College of Performing and Visual Arts; School of Music, Music Performance
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
Music is almost never cited among the causes of the French Revolution. Other arts are occasionally mentioned, such as painting and poetry, as are more obvious disciplines including philosophy and literature, which could directly disseminate the ideals of the Enlightenment. Despite this, music is only referenced insofar as how it was impacted by the Revolution, rather than how it may have played a part in the development of revolutionary sentiment. The purpose of this dissertation is to make a case for music as a cultural cause for the French Revolution by analyzing a relatively unknown opera, Tarare, by composer Antonio Salieri and librettist Pierre Beaumarchais. Tarare is rife with politically subversive material, and was premiered at the Paris Opera just two years before the Bastille was stormed, effectively beginning the Revolutionary period. French Opera is first established as an ideal and equitable conduit of Enlightenment thought and political messaging. Various political elements of French music are then discussed, concluding that Tarare exhibits many of these elements. French music, historically ignored or forgotten, is discussed as an often exclusionary art, reconciling the relative importance of works such as Tarare with their lack of modern appreciation. The plot of and salient musical examples from Tarare are then analyzed in terms of their unprecedented political impact. Finally, the contemporary success of Tarare is connected to Beaumarchais’s intent as a librettist, which is clarified by discussion of his career as a political agitator and revolutionary sympathizer.
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