Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert

Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert

Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert

Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert


Robert Hatten's new book is a worthy successor to his Musical Meaning in Beethoven, which established him as a front-rank scholar... in questions of musical meaning.... [B]oth how he approaches musical works and what he says about them are timely and to the point. Musical scholars in both musicology and theory will find much of value here, and will find their notions of musical meaning challenged and expanded." --Patrick McCreless

This book continues to develop the semiotic theory of musical meaning presented in Robert S. Hatten's first book, Musical Meaning in Beethoven (IUP, 1994). In addition to expanding theories of markedness, topics, and tropes, Hatten offers a fresh contribution to the understanding of musical gestures, as grounded in biological, psychological, cultural, and music-stylistic competencies. By focusing on gestures, topics, tropes, and their interaction in the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, Hatten demonstrates the power and elegance of synthetic structures and emergent meanings within a changing Viennese Classical style.

Musical Meaning and Interpretation--Robert S. Hatten, editor


The book you are about to read complements my first book, Musical Meaning in Beethoven (1994), as part of a larger inquiry into musical meaning. Those who have not read the first volume, however, will find this one self-sufficient in its explanation and application of several key concepts: markedness, style types, strategic tokens, topics, expressive genres, and tropes. the latter part of the Introduction reviews some of these ideas in a fresh context, applying them to works of Mozart and Schubert. Those more familiar with my theoretical approach may wish to skip these basic illustrations and begin with Chapter 1, a more nuanced case study that integrates interpretation (the expressive significance of a passage) and theory (the reconstruction of a style type) in a close reading of the opening of Beethoven’s Ghost Trio, Op. 70, no. 1. Chapter 2 features a new style topic, plenitude, generalized from a close interpretation of the Andante of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 130. Another topic, the pastoral, is reconceived in Chapter 3 as a mode with affiliations to the literary pastoral; I demonstrate how its expressive meaning expands in Romantic works such as Schubert’s Piano Sonata in G Major, D. 894. Part One concludes with Chapter 4, in which I examine the troping of topics and genres, here in a wider context ranging from Bach to Mahler.

Part Two is the core of the book, six chapters devoted to a new theory of musical gesture. Gesture is introduced from an interdisciplinary perspective in Chapter 5, developed for music in Chapters 6 and 7, applied to works of Beethoven and Schubert in Chapters 8 and 9, and related to agency and troping in Chapter 10. the approach to musical gesture addresses its synthesis of elements, its emergent expressive potential, and its role in both immediate and extended musical discourse. My interest in this area owes much to the groundbreaking work of Alexandra Pierce (1994) on movement as a means of analyzing gesture, structure, and meaning in music, and to David Lidov (1987, 1993) on the semiotic status of gesture and its importance for embodied meaning in music. the late Naomi Cumming (2000) shared my interest in gesture’s synthetic and emergent aspects (including those qualitative dimensions of musical experience that are often relegated to the field of performance) and the emergence of an embodied subject in music. My approach is not that of philosophical aesthetics, as in Cumming; rather, I begin by surveying a variety of scientific studies to help ground the extraordinary role of gesture as one manifestation of an evolutionarily refined capacity to interpret significant energetic shaping through time. Human gesture may be understood as a fundamental and inescapable mode of understanding that links us directly to music’s potential expressive meaning.

Having established a set of principles for human gesture, I then propose a speculative theory for musical gesture, exploring composers’ negotiation of human ges-

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