Music at German Courts, 1715-1760: Changing Artistic Priorities

By Cortens, Evan | Notes, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Music at German Courts, 1715-1760: Changing Artistic Priorities


Cortens, Evan, Notes


GERMANY AND AUSTRIA Music at German Courts, 1715-1760: Changing Artistic Priorities. Edited by Samantha Owens, Barbara M. Reul, and Janice B. Stockigt. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 2011. [xx, 484 p. ISBN 9781843835981. $90.] Tables, index.

To those familiar with Europe's older monarchies, like Spain and Denmark, "it seems almost axiomatic that there is only one court . . . per realm," writes Michael Talbot in the preface (p. ix). This leads to a "monocentric" structure, a "clear-cut difference between metropolitan and provincial, centre and periphery." This is not the case for the German territories, whose courts of "varying size and opulence" vied constantly for territory, power, and prestige. Music played a vital role in the pursuit of this prestige, from lavish opera productions in electoral Dresden to the chamber music of Württemberg-Stuttgart. The relations between them, both cooperative and competitive, are revealed in fifteen case studies, edited by Samantha Owens, Barbara Reul, and Janice Stockigt.

Each case study presents a series of temporal snapshots of the court in fifteen-year increments spanning 1715-60. The book's tables alone make a valuable contribution to the literature-one or more, based on a template with a standard set of rows (ruler, Kapellmeister, violins, singers, etc.) accompanies each chapter. This provides the reader with a helpful basis for comparison across the various courts. Thus the book provides a companion to composer-based studies, giving context for scholarship focusing on individual creative output.

In its useful delineation of structures, repertories, artistic goals, and musical resources available across a range of diverse court establishments, the volume is accessible to students and scholars from other disciplines, while also providing many new insights to experts. Plentiful source material is always provided in the original language and spelling, immediately followed by an (occasionally annotated) English translation. The editors acknowledge their difficult task, for, as the historian of early modern Europe Jeroen Duindam says with respect to eighteenth-century courts, "the basis for any analysis of the court remains thin, as concrete data regarding numbers, costs, hierarchies, and routines are sorely lacking" (p. 13). Nevertheless, what emerges is a nuanced account of a vibrant, and at times decadent, musical world.

The volume covers "fifteen Protestant and Catholic courts of varying sizes with different artistic priorities," included primarily on the basis of the "willingness of scholars to share the results of their archival research" and "the existence of relevant primary source material" (p. xi). The chapters are grouped into four sections by court type, beginning with kingdoms and electorates; I shall discuss highlights from several of the chapters.

In the first two, Janice Stockigt and Alina Z órawska-Witkowska discuss electoral Saxony and the Kingdom of Poland under Saxon rule respectively. At this time, the same monarch governed both territories: Elector Friedrich August I of Saxony (r. 1694-1733) ruled as King August II "the Strong" of Poland (r. 1697-1706 and 1709-33), and his son Elector Friedrich August II as King August III (r. 1733-63). Thus it is unsurprising that there is much musical exchange between Dresden and Warsaw. The Dresden ensemble and its repertoire, writes Stockigt, "represent the aural equivalent of the fabulous collections of art, porcelain, and objets d'art for which Dresden was so admired" (p. 32). The Seven Years' War-as we see in many other chapters-brought financial ruin to Saxony, diminishing the Dresden ensemble but, conversely, strengthening the Warsaw musical establishment, as August III was forced into exile there.

Mary Oleskiewicz significantly expands our knowledge of the early-eighteenthcentury Berlin court, drawing extensively on underused archival sources. Contrary to previous reports, she shows that C. …

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