- Sacred Music as Public Image for Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III: Representing the Counter-Reformation Monarch at the End of the Thirty Years’ War by Andrew H. Weaver
In this new book Andrew Weaver draws our attention to one of the more neglected protagonists in early-modern history, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III (r. 1637–57), whose reign, coinciding with the final phases of the Thirty Years’ War, was marked by numerous military setbacks for the empire and ultimately by the compromises of the Peace of Westphalia (1648). This is less a political history, though, than a focused study of princely representation through the medium of music and sound, which Ferdinand deployed carefully to express and shape his public image in the face of changing circumstances. In a sense the book represents a reclamation project not only for the cultural legacy of Ferdinand himself but also for his principal court composer, Giovanni Felice Sances (c. 1600–79), whose extant sacred music—scored mainly for small vocal forces with instrumental accompaniment—is skillfully read here as a mirror of Ferdinand’s power and piety.
The obscurity of Ferdinand relative to his imperial predecessors and successors justifies the first part of Weaver’s book, which explains how visual, aural, and literary media reflected a strategic shift in Ferdinand’s representation, from the pious military victor of the 1630s to the comforting, protective father of his subjects during the difficult final years of the war. Crucial to his image was not only the recent Habsburg legacy of Counter-Reformation and recatholicization (here the so-called Pietas Austriaca looms large) but also his role as a patron of the arts; indeed, his musical chapel was among the most lavish and modern in Europe. In part 2 of his book [End Page 796] Weaver turns to the varied contexts in which music communicated the emperor’s image, ranging from opera to Jesuit drama and the Catholic liturgy. Although relatively little extant music can be connected with these occasions, Weaver does provide a kaleidoscopic impression of the range of sounds that helped to convey an image of the emperor to local audiences. Some of this music, certainly, trickled down into the prints of Sances, whose paratexts and contents clearly link them with an imperial program. It is the music of Sances that forms the core of Weaver’s part 3, which is particularly impressive for its sensitive and detailed analyses of specific compositions. We find that the motet, with its flexible choice of texts, was the primary vehicle for Ferdinand’s musical representation; whereas the motets of Sances’s 1638 print present an optimistic vision of the emperor as a warlike King David, those of the composer’s 1642 collection (published during a time of political and military reversals) project an imperial image of devout yearning, supplication, and even a Solomonic judiciousness that also informed other visual and literary works during Ferdinand’s late reign. Not surprisingly, Weaver turns in his final chapters to musical aspects of the Pietas Austriaca, embodied by conspicuous devotion to the Eucharist, an intense personal devotion to the suffering Christ on the Cross, and the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, whose cult became a crucial aspect of public Habsburg identity after the departure of Swedish armies and the erection of a great Marian column in Vienna in 1647. Here, too, Weaver shows the sensitivity of Sances’s musical responses, which extend even to the symbolism of the Immaculata through subtle harmonic shifts.
Although the book could benefit from more discussion of how “monarchical” representation differed fundamentally from “princely” or “absolutist” representation more broadly, and very occasionally risks overinterpretation in its musical analyses, Weaver has provided a sensitive and textured account of how music and sound constructed an imperial image to be consumed at home and abroad, one that shifted dramatically in response to unexpected political winds. As...