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History Of Music:
George Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Romantic Composers
Development Of The Piano
Famous Operas And Their Composers
Wagner And His Music Dramas
Tristan And Isolde
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Although the language of music is cosmopolitan, yet the art of any nation reflects the individual taste and style of its people. This is perhaps more clearly depicted in the opera of the various countries than in any other branch of their music. An opera always takes the national name of the language in which it is written. Thus, an opera written in French is a French opera, regardless of the fact that it may have been written by a German in distinctive German style.
Generally speaking, it may be said that Italian opera is distinguished by its beauty of melody and regular form, the French by its piquancy of text and treatment, the German by its more complicated form and deep meaning underlying the plot, while English opera, although comparatively new, possesses at least the commendable quality of sincere simplicity. Notwithstanding these differences, it is well known that the development of an art in one country cannot but influence its progress in other countries.
The idea of the modern opera was first conceived about 1580 by a group of scholars and musical amateurs known as the "Bardi circle." This group of men held regular meetings at the home of Count Bardi, in Florence, to discuss matters of import to literature, science and art. Among the subjects which aroused the interest of these enthusiasts was the possibility of creating a form of music which could be used for dramatic purposes. All they desired was a kind of melody which could be subordinate to the text, but would render verse more effective by acting as its accompaniment. They imagined this result had been attained by the ancient Greeks in their drama, and accordingly set about to revive the classic form. Many difficulties presented themselves, for there was no way of ascertaining just what kind of music had been used in Athens. Their experiments did not result in a restoration of the noble Greek tragedy, as they had hoped, but in an intonation which was half-way between speech and song. Out of this grew the "recitative," a kind of musical declamation, consisting of an irregular rising and falling of the voice upon which modern opera is based.
Gradually sustained melody was required because it was frequently found necessary for an actor to represent a fixed mood, and this can be effected only by means of a sustained air. When melody is thus developed in regular form it is called an aria, this name being given to the long solo parts of an opera. The effect of music upon the mind is quite different than that of poetry. It acts directly upon the emotions, while the appeal of poetry is made through an understanding of its meaning. Music expresses what words cannot, and aids the text of a drama by making the hearer more sensitive to the plot.
Opera exists in two forms: serious and comic-called in Italy opera seria and opera buffa. In its early history the Italian serious or grand opera often included comic elements, but later they were discarded and developed into a distinct form, known as opera buffa. This grew out of the old burlesque and puppet show, for which Italy, especially Rome, has been noted since antiquity. These entertainments, designed to amuse the masses, were free from the conventional and stereotyped restraints of the serious opera. The body of the play was given in recitative style. The whole tendency of the opera buffa was toward truth and simplicity; its constant effort was to portray life as it really is, and in this it exerted a most wholesome effect. To be sure, the early-and many of the later-comic operas contained much that was undesirable and even vulgar, but gradually they became more refined and, because of their variety and naturalness, developed the elements of true musical drama.
Opera has taken various forms in Prance, Italy and Germany and its progress in one country has reacted upon that of the others. It is more convenient for the student of music, as well as the average concert attendant, to trace its development through the three schools of opera which have brought it to its present stage; for this reason we shall begin with its origin in Italy and later follow the story of its growth under French and German influence.