People, Place, and Power in Eighteenth-Century Ghent

Sounds and Sights in Ghent

The role of the performance in the festival book text must also take into account the part that music played in the eighteenth-century in Europe during public celebrations, which occupied a central position in the celebration of the absolutist power (McVeigh 2012).
(McVeigh 2012). Simon McVeigh notes:

It is worth emphasizing the sheer centrality of musical performance in every kind of social interaction, whether court or civic ceremonial, liturgical celebration, social club or mere domestic amusement. Music figured very largely the social round of the elites of every European society [...] There was live music everywhere- horn accompanying the stagecoaches of the nobility, the hunt or the pos; military signals and parade ground bands [...]
McVeigh 2012, 20

In this historical context, we must view the musical and performative elements in the described in the festival book from Ghent as closely connected; the interplay of many performative elements of the three-day visit contributed overall experience of participant, which emerges clearly from a close examination of the festival book from Ghent. 

Moreover, the scholar adds a significant detail that can be found in the manuscript, which is the importance of the architectural spaces where those musical events took place. Acoustic and solemnity of the places were both factors that influenced the audience’s experience of particular performances. This point is confirmed, for instance, in the following section of the text:

Son Excellence entra dans l'Eglise au bruit de quantité de petites pieces d'artillerie, & aux fanfares des trompettes & des timbales [...]
Festival Book, 7-8

In the passage, the entrance into the church is associated with the sounds of trumpets and cymbals, but also the sound of artillery. As we mentioned above, this connection created a unique performative act that included the place, in this case the church, and the sounds that were performed. A similar pattern can be found earlier in the text during the procession toward Saint Peter Abbey. In this occasion visual aspects are introduced, including an exposition of the relics of Holy Cross, which are revealed at the sound of the great bell during the procession toward Saint Peter Abbey. The after mass celebration is also remarkable. The text indicates that the performance aims to reach a climax with the Te Deum and the ceremony of the sword:

Alors le Maitre de Ceremonies du Chapitre; deux Acoly thes portant des chandeliers, & un troisieme, qui tenoit le Missel, montèrent sur le Theatre pour servir l’Eveqüe de Gand, qui entonna TE DEUM. Il fut chanté en musique au son des cloches de l’Eglise, de celles du Beffroi , du Carillon, & au bruit d’une triple déchargé des Canons du Chateau & des remparts de la Ville.
Festival Book, 13

As we can see from the excerpt above, sacred music, military acoustics, and municipal sounds are fused together into a unique spectacle of power, which united the city, the monarchy, and the Divinity.

Another association that is frequently made in the text is that of sounds and fireworks. In this respect, we need to take into consideration a specific characteristic of the book: the size and the impressiveness of the illustrations that are extremely rich. A good example is represented by the images of fireworks. We can argue that the manuscript becomes performative because the reader turns to be an active participant. This trait of the festival books is well described by the scholar Karl F. Morrison:

Beyond their value as evidence about the history of the book, and of particular books, festival volumes provide a theatrical “you-are-there” immediacy that no other source of information can deliver [...] Only the commemorative volumes left in their wakes can give a sense of the enormity and intricacy of the festival as “a total work of art.” Thus, festival books contribute both to the history of theater and to that of art. The theatrical sense of immediacy comes chiefly not through texts, normally concise and uncluttered with details, but from illustrations.
Morrison 2007, 9

According to what stated above, we can argue that there are several instances that allow us to affirm that performance and music are intersected not only with the elements or places described throughout the entire text, but they also enter a space created by the interaction with the audience of the book.


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