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Cochran, Keith Harris

The Genesis of Gaspare Spontini's Agnes von Hohenstaufen: A Chapter in the History of German Opera

Ph.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1995

Spontini wrote his final opera, Agnes von Hohenstaufen, for the court opera in Berlin in 1827 and later revised it for performances in 1829 and 1837. The opera's prolonged genesis took place against a background of changing ideals in operatic aesthetics and the composer's own shifting fortunes as General Music Director in Berlin. Spontini wrote and revised Agnes at a time when German Romantic opera had begun to take root, Rossini's operas dominated stages throughout Europe, and grand opéra developed in Paris.

The dissertation presents an archival, source, and stylistic study of Spontini's final opera. The first chapter provides an introduction by briefly surveying the reception history of Spontini's German operas and the musicological literature devoted to them. The second chapter presents new archival material in an examination of Spontini's tenure as General Music Director in Berlin from 1820 to 1841. Among the issues explored are the continued impact of French taste on the operatic repertoire of Berlin, Spontini's conflicts with Ludwig Wittgenstein, his superior at court, and the intendants, Count Brühl and Count Redern. Spontini's strained relationships with his colleagues led to a significant loss of power when his contract was renewed in 1831.

The next chapter examines the libretto of Agnes. Spontini's awareness of new aesthetic ideals is apparent in his choice of subject matter loosely based on German Medieval history and the incorporation of local color. The fourth chapter is an evaluation of the surviving musical sources for Agnes, including autograph, manuscript, and performance material from Berlin. The remaining two chapters provide an account of the opera's genesis by focusing on the musical changes undertaken in the revisions by Spontini. These changes are seen in light of the work's relationship to contemporary operatic trends, especially the rise of grand opéra, and its place within Spontini's own stylistic development.