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Cherubino’s Leap

In Search of the Enlightenment Moment

For the Enlightenment mind, from Moses Mendelssohn’s focus on the moment of surprise at the heart of the work of art to Herder’s imagining of the seismic moment at which language was discovered, it is the flash of recognition that nails the essence of the work, the blink of an eye in which one’s world changes. 

In Cherubino’s Leap, Richard Kramer unmasks such prismatic moments in iconic music from the Enlightenment, from the “chromatic” moment—the single tone that disturbs the thrust of a diatonic musical discourse—and its deployment in seminal instrumental works by Emanuel Bach, Haydn, and Mozart; on to the poetic moment, taking the odes of Klopstock, in their finely wrought prosody, as a challenge to the problem of strophic song; and finally to the grand stage of opera, to the intense moment of recognition in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride and the exquisitely introverted phrase that complicates Cherubino’s daring moment of escape in Mozart’s Figaro. Finally, the tears of the disconsolate Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail provoke a reflection on the tragic aspect of Mozart’s operatic women. Throughout, other players from literature and the arts—Diderot, Goethe, Lessing among them—enrich the landscape of this bold journey through the Enlightenment imagination.

224 pages | 17 halftones, 51 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2016

History: European History

Music: General Music

Philosophy: Aesthetics


“A withdrawal from the grandeur of the monograph into a more lyrical world of fragments and essays, strange and productively uneven tapestries, captivating islands of colourful aperçus poetically abandoned in seas of a sometimes baffling, threadbare weave. . . . Exquisite . . . . If Cherubino’s Leap has such a wealth to offer to our historical understanding of the various ends of the long eighteenth century, it has even more to offer us in terms of the pleasures of the scholarly act itself.”

James R. Currie | Eighteenth-Century Music

Cherubino’s Leap is full of revelations, as acute and probing an investigation of Enlightenment sensibility as has yet been penned.”

Musical Times

“No one writes about late Enlightenment music with the sensitivity and critical acuity of Kramer. In this extraordinary book, close readings that are as attentive to poetic and musical detail as they are attuned to shades of feeling movingly explore moments of deep inscrutability in C. P. E. Bach, Gluck, Beethoven, and Mozart. Kramer’s profound sympathy with the paradoxes and ironies of the culture of sensibility, and his discreetly brilliant way of writing about them, are breathtaking.”

Annette Richards, author of The Free Fantasia and the Musical Picturesque

“In this provocative book, Kramer explores musical moments that foster intense engagement by the listener. With a virtuosic range of reference to Enlightenment thinkers, and with heart-catching analyses of words set to music, Cherubino’s Leap seeks to understand the ‘inner ear’ of several important composers by working outward from brief but powerful evocations of meaning in their works. A welcome offering from one of our most profoundly musical scholars.”

Elaine Sisman, author of Haydn and the Classical Variation

Cherubino’s Leap is an excellent study by an outstanding musical thinker. It is a work sui generis, an elegant, refined, uncompromising exploration of critical passages in eighteenth-century masterpieces. This is engagement with music at the deepest level.”

William Drabkin, editor of Music Analysis

“No living writer on music is more qualified to point his snapshot camera obscura at moments that look initially either on the margins or so familiar that we need no further elucidation. The through-line in this provocative and wide-ranging collection of essays is that perpetual tension between the diatonic and the chromatic, and the author’s nine close readings of everything from a Klopstock ode to the mysteries of Cherubino are page-turning celebrations of layered, interwoven storytelling.”

Robert S. Winter, University of California, Los Angeles

"Cherubino’s Leap springs nimbly across decades, characters, and musical works."


Table of Contents


1. The Chromatic Moment in Enlightenment Thought
     A Preamble on Portraiture and Language
     The Chromatic Moment

Moments Musicaux
2. The Fugal Moment: On a Few Bars in Mozart’s Quintet in C Major, K. 515
3. Hearing the Silence: On a Much-Theorized Moment in a Sonata by Emanuel Bach

The Klopstock Moment
4. Oden von Klopstock in Musik gesetzt . . .
5. Composing Klopstock: Gluck contra Bach
     “A Poet among Composers”
     “A Klopstock Who Worked in Tones”
6. Beethoven: In Search of Klopstock

Dramma per Musica
7. Anagnorisis: Gluck and the Theater of Recognition
8. Cherubino’s Leap
9. Konstanze’s Tears
     Works Cited

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