- Johann Mattheson's Pièces de clavecin and Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre: Mattheson's Universal Style in Theory and Practice by Margaret Seares
Johann Mattheson (1681–1764) is today perhaps most commonly remembered for his writings as a music historian, theorist, and commentator, particularly through his publications Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre (1713), Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739), Grosse General-Bass-Schule (1731), and Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (1740). He was, however, also an accomplished musician and composer, performing in over sixty-five new operas, composing numerous oratorios, passions, and several operas, and working as an organist in Hamburg. Most famously in his Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte, he gives his own account of the time he duelled with Händel, who only survived by chance, before the two became life-long friends. The subject of Margaret Seares's new book takes a lesser-known part of Mattheson's compositional output as its topic, placing his twelve suites for harpsichord, published as Pièces de clavecin (1714), in their wider intellectual context. She connects the suites with Mattheson's opinions on music of the past and present from different European countries as documented in Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre, published just one year earlier. In doing so, Seares aims to assess to what extent Mattheson put his views as a music critic into practice in his own compositions. [End Page 40]
The first chapter sets the scene for the book by considering Mattheson's formative years leading up to the publication of Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre and Pièces de clavecin. Here, Seares brings together numerous biographical details that have been discussed elsewhere, most of which go back to Mattheson's own autobiography published in his Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte. Seares expertly draws out the details which are relevant for Mattheson's development as a writer and composer (p. 2). In doing so, she highlights the importance of Hamburg as a trading city, Mattheson's education, which was rooted in the values of the new, fashionable society that was developing in Hamburg (p. 3), his early musical interests and the differences between his music and that of his contemporaries (frequently citing Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte), his interests in opera, and his career as a church musician. The second half of the chapter turns to Mattheson as an emerging public intellectual and polemicist, looking particularly at the influence of English periodicals such as The Tatler and The Spectator, and his close relationship with Sir John Wich and his son Cyrill (pp. 6 and 8). This led Mattheson to establish his own moral weekly, Der Vernünftler, which was closely modelled on English publications. The effect was to position Mattheson as one of the initiators of public discourse in Hamburg, enabling him to enlighten his readers, which was also one of the aims of the third part of Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre, alongside stimulating and challenging the educated public (p. 11).
Chapter 2 looks at how Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre fits into this cultural background. By presenting a close critical reading of Part 3, which focuses on notions of aesthetic judgment and 'taste' (Parts 1–2 deal with music theory), Seares connivingly links Mattheson's emphasis on the idea that critical opinions of music ought to be formed according to taste, rather than the principals of music theory, with his interest in English writers who championed empiricism (p. 16). In Part 3 of Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre, Mattheson gives a detailed account of his views on national musical styles by describing the problems facing contemporary German music and its differences to Italian, English, and French styles. As Seares explains, Mattheson's notion of 'style' is complex and she proceeds to deconstruct the ways in which Mattheson uses the term to describe music. This chapter in particular is supported by an English translation of Part 3, Chapter 1 of Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre in the...