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Abel Seyler

Theatre director

Died when: 70 years 245 days (848 months)
Star Sign: Virgo


Abel Seyler

Abel Seyler (23 August 1730, Liestal – 25 April 1800, Rellingen) was a Swiss-born theatre director and former merchant banker, who was regarded as one of the great theatre principals of 18th century Europe.

He was "the leading patron of German theatre" in his lifetime, and is credited with introducing Shakespeare to a German language audience, and with promoting the concept of a national theatre in the tradition of Ludvig Holberg, the Sturm und Drang playwrights, and German opera.

Already in his lifetime, he was described as "one of German art's most meritorious men." The son of a Basel Reformed priest, Seyler moved to London and then to Hamburg as a young adult, and established himself as a merchant banker in the 1750s.

During the Seven Years' War and its immediate aftermath his bank Seyler & Tillemann engaged in an ever-increasing and complex speculation with financial instruments and went spectacularly bankrupt with enormous debts in the wake of the Amsterdam banking crisis of 1763.

A flamboyant bon vivant who was regarded with suspicion in Hamburg, Seyler symbolized a new and more aggressive form of capitalism.

Seyler's admiration for the tragic actress Sophie Hensel (Seyler), who later became his second wife, led him to devote himself entirely to theatre from 1767 onwards.

He used his remaining funds to become the main shareholder, benefactor and effective leader of the idealistic Hamburg National Theatre, employing Lessing as the world's first dramaturg.

In 1769, he founded the travelling Seyler Theatre Company, which became one of the most famous theatre companies of Europe during the period 1769–79 and regarded as "the best theatre company in Germany at that time." He initially held the Hanoverian privilege as theatre director and his company later stayed for three years at the court of Duchess Anna Amalia in Weimar and for a year at the ducal court in Gotha.

From 1779 to 1781 he was the founding artistic director of the Mannheim National Theatre.He commissioned works such as Sturm und Drang by Klinger (which gave its name to the era), Ariadne auf Naxos by Benda and Alceste by Schweitzer, considered "the first serious German opera." Seyler mostly focused on the artistic, economic and administrative management of his theatrical company; his own lack of a background as an actor, his patrician family and his former profession as a banker, made him stand out among the theatre principals of his era in a profession that was just starting to gain respectability.

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