Rossini, Mercadante, Meyerbeer


U 5.403-4: Some of that old sacred music splendid. Mercadante: seven last words.

Bloom’s sometimes confused reflections on music are usually treated ad hoc by commentators, but in fact some of them form a plot thread with implications going beyond the simple facts.

     In ‘Lotos Eaters’, when Bloom’s mind is fresh, he enters the church in Westland Row and thinks of a number of sacred pieces sung by Molly:

Mr Bloom looked back towards the choir. Not going to be any music. Pity. Who has the organ here I wonder? Old Glynn he knew how to make that instrument talk, the vibrato: fifty pounds a year they say he had in Gardiner street. Molly was in fine voice that day, the Stabat Mater of Rossini.[…] Quis est homo. Some of that old sacred music splendid. Mercadante: seven last words. (5.394-404)

     Some hours later, in ‘Lestrygonians’, the poplin in the window of Brown Thomas reminds him of its Huguenot makers and of a chorus in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots in one of the Italian versions (8.620-4) in which it was frequently performed.

     So far so good. However, as the day progresses flagging energy and more hostile surroundings make Bloom prone to muddle what he demonstrably knows. In the Ormond, with Boylan in proximity, we get the following sequence from his consciousness in flow:

Molly in quis est homo: Mercadante. My ear against the wall to hear. (11.975)

     Although Gifford sees this as implying that Bloom is thinking of Mercadante as the composer of a Stabat Mater, the juxtaposition is ambiguous, each reading pointing back to 5.397-403. Either Bloom is confusing Rossini with Mercadante, or he is simply recalling his earlier reflections in a more telegraphic form. Yet towards the end of ‘Sirens’ he does unambiguously begin to muddle Mercadante and Meyerbeer:

Bloom viewed a gallant pictured hero in Lionel Marks's window. Robert Emmet's last words. Seven last words. Of Meyerbeer that is. (11.1274-5)

     This lays the foundation for his claim in ‘Cyclops’ that Mercadante is a Jew (12.1804) – he means to say ‘Meyerbeer’.

     ‘Eumeus’ completes the sequence. Here Bloom, at the end of a long and arduous day, gives Stephen the benefit of his tastes in music.

Wagnerian music, though confessedly grand in its way, was a bit too heavy for Bloom and hard to follow at the first go-off but the music of Mercadante's Huguenots, Meyerbeer's Seven Last Words on the Cross […]  he simply revelled in […] He also yielded to none in his admiration of Rossini's Stabat Mater, a work simply abounding in immortal numbers […] (16.1735-1745)

     The correct Rossini attribution probably bolsters the view that the 11.975 passage is telegraphic rather than muddled.

Vincent Deane

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