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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: April 2018

1 - My relationship with Spontini

from Contents of Volume Two


Until my move to Berlin I had not gotten to know anything by Spontini beyond the overtures for LA Vestaleand Fernand Cortez, and three duets from the latter opera; that is, I still did not know him at all. For, just as is the case with Gluck, likewise with Spontini, one can only comprehend his music in its proper place, on the stage. For him as well, the real task was already no longer the music, but the drama - the dramatic effect. Now his opera began to have an effect on me, beginning with Cortez.

It was at this time, 1823 I believe, that I was introduced to Spontini. From the salon, decorated in the Parisian taste, I was led into his workroom. I was introduced to him as a friend of music. He met me in a friendly way in his usual house-wear of light white fabric. Naturally, I soon led the conversation to Fernand Cortez, which I had seen shortly before. I spoke to him of the impressions that were entirely new to me. “However”, I added, “at least the situation on the stage was not new to me. We Germans have an opera of similar bent in Winter's Unterbrochnes Opferfest; it is just that that one takes place among the weaponless Peruvians, while your Cortez plays instead in the glittering Mexico in the battle against the warlike group of Indians. One is sure, that Winter belongs to a now peaceful people, but you, in contrast, worked under Napoleon's eyes.” This turn of phrase seems to have pleased him. He told me, as mentioned earlier, that Napoleon himself had commissioned him for a composition that would arouse new heroic feelings in the Spanish, “who belong to France”, as he still said in 1823 in an entirely Napoleonic way. — “For”, he added, “Napoleon's mission was not, as people always claim, conquering; that was only the means for his end. His mission was to awake the sleepy and backward peoples to new life and progress.” I felt that I did not have the right to answer in a contradictory way, and underlined the observation that they served Napoleon's goals only against their wills, and only so.