The French Revolution, Terror and Opera


Marie Antoinette brought the German composer Gluck to France with her ambition to show off nationally; he also composed dramatic music for us. It is true that this revolution in music shook the old regime; chords aroused French generosity! Now it's the freedom defenders' turn to adapt the same colorful sounds produced by the German composer for their own cause.

Jean-Baptiste Leclerc, Essai sur la propagation de musique en France (1796)

“Long live our king!” a French citizen in Bordeaux He was executed by guillotine for shouting. This incident, which took place in early 1794, is not strange as it was the punishment of royalism, but the situation was quite strange.

The executed theater actor Arouch said this sentence in accordance with the text in the play "Life is a dream" (Pedro Calderon) played in the big theater, and the military commission of Bordeaux had the entire 86-person cast under custody.

After a month of imprisonment and hearings, Arouch was the first "character" victim of the revolution, even though it was said as a line, and the remaining 85 people were released.

Of course, Arouch wasn't the only victim of the audience who wanted political purity on stage. A public official in Lyon, the comedy theater he attended in 1793 in Pamela Disturbed by the way English aristocrats are portrayed, he leaves the theater in the middle of the play and ends up in the Jacobin Club. To him, the aristocratic style and black hats marked a disturbing monarchy. The defense of the actors was based on "pure political pluralism". The next day the theater was closed, three actors were imprisoned.

Although these two events were not essentially musical or artistic, they revealed the perception of the public in theaters and the radical policies of the revolution between 1793-94. This perception would also change the musical world.

After the revolution, the artists who performed in Paris began to avoid relations and movements that would remind them of the old regime as much as possible due to the fear of the guillotine.

In September 1793, the National Gazette's edition describing the opera as "the foyer of the opponents of the revolution" tightened the tensions even more. All the artists rushed to the Municipality of Paris, complaining about the unfairness of this accusation, but the fear was great. Together they sang the "Marseillaise" anthem, set fire to all documents bearing the "Royal Academy of Music" seal, and played their last trump by accusing Opera directors Louis-Joseph Francoeur and Jacques Cellerier of treason. All this pomp worked. Artists were considered patriots, directors traitors. Francoeur was captured, but Cellerier managed to escape from Paris.

Jullien de Carentin, who went to the Jacobin Club to complain about the production of Pamela, also met Robespierre, the founder of the club, when he entered, and Robespierre, who listened to the story, used the expression "nauseating aristocratic swamps" for the theaters.

Sacchini's Oedipe Colonne An audience piece while his opera named "praising the king and princesses”, the work was removed from the repertoire together with Roland and Iphigenie en Audile.

With the “Suspects Law” voted on September 5, 1793, the complaint mechanism became official, and the revolution first destroyed its enemies and then its own children. Paris prisons were filled with people denounced by neighbors or friends, in addition to the likes of Marie Antoinette, Mme Du Barry, Philippe Egalite, Brissot, Bailly, Barnave, Desmoulins, and Danton.

Changing the repertoire, censorship and the desire to bring more revolutionary enthusiasm to the stage also affected the relationship between the stage and the audience in different ways, and the efforts of composers and copywriters to increase the unity between the stage and the audience sometimes took strange forms.

The most striking example of this situation is François-Joseph Gossec's L'Offrande de la liberte It is the reproduction of the anthem in the 5th part of the opera named (Call for Freedom) and distributed to the public so that it can be accompanied by the audience during the performance.

The public's reaction to the opera was undoubtedly due to the changes in the composition of the audience. The sympathetic people who replaced the nobles were not as brave as the former owners of the opera in singing freely.

In this era of terror, the only standard of operas was revolutionary-themed content. Artists sang on the stage in casual clothes, so citizen identities came to the fore instead of artist identities. This stage play, in other words nonsense, was enough to please the revolution audience. This was also an indication that the revolution was not over yet, despite the curtain closing with the last scene.

In this great illusion, the audience became the show itself, the distinction between the actor and the audience was overcome and assumed a common identity. The paranoia of the movement against the revolution and the inexplicable methods of identifying suspects by the Jacobins also became politically threatening to talented artists.

Just as the revolutionary courts were stuck between only death or freedom, the opera was going through the same process. The shape of the musical experience with the eye of revolution was also an expression of the Jacobins' understanding of freedom.

The Jacobins, who embraced the provocative arguments of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the "Social Contract", determined the limits of freedom with the "higher interests" of this social contract. The simple speech of Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just, one of the Jacobin leaders, summed it all up: “The legislator makes people what he wants them to be”.

Music and Jacobinism

Although the change in music in the one year period from 1789 to 1799 was dizzying, the perception of the masses remained the same. The basic coherence remained, although the words they used to express their musical experiences were sometimes political. While the works that the society watched on the stage turned from entertainment to instructions, the words they used to express their experiences governed the popular music perception.

According to Congressman Jean-Baptiste Leclerc, many symphonies were too incomprehensible to create communities of people as the revolution wanted. According to him, most of the symphonies included themes of happiness or sadness, which caused the public to try to "make sense". Abandoning the sentimentality in the music would have been a minor problem, but the gains in brotherhood and togetherness would have been high. Leclerc preferred solidarity over sensitivity.

The Revolution audience saw harmony as an integral part of the music itself. Fauille de salut public An article published in the newspaper Mehul Melidore et Phrosine In his opera, he expresses that even if the audience does not see the actor on the stage, they listen to the orchestra and understand the emotion he wants to convey and how he should do it.

Expression of emotions is the task of the orchestra.

Le Sueur
(The Musical Quarterly, Volume LX, Issue 4, October 1974, Pages 616–624)

It was not yet in the horizon of the revolution audience to accept harmony only in its musical meaning, not to attribute it to defined adjectives. For them, the music was described. Music would paint, convey, or relate. What they needed to learn was that music can make you feel many emotions without the need for adjectives in its unique nature.

To them, a lively prelude was not only joyful; It was republican fun. Sad chords were far from processing simple sorrows like the unhappiness of people who lost loved ones for their country. Could this specificity be the result of the government's effort to make private emotions more intelligible by avoiding dangerous and abstract meanings?

For minds obsessed with ideological purity, the polysemy of symphonies was unacceptable.

Thermidor and the Return of Fun

Louis-Sebastien Mercier, known for his books describing the arrogance and pomp of the people of Paris, published New Paris (New Paris) published by Robespierre and his friends after the end of the revolution.Nouveau Paris) describes the current state of art as follows:

“Luxury has come back even more dazzling from the ruins steaming with gunpowder. Fine arts culture has taken over its former brilliance. The audience has regained its former glory and fashion has become an image that people idolize again.”

The moneylenders who had taken over the lands of the aristocrats, the church team and the war operators selling ammunition to the army now formed the new aristocracy. The peculiar glamor of the old regime was replaced by the people's, and the national heroes of the past became traitors overnight. With the execution of Robespierre in July 1794, the opera halls had become the place of former revolutionaries, former nobles and the wealthy of the new era.

During the performance, opposing opponents would sang either "La Marseillaise" or "Reveil du peuple" according to the political thought they were involved in, and the events would be carried to such a level that the representation would have to stop.

Pluralism reunited with art made it difficult for the new government to maintain order in the streets as well as inside the opera houses. The September 1400 coup attempt, which was carried out by the supporters of the king and resulted in the death of 1795 people, gave the necessary signals to the government, and operas were ordered to stage works that were sympathetic to the republicans.

This initiative was not enough to reduce the protests, on the contrary, it increased it. The audience was leaving the halls singing the anthem "La Marseillaise" in the middle of the performance. Things calmed down in 1796, and the old repertoire was back on the scene.

Despite what had happened, the new order audience objected to the bringing of ordinary daily events to the stage and insisted on the subjects of the present, which was a habit of the revolutionary period.

This new interest in the subjects of the period and the enthusiasm of the audience for military subjects would continue during the reign of the young general Bonaparte, who showed himself in the halls in the late 1790s.