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MusicPart of Humanities

From the Learned to the Pastoral and Beyond - New Book on Musical Topics Edited by Danuta Mirka

Published: 23 September 2014

A wide-ranging new book on musical topics, edited by Reader in Music Danuta Mirka, has just been published by Oxford University Press and presented during a special session “Topic Theory and Music Analysis” at the European Music Analysis Conference (EuroMAC) in Leuven last week.

Topics are musical signs that rely on associations with different genres, styles, and types of music making. The concept of topics was introduced by Leonard Ratner in the 1980s to account for cross-references between eighteenth-century styles and genres. The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory consolidates this field of research by clarifying its basic concepts and exploring its historical foundations. During the eighteenth century, while music theorists and critics were busy classifying styles and genres, defining their affects and proper contexts for their usage, composers started crossing the boundaries between them and using stylistic conventions as means of communication with the audience. Such topical mixtures received negative evaluations from North-German critics but became the hallmark of South-German music, which engulfed Viennese classicism. Topic theory allows music scholars to gain access to the meaning and expression of this music.

The volume grounds the concept of topics in eighteenth-century music theory, aesthetics, and criticism. Documenting the historical reality of individual topics on the basis of eighteenth-century sources, it relates topical analysis to other methods of music analysis conducted from the perspectives of composers, performers, and listeners.

In addition to Dr Mirka's own contribution, the volume features essays by over 20 leading musicologists and music theorists from around the world, and is accompanied by a companion website with audio and video examples.


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