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Title: The “Se cerca” Script: Conventions and Creativity in an Eighteenth-Century Aria Tradition.
Authors: Mitchell, Nathaniel Douglas
Advisors: Heller, Wendy
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: Convention
Subjects: Music theory
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: “Se cerca, se dice,” the climactic aria from Metastasio’s heroic opera L’Olimpiade (1733), was a centerpiece of galant musical culture. Adored by critics for its affective immediacy and treasured by star castrati for its union of tender lyricism with virtuosic flair, “Se cerca” graced the eighteenth-century stage hundreds of times, inspiring over seventy compositions by dozens of the century’s most celebrated composers. What is more, the aria’s many settings share a striking number of musical features, as though each sketched a common subject from a distinct artistic perspective. “Se cerca” was thus more than a popular text: it was the catalyst for an extraordinarily rich musical tradition structured by its own dialogic network of generic constraints. In contrast to the style-wide, intergeneric conventions addressed by modern-day Formenlehre and schema theory, “Se cerca” provides an unprecedented look at the largely-overlooked situation-specific pressures that animate the galant style. Rooted in detailed analysis of sixty-two surviving settings of the aria, this dissertation tells a theoretical story about the conventions of “Se cerca, se dice:” their development, their impact on composing and listening, and their relation to broader aspects of the style. Chapter 1 introduces the “Se cerca” tradition by situating it within the dramatic arc of its parent opera L’Olimpiade, sketching its theatrical history, and tracing its sonic impact through contemporary analyses, letters, and diary entries. Chapter 2 argues that the aria was associated with a specific “script”—a schema for how a “Se cerca” should go—capturing the characteristic musical structure both of the aria itself and of the preceding recitative. Chapter 3 explores how this script emerged from style-wide conventions that nourished the tradition’s earliest products, arguing that marked features of Metastasio’s text constrained early settings in specific ways, thereby implanting a set of characteristic musical features at the tradition’s core. Chapters 4 and 5 detail the structure of the “Se cerca” script, divided respectively into its expositional and recapitulatory phases, and consider how it addressed shifting expectations about the structural foundations and emotive power of music. A portrait thereby emerges of a richly-detailed set of musical behaviors shaped by the powerful theatrical and dramatic pressures of this remarkable Metastasian text.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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