Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

four till seven, are said to have possessed a consistency of thought and a symmetry of design which were perfectly surprising. Mr Barrington observes, that at the above period — namely, when Mozart was eight years old - his skill in extemporaneous modulation, making smooth and effective transitions from one key to another, was wonderful ; that he executed these musical difficulties occasionally with a handkerchief over the keys; and that, with all these displays of genius, his general deportment was entirely that of à child. While he was playing to Mr Barrington, his favourite cat came into the room, upon which he immediately left the instrument to play with it, and could not be brought back for some time; after which he had hardly resumed his performance, when he started off again, and began running about the room with a stick between his legs for a horse! At twelve years of age, he wrote his first opera, La Finta Semplice, the score of which contained 558 pages; but though approved by Hasse and Metastasio, in consequence of a cabal among the performers, it was never represented. He wrote also, at the same age, a mass, Offertorium, &c. the performance of which he conducted himself. The precocity of Handel, though not quite so striking, was nearly so. At nine years of age, he composed some motets of such merit, that they were adopted in the service of the church; and about the same age, Purcell, when a singingboy, produced several anthems so beautiful, that they have been preserved, and are still sung in our cathedrals. • To beings like these,' Mr Hogarth observes, music seems to have no rules. What others consider the most profound and learned combinations, are with them the dictates of imagination and feeling, as much as the simplest strains of melody.'

Mozart's early passion for arithmetic is well known, and to the last, though extremely improvident in his affairs, he was very fond of figures, and singularly clever in making calculations. Storace, a contemporary and kindred genius, who died in his thirty-third year, and whose English operas are among the few of the last century which still continue to hold their place on our stage, had the same extraordinary turn for calculation. We are not aware whether this can be shewn to be a usual concomitant of musical genius; but, if it can, the coincidence might lead to much curious metaphysical inquiry. Certain it is, that there exists a connection between that almost intuitive perception of the relation of numbers with which some individuals are gifted, and that faculty of the mind which applies itself to the intervals of the musical scale, the distribution of the chords, their effect separately and in combination, and the adjustment of the different parts of a score. It is by no means improbable, that, owing to some such subtlety of perception, Mozart was enabled to work off an infinitely greater variety and multitude of compositions, in every branch of the art, before he had reached his thirty-sixth year, in which he was cut off, than has ever been produced by any composer within the same space of time, and with a degree of minute scientific accuracy which has disarmed all criticism, and defied the most searching examination.

Nevertheless, there is seldom anything wonderful which is not exaggerated, and many absurd stories have been circulated in regard to these efforts; among others, that the overture to Don Giovanni was composed during the night preceding its first performance.

This piece was certainly written down in one night, but it cannot be said to have been composed in that short space of time. The facts are as follow :-He had put off the writing till eleven o'clock of the night before the intended performance, after he had spent the day in the fatiguing business of the rehearsal. His wife sat by him to keep him awake. He wrote,' says Mr Hogarth, while she ransacked her memory for the fairy tales of her youth, and all the humorous and amusing stories she could think of. As long as she kept him laughing till the tears ran down his cheeks, he got on rapidly; but if she was silent for a moment, he dropped asleep. Seeing at last that he could hold out no longer, she persuaded him to lie down for a couple of hours. At five in the morning, she awoke him; and at seven, when the copyists appeared, the score was completed. Mozart was not in the habit of composing with the pen in his hand: his practice was not merely to form in his mind a sketch or outline of a piece of music, but to work it well, and complete it in all its parts; and it was not till this was done that he committed it to paper, which he did with rapidity, even when surrounded by his friends, and joining in their conversation. There can be no doubt that the overture to Don Giovanni existed fully in his mind when he sat down to write it the night before its performance; and even then, his producing with such rapidity a score for so many instruments, so rich in harmony and contrivance, indicates a strength of conception and a power of memory altogether wonderful.' In truth, Mozart's whole life would seem to have consisted of little more than a succession of musical reveries. He was very absent, and in answering questions, appeared to be always thinking about something else. Even in the morning, when he washed his hands, he never stood still, but used to walk up and down the room. At dinner, also, he was apparently lost in meditation, and not in the least aware of what he did. During all this time, the mental process was constantly going on; and he himself, in a letter to a friend, gives the following interesting explanation of his habits of composition :

• When once I become possessed of an idea, and have begun to work upon it, it expands, becomes methodised and defined, and the whole piece stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance. Nor do I hear in my imagination the parts successively, but I hear them, as it were, all at once: the delight which this gives me I cannot express. All this inventing, this producing, takes place in a pleasing lively dream; but the actual bearing of the whole is, after all, the greatest enjoyment. What has been thus produced, I do not easily forget; and this is perhaps the most precious gift for which I

if I may

have to be thankful. When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out of the bag of my memory, use the expression, what has previously been collected in the way I have mentioned. For this reason, the committing to paper is done quickly enough ; for everything, as I said before, is already finished, and rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination.'

Apart from his musical triumphs, the personal character of Mozart is deeply interesting. From his earliest childhood, it seemed to be his perpetual endeavour to conciliate the affections of those around him; in truth, he could not bear to be otherwise than loved.

The gentlest, the most docile and obedient of children, even the fatigues of a whole day's performance would never prevent him from continuing to play or practise, if his father desired it. When scarcely more than an infant, we are told that every night, before going to bed, he used to sing a little air which he had composed on purpose, his father having placed him standing in a chair, and singing the second to him; he was then, but not till then, laid in bed perfectly contented and happy. Throughout the whole of his career, he seemed to live much more for the sake of others than for himself. His great object at the outset was to relieve the necessities of his parents; afterwards, his generosity towards his professional brethren, and the impositions practised by the designing on his open and unsuspicious nature, brought on difficulties; and, finally, those exertions, so infinitely beyond his strength, which in the ardour of his affection for his wife and children, and in order to save them from impending destitution, he was prompted to use, destroyed his health, and hurried him to an untimely grave.

Mozart was extremely pious. In a letter written in his youth from Augsburg, he says: 'I pray every day that I may do honour to myself and to Germany—that I may earn money, and be able to relieve you from your present distressed state. When shall we meet again, and live happily together?' It is not difficult to identify these sentiments with the author of the sublimest and most expressive piece of devotional music which the genius 'of man has ever consecrated to his Maker. Haydn also was remarkable for his deep sense of religion. When I was engaged in composing the Creation, he used to say, 'I felt myself so penetrated with religious feeling, that before I sat down to write, I earnestly prayed to God that he would enable me to praise him worthily' It is related also of Handel, that he used to express the great delight which he felt in setting to music the most sublime passages of Holy Writ, and that the habitual study of the Scriptures had a strong influence upon his sentiments and conduct.

THE WANDERING JEW.

THERE is something so striking and impressive in the idea of a human creature being doomed to wander perpetually over the earth, restless and without hope of rest, deprived of the prospect of peace which the grave holds out to all other terrestrial beings fated to outlive every social tie, and to 'see generation after generation, of descendants it may be, passing away successively from before his eyes — there is something so striking in the idea of such a lot, that it is no wonder mankind should have had their interest strongly excited by the legend of the Wandering Jew, and that the subject should have been a favourite one with the lovers of poetry and romance. To fanaticism and imposture, the fiction has held out equal temptations. At various periods since the commencement of the Christian era, individuals have assumed the character of the Wandering Jew, and have succeeded in attracting notice, and gaining credence, to a greater or less extent, from their wondering contemporaries.

It is extremely probable that this legend had its origin in the words used by Christ to the Apostle Peter, on the

« ZurückWeiter »