Eleanor Marx 1881

An Account of Abbé Vogler,

(From Fetis & Nisard.)
by Miss Eleanor Marx.

“An Account of Abbé Vogler” appears in Browning Society Papers, published 1881, p.339, 339-344, edited by Furnivall. Apparently, Eleanor Marx transcribed the wills for the book Fifty Earliest English Wills (Early English Text Society 1882) edited by Frederick Furnivall (1825-1910). The latter founded the Early English Text Society in 1864, from which sprang societies dealing with Chaucer (1868), Shakespeare (1873), Browning (1881) and Shelley (1886). Eleanor Marx seems to have devilled the piece for Furnivall and he put her name on it to be accurate though the subject is very distant from her interests and expertise. She was both uninterested in music and very hostile to the church and clerics, however musical they may have been.
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Abbé George Joseph Vogler was born at Würzburg (Bavaria) on the 15th June, 1749. His father, a musical instrument maker, had the boy taught the clavecin, but George soon surpassed his master. Alone, and without any instruction, he learnt to play upon several instrument, and also invented a new system of fingering, which he subsequently taught in his schools. Abbé Vogler began his humanities in the Jesuit College of his native town, and concluded his studies at the Jesuit Seminary of Bamberg. In 1771 he went to Mannheim, where he obtained permission to compose a ballet for the Court Theatre. Charles Theodore, the Elector Palatine, now became his patron, and at his own expense sent Vogler to study counterpoint under the direction of Father Martini at Bologna. Vogler, however, soon wearied of the old teacher’s slow method, and with characteristic impatience left him after six weeks. He now proceeded to Padua, and while studying theology there, also took lessons in harmony and musical composition with Father Valotti. This time the pupil proved more persevering, and remained with his instructor for five months. Valotti’s system of harmony delighted Vogler, who founded his own system upon it. His theological studies ended, Vogler set out for Rome, where he was ordained priest. In spite of his youth, the Abbé seems to have already enjoyed a certain reputation, for he met with a most sympathetic reception in the Eternal City. He was even made “ apostolic protonotary, chamberlain to the Pope, chevalier of the Golden Spur, and member of the Academy of ‘Arcades’ (?).” In 1775 he returned to Mannheim, where his first act was to open a School of Music. He now published several works:[1] an exposition of his Theory of Music and Composition (Tonwissenschuft und Tonsetkunst); on the art of forming the voice (Stimmbildungkunst), & c. These publications raised a critical storm against Vogler, who was accused of “charlatanism,” and of not producing in his famous school the wonderful results he had predicted. Nevertheless, this school did produce some illustrious musicians. The names of Winter, Knecht, and Ritter speak for themselves. During the latter years of his residence at Mannheim, Vogler had been appointed chaplain and second kappiel-meister, and at this period composed a “Miserere,” of which Mozart speaks very slightingly. Indeed Mozart is so bitter that one is tempted to accept M. Fetis’ suggestion that he owed the Abbé some personal grudge.

In 1770 Charles Theodore succeeded to the Electorate of Bavaria, and settled down at Munich, whither Vogler followed him. Towards 1780 Vogler had composed a little opera, The Merchant of Smyrna, an overture and some entr'actes to Hamlet; Ino, a ballet, and Lampredo, a melodrama. In 1781 his opera Albert III was produced at the Court Theatre of Munich. This did not meet with the admiration its composer had anticipated, and he shortly after resigned his posts of chaplain and master of the choir. There is some doubt as to Vogler’s next movements, but it is probable that, tired of being a continual butt for the German critics, he went abroad to appeal to the musicians of other nations. At any rate he was in Paris in 1783, and his comic opera La Kermesse was brought out, but failed so signally that the performance could not be concluded. After this failure Vogler travelled in Spain, Greece, and the East, returning to Europe in 1786, when he proceeded to Sweden, and was there appointed kapel-meister to the King.[2] About this time Vogler had the “musical instrument of his invention,” which he called an “Orchestrion,” constructed.[3] In 1789 Vogler himself performed upon his “instrument” at Amsterdam, but with no success. Certain enthusiastic admirers exalted the orchestrion above the most beautiful organs of Holland, with the result that other critics had recourse to violent accusations in order to depreciate Vogler’s invention. The latter now went to London with his organ, and in January 1790 gave a series of concerts. These proved eminently successful; the Abbe realized some Ł1300 (30,000 francs), and made a name as an organist. He was then commissioned to reconstruct the organ of the Pantheon on the plan of his Orchestrion, and at a later date Vogler received like commissions at Copenhagen and at Neu Ruppin in Prussia. On his return to Germany in August 1790 the Abbé met with most brilliant receptions at Coblenz, Frankfort, and in Suabia, and at last succeeded in attracting general attention to his compositions. His opera Castor and Pollux was performed at Mannheim in 1791, and obtained a legitimate success, the overture and some numbers of the score being printed. Soon after Vogler published at Spire a collection of pieces under the title of Polymelos, or characteristics of the music of different peoples. In the same year Vogler performed several times on the organ at Hamburg, and his opera Gustavus Adolphus was brought out in Stockholm a few days before the assassination of Gustavus III. In this town Vogler also lectured on his system of harmony, and published a treatise in Swedish on the same subject. In the spring of 1794 Vogler again visited Paris, wishing, he said, to study the genre of music adopted by the French revolutionists at the public fetes, and to add the result of his observations to the materials of his Polymelos. At Paris he gave an organ recital in the Church of St. Sulpice, at which many artists were present, and which added immensely to his already high reputation. Thus the Paris of 1794 avenged the insults of 1783.

Vogler returned to fulfil his engagement at Stockholm, but his duties as kapel-meister took up so little of his time during the minority of Gustavus IV., and so rarely afforded him an opportunity for distinguishing himself, that in 1796, at the conclusion of his engagement, he asked for his pension; but the successful results obtained by him in his School of Music induced the Duke of Sudermanie, regent of the kingdom, to beg him to prolong his stay in Sweden. This Vogler consented to do, and remained there till 1799, when he received a pension of 500 écus. He next visited Denmark, founding a School of Music at Copenhagen. Here Vogler also published many works, his Choral System appearing in 1800. In the same year he produced what is considered his finest work. Hermann de Unna, a drama with overture, choruses, songs, and dance music, originally composed to a Swedish libretto. This drama proved a great success, and was performed the following year at Berlin, the score being published at Leipzig. At Berlin Vogler gave several concerts, and published his Data zur Akustik. From Berlin he proceeded to Prague, where he remained about two years, delivering lectures at the University. In 1803 he left Prague for Vienna, where he wrote his opera Samori, which was performed in 1804. The war drove Vogler from Austria in 1805, and he returned to Munich, where his opera Castor und Pollux was performed on the occasion of Eugene Beauharnais’ marriage with the Princess of Bavaria. During the next few years Vogler published various works, chiefly on acoustics, and at different periods paid visits to Frankfort and certain towns on the Rhine. In 1807 Vogler was invited by the Grand Duke Louis I. to go to Darmstadt and accept the post of kapel-meister. This he did, founding there his last school. One of his pupils here was Carl Maria von Weber, another was Meyerbeer. The latter when a boy of twelve had written a fugue, which Weber sent his old master Vogler; but instead of the enthusiastic letter he had expected, Weber received a voluminous treatise on the theory and practice of the fugue. Weber was disappointed, but Meyerbeer delighted. Vogler’s theory was a revelation to him, and setting to work, he composed another fugue, and sent it to the Abbé, who this time wrote, “There is a great future before you in the art. Come to me at Darmstadt; I will receive you like a son.” And when Meyerbeer was fifteen he entered Vogler’s school. Of Vogler’s method of instruction we know something through Meyerbeer. After mass in the morning the Abbé assembled all his pupils, and gave them an oral lesson in counterpoint; then he gave them a composition to write on a given theme, and wound up the day’s work by a careful examination and analysis of what each pupil had written. Sometimes, too, Vogler took his pupils to the principal church, in which were two organs; and there, seated before the one, and his pupils in turn before the other, he improvised with them. For two years Meyerbeer studied with Vogler, when the school was closed, and the Abbé travelled with his pupils from one town to another. Thus from Vogler’s first school proceeded Winter, Knecht, and Ritter; from his second Weber and Meyerbeer. Surely a sufficient answer to those who would see in him a mere “charlatan.” That Vogler was much liked by his pupils there can be no doubt. Weber calls him his “well-beloved” and “cherished” master, and on hearing of his death, wrote, “Peace be to his ashes. I have much to thank him for, and he has always shown me the most sincere affection.” That Vogler was not ungrateful, nor, as Mozart says, “a fool who thinks there is no one greater than himself,” we know, too, from his generous acknowledgment of the debt he owed Valotti. “I did not invent the whole of my system, but learnt it in 1775 from Father Valotti, an old man of eighty, who for over fifty years had been kapelmeister in Padua.” This he writes in his Choral System (1800), in which he wittily and energetically defends himself against the attacks and misrepresentations of which he had been a victim. At the end of this amusing little book, after an earnest wish that “Harmonizers and professors would harmonize a little more,” and “that for once the zeal of artists for their art might grow and stifle their envy of fellow-artists,” he appeals to the “Philistines of Lilliput,” his countrymen, “to awake from lethargic slumber,” and to

“Hear (music),
See (scores),
Feel (effects),
And think!”

In 1814 Vogler died. During the last few months of his life he lived quietly at Darmstadt, occupied chiefly with the publication of his last works. (Nisard, Vie de L'Abbé Vogler, and Fétis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens.)

[Those who object that Abt Vogler should not have been taken as the type of a great Musician, because none of his work survives, are reminded that Browning takes Vogler as a great Extemporizer only, and dwells on the evanescence of his art. His title of Abbé justifies the assumption of his deep religious feeling. I have heard Browning say that he thought Mendelssohn’s extemporizing more wonderful than his writing. – F.]

1. A complete list is given in Nisard’s Vie de Abbé Vogler

2. It is difficult to say what Vogler’s functions as kappel-meister were. He might have been simply the director of the church choir, or, as is probable, director also of the orchestra, and charged with superintending all the musical productions at Court.

3. This was a very compact organ, in which four key-boards of five octaves each, and a pedal board of thirty-six keys, with swell complete, were packed into a cube of nine feet. See Fetis’s Biographie Universelle des Musiciens. – G. Grove.


1850. ‘Art and Poetry: Being Thoughts towards Nature.’ Conducted principally by Artists.[1] No. 4, April, p.187-192. A plea justifying Browning’s style, by W.M. Rossetti, under the heading Reviews, Christmas Eve and Easter Day: by Robert Browning,” a book not toucht on in the article: this style “ is not, in many cases, that which is spoken of as something extraneous, dragged in afore-thought, for the purpose of singularity, the result more truly of a most earnest and single-minded labor after the utmost rendering of idiomatic conversational truth; the rejection of all stop-gap words; about the most literal transcript of fact compatible with the ends of poetry and true feeling for Art.”

1860. Nightingale Valley / a collection / including a great number / of the choicest Lyrics / and ; short poems / in the English Language / edited by Giraldus, – [Motto] London / Bell & Daldy. 186, Fleet Street / 1860.

[A subsequent edition, 1862, adds. “Edited by William Allingham."]

Contains. My Last Duchess; Protus; The Laboratory; Up in a Villa, & c.; May and Death,.

Note Q, page 143 :

The Laboratory.-A Study of the present lyric will throw some light upon the principles of this wonderful Poet’s Versification. Take this verse, for example, and emphasize the words given in italics :

He is with her ; and they know that I know

where they are, what they do : they believe nr,y tears flow

while they laugh, laugh at nr.e, at me fled to the drear

Empty church to pray God in for t/een..'-I am here.’ “-T. W. CA. s0N.

The Title to Nos. 1 and 2, .Jan. and Feb. 1850, is “The Germ : / Thoughts towards Nature / In Poetry, Literature, and Art.” Nos. 3 and 4 are as abuv.

Roberto, e tu the : Apritemi, Dicesti, il cuore, ein esso Leggerete cl’ Italia

j Il sac mu one impresso:

314 Sr.R.APS FOR TL1F.

1861. Dante G. Rossetti. Early Italian Pro t:: Preface, p. ;ti, refers to

“a great living poet.” and quotes 1-I lines from “ Still, what if

I approach the august sphere,” to “ It I droll alter SAGxR.

1373. Poem, by the its Isa 13la,ilen. With a Memoir by Alfred Austin. A few lines in the Memoir, p. sic, saying it ,veil be agreeable to 1L.. Browning if record is made that Miss Blagdeu was kind to Mrs. Browning during her last illness.

1374. Giuseppe Chiarini, Poesie (Stole, Canti, Traduzioni di Heine. Traduzioni di Poesie luglesi). In Livorno. Quotes un p. 5, I3rowoiug’s 4 lines “ \Vhv take the artistic way to prove so much! “ & u. Ring and Book, vol. iv. § xii. 841-I ; has on p. 23, in the Al Lettore,’ 1V’, p. 23, these lines on E. B. B.

and R. B. (De Gnstibos, 1. 43-4.)

E to eh’ alla mia ()atria Tanta sacrasti eletta

Porte del came, angelica Britanna Elisabetta ;

On p. 419. the latter verse is repeated, after ‘ Da Robert Browning, and Up at a Villa-Down in time City is translated as “.5n ivt ['ilia e qiü in Cittd secondo la Distinzione fault da un ragguardevole Petsouacgio Italiano.” The attempt does not seem to me successful : witness the Virgin-procession bit,

“Suone. mezzogiorno, e passa Ra to plan, ra to plan; suonano i La processione. Portam la Madonna, pitied
Ridente e in gala, con un bel vestito Fi r. n, r Ji,r ; tutti dimenano
Di mu,solina colore di rosa Le gambe. Oh gli e pur questo it gran
Trapuntato di stelle, e Bette spade pincers “

Conticcate nel ctn.! Rulla it tamburo, I (Mrs. Fitz-herald lent me the book.)

1576. Bayard Taylor. ‘The Echo Club, and other Literary Diversions.’

p. 21, 25, 33. Discussion of Brownine’s style mainly, with four imitations of a bit of Sordello. of James Lee’s Wife (’ By the Sea’), of the Ring and the Book (’ Angelo orders his Dinner’), and of Lore among the Ruins (’ On the Track’). It says that “Browning is the most dramatic of poets since Shalespere” (p. 25). that Sordello is perplexity. not profundity (p. 27), and shows the care with which the writer has read that poem by observing that “ we have a right to be vexed with Browning, when, in the dedicatory letter to the new edition of Sordello, he says that he had taken pains to make the work something ‘which the many night, instead of what the few must like,’ but after all. did not choose to publish the reviser! copy (!) , . . However . . Browning has a royal brain, and we owe him too much to bear malice against him."-Mrs. Fitz-Gerald lent me the book.

1876. E. D. W. Verses.’ Sonnet, “ . To R. Browning.” Sonnet, “Browning and Shelley.”

1579. G. Barnett Smith. Robert Browning, an article of 19 pp. in the ‘International Review ‘ for Feb. 1879. This appears to be, in substance, the same as the memoir in Tire Portrait.-T. LANE,

1880. ‘The Pen,’ June 19. Note from Mr. W. G. Kingsland, with art extract from a letter written to him by Browning in 1868 on the charge of obscurity. “I can have little doubt that my writing has been in the main too hard for many I should have been pleased to communicate with ; but I never designedly tried to puzzle people, as some of my critics have supposed. On the other hand. I never pretended to offer such literature as should be a substitute for a cigar or a game at dominoes to an idle man. Su. perhaps, on the whole I get my deserts, and something over-not a crowd, but a few I value more.”