Boito, Arrigo


A well-known poet, librettist, and composer of the modern Italian school, born at Padua, in whose works is seen a blending of the temperaments of his Italian artist father and Polish mother, the Countess Josephine Radolinska. Arrigo was encouraged in his poetic taste by his elder brother, Camillo, an author and distinguished professor of architecture of the Brera, but when he reached the age of fourteen, he showed sufficient musical ability to bring the family to Milan, so that he might enter the Conservatory. Yet at first he seemed so unpromising a pupil that the authorities would have turned him out had it not been for the intervention of his teacher, Alberto Mazzucato. Boito's first musical work was the cantata II 4 Giugno (The Fourth of June), written in 1860. In 1862 Le Sorelle d'ltalia (the manuscript of which unfortunately is lost) was performed at the Conservatory. Boito wrote the poem and the music for the second part, and his friend Faccio the music for part first, and it proved such a triumphant success that the two young composers were presented by the government with money enough to spend two years in other countries studying foreign music. Boito passed the time in Paris and Germany, but returned to Italy with his musical ideas practically unaltered, Beethoven, Marcello, Meyerbeer and Verdi remaining his ideals, yet these ideas were greatly in advance of the progress of Italian music at that time. Though he had been working on Faust, even while at the Conservatory, nothing definite had found shape, and the success of Gounod's Faust caused him to turn his attention wholly to literature, in which he has always been interested, equally, if not more than in music. Much of his time during his student days was spent in the library of the Brera, where he gained a thorough knowledge of the classics and a perfect command of Italian and French. In 1861 he began writing poems, which were published in 1877 as II libro dei Versi, under the name Tobia Gorrio, an anagram which he frequently used. He also produced his only novel, L'Alfier Meno, in this period, and contributed to Italian and French Reviews, notably the Giornale della Societa del Quartetto di Milano, which Mazzucata established, hoping to stimulate an interest in instrumental music. By championing Mendelssohn, Boito was compelled to fight a duel in which he was wounded. During the war with Austria, in 1866, he, together with his friends Faccio, Emilio Praga, and others, fought with the volunteers under Garibaldi, but early in 1867 he went to Paris, determined to settle there as a journalist. Despite the help of Victor Hugo, he could not find an opening, so he went on to visit his sister at her quiet country home in Poland and there turned his attention again to Faust or Mefistofele, as he now called it. He intended to return to Paris in the fall but did not carry out this plan, however, for the managers, Bonola and Brunello, hearing that his opera was now nearing completion, offered to produce it at La Scala. Boito finished the work hastily and returned to Milan, which has since been his home. Mefistofele was very long and entirely different from the conventional Italian Opera, so the ardor of the immense audience, which had cheered lustily after the Prologue in the Heavens, cooled, until, before the end of the five acts, feeling had been completely reversed and pandemonium broke loose among the enraged listeners. But he did not give up on account of this failure. He changed Faust's part from barytone to tenor, greatly revised the opening scene and the Sabba Romantico in the second act, and omitted some scenes entirely. In this new form it was given with great success at Bologna, in 1875. The original score has not yet been printed, so that it is impossible to follow, in that way, the change of his ideals. It was grandly conceived, but the orchestration was weak and there were some impractical scenes, yet some critics think the original more artistic than the present form. Unlike Gounod, Boito has used Goethe's entire poem, thus subjecting himself to lack of unity of interest which is thought to be the reason that Mefistofele is being seen less and less frequently since the retirement of Christine Nilsson, whose principal piece it was and who introduced it at London in 1880.

Boito is on admirer but not an imitator of Wagner, though his principles won him the name of the Italian Wagner, but latterly Bach has held the highest place in his esteem. He has written three other operas, Ero e Leandro, Nerone, and Orestiade, but none of them has been produced, for, as he is a critic, he seems dissatisfied with his own works. The libretto of Ero e Leandro, he gave to his friend Bottesini, who set it and it was later used, also successfully, by Mancinelli, but Boito himself used part of the music in his Ode to Art for the opening of the National Exhibition at Turin in 1882, and another theme was published as a barcarola for four voices. Boito is the author of the librettos of Faccio's Amleto, Ponchielli's La Gioconda, Palumbo's Alessandro Farnese, Dominiceto's Tram, and Verdi's Otello and Falstaff, and he also wrote the volume on Marcello in the Great Musicians' Series, edited by Hueffer. He has received the titles of Cavliere, Ufficiale and Commendatore from the Italian Government, as well as the cross of the Legion of Honor from France, but he is too modest to use them. In 1892 he was appointed Inspector General of Technical Instruction in the Conservatories and Lyceums of Italy. Also a degree was conferred upon him by Cambridge University in 1893. He has translated a number of works by Wagner, Schumann, and Rubinstein, and in 1901 published a tragedy, Nerone, possibly the libretto of his opera.