Fruits of the Cross: Passiontide Music Theater in Habsburg Vienna

Fruits of the Cross: Passiontide Music Theater in Habsburg Vienna

by Robert L. Kendrick

Hardcover(First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, April 1

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520297579
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 11/27/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

Robert L. Kendrick teaches music history and ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago.

Read an Excerpt


Passion and Theater

The most striking feature of all sacred drama in the seventeenth century is its sharing of literary register, stage techniques, and musical expression with the wider world of theatrical forms. Best known in the Catholic world are the Jesuit plays across Europe, but at the courts — that of Louis XIV, the great Other for the Austrian Habsburgs, and that of their close Spanish cousins — many stagings, devout or secular, were tied to seasonality and/or specific moments in festive or sacred commemorations. In Vienna, an entire ritual year was marked by performances, and after 1660 these were largely musical: starting with oratorios in Advent, the opera and dance central to Carnival, oratorios again in Lent, sepolcri during the Triduum of Holy Week, and then large- and small-scale operas or serenatas for Habsburg birthdays and name days over the rest of the year, with occasional pieces for dynastic marriages. The longest items were normally the three-act operas before Lent and over summer through fall. Most of this repertory was in Italian, and almost all of it was intended for complete settings. The dynasty understood and expressed itself through contemporary musical theater.

Despite the economic "waste" of the spectacle, a habit that led to internal intrigues and criticism even at the high points of Leopold's reign, the royals rarely relaxed the pace, thus inevitably suggesting a Geertzian "music-theater state." Indeed, the choreographic participation of the landed nobility in the Carnival court ballets was precisely recorded in the ceremonial documentation as part of the unwritten covenant between monarch and vassals. Although the Viennese pieces on sacred themes did not require the massive scenery, set changes, and multitude of singers needed for the festive operas — they were, after all, meant for penitential seasons — their frequency still meant a notable investment of creative and musical labor. In addition, the ex novo composition of the sepolcri separates them from the often- repeated oratorios, thus closer to the performative category of the operas; clearly, the annual commemoratio of the Passion required ever- new intellectual conceits and musical devices. Ultimately, their production reflected the royals' self-imposed duty to follow the biblical Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in lavishing resources on the buried Christ, in line with Isaiah's prophecy (Is 11:10) that "His sepulcher will be glorious," and according to the disproportions of a gift economy. This verse would crop up, in a changed devotional climate, as late as Pietro Metastasio's 1730 oratorio for the Habsburgs La Passione di Gesù Cristo.

Thus the first relationship in the repertory is that between Passion piety and theater. Although some sepolcri re-create dramatic moments from the Gospel accounts — the 1661 La Gara della Misericordia e la Giustizia along with the 1666 Lagrime di San Pietro both enact the Despair of Judas and the Penance of Peter — their overall trajectory is ultimately psychological, normally leading to a penitential or moralizing maxim, with some relationship to any given piece's title, and encapsulated in the closing contrapuntal ensemble (this section is often called madrigale). In addition, all the texts seem to follow Augustine's harmonization of the Gospel versions of the Deposition and burial, despite the discrepancies in the particulars among the four evangelists.

Still, the most salient Passion events were largely recounted via characters' memory. Librettists chose different biblical characters in addition to the generic ("A Sinner") or allegorical ("The Three Hours of Darkness [over the Earth at the Crucifixion]") ones for any given piece, sometimes employing only "minor" scriptural figures (Veronica or Simon the Cyrenian). The regular appearance of sinful personages (or, allegorically, of Sin itself) and the dramatic presentation of their remorse provided models for the royals' own consciousness of guilt. In addition, the political status of the dynasty was implicit, and sometimes explicit, in the texts. In any case, Passion commemoration was the central ritual event of the year, outclassing even Easter.

The evident creation of sepolcri as a genre at the behest of the dowager empress Eleonora Gonzaga in early winter 1660 falls into a wider pattern. Certainly this was the first Carnival/Lent during which the power of both Leopold and his stepmother was consolidated after the Imperial transition in 1657–58, and it evidently was a moment to establish new traditions, starting with the autumn 1659 operas, which marked the beginning of regular court performances of music theater overall.

Indeed, the fixing of the sacred stage works represented a necessary penitential counterpart to the disciplined excess of secular spectacle. In order to introduce regular performances lasting anywhere between forty and eighty minutes, time had to be created on the afternoons or evenings of the busy events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and spaces set up in the sanctuaries of the empress's chapel and the Hofburgkapelle. This must have meant cutting into the liturgical Divine Hour of Matins-Lauds on these two days, this service recorded under Ferdinand III in 1654 as lasting from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.; it also meant rearranging the court's visits to other city churches. The Habsburgs' musical repertory for Office and Mass during the Passion Triduum was traditional Renaissance polyphony (with the possible exception of contemporary Lamentations by Giovanni Paolo Colonna in Bologna, copied for Leopold probably around 1685). The sepolcri represented, then, the irruption of modern music into the Triduum.

In a wider sense, the establishment of music theater sacred and secular was not just a personal choice of Eleonora or Leopold, but rather reflected a larger shift, as the pre-1648 unity of Catholic Europe so desired by the dynasty fell apart between the Treaty of Westphalia and the Franco-Spanish peace of 1659–60. In this framework, the Spanish Habsburgs had had to end their dynastic loyalty in order to satisfy France, and the continental relationship of power was marked by betrayal and self-interest. The Austrians found themselves having to invent new ways of projecting belief and devotion in this changed political landscape, and one of them was sacred music theater.

The performances happened in a Week full of penitential events between court and city. The most detailed description of court ritual comes from later in the eighteenth century, during Charles VI's early years, after the annual Friday sepolcri had ceased to be performed, and so the physiognomy of the Week under Leopold is not entirely clear. But the musical drama took place as part of a chain, each moment with its own inflection: starting with the Palm Sunday liturgy, then Leopold's annual journey on Tuesday from the Hofburg (the main imperial residence) along the "Passion Way" to the Kalvarienberg church in suburban (and formerly Protestant) Hernals, and the traditional foot washing done by the royals after Mass on Thursday morning. This last rite celebrated the presence of the Divine in humble humanity, and thus indirectly reinforced "Dio humanato//God made man," a theological concept linked also to the Advent pieces as well as oratorios earlier in Lent. By the 1700s, the Holy Thursday rituals started at 8.30 a.m., and this too must have been a strenuous day for the court. Some of the Thursday sepolcri come in at only half the length of the Friday pieces, for instance, Minato's 1671 texts the Epitaffi sopra il Sepolcro as compared with the much longer Il Trionfo della Croce that year. But the court was famous for its absolute devotion during Holy Week among European ambassadors, many of whom commented that all other business, no matter how important, came to a complete stop, as the royals could spend ten to twelve hours a day in church.


Given the sepolcri's scheduling, the disjuncture between meditative time (on the buried Christ) and narrative/ritual time (in which the Passion events were supposed to be relived in order) was also at work. In Sicily, this split caused ecclesiastical censure in our period, but the Viennese repertory seems not to have suffered. The pieces performed in Eleonora Gonzaga's chapel on Thursday — like the pedagogical ones in German for the archduchess Maria Antonia the same day between 1677 and 1682 — presume a buried Christ. In part, this derives from the Reposition of the Host, in which the Eucharist had already been "buried" earlier on Thursday, after Mass and before any late afternoon performances of a stage work. The newly constructed Tomb in front of which the pieces were performed was itself covered until being unveiled at the beginning of the music. The stage direction "Scopertosi il Santissimo Sepolcro ..." begins almost all libretti. But the complexity of royal Passion meditation also contributed to this seeming incongruity in Vienna. Given the centrality of penance to all Catholics' experience in Lent, and Leopold's own habitual confession on Maundy Thursday, the placement of the pieces at the end of the ritual day represented the last iteration of the call to repent before Easter Communion, and their performance, sometimes with Leopold's own music inserted, formed a kind of musical penance.

Although the emotional charge of the day was obviously greater, the Friday pieces were not necessarily more florid in terms of the resources demanded. Two works in the same year with texts by Francesco Sbarra, the 1665 Thursday Il Limbo disserato along with his Friday L'Inferno deluso, employed eight and nine singers, respectively. Once the stagings indicated in the libretti began around 1670, the planes of vision that Burnacini designed were not always more complicated on Friday. The two pieces of 1676, Il Sole ecclissato and L'Ingiustizia della sentenza di Pilato, featured set designs with a dark sky with an eclipsed sun, and Pilate's atrium with a separate representation of the Tomb underneath the space, respectively. These two are roughly the same length (nineteen printed pages), and the density of their footnoted biblical or patristic citations is about equal. It was particularly painful that they were performed as the young empress Claudia Felicitas lay dying, with Leopold and/or her mother, Anna de' Medici, constantly by her side.

Most important, on Fridays the royals probably heard the sepolcri from their gallery on the chapel's second level, perhaps some five meters high. Figure 2 gives the iconic 1705 view of the Hofburgkapelle just after Leopold's death, although this is not a completely accurate representation of the space in the seventeenth century (repairs after the 1683 siege damage had changed some aspects of the interior). Figure 3 then superimposes over this a 1692 set design by Burnacini, together with a photomontage of the eighteenth-century-constructed Tomb surviving at Stift Zwettl, to give a sense of the visual ensemble on display during Triduum performances.

Acoustically, the royals' placement would have meant that they were closer to the heavenly singers — angels and God the Father — if these characters were placed in the glory above. In addition, this seating would have made the recitative sections of the sepolcri more intelligible, as the reverberation time at this level would have been minimal in the Gothic vault, with sound traveling straight up and little reflection. Presumably the presence of an audience on the ground floor, plus the draping of altars and statues after Holy Thursday, would have contributed to dampening some echo in the more public spaces, but also interfered with hearing higher frequencies, thus rendering textual intelligibility more difficult and underscoring the need for a printed libretto produced for the performance (of which there are extant copies for most of the repertory).

The location of the secondary chapels, and their decoration, changed over time (figure 4). Eleonora Gonzaga's original oratory, after the death of her husband Ferdinand III in 1657, was in the smaller palace across the Burgplatz (the Neue Burg), and the fire of February 1668 in her almost- finished residence of the Leopoldinischer Trakt forced her back into it, a site small enough that basic illumination was a problem. Only with the repairs of 1673–74 was she able to use a large, newly constructed two-story chapel at the west end of the new Trakt (at the angle with the Neue Burg), and this may be evident in the slightly larger cast (eight, as opposed to her seven regular singers of 1666–72) of the 1674 Pietà contrastata as well as the first explicit stage set for Thursday in 1676. The pre-1674 chapel was evidently limited, with fewer acoustical issues, and the performances must have had only select audiences; the roughly 150-square-meter new oratory would have allowed for more "stage" motion and viewers, even if Minato explicitly described Thursday set designs only in 1682, 1683, 1685, and 1686.


By choosing to stage music annually at the Tomb, Eleonora invoked both recent Habsburg practice and older, wider traditions in the effort to create a new sonic devotional world. Even today in Italy, popular processions on Thursday and Friday often involve journeys to a Sepulcher in local churches. At Pedali di Viggianello in southwestern Basilicata, women mourners continue to perform two-voice polyphony inside the parish church, with songs in the local dialect and specific to the occasion. In contemporary Sicily, some towns feature musical calls for community visits to Tombs, while several confraternities dedicated to the Addolorata sing in the vernacular at the Sepulcher.

This represents wider practice in Catholic Europe. Some kind of constructed Heiliges Grab (most surviving examples dating from the eighteenth century) as a standing tableau can be found, in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, among churches and museums. One well- catalogued case is that of early modern Tyrol, in which Tombs not only were seemingly omnipresent in town churches, but dramatic representations at them persisted into the nineteenth century. Still, the Viennese court pieces are different from the German/Austrian plays, in that there is little action essential to the story of Holy Week, but only the performance of mourning.

The material basis for the construction of court Sepulchers, new every year in Vienna, during Lent is found in the payment records. Single Tombs for Friday were built from 1555 onward; from the renovations of 1674, two were erected (presumably one in the Hofburgkapelle and one in Eleonora's new chapel in the new Trakt), while the annual number rose to three and four even after the dowager empress's death (1688–1705; the constructions themselves seem to have been made anew every year). The other installations seem to have been meant for the secondary chapels of the royal children, the sites also for the German-language sepolcri for Maria Antonia.

The wider European panorama of Tombs in the early modern era is only now coming into focus. The report of the German architect Joseph Furttenbach on a room with a Tomb in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio in the 1610s also noted angels with "sweet music," possibly some kind of mechanical instruments, designed by Giulio Parigi. Around 1700, Bologna hosted an itinerant Sepulcher that visited various churches in annual sequence. In the context of royal chapels, Vienna's practice seems to be unusual; even in the 1686 inventory of the Madrid Alcázar, there is no Tomb listed among the many images present for the Spanish Habsburgs. In Rome, such installations were present in some city basilicas, for instance, the yearly constructions at S. Lorenzo in Damaso (done by Pietro da Cortona in 1650 and Alessandro Mauri in 1728, the latter commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni) or regularly at S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli. However, the mid-Cinquecento Sepulcher in the Vatican's Cappella Paolina (in the space's function as the altar of repose for the Sistina) seems to have been replaced by Federico Zuccari's frescoes in 1580. The idea of having a Tomb as a backdrop for dramatic music, and then at some point around 1670 adding some kind of set design to it, seems particularly Austrian Habsburg.

The court traditions of vernacular verses and music during Holy Week have been well studied; such pieces began with Giovanni Valentini's poetry in the early 1640s. But various Sepulchers existed throughout the city, not just in the Hofburg, and these are testaments to the devotion crossing social classes. According to the German Protestant visitor Johann Sebastian Müller, reporting on his experience in 1660, Ferdinand III and Eleonora had been accustomed to visiting all thirty-odd constructions in the various churches and religious houses on Good Friday, even if wooden boards had to be placed in the streets so as to avoid the mud (and Ferdinand's physical difficulties would also have been an obstacle). In Leopold's reign, these visits were evidently limited and moved largely to Holy Saturday.


Excerpted from "Fruits of the Cross"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Robert L. Kendrick.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
List of Music Examples,
Abbreviations and Notes on Sources,
1. Passion and Theater,
2. Devotional Strategies,
3. Social Others and Selves,
4. Music and Its Affects,
Epilogue: The Power of the Cross,
Appendix 1. Checklist of Sepolcri, 1660–1711,
Appendix 2. The Preserved Repertory, 1660–1705, and Its Possible Tonalities,
Appendix 3. Possible Burnacini Drawings for Sepolcri,
General Index,
Index of Sepolcri by Short Title,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews