" Zeitgeist " has become a hip buzzword, as in the phrase "the eclectic synergy of the Zeitgeist ." (Yes, there are people who really talk that way.) But the strict definition of Zeitgeist , literally, "the spirit of the times," is an important concept when it comes to the arts: Music, dance, theater--none exists in a vacuum but is a part of daily life.
Next month, the J. Paul Getty Museum will present "Music and the French Revolution" in an effort to place music of the era in its political and historic context, showing the effect of political upheaval in the arts.
Although the concerts don't begin until July, tickets go on sale to the public June 15 and are certain to be quickly sold out.
The program will feature more than music strictly from 1789, the year of the French Revolution, said Robert Winter, the UCLA music professor who helps organize the series and gives brief lectures before each concert.
Winter said he was reluctant to become involved with the series when first approached about it four years ago because he didn't want to put together "just another chamber music series." But, he said, he has been able to use the series to do something that was historic and unusual as well, such as recreating a famous piano battle between virtuosos Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg.
"The whole reason I do this is that it's an opportunity to do good music that's off the beaten path," Winter said.
And there's more to the programs than simply performing 18th-Century music on period instruments. "We're not using period instruments because it's trendy, but because these musicians are good," he said.
The music isn't performed as an exhibit in a "wax museum," but as something that was part of daily life, that didn't exist in a vacuum. "What I've tried to do is create the French Revolution in music," Winter said. "I try to put the music into the social and political context."
The July 1 program, "Mozart in Paris," features members of the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra in the "Concerto for Flute and Harp," which Mozart wrote while living in Paris in the years before the Revolution.
For the July 15 concert, given the day after Bastille Day, Winter chose a program that demonstrates the political and social upheaval reflected in overnight changes in musical style. The first half features music by composers of the French court, while the second half consists of nationalistic themes like variations on "The Marseillaise." Winter noted that some court composers quickly changed their style of writing to "save their heads."
Social change also is reflected in the July 29 performance, "Revolutionary Band Music," featuring members of the UCLA Wind Ensemble in music from the festivals that the new republic sponsored for ordinary people, as opposed to pre-Revolutionary performances often restricted to the elite.
Perhaps the most unusual selection is the Aug. 12 performance by I Cantori of Luigi Cherubini's "Les Deux Journees." Winter described the work as a prototype for the French rescue opera and a strong influence on Beethoven's only opera, "Fidelio," which deals with political themes, imprisonment and last-minute rescues.
Although "Les Deux Journees," which premiered in 1800, was very successful in its day, it has vanished from the modern repertory, and the score and orchestra parts aren't readily available.
"No one's ever heard it, including us," Winter said. "We had to generate parts off the full score, including the vocal parts." Given the space limitations of the Getty's Inner Peristyle Garden, the opera won't be given a full staging. But Winter said it will be more than a concert version of the work.
The series will conclude Aug. 26 with a program on Beethoven and Napoleon. The story about Beethoven dedicating the Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica," to Napoleon, then tearing the dedication from the score is one of music's legends. The "Eroica" will be performed, but as a nonet (nine musicians) in an arrangement from the period.
It was common, in the days before recordings, for large works to be arranged for smaller ensembles (Schumann, in fact, learned of Berlioz's massive "Symphonie Fantastique" from a piano reduction). Several other reductions will be performed, including a piano quintet version of the overture to "Egmont" and a septet of the overture to "Fidelio."
Each program begins at 7 p.m. with Winter's commentary, followed by the performance at 7:45 p.m. at the J. Paul Getty Museum, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway. Tickets are being sold through Ticketmaster and are $12.50 per concert.
Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny's "One Never Thinks of Everything," or "On Ne S'Avise de Tout," was written in 1761, but still has some political undertones, furnishing--in a roundabout way--inspiration for a scene in Beaumarchais' "The Barber of Seville."
But in contrast to themes of political imprisonment, "On Ne S'Avise de Tout," being performed at CSUN on July 16, is a one-act comedy with music and spoken dialogue.
Still there are some similarities in performing the two operas. Linda Stones, who is producing the opera, had to generate the orchestral parts using an early, published full score because no modern edition exists. In addition, operas of this period used a countertenor, a natural male voice (unlike the castrati) in the alto range. As countertenors are scarce, Stones decided to use a tenor and transpose the higher notes down an octave.
The opera, directed by Steve Parkin and featuring William Trabold, Elizabeth Saunders, Gabriel Reoyo, Robin Parkin and Benito Galindo, will be performed at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall at CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff St. Tickets are $8.50, $6 for senior citizens and students.