Great Italian and French Composers eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 239 pages of information about Great Italian and French Composers.

Among the literature of this controversy, one pamphlet has an imperishable place, Rousseau’s famous “Lettre sur la Musique Francaise,” in which the great sentimentalist espoused the cause of Italian music with an eloquence and acrimony rarely surpassed.  The inconsistency of the author was as marked in this as in his private life.  Not only did he at a later period become a great advocate of Gluck against Piocini, but, in spite of his argument that it was impossible to compose music to French words, that the language was quite unfit for it, that the French never had music and never would, he himself had composed a good deal of music to French words and produced a French opera, “Le Devin du Village.”  Diderot was also a warm partisan of the Italians.  Pergolesi’s beautiful music having been murdered by the French orchestra players at the Grand Opera-House, Diderot proposed for it the following witty and laconic inscription:  “Hic Marsyas Apollinem."*

     * Here Marsyas flayed Apollo.

Rousseau’s opera, “Le Devin du Village,” was performed with considerable success, in spite of the repugnance of the orchestral performers, of whom Rousseau always spoke in terms of unmeasured contempt, to do justice to the music.  They burned Rousseau in effigy for his scoffs.  “Well,” said the author of the “Confessions,” “I don’t wonder that they should hang me now, after having so long put me to the torture.”

The eloquence and abuse of the wits, however, did not long impair the supremacy of Rameau; for the Italian company returned to their own land, disheartened by their reception in the French capital.  Though this composer commenced so late in life, he left thirty-six dramatic works.  His greatest work was “Castor et Pollux.”  Thirty years later Grimm recognized its merits by admitting, in spite of the great faults of the composer, “It is the pivot on which the glory of French music turns.”  When Louis XIV. offered Rameau a title, he answered, touching his breast and forehead, “My nobility is here and here.”  This composer marked a step forward in French music, for he gave it more boldness and freedom, and was the first really scientific and well-equipped exponent of a national school.  His choruses were full of energy and fire, his orchestral effects rich and massive.  He died in 1764, and the mortuary music, composed by himself, was performed by a double orchestra and chorus from the Grand Opera.


A distinguished place in the records of French music must be assigned to Andre Ernest Gretry, born at Liege in 1741.  His career covered the most important changes in the art as colored and influenced by national tastes, and he is justly regarded as the father of comic opera in his adopted country.  His childish life was one of much severe discipline and tribulation, for he was dedicated to music by his father, who was first violinist in the college of St. Denis when he

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Great Italian and French Composers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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