Dissertation Index

Author: Klorman, Edward

Title: Multiple Agency in Mozart\'s Chamber Music

Institution: CUNY Graduate Center

Begun: July 2010

Completed: January 2013


This study undertakes an examination of elements of social intercourse encoded in Mozart’s chamber music. Since the 1770s, many authors have described chamber music—especially string quartets—as a form of stylized conversation. Although this metaphor still figures prominently in discussions of the Classical style, analyses of individual chamber works rarely capture the interplay among the parts. This dissertation attempts to bridge that divide through the notion of multiple agency, which regards each instrumental part as an independent persona engaged in a seemingly spontaneous interaction with the other parts. Like actors portraying dramatic characters, the players enacting these musical characters may experience the illusion of self-determination, as if they are choosing their own statements, moment to moment, through a process of group improvisation. Multiple agency offers a theoretical model of how players may conceive of their own musical utterances and interactions as the discourse unfolds in time as they play. Harmonic, formal, and metrical events may be construed as resulting from the interaction among the characters, and conflicts or ambiguities arise when they outwit, surprise, or compete with one another.

The historical study in Part I of this dissertation provides inspiration for the analytical method developed in Part II. Beginning with accounts of Mozart’s own domestic music-making (Chapter 1), the historical survey proceeds to examine eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century sources that describe chamber music as a metaphorical conversation or social interaction among the instruments (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 contrasts the modern practice of performing chamber music in public concerts with the practices of Mozart’s time, when this music was most commonly played at home among friends, who usually sight-read from individual parts. This setting presumably lent the music-making a spontaneous, of-the-moment quality that shares affinities to open-ended improvisation.

The analytical portion introduces the concept of multiple agency in detail (Chapter 4). Departing from the traditional, omniscient vantage point for music analysis, which views the score as a unitary whole, multiple agency offers a multivalent perspective on the individual characters’ roles in determining musical events. Chapters 5 and 6 examine the implications of multiple agency for the analysis of form and meter, respectively, through close readings of a number of musical excerpts from Mozart’s chamber music.

Keywords: Mozart, Classical style, conversation, sociability, form, meter, performance, agency, narrative, string quartet



1: The Music of Friends
2: Chamber Music and the Metaphor of Conversation
3: Private, Public, and Playing in the Present Tense PART II: ANALYTICAL PERSPECTIVES
4: Analyzing from Within the Work: Toward a Theory of Multiple Agency
5: Multiple Agency and Classical Form
6: Multiple Agency and Meter
7: Conclusion


Edward Klorman
The Juilliard School
60 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023

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