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On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
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The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.
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24 Nov 2009
Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections
Ralph Locke’s recent book on Musical Exoticism is both an historical survey of aspects of the exotic in Western musical culture and a discussion of paradigms of the exotic and their relevance for musicological understanding.
Locke divides his investigation into two major parts, which may
be characterized as 1) methodological, and 2) illustrative, the latter
furnishing numerous examples starting with Händel and Rameau and extending
through to current compositions including cinematic music.
In the first part Locke is careful to differentiate his position on
exoticism and related terms vis-à-vis others who have approached this topic in
the past. Locke’s introductory remarks, in which he elaborates on the
meaning of “exotic” especially as used for Western music, set forth
terms that he will use extensively in subsequent chapters. He broaches, for
instance, an analytical paradigm which he terms “Exotic Style
Only,” modifying this with his own “All the Music in Full Context
Paradigm.” To be sure, both models receive full expression, with
appropriate examples, in the following chapters. Yet the reader is here
prepared for a critical discussion that will demonstrate Locke’s point
that “exoticness often depends not just on the musical notes but also on
their context as well as on other factors, such as the particulars of a given
performance and the musical and cultural preparation of a given
listener.”  Based on this assumption Locke seeks to broaden his
readers’ understanding of the exotic in music while claiming that
“musical exoticism is not “contained in” specific devices.
Rather it arises through an interaction between a work, in all
[author’s emphasis] its aspects, and the listener.”  Before
closing his introductory remarks Locke reinforces such distinctions by
reminding his audience of exotic environments or individual characters, often
portrayed in opera, which are rendered by traditional, “non-exotic
musical means.”  Examples of this tendency for Locke include
Handel’s Tamerlano and Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly, both illustrating a culture or milieu in some way foreign to
the potential audience. Neither work is composed entirely, or even
consistently, of elements that would be identified as distinctly part of an
exotic medium. The synchronization of the listener’s expectations with
the composer’s means and intentions will then yield an exoticism that is,
ultimately, a type of “reception.” 
In these issues marking his approach to the exotic in music Locke is able to
draw on theoretical grounding in the work of fellow musicologists, e.g. Rose
Rosengard Subotnik and Richard Taruskin. Here Locke is especially interested in
approaches that are based not only on “musical analysis” alone but
also those which consider societal components as well as extra-musical
associations. This balance can prove to be difficult to maintain, even among
those scholars who are suggested as leading proponents. As an example, the
passage cited here from Subotnik’s work on Deconstructive
Variations relies on the harmonic analysis of a Chopin score, reflecting a
more text-based and traditional approach; only at the conclusion of the
relevant chapter does the commentary move toward questions of music in society.
Locke admits to the difficulty of submitting much of what he terms
“Western art music,” e.g. sonatas, symphonies, quartets, to an
overriding social analysis. It is surely then a logical first step in the
revisionist approach to musical exoticism here taken that a number of
Locke’s examples show a clear association with some “other”
place and people. [20-21] This enables the author to establish categories of
analysis for his “Full-Context” Paradigm, which may subsequently be
applied to other musical examples or forms. Finally Locke considers the
approaches taken in recent investigations with a specific focus on his chosen
topic. Hence Jonathan Bellman’s and Timothy D. Taylor’s books are
examined for their usefulness in the portrayal of musical exoticism, yet both
are understood by Locke as functioning within the framework of an “Exotic
Style Only” Paradigm, as found in the present study. Locke sets for
himself the task of using the foundation already set by these previous scholars
and of expanding the possible associations of exoticism with further
“crucial and neglected issues.” 
In his proposed new definition of exoticism Locke relies on concepts such as
“Here and There” and “home country or culture.” 
Especially significant in the author’s new definition is a
differentiation between the perceptions of listeners reacting during the
composer’s day and those hearing a piece still performed many years
later. As put succinctly by Locke, these latter “listeners may now be
living in new and different cultural situations and may thus bring different
values and expectations to the work.”  As an enhancement of
suggestions first put forth by Dahlhaus, Locke assembles a “relatively
comprehensive typology”  of stylistic features which have been
typical in Western music perceived as exotic during the past few centuries.
Here he considers not only matters of pitch and harmony or dissonance but also
modal features and repeated patterns of rhythm or melody often derived from
dance. Locke refers to variations on a number of these stylistic features in
subsequent chapters when analyzing specific works and questioning how these
might be perceived by a given listener in a given age as exotic.
In the second major division of his book Locke presents a disciplined survey
of various musical forms from the beginning of the eighteenth century until the
present day in order to arrive at a trajectory of the exotic in music. The
section entitled “Handel’s Eastern Dramas” is intended by
Locke to examine and compare the portrayal of various historical figures in the
operas and oratorios with a relevant geographical anchor. Hence typical despots
from the East, characters in Tamerlano and Belshazzar, are
discussed from the viewpoint of ideological gesture, political message, and
musical style. This depiction is then contrasted with a contemporary display of
even greater geographical variety in Rameau’s Les Indes
galantes. By using similar methods for analyzing musical-dramatic works
from the same period Locke is able to develop, in gradually evolving
chronological segments, an aesthetic of the exotic. This range of aesthetic and
social concerns is then treated from Mozart’s Turkish style to the gypsy
image in Carmen, emerging ultimately into twentieth-century works, a
period starting with the exotic in Madama Butterfly. The reader and
listener are then left — appropriately — with questions concerning
additional works by those very contemporaries discussed, e.g. Gretry and
Massenet, and how such pieces might be fit into the model as it further
evolves. The extensive bibliography will serve, when combined with
Locke’s suggestions for methodology, as a means to explore the topic of
exoticism on many other musical avenues.
Click here for an online preview of Musical Exoticism.