Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Bach’s Cycle, Mozart’s Arrow: An Essay on the Origins of Musical Modernity

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 444
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bach’s Cycle, Mozart’s Arrow
    Book Description:

    In this erudite and elegantly composed argument, Karol Berger uses the works of Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to support two groundbreaking claims: first, that it was only in the later eighteenth century that music began to take the flow of time from the past to the future seriously; second, that this change in the structure of musical time was an aspect of a larger transformation in the way educated Europeans began to imagine and think about time with the onset of modernity, a part of a shift from the premodern Christian outlook to the modern post-Christian worldview. Until this historical moment, as Berger illustrates in his analysis of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, music was simply "in time." Its successive events unfolded one after another, but the distinction between past and future, earlier and later, was not central to the way the music was experienced and understood. But after the shift, as he finds in looking at Mozart'sDon Giovanni,the experience of linear time is transformed into music's essential subject matter; the cycle of time unbends and becomes an arrow. Berger complements these musical case studies with a rich survey of the philosophical, theological, and literary trends influencing artists during this period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93369-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The change that is the subject of this book is well captured when you place two paintings side by side—Nicolas Poussin’sIl ballo della vita humana(A Dance to the Music of Time) of ca. 1639–1640 and Giandomenico Tiepolo’sIl Mondo Novo(The New World) of 1791 (Figures 1 and 2). The earlier of the two abounds in circular images: bodies move along circular orbits to the music of Time’s lyre. Poussin’s time is cyclical, ruled by the sun’s daily rising and setting, the annual succession of recurring seasons, turns of the wheel of fortune—all the eternal...

  5. PRELUDE L’Orfeo, or the Anxiety of the Moderns
    (pp. 19-42)

    Chromaticism and monody, the two main new musical means developed in the late sixteenth century by those who dreamed of bringing ancient music back to life, only rarely come together in Monteverdi’sL’Orfeo, where, for the most part, the monody stays chastely diatonic. All the more pregnant are the moments when they do meet, and nowhere more so than at Eurydice’s parting words, when, struck by Orpheus’s unlawful glance, she is condemned to “go back to the shades of death” (Torn’a l’ombre di morte), one of the opera’s most vividly realized moments. “Ah, too sweet a sight, and too bitter...


    • 1 The Arrested Procession
      (pp. 45-88)

      Those who heard Bach lead performances of his St. Matthew Passion during Good Friday Vespers at St. Thomas’s in Leipzig in 1727 (and later, in 1729, 1736, and perhaps around 1742) probably had a printed libretto available to them.¹ To be sure, this would have included neither the text of the gospel (Matthew 26–27) nor the words of the independent Lutheran chorales that Bach periodically interpolated into the evangelist’s story. But it would have allowed listeners to follow the free poems that framed the story and occasionally punctuated it, as well as the chorale texts (and in the case...

    • 2 A Crystal Flying Like a Bullet
      (pp. 89-101)

      A reader of Bach’s two sets of preludes and fuguesThe Well-Tempered Keyboard(WTC) will be struck by the emphatic gestures with which the composer often announces the approaching end of a fugue. In most of these fugues something happens a few measures before the end that alerts the listener to expect closure. Take the very first, the C-Major, fugue of the first set (Example 3). For the greater part of its duration it is impossible to predict when or how soon the fugue will come to an end. Then quite suddenly, in m. 23, it becomes apparent that Bach...

    • 3 There Is No Time Like God’s Time
      (pp. 102-130)

      Why this powerful gesture that abolishes time in the opening chorus before the story of the Passion even gets underway?

      We know that in his representation of the story Bach did not limit himself, as he might have, to setting the text of the Gospel but combined that text with two other textual strands—traditional chorales and Picander’s free poetry. The Gospel text, which mixes diegetic and mimetic modes, the voice of the story’s narrator (St. Matthew, the Evangelist), and the voices of its various personages (such as Jesus, Pilatus, and others), is a straightforward narrative representing events that took...

  7. INTERLUDE Jean-Jacques contra Augustinum: A Little Treatise on Moral-Political Theology
    (pp. 131-176)

    In a private notebook of 1967 Nicola Chiaromonte wrote: “Any profound consideration of our time should begin by recognizing a fact: untilyesterday—and this yesterday may be dated from the French Revolution or from the Russian one, from the first world war or from the second, it makes no great difference to the aims of the consideration—untilyesterday, then, we still lived in a Christian age. Today, no longer.”¹ God’s slow, still uncompleted but seemingly inexorable dying, his transformation from a living presence and active force into a metaphor, has often been identified, by Nietzsche and countless others...


    • 4 Mozart at Play
      (pp. 179-198)

      The concept of form involves the interrelated concepts of the whole and its parts. Only an object that is a whole and articulated into distinct parts can be said to possess form. Form is an intelligible relationship between parts and a whole, where all the parts, rather than being merely a heap of unrelated elements, contribute to the establishment of the object as a whole. It is not necessary but certainly most natural for the parts to be organized hierarchically: just as an object may enter into intelligible relationships with other objects by becoming a part of a larger whole,...

    • 5 The Hidden Center
      (pp. 199-240)

      The three comedies Mozart wrote with Lorenzo Da Ponte are the largestscale deployments of Mozart’s basic ideal of bipartite symmetrical balance. Each opera is divided into two halves, the first ending with a finale that brings dramatic tension and confusion to its highest pitch, the second half’s finale bringing resolution to all the accumulated tension. The close correspondence between scenes and events of the two acts ofCosì fan tutte, in particular, has long been admired by connoisseurs of formal perfection.

      Mutatis mutandis, this is true also of the way Mozart shaped many individual numbers in his operas. They are...

    • 6 Between Incoherence and Inauthenticity: Don Giovanni and Faust
      (pp. 241-279)

      Listeners will find themselves linking the effect of irresolution, nightmarish entrapment, unease, and deception in theDon GiovanniSextet, which is caused by the conspicuous absence of the dominant (conspicuous, because the dominant is implied by the tonal structure, as well as the basic properties of the musical language used), with the equally conspicuous absence of Don Giovanni. Of the opera’s personages still living at that point, he is the only one absent from the stage, yet he is on everyone’s mind. All except Leporello actually believe him to be there. Moreover, he is not only present in everyone’s thoughts...

    • 7 Die Zauberflöte, or the Self-Assertion of the Moderns
      (pp. 280-292)

      The Magic Flutewas Mozart’s only major Viennese opera not sponsored by the court or prepared for the Burgtheater.¹ The Theater auf der Wieden, in existence since 1787 and directed by Emanuel Schikaneder since 1789, was a modern capitalist venture that had a rich private backer rather than the state behind it. One of several suburban venues that had sprung up in the 1780s, it had a frequently parodic relationship to the court theater and furthered the Viennese tradition of popular entertainment with an eclectic repertory of spoken plays and operas in German. (The Theater an der Wien which replaced...

  9. POSTLUDE Between Utopia and Melancholy: Beethoven and the Aesthetic State
    (pp. 293-352)

    The main theme of the Adagio from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Major, op. 2, no. 3 (mm. 1–11), is a simple phrase (Example 11). The theme balances a four-measure antecedent with a consequent whose essential five measures (the phrase is elided with the next one beginning in m. 11) are expanded to seven by an internal repetition of the consequent’s third and fourth measures. The first measure to be thus repeated, m. 7, marks the only ripple on the otherwise regular metric surface of the phrase: everything in it happens one sixteenth note too early. When the melody...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 353-356)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 357-392)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 393-408)
  13. Index
    (pp. 409-420)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 421-421)