key to this anomalous state of things, wherein it is found that Verdi's defenders, amongst writers, are so few, and his partisans still more rare, and still Verdi is not shelved? Is it that amongst opera frequenters there is a fiat in his favour, which is sufficiently strong to maintain his name in the repertory? Or is it that the general body of amateurs feel that the dead-set against the only composer left in Italy is based on prejudice, intolerance, and injustice?

"Whatever may be the solution of these questions, it is, at all events, satisfactory to find that the spirit of justice is sufficiently powerful amongst English audiences not to be carried away by mere clamour; and Rigoletto, the three-act lyric drama, put on the stage for the first time on Saturday, with such magnificent resources, will secure an impartial hearing from those connoisseurs who are not led away by proper names only."[78]

Thus wrote one critic who possessed good sense and courage which enabled him to look calmly on, while the pen-and-ink slaughter raged fast and furious, for several years following Verdi's advent here. Coming from a journalist representing a leading, influential journal, the comment is, at least, suggestive.

As it bears, moreover, upon an interesting aspect of present-day journalism, it may, at this long removed period, well be reviewed, if only in justice to Verdi. That the composer long since vindicated himself there can be no doubt; but this does not do away with a present-day question of how far public criticism should influence those who read it, or to what extent hostile censorship has operated, or may do, to crush the artistic aims and possibilities of those for the encouragement of whom, and not for their annihilation, journalistic comment is supposed primarily to exist. Perspicuity should be the first law of criticism.

The writer of the above quoted remarks had in view, among others, such contemporary journals as the Times and Athen?um, which papers, especially the latter, had been particularly endowed, as it would appear, with the mission of "slating" Verdi, until there could be reached what in pugilistic parlance is known as a "knock out." Not for a moment do we doubt that all that was written and published had in view the possible interests of Art.

It is not difficult for us, living in these closing years of the Nineteenth Century, to assure posterity that the suggestion of an "ephemeral reputation" for Il Trovatore has been sadly belied; and Verdi has demonstrated in the broad light of day that neither Rossini nor Meyerbeer nor Auber accomplished for dramatic lyric art what he has done. "Mission" or no mission, "system" or no system, Il Trovatore has braved the battle of managerial cupidity for nearly half a century; it has replenished theatre coffers, and it still "draws" crowds who enjoy listening to it. What more is wanted? If Music does these things, then, surely some of the first conditions of Art are fulfilled. The most modern of modern music can accomplish little more, unless it be to vex the mind with its abstruseness, and to tax the brain in divining the whereabouts of this or that theme, and the entry and passage of some particular "subject" phrase. This revelling in the region of theory, the perpetual expectation for progressions of fugal enterprise and cleverness, are well enough in their way, and provide admirable occupations for musical "cobwebs"; but is it a congenial employment for the rank and beauty of Society? If attendance at the opera is to involve some trying brain-study for the audience, the boxes and stalls must soon be empty. Music for the stage must ever be of a nature to give enjoyment; when it ceases to be this, and becomes a study-a something that even the πολλο? themselves cannot understand-then its existence is jeopardised.

What means the latter-day revival of Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, and other old familiar operatic acquaintances? Is it a reaction in favour of the old at the cost of the new in art? Let it be borne in mind that the present is, for the most part, a new generation listening to and admiring Verdi's Second period strains. The audiences are not made up entirely of old fogeys in green spectacles and drab sparrow-tails, whose waning physical powers are overcome by emotional memories of the past. Is it true after all that the Trovatore music has long been declining, and is all but dead; that now and then a dramatic soprano, as Madame Titiens was, or a "lungs of brass" tenor, as Signor Tamagno is, can more or less galvanise the corpse into life? We think not. Our opinion is that there is real genius, true sterling worth, in the music of the Trovatore, which of itself-and not from any lack of taste, or culture, or of mental aberration on the part of the "mob" (for whom alone, we have been assured Verdi could cater)-has preserved this opera, and many others, in the hearts and ears of the public at large. Here and there the vocal and instrumental processes may seem, and probably are, uncouth; but that the music as a whole possesses undying properties, a life-current passing on to all who hear it, we have no doubt. Thus, although the dictates of fashion may set aside the Trovatore for a while, there will always be the risk of its bounding out unexpectedly to take hold of the hearts of a new rising generation. If the Trovatore music had not been vital music from the first, it would not be here to-day, inasmuch as the work is one which has never been "written up" by the critics. The process has rather been to mount the tub and affect a superior taste, while poor, deluded, no-cult folk flocked to the opera-house to listen to hackneyed stuff, which we have been assured was not music at all! But the voice of the people-the vox populi-is not to be denied, even though critics wax warm.

Millions find tune in Trovatore; and tune (when of the quality of Verdi's) becomes the first, the unextinguishable principle of music. This is the grand secret of the vitality of Trovatore and operas akin to it, which the intelligent many will continue to enjoy to their heart's content, malgré the pityings of wiseheads. When Trovatore is as extinct as the dodo, and as dead as the door nail, that will be the time to sing its requiem, although there would seem to be little promise of any of this generation being required to attend that solemn function. Pending the setting of the sombre seal, we, for our part, will continue to respect Verdi, and folk in general will not be far wrong if they take to believing that Verdi is as good a judge of music as were any, and all, of his defamatory critics.

Political circumstances had much to do with Verdi's jumping into popularity in Italy. Not so in England. No element of luck attended his déb?t here, where he stood not upon his merits. From the first he encountered a determined opposition. It has never been quite clear what this opposition wanted, but that it was supported by such a power as the late Mr. Chorley, for forty years the independent musical critic of the Athen?um, is sufficient evidence to prove that it was formidable. What did it mean?

Weber (1786-1826) and Meyerbeer (1791-1864) were of course known here. That romantic character pervading the German national opera had become familiar to English ears through Italianised versions of such supernatural subject operas as Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon; whilst opera-goers were growing accustomed to the gorgeous pageantry and dazzling resources of gigantic examples of operatic architecture like Les Huguenots, Le Prophète, and L'Africaine. Can a leopard change its spots? Surely the sapient critics were not expecting a transformed Italian opera model from an Italian at one bound? Verdi had been applauded in Italy for what he had accomplished on the continental lines of his country's opera. He was professing nothing more, and Mr. Lumley, when arranging for the composer's works for the English stage, contracted for naught else. As all the world knows, Verdi has accomplished immeasurably more since, in bringing Italian opera fully up to the level of the Weber, Meyerbeer, or Wagner model. The public is now prepared for Italian operas of the A?da and Falstaff stamp, but it is doubtful if, fifty years ago, their production would not have brought forth a storm of disapproval. Verdi's earlier operas, Ernani and Il Trovatore, were fully worthy of the average taste of the times; and if it be maintained that they are going out of fashion, precisely the same thing can be said of several of the German and Franco-German operas which certain critics applauded while they abused Verdi, and with which Verdi's works were compared and declared to be inferior.

Whatever prompted the resistance to Verdi (the strong feeling between the management of the rival opera houses may have had something to do with it), it is certain that Verdi encountered a determined and unfair opposition on coming to England. Equally certain is it that Mr. Chorley became a powerful mouthpiece of the opposition. With a freedom permitted to its talented staff that did infinite credit to the management of that leading journal of art and literature, the Athen?um, its pages were long allowed to be disfigured with anti-Verdi criticism such as it is now difficult to understand, unless it had for its object the immediate Germanising of Verdi by sheer force of censorship.

The musical drama is the most artistic manifestation which man can express. A successful grand opera demands all that is highest in music, drama, and a host of other phases of cultured training. This can only, save very exceptionally, be achieved towards the end, not at the beginning, of a lifetime; and the perspicuous critic should be able to foresee the prospects of this in a young composer. Great as Mr. Chorley perhaps was as a musical censor, he did not forebode the successful future of Verdi any more than he encouraged Mendelssohn, his judgments upon whom have been long since overturned.

This chiefly, however, as a footnote to history. Verdi has outlived all opposition, and has risen to a great artistic eminence fully deserved in the case of one who has laboured so ably and so unremittingly in music. Now the critics on all sides fall down and worship him. He is beloved in England not less than in his own land, while all the world will long remember him by his Requiem Mass and latest operas, if not by such familiar lingering strains as "La Donna è Mobile," "Ah si ben mio; coll essere io tuo," "Quando le sere al placido," and scores of others.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum; and, having borne dearly-loved ones to Death's portals, Heaven forbid that we should ever speak ill of those that sleep. But, history must be written; and it is only sheer justice to Verdi to advance his side of the case. That Verdi, ab initio, down to the production of A?da (when the composer was sixty-three years of age), experienced a long spell of powerful English critical hostility is beyond doubt. Whether Italian opera had so obtained under Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante, and Rossini that folks, or sections of society, were so surfeited with it as to positively refuse to tolerate more while Weber, Wagner, and Meyerbeer could be had, however promising that more might appear, or whether the great reputation that generally preceded the introduction of the Verdi scores put up the backs of the critics, are possibilities which might furnish some key to the solution of the problem which this opposition provides for us who are considering it to-day.

We may be told that, to early critics, Verdi's artistic career was a difficult one to judge, since it was so peculiarly progressive-unique, in the way in which it gradually led up to the culminating excellence seen in A?da, Otello, and Falstaff; but, unhappily for such a theory, the critical notices were not correspondingly appreciative and graduating. Verdi was wrong, always wrong, no good: "lock, stock, and barrel" he had to be dismissed as worthless and hopeless. A slow unfolding of the composer's musical manner and method, together with a corresponding recognition from his critics, would be understandable enough; but we do not get this. Our study of the critical processes leaves us with the conviction that he was knocked about like a tennis ball. Little wonder that the critic of the Illustrated London News felt constrained, on behalf of the maltreated, half-murdered man, to call "fair play." Then, much that was written was as contradictory as are scientific negatives and positives; while we all know that prophetic warnings and predictions alike have been singularly belied. This opera would not "live," and that was the worst of even Verdi's worst operas, yet to-day such compositions are amongst us, and being listened to with delight! We have demonstrated, we hope, beyond doubt how in the case of Rigoletto-one instance that will suffice-an opera was one day declared to be without merit, only to be held up subsequently by the same journal as a sample of musical excellence.

It is inconceivable that there were no signs, no glimmerings, no foreshadowings in early years, nor during Verdi's Second period, of that great genius which has given us an A?da and a Falstaff, two grand classic works as far removed as fire and water in their tragedy and comedy, as well as in their eastern and western colouring and flavour. Could the critics really see no great future awaiting the man who wrote Ernani, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata? Was there no promise of that store of art to be opened to us in Verdi's Third period works? Was there not a veritable rough diamond here, awaiting only to be shorn of its excrescences, and subjected to the lapidary's art to become a precious jewel? Did not the genius of the great operatic composer exist in embryo, while Verdi was taking the lower rungs of the artistic ladder? Was there not the making of a rare son of art in one who could rouse the popular enthusiasm as this Italian was doing? Did the public on all sides clamour and acclaim, pack and squeeze themselves, and listen with pent up wonder and surprise, all after nothing? Dozens of such pertinent questions could be put in respect to the relations of many of the public and critics towards Verdi.

Our views concerning musical criticism have been expressed.[79] Among all the qualities however, necessary to him deserving to rank as a capable critic, is one which he should be called upon to exercise more frequently than any other, viz., the power of detecting what is good in a man; and that instanter. Make, not break, should be, but is not, the motto for every censor entrusted with the power of the press-pen. In the case of Verdi, it was war to the knife. Delenda est Carthago went forth, and Carthage must be destroyed. But it wasn't. The criticism which for the most part was meted out to Verdi rarely ever contained a sentence of encouragement, but instead, the man who was some day to become the wonder and admiration of the entire musical world was hooted and howled at as should be an impostor. Many a man would have taken refuge behind the shelter of an undisturbed mediocrity, but somehow, the critics could not scotch this species-specimen. Verdi went on in his way, and the censors who abused, went theirs; with what result we know to-day. The critics are silenced and Verdi reigns, musically, in excelsis.

How the late Mr. Chorley and Mr. Davison-these particularly-could trace so little of the good promise in Verdi surpasses our comprehension. They were men of the highest integrity and attainments, and purposed injustice would furnish the most foolish of explanations of the situation. Verdi had the great public of this and of other countries on his side, however, and on this he was content to rely. Public opinion once again proved to be right, and Verdi now stands vindicated. Happily both the Times and Athen?um have long since ceased to oppose the master. The critics of these journals and those of other English newspapers now fall down and worship Verdi-and well they might!

This aspect, this experience of the composer's career is not without its lessons. It shows that we must not judge of a man or of his work by what we read only; that individual culture and practical knowledge provide the best key wherewith to unlock the door of every repository of science and art; but, chiefly, does it prove that no amount of adverse criticism or opposition can, or should, be permitted to bar the way to that goal of high excellence which every earnest worker with an honest conviction and high purpose before him has every right to persevere towards, no matter what the difficulties, until his fullest realisations have been attained. In this respect, Verdi's experience supplies a splendid all-time lesson.

[71] Gazette Musicale, 25th January 1857.

[72] Musical Recollections of the Last Half-Century, vol. ii. p. 281.

[73] Verdi (Pougin-Matthew), p. 154.

[74] Athen?um, 7th June 1880.

[75] Athen?um, 1st July 1876.

[76] Athen?um, 7th March 1846.

[77] The National Music of the World: Henry Fothergill Chorley, edited by Henry G. Hewlett (1880), p. 76.

[78] Illustrated London News, 21st May 1853. Eight years previously the Illustrated London News' (5th July 1845) critic, while expatiating on operas of bygone composers which had been heard and reheard to satiety wrote thus of Verdi:-"A better state of things is, however, we trust, approaching. The appearance of a composer of so much originality of genius as Verdi, heralds, it may be hoped, that of a new and more ambitious school, whose masters will not be satisfied with tickling the ear and pleasing the fancy, but will seek for the more permanent and legitimate sources of effect."

[79] Phases of Musical England (Crowest), p. 22.

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