On 13 May 1871 Auber died. His passing was blamed on the horrors of the Franco-Prussian War, Siege and Commune, and provided a powerful symbol of the end of an era. Indeed, the idea that the debacle of 1870-71 caused a rupture in French music, one embodied in Auber's death, continues to influence music histories; political events are thought to mark a clear turning point away from the operettas of the Second Empire to the more serious works associated with the Third Republic. This notion of a turning point has much to recommend it, but the accepted history may ultimately be better viewed as an example of an apocalyptic narrative; after the event, the infamous frivolity of Napoleon III's era was seen to have led, inexorably, to defeat in the War, and to steep cultural change. I argue that this narrative was retrospectively constructed by contemporary music critics dissatisfied with existing French musical culture. The siege, the Commune, and the "timely" death of Auber were used as a means of bolstering demands for change: if the nation were to recover, she would have to change her ways, musical and otherwise. This constructed narrative obscures the picture suggested by primary sources; that not only had changes begun before the war, but that light-hearted forms continued to flourish afterward. It is clearly a narrative in need of historical revision.

This content is only available via PDF.