European Colonialism and the Berlin Debate about the New World. Cornelius de Pauw, Frederick the Great and the Taste of Conquest

Author:Ottmar Ette Time:2019-07-09 Click:

After Cornelius de Pauw, one of the most eminent representatives of the European Enlightenment, had published the second volume of his Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains, which in many ways was even more provocative than the first, a violent debate arose in Berlin, spreading quickly to a number of European countries and especially overseas. There is good reason to identify the first phase of this dispute as the Berlin Debate about the New World, especially when considering that Brandenburg and Prussia had been active colonists and had attempted to secure their share in the European move towards expansion. Was it a coincidence that, in 1769, of all places, this debate entered the heated phase of international dispute about the New World in the Prussian capital, which—after all—was a tranquil and idyllic spot compared to Paris, Amsterdam or London? Certainly, as King of Prussia, Frederick II was the type of leader who made it clear that he was planning to write new music for the symphony of great political powers. From the beginning, the Prussian King was aware of the far-ranging political dimensions of his most-famous operatic project Montezuma. As he told Francesco Algarotti as early as October 1753, he was aiming to send a precise and memorable political message. Is it possible to understand the libretto from Frederick’s royal hands, the performance of “his” opera with Carl Heinrich Graun’s music, Giuseppe Galli Bibiena’s stage architecture, Giovanna Astrua’s arias and hundreds of other people involved as a prelude to the Berlin Debate about the New World, which had led to heated discussion in the worldwide République des Lettres since the late 1760s?

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