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Sacral, Secular or Sacred? An Essay on Music and Aesthetic Emancipation

In July 1782 a spectacular première took place in the Burgtheater in Vienna. A play of a new kind, called Die Entführung aus dem Serail, with music by Mozart, had its first performance. Six years earlier the Emperor Joseph II had given this old court theater the official status of a National Theatre and opened it to the general public. But what kind of nation was it that this new institution was supposed to represent? Vienna was the capital of a multi-ethnic, polyglot, feudal and hierarchic empire. So the nation, in fact, was a project, something which now was going to be defined and implemented. The enlightened emperor and his advisers saw the nation as an association of individuals with equal rights and possibilities. The ascribed social status of the individual living in a feudal society should be replaced by personel achievement. The entrepreneur capitalist was the hero of the day-the patron, the grand seigneur, was an anachronism. The local Gemeinschaft of traditional society, based on personal links, communalism and patterns of protection, was going to be replaced by a national Gesellschaft, a mass of producers/consumers, of theoretically interchangable individuals, held together by a feeling of abstract solidarity with strangers/fellow-citizens. The central concept in this process of societal transformation was emancipation.