An Eighteenth-Century Musical Tour in Central Europe and the Netherlands: Being Dr. Charles Burney's Account of His Musical Experiences - Vol. 2

By Charles Burney; Percy A. Scholes | Go to book overview

II
Brussels and Antwerp (15-26 JULY)

Brussels

The theatre in this city is one of the most elegant I ever saw, on this side the Alps; it is constructed in the Italian manner; there are five rows of boxes, nineteen in each, which, severally, contain six persons in front. There are seats in the pit, five or six of which are railed off for the accommodation of strangers, who otherwise, would be in danger of obtaining no good places, as the boxes are usually let to subscribers, and there are no galleries.

The orchestra of this theatre is celebrated all over Europe. It is, at present, under the direction of M. Fitzthumb, a very active and intelligent maestro di capella, who beats the time, and is indefatigable in preserving good discipline, and M. Vanmaldere,1 brother of the composer of that name, whose symphonies are well known in England. M. Vanmaldere, since the death of his brother, plays the principal violin, though the violoncello is his instrument.

The piece that was performed to night 〈Wednesday〉 July 15th, 1772, was Zemire and Azor,2 a species of Comedie larmoyante, written by M. Marmontel, and set by M. Gretry; it is interspersed with airs and dances. This Drama being French, and performed after the French manner, was, consequently, subject to much criticism.

As an opera, it might be divided into the following constituent parts: Poetry, Music, Singing, Arcting, Dancing, Orchestra, Theatre, Scenes, and Decorations; and it is but justice to say, that, most of these were admirable; however, let us discriminate, for to judge a performance of this kind in the gross, by saying that the whole was very good, bad, or indifferent would be unjust as well as tasteless.

The subject of the Poetry is a fairy tale, which, with great art, taste, and genius, is wrought into an interesting drama that is wholly worthy of its elegant and refined author. If it were, however, permitted to doubt of the perfection of particular parts of the production of so able a writer, it might

____________________
1
Van Maldere, the brothers Pierre ( 1729-68) and Guillaume (b. 1727). Both had long terms of service as string players at the court of the Governor of the Low Countries, Charles of Lorraine. Pierre was well known as composer in France, Germany, and England; his works included symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, and operas.
2
Zémire and Azor. Burney heard this same opera in German at Mannheim (see p. 30). In modern times the work has been given at Bath in 1955 under the direction of Sir Thomas Beecham.

-8-

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