- Verdi and the Germans: From Unification to the Third Reich
Reception history is all the rage among scholars of music. This form of research takes as its principal material writings in a country about a composer's work and often pays little heed to the works themselves and their own history. Interest lies [End Page 359] primarily in how critics and scholars receive what they take to be the music. In this world, where scholars frequently show extreme ignorance both about what is being performed and to what political or aesthetic camp the critics and scholars belong, Gundula Kreuzer's Verdi and the Germans is a remarkable achievement.
Professor Kreuzer has set out to demonstrate no less than what Verdi meant to the German peoples and how their vision of his operas and his persona changed from the period immediately preceding German unification of the mid-nineteenth century to the traumatic, post-Nazi, post–World War II period. Unlike many of her peers, she knows the works themselves thoroughly (although she seems to have little patience for what she refers to as an approach that insists upon Werktreue) and speaks precisely about just what German performers and theaters presented as Verdi's operas. She eloquently talks about the model of the "two cultures" (Germanic and non-Germanic) made familiar recently through the writings of Carl Dahlhaus but based on a contrast between Rossini and Beethoven already present in the writings of Raphael George Kiesewetter in the 1830s; she tackles the Wagner/Verdi axis that pervaded European thinking in the latter part of the nineteenth century; she forces a thorough revaluation of the so-called Verdi Renaissance that took place in Germany particularly during the Weimar period (but actually dates back to an earlier period of the twentieth century); she demonstrates how Verdi's operas were used by the Nazis, particularly in terms of their deepening involvement with Mussolini's Italy; and she indicates in a more sketchy fashion what a history of post–World War II movements, including Regietheater, might teach us.
Because Kreuzer knows the Verdi works well, she can demonstrate just how any given opera was "adapted" and "modified" in German theaters, making clear in the process that, when she (and her sources) talk about a work, they are always talking about what they know as Nabucco, La forza del destino, or Don Carlos, rather than what the composer and his librettists wrote. When Kreuzer strays from Verdi, however, her knowledge becomes more limited. It is fine to write about German reactions to Rossini, but nowhere are we told that what the Germans knew as Il barbiere di Siviglia was a score worked out in Vienna in 1818. When Germanic critics wrote about Rossini, they did so in utter ignorance of his Neapolitan serious operas, since these could not be performed by theaters that did not sport two major tenors to assume parts written for Andrea Nozzari and Giovanni David. In Paris, Stendhal knew these matters well and was able to indicate when French revivals of some of these operas were wretched. No wonder, then, that German critics despised an art they did not and could not know. Rossini's fame and reputation in Italy seemed utterly incomprehensible to the Germans, except as an indication of faults in the Italian character.
Fortunately this kind of problem, which continually dogs reception history, falls away when Kreuzer turns to operas that she knows much better. And she [End Page 360] is very sensitive to the political persuasions of those whose writings she quotes. They are not abstract names but writers (for example) for newspapers that are pro- or anti-Nazi and belong to specific sectors of opinion. She does not cite the writings of a Herbert Gerigk or a Wolfgang Boetticher without informing us who they were and under what auspices they were writing. In doing so, she largely escapes what Leon Botstein has called "The Perils of Method in Reception History."
Philip Gossett received the Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award in 2004 and...