Ossian, Le Sueur and Opera

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Presents a detailed literary-musical approach to understanding the choices made by poets (Dercy, and J. M. Deschamps) and a composer (J.-F. Le Sueur) when creating a Napoleonic opera ('Ossian, ou les Bardes') in 1804 out of the well-known poems by Macpherson, translated by Le Tourneur (1777). Sources were the 'Songs of Selma' and 'Calthon and Colmal'. In particular, the musical and sound-worlds of the third-century warrior-bard 'Ossian', and his Caledonian people, were researched by Le Sueur. He then imagined certain kinds of music perhaps inspired by Rousseau's writing on the music of early civilizations, and certainly by Macpherson's informative 'historical' notes--but not all this information was translated by Le Tourneur. Conjunct melodies symbolise the Caledonian bards. The opera also represents 'Scandinavian' music, using triadic shapes. But it also incorporates material totally inauthentic to Macpherson: the presence of religion and religious worship, on the part of both civilizations (Caledonian and Scandinavian: the latter try to impose Odin-worship on the former). These themes link with Napoleon's concordat with the Church of Rome in 1802.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Music
EditorsDavid Tunley
Place of PublicationNedlands
PublisherUniversity of Western Australia
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1977


  • Ossian, Macpherson, Rousseau, Le Sueur, opera, Paris, Napoleon, musical style

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