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Bach’s Cycle, Mozart’s Arrow

An Essay on the Origins of Musical Modernity

Karol Berger

Publication Year: 2007

In this erudite and elegantly composed argument, Karol Berger uses the works of Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to support two groundbreaking claims: first, that it was only in the later eighteenth century that music began to take the flow of time from the past to the future seriously; second, that this change in the structure of musical time was an aspect of a larger transformation in the way educated Europeans began to imagine and think about time with the onset of modernity, a part of a shift from the premodern Christian outlook to the modern post-Christian worldview. Until this historical moment, as Berger illustrates in his analysis of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, music was simply "in time." Its successive events unfolded one after another, but the distinction between past and future, earlier and later, was not central to the way the music was experienced and understood. But after the shift, as he finds in looking at Mozart's Don Giovanni, the experience of linear time is transformed into music's essential subject matter; the cycle of time unbends and becomes an arrow. Berger complements these musical case studies with a rich survey of the philosophical, theological, and literary trends influencing artists during this period.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-18

...music of Time’s lyre. Poussin’s time is cyclical, ruled by the sun’s daily rising and setting, the annual succession of recurring seasons, turns of the wheel of fortune—all the eternal cycles that govern human life.Tiepolo, by contrast, observes from behind a thoroughly modern crowd assembled to gawk at a spectacle made possible by the newest technological medium (shortly to be featured also in...

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Prelude: L’Orfeo, or the Anxiety of the Moderns

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pp. 19-42

...as Eurydice turns her attention now unambiguously to herself (it is hard to undermine the modal stability more profoundly than by inflecting the final ), and again it is with great effort that she regains her grip on the frame, resting first on the fifth scale step as she names what she is about to lose, “vita,” and then on the first as she names what is even more precious to her than life, her “consorte.” Orpheus sees her obscured...

Part I: Bach’s Cycle

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1 The Arrested Procession

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pp. 45-88

...Those who heard Bach lead performances of his St. Matthew Passion during Good Friday Vespers at St. Thomas’s in Leipzig in 1727 (and later, in 1729, 1736, and perhaps around 1742) probably had a printed libretto available to them.1 To be sure, this would have included neither the text of the gospel (Matthew 26–27) nor the words of the independent Lutheran chorales that Bach periodically interpolated into the...

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2 A Crystal Flying Like a Bullet

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pp. 89-101

...soon the fugue will come to an end. Then quite suddenly, in m. 23, it becomes apparent that Bach is wrapping things up. Indeed, the final cadence comes at the beginning of the next measure; the remaining four measures merely prolong the final tonic chord over the tonic pedal point. The ending, impossible to predict for most of the duration of the discourse, yet comes not...

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3 There Is No Time Like God’s Time

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pp. 102-130

...Why this powerful gesture that abolishes time in the opening chorus before the story of the Passion even gets underway? We know that in his representation of the story Bach did not limit himself, as he might have, to setting the text of the Gospel but combined that text with two other textual strands—traditional chorales and Picander’s free poetry. The Gospel text, which mixes diegetic...

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Interlude: Jean-Jacques contra Augustinum

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pp. 131-176

...God’s slow, still uncompleted but seemingly inexorable dying, his transformation from a living presence and active force into a metaphor, has often been identified, by Nietzsche and countless others before and after him, as a central feature of the transition from premodern to modern Europe. Did it—does it—in fact happen, and if so, why? How can a God die, and what does such a death mean...

Part II: Mozart’s Arrow

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4 Mozart at Play

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pp. 179-198

...The concept of form involves the interrelated concepts of the whole and its parts. Only an object that is a whole and articulated into distinct parts can be said to possess form. Form is an intelligible relationship between parts and a whole, where all the parts, rather than being merely a heap of unrelated elements, contribute to the establishment of the object as a whole. It is not necessary but certainly most natural for the parts to be organized hierarchically: just as an object may...

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5 The Hidden Center

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pp. 199-240

...The three comedies Mozart wrote with Lorenzo Da Ponte are the largestscale deployments of Mozart’s basic ideal of bipartite symmetrical balance. Each opera is divided into two halves, the first ending with a finale that brings dramatic tension and confusion to its highest pitch, the second half’s finale bringing resolution to all the accumulated tension...

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6 Between Incoherenceand Inauthenticity

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pp. 241-279

...Sextet, which is caused by the conspicuous absence of the dominant (conspicuous, because the dominant is implied by the tonal structure, as well as the basic properties of the musical language used), with the equally conspicuous absence of Don Giovanni. Of the opera’s personages still living at that point, he is the only one absent from the stage, yet he is on everyone’s mind...

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7 Die Zauberflöte, or the Self-Assertion of the Moderns

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pp. 280-292

...The Theater auf der Wieden, in existence since 1787 and directed by Emanuel Schikaneder since 1789, was a modern capitalist venture that had a rich private backer rather than the state behind it. One of several suburban venues that had sprung up in the 1780s, it had a frequently parodic relationship to the court theater and furthered the Viennese tradition of popular entertainment with an eclectic repertory of spoken plays and operas in German...

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Postlude: Between Utopia and Melancholy

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pp. 293-352

...the main theme of the Adagio from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Major, op. 2, no. 3 (mm. 1–11), is a simple phrase (Example 11). The theme balances a four-measure antecedent with a consequent whose essential five measures (the phrase is elided with the next one beginning in m. 11) are expanded to seven by an internal repetition of the consequent’s third and fourth measures.The first measure to be thus...

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pp. 353-356

...My work on this project has been significantly facilitated by a Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, a Donald Andrews Whittier Fellowship from the Stanford Humanities Center, a Residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Center, and...


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pp. 357-392

Works Cited

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pp. 393-408


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pp. 409-421

E-ISBN-13: 9780520933699
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520250918

Page Count: 444
Publication Year: 2007