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Collisions of Sublimities

Gellert - webDr Keith Chapin recently spoke at Sublime et musique religieuse de Lalande à Haydn, an international conference in Poitiers, France.

Dr Chapin’s paper was entitled ‘Collisions of Sublimities: The Case of Gellert’s Geistliche Oden und Lieder (1757)’.

Dr Chapin also presented a longer version of the paper at the University of Birmingham (13 November 2012) and will be presenting again at departmental colloquia at Kings College London (5 December 2012) and the University of Bristol (29 January 2013).


‘Collisions of Sublimities: The Case of Gellert’s Geistliche Oden und Lieder (1757)’

In tune with contemporaneous aesthetics of the Lied, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert characterized the poems ‘for the heart’ from the Geistliche Oden und Lieder (1757) as ideally completed by music. Musicians, most famously C. P. E. Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven, agreed with Gellert’s assessment and set his poems time and time again over the latter half of the eighteenth century, often setting the didactic poems in the collection to boot. Yet despite this apparent harmony between poetic intention and musical reception, the poems contained inherent tensions in them with serious consequences for musical setting. These tensions are in part due to fundamental ambiguities in the category of sublimity. This paper first surveys those strands of the discourse tradition of sublimity germane to Gellert— the rhetorical, the Longinian, the natural-theocratic, the Biblical, the neo-classical, and the empiricist—and then uses Gellert’s Geistliche Oden und Lieder and their musical reception as a case study of the confluence and collision of these strands