Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Common-Tone Tonality in Italian Romantic Opera: An Introduction

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Common-Tone Tonality in Italian Romantic Opera: An Introduction

Article excerpt


[1] As Clausewitz famously declared, war is a continuation of politics by other means.(1) By now it is hardly news that music analysis, in almost all forms inherited from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a continuation of German Romantic ideology by other means. Yet saying so (and it has been said for over a quarter-century now) has changed remarkably little in the day-to-day life of North American music theorists. In particular, it has not changed the pre-twentieth-century repertoires that we study and teach. German Romantic hegemony has been challenged in many ways-most loudly perhaps by Richard Taruskin(2)-but theorists have hardly begun to do so using other repertoires, contemporary to its ascendancy, that might offer alternatives to it. It seems foolish to eschew organicist methods of analysis for music conceived according to organicist premises,(3) but it is equally foolish to apply only organicist methods to music differently conceived. Without seeking to topple German Romanticism within its own domain, we should explore other domains and try to view them in other ways. Only, since German Romanticism saw its domain as universal, to relativize it in this way-to deny its universalizing claims-is necessarily to dethrone it. We can continue to draw our Schenker graphs and tell our Carpenter narratives without expecting the world to submit to Schenkerian or Schoenbergian standards of measurement.(4) Similarly, we can continue to cherish the Austro-German repertoire from Bach to Webern without granting it the aesthetic exclusivity that its apologists sought or, in many cases, assumed.(5)

[2] For each dominant culture, there are multiple countercultures. The counterculture that I choose to cultivate is nineteenth-century Italian opera.(6) In this essay, intended as a prolegomenon to a larger study, I argue for the historical and theoretical importance of this repertoire within the larger corpus of nineteenth-century music. This importance lies partly in historical priority: some innovations that have widely been ascribed to German composers can more plausibly be traced to Italy. At a minimum, Italian composers discovered them independently and popularized them earlier than composers in other parts of Europe.


[3] It has been thirty years since Robert Bailey introduced five concepts for the analysis of Wagner's operas: associative tonality; expressive tonality; directional tonality; tonal pairing; and the double-tonic complex.(7) The double-tonic complex remains controversial, but Bailey's other ideas have been widely accepted, at least in North American scholarship. Directional tonality and tonal pairing have proven especially important to the analysis of Austro-German music from Wagner through Wolf, Mahler, and early Schoenberg, offering an alternative to more traditional approaches, chiefly Schenker-inspired, that seemed to work less well for the post-Wagnerian repertoire. The state of this art circa 1990 can be reviewed in the well-known volume The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality, a Bailey Festschrift in all but name.(8)

[4] Bailey's concepts have also been applied to music before Wagner. Harald Krebs has been especially active here, publishing several articles on directional tonality and tonal pairing in the music of Schubert and Chopin.(9) William Kinderman and Kevin Korsyn have also discussed Chopin's two-key pieces from a more or less Bailey-influenced point of view.(10) Peter Kaminsky has explored the subject of tonal pairing and directional tonality in Schumann's early piano cycles, albeit without direct reference to Bailey's ideas.(11)

[5] Virtually all of this attention has been focused on music by Austro-German composers, the sole exception being Chopin-a composer who, as most theorists know, was adopted as an honorary German by Heinrich Schenker, much as Berlioz was adopted (for different reasons! …

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