Music Colloquium: Parisian Politics, Stage Music & the Second Empire

The Empire Strikes Back: Parisian Politics, Stage Music and the Second Empire. The speaker is Professor Mark Everist (University of Southampton)


Although 1806/7 legislation had tried to ensure a neat separation between genre and institution in Parisian stage music, it had inadvertently laid out a field on which the politics of genre could be played out as agents of all types—managers, librettists, journalists and composers—deployed various forms of artistic power. Through a system of contracts, committees and surveillance, the state provided a framework in which such creative power could flow without serious damage to its prestige. But for the first decade of the Second Empire, from 1854 until the licensing system was abolished in 1864, the Empire took over day-to-day control of the Opéra and its repertory in ways that were without precedent since 1789, and that are today almost completely unknown.

One of the central elements in the relationship between the state and the management of opera houses and theatres were government commissions: tribunals that would advise the minister in question on questions of repertory, personnel, and the relationship between competing opera houses. Usually, these commissions consisted of experts: librettists, managers, censors and so on. Unexplored archives, printed and manuscript material now show how in 1854, Napoléon III agreed to a Commission supérieure permanente … du Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra; this consisted of the most powerful men in government, who made day-to-decisions about programming and repertory, as well as engaging in musical pamphleteering. They imposed a regime of hyper-conservative works on the Opéra, and promoted operas composed by foreign aristocrats and heads of state, often for the delight of their relatives. They mounted generically-shifted productions of older works by Auber, Bellini and Verdi, and were responsible for the revival of Gluck’s Alceste and the ill-fated production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

About the speaker

Mark Everist’s research focuses on the music of western Europe in the period 1150-1330, Opera in France in the nineteenth century, Mozart, reception theory, and historiography. He is the author of Polyphonic Music in Thirteenth-Century France (1989), French Motets in the Thirteenth Century (1994), Music Drama at the Paris Odéon, 1824-1828 (2002), Giacomo Meyerbeer and Music Drama in Nineteenth-Century Paris (2005), Mozart’s Ghosts: Haunting the Halls of Musical Culture (2013), as well as editor of three volumes of the Magnus Liber Organi for Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre (2001-2003). In addition, he has published over 80 articles.

The recipient of the Solie (2010) and Slim (2011) awards of the American Musicological Society, he is a fellow of the Academia Europaea. Everist was President of the Royal Musical Association from 2011 to 2017, and was elected a corresponding member of the American Musicological Society in 2014. Discovering Medieval Song: Latin Poetry and Music in the Conductus was published with Cambridge University Press in 2018, as was The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, co-edited with Thomas Kelly. A retrospective collection of essays, Opera in Paris from the Restoration to the Commune is forthcoming (2019) from Routledge, and a monograph of Gluck reception in the nineteenth century has just been completed.