Tobias Plebuch: "Stirring the Composer’s Mind"
- Date: 12 December, 13:15–15:00
- Location: Engelska parken - Eng2-K1028
- Organiser: The Department of Literature
- Contact person: Mats Rosengren
The General Seminar – Rhetoric
Tobias Plebuch, Musicology, Uppsala University: "Stirring the Composer’s Mind: Topoi, Loci Communes, and the Ars Inveniendi in Music History"
Musicologists adopted the idea of topoi in the 1980s from literary studies to designate certain formulas of expression comparable to rhetorical commonplaces. Accordingly, characteristic musical patterns with culturally and historically determined connotations and symbolic functions are identified as topics, such as fanfare, pastoral, chorale, or lamento. This approach turned out to be very fruitful in music analysis and hermeneutics because such topics appear in vast quantities across genres, media, and periods since the Renaissance. However, pre-19th-century treatises exhibit a different understanding of musical topoi (or loci) as heuristic aids of the ars inveniendi and discuss conventions of writing chorales, lamentos etc. in chapters about style or genre while never calling them topoi. To explain this discrepancy, I will briefly review the controversy over Curtius’s European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1948) which has largely been ignored by musicologists. Curtius drew sharp criticism for his allegedly trivial concept of topics that effectively popularized the term in neighbor disciplines, including musicology, as a buzzword for clichés and catchphrases. However, Curtius was not entirely wrong given the vagueness of most sources in rhetoric and philosophy (beginning with Aristotle’s Topica), poetics, homiletics, law, music etc.—a vagueness that defies a clear-cut definition. Drawing on the Curtius debate, I argue for a broader notion of musical topics as both material and method. In order to explicate, rather than define, this notion of topical thinking in music history, I will draw on examples from 18th-century “free style” instrumental pieces, 19th-century stage melodrama, early 20th-century silent film accompaniment, and mid-20th-century film music. In conclusion, I propose that conceptual ambiguity might be an inherent and indispensable part of theorizing and teaching topoi, which reflects the inextricable connection between finna och uppfinna in the creative process.