Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

What are we to understand by this ?' asked the chapelmaster.

You must find the application. I really did see the butterfly playing on your grand piano, but I only wished to express an idea which struck me when I heard the doctor speak concerning Clara's illness. It has always appeared to me as if nature had placed us upon an immense key-board, which we unceasingly use; we are capable of producing from it rich harmony and flowing melody, but too often we strike the chords so rudely, so inharmoniously, that we fall heart-wounded by the repulsion.

*That is very obscure; very metaphysical ;' said the chapelmaster.

• Patience, patience, exclaimed the doctor, laughing; "he is now upon his hobby, and will soon be off, full gallop, to the land of presentiments, of dreams, of sympathies, and perhaps will not stop until he reaches magnetism.'

• Softly, doctor, softly,' said the third dialogist; 'you ought not to laugh at things whose power you yourself recognise. Did not you say, not many minutes since, that you considered Clara's malady psychological ?'

"Well, answered the doctor, “but what relation do you find betwixt Clara's case and that of your unfortunate butterfly?'

*To examine it in detail, to sift it down to the least grain of dust on the insect's wing, would, perhaps, prove rather tiresome. Let the remains of the butterfly repose in peace at the bottom of the piano. Now listen to me. When I came to this town last year, Clara was quite the fashion ; quite recherchée, to speak like the good folks in the new novels. At every party the presence of Clara was required, that she might sing a Spanish seguidilla, or an Italian canzonetta, or a French romance. "I feared very

much that the poor girl would perish in this ocean of tea; luckily she did not, but another catastrophe has happened and

•What catastrophe ?' exclaimed the doctor and the chapelmaster.

"Gentlemen, you must know that poor Clara is enchanted; and, whatever the avowal may cost me, I will avow that I, myself, am the enchanter; and like the pupil of the magician, who raised the fiend, I have not skill enough to undo what I have done.

Stuff!' exclaimed the doctor, rising from his chair; “here are we quietly sitting and listening whilst he makes fools of us.'

“The catastrophe! the catastrophe ! shouted the chapelmaster.

•Silence, gentlemen, and I will tell you all. You may laugh, if you please, at what I shall tell you; however, I shall not less regret that I was, without intending it, the cause of evil to Clara; that I served unconsciously as the conductor for the electric fluid which

• Hop! hop! hop!' said the doctor, putting the cane betwixt his legs, he is off again; he is prancing away.

• The catastrophe! the catastrophe !' bawled the chapelmaster.

*You doubtless recollect, chapel-master, the last time that Clara sang before she lost her voice. I dare say you remember that it was Easter Sunday, and that you conducted that day the beautiful mass of Haydn in F major. Clara sang the solos in fine voice. You know I was amongst the tenors. At the moment when the “Sanctus” was commencing, I heard a slight movement behind me; and, turning round, perceived, to my great astonishment, that Clara had left her place and was endeavouring to pass between the singers and the instrumentalists. “Are you going ?” said I._“I must go,” she answered ; " I have to sing at another church, and I want to go home to practise some duets, for we are invited to a party this evening; will you accompany us? we shall have some chorusses from the Messiah and the finale to the first act of Figaro.”

* As wespoke, the majestic harmony of the “Sanctus" burst forth, and the incense ascended in clouds to the cupola. “Don't you know," said I, " that to leave church during the “Sanctus” is a sin which never remains long unpunished ?” * I was jesting, and I don't know how it was that

my

words took a solemn tone. Clara turned pale and left the church. From that moment she lost her voice.'

The doctor rested his chin upon his cane, but spoke not a syllable.

• How very odd !' exclaimed the chapel-master.

• I thought no more, continued the dialogist, of what I had said to Clara, until I heard the doctor speaking of her illness; and now a tale, which I read many years ago, in an old book, suddenly strikes me; I will, if you please, relate it.'

• Do relate it,' said the chapel-master; “perhaps it will give me some idea on which to found a good comic opera.'

* My dear chapel-master,' said the doctor, 'if you can set to music dreams, presentiments, and magnetic ecstasies, it is all very well; for doubtless his tale treats on those subjects.'

The enthusiast answered not the doctor, but settling himself comfortably in his arm-chair, commenced, in a grave voice,

thus :

6

The tents of Isabella and Ferdinand of Arragon stretched, almost numberless, before the walls of Granada

• In the name of Scheherazadé !' exclaimed the doctor, here begins a story likely to last a blue moon; and I am stopping here whilst my patients are lamenting. Gentlemen, your most obedient.'

The doctor went out; but the chapel-master remained quietly sitting, and said, ' From your opening movement, I should expect some tale of the wars betwixt the Moors and the Spaniards. I have wished for a long time to compose something in that style, with combats, romances, serenades, marches, cymbals, chorusses, drums, trumpets, trombones, and tableaux vivans. So now, as we are alone, do relate this story to me, my dear friend; who knows? perhaps it may germinate in my brain some very fine conceptions.'

"Oh, doubtless, Herr chapel-master. Everything resolves into an opera

with you; and that is the reason why some steady-going people, who pretend that music ought only to be taken in small doses, consider you sometimes a little cracked. However, I will relate the tale to you;' and the dialogist recommenced :

• The tents of Isabella and Ferdinand of Arragon stretched, almost numberless, before the walls of Granada. Hoping in vain for succour, every succeeding day blockaded more closely, the coward Boabdil-called by his subjects, in derision, the little king-only found consolation for his misfortunes in the cruelties which he practised. Whilst the Moorish warriors despaired, the Spaniards were full of hope, and ardent for the combat. * An assault was not considered necessary.

Ferdinand contented himself with firing upon the ramparts, and battering down the works of the besieged. Those little skirmishes resembled gay tournaments rather than bloody combats; and even the death of comrades raised the courage of the survivors, for the victimst were honoured with all Christian pomp, as martyrs of the true faith.

'In the centre of the Spanish camp, Isabella had an immense edifice of wood constructed; from the lofty towers of it floated the standard of the cross. The interior formed a church and a cloister, and Benedictine nuns sang daily the holy services, Every morning the queen and her suite attended to hear mass, which was performed by her confessor, accompanied by a choir of nuns.

One morning, Isabella's attention was particularly drawn towards one of the voices in the choir; its superior melodious quality made itself heard above the rest, and yet, at the same time, the words were accented in so singular a manner, that it could not be doubted the nun joined for the first time in the sacred service. Isabella observed that her attendants were as much astonished as herself. She felt as if upon the brink of some strange adventure, when her eyes happened to fall upon the brave general Aguilar. He was kneeling, with his hands clasped, and his eyes firmly fixed on the gratings of the choir. When the mass was concluded, Isabella proceeded to the apartments of Donna Maria, the superior of the nuns, to make inquiries respecting the strange songstress.

"“ Deign to know, O queen!" said Donna Maria, " that about a month since, Don Aguilar planned to attack one of the enemy's outworks, surmounted by a magnificent terrace, which served the Moors as a promenade. On the night chosen by the brave Aguilar for the attack, the voluptuous songs of the Pagans were wafted from that terrace into our camp, like the voices of the syrens.

«“When the fort was carried, many women were made prisoners; and though our troops were driven from the fort back to the camp by a strong reinforcement of the enemy, yet the prisoners remained in their power. Among the women was one whose despair particularly excited the attention of Don Aguilar. He approached her; she was veiled; and, as if her grief could find no means of expression or relief but in singing, she took the cithern which hung from her neck by a golden ribbon, and, sweeping the strings, commenced a romance which described the misery of two lovers torn asunder by a cruel fate. Don Aguilar, strangely moved by those lamentations, determined to send her back in safety to Granada. She threw herself upon her knees, and raised her veil to thank him. · Are you not Zuleima, the pearl of the singers of Granada ?' exclaimed Don Aguilar. It was indeed Zuleima, whom he had seen before, when on an embassy to king Boabdil. I grant you your liberty !' said Don Aguilar. But the reverend father, Agostino Sanchez, who was standing by, crucifix in hand, then said, 'Do you know that you do wrongly to send this maiden back again amongst the infidels? Peradventure, if she remain with us, the grace of the saints may enlighten her, and lead her into the bosom of holy church.' Don Aguilar answered, 'Well, she shall remain with us a month; and, if in that time the grace of the saints does not enlighten her, then shall the maiden return to Granada.'

6“ It is thus, O queen! that Zuleima was received among us in this cloister. At first, she abandoned herself to boundless grief, and made the place re-echo with her strange songs. One night, however, we were assembled in the choir of the church, to sing the hours, according to the beautiful and holy method of the great Ferrara, when I observed, by the light of the tapers, Zuleima standing at the open door. She contemplated us with an air of grave meditation, and when we departed from the choir, two and two, I saw her kneel down in the corridor, near the image of the holy Mary. The next day she sang not romances; she passed it in silence and reflection. Soon after, we heard her trying upon her cithern, the music of the chorus; then she sang it very softly, endeavouring even to imitate the words. Thus we remarked that the goodness of the saints, manifested in her singing, had opened her soul to grace; and we sent sister Emanuella, our chorusmistress, to the young Moor, to fan into a flame the sacred spark which had illumined in her heart. Zuleima has not yet been received into holy church by the sacrament of baptism, but she is permitted to aid with her marvellous voice the glorifying of the saints,"

• The queen then understood why Don Aguilar had yielded so easily to the remonstrances of the reverend father, Agostino Sanchez; and she rejoiced greatly in the conversion of Zuleima. Some few days after, Zuleima was baptized, receiving the name of Julia. The queen herself and the marquis of Cadiz were the god-parents of the beautiful Moor. Anybody would have thought that Julia's singing would have become more fervent still, atter her baptism; but it happened quite the contrary. She often put out the choir by striking the deep tones of her cithern, which resounded along the vaulted temple, like the murmurings of a coming storm; and sometimes she interrupted the Latin hymns by singing Moorish words. Sister Emanuella, the chorus-mistress, warned the new convert to resist womanfully the devil, the secret enemy of her soul, who tempted her; but Julia, instead of following her advice, very often sang, to the great scandal of the elder sisters, tender Moorish love-songs, at the very moment when the chorusses of old Ferrara were thundered in the ears of the saints. She accompanied those ballads with a light arpeggio, which contrasted strangely with the church music, and brought to recollection the sound of the little Moorish flutes.'

Flauti piccoli, octave flutes,' said the chapel-master. But, really, my dear friend, there is in your tale absolutely nothing at all for an opera; not even an explanation at the beginning, and that is the principal thing. The episode of the cithern did certainly strike me a little. But tell me, my dear friend, with respect to Julia being incited by the devil, do you think, as I do, that the devil has a tenor voice, and sings falsetto devilish well ?'

• My dear chapel-master, you become every day more and more caustic; do pray allow me to continue my story, for I am approaching a very critical part.

. One day, the queen, accompanied by the principal captains of the army, attended the cloisters of the Benedictine nuns, according to custom, to hear mass. A mendicant, covered with rags, had placed himself near the great gates, and when the guards would have driven him away, he bounded from one side to the other like a madman, and even knocked against the queen. Don Aguilar was going to strike him with his sword; but the mendicant drew a cithern from under his tattered mantle, and made it give out tones so strange, that every body was struck with fear. When the guards had removed him, the queen was informed that he was a Moorish prisoner, who, being witless, was allowed to range the camp and amuse the soldiers with his songs. The queen entered the church, and the service commenced. When the sisters of the choir had thundered out the “ Sanctus,” at the moment when Julia was beginning, in a sonorous voice, “ Pleni sunt coeli gloria tua,” the sound of a cithern was heard in the church, and the new convert, closing her book, was going to leave the choir. The superior, Donna Maria, in vain endeavoured

« VorigeDoorgaan »