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Studio D • Friday evening, 7:30–10:30

Topic and Schema in the Long Eighteenth Century

Gilad Rabinovitch (Georgia State University), Chair

Vasili Byros (Northwestern University)

Of “Elegant Tones” and “Fantastical Progressions”: A Historical, Schema-Based, and Comprovisational Perspective on Diminished Seventh-Chord Modulation, c. 1720–1830

Paul Sherrill (The College of Wooster) 

On the Form Functionality of Recitative Intrusions in Le nozze di Figaro

Andrew Malilay White (University of Chicago)

The Yodeling Style and Early Nineteenth-Century Cosmopolitanism: How Topics Are Assembled

Nathaniel Mitchell (Princeton University) 

The Volta: A Galant Gesture of Culmination

Abstracts

Of “Elegant Tones” and “Fantastical Progressions”: A Historical, Schema-Based, and Comprovisational Perspective on Diminished Seventh-Chord Modulation, c. 1720–1830

Vasili Byros (Northwestern University)

18th-century Germanophone music theory coined the term chorda elegantiora (“elegant tone”) to categorize scale degrees that are chromatic inflections of their diatonic forms, not something borrowed from another key (Mattheson 1719; Walther 1732; Kellner 1737). #4 is principal among these “elegant tones”: already in 1728, Johann Heinichen used the phrase bizarrer Satz (“fantastical progression”) to describe a remarkable but nonetheless common occurrence, where a diminished seventh-chord (DIM7) is used to modulate by placing it on #4 of the desired key. Discussions of the DIM7 on #4 and instructions to modulate freely via this “fantastical progression” appear copiously throughout the long 18th century.

By drawing on historical, corpus-analytic, and creative methodologies, my paper argues that the #ivo7 indicates an extended conception of key in the 18th century, one that carries not only analytic and hermeneutic but also practical implications: specifically, the concept of #ivo7 represents the entire problem of 18th-century modulation, when framed as a pragmatic improvisational and compositional question—how to modulate convincingly and with expression.

Historical instructions and analyses, alongside hundreds of basses from C.P.E Bach’s Versuch and Albrechtsberger’s exhaustive study of modulation (1793–1806), reveal a highly-codified practice of DIM7 usage in the 18th century, whereby the chord’s syntactic behaviors are inherited from historical bass-line schemata. This allows for multiple levels of harmonic-functional Mehrdeutigkeit (Weber 1832) and wide-reaching tonal explorations, which found their deepest expression in the fantasia genre, here reflected practically in my own late-Classical-style fantasia for fortepiano, as a form of arts-based research.

On the Form Functionality of Recitative Intrusions in Le nozze di Figaro

Paul Sherrill (The College of Wooster)

Taking the arias and small ensembles of Le nozze di Figaro as examples, this paper investigates how Mozart uses recitative as a musical topic imported into periodic music. Although most memorably the trio “Cosa sento!” lapses into a long passage of accompagnato narration, many of the opera’s numbers involve fleeting intrusions of the recitative topic. Mozart’s use of recitative in these moments evinces a semiotic grammar in which topical signals reliably help to construct theatrical and expressive meaning.

The basis of that expressive grammar lies in the way these topical borrowings pit two incommensurate formal systems against one another. As intrusions into periodic music, passages of recitative necessarily have a “contextual” formal function as, for instance, the beginning of a consequent phrase. But the recitative gestures themselves import an “intrinsic” formal function from the phrasal syntax of recitative. Because both systems serve their own theatrical ends, a number that navigates between them can chart novel types of meaning.

For instance, in “Cinque... dieci...” Figaro misdeploys a recitative question formula in place of a cadence just at the moment that his stage business goes awry. Figaro’s melodic gesture, though it would articulate a satisfactory close within recitative, fails to fit the duet’s cadential rhetoric: as a topical intrusion, it does not participate in the chain of implications and realizations that drives formal function. It thus overlaps the end of Figaro’s action-music with a comical aside, creating (like all recitative intrusions) a Hattenesque “trope” of two temporalities.

The Yodeling Style and Early Nineteenth-Century Cosmopolitanism: How Topics Are Assembled

Andrew Malilay White (University of Chicago)

This paper extends recent work on musical topic by showing the cultural mechanisms behind the emergence of the “yodeling style” in the early nineteenth century. Danuta Mirka has argued that musical topics are “styles and genres taken out of their proper context and used in another” (2014). Topic theory, then, can describe a process where specialized regional musics are incorporated into the musics of European capitals in a periphery-to-center model.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the yodel became international: London’s Harmonicon, for example, declared in 1829 that “every vagabond in Paris can now give [a yodel] with as much facility as the Tyrolese mountaineers.” I contend that the condescending eye of urban cosmopolitanism played a major role in the rise of the yodel. Regional styles ultimately gave urban concertgoers a yardstick to measure their own sense of taste. My argument is informed by recent work on the musical topic by Mirka and Hatten (2014), as well as comparative and ethnographic studies of the yodel by Zemp (1987) and Sichardt (1939). Excerpts of pieces by Haibel, Rossini, Hummel, Marschner, Moscheles, and Mozart provide additional support.

Ultimately, the story of the “yodeling style” illustrates how topics can be constructed and how they implicate political actors. I argue that the ascent of the “yodeling style” is a sign of an emerging pan-urban cosmopolitanism, and further, that this form of cosmopolitanism is an essential part of the musical topic as used at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The Volta: A Galant Gesture of Culmination

Nathaniel Mitchell (Princeton University)

In this paper, I explore a pre-cadential schema in galant style that I call the Volta. The Volta features four events grouped into two stages: stage one charges up the dominant via #4-5, while stage two releases to the tonic via 4-3.  After introducing the Volta and its common variants, I define its characteristic pre-cadential formal function and explore its semantic range within Metastasian da capo aria. The schema enjoyed greatest currency during the 1730s, but remained an active member of the musical discourse through the century's end. I illustrate the Volta's role in eighteenth-century style with representative excerpts from Vinci, Pergolesi, Hasse, Galuppi, Haydn, and Mozart.