- Music, Sexuality and the Enlightenment in Mozart’s Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte by Charles Ford
As tributes to Charles Rosen begin to recall the musician and scholar’s profound influence on virtually all areas of thinking about eighteenth-century music, the rigor and strength of his writings continue to encourage interest—and indeed inspire faith—in music’s ability to engage even its most demanding audiences. Without evoking The Classical Style specifically, Charles Ford’s Music, Sexuality and the Enlightenment remains heavily indebted to Rosen’s appreciative interpretations of Mozart’s sophisticated musical dramaturgy. It is hard, for instance, not to perceive in Ford’s analytical project the shadow of the three musical parameters Rosen attributes to the classical style’s “[aptitude] for dramatic action,” namely the “articulation of phrase and form,” the “polarization of tonic and dominant,” and the “use of rhythmic transition” (Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, expanded ed. [New York: W. W. Norton, 1997], 289).
Ford, for his part, defines his method as Schenkerian and influenced by Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s work on hypermeter (p. 6), and anticipates contributing to the analytical literature on Mozart’s operatic repertoire without, however, demanding expertise of his readers beyond what “any third-year undergraduate should know about ‘music theory’ ” (p. 6). Indeed, Ford’s preoccupation with unifying motives, dominant modulation, and metrical groupings tackles Mozart’s musical texts with an analytical fervor that admires the composer’s subtle character depictions. Unlike Rosen’s interest in musical drama, however, Ford looks outward to the Enlightenment’s perception of sexuality as a philosophical mirror for the musical decisions Mozart makes in his three most famous operas.
The main theses of the book’s argument reiterate those found in Ford’s earlier book Così?: Sexual Politics in Mozart’s Operas (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1991). Here too, Ford alternates ambitiously between surveying various intellectual threads of Enlightenment philosophy and detailed accounts of Mozart’s musical processes. Given this large scope, Ford’s inevitably summative chapters often feel quite abbreviated and the connections between context and musical detail, fragile. The book’s large number of self-references make for a disjointed reading experience; more significantly, they suggest a lack of confidence in the argument’s capacity to develop and consolidate the two main arenas of research under consideration: Enlightenment thought and musical analysis. Nevertheless, Ford’s double focus sheds new light on traditionally problematic Mozartean characters; most especially, he posits Mozart’s lyric tenors (Ottavio, Ferrando, and Tamino) as representatives of the “sensitive masculinity” epitomized by Goethe’s Werther. Recontextualizing these characters as types belonging to the German Aufklärung, Ford successfully rehabilitates figures who are often derided for their ineffectual presence in the operas’ scenarios. The strange association Ford makes between this “sensitive” type and [End Page 765] dramma giocoso as a genre is problematic, however. Ford writes that “Mozart enriched opera buffa by incorporating elements of the opera seria style, thus the genre title on the title page of the score: dramma giocoso” (p. 73). This argument seems to repeat the same inaccurate definition that extensive literature has been at pains to reject. As Volker Mattern argues, far from a simple synthesis of comic and serious genres, the dramma giocoso and opera buffa are “not different phenomena but rather, broadly speaking, two synonyms” (Volker Mattern, Das Dramma giocoso “La finta giardiniera.” [Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 1989], 16; my translation). Daniel Heartz, writing of Don Giovanni specifically, likewise calls it a “particular kind of opera buffa” (Daniel Heartz, “Goldoni, Don Giovanni and the Dramma Giocoso,” The Musical Times 120, no. 1642 [December 1979]: 993). Scholars seem to agree that the dramma giocoso’s main feature is the libretto’s tripartite division of characters and not, as Ford implies, an integration of seria style into a buffa tradition. Perhaps Ford sees an analogous relationship between Ottavio’s complex masculine sexuality and the ambiguous generic resonances of the dramma giocoso, but...