Finally, in Auber’s day and even in that of Ambroise Thomas, the director was master. No one had dreamed of creating a committee, which, under cover of the director’s responsibility, would strangely diminish his authority. The only benefit from the new system has been the end of the incessant war which the musical critics waged on the director. But that did no harm, either to the director or to the school, for the latter kept on growing to such an extent that it ought to have been enlarged long ago. The committee plan has won and the incident is closed. One may only hope that steps will be taken to make possible an increase in the number of pupils since so many candidates apply each year and so few are chosen.
As everyone knows, we have been struck by a perfect mania for reforms, so there is no harm in proposing one for the Conservatoire. Foreign conservatoires have been studied and they want to introduce some of their features here. As a matter of fact, some of the foreign conservatoires are housed in magnificent palaces and their curricula are elaborated with a care worthy of admiration. Whether they turn out better pupils than we do is an open question. It is beyond dispute, however, that many young foreigners come to us for their education.
Some of the reformers are scandalized at the sight of a musician in charge of a school where elocution is taught. They forget that a musician may also be a man of letters—the present director combines these qualifications—and that it is improbable that it will be different in the future. The teachers of elocution have always been the best that could be found. Although M. Faure is a musician, he has known how to bring back the classes in tragedy to their original purpose. For a time they tended towards an objectionable modernism, for they substituted in their competitions modern prose for the classic verse. And the study of the latter is very profitable.
Not only is there no harm in this union of elocution and music, but it would be useful if singers and composers would take advantage of it to familiarize themselves with the principles of diction, which, in my opinion, are indispensable to both. Instead, they distrust melody. Declamation is no longer wanted in operas, and the singers make the works incomprehensible by not articulating the words. The composers tend along the same lines, for they give no indication or direction of how they want the words spoken. All this is regrettable and should be reformed.
As you see, I object to the mania for reform and end by suggesting reforms myself. Well, one must be of one’s own time, and there is no escaping the contagion.
Everything in my youth seemed calculated to keep me far removed from romanticism. Those about me talked only of the great classics and I saw them welcome Ponsard’s Lucrece as a sort of Minerva whose lance was to route Victor Hugo and his foul crew, of whom they never spoke save with detestation.