Mozart's Piano Concertos: Dramatic Dialogue in the Age of Enlightenment

Mozart's Piano Concertos: Dramatic Dialogue in the Age of Enlightenment

Mozart's Piano Concertos: Dramatic Dialogue in the Age of Enlightenment

Mozart's Piano Concertos: Dramatic Dialogue in the Age of Enlightenment

Synopsis

The interactive relationship between the piano and the orchestra in Mozart's concertos is an issue central to the appreciation of these great works, but one that has not yet received serious attention, a gap which this new study seeks to remedy by exploring the historical implications and hermeneutic potential of dramatic dialogue. The author shows that invocations of dramatic dialogue are deeply ingrained in late-eighteenth-century writings on instrumental music, and he develops this theme into an original and highly positive view of solo/orchestra relations in Mozart's concertos. He analyses behavioural patterns in the concertos and links them to theoretical discussion of late-eighteenth-century drama and to analogous relational development in Mozart's operas Idomeneo, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. Mozart's piano concertos emerge afresh from this new approach as an extraordinary medium of Enlightenment, as significant in their way as the greatest late-eighteenth-century operatic and theatrical works. Dr SIMON KEEFE is Lecturer in Music at City University, London.

Excerpt

Mozart's piano concertos are among the most popular works in the Western canon, a status reflected by the huge volume of secondary literature that exists for almost every aspect of this repertory. One vital component of these concertos, however, has not yet received attention in a book-length study: the interactive relationship between the piano and the orchestra. Given that the works date from the Age of Enlightenment, an era that openly debated the individual's relation to society and continually espoused the virtues of collaboration and communication, interactive relations between the pianist and the orchestra in Mozart's concertos carry rich historical, cultural and contextual significance. As interaction is also fundamental to the structural alternation of piano and orchestral forces, a careful study of it sheds light on the inner workings of musical forms and textures in the concertos as well.

The study at hand situates relations between Mozart's piano and orchestra in historical and cultural contexts, and is rooted in critical discourse of the period. In the late eighteenth century, music theorists and aestheticians were preoccupied with the possibility that music might convey meaning in an analogous fashion to language. Although an integration of text and music was seen to bring greatly valued specificity of meaning to vocal works, leading them to acquire a higher aesthetic position than instrumental music, the potential of instrumental music to achieve a similar specificity was not overlooked. Eager to demonstrate the aesthetic value of instrumental works, writers frequently focused linguistic analogies around the concept of dialogue, a popular metaphor for instrumental interaction. The most revealing and meticulous writings on the concerto in Mozart's time, undertaken by Heinrich Christoph Koch, identify dialogue between the piano and the orchestra as the vital component of dynamic solo/orchestra relations in the late-eighteenth-century concerto.

Although Koch's invocation of dialogue in the context of highly charged interaction between the soloist and the orchestra has found considerable resonance in twentieth-century critical writings on Mozart's piano concertos, its hermeneutic potential for this repertoire has yet to be fully realised. Indeed, as a metaphor for solo/orchestra relations, for example, it remains unsystematically applied. Cuthbert Girdlestone intelligently defines 'varieties of dialogue' in Mozart's piano concertos as '[t]he orchestral link, the echo, the answer, [and] phrases that alternate between solo and tutti' but does not draw upon these . . .

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