Taken together, these two books make a significant contribution to our understanding of the place of music within that now long-standing theme in eighteenth-century history, the rise of the ‘public sphere’. Both works take music as their topic but focus more on its reception, distribution and consumption than on its ‘production’ by composers and performers. R. J. Arnold’s monograph is an admirably researched and highly readable account of the numerous disputes concerning opera that took place in France from the end of Louis XIV’s reign to the 1820s. Most of these followed innovations in the operatic repertoire and assumed the well-known form of the querelle, a period of debate that normally developed into a binary struggle between opposing groups who argued about such issues as the merits of traditional music versus innovative compositions, or Italian versus French styles. The book is structured chronologically and takes the reader through a number of such querelles: the dispute between François Raguenet and Jean-Laurent Lecerf de la Viéville over the relative merits of French and Italian opera in the early 1700s; the controversy sparked by Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera Hippolyte et Aricie in 1733 and the subsequent exchanges between his supporters and those scandalized by any departure from the style established by Jean-Baptiste Lully decades earlier; the famous Querelle des Bouffons of 1752–54, which was focussed once more on the French-Italian issue and involved important philosophes such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot as well as a host of other polemicists; and the dispute between supporters of the composers Christoph Willibald von Gluck and Niccolò Piccini that took place in the late 1770s and 1780s. Explaining these fractious and often prolonged debates is harder than describing them, though Arnold does that admirably. Many historians have read them as disguised discussions of other issues. In particular, the coincidence between the Querelle des Bouffons and the political crisis caused by conflicts between the crown and the Parlement of Paris have led some, such as Tim Blanning, to see this attack by Rousseau and others on the suitability of the French language for music, and therefore on the operatic repertoire from Lully to Rameau, as an implicit assault on the monarchy’s representational culture at a point when it was being displaced by the ‘nation’ as a focus of loyalty. Although he recognizes the relationship between political and aesthetic tension, Arnold is on the whole reluctant to over-interpret the querelles in this way as ‘Aesopian fables’, arguing that they were not interpreted as such at the time and that not everyone can have been conversing in encoded symbols. Indeed, he accepts them as disputes that were genuinely about music, rather than simply being politics in disguise. For Arnold, the political significance of these ancien régime debates is less to do with coded messages than the structural changes associated with the expansion of the public sphere. If the Raguenet–Lecerf episode appeared to be a back and forth debate between two gentlemen, the increasing importance of an expanding media becomes clear in his accounts of subsequent querelles. Satirical verse, caricatures and pamphlets featured strongly in the debates between Lullistes and Ramistes from 1733 to 1751, and the periodical press played a decisive role in the second half of the century. Historians whose interests are not primarily musical may find this one of the most interesting aspects of the book because Arnold is interested in the social phenomena of debate in the public sphere as well as the specific intellectual content of these examples. The particular sociability of opera as a form of public entertainment made it ripe material for debate. It could be quickly expropriated from its creators by people and interest groups who developed a sense of esprit de parti. The endless inventiveness of dispute and the opportunities provided by new media made it hard for any one side to achieve ascendancy. Some people would soon see all this as a sign of the triviality of ancien régime culture and an ominous precedent for more serious ideological fractures to come. A commendable feature of the book is that it takes the discussion through the Revolution and into the Restoration. Arnold presents the 1790s as a period of relative repose in terms of operatic querelles. Indeed, some writers at the time interpreted the pre-1789 disputes as a function of the inequalities of aristocratic society. In his discussion of the period up to the 1820s, Arnold argues that the structural development of the public sphere had changed the ways in which disputes developed. Cultural life remained argumentative and debates included those between harmonistes and mélodistes, but in a bigger artistic sphere, it was harder to maintain the fixed lines of affiliation that gave earlier disputes their distinct status as querelles. In the more multipolar world of post-Revolutionary France, there were fewer certainties around which to coalesce, leading to Arnold’s conclusion that ‘the age of party had come to an end’. The volume on Consuming Music edited by Emily Green and Catherine Mayes is concerned with much the same period but with more of a focus on the physical and social infrastructure of music consumption. Seven of the nine essays are concerned with German territories and sources, so may be of only tangential interest to many readers of French History. Although the examples are drawn from Austro-Germany, however, the themes explored will be of relevance to a wider readership, such as the essays on the publication, advertising and sale of music. Unlike Arnold’s book, in which the focus is reception but the music itself is strangely absent, most of the essays contain an abundance of illustration and music examples. Readers will find the focus on the more commercial side of musical developments in what has often been seen as an age of consumption to be a useful counterpart to Arnold’s focus on the intellectual side of musical reception in the Enlightenment. Only one essay in the volume is focussed on France, Peter Mondelli’s piece on ‘Parisian Opera between Commons and Commodity, ca. 1830’. This draws on Marxist theory concerning commodity fetishism to argue for a structural transformation of opera from a cultural phenomenon conceived as a communal experience, in which allegory and moral exemplars could be used to propagate social values, to a commercial enterprise, in which perceptions of value related to material possessions. He presents the 1820s and 1830s as a crucial period in this development when the financial troubles of the Paris Opéra forced commercializing changes led by figures here seen as businessmen requisitioning the commons for their own gain, such as the Opéra’s director in the early 1830s, Louis Véron. It was undoubtedly the case that the ticket one could afford at the opera quantified social status and the essay raises interesting ideas about the creation of a ‘mercurial musical culture whose aesthetic norms were grounded not in individual tastes but in a collective understanding of shared desire’. The chronology, however, seems rather schematic and a broader analysis of both market concerns in earlier operatic production and continued ideas of moral improvement later in the nineteenth century may render the 1820s and 1830s less dramatically significant. Music can provide tricky source material for the non-specialist, but by focussing on reception, transmission and consumption rather than just on the composed notes, these books will be of interest to all historians interested in cultures of debate, the expansion of the public sphere and processes of cultural commercialization during the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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