Author: Kevorkian, Tanya
Date published: December 1, 2010
Barockoper in Leipzig (1693-1720). By Michael Maul. 2 vols. (Rombach Wissenschaften, Reihe Voces, Bd. 12.) Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 2009. [1184 p. ISBN 9783793095842. i128.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.
In this massive dissertation, Michael Maul makes a major contribution to placing Leipzig on the map of well-researched centers of baroque secular music. Maul's stated goal (p. 33) is to provide a basis for further research on the Leipzig opera by assessing the hitherto known historiography and source situation, to find and assess new sources, to give an impression of scores, and to determine the names of composers, librettists, and producers. Maul goes well beyond this, however, by reconstructing important aspects of German baroque musical culture more generally. Research institutions and music schools should acquire this book; other libraries will also find it useful.
Maul's method is to keep an eye first and foremost on sources about a particular aspect of the history of the Leipzig Opera, and to build a discussion on the basis of those sources. In the process, he provides a thorough review of the previous state of research and of new discoveries, identifying possible authors and composers of hitherto unattributed works, as well as those participating in their stagings. His discussions sometimes seem too exhaustive; but there is an intelligent and well-informed thought process at work on almost every page of the text, and it is interesting to follow his detective work even when one is not particularly interested in a particular issue.
Research on J. S. Bach informs Maul's approach in different ways. Maul is based at the Leipzig Bach-Archiv, an important collaborative research center. His job there has involved traveling to archives and libraries around central Germany in search of new sources relating to Bach. That search, which has produced important new finds, helped give him a familiarity with sources, places, and research methods, which is a huge asset to this text. The dissertation's first section, on sources, is arguably the most original, as Maul follows leads to repositories and figures both wellknown and obscure. Further, two prevailing assumptions of much Bach research are carried over to this subject: first, that any fact, however minor, is worth determining and weighing; and second, that informed speculation can help one build at least possible scenarios.
The book is structured as follows. The introduction sets up the Leipzig opera house as being of at least the same artistic quality as its much better researched Hamburg counterpart, and reviews the existing literature. Maul's huge database of roughly five thousand aria incipits derived from the libretti of Leipzig operas guided him in his search through numerous archives, libraries, and published song collections; he was thus able to find no fewer than three hundred previously unidentified arias, including many by Telemann. The first section (about 150 pages) discusses sources, first libretti and then scores. Maul has to work around the lack of an opera archive or even its remnants, as well as the loss of most scores. However, he establishes the authorship of virtually every libretto from the Leipzig Opera during that period, as well as the identities of most singers from 1703 to 1709. He also discusses his discovery of numerous new arias. Maul continues with a running assessment of many other sources in the course of the book. Since so little music survives, most of the book deals with nonmusical sources, although there is some musical analysis when possible and appropriate.
The second section (about 120 pages) tells the institutional history of the opera house. Here Maul is able to build on existing studies, but also finds new information, especially in the Leipzig city archive. This is the least original section, and Maul sticks very close to the immediate institutional history of the house. However, the story is clearly told, and the intense conflict of the post-1700 period among the heirs of founder Nicholas Adam Strungk and others, the chronic indebtedness of the enterprise, and the growing physical decrepitude of the house, which neighbors and city councilors came to fear could be blown over by a strong wind, are fascinating material.
The third section, on the composers, is itself divided into three parts. The first (150 pages) focuses on Heinichen, with a brief discussion of Kuhnau (no works by Strungk survive). Maul establishes that Kuhnau was the composer of Galathea, performed in 1702. For Heinichen, Maul discusses reworkings of Naumburg operas for Leipzig, establishes Georg Christian Lehms as the librettist of the popular Die lybische Talestris, and reconstructs the hectic pace of composition of that opera in only ten to fourteen days, as well as its staging. Analysing the score, Maul concludes that Heinichen at this early point in his career had strengths, including original themes, creative treatment of aria form, and virtuosic writing that played to the skills of the singers, along with weaknesses, especially poor melodic quality.
The second part of section 3 (150 pages) focuses on Melchior Hoffmann, who was active at the opera from 1705 to 1715. Maul's first task is to establish when Hoff - mann might have composed, a task complicated by the closure of the house during war from 1706 to 1708 as well as infighting. Maul discusss the trilogy Die asiatische Banise (1712), based on a popular novel. The opera left a lasting impression on the Leipzig public, and was adapted for performance in Coburg and Durlach. Maul has musical sources for thirty-seven arias. He also discusses Hoffmann's visit to London, his likely friendship with Handel, and his parodying of opera arias in sacred cantatas, with a lengthy discussion of parody theory and practice. Maul concludes that while very little of Hoffmann's music survives, what does exist points to a skilled and creative composer.
In the last two hundred pages Maul discusses Georg Philipp Telemann, who claimed to have composed over twenty operas for the Leipzig house. Maul is able to identify ten to sixteen as definitely his, beginning in 1703 when he was a student in Leipzig and continuing well after his departure, to as late as 1718-19. The Leipzig opera thus played a crucial early role in establishing Telemann as an important composer; and Telemann thought it worthwhile to maintain his connections to the house almost until it closed. Maul discusses Germanicus, first performed in Leipzig in 1704, and then in Hamburg in 1706-a sign of early regard for his work and for the Leipzig opera more generally-at greatest length, and numerous other works more briefly. Telemann's work was of high quality from the beginning.
An afterword discusses sources that Maul has found since concluding the dissertation. The second and shorter volume includes a detailed listing of the sources for each opera production; tables and selected primary sources; biographies of all known singers at the opera house; and a bibliography and index.
Several themes run throughout the book as a whole. The city of Leipzig itself, with its lively literary and musical life that straddled university, town, and church, emerges as one actor. Leipzig's culture and, in glimpses, its society, can be reconstructed in the detail that Maul provides-down to individuals' godparents and familial relationships among different figures-in part because of the wealth of contemporary printed and archival sources; printed sources in turn exist in abundance because of the city's preeminence as a print center. Even in the baroque era, literary figures were aware of the city's significance, which prompted them to record their contemporaries' and predecessors' activities in detail. For example, the playwright and critic Johann Christoph Gottsched, who had a love-hate relationship to opera, collected no fewer than 661 opera libretti, and compiled a chronicle of opera productions which could still serve Maul as a reliable resource. Historiographically, Maul's work comes at an important time as well. While good work was done on the city during the years of the East German state, research has exploded since 1990. The excitement of many academics at the sheer amount of detail that has survived (despite many frustrating losses), and the recognition of the city's influential postion in central European cultural life as a whole, can also be seen here.
Another theme is the prominent role of women as singers, producers, and librettists. The five daughters of Nicholas Adam Strungk, and the three sisters of Samuel Ernst Döbricht (who married one of Strungk's daughters and became a Leipzig impresario) were the leading female stars of the house. They were also active at courts around Germany before and after their marriages, mostly to other musicians. A bravura aria for the title character of Die lybische Talestris, with its many virtuoso passages, repeated high Cs, and a high B[musical flat] held twice for two bars each, attests to their technical brilliance. (The aria is reproduced on pp. 422-25.) Strungk's daughters, especially Dorothea Maria Brauns, who managed the house from 1716 to 1720, were also active as producers; and daughter Christine Dorothea Lachs wrote at least three opera libretti. Maul also reconstructs a broader context of Leipzig women who were recognized at the time as "galant poetesses," and wrote a variety of opera, cantata, and other texts.
A third theme is the connections between Leipzig and other places. There are many examples of adaptations of Leipzig operas in Hamburg, Bayreuth, Wolfen - büttel, Weissenfels, and other opera houses, or vice versa. Singers and instrumentalists also circulated constantly among these courts and towns. Interactions between Leipzig and Dresden emerge especially prominently in the institutional history of the house. The opera was initially more a court venture than a city venture, with Dresden Kapellmeister Strungk seeking and receiving a privilege from Elector Johann George II, who was, like many nobles, a fan of opera. After Strungk's death in 1700, Elector and King August "the Strong" continued to support the house, together with other nobles who visited Leipzig during the fairs, making up an influential and perhaps dominant portion of the audience.
This work is not without flaws. At times Maul goes into perhaps excessive detail, and especially in the second section, he includes partial and full transcriptions of archival sources that do not seem necessary. Although it is perhaps unfair to ask him to address further topics, it would have been interesting if he had at least speculated on the composition of the audience; he does not go beyond general references to the Publikum. On a handful of occasions his work with sources is naïve. For example, in citing a model letter on an opera visit in an epistolary manual (pp. 159-62), he argues that because some letters of this type were "real," this one could have been as well. However, these are very small quibbles with a book that combines breathtaking, sustained detective work with original and creative thinking to make an important contribution to understanding baroque musical culture.