Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Christian Seebald (Hochschule für Musik, Köln, Germany)

Baroque opera and the middle ages: on the reception of medieval themes in Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel opera at about 1700

The history of opera is closely connected with the history of its themes or subject matters. Especially the latter provide insight into cultural developments – into traditions and continuities as well as into changes and innovations – within the operatic genre and outside it, i.e. as far as the cultural background of opera is concerned.

The reception of medieval themes in baroque opera is a phenomenon scarcely recognized by operatic research up to now – in contrast to the interest in nineteenth-century opera based on medieval themes. Nevertheless ‘medieval heroic opera’ as a medium of ideological representation and political intervention seems to have been of major importance at the turn of the eighteenth century, especially in Northern Germany, for example at the courts of Hanover and Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and in the imperial city of Hamburg.

The study – based on some results of the author’s current thesis (Ph.D.) – focuses on the situation at the Guelphan court of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, where there is a flowering time of ‘medieval dramma per musica’ in the first half of the eighteenth century, when Georg Caspar Schürmann is ducal director of music. It aims at characterizing ‘medieval heroic opera’ in Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel as well as demonstrating the reasons for its flourishing by illuminating the function of this operatic type within its cultural background, i.e. within the system of baroque court culture.

Last updated on 20 May 2004