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Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music

Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music

Susan McClary
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music
    Book Description:

    In this book, Susan McClary examines the mechanisms through which seventeenth-century musicians simulated extreme affective states—desire, divine rapture, and ecstatic pleasure. She demonstrates how every major genre of the period, from opera to religious music to instrumental pieces based on dances, was part of this striving for heightened passions by performers and listeners. While she analyzes the social and historical reasons for the high value placed on expressive intensity in both secular and sacred music, and she also links desire and pleasure to the many technical innovations of the period. McClary shows how musicians—whether working within the contexts of the Reformation or Counter-Reformation, Absolutists courts or commercial enterprises in Venice—were able to manipulate known procedures to produce radically new ways of experiencing time and the Self.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95206-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Prelude: The Music of Pleasure and Desire
    (pp. 1-18)

    Historians like to study blocks of time demarcated in terms of centuries. To be sure, political and cultural events rarely accommodate themselves to the arbitrary rolling over of a fresh set of zeroes. Yet our love for this mode of classification leads us to accept as reasonable such unlikely designations as “the long eighteenth century”—a period that lops past its proper edges to colonize the late 1600s and early 1800s; it also predisposed many of us to approach with apocalyptic dread the advent of the year 2000.

    Early modern music history, however, graciously obliged this craving for tidy calendrical...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Expansion Principle
      (pp. 21-44)

      The shaping of time counted among the highest priorities for seventeenth-century musicians. Of course, temporality always qualifies as a fundamental dimension of music making. But in the 1600s, composers sought to produce radically new, frequently extravagant experiences of time, alternately expanding and contracting, rushing impetuously forward only to hover in a state of apparent motionlessness. The arrangement of elements we recognize as tonality figured among these, but it often operated within contexts that also encouraged erratic fluctuations or nearly flat, virtually minimalist options. In this chapter, I wish to asknotwhy musicians persisted in using perverse procedures (the focus...

    • CHAPTER 2 Composites, or the Still-Divided Subject
      (pp. 45-76)

      I could easily scroll through the seventeenth century, cherry-picking instances of the particular process discussed in chapter 1, thereby offering an argument for linear historical development. In doing so, however, I would not only falsify the way things actually happened but also impoverish the very rich array of procedures explored in different repertories during this period. Recall that the examples analyzed in the previous chapter all involved the expansion of a bare diapente descent, and they thereby sacrifice for strategic purposes most of the sophisticated ambiguities afforded by sixteenth-century modal structures. Of course, later composers learned how to infuse those...


    • CHAPTER 3 Soprano as Fetish: Professional Singers in Early Modern Italy
      (pp. 79-103)

      In 1580 Duke Alfonso d’Este designed a genre of entertainment for his fifteen-year-old bride, Margherita Gonzaga; as his third wife, she was his last hope for producing an heir and thus securing the estate at Ferrara for his family for generations to come. Eager to entertain his young spouse while sheltering her from the customary revels of his courtiers, Duke Alfonso recruited a small cluster of accomplished female singers to serve as an ensemble for performances in Margherita’s private chambers, concerts that came to be known asmusica secreta.¹ The duke never achieved his ultimate goal: his wife—however royally...

    • CHAPTER 4 Gender Ambiguities and Erotic Excess in the Operas of Cavalli
      (pp. 104-126)

      Until a few years ago, Shakespeare specialists acknowledged the fact that boys had acted the roles of all the Bard’s heroines, but they tended to get cranky if anyone tried to make anything of that fact. Without fail, generations of students have found this morsel of information highly titillating; and, just as inevitably, they have been shamed into accepting it as a mere convention. For their teachers insisted that they learn to see “straight” through this historical aberration to the natural binary oppositions of male and female that Shakespeare doubtless intended to represent, however skewed those intentions may have been...


    • CHAPTER 5 Libidinous Theology
      (pp. 129-158)

      Decades ago, when I was a graduate student, I supported myself playing the organ for a large Catholic church in the Boston suburbs. Vatican II had occurred shortly before that time, and my principal task was to teach these recalcitrant Catholics—most of them immigrants from Calabria—to perform hymns. Except for the few Marian anthems they had learned as children, they knew nothing of congregational singing. I persisted in trying; they persisted in sitting with buttoned-up mouths, glowering at this Protestant abomination. But except for being saddled with that singularly futile task, I was left more or less to...

    • CHAPTER 6 Straining Belief: The Toccata
      (pp. 159-190)

      The texted pieces discussed in the previous chapter were able to press their cultural agendas quite explicitly. With their lyrics as anchors, composers could to move far away from standard practices to explore ways of being that were diametrically opposed to principles of linear reason. If musical grammar counts as the socially agreed-upon basis for transparent communication, then it must—by very definition—find itself warped, pushed aside, or violated in the interest of simulating phenomenologies of divine love.

      In this chapter I want to turn to the genre of the keyboard toccata. Except for the subgenre of toccatas expressly...


    • CHAPTER 7 The Social History of a Groove: Chacona, Ciaccona, Chaconne, and the Chaconne
      (pp. 193-214)

      Most of the formal processes discussed in the previous chapters have taken their structural principles from modal practice: in some the bare diapente descent provides background coherence for extensive expansion; in others—including the multisection composites discussed in chapter 2, as well as expressions of divine love (chapter 5) and the toccata (chapter 6)—the complex compositional formal characteristic of madrigals continue to operate, despite the expansionist techniques that frequently dilate moments on the surface. As I have indicated, important aspects of tonality emerge from both.

      But another practice also contributes significantly to the development of harmonic tonality: the procedures...

    • CHAPTER 8 Dancing about Power, Architecture about Dancing
      (pp. 215-238)

      Dance figured prominently among social activities in the seventeenth century, as in most other periods in human history. But the cultural meanings attached to dance—even to a particular genre of dance— varied considerably from place to place. Some Protestant denominations banned the practice along with the music associated with it (I was raised within one such sect and only started trying to move my body to music after most of my contemporaries had decided they were too old for such nonsense). During this period Catholic communities tended still to revel in dance; recall, however, that the pope tried to...


    • CHAPTER 9 Temporality and Ideology: Qualities of Motion in Seventeenth-Century French Music
      (pp. 241-257)

      In a classic essay from 1973 art historian Michael Fried focused on a quality he had discerned in French eighteenth-century painting, a quality he called “absorption.”¹ The paintings he examines in the course of the article depict individuals so immersed in meditation that they seem withdrawn from the world. Those artists who excelled in this genre rarely chose heroic figures as their subjects; Jean-Baptiste Greuze, for instance, often preferred to present pretty children quietly pondering their dead canaries or gazing in distraction away from their books. Today these paintings may strike viewers as precious and sentimental—certainly not the stuff...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Dragon Cart: The Femme Fatale in Seventeenth-Century French Opera
      (pp. 258-274)

      In the previous two chapters I dealt at length with issues of energy control in music of the French court. In contrast with the desire-driven trajectories of Italianate procedures, most French music of this period strives to produce a condition of timelessness—or at least a phenomenological state governed by moderation and reason. Literary sources abound with stories of individuals who did not manage to keep themselves bridled, and operas often present characters who must be chastised for their failure to keep their emotions in check.

      In Jean-Baptiste Lully’sPersée,for instance, the character Mérope persists in expressing her desire...

  10. Postlude: Toward Consolidation
    (pp. 275-304)

    Over the course of this volume I have traced various ways in which seventeenth-century composers expanded, compressed, and otherwise manipulated the grammatical units and expressive conventions they had inherited from their sixteenth-century forebears. For at least the first half of the 1600s, most of them would have regarded their tasks and options along the lines here presented. None of these strategies presents insurmountable challenges to analysis—the kind of analysis necessary for performance and cultural interpretation—provided that we understand modal background maneuvers on the one hand and expansion devices on the other.

    In the dances discussed in chapter 8...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 305-332)
  12. Index
    (pp. 333-340)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 341-341)