Jacques Offenbach and the Paris of His Time

Overview

Siegfried Kracauer's biography of the composer Jacques Offenbach is a remarkable work of social and cultural history. First published in German in 1937 and in English translation in1938, the book uses the life and work of Offenbach as a focal point for a broad and penetrating portrayal of Second Empire Paris. Offenbach's immensely popular operettas have long been seen as part of the larger historical amnesia and escapism that pervaded Paris in the aftermath of 1848. ButKracauer insists that Offenbach's ...

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Overview

Siegfried Kracauer's biography of the composer Jacques Offenbach is a remarkable work of social and cultural history. First published in German in 1937 and in English translation in1938, the book uses the life and work of Offenbach as a focal point for a broad and penetrating portrayal of Second Empire Paris. Offenbach's immensely popular operettas have long been seen as part of the larger historical amnesia and escapism that pervaded Paris in the aftermath of 1848. ButKracauer insists that Offenbach's productions must be understood as more than glittering distractions. The fantasy realms of such operettas as La Belle Hélène were as one with the unreality of Napoleon III's imperial masquerade, but they also made a mockery of the pomp and pretense surrounding the apparatuses of power. At the same time, Offenbach's dreamworlds were embedded with a layer of utopian content that can be seen as an indictment of the fraudulence and corruption of the times. This edition includes Kracauer's preface to the original German edition, translated intoEnglish for the first time, and a critical foreword by Gertrud Koch.

Zone Books

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Part Frankfurt School social critique, part homage to the City of Light, this biography of the composer, originally published in German in 1937, is really the "biography...of a society." The late Kracauer, a novelist and cultural critic, has little to say about the music itself; his aim is rather to show the "dependence of every genre of art on specific social conditions." Offenbach's frothy, satirical operettas flourished in mid-19th century France, he argues, because they were both a "mirror" held up to the glittering but hollow imperial regime and a safe outlet for mockery of it; they "would never have been born had the society...not itself been operetta-like." Kracauer is convincing when he ties operetta to the "fashionable Bohemianism" of the day, less so when he invokes "the domination of finance capital" and "the eruption of the international economy" to explain musical theater fads. The appeal of the book lies in Kracauer's dazzling portrait of the gas-lit Parisian beau monde of dandies, courtesans, dissolute journalists, snobbish aristocrats, insecure bourgeois, elegant salons and riotous street carnivals, all rendered with a flowing style and witty, novelistic detail. Offenbach's operettas may not have been, as Kracauer believes, "the most definite form of revolutionary protest" in their day, but they are evocative symbols of a glamorous, music-mad world that the author vaguely disapproved of but can't help loving anyway. Photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781890951306
  • Publisher: Zone Books
  • Publication date: 1/3/2003
  • Pages: 418
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

The works of Siegfried Kracauer (1889—1966) translated into English include Theory of Film;The Salaried Masses; The Mass Ornament; History; and From Caligari to Hitler.

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