Buffonist dispute

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The Buffonists' dispute (French: Querelle des Bouffons ), which took place in Paris between 1752 and 1754 , revolved ostensibly about the predominance of French or Italian opera . On another level, it was about the politically current emancipation of bourgeois opera genres (which, according to the class clause, belonged to comedies ) compared to court opera (as sung tragedy ). During the dispute, the philosopher and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau was able to make a name for himself with his anti-aristocratic stance; in the medium term, the dispute paved the way for Charles-Simon Favart's opera troupe, which is aimed at a bourgeois audience, and its genre, the Opéra comique .


Competition between French and Italian troops in Paris (see Parisian fair theater ) had decades of tradition and was fueled by license disputes between the free troops and the courtly theaters. The extremely successful performance of Pergolesi's intermezzo La serva padrona (1733) on August 1, 1752 by an Italian opera company under Eustachio Bambini rekindled this rivalry.

Rousseau, who had become famous in 1750 with his treatise Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts (Treatise on the Sciences and the Arts) for criticizing the achievements of civilization in it, now had the opportunity to demonstrate what he meant by the state of nature he praised understanding. So far he had tried unsuccessfully as a composer for a long time, but with the world premiere of his deliberately simple French singspiel Le devin du village in October 1752 he was able to interrupt the successful streak of the Italian troupe and in some eyes to restore national pride. But since he did not want to take sides with the Conservative, as it now appeared, he published the treatise Lettre sur la musique françoise in November 1753 , with which he denied any musical quality to the French language. Only the Italian language is appropriate for the music, since it sounds "gentle, sonorous, harmonious and well accentuated". Because the "celebrated hero" Rousseau supported the opponents, this writing was a great provocation.

In the course of the conflict, more than 60 writings, mostly by leading philosophers, were published. The main protagonists of the controversy were on the one hand the conservative Coin du Roi (King's Lodge) , which preferred French opera , and on the other hand the progressive Coin de la Reine (Queen's Lodge) , who defended Italian opera . The latter included u. a. the encyclopedists around Denis Diderot , Jean Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert , Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Friedrich Melchior Grimm .

Courtly and civil vs. serious and comical opera

In contrast to the discussion about the priority of French or Italian music beginning of the century (the Italian music, the French than simply regarded as taught, of course) Rousseau emphasizes the simplicity of the melody accented Italian music over the complexity of the through lush orchestration , intricate polyphony and harmony imprinted Movement of the French tragédie lyrique . The decisive factor for this reversal of the criteria was the fact that the reception of Italian music now referred less to the opera seria than to the "more natural" and "simpler" opera buffa , especially those works that were originally only an intermezzo in the pauses between the acts of the courtly operas were inserted and were not regarded as independent. The bourgeois (and in some cases also the courtly) public could identify better with their everyday actions than with the political subjects of the tragedies.

The composer Jean-Philippe Rameau , who was mainly attacked by Rousseau's writing , had adopted elements of the lighter Italian style in his operas even before the Buffonist dispute ( e.g. in Pigmalion 1748), but was attacked in his capacity as court composer.


The Buffonist dispute had profound consequences for the development of French opera : The courtly French writing style (such as the characteristic time changes in the recitative ) increasingly disappeared and adapted to the popular Italian styles, initially in the Opéra comique , which was created by the Italian after the Buffonist dispute Egidio Duni was coined, and then also in the tragédie lyrique , without changing its five-act structure. In the piccinnist dispute, a contrast between Italian and French music was once again evoked and this time a decision was made in favor of a French operatic style, for which Christoph Willibald Gluck was held responsible.


  • Denise Launay: La Querelle des Bouffons [source collection], 3 vol., Minkoff, Geneva 1973.
  • Andrea Fabiano: La "querelles des buffons" in la vie culturelle française du XVIIIe siècle . CNRS, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-271-06328-0 .
  • Eeva-Taina Forsius: The “goût français” in the representations of the Coin du Roi. Attempt to reconstruct a “lay aesthetic” during the Paris Buffonist quarrel 1752–1754. Attitudes, contradictions, references to prehistory and aesthetic tradition . Verlag Schneider, Tutzing 1985, ISBN 3-7952-0453-4 (Frankfurt contributions to musicology; 18).

Individual evidence

  1. Original text on rousseauonline.ch: https://www.rousseauonline.ch/pdf/rousseauonline-0061.pdf