Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Minerva's Hat and the Emperor's Tailcoat: August Adelburg's Cosmopolitan "National Opera" Zrínyi*

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Minerva's Hat and the Emperor's Tailcoat: August Adelburg's Cosmopolitan "National Opera" Zrínyi*

Article excerpt

August Adelburg is hardly a household name in 19th-century opera studies, and this article is not meant to generally rectify this unfavorable state of affairs, either. Instead, I should like to draw attention to a single composition of his, the five-act opera Zrinyi, which contributed to the mid-19th-century debate about "national style" in a remarkable way, and may thereby shed light on the aesthetic implica- tions of several better-known operas as well.

Adelburg is a title of nobility, for the composer belonged to an old Croatian aristocratic family originally called Abramovic. His father Eduard Adelburg-Ab- ramovic was a diplomat, and a scholar of some reputation in both Oriental studies and botany. August was born from his father's first marriage in 1830 in Pera, now a part of Istanbul. Accordingly, the composer's mother tongue was Greek, which remained his language of preference throughout his life. Having taken his first violin lessons at the age of seven, and leaving Constantinople for Vienna two years later, August received most of his education during the eleven years he spent in the renowned Theresianum of the Austrian capital. Throughout this peri- od, however, he continued his violin studies with the famous Josef Mayseder, took lessons in composition from Joachim Hoffmann, and eventually decided not to comply with his family's wish to become a diplomat, but left school to dedi- cate himself entirely to music. In October 1854 he returned to Constantinople for family reasons, and found favor with the local intelligentsia as a violinist-his success inspired him to try his luck as a traveling virtuoso in Vienna, Leipzig, Prag; later in Paris, as well as in several cities of Greece, Switzerland and Italy.1

In the course of his extensive travels, Adelburg came to be a frequent guest in Hungary as well, visiting Pest ever more often. He developed a friendly relationship with the family of piano maker Péter Vendelin, and eventually married Vendelin's daughter Mária. Having thus become an honorary Hungarian, as it were, Adelburg considered the publication of Franz Liszt's much-debated book On the Gypsies and their music in Hungary a call to arms, and decided to respond to it with an essay of his own. While Adelburg's rebuttal, which appeared in a tiny booklet with an intro- duction by Alexander von Czeke in the autumn of 1859, is but one of a long series of such statements countering the views attributed to Liszt, it proves an important source for us as an early presentation of Adelburg's ideas on "national music"-an issue that he returned to again some years later in the preface to his opera Zrinyi.

Adelburg starts by laying down that Liszt's thesis about the national music of Hungarians actually belonging to the Gypsies "cannot be serious."2 Along Herderian lines, he suggests that

each nation, whether barbarian or civilized, has a specific, independent way of musical expression. Together with national poetry, national music constitutes the most important mental features of an independent, typical-original Folk, through which this Folk conspicuously detaches itself and differs from other peoples.3

The Magyars are of course no exception, and it seems curious why Liszt would insist that the Gypsies' gave rise to this single national style, for music has a certain "local coloring" (Lokalfärbung) in each country. Since the Gypsies liv- ing in Spain, Romania or Turkey in fact make Spanish, Romanian and Turkish music, respectively, one could by the same token argue that they were the true creators of all these national styles-however, no one ever did so. And there is good reason for this omission, given that, in Adelburg's view, it is precisely the Gypsy that proves an exception to the rule: for him music it not the outpouring of the deepest feelings of the soul, but rather "pure 'speculation,' a way of mak- ing a living like smithery, which he preferably and mostly pursues in the East."4 Therefore, Hungarian music is undoubtedly the creation of Magyars, and the Gypsies merely learned it from them. …

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