Koch, Carpani, and Momigny: Theorists of Agency in the Classical String Quartet?

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Edward Klorman


This study examines historical writings about the “Classical” string quartet, a genre often compared to artful conversation. The conversation metaphor implicitly suggests “multiple agency” (Klorman 2016), whereby the four parts (or players) are interpreted as representing independent characters or personas. This paradigm contrasts sharply with the more monological musical personifications advanced in many recent writings on musical agency, such as Cone’s influential The Composer’s Voice (1974), which posit a “central intelligence” representing the “mind” of the composition, its fictional protagonist, or its composer. Focusing principally on discussions of Haydn’s and Mozart’s quartets in H. C. Koch’s Versuch (1793), J. J. de Momigny’s Cours complet(1806), and G. Carpani’s Le Haydine (1812), I examine whether instrumental personas postulated by each author constitute genuine agents, according to criteria developed in Monahan 2013. At issue is whether personas are described as possessing (1) such anthropomorphic qualities as sentience, volition, and emotion; and (2) a capacity for independent action or utterance.

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