The Rhythm of Text and Music in Ottocento Melody: An Empirical Reassessment in Light of Contemporary Treatises

Balthazar, Scott L.

Two important studies have approached these same issues through empirical examination of the ottocento repertory: Robert Moreen's dissertation on textual and musical form in Verdi's early operas, and Friedrich Lippmann's study of textual and musical rhythm in late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Italian opera. Moreen and Lippmann viewed rhythmic aspects of the text-music relationship from opposite perspectives. Moreen concentrated on musical metric accent and its relationship to poetic scansion, that is, the placement of poetic accents within measures, without specific regard for note-to-note melodic rhythms. In contrast, Lippmann's narrower, yet more exhaustive study of melodies from Mozart through Verdi attempts to categorize musical rhythmic motives and to attribute their occurrences to characteristics of various poetic meters. Despite this important difference, in more than a decade since these studies first appeared-perhaps because neither was published as a book-no one has seriously reviewed their implications or tried to assess the validity of their theses, to reconcile their diverging approaches, or to compare their conclusions with contemporary formulations. In the following pages, my attempt at such an assessment will lead me to propose a new approach for understanding poetic and musical rhythm in ottocento opera. We will see that the writings of Baini, Asioli, and Ritorni, while sometimes contradictory and often problematic, provide invaluable clarification of ottocento text-setting practices, revealing complexities that we have not previously considered. In doing so, they contribute a necessary contemporary point of reference from which we can evaluate Moreen's and Lippmann's contrasting hypotheses and open new avenues of empirical investigation that enable us to refine present-day views of the text-music relationship.



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Columbia University
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February 6, 2015