Summary and Info
During an analysis of a Stradella aria, McClary discusses how the music which starts in a sunny mood (in a major key) moves to a relative minor, and it's as if a cloud has passed overhead. She shows how this modest but effective narrative, dramatic device eventually became a convention (modulation to the relative major or minor) that was so widely used, the dramatic roots became obscured and this modulation began to be taught as a purely "formal" device.
Time and again, McClary shows that "form" is not something that is necessarily dry and intellectual, but rather something that serves a very particular purpose, rooted in the needs and desires of society, though often invisible to that society. By bringing to light the conventions that are integral to the work, her analyses offer as many insights into the audiences of their day as they do into the compositional mechanics of the works themselves.
Speaking as a classical composer and a performer, I found it inspiring the extent that this book brings music to life. That her analytical methods work as well with Bessie Smith and Prince as they do with Vivaldi and late Beethoven string quartets is a strong plus. Let's live in the whole world of music!
I think we have here what will be a highly influential book, or at the least, part of a highly influential and fruitful new trend in musicology. I'm recommending it to all my composer and performer associates, particularly those of a more analytical bent.
It's not always the easiest read. I'd rate it at a "college" (but not necessarily "graduate college") level as opposed to being directed to a more popular audience. Lot's of interesting footnotes and citations. But much will be accessible to music lovers with only a little formal musical training. I think having some ability to read music would help (especially if one does not have access to recordings of the works she analyzes).
More About the Author
Susan Kaye McClary (born 2 October 1946) is a musicologist associated with the "New Musicology". Noted for her work combining musicology with feminist music criticism, McClary is Professor of Musicology at Case Western Reserve University.
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