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Building the Operatic Museum

Building the Operatic Museum: Eighteenth-Century Opera in Fin-de-Siècle Paris

William Gibbons
Volume: 99
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Building the Operatic Museum
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Christoph Willibald Gluck, and Jean-Phillipe Rameau, this book examines the essential role that eighteenth-century works played in the opera houses of Paris around the turn of the twentieth century. These works, most of which had been neglected during the nineteenth century, became the central exhibits in what William Gibbons calls the Operatic Museum-a simultaneously physical and conceptual space in which great masterworks from the past and present could, like works of visual art in the Louvre, entertain audiences while educating them in their own history and national identity. Drawing on the fields of musicology, museum studies, art history, and literature, 'Building the Operatic Museum' explores how this seemingly simple idea represented a fundamental shift in how French audiences, critics, and composers understood the nature and function of music history, as well as their own place in it. William Gibbons is assistant professor of musicology at Texas Christian iversity.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-815-2
    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
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    The great aunt in André Theuriet’s poem is a woman out of time.² Although she exists in the “present”—late nineteenth-century France—she lives in another time. Alone in her peaceful home, with only memories and an aged servant for company, she inhabits a constant reverie, a Proustian state avant la lettre. Faced with unbearable sadness and desolation, she retreats into the past, surrounding herself with objects from happier times. There are many ways to read this poem, but I see it as an allegory for the French nation in the 1870s.

    The collapse of the Second Empire in 1870...

  6. Chapter One Museums
    (pp. 8-20)

    Reviewing the 1861 revival of Gluck’s Alceste, the music critic A. Thurner made a radical suggestion: the Paris Opéra, the pinnacle of French musical culture, “must be an operatic Louvre, where Classical works—alternating with our great modern productions—would provide the invigorating energy necessary to give shape to a new generation of composers and artists.”¹ In Thurner’s scenario, the Opéra—the Académie Nationale de Musique—would serve the same cultural role as the Louvre museum, the model institution for preserving historical masterpieces. His comparison of the Opéra and the Louvre is in many ways apt. Both had origins in...

  7. Part One: Mozart

    • Chapter Two Restorations
      (pp. 23-46)

      By 1875 Mozart held a unique position in the French operatic canon: the sole eighteenth-century composer whose works were regularly staged in Parisian opera houses. Even then, his fame rested largely on three operas:Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Zauberflöte, and most important, Don Giovanni, known as Don Juan—a work that attained a near-legendary quality in France over the course of the nineteenth century. After fifty years of uninterrupted success in France, it seemed that nothing could topple Mozart’s position as the lone eighteenth-century figure in the upper echelon of the operatic canon. So secure was Mozart’s status that in...

    • Chapter Three (De)Translations
      (pp. 47-59)

      Once upon a time, there was a young fisherman who lived on the bank of the Nile River, and who was in love with the beautiful girl next door. The happy couple made plans to marry, but one night the fisherman serenaded his fiancée with his pan-flute. This fateful little bit of night music attracted the attention of a voluptuous nocturnal deity, a Queen who became enamored of the fisherman and whisked him off to her magical realm for a night of wanton pleasure. In the cold light of day, the fisherman realized his mistake and begged his fiancée for...

    • Chapter Four Transitions
      (pp. 60-80)

      In chapters 2 and 3 we traced Mozart’s gradual transition from a romantic composer to a classical figure—a restoration of his “original” state that accompanied his introduction into the Operatic Museum. This transition had a number of consequences for the way that audiences and critics understood the composer. Not only did stripping Mozart of his romantic veneer make his works challenging to Parisian audience members more accustomed to Wagner’s or Massenet’s theatrical language, it also raised a number of issues that Mozart’s quasi-divinity had kept at bay. To put it another way, once the illusion of universality that had...

  8. Part Two: Gluck

    • Chapter Five Resurrections
      (pp. 83-105)

      For Parisian critics and audiences of the fin de siècle, Gluck was without doubt one of the great luminaries of music history, a name worthy of mention alongside Mozart or Rameau. As a cornerstone of French music history, he was a crucial to establishing and interpreting narratives of France’s musical past. But just as important was Gluck’s central role in defining the nation’s musical present and shaping its future; in addition to being touted by many critics as a model for French opera composers, he frequently served as a focal point for aesthetic debates. More than either of the other...

    • Chapter Six Tragedies
      (pp. 106-119)

      A crucial, if obvious, part of securing Gluck’s reputation in French music history was to establish definitively that the composer was in fact French, by style if not by birth. Fin-de-siècle critics consequently spent a fair amount of time reinforcing Gluck’s Frenchness and minimizing his German “otherness.” In the introduction to his 1882 book on Gluck (drawn from articles he wrote for Le Ménestrel), for example, Hippolyte Barbedette asks, “Can one not say that in matters of art, nationality does not depend on an act of birth?—Gluck is and will remain the founder of the French drame lyrique; with...

    • Chapter Seven Symbols
      (pp. 120-142)

      As Wagner’s controversial music-aesthetic theories began to appear in print in France, French critics quickly seized upon Gluck as an analogue. Comparisons between the two composers began to crop up as early as the 1850s, as many anti-Wagnerians sought evidence that the newer composer’s supposedly groundbreaking theories were fundamentally derivative.¹ Gluck, like Wagner, was an operatic reformer (but a successful one, in the eyes of many French critics) with a “système” of musical composition, and the eighteenth-century operatic reforms Gluck had proposed in his well-known preface to Alceste clearly demonstrated French superiority.² On the other side of the fence, Wagner...

  9. Part Three: Rameau

    • Chapter Eight Monuments
      (pp. 145-162)

      If fin-de-siècle critics could agree on anything, it was that Jean-Philippe Rameau had a place among the greatest French composers. A shining paragon of French musical virtues, his music exuded clarity, grace, and elegance. And here, for once, was a composer for whom they did not have to construct elaborate rationales to claim as French, since Rameau was actually French by birth. As a result, he was the object of unanimous and continuous praise in musical circles, as this passage from the musicologist and critic Adolphe Jullien reveals:

      By a law of nature that is not in our power to...

    • Chapter Nine Quarrels
      (pp. 163-176)

      The unifying factor of Rameau’s fin-de-siècle reception was the composer’s role as a nationalist figurehead for French music; any praise directed at the composer was also praise for the land that had produced his genius. In his brief 1876 Rameau biography, the critic and musicologist Arthur Pougin said as much unequivocally: “Outside of all comparison, and judging Rameau from an absolute point of view, it is only fair to say that such an artist gives eternal glory to his homeland.”¹ The publication of Pougin’s text coincided with a major event in Rameau reception: a festival in Dijon, the composer’s birthplace.²...

    • Chapter Ten Archaeologies
      (pp. 177-196)

      “It is beyond hope that we shall ever hear Castor et Pollux, Dardanus, or Zoroastre at the Opéra,” Félix Clément lamented in his 1885 Histoire de la musique.¹ Not without good reason he believed that despite the unquestionable musical quality of Rameau’s operas, they were too antiquated for modern audiences. After all, for most of the nineteenth century, Rameau had routinely been “cited as an archetype of musicians judged too antiquated to ever again be played.”² The tragédie lyrique(before Gluck, at least) was entirely disconnected from fin-de-siècle expectations of opera, shaped by nineteenth-century French musical styles such as grand opérato...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 197-250)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-262)
  12. Index
    (pp. 263-268)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-269)