Tag Archives: Enlightenment

Rinaldo and the Enlightenment

The resounding success of the premiere of Händel’s Rinaldo, his first opera in England, was tempered by satirical and sarcastic criticism in The spectator, a weekly journal dedicated to combining wit with morality.

The spectacular scenery and costumes, textual weaknesses, and lack of logic were all points of criticism. Joseph Addison, measuring the performance by the standards of reason, truth, and naturalness, hardly found occasion to mention the music and excellent cast.

The main forum for these ideas of a new moral, social, and national function for opera was the London coffeehouse. Thus the Enlightenment, through the medium of opera, came to influence the thought of large groups and stimulated new social behavior and artistic standards.

This according to “Mit Rindern, Schafen und Spatzenschwärmen: Die Londoner Uraufführung der Oper Rinaldo von Händel” by Wilhelm Baethge (Das Orchester XLIII/11 [1995] 17-22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1995-14126).

Today is the 31oth anniversary of Rinaldo’s premiere! Below, the opera’s march remains one of its most popular excerpts.

BONUS: John Gay’s celebrated repurposing of the march for The beggar’s opera.

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Filed under Baroque era, Opera, Reception

Boccherini and embodiment


Boccherini’s posthumous reputation has suffered because his works do not emphasize the structural coherence and teleology emblematic of 18th-century Classicism; but regarded through the lens of performance—the sensations and images involved in its bodily presentation—his works evoke those aspects of the era characterized by urgent, even volatile, inquiries into the nature of the self.

Contemporaneous theories of embodiment illuminate the heart of Boccherini’s oeuvre, the chamber music for strings, which presents sensibilité through repetitiveness, a hyperattention to details of dynamics and articulation, the grotesque and bizarre timbres and registral excesses, and Newtonian mechanistic philosophy through gestural enactments of rapidity and rigidity.

These works often distance and ironize the performer, particularly in regard to virtuosity. They thereby make a sophisticated contribution to the central Enlightenment tension between subjectivity and appearance so memorably articulated in Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien.

This according to “‘One says that one weeps, but one does not weep’: Sensibile, grotesque, and mechanical embodiments in Boccherini’s chamber music” by Elisabeth Le Guin (Journal of the American Musicological Society LV/2 [summer 2002] pp. 207–54).

Today is Boccherini’s 270th birthday! Below, a work cited by Le Guin as an example.

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Filed under Classic era