Re-voicing the Canon: "Voice" in

Eighteenth-Century Musical Thought


Nancy November
Cornell University

 

I. INTRODUCTION

Philosophers, budding music aestheticians, and music theorists of the eighteenth century placed a premium on vocal expressivity. To what extent can their ideas of "voice" enrich our understanding of the diverse modes of expression in vocal and instrumental music of the eighteenth century? Might such ideas of voice offer us new perspectives on and beyond the modern-day musical canon for this era? "Re-voicing the Canon" is a new interdisciplinary course, which seeks to address such questions. The aim of the course, is threefold: to investigate various concepts of voice in the period; to explore eighteenth-century notions of musical expressivity, and, more broadly, to critique traditional narratives of eighteenth-century music history. The course is designed for advanced undergraduates with an interest in aesthetics, literature, and music, although previous study in these fields is not necessary. Basic score-reading and language skills (German and French) are desirable, but not required.

The course comprises five units spread over fifteen weeks. Each unit focuses on select musical works, which are drawn from both within and without the traditional musical canon. The units further comprise a constellation of historical texts, including letters, musical manuscripts and novels, and philosophical, aesthetic- and music-theoretical treatises. Using these, the students investigate intersections of music and aesthetics for the musical works under consideration, and apply these to questions of musical expression. Select secondary texts, including film, Internet resources, and recent scholarly writings are also incorporated, which deal both in the making and the de-bunking of traditional ideas and myths about the music and musicians considered in the course.

The assignment sequences are then designed to encourage both an historiographical-critical and an historical-explorative approach to eighteenth-century music and texts on music. To this end, the seminar is itself designed around four meanings of the word voice in current usage, and of relevance to eighteenth-century studies: voice as personal utterance, the origin of subjectivity; voice as instrument, situated within the body; voice as viewpoint, the source of personal opinions, and voice as ideology, a contestable collective thought-system.

II. THE UNITS (Please refer to the syllabus in section IV)

A short introductory unit serves to prompt students to their own definitions of voice and vocality, and to think about these concepts in relation to personal utterance in particular. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to maintain contact with this particular idea of voice, especially as they listen to canonical works, and as they read, talk, and write about the musical case studies. In Unit 1, we then add the notion of "voice as viewpoint." The musical case study is Bach's B Minor Mass, and a focal point for class discussion is the issue of "authenticity" in music, raised in the sprawling debate of the past three decades over the nature of the choral forces available to Bach. This subject matter prompts students to consider the possibility of multiple viewpoints (or voices) on a single issue, and to ask: what's at stake here? What are the possible "vested interests" behind writers' perspectives?

The concepts of voice explored in this course also offer students new ways of thinking about non-canonical works. They are encouraged, for example, find ways of discussing such music as C. P. E. Bach's free fantasias, in the works' own aesthetic terms, by examining eighteenth-century music theorists' links between personal utterance and rhetorical melodic lines. These fantasias provide the musical case studies in Unit 2. In Unit 3 students continue to probe the representation and expression of subjectivity in the music of this era. In particular, they consider eighteenth-century ideas of sensibility as means to talk about characteristic features of Haydn's early string quartets, works that have traditionally been neglected or considered problematic by modern scholars of eighteenth-century music. Boccherini's highly expressive string quartets, also discussed in this unit, might further prompt the questions: what has been excluded from the modern canon of musical works for this era? On what grounds? This unit also includes a short editing task, designed to show students how the information derived from a study of eighteenth-century musical aesthetics might inform modern-day editorial decisions and practices of performance.

In Units 4 and 5, as in Unit 1, students are again encouraged to find new ways of hearing and discussing canonical works through ideas of voice. In Unit 4, for example, they are asked to think about the idea of virtuosity as a privileging of performers' voices. They then consider the writings of certain late eighteenth-century critics, who found such voices problematic. Using these writings as models students can then adopt eighteenth-century terms in critiquing certain arias by Mozart, music that certainly counts among today's canon of "Classical masterworks." As in Unit 1, the idea here is not to deny the worth of such music, but rather to open up some new and potentially fascinating routes into these works. In the final unit, students explore conceptions of Beethoven and his music that run contrary to the modern equation of his "late" style with greatness. The musical focus is on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. With this work as a case study, students investigate a continued quest for voice in the musical thought of the early nineteenth century; they are invited to discuss continuities as well as changing aesthetic views of vocal and instrumental music across what has been construed as a "Classic-Romantic divide." In this sense "Re-voicing the Canon" de-emphasizes 1800 as the sharp turning point that it has been taken for in traditional accounts of music history.

III. PEDAGOGICAL APPROACHES

"Re-voicing the Canon" includes a variety of different pedagogical approaches to the music considered. Students carry out close readings of the various written texts, comparative critical listening assignments, and viewing tasks. In addition, the course places considerable emphasis on the development of the students' own voices in writing. To this end, they are encouraged to experiment with a variety of relevant rhetorical frameworks, including the modern music review, and the adoption of the voice or writerly persona of a particular historical music critic or theorist. I also ask the students to try out informal, intimate voices usually considered outside the domain of "true" academic discourse. In Unit 2, for example, students are encouraged to be creative and experimental in their written responses to C. P. E. Bach's fantasias, as the works inspire them. The course places a further premium on personal reflective writing: in journal entries in particular, the students develop and observe the development of their own unique voices in writing.

The reading, writing, and listening tasks for each unit encourage reflection and critique of all texts encountered, in keeping with the course's themes of "voice as view point" and "voice as ideology." In Unit 1, as in the four units that follow, the students are asked to think about connections between notions of authenticity (both musical and writerly), and authority. In particular, they examine how writers (both eighteenth-century and modern-day) construct an aura of authority in their prose, paying particular attention to writers' persuasive strategies such as selective use of evidence and rhetorical tropes. Students read for the recurrent "buzz words" in polemical prose, as for example in the battle imagery and legal jargon characteristic of modern-day scholarly debates over "authenticity" in eighteenth-century music.

Assignment sequences are designed so that that the students consciously use writing to explore crux points in the texts for the course. For example, they "skeletonize" select published articles, outlining the argument structure (see "For Class 2" in the assignment sequence for Unit V in section V). Students also actively engage with the voices in the written texts they encounter by altering narratives and removing characteristic features of the prose, and through emulation (see for example "For Class 3" in section V). In this way, I hope to encourage them to uncover underlying narratives in these texts, and to think about how they might critique all the texts we encounter in the course, their own writings included. The assignment sequences should lead students to ask: who or what do these writers' narratives tell us most about? Which view-points or voices might be overlooked, or "silenced" in the process?

In each unit the assignments are designed to form a logical sequence. They generally proceed from the students' personal responses to relevant texts and concepts (as in the free-writing in journals), through less formal ("low stakes") writing tasks, to more formal responses. In the final unit for the course, for example, the students first carry out short writing tasks on the Hoffman piece and journal listening exercises using a listening guide, which I devised in order to facilitate discussion of the Ninth Symphony. The final paper for the course is then a more formal response to the ideas discussed in the unit, incorporating references to primary and secondary literature and ideas generated in the less formal writings (see "For Class 4" in section V).

IV. SYLLABUS

Introduction (Week 1)

Concepts and Topics
Introduction to eighteenth-century music; defining "voice"; voice as personal utterance.

Listening
J. A. Hasse, aria selections from Cleofide; G. F. Handel, comparative recordings of select arias from Messiah

Viewing
Excerpts from the film Farinelli

Reading
Frith, "The Voice" from Performing Rites
Dunn & Jones, Introduction to Embodied Voices

Select activities
· Free writing: personal reactions to the Hasse and Handel selections, and the Farinelli excerpts
· Journal writing: brainstorming on "voice." What is "vocality"? How/why are we moved by vocality/vocalization?
· Class discussion: how/why is "voice" considered personal, shared, and shareable?

Unit 1: Voice as Viewpoint (Weeks 2-3)

Concepts and topics
Introduction to sensualist and empiricist views of vocal music; exploration of multiple viewpoints on eighteenth-century musical texts, as found in the debates over "Bach's chorus" of the twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries; the issue of "authenticity" in eighteenth-century music.

Listening
J. S. Bach, Mass in B Minor

Reading
J. S. Bach, Short but Most Necessary Draft for a Well-Appointed Church Music
Du Bos, from Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music
Mattheson, selections from The Complete Music Director
Adorno, "Bach defended against his devotees"
Kivy, "Authority of Sound" in Authenticities
Lampson, website on "The Search for Authenticity"
Rifkin, "Bach's 'choruses'-less than they seem?" and other selections from the on-going "Bach's Chorus" debate

Select activities
· Close readings of source documents
· "Skeletonizing" the published arguments of well-respected writers
· Short writing task relating early and mid-eighteenth-century views on vocal music and intelligibility to the on-going debate over "Bach's chorus"
· Collaborative paper, incorporating reactions to a comparison of various recordings of Bach's Mass

Unit 2: Voice and Originary Utterance (Weeks 4-6)

Concepts and topics
Rousseau's views on voice in relation to subjectivity as compared to those of Rameau and the rationalists; instrumental "vocality" and the free fantasia; improvisation as "utterance."

Music
C. P. E. Bach, free fantasias from the fourth book for Kenner und Liebhaber

Readings
Rousseau, from Essay on the Origins of Language and Dictionnaire de Musique
Rameau, from Treatise on Harmony and Observations on Our Musical Instinct
Selections from Sulzer's General Theory of Fine Arts on fantasia, instrumental music, invention, and song
C. P. E. Bach from Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments

Activities
· Guided listening assignment
· Creative writing exercise: students compose a short, experimentally-structured written text on the subject of musical expression and the role of the listener in Bach's fantasias, as inspired by the listening assignment. These compositions might themselves be in the style of a free fantasia. They are to be performed in one-minute (max.) presentations in class.
· Short paper to motivate class discussion: reader response to Rousseau's
ideas on the voice in relation to language
· Class debate: melody vs. harmony as primary in musical expression

Unit 3: Sensibility and Silenced Voiced (Weeks 7-9)

Concepts and Topics
We probe further the question of voice as viewpoint by looking at the ways in which certain voices might be "silenced" within music-critical discourse communities. We consider the case of J. Haydn and his early works: what kinds of historical narratives and musical ideals are attached to a composer such as Haydn? How do these affect our perspectives on his music, and on the music of his era more generally?

Music
Selections from Haydn's early String Quartets Opp. 9, and 17
Selections from early String Quartets by L. Boccherini
Haydn, String Quartet Op. 50, No. 2, movement 3

Readings
Stendhal/Carpani from The life of Haydn
Sterne, from Sentimental Journey and Tristram Shandy
Sulzer, "Expression in Music" from General Theory of Fine Arts
Triest, from "Remarks on the Development of the Art of Music in
Germany in the Eighteenth Century"
Excerpts from modern writings on Haydn by Landon, Rosen, and Tovey

Activities
· Journal writing task to motivate class discussion: how do modern writers characterize Haydn and his music? How do the modern-day ideas about Haydn compare to those in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century accounts of the composer (by Stendhal/Carpani and Triest)?
· Lecture/class discussion of mimetic vs. expressive theories of music in the late eighteenth-century
· Reading/listening exercise: how do writers from the eighteenth century relate vocal expression to the composers' and performers' own dispositions and sensibilities? How might these ideas apply to expression and representation in the "vocal" slow movements of Opp. 9 and 17?
· Short editing project relating issues of articulation to melodic expression in the slow movement of Haydn's String Quartet Op. 50, No. 2; in-class demonstration of the properties of eighteenth-century violin and bow

Unit 4: Voice and Body (Weeks 10-12)

Concepts and Topics
Voice the problem of physicality; eighteenth-century concepts of virtuosity and the issue of musical genius; Mozartian myth-making in the late eighteenth century and today.

Music
W. A. Mozart, select arias from Magic Flute, and select independent arias and scenes for Soprano

Other texts
Burney, "Essay on Music Criticism," from A General History of Music
Crotch, from Substance of Several Courses of Lectures
Mancini, from Practical Reflections on Singing
Mozart, select letters (concerning singing and singers)
Rochlitz on Mozart
Solomon, "The Rochlitz Anecdotes"
Excerpts from the film Amadeus

Activities
· Adopting the viewpoint of an eighteenth-century critic for a comparative review of select singers and arias
· Discussion of the idea of musical genius and "authentic" musical expression
· Identifying tropes and myths in texts constructing Mozart as musical genius

Unit 5: Voice and Ideology (Weeks 13-15)

Topics and Concepts
Changing values and continuities in the aesthetics of vocal and instrumental music ca. 1800; the periodization of music history and the long eighteenth century.

Music
Ludwig van Beethoven, Ninth Symphony

Reading
Hoffmann, review of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
Michaelis, "The intangibility of music," and "The beautiful and sublime in music"
Knittel, and Webster on Beethoven's late style and the periodization of
music history

Activities
· Emulation, removal of distinctive features, and re-writing of Hoffmann's narrative of music history
· Class discussion of the secondary literature relating late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century musical aesthetics and criticism to the contemporary trends in Beethoven reception
· Final paper: a more formal response to ideas developed in class discussion, and short writing tasks. Students develop this in stages through shorter writing tasks, class discussions, an outline, and a peer-review exercise (see section V, below)

V. ASSIGNMENT SEQUENCE EXCERPT: UNIT 5

For Class 1
Read: Hoffmann and Michaelis
Write:
1. Depth and color can be created in writing by the use of well-chosen descriptive language. In class you have noted down some of the "buzz words" which lend a particular character to Hoffmann's text. Try re-writing the three paragraphs on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven respectively, eliminating the descriptive language that Hoffmann uses. Paraphrase his text with simple, unadorned language, attempting to state clearly what it is that Hoffmann is describing with his analogies.
2. How would Hoffmann's article differ if his view of music history were turned on its head? Assume, for the sake of this assignment, that you are E. T. A. Hoffmann's twin brother. You share his schooling in rhetoric, but not his ideas about Beethoven. In fact, you enjoy the "representational" works of little-known masters of the late eighteenth century such as Dittersdorf, and think that music history reached its pinnacle in the works of Haydn, declining thereafter with Mozart, and reaching an all-time low in the works of Beethoven. Adopting the "purple" rhetoric of romanticism re-write the three paragraphs on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven once again.

For Class 2
Read: Knittel and Webster
Write:
As you read the article by Knittel, jot down answers to the following: in your journal:
· What is Knittel's central thesis?
· How does Knittel structure her argument? Sketch a flow chart showing how she proceeds. In order to do this you might like first to make note of the topic sentences for each paragraph.
· What kinds of supporting evidence does she use?
· What, and how does she conclude?
· Do you find this article convincing? I would like you to consider this question both from the point of view of the writer's style, and the actual content (i.e., whether the thesis taken together with supporting evidence convinces you, and why/why not).

For Class 3
Listen: Beethoven, Ninth Symphony, movements 1 & 2
Write:
As you listen to Beethoven's Ninth (following along with the music guide), start making notes in your journal of any musical details that strike you as unusual, as worthy of attention. Pause the CD and replay the passage, while at the same time trying to note down as specifically as possible how the musical effect is achieved. If you can, refer to the score.
Try to listen in another way, too. What does Beethoven seem to be trying to "say" in each movement?
· Does Beethoven attempt to appeal to the audience's emotions? If so, which emotions?
· Does the work seem to engage in some kind of narrative, to tell some kind of story?

For Class 4
Listen: Ninth Symphony, movements 3 & 4.
Write:
1. Journal listening notes continued (see above)
2. Outline for final writing assignment:
In this assignment you are asked to assume the point of view of an early nineteenth-century music critic such as Hoffmann. You have been asked to write a review of Symphony No. 9 for the same journal that published Hoffmann's review of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The editor of the journal that you are writing for is looking for an article which stakes a claim¾expresses an opinion¾as to the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the use of voice in the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. You must state the reasoning behind your like or dislike of the movement by referring to specific musical events (see your listening notes and the listening guide). In the style of music critics of the time, you should also develop your argument by incorporating:
· A suitable (early nineteenth-century) critical approach to the work as "late" Beethoven (see your notes on Knittel's article);
· Discussion of the early nineteenth-century aesthetic ideas and ideals of
"voice" that we have discussed in this unit;
· A writing style similar to Hoffmann's, replete with romantic metaphors.

Your task for the next class is not to write the actual review, but rather to outline your first draft. To this end, I'd like you to come up with an outline (typed or handwritten) that clearly shows the following:
· Your overall impression of the final movement. What overriding message will your reader take away from the review? (Approx. one short paragraph.)
· An outline of the body of your review showing the topic sentences that will help you to develop your argument, and the musical examples that you will use in order to support your claims.

Class 5: Presentation and group discussion of drafts; in-class peer review of drafts.

Class 6: Final writing assignment due.


VI. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

Source Readings and Translations
Allanbrook, Wye Jamison, (ed.) Strunk's Source Readings in Music History. Vol. 5: The Late Eighteenth Century. New York and London: Norton, 1998.

Bach, C. P. E. Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen. Berlin, 1753 and 1762. Trans. and ed. by William J. Mitchell as Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. New York: W. W. Norton, 1949.

Baker, Nancy and Thomas Christensen. Aesthetics and the Art of Musical Composition in the German Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Burney, Charles. A General History of Music, From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. 2 vols. London, 1776-1789. Repr. with critical notes by Frank Mercer. New York: Dover, 1957.

Fubini, Enrico. Music and Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe: A Source Book. Trans. and ed. by Bonnie J. Blackburn. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Hoffmann, E. T. A. "Review of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony." Leipzig, 1810. Trans. in Elliot Forbes, ed. Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor. New York: Norton, 1971.

Le Huray, Peter, and James Day (eds). Music and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-Nineteenth Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Mozart, Wolfgang A. Mozart's Letters: Selected from the Letters of Mozart and His Family. Trans. Emily Anderson. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968.

Richter, Jean Paul Friedrich. Vorschule der Aesthetik. 1804. Trans. Margaret R. Hale as Horn of Oberon: Jean Paul Richter's School for Aesthetics. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973.

Rochlitz, Friedrich. A selection from the "Authentic Anecdotes from Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart's Life." Leipzig, 1789-1801. Trans. Maynard Solomon as "The Rochlitz Anecdotes: Issues of Authenticity in Early Mozart Biography." In Mozart Studies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 19, 24-28, 30-34, 36-40.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Collected Writings of Rousseau. Vol. 7: Essay on the Origins of Languages and Writings Related to Music. Hanover, NH and London: University Press of New England, 1998.

--- Dictionnaire de Musique. Geneva, 1767; Paris, 1768. Trans. by William Waring as A complete dictionary of music : consisting of a copious explanation of all words necessary to a true knowledge and understanding of music. 2ed. New York: AMS Press, 1975.

Solie, Ruth (ed.) Strunk's Source Readings in Music History. Vol. 6: The Nineteenth Century. New York and London: Norton, 1998.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. London: Penguin Books, 1967.

--- A Sentimental Journey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Stendhal (Henrie-Marie Beyle), Vies de Haydn, de Mozart et de Métastase. Paris, 1814. Trans. L .A. C. Bombet as The life of Haydn, in a series of letters written at Vienna. Followed by the life of Mozart, with observations on Metastasio, and on the present state of music in France and Italy, with notes by William Gardiner. 2ed. London: J. Murray, 1818.

Triest, Johann Karl Friedrich. "Remarks on the Development of the Art of Music in Germany in the Eighteenth Century." Leipzig, 1801. Trans. Susan Gillespie in Haydn Studies, ed. Elaine Sisman, pp. 321-94 (esp. pp. 344-47 and 372-74).

Wolff, Christoph (ed.) The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents. New York: Norton, 1998.

Select Secondary Literature

Adorno, Theodor W. "Bach defended against his devotees." Prisms. Trans. Samuel Weber and Shierry Weber. Repr. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981, pp. 133-46.

Dunn, Leslie C. and Nancy A. Jones eds. Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Frith, Simon. Performing Rites. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Hosler, Bellamy. Changing Aesthetic Views of Instrumental Music in 18th-Century Germany. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, c1981.

Irving, Howard. Ancients and Moderns: William Crotch and the Development of Classic Music. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1999.

Kivy, Peter. "Authority of Sound." In Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

Knittel, K. M. "Imitation, Individuality, and Illness: Behind Beethoven's 'Three Styles'." Beethoven Forum 4 (1995), pp. 17-36.

Lampson, L. D. "The Search for Authenticity: Period Instruments and Performance Practice." At http://www.classical.net/music/rep/hip.html

Landon, H. C. Robbins. Haydn: Chronicle and Works. Vol. 2: Haydn at Eszterháza 1766-1790. Bloomington, IN and London: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Neubauer, John. The Emancipation of Music From Language: Departure from Mimesis in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1986.

Rifkin, Joshua. Bach's 'choruses'-less than they seem?" High Fidelity/Musical America 32/9 (1982), pp. 42-44.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York, 1971.

Tovey, Donald Francis. s.v. "Haydn." In Cobbett's Cylopedic Survey of Chamber Music. Ed. W. Willson. Cobbett. Vol. 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1929.

Webster, James. "The Concept of Beethoven's 'Early' Period in the Context of Periodizations in General." Beethoven Forum, 3 (1994): pp. 1-27.

 

 

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