UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Marc-Antoine Charpentier's David et Jonathas : French Jesuit theater and the tragédie en musique Henderlight, Justin


Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed David et Jonathas (1688) for a performance at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont in Paris. The work is described in contemporary sources as a tragédie en musique, though the latter term was usually reserved for works that had been composed for the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique. Some scholars have questioned the validity of the label tragédie en musique for this work on the grounds that it lacks certain features common to the genre: the amount of recitative, dance, and references to the supernatural are proportionately low compared to other works titled tragédie en musique. What is more, the work was originally intended to be performed interwoven with a separate spoken play, titled Saül. Saül and David et Jonathas are dramatically self-contained, but they were meant to be performed together, thus conflating the genres of tragédie en musique and intermède. In fact, the work’s biblical story also raises issues of genre, given that, up to 1688, all works labeled tragédie en musique featured a secular story. This thesis aims to show how this work mixes the traits of several genres both as a result of its Jesuit performance context and its composer’s priorities and past experiences writing music for the stage. Through an analysis of the political, aesthetic, musical, and dramatic features of the work, I reveal how the opera shows some indebtedness to the tragédies en musique that preceded it. Elements that point to this work’s status as a generic hybrid are also brought to the fore, following modern theories of genre that allow for works to participate in several genres without the stipulation to place it into any single category.

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