Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Gender as a Political Orientation: Parisian Salonnieres and the 'Querelle De Bouffons.'

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Gender as a Political Orientation: Parisian Salonnieres and the 'Querelle De Bouffons.'

Article excerpt

Surprising as it may be, the eighteenth-century quarrels over the French and the Italian opera have attracted more cultural historians than musicologists.(2) The latter, typically preoccupied with tracing the stylistic developments taking place in instrumental music of the time, have considered these quarrels a tempest in a teapot and failed to notice the relationship between their musical aspects and the broader social, political, and cultural issues of the Enlightenment.(3) In contrast, cultural historians emphasize the context and see the quarrels not as exclusively aesthetic, but concerning social, political, and intellectual issues as well.(4) Typically, they focus on the philosophes' support of the Italian opera in the Querelle des Bouffons (175-254) and interpret it as a camouflaged attack on the Old Regime, safer than an overt one. The assumption involved is that the philosophes; shared an anti-establishment stance of which the Querelle is one manifestation among many. Preoccupied with this assumption, these historians do not pay much attention to the supporters of the French opera, inferring their necessarily "reactionary" stance from the "iconoclastic" writings of the philosophes.

I propose a different contextualization of the Querelle des Bouffons resulting from an analysis of the position taken in the dispute by Parisian salonnieire's and the observation that the supporters and the opponents of each operatic genre were divided not only along political but also along gender lines: while the philosophes were almost unanimously pro-Italian, salon women took a pro-French stance, considered by the philosophes as aesthetically conservative and politically reactionary. Such a division cannot be sufficiently explained in the context of the Querelle alone: whereas the philosophes' stance in the Querelle has been interpreted as a result of their assumed progressive aesthetic views or their reaction to the current political developments (such as the suspension of the Encyclopedie), that of women had no direct relevance of that kind. The pro-French orientation of the salonnieres was an outgrowth of a different development social rather than political or aesthetic, and related to the transformation of the category of honnetete into an ideological notion -- the development that made it meaningful to interpret the French opera as honnete and the Italian as its opposite. I argue that it was precisely this ideological function of honnetete, rather than aesthetical considerations, that determined the position taken by the salonnieres' in the Querelle des Bouffons. This position reflected traditional salon philosophy, an extension of the rules of honnetete over aesthetic, social, moral, and political spheres.

From its beginning, opera in France was closely linked with the monarchy and its politics. It was the desire to provide entertainment for the royal court and to achieve his own political ends that prompted Cardinal Mazarin to introduce Italian operatic productions in the French capital in the 1640s. The criticism levelled at Mazarin by his political opponents merged with the criticism of the operas, especially of the high cost of the machinery and the production, and Italian musicians became a target of the rage of the Frondeurs in Paris in June 1648.(5) After the Fronde had ended in 1654, the Italians had to face a tide of national feeling and the birth of the genuinely French concept of the opera that took place at that time. From 1661 opera in France developed under the supervision of Jean-Baptiste Lully, a Florentine naturalized French, into a genre that was a specifically French incarnation of the neoclassical doctrine, with its primacy of drama over music. The fate of the opera in France was determined by the king himself: opera became an instrument of royal policy, deliberately supported despite criticism and the high cost of production.(6) Importantly, royal support was not extended to the opera in general, but directed particularly at the type of opera created by Lully which was seen as specifically French in spirit, politically reflecting the splendour and grandiosity of the monarchy, and aesthetically combining (as successfully as was possible) the neoclassical literary doctrine with music, never completely subordinating the text to the music. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.