Le Novateur: Echo des arts

(Antwerp, 1838-1839)

Prepared by Erica Ten Hove
Online only (2008)

Le Novateur: Echo des Arts [NOV] was issued weekly, on Sundays, from 2 September 1838 until 31 March 1839 in Antwerp. It was Belgium’s first music journal and a critical publication aimed at an educated and elite readership1. Le Novateur’s twenty-nine consecutively numbered issues, measuring 24 x 32 cm, each contain four pages divided into three columns. The first issue of the journal was printed by Imprimerie Dewever, frères, and the remaining issues by De l’Imprimerie du Novateur. The font size employed is small. There is no mention of an editor. The journal focuses primarily on Antwerp, and, to a lesser degree, Brussels.

The goal of Le Novateur is formulated in the first issue as “Un journal consacré au théâtre, à la littérature, à la peinture et à la musique” [A journal dedicated to theatre, literature, painting and music]:

To review dramatic performances; to keep the readers informed of what happens outside Antwerp by means of numerous correspondents; to make known new works and the critical commentary of the most enlightened men; to inform the public of new publications of literature by bringing to light their merit; to evaluate new paintings coming from the brushes of our young masters; in one word to occupy ourselves uniquely with all that is related to the Sciences and the Arts, this is the goal of the founders of Le Novateur. … The future will show and judge our capacity and our efforts to gain the esteem of the public.2

During the first half of the 19th century Belgium belonged first to France and later to The Netherlands. With the French occupation Antwerp was introduced to the French “culture of festivities.” Among its participants were many Belgian and French members of the upper class. Antwerp’s cultural activities were centered on the city’s main theater—first called Grand Théâtre and later Théâtre royale— which became the meeting place of the city’s aristocracy, who attended musical events there.3 At times the king and his family attended performances.4 This theatre was demolished and rebuilt in 1834 and named Théâtre royal d’Anvers; it too, quickly became the venue for most of Antwerp’s cultural activities, and a symbol of the city’s economic and cultural revival.5

The historical importance of Antwerp, Belgium’s second cultural capital after Brussels, relates to the dynamism of its harbour, its military fortress, its French culture and the building of its new theatre. Considered “une ville placée au premier rang” [a city of the first rank], Antwerp’s aristocracy spoke only French during this period, which explains the publication in French of a Flemish journal about music.

In general Le Novateur contains reviews and analyses of operas, concerts, and performers, as well as the latest news of instrumentalists and singers in Antwerp, Brussels and other part of Europe (with emphasis on France). Its reviews are a particularly rich source of information and constitute a detailed chronicle of Antwerp’s musical life in 1838 and 1839.

NOV’s reports and reviews of French and Italian operas that make up the repertories of Belgian and French opera houses in the late 1830s investigate the presentation of a great variety of historical, serious and comic operas: Auber’s Gustave III, Hérold’s Zampa, Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, Halévy’s La Juive, Rossini’s Guillaume Tell and Donizetti’s Anne de Boulen. Seven operas are treated to thorough dramatic and musical analysis: Adam’s Le Brasseur de Preston and Régine, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, Carafa’s Thérèse, Clapison’s La Figurante, de Planard’s La Mantille, Despréaux’s La Dame d’honneur, and Lady Melvile ou Le Joaillier de Saint James by Albert Grisar, a native of Antwerp. The reviews of operatic performances deal with the attainments of important French and international singers of the period including the sopranos Julie Dorus, Mme Jawureck and Rosine Stolz, and the tenors Damoureux and Gilbert Duprez. Contemporary Italian operas by Donizetti and Bellini performed at the Théâtre Italien in Paris are reviewed regularly featuring sopranos Fanny Persiani, Ernesta Grisi and Emma Albertazzi, the tenors Nicola Ivanoff and Giovanni Battista Rubini, the baritone Antonio Tamburini and the bass Luigi Lablache. There are also reports on performances by the noted Belgian violinists Charles de Bériot and Henri Vieuxtemps and the pianist Mme Miro.

Le Novateur contains a number of recurring columns. Almost every week the journal opens with “Causeries dramatiques” [Drama conversations], a series in which the authors review performances at the Théâtre royal d’Anvers, offering detailed information about the voices of the singers, the choirs and the mise en scène. Among the issues discussed in this section are problems associated with the theatre’s monotonous repertoire6, the choice of a new direction for the theatre7, the subscribers, and the engagement of artists.8

In “Théâtres de la Belgique” performances of operas in the rest of Belgium, and particularly Brussels and Liège, are reviewed. There is also mention of performances in, for example, Leuven, Halle and Charleroi.

“Théâtres étrangers” [Foreign theaters] treats performances abroad, but mainly those in France. This rubric is divided into two, or at times, three parts. The first part focuses on theaters in Paris (Opéra Comique, Théâtre de la Renaissance, Théâtre Français and Théâtre Italien). The second part deals with performances in the rest of France (e.g., Bordeaux, Nantes, Toulon, Lille, Le Havre, Dijon and Marseille). The third part reviews performances and spoken drama in theaters abroad, namely, in Holland (The Hague), Germany, Italy and Poland.

In the rubric “Analyses” [Analysis] a single opera (or part thereof) is discussed; this includes a short summary of the opera’s content, information about its librettist and composer, the music and the staging, and at times, the principal singers. The series “Variétés” [Varieties] contains short stories and short biographical sketches of singers and composers, such as Auber, Mozart, Grisar, and Hérold.

The “Anecdotes” rubric contains information about a variety of topics and includes trivia and little-known facts; for example, the transformation of Goethe’s home into a museum, Mlle Rachel’s first contact with the theatre, the search for tenors and the refusal of Mme Francesca Cuzzoni to sing.9

The series “Causeries Musicales” [Musical conversations] contains the announcement of newly-published scores and, on occasion, analyses of opera. This rubric does not appear weekly particularly when reviews of operas appear in the “Analyses.” Book reviews appear in “Causeries Litteraires” [Literary conversations]. This rubric as well does not appear weekly. “Écho,” a weekly appearing rubric, offers the latest news (or gossip) about singers, composers and instrumentalists. The “Théâtre royal d’Anvers” column announces the operas to be performed the following week.

The journal’s final rubric is the “Annonces” [Announcements] or “Publicité” [Advertisements]. It first appears in issue no. 11 (11 November 1838). The advertisements deal with new publications or a new journal. Games—such as “Charade” [Riddle] “Logogriphe” [Logogriph] or “Enigme” [Enigma] —begin to appear in the same issue. In addition to these sections, there are notices discussing, for example, the illnesses of, and problems of replacing singers10; the death of Adolphe Nourrit (the Théâtre royal d’Anvers’ first tenor from 1836 until 1838) which received much attention, as did the replacing of Mme Damoreau.11

Much attention is also given, under separate rubrics which do not appear weekly, to Belgian artists such as Henri Vieuxtemps and Adrien and the singers Damoreau, and Paulin, and dancers from abroad such as Fanny Elssler and Anastasie Gauthier.

The information in Le Novateur came from the journal’s correspondents and other publications, including the Correspondant des théâtres, Journal du commerce, and Sentinelle des théâtres. Music societies such as the Société d’Orphee and Société de Guillaume Tell supplied information to Le Novateur about their activities.

In the copy of the journal examined, which is located in the library of the University College of Antwerp, Royal Flemish Conservatoire, all the original issues are bound in a single volume. Unfortunately, some of the text near the margins is obscured by the binding.12 Few of the journal’s articles are signed and when they are it is with pseudonyms or initials. Only the initials H., H. de B. have been identified as those of Henri de Brès.

1Le Novateur was probably followed by Le Philotechnique, also published in Antwerp on Sunday, from 18 August 1839 until 29 December 1839, and founded to deal with music, literature and art.
2NOV 1 (2 September 1838): 1. “Rendre compte des représentations théâtral ; tenir les lecteurs au courant au moyen de nombreuses correspondances, de ce qui se passe hors de chez nous ; faire connaître les ouvrages nouveaux et les critiques des hommes les plus éclairés ; informer le public des publications littéraires nouvelles en appréciant leur mérite ; rendre compte des toiles nouvelles qui sortiront du pinceau de nos jeunes maîtres ; en un mot s’occuper uniquement de tout ce qui a rapport aux Sciences et aux Arts, tel est le but des fondateurs du Novateur.”
3 M. Manderyck, et al, De Bourlaschouwburg (Tielt: Uitgeverij Lannoo 1993): 39.
4Ibid., 39.
5Ibid., 43.
6NOV 10 (4 November 1838): 1-2; NOV 14 (2 December 1838): 1.
7NOV 15 (9 December 1838): 1; NOV 20 (13 January 1839): 1; NOV 21 (20 January 1839): 1; NOV 28 (10 March 1839): 1.
8 NOV 2 (9 September 1838): 1; NOV 24 (10 February 1839): 1; NOV 25 (17 February 1839): 1.
9 NOV 7 (14 October 1838): 4; NOV 8 (28 October 1838): 4; NOV 13 (25 November 1838): 3-4; NOV 18 (30 December 1838): 3-4.
10NOV 6 (7 October 1838): 1-2.
11NOV 29 (31 March 1839): 1, 4. Arthur De Gers, Historique du Théâtre royal d’Anvers, L’histoire complet du Théâtre royal d’Anvers (Antwerpen: De Vos-Van Kleef, 1914: 2.
12NOV 14 (2 December 1838): 1. NOV 16 (16 December 1838): 1-4.