Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine on Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera, Les Huguenots, and the building of cathedrals

What specially distinguishes [Giacomo Meyerbeer‘s opera, Les Huguenots (1836),] is the symmetry or due proportion in it between enthusiasm and artistic finish, or, to better express myself, the equal height which passion and art attain in it. Here the man and the artist have competed, and while the former rings the alarm-bell of the wildest passions, the latter transforms the rude chords of nature to the most thrilling and sweetest euphony. While the multitude are carried away by the inner strength and the passion of the Huguenots, he who is versed in art admires the mastery which is manifest in the form. This work is a Gothic cathedral, whose columns rising to heaven, and whose colossal dome, seem to have been raised by the bold hand of a giant; while the innumerable daintily fine festoons, rosettes, and arabesques which are spread over it, like a veil of lace in stone, testify to the unwearied patience of dwarfs. A giant in the conception and forming of the whole, a dwarf in the laborious execution of details, the architect of the Huguenots is as far beyond our intelligence as the composers of the old cathedrals. When I lately stood with a friend before that of Amiens, and he beheld with awe and pity that monument of giant strength in towering stone, and of dwarfish patience in minute sculpture, he asked me how it happens that we can no longer build such piles? I replied: “Dear Alphonse, men in those days had convictions (Ueberzeugungen); we moderns have opinions (Meinungen), and it requires something more than an opinion to build such a Gothic cathedral.”
Heinrich Heine in The Salon: or, Letters on art, music, popular life and politics, translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland, (London: William Heinemann, 1893), p. 254. First published as Französische Zustände. Lutetia. Berichte über Politik, Kunst und Volksleben (French States. Lutetia. Reports relative to Politics, Art, and Popular Life), Volume 1, (Stuttgart, Germany: Cotta, 1832).

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"What specially distinguishes this work is the symmetry or due proportion in it between enthusiasm and artistic finish"