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In order to foster admiration for the old masters, Delsarte conceived the idea of publishing a collection of pieces taken from their works right and left, and, as a result, he created his Archives du Chant. He had special type made and the publication was a marvel of beautiful typography, correctness and good taste. At the beginning of each part was a cleverly harmonised passage of church music. The support of a publisher was necessary for the success of such a work, but Delsarte was his own publisher and he met with no success at all. Similar but inferior publications have been markedly successful.
Delsarte aimed at purity of text, but his successors have been forced to modernize the works to make them accessible for the public. This fact is painful. In literature the texts are studied and the endeavor is to reproduce the writer’s thought as closely as possible. In music it is entirely different. With each new edition a professor is commissioned to supervise the work and he adds something of his own invention.
Delsarte, a singer without a voice, an imperfect musician, a doubtful scholar, guided by an intuition which approached genius, in spite of his numerous faults played an important role in the evolution of French music in the Nineteenth Century. He was no ordinary man. The impression he gave to all who knew him was of a visionary, an apostle. When one heard him speak with his fiery enthusiasm about these works of the past which the world had forgotten, one could but believe that such oblivion was unjust and desire to know these relics of another age.
Without the shadow of a doubt I owed to his leadership the necessary courage to make a profound study of the works of the old school, for they are unattractive at first. Berlioz berated all this music. He had seen Gluck’s works on the stage in his youth, but he could see nothing in them that was not “superannuated and childish.” With all respect to Berlioz’s memory, it deserved a kinder judgment than that. When one reaches the depths of this music, although it may be at the price of some effort, he is well repaid for his pains. There is real feeling, grandeur and even something of the picturesque in these works—as much as could be with the means at their disposal.
It is only right that we should pay tribute to Delsarte’s memory. He was a pioneer who, during his whole life, proclaimed the value of immortal works, which the world despised. That is no slight merit.
While Delsarte was preparing the way for the old French opera and above all for Gluck’s works, another pioneer of musical evolution was working to form the taste of the Parisian public, but with an entirely different power and another effect. Seghers was the man. He played a great role and his memory should be honored.