UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The critical writings of Ernest Reyer Lamberton, Elizabeth Jean


Ernest Reyer's career as music critic spanned the second half of the nineteenth century. For more than thirty years he held the position of music critic of the Journal des Debats, one of the most respected newspapers in nineteenth-century France. He also contributed regularly to four journals and the daily Courrier de Paris, and wrote as well for other newspapers and periodicals. Reyer was in addition a conductor and a noted composer, whose major musical works—the operas Sigurd and Salammbo--were performed frequently at the Paris Opera until after the turn of the century. This study deals with Reyer the critic: as a writer on music, he did much to raise the level of musical taste in France during the last third of the century. The dissertation contains ten chapters and two appendices. Chapter I provides a biographical sketch of Reyer before focusing on his personality and his music. Chapter II surveys Reyer's literary legacy: the extent of his writings in newspapers, periodicals, and other publications; his musical preferences; subjects of considerable importance to Reyer; his literary style; and the two compilations of his writings (Notes de musique and Quarante ans de musique, which together represent less than ten percent of his literary production). Chapter III demonstrates that Reyer believed his role as critic was to educate the public, and that he sought to fulfil this role by founding his approach to critical writing on three basic tenets: professional knowledge of music; intellectual integrity; and the consistent application of an aesthetic. The principles of his aesthetic and the consistency of their application are illustrated in Chapter IV through consideration of Reyer's judgments of operatic composition and performance. The next five chapters examine Reyer's writings on topics and composers of particular importance to him. Chapter V studies his views on the complex situation in Parisian lyric theatres during the second half of the nineteenth century, and offers a detailed picture of his conception of an ideal theatre. Chapter VI discusses Reyer's attempts to stimulate public interest in Gluck, Spontini, and Weber, whose works for lyric theatre were either neglected in Paris or known mainly through mutilated versions. Chapter VII outlines Reyer's long struggle—as both critic and conductor—to establish Berlioz's reputation in France. Reyer's advocacy was so effective that some of his countrymen eventually credited him with having done more than anyone else to bring honor to Berlioz in his homeland. Reyer also played a major role in establishing Wagner's music in France, as is shown in Chapter VIII. Chapter IX demonstrates that Reyer's support was important in launching and sustaining the careers of many contemporary French composers, including Gounod, Saint-Saens, Bizet, and Lalo. The final chapter summarizes Reyer's achievement as a writer on music. Among the subjects discussed are the strong influence of Berlioz's writings on both Reyer's literary style and his aesthetic, and the impact of Reyer's writings on Parisian musical life. Appendix A contains an annotated bibliography of Reyer's more than seven hundred critical writings, with an explanation of how they were culled from newspapers and periodicals. Appendix B is a list of other published writings by Reyer. Our examination of his criticism reveals that it would be of interest to have Reyer's complete works available collected volumes.

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