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Romantic Anatomies of Performance

Romantic Anatomies of Performance

J. Q. Davies
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Romantic Anatomies of Performance
    Book Description:

    Romantic Anatomies of Performancetakes as its subject the great virtuoso performers of the nineteenth century, examining the ways in which they thought of their own extraordinary gifts, the ways their contemporaries envisioned them, and how they have been imagined by history. It looks at the pianists and singers-Chopin, Rubini, Malibran, Nourrit, Donzelli, Thalberg, Liszt, and Sontag-who plied their trade in the leading musical centers of nineteenth-century Europe: London and Paris. Focusing on this musical circuit, J.Q. Davies engages with historians of culture and science in thinking about these cosmopolitan figures, whose emergence as international musical stars confronts issues of music and the body, particularly in period physiology, physiognomy, and sciences of the mind. Davies illustrates how musicians styled themselves onstage, how they trained, and how they presented their virtuosic physical abilities to contemporaries in light of competing traditions of healthy vocal and pianistic presentation. The book argues that debates about music are often actually debates about what counts as expression-not only emotional, but also physical expression.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95800-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Musical Examples
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In an article for theRevue de Paris,the critic Castil-Blaze told the story of how Giovanni Battista Rubini acquired his gift for unmediated expression. The incident occurred in 1831, as the singer forced the sustained Bь toward the end of “Luna, conforto al cor de’ naviganti,” the then-famous romance from Giovanni Pacini’s operaIl talismano(1829). His larynx refusing him, Rubini—egged on by the baying Milanese public—exerted every sinew to overcome the obstacle. He launched a note, the éclat of which had never before been heard at the Teatro alla Scala. Not that its magic came without...

  6. 1 “Veluti in Speculum”: The Twilight of the Castrato
    (pp. 13-40)

    On the night of 15 May 1829, Felix Mendelssohn had a nightmare about Giovanni Battista Velluti, the last great operatic castrato. Velluti’s voice had been in the German’s head since that afternoon, when they crossed paths at a concert at the Argyll Rooms on Regent Street in London. There he had heard the “poor wretched creature,” as he called him, sing an aria by Bonfichi and a duet with Henriette Sontag, Mayr’s “Deh! Per pietà” fromGinevra di Scozia.The singing of the “confounded” Italian “so excited my loathing,” Mendelssohn remembered, “that it pursued me into my dreams that night.”¹...

  7. 2 Reflecting on Reflex: A Touching New Fact about Chopin
    (pp. 41-65)

    These words formed part of an argument made by Jan Matuszyñski behind the great gated colonnades of the École de médecine in Paris on 16 August 1837. The school was a celebrated institution, the foremost of its kind in Europe. The occasion was the oral exam of a doctoral thesis entitled “The Influence of the Sympathetic Nervous System on the Function of the Senses.” A jury of two professors and two proctors in gowns and mortarboards guarded the solemnity of the event. For young initiates, such trials were the crowning achievement after four years of medical training. Largely symbolic, they...

  8. 3 The Sontag-Malibran Stereotype
    (pp. 66-92)

    Just before two o’clock on the afternoon of 30 May 1829 there was a rush at the doors of the Argyll Rooms, a suite of four spacious apartments on Regent Street, in central London. Carriages drew up along the arcade (John Nash’s recent design); attendants hustled up and down making way for their employers. Most of the fashionables pressing on the entrance were women who, having paid ten shillings and sixpence at the door, had their coats removed as they climbed the stairs to the main chamber. Those who had obtained copies of the fashion journalLa Belle Assembléeprobably...

  9. 4 Boneless Hands / Thalberg’s Ready-Made Soul / Velvet Fingers
    (pp. 93-122)

    Dressed in severe black with a white cravat, Sigismund Thalberg made his London debut on 9 May 1836. The Swiss-born pianist played at the Hanover Square Concert Rooms, only a block to the west of the 1829 triumphs of Sontag and Malibran. He entered just before 9 P.M., flanked by immense reflective mirrors, glass chandeliers, and an audience on crimson-cloth benches. At Regency events, we know by now, only the most obdurate critics failed to listen with their eyes—which makes this glittering occasion a case of déjà vu. A rendition of the milieu’s favorite instrumental piece—Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony...

  10. 5 In Search of Voice: Nourrit’s Voix Mixte, Donzelli’s Bari-Tenor
    (pp. 123-151)

    Historians still remember the year of Gilbert-Louis Duprez’s return from Italy as the year when the Paris Opéra fell into “triste décadence.”¹ A dark veil descended in 1837, when a long-favored artist-citizen was forced into exile: Adolphe Nourrit, legendary singer, idol of the Salle Le Peletier, and former inspiration for a host of high-profile Rossini and Meyerbeer roles. Duprez made his Parisian debut as Arnold in Rossini’sGuillaume Tell—a signature Nourrit role—on 17 April. The new tenor’s entry heralded a new era of political self-interest, or so they said. Not only the Opéra but Paris itself was passing...

  11. 6 Franz Liszt, Metapianism, and the Cultural History of the Hand
    (pp. 152-179)

    On 30 August 1832, Nicolas Theodore Frédéric Benoît became the first convicted parricide in Paris to be spared thepoing coupé:amputation of the right hand immediately before execution by guillotine. Nineteen years of age, this son of a respected magistrate in the Ardennes had histoiletteperformed at the central asylum-prison at Bicêtre. The accoutrements of the old regime remained for this shy, mild-mannered, slightly built double murderer and pederast. His head was shaved, his clothes and shoes removed, his feet clamped in irons, a large white shroud placed over him, his head hooded in black. At 7 A.M.,...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 180-184)

    The opening of this book described two iconic moments in which “pure voice” came into its own: at the literal shattering of Rubini’s clavicle and the more figurative breaking of Paganini’s hands. A later chapter pictured Garcíafilswith his laryngoscope, an instance mythologized as the historical juncture at which vocal knowledge was finally established upon the primordial bedrock of “modern” science. Then was the story of Liszt’s makeover, recounted in the final chapter, where the virtuoso discovered the presence of his body and tapped the source of “modern” pianistic expression. Many more heroes of nineteenth-century performance had similar “Rubini...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 185-238)
    (pp. 239-256)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 257-266)