The Old Order
In 1725 Johann Joseph Fux published Gradus ad Parnassum. It is a remarkable book, part theory, part lessons and exercises for the student, part aesthetics. One recognises immediately just how much music means to Fux, as well as the expanse of meaning of which he finds music capable and is scared of losing. The lessons essentially codify the counterpoint of the sixteenth century, and it is an unfortunate consequence of their exceptional clarity (Fux’s exercises continue to be a foundation of instruction in counterpoint today) that Fux has been characterised as a conservative teacher, with most simply unaware of his aesthetics, let alone his music which is at times brilliant and far from a sixteenth-century aesthetic.
In contrast to the approach of Rameau’s monumental Traité (1722), Fux’s presents as patient and clear, with the reward its influence which can be traced through Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and beyond: a Classical tradition. In examining its influence, the chapter looks to a lewd canon by Mozart, demonstrating in a rhythmic score how the success of its 6-part counterpoint relies upon the techniques of species counterpoint. The same analytical technique is then applied to the counterpoint of the famed finale of Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony with strikingly similar results. Mozart’s sublime extreme, it appears, is built upon Fuxian foundations.
Drawing on theories of lament (see ‘Tendres Plaintes’, chapter 3), Gradus ad Parnassum, it is argued, laments meaning itself. Whereas, ‘Sol per gloria di un giorno si grande', a hardly-known chorus from Fux’s Orfeo ed Euridice of 1715 seems to lament the loss of its myth, the loss of its own meaning. Indeed, ‘Sol per gloria di un giorno si grande’ illustrates a sensibility close to the complexity and modernity of Rameau’s “tenderness” (ch. 3), reaching far beyond the conventional portrayal of Fux’s expressive achievements. It is an astounding expression for 1715. In ‘Gente, gente, all’armi’ from The Marriage of Figaro it is as if Mozart not only opens to this expression but entirely absorbs it and reconfigures it within an expression that pushes upwards, physically overcoming its lament.
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S. Crayton: ‘The Old Order’, Out of Order (University of Cambridge, 2023), pp. 86-102.
A recording of Leck mich im Arsch, performed by Chorus Viennensis (1991).
A recording of the climax to Mozart’s “Jupiter” finale, conducted by Frans Brüggen (The Netherlands: 1986, released Philips, 1987). Begin at 11:05.
A recording of chorus ‘Sol per gloria di un giorno si grande’ from Fux’s Orfeo ed Euridice of 1715, conducted by Antonio Florio (Vienna: 2010). Begin at 1:37:47.
A recording of ‘Gente, genre, all’armi’ from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro of 1786, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (Berlin: Deutsche Grammophon, 1994). Begin at 1:55.
*J. J. Fux: ‘Praefatio ad lectorem’, Gradus ad Parnassum (Vienna: 1725). Translations from J. J. Fux: The Study of Counterpoint, trans. A. Mann (London and New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1965).
Kisch, E.: ‘Rameau and Rousseau’, Music & Letters, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Apr., 1941).
Rameau, J-P.: Traité de l’Harmonie (Paris: J-B-C. Ballard, 1722).
Spaethling, R.:: ‘Epilogue’, Mozart’s Letters: Mozart’s Life (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 2000).
Tyson, A.: Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).
*Wollenberg, S.: ‘‘Gradus ad Parnassum’ (1725): Concluding Chapters’, Music Analysis, Vol. 11, No. 2/3 (Jul. - Oct., 1992).
*——— ‘The Unknown ‘Gradus’’, Music & Letters, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Oct., 1970).