Open main menu

Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/115

This page has been validated.

deception. We here recognise again that amalgamating force of French culture to which all civilised nations have to some extent submitted. But so great is the charm of the natural grace and true gaieté de cœur with which Auber endows his creations that somehow we forget the incongruity of the mongrel type. In comparing Auber's individual merits with those of other masters of his school, of Boieldieu for instance, we should say that he surpasses them all in brilliancy of orchestral effects. He is, on the other hand, decidedly inferior to the last-mentioned composer as regards the structure of his concerted pieces. Auber here seems to lack that firm grasp which enables the musician, by a distinct grouping of individual components, to blend into a harmonious whole what seems most contradictory, yet without losing hold of the single parts of the organism. His ensembles are therefore frequently slight in construction; his style indeed may be designated as essentially homophonous; but he is (perhaps for the same reason) a master in the art of delineating a character by touches of subtlest refinement.

Amongst his serious operas it is particularly one work which perhaps more than any other has contributed to its author's European reputation, but which at the same time differs so entirely from Auber's usual style, that without the most indubitable proofs one would hardly believe it to be written by the graceful and melodious but anything but passionately grand composer of 'Le Dieu et la Bayadere' or 'Le Cheval de Bronze.' We are speaking of 'La Muette de Portici,' in this country commonly called, after its chief hero, 'Masaniello.' In it the most violent passions of excited popular fury have their fullest sway; in it the heroic feelings of self-surrendering love and devotion are expressed in a manner both grand and original; in it even the traditional forms of the opera seem to expand with the impetuous feeling embodied in them. Auber's style in Masaniello is indeed as different as can be imagined from his usual elegant but somewhat frigid mode of utterance, founded on Boieldieu with a strong admixture of Rossini. Wagner, who undoubtedly is a good judge in the matter, and certainly free from undue partiality in the French master's favour, acknowledges in this opera 'the bold effects in the instrumentation, particularly in the treatment of the strings, the drastic grouping of the choral masses which here for the first time take an important part in the action, no less than original harmonies and happy strokes of dramatic characterisation.' Various conjectures have been propounded to account for this singular and never-again-attained flight of inspiration. It has been said for instance that the most stirring melodies of the opera are of popular Neapolitan origin, but this has been contradicted emphatically by the composer himself. The solution of the enigma seems to us to lie in the thoroughly revolutionised feeling of the time (1828), which two years afterwards was to explode the established governments of France and other countries. This opera was indeed destined to become historically connected with the popular movement of that eventful period. It is well known that the riots in Brussels began after a performance of the 'Muette de Portici' (August 25, 1830), which drove the Dutch out of the country, and thus in a manner acted the part of 'Lilliburlero.' There is a sad significance in the fact that the death (May 13, 1871 [App. p.525 "May 12"]) of the author of this revolutionary inspiration was surrounded and indeed partly caused by the terrors of the Paris commune.

About Auber's life little remains to be added. He received marks of highest distinction from his own and foreign sovereigns. Louis Philippe made him Director of the Conservatoire, and Napoleon III added the dignity of Imperial Maître-de-Chapelle. He however never acted as conductor, perhaps owing to the timidity already alluded to. Indeed he never was present at the performance of his own works. When questioned about this extraordinary circumstance, he is said to have returned the characteristic answer, 'Si j'assistais à un de mes ouvrages, je n'écrirais de ma vie une note de musique.' His habits were gentle and benevolent, slightly tinged with epicureanism. He was a thorough Parisian, and the bonmots related of him are legion. [App. p.525 "In Forster's life of Dickens, ch. xlix., it is related that Dickens described Auber as 'a stolid little elderly man, rather petulant in manner.'"]

[ F. H. ]

AUBERT, Jacques ('le vieux'), an eminent French violinist and composer, born towards the end of the 17th century. He was violinist in the royal band, the orchestra of the Opera, and the Concerts Spirituels. In 1748 he was nominated leader of the band and director of the Duc de Bourbon's private music. He died at Belleville near Paris in 1753.

The catalogue of his published compositions contains five books of violin sonatas with a bass; twelve suites en trio; two books of concertos for four violins, cello and bass; many airs and minuets for two violins and bass; an opera and a ballet. All these works are of good, correct workmanship, and some movements of the sonatas are certainly not devoid of earnest musical feeling and character.

His son Louis, born in 1720, was also violinist at the Opera and the Concert Spirituel, and published a number of violin compositions and some ballets, which however are very inferior to his father's works. He retired from public activity in 1771.

[ P. D. ]

AUBERT, Pierre François Olivier, violoncellist, born at Amiens in 1763, for twenty-five years member of the orchestra of the Opera Comique at Paris. His chief merit is having published two good instruction books for the violoncello at a time when a work of that kind was much needed. He wrote also string quartets, sonatas and duets for violoncello, and a pamphlet entitled 'Histoire abrégée de la musique ancienne et moderne.'

[ T. P. H. ]

AUER, Leopold, born May 28, 1845, at Veszprem in Hungary, an eminent violin -player, was a pupil of Dont at the Vienna Conservatorio and afterwards of Joachim. From 1863 to 1865 he was leader of the orchestra at Düsseldorf,