Apropos of this second act, it is not, perhaps, generally known that the author had no idea of ending it with a prayer. Insurrections are not usually begun with so serious a song. But at the rehearsals the effect of the unison, Si parmi nous il est des Traitres, was so great that they did not dare to go on beyond it. So they suppressed the real ending, which is now the brilliant entrancing end of the overture. This finale is extant in the library at the Opera. It would be an interesting experiment to restore it and give this beautiful act its natural conclusion.
Massenet has been praised indiscriminately—sometimes for his numerous and brilliant powers and sometimes for merits he did not have at all.
I have waited to speak of him until the time when the Academie was ready to replace him,—that is to say, put some one in his place, for great artists are never replaced. Others succeed them with their own individual and different powers, but they do not take their places nevertheless. Malibran has never been replaced, nor Madame Viardot, Madame Carvalho, Talma and Rachel. No one can ever replace Patti, Bartet or Sarah Bernhardt. They could not replace Ingres, Delacroix, Berlioz, or Gounod, and they can never replace Massenet.
It is a question whether he has been accorded his real place. Perhaps his pupils have estimated him at his true worth, but they were grateful for his excellent teaching, and may be rightly suspected of partiality. Others have spoken slightingly of his works and they have applied to him by transposing the words of the celebrated dictum: Saltavit et placuit. He sang and wept, so they sought to deprecate him as if there were something reprehensible in an artist’s pleasing the public. This notion might seem to have some basis in view of the taste that is affected to-day—a predilection for all that is shocking and displeasing in all the arts, including poetry. Sorcieres’s epigram—the ugly is beautiful and the beautiful ugly—has become a programme. People are no longer content with merely admiring atrocities, they even speak with contempt of beauties hallowed by time and the admiration of centuries.
The fact remains that Massenet is one of the most brilliant diamonds in our musical crown. No musician has enjoyed so much favor with the public save Auber, whom Massenet did not care for any more than he did for his school, but whom he resembled closely. They were alike in their facility, their amazing fertility, genius, gracefulness, and success. Both composed music which was agreeable to their contemporaries. Both were accused of pandering to their audiences. The answer to this is that both their audiences and the artists had the same tastes and so were in perfect accord.
To-day the revolutionists are the only ones held in esteem by the critics. Well, it may be a fine thing to despise the mob, to struggle against the current, and to compel the mob by force of genius and energy to follow one despite their resistance. Yet one may be a great artist without doing that.