From its establishment in the 17th century, the Prix de Rome made it possible for the French government to send the country’s finest artists to Italy, in order to copy there the sculptural and archi
From its establishment in the 17th century, the Prix de Rome made it possible for the French government to send the country’s finest artists to Italy, in order to copy there the sculptural and architectural monuments of antiquity and the pictorial works of more recent Italian masters, and subsequently to return home with renewed savoir faire. The competition was originally limited to painters, sculptors, and architects. At the beginning of the 19th century, musicians were added to the mix, as the “Grand Prix de composition musicale” was established in 1803. Like their fellow artists, composers had to follow a strict set of rules and procedures. Among other things, during their sojourn in Italy they were required to complete a certain number of obligatory works, which were then submitted for evaluation to the same panel that had judged the original competition: the members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France. The Académie then formally recorded assessments of the works completed in Rome by all prizewinners, some of whom, among them Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, and Lili Boulanger, later became famous.These collected assessments thus now constitute an important source for our understanding of the criteria upon which judgments of musical value were made, of the true meaning of “bien composer”, throughout the 19th century. The two principal criteria upon which the Académie traditionally acted were, first, the manner in which the student had imitated the models found in Italy (a criterion not readily applied in music), and, second, the manner in which the student had achieved artistic expression.In this paper I propose to analyze the evaluations made by the Académie of the works sent from Rome by the prizewinning composers evaluations that have never been studied in a systematic way in order to arrive at a synoptic view of what constituted “official taste” in the field of music in the 19th century, and to compare these evaluations to those pronounced by the judges upon the works sent from Rome by the painters, sculptors, and architects.
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