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date: 26 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

To some students, it is obvious that the libretto is the main structure of an opera and music illustrates it. Addressing this intuitive principle, unfounded and easily shown to be false, Carl Dahlhaus opposed the idea that music is at the origin of the drama in opera. This new paradigm, called the “fundamental proposition of musical dramaturgy,” makes it possible to avoid the dramaturgical contradictions of the libretto as it provides a more satisfactory analytical perspective. This essay compares the two approaches in two case studies, the musical representation of madness and of a scandal. It shows that the invention of new tools of musical dramaturgy always proceeded, throughout the history of opera, from a greater exploration of the particular resources of musical language and an a posteriori rationalization within the theory of imitation. Wagner’s combination of several dramaturgical functions in the leitmotif is an important case.

Keywords: libretto, Dahlhaus, dramaturgy, imitation, leitmotif

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