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Operatic Representations of Habsburg Ideology: Ottoman Themes and Viennese Variations

  • Larry Wolff


Forty years ago R. J. W. Evans, in his now classic study of The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, observed that, in the absence of a coherent early modern central government, the Habsburg enterprise rested crucially upon the baroque court and Habsburg patronage of the arts. Evans especially noted that “two great synthetic achievements, alike commissioned by court, magnates, and Church, alike immortally associated with the age of baroque in the Habsburg lands: the dramatic extravagance of opera; and its physical counterpart, the monumental architecture of the years around 1700.” Evans argued further that baroque art, including opera, contributed to the ideological legitimacy of the court, and therefore the state. This became particularly important during the reign of Emperor Leopold I, who was himself a composer of some distinction and who sponsored one of the supremely monumental operatic productions of the seventeenth century, Antonio Cesti's Il pomo d'oro, on Paris and the prize of the golden apple, staged with twenty-four sets over the course of two days, in honor of the birthday of Leopold's teenage empress, the Spanish Infanta Margarita, in 1668. As a child, she had appeared as the artistic focus of the Spanish court in the painting Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez.


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1 Evans, R. J. W., The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550–1700: An Interpretation (Oxford, 1979), 152–54.

2 Wolff, Larry, The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon (Stanford, 2016).

3 Roksandić, Drago and Stefanac, Nataša, eds., Constructing Border Societies on the Triplex Confinium (Budapest, 2000); Ivetić, Egidio and Roksandić, Drago, eds., Tolerance and Intolerance on the Triplex Confinium (Padua, 2007); Faroqhi, Suraiya, “Trading between East and West: The Ottoman Empire of the Early Modern Period,” in Well-Connected Domains: Towards an Entangled Ottoman History, eds. Firges, Pascal, Graf, Tobias, Roth, Christian, and Tulasoğlu, Gülay (Leiden, 2014), 2733.

4 Dean, Winton and Knapp, John Merrill, Handel's Operas 1704–1726 (1987; repr. Woodbridge, 2009), 556–57.

5 Michel, Marianne Roland, “Exoticism and Genre Painting in Eighteenth-Century France,” in The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, ed. Bailey, Colin (New Haven, 2003), 111; see also Boppe, Auguste, “Les ‘Peintres de Turcs’ au XVIIIe siècle,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, part 2 (Paris, 1905), 226–27.

6 Bevilacqua, Alexander, Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment (Cambridge, 2018); see also Felix Konrad, “From the ‘Turkish Menace’ to Exoticism and Orientalism: Islam as Antithesis of Europe (1453–1914)?,” EGO: European History Online (2011), accessed 13 Jan. 2019,

7 Parmentier, William, “The Mehter: Cultural Perceptions and Interpretations of Turkish Drum and Bugle Music throughout History,” in Ottoman Empire and European Theatre, vol. 1, The Age of Mozart and Selim III, eds. Hüttler, Michael and Weidinger, Hans Ernst (Vienna, 2013), 287306; Hunter, Mary, “The Alla Turca Style in the Late Eighteenth Century: Race and Gender in the Symphony and the Seraglio,” in The Exotic in Western Music, ed. Bellman, Jonathan (Boston, 1998), 4373; Bowles, Edmund, “The Impact of Turkish Military Bands on European Court Festivals in the 17th and 18th Centuries,” Early Music 34, no. 4 (2006): 533–59; Meyer, Eve, “Turquerie and Eighteenth-Century Music,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 7, no. 4 (Summer 1974): 474–88; Rice, Eric, “Representations of Janissary Music (Mehter) as Musical Exoticism in Western Compositions, 1670–1824,” Journal of Musicological Research 19 (1999): 4188.

8 Valensi, Lucette, Birth of the Despot: Venice and the Sublime Porte, trans. Denner, Arthur (Ithaca, 1993); Rubiés, Joan-Pau, “Oriental Despotism and European Orientalism: Botero to Montesquieu,” Journal of Early Modern History 9, nos. 1–2 (2005): 109–80.

9 Brown, Bruce, Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna (Oxford, 1991), 8990, 186–92.

10 Rice, “Representations of Janissary Music,” 65–67; Hunter, “The Alla Turca Style in the Late Eighteenth Century,” 46–47.

11 Pezzl, Johann, “Sketch of Vienna,” in Mozart and Vienna, ed. Landon, H. C. Robbins (New York, 1991), 8687; Pezzl, Johann, Skizze von Wien, eds. Gugitz, Gustav and Schlossar, Anton (Graz, 1923), 246.

12 Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life, ed. and trans. Robert Spaethling (New York, 2000), letter of 26 Sept. 1781, 287.

13 Bauman, Thomas, W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Cambridge, 1987), 65.

14 Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life, letter of 1 Aug. 1781, 276.

15 Niemetschek, Franz Xaver, Lebensbeschreibung des k.k. Kapellmeisters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 2nd ed. (Frankfurt, 2018), 18.

16 Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life, letter of 26 Sept. 1781, 285–88.

17 Ibid., 286; Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Briefe. Ein Auswahl, ed. Wandrey, Horst (Zürich, 1988), 297–98.

18 Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life, letter of 26 Sept. 1781, 286.

19 Ibid.

20 Laurens, Henry, Les origines intellectuelles de l'expédition d’Égypte: L'Orientalisme Islamisant en France, 1698–1798 (Istanbul, 1987), 6365; “Tott, François, baron de,” Biographie Universelle: ancienne et moderne, nouvelle édition, vol. 42, ed. Louis-Gabriel Michaud (Paris, [1870–73]), 6–8.

21 Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life, letter of 9 May 1781, 248; Mozart, Briefe, 260.

22 Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life, letter of 20 July 1782, 315; Mozart, Briefe, 324.

23 Elias, Norbert, The Civilizing Process, vol. 1: The History of Manners, trans. Jephcott, Edmund (New York, 1978).

24 Conway, Moncure, George Washington's Rules of Civility (Frankfurt, 2018), 58.

25 Beales, Derek, Joseph II: Volume 2, Against the World, 1780–1790 (Cambridge, 2009), 212–13.

26 Wangermann, Ernst, The Austrian Achievement, 1700–1800 (London, 1973), 153–55.

27 Ibid., 146–47; Wangermann, Ernst, “The Austrian Enlightenment and the French Revolution,” in Austria in the Age of the French Revolution, 1789–1815, eds. Brauer, Kinley and Wright, William E. (New York, 1990), 23; Wangermann, Ernst, From Joseph II to the Jacobin Trials: Government Policy and Public Opinion in the Habsburg Dominions in the Period of the French Revolution (Oxford, 1959), 555.

28 Beales, Joseph II, 555–86; Roider, Karl, Austria's Eastern Question 1700–1790 (Princeton, 1982), 169–88; Hochedlinger, Michael, Austria's Wars of Emergence, 1683–1797 (London, 2003), 376–86; Braunbehrens, Volkmar, Mozart in Vienna, 1781–1791, trans. Bell, Timothy (New York, 1989), 314–15. See also Mayer, Matthew, “The Price for Austria's Security: Part I. Joseph II, the Russian Alliance, and the Ottoman War, 1787–1789,” International History Review 26, no. 2 (2004), 257–99; and Hochedlinger, Michael, Krise und Wiederherstellung: Österreichische Großmachtpolitik zwischen Türkenkrieg und “Zweiter Diplomatischer Revolution,” 1787–1791 (Berlin, 2000).

29 Beales, Joseph II, 580–82.

30 Stendhal, , La vie de Rossini (Paris, 1854), 55; Stendhal, , Life of Rossini, trans. Coe, Richard (Seattle, 1970), 72.

Operatic Representations of Habsburg Ideology: Ottoman Themes and Viennese Variations

  • Larry Wolff


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