Perspectives on the French Musical Press in the Long Nineteenth Century
Guest Editor Mark Everist
Throughout the 1830s critics including Jules Janin attacked Niccolò Paganini for his lack of generosity, claiming that the violinist refused to play concerts benefitting the poor (even though archival letters confirm that Paganini did participate). Numerous critics discussed charity as a necessary component of artistry, and Janin cited Paganini’s selfishness as proof that the violinist was not an artiste.
In December 1838, however, following Paganini’s monetary gift to Hector Berlioz, Janin retracted his words, claiming that Paganini’s generosity proved his place in the “glorious brotherhood of artists.” I argue that the trajectory of Janin’s criticism demonstrates the connection between altruism and artistry in nineteenth-century France, as well as critical hesitation to designate a foreign performer as an artiste. Janin’s criticism further shows the journal’s affinity for sensationalism, due to both its readership and to contemporary literary trends with which Janin himself was directly involved.
In 1900, “Les Grands oratorios à l’église Saint-Eustache” garnered significant and controversial critical press coverage. While the series’ reception was generally supportive, opposition from high-ranking government and church officials recalled timeworn debates surrounding “appropriate” utilizations of sacred space, arguments which masked an underlying fear that the so-called “theater of Saint-Eustache” marked the Catholic church’s defeat to the “secularizing” influence of the Third Republic.
At first glance, this dichotomy seems to support the often-claimed incompatibility between Catholic traditionalists and “secular” Republicans. A closer examination, however, reveals that the Parisian press configured music to act as a mediator between conflicting cultural, political, and religious networks. By analyzing the narratives created by the programming choices and their critical reception, I demonstrate how these concerts functioned simultaneously as a model of religious devotion through sacred music and as a symbol of Republican ideology, thus creating a Republican identity that was simultaneously sacred and secular.
While the Austrian reaction to the world premiere of Werther in Vienna (February 1892) and the French reaction to its Parisian premiere (January 1893) have received attention from scholars and biographers, the response of the Parisian press to Massenet’s 1892 success in the home of Mozart and Beethoven has been largely omitted from Werther’s story. By the beginning of the 1890s Massenet was a truly notable figure in French music—a professor at the Conservatoire, member of the Institut, and author of several much admired operas from the 1880s, notably Manonand Esclarmondeat the Opéra-Comique andLe Cid at the Opéra. Léon Carvalho’s refusal in 1887 to accept the somber Wertherfor the Opéra-Comique was widely known. Unjustly blamed for the disastrous fire of 1887, he was able to return to the helm of this theater in 1891, and a wish to exploit this turn of events may partially explain the amount of attention focused on Massenet’s successful premiere abroad. Vienna was, in any case, recognized as a sophisticated capital of the German-speaking world, and what happened there mattered in Paris. Looking at the articles generated by the Parisian press in 1891-1892 and placing them in the proper contexts gives insight into issues of cultural transfer and “pre-reception”.
This study examines articles about Wertherin the daily papers and various theatrical and/or musical publications (the insertions, background pieces, telegrams, reviews, translations of the foreign press, and so on). These texts may relay information from the theater, publisher, authors and/or performers, but they also mirror French pride in the success of a native son, chagrin at having been trumped by a foreign capital for the premiere of an important new work, and fair amount of curiosity. Together these articles increased pressure for performance of the work in a Parisian theater. Going back as far as 1879, these varied texts also tell us about the relationship of two musical worlds, the functions and tools of the press in a “pre-reception,” and/or the networks used by Massenet and his skilled, well-placed collaborators.
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