To see through the veil society has put around Mozart Susan McClary Essay

To see through the veil society has put around Mozart, Susan McClary breaks down Mozart’s music through political and social boundaries. Its these boundaries that McCleary says dictate how Mozart composed his music. Her inquiry into Mozart sparked from an intellectual debate in which her colleague’s opinion of a soloist’s interpretation of a movement from a Mozart concerto which led to a discussion on the significance of the eighteenth century. McClary’s thought is that many people who are intellectually cultivated will see this in the light of the church; that music must be abstract and free from human emotion which would skew this idea of perfectionism that was highly regarded.

However, McClary does not hold the eighteenth century in the same regard. She wants to understand how the idea of perfectionism got glued to Mozart. In her existential monologue throughout the article she addresses how Mozart was not this perfect being, but instead wrote within and in some instances, for, political and social structures that were employed during his time.

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Heading into McClary’s first stage of breaking down the illusion she states that “Music articulates social meaning in several different ways”. McClary argues that music is just codes, both conscious and subconscious, achieved through melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic styles. McClary follows with the example “the implication of negative emotional states in minor-key passages; or the connection with Nazi Germany of a well known tune from a Haydn quartet. In none of these instances is there anything inherent in the sounds themselves that is angry, sad, or fascist: meaning can be said to be present only by virtue of social agreement”. (Pg131) What she is saying is that music isn’t naturally sad, angry, or any other emotion, it has these emotions because of social constructs. At some point in history there was a composer who started writing dramatic lines of music over minor keys and through time it adapted to be the standard for negative emotions. She furthers by saying that as we evolve our living codes flex, allowing debate, introduction, removal and reintroduction of ideas based on the current cultural activity. Deepening her argument, she sates “Second, meaning is produced through the use of formal procedures that are accepted in the musical community as norms or conventions”. (Pg) However, meaning is subjective and creates differences in taste which McClary says they are “marks of the preferences of that social group”. Her example of a group of musicians that decide how to play the music helps to further her point. Groups of people from different parts of the world have different cultural upbringings which dictates their musical expressions so two groups playing the same piece can sound different.

McClary returns to Mozart by stating everything done in the piano concerto is not a melody pulled out of the air because he’s Mozart; it’s heavily based upon eighteenth cultural century norms including, economics, humanities, and politics as well as harmonic guidelines. McClary draws multiple different cultures together not by referencing them, but by their tonal system. Her argument is even though western tonal systems have departed from the same tonality the people have subconscious understanding of the patterns that dictate the music and can still identify variations from the norms. The general form is still the same; all music has a destination and is subject to conventional rules.

“Sonata procedure is the late eighteenth century organizational paradigm in tonal music”. (pg137) The sonata starts off with the main theme in the tonic and a secondary theme in a different key. From there we transition into the development section with fragmented sections of the theme reoccurring but altered by key, rhythmically, interrelationships, etc. Finally, we head to the recapitulation. The first theme is restated back in the tonic key and then the secondary theme is restated, this time in the tonic, instead of its original key. McClary surfaces the issue that the identity of the first theme is threatened by the secondary in the tonic, but then goes on to say the chain of events already set in place assimilate into the first theme.

The classical concerto begins with the ritornello. It includes most of the themes of the piece and it stays in the tonic key throughout. Because the ritornello stays in the that key it postpones the conflict. The soloist will enter after this, alongside the orchestra, on the principle theme of the ritornello. Where the form begins to turn is when the soloist starts to modulate into different keys. The orchestra continues the tonic, expanding upon the initial theme with entrances of the ritornello. The soloist and the orchestra play together and at times they contrast. To get to the recapitulation we return to the tonic. Then we hear the secondary theme in new light drawing attention back on itself before the soloist takes the cadenza and the orchestra returns in a final time to conclude the piece. This is where McClary starts to break through the mist. She compares the soloist and orchestra to the individual and society. They both work together at times and other times they work separately. Eventually they both resolve, the musical issues presented by tonic-modulatory sections and various issues of ethics, economics, etc. This connection is exactly what McClary is trying to make. Mozart writes the way he does because of this underlying tie to cultural issues that cannot be actively ignored.

Throughout McClary’s article

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