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  • Brewing DissonanceConceptualizing Mannerism and Baroque in Music with Deleuze
  • Ceciel Meiborg (bio) and Sjoerd van Tuinen (bio)

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“These voices,” I said appreciatively, “these voices—they’re a kind of bridge back to the human world.”

And a bridge they remained even while singing the most startlingly chromatic of the mad prince’s compositions. Through the uneven phrases of the madrigals, the music pursues its course, never sticking to the same key for two bars together. . . . The resulting works sounded as though they might have been written by the later Schoenberg.

“And yet,” I felt myself constrained to say, as I listened to these strange products of a Counter-Reformation psychosis working upon a late medieval art form, “and yet it does not matter that he’s all in bits. The whole is disorganized. But each individual fragment is in order, is a representative of a Higher Order. The Highest Order prevails even in the disintegration. The totality is present even in the broken pieces. More clearly present, perhaps, than in a completely coherent work. At least you aren’t lulled into a sense of false security by some merely human, merely fabricated order. . . . But of course it’s dangerous, horribly dangerous. Suppose you couldn’t get back, out of the chaos . . .”

—Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, 1954

In A Thousand Plateaus Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari warn us that “all of baroque lies brewing beneath classicism.”1 The task of the classical artist, they argue, is “God’s own,” namely “that of organizing chaos” into stable relations of form and content. To compose is to lay out a plane of organization on which binary distinctions compartmentalize, centralize, and hierarchize relatively simple forms in relation to one another, such that a raw and untamed matter enters into a well-founded order of succession. In music this order is that of, for example, the sonata, suite, serenade, or concerto, forms in which theme and variation are strictly distinguished. But this confrontation with chaos at the same time leads the classical artist to decompose preexisting milieus of coded sound matter, to separate and harmonize them and to regulate their mixtures by passing from one to the other. Beneath the dominance of homophony, lighter texture, pronounced contrast, and variety of the classical period, there still insists and subsists the more complex polyphony, texture, and confusion of the baroque. In Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791), “an ancient wooden flute organizes chaos,” but not without chaos continuing to “reign like the Queen of the Night.” Thus there is a constant communication between classicism and the baroque. Even where noble simplicity and quiet grandeur are the final result, it is always a cacophony of relatively unformed forces and passions that impels the classical will to art: “the artist’s only cry is Creation! Creation! The Tree of Creation!”2

Beside classicism, Deleuze and Guattari also distinguish romanticism and modernism as stylistic ages. Like classicism, they can each be described as assemblages enveloping different relations to an abstract machine of matter-energy. In romanticism, form ceases to be a code subduing chaotic forces and becomes “a force itself, the sum of the forces of the earth.” It becomes “a great form in continuous development,” while matter ceases to be a matter of content and becomes a material possessing its own expressivity, “the moving matter of a continuous variation.”3 Thus in romantic program music such as Gustav Mahler’s The Song of the Earth (1908–9) or the ending of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1921) [End Page 55] musical territories or refrains are founded on the rhythmic “breathing” of the earth. By contrast, when art becomes modern it no longer confronts or mediates chaos through form, but directly opens itself up to its irregular frequencies, timbres, and density. The essential relation resides no longer between form and matter or between territory and earth, but between material and cosmic forces. With Claude Debussy, for example, musical material “becomes capable of harnessing nonsonorous forces such as Duration and Intensity” and with Edgard Varèse, a “sound machine (not a machine for reproducing sounds) . . . molecularizes and atomizes, ionizes sound matter, and harnesses a cosmic...