Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Thomas L. Riis
Benjamin R. Teitelbaum
While many French string quartets were composed between 1790 and 1848, the repertoire has generally been ignored. Some historians have stated that the period between the between the Revolution and 1870 represents a gap in the French chamber music tradition. Scholars have struggled to categorize the repertoire because it differs from generic expectations of the string quartet, expectations extending from nineteenth-century German ideals for “serious” instrumental music. The main difference is that French composers frequently incorporated aspects of other kinds of music, especially vocal music and concertos, into their string quartets. These aspects borrow heavily from Italian opera and orchestral traditions, and, to the modern ear, such mixture disqualifies the quartets as either “truly” French or as “truly” chamber music.
The eclectic nature of the quartets resembles other aspects of contemporary French culture. The most prominent French philosophy of the time was Victor Cousin’s Éclectisme, which attempted to synthesize elements of past and foreign philosophies. And eclecticism was a common feature of other French arts, most prominently painting. It is significant that the July Monarchy—with its eclectic summary ideal, the juste-milieu—recruited Cousin and creative artists to legitimize its authority. These aspects of French society have suffered in histories. As eclectic (and thus impure), each has been dismissed as a failure in French philosophy, art, or government. The quartet repertoire is a typically eclectic French product of the early 1800s, but it failed “the test of history” for similar reasons as these other French institutions: confusing because of their mixtures, the quartets represent a repertorial gap.
This dissertation places the string quartet output of four French composers—Pierre Baillot, Pierre Rode, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and Charles Dancla—in the context of French Éclectisme and its historical (historiographic) failure. Music historians have long granted special prestige to the string quartet, and this is especially true in German musicology which developed the string quartet’s modern “generic contract.” Since part of the French repertoire’s failure is that its eclecticism prevents it from fulfilling this “contract,” I also discuss the French repertoire within the ideological context of these German expectations.
Ward, Michael B., "Un Mélange Étrange: The Problem of Éclectisme in the Early Nineteenth-Century French String Quartet" (2017). Musicology Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 13.