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Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart

Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni

Wye Jamison Allanbrook’s widely influential Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart challenges the view that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music was a “pure play” of key and theme, more abstract than that of his predecessors. Allanbrook’s innovative work shows that Mozart used a vocabulary of symbolic gestures and musical rhythms to reveal the nature of his characters and their interrelations. The dance rhythms and meters that pervade his operas conveyed very specific meanings to the audiences of the day.

408 pages | 224 musical examples | 6 x 9 | © 1984

Music: General Music


“Novel in approach, finely organized, and beautifully written.”


“Allanbrook’s discussion is by no means limited to matters of rhythm; she also employs more traditional methods of harmonic, motivic, formal, and linear analysis. . . . In its flexibility of approach and its concern for ethical and spiritual matters, the book is a model of critical analysis at its most humane. It represents, in fact, a wonderful antidote to the arid, technical analytic writing that sometimes prevails in such studies. . . . As Allanbrook shows, a grasp of the topical vocabulary in this music can lead to a variety of new insights into its expressive message.”

Journal of Musicology

Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart enriches at least three fields: the history and criticism of dance, the Classic Period, and Mozart studies. . . . A splendid, self-contained achievement which, in its blend of disciplines and its creative interpretations of analytical observations, represents writing about music at its best.”

Eighteenth-Century Studies

“Enormously stimulating. . . . Anyone working through these often multileveled interpretations will gain an enhanced sensitivity to Mozart’s rhythmic techniques and an expanded comprehension of the means by which he fused drama and music.”

Journal of the American Musicological Society

“Allanbrook’s erudite study of eighteenth-century dances and their rhythms in these two operas is marvelous scholarship.”

Opera Journal

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Expression, Imitation, and the Musical Topos

Mozart's Rhythmic Topoi
1. The Shapes of Rhythms
2. The Gestures of Social Dance

Le nozze di Figaro
3. Act I
4. Act II
5. Act III
6. Act IV

Don Giovanni
7.  Overture and Introduction
8.  The Opening Scene
9.  The Noble Lovers
10. Elvira
11. Zerlina and Masetto
12. The Two Finales


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