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Author(s): Michael G. Becker
Source: The Comparatist , MAY 1993, Vol. 17 (MAY 1993), pp. 18-37
Published by: University of North Carolina Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44364085
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Michael G. Becker
ß living death was in each gush of sounds
<Each famiCy of rapturous hurried notes ,
'That fett, one after one, yet aCC at once,...
To hover round my head, and mahf me sich,.
Of joy and grief at once.
%eats, "Hyperion" II.281-3, 288-89
I often wonder whether life is worth Civing - I am
neither hot nor coCd - and don't find much pCeasure in
anything. "
i Mozart , Letter to Leopold Mozart, May 29, 1778
(does not musicai fantasy consist in giving oneseCf a
pCace, as suôject, in the scenario of the performance?)
(ĶoCand (Barthes, "Image - Music - Text"
The poetry of Keats invites comparison at many points with
Mozart's art. Imaginatively precocious, luminously phrased, their be
work joins a fine excess of feeling and tone color with the restraint of
Classical form. The greatest late compositions were written in intense,
fertile periods at a speed and level that astonishes - the odes of Ma
and the last three symphonies, widely regarded as the summit of their
poetic and orchestral creative acts, were given to the world in a matter
of weeks. From the evidence of the letters, each artist, despite the
pathos of a troubled life and a tragic early death, developed an abun
dance of endearing human qualities; each valued friendship and socia
bility; suffered black thoughts and imaginings; spoke of death (from
differing religious perspectives) as life's high meed; and shared similar
ideas about the efficacy of art and the imagination. Art endowed lif
with beauty, afforded pleasure for artist and audience, and served a
a consolation for distress and an enhancement of life. Sanity, balance,
joy, and concomitant wit are hallmarks of both mature styles.
Keats's art, though an icon of English Romanticism, inevitably
shares certain emotional and formal values of the Classical composer
of his time, like Haydn and Mozart whose music the poet had hear
and enjoyed. Similarly, the art of Mozart, the exemplar of the perfec-
tion of the Classical style, foregrounds in a number of master
works - the entire Piano Concerto No. 27 (K. 595), for example, or the
magnificent Andante from the Sinfonia Concertante (K. 364)- an ex
pressiveness and sensibility we associate with Romantic artists. 1 Th
simultaneity of Classical and Romantic period styles has long been
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acknowledged, of course, and intuitively felt in the fine arts in the years
that span the lifetimes of the two artists (1756-1821). I believe a fine
instance of this historical coexistence may be found in the tandem
matching of two splendidly dramatic works, Mozart's Fantasia in C
Minor for piano (K. 475), composed in 1785, and Keats's Ode on Melan-
choly , written in 1819, which demonstrate a shared genre and character, structure, and dynamics. Here aesthetic materials are constituted
and ordered in Classical fashion according to the demands of the fan-
tasia and ode forms, in a discursive, even in a formulaic way, yet
closure is imposed upon oppositions that defer and finally prove to
undermine the formal properties of resolution. Classical form yields in
spite of itself to Romantic instability. Both works evince symmetrical
continuities and ritualized closures without fundamentally reconciling
the prime ideational (Keats) or musical (Mozart) tensions in the texts.
Unlike the conciliatory form of the Classical sonata, which as we shall
see is an initially suggestive counterpart for Keats's ode, the form of the
Fantasia illuminates better the character and thematics of the poem.
As it unfolds in time, form becomes an agent of meaning: a stable synthesis of joy and grief will not be effected in the music or in the poetry.
I. Keats and Music
Allusions to music and to eighteenth-century composers are
frequent in the letters and poems of Keats, as in the work of his
Romantic contemporaries generally, and historical warrant exists f
linking his name with Mozart. Music on the fortepiano was a staple
pleasure in the Enfield school days and again lightened Keats's fina
weeks in Rome when at the poet's request Joseph Severn played
selections from Haydn for his delighted friend. From the earliest poem
onward, musical imaging appears routinely, often simply as decorative
prop, while later and in many instances, it functions as an analogue for
poetry and for visionary experience. On rare occasions, Keats name
in his poetry certain favored composers, as in the epistle "To Charl
Cowden Clarke" where he sits before the music, hearing Arne and
Handel, his heart also "warm'd luxuriously by divine Mozart" ( Poem
63). Sitting before "the music" - the contemporary term for the forte
piano, at first an amateur's instrument, later dignified by Mozart - is
a familiar station for Keats in the early years. At school his close frien
was Edward Holmes, who would become one of the first biographers of
Mozart and a noted English music critic. Later, when he finally me
Leigh Hunt and accompanied him to the musical evenings of the Vin
cent Novello circle, Keats socialized with an eminent group in the
musical world, a coterie devoted to the dissemination of fine music in
England. At this time Keats acquired an international taste in musi
and composers, and a renewed interest in Mozart, whose reputation in
England was in the ascendant.
In 1817 Hunt wrote to Novello, "I would have Mozart as common
in good libraries as Shakespeare and Spenser, and prints from Raphael"
(Hunt 3) - an unrealized ambition but an English tribute to the em
nence of Mozart in the early 19th century.2 From Hunt's close friend19
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ship with Novello and their animated, shared affection for Haydn and
Mozart came the idea for a joint publication, never completed, entitled
Musical Evenings , a series that would provide the public with music
arrangements and commentary on the music of the age. The work
composing this volume and Hunt's commentary on the apposition of th
fine arts are good approximations of the music and banter Keats heard
at Novello's, as well as at the reciprocal entertainments around Hunt
"venerable piano" at his Hampstead cottage. As editor Cheney ob-
serves, "Indeed, Musical Evenings is an almost perfect reflection of the
English taste of the time, not only in the composers represented but in
the preference for vocal music" (Hunt 2-3). Represented in this collec-
tion and in the music of the social evenings were Handel, Beethoven
Gluck, Bach, Pergolesi, Corelli, Haydn, and Mozart, the latter chiefl
with melodies and arias from his operas Cosi fan tutte , Don Giovanni ,
and Le Nozze di Figaro. At this time, Keats also heard for certain
variety of fugai compositions on Novello's excellent chamber organ, for
Holmes recalled for Hunt in 1823 "all the Jokes that you and Keat
made the last evening I saw him, about their being [the fugues] lik
two Dogs running after one another through the Dust, &., (Blunden
202). Whether the poet absorbed the textural or structural contours of
this music is unknown, but comments after his death by two intimate
friends who knew his tastes tell us that he cherished the music he had
heard (he writes, for example, that a woman's voice kept him awake
one night "as a tune of Mozart's might do" [Letters I: 395]) and that he
pondered the conversation of the music professionals who were his
hosts. Joseph Severn, a good amateur pianist well into old age, insisted
that Keats "had an ample capacity for Painting & Music & applied
them largely to his Poetry, I could point out many passages taken from
the one & the other" ( Circle 2: 133). And Benjamin Baüey, writing in
1849, decades after the poet's death, still recollected Keats's striving for
musical effect in his poetry: "Keats's theory was, that the vowels
should be so managed as not to clash one with another so as to mar the
melody, - & yet that they should be interchanged, like differing notes
of music to prevent monotony"; and he goes on to cite Keats's taste for
painting and ambitions in music: "Of the first I remember no more than
his general love of the art, & his admiration of Haydon [the painter].
But I well remember his telling me that, had he studied music, he had
some notions of the combinations of sounds, by which he thought he
could have done something as original as his poetry" ( Circle 2: 277-78).
II. Genre and Subject
The fantasia is a small composition, often consisting of only a
single, instrumental voice. A broadly defined form dating from the
Renaissance, it has always included brief thematic variations and complex technical exercises. One of the most common early types, originating perhaps in the ars mnemonica branch of rhetoric , was the sequential imitation or "canonic sequence" (i.e., replication of the same musical
figure at a higher or lower pitch) (Butler 607). Regardless of the
century or country of origin, the essential feature of the genre was its
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high degree of subjective, imaginative content. This inventive licens
with diverse fanciful materials verging on the improvisatory, remained
the quality most prized for over two hundred years and the prerequisit
that the Baroque masters J.S. Bach and C. P. E. Bach bequeathed to
Mozart in the late 18th century.
It follows there is a patent artificiality about the fantasia genre
and a sense of performance derived from the free, abrupt pauses an
changes in tempo, melody, and modulation. In the highly wrough
figurings of his Fantasia , Mozart too exploits this sense of the persona
and intangible: an expressive element underlies the measured accent
of the opening bars as well as the symmetrical balances of the work as
a whole. This evocative, mysterious music at inception and in the
nearly identical adagio closure creates a somber frame for the abrup
interludes of light and shade within. And in these middle sections, wha
is typical of the genre is the illusion of continuous improvisation
fostered by Mozart's dramatic modulations to remote, foreign keys, an
for sharply varying periods of time. Thus the Fantasia is able to admit
the virtuosity and license that typify the genre yet retain its decorum
and tight form: "This work is unique," Hutchings writes, "because n
other piece by Mozart contains such strongly contrasted ideas in so
short a space" (47). In the same vein, Einstein believes the Fantasia
offers "the truest picture of Mozart's mighty power of improvisation
his ability to indulge in the greatest freedom and boldness of imagination, the most extreme contrast of ideas, the most uninhibited variety
of lyric and virtuoso elements, while still preserving structural logic"
(247). As always when he inherits a musical form, Mozart perfects and
transforms its generic conventions.
Unlike the genre of the concerto which in opposing a single instrument against the orchestra promotes an animated dialogue and inter
play, the fantasia exploits the intimacy and the rich subjectivistic tend
encies of the individual instrumental voice. In Mozart's Fantasia , the
sole, piano voice - in its brevity and clarity of emotive statement, i
exploratory wanderings to, and return from, remote regions, and i
quality of self-dramatization and overheard soliloquy - approaches th
mode of lyric poetry. (Like the Romantic lyric, the Fantasia is also
brief piece, running to eleven minutes in performance.) And Mozart
choice of the minor key suggests that the work may have originated in
troubled personal experience.3 Again Einstein, who speaks of the "dark
tonality" of C minor: "For Mozart, the C minor is the dramatic one, th
key of contrasts between aggressive unisons and lyric passages. Th
lyric quality is always overtaken by gloomy outbursts" (206). As often
noted, the minor-key signature is not a common principal tonality
Mozart's works, and to a notable degree it is uncommon in much of the
instrumental music of the eighteenth century. Apart from the Roman
tic music of the Sturm und Drang period (c. 1770-80) in which the minor
key was indispensable, conventions of Mozart's time dictated music
the temperate or pleasing style - for which the inherently unstabl
chords of the minor and the emotive polarities of that music were quit
unsuitable (see Brook 278). Mozart's dark Fantasia of 1785 remains
much closer in spirit, therefore, to the decade-earlier tempestuou
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mode, and possibly to the earlier Empfindsamer Stil or music of "sensibility," of melancholic emotion and reverie.
Mozart's Fantasia , then, is typical of the genre and at the same
time an idiosyncratic, indulgent piece that may have arisen from th
interior struggles of the artist. The working out of some tragic subject
seems plausible, for in this brief compositional space we feel a sense of
dark inevitability, of a motion toward resolution, however provisional
and sectionally foreclosed. On this point, keeping the odic transition
of Keats's Melancholy in mind, it is worthwhile to hear how the distinguished performer and teacher, pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, speaks to
his master class of the emotional progressions and the larger subject
and structure of Mozart's Fantasia :
Music is a language which communicates experience. And what
experience! Life and death are involved in this Fantasy. May I tell
you my personal interpretation of this work? The opening phrase is
a death symbol: The hour has struck - there is no escapei The rest of
the Fantasy is shock and anxiety, pages one and two, giving way then
to a series of recollections: happy, serene ones, like the Adagio in D
and the Andantino in B-flat major, or violent ones, full of anguish,
like the two fast, modulating sections, until the original call retums.
The inexorable fate seems to be now accepted, were it not for the
heroic gesture of defiance at the very end, . . . (Mach 8-9)
This is a fine intuition that supports what many listeners have always
felt about the Fantasia , that its musical "language" communicates both
"life and death" inextricably joined and something of an "heroic" stance
at closure. In Keats's Ode on Melancholy , the "heroic gesture" and the
"inexorable fate" characteristic of Mozart's Fantasia are overt, and the
subject explicit.
Like Mozart's Fantasia , Keats's Ode on Melancholy is unique
among his works because in no other great poem does he compress
"such strongly contrasted ideas into so short a space." As in the fantasia
genre, Melancholy also displays an artificiality of conception and a virtuosity and self-dramatization in the solo voice. And, assuredly, Keats's
ode is cast in the "dark tonality" of the minor mode. The first stanza
will suffice to establish the deathful subject that is the tonal center of
the poem and a rhetorical stance and figuration well outside normative
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolfs-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul. ( Poems 374-75)
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This stanza (and the still more spectacular cancelled version) figures a
universe of absolute fantasy. It recounts the futility of an interiorized
mythic journey to a nether world of dark ritual and fabled death. Keats
appropriates here the quest conventions of the Romance and joins them
with the dramatic oppositional procedures of the English ode.4 Implicit
is his Romantic association of death, dream, and fantasy with visionary
experience. The speaker-hero had sought to prove "sorrow's mysteries,"
to name and extinguish the pain of consciousness. Having embraced
provisionally the shades of death, he resists extinction and returns to
reconcile death with life. The single voice chanting the ode speaks with
supreme assurance: it instructs in quiet imperatives, in strong masculine rhyme, and with consecutive reasoning ("For shade to shade will
come too drowsily") - all rhetorical strategies that work to legitimate
the inventive license and bizarre mannerism of the enterprise. The fantastic is sanctioned further by the stability of the cultivated music:
Keats's vowels, interchanged "like differing notes of music," as Bailey
noted, have seldom been so self-consciously managed for languorous
effect.5 "No, no, go not to Lethe" may be construed as a complete musical phrase, with half cadences ending each of the next six phrases and
a full cadence concluding the extravagant sentence-long stanza. The
kinetic linking of phrase to phrase, moreover, - the slow duplication in
the manner of the canonic sequence, of like macabre figures replicated
at higher or lower pitches in the same thematic minor mode (from the
queen of the Underworld to a mournful Psyche, from beetle to deathmoth) - serves to contain what is quite like a virtuoso's display of
inventive fancy. It is as if the performing speaker were given "place, as
subject, in the scenario of the performance," in Barthes' words, as if the
speaker were improvising for a hapless auditor or a familiar correspon-
dent (like John Hamilton Reynolds) who would remark the wit and
literary resonances. In this context he is not even above punning, on
the "death-moth" as the winged Psyche. And yet, Keats once wrote to
Reynolds, "Man should not dispute or assert but whisper results to his
neighbor" ( Letters 1: 232): thus in the final lines of the stanza he
suspends until the ode's heroic close the dark Romance machinery, the
additive phrasings, and the virtuoso stance. In these sibilant measures
we infer passage from an excess of obvious death to the poem's true and
contrary subject - the tragic "wakeful anguish" of life requisite for
Keats's famous notion of the vale of soul-making.
III. The Relevance of the Sonata Form
"In Mozart's world, excess in one direction demands excess in
another" - a pattern intelligible, as Robert Wallace notes, throughout
Mozart's career, in small portions within works and in larger relationships among works (1 15). A gracious synthesis of opposites - of melodic
simplicity with textural richness, of tragic with the most lyrical sentiment, and, structurally, of the Dominant's unequivocal resolution with
the Tonic or home key - has always been the distinction and attraction
of the eighteenth century Classical style music. In the ubiquitous
sonata cycle perfected in Mozart and Keats's time, these oppositions are
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explicit, for multiple contrasts of character, form, tempo, and key inher
in its design, the staple of the century's instrumental music, from strin
quartet and concerto to symphony. Before relating Keats's ode to
Mozart's Fantasia in more detail, it will be well to position his poem
alongside this venerable form, for there are demonstrable rich affinitie
between Melancholy' s way of unfolding and the Classical sonata's historical mode of patterning musical ideas.
The quintessence of the Classical style is illustrated in the sonat
cycle's first movement, usually cast in the sonata-allegro form. Thi
"sonata form" is always epic-dramatic in character, conciliatory i
structure. It is built upon two simultaneous ternary patterns. The first
consists of an exposition (usually in two themes), an intensified develop
ment that combines thematic materials in different ways, and a recapit-
ulation that resolves thematic and harmonic tensions. The second,
paralleling the first, is perhaps the most common pattern in music: th
quasi-narrative sequence of "statement-departure-return" or "home
away-home," in contrasting key areas. Commencing with an harmonic
and thematic "known," indemnified by repetition, the music move
outward to new combinations and modulations, building up tensio
until a return to the home key and familiar themes - a resolution that
has enriched and to a degree transmuted, through experience, the
original musical ideas. Within this strict idiom Mozart labored, and his
prolific output is due in part to his having worked within received, no
innovative, forms.6
Besides the sonata form, to which we shall return momentarily,
another ternary form relevant to Keats's ode is the older ABA form, the
standard for many small compositions, and, when expanded, for larger
sonata, quartet, and symphonic movements. It consists of an (A) section
that presents a musical theme or idea; a middle (B) section antithetical
in idea, register, tempo, or dynamics; and a concluding (C) section,
literal repeat of (A), often slightly modified. The perfectly equal propor
tions of the "statement-departure-return" narrative enhance the symmetry. A pattern of this sort originated with Baroque opera and its da
capo aria form that repeats the first section after a contrasting middle
section. (One recalls the evening entertainments Keats attended and
the simple three-part minuet and vocal arrangements of works b
Mozart, Handel, Gluck, Cherubini, and others.) Applying the ABA form
to the Ode on Melancholy is initially suggestive. The ode conform
exactly to the strict proportions of the form, and the heart of its narra
tive movement is the statement-departure-return sequence. Excess o
death in one direction demands excess of life in another. The first
stanzaic section (A) inscribes the psychic dwellings of death, starkly in-
timate and suicidal. In the middle stanza (B), the speaker seeks abroad
the vale of natural and human beauty (the green counterpart of the
middle stanza of his ode "To Autumn"). This section establishes all possible contrasts to (A) - in idea, from death to life; in character, from the
dirgeful to the lyrical; in tempo, from broad and slow to faster; and in
register, from the low resonances of the negative voice to the elevated
tones of what Keats calls elsewhere "the healthful spirit." The last
stanzaic section (C) returns to death-in-life, now implicating all human
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and natural being. But unlike the third section of the ABA form,
Keats's final stanza is not a literal repeat of the first except in its
topical recollection, for the conception of death has been profoundly
changed in its expansion abroad. This kind of true dialectic has more
in common with the distinctive tensions promoted and resolved in the
sonata-allegro form of the sonata cycle, to which we shall now return.
In The Classical Style , Charles Rosen has described the sonata
form as Ma way of writing, a feeling for proportion, direction, and
texture" (30). He stresses that the Classical composers did not perceive
the form as a structural "recipe" based only on a succession of contrasting themes, as the Romantics perceived it in its decline.7 Rather, the
crucial elements are dramatic transformation and loyalty to a tonal
center, with polarization between tonic and dominant introduced in an
exposition , intensified in a development , and resolved in a recapitulation
in the return to the tonic. As noted, Melancholy proceeds in the same
fashion, from literal death, to vital life, to a resolution absorbing both
ideas in a new synthesis (the dialectical stance in Keats's poetics is well
known, but he often thinks playfully along these lines, as when he
writes of three friends, "the first speaks adagio, the second alegretto,
the third both together" [Letters 2: 245]). Indeed, the dialectic of the
sonata form has much in common with the proportions and developing
thematic direction of Keats's ode. Exploring the analogies of this form
to Melancholy will enrich our reading of the poem and affirm its affinities to the eighteenth century Classical style in music. It will also point
out the limitations of the sonata as a complete musical analogue to the
The first stanza exposition of Melancholy sets forth with great
stability and clarity, in the phrasings of a rosary of deaths, the deathly
tonic center of the poem. Stated in emblems of literal and psychic
death, this first theme group is strongly epic-dramatic in character and
set in a most strict tempo - all essential features of a sonata exposition.
The requisite thematic and tonal contrast to, and abrogation of, this
sleep of death is soon arrived at:
For shade to shade will come too drowsily
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
In a sonata exposition, the requisite abrogation of the tonic is no less
Early in a sonata . . . there must be a moment, more or less dramatic,
of awareness of a new tonality: it may be a pause, a strong cadence,
an explosion, a new theme, or anything else that the composer wishes.
This moment of dramatization is more fundamental than any compo-
sitional device. (Rosen 99)
In the first stanza the bridge to this second theme is syntactical: "For
shade to shade" looks backward, in several recollections, and its clausal
completion ("will come too drowsily") leads forward as modulating
device to the contrasting new theme and tone, the tragic "wakeful
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anguish of the soul." In the same manner, the bridge passage of a
sonata exposition connects the first theme in the stable tonic with the
new theme in the active dominant, a theme often more subtle and
lyrical, as here in Keats's lines. Thus thematic and harmonic contras
on a single polarity creates the high drama of an exposition. And jus
as the sonata exposition ends with a cadence on the dominant, far from
the home key, so Keats's cadence on the new theme, to be explored fully
in the development of the second stanza, attaches a tragic new dimen-
sion to melancholy remote from its origination, which will be the
dominant active principle of the stanzas to follow.
The sonata development is less decisive in form, depending for its
character upon thematic recombinations or on modulations to foreig
keys. Its principal function is to prolong the polarization instituted in
the exposition in order to create dramatic tension. Again, Rosen (99
formulates its essential features:
If the return to the tonic is long delayed to heighten its dramatic effect
(by modulating to other keys or by sequential progression at the
dominant) then the work has an extensive development section. The
breaking of periodic rhythm and the fragmentation of the melody
serve to reinforce the harmonic movement of this development. The
harmonic proportions are preserved by placing the return to the tonic
or beginning of the recapitulation no later than three -quarters of the
way through the movement. The most dramatic point is generally just
before (or, more rarely, just after) the return, [emphasis mine]
Keats's second-stanza development begins with a quotation of the first
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes. (Stanza 2)
The same deathly theme of the first stanza is imbedded now in figurai
paradox, in the life-giving "weeping cloud" as "April shroud."8 But it is
the delicate second theme, the wakeful embrace of fleeting beauty -
("Gorge the honey of life," Keats writes to the newly married Reynolds;
"I pity you . . . that it cannot last for ever" [Letters I: 370]) - that per-
vades this stanza and unfolds through "sequential progression at the
dominant," the stitching of creeds together - of flowers, wave, mistress.
Here in an expansive manner the return to the tonic theme of death is
"long delayed to heighten its dramatic effect." The speaker promotes
a journey to a soul-making vale of flowers, to the sea, and to his mis26
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tress. There is no reason why this series could not be developed further - no priorities exist in the sequence, no resolution, no evident
pattern, except one: "the most dramatic point" is last, "just before . . .
the return." Perhaps the tradition of the musical cadenza may account
not only for the wit (and slight lapse in taste?) but also for the positioning of these histrionic lines on the mistress.
The cadenza is a dramatic ornament, a proportionately brief bit of
virtuoso passage work, often improvised, near the end of a section (from
It., "cadence" or "close"). It usually graced the da capo aria, the Classi-
cal concerto, and on occasion the Classical sonata. In all instances, the
embellishment interrupted briefly the music's drive to sectional closure,
an interval often prolonged by stylistic excesses with few thematic links
to the section itself until late in the eighteenth century. In Melancholy ,
just before "the return" of the final stanza, the most dramatic point of
the development occurs with the change of imagery (from natural to
human beauty) and of syntax (the ambiguous parallelism of the "Or"
phrases creates a "breaking of periodic rhythm"). The heart of this
cadenza, however, is in the virtuoso portrait of the intense speaker and
mistress. It is a striking tableau: the appetitive speaker, an imprisoned
hand, the crescendo intent of "feed, deep, deep," a raving lover. In read-
ing Keats one is even tempted to discover puns here, language as
improvisation - a pun on eyes, for example, that are "peerless. In just
as fanciful a manner, a musical cadenza showcases the capacities of an
instrument or a voice. Yet the final inclusion of the mistress does
engage and clarify, as the finest cadenzas and best instances of neoclassical wit do, the work's larger subject: the mistress's beauty is mortal.
The flash of death in her eyes provides transition to the final stanza,
the "return" to the tonic center of the poem.
The recapitulation of a sonata reconciles the polarities of the
exposition. Both theme groups are now played in the tonic so that the
work may end in the key in which it opened. The second-theme mate-
rial, presented antithetically in the exposition, must be transformed
and reinterpreted; it must be given new significance in a new context.
And the first-theme material, though it may be expanded in the home
key, is reintroduced but never repeated literally. Further, the direction
of the themes is distinctive: in the movement toward the tonic there is
"the tendency of the resolution to go downward" (Rosen 41). In its
stately ordering of oppositions into unity and in its dissolving of all
harmonic and rhythmic tensions in a great synthesis, the resolution
epitomizes the Classical sensibility in musical form, acknowledging few
contemporary prescriptions save one:
It is the classical sense for large areas of stability, impossible before
and lost since, that establishes ... the one fixed rule of sonata recapitulation: material originally exposed in the dominant must be represented in the tonic fairly completely, even if rewritten and reordered,
and only material exposed in the tonic may be omitted. ( Rosen 72)
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In the recapitulation and last stanza of Melancholy , death returns
reinterpreted. As tonic center, it grounds all images and rhythms in it
She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to Poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung, (stanza 3)
From the expositionf the sorrowful emblems of the first theme group
appear again in these first lines, the pain gracefully distanced in neoclassical fashion in stable personification and tableau. In the event, al
things admit of a turning, to loss, like the slow twisting of the wolfs-
bane. The kiss of death returns as Joy's kiss of farewell; the thre
earlier partners of sorrow's mysteries become inconstant Beauty, Joy,
and Pleasure; and the dwelling place first sought abroad in Lethe
becomes one that is nigh, of mortal Beauty and Pleasure. From th
development , the joyful emblems also return and are quickly grounded
at the tonic center: the riches of mistress and flowers are expensed in
death as her emprisoned hand now freely bids adieu and the bee-mouth
sips the morning rose, turning nectar to poison and mourning. The
lines dissolve the rhythms of the earlier sections, too: the slow tempo
of the exposition and the paced sequencing of the development now
swiftly turn to rondo-like repetition and episodic enjambment ("with
Beauty - Beauty that must die/And [with] Joy .../... and [with] aching
The next two lines ("Aye, in the very temple of Delight/Veiled
Melancholy has her sov'reign shrine") reiterate the stanza's great
synthesis: they provide with the figure of Melancholy veiled in a temple
upon the Greek aera or sacred hill (the reconstituted hidden green hill
from the development ) a bridge-like passage to the powerful stricture
at the poem's close. In the final lines, the Classical need for an arena
of final stability is met. The constitutive elements of the exposition are
repeated, with a difference: here again are the fantastic epic-dramatic
stance of the hero, now vanquished; the anguish of the soul confronting
a new consciousness; and the emblematic grape of loss and joy. And the
remaining materials of the development also return, transformed to loss
in the syntactically isolated final two lines: the fertile "weeping cloud"
is recalled in the inert "cloudy trophies," collected like the earlier
festoon of flowers and rainbow; the glutted speaker now but tastes the
salt "sadness" (from the "salt sand wave") of Melancholy; and the
"droop-headed flowers" are mirrored in the silent trophies that are
hung, that express the directional "tendency of the resolution to go
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downward," toward the tonic center of death. Thus the recapitulation
remains, as it must, grounded in the tonic throughout.
Unlike the sonata, which often closed a section with the merely
additive device of the coda, Melancholy concludes with brilliant new
material linked causally to the preceding sections, the powerful stricture in the closing lines: Because only the hero with "palate fine" discerns loss in all delight, his soul must abide an ever-returning grief (the
import of the weak verb "And be among"); in this sense the deceptively
final lines grant only a mechanical symmetry, a quasi-resolution, an ad
hoc closure. As Robert Cummings incisively observes, desire perma-
nently inheres in pleasure:
It is a fact of human experience that desire is painful, and our arrival
at the limits of pleasure includes that pain, not as following on pleasure, but because pleasure - even in its further reaches, or especially
there - still includes desire. (52)
An unstable synthesis of "joy and grief at once," a deathless fate, and
the tragic status of the quester - all are Romantic problems presented
in the aesthetic logic of the classical instrument of the ode requiring
resolution. Thus, for the oppositions invested in Keats's poem the
conciliatory form of the classical sonata, while valid at many points and
richly suggestive, is not a perfect musical counterpart. The genre tends
to delimit the ideas it intends to explore. 10 The musical form which best
represents and subsumes competing Classical and Romantic tendencies
is the fantasia form.
IV Fantasias
Keats probably did not know Mozart's Fantasia and it is unl
that he associated his Ode on Melancholy with the fantasia genr
both works demonstrate something of a shared aesthetic imagi
and procedure, in an artistic world with the Classical exigenc
order and equilibrium. Indeed, listening to Mozart's miniature, hau
ing piece for the first time in the context of Keats's briefest and
somber major ode is a stunning experience: comparably dark an
tentous phrases open both works, and, thereafter, affinities of gen
spirit and mood, of tempo and internal dynamics reveal thems
Further, the architectonic elements are similar: sectional divisi
music and poem parallel each other as their radically disparate
affect formal, if irresolute, coherence. In the Fantasia , the contr
instituted are subsumed but not fully synthesized, continually
hended but not resolved at closure - an indeterminacy that tie
work of the Classical era to Romantic art and mirrors the qu
resolution of Keats's poem. In Keats's world, the celebrated fin
cesses - of sense, desire, thought - are no less opposed than in Moz
In Melancholy , which, lacking a central symbol, yet attempts a re
tion imposed by the ode form, the oppositional shaping is both Cla
instrument and Romantic subject, its synthesis of contraries unsta
irresolute, and inevitably tragic. Finally, each work stands as fron
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piece to larger works: Mozart's Fantasia , as a prelude to the gran
Sonata in C minor (K. 457) for which it was later composed, and
Keats's ode, as an exultant thematic statement central to, and enac
in, the other great odes of 1819.
Besides sharing the character of fantasy and symmetrical closu
to tensions reconciliable only beyond the borders of each work, Mozar
keyboard piece and Keats's poem are linked by comparable stylistic and
procedural techniques - intrinsic structural, textural, and emotion
correspondences. Structurally, Mozart's Fantasia is composed of s
distinct sections: a pairing of these sections will be seen to match t
binary division within each stanza of Melancholy. Texturally, in t
Fantasia each of the three intricate sections of bold modulation and
melodic variety alternates with an uncomplicated section of simple
tonalities, tempi, and melodies, and a pervasive chromaticism (scales
proceeding in half tones) unites the whole - alternating contrasts and
nuances apparent also in Keats's poem. And, emotionally, parallel
progressions in the moods of the music and poem convey the blend of
pathos and brightness for which these works are admired. To appropri-
ate Keats's words and poetics, the Fantasia and Melancholy illustrate
to perfection "the knowledge of contrast, feeling for light and shade"
( Letters 2: 360).
The opening Adagio of the Fantasia (bars 1-41)11 consists of two
discrete sections vastly different in mood, texture, and proportion -
closely paralleling the sharp divisions in the first stanza of Melancholy.
The first section (bars 1-25) announces in deep forte accents the solemn
theme, pronounced in a series of imperious, flawlessly symmetrical
phrases reworked in a spacious setting of continuous modulation:
Because of the immediate weakening of the C minor tonic and the
increasing indefiniteness of the tonic-dominant polarity, an atmosphere
of loss and resignation pervades the section, made complete by the
delicate pianissimo in a higher register that repeatedly answers the
insistent theme with renewed fatalism. Following its full exposition and
a five-fold repetition, the theme is carried to a relentlessly continuous
bass line (bar 10) that repeats the theme no less than six more times,
descending to ever-increasing depths, finally arriving at the dominant
G through digressions in B minor. After another alternation of bass
and upper-voice passagework, the kinetic descent of the music at length
is arrested in a measured, almost exhausted, pause and statement at
bar 22; thereafter, with exquisite diminution of tone and volume
(marked calando or "becoming softer" in the Urtext), a series of em-
phatic rests, and an easy third-relationship, the extended somber mood
dissolves and the dramatic preparation for the haunting melody to come
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in the second section is complete. Similarly in Keats's poem, with no
less forte an opening and no fewer complex modulations and depths
than in the first section of the Adagio , Melancholy opens with an im-
perious voice announcing the intricately modulated dark idea that
absorbs the first eight lines of the stanza, which is its thematically
closed first section. Though disavowing its efficacy, the speaker images
death at length with great conceptual care and concreteness - because
of the extravagant array of emblems, his virtuoso performance actually
threatens the proportions of the stanza and the poem. This fatal attraction is mirrored in the elaborative force of the seven emblems, varied
partners in an atmosphere of resignation and despair. Finally, drowsed
with death, the speaker closes this section of unremitting shade almost
out of sheer enumerative exhaustion, ending with the summary and
somewhat diminished abstraction, the idea of "sorrow's mysteries."
Against the dense, complex modulation of the first section of the
Adagio is set the stable and much briefer second section in D major
(bars 26-41). In a comparable way in Melancholy , against the thick and
various massing of images of the first section (11. 1-8) is set the brief
second section (11. 9-10), the final two clarifying lines of the stanza
(which recall the intention of the English sonnet's couplet). This second
section of the Adagio contains entirely the lovely expressive melody in
D major: in subtle ternary form, its couplets linked by rising and falling
anacrusis groups, the simple melody seems to evoke some lost, purest
happiness, mingled with nostalgic pain. The soft inflections and repetitions are even more deeply felt in the context of its outer sections, in
the extreme contrast with the heaviness of the preceding first section
and with the tempestuousness of the Allegro that will follow. With the
slow dissolution of the melody at bars 40-41, in the phrasal ascent to A
minor, no lead-in passage for the next section is supplied: only the
suspended, expectant silence of the fermata (It. "pause") marks the melody's wan completion and pensive trace in memory. Likewise in Melancholy , the shades that came too heavily and serially in the first section
of the stanza retreat in the second part in favor of the poignant "wake-
ful anguish of the soul." The evoking of a more refined and spiritual
melancholy at the stanza's close corresponds in spirit and in dramatic
function to the delicate melody and the suspended closure of the second
section of the Adagio. In their small dimensions, subtle evocations, and
creating of dramatic expectation, these sections share identical affective
and structural effects.
As in the Fantasia's first two sections, the subsequent Allegro
(bars 42-90) and Andantino (bars 91-129) fall naturally into related and
competing sections. Similarly in Melancholy , the quatrain of the poem's
middle stanza contrasts with, and is fulfilled in, the sestet, the stanza's
last six lines. With decisive and vexed force, the opening bars of the
Allegro shatter the anticipatory silence that closed the Adagio. The
opening two-note ascending motive is twice stated in the bass, forte ,
then joined with a series of dramatic tremolos in the upper voice to
arrive at a contrasting piano passage (bars 48-50) that is most unusual
in terms of its referential emotive quality:
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As Eva and Paul Badura-Skoda point out, the "excited figuration" of the
passage returns as a motive in the second act of Mozart's Cosi fan tutti.
There the "wholly similar bars" express a state of "helpless despair on
the part of an individual [Ferrando] faced by an unexpected turn of
fate" (171). Here in the Allegro, nervous agitation characterizes the
entire section, even its brief, more restrained single melodic passage.
After the stormy opening is repeated, in the lower key of G minor, and
the legato passage of the melody runs its short-lived course, the piano
begins a remarkable chromatic descent followed immediately by a
passage encompassing a full five octaves before the final pause, chromatic ascent, and concluding E flat. And once again in the Fantasia
dramatic sectional difference is pointed: a cadenza of sorts, of continuous complex modulation, the Allegro contrasts boldly with the foregoing
idyll and with the lyrical Andantino to follow. Thus, this section is essentially an intermezzo of storm and stress, of dissolved tonalities and
chromatic colors, with an embedded and somewhat incongruous melody
in the eye of the storm.
The affinities here to the corresponding quatrain of Melancholy are
striking. The "melancholy fit" that falls "sudden from heaven" overtakes
the helpless speaker as a chance "weeping cloud" might overcast an
April day. Keats selects the melancholy peculiar to springtime for his
malady's most apt emblem, adopting thus season's imagery in no other
line of the ode. Figurally complex, the quatrain fuses at the center
spring's green promise, still enshrouded in the anguish past, with a
despair that remains amid quickening life. The melancholy storm both
"fosters" and "hides" its own healthfulness: the figure intends paradoxically to establish melancholy's redemptive potency. Not to banish it but
to absorb it simply and experientially for affective gain will be the
burden of the sestet's lines of natural and human beauty that complete
the middle stanza.
In contrast to the brilliant structural conception and intricate modulations of the Allegro, the lyrical Andantino is a closed form of predictable cadences and tonalities, simply constructed in B flat major and of
a comparatively staid character. Softly measured treble phrases begin
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the commonplace four-bar theme, which is repeated directly and
concluded with a perfect cadence (at bar 98) - a structural vade mecum
of the contours of the theme to be rehearsed throughout the section.
After the theme is repeated, an octave lower and slightly modified,
there follows a recollection of the basic C minor tonality (for the first
time since the work's inception) and yet another satisfying cadence.
The ensuing wistful melody (bars 107- 1 10), heard only once more a few
bars later, is distinguished for its sweet chromaticism and steadying
bass, yet it is but a diminutive interlude within the laboring thematic
passages. After its return at bar 1 19, the theme begins a self-conscious
seven-bar ascent that concludes the section: exchanged as if in anxious
dialogue between treble and bass, the theme climbs in a truncated yet
inevitable course to the final three-note answering phrases in the high
treble, inquisitory and searching. Like its sestet counterpart in Melancholy , which ends with the tacit exchange of the speaker with his mistress, who is then linked to the ambiguous pronoun "She" beginning the
final stanza, the Andantino closes with similar searching effect and
immediate linkage to the next section, conferring on the following Piu
Allegro section the promise of resolution.
Just as the Allegro complements the Andantino , so the vexed
quatrain of the middle stanza of Melancholy is complemented by the
simplicity and serenity of the stanza's concluding section of six lines.
Although (or because) it is the directive and experiental center of the
ode, these lines offer little conceptual nuance or complex figuration.
Unlike the subtle figuration of the quatrain, the flowers, rainbow, and
wave of the remaining lines risk the imagistic and affective common-
place - the tableau of mistress and speaker is memorable, as noted
earlier, chiefly for its histrionic element, especially in the context of the
staid flowers, noted twice in the rose and peonies in simply cadenced
phrases. Further, the wholly Keatsian verb of "glut" discomfits as
serious quest language, and the redundant descriptions of the wave as
"salt" and "sand" are mirrored in the weakly intensive phrase "feed
deep, deep." Yet, in spite of their ingenuous texture these lines on
natural and human beauty do speak to our common experience, of a
beauty cherished for its accessible loveliness and sore transience.
Beauty's link to melancholy, however, awaits definition at the stanza's
close, even something like syntactical completion, and remains only a
tenuous inference that rises to the final stanza of solution.
The Piu Allegro section (bars 130-165), the penultimate division of
the Fantasia , is the last of the three complicated modulatory sections
most characteristic of the virtuoso fantasia style, the final Tempo Primo
section consisting only of a solemn reprise of the opening Adagio and
an acceptance of the fateful tonic C minor. In response to the anticipation at the close of the foregoing Andantino , the Piu Allegro ("faster")
section may be viewed in its entirety as one massive legato ("bound")
descent that is virtually uninterrupted in the urgent passage to, and
rapprochement with, the C minor key in which the work began. In spite
of the rapid episodic tempo through a myriad of tonalities, the music
creates paradoxically a sense of graduated resolution, of stretto-Mke
climax. The technical reasons for this are complex: Hans David writes
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that in this section Ma broadly conceived cadence seems to accrue rathe
than a true modulation; . . . the entire procedure becomes clearly th
large-scale presentation of a cadence each chord-root of which is tempo
rarily treated as a key level" (63). This subtle cadential quality is mo
evident with the grand rallentando ("slowing down") of the descent
bar 158 where the music in majestic sforzato accents ("strong, then
soft") begins its final dissolution, straining to conclusion to a high trebl
F that is almost impossibly delicate in its diminishment:
In a comparable way, the last stanza of Melancholy , excluding for
the moment the final two lines, resolves the inferences of the middle
stanza in swift rhythms and rondo-like allegorical stationing. A large-
scale cadence accrues in the stanza's bound attenuating episodes as w
recognize, in rapid imagistic succession with no true thematic progression, Melancholy's dwelling explicitly with ill-fated Beauty, Joy's bid-
ding adieu, and Pleasure's turning to poison - each phrase enacted i
the moment of dissolution. With the majestic rallentando of the lin
"Ay, in the very temple of Delight/Veil1 d Melancholy has her sovran
shrine," we are prepared for the stanza's most virtuosic refinemen
only the hero of sensibility in the sforzato partaking of Joy's grape is
assured of exquisite pleasure and, as the last two lines of the poem
testify in epic-dramatic terms, of his own emotional dissolution. Li
the high treble conclusion of the Piu Allegro , the stricture of this stan
is almost impossibly delicate and refined.
In proportion, tempo, and character, the final two lines of Melancholy match the fateful Tempo Primo section (bars 161-181) concluding
the Fantasia . Here in the briefest space, the desiring soul is vanquished
and collected summarily as a high trophy of Melancholy's temple:
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
The soul's perpetual fate is ordained in the sententious rhythms an
passive accents of the meter. The language is noble and puissant. T
soul's immolation is more than a gesture of Romantic sensibility: th
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character of this final section of Melancholy is celebratory, because i
figures the destiny of human perception.
Equally so in the last section of the Fantasia , the return in the
brief Tempo Primo to the opening materials of the Adagio announce
that the brave exploration of death is concluded. There is no virtuos
modulation: only a symmetrical recovery of the tonic which the section
retains throughout, a fateful acceptance of the minor mode in the
emphatic plateaus of bars 175 and 178, and, at the close, a near-triumphant assertion of identity, forte , in the noble and powerful ascent of
the music of the last measures:
As Rosen observes of the splendid close, the music offers within the
Classical style "no way of continuing without the introduction of new
material. . . . The final pages have a firm symmetry, with the tonic
re-established dramatically and all the opening material repeated, but
it is not possible to speak of symmetrical resolution of the first section
... ; it is a magnificent piece, but for once we have a work that is truly
abnormal by classical standards" (92). Mozart's Fantasia , Romantic in
conception and incipient form, must suspend interminably within the
Classical idiom the brilliant opposing tensions inscribed in its several
parts. Its final stability, ritualized and symmetrically imposed, is forever subverted by the virtuoso energies within and the tentative synthesis of joy and grief at once. And, with no less grandeur, Keats's Ode
on Melancholy , in its Romantic music of tonal instability and dynamic
extremes, of tragic consciousness and perpetual quest, figures a like
understanding, beyond the shaping experience of language and aes-
thetic form.
Montana State University
1 Robert K. Wallace, speaking of the late Concerto No. 27 and Jane A
Persuasion , writes, "[The] tendency toward tonal or spatial instability
each work in its quiet way to anticipate the world of Romanticism, in
ambiguity tends to become less a means of achieving a higher clarity t
expressive end in itself' (239).
2 In the decades of the major British Romantic writers, it is Mozart
R. Cheney observes, who was "the most popular composer in Englan
first quarter of the nineteenth century" (Hunt 21 n.8).
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The Fantasia was composed on May 20, 1785, a half year after
minor Sonata with which it was published. Einstein believes the So
represented "a moment of great agitation, . . . [was] a product of a parti
spiritual state" (247). The later Fantasia perhaps renews this dark mood,
required the pathos of the minor key and the free, dramatic expressivity
genre. Badura-Skoda writes that the tonal progressions in the Fantasia's
theme "form the thematic nucleus" of the "Masonic Funeral Music" written later
in the same year, "the somber melancholic meaning of which is beyond question" (Mach 9). Recently, Robbins Landon has noted that "most of the minorkey works of the 1780s [go] far beyond the normal range of expression (say, in
Haydn's works of the same period)" and that Mozart "reserved his most troubled,
alarming, and even dangerous music for works composed in the minor" (195).
4 For a discussion of themes of descent, see Frye, esp. 97-126. Stuart Curran
has admirably described the typical Romantic blurring of the Romance and Epic
genres and the unique dynamics of the Romantic ode. Helen Vendler's excellent
study of this ode, to which I am indebted, posits its origin in "Love- Melancholy" (153-90), although eroticism is not prominent in the discarded and first
stanzas, nor is lovesickness perhaps best described as a "fit" that falls "sudden,"
and from "heaven"; likely the poem owes something to Keats's oft- remarked
morbidity and chronic despair "in the midst of a great darkness" {Letters II: 80).
5 See Black for an interesting analysis of this stanza's musical possibilities.
He emphasizes Keats's exploitation of language "for expressive purposes which
need to be performed" and notes "the analogy with music is strong here too:
performance is an essential aspect of the total expressiveness" (113-14).
McFarland makes the point that Beethoven's lifework "encompasses hardly
more than one hundred and thirty compositions, while the legatee of evolutionary process, Mozart, unencumbered by the driving demands of new forms and
styles, produced scarcely less than six hundred and thirty" (237).
Apropos of Melancholy's hortatory tone is Wallace's observation that t
word lesson [was] in the 1790s essentially another term for sonata" (25
Keats's affection for his native flowers furnishes the striking
"droop-headed" flowers and the "April shroud" in the same clau
further the development stanza by recalling from the expositio
"Wolfs-bane" and "poisonous wine": the common wolfsbane
monk's hood, a purple (hence wine-colored) early-summer flowe
long spikes of declining flower heads, very like small shrouds.
9 See Vendler: "Keats with his talent for puns, could not help
words like 'ravish' and 'ravening' as he wrote 'feed' and 'rave.'" (
10 Minahan treats the odes as a sequence, "organized by a sonat
ity" (152). Melancholy falls into "The Recapitulatory Region" (Ch
"The Eve of St. Agnes," he believes it "shuttled its resolution off
temporal distance. As such, it failed finally to clarify its own i
11 Bar numbers are from the score in Charles Burkhart's anth
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