Race and Identity: Appraisals in France of Meyerbeer on his 1891 Centenary
Source TitleNineteenth Century Music Review
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
University of Melbourne Author/sMurphy, Kerry
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsMurphy, K. (2004). Race and Identity: Appraisals in France of Meyerbeer on his 1891 Centenary. Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 1 (2), pp.27-42. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1479409800001348.
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C1 - Journal Articles Refereed
This article examines the ways in which critics and music historians in the Third Republic wrote about Meyerbeer's national and racial identity focusing particularly on the period around the time of the centenary of his birth, the period just before the explosion of the Dreyfus affair. The centenary of Meyerbeer's birth was celebrated in November 1891, by a performance to a packed audience at the Paris Opéra. Critics marked the centenary by writing substantial articles about Meyerbeer. Although many of Meyerbeer's contemporary critics conferred honorary French citizenship on him, by 1891 a significant number saw him as lacking any national identity. This should be seen in the context of a period in which French composers were intensely debating the issue of their own national identity, and clearly since the Franco-Prussian war, they were no longer so complacent about welcoming a German as a Frenchman. Yet the perceptions of Meyerbeer's lack of national identity were also often motivated by negative associations of Meyerbeer as Jew. Derogatory stereotypes of the Jewish composer are present in Meyerbeer criticism from the July Monarchy onwards, but in the early days of the Third Republic they change slightly in focus and also, as might be expected, become more overtly stated. This article presents a brief overview of this change in focus and concentrates on a number of discrete topics: eclecticism, nationhood, originality and artistic capitulation. The examination of this last topic leads to a short discussion of the impact of Wagner on the musical world at this time, and the effect that this had on Meyerbeer reception. The centenary celebrations occurred only two months after the success ofLohengrinat the Opéra (16 September 1891) and the proximity of the two events caused many critics to ponder whether the celebrations marked the end of Meyerbeer's reign at the Opéra and the beginning of the reign of Wagner. The centenary event forced critics to take a position on Meyerbeer's current standing in the operatic world.
KeywordsMusic; The Performing Arts (incl. Music; Theatre and Dance)
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