IN WHICH THE ANDANTES BECOME ALLEGROS, AND THE ALLEGROS VIVACES.
The agitation caused by the Schut
and Custos affair had subsided. The affair led
to no serious consequences. It appeared likely
that Quiquendone would return to its habitual apathy,
which that unexpected event had for a moment disturbed.
Meanwhile, the laying of the pipes
destined to conduct the oxyhydric gas into the principal
edifices of the town was proceeding rapidly.
The main pipes and branches gradually crept beneath
the pavements. But the burners were still wanting;
for, as it required delicate skill to make them, it
was necessary that they should be fabricated abroad.
Doctor Ox was here, there, and everywhere; neither
he nor Ygene, his assistant, lost a moment, but they
urged on the workmen, completed the delicate mechanism
of the gasometer, fed day and night the immense piles
which decomposed the water under the influence of
a powerful electric current. Yes, the doctor
was already making his gas, though the pipe-laying
was not yet done; a fact which, between ourselves,
might have seemed a little singular. But before
long, at least there was reason to hope
so, before long Doctor Ox would inaugurate
the splendours of his invention in the theatre of the
For Quiquendone possessed a theatre a
really fine edifice, in truth the interior
and exterior arrangement of which combined every style
of architecture. It was at once Byzantine, Roman,
Gothic, Renaissance, with semicircular doors, Pointed
windows, Flamboyant rose-windows, fantastic bell-turrets, in
a word, a specimen of all sorts, half a Parthenon,
half a Parisian Grand Cafe. Nor was this surprising,
the theatre having been commenced under the burgomaster
Ludwig Van Tricasse, in 1175, and only finished in
1837, under the burgomaster Natalis Van Tricasse.
It had required seven hundred years to build it, and
it had, been successively adapted to the architectural
style in vogue in each period. But for all that
it was an imposing structure; the Roman pillars and
Byzantine arches of which would appear to advantage
lit up by the oxyhydric gas.
Pretty well everything was acted at
the theatre of Quiquendone; but the opera and the
opera comique were especially patronized. It
must, however, be added that the composers would never
have recognized their own works, so entirely changed
were the “movements” of the music.
In short, as nothing was done in a
hurry at Quiquendone, the dramatic pieces had to be
performed in harmony with the peculiar temperament
of the Quiquendonians. Though the doors of the
theatre were regularly thrown open at four o’clock
and closed again at ten, it had never been known that
more than two acts were played during the six intervening
hours. “Robert lé Diable,”
“Les Huguenots,” or “Guillaume Tell”
usually took up three evenings, so slow was the execution
of these masterpieces. The vivaces, at
the theatre of Quiquendone, lagged like real adagios.
The allegros were “long-drawn out”
indeed. The demisemiquavers were scarcely equal
to the ordinary semibreves of other countries.
The most rapid runs, performed according to Quiquendonian
taste, had the solemn march of a chant. The gayest
shakes were languishing and measured, that they might
not shock the ears of the dilettanti.
To give an example, the rapid air sung by Figaro,
on his entrance in the first act of “Le Barbier
de Seville,” lasted fifty-eight minutes when
the actor was particularly enthusiastic.
Artists from abroad, as might be supposed,
were forced to conform themselves to Quiquendonian
fashions; but as they were well paid, they did not
complain, and willingly obeyed the leader’s baton,
which never beat more than eight measures to the minute
in the allegros.
But what applause greeted these artists,
who enchanted without ever wearying the audiences
of Quiquendone! All hands clapped one after another
at tolerably long intervals, which the papers characterized
as “frantic applause;” and sometimes nothing
but the lavish prodigality with which mortar and stone
had been used in the twelfth century saved the roof
of the hall from falling in.
Besides, the theatre had only one
performance a week, that these enthusiastic Flemish
folk might not be too much excited; and this enabled
the actors to study their parts more thoroughly, and
the spectators to digest more at leisure the beauties
of the masterpieces brought out.
Such had long been the drama at Quiquendone.
Foreign artists were in the habit of making engagements
with the director of the town, when they wanted to
rest after their exertions in other scenes; and it
seemed as if nothing could ever change these inveterate
customs, when, a fortnight after the Schut-Custos affair,
an unlooked-for incident occurred to throw the population
into fresh agitation.
It was on a Saturday, an opera day.
It was not yet intended, as may well be supposed,
to inaugurate the new illumination. No; the pipes
had reached the hall, but, for reasons indicated above,
the burners had not yet been placed, and the wax-candles
still shed their soft light upon the numerous spectators
who filled the theatre. The doors had been opened
to the public at one o’clock, and by three the
hall was half full. A queue had at one time been
formed, which extended as far as the end of the Place
Saint Ernuph, in front of the shop of Josse Lietrinck
the apothecary. This eagerness was significant
of an unusually attractive performance.
“Are you going to the theatre
this evening?” inquired the counsellor the same
morning of the burgomaster.
“I shall not fail to do so,”
returned Van Tricasse, “and I shall take Madame
Van Tricasse, as well as our daughter Suzel and our
dear Tatanemance, who all dote on good music.”
“Mademoiselle Suzel is going then?”
“Then my son Frantz will be
one of the first to arrive,” said Niklausse.
“A spirited boy, Niklausse,”
replied the burgomaster sententiously; “but
hot-headed! He will require watching!”
“He loves, Van Tricasse, he
loves your charming Suzel.”
“Well, Niklausse, he shall marry
her. Now that we have agreed on this marriage,
what more can he desire?”
“He desires nothing, Van Tricasse,
the dear boy! But, in short we’ll
say no more about it he will not be the
last to get his ticket at the box-office.”
“Ah, vivacious and ardent youth!”
replied the burgomaster, recalling his own past.
“We have also been thus, my worthy counsellor!
We have loved we too! We have danced
attendance in our day! Till to-night, then, till
to-night! By-the-bye, do you know this Fiovaranti
is a great artist? And what a welcome he has
received among us! It will be long before he will
forget the applause of Quiquendone!”
The tenor Fiovaranti was, indeed,
going to sing; Fiovaranti, who, by his talents as
a virtuoso, his perfect method, his melodious voice,
provoked a real enthusiasm among the lovers of music
in the town.
For three weeks Fiovaranti had been
achieving a brilliant success in “Les Huguenots.”
The first act, interpreted according to the taste
of the Quiquendonians, had occupied an entire evening
of the first week of the month. Another
evening in the second week, prolonged by infinite
andantes, had elicited for the celebrated singer
a real ovation. His success had been still more
marked in the third act of Meyerbeer’s masterpiece.
But now Fiovaranti was to appear in the fourth act,
which was to be performed on this evening before an
impatient public. Ah, the duet between Raoul
and Valentine, that pathetic love-song for two voices,
that strain so full of crescendos, stringendos,
and piú crescendos all this, sung
slowly, compendiously, interminably! Ah, how
At four o’clock the hall was
full. The boxes, the orchestra, the pit, were
overflowing. In the front stalls sat the Burgomaster
Van Tricasse, Mademoiselle Van Tricasse, Madame Van
Tricasse, and the amiable Tatanemance in a green bonnet;
not far off were the Counsellor Niklausse and his
family, not forgetting the amorous Frantz. The
families of Custos the doctor, of Schut the advocate,
of Honore Syntax the chief judge, of Norbet Sontman
the insurance director, of the banker Collaert, gone
mad on German music, and himself somewhat of an amateur,
and the teacher Rupp, and the master of the academy,
Jerome Resh, and the civil commissary, and so many
other notabilities of the town that they could not
be enumerated here without wearying the reader’s
patience, were visible in different parts of the hall.
It was customary for the Quiquendonians,
while awaiting the rise of the curtain, to sit silent,
some reading the paper, others whispering low to each
other, some making their way to their seats slowly
and noiselessly, others casting timid looks towards
the bewitching beauties in the galleries.
But on this evening a looker-on might
have observed that, even before the curtain rose,
there was unusual animation among the audience.
People were restless who were never known to be restless
before. The ladies’ fans fluttered with
abnormal rapidity. All appeared to be inhaling
air of exceptional stimulating power. Every one
breathed more freely. The eyes of some became
unwontedly bright, and seemed to give forth a light
equal to that of the candles, which themselves certainly
threw a more brilliant light over the hall. It
was evident that people saw more clearly, though the
number of candles had not been increased. Ah,
if Doctor Ox’s experiment were being tried!
But it was not being tried, as yet.
The musicians of the orchestra at
last took their places. The first violin had
gone to the stand to give a modest la to his colleagues.
The stringed instruments, the wind instruments, the
drums and cymbals, were in accord. The conductor
only waited the sound of the bell to beat the first
The bell sounds. The fourth act
begins. The allegro appassionato of the
inter-act is played as usual, with a majestic deliberation
which would have made Meyerbeer frantic, and all the
majesty of which was appreciated by the Quiquendonian
But soon the leader perceived that
he was no longer master of his musicians. He
found it difficult to restrain them, though usually
so obedient and calm. The wind instruments betrayed
a tendency to hasten the movements, and it was necessary
to hold them back with a firm hand, for they would
otherwise outstrip the stringed instruments; which,
from a musical point of view, would have been disastrous.
The bassoon himself, the son of Josse Lietrinck the
apothecary, a well-bred young man, seemed to lose his
Meanwhile Valentine has begun her
recitative, “I am alone,” &c.; but she
The leader and all his musicians,
perhaps unconsciously, follow her in her cantabile,
which should be taken deliberately, like a 12/8 as
it is. When Raoul appears at the door at the bottom
of the stage, between the moment when Valentine goes
to him and that when she conceals herself in the chamber
at the side, a quarter of an hour does not elapse;
while formerly, according to the traditions of the
Quiquendone theatre, this recitative of thirty-seven
bars was wont to last just thirty-seven minutes.
Saint Bris, Nevers, Cavannes,
and the Catholic nobles have appeared, somewhat prematurely,
perhaps, upon the scene. The composer has marked
allergo pomposo on the score. The orchestra
and the lords proceed allegro indeed, but not
at all pomposo, and at the chorus, in the famous
scene of the “benediction of the poniards,”
they no longer keep to the enjoined allegro.
Singers and musicians broke away impetuously.
The leader does not even attempt to restrain them.
Nor do the public protest; on the contrary, the people
find themselves carried away, and see that they are
involved in the movement, and that the movement responds
to the impulses of their souls.
“Will you, with me, deliver the land,
From troubles increasing, an impious band?”
They promise, they swear. Nevers
has scarcely time to protest, and to sing that “among
his ancestors were many soldiers, but never an assassin.”
He is arrested. The police and the aldermen rush
forward and rapidly swear “to strike all at once.”
Saint Bris shouts the recitative which summons
the Catholics to vengeance. The three monks,
with white scarfs, hasten in by the door at the back
of Nevers’s room, without making any account
of the stage directions, which enjoin on them to advance
slowly. Already all the artists have drawn sword
or poniard, which the three monks bless in a trice.
The soprani tenors, bassos, attack the allegro
furioso with cries of rage, and of a dramatic 6/8
time they make it 6/8 quadrille time. Then they
rush out, bellowing,
God wills it,
At this moment the audience start
to their feet. Everybody is agitated in
the boxes, the pit, the galleries. It seems as
if the spectators are about to rush upon the stage,
the Burgomaster Van Tricasse at their head, to join
with the conspirators and annihilate the Huguenots,
whose religious opinions, however, they share.
They applaud, call before the curtain, make loud acclamations!
Tatanemance grasps her bonnet with feverish hand.
The candles throw out a lurid glow of light.
Raoul, instead of slowly raising the
curtain, tears it apart with a superb gesture and
finds himself confronting Valentine.
At last! It is the grand duet,
and it starts off allegro vivace. Raoul
does not wait for Valentine’s pleading, and
Valentine does not wait for Raoul’s responses.
The fine passage beginning, “Danger
is passing, time is flying,” becomes one of
those rapid airs which have made Offenbach famous,
when he composes a dance for conspirators. The
andante amoroso, “Thou hast said it,
aye, thou lovest me,” becomes a real vivace
furioso, and the violoncello ceases to imitate
the inflections of the singer’s voice, as indicated
in the composer’s score. In vain Raoul
cries, “Speak on, and prolong the ineffable slumber
of my soul.” Valentine cannot “prolong.”
It is evident that an unaccustomed fire devours her.
Her b’s and her c’s above
the stave were dreadfully shrill. He struggles,
he gesticulates, he is all in a glow.
The alarum is heard; the bell resounds;
but what a panting bell! The bell-ringer has
evidently lost his self-control. It is a frightful
tocsin, which violently struggles against the fury
of the orchestra.
Finally the air which ends this magnificent
act, beginning, “No more love, no more intoxication,
O the remorse that oppresses me!” which the
composer marks allegro con moto, becomes a wild
prestissimo. You would say an express-train
was whirling by. The alarum resounds again.
Valentine falls fainting. Raoul precipitates
himself from the window.
It was high time. The orchestra,
really intoxicated, could not have gone on. The
leader’s baton is no longer anything but a broken
stick on the prompter’s box. The violin
strings are broken, and their necks twisted.
In his fury the drummer has burst his drum. The
counter-bassist has perched on the top of his musical
monster. The first clarionet has swallowed the
reed of his instrument, and the second hautboy is
chewing his reed keys. The groove of the trombone
is strained, and finally the unhappy cornist cannot
withdraw his hand from the bell of his horn, into
which he had thrust it too far.
And the audience! The audience,
panting, all in a heat, gesticulates and howls.
All the faces are as red as if a fire were burning
within their bodies. They crowd each other, hustle
each other to get out the men without hats,
the women without mantles! They elbow each other
in the corridors, crush between the doors, quarrel,
fight! There are no longer any officials, any
burgomaster. All are equal amid this infernal
Some moments after, when all have
reached the street, each one resumes his habitual
tranquillity, and peaceably enters his house, with
a confused remembrance of what he has just experienced.
The fourth act of the “Huguenots,”
which formerly lasted six hours, began, on this evening
at half-past four, and ended at twelve minutes before
It had only lasted eighteen minutes!