LʼOrfeo, or the Anxiety of the Moderns
The shift in the fundamental attitudes toward musical time did not occur suddenly within the few decades separating the two composers Bach and Mozart. Rather, both shifts extended over several centuries. This chapter offers an interpretation of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, a work that captures conflicting attitudes toward an early stage of emerging modernity. L'Orfeo was a vote of confidence for musical modernity. However, it was a half-hearted sort of confidence, affirming the values of modern harmony only as a consolation prize for the early modern subject defeated in his quest for autonomy. Almost two centuries had to pass for modern self-confidence to grow sufficiently to allow us to imagine a successful quest for autonomy, an Orpheus who triumphs in life, as in Mozart's The Magic Flute, rather than in death.
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