Monday, October 31, 2016

Audiovisual Returns

Excerpt adapted from Deirdre Loughridge, Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow: Audiovisual Culture and the Emergence of Musical Romanticism (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

by Deirdre Loughridge

It is often claimed that our world has become so dominated by visual media that the ability to attend to music alone has been greatly diminished. In 1994, for instance, Leon Botstein observed a consensus within the music industry that “without a visual element or some ‘interactive’ component, classical music will continue to lose ‘market share’”; under these conditions, “pure listening itself - without visual or linguistic elements - is at risk” (Botstein 181). In 2010, Arved Ashby questioned whether one can “speak any longer of listening to music in any practical sense rather than watching-observing-listening to music,” since the Internet and media convergence have produced a world in which one “rarely experiences any kind of sound without a visual key or complement.” According to Ashby, the current “subservience of the musical to the visual” continues a “150-year trajectory of the ‘purely musical’ losing out to extramusical imagery” that began with the rise of program music in the 1830s (Ashby 246-248).

Projection screens at the New World Symphony in Miami.
As of the second decade of the twenty-first century, the dependence of music on visual media seems even more decided. In 2012, a Nielsen study found that more teens listen to music on the video-streaming service YouTube than on radio, iTunes or CD, and in 2013 the Billboard Hot 100 adjusted its formula to count YouTube plays in its weekly ranking of hit singles. Numerous symphony halls have installed screens above the orchestra, onto which are projected the visual component of expanded programming selections (silent film scores or video-game music, for example), or during more canonic fare, close-up views of the musicians. Going one better, the concert hall for the New World Symphony, opened in Miami in 2011, features fourteen large sail-shaped panels that surround the stage and function as both acoustic treatment and projection screens. As Alex Ross noted in The New Yorker, “the hall is explicitly designed as much for the projection of images as for the projection of sound,” the result an unprecedentedly seamless “fusion of film and live music.” Meanwhile, scholars have begun to speak enthusiastically of an “audiovisual turn” brought about by the new means of producing and coordinating music and images using digital media (Vernallis; Richardson et al).

As I show in my book, Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow, however, not only the proliferation of lens and image-projection technologies, but also their encounters with music began far earlier than many narratives of audiovisualization and histories of multimedia have allowed. From the material culture and performance practices of the eighteenth century, optical technologies moved into musical discourse and habits of body and thought, helping shape the otherworldly orientation and silent, attentive listening of musical romanticism. By examining innovative mixtures of music and moving images in eighteenth-century popular science, street entertainments, opera and music criticism, Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow recovers a vibrant audiovisual culture essential to understanding early romantic discourses about music and modes of listening.

Early examples of audiovisual culture.
Today’s “audiovisual turn,” then, is also an audiovisual return – of the medial hybridities and sensory mixtures that have always characterized musical practice and experience, but have been repressed by modern aesthetics and modernist historiographies. What is new is not audiovisuality per se, nor even the audiovisual condition of music, but rather our capacity to engage with these critically and historically. Thomas Elsaesser has identified such a renovation of disciplinary acumen in cinema studies. In the twentieth century, the idea of cinema as projected, moving photography dominated histories of film, rendering marginal or ancillary to cinema history such phenomena as peep exhibition, sound recording and music. As filmmaking, distribution and consumption have gone digital, however, photography-projection has come to appear as one stage in a longer history of moving-image media, the inadequacy of narratives that treat it as the ultimate form forced into the open. The result is an important shift in perspective: scholars are now more ready to grant a wider range of audiovisual practices “the status of parallel or parallax cinema histories” (Elsaesser 20).

Music historians find ourselves at a similar juncture, as an emblematic institution of our subject – the concert hall – has become a space of screens as well as musical works, the address to eyes as well as ears made plain. From the perspective of twentieth-century narratives of “the rise of instrumental music” or “the emancipation of music from language,” this development appears to threaten the art, to turn musical works into musical wallpaper and absolute music into obsolete music. But it’s the historiography, not the music, that is past its expiration date. Like projected photography, “pure” music now stands more clearly not as an ultimate form but as one possible, partial enframing among a wider range of mixed musical practices – practices that belong accordingly in our music histories.

Deirdre Loughridge is assistant professor of music at Northeastern University. Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow: Audiovisual Culture and the Emergence of Musical Romanticism (University of Chicago Press, 2016) is her first book, and was supported by Mellon and ACLS fellowships at the University of California, Berkeley. Loughridge’s research continues to bring cultural and historical perspectives to issues of musical and technological change. On the web, her projects include The Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments and the blog, Spooky & the Metronome.

- Ashby, Arved. Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.
- Botstein, Leon. “Music, Technology, and the Public.” The Musical Quarterly 78/2 (1994): 177-188.
- Elsaesser, Thomas. “Early Film History and Multi-Media: An Archaeology of Possible Futures?” In New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, ed. Wendy Hui Kyong Chung and Thomas Keenan, 13-25. New York: Routledge Press, 2006.
- Richardson John, Claudia Gorbman, Carol Vernallis, eds. Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Vernallis, Carol. Unruly Media: YouTube, Music Video, and the New Digital Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thoughts on Dylan's Nobel

by Steven Rings

Close-up of portrait of Bob Dylan.  Richard Avedon, Copyright 1963.
Of all the responses to Bob Dylan’s Nobel, my favorite comes from Leonard Cohen, who likened it to “pinning a medal on Mount Everest.” It’s a brilliant line, pure Cohen—all dignity and poise, yet with an acid barb. Not only is Everest in no need of a medal, the attempt to fix one to its impassive torso (imagine the puny pin bending back on first contact) is metaphorically all too apt for the Nobel committee’s current quandary. To the surprise of exactly no one, Dylan has yet to respond to the award, and it seems more and more doubtful that he will attend the ceremony.[1] As someone who spends part of my professional life thinking about Dylan, I wince at this; just as I was asked to weigh in by a few journalists on the day of the award, I worry I will also be held to account for his churlishness, guilty by scholarly association (not to mention home state—I’m a Minnesotan too).

Compounding all of this is of course the controversy surrounding the award itself, and whether Dylan deserves a Nobel in literature. The day of the announcement I found myself telling a colleague that I felt odd weighing in on what should and shouldn’t count as literature, as I, a music scholar, had “no horse in that race.” He responded with the obvious: “You do now,” adding, “he just came in first.” So, of necessity—and over the course of more conversations—I began to feel my way toward a tentative position, often gesturing to the complex history of literature and performance, a dialectic that has lost some of its animating tension in recent generations, but that casts a long historical shadow, extending back through Shakespeare to Homer. The Nobel committee’s citation helped in this regard. Dylan was awarded the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The emphasis on song at once sidesteps the tedious question of whether Dylan’s lyrics “are really poetry” and situates their literary aspects in a network that also embeds music, voice, and the moment of their sounding. The preposition “within” is also helpful. While the committee clearly means “within the tradition” of American song, if one squints a bit one can read “new poetic expressions within song.” The nestling of poetic expressions within the unpredictable alchemy of performed song seems right, for Dylan’s literary efforts have always been most potent when they are tempered—annealed—by the pressures of song, with its demands for formal concision, metric clarity, and verbal thrift. Without that tempering, his writing can be embarrassingly prolix, like Kerouac or Ginsberg on an especially undisciplined day. (I am thinking of his well-nigh unreadable early book Tarantula as well as the liner notes for the early records; his 2005 memoir Chronicles, Vol. 1 is a luminous exception: punchy and vivid, even if brimming with falsehoods and borrowed lines.)

Consider the opening verse from 1965’s “She Belongs to Me”:
She’s got everything she needs / she’s an artist, she don’t look back
She’s got everything she needs / she’s an artist, she don’t look back
She can take the dark out of the night time and / paint the day time black
Here it is the blues that tempers: note the AAB repetition structure, AAA end-rhyme, and the caesuras (rendered here as slashes) that perforate each line. Dylan was then, and is now, a connoisseur of blues lyrics. Unlike legions of British guitarists, he was compelled not only by Robert Johnson’s technical musicianship, but by his inscrutable words:
The songs were layered with a startling economy of lines… Johnson’s words made my nerves quiver like piano wires… I copied [them] down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction…[2]
One thinks of “She Belongs to Me,” in all of its startling economy, a compression that even fuses literary registers. The third line—“She can take the dark out of the night time and / paint the day time black”—is at once a “perfect blues line”[3] and a nod to the Symbolists who so captivated Dylan: Rimbaud’s hued intoxication (“J’ai rêvé la nuit verte aux neiges éblouies”/ “On green nights I’ve dreamt of dazzled snows”), Verlaine’s celebrated musicality.

Yet here the “musicality” is more literal: this is a song, and it lives in the singing. Note first the preponderance of monosyllables. The only exceptions are the aptly generous “everything” and the “artist” who possesses it. Otherwise, each word pings out a single syllable, its vowel ripe for the work of Dylan’s idiosyncratic voice. In the studio recording of January 14, 1965 that voice does its work within a gentle groove that studiously avoids indexing the blues. Eighths are straight, not swung—Bobby Gregg’s drums all tasteful rim-shots and brushes—and Bruce Langhorne’s guitar punctuates Dylan’s sung lines with rippling sixths that are about as far from the blues as one can get. And then there’s the harmony, which swerves from 12-bar expectations precisely at the word “dark,” with one of the brightest harmonies in Dylan’s vocabulary: a major II# chord, which eases into a diatonic IV at “paint the day time black” (the paradoxically nocturnal raised fourth scale degree of the II# chord lowering to a diatonic fourth degree in IV, under pressure of the artist/lover’s brush). Even more striking, this is a classic Beatles progression, I–II#–IV–I, which had been chiming joyously out of radios and record players since “Eight Days a Week” was released on December 4th, 1964, just over a month before Dylan entered the studio. Whatever influence that song may have had on Dylan here (and he was, recall, the band’s most famous superfan at this point), his singing resists the Beatles’ ecstatic vocal delivery: in contrast to their sharply etched tune, he lazily drapes his voice over the shimmering harmonic swerve, rising nonchalantly to a tonic A3 plateau at several points in the line (“dark” and “paint” receive particular emphasis). The result is an exquisite equipoise of light and dark—verbal, musical, vocal, instrumental—its density of connotation exceeded only by the grace of its execution.

Dylan is often celebrated for his syncretism, his knack for mashing-up musical and lyrical readymades. The diminutive “She Belongs to Me”—often overshadowed in the canon by billowing epics like “Desolation Row” and “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”—is a quiet triumph in this regard. Robert Johnson and Charley Patton, Rimbaud and Verlaine, Lennon and McCartney: all sound together in a new configuration. And yet Dylan’s voice—at once writerly and sonic, ideal and empirical—remains stubbornly singular, irreducible to their influence. Is the result literature? The question loses its urgency in the face of the song’s achievement, which coolly leaves debates about medals and mountains to others. And yet, if one listens closely, one can almost hear Dylan’s answer—for once tender as well as aloof—in another song on side one of Bringing It All Back Home, “Love Minus Zero / No Limit”:
In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk over situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks she doesn’t bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

Steven Rings is Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 2005. His research focuses on popular music, voice, and transformational theory. His first book, Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011) received the Emerging Scholar Award from the Society for Music Theory, while his 2013 article “A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), 1964–2009” received the Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory’s Popular Music Interest Group. Rings is currently expanding ideas from the article for his second book, on Bob Dylan as musician.

[1] Update: On October 28—just over two weeks after the prize was awarded—the Nobel Foundation announced that Dylan had called them to accept it. He was surprisingly gracious, saying that it “left [him] speechless” and that he appreciates the award “so much.” True to form, however, he has yet to confirm whether he will attend the ceremony.
[2] Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Vol. 1 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), pp. 283–85.
[3] Michael Gray, Song and Dance Man III (New York: Continuum, 2000), p. 275.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Party Politics

by Simon Morrison

Still from Robbie Williams' "Party Like A Russian."
When English pop singer Robbie Williams released his single “Party Like a Russian,” the song stalled on the charts yet still made headlines. The dance tune provoked outrage in Russia, both for its use of music by Sergei Prokofiev and indictment of contemporary Russian culture. Perhaps Williams was hoping to capitalize on Russia’s prominence in international news, or even pay homage to the 125th anniversary of Prokofiev’s birth. But East-West tensions are high, and Williams seems not to have contemplated the consequences of bating the bear.

Prokofiev was born in 1891 and died in 1953 on the same day as Joseph Stalin. His sudden passing went all but unmentioned at the time, eclipsed by the death of the Great Leader. But the composer has had his revenge, enjoying enduring fame while Stalin rots in infamy. Prokofiev ranks among the most popular composers of all time, beloved for his musical fairytale Peter and the Wolf from the mid-1930s but famous too for his Third Piano Concerto, Fifth Symphony, Seventh Piano Sonata, and epic opera War and Peace. Even those who might not know his name will recognize the ominous music that accompanies the Montagues and Capulets in his ballet score Romeo and Juliet from movies, television advertisements, and now “Party Like a Russian.”

Williams deploys the menacing music of the warring parents, full of bellicose rhythms and hysterical-sounding violin flourishes, as the hook in a song that rhymes Rasputin with Putin. Lyrics also include a reference to nesting dolls and several botched attempts to pronounce the Russian word for “thanks,” spasibo, while the Russian police chorus intones the strains of revolution. The music video features gaudy and gauche images straight from oligarch central casting: strutting babes and coital champagne surfeits accompany nihilistic references to screwing over the world, or even the entire cosmos. Women in bridal white and S&M black stride through gilded palaces, stabbing the floors with their heels. The cuisine on display is more Mayfair than Moscow, inaccurate even in its kitschy stereotypes. “Like a Russian” at once seems to celebrate and denigrate Russia’s neo-imperialist nouveau riche, with reference to the dissolute goings-on in the penthouses of London’s billionaires.

This is not the first time Prokofiev has been called to represent, from beyond the grave, a clichéd vision of Russia. In 1985, when Russia (as the dominant nation of the Soviet Union) and the United States pledged themselves to mutually assured destruction, Sting cobbled together a song called “Russians” using a beautiful hymn-like tune from a film score by Prokofiev. But rather than celebrate, even mockingly, the excesses of Russia’s ruling class, Sting’s ballad offered a poignant critique of nuclear stockpiling during the Cold War.

Putin’s cultural watchdogs have reportedly banned Williams from performing in the Motherland, whereas Prokofiev was forbidden from performing anywhere outside the USSR after 1938. The composer had returned to the Soviet Union from Paris just two years before, lured by promises that the Soviet cultural establishment would nurture his career as a composer. He received lucrative commissions from Soviet institutions, but was then hectored into compromise by Communist cultural apparatchiks; some of his scores were censored into oblivion. He sought refuge in his faith—he was a devout Christian Scientist—and in the arms of a younger woman. In the midst of World War II, he walked out on his Barcelona-born, Brooklyn-raised first wife for a Communist true believer more than two decades his junior. His two sons were traumatized, and never quite forgave their father his treatment of their mother, who ended up in the GULAG, imprisoned for eight years on trumped up charges of espionage.

Prokofiev was no Romeo. When it came to representing matters of the heart on stage, he exercised a spiritual desire that can seem like prudish decorum. The star-crossed love between Shakespeare’s teenage pair was, in his imagination, a chaste affair. He did not want audiences to get the wrong idea about their single night together, and accompanied the bedroom scene in a halo of shimmering winds and strings.

Sergei Prokofiev plays chess.
Only in the 21st century has Prokofiev been able to shed the yoke of Stalinism, in part by proving useful to capitalism. His music has been paraphrased by Hollywood studio composers (think Avatar), featured with or without permission from the Prokofiev Estate in Russian-themed documentaries, and accompanied fireworks shows, including the celebration of the world’s tallest building in Dubai. The composer’s grandson, Gabriel Prokofiev, has remixed his grandfather’s scores in nightclubs like Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. The composer’s original intentions have no doubt been violated, but the transpositions have liberated his art from a context that he hoped to escape, at least in music. He meant to serve not the Soviet system, but rather his own talent.

In his original version of Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev imagined the young couple fleeing into a realm beyond—an “elsewhere,” as he wrote in his score. Their love could not be bound by fate. Likewise he believed that his art would be transcendent. And it has survived being chained to the Great Terror, to war, to Stalin, to the Soviets, to Hollywood, and even to hyper-produced pop songs. Prokofiev didn’t party much, but he is dead. Until copyright expires in 2028, his music belongs to his heirs, who granted Williams license, for a fee, to quote Romeo and Juliet. If profit was the motive, so be it. But if the idea was to liberate Prokofiev from politics, quite the opposite has occurred, and in terms typical of the current East-West intrigue. Williams has been branded the Russian equivalent of a hack, which makes his treatment of Prokofiev the musical equivalent of hacking.

Simon Morrison is Professor of Musicology at Princeton University.  He specializes in 20th-century music, particularly Russian, Soviet, and French music, with special interests in dance, cinema, aesthetics, and historically informed performance based on primary sources.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Harmony/Counterpoint Teacher/Student dialogue

by John Halle

This is an abridged version of a lengthier dialogue from John Halle's blog.

STUDENT: Why do I need to take this class?
TEACHER: It’s required.

STUDENT: Why is it required?
TEACHER: Because you need to know what we teach in it.

STUDENT: But we all know musicians who hardly know any music theory but who play their instruments beautifully, perform compellingly and have had hugely successful careers.
TEACHER: They’re the exception. Most musicians know enough harmony to tell the difference between wrong and right notes-at least in Bach and Beethoven.

STUDENT: You mean the difference between consonance and dissonance?
TEACHER: Not exactly. Lots of “right” notes are dissonances, and vice versa.

STUDENT: But can’t I learn the same thing from taking jazz harmony?
TEACHER: You can and you absolutely should. But there is a difference.

STUDENT: What’s that?
TEACHER: Most jazz and “popular” music harmony consists in treating chords as self-contained units, e.g. C7, F# maj 7, E7 #9, etc. within a lead sheet as opposed to functional harmonies within a fully composed score.

STUDENT: But baroque figured bass is something like a lead sheet, isn’t it?
TEACHER: Absolutely, but remember that pieces including figured bass notation specify not just the bass, but also the melody. That means that the piece is defined by two layers of counterpoint. In pop music, the bass tends to play a more functional role, supporting a melody which is the primary, if not exclusive focus of attention.

STUDENT: But that’s condescending. Lots of great bass lines in pop music are very melodic aren’t they?
TEACHER: You’re right. It was condescending. In fact, most academics believe that classical music is no “better” than any other style, or, as a distinguished musicologist puts it, “the canon of classical music is only one among many, and by no means the most culturally prestigious.”

STUDENT: But do you really believe that?
TEACHER: I’m not going to comment. I was just stating the fact that we are in the minority.

STUDENT: That’s sad.
TEACHER: Well maybe, but it’s possible to get over it.

TEACHER: By recognizing how classical music is unique. Mainly, unlike almost all other musical genres, it is more or less entirely notated. That means composers can work out intricate relationships which sometimes apparent only after many listenings.

STUDENT: But is the kind of complexity you’re talking about a good thing?
TEACHER: Yes and no. But I think we can first agree that complicatedness is a bad thing.

STUDENT: What’s the difference between complicatedness and complexity?
TEACHER: I’ll let you think about that. If you really want an answer you should take my Language and Music class.

STUDENT: How so?
TEACHER: You will learn about other languages which seem to be very complex.

STUDENT: You mean languages like Russian, Latin and Greek which have many different forms of nouns and verbs?
TEACHER: Yes, exactly. These are called “inflections” and as you may know, English is quite impoverished in terms of its inflectional morphology. For example, we only inflect our verbs in the 3rd person singular. (e.g. I, you, we, they walk. He/she walks.)

STUDENT: What? Aren’t we getting off track here?
TEACHER: Maybe a little but bear with me: if you take the class, you’ll discover that the Georgian language inflects for both the subject and the object resulting in a paradigm having (at least theoretically) thirty six forms for each tense.

STUDENT: Wow. Isn’t it amazing that kids are able to learn that language?
TEACHER: Yes. But the music you perform is similar.

STUDENT: How so?
TEACHER: For one thing, classical music uses a twelve note scale. Many (probably the majority) musical idioms are limited to the five note (pentatonic) scale. Others to the seven notes of the diatonic scale.

STUDENT: But most of our music uses a seven note scale. How is our music different from theirs?
TEACHER: Take the class.

STUDENT: How will that answer the question?
TEACHER: For one thing, you’ll see that while you’re right that the diatonic scale defines a basic foreground set of pitches, the availability of the other five notes is fundamental to the “common practice” both to create additional harmonies within a key (so called secondary or applied dominants) but also to allow for the possibility of modulation to other keys. Modulation is rare among the world’s musics-arguably it is unique to so-called classical music.

STUDENT: So is that why you brought up Georgian?
TEACHER: Yes, exactly. Common practice “classical” music is like Georgian in this respect and the limited morphology of English might be compared to “primitive” genres of music limited to a small set of pitches. Just as we need to do a certain amount of analytical work to show that English is anything but primitive, the same goes for numerous musical idioms formerly denigrated with the same term. The complexity of Beethoven symphonies and Bach fugues, in contrast, exists on the surface, and can be easily shown to anyone able to read music. That’s one of the reasons (maybe the main reason) why it makes sense to study it.

STUDENT: For the same reason that we still study classical languages, according to your argument.
TEACHER: Yes. And just as those formed the basis of education for many centuries, by analogy it might seem reasonable to take the common practice period as forming a similar function within musical education now. The reasons why students learned the “dead” languages Latin and Greek wasn’t just to develop awareness of “classical literature” which was foundational to the culture of the west, though that was surely one factor. The other factor was that one didn’t learn the language, so to speak, one learned those languages to learn something about language-i.e. the structures (visible and invisible) on which all languages are based.

STUDENT: So you’re saying that even if Bach, Beethoven and Brahms etc. are no longer central pillars of musical culture, there’s a reason to become fluent within their musical language. Right?
TEACHER: Yes, that’s essentially our position. By studying the grammar of languages whose underlying structure is relatively visible in its surface form, we are able to learn something about what it is that makes utterances in all languages cohere and make sense.

STUDENT: But all that seems overly intellectual. And it still makes me sad since you seem to be claiming that while our music might be unique, it’s not uniquely valuable. Isn’t that what you’re saying?
TEACHER: I think you have trapped me in a contradiction. But I think there is a way out of it.

STUDENT: What’s that?
TEACHER: That’s your job.

John Halle teaches music theory at the Bard Conservatory. A founding member of the Common Sense composers’ collective, his CD Outrages and Interludes was released last year on the Innova label.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

This Magic Moment

Introducing Cherubino's Leap: In Search of the Enlightenment Moment (University of Chicago Press, 2016)

by Richard Kramer

Let me begin with the title. The first part (before the colon) is meant as a provocation. Who doesn’t want to read about Cherubino, this mercurial adolescent, caught between the sexes (in more ways than one), between servant and noble mistress, and in the midst of his own search for self-awareness? His charm and wit and, most memorably, his throbbing music cast their spell over a work that in some sense defines the Enlightenment temperament. Cherubino himself doesn’t materialize until the penultimate chapter of my book, but often in the long course of writing, I felt his presence, imagining that I’d caught glimpses of him, behind and between the scenes, waiting for his moment.

And there’s that final Moment in my title. The Germans have a word that makes it come alive: Augenblick, the blink of an eye, we would say, in which everything happens, even as the blink obscures the view. Blick, however, suggests something quite different: the gaze that seems to stop time altogether. “Ein Augenblick ist wenig . . . ein Blick ist viel,” sings Zerbinetta, in a luscious phrase in the Vorspiel to Ariadne auf Naxos, playing upon the seeming paradox contained in the word itself. The moment that I have in mind, erotic in a different way, is contained in the few bars of intensely chromatic music, toward the end of the duettino with Susanna, that seems to pierce the beating heart of this Cherubino who is about to vanish from view. There are many such moments in the iconic works studied in this book, subtle moments that, by their nature, do not announce themselves, do not pound the table for attention. These are the prismatic moments that seem to contain within themselves the essence of the work, not in any overarching thematic sense, but as problems to be examined--not solved, but explored and pondered, not least as symptoms of a cast of mind that embodies Enlightenment sensibility.

And then there’s that other word in my title: Enlightenment. The nine chapters in this book are each engaged in a search of some kind, seeking to locate that moment that captures the spontaneity and wit of the Enlightenment mind. From Moses Mendelssohn’s focus on the moment of surprise at the heart of the work of art to Herder’s imagining of the seismic moment at which language was discovered, it is the flash of recognition that nails the essence of the work. The searching, in these nine chapters, is something of an adventure, and it was my modest wish to bring to the reading of the book that spirit of fresh discovery.

The chapters proceed from the “chromatic” moment--the single tone that disturbs the thrust of a diatonic musical discourse--and its deployment in several seminal instrumental works by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Haydn and Mozart (and in a precocious modulatory exercise by the young Beethoven); and on to the poetic moment, taking the odes of Klopstock, in their finely wrought prosody, as a challenge to the problem of strophic song, a challenge met in very different ways by Christian Gottlob Neefe, Gluck, Emanuel Bach and, in his sketchbooks only, Beethoven; and finally to the grand stage of opera: at the intense moment of recognition in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride; and to those few exquisitely introverted bars of music that complicate Cherubino’s daring moment of escape in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. And in a final chapter, the tears of the disconsolate Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail provoke a reflection on the tragic aspect of Mozart’s operatic women.

In the course of our journey, we are joined by some of those very grand figures from literature and the arts from whose work we are induced to theorize a language of Enlightenment discourse: Diderot, Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Herder, Goethe and Angelika Kauffmann among them–and Fragonard, whose coy “Stolen Kiss” (as it is called) graces the cover of this book and is therefore implicated in its title. The date of Fragonard’s remarkable oil is sometimes given as 1786, the year of Figaro, and it does not take much imagination to conjure Cherubino slyly stealing that kiss.

One final aspect of my title deserves a word here. What can I have meant by “Enlightenment Moment”? In some sense, the book itself is an attempt to come to grips with this slippery notion, to identify traces of it in these disparate works, and even to wonder whether what we are experiencing in these telling moments is an essence of mind that may help us to grasp however tenuously the foundational thought of at least one corner of the European Enlightenment.

Richard Kramer, distinguished professor emeritus at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of the award-winning Distant Cycles: Schubert and the Conceiving of Song (1994; University of Chicago Press) and Unfinished Music (2008, 2012; Oxford University Press). Kramer was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001. He has served as vice president of the American Musicological Society, and as editor-in-chief of its Journal.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

New Perspectives on Music Therapy

Four music therapy experts offer insightful assessments of the current field over at OUPblog - check it out!