Europe's Living Muses
Women, Music, and Modernity in Burney's History and Tours
Burney's women summon superlatives. In Naples Mrs. Hamilton is the best performer on the harpsichord; in Mannheim Maria Antonia Walpurgis, Dowager Electress of Saxony, brings about "a reconciliation between poetry and music" in her operas; in Munich "Signora Mingotti" holds forth on music "with as much intelligence as any maestro di cappella." There is barely a negative comment about the fair sex in The Present State of Music in France and Italy, The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces, or A General History of Music: From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. Admittedly, Burney was underwhelmed by the performance of the girls of the Ospidale della Pietàin Venice ("the composition and performance I heard to-night did not exceed mediocrity"). There was also a hiccup in Burney's regime of praise when he congratulated Mrs. Hamilton for the "expression and meaning in her playing" given that "ladies ... though frequently neat in execution, seldom aim at expression." But this aside, Burney's Tours books are lined with accomplished women, heirs to history, and embodiments of its present.
Just as striking is what Burney praised women for: knowledge, expertise, education. Such terms were far removed from Rousseau's influential idealization of women in terms of the natural and the naive. In Passy Burney met Madame Brillon, "one of the greatest lady-players on the harpsichord in Europe. This lady not only plays the most difficult pieces with great precision, taste, and feeling, but is an excellent sight's-woman; ... she likewise composes; and was so obliging as to play several of her own sonatas, both on the harpsichord and piano forte.... But her application and talents are not confined to the harpsichord; she plays on several instruments; knows the genius of all that are in common use, which she said it was necessary for her to do, in order to avoid composing for them such things as were either impracticable or unnatural." If Burney concluded with a generic notion of female accomplishment ("she likewise draws well and engraves, and is a most accomplished and agreeable woman"), this is less to contain her achievements than to assuage suspicions that such an erudite woman must be in some ways masculine or confusing-a gender monster-or, in terms used by Brillon herself, "impracticable and unnatural." Even scientific erudition did not exceed Burney's conception of female nature. Of the scientist "Dottoressa Madame Laura Bassi," whom he visited in Bologna, he assured his readers that "though learned, and a genius, [she] is not at all masculine or assuming."
Such emphasis on female rationality and educability does not indicate reluctance on Burney's part to acknowledge raw talent. In Madame Karsch, the Berlin poet, Burney discovered an "original genius" that he ranked next to Klopstock: "This lady is quite a meteor, and surprises more by the elevation of her poems, on account of her low origin, she being descended from parents who were unable to afford her a liberal education, and married very young to a serjeant [sic], in a regiment quartered at Glogau." Having bestowed on Karsch the often sex-specific accolade of original genius, Burney went on to endorse her productivity and profile in the literary marketplace: "When she first arrived at Berlin, a few of her verses were handed about, which were so much approved, that a subscription was opened for printing a collection of them: since that time she has supported herself with dignity, by the productions of her pen." In this story of upward mobility Karsch's career is founded on genius, promoted by subscription, and sustained by commerce. Burney's reference to "dignity" invites the reader to embrace this vertiginous combination of woman, authorship, and commerce.
Not all Burney's European women survived the voyage from travel diaryto A General History, but in the final chapter 12 of the final volume of General History (1789)Burney included numerous native female musicians. This created the patriotic and decidedly modern impression that the history of music culminated in the full participation of both sexes in the public concert life and theaters of contemporary London. On a mission not just to inform but to reform, Burney described the historical prejudice against theatrical singers, particularly women (4:631). In the following paragraphs, in tracing the rise of concerts and musical theater, women appear equally alongside men in the historical record, as if, in modern England, personal liberty and industry replaced earlier superstitious prohibitions. Women featured not just as jewels in male-authored crowns but as motors of historical change: In 1703 "Mrs. Champion, the singer, performed a piece upon the harpsichord at her benefit Lincoln's-Inn play-house; the first feat of the kind that was announced in the newspapers." (4:633) Presumably Burney meant the fact of a benefit concert, though he may have intended to highlight the novelty of a solo harpsichord recital. At times Burney almost taunted the English readers of his General History with the image of cash flowing in to a household from well-trained female singers: In 1730 "Miss Caecilia Young, a scholar of Signor Geminiani, who now sang in public for the first time, had a benefit concert at Drury-Lane play-house, pit and boxes laid together at half a guinea. This lady, afterwards the wife of Dr. Arne, with a good natural voice and fine shake, had been so well taught, that her style of singing was infinitely superior to that of any other English woman of her time." (4:653-54)
If Burney was particularly explicit about commerce in this last chapter, he nonetheless concluded his history with an image of sheer female excellence. As if arranging a piece of statuary, Burney granted an "honourable niche" to Mrs. Elizabeth Billington (née Weichsel) in his final paragraphs: "No song seems too high or too rapid for her execution. But besides these powers, ... the natural tone of her voice is so exquisitely sweet, her knowledge of Music so considerable, her shake so true, her closes and embellishments so various, and her expression so grateful, that nothing but envy or apathy can hear her without delight." (4:681) This is to my knowledge the only occasion on which Elizabeth Billington served as the culmination to a history of Western music.
Billington's talents notwithstanding, her significance in Burney's A General History warrants reflection: what is going on here, discursively? Tempting as it might be to figure Burney as a champion of female achievement in its own right, such a reading fails to account for the ways praise is bound up with-even a way of making-broader points about the arts and society, music, and Burney as a writer. Commonsense explanations have some value. Burney's praise probably helped to endear him to his female readership. But there is more to consider. Even from this rapid survey it is apparent that Burney employed women didactically to exemplify particular aspects of contemporary and recent musical culture. Praised not just for their musical excellence but for meanings that excellence held for critical and historical writing, Burney's women are sometimes constrained and essentialized both as female ideals and as ciphers of modernity. His lavish, if on occasions generic, praise of female musicians is of interest to feminist criticism but unlikely to satisfy feminist desire.
The Indexical Theory of Woman
Burney's historiography was informed by the then fashionable but contentious view that the history of a civilization is, in essence, a history of its women, or rather, a history of how its women were treated by men. In an article from 1985 on Enlightenment historiography Sylvana Tomaselli styled this the "indexical theory of woman." Tomaselli found in the indexical theory an equation of women with culture and order. This was at odds with what she reported as a dominant assumption of twentieth-century feminism, that women are associated with irrationality and cultural chaos. The "indexical theory" of the Enlightenment, she argued, enshrined the opposite view, not woman as Other but as the civilized and civilizing center. The idea was that the position of women in society provides an absolute measure of its degree of progress: simply put, the further a society travels from the primitive, the more freedom it accords women to develop their intellectual and artistic potential. In his History of Women (1779) William Alexander observed: "Women among savages [are] condemned to every species of servile, or rather, of slavish drudgery; [we] shall as constantly find them emerging from this state, in the same proportion as we find the men emerging from ignorance and brutality, and approaching to knowledge and refinement; the rank, therefore, and condition, in which we find women in any country, mark out to us with the greatest precision, the exact point in the scale of civil society."
The conceit circulated well beyond Britain. In an article from 1789 one W. de la Bossiere Chambor expounded patriotically on "the respect and esteem of ancient Germans for the women of their nation." To treat women as slaves is a sign of barbarism, he affirmed, marshaling the evidence of classical writers to demonstrate that German women had long enjoyed admiration at home. And rightly so, for they refine and cultivate men, even converting wildness and barbarism into military bravery, as well as presiding over peacetime and home life. Invoking what would later become a racial ideal but functions here as a marker of exalted womanhood, Bossiere Chambor appealed to the physical beauty of German women, their blond hair, blue eyes, fair complexions, and long limbs. Employing a neoclassical motif, he likened them to the goddesses and heroines of antiquity, as if modern Germany were peopled with the women of classical mythology and art. His source was presumably the Germania of Tacitus (ca. 98 A.D.).
Though a historiographical principle, the trope of female traveled well beyond history books. It was dramatized, for example, in "abduction" or seraglio operas. In Mozart and Stephanie's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384)Osmin, who believes that women require incarceration to keep them faithful, attempts to force himself on the cheeky maid Blonde, who, despite her occupation, counters proudly that she is "an Englishwoman, born to freedom." If not personifying she at least lays claim to the exalted state of free womanhood and quickly turns didactic, instructing Osmin in the fine art of coaxing and flirtation-a saucy twist on the notion that women reform male manners (see her aria "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln," act 2).
For the Burney of the Tours and General History the "indexical theory" was cutting edge. Although the idea of female exemplification of civility stretched back to the beginning of the century, a more systematic "theory of feminization" linking incipient capitalism, female ascendance, and a notion of progress first appeared with Adam Smith at midcentury. As Emma Clery has encapsulated the arguments, the indexical theory opposed (even if, initially, from within) elements of a civic humanist tradition in England that took the classical republic as its model. Anticommerce, often misogynist, and equating virtue with (a version of) manliness and public service, civic humanism summoned the imagery of the male warrior citizen as the defender against decadence and decline. An alternative model of history was characterized, in Clery's words, by a "linear, historical narrative, involving a gendered account of progress, a positive feminization, [and] a triumphant movement towards increased civility and refinement." Burney's General History, with its overlapping celebrations of modernity, women, and commerce, offered such an alternative. Burney's women are integral to his historiography. Had his story concerned the triumph of pure music over its historical fetters of church, court, and text, he might have needed to develop different rhetorical strategies. But that story about music's discovery of its autonomy was not yet central to the emerging business of music-historical writing.
The definition of music in the preface to A General History as an "innocent luxury," a phrase Burney silently borrowed from the Scottish historian and philosopher David Hume, provocatively situated music within celebrations of modernity (something Hume had not attempted). More was at stake than borrowing an elegant turn of phrase. Luxury was a key term in competing ideologies of political economy, history, Britishness, and morality. Hume, in arguments that express a positive excitement about the emergence of capitalism and consumption, sought to reinstate luxury as both civilized and civilizing. According to earlier civic-humanist rhetoric, luxury erodes manliness, weakens the body politic, and causes decline into decadence. Acknowledging that some Latin authors attributed the fall of the Roman republic to the influx of "Asiatic luxury," Hume critically reviewed the evidence and concluded that uncontrolled territorial expansion and poor government were more likely causes of the loss of (some version of) democracy in Rome. Situating luxury not in superfluous goods and leisure but in the elevated pleasures they afford, Hume redefined it as a "great refinement in the gratification of the senses." As such, luxury was morally neutral prior to its use toward good or bad ends: "Any degree of it may be innocent or blameable." At the heart of Hume's argument was the contention that luxury, even as private pleasure, could serve the collective good and thus, implicitly, fulfill the civic humanist requirement of public virtue. It could do so because it was a stimulant to personal as well as economic growth, at once a school for private manners and a means by which the laboring poor are enriched through manufacture and trade.
Part of the power of Hume's account of luxury was the flexibility he granted the term to stand, metonymically, for other key words of the period-such words not just as pleasure and virtue but also as art, woman, and liberty. If luxury consists in "great refinement in the gratification of the senses" it is at home in artistic practices and the discourse of aesthetics. If luxury is pursued in leisure and in private, if it suspends (even as it enjoys the fruits of) trade and the professions, it exists in the kind of purposeless and polite realm enjoyed, presumably, by women. (Indeed, "woman" in Hume isherself luxurious in so far as she is leisured and well read.) And if luxury provides the male citizen with necessary reenergizing recuperation, if it stimulates the production of consumer commodities, increases the flow of wealth, and empowers the serf to trade in goods and labor, it emerges as something close in meaning to national liberty: "The liberties of England, so far from decaying since the improvements in the arts [that is, manufacture as well as the fine arts], have never flourished so much as during that period [of commerce actuated by aspirations to luxury]."
Burney was already using Hume's arguments in the preface to his first tour (France and Italy). Indeed, with a mission to make space for music, and writing about it, in the luxurious world, he not only described it as "a charming resource, in an idle hour, to the rich and luxurious part of the world" but made a detailed claim for music as a form of public virtue. In so doing he retraced the movement from private pleasure to public virtue at stake in the luxury debate. Playing wittily against the fabled power of ancient music, he emphasized the "assistance" music gives "to open the purses of the affluent for the support of the distressed." In the most explicit of his arguments for music as a moral force, a means of reform and refinement, he highlighted charitable uses in London, detailing benefit concerts for orphans, the maternity hospital in Brownlow Street, the Lock Hospital (where syphilis was treated), and the Society for the Support of Decayed Musicians and Their Families.
Not everyone was convinced by Burney's arguments, or by the man himself. A contemporary satire of Burney's Tours by one Joel Collier (the pseudonym of John Bicknell) seized on the comic potential of Burney's modish critical framework, an indication of how contentious Burney's framework could still appear in the 1770s. Bicknell's Musical Travels through England (1774) lampooned Burney's use of music and femininity as measures of national refinement and progress. Marshaling every possible slur on Burney's manliness, the parody engineered the traveling musician's castration by a cuckolded barber, a turn of events that the musicological capon embraces, since he had long doubted "whether the characters of a man and a musician were at all compatible." The parody, though gleefully spilling over into the absurd, involves a severe rejoinder from a civic-humanist position, so pointed that the rejoinder itself did not escape caricature. In response to Burney's contentions that music serves the public good, and that his project is of national interest, Bicknell in his preface extolled a ludicrous initiative in which a hundred orphans are to be trained to become "Doctors, and Doctoresses of music" at public expense, despite some prejudiced reservations that training in the areas of agriculture or navigation would be of greater benefit to the students and the nation. Burney's own manliness (that key term of civic-humanist value) is the next target. At the start of his travels, an organist (Burney's representative in the text) abandons his family to beg his way around the north of England under the less than exalted Italian name Collioni (colloquially, "bollocks"). Utterly lacking in manly responsibility, he leaves his family destitute and imposes himself on the reluctant hospitality of a series of musical madmen-and their wives and daughters. The notion of music as a refining force finds a grotesque counterpoint near the end of Bicknell's Musical Tours whenthe reader finds Collioni in the moist embrace of an C. P. E. Bach surrogate, one Signor Manselli. Manselli's improvisations on the fiddle, accompanied by "harmonious" farts, burps, hiccups, coughs, sneezes, squeaks, and whistles, give both the performer and his visitor hope that Manselli might yet "polish this brutal nation." The pains of castration cannot match those inflicted by this erudite lampoon of Burney's tropes.
The Reform of Male Manners
The "indexical theory" formalized for historical writing a widespread-even foundational-trope of the period, according to which leisured, educated women acted as a refining force within what Hume in his "Of Essay Writing" called the "conversable realm." Hume's conversable realm presumably included coffee houses, private parties, theaters, concerts, clubs, societies, academies, and salons as contexts for exchange, but, employing a broad brush, he styled it the "republic of letters." That republican metaphor figured the conversable realm as a relatively free zone for exchange in which protocols of rank were partly and temporarily set aside in the interests of rationality, wit, and pleasure. But within the same paragraph from "Of Essay Writing" Hume also characterized this republic as an empire governed by a female monarch. Specifically, he installed "women of sense and education" as "sovereigns of the empire of conversation" and claimed to address them in his published work "with reverence." The mixed political metaphors do not necessarily reveal a text spinning out of authorial control. They enabled Hume to characterize the conversable realm as being at once relatively free and tightly organized, a place in which despotism (here another name for sovereignty) is softened by female embodiment and acts less as a source of severe legislation than as a template for emulation. The political system enacted, in miniature, in the salon is what Hume called "civilised monarchy"-his description of the then current British system of monarchic despotism reformed by (some degree of) democratic government and Enlightenment legal reform. Male gallantry toward women resembles that "inclination to please superiors" that characterizes the gentle hierarchy of "civilised monarchy [in which] there is a long train of dependence from the prince to the peasant, which is not great enough to render property precarious, or depress the minds of the people; but is sufficient to beget in every one an inclination to please his superiors, and to form himself upon those models which are most acceptable to people of condition and education." A context for intellectual exchange, undoubtedly, Hume's vision of salon culture also rehearsed deference and emulation as responses to inequality. Indeed, the desire to please united the politics and literary production of the salon.
Hume bestowed the sovereign's crown on women because they are "better judges of all polite writing than men of the same degree of understanding." This superior critical faculty, however, involves and valorizes conventional notions of female weakness and closeness to nature. Women, Hume asserted, possess more "delicacy of taste" and a greater sensitivity, all the more authentic for being "unguided by rules" (that is, by knowledge of literary-critical theory). These characteristics are not valued in isolation but through their transformative power over men, who, without female influence, pursue knowledge in the dark, dank cell of isolated rumination, ensnared in pedantry, pursuing intellectual chimeras. Of the instrumental function of women Hume observed that "both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner; and the tempers of men, as well as their behaviour, refine apace." Elsewhere he spelled things out: "What better school for manners than the company of virtuous women, where the mutual endeavour to please must insensibly polish the mind, where the example of the female softness and modesty must communicate itself to their admirers, and where the delicacy of that sex puts everyone on his guard, lest he give offence by any breach of decency."
Such accounts of positive feminization aside, women serve more broadly in Hume to measure distance from barbarism and antiquity, in which, he insists, women were hidden from view in virtual slavery. The sovereignty of women in Hume's conversable realm feminized that space not to reduce its value, nor to imply a literal female rule, but rather as a way of characterizing its fascinating and transformative modernity: sociable, peaceful, animated, intellectual, polite, improving, luxurious, unprejudiced. The female sovereign stands metonymically for the ideal citizen (or subject) of the republic (or empire) who deals not in literal, legislative power but in discursive authority and persuasion. She is an aspect of the (male) author's voice, as much as a critic and reader of his work.
The trope of refining womanhood is felt in Burney's frequent and approving references to the mixed company and elegant manners of musical salons and soirées. For example, in Florence Burney attended the salon, or, as he called it, conversatione, of Signora Madalena Morelli, "which is much frequented by the foreigners, and men of letters, at Florence." He described Morelli as a figure of broad accomplishment able to foster a range of artistic activities: "Besides her wonderful talent of speaking verses extempore upon any given subject, and being able to play a ripieno part, on the violin, in concert, she sings with a great deal of expression, and has a considerable share of execution." Such scenes are formalized in A General History where, women (so to speak) break into the last chapter, their very presence a distinguishing feature of music history's most recent chapter. Not just the presence but the absence of women is given explanatory power in Burney's Tours. Much of Burney's famous criticism of music at the Berlin court of Frederick the Great of Prussia turns on the reported absence of women and, related to this, the persistence of rough, unreformed male manners. Dismissing a flute concerto by M. Reidt as "ancient and coarse," Burney likened Berlin musicians to a gang of sailors shoving each other in "the old naval sport of running the hoop." That is, they compete by force, playing in a constant forte, without dynamic nuance or coordinated ensemble. The notion that unreformed masculinity belongs to the past comes through in Burney's comments on the historically fixed military parade at Potsdam that takes place "in a field, enclosed by a wall.... With respect to music, the same stability of style, and of taste, is observable here as at court; and I did not find that the Prussians, in their marches, had advanced a single step towards novelty, or refinement, since the first years of his present majesty's reign." Apollo and his muses still inhabit Berlin, but the former is constrained in his movements, Burney advised, whereas, puzzlingly, Apollo possesses "sons," not female muses.
There is a telling exception to the banishment of women from Berlin in the figure of Gertrud Schmeling, the prima donna at the Berlin court, who appears in Burney's narrative as a sort of Germania enchained. Although her compass and coloratura are "truly astonishing" and her powers are perhaps unrivalled anywhere in the world, she at the same time is unable to complete her development-to become perfect, a living muse. Constrained to sing airs "in which she has passages, that degrade the voice into an instrument ... [s]he does not seem, at present, to be placed in the best school for advancement in taste, expression, high finishing." Were she to spend time in Italy she would return, in Burney's analogy, "like the Venus of Apelles ... an aggregate of all that is exquisite and beautiful." The Venus of the Greek painter Apelles (mentioned by Pliny and said to have inspired Botticelli's iconic Birth of Venus) did not survive antiquity but served in critical discourse as a reference to both perfect mimesis and feminine gracefulness. Burney compared Schmeling not to the painter but to this painted image, even as he set that image out of reach, awaiting a period of greater liberty. For the time being Schmeling is just a brilliant singer; before she can become perfect, an ideal aesthetic construct, male manners must reform and despotism withdraw from the temple of the muses.
Burney often figured modern musical style as (in a positive sense) feminized, largely equating feminization with progress from barbarism to civility. Although he was alive to differences connected to compositional genre, function, and locale, and occasionally nostalgic for the rough sublimity of earlier styles, Burney nonetheless projected an understanding of music history as a movement from the rough to the smooth, the confused to the crystalline, the pedantic to the pleasing, and the inflexible to the insinuating. In speaking of Telemann's "first and second manners" Burney came close to a parody of his own historiography: "This author, like the painter Raphael, had a first and second manner, which were extremely different from each other. In the first, he was hard, stiff, dry, and inelegant; in the second, all that was pleasing, graceful, and refined." Such bald binary oppositions also attend Burney's conceptualizations of performance and organology; writing about a "M. Spandau," in the Hague, who had brought new elegance to the French horn, Burney wrote: "He has contrived, by his delicacy, taste, and expression, to render an instrument, which, from its coarseness, could formerly be only supported in the open air, or in a spacious building, equally soft and pleasing with the sweetest human voice." Music, then, could embody (and disembody) the sovereign feminine.
Hume's female sovereigns illuminate Burney's ideas of history, music, and gender, but the women of the Tours and General History differ in a crucial regard from the anonymous abstractions of Hume's essays: they are named individuals with contexts and biographies. Burney's women exist simultaneously in empirical and allegorical domains, at once material and mythical. Some are distinguished from the men with whom they share the historical stage by a peculiarly intense doubleness. Concrete details about appearance, character, and context take on an abstract, almost generic, quality, as if these portraits sought to project not the individuality of the sitter but something from the realm of the ideal. However, two case studies (of Marianne Martinez and Maria Antonia Walpurgis) will illustrate how those ideals fold back into the historically concrete situation of their author, projecting political affiliations and (related) aesthetic ideals all the more forcefully for their apparent abstraction and constraining idealization. That dynamic is not unique to Burney, indeed, it seems more exemplary than exceptional to the period, and it is apparent in two images by Burney's London contemporary Richard Samuel, from which I have borrowed the term "living muse."
Samuel's engraving titled The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain was printed in a now rare ladies' pocket book, an illustrated diary, of 1778 (there is no known copy in the United Kingdom). A related but not identical painting, probably produced subsequently, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1779 with the title Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo (now in the National Portrait Gallery, London; figure 2). A convergence of luxury, patriotism, and female accomplishment is evident in the images, both of which identify and at the same time conceal the actual appearance and context of the sitters (who, moreover, probably did not "sit" specifically for the works). Although even the sitters struggled to recognize themselves in Samuel's painting, the earlier engraving provides the key, for their names are emblazoned across the bottom of the print for the edification and emulation of readers of the Ladies Pocket Book of 1778: Miss Carter, Mrs. Barbauld, and Mrs. Angelica Kauffman on the right hand; Mrs. Sheridan, in the middle; and Mrs. Lennox, Mrs. Macaulay, Miss More, Mrs. Montague, and Mrs. Griffith on the left hand. This naming aside, a neoclassical composition, emphasizing harmonious coexistence and similarity, appears more important than individuality. The women's radically different ages, politics, and social positions are smoothed over in favor of a politely gynosocial community. Similarly, differences between artistic media are downplayed in an image of peaceful accord and unity that can be read as both a reference to "the sister arts" and, with reference to character (national and personal), as an antonym of the martial and the bellicose so commonly (as in Burney's Berlin) identified with masculine artistic strivings.
The ambiguous topos of the living muse may represent public acknowledgement of female achievement in the arts, even an early form of female celebrity, in the Republic of Letters, but female empowerment (as the "indexical theory" predicts) is a rich political signifier. In Samuel's "The Nine Living Muses of Great Britain" the title already announces the national interest at stake in images of female excellence. Specifically, Britain is figured as heir to the cultural authority of classical antiquity: Apollo crowns Britannia. The timeless dignity of classical costume, the fantasy of continuity between antiquity and the present, do not conceal the images' celebration of their historical moment. Now conversing, now absorbed in thought, at once audience and author, these refined subjects develop their artistic and intellectual gifts without the fetters of tyranny. An element of fashion-in the decorative motif of the living muses, employed by Josiah Wedgewood's jasper ware in the same decade, and in the printed fabric of ladies' dresses-hints at the broader discursive context of luxury and trade me.
Marianne Martinez as St. Caecilia
The singer and actress Mrs. Sheridan occupies the center of Samuel's images, arguably setting music at the heart of British culture. Her lyre and heavenward gaze variously suggest Terpsichore, Orpheus, and (in the painted version Portraits in the Character of the Muses) Apollo himself, who occupies an analogous position in the canvas and holds the same instrument. Perhaps, through Mrs. Sheridan's placement, music is subtly accorded a special status, a medium mediating the realms of the ideal and the worldly; paradoxically it is not painting but (musical) performance that Samuel privileges in images that hover between portraits of celebrities and allegories of art.
Elizabeth Sheridan introduced into Samuel's apparently unruffled imagery one of the most romantic and adventuresome biographies of the period. Elizabeth was about twenty-four when Portraits in the Character of the Muses was hung at the Royal Academy and already then retired from the stage. She was born in 1754 to the composer Thomas Linley, who trained her from childhood for a musical-theatrical career. Her celebrity rested in part on the mirroring of her life in the works in which she appeared, both unfolding according to fashionable romantic plots. In 1771 a play in the Haymarket, The Maid of Bath, dramatized her reluctant engagement to Walter Long (a strategic alliance engineered by her father). The onstage action, highlighting her predicament, preceded the real theater, when, in 1772, the year she was painted by Gainsborough with her sister Mary (as The Linley Sisters), she eloped to France with Richard Sheridan.
Elizabeth Sheridan received a vivid mention in the fourth volume of Burney's General History, where she is described as a "charming" and "talented" singer who knew a trick by which she could sing up to an octave beyond her natural compass-as far as B♭ above "top" C There is also a reference to "Miss Linley" (meaning Elizabeth) in connection with extremely high remuneration from concerts. But it was Marianne von Martinez (1744-1812), an orphan of Spanish ancestry, whom Burney mythologized in his Tours as an embodiment of music, a "young lady ... well dressed, and [of] very elegant appearance." She pursued her art under the guidance of Metastasio, the "divine poet," in the rarefied atmosphere of an upper story of the librettist's house, Kohlmarkt 11, in Vienna's first district, a setting that stimulated Burney's imagination. It took Burney over a hundred pages of toing and froing in Vienna before he finally declared Martinez to be "St. Caecilia," but he worked toward that from the moment he introduced his readers to the imperial poet and his ward.
Kohlmarkt 11 entered music-historical lore at the turn of the century with the earliest biographies of Haydn by Georg August Griesinger and Albert Christoph Dies, and through Michael Kelly's Reminiscences, published in 1826. Kelly described Martinez's salons in the 1780s, evening soirées attended by Mozart, with whom Marianna performed Wolfgang's four-hand sonatas. But the mythologization of Metastasio's house began already with Burney's Tours, where the (now familiar) connection to Apollo and his muses is hammered home: residing "up no less than four flights of stairs," Metastasio is said to live "somewhat on a level with Mount Parnassus, nearer [his] sire Apollo." If in England such heights are "thought only fit for domestics to sleep in, [Metastasio] has, nevertheless, an exceeding good and elegant apartment, in which an imperial laureate may, with all due dignity, hold dalliance with the Muses."
Marianne Martinez was chief among those muses-one who did not invisibly inspire the poet but musically realized his creations. The notion of the sister arts is fundamental to understanding the relationship. In the German Tours Burney introduced Metastasio as a refining force in music, not as a lyric poet alone: "[His] writings have perhaps more contributed to the refinement of vocal melody, and, consequently, of music in general, than the joint efforts of all great composers in Europe." Soon after, Burney introduced Martinez as Metastasio's protégé and the greatest living musician in the world. Whether or not Burney believed her to be so is irrelevant; the statement functions to remove all constraints on what is presented as an experiment. For the encounter with Metastasio and Martinez answers a question about which theorists could only speculate-how does the ideal union of poetry and music sound? Burney framed the crucial visit to Kohlmarkt 11 like a chemist writing a paper on the mixture of elements: "I was extremely curious to know what kind of music would best fulfil [sic] the ideas of Metastasio, when applied to his own poetry; and imagined that this young lady, with all the advantages of his instructions, counsel, and approbation, combined with her own genius, must be an alter idem, and that her productions would include every musical embellishment which could be superadded to this poetry, without destroying or diminishing its native beauty."
In ordinary circumstances Burney looked to the Metastasio settings of Hasse for worldly models of that perfection, but Martinez offered a glimpse of a higher synthesis of words and music, of ancient and modern idioms, comprising not fully fledged operas, written for particular occasions, tailored to specific personnel, but miscellaneous arias and psalms (translated by Metastasio), conceived and, crucially for Burney, performed in the neutral, aesthetic laboratory of Kohlmarkt 11. Here Burney found in Martinez's music a neoclassical principle of harmonious reconciliation. After pondering the schism between the operatic factions of Hasse-Metastasio and Gluck-Calsabigi, between the old and the new, Burney found in one of Martinez's psalm settings (a suitably timeless and spiritually elevated context) the perfect reconciliation of antico e moderno:
Mademoiselle Martinez was at her musical studies, and writing; she directly complied with my request, of sitting down to the harpsichord. Metastasio desired her to shew me some of her best studies; and she produced a psalm for four voices, with instruments. It was a most agreeable Mescolanza, as Metastasio called it, of antico e moderno; a mixture of the harmony, and contrivance of old times, with the melody and taste of the present. It was an admirable composition, and she played and sung it in a very masterly manner, contriving so well to fill up all the parts, that though it was a full piece, nothing seemed wanting. The words of this psalm were Italian, and of Metastasio's translation.
Burney praised Martinez as a composer in a range of genres, including sacred counterpoint, but praise turned to veneration when the topic turned to Italian opera. In this context Martinez emerged as a singing monument to the aesthetic ideals of midcentury opera seria with which Burney was preoccupied during his Tours, perhaps because of the prestige and significance of that genre in London, and perhaps because of Burney's sense that the tradition was dying out. In her Italian arias Martinez displayed the authorial restraint Burney felt that composers owed to the voice, and, here again, she found the middle course between convention and novelty: the arias were "very well written, in a modern style; but neither common, nor unnaturally new. The words were well set, the melody was simple, and great room was left for expression and embellishment." But what really captured Burney's imagination was her manner of singing, "which no longer subsists elsewhere." In the presence of a singing monument to opera seria, Burney recorded the elements of this vanishing vocal tradition with particular precision:
Her voice and manner of singing, both delighted and astonished me! I can readily subscribe to what Metastasio says, that it is a style of singing which no longer subsists elsewhere, as it requires too much pains and patience for modern professors.... I should suppose that Pistocco, Bernacchi, and the old school of singing, in the time of cantatas, sustained, divided the voice by minute intervals, and expressed words in this manner, which is not to be described: common language cannot express uncommon effects. To say that her voice was naturally well-toned and sweet, that she had an excellent shake, a perfect intonation, a facility of executing the most rapid and difficult passages, and a touching expression, would be to say no more than I have already said, and with truth, of others; but here I want words that would still encrease [sic] the significance and energy of these expressions. The Italian augmentatives would, perhaps, gratify my wish, if I were writing in that language; but as this is not the case, let me only add, that in the portamento, and divisions of tones and semitones into infinitely minute parts, and yet always stopping upon the exact fundamental, Signora Martinez was more perfect than any singer I had ever heard: her cadences too, of this kind, were very learned, and truly pathetic and pleasing.
The precision of Martinez's intonation called forth Burney's: he is unusually explicit here about pitch even as he claims language inadequate to praise her sufficiently. Martinez's voice is exactly organized, dealing in fractions of ever diminishing proportion. Connecting notes seamlessly through portamento, Martinez always comes to rest on the "exact fundamental," as if (like Dottoressa Laura Bassi) she had mastered an invisible physics, able to divide "tones and semitones into infinitely minute parts." Prized in its own right, this "perfect intonation" also enabled Martinez to "express words [in a way] which is not to be described." Uniting the domains of expression and virtuosity, the learned and the pathetic, Martinez's voice testified to the possibility of wholeness, of uniting opposites in a harmonious balance. Not simply exemplary, she demonstrated the possibility of achieving perfection-a living muse.
Burney's description of Martinez's voice is ambiguous: he may be evoking a notion of the singer's quasi-scientific mastery of pitch and ornamentation, or he may be implying that she is (as a correspondent put it) "some kind of automaton, an alter idem of Metastasio, indeed, in a Pygmalionesque relationship [with the poet]." Burney's comments on Martinez's composition are similarly ambiguous-even ambivalent. In treating them as exemplars of a middle path, a principle of moderation, he at once elevates and neutralizes them. Ultimately it remains unclear if Burney understood Martinez as a narrowly feminine figure or as rising above gendered differences: arguably he describes her as both of these, and thus as both an exemplary woman and androgynous. These uncertainties notwithstanding, it is clear that Martinez's agency and individuality vanished into a generic neoclassical ideal, one that recalls Samuel's similarly conventionalized images of the living muses of Great Britain.
Neoclassicism was a well-worn mode of both celebrating and containing female achievement in the arts by the time Burney embarked on his Tours. Already at midcentury, writings on the nature of the beautiful often invoked some notion of androgyny-a gendered middle course-as part of a neoclassical aesthetic of the golden mean. In his chapter on Vienna Burney described the golden age of opera seria as an aesthetic coupling, a search for wholeness, with reference to Plato's notion of the androgyne, the mythical creature, doubly sexed, which, severed from itself, seeks wholeness in its missing half:
This poet and musician are the two halves of what, like Plato's Androgyne, once constituted a whole; for as they are equally possessed of the same characteristic marks of true genius, taste, and judgment; so propriety, consistency, clearness, and precision, are alike the inseparable companions of both. When the voice was more respected than the servile herd of imitative instruments, and at a time when a different degree, and better judged kind of study rendered it, perhaps, more worthy of attention than at present, the airs of Signor Hasse, particularly those of the pathetic kind, were such as charmed every hearer, and fixed the reputation of the first singers in Europe. [here Burney inserted an unnumbered footnote:] Such as Farinelli, Faustina, Mingotti, etc.
Acknowledging the efforts of "Dr. [John] Brown ... to prove, the separation of music and poetry," Burney finds in the neoclassical aesthetic of midcentury Italian opera an imaginary unity that overcomes modern fragmentation and peacefully reconciles the sister arts. As the companion of Metastasio, Martinez was well placed to represent this aesthetic, but because she was not herself a poet, her mythologization could proceed only so far. Martinez's Catholicism may also have limited her potential significance for Burney, who passed over her liturgical music, preferring to treat even her psalm settings abstractly as studies in style. In the Protestant Maria Antonia Walpurgis, Dowager Electress of Saxony, Burney discovered not only another monument to midcentury opera seria but, through her connection to the British throne, and through notions of shared Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, a way of rendering Italian opera seria a national, quasi-British repertory. This was not something easily achieved back in London.
Maria Antonia Walpurgis
Many of the terms with which Burney praised Walpurgis, whom he encountered in Munich, are by now familiar. He found in her an amalgam of the living muses of Samuel's imagination: "A poetess, a paintress, and so able a musician, that she plays, sings, and composes, in a manner Dilettanti seldom arrive at." As the librettist and composer of the opere serie Il Trionfo della Fedeltà (ca. 1754) and Talestri Regina delle Amazzoni (ca. 1763), works shaped by the examples (and even the assistance) of Metastasio and Hasse, Walpurgis was a figurehead for Burney's ideal of the indivisibility of poetry and music. Burney's tone in his Germany book is again didactic and theoretical: Walpurgis's complete authorship of opera "is bringing about a reconciliation between music and poetry, which have so long been at variance, and separated." Reminding his readers that "among the ancients, the poet and musician were constantly united in the same person," Burney made the unlikely comparison between Walpurgis and "M. Rousseau, who was not only the author of the poetry, but of the music of his little drama, the Devin du Village" (Germany, 1:125-26).
Signs of a patriotic element in Burney's encounter with Walpurgis and her milieu are immediately apparent with his arrival in Munich. An expatriate atmosphere is suggested, as Burney is reacquainted with "Signor Guadagni and Signora Mingotti ... performers of such high rank ... by whose great abilities, in their profession, I have been so frequently delighted in England" (Germany, 1:123). Indeed, Mingotti professed that she would have lived out her days in England were it not possible to "live much cheaper here" (Germany, 1:126). A few days later Burney was introduced to Walpurgis at her summer residence in Nymphenburg, three miles from Munich, during rehearsals for her opera Talestri. The conversation flowed easily, as Walpurgis was fluent in English ("she both read and wrote English constantly everyday, and had great pleasure in the perusal of our authors") and Burney was familiar with Talestri, which he had "seen ... in England"and praised as "a great work, both in poetry and music"(Germany, 1:134).
These intimate Anglophone exchanges were the prelude to formal hand kissing that evening and something like an operatic recognition scene. Burney arrived in the grande sale while the court was still at dinner, but he did not have to wait to be greeted by the elector, who promptly rose from the table. Meanwhile "his sister of Saxony treated me as one descended from the Saxon Race"(Germany, 1:136). Whether this notion of a shared ethnicity came from Walpurgis or from Burney is unclear, but it appears to refer to the then commonly held belief that the English (and by extension Englishness) was Teutonic in character and specifically "Saxon" in origin. The term Saxon encompassed miscellaneous German, north European, and Danish territories but excluded the Celts, who were understood to be the original, indigenous inhabitants of Britain. This myth of national ethnicity coincided with, and has been read as an apology for, the Hanoverian dynasty, beginning with George I, which was (in a sense) a foreign rule; it also sat well with recent British history, particularly the revolution of 1688 when the British Parliament imposed the rule of William of Orange, a German Protestant, in preference to that of James II, a Catholic sympathizer. In this context, could Handel's nickname while in England of "Il Sassone" have helped to connect this German-born composer to national culture? Certainly Handel helped Burney to link Walpurgis to midcentury London. For that evening, Burney continues, the Dowager Electress of Saxony "sung a whole scene in her own opera of Talestri.... The recitative was as well written as it was well expressed; the air was an Andante, rich in harmony, somewhat in the way of Handel's best opera songs in that time [that is, of Andantetempo]." Burney's gentle qualification-Walpurgis's arias resembled Handel's best airs-hints at ambivalence about Handel's melodies and reminds us of Burney's preference, in the 1770s at least, for another Saxon, Hasse (with whom Walpurgis studied and later collaborated). Conversation with Hasse and his spouse, the soprano Faustina Bordoni (then in her seventies), discovered in Handel's music traces of unreformed male manners: his accompaniments asserted too much learning, and his melodies sometimes lacked refinement.
In Walpurgis, Burney encountered a living muse already fully established in that exalted guise through her reception and self-fashioning. Her reception ranged as far as Germany and Italy and involved the celebration of numerous aspects of modernity: innovations in music printing; patriotic celebration of female achievement; neoclassical aesthetics, and arguments in favor of despotism. What better work than Walpurgis's Il Trionfo della Fedeltá to announce a new, more commercially viable method of music printing? With the edition of her opera published in 1756 by G. I. Breitkopf ("inventore di questa nuova maniera di stampar la Musica") Walpurgis stimulated and authorized an explosion in composing and publishing music in German-speaking territory. Her mythologization had begun a decade earlier, on the occasion of her marriage in Leipzig (on 10 October 1747) to the elector of Bavaria, Friedrich Christian. In his eulogy, subsequently printed by Breitkopf, Johann Christoph Gottsched, the self-appointed reformer of German language and letters, likened Walpurgis to Minerva and reminded his audience that the ancients chose (female) muses to inspire the arts, just as they chose a goddess, not a god, to oversee the realms of "Wissenschaft und Weisheit" (knowledge and science). Gottsched prefaced a flattering note to the first edition of Walpurgis's Talestri. Later he translated the libretti of both of Walpurgis's operas into German as a homage to their author and, presumably, as models for native poets.
Gottsched's celebration of Walpurgis was just as stylized and programmatic as his earlier support of Bach's Leipzig librettist Marianne von Ziegler had been. Both women were to serve as signs that German letters could achieve the kinds of modern refinement associated with the "femmes forte," or "précieuse," of the Parisian salons of the late seventeenth century. As Goodman has discussed, Gottsched's initial promotion of and collaboration with von Ziegler (whose salon took place in a controversially grand, French-style residence in Leipzig) projected her as a literary Amazon who usurps male privilege and reforms male manners in literary print culture. However, the French-inspired model of the literary Amazon proved untenable in Leipzig, and by 1734, Goodman reported, Gottsched "was tiring of this role." After his marriage to Louise Kulmus he switched to a different model of female literary activity, informed by the structure of guilds and preserving the traditional hierarchy of husband and wife. Kulmus endorsed this model, working as her husband's "Gehülfin" (apprentice) and critical of von Ziegler's strategy. At this point the story breaks off, and Goodman leaves us with the impression that the guild-like and native model of the female apprentice achieved permanent hegemony. But Gottsched's promotion of Walpurgis reveals that something of the Amazonian model continued, at least in relation to a sovereign, whom Gottsched figured as an autonomous leader in German letters.
Walpurgis also cultivated this identity, most obviously in her opera Talestri on the theme of the Amazon queen. Here Walpurgis deployed the often decorative notion of sovereign femininity to precise political ends. Within a plot that offers (conventionally for the genre) an argument for reformed or enlightened despotism, Walpurgis employed the figure of woman (in the guise of the Amazon queen Talestri) as a reforming, moralizing force. A brief digression into the plot shows how this is worked out. The three-act opera seria opens on the day of Talestri's coronation as queen of the Amazons, a bellicose, man-hating tribe at war with the neighboring Scythians. As part of her investiture Talestri must join her people in swearing hatred of all men, but, secretly, she is in love with Oronte, a Scythian prince. Oronte, returning Talestri's love, is captured, and the high priestess Tomiri orders him to be sacrificed as part of the coronation celebrations. In a politically eloquent twist to the plot Talestri asserts her absolute power-only she can decide if Oronte is to die, thus elevating the throne over the church (act 2, sc. 5). Nonetheless, the message and Oronte's fate are softened when it is revealed that Oronte was born to an Amazon mother (in fact, to the high priestess). The love of Talestri and Oronte inaugurates a reconciliation of the Amazons and Scythians and an era of peace. Without amounting to an entirely unambiguous celebration of female sovereignty-after all, this is a love story as well as political tract-the plot intimates that reform and progress arise from Talestri's exemplary character. The old order, characterized by hostility between the sexes, gives way to a feminized but still absolutist social order. Nowhere else in Burney's Tours was the notion of female sovereignty deployed with such ideological force.
That force is felt in an enduring monument to Walpurgis, female ascendance, neoclassicism, and (not least) fawning praise of aristocrats, published in Italian by the Spanish theorist Antonio Eximeno. In the preface to his treatise Dell'origine e delle regole della musica, published in 1774, one year afterBurney's German tour, Eximeno found in the plot of Talestri an example of female virtue, a rebuff to critics of the female sex, and evidence that Walpurgis herself, his dedicatee, brought about peace by uniting countries and languages. Not for the last time, a female emblem elevated the art of music.
Eximeno's praise of Walpurgis, though taking the generic form of flattery of a social superior, includes a broader program: the vindication of the fair sex against old-fashioned prejudices. Already in the preface Eximeno states that Walpurgis dispelled superstitious beliefs about innate female inferiority: "Your Sovereign Parents, completely free from the usual vulgar prejudice about female upbringing, gave you full liberty to cultivate your soul with the study of science and the arts of taste: and You, without neglecting the duties of a wise Sovereign, have thus acquired these skills to perfection, so that the most discerning Professors have no choice but to consider you a rare wonder of your sex."
More than just a dedicatee, Walpurgis appears in Eximeno's treatise as the author's second self. A title-page engraving depicted Walpurgis as the goddess Minerva, surrounded by various props associated with the twelve muses of Apollo-musical instruments, a painter's palette with brushes, and a compass. She is also shown with the scores of her operas and a copy of Eximeno's treatise (figure 3). This living muse possesses even the work in which she is celebrated. She does so, perhaps, because she is a perfected version of the human, a whole uniting all perfections: "Now, YOUR HIGHNESS, allow me to lament with You the too great humiliation that You give to our sex: all the virtues, that when unevenly distributed among men make them intolerant and arrogant, in You alone are re-united, and accompanied by that modest and Regal affability for which the Roman citizens loved You when You honoured them with your presence."
In Talestri Eximeno discovered both political and music-theoretical ideals that ultimately ennobled his writing and his chosen art of music. He read the plot of the opera as an argument in favor of both female sovereignty and the institution of reformed absolutism: "[Y]ou attain respect and admiration not just for the vastness of your intellect but also for the greatness of your heart: in the drama of Talestri, which takes as its topic the eternal conflict between the Amazons and men, after the most ingenious criticism of the tyrannical arrogance exercised by men over females, you generously forgive us and bring together the two sexes in peaceful agreement." He also included an aria from Talestri as an example of the eternal beauty and affective power of the "fundamental bass," a theoretical construct derived from Rameau that he portrayed as the culmination of music-historical progress and a sign of modern perfection:
We should listen to the Aria together with the rest of the Dramma, in order to understand the majestic control that this princess has over music and over the affect of our hearts.... Nevertheless, just by looking at the music it is possible to see that, even in absence of other proofs, the aria alone would prove the validity of the basso fondamentale that I have previously explained. The fundamental bass [which Eximeno adds beneath the actual bass line] never departs from the fundamental notes of the key: because of this, the harmony is regular and clear and the melody full of a natural, touching and enchanting delicacy.
Through the figure of a German princess and her Italian opera the Spaniard Eximeno (like the Englishman Burney before him) was able to capture, and communicate even to readers today, the sensuous appeal and delusive delicacy of a sound world allied to aristocratic power. Refined but not fragile, natural without blandness, moving but still rational, this aristocratic music, for all its claims to modernity, would soon be sidelined by composers and audiences in search of less complaisant, more passionate sounds.
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