13:42 PM

UST Music Professor Delves into Germanic Opera - Medievalism and Nationalism in New Book

book coverMusic Program’s Michael S. Richardson ‘06, an assistant professor of musicology at UST, penned a scholarly new book, Medievalism and Nationalism in German Opera: Euryanthe to Lohengrin" published by Routledge.

Exploring Euryanthe to Lonengrin or from Weber to Wagner

Carl Maria von Weber is known for establishing a uniquely German form of opera under the influence of Romanticism and Richard Wagner, who is one of the most revolutionary and controversial figures in musical history. Weber strove to achieve his ideal of opera as a music drama.

Euryanthe is a German opera by Weber, and is acknowledged as one of his most important. Lonengrin opera by Wagner performed in 1823 is like a fairy tale based on an old German legend, and has been described as one of the zeniths of German Romantic operas.

Richardson describes German opera as “legendary, epic, historical, grand and heroic.”“I have proposed the term "non-exotic other" to describe medievalism within the context of 19th century German opera, as the Middle Ages to Germans of that time period represented something exotic in that it was distant in time, yet familiar in that they viewed the time period as representative of their own ancestral heritage and personal identity."

Richardson's Education Journey

Michael S. RichardsonRichardson completed his Ph.D in Music History and Theory from Stony Brook University in New York, and he conducted his dissertation research in Germany under the guidance of Annette Kreutziger – Herr. His book is derived from his dissertation.

He joined UST in 2016. Richardson holds a joint major in International Studies and Music with a minor in Theology.

“My degrees in international studies and music helped me immensely with my topic,” Richardson said. “My musical knowledge and skills were of course required for such a topic, but my background in international studies had also equipped me to understand the nuances of cultural dynamics and to integrate myself well into a foreign culture to establish meaningful scholarly connections and to successfully conduct my research. My minor in theology was also extremely helpful, as I have an entire chapter devoted to Christian religious imagery and references to Christian sacred music in the operas in my study,” he said.  He is also fluent in German. Richardson's mother was German, and young Michael spoke German in the home thus developing  his language skill.

Rise of German Romantic Opera in the early 19th century

Medievalism is described as a system of belief and practice inspired by the Middle Ages of Europe, or by devotion to elements of that period such as architecture, literature, music, art, philosophy, scholarship and various vehicles of popular culture.

Richardson explains that his book is about German operas from the early 19th century that feature medieval settings. “I had noticed that a number of German opera composers at that time decided to set their operas in the Middle Ages, and I was curious as to why.” 

Richardson said, “In my book, readers will gain a clear understanding of the rise of German opera in the early 19th century and the cultural and historical context in which this occurred. This book will also provide insight on the reception of medieval history and medieval music in 19th century Germany, and will demonstrate how medievalism and nationalism were mutually reinforcing phenomena at this time and place in history.”

Germany’s Strong Operatic Traditions

As the names of Mozart, Weber, Wagner, Richard Strauss and Berg indicate, Germany and Austria have one of the strongest operatic traditions in European culture. In Germany, every major city has its own theater for staging operas.

Romanticism Exerts Creative Influence over German Composers

In the early 19th century, the vast cultural movement known as Romanticism, an artistic, literary and intellectual movement, began to exert an influence over German composers. The Romantics showed a keen interest in the Middle Ages as well as German folklore.

A healthy competition to establish a Germanic operatic repertory arose at this time, and fascination with medieval times served a critical role in shaping the desire for a unified national and cultural identity.

Using operas by Weber, Schubert, Marshner, Wagner, and Schumann as case studies, Richardson investigates what historical information was available to German composers in their recreations of medieval music and whether or not such information had any demonstrable effect on their compositions. The significant role that nationalism played in the choice of medieval subject matter for opera also is examined, along with how audiences and critics responded to the medieval milieu of these works.

Musicology Scholarship around the Germanic Operatic Tradition

UST Chair of Music, Dr. Brady Knapp, applauds Richardson’s book offered by one of academia’s most respected publishing houses.

“This new book is an important addition to current musicological scholarship around the Germanic operatic tradition,” he said. “He is also a proud UST graduate, who did excellent work while in graduate school, both Rice University and later SUNY where he completed his Ph.D. We are very proud of his achievements and the faculty and I congratulate him.”