Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music

Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music

Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music

Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 ask not why musicians persisted in using perverse procedures (the focus of several subsequent chapters), but rather why they occasionally found what we might regard as “tonal” arrangements advantageous. Along the way I will attempt to explain the mechanism that transformed particular modal patterns into tonal configurations.

Present-day discussions of early modern music too often bracket off as “tonal” those elements that seem familiar, leaving as “modal” vestiges those passages that do not work according to later premises. As a consequence, many of these compositions appear incoherent—as odd jumbles of progressive and reactionary features. Bear in mind, however, the fact that seventeenth-century musicians continued to make full use of other options long after they had “discovered” the one traced in this chapter; from their vantage point, the resources deployed in sixteenth-century modality and those characteristic of tonality were not mutually exclusive.

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