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Opera in the Development of German Critical Thought

Opera in the Development of German Critical Thought

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    Opera in the Development of German Critical Thought
    Book Description:

    Although opera figured importantly in the French quarrel of the Ancients versus the Moderns and in the English discussions of heroic tragedy, it was in Germany that its role in the development of criticism and aesthetics was most pronounced. Beginning with this observation, Gloria Flaherty tries to show how, from its very inception and through most of its history, opera was related not only to the revival of ancient drama and the evolution of modern theater, but also to the development of modern critical thought.

    The author provides a comprehensive treatment of the writings both for and against the operatic forms that dominated seventeenth- and eighteenth-century German theater. Included in her focus are the academic critics who denounced the failure of opera to comply with universally valid standards of beauty and the rules of drama; the various sermonizers who condemned opera's excessive emphasis on the senses and preached total abstinence; and the theatrical artists and patrons as well as the innumerable poets, philosophers, and writers who upheld the freedom to experiment and defended opera as a modern theatrical form with nearly unlimited artistic possibilities.

    As a result of these controversies, the defense of opera helped to shape a distinctively German version of the classical ideal, enriched German criticism with new vocabulary, promoted the study of the performing arts, and emphasized music and spectacle as essential components of theater.

    Originally published in 1979.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6836-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 3-9)

    During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the German-speaking lands experienced one of the most active periods of artistic creativity in their long history. The works of Goethe and Schiller stand as glorious monuments to that period when German artists sought in the ideal realm the natural unity of culture their real world lacked. Having learned to distinguish rationally devised pseudo-classical notions from the genuine spirit of classical antiquity, they strove to recapture that spirit and harness its powers. Like countless generations before them, they sought the aesthetic secrets of the ancients and, in so doing, discovered hitherto unsuspected...

    (pp. 10-36)

    The Holy Roman Empire comprised over three hundred territorial states at the turn of the seventeenth century. Its universal authority, like that of the church it supported, had already been irrevocably destroyed by the Lutheran Reformation and the accompanying cataclysmic events. Habsburg attempts to regain control over the German-speaking states met with increasingly violent opposition from within as well as from without. Politically ambitious German princes feared that centralized power would threaten their own sovereignty. To combat imperial encroachment, they promoted decentralization, banded together along religious lines, and solicited foreign assistance. The precarious balance created by the Peace of Augsburg...

    (pp. 37-65)

    At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire still comprised approximately three hundred territorial states. The political fragmentation resulting from the steady dissolution of imperial control had precluded the emergence of one capital city for the entire German-speaking world. The lack of a major center that could compete with Paris or London in establishing the fashion or setting the tone was not, however, quite as disastrous as many cultural historians would have us believe. In fact the decentralized political situation encouraged the independence, diversity, and individualism that had long been characteristic of the Germanic peoples and that...

    (pp. 66-92)

    Hamburg retained its prestige in the 1720s as one of the eminent cultural centers in the German lands. No territorial power had been able to subjugate it, and despite the ravages of the plague, commerce quickened, civic pride increased, and the arts flourished. The city’s artistic life was also affected by an unexpected kind of import-export trade. Poems, plays, oratorios, and operas (as well as poets, scholars, performers, and composers) were exported north to Denmark, east to the Baltic states and Russia, west to England, and even south to Vienna. On the import side of the ledger were French theatrical...

    (pp. 93-127)

    French neoclassicism reached its culmination in Germany with the ardent support of Johann Christoph Gottsched. He had studied theology and philosophy in Königsberg where he received his master’s degree in 1723. Soon thereafter he evaded conscription into the Prussian army by leaving for Leipzig. There he was indoctrinated into rationalistic views and French tastes by the editor, historian, and poet Johann Burkhard Mencke, whose children he tutored. Because of his connection to Mencke, he joined the local scholarly society and gave occasional philosophical as well as literary lectures at the university. Hoping to ensure his academic career, he courted favor...

    (pp. 128-158)

    The 1740s are best characterized by the words “tradition,” “transformation,” and “transition.” The Holy Roman Empire was still a political entity consisting of numerous free cities and territorial states with different laws on taxation, toleration, conscription, and censorship. A new threat to its already rather weakened viability came when Frederick the Great (1712-1786) ascended the Prussian throne in 1740 and challenged Maria Theresa’s (1717-1780) power. Despite the years of war their political ambitions produced, both favored Italian opera and greatly honored the foreigners who served as their court poets, composers, and singers. Sovereigns of lesser states joined them in the...

    (pp. 159-200)

    German theater witnessed the dawning of a new era during the 1750s and 1760s. The ideas that had evolved in the preceding decades began to converge in such a way as to stimulate reform, experimentation, and extraordinarily active debate. Italian grand opera, which had all but conquered the theatrical scene, remained exceedingly popular with audiences. The reaction against its complexities and highly stylized artificiality increased, however, as the effects of enlightened rationalism, Germanic patriotism, and a new bourgeois identity began to be more widely felt. Demands for simplicity, sobriety, and naturalness became louder and more frequent.

    Composers and librettists strove...

    (pp. 201-232)

    Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s first sojourn in Berlin began in 1748. He left Leipzig, where he held a scholarship to study theology, because he was financially unable to pay the notes he had underwritten for several actors. His association with them derived from his great fascination for drama and the performing arts. That fascination originated during his school years, when he studied the ancient dramatists and practiced writing his own texts. It increased rapidly after his introduction to actual stage performances in Leipzig. The Neuber troupe, which at the time was more concerned with its own survival than with Gottschedian reforms,...

    (pp. 233-256)

    Prussia emerged from the Seven Years’ War as a dominant power among the numerous states comprising the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. In the postwar years Frederick the Great devoted himself to consolidating his state and making his army strong enough to check Austrian expansion in central Europe. Many contemporary writers in Berlin and elsewhere admired the accomplishments of his foreign as well as domestic policies and wanted to view him as a sovereign of old Germanic stock. Some of them tried in vain to convince him of the worth of indigenous artistic efforts. His abiding and very...

    (pp. 257-280)

    Christoph Martin Wieland’s contribution to the history of German musical theater was even greater than Schiebeler had hoped or anticipated. In addition to the heroic epic,Oberon(1780), which Schiller contemplated dramatizing¹ and which Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) made the basis for a romantic opera (1826), Wieland provided his own operatic works and theories. Like so many of his older as well as younger contemporaries in the 1770s, he patriotically supported the idea of German lyric drama in a German rather than Italian musical style. He did not believe that cultivation of theBardietcould bring that idea to...

    (pp. 281-300)

    The critical thought of the Goethean age represents the culmination of tendencies, attitudes, and habits that had been evolving uninterruptedly since the Renaissance. Opera figured importantly in that evolution. As both a theatrical reality and an artistic potentiality, opera continued to stimulate so much interest and so much debate that it became one of the shibboleths of German criticism. Succeeding generations of German critics took up ideas from the past and, modifying them for application to opera, transformed them for the future. Their operatic writings reflected shifts in artistic values, philosophical points of view, and critical methodologies. More significant was...