We’ve just finished reading Berlioz's chronicling of his one-and-a-half years spent living in Italy as a 28-year-old Prix de Rome first prize winner, a section of the Memoirs that concludes with a savage assessment of the musical proclivities and sensibilities of the Italians; an assessment with which we found ourself nodding in agreement at almost every sentence. That savage assessment concludes with the following summation:
What are undoubtedly more common in Italy than anywhere else are good voices, voices that are not only full and incisive but agile and flexible as well. But the prevalence of voices lending themselves naturally to vocalization and the public's instinctive love of glitter and display react on each other. Hence the mania for fioriture which debases the finest melodies; hence those convenient vocal formulas which make all Italian phrases sound alike; hence that eternal device of the final cadence, which leaves the singer free to embroider at will but maddens many listeners by its perfunctoriness and dreadful inevitability; hence the constant tendency to break into buffo style which lurks even in the tenderest scenes of pathos; hence, in short, all those abuses which have made of melody, harmony, tempo, rhythm, orchestration, modulation, plot, staging, poetry, the poet, and the composer the abject slaves and playthings of the singer.My oh my. How familiar does all that sound. Who would have imagined that all this time we've been echoing — albeit unwittingly and totally ignorant of the precedent — the assessment of a Frenchman on something other than matters culinary.