Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Zarzuela and the Anti-Musical Prejudice of the Spanish Enlightenment

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Zarzuela and the Anti-Musical Prejudice of the Spanish Enlightenment

Article excerpt

During the last third of the eighteenth century, the Madrilenian society, particularly the emerging classes of professionals and civil servants who would constitute the prime theater audience in the following century, began to favor dances and songs of native musical genres such as zarzuela and tonadilla escénica over the aristocratic preference for the refined arias of Italian opera seria, which dominated the aristocratic stages since the beginning of the 1700s. This is not surprising, as all around Europe a favorable sensitivity toward autochthonous culture was boosting hybrid musical genres that combined elements of popular and high culture. Examples of this include the Italian opera buffa, the French opéra comique, and the German Singspiel. What is notable, however, is that while these European genres led, during the following century, to the creation of a national opera, the Spanish zarzuela did not. Whereas "Spain" is found everywhere in modern opera (from Mozart's Don Giovanni to Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia; from Beethoven's Fidelia to Verdi's Don Carlo to Bizet's Carmen), Spanish authors did not produce an operatic voice in the same terms as their European colleagues. In the following pages, I argue that what I call "the anti-musical prejudice of the Spanish Enlightenment" played an important role in preventing zarzuela from transforming itself into a European-like genre, and indirectly boosted the differential development of the Spanish musical theater. By exploring the intellectual polemic that surrounded eighteenth-century zarzuela, we can trace the aesthetic compromises of its particular style. While writers such as Caspar de Jovellanos, Tomás de Iriarte, and Leandro Fernández de Moratín strongly censured the combination of vernacular music and drama, other authors of the same period such as Ramón de la Cruz engaged in the task of writing popular musical theater. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Spanish academia labeled the former as ilustrados, and the latter as traditionalist or casticistas. From our standpoint, however, the distinction seems blurry-in fact, both ilustrados and castidstas were part of the same cultural and intellectual milieu. As I will show, both positions, although apparently incompatible, must be regarded as indispensable factors in the differential development of zarzuela.

During the eighteenth century, the fusion of cultured and profane traditions, and particularly the emergence of hybrid genres of musical theater, transformed the way in which European philosophy related ethics to music. Although a general definition of modern music implies an inevitable reductionism, two moments constitute a turning point from which musicians and European societies changed their relationship with music. The first, the querelle des bouffons in France (1752-1754) brought into music similar discussions on the idea of "taste" aroused in literature by the querelle des antiques et modernes in the previous century.1 The second, the birth of the philosophy of aesthetics in Germany during the mid-eighteenth century created a mandate for aesthetic autonomy. Neither the Encyclopédistes' critique of old musical techniques nor the German apology of aesthetic autonomy were intended to oppose music and morals. Neither did they wish to render music a mere object of contemplation. Rather, European philosophers of the late eighteenth century such as Rousseau, Schiller, and Schlegel regarded music and the new musical genres as tools for social education of modern subjectivity.2 Aesthetic autonomy, in fact, was not a goal in itself, but a postulate to guarantee freedom when producing musical judgments.3 Previously, art was aimed to communicate ethical values whereas in the eighteenth century, it was deemed to define morality. Music was the preferred means of configuring the new subjectivity, since its abstract language favored a relationship in which aesthetic autonomy was safeguarded more than in any other form of art. …

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