Mozart’s Music of Friends: Social Interplay in the Chamber Works by Edward Klorman
This book considers different approaches to the performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s chamber music, bringing together ideas drawn from the perspectives of historians, analysts, and players to recapture the sense of musical dialogue that was such a remarkable feature of this music for its early listeners and performers. In the introduction, Edward Klorman explains, “I was initially drawn to this subject by a dissonance I perceived between my education as a music theorist and my experience performing chamber music as a violist . . . I was eager to capture in my analytical writing the moment-to-moment interchanges and ‘conversations’ among instrumental parts that make this music so enjoyable to play” (p. xxii). Within the already small field of music in academia, it is distressing the extent to which the still narrower subfields of musicology, music theory, and performance fail to engage with one another. By establishing a conversation between these disciplines, Klorman is aiming to rekindle the vivid sense of repartee that animated chamber musicians in the time of Mozart.
The first part, “Historical Perspectives,” uses contemporaneous accounts to cast this music in a new light. The three chapters of part I make the case for a milieu far removed from the modern paradigm of the public concert, where a group of thoroughly rehearsed professional musicians are the focus of attention from a much larger (paying) public, passively and silently observing the performance. Chapter 1 (pp. 3–19) sets the stage, recounting many first-hand descriptions of chamber music, composed for friends and performed in small circles in homes where it was common for the composer to assist as one of the players. When non-playing listeners were present, they were usually also friends or family who may or may not have been paying attention to the music. Klorman points out that everyone faced inward toward each other; the focal point was not one part or one person, but the shared activity of music making. The semicircular arrangement typical of string quartets today—an arrangement that prioritizes projecting the music into a large hall rather than interacting with the other players—seems to have first appeared in the 1870s (p. 8, fn. 9). Chapter 2, “Chamber Music and the Metaphor of Conversation,” traces the history of the idea that chamber music, specifically the string quartet, was viewed as a kind of musical dialogue among equals. Here Klorman describes the distinction made between conversation and rhetoric, and the value placed on the art of conversation (even as a form of jocular banter) and various conversational skills, including the ability to draw out witty replies from associates. This chapter includes an interesting discussion of Jérôme-Joseph de Momigny’s analysis, published in the Cours complet d’harmonie et de composition ([Paris: Momigny, 1806], 371–82), of the first movement of Mozart’s String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421, in which Momigny sets a text to the first violin part of this movement, re-casting it as the character Dido. A facsimile of this arrangement and a recording of the vocal version of Mozart’s quartet movement are both available on the book’s companion website at http://www.mozartsmusicoffriends.com (accessed 8 June 2017). This site also includes [End Page 274] other specially prepared videos as well as additional illustrations, and a wealth of primary source materials in facsimile.
Chapter 3, “Private, Public, and Playing in the Present Tense” (pp. 73–108), focuses on some of the significant aspects of immediacy between composer and player that are typically lost in the modern concert hall. Klorman argues, as I did earlier in my own dissertation (“Techniques of Expression in Viennese String Music [1780–1830]: A Reconstruction of Fingering and Bowing Practices,” Ph.D. diss., King’s College, London, 2001, 124–26), that the overrated and likely apocryphal quip attributed to Beethoven—“Do you think I care about your damn [elende: usually translated as “wretched”] fiddle when the spirit moves me?” (p. 79, n. 21)—misleadingly implies that he had little interest in or engagement with the technical details of playing an instrument. In fact, Beethoven frequently attended quartet readings and rehearsals, sometimes himself playing the viola, and he seems to have been much concerned with feedback from the players. The deaf composer even made a point of attending rehearsals of the late quartets, where he carefully followed the movements of the string bows in order to discuss tempos, dynamics, and articulations with the players. Klorman points out that because of the lack of availability of quartet scores in Mozart’s time—it was not until Beethoven’s op. 127 that a quartet was published simultaneously in score and parts (p. 79)—the players, communicating their lines audibly in real time to each other, would have had a greater sense of personal agency. In addition, as Klorman indicates, the lines between composition and improvisation were drawn very differently in the eighteenth century (p. 103).
The larger, second part of Klorman’s book, “Analytical Perspectives,” is where he really develops his experiential analytical approach based on his concept of “multiple agency” (p. 111), in which a piece of music is viewed from the moment-by-moment shifting perspectives of the different players experiencing their parts as they unfold, rather than from the perspective of a third-person, omniscient composer. This approach likens the musicians to actors in a play: while actors know how the play will end, the characters they portray are living in the moment, reacting to each event as it unfolds. In this view, a deceptive cadence can be seen as the cello subverting the anticipated happy resolution of a long discussion between the violins. The foreword by Patrick McCreless (pp. xiv–xx) helpfully summarizes the idea of multiple agency and prepares the reader for its treatment in chapter 4, “Analyzing From Within the Music: Toward a Theory of Multiple Agency” (pp. 111–55). This approach is refreshing for its validation of the intuitive perspectives of the individual players, but its novelty might be lost on some players who are not particularly concerned with music theory.
The two chapters that address the theory of multiple agency as it relates to specific aspects of musical analysis, chapter 5, “Multiple Agency and Sonata Form” (pp. 156–97) and chapter 6, “Multiple Agency in Meter” (pp. 198–266), make the case for the efficacy of this approach in its ability to integrate newer analytical concepts formulated by a variety of theorists. These include ideas about sonata form from the writings of William Caplin, James Hepokowski, James Webster, and Warren Darcy; concepts of metric analysis from the work of Ray Jackendoff and Fred Lehrdahl; and Danuta Mirka’s ideas on meter. For performers who were keen students of music theory but have not always had the time to keep up with the latest ideas in the field, these chapters will especially be useful. In the final chapter, “An Afternoon at Skittles: Analysis of the ‘Kegelstatt’ Trio, K. 498” (pp. 267–88), Klorman ties together his wide-ranging ideas drawn from historical sources, current music theory writings, and his own experiences. This chapter benefits from an excellent audio recording of the entire Trio in E-flat Major performed by Liza Stepanova, piano, Charles Neidich, clarinet, and the author on viola, along with an annotated score prepared specially for this book and available in the companion website. These online resources make it easy to follow the author’s process and serve as concrete examples of how Klorman’s analytical method might be applied and expanded.
Readers will have quibbles here and there with this concise study that brings together diverse ideas from several fields. For example, despite Klorman’s interest in [End Page 275] historical source material from the late eighteenth century, much of it accessible on the book’s companion website, his own characterization of agency and social function in earlier music suggests a more limited engagement on his part with music written before the late eighteenth century. He repeats the frequently asserted but overly broad idea that the cello “in earlier styles of chamber music had been restricted narrowly to the basso continuo role” (p. 125), which understates the importance of this role and ignores the body of baroque music with obbligato cello parts. He also implies, without presenting much in the way of evidence, that earlier styles of chamber music would not have fulfilled the same or a similar sort of social role, stating that Renaissance consort music is “rarely described in conversational terms” (p. 32), while ignoring the truly egalitarian part writing of English consort music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the domestic social context in which this music was enjoyed. Nevertheless, Klorman’s impressive accomplishment—to pull these different strains together and present them in clear, enjoyable prose—should interest musicians and scholars alike.