Diplomacy or Honesty? Judging the Tone in Later 18th Century Music


Diplomacy or Honesty? Judging the Tone in Later 18th Century Music

One behavioural value associated with the 'polite' culture of the 18th century is equanimity. This need not imply an absence of strong feelings, but it does involve regulating their open expression, as part of a widely agreed social contract. Diplomacy takes the place of honesty, as it were. Such a value has certainly proved problematic when considered in relation to the music of the later 18th century. It has contributed to the common image of an expressively circumscribed style, from which only a few exceptional composers managed to escape. Marshall Brown, on the other hand, states plainly that “concealment rather than passionate utterance was a core value of Enlightened manners”, and asks us to evaluate such an attribute more positively. One way to build on his lead is to consider the ambiguous tone of much musical utterance of the time: the uncertainty about whether a particular passage or gesture is to be taken at face value or not. The case studies for this seminar, drawn from works by Boccherini, Haydn and Gyrowetz, focus on the appearance of markedly simple, often pastoral material within a mixed topical palette, when it is not clear whether we are hearing self-sufficiently “natural” music or something that is too simple to be taken seriously.

This event is part of a series of colloquia that perpetuates the legacy and cultural impact of Melburnian music patron and publisher Louise Hanson-Dyer (1884–1962), founder of Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, by bringing cutting-edge issues in music research to a public forum for discussion and debate.


  •  W. Dean Sutcliffe
    W. Dean Sutcliffe, University of Auckland