This shift in perspective realigns how different musical parameters collaborate to produce meaning. Observations from disparate domains coalesce into an interpretation of the aria. The analysis engages with musical details by starting from hypotheses about what the piece is serenade or psychologizing aria , what it does deliver text or embody expressive action , and how its musical features afford those identities. Audio Example 1. Its harmonic language, though indeed mostly diatonic, encompasses some moments of perplexing haziness, enough to intrigue the tonal analyst. Although each minor riddle might be dispelled within its own musical parameter, an analysis of the aria as a whole aspires to synthesize these subplots into a larger narrative.
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This shift in perspective realigns how different musical parameters collaborate to produce meaning. Observations from disparate domains coalesce into an interpretation of the aria. The analysis engages with musical details by starting from hypotheses about what the piece is serenade or psychologizing aria , what it does deliver text or embody expressive action , and how its musical features afford those identities.
Audio Example 1. Its harmonic language, though indeed mostly diatonic, encompasses some moments of perplexing haziness, enough to intrigue the tonal analyst.
Although each minor riddle might be dispelled within its own musical parameter, an analysis of the aria as a whole aspires to synthesize these subplots into a larger narrative. How might disparate theoretical tools and performance decisions be woven into a polyphonic interpretive web?
How can a rhythmic flutter in m. Nor is it productive to study how one particular domain dictates to the others, particularly as a matter of studying local relations between text and music, normally a first impulse in operatic analysis: although moments of text painting might be found, they are isolated events rather than a discourse that shapes the aria. To understand the aria as a shifting topography of topics and schemas is to invite the many independent parameters of the music into direct colloquy with each other, since any given topic comprises a bundle of associations across a number of parameters.
A familiar example is the musical cadence, which unites many parameters: not just harmony and melodic structure, but also rhythm, schematic convention, global form, performance decisions, and even text since in this style one expects cadences to correspond to complete syntactic and poetic units. But to interpret the meaning of a cadence, and the particularities of how it is realized for instance its rhythmic predictability or its harmonic unconventionality , requires a broader interpretive matrix that integrates the individual gestures.
It is at this level—the presentation of a course of theatrical and affective actions—that I find a thread of meaning that leads me through the aria from start to finish. Example 1. Instead it is a diegetic stage song, a serenade that Susanna performs on her guitar for Figaro to overhear. Figaro, believing this to be addressed to the Count, is duped and his jealousy inflamed. The music suggests something more.
The conventional interpretation is that Susanna pretends to sing to Almaviva while thinking of Figaro: she taps into sincere feelings for her spouse to lend verisimilitude to her performance of infidelity. She then must drag herself back to the performance to complete the ruse. A hard-won final cadence brings both the aria and the performance to a close with a return to the sounds of the serenade. Questions of diegesis have furnished matter for several thoughtful explorations of the operatic medium see Cone ; Abbate ; and Hunter , 46— The aria seems to migrate not simply from one topic to another but from one genre to another.
While certain musical and rhetorical structures would be at home in both genres e. The portion of the number that precedes this cadence inhabits the generic space of the diegetic serenade, dedicating most of its musical resources to performing that generic affiliation.
After the cadence, the number reframes itself as a soliloquy aria, a generic alignment that it sustains until a brief orchestral coda that returns, for three final measures, to the expressive language of the serenade. The first violins relinquish it immediately in m.
Another striking marker of the serenade that permeates the first part of the aria is its rhythm. After the midpoint cadence in m. The relaxation into duple hypermeter contributes, just as much as the change of orchestration, to the sense that the second part of the aria drops its mask of artificial performativity and achieves a new level of expressive directness.
In particular, the end of each three-bar module seems deliberately drawn out. Example 2. The poem uses the longest common meter of Italian verse, consistent eleven-syllable lines, which seems to be a generic marker of the diegetic serenade. Example 3. Before the cadence of m. Example 3 offers a voice-leading sketch of the serenade, which is an elegant undivided binary form.
Cadences arrive like clockwork, marked off by the regular hypermeter—never projected, evaded, and recaptured as in the heightened rhetoric around the structural cadences of sonata form. This accords well with the generic context of the diegetic serenade, which establishes a regular musical framework to which a text can be delivered or perhaps improvised. Figaro, we might remember, is to be incensed by the words Susanna addresses to an unnamed beloved, not by her skills as a harmonic innovator.
Its metrical structure, excessively regular prior to m. And, most crucially, achievement of tonal closure suddenly becomes fraught. Cadences become rarer and less metrically predictable; and the anticipated closure of m. This harmonic surprise takes place in the context of a generally enriched harmonic syntax, one that includes not just the warmth of the subdominant chord so far avoided in the aria but also a tonicization of that IV and the instability of a third-inversion dominant seventh.
All of these choices bespeak a musical language in which events have psychically expressive, rather than dramatically mimetic, significance. Successfully completing that performance involves a particularly complex tension. To the extent that Susanna actually sings the serenade to Figaro, the duplicity of the performance hinders her real ambition for a happy resolution to the trials of their wedding day.
After the cadence, we the audience have been moved successfully and completely, and we project that experience onto Figaro. But this terraced shape is only the broad framework for a more subtle undulation between expressive modes: countervailing forces tug against both parts of the aria, drawing the serenade closer to a soliloquy and vice versa.
Example 4. Example 4 depicts the similarities. The tonic overhang is treated as a cadential six-four that resolves to the dominant.
And several climactic statements of the cadential theme 4 [mm. Example 5. Again, if only the jealous Figaro would use his ears he would know that she is singing this phrase directly to him, just as she did to begin the opera.
When the motive is quoted in fuller form in mm. Example 5 highlights recurrences of the head motive throughout the aria, tracking its undulating arpeggio with scale degrees for strong-beat tones and superscripted numerals for higher weak-beat tones.
Although the motive is nearly ubiquitous, its rhetoric is one of presence, accentuated by playfully superficial changes, not of serious-minded progressive development. These more distant cousins include the arpeggiations in mm. This familiar harmonic formula introduces a degree of dissonance that is contrary to the simple harmonic vocabulary of the serenade topic, but it provides the model for two more dissonant and unusual moments during the serenade.
In all three of these moments, the vocal line considered in isolation suggests, usually through a prominently projected diatonic third, the presence of a harmony other than what is actually present in the accompaniment. In the instance of m. In each of these cases, the anomalous harmony suggested by the vocal line also fits poorly into the surrounding harmonic context.
Consider how easily the downbeat of m. These measures recall the siciliano rhythm that was briefly introduced at m. When it is recalled by the soprano in mm. It is certainly easy to account for them with conventional harmonic vocabulary.
The first of these happens in m. This is a kindness to the singer, avoiding overtaxing her in a dangerous register, which is part of the expressive matrix of the moment.
The low register is a private space, drawn inward toward the body and harder to project over distance: real interiority and the warmth of sincerity are physically incompatible with the artificiality of the performed serenade.
This disruption to the prevailing rhythm is a moment of excess, enthusiasm for the deception radiating outward beyond the script of the serenade. The rhythm of this measure is easiest to read not as pointing introversively to any other feature in the aria but as pointing out toward the stage, perhaps inviting a few steps of a dance. Both moments are superfluous, generous profusions of musical diversity that seem to lack motivation in the music or the poetic text neither being especially obvious moments of text painting , and as such they suggest an agency that transcends the musical logic of the serenade.
That agency can be located in the performer of the serenade as Le nozze di Figaro presents it to us: Susanna herself. The aria provides a series of cues that can subtly support a countervailing duple hypermeter. The duple stream is launched by a contradiction inherent to the triple hearing, which can only assign downbeat status to the beginning of the first melodic segment m. Projecting that odd measure—strong pulse forward, the next hypermetric downbeat ought to be m. A downbeat placed there explains the minor mystery of why this module begins with the anomalous non-motivic vamp of m.
In the duple hearing, the vamp is an anacrusis that prepares a metrically strong return of the head motive in m. This hearing also aligns nicely with the woodwind interlude of mm. For the first time in the aria, the duple stream emerges to the fore, not as a dissonant embellishment but as the dominant metric state, however briefly.
That emergence coincides with the first foregrounding of the woodwinds since the ritornello. The winds are timbrally extravagant, supplemental to the quasi-diegetic pizzicato. The rupture of this interlude crystallizes, for the first time, the alliance between orchestration and meter that pits pizzicato and triple-time music against sostenuto and duple music.
It leaves behind the highly marked signs of the serenade its triple hypermeter and pseudo-guitar orchestration in favor of duple hypermeter and an orchestral fabric that gradually thickens by successively introducing arco first violins, bassoon, oboe, flute, and finally arco lower strings.
Whereas the phrase structure of the opening 32 bars is overwhelmingly periodic, furnishing frequent cadences at predictable hypermetric intervals, the form of this final section is a relatively loose form-functional sentence. Beginning at m. When the vocal line dips down to middle C in m. The vocal line of m. The reintroduction of the head motive, even in its elongated form, is noteworthy because the motive has been absent so far from duple-hypermeter soliloquy, despite having been nearly ubiquitous during the triple-hypermeter serenade.
After a passage of increasingly deep introspection, the head motive of mm. The meter, orchestral accompaniment, and melodic line all cease at once, reverberating in the silence of the fermata.
Here, however, she encounters further tonal setbacks that delay the progress of the phrase. For the continuation, the aria presents two paired climaxes mm. It presents the same passage twice and slots the opposing gestures into equivalent positions. The gestures seem to be opposed to one another because they elicit opposite cadential responses: the first phrase derails onto a deceptive cadence whereas the second leads, with some coaxing, to the structural authentic cadence that closes the aria.
It is as if the deceptive cadence rejects the first phrase and demands a second take, which Susanna revises by deploying the alternate climax.
Example 6. In the presentation mm. As a registral extreme, it harks back to the A3 nadir in m. Her highest note exploits its timbral brightness and extroverted virtuosity for the opposite effect: it emphasizes performativity in a context that has retreated, as a soliloquy aria, toward interiority.
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Yet, Susanna has planned this tryst with the Countess; they are disguised as each other, hoping to trap the Count in his dirty ways. So, this aria is all at once a a lie, b a true seduction of Figaro, and c Susanna in disguise. That latter part informs the music, which looks and sounds much more Countess-like than like Susanna. For instance, she gets an extended accompagnato recit, a device largely reserved for noble characters instead of maids:. Similar, yet very different. Finally, the end of this aria is like a very expensive gift, wrapped in an expensive bow.