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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

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Volume 20 (2014) No. 1

Published 2017

Sacred Music as Public Image for Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III: Representing the Counter-Reformation Monarch at the End of the Thirty Years’ War. By Andrew H. Weaver. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. [xxi, 325 pp. ISBN 9781409421191. $134.96.]

Reviewed by Janet K. Page*

1. Introduction

2. Ferdinand’s Evolving Image

3. Reconstructing the Music Heard at Court and Its Audience

4. Music as Representation

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

1.1 The reign of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III (r. 1637–57) encompassed the end of the Thirty Years’ War and a peace treaty unfavorable to the Habsburgs. Ferdinand and his court have been neglected in favor of those more politically successful, but to Andrew H. Weaver, Ferdinand’s reign “forms a crucial bridge between Ferdinand II and Leopold I” (p. 3), rulers who related to the world very differently. Ferdinand III’s main achievement was cultural. He skillfully used the arts to promote a positive public image of himself, and he successfully changed this image as necessary to maintain his exalted position. Thus, he laid the foundation for Leopold’s masterly use of media in the service of politics.

1.2 In exploring this idea, Weaver builds on the work of the historian R. J. W. Evans (The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1550–1700: An Interpretation [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979]) and others. Evans labels the period 1600–50 as “the crisis” and considers the arts—which he deals with briefly and generally—as a reflection of the political situation. Weaver’s book draws on this premise to examine in detail Ferdinand’s use of the arts as carriers of meaning. The focus here is music, which is considered within a context of the visual arts and writings of various kinds. The book is grounded in approaches to the topic used by modern political and cultural historians, especially the concept of representation as a negotiation between ruler and subject.

1.3 The book’s introduction needs to be carefully read, as it explicates the terminology, derived from current discourse in history, that is used throughout; it also provides a brief, useful overview of the modal-hexachordal system that will inform the musical analysis. The book is otherwise divided into three main parts: I. “Setting the Stage,” II. “Means of Production,” and III. “Music as Representation.”

2. Ferdinand’s Evolving Image

2.1 Part I, in two chapters, traces the trajectory of Ferdinand’s image over the course of his reign. The roots of Ferdinand’s early, heroic image may be found in his service as general of the imperial army at the battle of Nördlingen (1637), a great success for the Habsburgs. The victory was celebrated in various media, including large and ostentatious paintings and Claudio Monteverdi’s eighth book of madrigals. Ferdinand is depicted as powerful and pious, his military success a well-deserved heavenly reward. The setbacks that followed led to a crisis of representation, and the Emperor’s image changed gradually to that of “comforting, protective father” (p. 38) as he was forced to make concessions to his enemies to gain peace and avoid further suffering among his subjects. Sacred music, especially conducive to representations of piety, now rose in importance.

2.2 Chapter 2, “Justitia et Pietas,” provides a portrait of this “pious and intelligent” ruler, whose interests and talents were more intellectual than military and who was especially interested in literature and music. Here, Weaver positions himself within debates from the field of history, such as that over “confessionalization,” a modern term for the idea that the increasing distinctions between Christian denominations profoundly altered politics and culture, and that the process led to the emergence of modern secular states. Pages 54–57 concisely explain the concept and review the recent literature. Weaver adopts the “top-down” perspective, as that most closely resembling the court’s use of Ferdinand’s image. In this view, the religious and secular authorities were the primary drivers of the process, rather than it bubbling up, at least partly, from popular forces below.

3. Reconstructing the Music Heard at Court and Its Audience

3.1 In Part II, Weaver surveys the music heard at court and outlines the challenges of discussing it, given that most of this music, aside from published sources, is lost. All the genres of music he surveys here contributed to representation: opera’s magnificence, for example, mirrored the Emperor’s own, and oratorio revealed his devout soul. Weaver devotes particular attention to liturgical ceremonies and to listeners’ reactions. Music could be “heard” in a variety of ways: as pure sound (by those who did not understand Latin); as mostly pure sound with a few important words; or as “heightened oration” (by the educated courtier who fully understood the text). Much of the discussion here is speculative—as Weaver admits, there is not much direct evidence of people’s reactions—and one might reasonably ask just how often ordinary people heard religious services in the presence of the Emperor, along with the music that went with such occasions. Ordinary folk certainly attended, and participated in, outdoor ceremonies and processions, which allowed everyone to experience the magnificence of the court and its music and to see and emulate the Emperor’s piety. But the practice of stational worship, through which the court visited churches throughout the city on specific feast days, probably did not often allow ordinary people to actually worship in the presence of the Emperor; many of the churches were relatively small, and the imperial entourage could be large.

3.2 Chapter 4, the second chapter of Part II, is dedicated to the printed music of Giovanni Felice Sances and its reception. Weaver looks at the prints from a fascinating alternative perspective, as “motivated by the patron rather than the composer” (p. 123). This chapter lays the groundwork for the detailed examination of music in Part III. Besides the music itself, he examines paratexts (dedications, etc.), decoration, ordering of the pieces, and visual appearance (lots of black notes to “bewilder the eye”) as carriers of meaning. His results are revealing and convincing.

4. Music as Representation

4.1 Part III (Music as Representation) examines how specific musical works represented the Emperor and the nuances of how the Emperor’s image changed, as revealed through music. Most of the music discussed here is from Sances’s prints, with a few pieces by Giovanni Valentini or the Emperor himself. Weaver draws on the tools he presented in Chapter 4, such as how the ordering of a print could affect reception, and also on other material such as contemporary psalm exegeses and devotional works from Ferdinand’s own library. In chapter 5, Weaver compares the content of volumes of the 1630s with those of the 1640s to reveal how Ferdinand abandoned the image of the victorious warrior David for that of the wise Solomon. Possible interpretations of a piece by different audiences are examined here in detail through a discussion of the motet Audi Domine from the Motetti a 2, 3, 4, e cinque voci of 1642.

4.2 In chapters 6 and 7, Weaver turns his attention to Ferdinand’s piety. The Emperor’s interpretation of Pietas Austriaca, the special relationship with God by which the Habsburgs ruled, included special devotion to the Eucharist and the cross. In Ferdinand’s case, this devotion was a “mirror of [his] pious soul” (p. 193) relying on music for effect. At least twenty-five Eucharistic motets were composed during Ferdinand’s reign by members of his chapel (and one by the Emperor himself). As he does for other religious and historical concepts throughout the book, Weaver here provides an excellent explanation of the Eucharist as a symbol—its religious meanings, background, and specific meaning to the Habsburgs. In Chapter 7 Weaver focuses on Ferdinand’s devotion to the Immaculate Conception as an idea controversial in its time, but accepted by the Habsburgs and used as a gauge of loyalty. Sances’s Antiphonare sacrae BVM is convincingly shown to have been published in connection with the consecration of the Mariensäule in Vienna, a monument raised by Ferdinand in 1647, which would be imitated in other monuments throughout the realm as a sign of loyalty. The Epilogue points toward another transformation in the 1650s, to a more secular spirit and optimistic outlook, which provided the foundation of the public image of Emperor Leopold I, Ferdinand’s successor. An Appendix provides texts and English translations of dedications to Ferdinand II and other members of the imperial family in music prints.

5. Conclusion

In drawing on recent research by scholars of early modern history, Weaver brings to musicology a number of valuable concepts, such as monarchical representation (itself the subject of a far-reaching dialogue) as a negotiation between ruler and subjects, and the “top-down” approach. Weaver’s exploration of the paratext, and his use of such material, provides a useful model for further research. His engagement with a range of different media, with circumstances of representation, and with a creative variety of written sources, positions the music in its cultural context, making this an important study for understanding how it was used and perceived. Thanks to Weaver’s generally clear and careful presentation of evidence, I came to admire Sances and the other composers for their creativity in creating meaning through music within the parameters of the sacred service.


*Janet K. Page (jpage2@memphis.edu) is Professor of musicology at the University of Memphis. Her research focuses on women and music in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Vienna, and her book Convent Music and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Vienna was published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.

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