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Great Italian and French Composers By George T. Ferris Characters: 5018

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Daniel Fran?ois Esprit Auber was born at Caen, Normandy, January 29, 1784. He was destined by his parents for a mercantile career, and was articled to a French firm in London to perfect himself in commercial training. As a child he showed his passion and genius for music, a fact so noticeable in the lives of most of the great musicians. He composed ballads and romances at the age of eleven, and during his London life was much sought after as a musical prodigy alike in composition and execution. In consequence of the breach of the treaty of Amiens in 1804, he was obliged to return to Paris, and we hear no more of the counting-room as a part of his life. His resetting of an old libretto in 1811 attracted the attention of Cherubini, who impressed himself so powerfully on French music and musicians, and the master offered to superintend his further studies, a chance eagerly seized by Auber. To the instruction of Cherubini Auber owed his mastery over the technical difficulties of his art. Among the pieces written at this time was a mass for the Prince of Chimay, of which the prayer was afterward transferred to "Masaniello." The comic opera "Le Séjour Militaire," produced in 1813, when Auber was thirty, was really his début as a composer. It was coldly received, and it was not till the loss of private fortune set a sharp spur to his creative activity that he set himself to serious work. "La Bergère Chatelaine," produced in 1820, was his first genuine success, and equal fortune attended "Emma" in the following season.

The duration and climax of Auber's musical career were founded on his friendship and, artistic alliance with Scribe, one of the most fertile librettists and playwrights of modern times. To this union, which lasted till Scribe's death, a great number of operas, comic and serious, owe their existence: not all of equal value, but all evincing the apparently inexhaustible productive genius of the joint authors. The works on which Auber's claims to musical greatness rest are as follows: "Leicester," 1822; "Le Ma?on," 1825, the composer's chef-d'ouvre in comic opera; "La Muette de Portici," otherwise "Masaniello," 1828; "Fra Piavolo," 1830; "Lestocq," 1835; "Le Cheval do Ihonze," 1835; "L'Ambassadrice," 1836; "Le Domino Noir," 1837; "Les Diamants de la Couronne," 1841; "Carlo Braschi," 1842; "Haydée," 1847; "L'Enfant Prodigue," 1850; "Zerline," 1851, written for Madame Alboni; "Manon Lescaut," 1856; "La Fiancée du Roi de Garbe," 1867; "Le Premier Jour de Bonheu

r," 1868; and "Le Rêve d'Amour," 1869. The last two works were composed after Auber had passed his eightieth year.

The indifference of this Anacreon of music to renown is worthy of remark. He never attended the performance of his own pieces, and disdained applause. The highest and most valued distinctions were showered on him; orders, jeweled swords, diamond snuffboxes, were poured in from all the courts of Europe. Innumerable invitations urged him to visit other capitals, and receive honor from imperial hands. But Auber was a true Parisian, and could not be induced to leave his beloved city. He was a Member of the Institute, Commander of the Legion of Honor, and Cherubini's successor as Director of the Conservatory. He enjoyed perfect health up to the day of his death in 1871. Assiduous in his duties at the Conservatory, and active in his social relations, which took him into the most brilliant circles of an extended period, covering the reigns of Napoleon I., Charles X., Louis Philippe, and Napoleon III., he yet always found time to devote several hours a day to composition. Auber was a small, delicate man, yet distinguished in appearance, and noted for wit. His bons mots were celebrated. While directing a musical soirée when over eighty, a gentleman having taken a white hair from his shoulder, he said laughingly, "This hair must belong to some old fellow who passed near me."

A good anecdote is told à propos of an interview of Auber with Charles X. in 1830. "Masaniello," a bold and revolutionary work, had just been produced, and stirred up a powerful popular ferment. "Ah, M. Auber," said the King, "you have no idea of the good your work has done me." "How, sire?" "All revolutions resemble each other. To sing one is to provoke one. What can I do to please you?" "Ah, sire! I am not ambitious." "I am disposed to name you director of the court concerts. Be sure that I shall remember you. But," added he, taking the artist's arm with a cordial and confidential air, "from this day forth you understand me well, M. Auber, I expect you to bring out the 'Muette' but very seldom." It is well known that the Brussels riots of 1830, which resulted in driving the Dutch out of the country, occurred immediately after a performance of this opera, which thus acted the part of "Lillibulero" in English political annals. It is a striking coincidence that the death of the author of this revolutionary inspiration, May 13, 1871, was partly caused by the terrors of the Paris Commune.

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