The History of the Arts: Changing Tempos

In our series in which historians look back on the changes that have taken place in their field in the 60 years since the founding of History Today, Daniel Snowman takes a personal view of new approaches to the study of the history of culture and the arts – and of music in particular.

When I was a child, shortly after the war, my father took me to my first opera. I was eight and the work was Verdi’s Rigoletto: a rip-roaring masterpiece about sex and murder, two topics I did not yet know much about. However, I was perfectly capable of recognising big, bold passions as they came pouring across the footlights: that night I laughed with the lascivious Duke, loved with the vulnerable Gilda and wept at the end with her bitter, bereaved father. Over the years that followed I went to more operas and began to go to concerts, discovered museums and art galleries, read Dickens and Dostoevsky and pretended I could enjoy the films of the French nouvelle vague without bothering to look at the subtitles. In Cambridge for a week of exams and interviews for a history Open Scholarship, I relaxed one evening by going to the cinema. What was on?  A recent film of Aida in which the main attraction (I just about admitted to myself) was the heaving bosom of Sophia Loren, who was miming the title role to the voice of Renata Tebaldi.   

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