Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Opera

       Beside the opera, to those that understand its spirit and love its exaltations, the spoken drama is something infinitely petty; the mask and the cothurn seem then to belong only to the region into which song lifts them. For the opera is, after all, little else than the old Greek play perfected in the matter of its representation, and with the eloquence of language translated more thoroughly into music. There is the chorus and there are the instruments, both of them far transcending the old simple idea; all the appliances of modern illumination and machinery take the place of the ancients' open roof of the blue in those theatres that were

"clean scooped
Out of a hill-side, with the sky above,
And sea before our seats in marble row;"

and after all that, all passion and suffering and joy being crowded into the action now as then, tone and tune lift it on their mighty wings, and love and sorrow are heightened and deepened into the universal sympathy by the magic of modulated numbers, the ineffable power of music.
       But in old times all Greece attended the representations of the drama. The merits of the new play were discussed by the populace as freely as the price of provisions. Balaustion and her listeners were not the only ordinary Greeks who knew Euripides and Sophocles by heart ; their verses belonged to the people, and they had their roots in the common soil.
       But with us, on the contrary, the opera is as costly as all other exotics are; it is designed only for the rich the boys who sang the women's part to the Greeks did not dream of being able to melt pearls in their drink in the way our prime-donne can do if they will and by force of circumstances the poor have little part in it. Nevertheless, among those who do frequent it here there are several perfectly distinct classes of patrons: there are those who go because it is the fashion, as they would stay away if it were the fashion, who go because opera hats and cloaks are becoming, who go because they are invited, because all their friends are there, because they want to say they went, want to be seen, want to be excited; then there are those who go as a matter of curiosity, because it is a novelty to them, because they want to educate themselves in all those things that touch the finer senses; and lastly, there are those who go to intoxicate soul and sense in a luxury of sound, to revel in the beauty of motion and light and color, the eagerness of dramatic interpretation, the satisfaction of song who go because to them the opera is a real thing, a thing they love, and that repays them with an affluence of pleasure humming over sweets, and only retires from the work at last when not only she herself, but all her friends as well, have no money left.
       And what a throng it is of which these shoppers make a part the haughty urbans stepping from their satin-lined carriages; the satchel-bearing suburbans; the young country school-mistress who thinks the firm would possibly become embarrassed if she did not buy her new black silk there, and, the article once bought, feels a happy consciousness of benefits conferred, and a proud sense of having enlarged the trade of the place in all the markets of the world; then there is the penniless companion of the shopper, who has no purse to open, and before whose indifferent eyes all these things the people, the noise, the bustle, the confusion pass like disordered phantasms; there is the woman who never lets her purchase out of her sight after the money has passed, and laughs to scorn the parcel delivery, and the woman who wears a circular cloak and is afraid to go near the counters for fear she shall be accused of stealing, and the woman who wears a circular and takes precious good care to keep near the counters and watch her chance for stealing; there is the professional shopper who buys for others on commission, and who knows what there is in the place better than the clerks themselves know; the young bride who never thinks of blushing as she adds treasure after treasure to her trousseau; the young mother who is nothing but a blush as she chooses her nainsooks and long lawns and edgings and insertings; there is the wretched gentleman who accompanies some shoppers as purse-bearer, and in all the crowd of women never felt so exquisitely uncomfortable in his life; and there are the shoppers who have no idea of buying at all, but who have come only to see what it is that the rest of the world is buying.
       And what beautiful things they are that the world is buying! One would say ingenuity in design and beauty of fabric and prodigality of undreamed of colors never reached before the point they touch to-day; for although stuffs have been made more barbarously rich, we doubt if they have ever been more artistically beautiful. The shopper whose check-book is not unlimited needs to pause bewildered among all the brocades and damasks, to beg for patterns, and then to go home and ponder and balance and decide in peace, where her fancy will not be disturbed by rival claims, where the jostling of the crowd will not have made her nervous and cross and difficult to please, and where the elation of the recently given largess for her shopping will not have so turned her head that she is pleased too easily and buys too soon.
      And, after all, the whole business is much like a lottery. One starts out in the morning quite ignorant whether one is to draw prize or blank; whether the bargain will prove a bargain or otherwise; whether what looked precisely right in the shop will not look precisely wrong at home, away from its accesseries, and face to face with the necessities of its future companion pieces of dress; whether the silk will not wear shiny, the basket cloth wear satiny, the damasse rub up fluffy. One's ideas, too, are apt to build such charming pictures of unattainable shapes and colors that the result may be heart breaking. One marvels that out of all that wilderness of beauty and lustre in the shops, to which the four quarters of the globe have contributed muslins from Farther India, shawls from Cathay, gold-wrought wefts from Egypt, silks from France, furs from the North Pole one has contrived to reach only such a beggarly and unbecoming end. And then to the disappointed young shopper, who has not been broken in by a long series of disappointments, there seems to be little more to live for, until some rival shopper, when all is over, says how perfectly that plume falls along the brim! what a lovely contrast that color is with the skin! with what grace that stuff takes folds and falls! groans for such a knack of making herself picturesque, and begs for her company when next she rides abroad, and knows well that neither theatre, nor dance, nor drive, nor sail has any such swift and sweet excitement as shopping has for the skillful shopper.

Music Abroad

       Music, on a broader scale, moreover, has its best cultivation and its largest audiences in the town, where opera has asserted a sort of sovereignty and immense throngs never think of grudging immense sums of money, glad to get music at its best on any terms. For the opera is the idealization and apotheosis of the drama; it is the drama set to music, and where the subtile inflections and far-reaching influences of tune and harmony shall do more than words can do shall make the prosaic impassioned, and the impassioned divine. 

       "Lurline" (overture above)  is a grand romantic opera in three acts composed by William Vincent Wallace to an English libretto by Edward Fitzball, It was first performed on 23 February 1860 at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden by the Pyne and Harrison English Opera Company with Louisa Pyne in the title role. The libretto is based on the legend of the Lorelei. Read more...

The Piano-Forte

       A hundred years ago and to what a growth has that new instrument attained! Then it was comparatively of rude manufacture, a slender case, standing on slight supports, and with keys tinkling like a music-box, and scarcely so much like the modern piano-forte as the little tea-kettle engine with which the inventors first ran over the road is like the ponderous locomotive of the present day that bites the rail as it thunders on with a planetary tread.
       There had been one or two pianos, though, nearly seventy years before that era, but so very imperfect that it took a multitude of new ideas, improvements and patents to bring even the perfection cf the one of 1776. Still some of the great composers had written wonderful music for the instrument even in that crude state, whether satisfied with it or foreseeing its advance. And from what it had advanced! The timbrel, the dulcimer, the clavichord, the spinet, the harpsichord, the harp itself, each contributed its separate idea to the composition of the wonderful mechanism on which Mr. Dibdin played that day, and which has advanced so much farther now that it seems to be as perfect as an instrument that does not meet the pure euharmonic scale can hope to be, and that stands, when its lid is closed, as some one has described it, like the sarcophagus of unrisen music, and whose manufacture, moreover, has reached in London alone an average of more than a hundred thousand instruments a year, produced by some two hundred makers, and giving employment and livelihood, of course, to an immense train of workmen and their families.
       It is interesting to note how many various countries enter the lists in cataring for our daily music and in finishing the case and works. Take, for instance, a fine Erard. Switzerland has sent the fir, Norway the deal, England the pear and sycamore and holly wood and the iron, Riga the oak, the tropical forests of Honduras the mahogany, and of South America the cedar; from Ceylon comes the ebony, from Rio the rosewood, from India the satin-wood, from Africa the ivory, from Russia the leather, from America the pine, and copper and silver and cloth from almost every meridian. And all this is brought together; for this great minds have wrestled, great minds have written, and all to delight the heart of the little miss who longs to rattle off her notes as she sees her elders do it, and breaks her little back for hours every day in the effort.
       And why not? Why should not great minds write and wrestle for such results? Is there any better result than that of bringing the pleasure into the household that this instrument does? As you sit and hear it and look about on the group of pleased listeners, you think it equal to a hearth any day in its power to 'gather and to cheer; and it has seemed to me in certain family circles where the members clustered round the piano-forte as a center that it was a sort of household altar at whose shrine the family assembled, and where the father looks on his little daughter, who can evoke this magic, as on something too precious and perfect to be his, and that the moral health and refinement of the whole household are assisted by the music, no matter how imperfect it may be when measured by great standards; and I have thought that every child ought to feel repaid for all her toil in the happiness she affords the fond father and mother in these hours of their satisfaction. 

 The first pianos.

Music at Home

       We frequently hear derision cast upon the prevailing habit of instructing young ladies indiscriminately in the art of music, and especially of piano-playing, when they have shown no very peculiar talent for it. But we think this derision a great mistake. These young people would be doing nothing better if they were not practicing their finger exercises. They give themselves, undeniably, a great pleasure, and they make themselves able to produce a great deal for others throughout their little circle. The mistake is to be found in the supposition that it is necessary they should play like Aus der
Ohe, as if nobody might be allowed to read who could not roll his periods like Edmund Kean. It seems reasonable that children should be taught the alphabet of all arts, and go farther if nature prompts the desire. As for the piano-forte, perhaps both maker and inventor would feel repaid for their centuries of thought and work if they could see, as we have done, those tired fathers that, hearing their young daughters thrum their tunes on the instruments they have toiled so hard to buy, close their eyes and listen delightedly to the poor little music and feel as if they enjoyed indeed a foretaste of heaven.
       It is nearly a hundred and twenty-five years ago since an announcement of a concert was made in a London newspaper, and it was promised that a certain singer would sing, accompanied by Mr. Dibdin "on a new instrument called the piano-forte."

 Women mostly studied those topics relating 
to the fine arts during the Victorian era.

City Children

       The children of the city, too, have, in the mass, the advantages of schools that are the most enlightening, and of teachers in art whose talent and rank make it impossible to have them outside of the wealthy city. Take music alone; the best professors of that art must needs find their support in cities, and the child who has their instruction from the start has the best chance of success.

 Classroom expectations during the Victorian era.

Advantages of Town Life

       The opportunities for growth and improvement are innumerable. Is there a painter whose canvases bring the beauty of the world into the compass of a few feet the sight and the inspiration are at cur command; is there a speaker of world-wide repute, a singer to whom kings and emperors are glad to listen, a preacher that moves men's souls, it is ours to listen, too; is there a play that thrills, a spectacle that delights, a song that charms, it is all within our reach in the city. We gather the news of the world there on a larger scale than that on which it is given to rustic communities, and we have absorbed and assimilated the last new thing before it has reached what is sometimes called the Provinces, and have gone on to something newer yet. 

The pleasures of Victorian city life.