Page:Romain Rolland Handel.djvu/63

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HIS LIFE

55

for the interest of his personality, but because he exercised considerable influence on Handel, who always retained a pleasant remembrance of him.

The feature in Steffani's art, and that by which he is superior to all of his own time, is his mastery of the art of singing. Well accustomed as all the Italians were to it, none wrote so purely for the voice as he. Scarlatti was not concerned with carrying the voice to its full limits, either for an expressive purpose or with a concerted intention. Thus in Steffani, as Hugo Goldschmidt says, "the singer held the pen." His work is the most perfect picture of Italian song in a golden age, and Handel owes to it his very refined feeling for the bel canto. In truth Steffani's operas gained little by this virtuosity. They were mediocre from the dramatic point of view, not very expressive, abused the vocalisation, and were essentially operas for singers.[1] They revealed a curious harmonic vein, and a contrapuntal alertness, which strongly contrasted with the nearly homophonic writing of Lully,[2] but the principal glory of Steffani was in his chamber vocal music, and especially in his duets.[3] These

  1. They caused in truth a grand gathering of singers. Servius Stallius alone required twenty-five, of which six were sopranos (Nicer). Op. cit.
  2. On the other hand, the symphonic pieces, and particularly the overtures, are in the Lully style, and afforded the models for Handel. The French style reigned in the orchestra at Hanover. Telemann says, "at Hanover is the art of French science."
  3. Steffani seems to have written these duets as music master of the Court ladies, and several were composed for the Electress of Brandenburg, Sophia Dorothea. The poems were the work of the great lords, or the Italian Abbés. These duets were regarded in their time as masterpieces, and numerous copies were made of them. One finds the bibliography in the first volume of choice works of Steffani published by Breitkopf by A. Einstein and A. Zanberger. The Paris Conservatoire alone possesses six volumes of manuscript duets by Steffani.