A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music

By John Erskine | Go to book overview

FROM MOZART TO WAGNER

CHAPTER I
CHERUBINI. BEETHOVEN

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION and the Napoleonic Empire affected the course of opera no less than that of European life in general. The spirit of the Revolution gave a serious and ethical turn to what was officially called comic opera. What the French designated as opéra comique was opera with spoken dialogue, and the adjective lost its original meaning so completely that in later years the French had to invent a new category, opéra bouffe (from the Italian word buffo, "comic") to signify operas the main function of which was to stimulate laughter.

We find this serious turn in the operas of Méhul, whose Joseph, composed during the Revolution, is still performed in France and Germany; it deals in a style of great dignity with the Biblical story of Joseph and his brethren. The most important composer of this period is Cherubini, an Italian who spent most of his life in Paris. Cherubini was associated with the musicians of the Conservatoire founded by the Republic in 1795, and was never on good terms with Napoleon, who disliked his independence of spirit and preferred Paesiello. Cherubini is remembered now only by Les Deux Journées (1800-known in English as The Water-Carrier), for which Beethoven had a profound admiration. Another Italian composer favoured by Napoleon was Spontini, whose La Vestale came out in Paris in 1807. La Vestale is thoroughly typical of the Empire; it has all the frigid stateliness of Empire architecture and furniture. Like Mozart's Idomeneo, it achieves with greater technical skill what Gluck set out to do, but it lacks Mozart's warmth and sensuous beauty; its dignity is too deliberately "antique," at any rate to modern audiences. It is still revived occasionally in France and Italy, and it deserves revival, as a museum piece on the grand scale.

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A Musical Companion: A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Music *
  • Title Page i
  • Acknowledgment iii
  • Introductory Note v
  • Contents ix
  • Book I - The ABC of Music 1
  • Musical Notation 3
  • The Fundamentals of Music 19
  • Form 27
  • The Orchestra and Other Instruments 39
  • Book II - The Orchestra and Orchestral Music 53
  • The Rise of the Orchestra 55
  • The Expansion of the Orchestra 78
  • The Orchestra as Instrument 93
  • Orchestral Music; "Absolute" Music and the Symphonists 130
  • Orchestral Music of Mantkinds 174
  • Book III - Opera 189
  • How Opera Arose 191
  • The Eighteenth Century 207
  • From Mozart to Wagner 223
  • From Verdi to the Present Day 241
  • Book IV - The Human Voice 259
  • By Way of Introduction 261
  • The Polyphonic Period 268
  • English Song 284
  • Folk-Song 294
  • Oratorio and Other Choral Music 301
  • European Song in the Nineteenth Century 314
  • Vocal Music in the Twentieth Century 330
  • Book V - Chamber Music 341
  • Before Beethoven 343
  • From Beethoven to Brahms 364
  • National Schools 382
  • Britain 405
  • Modernism 421
  • Book VI - The Solo Instrument 431
  • Keyboard Instruments 433
  • Pianoforte and Violin Sonatas and Duets 468
  • The Violin in Solo and Concerto 477
  • The Violoncello and the Viola 490
  • Glossary and Index 501
  • A Short Glossary of Musical Terms 503
  • Index 517
  • A Note on the Type In Which This Book is Set 552
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