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Castil-Blaze, De L’Opéra en France, and the Feuilletons of the Journal des Débats (1820-1832) Gíslason, Donald Garth


François-Henri-Joseph Blaze (1784-1857), who published under the pseudonym Castil- Blaze, was an important figure in French musical life during the period of the Bourbon Restoration (1815-1830). In his historical monographs, he was the first writer to address the wider French public to explain to them the history and practical functioning of their major musical institutions. As France's first professional music critic and the author of some 340 articles in the prestigious Journal des débats between 1820 and 1832, he created a place for literate writing about music on the front pages of the most respected daily newspaper in France, providing the French public for the first time with a regular account of Parisian musical activities written from a musician's point of view. The present study examines his views on opera as expressed in his articles in the Journal des débats and in the work which launched his career. De J'Opéra en France (1820). Chapter 1 reviews the centrality of opera in French musical life from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, concentrating upon the literary outlook which conditioned its development and upon the parallel development of French music criticism during this period. Discussed as well are the founding of the Journal des débats at the end of the eighteenth century and the work of its first important critic, Julien-Louis Geoffroy, at the beginning of the nineteenth. Chapter 2 describes the early career of Castil-Blaze before his arrival in Paris and analyses both the new direction which De l'Opéra en France represented in French writing about music and the contrast evident between Castil-Blaze and his predecessor Geoffroy. Chapter 3 outlines Castil-Blaze's views on the nature of music criticism as a specialty discipline and details the ways in which his own work attempted to put these views into practice. Chapter 4 discusses the crucial importance of the libretto, in Castil-Blaze's view, to the ultimate effectiveness of opera, both at the large-scale level of its dramatic structure and at the small-scale level of its verse prosody. Chapter 5 deals with the issues affecting the opera composer's score: the theoretical basis of Castil-Blaze's musical aesthetics, his practical concerns with the traditional French system for distributing voice roles, and his opinions on text-music setting and the nature of dramatic expression in music. Chapter 6 deals with Castil-Blaze's expectations of the opera singer, both as a vehicle for the composer's written intentions and as an important contributor of dramatic expression and improvised ornamentation in performance. A concluding chapter outlines unifying themes in his writings as a whole and discusses their impact upon later developments in French opera.

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