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‘“It goes like this”: agency and the rhetoric of classical music performance’

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Taking Werktreue as the still-central ideology of classical music performance, this talk asks how performers conceptualize the complex mix of agency and obligation involved in interpretation. Situating my work between the culturally non-theorized insights of performance studies and the un- (or anti-) practical stance of philosophy, I investigate a couple of kinds of linguistic formation characteristic of performer talk in-action. These are declarative statements with an unspecified “it” as the subject, and one subset of deontic language (the modal verbs “should,” “ought,” “must” “need”, etc.). I conclude that these two kinds of sentence keep interpretation in the rhetorical world of service to the work at the very same time as they manifest the performers’ creative agency. This kind of interpretative language, I argue, is “constitutive” of the work as it will be performed, and is distinct from the more common decisions and locutions which figure the performer as less creatively agential.

Mary Hunter is a musicologist with interests in eighteenth-century opera, the history and ideology of performance, and music in culture. She is the author of The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna (Princeton, 1999), which won the American Musicological Society’s Kinkeldey Prize, and Mozart’s Operas: A Companion (Yale, 2008). She is the co-editor, with James Webster, of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna (Cambridge, 1997) and, with Richard Will, of Engaging Haydn: Culture, Context and Criticism (Cambridge, 2012). She has been the editor of the Journal of Musicological Research, the Cambridge Opera Journal, and AMS Studies in Music. The author of many articles in such journals as The Journal of the American Musicological Society, Journal of Musicology, and Cambridge Opera Journal, and in many edited collections, she is currently working on a project about the ideology of performance in classical music culture.

This talk is part of the Faculty of Music Colloquia series.

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