Friday, December 16, 2005

Improvisatori. Bosetti. Spinetto.

June, 1824.—I have heard another improvisatore, a man of the name of Rosetti, who, I am told, has published poems of great merit. His improvisazione I consider as decidedly inferior to almost all I have heard of Pistrucci's.

I am inclined to believe that his lines were more harmonious ; but am not quite sure that I may not have been deceived and blinded, or rather deafened, to any harshness of rhythm by the beauty and musicalness of his tones. From what I heard this evening, I am more than ever convinced that with its surprising novelty the talent of improvisazione* has lost its principal charm for me. The numberless expletive expressions which occur so frequently, and seem to fill up each pause as regularly as the accompanying music, become very fatiguing ; and Rosetti very rarely relieved their sameness by any passage of spirit.

The subjects chosen I thought indifferent. The first was the treachery of Csesar Borgia, who invited five friends to sup with him and murdered them. Very little indeed was said or sung to reprobate the treachery, but much on the tame, commonplace, threadbare subject of the lamentations of the wives, children, &c. &c. of the deceased.

The second subject I think much better, and was, therefore, more disappointed in the performance. It ought, however, in fairness, to be remembered that in this Rosetti was, by his own desire, fettered not only by a given measure, the ottava rima, but also by given rhymes for each stanza. The subject was Lorenzo de Medici going in person and alone, with an embassy from the Republic of Florence, to the treacherous Ferdinand King of Naples; no other Florentine daring to trust himself in the power of this cruel traitor, who is represented as quite overcome by this instance of generous confidence.

A short time ago I heard the Marchese Spinetto, in the course of his lectures on modern literature, treat the subject of improvisatores, and was amused at seeing how very much higher he rates the talent than Foscolo, whom I heard lecture upon it last year. I must say that when he enumerated the infinite variety of knowledge, of talent, of feelings, requisite to make a good improvisatore, I thought he required even more than Imlac, in his well-known definition of a poet, and longed to exclaim, like Rasselas,' Enough! thou hast convinced me that no human being can ever be an improvisatore !'

This Spinetto would have denied ; and if the wonders which he related of the celebrated improvisatrice, Corilla,** are well authenticated, her knowledge must have been fully equal to that of the Admirable Crichton. At one sitting she treated twelve different subjects; these were repeated to us, and certainly —properly filled—would have comprised a vast fund of knowledge; yet I fancied when I thought them over, I could in most discover the loophole by which the improvisatore so often contrives to slip out of the given subject, and glide into the beaten track of commonplace. Spinetto told us he understands that Rosa Taddei, now living at Florence, is supposed to be nearly equal to Corilla.


Talking on the subject of improvisazione with Prati, to whom Italian is nearly as familiar as his own language (German), I said 'After all, it is a talent peculiar to the Italians, and depending, in great measure, upon the facility of versification which their language affords.'

He assured me, not only that he had frequently heard the thing done in German, but that want of voice for singing alone would prevent him from doing it himself. Spinetto, in his lecture, spoke of a French improvisatore, who, in his own language, versified impromptu, with all the fetters of a given subject, measure, &c.
Editor’s notes
The Italians have been the most assiduous and successful professors of this art, but they have by no means enjoyed a monopoly of it. Spain and Portugal have produced many much-admired improvisatori; Germany, a few ; France and Holland, one or two each ; and England one, Theodore Hook, of surprising and surpassing merit in his way. Sheridan listened with wondering admiration ; Coleridge, under the combined influence of wit and punch, placed him on a par with Dante; and Byron spoke of him as the only Englishman ever equal to the feat. His favourite mode of exhibition was a comic song or mock opera, to which he played the accompaniment on the piano. It is worthy of remark that only one of the Italians (Gianni) has submitted his extemporised effusions to the test of print with even moderate success, and that only one (Metastasio) has acquired an independent and permanent celebrity.

* Note by Miss Wynn.—This is a cumbrous, awkward word in English, but I cannot, like a lady (I forget who, but I heard her) say, 'He played an improvisatore on the piano.'
* Crowned in the Capitol in 1776.

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