Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century

Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century

Carolyn Abbate
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0rk0
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    Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century
    Book Description:

    Who "speaks" to us inThe Sorcerer's Apprentice,in Wagner's operas, in a Mahler symphony? In asking this question, Carolyn Abbate opens nineteenth-century operas and instrumental works to new interpretations as she explores the voices projected by music. The nineteenth-century metaphor of music that "sings" is thus reanimated in a new context, and Abbate proposes interpretive strategies that "de-center" music criticism, that seek the polyphony and dialogism of music, and that celebrate musical gestures often marginalized by conventional music analysis.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4383-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Chapter One MUSIC’S VOICES
    (pp. 3-29)

    We begin with a scene that explores the power of narration, by showing us how a certain Hindu priestess comes to tell the “Tale of the Pariah’s Daughter”:

    Nilakantha(avec beaucoup de sentiment):

    Si ce maudit s’est introduit chez moi,

    S’il a bravé la mort pour arriver à toi,

    Pardonne-moi ce blasphème,

    C’est qu’il t’aime!

    Toi, ma Lakmé, toi, la fille des dieux.

    Il va triomphant par la ville,

    Nous allons retenir cette foule mobile.

    Et s’il te voit, Lakmé, je lirai dans ses yeux!

    Affermis bien ta voix! Sois souriante,

    Chante, Lakmé! Chante! La vengeance est là!

    (Les Hindous...

  5. Chapter Two WHAT THE SORCERER SAID
    (pp. 30-60)

    Paul Dukas’s symphonic scherzoL’apprenti sorcier(The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1893) is an eventful work—so lively, in fact, that it rattles the cage constructed of assumptions about musical narration. I shall argue thatThe Sorcerer’s Apprenticeallows a single instance of narrating. As a way into an interpretation of that sound, however, we should remember another moment, a strange passage at the midpoint of the piece, at which its entire musical progress comes to a full stop. There is a silence, and the piece begins to regenerate itself, by repeating again and again, far too many times, first a note,...

  6. Chapter Three CHERUBINO UNCOVERED: REFLEXIVITY IN OPERATIC NARRATION
    (pp. 61-118)

    All operas have scenes of narration, scenes in which a character tells a story. But what, meanwhile, is being done by and within the music? Put another way: what occurs at this juncture that brings music together with a representation of the scene of narration? Operatic narration must lie at the heart of any speculation about the “voice” of musical narration, yet is often perceived as dull, and literally goes unheard.

    Is operatic narration in fact an interlude of tedium, and, as such, a time during which one’s thoughts are free to depart elsewhere? If so, perhaps this is not...

  7. Chapter Four MAHLER’S DEAFNESS: OPERA AND THE SCENE OF NARRATION IN TODTENFEIER
    (pp. 119-155)

    In opera, the characters pacing the stage often suffer from deafness; they do nothearthe music that is the ambient fluid of their music-drowned world. This is one of the genre’s most fundamental illusions: we see before us something whose fantastic aspect is obvious, since the scenes we witness pass to music. At the same time, however, opera stages recognizably human situations, and these possess an inherent “realism” that demands a special and complex understanding of the music we hear. We must generally assume, in short, that this music is not produced by or within the stage-world, but emanates...

  8. Chapter Five WOTAN’S MONOLOGUE AND THE MORALITY OF MUSICAL NARRATION
    (pp. 156-205)

    Human narrators come in many forms. Some are completely reliable: most epic narrators speak with detachment, and thus with authority. They elicit trust. But human narrators may also be revealed as immoral by giving tongue to lies, by speaking themselves buffoons, unreliable, or dubious. Then their stories willring false, for while we may notknowthat the story is a lie, something about its presentation betrays its teller. When narration is allied to music, sensing truth demands doubly acute ears. Strauss’s Clytaemnestra says, “was die wahrheit ist, das dringt kein mensch heraus” [“what is true, what is untrue, no...

  9. Chapter Six BRÜNNHILDE WALKS BY NIGHT
    (pp. 206-250)

    Two things will concern us: an instant of laughter, and a narrative prophecy.

    Laughter first: legend tells us that Brünnhilde laughed in exultation upon witnessing (or, in some versions, upon hearing of) the death of Siegfried. Brünnhilde’s laughter recurs in most of the sources for her story; in the three versions of the Eddie Sigurd poems, one source (Sigurdarkviða in forna, theOld Lay of Sigurd) tells how Brünnhilde “triumphs” at the news of Sigurd’s [Siegfried’s] death; another (Sigurdarkviða in skamma, theShort Lay of Sigurd) tells how she “laughed when she hears Gutrune’s shrill laments”; the GermanThidreks saga...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 251-274)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 275-282)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 283-288)