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Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 286
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  • Book Info
    Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics
    Book Description:

    In this groundbreaking, historically-informed semiotic study of late eighteenth-century music, Stephen Rumph focuses on Mozart to explore musical meaning within the context of Enlightenment sign and language theory. Illuminating his discussion with French, British, German, and Italian writings on signs and language, Rumph analyzes movements from Mozart’s symphonies, concertos, operas, and church music. He argues that Mozartian semiosis is best understood within the empiricist tradition of Condillac, Vico, Herder, or Adam Smith, which emphasized the constitutive role of signs within human cognition. Recognizing that the rationalist model of neoclassical rhetoric has guided much recent work on Mozart and his contemporaries, Rumph demonstrates how the dialogic tension between opposing paradigms enabled the composer to negotiate contradictions within Enlightenment thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95011-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Music Examples
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1717 Alphonse Costadau, an obscure Dominican friar, published the first installment of hisTraité des signes. He set himself an ambitious task: “My plan has been nothing less than to assemble in a single corpus the principal signs that serve to express our thoughts and that have been instituted for each purpose, whether to form and entertain a perfect human society or to serve the pleasures and commodities of life, signs that, so far as I know, have only been discussed piecemeal.”¹ TheTraitéeventually filled twelve volumes and covered a formidable range of material. Costadau cataloged linguistic, gestural,...

  6. ONE From Rhetoric to Semiotics
    (pp. 11-43)

    “I no longer know what I am, or what I do.”Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio. Cherubino’s first aria inLe nozze di Figarobetrays a surprising uncertainty. Traditionally, operatic characters knew precisely what they were and what they did. Above all, they knew what they felt. Aria texts abound in emotive words, as when the Queen of the Night exclaims, “Hell’s vengeance cooks in my heart! Death and despair flame about me!”(Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!)The Countess Almaviva also spells out her feelings in her opening...

  7. TWO The Sense of Touch in Don Giovanni
    (pp. 44-77)

    Of all Mozart’s operas,Don Giovannihas inspired the richest intellectual speculation, attracting such diverse commentators as E.T.A. Hoffmann, Søren Kierkegaard, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Camus, Jacques Lacan, and Bernard Williams.¹ Yet while Giovanni himself has fascinated posterity, the Commendatore may have resonated more deeply with Mozart’s age. Living statues pervaded late eighteenth-century culture, as the Pygmalion myth fired the imaginations of poets, musicians, and philosophers. Winckelmann, Rousseau, Klopstock, Schiller, and numerous lesser authors embraced Ovid’s myth of the living artwork. During Mozart’s lifetime no fewer than fifty Pygmalion operas, ballets, melodramas, and pantomimes graced the European stage; the same...

  8. THREE Topics in Context
    (pp. 78-107)

    John Locke complained in hisEssay Concerning Human Understandingthat “one may observe, in all languages, certain words that, if they be examined, will be found in their first original, and their appropriated use, not to stand for any clear and distinct ideas.”¹ Locke’s protest against the “abuse of words” reverberated throughout the eighteenth century and even became a political cause during the French Revolution. Following the Terror, the moderate Idéologues took charge of national education, adopting Locke and Condillac as patron saints. They zealously prosecuted Condillac’s critique of language, rooting out metaphysical abstractions and restoring words to empirically verifiable...

  9. FOUR Mozart and Marxism
    (pp. 108-138)

    When Susan McClary published her critique of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G in 1984, she opened a Pandora’s box that her most determined critics have failed to nail shut. Her remarkable analysis of Mozart’s “musical dialectic” managed to draw the composer’s ineffable art into the orbit of Marxist critique. More precisely, McClary showed how the slow movement of Mozart’s concerto might embody tensions brought to light by Theodor Adorno’s critical theory. As Adorno’s fortunes have waxed within musicology, McClary’s dialectical approach has gained traction, even as critics have clawed over her individual analyses. Richard Taruskin ensured the future of McClary’s...

  10. FIVE A Dubious Credo
    (pp. 139-170)

    For over two centuries, Mozart’s “Credo” masses have huddled on the margins of scholarship, together with the rest of his Salzburg church music. Only a single article written over fifty years ago has explored the Masses in F and C, K. 192 and 257, in which Mozart treated the opening word of the Credo as a refrain. Critics and biographers have understandably neglected these modest specimens ofGebrauchsmusik. As Georg Reichert documented, Mozart’s Credo masses belong to an Austrian tradition dating back to Johann Joseph Fux.¹ The formulaic statements of faith indicate no peculiar zeal on the composer’s part, nor...

  11. SIX Archaic Endings
    (pp. 171-208)

    The first of Herder’sKritische Wälder(1769) aims a telling critique at Lessing’sLaokoon, published three years earlier. The dispute concerns a passage from theIliadin which Apollo hides Hector, pursued by Achilles, beneath a cloud (xx: 441–54). Lessing had interpreted the cloud metaphorically: “In poetic language, this means nothing more than that Achilles was so enraged that he no longer saw his enemy. Achilles saw no real cloud, nor does the entire artifice whereby the gods make themselves invisible consist in a cloud, but rather in their swift departure.”¹ Herder attacked this reading as foreign to the...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 209-212)

    How does the history of Enlightenment semiotics end? Music historians have a clear enough answer, or so recent studies suggest. Around 1800, it is claimed, expression supplanted imitation as the dominant aesthetic paradigm in music and the other arts; in M. H. Abrams’s famous metaphor, the artwork changed from mirror to lamp.¹ Instrumental music, previously dismissed as a pleasant but meaningless diversion, became the paragon of the arts precisely because it lacked referential determinacy. No longer tasked with imitating human passions or primitive cries, music was free to soar into the ineffable realm of spirit and express the Absolute.²


  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-238)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-265)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 266-267)