Wye J. Allanbrook is justly celebrated for her brilliant and subtle readings of Mozart’s mature operas in light of their rhythmic and musical topics (or topoi). In recent years she has turned her attention increasingly to his instrumental music. Her essay here, “Mozart’s tunes and the comedy of closure,” opens with a critique of the “dark and troubled” Mozart that, in her view, is a legacy of the romanticized Mozart of the nineteenth century. This Mozart survives in the guise of a “subversive” in recent writings by authors such as Rose Rosengard Subotnik and Susan McClary. Allanbrook writes:
The musical result of the pursuit of the Gloomy Mozart is an agenda that shapes a dangerous misconception of the conventions of the Classic style—a presumption that these conventions have somehow been imposed from without, by the enlightenment’s musical thought police, and that it is intellectual progress to grow away from them, even if in the process the individual becomes divided against himself. (p. 172).This is surely right (although one wonders just how “dangerous” these misconceptions are; perhaps the rhetoric is a bit overheated). What may in hindsight seem like stifling conventions were continuously and dynamically forming and reforming in the eighteenth century. As Allanbrook points out, the prevalence of major keys in the late eighteenth-century was actually a novelty (compared, say, with J. S. Bach), and sonata form, far from being a formal straightjacket, was “a gradually emerging compositional process” (p. 175).