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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 160-162
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Shifting Focus to Mozart's Operas
Jane R. Stevens
University of California, San Diego
Cliff Eisen, ed. Mozart Studies 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997). Pp. x + 208. $77.00 cloth.
Mary Hunter. The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). Pp. 331. $45.00 cloth.
Mary Hunter and James Webster, eds. Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Pp. xii + 460. $65.96 cloth.
Students of the eighteenth century with some interest in music are likely to have more than a passing acquaintance with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the indisputable giants of his time. Anyone who has not looked in on music-historical scholarship in the last decade or two, however, may be somewhat surprised by how much has changed in Mozart studies and by the vitality evidenced in much contemporary work on late-eighteenth-century music, a liveliness that is clearly reflected in these three volumes published in the late 1990s. Far from the (perhaps divinely) inspired composer who produced unique works of art from the wellsprings of his inscrutable genius, Mozart is now seen, as if anew, as a much more interesting (if still uniquely gifted) human being living and working within a particular historical and geographical world as a skilled professional--in the words of Neal Zaslaw, a "working stiff." And as if to mirror this change in viewpoint from the absolute to the particular, the center of interest in his music has shifted from wordless instrumental music to operas, the musical genre most securely grounded in the practicalities of the real world.
That shift of interest is evident in the three books selected for review here, which provide an excellent introduction to some of the best and most interesting of recent scholarship. Two of these volumes are directed exclusively at opera and focus less on the unique greatness of Mozart than on the musical and social worlds in which he grew up and worked. The third, Mozart Studies 2, described by the publisher as a "complement" to Mozart Studies, which appeared in 1991 in a flood of bicentennial publications, brings together five articles dedicated entirely to Mozart and his music; but here, too, analysis of the primary object is expanded in ways seldom thought of just thirty years ago. In the most traditional of the five papers, a study of the physical sources of the "Haydn" quartets, Wolf-Dieter Seiffert reaches the relatively untraditional conclusion that the first edition of a work can be a better indication of a composer's final version than the autograph score, long thought to represent the preeminent record of a composer's creative genius. Cliff Eisen examines the records documenting the contents of Mozart's library--not the books and music listed as part of his own Vienna estate, however, but the Salzburg library of the family home. He is thereby able to show that Mozart could--and presumably would--have known pieces that are likely to have influenced his musical ideas in hitherto unsuspected ways. In the two articles devoted to the analysis of individual musical works, Elaine R. Sisman and Mary Hunter (whose work appears in all three of the volumes being considered here) introduce ideas from outside the narrow confines of music to illuminate the workings and the effective significance of canonic works, bringing a fresh perspective to pieces that we may have thought had been exhausted. Sisman [End Page 160] invokes rhetorical theory, together with a modified version of Leonard Ratner's "topical" analysis of expressive gestures, to understand the unusually diverse surface content of the "Prague" Symphony (K. 504, 1786); her discussion of "Motivic counterpoint and topical 'difficulty'" is particularly original and suggestive for further studies. Hunter's analysis of the Countess's "Porgi amor" from The Marriage of Figaro (1786) looks in another direction, toward mid-century ideas about womanhood in a newly bourgeois society, especially as they are expressed by Rousseau in La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761). She...