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The Melodramatic Moment

Music and Theatrical Culture, 1790–1820

With a Foreword by James Chandler
We seem to see melodrama everywhere we look—from the soliloquies of devastation in a Dickens novel to the abject monstrosity of Frankenstein’s creation, and from Louise Brooks’s exaggerated acting in Pandora’s Box to the vicissitudes endlessly reshaping the life of a brooding Don Draper.

This anthology proposes to address the sometimes bewilderingly broad understandings of melodrama by insisting on the historical specificity of its genesis on the stage in late-eighteenth-century Europe.  Melodrama emerged during this time in the metropolitan centers of London, Paris, Vienna, and Berlin through stage adaptations of classical subjects and gothic novels, and they became famous for their use of passionate expression and spectacular scenery. Yet, as contributors to this volume emphasize, early melodramas also placed sound at center stage, through their distinctive—and often disconcerting—alternations between speech and music. This book draws out the melo of melodrama, showing the crucial dimensions of sound and music for a genre that permeates our dramatic, literary, and cinematic sensibilities today.

A richly interdisciplinary anthology, The Melodramatic Moment will open up new dialogues between musicology and literary and theater studies.

288 pages | 16 halftones, 8 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, Dramatic Works

Media Studies

Music: General Music


“A volume that offers such fresh perspectives on melodrama’s tangled forms, genealogies, and influences would be enough in itself. But this collection goes much further: reconnecting the literary study of melodrama with the musical, while also indicating how the ‘melodramatic moment’ is inescapably intertwined with wider developments in spoken and sung theater in the decades around 1800. The result is nothing less than a model for a new kind of interdisciplinary cultural history, of a kind to appeal to anyone interested in the music and drama of the time.”

Benjamin Walton, University of Cambridge

“This collection of essays makes a much needed contribution to our understanding of melodrama and should be on everyone’s go-to list for research, practice, and teaching. The editors offer us a tight distillation of the existing literature on melodrama in both theatre and music fields, bringing together the philosophical and radical roots of the form in ways that both disciplines will find energizing and informative.”

Gilli Bush-Bailey, University of London

"Under the assured direction of its editors,Katherine Hambridge and Jonathan Hicks,The Melodramatic Moment stages a critical reorientation towards historically situated performance, putting sound centre stage. [...] The litheness of the volume’s narrative arc reflects the scholars’ commitment to trans-national historiography and historically situated performance. By tightening the reins on the historical scope of their investigation,questions of transmission, circulation and cultural transfer come to the fore, reveling in a productive capaciousness, that at once undoes many of the entrenched binaries associated with the genre, while affirming melodrama’s‘fundamentally undisciplined’ nature."

Music and Letters

Table of Contents

Historical Newspapers and Journals Cited
James Chandler

The Melodramatic Moment
Katherine Hambridge and Jonathan Hicks

Chapter 2
Forms and Themes of Early Melodrama
Ellen Lockhart

Chapter 3
Continental Trouble: The Nationality of Melodrama and the National Stage in Early Nineteenth- Century Britain 
Diego Saglia

Chapter 4
Between the Sacred and the Profane: French Biblical Melodrama in Vienna c. 1800
Barbara Babić

Chapter 5
Scenography, Spéculomanie, and Spectacle: Pixerécourt’s La citerne (1809)
Sarah Hibberd

Chapter 6
Compositional Gestures: Music and Movement in Lenardo und Blandine (1779)
Thomas Betzwieser

Chapter 7
Music and Subterranean Space in La citerne (1809)
Jens Hesselager

Chapter 8
The First English Melodrama: Thomas Holcroft’s Translation of Pixerécourt
George Taylor

Chapter 9
Benevolent Machinery: Techniques of Sympathy in Early German Melodrama
Matthew Head

Chapter 10
Vienna, 18 October 1814: Urban Space and Public Memory in the Napoleonic “Occasional Melodrama”
Nicholas Mathew

Afterword: Looking Back at Rousseau’s Pygmalion
Jacqueline Waeber


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