Open main menu

Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/626

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

successful number was the septet of the consultation; as for the charming couplets sung by Sganarelle when in liquor, they are delightful from a musical point of view, and essentially lyric, but contain not a particle of the vis comica. Under the title of the 'Mock Doctor' the piece has had fair success in London. 'Faust' however, also produced at the Theatre Lyrique, March 19, 1859, with Mme. Miolan-Carvalho as Marguerite, placed Gounod at once in the first rank of living composers. The fantastic part of Faust may not be quite satisfactory, and the stronger dramatic situations are perhaps handled with less skill than those which are more elegiac, picturesque, or purely lyric, but in spite of such objections the work must be classed among those which reflect high honour on the French school. The Kermesse and the garden-scene would alone be sufficient to immortalise their author. 'Philémon et Baucis,' a one-act opera composed for the theatre at Baden, was re-written in three acts for the Théâtre Lyrique, and performed Feb. 18, 1860. The score contains some charming passages, and much ingenuity and elegance of detail; but unfortunately the libretto has neither interest, movement, nor point, and belongs to no well-defined species of drama. After the immense success of 'Faust,' the doors of the Académie were naturally again opened to Gounod, but the 'Reine de Saba' (Feb. 28, 1862) did not rise to the general expectation. The libretto, written by Gérard de Nerval, embodies ideas more suitable for a political or a psychological exposition, than for a lyric tragedy. Of this great work nothing has survived but the dialogue and chorus between the Jewesses and Sabeans, in the 2nd act, the air of the Queen in the 4th act (afterwards inserted in Faust), the choral march, the choral dance, and above all the elegant and picturesque airs de ballet. Under the name of 'Irene' an English version of the opera was occasionally performed in London. The success of 'Mireille' (Théâtre Lyrique, March 19, 1864), a 5-act opera founded on the Provençal poem of F. Mistral, was secured by the cast, especially by the splendid performance of Mme. Miolan-Carvalho, whose part contains one of the most remarkable airs of modern times ('Mon cœur'). Mme. Faure-Lefebvre—as Andreloun—and the other artists combined to make an excellent ensemble. Still 'Mireille' is descriptive and lyric rather than dramatic; accordingly by Dec. 15, 1864, it was reduced to 3 acts, in which abridged form it was revived in 1876. Its overture is admirable, and a great favourite in English concert rooms. This charming pastoral was succeeded by 'La Colombe' (June 7, 1866) originally written for the theatre at Baden, and known in England as the 'Pet Dove,' and by 'Roméo et Juliette' (April 27, 1867), a 5-act opera, of which the principal part was again taken by Mme. Miolan. The song of Queen Mab, the duet in the garden, a short chorus in the 2nd act, the page's song, and the duel scene in the 3rd act, are the favourite pieces in this opera. Since these Gounod has written incidental music for Legouvé's tragedy 'Les deux Reines,' and for Jules Barbier's 'Jeanne d'Arc' (Nov. 8, 1873).

He has also published much church music, besides the 'Messe Solennelle' already mentioned, and the 2nde Messe des Orphéonistes; a 'Stabat Mater' with orchestra; the oratorio 'Tobie'; 'Gallia,' a lamentation, produced at the Albert Hall, London (May 1, 1871), a De Profundis; an Ave Verum; Sicut cervus; and various other hymns and motets, two collections of songs, and many single songs and pieces, such as 'Nazareth,' and 'There is a green hill.' For orchestra a Saltarello in A, and the Funeral march of a marionette. A jeu de plume, on the propriety of which we will not decide, but which is unquestionably extremely popular, is his 'Meditation' for soprano solo and orchestra on the 1st Prelude of Bach's 48.

After a stay of some years in England, during which he appeared in public at the Philharmonic, the Crystal Palace, and Mrs. Weldon's concerts, Gounod recollected that he had been elected a member of the 'Institut de France' on the death of Clapisson (1866); and returning to Paris, resumed the position to which his genius entitled him. On the 5th of April, 1877, he produced 'Cinq Mars' at the Théâtre de l'Opéra Comique, a work which bears traces of the haste in which it was designed and executed. His last opera, Polyeucte, produced at the Grand Opera, Oct. 7, 1878, though containing some fine music will hardly add to the fame of the author of Faust.

To sum up, Gounod is a great musician and a thorough master of the orchestra. Of too refined a nature to write really comic music, his dramatic compositions seem the work of one hovering between mysticism and voluptuousness. This contrast between two opposing principles may be traced in all his works, sacred or dramatic; and gives them an immense interest both from a musical and psychological point of view. In the chords of his orchestra, majestic as those of a cathedral organ, we recognise the mystic—in his soft and original melodies, the man of pleasure. In a word, the lyric element predominates in his work, too often at the expense of variety and dramatic truth.

[ G. C. ]

[App. p.653 "The following observations are to be added to the article in vol. i. p.613, etc.:—In spite of the entire failure of 'Polyeucte,' he continued to write new works for the Opéra, where, up to the present time, 'Faust,' originally written for another theatre, has alone held its ground. 'Le Tribut de Zamora' was represented on April 1, 1881, but the opera disappeared from the bills as quickly as 'Polyeucte' had done. He then took up his first opera, 'Sapho,' enlarged it into four acts, added some music, and produced it in this form on Apr. 2, 1884. According to the general opinion the work lost by this treatment, and the only parts which were still pleasing were those in which a certain youthful charm was found in the midst of purely scholastic scoring. The result was not such as the author had wished for, and 'Sapho' was withdrawn after a limited number of representations. For several years past, Gounod has plunged into a religious mysticism, and devoted himself to the composition of great sacred works. The first of these, 'The Redemption,' sketched in 1868, but not finished till 1881, was performed at the Birmingham Festival of 1882, and in Paris, April 3, 1884; the second, 'Mors et Vita,' composed when he was rewriting 'Sapho,' was produced at the Birmingham Festival of 1885, and in Paris May 22, 1886. This new ideal of dramatico-religious music, which he calls 'music treated in the style of fresco' (musique plane et peinte à fresque) seems to have first occurred to Gounod when he turned his attention to religious subjects in order to emulate the reputation of Berlioz's 'Enfance du Christ' and Massenet's 'Marie Magdeleine,' and desired to introduce innovations on the work of his rivals. He has made simplicity an absolute rule. The long recitatives on a single note, or rising and descending by semitones, the solo parts proceeding invariably by the intervals of a third, a sixth, or an octave, while the choral and orchestral parts adhere to incessant reiterations of the same chords; these impart a monotony and a heaviness to the work which must weary the best disposed audience. The same style predominates in the 'Messe à Jeanne d'Arc,' which he declared his intention of composing on his knees in the Cathedral of Rheims on the stone on which Joan of Arc knelt at the coronation of Charles VII. This work was first performed in the Cathedral of Rheims, July 24, 1887, and in the church of S. Eustache in Paris, Nov. 22, 1887, S. Cecilia's Day. A fourth Messe Solennelle and a Te Deum have just been published. When Verdi was made grand officer of the Légion d'honneur in March 1880, Gounod received the same distinction (July 1880); and in January 1881 this title, a most exceptional one for a composer, was conferred on Ambroise Thomas. As neither one nor the other has as yet obtained the 'grand croix,' there can be no cause for jealousy. [See vol. iv. p. 104, where correct statement in line 5 from end of article Thomas.] (Died Oct. 18, 1893.)"]

[ A. J. ]

GOUVY, Theodore, prolific composer, born of French parents, July 2, 1819, at Goffontaine, Saarbruck, where his father was a large ironfounder. He took his degree at the college at Metz, and then proceeded to Paris to study the law. Hitherto, though possessing an unmistakeable talent for music, he had had no instruction in it, and had probably not heard a single classical piece. But being at the Conservatoire he happened to hear Beethoven's 7th Symphony. This at once fired his mind, and he wrote home to announce his determination to be a musician. His parents' consent obtained, he placed himself under Elwart for 3 years, then resided at Berlin, where he published his 'Opus 1,' and thence went for more than a year to Italy. In 1846 he returned to Paris, which since then has been his