As Europeans explored distant lands and settled new continents from the 1500s to around 1800, their impressions of foreign cultures were reflected in the performing arts, notably those involving music. Depictions of Middle Eastern harem women, Incan priests, fortune-telling Gypsies (Roma), and other inhabitants of exotic locales often reveal a mixture of attraction to the group or region being portrayed but also some envy or fear.
In his just-published book Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart, musicologist Ralph P. Locke explores how peoples who were considered different from “us” (Europeans) were characterized in popular songs, instrumental works, oratorios, ballets, and operas. The book serves as a prequel to his much-acclaimed 2009 book Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections.
Locke’s new study offers insights into musical masterworks by Cavalli, Lully, Purcell, Rameau, Handel, Vivaldi, Gluck, Mozart, and others. It demonstrates how composers and their artistic collaborators, including librettists and choreographers, conveyed the multiple meanings that ethnic and cultural Otherness held at the time.
“Music allowed Westerners to comment on peoples who lived far away: in the Americas, Persia, even China” says Locke, professor of musicology at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester. “In the process, composers often gave glimpses—whether consciously or not—into the values of their own society.”
Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart contains more than 50 rare illustrations, such as a painting of the troops of the Ottoman Empire—in turbans and with camels—laying siege to Vienna, woodcuts depicting Native Americans, and a sculpture of a sub-Saharan African dancer. The book also provides numerous musical examples, ranging from a sixteenth-century moresca tune (danced by young men with darkened faces and leg-bells) to the scene of Holy Land shepherds in the Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach and vivid portrayals of exotic males in Mozart’s operas The Abduction from the Seraglio, The Magic Flute, and Così fan tutte.
Locke’s book has received glowing pre-publication reviews, with Tim Carter of the University of North Carolina calling it a “magisterial tour.” David R. M. Irving of University of Melbourne describes Locke’s work as the “gold standard for the scholarly interpretation of cross-cultural representation through music in the early modern period,” while Syracuse University’s Amanda Eubanks Winkler calls Locke “a cultural historian of the highest order.” Winkler continues: “I expect (this book) will have a profound effect on our understanding of how the imagined Elsewhere shaped European culture.”
Locke is a highly regarded scholar and widely published author on topics ranging from French and Italian opera to American musical life. He is senior editor of Eastman Studies in Music, a book series published by the University of Rochester Press. He is also the author of Music, Musicians, and the Saint Simonians, and co-editor of Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists since 1860 and has contributed numerous articles to academic journals and major reference books.
A five-time recipient of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, which recognizes outstanding coverage of music excellence, Locke won the American Musicological Society’s H. Colin Slim Award in 2007 for his study of conceptions of the exotic Other in Verdi’s opera Aida, published in Cambridge Opera Journal. He received the University of Rochester’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Graduate Education in 2015.
More information about Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart can be found at http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/music/music-general-interest/music-and-exotic-renaissance-mozart?format=HB. An ebook version is also available: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/music/music-general-interest/music-and-exotic-renaissance-mozart?format=AR . For Locke’s 2009 book, see: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/music/music-general-interest/musical-exoticism-images-and-reflections.
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