Erik Wallrup

The Affective Shift of Music in the Gustavian Era

The flourishing of opera in Sweden during the reign of Gustav III (1771–92) lead to the composition and performance of a series of works, but it was also part of an affective shift. This shift was manifested in manifold ways. Just like in Paris, the audience wept when operas were performed, a behaviour which would have been impossible 20 years earlier. Influences came from the sentimental literature in England, France and Germany. But the changes were physical, too, such as the creation of parks in the new English garden style and a new organization of the interior of the opera houses. The project elucidates this affective shift from the perspective of music, but with music related to the social codes, emotional conduct, aesthetic changes and ideological currents. The reason Gustav III favoured opera was that he thought that it could be a vehicle for a new patriotism – even an early instance of nationalism. At the same time, the Gluckian model for the opera was of course imported. Through this approach, the Gustavian musical era – one of the central periods in Swedish musical historiography – can be understood in a new way. Taking opera, songs and instrumental music into account, having a perspective where musical practices are related to other social practices, including different arts, the project aims at representing and retrieving a world of the past. Due to the affective shift, a new world emerged.
Final report
The project has uncovered musical, aesthetic, social and ideological dimensions of the historical world of the Gustavian era – Gustav III’s reign (1771–92) in particular – in its relation to that which in the application was suggested to be an affective shift during these years. Even if music and especially opera has been focused upon, the scope of the investigation has also included fields such as gardening, musical institutions, poetry, correspondence, drama and architecture. A main question has been to see if this established shift could be understood in terms of an affective parallel to Michel Foucault’s concept of episteme, namely a shift in what is termed ‘patheme’.

Already in the project plan, there were indications that the chosen period actually included two affective changes. Following the historian of emotions William M. Reddy’s outline of an era of sentimentalism in France 1660–1789, the much shorter period of sentimental culture in Sweden – the 1770s and 1780s – was followed by a reaction during the years around 1790. The political development, which in France took the form of a revolution, led in Sweden to Gustav III’s venture to balance the volatile situation. Aesthetically, the sentimentalism was followed by a tendency to grand style, which found its ultimate expressions in works such as Joseph Martin Kraus’s and Johan Henric Kellgren’s opera ‘Æneas i Carthago’ (to plans made by the king himself) as well as the sketches to the projected palace in the Haga park of Stockholm (again according to plans by the king), with its colossal format and neoclassical style, placed in the English landscape garden.

The three main results of the project are (i) the formulation and application of the concept of patheme in the context of Gustavian culture, (ii) the introduction of grand style as category into the understanding of the aesthetic development during the last years of Gustav III’s reign, and (iii) the account of the king’s nation-building in terms of an attempt to form an attuned community.

To (i): Patheme is defined as the ‘disposing-configuring grounding of affectivity’, where affectivity is a world-disclosing element which is put in play with other historical layers such as power relations, social conditions, economic structures and modes of scientific thought (eg. epistemes). The concept facilitates and enriches the understanding of both the change between different affective theories through history and the varied affectivities that come to expression in works of art, but also ways of life. When used in the context of Gustavian culture, it elucidates how different configurations of the elements of disposition lead to changing cultural worlds.

To (ii): Through the introduction of the notion of ‘grand style’, with its theoretical background in Friedrich Nietzsche’s aesthetics and Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of art, it is possible to understand the artistic, aesthetic and political dimensions of Swedish culture during the years after Gustav III’s great journey to Italy and France (1783–84) in a new way. Gustavian opera – which is a contrast to the French opéra-comique and German Singspiel, both related to the emerging bourgeois culture – became a vehicle for the king’s striving to shape a nation beyond conflicts between the estates and this in a distinctive form of opera that was aborted after the murder of the king.

To (iii): One of the very first decisions made by the young ruler Gustav III was to authorize the foundation of the Royal Academy of Music in 1771. The academy’s founding members combined backgrounds in the nobility, the bourgeoisie and musical life, thereby transgressing social differences. A cultural transfer of the idea of a musical academy took place, a notion that included both musical education, an institution for musical taste, scientific strivings and an opera venue. As an educative and scientific academy, it had predecessors only in Italy, but since the king was inspired by the French Académie royal de musique, which was no less than the Opera in Paris, he also prepared for what was to be the Royal Swedish Opera. This theatrical scene was to become the vehicle for his nation-building: opera as a way of creating an attuned people.

During the project, preliminary results have been presented and discussed at the following international conferences: the 5th Annual Conference of The European Philosophical Society for the Study of Emotions (Tallinn, 2018), ‘Resounding Spaces: Music and Atmospheres’ (Rome, 2019) and the Ninth Biennial Society for Eighteenth-Century Music Conference (virtual, 2021). Presentations have been made at the higher seminars of the History of Ideas at Stockholm University (2018), of Musicology at Stockholm University (2019 and 2021) and of Aesthetics at Uppsala University (2021). Another presentation is planned at the higher seminar of Musicology at Lund University in September 2022.

The results have been published in journals, conference books, proceedings, and scholarly books:

The concept of patheme was introduced in an article on musical atmospheres during the Gustavian era (‘Turning an Occasion into an Event’), an outcome of the conference in Rome. Further, patheme as a concept was developed and distinguished from modes of affectivity in an article on attunement (‘Music’s Attunement’), written for a handbook of the phenomenology of music. Finally, it is the focus of an article that still awaits acceptance (‘On Patheme’). Musical atmospheres – where these atmospheres intersect with those of gardens as well as architecture – are investigated in a chapter in a book on that same theme, treating Ingmar Bergman’s film adaption of Mozart’s ‘The Magical Flute’ in which the Drottningholm Palace Theatre was reconstructed in a studio for the production. The concept of grand style is discussed in relation to Gustavian opera in an article written for a book on Heidegger’s relation to music. All these articles are published by prominent international publishing houses.

The specific cultural importance the Royal Swedish Academy of Music had during the Gustavian era is treated in an article written for the 250th anniversary book of the academy, published in the academy’s publication series and later translated for an international readership. The aspects of cultural transfer related to the academy were developed in a paper for the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music conference – for which I was a member of the organising committee – and further expanded in my contribution to the proceedings.

During the preparation of the project and its implementation, I have reviewed books related to the question on affectivity in music. Using the advantages of essayistic writings in aesthetics matters, I have also written a text on the element of Sturm und Drang, which Kraus introduced in Swedish music. Further, I discussed affective shifts at the symposium ‘Mötesplats Opera 2021’, a venue for the Swedish opera community arranged by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (October 2021). I have also been invited to Odeum at Lund University for a public lecture on musical worlds in September 2022.

The application of the concept of patheme is definitely not restricted to the field of research described here; instead, it is intended to be used in a much broader context, both historically and thematically. The same is true for attuned communities, a theme to which I plan to come back soon in my research.

Concerning the research field of Gustavian music, the development of the Swedish music culture after 1792 is of great interest, with the emerging bourgeoisie, music-making at home and the production of songs, showing new aspects of the pathematic changes described in the project.
Grant administrator
Södertörn University
Reference number
SEK 1,658,000.00
RJ Projects