À la croisée des arts: Sublime et musique religieuse en Europe (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles) ed. by Sophie Hache and Thierry Favier (review)
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À la croisée des arts: Sublime et musique religieuse en Europe (XVIIe-XVIIIesiècles). Ed. by Sophie Hache and Thierry Favier. pp. 524. (Classiques Garnier, Paris, 2015. €80. ISBN 978-316-153647-2.)

When Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux released Du Sublime (1674)—the first rendering of Longinus' treatise in French, accompanied by several remarks on the translation—the satirist opened the door to a heated debate in the European Republic of Letters, in which Edmund Burke, John Dennis, and Immanuel Kant, among others, made their voices heard. Since then, scholars have appropriated the concept and have variously attempted to apply it to their discipline. However, this very concept has long remained neglected by French musicology, in spite of the pioneering studies on the musical sublime in the eighteenth century by Alexander Shapiro (Music & Letters, 1936), and then Luca Zopelli (1990), Michael Fend (1993), Ruth Smith (1995), Michela Garda (1995), and James Webster (1997). Thierry Favier can be credited as the author of the first article in French on the impact the sublime had on the sacred musical style at Versailles ('Lalande et le sublime: Doctrines rhétoriques et tradition oratoire dans ses premiers grands motets', in Lionel Sawkins (ed.), Lalande et ses contemporains (Paris, 2008), 119–14), and on Michel-Richard de Lalande's motets in particular. Together with Sophie Hache, who has written on the use of sublime eloquence in the Gallican church (La Langue du ciel: Le Sublime en France au XVIIème siècle (Paris, 2000)), Favier organized an international conference on this important subject in November 2012. Its proceedings are published here, in the first volume of its kind to have been issued in France. Its aim is to investigate the sublime not only in the sacred music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also in several sister disciplines (literature, philosophy, fine arts, history, liturgy), so as to provide useful keys to better understanding an 'aesthetical notion that relates to transcendental experience' (p. 45).

The book contains twenty-one chapters arranged in three parts. The first ('L'œuvre à l'épreuve du sublime') aims to define stylistic and historically aware features of the sublime. The second ('Le sublime en situation'; two sections: 'Textes mis en musique' and 'Le sublime en acte: Discours et contextes') puts the arts into dialogue with the sublime through several case studies. The last ('Théories et théoriciens'; two sections: 'Penser la norme' and 'Penser le sublime') focuses on potential theories of the sublime. The book is framed by an introduction and a rich bibliography and index. The valuable introduction by the two editors is so dense and informative that it could stand alone for most readers (at thirty-nine pages, it is the most extended text in the book). The remainder of the volume is a collection of uneven case studies that provide developments and illustrative examples of the central theme. Among the most noteworthy are those by Favier (on eighteenth-century French motets), Robert Rawson (on the sublime in Czech representations of the Nativity), Don Fader (on Charpentier), Hache (on Mondonville), Pierre Dubois (on English religious music), Agathe Sueur (on J. A. Scheibe), Hélène Michon (on the sublime and the 'antimystic'), and Pierre Thouvenin (on Pierre Rapin and Du Bos). Other chapters are thought-provoking, in particular that of Servane L'Hopital, who focuses on the relation between the theological sublime and the aesthetic sublime of the Roman mass as performed in France by the end of the seventeenth century, and Theodora Psychoyou, who investigates the norms and interstices of the sublime and perceptions of genius inanart work. [End Page 652]

My first concern with the volume is its overall heaviness. In his Art poétique, brought out the same year as his translation of the Longinus treatise, Boileau stated that 'Whatever is well conceived is clearly said, / And the words to say it flow with ease' (chant 1). Several enthusiastic contributors should perhaps have kept this maxim in mind, as their prose is often too wordy and indigestible, unclear even to diligent readers. The lack of clarity seems at times to be due to an overuse—if not...