**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Chapelmaster Kreisler
by [?]

Never (he says) were people more moved than by a certain scene in Metastasio’s

, set by Mortellari, and sung by the famous Pacchierotti (about 1780); and do you think perhaps that it was Mortellari, who made them cry? Mortellari, the stupidest mediocrity,
Dio l’abbia in gloria!

No, it was Metastasio and Pacchierotti, the verse and the voice.

This was a mere absurd exaggeration, and a mere captious plea for Rossini, who, had he only had Metastasio to write the words and Pacchierotti to sing, would doubtless have moved the whole universe to tears, with “Di tanti palpiti.” Yet in this exaggeration, an important truth has been struck out. This truth is that the writer of the libretto, having at his disposal the clear, idea-suggesting word, can bring up a pathetic situation before the mind; that the singer, having at his command the physical apparatus for producing an effect on the nerves, can sensuously awaken emotion; while the composer, possessing neither the arbitrary idea-suggesting word, nor the nerve-moving sound, but only the artistic form, can please to the utmost, but move only to a limited degree.

Thus, there is a once popular but now deservedly forgotten air in the Romeo e Giulietta of Zingarelli, which some seventy years ago possessed the most miraculous power over what people called the heart, and especially over the not too sensitive one of Napoleon, who, whenever it was sung by his favourite Crescentini, invariably burst into tears. The extraordinary part of the matter is that this air happens to be peculiarly insipid, without any very definite expression, but, on the whole, of a sort of feeble cheerfulness, and certainly is the last piece that we should judge capable of such deeply emotional effects. But the situation of Romeo is an intensely pathetic one, and it is probable that the singer’s voice may have possessed some strange power over the nerves, something of the purely sensuous pathos of an accordion or a zither, especially in the long, gradually diminished notes, “fine by degrees and beautifully less,” which move like an AEolian harp. But, if the pathetic effect of “Ombra adorata” could not be ascribed to the composition neither could it be ascribed to the interpretation. For this sensuous pathos, though enhanced by the singer’s intellectual qualities, in no way depends upon them; the intellect can make him graduate and improve the form of a piece, all that which is perceived by the mind, but it has no influence on the nerves; Crescentini’s musical intelligence may have enabled him to make “Ombra adorata” a beautiful song, but only his physical powers of voice could have enabled him to make it a pathetic one.

As these physical elements are the material out of which artistic forms are moulded by the musician, he necessarily deals with and disposes of those powers over the nerves which are inherent in them. When he creates a musical form out of minor intervals, he necessarily gives that form something of the melancholy effect of such intervals; when he composes a piece with the peculiar rhythm of a march, he necessarily gives his piece some of the inspiriting power of that rhythm; when he employs a hautboy or a trumpet, he necessarily lends his work some of the depressing quality of the hautboy or some of the cheering quality of the trumpet. Thus the intellectually conceived and perceived forms are invested with the power over the nerves peculiar to certain of the physical elements of music; but it is in those component physical elements, and not in the forms into which they are disposed, that lies the emotional force of the art. Nor is this all: the physical elements, inasmuch as they are subdued and regulated and neutralized by one another in the intellectual form, are inevitably deprived of the full vigour of their emotional power; the artistic form has tamed and curbed them, has forbidden their freely influencing the nerves, while at the same time it–the form–has exerted its full sway over the mind. The mountains have been hewn into terraces, the forests have been clipped into gardens, the waves have been constrained into fountains, the thunder has been tuned down into musical notes; nature has submitted to man, and has abdicated her power into his hands. The stormy reign of instinctive feeling has come to an end; the serene reign of art has begun.