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Antithetical ArtsOn the Ancient Quarrel Between Literature and Music$
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Peter Kivy

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199562800

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199562800.001.0001

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First the Music, and Then the Words

First the Music, and Then the Words

(p.3) 1 First the Music, and Then the Words
Antithetical Arts

Peter Kivy (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter begins with a discussion of Salieri's opera, or, rather, Casti's libretto, which holds the key to the origins of musical formalism in the late 18th century, and to the origins of the focus of this book — the ancient quarrel between music and literature. It argues that the first wave of musical interpreters of the new absolute music, faced with the phenomenon of a rapidly growing instrumental repertoire, turned to the familiar, if somewhat less than commonplace practice of writing words to precomposed music, for their interpretive method. What was heard by these interpreters in absolute music was wordless drama. And, as interpreters, they became the composers' (sometimes unwelcome) librettists. But while narrative, dramatic interpretations may have been the more abundant, critics and theoreticians were also struggling with another concept of absolute music that would lead to Hanslick's formalism, and other formalisms to come. It was the concept of absolute music as a pure sonic structure with no secret or underlying meaning at all.

Keywords:   music formalism, Salieri, opera, Casti, libretto, literature, arias

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