Happy Birthday Meyerbeer!
A Satirical RIPM Play in One Scene
Our scene opens with the PROFESSOR beginning one of his tri-weekly music history lectures. It is early September, and morale is high. The STUDENTS, miraculously, are all on time.
PROFESSOR leans casually alongside the right of his podium.
“Class, this week marks the 227th anniversary of the birth of
Giacomo Meyerbeer, one of the most celebrated and
important composers of opera in the nineteenth century.”
The majority of the students immediately raise their hands, all to ask the same question. PROFESSOR motions to one of the students.
“Professor, who is Giacomo Meyerbeer”
PROFESSOR, freezes, his face expressing incredulity.
PROFESSOR regains his composure, and asks…
“Who here has heard of the name Giacomo Meyerbeer?”
The hall is silent. This time, no hands are raised. PROFESSOR, with a coy half-grin, senses a singular opportunity for a pedagogical moment of hallmark importance.
“Well, instead of telling you about him,
why don’t I show you using RIPM.”
STUDENTS look confused.
“RIPM? What’s RIPM?”
PROFESSOR smiles as he presses “start” on his computer and projector.
“RIPM provides access online to rare, primary
source music periodicals and a view of musical life
as seen by those who lived it for more than 200 years,
from Bach to Bernstein. As written in RIPM’s promotional
materials, its databases offer access to over 300 music
journals and more than 1,100,000 full-text pages. Just
imagine the immense possibilities for original research.”
STUDENTS are wide-eyed and extremely impressed. One calls out.
“So, how does this RIPM thing work, and
what’s Meyerbeer have to do with it?”
PROFESSOR smiles, opens for display RIPM’s databases, and enters Meyerbeer in the keyword search field.
“Expect to be overwhelmed with the results. For, as you can see,
there are 9,763 annotated records in RIPM with Full Text, and,
over 24,426 references to the composer in the RIPM European and
North American Music Periodicals. In fact, Meyerbeer was so popular
that his opera Les Huguenots (1836) was the first opera ever to
be performed at the Paris Opéra more than 1,000 times.”
“Good grief! What are we suppose to do with all of this!”
“The magic phrase here is: B O O L E A N operators!
Be prepared to define it in your next exam. With boolean,
you can easily refine your search results. Now, let’s take an
example, and look for illustrations of the composer.”
“First, we’ll access RIPM with Full Text.
Then, select Advanced Search.
In the Keyword(s) Field, enter “Meyerbeer.”
In the Type field, select “Illustration.”
PROFESSOR clicks “Search” and glances up at the lecture hall.
“As you see, in RIPM with Full Text alone,
there are 28 illustrations of Meyerbeer.”
“You mean, RIPM does all this work for us?”
PROFESSOR smiles and nods knowingly.
STUDENT THREE high-fives student next to him. PROFESSOR notes that two students, previously dozing off, suddenly wake up.
“You mean, I could search for “Meyerbeer
and Verdi, or Meyerbeer and Wagner?”
“Yes; your searches are only limited by your imagination.”
“Now, returning to our initial Meyerbeer illustrations search,
let’s click on the first record, which brings up a lovely lithograph
of Meyerbeer published in 1825 in The Harmonicon.”
The Harmonicon, Vol. 3 No. 31 (July 1825): [1p] 118/119.
* * *
“Clicking on the next citation reveals another lithograph, this one
published in 1836 in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, one of the
most influential German music journal of the early nineteenth century.”
Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung,Vol. 37 supplementary page(s) (January 1836):  872/1.
* * *
(together, with surprise)
“The next illustration is from a French journal, Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris.”
La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, Vol. 5 No. 44 (4 November 1838): [1p] 448/449.
* * *
STUDENTS become increasingly curious, which you can see in their faces.
“So we’ve already seen an illustration from an
English, German, and French journal. Now here’s
one from an Italian journal, Strenna Teatrale Europea.”
Strenna Teatrale Europea, Vol. 3 No. 2 (1840): [1p] 35/36.
* * *
STUDENTS are almost speechless.
“As you review your search results, you will
find that the 28 illustrations span Meyerbeer’s
entire career. This illustration published in the Revue musicale
for example, depicts Meyerbeer in his later years.”
La Revue musicale, Vol. 4 No. 2 (15 January 1904): 61.
* * *
“Now that we’ve indelibly imprinted in your
memory the maestro’s physiognomy, let’s
look at a few images related to his operas.”
STUDENTS, now properly adjusted to RIPM’s seemingly endless amount of rich primary source materials, look on with wonderment.
“Meyerbeer’s operas were extremely popular and
much appreciated for their staging and scenery”
“Well, that’s interesting, but what did
these lavish productions look like?”
“Fortunately, some of the 3,350 engravings dealing with music that
appeared in L’Illustration, France’s first illustrated newsweekly, offer
a glimpse into the opulent productions of Meyerbeer’s grand operas
during the height of their popularity in Paris. For example, here’s
an engraving depicting the Coronation Scene in the Münster Cathedral
from Act IV of the premiere of Le Prophète (1849).”
L’Illustration, Vol. XIII (28 April 1849): 131.
* * *
“When viewing this illustration and listening
simultaneously to the famous Coronation March
from this scene, one begins to get a sense of just
how “grand” a Meyerbeer opera must have been!”
STUDENTS listen and look on in amazement.
PROFESSOR checks watch, thinking, “time flies when you’re molding minds.”
“We have only a few more minutes. So let’s look at just two more
engravings, that also appeared in L’Illustration, of scenes from Meyerbeer’s
L’Africaine (1865), which deals with the fictitious events of Portuguese explorer
Vasco de Gama. It was premiered one year after Meyerbeer’s death, in 1864.”
L’Illustration, Vol. XLV (6 May 1865): 281.
* * *
“It’s hard to believe that these engravings are of
an opera stage. They look like scenes from movies!”
“The sheer spectacle was an integrated and expected part of
the French grand opera experience, as was the success of this lecture.“
STUDENTS laugh collectively.
“As you now know, these illustrations offer only a
glimpse into what RIPM has to offer on Meyerbeer.”
“And now that you know how RIPM functions, your
next assignment should not be a difficult one.”
“For next week, please write a ten-page essay on a topic of your
choosing related to Meyerbeer based on your research in RIPM.”
The PROFESSOR tightens his grip on the podium anticipating low, audible grumbles from the dark corners of the lecture hall. But what he hears instead pleasantly surprises him…
“Now that we know about RIPM, can we make it fifteen pages?”
PROFESSOR is overcome with emotion. His eyes well up.
“Ok, fifteen pages it is.”
STUDENTS collectively cheer.
“And next week, you can look forward to learning about
Berlioz and Meyerbeer, about Wagner and Meyerbeer,
Verdi and Meyerbeer, about the latter’s instrumentation
and orchestration, the construction of his large scale scenes,
his inventive harmonic language, and all of this in just the first
fifteen minutes of the next class. See you on Wednesday.”
RIPM search tip: RIPM is currently scanning some 3,350 engravings dealing with music that appeared between 1843 and 1899 in L’Illustration, France’s first illustrated newsweekly. RIPM plans to make them freely available, via its website. This undertaking is deeply indebted to the ground breaking three-volume publication, Les Gravures Musicales dans L’Illustration (Québec, 1983), by H. Robert Cohen, Sylvia L’Écuyer (Lacroix) and Jacques Léveillé, published under the auspices of RIdIM, with a preface by Barry S. Brook. The availability of the images will be announced in a future Curio.
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RIPM is an international non-profit organization preserving and providing access to music periodicals published in more than twenty countries between approximately 1760 and 1966, from Bach to Bernstein. Functioning under the auspices of the International Musicological Society, and the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres, RIPM produces four electronic publications: Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals, Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals with Full Text, RIPM European and North American Music Periodicals (Preservation Series), and RIPM Jazz Periodicals (Preservation Series, forthcoming).