Abstract

When, in 1874, Hans von Bülow denounced Verdi's Requiem as an “opera in ecclesiastical robes,” he perpetuated the view (previously common among German critics) that Italian music amounted to little more than Italian opera, a genre thought inferior to German music. However, this article shows that Bülow's polemic was motivated by personal resentment and far from typical of German-language responses. Partly because of Verdi's 1875 tour—during which he conducted the work in Vienna to sensational acclaim—the Requiem was widely disseminated, triggering a multifaceted discourse about genre and style, national traits, and the essence of “truly religious” music. I argue that this fervent discourse opens fresh vistas onto German musical culture and its socio-political implications after the unification of 1871. It chimed in with debates about Cecilian church-music reforms and challenged both long-cherished notions of German cultural superiority and recent attempts in Germany to bolster “cultural Protestantism.” Both foreign and popular, the Requiem thus provided a unique screen on which musical, regional, confessional, and national hostilities could be enacted. Ultimately, critics in the new German Empire grappled not only with Verdi's appearance in a new (stylistic, generic) dress but—amidst Bismarck's Kulturkampf—with the foundation of their own cultural identity in the “lesser German” nation-state.

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