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 the vulgar.
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
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 very hour.
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 peace."
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 Frenchman.
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 advice.
"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 difficulty.
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 his lips.
"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
"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 in Paris.
"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
"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. Poor fellow!
"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 his conceits.
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
"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 Parisian public."
"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
"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 head.
"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
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
"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
"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-
"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 conceived scheme.
"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 street juggling.
"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
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
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 partner.
"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 abstractions.
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 Gambara.
"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 full-grown man.
"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 ideas.
"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 true laws.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 your guardianship?"
Marianna, surprised at such magnanimity, held out her hand to the
Count, who went away, trying to evade the civilities of Giardini and
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 sweet thoughts.
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
"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 Mahomet's Paradise?
"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
"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
"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
"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 opera begins:--
"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
"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
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 mania.
"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 divine."
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 impossible music.
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," said Giardini.
"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
"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
"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 quite willing.
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
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
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 mysterious hour.
"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
"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
"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
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
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 eyes.
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
"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 instrumental noise."
"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
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
"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 the words:
"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
"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, passionate man.
"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 little pale.
"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 demons.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 dramatic.
"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 music----"
"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 dreamed of."
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
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
"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 his bed.
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
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
"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
"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, and fruit.
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
When questioned as to her adventures, Marianna would make no reply;
she only raised her beautiful eyes to heaven and whispered to
"He married a dancer!"
"And how do you mean to live?" said the girl. "The journey has ruined
"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
"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.