MUSIC IN TRAGEDY Feb 12, 2003 19:46:52 GMT -5
Post by rabagas on Feb 12, 2003 19:46:52 GMT -5
I posted this in another Shakespeare club but got no response. Hopefully, someone here will be interested
The recent interest I've developed in opera has led me to an awareness of certain national differences in the approach to music in theatre and tragedy in particular. I think the English were initially, and to some extent remain, uncomfortable with the idea of introducing music into tragedy. At best we (Anglos-Saxons all) see it as an accompaniment,of which we are somewhat distrustful, since it may smack of the detested ogre: Melodrama.
The Italians introduced musical tragedy in the 16th century, and were quite comfortable with singing an entire tragedy. Attempts to introduce Italian opera into France were resisted even though sponsored by Cardnial Mazarin. The French idea (which is different from the English) was that Tragedy was to be declaimed. It was only after Lully slowly introduced music into theatre, beginning with the Bourgeois Gentlemasn of Moliere, that resistance began to weaken. Lully's great collaborator and librettist Quinault, began dramatizing Greek myths and also epics of Chivalry and Magic (Armida, based on Tasso's epic, Jerusalem Delivered,, and
Roland based on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso which is ultimately based on the Song of Roland). King Louis XIV liked to dance in ballets so ballets were incorporated as well. The result is a kind of total theatre that hasn't been seen even in modern times until Brecht made efforts in this direction.
I know when I first began reading plays lo! many long years ago, the criticism I read of English attempts to follow the French
or worse still, the Italian examples were scathing.Even the dramatic oratorios of Handel were ridiculed and despised. Becauase much of the music by Lully, Handel, Rameau and, & Purcell was unavailable even to read, it was possible to be dismissive and
safe to ridicule. One had to take the word of the critic because there was no available musical reality to compare the criticism to. Anyone familiar with Handel's Halleluah chorus should ask himself if a musical talent so pwerful could not enhance rather than degrade a theatrical experience.
I think part of the English resistance is that unlike the French, we feel a tragedy is not simply to be declaimed but to be acted with as much realism as possible. (That's why when the French Romantics Dumas, Hugo, DeVigny and others discovered Shakespeare they were so astounded by the reality of the human emotions depicted.) And our notion of realism is that life is not accompanied by music and dance. And the other factor is that until the rise of popular music Jazz, Rock etc.)we weren't very musically inclined. Purcell is the great exception, but his work, although marvelous, seems to have been ignored and forgotten by the beginning of the 19th Century and rarely performed until recently.
I don't know how the Germans and Spanish approached the subject. I'd welcome comments and debate.