Philidor, sensibilité and Fielding's Tom Jones

Free Public Lecture

Philidor, sensibilité and Fielding's Tom Jones

In the eighteenth century, people were enculturated from the outset to have extreme emotional responses to music. A word was coined to describe this 'deliberate cultivation of physical and emotional hyper-receptivity to tender, intimate, tearful sensation', as Elisabeth Le Guin describes it. In English they called it 'sensibility', in German 'Empfindsamkeit', and in French 'sensibilité'. As exemplified in the novels of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding, sensibility had tugged at the heart strings of the English middle classes for more than a generation; in the 1750s it found wider European reception through translations of English novels.

The refinement of a susceptibility to delicate passional arousal spread to the opera boxes. This talk discusses Philidor's setting of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones. Initially a failure, a 1766 revision resulted in a triumph that became one of the most popular and influential opéras comiques of the late 18th century.

This presentation by Senior Lecturer Dr Erin Helyard of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music includes a short recital of excerpts from the opera together with a talk that incorporates images and music from the period.

This public program is associated with Beyond Versailles: F.D. Philidor, French composer and chess master (ends 30 September 2017).

PresentersDr Erin Helyard

All Free Public Lectures