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Romantic Anatomies of Performance

James Q. Davies

Publication Year: 2014

Romantic Anatomies of Performance takes as its subject the great virtuoso performers of the nineteenth century, examining the ways in which they thought of their own extraordinary gifts, the ways their contemporaries envisioned them, and how they have been imagined by history. It looks at the pianists and singers—Chopin, Rubini, Malibran, Nourrit, Donzelli, Thalberg, Liszt, and Sontag—who plied their trade in the leading musical centers of nineteenth-century Europe: London and Paris. Focusing on this musical circuit, J.Q. Davies engages with historians of culture and science in thinking about these cosmopolitan figures, whose emergence as international musical stars confronts issues of music and the body, particularly in period physiology, physiognomy, and sciences of the mind. Davies illustrates how musicians styled themselves onstage, how they trained, and how they presented their virtuosic physical abilities to contemporaries in light of competing traditions of healthy vocal and pianistic presentation. The book argues that debates about music are often actually debates about what counts as expression—not only emotional, but also physical expression.

Published by: University of California Press

From the Publisher

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations and Musical Examples

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book belongs to many hands and many voices. It emerged in the aftermath of a dissertation, the study of a single year—1829—which took me three times as long to complete. No doubt the roots of my interest in performance extend back to my pianistic training in Johannesburg and a life-changing encounter with Pauline Nossel...

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pp. 1-12

In an article for the Revue de Paris, the critic Castil-Blaze told the story of how Giovanni Battista Rubini acquired his gift for unmediated expression. The incident occurred in 1831, as the singer forced the sustained B♭ toward the end of “Luna, conforto al cor de’ naviganti,” the then-famous romance from Giovanni...

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1. “Veluti in Speculum”: The Twilight of the Castrato

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pp. 13-40

On the night of 15 May 1829, Felix Mendelssohn had a nightmare about Giovanni Battista Velluti, the last great operatic castrato. Velluti’s voice had been in the German’s head since that afternoon, when they crossed paths at a concert at the Argyll Rooms on Regent Street in London. There he had heard the “poor wretched creature...

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2. Reflecting on Reflex: A Touching New Fact about Chopin

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pp. 41-65

These words formed part of an argument made by Jan Matuszyński behind the great gated colonnades of the École de médecine in Paris on 16 August 1837. The school was a celebrated institution, the foremost of its kind in Europe. The occasion was the oral exam of a doctoral thesis entitled “The Influence of the Sympathetic...

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3. The Sontag-Malibran Stereotype

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pp. 66-92

Just before two o’clock on the afternoon of 30 May 1829 there was a rush at the doors of the Argyll Rooms, a suite of four spacious apartments on Regent Street, in central London. Carriages drew up along the arcade (John Nash’s recent design); attendants hustled up and down making way for their employers. Most of the fashionables...

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4. Boneless Hands / Thalberg’s Ready-Made Soul / Velvet Fingers

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pp. 93-122

Dressed in severe black with a white cravat, Sigismund Thalberg made his London debut on 9 May 1836. The Swiss-born pianist played at the Hanover Square Concert Rooms, only a block to the west of the 1829 triumphs of Sontag and Malibran. He entered just before 9 p.m., flanked by immense reflective mirrors, glass chandeliers...

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5. In Search of Voice: Nourrit’s Voix Mixte, Donzelli’s Bari-Tenor

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pp. 123-151

Historians still remember the year of Gilbert-Louis Duprez’s return from Italy as the year when the Paris Opéra fell into “triste décadence.”1 A dark veil descended in 1837, when a long-favored artist-citizen was forced into exile: Adolphe Nourrit, legendary singer, idol of the Salle Le Peletier, and former inspiration for a host of...

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6. Franz Liszt, Metapianism, and the Cultural History of the Hand

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pp. 152-179

On 30 August 1832, Nicolas Th eodore Frédéric Benoît became the first convicted parricide in Paris to be spared the poing coupé: amputation of the right hand immediately before execution by guillotine. Nineteen years of age, this son of a respected magistrate in the Ardennes had his toilette performed at the central asylum...

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pp. 180-184

The opening of this book described two iconic moments in which “pure voice” came into its own: at the literal shattering of Rubini’s clavicle and the more figurative breaking of Paganini’s hands. A later chapter pictured García fils with his laryngoscope, an instance mythologized as the historical juncture at which vocal...


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pp. 185-238

Works Cited

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pp. 239-256


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pp. 257-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958005
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520279391

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2014