Home > 2011-2012 Season > ‘He rested his sceptre on lyre and sword’: The Emperor Composer Ferdinand III

‘He rested his sceptre on lyre and sword’: The Emperor Composer Ferdinand III

As he entered his eighth decade, Monteverdi set about assembling his eighth and largest collection of secular works, published in 1638 as Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi… and dedicated to the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III. As explained in the dedication, the collection was originally to have been dedicated to (and its publication funded by) his father, Ferdinand II, but as the elder Ferdinand passed away in 1636, the dedication passed to his heir.

I present to the feet of Your Majesty, as the protecting power of virtue, these my musical compositions. Fernando, Your Majesty’s great father, deigning, through his innate goodness, to accept and honour them in manuscript, granted me an as it were authoritative passport to entrust them to the press. And lo I eagerly publish them, consecrating them to the most revered name of Your Majesty, heir no less of kingdoms and the empire than of his valour and kindness.

Along with the change in dedication, Monteverdi modified some of the texts with references to the younger monarch, whose dual occupation in the military and musical composition made him an apt dedicatee for a volume of madrigals of war and love.

Ferdinand was born in Graz, Austria, the son of Emperor Ferdinand II in 1608, coincidentally the year of the first performance of Il Ballo delle Ingrate, which Monteverdi re-tooled for the Eighth Book of Madrigals and was most likely performed as part of the new emperor’s coronation festivities in 1637.  Ferdinand became King of Hungary in 1625, King of Bohemia in 1627 and Archduke of Austria in 1631, the year of his marriage to his first cousin Maria Anna, Infanta of Spain, the youngest daughter of Phillip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria.

After the death of Albrecht Wallenstein in 1634, Ferdinand was entrusted with supreme command of the Habsburg army and in the same year, together with his Spanish cousin, also a Ferdinand, he was credited with capture of Donauwörth and Regensburg, and the defeat the Swedes and their Protestant allies at the Battle of Nördlingen. As head of the peace party at court, he helped negotiate the Peace of Prague, with some of the Protestant states including Saxony in 1635. However, the horrific conflict now known as the Thirty Years War drug on for another decade – the lines of conflict no longer perceptible and the populace suffering terribly from the unrestrained violence and pillaging of the mercenary armies. Ferdinand played a crucial role in the diplomatic negotiations that eventually led to a cessation of hostilities with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Ferdinand was an active patron of the arts and the first of several Habsburg emperors to compose music. In the abstract to his forthcoming book, Sacred Music as Public Image for Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Andrew Weaver observes that Ferdinand’s accomplishments came not through diplomacy or strong leadership but primarily through a skillful manipulation of the arts, through which he communicated important messages to his subjects and secured their allegiance to the Catholic Church.

“Ferdinand III offers a fascinating case study in monarchical representation, for the war necessitated that he revise the image he had cultivated at the beginning of his reign, that of a powerful, victorious warrior. Weaver argues that by focusing on the patronage of sacred music (rather than the more traditional visual and theatrical means of representation), Ferdinand III was able to uphold his reputation as a pious Catholic reformer and subtly revise his triumphant martial image without sacrificing his power, while also achieving his Counter-Reformation goal of unifying his hereditary lands under the Catholic church.”

In addition to sponsoring the composition and publication of numerous works of music, Ferdinand played an active part in the preparation of the great court festivities, especially stage works of various kinds, which were produced with the utmost magnificence in Vienna and elsewhere in his Habsburg domains. During the last years of his life Ferdinand founded a literary academy on the Italian model in Vienna.

Ferdinand III studied music with Giovanni Valentini, court composer to the Hapsburgs and Kapellmeister at the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. He also was a friend of Johann Jakob Froberger, who was also active at the Hapsburg court. Ferdinand’s allegorical Drama musicum was praised by Athanasius Kircher, who declared in his Musurgia universalis of 1650 that Ferdinand had ‘no equal among sovereigns’. Some secular pieces, including settings of Italian texts, and a number of sacred works of Ferdinand’s survive including two masses, four motets, ten hymns, litanies, a Stabat mater and a Miserere.

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