Lecture Series in Musicology: Francesca Brittan: "The Electrician, the Magician, and the Nervous Conductor"
Friday, April 12, 2019 - 4:00pm
Berlioz's essay "Le chef d'orchestre, théorie de son art" (1855) was among the first and most widely disseminated attempts to describe the art of modern conducting. Drawing together technical with literary and scientific language, it aimed to capture the relationship between leaders and players and, more broadly, the modes of discipline, persuasion, and animation that underpinned romantic orchestral performance. Central to the essay are notions of electricity-artificial, animal, and 'invisible.' Orchestral leaders were at once electricians, mesmerists, commanders, and magicians, figures whose power relied in large part on the perceived mystery of electrical transmission. Here, I tease out that idea, drawing conductors into conversation with imperial telegraphers, spiritualists, conjurors, and inventors. Francesca Brittan is a scholar of nineteenth-century music and aesthetics at Case Western Reserve University. Her interests include music and histories of magic, intersections between sound and romantic science, nineteenth-century orchestral and conducting cultures, and sonic histories of mind. She is the author of the monograph "Music and Fantasy in the Age of Berlioz" (Cambridge UP, 2017), the editor of Jean-Etienne-Joseph Soubre's "Sinfonie fantastique" (A-R Editions, 2017), and a contributor to the forthcoming Cambridge Berlioz Encyclopedia (CUP).