Most Recent Issue
Vol. 29 (2014)
Michelle Lawton, Editor
Benjamin M. McBrayer, “Towards a Critical History of the Concept of American Opera, 1830-1930”
American opera has always been a classificational concept. From its inception, the phrase “American opera” has been used to designate a specific class of musical objects. The first histories of American opera, such as O.G. Sonneck’s “Early American Operas” (1905), took as their subject matter those staged musical productions that had been composed on American soil, by an American composer, and, in some cases, on an American subject. In “Early American Operas,” Sonneck examined a variety of eighteenth-century works that explicitly advertised themselves as American operas.
In the nineteenth century, sources of opera promotion and reception, such as newspapers, further verified American opera’s classificational status. From the 1850s to the 1880s, advertisements, essays, and reviews in theNew York Times regularly employed the phrase “American opera” as the name for a category of musical works, but one whose precise meaning was highly contested. Opinions differed, for instance, regarding the specific features that defined American opera. Debates over what made an opera “American” typically centered on the composer’s national identity and the work’s thematic content. Differences also emerged in discussions of the institutions that produced American operas. Some proposed the creation of new opera companies that would create an ideal form of American opera, while others celebrated the burlesque entertainments of blackface minstrel troupes as an authentic tradition of American opera.
Adam Schoaff, “Mainwaring’s Handel Memoirs and the Shaping of a National Myth”
John Mainwaring’s Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel. To which is Added, A Catalogue of his Works, and Observations upon Them (1760) occupies a central position in Handel reception history. It was the first biographical account of Handel’s life, appearing only a year after the composer’s death. It also established a model upon which subsequent Handel biographers based their own narratives. Today, Handel scholars recognize the unreliability of Mainwaring chronology and the exaggeration of his anecdotal claims. Nevertheless, the account still offers a significant window on Handel’s importance within British society, particularly against the backdrop of Britain’s growing confidence as a global empire.
This article will demonstrate that Mainwaring’s Memoirs portrayed the recently deceased Handel as an ideal embodiment of mid-eighteenth-century British national identity. In the numerous anecdotes he chose to tell, Mainwaring emphasized certain character traits that would have carried a nationalistic resonance with contemporary British readers. I have organized these character traits into six broad categories relating to Handel’s courage, independence, Protestantism, morality, divine favor, and innate musical genius. By reading passages of Mainwaring’s Memoirs in their political and religious context and comparing them with similar patriotic sentiments found in contemporary newspapers, pamphlets, and poems, I will show that Mainwaring’s Handel reflected a popular image of the British Empire as many Britons imagined it to be.