Norbert Elias, Mozart and Other Essays on Courtly Art, edited by Eric R. Baker and Stephen Mennell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2010). 200 pp. ISBN: 9781906359096
Like his father Leopold, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was dependent on a court aristocracy in whose eyes he was little more than a domestic servant. Unlike his father, however, his personal makeup was already that of the freelance artist who sought to follow the flow of his own artistic conscience and imagination rather than the courtly conventions and standards of the day. In Mozart: the Sociology of a Genius, Elias paints a portrait of this extraordinarily gifted artist born into a society that did not yet possess either the concept of ‘genius’ or (at least in music) that of freelance artist. The apparent contradictions of his character – the refined elegance of his compositions and the coarseness of his lavatorial humour – reflect his uncomfortable and eventually tragic straddling of two social worlds.
The volume also includes two long essays on related topics, previously unpublished in English.
‘The fate of German Baroque poetry: between the traditions of court and middle class’ asks why even such notable poets of the Baroque period in Germany as Martin Opitz and Christian Hofman von Hoffmanswaldau later fell into neglect, in contrast to their contemporaries in England and France – such as Milton, Marvell, Racine and Corneille. The reason, says Elias, was that in Germany courtly conventions and feelings were rejected much more radically by the middle-class writers of the age of Goethe and Schiller.
Elias’s essay ‘Watteau’s Pilgrimage to the Island of Love’ was only published posthumously, and is not included in the German Gesammelte Schriften. It concerns Watteau’s painting also known under the title of The Embarkation for Cythera, seen as the quintessence of the courtly style and fête galante genre. Watteau’s work too fell into disfavour at the time of the Revolution, but then became the centre of attention once more among the French Romantics.
This volume includes a full colour reproduction of the Louvre version of The Embarkation for Cythera, and, like other volumes in the series, has been thoroughly re-edited and annotated.
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