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Italy's Musical Influence on Other Nations

By ARTHUR ELSON
 
It is undoubtedly true that Italy has been the most important nation in musical history. Other countries have usurped her place in the last century or so, but her supremacy was of long duration, and dates from before the fall of the Roman Empire.
 
Church singing, so important during the middle ages, was based on the Ambrosian and Gregorian systems. These included eight different modes, or "tones," for use in sacred music. Ambrose was Bishop of Milan at the end of the fourth century, while Gregory was Pope in the sixth. It is said that later Popes perfected the system, but we find it in full bloom before the time of Charlemagne. When that monarch found differences and opposition between the French and Italian singers in his realm, he asked them, "Where is a stream purest, at its source, or further down?" Naturally, his courtiers responded, "At its source." "Then go to Italy," he replied, "and get the proper methods there." We find the Italian Church sending out two envoys, Petrus and Romanus, who founded singing schools at Metz and St. Gallen.
 
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Italy became preëminent in counterpoint. England originated that method of composition, and the great Netherland school brought it into popular favor, but Italy added to it a lofty dignity that was found nowhere else. Palestrina marks the culmination of the Italian school. The Flemish masters had set the fashion of writing masses around some popular tune, and the tenors, who held the melody in those days, would often sing the words of the song, instead of the sacred text. This occasioned such criticism that the Council of Trent was ready to abolish church singing altogether. But some of its members knew of the value of Palestrina's work, so it was decided to let him compose a mass, in order to settle the question. He wrote not only one, but three, of which that of Pope Marcellus was the best. Its lofty and noble style was recognized at once, and made the Council admit that the contrapuntal works were well worth keeping in the service. From this Palestrina was called "The Saviour of Music."
 
A number of the Netherland masters studied in Italy, and one of them, Adrian Willaert, became a teacher of prominence in Venice. Germans, too, came to Italy, and we find Hassler studying with Andrea Gabrieli, also at Venice. Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo did pioneer work as teachers of organ playing, and many pupils came to them from foreign countries.
 
OPERA AND ORATORIO.
Opera and oratorio had their origin in Italy. The work of Cavaliere in the latter, and Peri and Caccini in the former, were the first steps that led to the inspiring music-dramas and great sacred choral works that we rejoice in at present. In opera, Peri was soon eclipsed by Monteverde, while at the end of the seventeenth century Alessandro Scarlatti was in full activity. Meanwhile, other countries had again followed Italy's lead. In Germany, we find Heinrich Schütz first in point of time, while Reinhard Keiser and others founded a later school at Hamburg. In France Lully preferred to write ballets rather than operas, but he based these on Italian models, and was himself an Italian by birth. In England Purcell was the pioneer in opera, and composed works of much beauty. His "Dido and Aeneas" is sometimes revived as a curiosity, but its music is welcome for the freshness and beauty displayed, us well as for the historical interest. Readers of The Etude know already how the Italian terms for tempo marks became general at this period, even though Lully did not adopt them. They form a list of words that is more widely known than any language, for they have entered all civilized tongues. It is a pity that modern composers sometimes try to introduce terms from their own languages. The meaning of allegro and andante, for instance, is known to cultivated people in many nations, while the words mässig or lebhaft will make them stop and think.
 
Italy was responsible for the rise of the sonata, though its final shape was due to C. P. E. Bach, Haydn and Mozart. We find Domenico Scarlatti writing such effective fugues, sonatas and other solo pieces, and performing them with such skill, that he has been well called the father of modern piano playing. Less widely known, but very valuable, is the work done by Pasquali and others in the matter of fingering. The piano itself came from Italy, for that instrument was invented by Cristofori, in 1709.
 
THE VIOLIN IN ITALY.
In violin playing, also, Italy led the world. France and Germany had some early violinists, but Corelli and Tartini were the real pioneers, both in composition and execution. In France, a great success came to Leclair, who was taught by Corelli's pupil Somis. Towards the close of the eighteenth century Viotti, another famous Italian, settled in Paris, and founded a school that included Kreutzer, Rode, Baillot and others. Some of Tartini's pupil's taught in Germany, too, but the German school did not develop the breadth and power shown in France. The first man to introduce the broad style into Germany was Ludwig Spohr.
 
Italy produced, also, the greatest single violinist that the world has ever seen—Nicolo Paganini. The story of his life is of remarkable interest, not only because of his marvelous ability, but also on account of the misfortunes and persecutions that followed him. His technique was so great that he could do many things which his successors have found impossible. Doubtless this was due to long practice; for in early youth he was compelled by his father to work many hours every day, and in later times he would do the same thing voluntarily. He used to boast of some fanciful secret about violin playing that he could reveal, and it is a fact that a pupil of his, Catarina Colcagno, gained from him a brilliancy of style that astonished all Italy; but the real secret was probably the old familiar story of hard work. Paganini did not found a school, like Corelli or Tartini, for his compositions were not especially distinctive; but his technical achievements have served as a model for all later performers.
 
HANDEL IN ITALY.
It was not only in contrapuntal times, but for the two following centuries that a sojourn in Italy was regarded as a necessary part of a musical education. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Handel at Florence in the year 1706. Handel was famous for his playing on the harpischord (sic). The story goes that once, at a masked ball, he sat down and began playing upon that instrument. Thereupon Scarlatti, entranced by the wonderful performance, said, "It must be the famous Saxon or the devil." In Rome a competition in playing was arranged between Handel and Domenico Scarlatti. Handel was declared victor on the organ, while the result on the harpischord (sic) was left in doubt. As already stated, Scarlatti was a wonderful harpischord (sic) player, but after this event, whenever he received praise for his skill, he would speak of Handel, and cross himself in token of admiration.
 
ITALY'S INFLUENCE ON GLUCK AND MOZART.
Gluck was another composer to visit Italy, going under the patronage of Prince Melzi. During his stay in that country he became Cavaliere of the order of the Sprone d'Oro, or golden spur, and he was afterwards extremely punctilious in demanding the title of Ritter von Gluck. His earlier works were all in the Italian style, including the operas "Artaserse," Cleonice," "Siface" and others. Their reception was so favorable that he was called to London, to become composer at the Haymarket Theatre. Gluck's later successes, and the reforms they caused in opera, have obscured his earlier works. But there can be no doubt that his study of Italian methods gave him ease and facility.
 
Mozart, too, spent some years in Italy, going there in 1770. Like Gluck, he won a series of operatic triumphs, and received many honors, including knighthood. One remarkable feat of his was the reproduction from memory, after one hearing, of a celebrated miserere, by Allegri, which was sung only in the Sistine Chapel. Though Mozart was a natural genius, if ever there was one, yet the Italian influence shows plainly in his works.
 
ITALIAN COMPOSERS IN OTHER LANDS.
If foreign composers gained by living in Italy, it is also true that Italian composers exerted a powerful effect by going abroad. Thus, in 1776, we find Paisiello assuming control of musical matters at the imperial court of Russia, and becoming the most important factor there in the tonal art. Some ten or eleven years later Cimarosa occupied the same position, while Paisiello became a favorite with the rising Napoleon. Cimarosa became a leading figure in Vienna, too, where he brought out his famous "Matrimonio Segreto," in 1792.
 
Rossini was another Italian who became prominent in foreign countries, even if his influence was not of the most artistic sort. Vienna, London and Paris took turns in giving him adulation. The works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and the earlier Verdi show much of superficial display rather than depth of thought, but no one can deny the important part they have played in the music of all civilized countries. That Rossini possessed real greatness is shown by his last opera, "William Tell," in which he attained something loftier than the conventional style of his early works.
 
A greater composer than Rossini was Cherubini, who settled in Paris. From the advanced style of his orchestral work, he was spoken of as an Italian who lived in France and wrote German music. His overtures are still admired on the concert platform, and his operas still revived on the dramatic stage, while the sacred compositions of his later years show much beauty. Another Italian to win remarkable operatic triumphs in Paris was Spontini.
 
ITALY'S DECADENCE.
The nineteenth century saw a musical decadence in Italy. The sweet grace of her earlier music was lost, and there were no Scarlattis or Cimarosas to relieve the monotony that came after the Rossini school. While Germany brought forth her Beethovens  and Schumanns and Wagners, Italy stood still. Thus we find that in 1850 Italy had almost no concert halls, and even the churches were content to use operatic airs set to sacred words. Some years after this Pinelli organized an orchestral concert at Rome, and engaged sixty musicians; but the box- office receipts were only fourteen francs. Sgambati produced a Beethoven symphony, but had to pay for it out of his own pocket. Opposition came from two classes—those who disliked instrumental music, and those who fought against German influence. But in 1870 the Queen gave her support, and this brought many adherents. Since then other countries have paid back a fraction of the great debt they owe to Italy.
 
THE RENAISSANCE OF MUSICAL ITALY.
But Italy could not remain long in the background, at least in opera. The works of Verdi's later years brought her renown, while Mascagni's "Rustic Chivalry" gave the world a new model for short works of dramatic intensity. Leoncavallo followed Mascagni's lead, and now Puccini uses a higher style than even Leoncavallo. Sgambati has written symphonies, Bossi has produced great organ concertos and other large works, while the cantatas and operas of Wolf-Ferrari are welcomed in many countries. In sacred music, too, there is renewed activity, due to the efforts of Perosi.
 
Italy, then, must surely be accorded first place among the nations for her services to music. Her early church singing, her lofty contrapuntal work, her service in opera, oratorio, violin and piano music, have kept her in the van of musical progress for over a thousand years; so she can well afford the century of rest from which she has now awakened.
 

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