Mozart's Music of Friends: Social Interplay in the Chamber Works

By Moran, John | Notes, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Mozart's Music of Friends: Social Interplay in the Chamber Works


Moran, John, Notes


Mozart's Music of Friends: Social Interplay in the Chamber Works. By Edward Klorman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. [xxxii, 325 p. ISBN 9781107093652 (hardback), $120.00; ISBN 9781107474666 (paperback), $29.99; ISBN 9781316532232 (e-book), $24.] Music examples, black-and-white illustrations, bibliography, index.

This book considers different approaches to the performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's chamber music, bringing together ideas drawn from the perspectives of historians, analysts, and players to recapture the sense of musical dialogue that was such a remarkable feature of this music for its early listeners and performers. In the introduction, Edward Klorman explains, "I was initially drawn to this subject by a dissonance I perceived between my education as a music theorist and my experience performing chamber music as a violist ... I was eager to capture in my analytical writing the moment-to-moment interchanges and 'conversations' among instrumental parts that make this music so enjoyable to play" (p. xxii). Within the already small field of music in academia, it is distressing the extent to which the still narrower subfields of musicology, music theory, and performance fail to engage with one another. By establishing a conversation between these disciplines, Klorman is aiming to rekindle the vivid sense of repartee that animated chamber musicians in the time of Mozart.

The first part, "Historical Perspectives," uses contemporaneous accounts to cast this music in a new light. The three chapters of part I make the case for a milieu far removed from the modern paradigm of the public concert, where a group of thoroughly rehearsed professional musicians are the focus of attention from a much larger (paying) public, passively and silently observing the performance. Chapter 1 (pp. 3-19) sets the stage, recounting many firsthand descriptions of chamber music, composed for friends and performed in small circles in homes where it was common for the composer to assist as one of the players. When non-playing listeners were present, they were usually also friends or family who may or may not have been paying attention to the music. Klorman points out that everyone faced inward toward each other; the focal point was not one part or one person, but the shared activity of music making. The semicircular arrangement typical of string quartets today--an arrangement that prioritizes projecting the music into a large hall rather than interacting with the other players--seems to have first appeared in the 1870s (p. 8, fn. 9). Chapter 2, "Chamber Music and the Metaphor of Conversation," traces the history of the idea that chamber music, specifically the string quartet, was viewed as a kind of musical dialogue among equals. Here Klorman describes the distinction made between conversation and rhetoric, and the value placed on the art of conversation (even as a form of jocular banter) and various conversational skills, including the ability to draw out witty replies from associates. This chapter includes an interesting discussion of Jerome-Joseph de Momigny's analysis, published in the Cours complet d'harmonie et de composition ([Paris: Momigny, 1806], 371-82), of the first movement of Mozart's String Quartet in D Minor, K 421, in which Momigny sets a text to the first violin part of this movement, re-casting it as the character Dido. A facsimile of this arrangement and a recording of the vocal version of Mozart's quartet movement are both available on the book's companion website at http://www.mozartsmusicoffriends.com (accessed 8 June 2017). This site also includes other specially prepared videos as well as additional illustrations, and a wealth of primary source materials in facsimile.

Chapter 3, "Private, Public, and Playing in the Present Tense" (pp. 73-108), focuses on some of the significant aspects of immediacy between composer and player that are typically lost in the modern concert hall. …

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