Research Stream


Samantha Owens (Full term)
Victoria University of Wellington

The Use of Instrumentation to Represent Emotions in the Theatrical Music of the German Baroque (1600–1750)

This project explores the ways in which instrumentation was used to represent emotions in theatrical music of the German Baroque. To this end, it identifies and analyses extant primary source material documenting performances of ballet, opera, and hybrid forms of musical-theatrical entertainment staged across Europe.

The Use of Instrumentation to Represent Emotions in the Theatrical Music of the German Baroque (1600–1750)

Image: Georg Balthasar Probst (1673–1748), L’Ouie (Dayton C. Miller Iconography Collection, Library of Congress Music Division)

During this period the expression of emotions was a central component of European musical composition and performance, with the ultimate aim being to move the ‘passions’ of the listeners. The timbres of certain baroque instruments were often perceived as representative of specific emotions, thus offering composers and performers a rich ‘toolbox’ of expressive possibilities. At the same time, the concept of the orchestra – as an institution with relatively set personnel and instrumentation – was beginning to crystallize, making this a particularly valuable sphere for investigation.

Contributing to the Centre’s aim of investigating how the understandings, expression and performance of individual and mass emotions change over time, this project aims to identify and analyse a range of relevant material gathered from European libraries and archives. These primary sources document the ballets, operas, and hybrid forms of entertainment performed in the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as by German composers working further afield (such as Johann Christoph Pepusch and Johann Sigismund Kusser, in England and Ireland, respectively).
Among the broader questions to be addressed in the project are: the extent to which specific emotions can be identified as having been associated with particular instruments; the origins of these associations, and the degree to which these changed over the course of the Baroque period; and an exploration of the pan-European aspects of this topic, in light of the strong influence of the French and Italian musical styles on German ‘art’ music and the increasing mobility of professional musicians within Europe at this time.

Owens, S. ‘Early Modern Perspectives on  “Moving the Affections”’. In Grief and Joy: Emotions in the Music of the 18th Century, edited by R. Prince, pp. 23–25. Crawley, WA: UWA, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, 2012).

Owens, S. 'Text, Rhythm, Gesture: Emotional Meaning and Communication in Sacred and Theatrical European Music, 1600–1750: German Music', ARC Centre for Excellence for the History of Emotions Collaboratory, Musicological Society of Australia/International Conference on Music and Emotion, UWA, December 2012

Owens, S. ‘“Mount Parnassus, in which a Lovely Music is Hidden”: The Use of Instrumentation to Move the Passions in Early Modern European Theatrical Music’, Reason & the Passions seminar series, Centre for the History of European Discourses and the ARC Centre for Excellence for the History of the Emotions, UQ, September 2011

Live Performance of Creative Works:
Johann Christoph Pepusch/Colley Cibber, Venus & Adonis: A Masque (London, 1715), a small-scale opera with baroque instrumentalists, UQ Art Museum, 23 and 26 November 2013. Lotte Betts-Dean (Venus), Vivien Hamilton (Adonis), Stephen Grant (Mars), Donald Nicolson (musical director/harpsichordist), Jane Davidson (producer), the Badinerie Players with guest artists (Georg Corall, Simon Rickard, Samantha Owens, Dolly MacKinnon, Gillian Rankine, Daniel Curro, and Louise Cottone), UQ School of MusicVocal Students