Who would have predicted that the day would come when it would be necessary to come to the defense of the author of Les Huguenots and Le Prophete, of the man who at one time dominated every stage in Europe by a leadership which was so extraordinary that it looked as though it would never end? I could cite many works in which all the composers of the past are praised without qualification, and Meyerbeer, alone, is accused of numerous faults. However, others have faults, too, and, as I have said elsewhere, but it will stand repeating, it is not the absence of defects but the presence of merits which makes works and men great. It is not always well to be without blemish. A too regular face or too pure a voice lacks expression. If there is no such thing as perfection in this world, it is doubtless because it is not needed.
As I do not belong to that biased school which pretends to see Peter entirely white and Paul utterly black, I do not try to make myself think that the author of Les Huguenots had no faults.
The most serious, but the most excusable, is his contempt for prosody and his indifference to the verse entrusted to him. This fault is excusable for the French school of the time, heedless of tradition, set him a bad example. Rossini was, like Meyerbeer, a foreigner, but he was not affected in the same way. He even got fine effects through the combination of musical and textual rhythm. An instance of this is seen in the famous phrase in Guillaume Tell:
Ces jours qu’ils ont
Je ne les ai pas defendus.
Mon pere, tu m’as du maudire!
If Rossini had not retired at an age when others are just beginning their careers and had given us two or three more works, his illustrious example would have restored the old principles on which French opera had been constructed from the time of Lulli. On the contrary, Auber carried with him an entire generation captivated by Italian music. He even went so far as to put French words into Italian rhythm. The famous duet Amour sacre de la Patrie is versified as if the text were Amore sacro della patria. This is seen only in reading it, for it is never sung as it is written.
Meyerbeer was, then, excusable to a certain extent, but he abused all indulgence in such matters. In order to preserve intact his musical forms—even in recitatives, which are, as a matter of fact, only declamation set to music—he accented the weak syllables and vice versa; he added words and made unnecessarily false verse, and transformed bad verse into worse prose. He might have avoided all these literary abominations without any harm to the effect by a slight modification of the music. The verses given to musicians were often very bad, for that was the fashion. The versifier thought he had done his duty by his collaborator by giving him verses like this: