The Woman Singer and her Song in French and German Prose Fiction, from Goethe to Berlioz
Chapter 8: Hoffmannesque Dénouements: The Nightmare of the Romantic Singer in Hector Berlioz’s Euphonia, ou la ville musicale
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It seems fitting to conclude the discussion of the woman singer motif in French and German literature between the late eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth century with a brief glimpse into the future.
As one of the most important composers of French Romanticism as well as a highly respected author, Hector Berlioz crafts a most fascinating image of the music of the future in one of his signature pieces, the musical novella Euphonia, ou la ville musicale (1844), aptly subtitled Nouvelle de l’avenir and later included as a key part of his story compilation Les Soirées de l’orchestre (1852).
In Euphonia, Berlioz rewrites the Hoffmannesque antagonism between a patriarchal, Romantic musical ideal (as exemplified by the utopian musical city Euphonia) and its realist contrast (embodied by the female singer Mina, a foreigner who infiltrates and eventually triggers the destruction of Euphonia and of musical utopia). Berlioz not only continues E.T.A. Hoffmann’s questioning of male-authored musical ideals; he also goes one step further, shifting the narrative agency onto the female singer and casting her as the destroyer of Romantic musical ideals. Berlioz’s Euphonia stands out as an unusual treatment of this much-fêted character among the mostly one-dimensional and banal literary treatments of singers in mid-nineteenth-century French literature.
Hector Berlioz, like Hoffmann, was a doubly talented composer and writer whose compositions were inspired and influenced by poetry and who transposed his bold musical imagery into his narratives, creating rich...
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