excerpt from 'Thirty Years of Musical Life in London' pp. 27-31 (446 words)

excerpt from 'Thirty Years of Musical Life in London' pp. 27-31 (446 words)

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Thirty Years of Musical Life in London

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Marietta Alboni, Contessa di Pepoli, the most famous contralto of the nineteenth century, was another of the unwilling exiles who found a home in London in 1871. I then heard her sing on two occasions. The first time was in the "Messe Solennelle" of her beloved teacher and friend, Rossini, which the master had rescored for full orchestra some four years previous, in fact, only a few months before he died. Thirteen years had elapsed since Alboni was last heard in London, and some time since she had retired from the stage altogether. Even then she was only in her forty-ninth year, and, despite her unusual stoutness, her tones retained well-nigh all their pristine charm of quality and organ-like richness of volume. What a magnificent voice it was ! How marvelous for a pure contralto its evenness and range! Mr. Julian Marshall, in his article on Alboni in Grove's Dictionary, describes her compass as "fully two octaves, from G to G." To be correct, he should have added quite another half-octave to the head register and nearly as much below; for Alboni sang with perfect ease to the upper C, and could descend when she pleased to the middle space of the bass clef altogether a scale extending not far short of three octaves ! The purity and fluency of her style were indescribable. She was one of the last great exemplars of the old Italian school. The second time I heard Alboni was at a concert given in a private house in Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square, by Alessandro Romili, a young Italian who, prior to the war, had acted as accompanist in Paris to the well-known singer and teacher Delle Sedie. I recollect how perfectly she sang some French pieces and a new romanza ("Il primo amore," I think it was called) expressly composed for her by Romili. But what dwells most vividly in my memory in connection with this concert is her extreme kindness to my brother Max, who was down in the same programme for a violin solo. The great artist insisted on sitting among the audience to listen to the little English fiddler (then about thirteen); and he had just started his solo when one of his strings broke. He gave one glance of consternation round the room and then incontinently burst into tears. The audience looked half amused; but Alboni rose from her seat, walked to my brother, and, kissing him upon the forehead, said, loudly enough for every one to hear, "N'importe, mon petit ami; ne pleurs pas! Get accident-la aurait pu arriver a Sivori lui-meme!" Whereupon the boy dried his tears, mended his string, and went through his solo with entire success.

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