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Anne-Marie Wurster

Project: Church Music as a Means of Heroizing Empress Maria Theresa within the Context of Opposing Baroque and Aufklärung Concepts

Under Charles VI the Vienna Hofmusikkapelle rose to become the best and most influential Hofkapelle (court orchestra) in Europe playing a defining role in the glorification of the Emperor and thereby becoming a symbol of the Imperial music culture. Ecclesiastical and secular ceremony coalesced to this end so much that they were in part hardly distinguishable from one another. Ecclesiastical and court culture permeated one another the same as the Emperor unified godly and worldly power in one.

Maria Theresa appeared before her people mainly on religious occasions, for instance, when publicly attending mass. Her regency (1740-1780) came during the era in which the Emperor’s divine right to rule was beginning to lose its brilliance and the concept of a modern state founded on a social contract was germinating. Maria Theresa was very aware of this change; her faith, piety and lifestyle were to a great extent, however, still caught up in the Baroque period. Only with difficulty did she become open to the ideas of the Aufklärung. The religious ceremonies held by the Imperial court – whether Sunday church services, extravagant processions or feasts – had a profound impact on the people’s everyday life and consciousness and thereby also communicated a view of the world as well as a claim to power that served to legitimate the ruling personality. Within the context of such events music was an important component of this presentation because of its immediate effects and concrete sensory ‘experiencableness.’ In church music longer than in any other courtly domain Maria Theresa permitted the Baroque display of splendor. Church music accompanied prayer processions and pilgrimages of the Imperial family and victory celebrations in times of war. Such events strengthened – thanks in part to the effectively employed church music – the people’s patriotism and solidarity as well as their loyalty to Maria Theresa as ruler.

How, then, is the heroic communicated in the music? What ruler and hero image is communicated through the church music? What attributes are ascribed to Maria Theresa? What (additional) symbols are employed? How is the music received in society and what consequences follow from that? Is society stabilized through the heroized Empress? Do the societal-philosophical changes force a change of heroization strategy in church music?

A study of church music makes it possible to better understand everyday life as well as feast days, peace and war time, private and public life. The project intends to show how church music was employed under the rule of Maria Theresa for the creation and propagation of the absolutist ruler image and what was in turn also the heroization of the Empress. In light of the conflict between the Baroque display of splendor and the ideas of the Aufklärung, essential information on the musical repertoire, order and locational circumstances in church services will be worked out and conceptualized. In addition to sheet music, the main primary source for the study, material sources such as buildings or instruments will serve as a basis considering that they also communicated the glorification of Maria Theresa optically.