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  • Tempesta: Stormy Music in the Eighteenth Century by Clive McClelland
  • Keith Chapin
Tempesta: Stormy Music in the Eighteenth Century. By Clive McClelland. Pp. xiv + 241 (Lexington Books, Lanham, Md., Boulder, Col., New York, and London, 2017. £70. ISBN 978-1-4985-1992-2.)

With this book, Clive McClelland offers his readers a companion piece to Ombra: Supernatural Music in the Eighteenth Century (Lanham, Md., Boulder, Col., New York, Toronto, and Plymouth, UK, 2012). He frames the two books as devoted to the same scholarly project—the problematization or deconstruction of established style categories, an examination of their formal characteristics, and the reconstruction of aesthetic categories more appropriate to uncanny and tempestuous styles—and organizes the two books along parallel lines to assist readers in comparing their respective contributions to this project. An initial chapter on intellectual contexts is followed by four chapters devoted to the formal characteristics of the respective style: tonality (ch. 2), harmony and line (ch. 3), tempo and rhythm (ch. 4), and texture, dynamics, and instrumentation (ch. 5). As McClelland places his research in the scholarly tradition of topic theory, he devotes his attention to source materials in these four chapters—opera—and follows his stylistic survey with a chapter devoted to further case studies in opera (ch. 6). Chapters 7 and 8 then turn their attention to sacred music and instrumental music respectively, and a ninth, final chapter examines musical developments after the death of Mozart (entitled 'Towards Romanticism' in this volume).

McClelland begins this book by reviewing both the genesis of the concept of the Sturm und Drang style and the growing scholarly consensus about its failings. He usefully introduces 'tempesta' as a term to designate stormy music, noting its use in operatic representations of bad weather and bad moods, and notes that tempesta shares with ombra a number of formal characteristics of disruptive effect. As McClelland frames ombra and tempesta, the principal empirical difference is one of speed—ombra is slow, tempesta is fast (p. viii)—but he links this difference to different aesthetic strands of eighteenth-century thought. Drawing on eighteenth-century writings of John Dennis, McClelland distinguishes between 'terror (characterized by violence and passion)' and 'horror (involving a state of suspense and awe)' (p. 6). He finds support for the categorical difference in twentieth-century music psychology, namely David Huron's distinction between 'awe' and 'frisson' as two possible responses to surprise. The first is associated with breathlessness, the second with panic (pp. 12–13). McClelland is well aware that neither 'ombra' nor 'tempesta' was a stylistic or aesthetic category in the eighteenth century. Their names derive from their use in operatic repertories, and he convincingly relates both to the aesthetics of the sublime, in particular in the formulations that developed after Edmund Burke's Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757).

The four chapters devoted to formal parameters examine portrayals of storms in opera—both storms without (wind, lightning, rain, etc.) and the storms within (rage, anger) that often drew their metaphors and language from the natural elements. Through these examples, McClelland defines the parameters of the style. One of the virtues of the book is its close attention to changes in how composers chose to convey storms in opera. In chapter 2, for instance, McClelland notes that storms in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century repertory tend to feature 'flat'major modes (p. 21), that by the time of Rameau minor modes begin to compete with major ones (p. 24), and that after the 1760s the minor mode gains greater prevalence (pp. 26, 163). The third chapter examines rapid figuration and disjunct motion in both storm scenes and arie di tempesta; the fourth tempo fluctuations and jagged, excited rhythms and motives (tirades, concitato note repetitions, dotted rhythms, syncopation); and the fifth the taste for full textures and dynamic changes (both sudden shifts and gradual build-ups).

These chapters are primarily descriptive, though McClelland weaves interesting comments throughout. For instance, to explain why eighteenth-century musical storms were not even stormier, he argues in passing that composers avoided far-flung keys (p. 21) and chromaticism (p. 41) in order to facilitate string players...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1477-4631
Print ISSN
0027-4224
Pages
pp. 552-554
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-15
Open Access
No
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