[THE MUSICAL TIMES, June 1 1929, p. 559.]
We regret to record the following deaths:
Antonio Smareglia, at Grado, in Istria, a few weeks ago. Of all the musicians who just fail to secure lasting fame as composers no one came nearer to success than Smareglia. Born at Pola, in May, 1854, Smareglia did not show those early signs of talent which win the heart of parents and guardians and reconcile them to the idea of a musical career for those under their tutelage. But when he was sent to study mathematics at the Vienna Polytechnic the desire, the need to follow a very different career, became imperative, and in 1872 he entered the Conservatorio of Milan as a student of composition under Franco Faccio. He was still a student when the first performance of ' Lohengrin ' threw the Milanese into two camps, for and against Wagner. Smareglia, who already shared Boito's cult for Bach, became one of the most ardent apostles of the Wagnerian party. Nevertheless, when he was asked to complete an opera which Donizetti had left unfinished he did so, adding a Prelude which, praised and applauded at first, failed to interest as soon as it became known that it was not the work of Donizetti.
After a stay of fifteen years at Milan, Smareglia turned to Vienna, where a new opera of his, ' II Vassallo di Szigeth,' was received with great enthusiasm. The conductor of the opera, Jahn, turned to him at the conclusion of the performance, and said, ' This success means world-wide fame for you.' The opera was performed again at the Metropolitan in New York, and kept its place in the Viennese repertory for some time, but Jahn's prophecy was not fulfilled. Neither this nor ' Cornelio Schutt,' which Richter conducted for the first time at Vienna, secured the favour of the wide public. Yet Richter thought so highly of the work that years later, at Manchester, he declared Smareglia the best of the Italian composers of the day. ' Nozze Istriane,' perhaps his best work, ' La Falena,' and ' Oceana ' won the approval of distinguished experts like Toscanini, Borto, and Franchetti, but not the approval of the mass of amateurs whose support is essential before a good work becomes a profitable one. Curiously, amongst Smareglia's warmest admirers was Franz Lehar, the composer of ' The Merry Widow.' In 1876 Smareglia, whose eyes had always been weak, became totally blind, and his last scores, ' Oceana ' and ' Abisso,' were dictated to his son and his pupils, bar by bar. This fact alone is enough to show the extent of his musicianship and the powers of his memory.
What special gift was denied to him who, with such sterling qualities, yet failed to win the recognition less able men have won? It is not easy to answer that question. He was unworldly, and some of his friends found him at times exasperatingly unpractical. But this fact alone does not account for it. Perhaps his music, ever original and masterly in construction, lacks a little of the poetry and idealism which appeals to the masses. Perhaps his unbounded admiration for Wagner reacted adversely on his work, which recalls indirectly the technique of the great German. In any case, Smareglia remains one whom the art he most loved has treated most harshly, and Mr. Blom may well consider the advisability of adding him to the next issue of the ' Stepchildren of Music!