“A Clever Orator”: Colloquies and Performances Exploring Rhetoric in Haydn’s Chamber Music

Friday, April 20, 2001–Saturday, April 21, 2001
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Tom Beghin, University of California, Los Angeles; Raymond Knapp, University of California, Los Angeles; and Elisabeth Le Guin, University of California, Los Angeles

The conference brings together musicology and music performance beneath the encompassing umbrella of oratory, as it was understood to apply to music by eighteenth-century listeners, performer-composers, music theorists and critics alike. A focal point is the chamber music-especially the solo and accompanied keyboard sonatas-of Joseph Haydn, described by his contemporaries as “a clever orator” or “the Shakespeare of music.”

It has become fairly commonplace for latter-day musicians and music historians to refer to music in terms of rhetoric, while merely meaning that it is speechlike in conception or execution. This looseness evades some difficult questions that arise around the association of music and rhetoric, while it fails to do justice to the historical richness of that association. Through its interdisciplinary scope this conference intends to shed new light upon the relations between the two arts, by addressing some of those difficult questions—if rhetoric is the art of persuasion, of what is the listener of music being persuaded? who “speaks” in chamber music: are musicians having a conversation, or is the composer, as one master-orator, “speaking” to or through the musicians? can music ever be said to function semantically, or is this a chimera?—and addressing them with especial reference to the historical context of Haydn’s day, in which rhetorical theory and practice were central to basic education, and praise of a composer as a “clever orator” was neither lightly nor loosely applied.

Through the incorporation of performances of Haydn’s music into the conference, discussion of the works performed, and the resultant engagement of participants in issues of “audience performance practice,” the conference begins a process of rebuilding an eighteenth-century understanding of the musical work as one integrated rhetorical process, from invention to delivery, incorporating issues such as expression, notation, persona, and a range of possible relationships among composers, performers, and listeners.