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  • Metric Manipulations in Haydn and Mozart: Chamber Music for Strings, 1787–1791
  • Balázs Mikusi
Metric Manipulations in Haydn and Mozart: Chamber Music for Strings, 1787–1791. By Danuta Mirka. (Oxford Studies in Music Theory.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. [xv, 332 p. ISBN 9780195384925. $55.] Illustrations, music examples, facsimiles, bibliography, indexes.

Danuta Mirka has produced an ambitious book that seeks to combine disciplines whose triple union would have seemed improbable some decades ago. Admittedly, music theory and cognitive psychology will not seem unlikely bedfellows today, but the author's scrupulous account of late-eighteenth-century metric theory provides her discussion with a "historically informed" air that should appeal to readers otherwise but moderately invested in barby-bar analysis of individual works. While the resulting discussion may at points seem eclectic, the author argues that the tools [End Page 346] for metric analysis developed by American theorists in the past decades are eminently compatible with the approach of eighteenth-century writers, and so the combination of these fields is no arbitrary act but rather the realization of an inherent kinship. Indeed, most of Mirka's theoretical sections could be described as "sorting out" the analytical toolbox developed primarily after Fred Lerdahl's and Ray Jackendoff's A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983) with an eye at historical music theory. In this regard, Metric Manipulations in Haydn and Mozart exemplifies—if not pioneers—a sort of "synthetic analysis" that should hopefully prove an inspiration for theorists in other areas as well.

The book takes its illustrations from a rather narrow repertory that includes the string quartet collections op. 50, op. 54–55, and op. 64 by Haydn, and the "Prussian" Quartets, String Quintets K. 515, 516, 593, and 614, and Divertimento for String Trio K. 563 by Mozart. While this selection does not provide cogent examples for each and every phenomenon discussed, Mirka proposes that the typically Kenner audience of string chamber music prompted Haydn and Mozart to apply especially refined metric strategies precisely in these genres. Besides, for one reason or another, Haydn's exploration of metric manipulations reached its peak in his final pre-London years, and his work seems to have become a source of inspiration for Mozart as well—in this light, the chronological boundaries 1787–91 seem wholly meaningful. Finally, the illustrations taken from these works prove all the more appropriate in that a considerable part of this repertory has called forth thoroughgoing analyses that Mirka can draw on to highlight the slight but important differences between modern analysts' metric perception and that of late-eighteenth-century listeners.

The volume consists of eight chapters, the first of which adumbrates the theoretical framework, describing in detail the relevant literature (both historical and modern) and the author's readings of it. Chapter 2 examines the ways an imaginary listener (whom Mirka consistently associates with the pronoun "she") may recognize the proper meter at the beginning of a piece, and how the composer (invariably mentioned as "he") may deceive her in this respect. Chapter 3 goes a step further and investigates the musical events that may challenge the meter established earlier, and the following three chapters identify the diverse types of "changing meter" in the course of a given movement. While the above sections at certain points inevitably seem like minute pigeonholing, chapter 7 offers two case studies (detailed analyses of the opening movement of Haydn's op. 50, no. 2, and the finale of his op. 55, no. 2) that illustrate how all the phenomena discussed earlier may participate in realizing long-range metrical strategies. In conclusion, chapter 8 again seeks to step beyond the usual boundaries of music theoretical monographs, and provides a brief outlook on the role such metric manipulations play in the personal styles of Haydn and Mozart.

Ironically, it is precisely in this "more than analytic" conclusion that Mirka's narrative seems the least satisfactory. While the reader will inevitably have the impression that this book—somewhat in contrast to its "coauthored" title—is primarily about Haydn (even though with numerous references at Mozart), the concluding interpretation of virtually all of Haydn's metric manipulations as exemplifying...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-150X
Print ISSN
0027-4380
Pages
pp. 346-348
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-10
Open Access
No
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