Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Mozart and Enlightenment Semiotics

Synopsis

In this groundbreaking, historically-informed semiotic study of late eighteenth-century music, Stephen Rumph focuses on Mozart to explore musical meaning within the context of Enlightenment sign and language theory. Illuminating his discussion with French, British, German, and Italian writings on signs and language, Rumph analyzes movements from Mozart's symphonies, concertos, operas, and church music. He argues that Mozartian semiosis is best understood within the empiricist tradition of Condillac, Vico, Herder, or Adam Smith, which emphasized the constitutive role of signs within human cognition. Recognizing that the rationalist model of neoclassical rhetoric has guided much recent work on Mozart and his contemporaries, Rumph demonstrates how the dialogic tension between opposing paradigms enabled the composer to negotiate contradictions within Enlightenment thought.

Excerpt

In 1717 Alphonse Costadau, an obscure Dominican friar, published the first installment of his Traité des signes. He set himself an ambitious task: “My plan has been nothing less than to assemble in a single corpus the principal signs that serve to express our thoughts and that have been instituted for each purpose, whether to form and entertain a perfect human society or to serve the pleasures and commodities of life, signs that, so far as I know, have only been discussed piecemeal.” the Traité eventually filled twelve volumes and covered a formidable range of material. Costadau cataloged linguistic, gestural, sculptural, pictorial, religious, military, and sartorial signs; he even analyzed the signes diaboliques through which necromancers communed with demons. His first volume also featured a long chapter on musical signs from antiquity to the present.

Costadau’s project may surprise readers accustomed to thinking of . . .

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