The history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too
much about it.
Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians
To a musicologist from another planet, gifted with boundless analytical insight but free from earthly prejudice, it would be obvious that Italy was the principal power in nineteenth-century European music. This judgement of course contradicts terrestrial opinion, which awards Germany that honour. Certainly, there is no denying either the great achievements of German composers during this period, or their immense prestige. But prestige is one thing, influence quite another. The German idiom was slow to penetrate beyond the traditional outposts of Teutonic culture in eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Britain, and the United States. And even within the German-speaking world it faced stiff opposition:
A modern German history of music gives a list of some six hundred German operas pro-
duced between about 1830 and 1900; hardly a single one has remained in the ordinary
German repertory, apart from a few comic operas and musical comedies of the 1840's
which are still popular in their own country, though little known outside. Through the
whole of Wagner's lifetime the German theatres were dependent mainly on French and
Italian operas, just as they were in the days of Mozart, and indeed right up to 1900 and
later certain old French comic operas survived in Germany, which had long been shelved
Moreover, an Italianate strain runs through nineteenth-century German music even at the highest and most self-consciously Teutonic level. Without it, one cannot begin to understand Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, or for that matter Wagner. With characteristic acuteness, Stravinsky remarks on 'those Italianate melodic figures that curl through his scores from Das Liebesverbot to Parsifal (and on to Verklärte Nacht) without being entirely digested,
1 Dent, Opera,81.