Stage & Scene | Doctrine of the Affections | Classical Era | Opera
The ‘doctrine of the affections’ was the main theory for the design of opera in the eighteenth century. Its name was not coined until the twentieth century, but the ideas behind it were discussed in the writings of theorists such as Johann Mattheson (1681–1764). These ideas were put into practice on stage by the famous librettists Zeno and, in the following generation, Metastasio. The doctrine defined specific ‘affections’ or emotions, such as love, hate, sorrow, despair or hope. Each of these ‘affections’ was given exclusive rights to its own musical feature – a movement, aria or choral passage, for example. The arrangement may strike modern listeners as artificial and repetitive. However, the set pattern made it easy to identify which feelings were going to be explored and prepared audiences for what they were about to hear. The ‘doctrine of the affections’ also enabled arias to be easily moved from one work to the next where the actual music would change, but the mood and the emotion would remain the same.
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