A New and Complete Translation

Essay 26

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 28 July 1767

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 [†] On the thirty-first evening (Wednesday, the 10th of June) the comedy by Madame Gottsched, The French Housekeeper, or the Mamsell was performed. [26.1]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This play is one of the six original works that were bequeathed to Germany in 1744 through Gottschedian midwifery, via the fifth volume of The German Stage. They say that when it was new it played here and there to acclaim. There was a desire to see what kind of acclaim it could still get, and it received what it deserved: none at all. The Last Will, by the same author, has something to it, but The French Housekeeper is nothing at all.[26.2] Even less than nothing, for it is not only base, and dull, and cold, but on top of that dirty, disgusting, and offensive to the highest degree.[26.3] It is inconceivable to me how a lady could write such stuff. I can only hope that all this will be proven by someone. –

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 On the thirty-second evening (Thursday, the 11th of June) M. de Voltaire’s Semiramis was repeated.[26.4]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Because to a certain extent the orchestra takes the place of the ancient chorus in our plays, connoisseurs have long wished that the music performed before, during, and after the play would correspond better to its content.[26.5] Herr Scheibe is the first among musicians to note here an entirely new art form.[26.6] Because he perceived that each play demands its own musical accompaniment if the audience’s emotion is not to be weakened and interrupted in an unpleasant manner, he not only tried, as early as 1738, to produce symphonies specific to the plays Polyeucte and Mithridate, which were performed by the Neuber troupe here in Hamburg, in Leipzig, and in other places, but he also held forth at elaborate length, in a special issue of his Critical Musician, about what, in general, the composer should consider if he wants to earn renown in this new genre.[26.7]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 “All symphonies,” he says, “produced for a play should relate to its type and content. Thus a different kind of symphony belongs with a tragedy than with a comedy. In the same way that tragedies and comedies differ from each other, so must the music for each differ. In particular, however, because there are different sections of music within the plays, one must pay attention to the nature of the passage to which each musical section pertains. Hence the overture must relate to the first act of the play. The symphonies that occur between the acts, however, must partly accord with the end of the previous act, and partly with the beginning of the subsequent act; just as the final symphony must be in accord with the end of the final act.”[26.8]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “All symphonies for tragedies must be stately, fiery, and spirited. In particular, though, one must take notice of the main characters and the main topic, and arrange one’s creation to accord with them. This is of no mean consequence. We find tragedies in which the main matter is sometimes one particular virtue of a hero or heroine, and sometimes another. Compare Polyeucte to Brutus, or Alzire to Mithridate, and you see immediately that there is no way the same music would suit both.[26.9] A tragedy in which the hero or heroine’s religion and piety accompany all their vicissitudes also demands the kind of music that reflects, to a certain extent, the magnificence and solemnity of church music. But if generosity, valor, or steadfastness dominate all manner of misfortunes in the tragedy, then the music must be much more passionate and lively. The tragedies Cato, Brutus, and Mithridate are of this latter sort.[26.10] But Alzire and Zaire demand a somewhat varied music, because the events and characters in these plays are of a different nature and show more variance in emotions.”[26.11]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “Similarly, comic symphonies must overall be free, flowing, and at times also playful; in particular, however, they must take their cue from the individual content of a given comedy. Just as the comedy is now more serious, now more amorous, now more jocular, the symphony must be constituted accordingly. For example, the comedies The Falcon and The Double Inconstancy would require completely different symphonies than The Prodigal Son.[26.12] And the symphonies that would well suit The Miser or The Imaginary Invalid would not befit The Irresolute Man or The Absent-Minded Lover.[26.13] The former must be merrier and more playful, the latter more peevish and serious.”[26.14]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “The overture must relate to the whole play; but at the same time it must prepare for the beginning and thus accord with the first scene. It can have two or three movements as the composer sees fit. – But the symphonies between the acts might most naturally have two movements, because they should be determined by the end of the preceding act and the beginning of the following one. In the first movement one can refer more to the previous act, and in the second more to the following one. But such a thing is only necessary when the emotions of each are very much opposed, otherwise one can probably just make one movement if it has sufficient length to allow all of the needs of the performance to be taken care of, such as lamp trimming, costume changes, etc. – The final symphony must agree most exactly with the end of the play, in order to allow its events to make that much stronger an impression on the audience. What is more ridiculous than when a hero has lost his life in an unfortunate manner, and a playful and lively symphony follows? And what is more absurd than following the happy end of a comedy with a heavy, emotionally moving symphony?” – [26.15]

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 “Moreover, because the music for plays is purely instrumental, a change in instrumentation is necessary in order to more securely hold the spectators’ attention, which might be lost if they were always to hear the same instrumentation. It is pretty much a necessity that the overture be strong and fully orchestrated so that it makes the strongest impression on the ear. Thus the change in instrumentation must appear primarily in the interval symphonies. One must judge carefully which instruments suit themselves best to the material and most surely express what one ought to express. One must make a reasonable choice here if one wishes to achieve one’s purpose with skill and certainty. In particular, however, it is bad when one uses the same instrumentation in two consecutive entr’actes. It is always better and more pleasant when one avoids this failing.”[26.16]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 These are the most important rules necessary to bring the art of music and the art of poetry into a more precise association. I wanted to convey them in the words of a musician, and in particular of the one who had the honor of inventing them, rather than in my own. For musicians frequently accuse poets and critics of expecting and demanding far more from them than the art is capable of achieving. Most of them must first hear from one of their artistic colleagues that the matter is achievable before they will give it the least attention.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 True, it was easy enough to make the rules themselves; they only teach what should happen, without saying how it should happen. The expression of the passions, which is what it all comes down to, is still solely the work of genius. For even though there are and have been musicians who have been amazingly successful in this, we still have not as yet had a philosopher who has learned their methods from them and deduced general principles from their examples. But the more of these examples there are, the more material that accumulates from which such deductions can be made, the sooner we can look for them. And I must be very mistaken if a great step in that direction could not happen as a result of the zeal of musicians in composing dramatic symphonies of this kind. In vocal music the text helps enormously – the weakest and shakiest music is clarified and strengthened through the words; in instrumental music, on the other hand, this help disappears, and the music says absolutely nothing if it does not directly say what it wants to say. Thus the artist will have to apply his utmost powers, and from among the various sequences of notes that could express an emotion he will have to choose only those that express it most clearly. We will hear this more often, we will be able to compare them to each other more often, and by noticing what they have in common we will discover the secret to expression.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Every person can conceive for himself how much our enjoyment of the theater would increase thereby. From the very beginning of the new administration of our theater we have thus not only made a general effort to improve the orchestra, but have also found worthy men who were ready and willing to get down to work to create models of this sort of composition that have exceeded all expectations. Herr Hertel has already produced special symphonies for Cronegk’s Olindo and Sophronia, and the second performance of Semiramis was presented with similarly special music by Herr Agricola of Berlin.[26.17]

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0  

  • 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages omitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
  • [26.1] L. A. Gottsched, Die Hausfranzösin, oder die Mamsell, five-act prose comedy, which satirizes the Francophilia of the German upper-middle classes. In the play, Herr Germann, a widower, places his household under the control of a French governess, not knowing that she and her associates are actually criminals. For a modern English translation, see L. A. Gottsched, Pietism in Petticoats and Other Comedies.
  • [26.2] Das Testament, printed in Vol. 6 of J. C. Gottsched, Die Deutsche Schaubühne [The German Stage] (1745).
  • [26.3] Lessing’s objections have to do with issues of both language and plot. Both French and German characters use oaths and course expressions, and various unsavory events occur (a teenaged son sleeps in his governess’s bed, a Frenchman is given a meal of bird excrement and vomits onstage, and the French villains kidnap Herr Germann’s little daughter and threaten to sell her to a Parisian brothel). The play was in fact performed regularly through the end of the century.
  • [26.4] See [10–12].
  • [26.5] See, for example, J. C. Gottsched, Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst, 521–2 (Vol. 2, Ch. 10, §26).
  • [26.6] Johann Adolf Scheibe (1708–76): German-Danish composer and theorist who promoted emerging musical aesthetics of the Enlightenment. His works, including his weekly periodical Critischer Musikus (1736–40; expanded edition 1745), were influenced by the ideas of J. C. Gottsched.
  • [26.7] Scheibe, Critischer Musikus, Article 67 (8 December 1739). In the following paragraphs, Lessing’s quotations are close to the original but not exact. Polyeucte (1642), Mithridate (1673): tragedies by P. Corneille and Racine, respectively.
  • [26.8] Scheibe, 614.
  • [26.9] Brutus (1730), Alzire (1736): tragedies by Voltaire.
  • [26.10] Cato: may refer to J. C. Gottsched’s Der sterbende Cato (1732), an adaptation of Addison’s more famous Cato (1713).
  • [26.11] Scheibe, 615–6. Zaïre (1732): tragedy by Voltaire.
  • [26.12] French titles: Le Faucon et les oies de Boccace (Delisle de la Drevetière, 1725); La Double Inconstance (Marivaux, 1723); L’enfant prodigue (Voltaire, 1738).
  • [26.13] French titles: L’Avare (Molière, 1668); Le Malade Imaginaire (Molière, 1673); L’irrésolu (Destouches, 1713); Le Distrait (Regnard, 1697).
  • [26.14] Scheibe, 616.
  • [26.15] Scheibe, 616–7.
  • [26.16] Scheibe, 618.
  • [26.17] Johann Wilhelm Hertel (1727–89): German musician, composer, and theorist. In 1767, in addition to the incidental music for Olindo and Sophronia, Hertel provided the Hamburg National Theater with music for C. F. Weisse’s tragedies Richard die Dritte [Richard III] (1759) and Romeo und Julie (1767), and for the “divertissement” following J. F. Löwen’s comic afterpiece, Das Räthsel [The Riddle] (1767). Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720–74): German musician, composer, and theorist; a student of J. S. Bach, he was appointed court composer (1750) and musical director (1759) by Frederick II.
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