Ballet Music from the Mannheim Court, part 1.
Any mention of the term "ballet" within the context of early modern European history inevitably suggests the divertissements of the French court under Louis XIV. Created to quell any rebellion against the king, these lavish spectacles - often thinly veiled allegories of life at court - were the key to both political and personal triumph in the highly structured society of the French court. Any faux pas might mean exile from the ballroom, if not from the court as well. Standardized by Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), the style of French ballet music was imported into Germany in the late seventeenth century by Georg Muffat (1653-1704) via his highly influential Suavioris harmoniae instrumentalis hyporchematicae (Augsburg: Panneker, 1695). Despite the efforts of German Lullistes such as Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657-1714) and Johann Sigismund Kusser (1660-1727), the impetus to establish a German school of ballet separate from the methods of the French school proved insufficient.
Under the Electorate of Carl Theodor, Mannheim became a cultural center of mid-eighteenth-century Germany. Geographically situated midway between the two major musical centers of Paris and Vienna, Mannheim held a unique position in the production of cultural art forms. Unlike the musicians at other German establishments, nearly all the court musicians at Mannhelm were German. Furthermore, many of the virtuoso players in the famous Mannhelm orchestra were also composers and conductors. This resulting duality allowed for an unusual freedom of expression and experimentation that added enormously to the high levels of artistry attained within the musical establishment. Indeed, music was central to the aims of Carl Theodor as is evident from Charles Burney's remark made after visiting Mannheim: "Music seems to be the chief and most constant of his Electoral highness's amusements; and the operas, and concerts, to which all his subjects have admission, forms the judgment, and establishes a taste for music, throughout the electorate." (The Present State of Music in Germany, The Netherlands, and United Provinces [London: Printed for T. Becket, 1773], 1:97).
The publication by A-R Editions of the two initial volumes of Ballet Music from the Mannheim Court, a subseries of Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, is indeed a welcome project, produced with the usual elegance lavished by this press on its scholarly editions. Surely the catalyst for these editions of Mannheim court music is the seminal article by Eugene K. and Jean K. Wolf, "A Newly Identified Complex of Manuscripts from Mannheim" (Journal of the American Musicological Society 27 : 379-437), which established the existence of some 125 manuscripts copied at the court before its transfer to Munich in 1778 and resolved the complex relationships between the surviving sources. It is amazing that the sources for ballet music at the Mannheim court survived at all, and in more or less workable condition besides. Many of the original manuscripts for ballet in other national schools have not fared as well, destroyed as ephemera or lost in fire or war.
One of the strengths of Floyd K. Grave's inaugural volume of ballets by Christian Cannabich (Le rendes-vous, ballet de chasse) and George Joseph Vogler (Le rendez-vous de chasse) is the prefatory material, which sets the parameters for this and subsequent editions as well as the historical, sociological, and textual context of the ballets. Sibylle Dahms, director of the Derra de Moroda Dance Archives at the University of Salzburg, skillfully relates the historical background of the Mannheim ballet tradition, where the essentially undramatic noble style of French dance was transformed into a new representational style, the ballet en action. Characterized by an individuality of expression, the plots of these ballets portrayed a unified action devoid of subplots, employing gesture, mime, and dance to explicate the inherent drama. The juxtaposition of pantomime and tableau vivant provided freedom from the traditional constraints of the highly stylized dance forms. The techniques of the Mannheim school, especially the orchestral "rocket" and "sigh," were perfect matches with this new style of dramatic ballet. Most importantly, Dahms increases our awareness of these efforts at ballet reform taking place concurrently within operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck and others. Paul Corneilson and Eugene K. Wolf follow with an essay that examines the Mannheim ballet sources for the years 1758 to 1778, including an alphabetical list of works (with the names of the choreographers and composers), library sigla for the manuscript locations, performance history, bibliographical citations for additional information, and indexes by composer and choreographer or author.
The edition itself offers two ballets by musicians now not primarily thought of as composers: Cannabich is probably best known as Johann Stamitz's successor as conductor of the Mannhelm orchestra, and Vogler, as a music theorist. Each composer, however, produced an impressive list of works for the stage. In his introduction, Grave makes an eloquent case for the ballet de chasse (hunting ballet) as a subset of the dramatic ballet genre, and his explanation of tonal design and similarity between these particular examples is convincing. Sadly, however, the scenarios to these ballets are no longer extant, rendering it impossible to imagine the spectacle or to glimpse the interplay between drama and music that might have taken place on stage. Grave can only suggest some possibilities in his essay, and as such, these two ballets make a strange choice for inaugurating an edition of virtually unknown ballets that deserve our closer attention.
Edited by Nicole Baker, the second volume of the series presents the ballets Mars et Venus by Carl Joseph Toeschi and Medee et Jason by Cannabich. Both a violinist and composer, Toeschi was a pupil of Stamitz and Anton Filtz and was one of the foremost representatives of the second generation of Mannheim court composers. One of the leading German symphonists of the period along with Cannabich, Toeschi was a likely influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's symphonies of the early 1770s. Baker's edition brings to life one of Toeschi's numerous ballets and another ballet by Cannabich in a layout similar to that of the first volume, opening with an introduction that lays out the historical background and tonal organization of the ballets. Unfortunately, Baker misidentifies the tonality of several movements in Medee et Jason (no. 6 is in D minor, not F major; no. 17 in G minor, not B[flat] major; no. 18 in C minor with no tonicizing of E[flat] major; no. 19 is in G minor, not B[flat] major; and no. 26 is in B[flat] minor, not D[flat] major), thus undermining her discussion of the tonal design and casting suspicion on her other observations as well. Unlike Grave, Baker was benefited by a greater body of extant source materials that includes scenarios for both of her ballets. Yet while Baker does provide the original texts and solid English translations, she makes no attempt to link the drama to the music. Given the lack of full evidence for so many of the Mannheim ballets, the editor certainly should address the relationship of music and drama when appropriate sources integral to the ballet do survive. Such an examination is critical to our understanding of the spectacle inherent in the production and essential for any modern recreation of the work. The editors of the subsequent volumes should not pass over this opportunity to increase our understanding of the Mannheim ballet.
The avid cultivation of the arts in Mannheim also included opera, which alternated with ballet and spoken drama as court entertainment. Indeed, several important operatic premieres took place at court, including Johann Christian Bach's Temistocle (5 November 1772) and Niccolo Jommelli's Cajo Fabrizio (5 November 1760). Corneilson and Wolf's article "Newly Identified Manuscripts of Operas and Related Works from Mannheim" (Journal of the American Musicological Society 47 : 244-74), an extension of Wolf's 1974 article, helps to amplify our knowledge of the manuscript and performance tradition for opera at the Mannhelm court.
Among the important Mannheim premieres was Gian Francesco de Majo's Ifigenia in Touride on 4 November 1764 in celebration of the Elector's name day. The story of Iphigenia and her various trials and tribulations had great appeal to eighteenth-century composers, including Jommelli, Tommaso Traetta, and Gluck. For his version, Majo used a libretto by Mannheim court poet Mattia Verazi (also set by Jommelli in 1771 for Naples). Verazi's libretto breaks with several conventions of the opera seria, most notably the exit aria, to produce a highly complex dramatic structure that allows for a more expansive musical setting and challenges Gluck's central position in the history of opera reform.
There are many similarities between the settings of the Iphigenia legend by Majo and Gluck. A programmatic sinfonia opens Majo's opera, setting the stage for the drama by miming a storm, shipwreck, landing, and battle; Gluck's setting has a similar beginning. Of particular interest are the parallels in the scenes involving interactions between Pylades and Orestes. In both settings, these scenes are homoerotically charged, with the two men professing their great love and willingness to die for each other. The music of both composers emphasizes this ardor with overlapping vocal phrases, while duets sung in the tightest of harmonious intervals, the third, exemplify the erotically charged bond between these two male characters. An investigation of this particular topos could produce an interesting study, particularly since it does not occur in Traetta's setting of the same story.
Corneilson's new edition of Majo's Ifigenia in Tauride is the first large-scale opera seria to appear in Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, and it forms the perfect complement to the two volumes of Mannheim ballets. Corneilson, whose dissertation "Opera at Mannheim, 17701778" (University of North Carolina, 1992) surely informed the preparation of this edition, provides an introduction to the opera that skillfully sets the context for opera seria at Mannheim, discusses the origins and transformations of Euripedes's original story, and outlines the reception history of Majo's setting. His analysis of the music formalizes the composer's contributions to operatic reform in the 1760s. The only possible question I might pose about such a major contribution to the literature is: When will the first modern production of Majo's opera take place?
Despite the varying quality of the editorial commentary that precedes the editions, the three volumes mark the beginning of an important subseries that should secure a more prominent position for the stage works of the Mannhelm school. All scholars and students interested in this repertory will eagerly await the publication of subsequent volumes.
JAMES P. CASSARO Cornell University
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|Author:||Cassaro, James P.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1998|
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