»A KINGDOM OF THE ARTS«
It may seem strange to us, but there is some truth when people say that the Age of Absolutism began because many people believed that tyranny was better than chaos. In the 17th and 18th century, Absolutism, the unrestricted power and rule of the king, put an end to the madness of religious wars and the self-destruction of Europe. The world of humans found its way back to order – and to much more than that: people wanted “sun”, they wanted new splendour, new beauty, a new sound and a new life. In fact, the culture of the Baroque era emerged in Europe in the 17th and 18th century. It was the result of a different world-view and a different concept of man and led to new colours and forms, but also to movements and processes that deviated widely from the way of life of earlier times, when the Christian faith had been the solid, unchallenged basis of society.
As a matter of fact, the whole of Europe became the place where the new era was built. Starting at the court of Louis XIV, a new style emerged in building, research and design. Most importantly, man was freed from old hierarchies and was lifted up to become an individual.
A „musica nova“ was born as a result of the impulses and inspiration provided by Italy. It entered the public sphere, found resonance and an audience that took pleasure in the new ways of exploring and presenting the inner world of man, a world of sensibility and passion on the one hand and rational thinking on the other. The opera became the centre of a musical culture that spread all over Europe – an artistic creation uniting diverse aesthetic elements on the basis of recently acquired techniques, a combination of contrasting parts that had emerged from a new, modern concept of order.
It was the Age of Enlightenment that created a „kingdom of the arts“. But at the same time it unintentionally paved the way for rational thinking and subversive developments. Absolutism, which was first seen as a cure against the threat of Europe’s disintegration, carried a poison inside which put an end to the Baroque way of life.
The great English writer John Milton thought in the middle of the 17th century that all things were of God in heaven and on earth, that everything existed and happened through him. But, according to him, this general right of God did not do away with the right of the people and therefore kings should accept that they had their origin in the people and should be grateful to them for their power.
This world-view that links God, the king and the people spawned a great culture and an infinite number of wonderful pieces of music, music that was born of faith like the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, which transfer us into a world that still moves us because they express a concept of cosmic order we can only long for these days. But these feelings also gave birth to masterpieces like Beethoven’s Eroica-symphony or works by composers like Schumann, Mendelssohn, Bruckner and Wagner. As the sound and character of these works unfolded, their contemporaries realized that the unity between God, the king and the people is something we have to strive for, to fight for if we are to fulfill our wish for harmony between peoples and societies.
During the three centuries between 1600 and 1900, Europe brought a unique sound into the world. The melodious lyricism and harmony of this music is pervaded by a humane spirit that still inspires us in our struggle for a belief in reconciliation and harmony.
The entire programme of this year’s Herrenchiemsee Festival expresses a spirit and energy that is directed towards a new life, it speaks of the desire of an age that was, after all, also marked by painful discord. Never were these wounds ignored in the music and in the arts or forgotten quickly. The opposite is true! There is an urgency in a great number of works, no matter whether they were composed by Vivaldi, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Haydn or Mozart or by Bruckner, who dedicated his 7th symphony to the Bavarian King Ludwig II, his 8th symphony to the Hapsburg Emperor Franz Joseph and his last symphony finally to the “beloved God”. This “urgency” testifies to a strong will that also finds expression in the musical rebellion of the composers of the French Revolution Gossec und Méhul or later in the works of Schumann.
We’d like to draw special attention to the programme of one particular concert. It is dedicated to the Queen of Sweden, Christina (1626-1689), the daughter of the Protestant king and military leader Gustav II Adolph. Christina became a monarch who was thirsty for knowledge and highly educated. During her reign, her country experienced a period of cultural boom. But this was not enough. She became a European, lived in Antwerp and Bruxelles and finally in Rome, where she converted to Catholicism and died in 1689. She was the patron of many composers from all over Europe. She lived and set the standards for something the music of her age and the following era spoke of and expressed again and again: of the freedom of man, of rights and equality, and of peace of mankind, societies and peoples.