An emperor as composer

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Leopold I adored opera, commissioned a new theatre, encouraged music at the Viennese court – and also composed himself.

Leopold I loved magnificent festivities and opera productions – his first thought concerning his Imperial residence was not the construction of an imposing palace but that a theatre should be built. In 1659 he decided to have a new ‘comedy playhouse’ built. Lodovico Burnacini designed and took a year to build a suitably grand theatre equipped with the latest stage machinery and elaborate sets, adapting an old ballroom at the Hofburg for the purpose. The rapid pace of the construction work was guaranteed by the Emperor’s keen interest and the ample funds that this interest guaranteed. Nonetheless, the theatre needed renovating only a few years later.

Leopold I placed music at the centre of the cultural life of his times, spending the sum of 60,000 gulden yearly on his Court musicians. During his reign 400 new works were composed at the Viennese Court; the reign of his father, Ferdinand III, had seen only 16 new operas and oratorios. The operas performed were almost exclusively Italian; the Court showed far less interest in German-speaking theatre. For a long time it had been mainly Italian comedians and poets who were summoned to court to write libretti and plays.

Like his father, the Emperor was not only a lover of music but also composed himself. His compositions included more than 150 arias on Italian texts, a number of German-language oratorios and musical comedies as well as many religious works such as requiems which were performed at the funerals of his first and third wives and at his own obsequies.

Julia Teresa Friehs