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The opera-based fantasy for the piano flourished during much of the 19th century. In an era when operatic music had a strong and immediate popular appeal, as well as an aura of glamour, yet was not generally accessible to a large part of the musical public, it is not surprising that alternative means were derived for its dissemination, mostly through the most popular domestic instrument. The repertory of operatic adaptations, of one kind or another, was very large, and used not only for domestic music-making but also at concerts by virtuoso pianists.

The simplest form of piano music derived from opera is seen in the variations composed during the Classical era, for example those by Mozart on opera themes by Salieri, Paisiello, Gluck and others, or by Beethoven on themes by Dittersdorf, Grétry, Salieri and others. Chopin continued this tradition in his variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from ...


Hans Joachim Marx

(bc 1700; d after 1735). German soprano . She is first mentioned as singing in Brunswick in 1717, in G. C. Schürmann’s Telemachus und Calypso. She is noted in Willers’s theatrical register of 8 April 1720: ‘there was no opera, because the Eisentraut would not sing for the year for 300 Reichsthalers’; presumably she was in Hamburg from 1717 to 1720, and refused to sing because of the devaluation of money at the time. In 1730 she sang in Telemann’s Das neu-beglückte Sachsen at the Gänsemarkt Opera. After another refusal to appear on 19 November 1731, she disappears from the records until the beginning of 1733, when she sang in operas by Telemann and Keiser. On 22 November 1733 Willers notes that ‘an infamous lampoon on the Eisentraut’ had been published, which ‘very much distressed her’. She last sang at the Gänsemarkt Opera in 1735; there is no record of her thereafter....


Brian Trowell

The verbal text of an opera. For discussion of the printed wordbook, see Libretto.

The term ‘libretto’ has been extended from its literal meaning of ‘small book’ to denote the literary content of an opera, not merely its separate physical existence. The sung text will also appear in the musical score, though the visual layout of verse forms and poetic lineation will there vanish, and scene descriptions and stage directions will often be omitted or shortened. Score and wordbook together form a blueprint for theatrical performance, where the words will (one hopes) be heard, as song, as recitative, or in some forms of opera as speech, and the other arts prescribed or implicit in the libretto will be realized as acting, movement in space, dance, decor (including machines), lighting and costume. It is evident that ‘literary content’ is an insufficient description, for the libretto, unlike the play text, is only part of the blueprint. With these cautions in mind the libretto, like the play text, may be discussed as literature....


Bryan Gilliam and Charles Youmans


(b Munich, June 11, 1864; d Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Sept 8, 1949). German composer and conductor. He emerged soon after the deaths of Wagner and Brahms as the most important living German composer. During an artistic career which spanned nearly eight decades, he composed in virtually all musical genres, but became best known for his tone poems (composed during the closing years of the 19th century) and his operas (from the early decades of the 20th). Coming of age as a composer at a time when the duality of bourgeois and artist had become increasingly problematic, Strauss negotiated the worlds of art and society with a remarkable combination of candour and irony. Averse to the metaphysics of Wagner and indifferent to Mahler's philosophical intentions in music, Strauss exploited instead the paradoxes, inconsistencies and potential profundities to be found in modern, everyday life. The new possibilities he envisioned for music were exemplified in the eclecticism of the opera ...


Roger Parker

(Fortunino Francesco )

(b Roncole, nr Busseto, 9/Oct 10, 1813; d Milan, Jan 27, 1901). Italian composer. By common consent he is recognized as the greatest Italian musical dramatist.

A month after Verdi's death, a solemn procession through Milan accompanied by hundreds of thousands of mourners assisted the transfer of his remains to their final resting place. The procession was sent on its way by a rendition of ‘Va pensiero’, the chorus of Hebrew slaves from one of Verdi's earliest operas, Nabucco.

It is easy to see why this event has captured the imagination and assumed significance. By the time of his death, Verdi had established a unique position among his fellow countrymen: although many of his operas had disappeared from the repertory, he had nevertheless become a profound artistic symbol of the nation's achievement of statehood. Parts of his operatic legacy had entered into a kind of empyrean, divorced from the checks and balances of context and passing fashion. The fact that ‘Va pensiero’, written some 60 years earlier, could express contemporary Italians' feelings for their departed hero demonstrated the extent to which Verdi's music had been assimilated into the national consciousness....


Jeremy Hayes, Bruce Alan Brown, Max Loppert, and Winton Dean

(b Erasbach, nr Berching, Upper Palatinate, July 2, 1714; d Vienna, Nov 15, 1787). Bohemian-Austrian composer of Italian and French opera, a leading figure in opera of the second half of the 18th century, and the person chiefly credited with the ‘reform’ of opera after the age of Metastasian opera seria.

Jeremy Hayes

Gluck’s interest in music was evident from an early age. He studied the violin, the cello and singing, but his father was opposed to his becoming a professional musician and wanted him to follow his own career as a forester. To escape this, Gluck ran away from home at the age of 13 or 14 and went to Prague, earning his living on the way by singing and playing the jew’s harp (as he later told the painter Christian von Mannlich). Although he was involved in a great deal of music-making in the Bohemian capital, and for a time was organist at the Tyn Church, he does not appear to have received any systematic musical education there and was largely self-taught. An early influence must have been the Prague opera house, where Italian opera was popular: Vivaldi, Albinoni and Lolli were among the composers whose works were most often performed there in the first half of the 18th century....