The composer’s death occurred at Nice, whither he had gone on account of failing strength, March 17, 1862. His last moments were cheered by the attentions of his family and the consolations of philosophy and literature, which he dearly loved to discuss with his friends. His ruling passion displayed itself shortly before his end in characteristic fashion. Trying in vain to reach a book on the table, he said: “Can I do nothing now in time?” On the morning of his death, wishing to be turned on his bed, he said to his daughter, “Lay me down like a gamut,” at each movement repeating with a soft smile, “Do, re, mi,” etc., until the change was made. These were his last words.
The celebrated French critic Sainte-Beuve pays a charming tribute to Halevy, whom he knew and loved well:
“Halevy had a natural talent for writing, which he cultivated and perfected by study, by a taste for reading which he always gratified in the intervals of labor, in his study, in public conveyances—everywhere, in fine, when he had a minute to spare. He could isolate himself completely in the midst of the various noises of his family, or the conversation of the drawing-room if he had no part in it. He wrote music, poetry, and prose, and he read with imperturbable attention while people around him talked.
“He possessed the instinct of languages, was familiar with German, Italian, English, and Latin, knew something of Hebrew and Greek. He was conversant with etymology, and had a perfect passion for dictionaries. It was often difficult for him to find a word; for on opening the dictionary somewhere near the word for which he was looking, if his eye chanced to fall on some other, no matter what, he stopped to read that, then another and another, until he sometimes forgot the word he sought. It is singular that this estimable man, so fully occupied, should at times have nourished some secret sadness. Whatever the hidden wound might be, none, not even his most intimate friends, knew what it was. He never made any complaint. Halevy’s nature was rich, open and communicative. He was well organized, accessible to the sweets of sociability and family joys. In fine, he had, as one may say, too many strings to his bow to be very unhappy for any length of time. To define him practically, I would say he was a bee that had not lodged himself completely in his hive, but was seeking to make honey elsewhere too.”
MEHUL labored successfully in adapting the noble and severe style of Gluck to the changing requirements of the French stage. The turmoil and passions of the revolution had stirred men’s souls to the very roots, and this influence was perpetuated and crystallized in the new forms given to French thought by Napoleon’s wonderful career. Mehul’s musical conceptions, which culminated in the opera of “Joseph,” were characterized by a stir, a vigor, and largeness of dramatic movement,