At the end of the academic year, as we finish writing exams and papers (and grading exams and papers), it seems like a good moment to take a look at two student compositions by Charles Lefebvre (1843-1917), each with corrections by Charles Gounod. Lefebvre began studying with Gounod in 1861, before entering Ambroise Thomas’s composition class at the Paris Conservatoire in the fall of 1863. He later recalled that,
“For me, the greatest influence Gounod exerted, at that time, was less the result of lessons, properly speaking, than of our frequent conversations, in which, responding to the work I submitted, the teacher elaborated on such and such a musical subject, such and such a point of technique or the history of our art, in the most illuminating speeches, often reinforced by examples drawn from the masters, which Gounod sang in his soft, uniquely charming voice, as I have never since heard them interpreted” (loosely translated from “La vie intime d’un grand musicien Charles Lefebvre,” 349).
This set of recently digitized scores takes us to Paris of the late 1820s and 1830s to view the beginnings of grand opera as a genre, with spectacular works by Spontini, Auber, and Rossini. Along the way, we’ll take note of the signs these particular scores hold of their lives as objects, both commemorative and commodified.
Gaspare Spontini, 1774-1851
Spontini’s last major Parisian work premiered at the Opéra in 1819 to unfavorable reviews, and was withdrawn after only seven performances. As was typical of his compositional practice, he revised the opera extensively following its failed debut, replacing the first version’s tragic apotheosis with a triumphant, earthly coronation. After his move to Berlin in 1820, a German version was produced in 1821 at the Hofoper, with a libretto translated by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Further revisions followed, and a third, French version, reflected here, was revived at the Opéra in February of 1826.
Title page, Olimpie, Mus 813.2.615.5
- [Olimpie. Vocal score]
Olimpie : tragédie lyrique en trois actes / imitée de Voltaire ; paroles de MMr.s Dieulafoi et Brifaut ; mise en musique par Gaspard Spontini ; réduite pour le piano. Paris : Melles. Erard, [1827?].