Dissertation Index

Author: Sherrill, Paul M.

Title: The Metastasian Da Capo Aria: Moral Philosophy, Characteristic Actions, and Dialogic Form

Institution: Indiana University

Begun: January 2014

Completed: May 2016


During the middle of the eighteenth century, one of the dominant streams of European musical culture was Metastasian opera seria. Composers including Hasse, Galuppi, Gluck, Pergolesi, and Vinci composed dozens of settings of Pietro Metastasio\'s librettos, each one containing twenty or thirty arias in da capo form.

This dissertation develops a theory of the Metastasian da capo aria as a dialogic form, in the spirit of Hepokoski and Darcy\'s Elements of Sonata Theory. It proposes a hypothetical reconstruction of the \"generic contract\" of the mid–eighteenth-century aria, whereby the individual musical features of the richly conventionalized form attain expressive meaning as the agents of the genre\'s cultural uses. In particular, the intellectual and theatrical climate to which the Metastasian da capo aria was adapted demanded many of the musical features central to Hepokoski and Darcy\'s conception of sonata form: its orientation toward predictable punctuating cadences, its \"vectored trajectory\" toward closure, and its rhetorical layout in a series of musical \"rotations.\"

The da capo aria\'s features can be interpreted as a musical construction of a particularly eighteenth-century conception of subjectivity and ethical experience. Metastasio\'s librettos theatricalize the moral philosophy of Descartes\' Les passions de l’âme, depicting characters who struggle to regulate their passions in order to act appropriately. The dissertation interprets the musical and textual parameters of the aria in this light, with emphasis on musical form and the interplay between the purely musical and the poetic text. Its chief theoretical tool for approaching musical form is the \"characteristic action,\" a formal \"schema\" or \"family resemblance\" that unites the character\'s dramatic agency (as musically embodied in the vocal line) with a series of musical goals (rhetorically highlighted punctuating cadences). The chief of these goals is the \"essential structural closure\" that provides tonal closure for the entire aria, as in sonata form.

Keywords: metastasio, da capo, aria, opera seria, musical form, dialogic form, hasse, pergolesi, vinci, gluck


Chapter 1. The Metastasian Da Capo Aria
Chapter 2. Metastasian Stagecraft and Cartesian Philosophy
Chapter 3. Theoretical Principles (Characters, Action, and Text)
Chapter 4. Rotational Form
Chapter 5. The First Vocal Period
Chapter 6. The Second Vocal Period
Chapter 7. The Fiore, the Da Capo, and Two Analyses



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