Susan Mcclary The Blasphemy

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In "The Blasphemy of Talking Politics during Bach Year," Susan McClary characterizes Bach 's Brandenburg Concerto No.5 as a radical display of the rise of the middle class in the 18th century and the tenuous relationship between social harmony and upward mobility. Central to this argument is McClary 's characterization of the harpsichord cadenza as an "unplanned" and unconstrained display of madness. McClary 's interpretation of the harpsichord cadenza as a "hijacking" by a deviant unconstrained by musical and social conventions ignores the role of continuo player (viz. the composer) as the mastermind of the piece and the candenza as a display of virtuosity. This leads McClary to misinterpret the harpsichord as an upstart gone awry rather…show more content…
From early in the piece, the harpsichord establishes itself as more than a mere accompaniment and rather as a foundational element in control of the direction of the work. In particular,Excerpt 1 shows the harpsichord as the first instrument to play during this solo, as it enters with trilled phrases and eventually sweeping glissandi uncharacteristic of a basso continuo part, which ordinarily "blends in with the background like a custodian, in insuring continuity, permits the expressive liberties of the soloists" (McClary, 25). While McClary explains this deviation from the norm as the harpsichord 's "competing for attention" before its "hijacking of the piece" (25), the harpsichord part 's melodic complexity and dynamics – the clearly audible harpsichord against the more subdued flute and violin – instead suggest that the solo sections are points of expression just as much for the "soloists" as the harpsichordist. That is, the harpsichord plays alongside the soloists in a sort of equal-voiced non-imitative polyphony rather than in the soloist 's shadows at the start of the solo before the harpsichord returns to the background. That the instrument begins a section in the foreground before tapering back on its own suggests that the harpsichord has no issue gaining attention and instead has considerable control over its position within the…show more content…
The harpsichord part develops as a revelation than an evolution: The centrality of the harpsichord part is suggested early, but only becomes obvious once the rest of the ensemble has quieted. This reading is incompatible with McClary 's claim that the harpsichord 's emergence and so-called hijacking of the work represents the rise of the bourgeoisie because that would suggest the bourgeoisie had always had a stronghold on economic and political power that suddenly decided to reveal itself. An important qualification on my rejection of McClary 's interpretation is that my reading of the work depends highly on visual elements and possibly stylistic choices of the recording and performers. For example, the choice to show the pan frequently to the harpsichordist as in Excerpt 1 highlights the harpsichordist 's hands in masterful control both corroborate my view of the harpsichordist in contrast to McClary 's. More generally, this disparity problematizes many aspects of interpreted historical works of music by suggesting that such interpretations depend not only one 's individual experience with the work but also the stylistic choices of the people interpreting it removed from its original context. Without Bach behind the harpsichord, both the character he plays as the harpsichordist and how we should interpret the
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