The Voice | Operatic Styles | Early Romantic | Classical
Through a long history of tradition, the language of opera is Italian. The early history of the art-form is rooted in the language – Mozart’s greatest operas are set to Italian librettos – and the wealth of Italian opera composers in the early nineteenth century (Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Cherubini, Spontini, Mercadante) is testimony to the richness of the tradition. But gradually composers of other nationalities, most notably German, began to forge their own national operatic voice. Mozart had written an opera to a German libretto (Die Zauberflöte, much imitated in the 1790s), but had not really created a German operatic style. Spohr, Weber, Nicolai and Marschner cultivated a dramatic vein that drew more heavily on German themes, on folklore and rustic scenes; their operas have a Germanic quality quite distinct from Italian opera, culminating with the music dramas of Wagner.
The setting of different languages also influenced musical styles, as melodies were fitted to certain speech patterns (this is especially true of Slavonic languages), and as the wave of nationalism spread through eastern Europe later in the nineteenth century, so musical styles were diversified and enrichened.
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