Thursday 11-12:30 ET

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Deborah Burton (Boston University), Chair

N.B. Unfortunately there was a Zoom error during this session, please use the following two links to access the recordings of this session:

Opera/Operetta - part 1

Opera/Operetta - part 2

Horn Fifths, Fanfare, and Pastoral Topics in Mozart's “Per pietà, ben mio”

Andrew Vagts (Tucson, AZ)


The horn fifths, fanfares, and horn solos in Fiordiligi's aria “Per pietà, ben mio” from Mozart's Così fan tutte illustrate the polysemy of opera buffa’s musical topics rather than a straightforward correspondence of topic and text. I contextualize my analysis of “Per pietà, ben mio” by first considering how the pastoral may recall the past, the horn's signification of the cuckold, and horn fifths in the literature. Then I show how the horn fifths topic, as a signifier of the hunt, appears throughout Così fan tutte to suggest cuckoldry. Finally, I analyze the horn fifths and fanfare topics, along with the horn solos, in “Per pietà, ben mio” in light of their opera seria setting within an opera buffa. The meanings in “Per pietà, ben mio” are situated between the extremes of the overwrought buffa parody aria and the showpiece opera seria rondò.

Autonomous Accord: The Double Formal Complex in the Act I Finale of Tosca

Karen E. H. Messina (University of North Carolina Greensboro)


The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane in the finale of Tosca’s opening act has never suffered for want of attention, but neither have scholars adequately described how Puccini joins two disparate elements into a cohesive musical whole. Although most commentary on the scene focuses more on the dramatic context than the music (e.g., Carner 1958, Girardi 2000, and Budden 2002), Arman Schwartz hints toward an intriguing proposition when he interprets the scene as “good and evil marching together” (Schwartz 2008). 

In this paper, I reveal how Puccini’s music both affirms this image of good and evil in tandem and suggests an alternative reading: good corrupted by evil. Analysis begins by dividing the score into two constituent elements, defined by each one’s instrumentation, dramatic context, and diegetic status. This divisionary methodology yields a familiar structure within each element: AABA in the orchestral church music, and a recitative-arioso-aria-chorus progression in the vocal parts. Together, these elements comprise what I designate a “double formal complex,” consisting of two distinct formal structures that function autonomously while simultaneously contributing to the score as a whole. Having been overshadowed by its staging for many decades, this dual structure elevates Puccini’s music to the same level of importance as the scene’s visual aesthetics. Beyond these formal considerations, additional harmonic details and historical context (Nicassio 1999, Baragwanath 2011) provide commentary on the opera’s broader theme of the abuse of power as the plot’s antagonist bends both Church and State to his malignant will.

Sullivan’s Slyly Shifting Stresses

John Y. Lawrence (University of Chicago)


Scholarly praise for Arthur Sullivan’s operetta music often singles out his varied rhythmic treatment of Gilbert’s highly regular verse. Prior studies tend to examine Sullivan’s text-setting in a vacuum, without a framework for comparing his approach to that of 19th-century composers more generally. Such a framework has emerged in recent scholarship on German art song by Harald Krebs, Yonatan Malin, Stephen Rodgers, Robert Snarrenberg, and others. This paper thus has two goals: (1) to use current theory to pinpoint the distinctive aspects of Sullivan’s approach; (2) to use Sullivan’s music to expand our conception of the possible relationships between poetic and musical meters.

I take Malin’s theory of “declamatory schemas” as my main jumping-off point. Composers create variety within a song by changing from one schema to another. Rather than describing these moments as successions (in which one schema follows another), I instead treat them as transformations (in which one schema is converted into another). I focus on four of Sullivan’s techniques of schema transformation: stress deletion, stress addition, grouping dissonance, and selective compression/expansion. I show how Sullivan’s deployment of these transformations is motivated by characterization and the inflection of particular words.

I conclude by affirming: (1) the value of applying declamatory schema theory to music that is neither German nor “serious”; (2) the necessity of performing style analysis within a framework that discloses an individual composer’s dialogue with common musical practices, shedding light on composer and practice alike.