Mystery score

Mystery score

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Hector Berlioz Supports My Opinion of Rossini

From page 50 of the Dover edition of his Memoirs:
As to Rossini and the rage for him which possessed the fashionable Parisian world, it aroused my passionate indignation, all the more because the new school was the antithesis of that of Gluck and Spontini. I could conceive of nothing more grand, sublime, or true than the works of those great composers; and Rossini's melodious cynicism, his contempt for the traditions of dramatic expression, his perpetual repetition of one kind of cadence, his eternal puerile crescendo, and his crashing big drum, exasperated me to such a degree as to blind me to the dazzling qualities of his genius and the real beauties of his masterpiece, the Barbiere, with its delicate instrumentation and no big drum. I used often to speculate on the possibility of undermining the Theatre-Italien, so as to blow it and its Rossini-worshippers into space. And when I met one of those hated dilettanti, I used to mutter to myself as I eyed him with Shylockian glance, "Would that I might impale thee on a red-hot stake, thou scoundrel!" I must confess that time has not tempered the murderous violence of my feelings, or cause me to change the strong views I hold on this subject. Not that I now desire to impale anyone on a red-hot stake, or that I would blow up the Theatre-Italien, even if the mine were laid and the match ready to my hand; I but I echo Ingres' words with all my heart and soul when I hear him speak of some of Rossini's music as "the work of an underbred man."

8 comments:

Daniel Wolf said...

Lisa, you're certainly reading the right stuff. When I think of the piddling little fights between musicians nowadays, something like this really puts it all into perspective. If you haven't already, you might like to have a look at Stendhal's Life of Rossini.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And the whole of the memoirs is like the above! I'm having a great time reading with Berlioz.

I read The Charterhouse of Parma a couple of years ago and loved it, so the Rossini bio is a definite possibility.

Robert Gordon said...

You should read GB Shaw's article on the Rossini Centenary, published March 9, 1892. It's available in the collection "Shaw on Music" (ed. Eric Bentley), in his complete works, and probably other places.

It's brilliantly evenhanded, with a nice mixture of appreciation and abuse, but it ends: "However, enough of Rossini for the present. I cannot say 'Rest his soul,' for he had none; but I may at least be allowed the fervent aspiration that we may never look upon his like again."

Lisa Hirsch said...

I have "Shaw on Music" right here! Thank you for the pointer. I haven't looked at it in years, and it would make sense for me to read/re-read the whole darn thing.

I dislike Rossini's comedies, but William Tell is a great and remarkable opera. Some day I need to figure out which other operas of his I would like....

Henry Holland said...

Yet another reason to love Berlioz. :-)

Daniel Wolf said...

Lisa,

I'm with you on William Tell, along with Les Troyens the grandest of the grand operas and equally smart, musically; all of Rossini's late work — "sins of old age" — are wonderful, as well, from the piano minatures (prescient of Satie) to the Petite Messe Solennelle.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, yes, Les Troyens is fantastic. There is a production in Berlin next season, and I am so tempted to go.

Must admit that I skipped my chorus's recent performance of the Petite Messe, which I listened to and didn't care for, though.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, and forgot to mention - I read the Shaw article and a few others, and, hmm. I was less impressed with his musical insights than I was at 20.