By Honore de Balzac
Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring
To Monsieur le Marquis de Belloy
It was sitting by the fire, in a mysterious and magnificent
retreat,—now a thing of the past but surviving in our memory,
—whence our eyes commanded a view of Paris from the heights of
Belleville to those of Belleville, from Montmartre to the
triumphal Arc de l'Etoile, that one morning, refreshed by tea,
amid the myriad suggestions that shoot up and die like rockets
from your sparkling flow of talk, lavish of ideas, you tossed to
my pen a figure worthy of Hoffmann,—that casket of unrecognized
gems, that pilgrim seated at the gate of Paradise with ears to
hear the songs of the angels but no longer a tongue to repeat
them, playing on the ivory keys with fingers crippled by the
stress of divine inspiration, believing that he is expressing
celestial music to his bewildered listeners.
It was you who created GAMBARA; I have only clothed him. Let me
render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, regretting only
that you do not yourself take up the pen at a time when gentlemen
ought to wield it as well as the sword, if they are to save their
country. You may neglect yourself, but you owe your talents to us.
New Year's Day of 1831 was pouring out its packets of sugared almonds,
four o'clock was striking, there was a mob in the Palais-Royal, and the
eating-houses were beginning to fill. At this moment a coupe drew up at
the perron and a young man stepped out; a man of haughty
appearance, and no doubt a foreigner; otherwise he would not have
displayed the aristocratic chasseur who attended him in a plumed
hat, nor the coat of arms which the heroes of July still attacked.
This gentleman went into the Palais-Royal, and followed the crowd round
the galleries, unamazed at the slowness to which the throng of loungers
reduced his pace; he seemed accustomed to the stately step which is
ironically nicknamed the ambassador's strut; still, his dignity had a
touch of the theatrical. Though his features were handsome and imposing,
his hat, from beneath which thick black curls stood out, was perhaps
tilted a little too much over the right ear, and belied his gravity by a
too rakish effect. His eyes, inattentive and half closed, looked down
disdainfully on the crowd.
"There goes a remarkably good-looking young man," said a girl in a low
voice, as she made way for him to pass.
"And who is only too well aware of it!" replied her companion aloud—who
was very plain.
After walking all round the arcades, the young man looked by turns at the
sky and at his watch, and with a shrug of impatience went into a
tobacconist's shop, lighted a cigar, and placed himself in front of a
looking-glass to glance at his costume, which was rather more ornate than
the rules of French taste allow. He pulled down his collar and his black
velvet waistcoat, over which hung many festoons of the thick gold chain
that is made at Venice; then, having arranged the folds of his cloak by a
single jerk of his left shoulder, draping it gracefully so as to show the
velvet lining, he started again on parade, indifferent to the glances of
As soon as the shops were lighted up and the dusk seemed to him black
enough, he went out into the square in front of the Palais-Royal, but as a
man anxious not to be recognized; for he kept close under the houses as
far as the fountain, screened by the hackney-cab stand, till he reached
the Rue Froid-Manteau, a dirty, poky, disreputable street—a sort of
sewer tolerated by the police close to the purified purlieus of the
Palais-Royal, as an Italian major-domo allows a careless servant to leave
the sweepings of the rooms in a corner of the staircase.
The young man hesitated. He might have been a bedizened citizen's wife
craning her neck over a gutter swollen by the rain. But the hour was not
unpropitious for the indulgence of some discreditable whim. Earlier, he
might have been detected; later, he might find himself cut out. Tempted by
a glance which is encouraging without being inviting, to have followed a
young and pretty woman for an hour, or perhaps for a day, thinking of her
as a divinity and excusing her light conduct by a thousand reasons to her
advantage; to have allowed oneself to believe in a sudden and irresistible
affinity; to have pictured, under the promptings of transient excitement,
a love-adventure in an age when romances are written precisely because
they never happen; to have dreamed of balconies, guitars, stratagems, and
bolts, enwrapped in Almaviva's cloak; and, after inditing a poem in fancy,
to stop at the door of a house of ill-fame, and, crowning all, to discern
in Rosina's bashfulness a reticence imposed by the police—is not all
this, I say, an experience familiar to many a man who would not own it?
The most natural feelings are those we are least willing to confess, and
among them is fatuity. When the lesson is carried no further, the Parisian
profits by it, or forgets it, and no great harm is done. But this would
hardly be the case with this foreigner, who was beginning to think he
might pay too dearly for his Paris education.
This personage was a Milanese of good family, exiled from his native
country, where some "liberal" pranks had made him an object of suspicion
to the Austrian Government. Count Andrea Marcosini had been welcomed in
Paris with the cordiality, essentially French, that a man always finds
there, when he has a pleasant wit, a sounding name, two hundred thousand
francs a year, and a prepossessing person. To such a man banishment could
but be a pleasure tour; his property was simply sequestrated, and his
friends let him know that after an absence of two years he might return to
his native land without danger.
After rhyming crudeli affanni with i miei tiranni in a dozen
or so of sonnets, and maintaining as many hapless Italian refugees out of
his own purse, Count Andrea, who was so unlucky as to be a poet, thought
himself released from patriotic obligations. So, ever since his arrival,
he had given himself up recklessly to the pleasures of every kind which
Paris offers gratis to those who can pay for them. His talents and
his handsome person won him success among women, whom he adored
collectively as beseemed his years, but among whom he had not as yet
distinguished a chosen one. And indeed this taste was, in him, subordinate
to those for music and poetry which he had cultivated from his childhood;
and he thought success in these both more difficult and more glorious to
achieve than in affairs of gallantry, since nature had not inflicted on
him the obstacles men take most pride in defying.
A man, like many another, of complex nature, he was easily fascinated by
the comfort of luxury, without which he could hardly have lived; and, in
the same way, he clung to the social distinctions which his principles
contemned. Thus his theories as an artist, a thinker, and a poet were in
frequent antagonism with his tastes, his feelings, and his habits as a man
of rank and wealth; but he comforted himself for his inconsistencies by
recognizing them in many Parisians, like himself liberal by policy and
aristocrats by nature.
Hence it was not without some uneasiness that he found himself, on
December 31, 1830, under a Paris thaw, following at the heels of a woman
whose dress betrayed the most abject, inveterate, and long-accustomed
poverty, who was no handsomer than a hundred others to be seen any evening
at the play, at the opera, in the world of fashion, and who was certainly
not so young as Madame de Manerville, from whom he had obtained an
assignation for that very day, and who was perhaps waiting for him at that
But in the glance at once tender and wild, swift and deep, which that
woman's black eyes had shot at him by stealth, there was such a world of
buried sorrows and promised joys! And she had colored so fiercely when, on
coming out of a shop where she had lingered a quarter of an hour, her look
frankly met the Count's, who had been waiting for her hard by! In fact,
there were so many buts and ifs, that, possessed by one of
those mad temptations for which there is no word in any language, not even
in that of the orgy, he had set out in pursuit of this woman, hunting her
down like a hardened Parisian.
On the way, whether he kept behind or ahead of this damsel, he studied
every detail of her person and her dress, hoping to dislodge the insane
and ridiculous fancy that had taken up an abode in his brain; but he
presently found in his examination a keener pleasure than he had felt only
the day before in gazing at the perfect shape of a woman he loved, as she
took her bath. Now and again, the unknown fair, bending her head, gave him
a look like that of a kid tethered with its head to the ground, and
finding herself still the object of his pursuit, she hurried on as if to
fly. Nevertheless, each time that a block of carriages, or any other
delay, brought Andrea to her side, he saw her turn away from his gaze
without any signs of annoyance. These signals of restrained feelings
spurred the frenzied dreams that had run away with him, and he gave them
the rein as far as the Rue Froid-Manteau, down which, after many windings,
the damsel vanished, thinking she had thus spoilt the scent of her
pursuer, who was, in fact, startled by this move.
It was now quite dark. Two women, tattooed with rouge, who were drinking
black-currant liqueur at a grocer's counter, saw the young woman and
called her. She paused at the door of the shop, replied in a few soft
words to the cordial greeting offered her, and went on her way. Andrea,
who was behind her, saw her turn into one of the darkest yards out of this
street, of which he did not know the name. The repulsive appearance of the
house where the heroine of his romance had been swallowed up made him feel
sick. He drew back a step to study the neighborhood, and finding an
ill-looking man at his elbow, he asked him for information. The man, who
held a knotted stick in his right hand, placed the left on his hip and
replied in a single word:
But on looking at the Italian, who stood in the light of a street-lamp, he
assumed a servile expression.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said he, suddenly changing his tone. "There is a
restaurant near this, a sort of table-d'hote, where the cooking is pretty
bad and they serve cheese in the soup. Monsieur is in search of the place,
perhaps, for it is easy to see that he is an Italian—Italians are
fond of velvet and of cheese. But if monsieur would like to know of a
better eating-house, an aunt of mine, who lives a few steps off, is very
fond of foreigners."
Andrea raised his cloak as high as his moustache, and fled from the
street, spurred by the disgust he felt at this foul person, whose clothes
and manner were in harmony with the squalid house into which the fair
unknown had vanished. He returned with rapture to the thousand luxuries of
his own rooms, and spent the evening at the Marquise d'Espard's to cleanse
himself, if possible, of the smirch left by the fancy that had driven him
so relentlessly during the day.
And yet, when he was in bed, the vision came back to him, but clearer and
brighter than the reality. The girl was walking in front of him; now and
again as she stepped across a gutter her skirts revealed a round calf; her
shapely hips swayed as she walked. Again Andrea longed to speak to her—and
he dared not, he, Marcosini, a Milanese nobleman! Then he saw her turn
into the dark passage where she had eluded him, and blamed himself for not
having followed her.
"For, after all," said he to himself, "if she really wished to avoid me
and put me off her track, it is because she loves me. With women of that
stamp, coyness is a proof of love. Well, if I had carried the adventure
any further, it would, perhaps, have ended in disgust. I will sleep in
The Count was in the habit of analyzing his keenest sensations, as men do
involuntarily when they have as much brains as heart, and he was surprised
when he saw the strange damsel of the Rue Froid-Manteau once more, not in
the pictured splendor of his dream but in the bare reality of dreary fact.
And, in spite of it all, if fancy had stripped the woman of her livery of
misery, it would have spoilt her for him; for he wanted her, he longed for
her, he loved her—with her muddy stockings, her slipshod feet, her
straw bonnet! He wanted her in the very house where he had seen her go in.
"Am I bewitched by vice, then?" he asked himself in dismay. "Nay, I have
not yet reached that point. I am but three-and-twenty, and there is
nothing of the senile fop about me."
The very vehemence of the whim that held possession of him to some extent
reassured him. This strange struggle, these reflections, and this love in
pursuit may perhaps puzzle some persons who are accustomed to the ways of
Paris life; but they may be reminded that Count Andrea Marcosini was not a
Brought up by two abbes, who, in obedience to a very pious father, had
rarely let him out of their sight, Andrea had not fallen in love with a
cousin at the age of eleven, or seduced his mother's maid by the time he
was twelve; he had not studied at school, where a lad does not learn only,
or best, the subjects prescribed by the State; he had lived in Paris but a
few years, and he was still open to those sudden but deep impressions
against which French education and manners are so strong a protection. In
southern lands a great passion is often born of a glance. A gentleman of
Gascony who had tempered strong feelings by much reflection had fortified
himself by many little recipes against sudden apoplexies of taste and
heart, and he advised the Count to indulge at least once a month in a wild
orgy to avert those storms of the soul which, but for such precautions,
are apt to break out at inappropriate moments. Andrea now remembered this
"Well," thought he, "I will begin to-morrow, January 1st."
This explains why Count Andrea Marcosini hovered so shyly before turning
down the Rue Froid-Manteau. The man of fashion hampered the lover, and he
hesitated for some time; but after a final appeal to his courage he went
on with a firm step as far as the house, which he recognized without
There he stopped once more. Was the woman really what he fancied her? Was
he not on the verge of some false move?
At this juncture he remembered the Italian table d'hote, and at once
jumped at the middle course, which would serve the ends alike of his
curiosity and of his reputation. He went in to dine, and made his way down
the passage; at the bottom, after feeling about for some time, he found a
staircase with damp, slippery steps, such as to an Italian nobleman could
only seem a ladder.
Invited to the first floor by the glimmer of a lamp and a strong smell of
cooking, he pushed a door which stood ajar and saw a room dingy with dirt
and smoke, where a wench was busy laying a table for about twenty
customers. None of the guests had yet arrived.
After looking round the dimly lighted room where the paper was dropping in
rags from the walls, the gentleman seated himself by a stove which was
roaring and smoking in the corner.
Attracted by the noise the Count made in coming in and disposing of his
cloak, the major-domo presently appeared. Picture to yourself a lean,
dried-up cook, very tall, with a nose of extravagant dimensions, casting
about him from time to time, with feverish keenness, a glance that he
meant to be cautious. On seeing Andrea, whose attire bespoke considerable
affluence, Signor Giardini bowed respectfully.
The Count expressed his intention of taking his meals as a rule in the
society of some of his fellow-countrymen; he paid in advance for a certain
number of tickets, and ingenuously gave the conversation a familiar bent
to enable him to achieve his purpose quickly.
Hardly had he mentioned the woman he was seeking when Signor Giardini,
with a grotesque shrug, looked knowingly at his customer, a bland smile on
"Basta!" he exclaimed. "Capisco. Your Excellency has come
spurred by two appetites. La Signora Gambara will not have wasted her time
if she has gained the interest of a gentleman so generous as you appear to
be. I can tell you in a few words all we know of the woman, who is really
to be pitied.
"The husband is, I believe, a native of Cremona and has just come here
from Germany. He was hoping to get the Tedeschi to try some new music and
some new instruments. Isn't it pitiable?" said Giardini, shrugging his
shoulders. "Signor Gambara, who thinks himself a great composer, does not
seem to me very clever in other ways. An excellent fellow with some sense
and wit, and sometimes very agreeable, especially when he has had a few
glasses of wine—which does not often happen, for he is desperately
poor; night and day he toils at imaginary symphonies and operas instead of
trying to earn an honest living. His poor wife is reduced to working for
all sorts of people—the women on the streets! What is to be said?
She loves her husband like a father, and takes care of him like a child.
"Many a young man has dined here to pay his court to madame; but not one
has succeeded," said he, emphasizing the word. "La Signora Marianna is an
honest woman, monsieur, much too honest, worse luck for her! Men give
nothing for nothing nowadays. So the poor soul will die in harness.
"And do you suppose that her husband rewards her for her devotion? Pooh,
my lord never gives her a smile! And all their cooking is done at the
baker's; for not only does the wretched man never earn a sou; he spends
all his wife can make on instruments which he carves, and lengthens, and
shortens, and sets up and takes to pieces again till they produce sounds
that will scare a cat; then he is happy. And yet you will find him the
mildest, the gentlest of men. And, he is not idle; he is always at it.
What is to be said? He is crazy and does not know his business. I have
seen him, monsieur, filing and forging his instruments and eating black
bread with an appetite that I envied him—I, who have the best table
"Yes, Excellenza, in a quarter of an hour you shall know the man I am. I
have introduced certain refinements into Italian cookery that will amaze
you! Excellenza, I am a Neapolitan—that is to say, a born cook. But
of what use is instinct without knowledge? Knowledge! I have spent thirty
years in acquiring it, and you see where it has left me. My history is
that of every man of talent. My attempts, my experiments, have ruined
three restaurants in succession at Naples, Parma, and Rome. To this day,
when I am reduced to make a trade of my art, I more often than not give
way to my ruling passion. I give these poor refugees some of my choicest
dishes. I ruin myself! Folly! you will say? I know it; but how can I help
it? Genius carries me away, and I cannot resist concocting a dish which
smiles on my fancy.
"And they always know it, the rascals! They know, I can promise you,
whether I or my wife has stood over the fire. And what is the consequence?
Of sixty-odd customers whom I used to see at my table every day when I
first started in this wretched place, I now see twenty on an average, and
give them credit for the most part. The Piedmontese, the Savoyards, have
deserted, but the connoisseurs, the true Italians, remain. And there is no
sacrifice that I would not make for them. I often give them a dinner for
five and twenty sous which has cost me double."
Signore Giardini's speech had such a full flavor of Neapolitan cunning
that the Count was delighted, and could have fancied himself at
"Since that is the case, my good friend," said he familiarly to the cook,
"and since chance and your confidence have let me into the secret of your
daily sacrifices, allow me to pay double."
As he spoke Andrea spun a forty-franc piece on the stove, out of which
Giardini solemnly gave him two francs and fifty centimes in change, not
without a certain ceremonious mystery that amused him hugely.
"In a few minutes now," the man added, "you will see your donnina.
I will seat you next the husband, and if you wish to stand in his good
graces, talk about music. I have invited every one for the evening, poor
things. Being New Year's Day, I am treating the company to a dish in which
I believe I have surpassed myself."
Signor Giardini's voice was drowned by the noisy greetings of the guests,
who streamed in two and two, or one at a time, after the manner of
tables-d'hote. Giardini stayed by the Count, playing the showman by
telling him who the company were. He tried by his witticisms to bring a
smile to the lips of a man who, as his Neapolitan instinct told him, might
be a wealthy patron to turn to good account.
"This one," said he, "is a poor composer who would like to rise from
song-writing to opera, and cannot. He blames the managers, music-sellers,—everybody,
in fact, but himself, and he has no worse enemy. You can see—what a
florid complexion, what self-conceit, how little firmness in his features!
he is made to write ballads. The man who is with him and looks like a
match-hawker, is a great music celebrity—Gigelmi, the greatest
Italian conductor known; but he has gone deaf, and is ending his days in
penury, deprived of all that made it tolerable. Ah! here comes our great
Ottoboni, the most guileless old fellow on earth; but he is suspected of
being the most vindictive of all who are plotting for the regeneration of
Italy. I cannot think how they can bear to banish such a good man."
And here Giardini looked narrowly at the Count, who, feeling himself under
inquisition as to his politics, entrenched himself in Italian
"A man whose business it is to cook for all comers can have no political
opinions, Excellenza," Giardini went on. "But to see that worthy man, who
looks more like a lamb than a lion, everybody would say what I say, were
it before the Austrian ambassador himself. Besides, in these times liberty
is no longer proscribed; it is going its rounds again. At least, so these
good people think," said he, leaning over to speak in the Count's ear,
"and why should I thwart their hopes? I, for my part, do not hate an
absolute government. Excellenza, every man of talent is for depotism!
"Well, though full of genius, Ottoboni takes no end of pains to educate
Italy; he writes little books to enlighten the intelligence of the
children and the common people, and he smuggles them very cleverly into
Italy. He takes immense trouble to reform the moral sense of our luckless
country, which, after all, prefers pleasure to freedom,—and perhaps
it is right."
The Count preserved such an impenetrable attitude that the cook could
discover nothing of his political views.
"Ottoboni," he ran on, "is a saint; very kind-hearted; all the refugees
are fond of him; for, Excellenza, a liberal may have his virtues. Oho!
Here comes a journalist," said Giardini, as a man came in dressed in the
absurd way which used to be attributed to a poet in a garret; his coat was
threadbare, his boots split, his hat shiny, and his overcoat deplorably
ancient. "Excellenza, that poor man is full of talent, and incorruptibly
honest. He was born into the wrong times, for he tells the truth to
everybody; no one can endure him. He writes theatrical articles for two
small papers, though he is clever enough to work for the great dailies.
"The rest are not worth mentioning, and Your Excellency will find them
out," he concluded, seeing that on the entrance of the musician's wife the
Count had ceased to listen to him.
On seeing Andrea here, Signora Marianna started visibly and a bright flush
tinged her cheeks.
"Here he is!" said Giardini, in an undertone, clutching the Count's arm
and nodding to a tall man. "How pale and grave he is poor man! His hobby
has not trotted to his mind to-day, I fancy."
Andrea's prepossession for Marianna was crossed by the captivating charm
which Gambara could not fail to exert over every genuine artist. The
composer was now forty; but although his high brow was bald and lined with
a few parallel, but not deep, wrinkles; in spite, too, of hollow temples
where the blue veins showed through the smooth, transparent skin, and of
the deep sockets in which his black eyes were sunk, with their large lids
and light lashes, the lower part of his face made him still look young, so
calm was its outline, so soft the modeling. It could be seen at a glance
that in this man passion had been curbed to the advantage of the
intellect; that the brain alone had grown old in some great struggle.
Andrea shot a swift look at Marianna, who was watching him. And he noted
the beautiful Italian head, the exquisite proportion and rich coloring
that revealed one of those organizations in which every human power is
harmoniously balanced, he sounded the gulf that divided this couple,
brought together by fate. Well content with the promise he inferred from
this dissimilarity between the husband and wife, he made no attempt to
control a liking which ought to have raised a barrier between the fair
Marianna and himself. He was already conscious of feeling a sort of
respectful pity for this man, whose only joy she was, as he understood the
dignified and serene acceptance of ill fortune that was expressed in
Gambara's mild and melancholy gaze.
After expecting to see one of the grotesque figures so often set before us
by German novelists and writers of libretti, he beheld a simple,
unpretentious man, whose manners and demeanor were in nothing strange and
did not lack dignity. Without the faintest trace of luxury, his dress was
more decent than might have been expected from his extreme poverty, and
his linen bore witness to the tender care which watched over every detail
of his existence. Andrea looked at Marianna with moistened eyes; and she
did not color, but half smiled, in a way that betrayed, perhaps, some
pride at this speechless homage. The Count, too thoroughly fascinated to
miss the smallest indication of complaisance, fancied that she must love
him, since she understood him so well.
From this moment he set himself to conquer the husband rather than the
wife, turning all his batteries against the poor Gambara, who quite
guilelessly went on eating Signor Giardini's bocconi, without
thinking of their flavor.
The Count opened the conversation on some trivial subject, but at the
first words he perceived that this brain, supposed to be infatuated on one
point, was remarkably clear on all others, and saw that it would be far
more important to enter into this very clever man's ideas than to flatter
The rest of the company, a hungry crew whose brain only responded to the
sight of a more or less good meal, showed much animosity to the luckless
Gambara, and waited only till the end of the first course, to give free
vent to their satire. A refugee, whose frequent leer betrayed ambitious
schemes on Marianna, and who fancied he could establish himself in her
good graces by trying to make her husband ridiculous, opened fire to show
the newcomer how the land lay at the table-d'hote.
"It is a very long time since we have heard anything about the opera on
'Mahomet'!" cried he, with a smile at Marianna. "Can it be that Paolo
Gambara, wholly given up to domestic cares, absorbed by the charms of the
chimney-corner, is neglecting his superhuman genius, leaving his talents
to get cold and his imagination to go flat?"
Gambara knew all the company; he dwelt in a sphere so far above them all
that he no longer cared to repel an attack. He made no reply.
"It is not given to everybody," said the journalist, "to have an intellect
that can understand Monsieur Gambara's musical efforts, and that, no
doubt, is why our divine maestro hesitates to come before the worthy
"And yet," said the ballad-monger, who had not opened his mouth but to
swallow everything that came within his reach, "I know some men of talent
who think highly of the judgments of Parisian critics. I myself have a
pretty reputation as a musician," he went on, with an air of diffidence.
"I owe it solely to my little songs in vaudevilles, and the success
of my dance music in drawing-rooms; but I propose ere long to bring out a
mass composed for the anniversary of Beethoven's death, and I expect to be
better appreciated in Paris than anywhere else. You will perhaps do me the
honor of hearing it?" he said, turning to Andrea.
"Thank you," said the Count. "But I do not conceive that I am gifted with
the organs needful for the appreciation of French music. If you were dead,
monsieur, and Beethoven had composed the mass, I would not have failed to
attend the performance."
This retort put an end to the tactics of those who wanted to set Gambara
off on his high horse to amuse the new guest. Andrea was already conscious
of an unwillingness to expose so noble and pathetic a mania as a spectacle
for so much vulgar shrewdness. It was with no base reservation that he
kept up a desultory conversation, in the course of which Signor Giardini's
nose not infrequently interposed between two remarks. Whenever Gambara
uttered some elegant repartee or some paradoxical aphorism, the cook put
his head forward, to glance with pity at the musician and with meaning at
the Count, muttering in his ear, "E matto!"
Then came a moment when the chef interrupted the flow of his
judicial observations to devote himself to the second course, which he
considered highly important. During his absence, which was brief, Gambara
leaned across to address Andrea.
"Our worthy host," said he, in an undertone, "threatens to regale us
to-day with a dish of his own concocting, which I recommend you to avoid,
though his wife has had an eye on him. The good man has a mania for
innovations. He ruined himself by experiments, the last of which compelled
him to fly from Rome without a passport—a circumstance he does not
talk about. After purchasing the good-will of a popular restaurant he was
trusted to prepare a banquet given by a lately made Cardinal, whose
household was not yet complete. Giardini fancied he had an opportunity for
distinguishing himself—and he succeeded! for that same evening he
was accused of trying to poison the whole conclave, and was obliged to
leave Rome and Italy without waiting to pack up. This disaster was the
last straw. Now," and Gambara put his finger to his forehead and shook his
"He is a good fellow, all the same," he added. "My wife will tell you that
we owe him many a good turn."
Giardini now came in carefully bearing a dish which he set in the middle
of the table, and he then modestly resumed his seat next to Andrea, whom
he served first. As soon as he had tasted the mess, the Count felt that an
impassable gulf divided the second mouthful from the first. He was much
embarrassed, and very anxious not to annoy the cook, who was watching him
narrowly. Though a French restaurateur may care little about seeing
a dish scorned if he is sure of being paid for it, it is not so with an
Italian, who is not often satiated with praises.
To gain time, Andrea complimented Giardini enthusiastically, but he leaned
over to whisper in his ear, and slipping a gold piece into his hand under
the table, begged him to go out and buy a few bottles of champagne,
leaving him free to take all the credit of the treat.
When the Italian returned, every plate was cleared, and the room rang with
praises of the master-cook. The champagne soon mounted these southern
brains, and the conversation, till now subdued in the stranger's presence,
overleaped the limits of suspicious reserve to wander far over the wide
fields of political and artistic opinions.
Andrea, to whom no form of intoxication was known but those of love and
poetry, had soon gained the attention of the company and skilfully led it
to a discussion of matters musical.
"Will you tell me, monsieur," said he to the composer of dance-music, "how
it is that the Napoleon of these tunes can condescend to usurp the place
of Palestrina, Pergolesi, and Mozart,—poor creatures who must pack
and vanish at the advent of that tremendous Mass for the Dead?"
"Well, monsieur," replied the composer, "a musician always finds it
difficult to reply when the answer needs the cooperation of a hundred
skilled executants. Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, without an orchestra
would be of no great account."
"Of no great account!" said Marcosini. "Why, all the world knows that the
immortal author of Don Giovanni and the Requiem was named
Mozart; and I am so unhappy as not to know the name of the inexhaustible
writer of quadrilles which are so popular in our drawing-rooms——"
"Music exists independently of execution," said the retired conductor,
who, in spite of his deafness, had caught a few words of the conversation.
"As he looks through the C-minor symphony by Beethoven, a musician is
transported to the world of fancy on the golden wings of the subject in
G-natural repeated by the horns in E. He sees a whole realm, by turns
glorious in dazzling shafts of light, gloomy under clouds of melancholy,
and cheered by heavenly strains."
"The new school has left Beethoven far behind," said the ballad-writer,
"Beethoven is not yet understood," said the Count. "How can he be
Gambara drank a large glass of champagne, accompanying the draught by a
covert smile of approval.
"Beethoven," the Count went on, "extended the limits of instrumental
music, and no one followed in his track."
Gambara assented with a nod.
"His work is especially noteworthy for simplicity of construction and for
the way the scheme is worked out," the Count went on. "Most composers make
use of the orchestral parts in a vague, incoherent way, combining them for
a merely temporary effect; they do not persistently contribute to the
whole mass of the movement by their steady and regular progress. Beethoven
assigns its part to each tone-quality from the first. Like the various
companies which, by their disciplined movements, contribute to winning a
battle, the orchestral parts of a symphony by Beethoven obey the plan
ordered for the interest of all, and are subordinate to an admirably
"In this he may be compared to a genius of a different type. In Walter
Scott's splendid historical novels, some personage, who seems to have
least to do with the action of the story, intervenes at a given moment and
leads up to the climax by some thread woven into the plot."
"E vero!" remarked Gambara, to whom common sense seemed to return
in inverse proportion to sobriety.
Andrea, eager to carry the test further, for a moment forgot all his
predilections; he proceeded to attack the European fame of Rossini,
disputing the position which the Italian school has taken by storm, night
after night for more than thirty years, on a hundred stages in Europe. He
had undertaken a hard task. The first words he spoke raised a strong
murmur of disapproval; but neither the repeated interruptions, nor
exclamations, nor frowns, nor contemptuous looks, could check this
determined advocate of Beethoven.
"Compare," said he, "that sublime composer's works with what by common
consent is called Italian music. What feebleness of ideas, what limpness
of style! That monotony of form, those commonplace cadenzas, those endless
bravura passages introduced at haphazard irrespective of the dramatic
situation, that recurrent crescendo that Rossini brought into
vogue, are now an integral part of every composition; those vocal
fireworks result in a sort of babbling, chattering, vaporous mucic, of
which the sole merit depends on the greater or less fluency of the singer
and his rapidity of vocalization.
"The Italian school has lost sight of the high mission of art. Instead of
elevating the crowd, it has condescended to the crowd; it has won its
success only by accepting the suffrages of all comers, and appealing to
the vulgar minds which constitute the majority. Such a success is mere
"In short, the compositions of Rossini, in whom this music is personified,
with those of the writers who are more or less of his school, to me seem
worthy at best to collect a crowd in the street round a grinding organ, as
an accompaniment to the capers of a puppet show. I even prefer French
music, and I can say no more. Long live German music!" cried he, "when it
is tuneful," he added to a low voice.
This sally was the upshot of a long preliminary discussion, in which, for
more than a quarter of an hour, Andrea had divagated in the upper sphere
of metaphysics, with the ease of a somnambulist walking over the roofs.
Gambara, keenly interested in all this transcendentalism, had not lost a
word; he took up his parable as soon as Andrea seemed to have ended, and a
little stir of revived attention was evident among the guests, of whom
several had been about to leave.
"You attack the Italian school with much vigor," said Gambara, somewhat
warmed to his work by the champagne, "and, for my part, you are very
welcome. I, thank God, stand outside this more or less melodic frippery.
Still, as a man of the world, you are too ungrateful to the classic land
whence Germany and France derived their first teaching. While the
compositions of Carissimi, Cavalli, Scarlatti, and Rossi were being played
throughout Italy, the violin players of the Paris opera house enjoyed the
singular privilege of being allowed to play in gloves. Lulli, who extended
the realm of harmony, and was the first to classify discords, on arriving
in France found but two men—a cook and a mason—whose voice and
intelligence were equal to performing his music; he made a tenor of the
former, and transformed the latter into a bass. At that time Germany had
no musician excepting Sebastian Bach.—But you, monsieur, though you
are so young," Gambara added, in the humble tone of a man who expects to
find his remarks received with scorn or ill-nature, "must have given much
time to the study of these high matters of art; you could not otherwise
explain them so clearly."
This word made many of the hearers smile, for they had understood nothing
of the fine distinctions drawn by Andrea. Giardini, indeed, convinced that
the Count had been talking mere rhodomontade, nudged him with a laugh in
his sleeve, as at a good joke in which he flattered himself that he was a
"There is a great deal that strikes me as very true in all you have said,"
Gambara went on; "but be careful. Your argument, while reflecting on
Italian sensuality, seems to me to lean towards German idealism, which is
no less fatal heresy. If men of imagination and good sense, like you,
desert one camp only to join the other; if they cannot keep to the happy
medium between two forms of extravagance, we shall always be exposed to
the satire of the sophists, who deny all progress, who compare the genius
of man to this tablecloth, which, being too short to cover the whole of
Signor Giardini's table, decks one end at the expense of the other."
Giardini bounded in his seat as if he had been stung by a horse-fly, but
swift reflections restored him to his dignity as a host; he looked up to
heaven and again nudged the Count, who was beginning to think the cook
more crazy than Gambara.
This serious and pious way of speaking of art interested the Milanese
extremely. Seated between these two distracted brains, one so noble and
the other so common, and making game of each other to the great
entertainment of the crowd, there was a moment when the Count found
himself wavering between the sublime and its parody, the farcical extremes
of human life. Ignoring the chain of incredible events which had brought
them to this smoky den, he believed himself to be the plaything of some
strange hallucination, and thought of Gambara and Giardini as two
Meanwhile, after a last piece of buffoonery from the deaf conductor in
reply to Gambara, the company had broken up laughing loudly. Giardini went
off to make coffee, which he begged the select few to accept, and his wife
cleared the table. The Count, sitting near the stove between Marianna and
Gambara, was in the very position which the mad musician thought most
desirable, with sensuousness on one side and idealism on the other.
Gambara finding himself for the first time in the society of a man who did
not laugh at him to his face, soon diverged from generalities to talk of
himself, of his life, his work, and the musical regeneration of which he
believed himself to be the Messiah.
"Listen," said he, "you who so far have not insulted me. I will tell you
the story of my life; not to make a boast of my perseverance, which is no
virtue of mine, but to the greater glory of Him who has given me strength.
You seem kind and pious; if you do not believe in me at least you will
pity me. Pity is human; faith comes from God."
Andrea turned and drew back under his chair the foot that had been seeking
that of the fair Marianna, fixing his eyes on her while listening to
"I was born at Cremona, the son of an instrument maker, a fairly good
performer and an even better composer," the musician began. "Thus at an
early age I had mastered the laws of musical construction in its twofold
aspects, the material and the spiritual; and as an inquisitive child I
observed many things which subsequently recurred to the mind of the
"The French turned us out of our own home—my father and me. We were
ruined by the war. Thus, at the age of ten I entered on the wandering life
to which most men have been condemned whose brains were busy with
innovations, whether in art, science, or politics. Fate, or the instincts
of their mind which cannot fit into the compartments where the trading
class sit, providentially guides them to the spots where they may find
teaching. Led by my passion for music I wandered throughout Italy from
theatre to theatre, living on very little, as men can live there.
Sometimes I played the bass in an orchestra, sometimes I was on the boards
in the chorus, sometimes under them with the carpenters. Thus I learned
every kind of musical effect, studying the tones of instruments and of the
human voice, wherein they differed and how they harmonized, listening to
the score and applying the rules taught me by my father.
"It was hungry work, in a land where the sun always shines, where art is
all pervading, but where there is no pay for the artist, since Rome is but
nominally the Sovereign of the Christian world. Sometimes made welcome,
sometimes scouted for my poverty, I never lost courage. I heard a voice
within me promising me fame.
"Music seemed to me in its infancy, and I think so still. All that is left
to us of musical effort before the seventeenth century, proves to me that
early musicians knew melody only; they were ignorant of harmony and its
immense resources. Music is at once a science and an art. It is rooted in
physics and mathematics, hence it is a science; inspiration makes it an
art, unconsciously utilizing the theorems of science. It is founded in
physics by the very nature of the matter it works on. Sound is air in
motion. The air is formed of constituents which, in us, no doubt, meet
with analogous elements that respond to them, sympathize, and magnify them
by the power of the mind. Thus the air must include a vast variety of
molecules of various degrees of elasticity, and capable of vibrating in as
many different periods as there are tones from all kinds of sonorous
bodies; and these molecules, set in motion by the musician and falling on
our ear, answer to our ideas, according to each man's temperament. I
myself believe that sound is identical in its nature with light. Sound is
light, perceived under another form; each acts through vibrations to which
man is sensitive and which he transforms, in the nervous centres, into
"Music, like painting, makes use of materials which have the property of
liberating this or that property from the surrounding medium and so
suggesting an image. The instruments in music perform this part, as color
does in painting. And whereas each sound produced by a sonorous body is
invariably allied with its major third and fifth, whereas it acts on
grains of fine sand lying on stretched parchment so as to distribute them
in geometrical figures that are always the same, according to the pitch,—quite
regular when the combination is a true chord, and indefinite when the
sounds are dissonant,—I say that music is an art conceived in the
very bowels of nature.
"Music is subject to physical and mathematical laws. Physical laws are but
little known, mathematics are well understood; and it is since their
relations have been studied, that the harmony has been created to which we
owe the works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Rossini, grand geniuses,
whose music is undoubtedly nearer to perfection than that of their
precursors, though their genius, too, is unquestionable. The old masters
could sing, but they had not art and science at their command,—a
noble alliance which enables us to merge into one the finest melody and
the power of harmony.
"Now, if a knowledge of mathematical laws gave us these four great
musicians, what may we not attain to if we can discover the physical laws
in virtue of which—grasp this clearly—we may collect, in
larger or smaller quantities, according to the proportions we may require,
an ethereal substance diffused in the atmosphere which is the medium alike
of music and of light, of the phenomena of vegetation and of animal life!
Do you follow me? Those new laws would arm the composer with new powers by
supplying him with instruments superior of those now in use, and perhaps
with a potency of harmony immense as compared with that now at his
command. If every modified shade of sound answers to a force, that must be
known to enable us to combine all these forces in accordance with their
"Composers work with substances of which they know nothing. Why should a
brass and a wooden instrument—a bassoon and horn—have so
little identity of tone, when they act on the same matter, the constituent
gases of the air? Their differences proceed from some displacement of
those constituents, from the way they act on the elements which are their
affinity and which they return, modified by some occult and unknown
process. If we knew what the process was, science and art would both be
gainers. Whatever extends science enhances art.
"Well, these are the discoveries I have guessed and made. Yes," said
Gambara, with increasing vehemence, "hitherto men have noted effects
rather than causes. If they could but master the causes, music would be
the greatest of the arts. Is it not the one which strikes deepest to the
soul? You see in painting no more than it shows you; in poetry you have
only what the poet says; music goes far beyond this. Does it not form your
taste, and rouse dormant memories? In a concert-room there may be a
thousand souls; a strain is flung out from Pasta's throat, the execution
worthily answering to the ideas that flashed through Rossini's mind as he
wrote the air. That phrase of Rossini's, transmitted to those attentive
souls, is worked out in so many different poems. To one it presents a
woman long dreamed of; to another, some distant shore where he wandered
long ago. It rises up before him with its drooping willows, its clear
waters, and the hopes that then played under its leafy arbors. One woman
is reminded of the myriad feelings that tortured her during an hour of
jealousy, while another thinks of the unsatisfied cravings of her heart,
and paints in the glowing hues of a dream an ideal lover, to whom she
abandons herself with the rapture of the woman in the Roman mosaic who
embraces a chimera; yet a third is thinking that this very evening some
hoped-for joy is to be hers, and rushes by anticipation into the tide of
happiness, its dashing waves breaking against her burning bosom. Music
alone has this power of throwing us back on ourselves; the other arts give
us infinite pleasure. But I am digressing.
"These were my first ideas, vague indeed; for an inventor at the beginning
only catches glimpses of the dawn, as it were. So I kept these glorious
ideas at the bottom of my knapsack, and they gave me spirit to eat the dry
crust I often dipped in the water of a spring. I worked, I composed airs,
and, after playing them on any instrument that came to hand, I went off
again on foot across Italy. Finally, at the age of two-and-twenty, I
settled in Venice, where for the first time I enjoyed rest and found
myself in a decent position. I there made the acquaintance of a Venetian
nobleman who liked my ideas, who encouraged me in my investigations, and
who got me employment at the Venice theatre.
"Living was cheap, lodging inexpensive. I had a room in that Capello
palace from which the famous Bianca came forth one evening to become a
Grand Duchess of Tuscany. And I would dream that my unrecognized fame
would also emerge from thence one day to be crowned.
"I spent my evenings at the theatre and my days in work. Then came
disaster. The performance of an opera in which I had experimented, trying
my music, was a failure. No one understood my score for the Martiri.
Set Beethoven before the Italians and they are out of their depth. No one
had patience enough to wait for the effect to be produced by the different
motives given out by each instrument, which were all at last to combine in
a grand ensemble.
"I had built some hopes on the success of the Martiri, for we
votaries of the blue divinity Hope always discount results. When a man
believes himself destined to do great things, it is hard not to fancy them
achieved; the bushel always has some cracks through which the light
"My wife's family lodged in the same house, and the hope of winning
Marianna, who often smiled at me from her window, had done much to
encourage my efforts. I now fell into the deepest melancholy as I sounded
the depths of a life of poverty, a perpetual struggle in which love must
die. Marianna acted as genius does; she jumped across every obstacle, both
feet at once. I will not speak of the little happiness which shed its
gilding on the beginning of my misfortunes. Dismayed at my failure, I
decided that Italy was not intelligent enough and too much sunk in the
dull round of routine to accept the innovations I conceived of; so I
thought of going to Germany.
"I traveled thither by way of Hungary, listening to the myriad voices of
nature, and trying to reproduce that sublime harmony by the help of
instruments which I constructed or altered for the purpose. These
experiments involved me in vast expenses which had soon exhausted my
savings. And yet those were our golden days. In Germany I was appreciated.
There has been nothing in my life more glorious than that time. I can
think of nothing to compare with the vehement joys I found by the side of
Marianna, whose beauty was then of really heavenly radiance and splendor.
In short, I was happy.
"During that period of weakness I more than once expressed my passion in
the language of earthly harmony. I even wrote some of those airs, just
like geometrical patterns, which are so much admired in the world of
fashion that you move in. But as soon as I made a little way I met with
insuperable obstacles raised by my rivals, all hypercritical or
"I had heard of France as being a country where novelties were favorably
received, and I wanted to get there; my wife had a little money and we
came to Paris. Till then no one had actually laughed in my face; but in
this dreadful city I had to endure that new form of torture, to which
abject poverty ere long added its bitter sufferings. Reduced to lodging in
this mephitic quarter, for many months we have lived exclusively on
Marianna's sewing, she having found employment for her needle in working
for the unhappy prostitutes who make this street their hunting ground.
Marianna assures me that among those poor creatures she has met with such
consideration and generosity as I, for my part, ascribe to the ascendency
of virtue so pure that even vice is compelled to respect it."
"Hope on," said Andrea. "Perhaps you have reached the end of your trials.
And while waiting for the time when my endeavor, seconding yours, shall
set your labors in a true light, allow me, as a fellow-countryman and an
artist like yourself, to offer you some little advances on the undoubted
success of your score."
"All that has to do with matters of material existence I leave to my
wife," replied Gambara. "She will decide as to what we may accept without
a blush from so thorough a gentleman as you seem to be. For my part,—and
it is long since I have allowed myself to indulge such full confidences,—I
must now ask you to allow me to leave you. I see a melody beckoning to me,
dancing and floating before me, bare and quivering, like a girl entreating
her lover for her clothes which he has hidden. Good-night. I must go and
dress my mistress. My wife I leave with you."
He hurried away, as a man who blames himself for the loss of valuable
time; and Marianna, somewhat embarrassed, prepared to follow him.
Andrea dared not detain her.
Giardini came to the rescue.
"But you heard, signora," said he. "Your husband has left you to settle
some little matters with the Signor Conte."
Marianna sat down again, but without raising her eyes to Andrea, who
hesitated before speaking.
"And will not Signor Gambara's confidence entitle me to his wife's?" he
said in agitated tones. "Can the fair Marianna refuse to tell me the story
of her life?"
"My life!" said Marianna. "It is the life of the ivy. If you wish to know
the story of my heart, you must suppose me equally destitute of pride and
of modesty if you can ask me to tell it after what you have just heard."
"Of whom, then, can I ask it?" cried the Count, in whom passion was
blinding his wits.
"Of yourself," replied Marianna. "Either you understand me by this time,
or you never will. Try to ask yourself."
"I will, but you must listen. And this hand, which I am holding, is to lie
in mine as long as my narrative is truthful."
"I am listening," said Marianna.
"A woman's life begins with her first passion," said Andrea. "And my dear
Marianna began to live only on the day when she first saw Paolo Gambara.
She needed some deep passion to feed upon, and, above all, some
interesting weakness to shelter and uphold. The beautiful woman's nature
with which she is endowed is perhaps not so truly passion as maternal
"You sigh, Marianna? I have touched one of the aching wounds in your
heart. It was a noble part for you to play, so young as you were,—that
of protectress to a noble but wandering intellect. You said to yourself:
'Paolo will be my genius; I shall be his common sense; between us we shall
be that almost divine being called an angel,—the sublime creature
that enjoys and understands, reason never stifling love.'
"And then, in the first impetus of youth, you heard the thousand voices of
nature which the poet longed to reproduce. Enthusiasm clutched you when
Paolo spread before you the treasures of poetry, while seeking to embody
them in the sublime but restricted language of music; you admired him when
delirious rapture carried him up and away from you, for you liked to
believe that all this devious energy would at last come down and alight as
love. But you knew not the tyrannous and jealous despotism of the ideal
over the minds that fall in love with it. Gambara, before meeting you, had
given himself over to the haughty and overbearing mistress, with whom you
have struggled for him to this day.
"Once, for an instant, you had a vision of happiness. Paolo, tumbling from
the lofty sphere where his spirit was constantly soaring, was amazed to
find reality so sweet; you fancied that his madness would be lulled in the
arms of love. But before long Music again clutched her prey. The dazzling
mirage which had cheated you into the joys of reciprocal love made the
lonely path on which you had started look more desolate and barren.
"In the tale your husband has just told me, I could read, as plainly as in
the contrast between your looks and his, all the painful secrets of that
ill-assorted union, in which you have accepted the sufferer's part. Though
your conduct has been unfailingly heroical, though your firmness has never
once given way in the exercise of your painful duties, perhaps, in the
silence of lonely nights, the heart that at this moment is beating so
wildly in your breast, may, from time to time, have rebelled. Your
husband's superiority was in itself your worst torment. If he had been
less noble, less single-minded, you might have deserted him; but his
virtues upheld yours; you wondered, perhaps, whether his heroism or your
own would be the first to give way.
"You clung to your really magnanimous task as Paolo clung to his chimera.
If you had had nothing but a devotion to duty to guide and sustain you,
triumph might have seemed easier; you would only have had to crush your
heart, and transfer your life into the world of abstractions; religion
would have absorbed all else, and you would have lived for an idea, like
those saintly women who kill all the instincts of nature at the foot of
the altar. But the all-pervading charm of Paolo, the loftiness of his
mind, his rare and touching proofs of tenderness, constantly drag you down
from that ideal realm where virtue would fain maintain you; they
perennially revive in you the energies you have exhausted in contending
with the phantom of love. You never suspected this! The faintest glimmer
of hope led you on in pursuit of the sweet vision.
"At last the disappointments of many years have undermined your patience,—an
angel would have lost it long since,—and now the apparition so long
pursued is no more than a shade without substance. Madness that is so
nearly allied to genius can know no cure in this world. When this thought
first struck you, you looked back on your past youth, sacrificed, if not
wasted; you then bitterly discerned the blunder of nature that had given
you a father when you looked for a husband. You asked yourself whether you
had not gone beyond the duty of a wife in keeping yourself wholly for a
man who was bound up in his science. Marianna, leave your hand in mine;
all I have said is true. And you looked about you—but now you were
in Paris, not in Italy, where men know how to love——"
"Oh! Let me finish the tale," cried Marianna. "I would rather say things
myself. I will be honest; I feel that I am speaking to my truest friend.
Yes, I was in Paris when all you have expressed so clearly took place in
my mind; but when I saw you I was saved, for I had never met with the love
I had dreamed of from my childhood. My poor dress and my dwelling-place
had hidden me from the eyes of men of your class. A few young men, whose
position did not allow of their insulting me, were all the more
intolerable for the levity with which they treated me. Some made game of
my husband, as if he were merely a ridiculous old man; others basely tried
to win his good graces to betray me; one and all talked of getting me away
from him, and none understood the devotion I feel for a soul that is so
far away from us only because it is so near heaven, for that friend, that
brother, whose handmaid I will always be.
"You alone understood, did you not? the tie that binds me to him. Tell me
that you feel a sincere and disinterested regard for my Paolo—"
"I gladly accept your praises," Andrea interrupted; "but go no further; do
not compel me to contradict you. I love you, Marianna, as we love in the
beautiful country where we both were born, I love you with all my soul and
with all my strength; but before offering you that love, I will be worthy
of yours. I will make a last attempt to give back to you the man you have
loved so long and will love forever. Till success or defeat is certain,
accept without any shame the modest ease I can give you both. We will go
to-morrow and choose a place where he may live.
"Have you such regard for me as will allow you to make me the partner in
Marianna, surprised at such magnanimity, held out her hand to the Count,
who went away, trying to evade the civilities of Giardini and his wife.
On the following day Giardini took the Count up to the room where the
Gambaras lodged. Though Marianna fully knew her lover's noble soul,—for
there are natures which quickly enter into each other's spirit,—Marianna
was too good a housewife not to betray her annoyance at receiving such a
fine gentleman in so humble a room. Everything was exquisitely clean. She
had spent the morning in dusting her motley furniture, the handiwork of
Signor Giardini, who had put it together, at odd moments of leisure, out
of the fragments of the instruments rejected by Gambara.
Andrea had never seen anything quite so crazy. To keep a decent
countenance he turned away from a grotesque bed, contrived by the
ingenious cook in the case of an old harpsichord, and looked at Marianna's
narrow couch, of which the single mattress was covered with a white muslin
counterpane, a circumstance that gave rise in his mind to some sad but
He wished to speak of his plans and of his morning's work; but Gambara, in
his enthusiasm, believing that he had at last met with a willing listener,
took possession of him, and compelled him to listen to the opera he had
written for Paris.
"In the first place, monsieur," said the composer, "allow me to explain
the subject in a few words. Here, the hearers receiving a musical
impression do not work it out in themselves, as religion bids us work out
the texts of Scripture in prayer. Hence it is very difficult to make them
understand that there is in nature an eternal melody, exquisitely sweet, a
perfect harmony, disturbed only by revolutions independent of the divine
will, as passions are uncontrolled by the will of men.
"I, therefore, had to seek a vast framework in which effect and cause
might both be included; for the aim of my music is to give a picture of
the life of nations from the loftiest point of view. My opera, for which I
myself wrote the libretto, for a poet would never have fully
developed the subject, is the life of Mahomet,—a figure in whom the
magic of Sabaeanism combined with the Oriental poetry of the Hebrew
Scriptures to result in one of the greatest human epics, the Arab
dominion. Mahomet certainly derived from the Hebrews the idea of a
despotic government, and from the religion of the shepherd tribes or
Sabaeans the spirit of expansion which created the splendid empire of the
Khalifs. His destiny was stamped on him in his birth, for his father was a
heathen and his mother a Jewess. Ah! my dear Count to be a great musician
a man must be very learned. Without knowledge he can get no local color
and put no ideas into his music. The composer who sings for singing's sake
is an artisan, not an artist.
"This magnificent opera is the continuation of the great work I projected.
My first opera was called The Martyrs, and I intend to write a
third on Jerusalem delivered. You perceive the beauty of this trilogy and
what a variety of motives it offers,—the Martyrs, Mahomet, the
Deliverance of Jerusalem: the God of the West, the God of the East, and
the struggle of their worshipers over a tomb. But we will not dwell on my
fame, now for ever lost.
"This is the argument of my opera." He paused. "The first act," he went
on, "shows Mahomet as a porter to Kadijah, a rich widow with whom his
uncle placed him. He is in love and ambitious. Driven from Mecca, he
escapes to Medina, and dates his era from his flight, the Hegira.
In the second act he is a Prophet, founding a militant religion. In the
third, disgusted with all things, having exhausted life, Mahomet conceals
the manner of his death in the hope of being regarded as a god,—last
effort of human pride.
"Now you shall judge of my way of expressing in sound a great idea, for
which poetry could find no adequate expression in words."
Gambara sat down to the piano with an absorbed gaze, and his wife brought
him the mass of papers forming his score; but he did not open them.
"The whole opera," said he, "is founded on a bass, as on a fruitful soil.
Mahomet was to have a majestic bass voice, and his wife necessarily had a
contralto. Kadijah was quite old—twenty! Attention! This is the
overture. It begins with an andante in C major, triple time. Do you
hear the sadness of the ambitious man who is not satisfied with love?
Then, through his lamentation, by a transition to the key of E flat, allegro,
common time, we hear the cries of the epileptic lover, his fury and
certain warlike phrases, for the mighty charms of the one and only woman
give him the impulse to multiplied loves which strikes us in Don
Giovanni. Now, as you hear these themes, do you not catch a glimpse of
"And next we have a cantabile (A flat major, six-eight time), that
might expand the soul that is least susceptible to music. Kadijah has
understood Mahomet! Then Kadijah announces to the populace the Prophet's
interviews with the Angel Gabriel (maestoso sostenuto in F Major).
The magistrates and priests, power and religion, feeling themselves
attacked by the innovator, as Christ and Socrates also attacked effete or
worn-out powers and religions, persecute Mahomet and drive him out of
Mecca (stretto in C major). Then comes my beautiful dominant (G
major, common time). Arabia now harkens to the Prophet; horsemen arrive (G
major, E flat, B flat, G minor, and still common time). The mass of men
gathers like an avalanche; the false Prophet has begun on a tribe the work
he will achieve over a world (G major).
"He promises the Arabs universal dominion, and they believe him because he
is inspired. The crescendo begins (still in the dominant). Here
come some flourishes (in C major) from the brass, founded on the harmony,
but strongly marked, and asserting themselves as an expression of the
first triumphs. Medina has gone over to the Prophet, and the whole army
marches on Mecca (an explosion of sound in C major). The whole power of
the orchestra is worked up like a conflagration; every instrument is
employed; it is a torrent of harmony.
"Suddenly the tutti is interrupted by a flowing air (on the minor
third). You hear the last strain of devoted love. The woman who had upheld
the great man dies concealing her despair, dies at the moment of triumph
for him in whom love has become too overbearing to be content with one
woman; and she worships him enough to sacrifice herself to the greatness
of the man who is killing her. What a blaze of love!
"Then the Desert rises to overrun the world (back to C major). The whole
strength of the orchestra comes in again, collected in a tremendous
quintet grounded on the fundamental bass—and he is dying! Mahomet is
world-weary; he has exhausted everything. Now he craves to die a god.
Arabia, in fact, worships and prays to him, and we return to the first
melancholy strain (C minor) to which the curtain rose.
"Now, do you not discern," said Gambara, ceasing to play, and turning to
the Count, "in this picturesque and vivid music—abrupt, grotesque,
or melancholy, but always grand—the complete expression of the life
of an epileptic, mad for enjoyment, unable to read or write, using all his
defects as stepping-stones, turning every blunder and disaster into a
triumph? Did not you feel a sense of his fascination exerted over a greedy
and lustful race, in this overture, which is an epitome of the opera?"
At first calm and stern, the maestro's face, in which Andrea had been
trying to read the ideas he was uttering in inspired tones, though the
chaotic flood of notes afforded no clue to them, had by degrees glowed
with fire and assumed an impassioned force that infected Marianna and the
cook. Marianna, too, deeply affected by certain passages in which she
recognized a picture of her own position, could not conceal the expression
of her eyes from Andrea.
Gambara wiped his brow, and shot a glance at the ceiling of such fierce
energy that he seemed to pierce it and soar to the very skies.
"You have seen the vestibule," said he; "we will now enter the palace. The
"Act I. Mahomet, alone on the stage, begins with an air (F natural, common
time), interrupted by a chorus of camel-drivers gathered round a well at
the back of the stage (they sing in contrary time—twelve-eight).
What majestic woe! It will appeal to the most frivolous women, piercing to
their inmost nerves if they have no heart. Is not this the very expression
of crushed genius?"
To Andrea's great astonishment,—for Marianna was accustomed to it,—Gambara
contracted his larynx to such a pitch that the only sound was a stifled
cry not unlike the bark of a watch-dog that has lost its voice. A slight
foam came to the composer's lips and made Andrea shudder.
"His wife appears (A minor). Such a magnificent duet! In this number I
have shown that Mahomet has the will and his wife the brains. Kadijah
announces that she is about to devote herself to an enterprise that will
rob her of her young husband's love. Mahomet means to conquer the world;
this his wife has guessed, and she supports him by persuading the people
of Mecca that her husband's attacks of epilepsy are the effect of his
intercourse with the angels (chorus of the first followers of Mahomet, who
come to promise him their aid, C sharp minor, sotto voce). Mahomet
goes off to seek the Angel Gabriel (recitative in F major). His
wife encourages the disciples (aria, interrupted by the chorus,
gusts of chanting support Kadijah's broad and majestic air, A major).
"Abdallah, the father of Ayesha,—the only maiden Mahomet has found
really innocent, wherefore he changed the name of Abdallah to Abubekir
(the father of the virgin),—comes forward with Ayesha and sings
against the chorus, in strains which rise above the other voices and
supplement the air sung by Kadijah in contrapuntal treatment. Omar, the
father of another maiden who is to be Mahomet's concubine, follows
Abubekir's example; he and his daughter join in to form a quintette. The
girl Ayesha is first soprano, Hafsa second soprano; Abubekir is a bass,
Omar a baritone.
"Mahomet returns, inspired. He sings his first bravura air, the
beginning of the finale (E major), promising the empire of the
world to those who believe in him. The Prophet seeing the two damsels,
then, by a gentle transition (from B major to G major), addresses them in
amorous tones. Ali, Mahomet's cousin, and Khaled, his greatest general,
both tenors, now arrive and announce the persecution; the magistrates, the
military, and the authorities have all proscribed the Prophet (recitative).
Mahomet declares in an invocation (in C) that the Angel Gabriel is on his
side, and points to a pigeon that is seen flying away. The chorus of
believers responds in accents of devotion (on a modulation to B major).
The soldiers, magistrates, and officials then come on (tempo di marcia,
common time, B major). A chorus in two divisions (stretto in E
major). Mahomet yields to the storm (in a descending phrase of diminished
sevenths) and makes his escape. The fierce and gloomy tone of this finale
is relieved by the phrases given to the three women who foretell Mahomet's
triumph, and these motives are further developed in the third act in the
scene where Mahomet is enjoying his splendor."
The tears rose to Gambara's eyes, and it was only upon controlling his
emotion that he went on.
"Act II. The religion is now established. The Arabs are guarding the
Prophet's tent while he speaks with God (chorus in A minor). Mahomet
appears (a prayer in F). What a majestic and noble strain is this that
forms the bass of the voices, in which I have perhaps enlarged the borders
of melody. It was needful to express the wonderful energy of this great
human movement which created an architecture, a music, a poetry of its
own, a costume and manners. As you listen, you are walking under the
arcades of the Generalife, the carved vaults of the Alhambra. The runs and
trills depict that delicate mauresque decoration, and the gallant and
valorous religion which was destined to wage war against the gallant and
valorous chivalry of Christendom. A few brass instruments awake in the
orchestra, announcing the Prophet's first triumph (in a broken cadenza).
The Arabs adore the Prophet (E flat major), and the Khaled, Amru, and Ali
arrive (tempo di marcia). The armies of the faithful have taken
many towns and subjugated the three Arabias. Such a grand recitative!—Mahomet
rewards his generals by presenting them with maidens.
"And here," said Gambara, sadly, "there is one of those wretched ballets,
which interrupt the thread of the finest musical tragedies! But Mahomet
elevates it once more by his great prophetic scene, which poor Monsieur
Voltaire begins with these words:
"Arabia's time at last has come!
"He is interrupted by a chorus of triumphant Arabs (twelve-eight time, accelerando).
The tribes arrive in crowds; the horns and brass reappear in the
orchestra. General rejoicings ensue, all the voices joining in by degrees,
and Mahomet announces polygamy. In the midst of all this triumph, the
woman who has been of such faithful service to Mahomet sings a magnificent
air (in B major). 'And I,' says she, 'am I no longer loved?' 'We must
part. Thou art but a woman, and I am a Prophet; I may still have slaves
but no equal.' Just listen to this duet (G sharp minor). What anguish! The
woman understands the greatness her hands have built up; she loves Mahomet
well enough to sacrifice herself to his glory; she worships him as a god,
without criticising him,—without murmuring. Poor woman! His first
dupe and his first victim!
"What a subject for the finale (in B major) is her grief, brought
out in such sombre hues against the acclamations of the chorus, and
mingling with Mahomet's tones as he throws his wife aside as a tool of no
further use, still showing her that he can never forget her! What
fireworks of triumph! what a rush of glad and rippling song go up from the
two young voices (first and second soprano) of Ayesha and Hafsa, supported
by Ali and his wife, by Omar and Abubekir! Weep!—rejoice!—Triumph
and tears! Such is life."
Marianna could not control her tears, and Andrea was so deeply moved that
his eyes were moist. The Neapolitan cook was startled by the magnetic
influence of the ideas expressed by Gambara's convulsive accents.
The composer looked round, saw the group, and smiled.
"At last you understand me!" said he.
No conqueror, led in pomp to the Capitol under the purple beams of glory,
as the crown was placed on his head amid the acclamations of a nation,
ever wore such an expression. The composer's face was radiant, like that
of a holy martyr. No one dispelled the error. A terrible smile parted
Marianna's lips. The Count was appalled by the guilelessness of this
"Act III," said the enchanted musician, reseating himself at the piano. "(Andantino,
solo.) Mahomet in his seraglio, surrounded by women, but not happy.
Quartette of Houris (A major). What pompous harmony, what trills as of
ecstatic nightingales! Modulation (into F sharp minor). The theme is
stated (on the dominant E and repeated in F major). Here every delight is
grouped and expressed to give effect to the contrast of the gloomy finale
of the first act. After the dancing, Mahomet rises and sings a grand bravura
air (in F minor), repelling the perfect and devoted love of his first
wife, but confessing himself conquered by polygamy. Never has a musician
had so fine a subject! The orchestra and the chorus of female voices
express the joys of the Houris, while Mahomet reverts to the melancholy
strain of the opening. Where is Beethoven," cried Gambara, "to appreciate
this prodigious reaction of my opera on itself? How completely it all
rests on the bass.
"It is thus that Beethoven composed his E minor symphony. But his heroic
work is purely instrumental, whereas here, my heroic phrase is worked out
on a sextette of the finest human voices, and a chorus of the faithful on
guard at the door of the sacred dwelling. I have every resource of melody
and harmony at my command, an orchestra and voices. Listen to the
utterance of all these phases of human life, rich and poor;—battle,
triumph, and exhaustion!
"Ali arrives, the Koran prevails in every province (duet in D minor).
Mahomet places himself in the hands of his two fathers-in-law; he will
abdicate his rule and die in retirement to consolidate his work. A
magnificent sextette (B flat major). He takes leave of all (solo in F
natural). His two fathers-in-law, constituted his vicars or Khalifs,
appeal to the people. A great triumphal march, and a prayer by all the
Arabs kneeling before the sacred house, the Kasbah, from which a pigeon is
seen to fly away (the same key). This prayer, sung by sixty voices and led
by the women (in B flat), crowns the stupendous work expressive of the
life of nations and of man. Here you have every emotion, human and
Andrea gazed at Gambara in blank amazement. Though at first he had been
struck by the terrible irony of the situation,—this man expressing
the feelings of Mahomet's wife without discovering them in Marianna,—the
husband's hallucination was as nothing compared with the composer's. There
was no hint even of a poetical or musical idea in the hideous cacophony
with which he had deluged their ears; the first principles of harmony, the
most elementary rules of composition, were absolutely alien to this
chaotic structure. Instead of the scientifically compacted music which
Gambara described, his fingers produced sequences of fifths, sevenths, and
octaves, of major thirds, progressions of fourths with no supporting bass,—a
medley of discordant sounds struck out haphazard in such a way as to be
excruciating to the least sensitive ear. It is difficult to give any idea
of the grotesque performance. New words would be needed to describe this
Andrea, painfully affected by this worthy man's madness, colored, and
stole a glance at Marianna; while she, turning pale and looking down,
could not restrain her tears. In the midst of this chaos of notes, Gambara
had every now and then given vent to his rapture in exclamations of
delight. He had closed his eyes in ecstasy; had smiled at his piano; had
looked at it with a frown; put out his tongue at it after the fashion of
the inspired performer,—in short, was quite intoxicated with the
poetry that filled his brain, and that he had vainly striven to utter. The
strange discords that clashed under his fingers had obviously sounded in
his ears like celestial harmonies.
A deaf man, seeing the inspired gaze of his blue eyes open on another
world, the rosy glow that tinged his cheeks, and, above all, the heavenly
serenity which ecstasy stamped on his proud and noble countenance, would
have supposed that he was looking on at the improvisation of a really
great artist. The illusion would have been all the more natural because
the performance of this mad music required immense executive skill to
achieve such fingering. Gambara must have worked at it for years.
Nor were his hands alone employed; his feet were constantly at work with
complicated pedaling; his body swayed to and fro; the perspiration poured
down his face while he toiled to produce a great crescendo with the
feeble means the thankless instrument placed at his command. He stamped,
puffed, shouted; his fingers were as swift as the serpent's double tongue;
and finally, at the last crash on the keys, he fell back in his chair,
resting his head on the top of it.
"Per Bacco! I am quite stunned," said the Count as he left the
house. "A child dancing on the keyboard would make better music."
"Certainly mere chance could not more successfully avoid hitting two notes
in concord than that possessed creature has done during the past hour,"
"How is it that the regular beauty of Marianna's features is not spoiled
by incessantly hearing such a hideous medley?" said the Count to himself.
"Marianna will certainly grow ugly."
"Signor, she must be saved from that," cried Giardini.
"Yes," said Andrea. "I have thought of that. Still, to be sure that my
plans are not based on error, I must confirm my doubts by another
experiment. I will return and examine the instruments he has invented.
To-morrow, after dinner, we will have a little supper. I will send in some
wine and little dishes."
The cook bowed.
Andrea spent the following day in superintending the arrangement of the
rooms where he meant to install the artist in a humble home.
In the evening the Count made his appearance, and found the wine,
according to his instructions, set out with some care by Marianna and
Giardini. Gambara proudly exhibited the little drums, on which lay the
powder by means of which he made his observations on the pitch and quality
of the sounds emitted by his instruments.
"You see," said he, "by what simple means I can prove the most important
propositions. Acoustics thus can show me the analogous effects of sound on
every object of its impact. All harmonies start from a common centre and
preserve the closest relations among themselves; or rather, harmony, like
light, is decomposable by our art as a ray is by a prism."
He then displayed the instruments constructed in accordance with his laws,
explaining the changes he had introduced into their constitution. And
finally he announced that to conclude this preliminary inspection, which
could only satisfy a superficial curiosity, he would perform on an
instrument that contained all the elements of a complete orchestra, and
which he called a Panharmonicon.
"If it is the machine in that huge case, which brings down on us the
complaints of the neighborhood whenever you work at it, you will not play
on it long," said Giardini. "The police will interfere. Remember that!"
"If that poor idiot stays in the room," said Gambara in a whisper to the
Count, "I cannot possibly play."
Andrea dismissed the cook, promising a handsome reward if he would keep
watch outside and hinder the neighbors or the police from interfering.
Giardini, who had not stinted himself while helping Gambara to wine, was
Gambara, without being drunk, was in the condition when every power of the
brain is over-wrought; when the walls of the room are transparent; when
the garret has no roof, and the soul soars in the empyrean of spirits.
Marianna, with some little difficulty, removed the covers from an
instrument as large as a grand piano, but with an upper case added. This
strange-looking instrument, besides this second body and its keyboard,
supported the openings or bells of various wind instruments and the closed
funnels of a few organ pipes.
"Will you play me the prayer you say is so fine at the end of your opera?"
said the Count.
To the great surprise of both Marianna and the Count, Gambara began with a
succession of chords that proclaimed him a master; and their astonishment
gave way first to amazed admiration and then to perfect rapture, effacing
all thought of the place and the performer. The effects of a real
orchestra could not have been finer than the voices of the wind
instruments, which were like those of an organ and combined wonderfully
with the harmonies of the strings. But the unfinished condition of the
machine set limits to the composer's execution, and his idea seemed all
the greater; for, often, the very perfection of a work of art limits its
suggestiveness to the recipient soul. Is not this proved by the preference
accorded to a sketch rather than a finished picture when on their trial
before those who interpret a work in their own mind rather than accept it
rounded off and complete?
The purest and serenest music that Andrea had ever listened to rose up
from under Gambara's fingers like the vapor of incense from an altar. The
composer's voice grew young again, and, far from marring the noble melody,
it elucidated it, supported it, guided it,—just as the feeble and
quavering voice of an accomplished reader, such as Andrieux, for instance,
can expand the meaning of some great scene by Corneille or Racine by
lending personal and poetical feeling.
This really angelic strain showed what treasures lay hidden in that
stupendous opera, which, however, would never find comprehension so long
as the musician persisted in trying to explain it in his present demented
state. His wife and the Count were equally divided between the music and
their surprise at this hundred-voiced instrument, inside which a stranger
might have fancied an invisible chorus of girls were hidden, so closely
did some of the tones resemble the human voice; and they dared not express
their ideas by a look or a word. Marianna's face was lighted up by a
radiant beam of hope which revived the glories of her youth. This
renascence of beauty, co-existent with the luminous glow of her husband's
genius, cast a shade of regret on the Count's exquisite pleasure in this
"You are our good genius!" whispered Marianna. "I am tempted to believe
that you actually inspire him; for I, who never am away from him, have
never heard anything like this."
"And Kadijah's farewell!" cried Gambara, who sang the cavatina
which he had described the day before as sublime, and which now brought
tears to the eyes of the lovers, so perfectly did it express the loftiest
devotion of love.
"Who can have taught you such strains?" cried the Count.
"The Spirit," said Gambara. "When he appears, all is fire. I see the
melodies there before me; lovely, fresh in vivid hues like flowers. They
beam on me, they ring out,—and I listen. But it takes a long, long
time to reproduce them."
"Some more!" said Marianna.
Gambara, who could not tire, played on without effort or antics. He
performed his overture with such skill, bringing out such rich and
original musical effects, that the Count was quite dazzled, and at last
believed in some magic like that commanded by Paganini and Liszt,—a
style of execution which changes every aspect of music as an art, by
giving it a poetic quality far above musical inventions.
"Well, Excellenza, and can you cure him?" asked Giardini, as Andrea came
"I shall soon find out," replied the Count. "This man's intellect has two
windows; one is closed to the world, the other is open to the heavens. The
first is music, the second is poetry. Till now he has insisted on sitting
in front of the shuttered window; he must be got to the other. It was you,
Giardini, who first started me on the right track, by telling me that your
client's mind was clearer after drinking a few glasses of wine."
"Yes," cried the cook, "and I can see what your plan is."
"If it is not too late to make the thunder of poetry audible to his ears,
in the midst of the harmonies of some noble music, we must put him into a
condition to receive it and appreciate it. Will you help me to intoxicate
Gambara, my good fellow? Will you be none the worse for it?"
"What do you mean, Excellenza?"
Andrea went off without answering him, laughing at the acumen still left
to this cracked wit.
On the following day he called for Marianna, who had spent the morning in
arranging her dress,—a simple but decent outfit, on which she had
spent all her little savings. The transformation would have destroyed the
illusions of a mere dangler; but Andrea's caprice had become a passion.
Marianna, diverted of her picturesque poverty, and looking like any
ordinary woman of modest rank, inspired dreams of wedded life.
He handed her into a hackney coach, and told her of the plans he had in
his head; and she approved of everything, happy in finding her admirer
more lofty, more generous, more disinterested than she had dared to hope.
He took her to a little apartment, where he had allowed himself to remind
her of his good offices by some of the elegant trifles which have a charm
for the most virtuous women.
"I will never speak to you of love till you give up all hope of your
Paolo," said the Count to Marianna, as he bid her good-bye at the Rue
Froid-Manteau. "You will be witness to the sincerity of my attempts. If
they succeed. I may find myself unequal to keeping up my part as a friend;
but in that case I shall go far away, Marianna. Though I have firmness
enough to work for your happiness, I shall not have so much as will enable
me to look on at it."
"Do not say such things. Generosity, too, has its dangers," said she,
swallowing down her tears. "But are you going now?"
"Yes," said Andrea; "be happy, without any drawbacks."
If Giardini might be believed, the new treatment was beneficial to both
husband and wife. Every evening after his wine, Gambara seemed less
self-centered, talked more, and with great lucidity; he even spoke at last
of reading the papers. Andrea could not help quaking at his unexpectedly
rapid success; but though his distress made him aware of the strength of
his passion, it did not make him waver in his virtuous resolve.
One day he called to note the progress of this singular cure. Though the
state of the patient at first gave him satisfaction, his joy was dashed by
Marianna's beauty, for an easy life had restored its brilliancy. He called
now every evening to enjoy calm and serious conversation, to which he
contributed lucid and well considered arguments controverting Gambara's
singular theories. He took advantage of the remarkable acumen of the
composer's mind as to every point not too directly bearing on his manias,
to obtain his assent to principles in various branches of art, and apply
them subsequently to music. All was well so long as the patient's brain
was heated with the fumes of wine; but as soon as he had recovered—or,
rather, lost—his reason, he was a monomaniac once more.
However, Paolo was already more easily diverted by the impression of
outside things; his mind was more capable of addressing itself to several
points at a time.
Andrea, who took an artistic interest in his semi-medical treatment,
thought at last that the time had come for a great experiment. He would
give a dinner at his own house, to which he would invite Giardini for the
sake of keeping the tragedy and the parody side by side, and afterwards
take the party to the first performance of Robert le Diable. He had
seen it in rehearsal, and he judged it well fitted to open his patient's
By the end of the second course, Gambara was already tipsy, laughing at
himself with a very good grace; while Giardini confessed that his culinary
innovations were not worth a rush. Andrea had neglected nothing that could
contribute to this twofold miracle. The wines of Orvieto and of
Montefiascone, conveyed with the peculiar care needed in moving them,
Lachrymachristi and Giro,—all the heady liqueurs of la cara
Patria,—went to their brains with the intoxication alike of the
grape and of fond memory. At dessert the musician and the cook both
abjured every heresy; one was humming a cavatina by Rossini, and
the other piling delicacies on his plate and washing them down with
Maraschino from Zara, to the prosperity of the French cuisine.
The Count took advantage of this happy frame of mind, and Gambara allowed
himself to be taken to the opera like a lamb.
At the first introductory notes Gambara's intoxication appeared to clear
away and make way for the feverish excitement which sometimes brought his
judgment and his imagination into perfect harmony; for it was their
habitual disagreement, no doubt, that caused his madness. The ruling idea
of that great musical drama appeared to him, no doubt, in its noble
simplicity, like a lightning flash, illuminating the utter darkness in
which he lived. To his unsealed eyes this music revealed the immense
horizons of a world in which he found himself for the first time, though
recognizing it as that he had seen in his dreams. He fancied himself
transported into the scenery of his native land, where that beautiful
Italian landscape begins at what Napoleon so cleverly described as the glacis
of the Alps. Carried back by memory to the time when his young and eager
brain was as yet untroubled by the ecstasy of his too exuberant
imagination he listened with religious awe and would not utter a single
word. The Count respected the internal travail of his soul. Till half-past
twelve Gambara sat so perfectly motionless that the frequenters of the
opera house took him, no doubt, for what he was—a man drunk.
On their return, Andrea began to attack Meyerbeer's work, in order to wake
up Gambara, who sat sunk in the half-torpid state common in drunkards.
"What is there in that incoherent score to reduce you to a condition of
somnambulism?" asked Andrea, when they got out at his house. "The story of
Robert le Diable, to be sure, is not devoid of interest, and Holtei
has worked it out with great skill in a drama that is very well written
and full of strong and pathetic situations; but the French librettist has
contrived to extract from it the most ridiculous farrago of nonsense. The
absurdities of the libretti of Vesari and Schikander are not to compare
with those of the words of Robert le Diable; it is a dramatic nightmare,
which oppresses the hearer without deeply moving him.
"And Meyerbeer has given the devil a too prominent part. Bertram and Alice
represent the contest between right and wrong, the spirits of good and
evil. This antagonism offered a splendid opportunity to the composer. The
sweetest melodies, in juxtaposition with harsh and crude strains, was the
natural outcome of the form of the story; but in the German composer's
score the demons sing better than the saints. The heavenly airs belie
their origin, and when the composer abandons the infernal motives he
returns to them as soon as possible, fatigued with the effort of keeping
aloof from them. Melody, the golden thread that ought never to be lost
throughout so vast a plan, often vanishes from Meyerbeer's work. Feeling
counts for nothing, the heart has no part in it. Hence we never come upon
those happy inventions, those artless scenes, which captivate all our
sympathies and leave a blissful impression on the soul.
"Harmony reigns supreme, instead of being the foundation from which the
melodic groups of the musical picture stand forth. These discordant
combinations, far from moving the listener, arouse in him a feeling
analogous to that which he would experience on seeing a rope-dancer
hanging to a thread and swaying between life and death. Never does a
soothing strain come in to mitigate the fatiguing suspense. It really is
as though the composer had had no other object in view than to produce a
baroque effect without troubling himself about musical truth or unity, or
about the capabilities of human voices which are swamped by this flood of
"Silence, my friend!" cried Gambara. "I am still under the spell of that
glorious chorus of hell, made still more terrible by the long trumpets,—a
new method of instrumentation. The broken cadenzas which give such
force to Robert's scene, the cavatina in the fourth act, the finale
of the first, all hold me in the grip of a supernatural power. No, not
even Gluck's declamation ever produced so prodigious an effect, and I am
amazed by such skill and learning."
"Signor Maestro," said Andrea, smiling, "allow me to contradict you.
Gluck, before he wrote, reflected long; he calculated the chances, and he
decided on a plan which might be subsequently modified by his inspirations
as to detail, but hindered him from ever losing his way. Hence his power
of emphasis, his declamatory style thrilling with life and truth. I quite
agree with you that Meyerbeer's learning is transcendent; but science is a
defect when it evicts inspiration, and it seems to me that we have in this
opera the painful toil of a refined craftsman who in his music has but
picked up thousands of phrases out of other operas, damned or forgotten,
and appropriated them, while extending, modifying, or condensing them. But
he has fallen into the error of all selectors of centos,—an
abuse of good things. This clever harvester of notes is lavish of
discords, which, when too often introduced, fatigue the ear till those
great effects pall upon it which a composer should husband with care to
make the more effective use of them when the situation requires it. These
enharmonic passages recur to satiety, and the abuse of the plagal cadence
deprives it of its religious solemnity.
"I know, of course, that every musician has certain forms to which he
drifts back in spite of himself; he should watch himself so as to avoid
that blunder. A picture in which there were no colors but blue and red
would be untrue to nature, and fatigue the eye. And thus the constantly
recurring rhythm in the score of Robert le Diable makes the work,
as a whole, appear monotonous. As to the effect of the long trumpets, of
which you speak, it has long been known in Germany; and what Meyerbeer
offers us as a novelty was constantly used by Mozart, who gives just such
a chorus to the devils in Don Giovanni."
By plying Gambara, meanwhile, with fresh libations, Andrea thus strove, by
his contradictoriness, to bring the musician back to a true sense of
music, by proving to him that his so-called mission was not to try to
regenerate an art beyond his powers, but to seek to express himself in
another form; namely, that of poetry.
"But, my dear Count, you have understood nothing of that stupendous
musical drama," said Gambara, airily, as standing in front of Andrea's
piano he struck the keys, listened to the tone, and then seated himself,
meditating for a few minutes as if to collect his ideas.
"To begin with, you must know," said he, "that an ear as practised as mine
at once detected that labor of choice and setting of which you spoke. Yes,
the music has been selected, lovingly, from the storehouse of a rich and
fertile imagination wherein learning has squeezed every idea to extract
the very essence of music. I will illustrate the process."
He rose to carry the candles into the adjoining room, and before sitting
down again he drank a full glass of Giro, a Sardinian wine, as full of
fire as the old wines of Tokay can inspire.
"Now, you see," said Gambara, "this music is not written for misbelievers,
nor for those who know not love. If you have never suffered from the
virulent attacks of an evil spirit who shifts your object just as you are
taking aim, who puts a fatal end to your highest hopes,—in one word,
if you have never felt the devil's tail whisking over the world, the opera
of Robert le Diable must be to you, what the Apocalypse is to those
who believe that all things will end with them. But if, persecuted and
wretched, you understand that Spirit of Evil,—the monstrous ape who
is perpetually employed in destroying the work of God,—if you can
conceive of him as having, not indeed loved, but ravished, an almost
divine woman, and achieved through her the joy of paternity; as so loving
his son that he would rather have him eternally miserable with himself
than think of him as eternally happy with God; if, finally, you can
imagine the mother's soul for ever hovering over the child's head to
snatch it from the atrocious temptations offered by its father,—even
then you will have but a faint idea of this stupendous drama, which needs
but little to make it worthy of comparison with Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Don Giovanni is in its perfection the greater, I grant; Robert
le Diable expresses ideas, Don Giovanni arouses sensations. Don
Giovanni is as yet the only musical work in which harmony and melody
are combined in exactly the right proportions. In this lies its only
superiority, for Robert is the richer work. But how vain are such
comparisons since each is so beautiful in its own way!
"To me, suffering as I do from the demon's repeated shocks, Robert spoke
with greater power than to you; it struck me as being at the same time
vast and concentrated.
"Thanks to you, I have been transported to the glorious land of dreams
where our senses expand, and the world works on a scale which is gigantic
as compared with man."
He was silent for a space.
"I am trembling still," said the ill-starred artist, "from the four bars
of cymbals which pierced to my marrow as they opened that short, abrupt
introduction with its solo for trombone, its flutes, oboes, and clarionet,
all suggesting the most fantastic effects of color. The andante in
C minor is a foretaste of the subject of the evocation of the ghosts in
the abbey, and gives grandeur to the scene by anticipating the spiritual
struggle. I shivered."
Gambara pressed the keys with a firm hand and expanded Meyerbeer's theme
in a masterly fantasia, a sort of outpouring of his soul after the
manner of Liszt. It was no longer the piano, it was a whole orchestra that
they heard; the very genius of music rose before them.
"That was worthy of Mozart!" he exclaimed. "See how that German can handle
his chords, and through what masterly modulations he raises the image of
terror to come to the dominant C. I can hear all hell in it!
"The curtain rises. What do I see? The only scene to which we gave the
epithet infernal: an orgy of knights in Sicily. In that chorus in F every
human passion is unchained in a bacchanalian allegro. Every thread
by which the devil holds us is pulled. Yes, that is the sort of glee that
comes over men when they dance on the edge of a precipice; they make
themselves giddy. What go there is in that chorus!
"Against that chorus—the reality of life—the simple life of
every-day virtue stands out in the air, in G minor, sung by Raimbaut. For
a moment it refreshed my spirit to hear the simple fellow, representative
of verdurous and fruitful Normandy, which he brings to Robert's mind in
the midst of his drunkenness. The sweet influence of his beloved native
land lends a touch of tender color to this gloomy opening.
"Then comes the wonderful air in C major, supported by the chorus in C
minor, so expressive of the subject. 'Je suis Robert!' he
immediately breaks out. The wrath of the prince, insulted by his vassal,
is already more than natural anger; but it will die away, for memories of
his childhood come to him, with Alice, in the bright and graceful allegro
in A major.
"Can you not hear the cries of the innocent dragged into this infernal
drama,—a persecuted creature? 'Non, non,'" sang Gambara, who
made the consumptive piano sing. "His native land and tender emotions have
come back to him; his childhood and its memories have blossomed anew in
Robert's heart. And now his mother's shade rises up, bringing with it
soothing religious thoughts. It is religion that lives in that beautiful
song in E major, with its wonderful harmonic and melodic progression in
"Car dans les cieux, comme sur la terre,
Sa mere va prier pour lui.
"Here the struggle begins between the unseen powers and the only human
being who has the fire of hell in his veins to enable him to resist them;
and to make this quite clear, as Bertram comes on, the great musician has
given the orchestra a passage introducing a reminiscence of Raimbaut's
ballad. What a stroke of art! What cohesion of all the parts! What
solidity of structure!
"The devil is there, in hiding, but restless. The conflict of the
antagonistic powers opens with Alice's terror; she recognizes the devil of
the image of Saint Michael in her village. The musical subject is worked
out through an endless variety of phases. The antithesis indispensable in
opera is emphatically presented in a noble recitative, such as a
Gluck might have composed, between Bertram and Robert:
"Tu se sauras jamais a quel exces je t'aime.
"In that diabolical C minor, Bertram, with his terrible bass, begins his
work of undermining which will overthrow every effort of the vehement,
"Here, everything is appalling. Will the crime get possession of the
criminal? Will the executioner seize his victim? Will sorrow consume the
artist's genius? Will the disease kill the patient? or, will the guardian
angel save the Christian?
"Then comes the finale, the gambling scene in which Bertram
tortures his son by rousing him to tremendous emotions. Robert, beggared,
frenzied, searching everything, eager for blood, fire, and sword, is his
own son; in this mood he is exactly like his father. What hideous glee we
hear in Bertram's words: 'Je ris de tes coups!' And how perfectly
the Venetian barcarole comes in here. Through what wonderful
transitions the diabolical parent is brought on to the stage once more to
make Robert throw the dice.
"This first act is overwhelming to any one capable of working out the
subjects in his very heart, and lending them the breadth of development
which the composer intended them to call forth.
"Nothing but love could now be contrasted with this noble symphony of
song, in which you will detect no monotony, no repetitions of means and
effects. It is one, but many; the characteristic of all that is truly
great and natural.
"I breathe more freely; I find myself in the elegant circle of a gallant
court; I hear Isabella's charming phrases, fresh, but almost melancholy,
and the female chorus in two divisions, and in imitation, with a
suggestion of the Moorish coloring of Spain. Here the terrifying music is
softened to gentler hues, like a storm dying away, and ends in the florid
prettiness of a duet wholly unlike anything that has come before it. After
the turmoil of a camp full of errant heroes, we have a picture of love.
Poet! I thank thee! My heart could not have borne much more. If I could
not here and there pluck the daisies of a French light opera, if I could
not hear the gentle wit of a woman able to love and to charm, I could not
endure the terrible deep note on which Bertram comes in, saying to his
son: 'Si je la permets!' when Robert had promised the princess he
adores that he will conquer with the arms she has bestowed on him.
"The hopes of the gambler cured by love, the love of a most beautiful
woman,—did you observe that magnificent Sicilian, with her hawk's
eye secure of her prey? (What interpreters that composer has found!) the
hopes of the man are mocked at by the hopes of hell in the tremendous cry:
'A toi, Robert de Normandie!'
"And are not you struck by the gloom and horror of those long-held notes,
to which the words are set: 'Dans la foret prochaine'? We find here
all the sinister spells of Jerusalem Delivered, just as we find all
chivalry in the chorus with the Spanish lilt, and in the march tune. How
original is the alegro with the modulations of the four cymbals
(tuned to C, D, C, G)! How elegant is the call to the lists! The whole
movement of the heroic life of the period is there: the mind enters into
it; I read in it a romance, a poem of chivalry. The exposition is
now finished; the resources of music would seem to be exhausted; you have
never heard anything like it before; and yet it is homogeneous. You have
had life set before you, and its one and only crux: 'Shall I be
happy or unhappy?' is the philosopher's query. 'Shall I be saved or
damned?' asks the Christian."
With these words Gambara struck the last chord of the chorus, dwelt on it
with a melancholy modulation, and then rose to drink another large glass
of Giro. This half-African vintage gave his face a deeper flush, for his
passionate and wonderful sketch of Meyerbeer's opera had made him turn a
"That nothing may be lacking to this composition," he went on, "the great
artist has generously added the only buffo duet permissible for a
devil: that in which he tempts the unhappy troubadour. The composer has
set jocosity side by side with horror—a jocosity in which he mocks
at the only realism he had allowed himself amid the sublime imaginings of
his work—the pure calm love of Alice and Raimbaut; and their life is
overshadowed by the forecast of evil.
"None but a lofty soul can feel the noble style of these buffo
airs; they have neither the superabundant frivolity of Italian music nor
the vulgar accent of French commonplace; rather have they the majesty of
Olympus. There is the bitter laughter of a divine being mocking the
surprise of a troubadour Don-Juanizing himself. But for this dignity we
should be too suddenly brought down to the general tone of the opera, here
stamped on that terrible fury of diminished sevenths which resolves itself
into an infernal waltz, and finally brings us face to face with the
"How emphatically Bertram's couplet stands out in B minor against that
diabolical chorus, depicting his paternity, but mingling in fearful
despair with these demoniacal strains.
"Then comes the delightful transition of Alice's reappearance, with the ritornel
in B flat. I can still hear that air of angelical simplicity—the
nightingale after a storm. Thus the grand leading idea of the whole is
worked out in the details; for what could be more perfectly in contrast
with the tumult of devils tossing in the pit than that wonderful air given
to Alice? 'Quand j'ai quitte la Normandie.'
"The golden thread of melody flows on, side by side with the mighty
harmony, like a heavenly hope; it is embroidered on it, and with what
marvelous skill! Genius never lets go of the science that guides it. Here
Alice's song is in B flat leading into F sharp, the key of the demon's
chorus. Do you hear the tremolo in the orchestra? The host of devils
clamor for Robert.
"Bertram now reappears, and this is the culminating point of musical
interest; after a recitative, worthy of comparison with the finest
work of the great masters, comes the fierce conflict in E flat between two
tremendous forces—one on the words 'Oui, tu me connais!' on a
diminished seventh; the other, on that sublime F, 'Le ciel est avec moi.'
Hell and the Crucifix have met for battle. Next we have Bertram
threatening Alice, the most violent pathos ever heard—the Spirit of
Evil expatiating complacently, and, as usual, appealing to personal
interest. Robert's arrival gives us the magnificent unaccompanied trio in
A flat, the first skirmish between the two rival forces and the man. And
note how clearly that is expressed," said Gambara, epitomizing the scene
with such passion of expression as startled Andrea.
"All this avalanche of music, from the clash of cymbals in common time,
has been gathering up to this contest of three voices. The magic of evil
triumphs! Alice flies, and you have the duet in D between Bertram and
Robert. The devil sets his talons in the man's heart; he tears it to make
it his own; he works on every feeling. Honor, hope, eternal and infinite
pleasures—he displays them all. He places him, as he did Jesus, on
the pinnacle of the Temple, and shows him all the treasures of the earth,
the storehouse of sin. He nettles him to flaunt his courage; and the man's
nobler mind is expressed in his exclamation:
"Des chevaliers de ma patrie
L'honneur toujours fut le soutien!
"And finally, to crown the work, the theme comes in which sounded the note
of fatality at the beginning. Thus, the leading strain, the magnificent
call to the deed:
"Nonnes qui reposez sous cette froide pierre,
"The career of the music, gloriously worked out, is gloriously finished by
the allegro vivace of the bacchanalian chorus in D minor. This,
indeed, is the triumph of hell! Roll on, harmony, and wrap us in a
thousand folds! Roll on, bewitch us! The powers of darkness have clutched
their prey; they hold him while they dance. The great genius, born to
conquer and to reign, is lost! The devils rejoice, misery stifles genius,
passion will wreck the knight!"
And here Gambara improvised a fantasia of his own on the
bacchanalian chorus, with ingenious variations, and humming the air in a
melancholy drone as if to express the secret sufferings he had known.
"Do you hear the heavenly lamentations of neglected love?" he said.
"Isabella calls to Robert above the grand chorus of knights riding forth
to the tournament, in which the motifs of the second act reappear
to make it clear that the third act has all taken place in a supernatural
sphere. This is real life again. This chorus dies away at the approach of
the hellish enchantment brought by Robert with the talisman. The deviltry
of the third act is to be carried on. Here we have the duet with the viol;
the rhythm is highly expressive of the brutal desires of a man who is
omnipotent, and the Princess, by plaintive phrases, tries to win her lover
back to moderation. The musician has here placed himself in a situation of
great difficulty, and has surmounted it in the loveliest number of the
whole opera. How charming is the melody of the cavatina 'Grace pour
toi!' All the women present understood it well; each saw herself
seized and snatched away on the stage. That part alone would suffice to
make the fortune of the opera. Every woman felt herself engaged in a
struggle with some violent lover. Never was music so passionate and so
"The whole world now rises in arms against the reprobate. This finale
may be criticised for its resemblance to that of Don Giovanni; but
there is this immense difference: in Isabella we have the expression of
the noblest faith, a true love that will save Robert, for he scornfully
rejects the infernal powers bestowed on him, while Don Giovanni persists
in his unbelief. Moreover, that particular fault is common to every
composer who has written a finale since Mozart. The finale
to Don Giovanni is one of those classic forms that are invented
once for all.
"At last religion wins the day, uplifting the voice that governs worlds,
that invites all sorrow to come for consolation, all repentance to be
forgiven and helped.
"The whole house was stirred by the chorus:
"Malheureaux on coupables
"In the terrific tumult of raving passions, the holy Voice would have been
unheard; but at this critical moment it sounds like thunder; the divine
Catholic Church rises glorious in light. And here I was amazed to find
that after such lavish use of harmonic treasure, the composer had come
upon a new vein with the splendid chorus: 'Gloire a la Providence'
in the manner of Handel.
"Robert rushes on with his heartrending cry: 'Si je pouvais prier!'
and Bertram, driven by the infernal decree, pursues his son, and makes a
last effort. Alice has called up the vision of the Mother, and now comes
the grand trio to which the whole opera has led up: the triumph of the
soul over matter, of the Spirit of Good over the Spirit of Evil. The
strains of piety prevail over the chorus of hell, and happiness appears
glorious; but here the music is weaker. I only saw a cathedral instead of
hearing a concert of angels in bliss, and a divine prayer consecrating the
union of Robert and Isabella. We ought not to have been left oppressed by
the spells of hell; we ought to emerge with hope in our heart.
"I, as musician and a Catholic, wanted another prayer like that in Mose.
I should have liked to see how Germany would contend with Italy, what
Meyerbeer could do in rivalry with Rossini.
"However, in spite of this trifling blemish, the writer cannot say that
after five hours of such solid music, a Parisian prefers a bit of ribbon
to a musical masterpiece. You heard how the work was applauded; it will go
through five hundred performances! If the French really understand that
"It is because it expresses ideas," the Count put in.
"No; it is because it sets forth in a definite shape a picture of the
struggle in which so many perish, and because every individual life is
implicated in it through memory. Ah! I, hapless wretch, should have been
too happy to hear the sound of those heavenly voices I have so often
Hereupon Gambara fell into a musical day-dream, improvising the most
lovely melodious and harmonious cavatina that Andrea would ever
hear on earth; a divine strain divinely performed on a theme as exquisite
as that of O filii et filioe, but graced with additions such as
none but the loftiest musical genius could devise.
The Count sat lost in keen admiration; the clouds cleared away, the blue
sky opened, figures of angels appeared lifting the veil that hid the
sanctuary, and the light of heaven poured down.
There was a sudden silence.
The Count, surprised at the cessation of the music, looked at Gambara,
who, with fixed gaze, in the attitude of a visionary, murmured the word:
Andrea waited till the composer had descended from the enchanted realm to
which he had soared on the many-hued wings of inspiration, intending to
show him the truth by the light he himself would bring down with him.
"Well," said he, pouring him out another bumper of wine and clinking
glasses with him, "this German has, you see, written a sublime opera
without troubling himself with theories, while those musicians who write
grammars of harmony may, like literary critics, be atrocious composers."
"Then you do not like my music?"
"I do not say so. But if, instead of carrying musical principles to an
extreme—which takes you too far—you would simply try to arouse
our feelings, you would be better understood, unless indeed you have
mistaken your vocation. You are a great poet."
"What," cried Gambara, "are twenty-five years of study in vain? Am I to
learn the imperfect language of men when I have the key to the heavenly
tongue? Oh, if you are right,—I should die."
"No, no. You are great and strong; you would begin life again, and I would
support you. We would show the world the noble and rare alliance of a rich
man and an artist in perfect sympathy and understanding."
"Do you mean it?" asked Gambara, struck with amazement.
"As I have told you, you are a poet more than a musician."
"A poet, a poet! It is better than nothing. But tell me truly, which do
you esteem most highly, Mozart or Homer?"
"I admire them equally."
"On your honor?"
"On my honor."
"H'm! Once more. What do you think of Meyerbeer and Byron?"
"You have measured them by naming them together."
The Count's carriage was waiting. The composer and his noble physician ran
down-stairs, and in a few minutes they were with Marianna.
As they went in, Gambara threw himself into his wife's arms, but she drew
back a step and turned away her head; the husband also drew back and
beamed on the Count.
"Oh, monsieur!" said Gambara in a husky voice, "you might have left me my
illusions." He hung his head, and then fell.
"What have you done to him? He is dead drunk!" cried Marianna, looking
down at her husband with a mingled expression of pity and disgust.
The Count, with the help of his servant, picked up Gambara and laid him on
Then Andrea left, his heart exultant with horrible gladness.
The Count let the usual hour for calling slip past next day, for he began
to fear lest he had duped himself and had made this humble couple pay too
dear for their improved circumstances and added wisdom, since their peace
was destroyed for ever.
At last Giardini came to him with a note from Marianna.
"Come," she wrote, "the mischief is not so great as you so cruelly meant
it to be."
"Excellenza," said the cook, while Andrea was making ready, "you treated
us splendidly last evening. But apart from the wine, which was excellent,
your steward did not put anything on the table that was worthy to set
before a true epicure. You will not deny, I suppose, that the dish I sent
to you on the day when you did me the honor to sit down at my board,
contained the quintessence of all those that disgraced your magnificent
service of plate? And when I awoke this morning I remembered the promise
you once made me of a place as chef. Henceforth I consider myself
as a member of your household."
"I thought of the same thing a few days ago," replied Andrea. "I mentioned
you to the secretary of the Austrian Embassy, and you have permission to
recross the Alps as soon as you please. I have a castle in Croatia which I
rarely visit. There you may combine the offices of gate-keeper, butler,
and steward, with two hundred crowns a year. Your wife will have as much
for doing all the rest of the work. You may make all the experiments you
please in anima vili, that is to say on the stomach of my vassals.
Here is a cheque for your traveling expenses."
Giardini kissed the Count's hand after the Neapolitan fashion.
"Excellenza," said he, "I accept the cheque, but beg to decline the place.
It would dishonor me to give up my art by losing the opinion of the most
perfect epicures, who are certainly to be found in Paris."
When Andrea arrived at Gambara's lodgings, the musician rose to welcome
"My generous friend," said he, with the utmost frankness, "you either took
advantage, last evening, of the weakness of my brain to make a fool of me,
or else your brain is no more capable of standing the test of the heady
liquors of our native Latium, than mine is. I will assume this latter
hypothesis; I would rather doubt your digestion than your heart. Be this
as it may, henceforth I drink no more wine—for ever. The abuse of
good liquor last evening led me into much guilty folly. When I remember
that I very nearly——" He gave a glance of terror at Marianna.
"As to the wretched opera you took me to hear, I have thought it over, and
it is, after all, music written on ordinary lines, a mountain of piled-up
notes, verba et voces. It is but the dregs of the nectar I can
drink in deep draughts as I reproduce the heavenly music that I hear! It
is a patchwork of airs of which I could trace the origin. The passage 'Gloire
a la Providence' is too much like a bit of Handel; the chorus of
knights is closely related to the Scotch air in La Dame Blanche; in
short, if this opera is a success, it is because the music is borrowed
from everybody's—so it ought to be popular.
"I will say good-bye to you, my dear friend. I have had some ideas
seething in my brain since the morning that only wait to soar up to God on
the wings of song, but I wished to see you. Good-bye; I must ask
forgiveness of the Muse. We shall meet at dinner to-night—but no
wine; at any rate, none for me. I am firmly resolved—"
"I give him up!" cried Andrea, flushing red.
"And you restore my sense of conscience," said Marianna. "I dared not
appeal to it! My friend, my friend, it is no fault of ours; he does not
want to be cured."
Six years after this, in January 1837, such artists as were so unlucky as
to damage their wind or stringed instruments, generally took them to the
Rue Froid-Manteau, to a squalid and horrible house, where, on the fifth
floor, dwelt an old Italian named Gambara.
For five years past he had been left to himself, deserted by his wife; he
had gone through many misfortunes. An instrument on which he had relied to
make his fortune, and which he called a Panharmonicon, had been
sold by order of the Court on the public square, Place du Chatelet,
together with a cartload of music paper scrawled with notes. The day after
the sale, these scores had served in the market to wrap up butter, fish,
Thus the three grand operas of which the poor man would boast, but which
an old Neapolitan cook, who was now but a patcher up of broken meats,
declared to be a heap of nonsense, were scattered throughout Paris on the
trucks of costermongers. But at any rate, the landlord had got his rent
and the bailiffs their expenses.
According to the Neapolitan cook—who warmed up for the
street-walkers of the Rue Froid-Manteau the fragments left from the most
sumptuous dinners in Paris—Signora Gambara had gone off to Italy
with a Milanese nobleman, and no one knew what had become of her. Worn out
with fifteen years of misery, she was very likely ruining the Count by her
extravagant luxury, for they were so devotedly adoring, that in all his
life, Giardini could recall no instance of such a passion.
Towards the end of that very January, one evening when Giardini was
chatting with a girl who had come to buy her supper, about the divine
Marianna—so poor, so beautiful, so heroically devoted, and who had,
nevertheless, "gone the way of them all," the cook, his wife, and the
street-girl saw coming towards them a woman fearfully thin, with a
sunburned, dusty face; a nervous walking skeleton, looking at the numbers,
and trying to recognize a house.
"Ecco la Marianna!" exclaimed the cook.
Marianna recognized Giardini, the erewhile cook, in the poor fellow she
saw, without wondering by what series of disasters he had sunk to keep a
miserable shop for secondhand food. She went in and sat down, for she had
come from Fontainebleau. She had walked fourteen leagues that day, after
begging her bread from Turin to Paris.
She frightened that terrible trio! Of all her wondrous beauty nothing
remained but her fine eyes, dimmed and sunken. The only thing faithful to
her was misfortune.
She was welcomed by the skilled old instrument mender, who greeted her
with unspeakable joy.
"Why, here you are, my poor Marianna!" said he, warmly. "During your
absence they sold up my instrument and my operas."
It would have been difficult to kill the fatted calf for the return of the
Samaritan, but Giardini contributed the fag end of a salmon, the trull
paid for wine, Gambara produced some bread, Signora Giardini lent a cloth,
and the unfortunates all supped together in the musician's garret.
When questioned as to her adventures, Marianna would make no reply; she
only raised her beautiful eyes to heaven and whispered to Giardini:
"He married a dancer!"
"And how do you mean to live?" said the girl. "The journey has ruined you,
"And made me an old woman," said Marianna. "No, that is not the result of
fatigue or hardship, but of grief."
"And why did you never send your man here any money?" asked the girl.
Marianna's only answer was a look, but it went to the woman's heart.
"She is proud with a vengeance!" she exclaimed. "And much good it has done
her!" she added in Giardini's ear.
All that year musicians took especial care of their instruments, and
repairs did not bring in enough to enable the poor couple to pay their
way; the wife, too, did not earn much by her needle, and they were
compelled to turn their talents to account in the lowest form of
employment. They would go out together in the dark to the Champs Elysees
and sing duets, which Gambara, poor fellow, accompanied on a wretched
guitar. On the way, Marianna, who on these expeditions covered her head
with a sort of veil of coarse muslin, would take her husband to the
grocer's shop in the Faubourg Saint-Honore and give him two or three
thimblefuls of brandy to make him tipsy; otherwise he could not play. Then
they would stand up together in front of the smart people sitting on the
chairs, and one of the greatest geniuses of the time, the unrecognized
Orpheus of Modern Music, would perform passages from his operas—pieces
so remarkable that they would extract a few half-pence from Parisian
supineness. When some dilettante of comic operas happened to be
sitting there and did not recognize from what work they were taken, he
would question the woman dressed like a Greek priestess, who held out a
bottle-stand of stamped metal in which she collected charity.
"I say, my dear, what is that music out of?"
"The opera of Mahomet," Marianna would reply.
As Rossini composed an opera called Mahomet II., the amateur would
say to his wife, sitting at his side:
"What a pity it is that they will never give us at the Italiens any operas
by Rossini but those we know. That is really fine music!"
And Gambara would smile.
Only a few days since, this unhappy couple had to pay the trifling sum of
thirty-six francs as arrears for rent for the cock-loft in which they
lived resigned. The grocer would not give them credit for the brandy with
which Marianna plied her husband to enable him to play. Gambara was,
consequently, so unendurably bad that the ears of the wealthy were
irresponsive, and the tin bottle-stand remained empty.
It was nine o'clock in the evening. A handsome Italian, the Principessa
Massimilla De Varese, took pity on the poor creatures; she gave them forty
francs and questioned them, discerning from the woman's thanks that she
was a Venetian. Prince Emilio would know the history of their woes, and
Marianna told it, making no complaints of God or men.
"Madame," said Gambara, as she ended, for he was sober, "we are victims of
our own superiority. My music is good. But as soon as music transcends
feeling and becomes an idea, only persons of genius should be the hearers,
for they alone are capable of responding to it! It is my misfortune that I
have heard the chorus of angels, and believed that men could understand
the strains. The same thing happens to women when their love assumes a
divine aspect: men cannot understand them."
This speech was well worth the forty francs bestowed by Massimilla; she
took out a second gold piece, and told Marianna she would write to Andrea
"Do not write to him, madame!" exclaimed Marianna. "And God grant you to
always be beautiful!"
"Let us provide for them," said the Princess to her husband; "for this man
has remained faithful to the Ideal which we have killed."
As he saw the gold pieces, Gambara shed tears; and then a vague
reminiscence of old scientific experiments crossed his mind, and the
hapless composer, as he wiped his eyes, spoke these words, which the
circumstances made pathetic:
"Water is a product of burning."
PARIS, June 1837.