Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 2
the man whom all Italy was applauding--for it was the day of Rossini's
triumph in his own country. He was watching the Duchess, and she was
talking with a feverish excitement. She reminded him of the Niobe he
had admired at Florence: the same dignity in woe, the same physical
control; and yet her soul shone though, in the warm flush of her
cheeks; and her eyes, where anxiety was disguised under a flash of
pride, seemed to scorch the tears away by their fire. Her suppressed
grief seemed calmer when she looked at Emilio, who never took his eyes
off her; it was easy to see that she was trying to mollify some fierce
despair. The state of her feelings gave a certain loftiness to her
Like most women when under the stress of some unusual agitation, she
overstepped her ordinary limitations and assumed something of the
Pythoness, though still remaining calm and beautiful; for it was the
form of her thoughts that was wrung with desperation, not the features
of her face. And perhaps she wanted to shine with all her wit to lend
some charm to life and detain her lover from death.
When the orchestra had given out the three chords in C major, placed
at the opening by the composer to announce that the overture will be
sung--for the real overture is the great movement beginning with this
stern attack, and ending only when light appears at the command of
Moses--the Duchess could not control a little spasmodic start, that
showed how entirely the music was in accordance with her concealed
"Those three chords freeze the blood," said she. "They announce
trouble. Listen attentively to this introduction; the terrible lament
of a nation stricken by the hand of God. What wailing! The King, the
Queen, their first-born son, all the dignitaries of the kingdom are
sighing; they are wounded in their pride, in their conquests; checked
in their avarice. Dear Rossini! you have done well to throw this bone
to gnaw to the /Tedeschi/, who declared we had no harmony, no science!
"Now you will hear the ominous melody the maestro has engrafted on to
this profound harmonic composition, worthy to compare with the most
elaborate structures of the Germans, but never fatiguing or tiresome.
"You French, who carried through such a bloodthirsty revolution, who
crushed your aristocracy under the paw of the lion mob, on the day
when this oratorio is performed in your capital, you will understand
this glorious dirge of the victims on whom God is avenging his chosen
people. None but an Italian could have written this pregnant and
inexhaustible theme--truly Dantesque. Do you think that it is nothing
to have such a dream of vengeance, even for a moment? Handel,
Sebastian Bach, all you old German masters, nay, even you, great
Beethoven, on your knees! Here is the queen of arts, Italy
The Duchess had spoken while the curtain was being raised. And now the
physician heard the sublime symphony with which the composer
introduces the great Biblical drama. It is to express the sufferings
of a whole nation. Suffering is uniform in its expression, especially
physical suffering. Thus, having instinctively felt, like all men of
genius, that here there must be no variety of idea, the musician,
having hit on his leading phrase, has worked it out in various keys,
grouping the masses and the dramatis personae to take up the theme
through modulations and cadences of admirable structure. In such
simplicity is power.
"The effect of this strain, depicting the sensations of night and cold
in a people accustomed to live in the bright rays of the sun, and sung
by the people and their princes, is most impressive. There is
something relentless in that slow phrase of music; it is cold and
sinister, like an iron bar wielded by some celestial executioner, and
dropping in regular rhythm on the limbs of all his victims. As we hear
it passing from C minor into G minor, returning to C and again to the
dominant G, starting afresh and /fortissimo/ on the tonic B flat,
drifting into F major and back to C minor, and in each key in turn
more ominously terrible, chill, and dark, we are compelled at last to
enter into the impression intended by the composer."
The Frenchman was, in fact, deeply moved when all this united sorrow
exploded in the cry:
"O Nume d'Israel,
Se brami in liberta
Il popol tuo fedel,
Di lui di noi pieta!"
(O God of Israel, if thou wouldst see thy faithful people free, have
mercy on them, and on us.)
"Never was a grander synthesis composed of natural effects or a more
perfect idealization of nature. In a great national disaster, each one
for a long time bewails himself alone; then, from out of the mass,
rises up, here and there, a more emphatic and vehement cry of anguish;
finally, when the misery has fallen on all, it bursts forth like a
"As soon as they all recognize a common grievance, the dull murmurs of
the people become cries of impatience. Rossini has proceeded on this
hypothesis. After the outcry in C major, Pharoah sings his grand
recitative: /Mano ultrice di un Dio/ (Avenging hand of God), after
which the original subject is repeated with more vehement expression.
All Egypt appeals to Moses for help."
The Duchess had taken advantage of the pause for the entrance of Moses
and Aaron to give this interpretation of that fine introduction.
"Let them weep!" she added passionately. "They have done much ill.
Expiate your sins, Egyptians, expiate the crimes of your maddened
Court! With what amazing skill has this great painter made use of all
the gloomy tones of music, of all that is saddest on the musical
palette! What creepy darkness! what a mist! Is not your very spirit in
mourning? Are you not convinced of the reality of the blackness that
lies over the land? Do you not feel that Nature is wrapped in the
deepest shades? There are no palm-trees, no Egyptian palaces, no
landscape. And what a healing to your soul will the deeply religious
strain be of the heaven-sent Healer who will stay this cruel plague!
How skilfully is everything wrought up to end in that glorious
invocation of Moses to God.
"By a learned elaboration, which Capraja could explain to you, this
appeal to heaven is accompanied by brass instruments only; it is that
which gives it such a solemn, religious cast. And not merely is the
artifice fine in its place; note how fertile in resource is genius.
Rossini has derived fresh beauty from the difficulty he himself
created. He has the strings in reserve to express daylight when it
succeeds to the darkness, and thus produces one of the greatest
effects ever achieved in music.
"Till this inimitable genius showed the way never was such a result
obtained with mere /recitative/. We have not, so far, had an air or a
duet. The poet has relied on the strength of the idea, on the
vividness of his imagery, and the realism of the declamatory passages.
This scene of despair, this darkness that may be felt, these cries of
anguish,--the whole musical picture is as fine as your great Poussin's
Moses waved his staff, and it was light.
"Here, monsieur, does not the music vie with the sun, whose splendor
it has borrowed, with nature, whose phenomena it expresses in every
detail?" the Duchess went on, in an undertone. "Art here reaches its
climax; no musician can get beyond this. Do not you hear Egypt waking
up after its long torpor? Joy comes in with the day. In what
composition, ancient or modern, will you find so grand a passage? The
greatest gladness in contrast to the deepest woe! What exclamations!
What gleeful notes! The oppressed spirit breathes again. What delirium
in the /tremolo/ of the orchestra! What a noble /tutti/! This is the
rejoicing of a delivered nation. Are you not thrilled with joy?"
The physician, startled by the contrast, was, in fact, clapping his
hands, carried away by admiration for one of the finest compositions
of modern music.
"/Brava la Doni!/" said Vendramin, who had heard the Duchess.
"Now the introduction is ended," said she. "You have gone through a
great sensation," she added, turning to the Frenchman. "Your heart is
beating; in the depths of your imagination you have a splendid
sunrise, flooding with light a whole country that before was cold and
dark. Now, would you know the means by which the musician has worked,
so as to admire him to-morrow for the secrets of his craft after
enjoying the results to-night? What do you suppose produces this
effect of daylight--so sudden, so complicated, and so complete? It
consists of a simple chord of C, constantly reiterated, varied only by
the chord of 4-6. This reveals the magic of his touch. To show you the
glory of light he has worked by the same means that he used to
represent darkness and sorrow.
"This dawn in imagery is, in fact, absolutely the same as the natural
dawn; for light is one and the same thing everywhere, always alike in
itself, the effects varying only with the objects it falls on. Is it
not so? Well, the musician has taken for the fundamental basis of his
music, for its sole /motif/, a simple chord in C. The sun first sheds
its light on the mountain-tops and then in the valleys. In the same
way the chord is first heard on the treble string of the violins with
boreal mildness; it spreads through the orchestra, it awakes the
instruments one by one, and flows among them. Just as light glides
from one thing to the next, giving them color, the music moves on,
calling out each rill of harmony till all flow together in the
"The violins, silent until now, give the signal with their tender
/tremolo/, softly /agitato/ like the first rays of morning. That
light, cheerful movement, which caresses the soul, is cleverly
supported by chords in the bass, and by a vague /fanfare/ on the
trumpets, restricted to their lowest notes, so as to give a vivid idea
of the last cool shadows that linger in the valleys while the first
warm rays touch the heights. Then all the wind is gradually added to
strengthen the general harmony. The voices come in with sighs of
delight and surprise. At last the brass breaks out, the trumpets
sound. Light, the source of all harmony, inundates all nature; every
musical resource is produced with a turbulence, a splendor, to compare
with that of the Eastern sun. Even the triangle, with its reiterated
C, reminds us by its shrill accent and playful rhythm of the song of
"Thus the same key, freshly treated by the master's hand, expresses
the joy of all nature, while it soothes the grief it uttered before.
"There is the hall-mark of the great genius: Unity. It is the same but
different. In one and the same phrase we find a thousand various
feelings of woe, the misery of a nation. In one and the same chord we
have all the various incidents of awakening nature, every expression
of the nation's joy. These two tremendous passages are soldered into
one by the prayer to an ever-living God, author of all things, of that
woe and that gladness alike. Now is not that introduction by itself a
"It is, indeed," said the Frenchman.
"Next comes a quintette such as Rossini can give us. If he was ever
justified in giving vent to that flowery, voluptuous grace for which
Italian music is blamed, is it not in this charming movement in which
each person expresses joy? The enslaved people are delivered, and yet
a passion in peril is fain to moan. Pharaoh's son loves a Hebrew
woman, and she must leave him. What gives its ravishing charm to this
quintette is the return to the homelier feelings of life after the
grandiose picture of two stupendous and national emotions:--general
misery, general joy, expressed with the magic force stamped on them by
divine vengeance and with the miraculous atmosphere of the Bible
narrative. Now, was not I right?" added Massimilla, as the noble
/sretto/ came to a close.
"Voci di giubilo,
D' in'orno eccheggino,
Di pace l' Iride
Per noi spunto."
(Cries of joy sound about us. The rainbow of peace dawns upon us.)
"How ingeniously the composer has constructed this passage!" she went
on, after waiting for a reply. "He begins with a solo on the horn, of
divine sweetness, supported by /arpeggios/ on the harps; for the first
voices to be heard in this grand concerted piece are those of Moses
and Aaron returning thanks to the true God. Their strain, soft and
solemn, reverts to the sublime ideas of the invocation, and mingles,
nevertheless, with the joy of the heathen people. This transition
combines the heavenly and the earthly in a way which genius alone
could invent, giving the /andante/ of this quintette a glow of color
that I can only compare to the light thrown by Titian on his Divine
Persons. Did you observe the exquisite interweaving of the voices? the
clever entrances by which the composer has grouped them round the main
idea given out by the orchestra? the learned progressions that prepare
us for the festal /allegro/? Did you not get a glimpse, as it were, of
dancing groups, the dizzy round of a whole nation escaped from danger?
And when the clarionet gives the signal for the /stretto/,--'/Voci di
giubilo/,'--so brilliant and gay, was not your soul filled with the
sacred pyrrhic joy of which David speaks in the Psalms, ascribing it
to the hills?"
"Yes, it would make a delightful dance tune," said the doctor.
"French! French! always French!" exclaimed the Duchess, checked in her
exultant mood by this sharp thrust. "Yes; you would be capable of
taking that wonderful burst of noble and dainty rejoicing and turning
it into a rigadoon. Sublime poetry finds no mercy in your eyes. The
highest genius,--saints, kings, disasters,--all that is most sacred
must pass under the rods of caricature. And the vulgarizing of great
music by turning it into a dance tune is to caricature it. With you,
wit kills soul, as argument kills reason."
They all sat in silence through the /recitative/ of Osiride and
Membrea, who plot to annul the order given by Pharaoh for the
departure of the Hebrews.
"Have I vexed you?" asked the physician to the Duchess. "I should be
in despair. Your words are like a magic wand. They unlock the pigeon-
holes of my brain, and let out new ideas, vivified by this sublime
"No," replied she, "you have praised our great composer after your own
fashion. Rossini will be a success with you, for the sake of his witty
and sensual gifts. Let us hope that he may find some noble souls, in
love with the ideal--which must exist in your fruitful land,--to
appreciate the sublimity, the loftiness, of such music. Ah, now we
have the famous duet, between Elcia and Osiride!" she exclaimed, and
she went on, taking advantage of the triple salvo of applause which
hailed la Tinti, as she made her first appearance on the stage.
"If la Tinti has fully understood the part of Elcia, you will hear the
frenzied song of a woman torn by her love for her people, and her
passion for one of their oppressors, while Osiride, full of mad
adoration for his beautiful vassal, tries to detain her. The opera is
built up as much on that grand idea as on that of Pharaoh's resistance
to the power of God and of liberty; you must enter into it thoroughly
or you will not understand this stupendous work.
"Notwithstanding the disfavor you show to the dramas invented by our
/libretto/ writers, you must allow me to point out the skill with
which this one is constructed. The antithesis required in every fine
work, and eminently favorable to music, is well worked out. What can
be finer than a whole nation demanding liberty, held in bondage by bad
faith, upheld by God, and piling marvel on marvel to gain freedom?
What more dramatic than the Prince's love for a Hebrew woman, almost
justifying treason to the oppressor's power?
"And this is what is expressed in this bold and stupendous musical
poem; Rossini has stamped each nation with its fantastic
individuality, for we have attributed to them a certain historic
grandeur to which every imagination subscribes. The songs of the
Hebrews, and their trust in God, are perpetually contrasted with
Pharaoh's shrieks of rage and vain efforts, represented with a strong
"At this moment Osiride, thinking only of love, hopes to detain his
mistress by the memories of their joys as lovers; he wants to conquer
the attractions of her feeling for her people. Here, then, you will
find delicious languor, the glowing sweetness, the voluptuous
suggestions of Oriental love, in the air '/Ah! se puoi cosi
lasciarmi/,' sung by Osiride, and in Elcia's reply, '/Ma perche cosi
straziarmi?/' No; two hearts in such melodious unison could never
part," she went on, looking at the Prince.
"But the lovers are suddenly interrupted by the exultant voice of the
Hebrew people in the distance, which recalls Elcia. What a delightful
and inspiriting /allegro/ is the theme of this march, as the
Israelites set out for the desert! No one but Rossini can make wind
instruments and trumpets say so much. And is not the art which can
express in two phrases all that is meant by the 'native land'
certainly nearer to heaven than the others? This clarion-call always
moves me so deeply that I cannot find words to tell you how cruel it
is to an enslaved people to see those who are free march away!"
The Duchess' eyes filled with tears as she listened to the grand
movement, which in fact crowns the opera.
"/Dov' e mai quel core amante/," she murmured in Italian, as la Tinti
began the delightful /aria/ of the /stretto/ in which she implores
pity for her grief. "But what is the matter? The pit are
"Genovese is braying like a stage," replied the Prince.
In point of fact, this first duet with la Tinti was spoilt by
Genovese's utter breakdown. His excellent method, recalling that of
Crescentini and Veluti, seemed to desert him completely. A /sostenuto/
in the wrong place, an embellishment carried to excess, spoilt the
effect; or again a loud climax with no due /crescendo/, an outburst of
sound like water tumbling through a suddenly opened sluice, showed
complete and wilful neglect of the laws of good taste.
The pit was in the greatest excitement. The Venetian public believed
there was a deliberate plot between Genovese and his friends. La Tinti
was recalled and applauded with frenzy while Genovese had a hint or
two warning him of the hostile feeling of the audience. During this
scene, highly amusing to a Frenchman, while la Tinti was recalled
eleven times to receive alone the frantic acclamations of the house,--
Genovese, who was all but hissed, not daring to offer her his hand,--
the doctor made a remark to the Duchess as to the /stretto/ of the
"In this place," said he, "Rossini ought to have expressed the deepest
grief, and I find on the contrary an airy movement, a tone of ill-
"You are right," said she. "This mistake is the result of a tyrannous
custom which composers are expected to obey. He was thinking more of
his prima donna than of Elcia when he wrote that /stretto/. But this
evening, even if la Tinti had been more brilliant than ever, I could
throw myself so completely into the situation, that the passage,
lively as it is, is to me full of sadness."
The physician looked attentively from the Prince to the Duchess, but
could not guess the reason that held them apart, and that made this
duet seem to them so heartrending.
"Now comes a magnificent thing, the scheming of Pharaoh against the
Hebrews. The great /aria 'A rispettarmi apprenda'/ (Learn to respect
me) is a triumph for Carthagenova, who will express superbly the
offended pride and the duplicity of a sovereign. The Throne will
speak. He will withdraw the concessions that have been made, he arms
himself in wrath. Pharaoh rises to his feet to clutch the prey that is
"Rossini never wrote anything grander in style, or stamped with more
living and irresistible energy. It is a consummate work, supported by
an accompaniment of marvelous orchestration, as indeed is every
portion of this opera. The vigor of youth illumines the smallest
The whole house applauded this noble movement, which was admirably
rendered by the singer, and thoroughly appreciated by the Venetians.
"In the /finale/," said the Duchess, "you hear a repetition of the
march, expressive of the joy of deliverance and of faith in God, who
allows His people to rush off gleefully to wander in the Desert! What
lungs but would be refreshed by the aspirations of a whole nation
freed from slavery.
"Oh, beloved and living melodies! Glory to the great genius who has
known how to give utterance to such feelings! There is something
essentially warlike in that march, proclaiming that the God of armies
is on the side of these people. How full of feeling are these strains
of thanksgiving! The imagery of the Bible rises up in our mind; this
glorious musical /scena/ enables us to realize one of the grandest
dramas of that ancient and solemn world. The religious form given to
some of the voice parts, and the way in which they come in, one by
one, to group with the others, express all we have ever imagined of
the sacred marvels of that early age of humanity.
"And yet this fine concerted piece is no more than a development of
the theme of the march into all its musical outcome. That theme is the
inspiring element alike for the orchestra and the voices, for the air,
and for the brilliant instrumentation that supports it.
"Elcia now comes to join the crowd; and to give shade to the rejoicing
spirit of this number, Rossini has made her utter her regrets. Listen
to her /duettino/ with Amenofi. Did blighted love ever express itself
in lovelier song? It is full of the grace of a /notturno/, of the
secret grief of hopeless love. How sad! how sad! The Desert will
indeed be a desert to her!
"After this comes the fierce conflict of the Egyptians and the
Hebrews. All their joy is spoiled, their march stopped by the arrival
of the Egyptians. Pharaoh's edict is proclaimed in a musical phrase,
hollow and dread, which is the leading /motif/ of the /finale/; we
could fancy that we hear the tramp of the great Egyptian army,
surrounding the sacred phalanx of the true God, curling round it, like
a long African serpent enveloping its prey. But how beautiful is the
lament of the duped and disappointed Hebrews! Though, in truth, it is
more Italian than Hebrew. What a superb passage introduces Pharaoh's
arrival, when his presence brings the two leaders face to face, and
all the moving passions of the drama. The conflict of sentiments in
that sublime /ottetto/, where the wrath of Moses meets that of the two
Pharaohs, is admirable. What a medley of voices and of unchained
"No grander subject was ever wrought out by a composer. The famous
/finale/ of /Don Giovanni/, after all, only shows us a libertine at
odds with his victims, who invoke the vengeance of Heaven; while here
earth and its dominions try to defeat God. Two nations are here face
to face. And Rossini, having every means at his command, has made
wonderful use of them. He has succeeded in expressing the turmoil of a
tremendous storm as a background to the most terrible imprecations,
without making it ridiculous. He has achieved it by the use of chords
repeated in triple time--a monotonous rhythm of gloomy musical
emphasis--and so persistent as to be quite overpowering. The horror of
the Egyptians at the torrent of fire, the cries of vengeance from the
Hebrews, needed a delicate balance of masses; so note how he has made
the development of the orchestral parts follow that of the chorus. The
/allegro assai/ in C minor is terrible in the midst of that deluge of
"Confess now," said Massimilla, at the moment when Moses, lifting his
rod, brings down the rain of fire, and when the composer puts forth
all his powers in the orchestra and on the stage, "that no music ever
more perfectly expressed the idea of distress and confusion."
"They have spread to the pit," remarked the Frenchman.
"What is it now? The pit is certainly in great excitement," said the
In the /finale/, Genovese, his eyes fixed on la Tinti, had launched
into such preposterous flourishes, that the pit, indignant at this
interference with their enjoyment, were at a height of uproar. Nothing
could be more exasperating to Italian ears than this contrast of good
and bad singing. The manager went so far as to appear on the stage, to
say that in reply to his remarks to his leading singer, Signor
Genovese had replied that he knew not how or by what offence he had
lost the countenance of the public, at the very moment when he was
endeavoring to achieve perfection in his art.
"Let him be as bad as he was yesterday--that was good enough for us!"
roared Capraja, in a rage.
This suggestion put the house into a good humor again.
Contrary to Italian custom, the ballet was not much attended to. In
every box the only subject of conversation was Genovese's strange
behavior, and the luckless manager's speech. Those who were admitted
behind the scenes went off at once to inquire into the mystery of this
performance, and it was presently rumored that la Tinti had treated
her colleague Genovese to a dreadful scene, in which she had accused
the tenor of being jealous of her success, of having hindered it by
his ridiculous behavior, and even of trying to spoil her performance
by acting passionate devotion. The lady was shedding bitter tears over
this catastrophe. She had been hoping, she said, to charm her lover,
who was somewhere in the house, though she had failed to discover him.
Without knowing the peaceful course of daily life in Venice at the
present day, so devoid of incident that a slight altercation between
two lovers, or the transient huskiness of a singer's voice becomes a
subject of discussion, regarded of as much importance as politics in
England, it is impossible to conceive of the excitement in the theatre
and at the Cafe Florian. La Tinti was in love; la Tinti had been
hindered in her performance; Genovese was mad or purposely malignant,
inspired by the artist's jealousy so familiar to Italians! What a mine
of matter for eager discussion!
The whole pit was talking as men talk at the Bourse, and the result
was such a clamor as could not fail to amaze a Frenchman accustomed to
the quiet of the Paris theatres. The boxes were in a ferment like the
stir of swarming bees.
One man alone remained passive in the turmoil. Emilio Memmi, with his
back to the stage and his eyes fixed on Massimilla with a melancholy
expression, seemed to live in her gaze; he had not once looked round
at the prima donna.
"I need not ask you, /caro carino/, what was the result of my
negotiation," said Vendramin to Emilio. "Your pure and pious
Massimilla has been supremely kind--in short, she has been la Tinti?"
The Prince's reply was a shake of his head, full of the deepest
"Your love has not descended from the ethereal spaces where you soar,"
said Vendramin, excited by opium. "It is not yet materialized. This
morning, as every day for six months--you felt flowers opening their
scented cups under the dome of your skull that had expanded to vast
proportions. All your blood moved to your swelling heart that rose to
choke your throat. There, in there,"--and he laid his hand on Emilio's
breast,--"you felt rapturous emotions. Massimilla's voice fell on your
soul in waves of light; her touch released a thousand imprisoned joys
which emerged from the convolutions of your brain to gather about you
in clouds, to waft your etherealized body through the blue air to a
purple glow far above the snowy heights, to where the pure love of
angels dwells. The smile, the kisses of her lips wrapped you in a
poisoned robe which burnt up the last vestiges of your earthly nature.
Her eyes were twin stars that turned you into shadowless light. You
knelt together on the palm-branches of heaven, waiting for the gates
of Paradise to be opened; but they turned heavily on their hinges, and
in your impatience you struck at them, but could not reach them. Your
hand touched nothing but clouds more nimble than your desires. Your
radiant companion, crowned with white roses like a bride of Heaven,
wept at your anguish. Perhaps she was murmuring melodious litanies to
the Virgin, while the demoniacal cravings of the flesh were haunting
you with their shameless clamor, and you disdained the divine fruits
of that ecstasy in which I live, though shortening my life."
"Your exaltation, my dear Vendramin," replied Emilio, calmly, "is
still beneath reality. Who can describe that purely physical
exhaustion in which we are left by the abuse of a dream of pleasure,
leaving the soul still eternally craving, and the spirit in clear
possession of its faculties?
"But I am weary of this torment, which is that of Tantalus. This is my
last night on earth. After one final effort, our Mother shall have her
child again--the Adriatic will silence my last sigh--"
"Are you idiotic?" cried Vendramin. "No; you are mad; for madness, the
crisis we despise, is the memory of an antecedent condition acting on
our present state of being. The genius of my dreams has taught me
that, and much else! You want to make one of the Duchess and la Tinti;
nay, dear Emilio, take them separately; it will be far wiser. Raphael
alone ever united form and idea. You want to be the Raphael of love;
but chance cannot be commanded. Raphael was a 'fluke' of God's
creation, for He foreordained that form and idea should be
antagonistic; otherwise nothing could live. When the first cause is
more potent than the outcome, nothing comes of it. We must live either
on earth or in the skies. Remain in the skies; it is always too soon
to come down to earth."
"I will take the Duchess home," said the Prince, "and make a last
"Afterwards," cried Vendramin, anxiously, "promise to call for me at
This dialogue, in modern Greek, with which Vendramin and Emilio were
familiar, as many Venetians are, was unintelligible to the Duchess and
to the Frenchman. Although he was quite outside the little circle that
held the Duchess, Emilio and Vendramin together--for these three
understood each other by means of Italian glances, by turns arch and
keen, or veiled and sidelong--the physician at last discerned part of
the truth. An earnest entreaty from the Duchess had prompted
Vendramin's suggestion to Emilio, for Massimilla had begun to suspect
the misery endured by her lover in that cold empyrean where he was
wandering, though she had no suspicions of la Tinti.
"These two young men are mad!" said the doctor.
"As to the Prince," said the Duchess, "trust me to cure him. As to
Vendramin, if he cannot understand this sublime music, he is perhaps
"If you would but tell me the cause of their madness, I could cure
them," said the Frenchman.
"And since when have great physicians ceased to read men's minds?"
said she, jestingly.
The ballet was long since ended; the second act of /Mose/ was
beginning. The pit was perfectly attentive. A rumor had got abroad
that Duke Cataneo had lectured Genovese, representing to him what
injury he was doing to Clarina, the /diva/ of the day. The second act
would certainly be magnificent.
"The Egyptian Prince and his father are on the stage," said the
Duchess. "They have yielded once more, though insulting the Hebrews,
but they are trembling with rage. The father congratulates himself on
his son's approaching marriage, and the son is in despair at this
fresh obstacle, though it only increases his love, to which everything
is opposed. Genovese and Carthagenova are singing admirably. As you
see, the tenor is making his peace with the house. How well he brings
out the beauty of the music! The phrase given out by the son on the
tonic, and repeated by the father on the dominant, is all in character
with the simple, serious scheme which prevails throughout the score;
the sobriety of it makes the endless variety of the music all the more
wonderful. All Egypt is there.
"I do not believe that there is in modern music a composition more
perfectly noble. The solemn and majestic paternity of a king is fully
expressed in that magnificent theme, in harmony with the grand style
that stamps the opera throughout. The idea of a Pharaoh's son pouring
out his sorrows on his father's bosom could surely not be more
admirably represented than in this grand imagery. Do you not feel a
sense of the splendor we are wont to attribute to that monarch of
"It is indeed sublime music," said the Frenchman.
"The air /Pace mia smarrita/, which the Queen will now sing, is one of
those /bravura/ songs which every composer is compelled to introduce,
though they mar the general scheme of the work; but an opera would as
often as not never see the light, if the prima donna's vanity were not
duly flattered. Still, this musical 'sop' is so fine in itself that it
is performed as written, on every stage; it is so brilliant that the
leading lady does not substitute her favorite show piece, as is very
commonly done in operas.
"And now comes the most striking movement in the score: the duet
between Osiride and Elcia in the subterranean chamber where he has
hidden her to keep her from the departing Israelites, and to fly with
her himself from Egypt. The lovers are then intruded on by Aaron, who
has been to warn Amalthea, and we get the grandest of all quartettes:
/Mi manca la voce, mi sento morire/. This is one of those masterpieces
that will survive in spite of time, that destroyer of fashion in
music, for it speaks the language of the soul which can never change.
Mozart holds his own by the famous /finale/ to /Don Giovanni/;
Marcello, by his psalm, /Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei/; Cimarosa, by the
air /Pria che spunti/; Beethoven by his C minor symphony; Pergolesi,
by his /Stabat Mater/; Rossini will live by /Mi manca la voce/. What
is most to be admired in Rossini is his command of variety to form; to
produce the effect here required, he has had recourse to the old
structure of the canon in unison, to bring the voices in, and merge
them in the same melody. As the form of these sublime melodies was
new, he set them in an old frame; and to give it the more relief he
has silenced the orchestra, accompanying the voices with the harps
alone. It is impossible to show greater ingenuity of detail, or to
produce a grander general effect.--Dear me! again an outbreak!" said
Genovese, who had sung his duet with Carthagenova so well, was
caricaturing himself now that la Tinti was on the stage. From a great
singer he sank to the level of the most worthless chorus singer.
The most formidable uproar arose that had ever echoed to the roof of
the /Fenice/. The commotion only yielded to Clarina, and she, furious
at the difficulties raised by Genovese's obstinacy, sang /Mi manca la
voce/ as it will never be sung again. The enthusiasm was tremendous;
the audience forgot their indignation and rage in pleasure that was
"She floods my soul with purple glow!" said Capraja, waving his hand
in benediction at la /Diva/ Tinti.
"Heaven send all its blessings on your head!" cried a gondolier.
"Pharaoh will now revoke his commands," said the Duchess, while the
commotion in the pit was calming down. "Moses will overwhelm him, even
on his throne, by declaring the death of every first-born son in
Egypt, singing that strain of vengeance which augurs thunders from
heaven, while above it the Hebrew clarions ring out. But you must
clearly understand that this air is by Pacini; Carthagenova introduces
it instead of that by Rossini. This air, /Paventa/, will no doubt hold
its place in the score; it gives a bass too good an opportunity for
displaying the quality of his voice, and expression here will carry
the day rather than science. However, the air is full of magnificent
menace, and it is possible that we may not be long allowed to hear
A thunder of clapping and /bravos/ hailed the song, followed by deep
and cautious silence; nothing could be more significant or more
thoroughly Venetian than the outbreak and its sudden suppression.
"I need say nothing of the coronation march announcing the
enthronement of Osiride, intended by the King as a challenge to Moses;
to hear it is enough. Their famous Beethoven has written nothing
grander. And this march, full of earthly pomp, contrasts finely with
the march of the Israelites. Compare them, and you will see that the
music is full of purpose.
"Elcia declares her love in the presence of the two Hebrew leaders,
and then renounces it in the fine /aria/, /Porge la destra amata/.
(Place your beloved hand.) Ah! What anguish! Only look at the house!"
The pit was shouting /bravo/, when Genovese left the stage.
"Now, free from her deplorable lover, we shall hear Tinti sing, /O
desolata Elcia/--the tremendous /cavatina/ expressive of love
disapproved by God."
"Where art thou, Rossini?" cried Cataneo. "If he could but hear the
music created by his genius so magnificently performed," he went on.
"Is not Clarina worthy of him?" he asked Capraja. "To give life to
those notes by such gusts of flame, starting from the lungs and
feeding in the air on some unknown matter which our ears inhale, and
which bears us heavenwards in a rapture of love, she must be divine!"
"She is like the gorgeous Indian plant, which deserting the earth
absorbs invisible nourishment from the atmosphere, and sheds from its
spiral white blossom such fragrant vapors as fill the brain with
dreams," replied Capraja.
On being recalled, la Tinti appeared alone. She was received with a
storm of applause; a thousand kisses were blown to her from finger-
tips; she was pelted with roses, and a wreath was made of the flowers
snatched from the ladies' caps, almost all sent out from Paris.
The /cavatina/ was encored.
"How eagerly Capraja, with his passion for embellishments, must have
looked forward to this air, which derives all its value from
execution," remarked Massimilla. "Here Rossini has, so to speak, given
the reins over to the singer's fancy. Her /cadenzas/ and her feeling
are everything. With a poor voice or inferior execution, it would be
nothing--the throat is responsible for the effects of this /aria/.
"The singer has to express the most intense anguish,--that of a woman
who sees her lover dying before her very eyes. La Tinti makes the
house ring with her highest notes; and Rossini, to leave pure singing
free to do its utmost, has written it in the simplest, clearest style.
Then, as a crowning effort, he has composed those heartrending musical
cries: /Tormenti! Affanni! Smanie!/ What grief, what anguish, in those
runs. And la Tinti, you see, has quite carried the house off its
The Frenchman, bewildered by this adoring admiration throughout a vast
theatre for the source of its delight, here had a glimpse of genuine
Italian nature. But neither the Duchess nor the two young men paid any
attention to the ovation. Clarina began again.
The Duchess feared that she was seeing her Emilio for the last time.
As to the Prince: in the presence of the Duchess, the sovereign
divinity who lifted him to the skies, he had forgotten where he was,
he no longer heard the voice of the woman who had initiated him into
the mysteries of earthly pleasure, for deep dejection made his ears
tingle with a chorus of plaintive voices, half-drowned in a rushing
noise as of pouring rain.
Vendramin saw himself in an ancient Venetian costume, looking on at
the ceremony of the /Bucentaur/. The Frenchman, who plainly discerned
that some strange and painful mystery stood between the Prince and the
Duchess, was racking his brain with shrewd conjecture to discover what
it could be.
The scene had changed. In front of a fine picture, representing the
Desert and the Red Sea, the Egyptians and Hebrews marched and
countermarched without any effect on the feelings of the four persons
in the Duchess' box. But when the first chords on the harps preluded
the hymn of the delivered Israelites, the Prince and Vendramin rose
and stood leaning against the opposite sides of the box, and the
Duchess, resting her elbow on the velvet ledge, supported her head on
her left hand.
The Frenchman, understanding from this little stir, how important this
justly famous chorus was in the opinion of the house, listened with
The audience, with one accord, shouted for its repetition.
"I feel as if I were celebrating the liberation of Italy," thought a
"Such music lifts up bowed heads, and revives hope in the most
torpid," said a man from the Romagna.
"In this scene," said Massimilla, whose emotion was evident, "science
is set aside. Inspiration, alone, dictated this masterpiece; it rose
from the composer's soul like a cry of love! As to the accompaniment,
it consists of the harps; the orchestra appears only at the last
repetition of that heavenly strain. Rossini can never rise higher than
in this prayer; he will do as good work, no doubt, but never better:
the sublime is always equal to itself; but this hymn is one of the
things that will always be sublime. The only match for such a
conception might be found in the psalms of the great Marcello, a noble
Venetian, who was to music what Giotto was to painting. The majesty of
the phrase, unfolding itself with episodes of inexhaustible melody, is
comparable with the finest things ever invented by religious writers.
"How simple is the structure! Moses opens the attack in G minor,
ending in a cadenza in B flat which allows the chorus to come in,
/pianissimo/ at first, in B flat, returning by modulations to G minor.
This splendid treatment of the voices, recurring three times, ends in
the last strophe with a /stretto/ in G major of absolutely
overpowering effect. We feel as though this hymn of a nation released
from slavery, as it mounts to heaven, were met by kindred strains
falling from the higher spheres. The stars respond with joy to the
ecstasy of liberated mortals. The rounded fulness of the rhythm, the
deliberate dignity of the graduations leading up to the outbursts of
thanksgiving, and its slow return raise heavenly images in the soul.
Could you not fancy that you saw heaven open, angels holding sistrums
of gold, prostrate seraphs swinging their fragrant censers, and the
archangels leaning on the flaming swords with which they have
vanquished the heathen?
"The secret of this music and its refreshing effect on the soul is, I
believe, that of a very few works of human genius: it carries us for
the moment into the infinite; we feel it within us; we see it, in
those melodies as boundless as the hymns sung round the throne of God.
Rossini's genius carries us up to prodigious heights, whence we look
down on a promised land, and our eyes, charmed by heavenly light, gaze
into limitless space. Elcia's last strain, having almost recovered
from her grief, brings a feeling of earth-born passions into this hymn
of thanksgiving. This, again, is a touch of genius.
"Ay, sing!" exclaimed the Duchess, as she listened to the last stanza
with the same gloomy enthusiasm as the singers threw into it. "Sing!
You are free!"
The words were spoken in a voice that startled the physician. To
divert Massimilla from her bitter reflections, while the excitement of
recalling la Tinti was at its height, he engaged her in one of the
arguments in which the French excel.
"Madame," said he, "in explaining this grand work--which I shall come
to hear again to-morrow with a fuller comprehension, thanks to you, of
its structure and its effect--you have frequently spoken of the color
of the music, and of the ideas it depicts; now I, as an analyst, a
materialist, must confess that I have always rebelled against the
affectation of certain enthusiasts, who try to make us believe that
music paints with tones. Would it not be the same thing if Raphael's
admirers spoke of his singing with colors?"
"In the language of musicians," replied the Duchess, "/painting/ is
arousing certain associations in our souls, or certain images in our
brain; and these memories and images have a color of their own; they
are sad or cheerful. You are battling for a word, that is all.
According to Capraja, each instrument has its task, its mission, and
appeals to certain feelings in our souls. Does a pattern in gold on a
blue ground produce the same sensations in you as a red pattern on
black or green? In these, as in music, there are no figures, no
expression of feeling; they are purely artistic, and yet no one looks
at them with indifference. Has not the oboe the peculiar tone that we
associate with the open country, in common with most wind instruments?
The brass suggests martial ideas, and rouses us to vehement or even
somewhat furious feelings. The strings, for which the material is
derived from the organic world, seem to appeal to the subtlest fibres
of our nature; they go to the very depths of the heart. When I spoke
of the gloomy hue, and the coldness of the tones in the introduction
to /Mose/, was I not fully as much justified as your critics are when
they speak of the 'color' in a writer's language? Do you not
acknowledge that there is a nervous style, a pallid style, a lively,
and a highly-colored style? Art can paint with words, sounds, colors,
lines, form; the means are many; the result is one.
"An Italian architect might give us the same sensation that is
produced in us by the introduction to /Mose/, by constructing a walk
through dark, damp avenues of tall, thick trees, and bringing us out
suddenly in a valley full of streams, flowers, and mills, and basking
in the sunshine. In their greatest moments the arts are but the
expression of the grand scenes of nature.
"I am not learned enough to enlarge on the philosophy of music; go and
talk to Capraja; you will be amazed at what he can tell you. He will
say that every instrument that depends on the touch or breath of man
for its expression and length of note, is superior as a vehicle of
expression to color, which remains fixed, or speech, which has its
limits. The language of music is infinite; it includes everything; it
can express all things.
"Now do you see wherein lies the pre-eminence of the work you have
just heard? I can explain it in a few words. There are two kinds of
music: one, petty, poor, second-rate, always the same, based on a
hundred or so of phrases which every musician has at his command, a
more or less agreeable form of babble which most composers live in. We
listen to their strains, their would-be melodies, with more or less
satisfaction, but absolutely nothing is left in our mind; by the end
of the century they are forgotten. But the nations, from the beginning
of time till our own day, have cherished as a precious treasure
certain strains which epitomize their instincts and habits; I might
almost say their history. Listen to one of these primitive tones,--the
Gregorian chant, for instance, is, in sacred song, the inheritance of
the earliest peoples,--and you will lose yourself in deep dreaming.
Strange and immense conceptions will unfold within you, in spite of
the extreme simplicity of these rudimentary relics. And once or twice
in a century--not oftener, there arises a Homer of music, to whom God
grants the gift of being ahead of his age; men who can compact
melodies full of accomplished facts, pregnant with mighty poetry.
Think of this; remember it. The thought, repeated by you, will prove
fruitful; it is melody, not harmony, that can survive the shocks of
"The music of this oratorio contains a whole world of great and sacred
things. A work which begins with that introduction and ends with that
prayer is immortal--as immortal as the Easter hymn, /O filii et
filioe/, as the /Dies iroe/ of the dead, as all the songs which in
every land have outlived its splendor, its happiness, and its ruined
The tears the Duchess wiped away as she quitted her box showed plainly
that she was thinking of the Venice that is no more; and Vendramin
kissed her hand.
The performance ended with the most extraordinary chaos of noises:
abuse and hisses hurled at Genovese and a fit of frenzy in praise of
la Tinti. It was a long time since the Venetians had had so lively an
evening. They were warmed and revived by that antagonism which is
never lacking in Italy, where the smallest towns always throve on the
antagonistic interests of two factions: the Geulphs and Ghibellines
everywhere; the Capulets and the Montagues at Verona; the Geremei and
the Lomelli at Bologna; the Fieschi and the Doria at Genoa; the
patricians and the populace, the Senate and tribunes of the Roman
republic; the Pazzi and the Medici at Florence; the Sforza and the
Visconti at Milan; the Orsini and the Colonna at Rome,--in short,
everywhere and on every occasion there has been the same impulse
Out in the streets there were already /Genovists/ and /Tintists/.
The Prince escorted the Duchess, more depressed than ever by the loves
of Osiride; she feared some similar disaster to her own, and could
only cling to Emilio, as if to keep him next her heart.
"Remember your promise," said Vendramin. "I will wait for you in the
Vendramin took the Frenchman's arm, proposing that they should walk
together on the Piazza San Marco while awaiting the Prince.
"I shall be only too glad if he should not come," he added.
This was the text for a conversation between the two, Vendramin
regarding it as a favorable opportunity for consulting the physician,
and telling him the singular position Emilio had placed himself in.
The Frenchman did as every Frenchman does on all occasions: he
laughed. Vendramin, who took the matter very seriously, was angry; but
he was mollified when the disciple of Majendie, of Cuvier, of
Dupuytren, and of Brossais assured him that he believed he could cure
the Prince of his high-flown raptures, and dispel the heavenly poetry
in which he shrouded Massimilla as in a cloud.
"A happy form of misfortune!" said he. "The ancients, who were not
such fools as might be inferred from their crystal heaven and their
ideas on physics, symbolized in the fable of Ixion the power which
nullifies the body and makes the spirit lord of all."
Vendramin and the doctor presently met Genovese, and with him the
fantastic Capraja. The melomaniac was anxious to learn the real cause
of the tenor's /fiasco/. Genovese, the question being put to him,
talked fast, like all men who can intoxicate themselves by the
ebullition of ideas suggested to them by a passion.
"Yes, signori, I love her, I worship her with a frenzy of which I
never believed myself capable, now that I am tired of women. Women
play the mischief with art. Pleasure and work cannot be carried on
together. Clara fancies that I was jealous of her success, that I
wanted to hinder her triumph at Venice; but I was clapping in the
side-scenes, and shouted /Diva/ louder than any one in the house."
"But even that," said Cataneo, joining them, "does not explain why,
from being a divine singer, you should have become one of the most
execrable performers who ever piped air through his larynx, giving
none of the charm even which enchants and bewitches us."
"I!" said the singer. "I a bad singer! I who am the equal of the
By this time, the doctor and Vendramin, Capraja, Cataneo, and Genovese
had made their way to the piazzetta. It was midnight. The glittering
bay, outlined by the churches of San Giorgio and San Paulo at the end
of the Giudecca, and the beginning of the Grand Canal, that opens so
mysteriously under the /Dogana/ and the church of Santa Maria della
Salute, lay glorious and still. The moon shone on the barques along
the Riva de' Schiavoni. The waters of Venice, where there is no tide,
looked as if they were alive, dancing with a myriad spangles. Never
had a singer a more splendid stage.
Genovese, with an emphatic flourish, seemed to call Heaven and Earth
to witness; and then, with no accompaniment but the lapping waves, he
sang /Ombra adorata/, Crescentini's great air. The song, rising up
between the statues of San Teodoro and San Giorgio, in the heart of
sleeping Venice lighted by the moon, the words, in such strange
harmony with the scene, and the melancholy passion of the singer, held
the Italians and the Frenchman spellbound.
At the very first notes, Vendramin's face was wet with tears. Capraja
stood as motionless as one of the statues in the ducal palace. Cataneo
seemed moved to some feeling. The Frenchman, taken by surprise, was
meditative, like a man of science in the presence of a phenomenon that
upsets all his fundamental axioms. These four minds, all so different,
whose hopes were so small, who believed in nothing for themselves or
after themselves, who regarded their own existence as that of a
transient and a fortuitous being,--like the little life of a plant or
a beetle,--had a glimpse of Heaven. Never did music more truly merit
the epithet divine. The consoling notes, as they were poured out,
enveloped their souls in soft and soothing airs. On these vapors,
almost visible, as it seemed to the listeners, like the marble shapes
about them in the silver moonlight, angels sat whose wings, devoutly
waving, expressed adoration and love. The simple, artless melody
penetrated to the soul as with a beam of light. It was a holy passion!
But the singer's vanity roused them from their emotion with a terrible
"Now, am I a bad singer?" he exclaimed, as he ended.
His audience only regretted that the instrument was not a thing of
Heaven. This angelic song was then no more than the outcome of a man's
offended vanity! The singer felt nothing, thought nothing, of the
pious sentiments and divine images he could create in others,--no
more, in fact, than Paganini's violin knows what the player makes it
utter. What they had seen in fancy was Venice lifting its shroud and
singing--and it was merely the result of a tenor's /fiasco/!
"Can you guess the meaning of such a phenomenon?" the Frenchman asked
of Capraja, wishing to make him talk, as the Duchess had spoken of him
as a profound thinker.
"What phenomenon?" said Capraja.
"Genovese--who is admirable in the absence of la Tinti, and when he
sings with her is a braying ass."
"He obeys an occult law of which one of your chemists might perhaps
give you the mathematical formula, and which the next century will no
doubt express in a statement full of /x/, /a/, and /b/, mixed up with
little algebraic signs, bars, and quirks that give me the colic; for
the finest conceptions of mathematics do not add much to the sum total
of our enjoyment.
"When an artist is so unfortunate as to be full of the passion he
wishes to express, he cannot depict it because he is the thing itself
instead of its image. Art is the work of the brain, not of the heart.
When you are possessed by a subject you are a slave, not a master; you
are like a king besieged by his people. Too keen a feeling, at the
moment when you want to represent that feeling, causes an insurrection
of the senses against the governing faculty."
"Might we not convince ourselves of this by some further experiment?"
said the doctor.
"Cataneo, you might bring your tenor and the prima donna together
again," said Capraja to his friend.
"Well, gentlemen," said the Duke, "come to sup with me. We ought to
reconcile the tenor and la Clarina; otherwise the season will be
ruined in Venice."
The invitation was accepted.
"Gondoliers!" called Cataneo.
"One minute," said Vendramin. "Memmi is waiting for me at Florian's; I
cannot leave him to himself. We must make him tipsy to-night, or he
will kill himself to-morrow."
"/Corpo santo!/" exclaimed the Duke. "I must keep that young fellow
alive, for the happiness and future prospects of my race. I will
invite him, too."
They all went back to Florian's, where the assembled crowd were
holding an eager and stormy discussion to which the tenor's arrival
put an end. In one corner, near a window looking out on the colonnade,
gloomy, with a fixed gaze and rigid attitude, Emilio was a dismal
image of despair.
"That crazy fellow," said the physician, in French, to Vendramin,
"does not know what he wants. Here is a man who can make of a
Massimilla Doni a being apart from the rest of creation, possessing
her in heaven, amid ideal splendor such as no power on earth can make
real. He can behold his mistress for ever sublime and pure, can always
hear within him what we have just heard on the seashore; can always
live in the light of a pair of eyes which create for him the warm and
golden glow that surrounds the Virgin in Titian's Assumption,--after
Raphael had invented it or had it revealed to him for the
Transfiguration,--and this man only longs to smirch the poem.
"By my advice he must needs combine his sensual joys and his heavenly
adoration in one woman. In short, like all the rest of us, he will
have a mistress. He had a divinity, and the wretched creature insists
on her being a female! I assure you, monsieur, he is resigning heaven.
I will not answer for it that he may not ultimately die of despair.
"O ye women's faces, delicately outlined in a pure and radiant oval,
reminding us of those creations of art where it has most successfully
competed with nature! Divine feet that cannot walk, slender forms that
an earthly breeze would break, shapes too frail ever to conceive,
virgins that we dreamed of as we grew out of childhood, admired in
secret, and adored without hope, veiled in the beams of some
unwearying desire,--maids whom we may never see again, but whose smile
remains supreme in our life, what hog of Epicurus could insist on
dragging you down to the mire of this earth!
"The sun, monsieur, gives light and heat to the world, only because it
is at a distance of thirty-three millions of leagues. Get nearer to
it, and science warns you that it is not really hot or luminous,--for
science is of some use," he added, looking at Capraja.
"Not so bad for a Frenchman and a doctor," said Capraja, patting the
foreigner on the shoulder. "You have in those words explained the
thing which Europeans least understand in all Dante: his Beatrice.
Yes, Beatrice, that ideal figure, the queen of the poet's fancies,
chosen above all the elect, consecrated with tears, deified by memory,
and for ever young in the presence of ineffectual desire!"
"Prince," said the Duke to Emilio, "come and sup with me. You cannot
refuse the poor Neapolitan whom you have robbed both of his wife and
of his mistress."
This broad Neapolitan jest, spoken with an aristocratic good manner,
made Emilio smile; he allowed the Duke to take his arm and lead him
Cataneo had already sent a messenger to his house from the cafe.
As the Palazzo Memmi was on the Grand Canal, not far from Santa Maria
della Salute, the way thither on foot was round by the Rialto, or it
could be reached in a gondola. The four guests would not separate and
preferred to walk; the Duke's infirmities obliged him to get into his
At about two in the morning anybody passing the Memmi palace would
have seen light pouring out of every window across the Grand Canal,
and have heard the delightful overture to /Semiramide/ performed at
the foot of the steps by the orchestra of the /Fenice/, as a serenade
to la Tinti.
The company were at supper in the second floor gallery. From the
balcony la Tinti in return sang Almavida's /Buona sera/ from /Il
Barbiere/, while the Duke's steward distributed payment from his
master to the poor artists and bid them to dinner the next day, such
civilities as are expected of grand signors who protect singers, and
of fine ladies who protect tenors and basses. In these cases there is
nothing for it but to marry all the /corps de theatre/.
Cataneo did things handsomely; he was the manager's banker, and this
season was costing him two thousand crowns.
He had had all the palace furnished, had imported a French cook, and
wines of all lands. So the supper was a regal entertainment.
The Prince, seated next la Tinti, was keenly alive, all through the
meal, to what poets in every language call the darts of love. The
transcendental vision of Massimilla was eclipsed, just as the idea of
God is sometimes hidden by clouds of doubt in the consciousness of
solitary thinkers. Clarina thought herself the happiest woman in the
world as she perceived Emilio was in love with her. Confident of
retaining him, her joy was reflected in her features, her beauty was
so dazzling that the men, as they lifted their glasses, could not
resist bowing to her with instinctive admiration.
"The Duchess is not to compare with la Tinti," said the Frenchman,
forgetting his theory under the fire of the Sicilian's eyes.
The tenor ate and drank languidly; he seemed to care only to identify
himself with the prima donna's life, and had lost the hearty sense of
enjoyment which is characteristic of Italian men singers.
"Come, signorina," said the Duke, with an imploring glance at Clarina,
"and you, /caro prima uomo/," he added to Genovese, "unite your voices
in one perfect sound. Let us have the C of /Qual portento/, when light
appears in the oratorio we have just heard, to convince my old friend
Capraja of the superiority of unison to any embellishment."
"I will carry her off from that Prince she is in love with; for she
adores him--it stares me in the face!" said Genovese to himself.
What was the amazement of the guests who had heard Genovese out of
doors, when he began to bray, to coo, mew, squeal, gargle, bellow,
thunder, bark, shriek, even produce sounds which could only be
described as a hoarse rattle,--in short, go through an
incomprehensible farce, while his face was transfigured with rapturous
expression like that of a martyr, as painted by Zurbaran or Murillo,
Titian or Raphael. The general shout of laughter changed to almost
tragical gravity when they saw that Genovese was in utter earnest. La
Tinti understood that her companion was in love with her, and had
spoken the truth on the stage, the land of falsehood.
"/Poverino!/" she murmured, stroking the Prince's hand under the
"By all that is holy!" cried Capraja, "will you tell me what score you
are reading at this moment--murdering Rossini? Pray inform us what you
are thinking about, what demon is struggling in your throat."
"A demon!" cried Genovese, "say rather the god of music. My eyes, like
those of Saint-Cecilia, can see angels, who, pointing with their
fingers, guide me along the lines of the score which is written in
notes of fire, and I am trying to keep up with them. PER DIO! do you
not understand? The feeling that inspires me has passed into my being;
it fills my heart and my lungs; my soul and throat have but one life.
"Have you never, in a dream, listened to the most glorious strains,
the ideas of unknown composers who have made use of pure sound as
nature has hidden it in all things,--sound which we call forth, more
or less perfectly, by the instruments we employ to produce masses of
various color; but which in those dream-concerts are heard free from
the imperfections of the performers who cannot be all feeling, all
soul? And I, I give you that perfection, and you abuse me!
"You are as mad at the pit of the /Fenice/, who hissed me! I scorned
the vulgar crowd for not being able to mount with me to the heights
whence we reign over art, and I appeal to men of mark, to a Frenchman
--Why, he is gone!"
"Half an hour ago," said Vendramin.
"That is a pity. He, perhaps, would have understood me, since
Italians, lovers of art, do not--"
"On you go!" said Capraja, with a smile, and tapping lightly on the
tenor's head. "Ride off on the divine Ariosto's hippogriff; hunt down
your radiant chimera, musical visionary as you are!"
In point of fact, all the others, believing that Genovese was drunk,
let him talk without listening to him. Capraja alone had understood
the case put by the French physician.
While the wine of Cyprus was loosening every tongue, and each one was
prancing on his favorite hobby, the doctor, in a gondola, was waiting
for the Duchess, having sent her a note written by Vendramin.
Massimilla appeared in her night wrapper, so much had she been alarmed
by the tone of the Prince's farewell, and so startled by the hopes
held out by the letter.
"Madame," said the Frenchman, as he placed her in a seat and desired
the gondoliers to start, "at this moment Prince Emilio's life is in
danger, and you alone can save him."
"What is to be done?" she asked.
"Ah! Can you resign yourself to play a degrading part--in spite of the
noblest face to be seen in Italy? Can you drop from the blue sky where
you dwell, into the bed of a courtesan? In short, can you, an angel of
refinement, of pure and spotless beauty, condescend to imagine what
the love must be of a Tinti--in her room, and so effectually as to
deceive the ardor of Emilio, who is indeed too drunk to be very clear-
"Is that all?" said she, with a smile that betrayed to the Frenchman a
side he had not as yet perceived of the delightful nature of an
Italian woman in love. "I will out-do la Tinti, if need be, to save my
"And you will thus fuse into one two kinds of love, which he sees as
distinct--divided by a mountain of poetic fancy, that will melt away
like the snow on a glacier under the beams of the midsummer sun."
"I shall be eternally your debtor," said the Duchess, gravely.
When the French doctor returned to the gallery, where the orgy had by
this time assumed the stamp of Venetian frenzy, he had a look of
satisfaction which the Prince, absorbed by la Tinti, failed to
observe; he was promising himself a repetition of the intoxicating
delights he had known. La Tinti, a true Sicilian, was floating on the
tide of a fantastic passion on the point of being gratified.
The doctor whispered a few words to Vendramin, and la Tinti was
"What are you plotting?" she inquired of the Prince's friend.
"Are you kind-hearted?" said the doctor in her ear, with the sternness
of an operator.
The words pierced to her comprehension like a dagger-thrust to her
"It is to save Emilio's life," added Vendramin.
"Come here," said the doctor to Clarina.
The hapless singer rose and went to the other end of the table where,
between Vendramin and the Frenchman, she looked like a criminal
between the confessor and the executioner.
She struggled for a long time, but yielded at last for love of Emilio.
The doctor's last words were:
"And you must cure Genovese!"
She spoke a word to the tenor as she went round the table. She
returned to the Prince, put her arm round his neck and kissed his hair
with an expression of despair which struck Vendramin and the
Frenchman, the only two who had their wits about them, then she
vanished into her room. Emilio, seeing Genovese leave the table, while
Cataneo and Capraja were absorbed in a long musical discussion, stole
to the door of the bedroom, lifted the curtain, and slipped in, like
an eel into the mud.
"But you see, Cataneo," said Capraja, "you have exacted the last drop
of physical enjoyment, and there you are, hanging on a wire like a
cardboard harlequin, patterned with scars, and never moving unless the
string is pulled of a perfect unison."
"And you, Capraja, who have squeezed ideas dry, are not you in the
same predicament? Do you not live riding the hobby of a /cadenza/?"
"I? I possess the whole world!" cried Capraja, with a sovereign
gesture of his hand.
"And I have devoured it!" replied the Duke.
They observed that the physician and Vendramin were gone, and that
they were alone.
Next morning, after a night of perfect happiness, the Prince's sleep
was disturbed by a dream. He felt on his heart the trickle of pearls,
dropped there by an angel; he woke, and found himself bathed in the
tears of Massimilla Doni. He was lying in her arms, and she gazed at
him as he slept.
That evening, at the /Fenice/,--though la Tinti had not allowed him to
rise till two in the afternoon, which is said to be very bad for a
tenor voice,--Genovese sang divinely in his part in /Semiramide/. He
was recalled with la Tinti, fresh crowns were given, the pit was wild
with delight; the tenor no longer attempted to charm the prima donna
by angelic methods.
Vendramin was the only person whom the doctor could not cure. Love for
a country that has ceased to be is a love beyond curing. The young
Venetian, by dint of living in his thirteenth century republic, and in
the arms of that pernicious courtesan called opium, when he found
himself in the work-a-day world to which reaction brought him,
succumbed, pitied and regretted by his friends.
No, how shall the end of this adventure be told--for it is too
disastrously domestic. A word will be enough for the worshipers of the
The Duchess was expecting an infant.
The Peris, the naiads, the fairies, the sylphs of ancient legend, the
Muses of Greece, the Marble Virgins of the Certosa at Pavia, the Day
and Night of Michael Angelo, the little Angels which Bellini was the
first to put at the foot of his Church pictures, and which Raphael
painted so divinely in his Virgin with the Donor, and the Madonna who
shivers at Dresden, the lovely Maidens by Orcagna in the Church of
San-Michele, at Florence, the celestial choir round the tomb in Saint-
Sebaldus, at Nuremberg, the Virgins of the Duomo, at Milan, the whole
population of a hundred Gothic Cathedrals, all the race of beings who
burst their mould to visit you, great imaginative artists--all these
angelic and disembodied maidens gathered round Massimilla's bed, and
PARIS, May 25th, 1839.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Varese, Emilio Memmi, Prince of
Varese, Princess of
Letters of Two Brides
Back to Full Books