Philidor, sensibilité and Fielding's Tom Jones

Leigh Scott Room, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne

Presentation and recital by Dr Erin Helyard, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

In the eighteenth century, people were enculturated from the outset to have extreme emotional responses to music. A word was coined to describe this 'deliberate cultivation of physical and emotional hyper-receptivity to tender, intimate, tearful sensation', as Elisabeth Le Guin describes it. In English they called it 'sensibility', in German 'Empfindsamkeit', and in French 'sensibilité'. As exemplified in the novels of Samuel Richardson and Tom Fielding, sensibility had tugged at the heart strings of the English middle classes for more than a generation; in the 1750s it found wider European reception through translations of English novels. The refinement of a susceptibility to delicate passional arousal spread to the opera boxes. This talk discusses Philidor's setting of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones. Initially a failure, a 1766 revision resulted in a triumph that became one of the most popular and influential opéras comiques of the late 18th century. This presentation includes a short recital of excerpts from the opera together with a talk that incorporates images and music from the period.

A public program associated with the Baillieu Library display Beyond Versailles: F.D. Philidor, French composer and chess master on to 30 July 2017.

Free event, further information and bookings.

Image: Title page detail from the first translation into French (1750) of Tom Jones by P. de la Place, Rare Books, University of Melbourne