Musical Regeneration In Italy
( Originally Published 1905 )
Musical Decadence.—When a nation clings to its own musical ideas, and persistently disregards the growth and progress of other nations, it usually enters upon a period of decay. This is what took place in Italy during the 19th century, and the country that produced Palestrina and the Scarlattis seemed for a time to understand nothing but the trivial operatic melodies of Rossini's successors. In 185o, there were scarcely any concert halls in the country, and even the churches were content. with operatic airs set to sacred words. Soon after this, Pinelli tried to give an orchestral concert, with sixty musicians ; and the box-office receipts left only fourteen francs with which to pay them. Sgambati produced a Beethoven symphony, but had to do it at his own expense. As late as 1879, Saint-Saëns, who gave an organ recital at Milan, found the organ scarcely fit for an artist to play upon. In opera, it was only the broad judgment of Verdi that was able to look beyond the borders of his native land, and his "Aida," as well as Boito's "Mefistofele," was the beginning of a new order of things.
Mascagni.—In 1890, the publisher Sonzogno offered a prize for the best one-act opera submitted to him, and this prize was awarded to Pietro Mascagni (Leghorn, Italy, 1863), then an unimportant musical leader at Cerignola. Mascagni was the son of a baker, who wished him to study law, and locked him up because he practiced the piano in secret. The boy was rescued by his uncle, and under the protection of Count Florestan pursued his studies at the Milan Conservatory. The opera that brought him such fame, which has since become world-wide, was "Cavalleria Rusticana," or "Rustic Chivalry," based on a tale by Verga. The scene is a village square, before a church. The heroine,Santuzza, is forsaken by Turiddu, who carries o trigue with Lola, wife of the carter Alfo. Sant despair, denounces him to Alfio, who challenges him. The music is hardly of the highest standard is popular and vigorous in style, and intensely p The work is scarcely comparable to the music-dra every number is animated by the spirit of the wo it is therefore dramatically true. Among the many selections from its score are the "Siciliana" of (sung as part of the overture, before the curtain ri broad and noble "Regina Coeli," Lola's serenely aria, "My King of Roses," and the jolly "Brin drinking chorus, to say nothing of the saccharin mezzo." The power and vividness of "Rustic made it an epoch-making work ; but Mascagni's lat have not met with the same success. They include " Fritz," "William Ratcliff," "Silvano," "Iris," "T chere," and the one-act "Amica."
Leoncavallo.—The success of "Rustic Chivalry" Ruggiero Leoncavallo (Naples, Italy, 1858) to try in the same school. His early opera "Chatterton" tically a failure, while his ambitious "Medici" tri Medici," "Savonarola," and "Cesare Borgia") met better reception. In "I Pagliacci," however, he pr work of the new school, that has taken its place bes cagni's opera as an example of the new realism. T liacci" are strolling players. Canio, the leader, is to madness by learning of the proposed elopeme wife, Nedda, but she will not betray her lover's na enact for the villagers a mimic tragedy of love and but Canio makes it real by actually stabbing the Nedda. Her lover then leaps from the audienc her, only t0 meet a similar death at Canio's han music to this play is of a higher standard than M though less directly popular in style. "Trilby" an are later works of little importance, while " Berlin," composed by order for a libretto by the of Germany, aroused only passing interest.
Puccini.—When the great Verdi retired from active life as a composer, he named as his probable successor, Giacomo Puccini (Lucca, Italy, 1858). Descended from a musical family, Puccini could devote himself to his art without parental opposition, and he completed his studies under Ponchielli, at the Milan Conservatory. His "Le Villi" was really the origin of the modern one-act plays. "Edgar" resembles "Carmen" somewhat, but has a weak libretto, and music that is not always effective. "Manon Lescaut" is rather a succession of detached scenes than a single whole, but at times it displays a mastery of dramatic contrast far beyond Massenet. "La Bohême" is a delightfully sympathetic setting of Murger's well-known novel, and its scenes of rollicking defiance to poverty and hunger remind one of the composer's early struggles. The note of haunting sweetness that pervades the score marks Puccini as a man of rare musical gifts. In "Tosca," the heroine of that name loves the arist, Mario, who aids a political refugee, at the risk of his own life. The governor, Scarpia, who captures him, loves Tosca also, and tortures him to make her yield to his desires. To save Mario, she consents, but stabs Scar-pia at the last moment. But Scarpia's treachery survives him, for the pretended execution, which was to let Mario escape, turns out to be real, and Tosca takes her own life in despair. The music shows a ripe mastery of dramatic power. The climax of the first act, merging into the church service, and the tragic power of the second, well contrasted with the strains of a festival cantata that float in through the window, are scenes that win unqualified praise from all critics. "Madame Butterfly," on a Japanese subject, lacked the necessary delicacy, but the two preceding works have made Puccini the foremost man in Italian opera today.
The Realistic School.—Many composers of the "Verismo" school adopt a realism that deals only with the more brutal side of life, and their plots, though strong, are not always pleasing. Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" and "Fedora" show musical worth, but Spinelli's "A Basso Porto," Coronaro's "Festa a Marina," and Tasca's "A Santa Lucia" picture some of the coarsest phases of existence. Yet this defect may be condoned when we consider that the movement has infused new life and power into Italian music. Among those composers who have stood somewhat aloof from the new school, Franchetti is the most noteworthy. His operas include "Cristoforo Colombo," "Germania," and the later "Figlia di Jorio," and he has written symphonies that place him among the best of the later Italian composers.
Perosi.—The revival in sacred music has been brought about wholly by one man, Don Lorenzo Perosi (Tortona, Italy, 1872). He studied faithfully, in spite of si:knessfirst at Milan, then under the learned Fr. Haberl at Ratisbon. He became a conductor at Imola, and afterwards at Venice, where he led his forces with decided vigor. Soon aster this, he began to compose the oratorios that have made him so famous. His sacred trilogy, "The Passion of Christ," included the "Last Supper," the "Sermon on the Mount," and the "Death of the Redeemer." It made a sensation that reverberated through all Italy, and caused his appointment in the following year as honorary master of the Papal Choir. He has been untiring as a composer, producing no less than fifteen masses and nearly a dozen oratorios. Among the latter are "The Transfiguration," "The Annunciation," "The Raising of Lazarus," "The Birth of the Redeemer," and the two-part "Moses." He writes with enthusiasm, and sees the actual picture before him while he works. His m -sic does not possess the calm dignity shown by Palestrina but its semi-popular style is well, adapted to his hearers, 4nd may lead the way to something better.
Sgambati.—The leading position among Italy's nl w symphonic composers belongs to Giovanni Sgambati (Rome, Italy, 1843). Like many musicians, he was at first destined for a lawyer's career, but began his musical studie in time to become known as a boy-prodigy. He settled i Rome, and soon grew famous as a pianist. He played Be thoven, Schumann and Chopin, and did much to introd ce their works into Italy. He planned a trip to Germany, but when Liszt came to Rome he remained there to study under that great master. At this time his earlier compositions, mostly chamber works, brought him into notice in a new field. These quartets and quintets were followed by a festival overture, a piano concerto, and three symphonies in succession. His compositions are somewhat lacking in spontaneity, but they display great learning, and undeniable skill. His works show the influence of Liszt and Berlioz, mingled with the stricter style of the old Italian contrapuntal writers.
Other Orchestral Composers.—With Sgambati, Martucci also deserves mention in the instrumental field. He became identified with the artistic life of Naples, where he fought a similar fight for the cause of good music. Among several others, Del Valle de Paz is noted for his valuable educational work'.: in Florence, no less than for his compositions. Busoni, so well known as a pianist, has also tried his hand at orchestral writing in the most extreme modern vein. Eugenio di Pirani is another composer who has identified himself with the German instrumental school. The literary champion of the new order of things has been Luigi Torchi, whose work in the magazines deserves the highest praise.
Bossi.—The most prominent figure among the younger devotees of the German style is Marco Enrico Bossi (Salo, Italy, 186I). He studied organ at first, and for ten years held the post of organist in the Como Cathedral. Four years of teaching at Naples were followed by similar work in Venice, where he gained deserved prominence. His compositions show great originality, and include many different forms. An early overture was given at the Crystal Palace, in London, which he visited during a piano tour. The one-act opera "Paquita" was followed by "L'Angelo della Notte" and "Il Veggento," also a large work for the Milan Exposition of I905. He has composed many masses, and the oratorio "Christus." A more recent triumph is "Paradise Lost," with Milton's words—a work suggested by Mme. Rubinstein. His organ concerto won a decided success at the Chicago Fair, and his symphonic poem, "Il Cieco," has been well received. He aims to blend the old polyphonic style with the rich instrumentation of modern Germany.
Buongiorno.—Among the adherents of German st ndards, Buongiorno (Bonito, Italy, I864) is one who has devoted himself to opera. Studying at the Naples Conserva ory, he became leader of an operetta troupe, for which h., wrote many popular works. His first great opera was "Das Madchenherz" (Il Cuor delle Fanciulle), which treats with admirable delicacy the love-story of Alba and Marino. She grows to be court singer, and defeats an older rival, but ambition makes her careless of love. Marino becomes a priest, and only when Alba is old and forsaken does his cor solation show her what she has missed. The music displays much emotional beauty, and the "play within the play," at the ducal court, allows the composer to imitate Bach, Handel, and other old masters with exquisite humor. "Michelangelo and Rolla" is a one-act play, again uniting a subject of real poetic worth with beautiful music. These two operas are far removed from the crudities of the "Verismo" school.
Wolf-Ferrari.—A composer who may fitly follow German ideals is Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, son of a German father and an Italian mother. His "Cenerentola" (Cinderella) has a rather tedious first act, but the second act shows all the appealing beauty and sympathetic feeling that mark the new romanticism. "Le Donne Curiose" is an excellent example of sparkling comedy, and has won much success in Ger-many. It treats of the misadventures of some women, who try to investigate a mysterious club formed by their husbands. A work in a different vein is the composer's "Vita Nuova," a fresh and inspired setting of sonnets aid other selections from Dante's great work.
Music in Italy.—It is difficult for one nation to adopt the musical expression of another, but this is practically what Italy has done. Verdi first gave up the trivial me.odies so dear to the Italian populace, and adopted a worther style. Like Boito, he denied being influenced by Wagner, but his works show that he felt the force of the Germar master's orchestral power. The realistic school of opera has brought into Italian music a vividness and power that are not sur-passed by any other nation, while a still later generation has striven to cast off the crudities of this school and pro-duce works of real orchestral value. Italy has already done much, and the progress of the last few decades seems to predict a bright future for her music.
Music in Spain.—During the last half-century, Spain, too, has developed some native composers. One of the best is Isaac Albeniz (d. 1910), whose "Pepita Ximenes" is delightful comedy of love and intrigue. His Zarzuelas also have met with success. Felipe Pedrell, well known in European journalism, has written an ambitious trilogy on subjects illustrating the national motto, "Patria, Fides, Amor." Larrocha, Vives, De Lara, and Antonio Noguerra are also worthy of mention. The Zarzuela is the peculiar Spanish form of light opera, resembling the Italian opera buffa, but possessing more brilliance and delicacy.
Streatfeild, R. A.—Masters of Italian Music.
Elson, Arthur.—Modern Composers of Europe.