« AnteriorContinuar »
Come then, my friends! and whether on your way
And wander joyous 'till our journey's o'er:
N. O. H. I.
FROM THE POLISH OF ZIMOROWICZ.
I SAW thee from my casement high,
Then misery smote me-but for heaven,
The evening came, then mantling night:
Didst thou upon some privileged leaf
Where are the strains of music now,-
"Tis past, 'tis past,—and in my heart
The vain world's wonted smiles depart ;-
Thou hast not said farewell!-no sleep
MEMOIRS OF ROSSINI.*
ROSSINI is in London, and, at the moment of his appearance, his coming is illustrated by an account of "his Life, Character, and Behaviour," through a translation of the work of Monsieur Bombet, the sprightly author of the lives of Haydn and Mozart. The book is a compound of anecdote and criticism; and so amusing, that it can hardly fail to attract a good share of notice amongst all who dabble in such matters as music, composers, and operasingers. Englishmen, it is true, are not quite so sensitive to these subjects as Italians;-but then your Italian has a musical, your Englishman a political, constitution, and these draw different ways. There is however quite enough in Signor Rossini, his music, and his mistresses, to excite an interest; and though the son of an itinerant horn-player, he has contrived, by the potency of the talisman called Genius, to do more to agitate, than all the Allied Sovereigns to tranquillize, all Europe. And to England he is come at last, and he has been to the Pavillion at Brighton; and (they say) he entered the presence with his hat in his hand, threw himself into a chair, while all the Court were standing, and told the King that something which his Majesty wished to hear, had better be postponed till another evening, for they had had music enough! We are assured, however, by a gentleman who was present, that there is no truth whatever in this report, and that nothing could be more well-bred than his conduct on that occasion. -But to his Memoirs.
Gioacchino Rossini was born on the 29th of February, 1792, at Pesaro, a town in the Papal States. His father was an inferior performer on the French-horn, of the third class, in one of those strolling companies of musicians who attend the fairs of Sinigaglia, Termo, Forli, and other small towns of Romagna and its vicinity. The little musical resources in which the company is deficient, are collected in the neighbourhood where they pitch their tent; an orchestra is collected impromptu, and the good folks of the fair
are treated with an opera. His mother, who passed for one of the prettiest women of Romagna, was a seconda donna of very passable talents. Poverty was of course the companion of their wanderings.
At Bologna, when he was twelve years old, he was placed under a master named TESEI, who taught him singing, counterpoint, and accompaniment; he promised to become a fine tenor. He made a musical tour through Romagna, and in 1807, entered the Lyceum at Bologna, where he studied under Mattei. His first composition was a cantata, Il pianto d' Armonia, and his first opera, Demetrio e Polybio. It was written in 1809, but not acted till some years afterwards, and it was performed by the family of Mombelli, which has given more than one celebrated singer to Italy. At the age of nineteen he had advanced so far in musical science as to be chosen to direct the performance of Haydn's Seasons at Bologna. In 1810 he was sent to Venice by the aid of a rich family who patronized him, where he composed La Cambiale di Matrimonio, the first opera of his that was ever acted at a public theatre. His success was flattering he returned to Bologna, and composed L'Equivoca stravagante, and wrote for the carnival at Venice the next year, L'Inganno felice, a piece which attracted great applause, and contains strong marks of his genius.
In the next season Rossini gave an amusing proof of the originality of his character. Being engaged to write for the theatre, St. Mosé, at Venice, the director thought he might exercise his authority without much ceremony over one so poor and so young as Rossini, who took this whimsical means of revenge. His power over the orchestra, from his office of composer, was absolute. In his opera, La scala di Seta, he brought together all the extravagancies and ridiculous combinations his fertile fancy could imagine or unite.
In the allegro of the overture, the violins were made to break off at the end of
* Memoirs of Rossini. By the Author of the Lives of Haydn and Mozart. 8vo. London, 1821,
every bar, in order to give a rap with the bow, upon the tin shades of the candlesticks. It would be difficult to imagine the astonishment and indignation of an immense concourse of people, assembled from every quarter of Venice, and even from the Terra Firma, to hear the opera of the young Maestro. The public, who, during the greater part of the afternoon had besieged the doors; who had been forced to wait whole hours in the passages, and at last to endure the "tug of war at the opening of the doors, thought themselves personally insulted, and hissed with all the vengeance of an enraged Italian public. Rossini, not in the least moved by all this uproar, coolly asked the trembling impressario, with a smile, what he had gained by treating him so cavalierly. He then quitted the theatre, and started at once for Milan, where his friends had procured him an engagement. However, a month after, he made his peace with the humbled manager; and returning to Venice, successively produced two farze. It was during the carnival of 1813, that he composed
No adequate idea can be formed of the success, which this delightful opera obtained at Venice, the city which, of all others, is considered as most critical in its judgments, and whose opinions as to the merits of a composition, are supposed to hold the greatest weight. Suffice it to say, that the presence of Napoleon himself, who honoured the Venetians with a visit, was unable to call off the attention from Rossini. All was enthusiasm! tutto furore, to use the terms of that expressive language, which seems to have been created for the use of the arts. From the gondolier to the patrician, every body was repeating,
"Mi rivedrai, ti rivedro."
In the very courts of law, the judges were obliged to impose silence on the auditory, who were ceaselessly humming "ti
"Our Cimarosa is returned to life again," was the expression when two dilettanti met in the streets. The national honour of the Venetians was however still alive to the insult of the obligato accompaniment of the tin candlesticks. Rossini, conscious of this, would not take his place at the piano. He anticipated the storm that awaited him, and had concealed himself under the stage, in the passage leading to the orchestra. After waiting for him in vain, the first violin, finding the moment of the performance draw nigh, and that the public began to manifest signs of impatience, determined
to commence the opera.
The first allegro pleased so much, that during the applauses and repeated bravos, Rossini crept from his hiding place, and slipped into his seat at the piano. At length we came to the celebrated entrata of
Tancred. The history of this scena is curious. Rossini, in the first instance, had composed a grand air for the entrance of Tancred; but it did not please the Signora Malanote, and she refused to sing it. What was still more mortifying, she did not make known this unwillingness till the very evening before the first representation of the piece. Malanote was a first rate singer, she was in the flower of youth and beauty, and the gallantry of the young composer was obliged to give way to this no-unusual sally of caprice. At first his despair was extreme. "If after the occurrence in my first opera," exclaimed Rossini, "the first entrance of Tancred should be hissed-tutta l'opera va a terra." The poor young man returned pensive to his lodgings. An idea came into his head : he seizes his pen and scribbles down some few lines; it is the famous, "Tu che accendi," that which, of all airs in the world, has, perhaps, been sung the oftenest, and in the greatest number of places. The story goes, at Venice, that the first idea of this delicious cantilena, so expressive of the joy of revisiting one's native shore after long years of absence, is taken from a Greek Litany, which Rossini had heard, some days previous, chaunted at vespers, in a church on one of the islets of the Laguna, near Venice.
At Venice it is called the aria dei rizi (air of rice); the reason is this, in Lombardy, every dinner, from that of the gran signore to that of the piccolo maestro, in variably begins with a plate of rice; and as they do not like their rice overdone, it is an indispensable rule for the cook to come a few minutes before dinner is served up, with the important question,-bisogna mettere i rizi? (shall the rice be put down?) At the moment Rossini came home in a usual question to him, the rice was put on state of desperation, his servant put the the fire, and before it was ready, Rossini had furnished his celebrated "Di tanti palpiti.
Rossini's fire and his agreeable manners here won him the heart of Marcolini, the charming cantatrice buffa, and who, it is said, abandoned for the composer of Tancredi the illustrious author of the epic of Charle magne, Lucien Buonaparte himself. For her was written L'Italiana in Algieri.
It should seem, Rossini cares little confident in his own powers, so long for the morrow. Lively, volatile, and as he has the means of pleasure, he enjoys them. The following anecdote is told of his natural indolence, but it rather affords a proof of his intellectual fecundity.
During his residence in Venice this year (1813) he lodged in a little room at one of the small inns. When the weather was cold he used to lie and write his music in bed, in order to save the expence of firing. On one of these occasions, a duet, which he had just finished for a new opera, Il feglio per Azzardo, slipped from the bed and fell on the floor. Rossini peeped for it in vain from under the bed clothes; it had fallen under the bed. After many a pain ful effort, he crept from his snug place, and leaned over the side of the bed to look for it. He sees it, but it lies beyond the reach of his arm; he makes one or two ineffectual efforts to reach it; he is half frozen with cold, and wrapping himself up in the coverlid, exclaims, "Curse the duet, I will write it over again, there will be nothing difficult in this, since I know it by heart." He began again, but not a single idea could he retrace; he fidgets about for some time; he scrawls, but not a note can he recall. Still his indolence will not let him get out of bed to reach the unfortunate paper. "Well!" he exclaims, in a fit of impatience, "I will re-write the whole duet. Let such composers as are rich enough, keep fires in their chambers, I cannot afford it. There let the confounded paper lie. It has fallen and it would not be lucky to pick it up again." He had scarcely finished the second duet when one of his friends entered. "Have the goodness to reach me the duet that lies under the bed." The friend poked it out with his cane, and gave it to Rossini. "Come," says the composer, snugging close in his bed, "I will sing you these two duets, and do you tell me which pleases you best." The friend gave the preference to the first; the second was too rapid and too lively for the situation in which it was to stand. Another thought came into Rossini's head; he seized his pen, and without loss of time worked it up into a terzetto for the same opera. The person from whom I had this anecdote assures me, that there was not the slightest resemblance between the two duets. The terzetto finished, Rossini dressed himself in haste, cursing the cold, and set off with his friend to the casino to warm himself, and take a cup of coffee. After this he sent the lad of the casino with the duet and the terzetto to the copyist of San Mose, to be inserted in the score.
Rossini composed Il Pietro del Paragone, for Milan. Its effects were magical. He became the prodigy whom all flocked to behold. But an incident of the utmost importance to his future life occurred here.
Dazzled by the glories that surrounded him, the prettiest, perhaps, of the pretty women of Lombardy fell desperately in love with him. Faithful heretofore to her duties, and cited as a pattern of young and prudent wives, she at once forgot her reputation, abandoned her palace and her husband, and publicly stole her favourite from the arms of Marcolini. Rossini made his new devotee the first musician, probably, in all Italy; scated by her side at her piano-forte, and at her country house at B he composed the greater part of those airs and cantilenas which afterwards made the fortune of his thirty operas.
Nor was this his only triumph of a similar kind. He returned to Pe saro and afterwards visited Bologna.
"While he resided here, his Milanese admirer abandoned her splendid palace, her husband, her children, and her fortune, and early one morning plunged, as if from the clouds, into the little chamber of his lodging, which was anything but elegant. The first moments were all tenderness, but scarce had the transports of their meeting subsided, when the door opened, and in rushed one of the most celebrated and most beautiful women of Bologna (the Princess C A scene ensued, which the comic pencil of Gay has already antici pated in the Beggar's Opera. The reckless Rossini laughed at the rival queens; sung them, like another Macheath, one of his own buffo songs; and then made his escape, leaving them gazing on each other in dumb amazement.
From 1810 to 1816, Rossini visited in succession all the principal towns of Italy, remaining from three to four months in each. Wherever he arrived he was received with acclamations, and feted by the dilettanti of the place. The first fifteen or twenty days were passed with his friends, dining out, and shrugging up his shoulders at the nonsense of the libretto which was given him to set to music. Tu mi hai dato versi, ma non situazioni,* have I heard him frequently repeat to an unhappy votary of the nine, who stammered out a thousand excuses, and two hours after came to salute him in a sonnet umiliato alla gloria del più gran maestro d'Italia e del mondo.+
After two or three weeks spent in this dissipated manner, Rossini falls to work in good earnest. He occupies himself in studying the voices of the performers, and about three weeks before the first representation, having acquired a competent knowledge of them, he begins to write. He rises late, and passes the day in composing
You have given me verses, but not situations.
+ Inscribed with all humility to the glory of the greatest composer of Italy and of the world.
in the midst of the conversation of his new friends, who, with the most provoking politeness, will not quit him for a single instant. The day of the first representation is now rapidly approaching, and yet he cannot resist the pressing solicitations of these friends to dine with them a l'Osteria. This, of course, leads to a supper: the sparkling champagne circulates freely; the hours of morning steal on apace. At length a compunctious visiting shoots across the mind of the truant maestro; he rises abruptly; his friends will see him to his own door; they parade the silent streets with heads unbonneted, shouting some musical impromptu, perhaps a miserere, to the great scandal and annoyance of the good Catholics in their beds. At length he reaches his house and shuts himself up in his chamber, and it is at this, to every-day mortals, most ungenial hour, that he is visited by some of the most brilliant of his inspirations. These he hastily scratches down upon odds and ends of paper, and next morning arranges them, or to use his own phrase instruments them, amidst the same interruptions of conversations as before.
Rossini presides at the piano during the three first representations, after which he receives his 800 or 1000 francs, is invited to a grand parting dinner given by his friends, that is to say, by the whole town, and he then starts in his veturino, with his portmanteau much fuller of music-paper than of other effects, to commence a similar course in some other town forty miles distant. It is usual for him to write to his mother after the three first representations, and send her and his aged father the two thirds of the little sum he has received. He sets off with ten or twelve sequins in his pocket, the happiest of men, and doubly happy, if chance should throw some fellow traveller in his way, whom he can quiz in good earnest. On one occasion, as he was travelling col veturino from Anconato Reggio, he passed himself off for a composer, a mortal enemy of Rossini, and filled up the time by singing the most execrable music imaginable to some of the words of his own best airs to show his superiority to that animal Rossini, whom ignorant pretenders to taste had the folly to extol to the skies.
Such anecdotes sufficiently speak the character of this lively composer, and it is to be lamented that they say more for the vivacity of his feelings than for his morals. But what shall be thought of a country where such a circumstance as that which we are about to narrate, could not only pass with impunity, but afford
source of such wanton outrage against an individual lamenting un
der the deepest of injuries on the part of the public? The celebrated buffo Paccini took the part of Don Geronio the ill-fated husband of the intriguing Fiorilla in Il Turco in Italia.
About the fourth or fifth representation of the piece, all the world was busied about the unfortunate event that happened to the poor Duke of ~, and which he did not bear with the most stoical fortitude. The particulars of this unfortunate event, which he had discovered only that very day, fur nished a topic of conversation to the whole of the boxes. Paccini, piqued at seeing no attention paid to him, and aware of the circumstances that were whispered in every part of the house, began to imitate the well known gestures and despair of the unfortunate husband. This reprehensible piece of impertinence produced a magical effect. Every eye was turned toward the performer, and when he produced a handkerchief similar to that which the poor Duke incessantly twirled about in his hand, when speaking of his lamentable occurrence, the portrait was at once recognized, and followed by a burst of malicious applause. At this very instant, the unfortunate individual himself entered a friend's box, which was a little above the pit. The public rose en masse to enjoy the spectacle. Not only was the unfortunate husband not aware of the effect his presence produced, but scarcely had he taken his seat, when he drew out his handkerchief and by his piteous gestures, was evidently detailing the affair to a friend. One ought to be well acquainted with Italy, and with the keen curiosity which exists with regard to the scandalous chronicle of the day, to form any idea of the burst of convulsive laughter that echoed from every part of the house, at sight of the unconscious husband in his box, and Paccini on the stage, with his eyes fixed upon him during the whole of the cavatina, which had been encored, copying his slightest gestures, and cari caturing them in the most grotesque manner conceivable. The orchestra forget to accompany, the police forgot to put an end to the scandal. Happily, some good natured friend entered the Duke's box, and by some lucky pretence, adroitly drew him from the public gaze.
on quitting the theatre. Paccini was not publicly horsewhipped
But we must break from the magic circle of anecdote. Rossini is justly condemned for having changed the very nature of melody by substituting the ornaments which singers had been left to append, as the language of passion. This was not his original style of writing, but is called his second manner, and was