Selected writings

Thoughts on Teaching

My teaching has been greatly influenced by my former teachers Edmund Battersby, Edward Auer and Karen Shaw. I feel I have held on to different aspects from each teacher which I know advocate in my students. Prior to college I changed teachers quite frequently, most notably studying with Joanne Polk and Maria Asteriadou at MSM precollege. I feel during these years, while I enjoyed some teachers more than others, I never really had enough time to connect properly with them. 


My first teacher I studied with for a substantial amount of time was Edmund Battersby. Most of my teaching approach derives from my 4 years working with him. He believed in the importance of hearing all voices properly, even separating difficult passages from one hand into both in order to removed the technical difficulty and hear the desired result. He often quoted Goethe saying, “one cannot paint a color that one has not seen” and compared this principle to sound. Battersby also made all his students learn all the Bach two and three part inventions. It is no surprise then that I require my advanced students at NYU to learn a two part invention. Period instruments and performance practice were also very important to Battersby and I feel I too now value these as well. During my time with him and following my studies he became a close family friend and since his passing in 2016 I have felt the responsibility of carrying on his teaching legacy. 


When Battersby felt I had spent enough time with him he recommended I transfer to Edward Auer. Auer regurlary had his students play in class and perform full works in lessons even multiple times successive weeks. This gave me confidence in my ability to perform and I would encourage my students to perform on a regular basis. Auer also recommended recording oneself regularly, which I also recommend to my students. He also continued the idea of hearing in music and advocated using your ear to guide your performance. For my final year of my masters I switched to Karen Shaw who further reinforced the value of performing on a regular basis. Professor Swann has a breadth of knowledge that I hope to accumulated and pass on to my students. I believe it is very important for students to be able to situate their music historically as well is within the composers body of works. 


I feel my ideal student would be similar to my self, they would practice and have a strong, driven work ethic. They would also know information outside of music. Composers were all products of their time and we cannot represent their work without know at least a little about when and where they lived as well as the socio-political atmosphere of the time. 


As a teacher I hope to carry on the pianistic legacies of my former teachers. This would require having students who continue into music. I also hope to teach subjects outside of piano performance such as history and performance practice. Professor Battersby taught a doctoral seminar on classical performance practice which I was lucky enough audit. Like professor Battersby, it is my goal to be a renaissance musician; not only a pianist but also a scholar.

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Cosi Fan Tutte: A Journey to Reason

During the late seventeenth through the eighteenth century, previously held superstitious beliefs became increasingly replaced by rational thought based on science and reason, in an epoch that became known as the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. The concept of the superiority of reason as a guiding force is clearly displayed in many works of art, literature and music of the period, including those of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Musicologists often point to his Order of Sarastro which clearly represents a brotherhood of reason in the opera Die Zauberflöte. in which reason, personified by Sarastro, is countered by the Queen of the Night who embodies irrational thought and superstition. One opera that is less frequently discussed in these terms is Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte. This was the third collaboration between the composer and the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. The work contains many Enlightenment ideals, most notably that of the supremacy of reason. The opera Cosi fan Tuttedemonstrates the benefits of rational thought by showing how things go wrong when reason is ignored.


From the very start we can see how rationality is not present. In the opening of the first act, a totally unreasonable bet is made by the two lovers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, with their friend Don Alfonso. Andrew Steptoe provides an analysis of this sentiment in the opera. We read, “The libretto is permeated with a cynical, anti-sentimental spirit. It is reflected not only in the dispassionate development of the plot but also in the satirical treatment of romantic feeling”[1]The opera is definitely satirical, but not cynical. The satire lies in using comedy to show what results from a lack of reason. 


This is first seen in therecitative following the first trio. Don Alfonso presents a cynical characterization of women. He sings, “Che razza di animali son queste belle, se han come tutti noi carne, ossa e pelle, se mangian come noi, se veston gonne, alfin, se dee, se donne son...” (What race of animals are these beauties, if they eat like us, if they have flesh, skin and bone, they eat like us, if they wear a gown, if they should, if they are women...)[2]As soon as he starts a sentences “Son donne.” (They are women). Guglielmo and Ferrando promptly interrupt Don Alfonso, singing in a dreamy state repeating his text “Son donne” and adding “son tali” (they are such women). This comic moment illustrates how enthralled with love the men are. Where emotions are concerned, rationality is often not present. Steptoe tells references Otto Jahn who believed, “Ferrando’s vapid sentiment was intended to inspire ridicule rather than sympathy.”[3]Jahn is correct in assuming the audience is not supposed to sympathize with Ferrando. Viewers are supposed to see the error of his blind irrationality by the end of the opera. Mozart also has the two sing in an interesting harmony in this section. Harmony is not often used in recitatives, let alone in this fashion. Mozart uses 3rds alternating with tritones. This clearly illustrates the Dolce penna d’amorewhich so sweetly deprives these men of reason as well as highlighting the comic dream state. [4]


The female counterparts in the opera equally display irrationality. This can been seen from their first entrance. Here Dorabella and Fiordiligi brag about their lover’s appearances. This culminates with a cadenza like passage on the word “Amore” (see Example 2). The text preceding this states, “Se questo mio core mai cangia desio, amore mi faccia vivendo penar.”(If my heart ever changes its desire, let love make me live in pain.)[5]Unlike the “Son donne” passage in the recitative, this is harmonized in a completely consonant way using parallel 3rds. Like the corresponding passage for the men, this dream-like state of love suppresses reason. This also contains same vapid sentiment that Otto Jahn pointed out regarding Ferrando.[6]


Taken in the context of the line this refers to the god Amore, or Cupid. Here they vow to live in pain, much like Psyche after she lost Cupid. This kind of classical allusion, is another characteristic of Enlightenment work and the classical obsession with antiquity which had carried over from the Renaissance. This occurs later in the finale with the line, “Sei tu Palla o Citerea”(Are you Athena or Aphrodite)[7]. The ancient Greeks were known for their philosophy and reason, thus this allusion heightens the irrationality of the situation through contrast. 


The characters of Despina and Don Alfonso are very comparable. They both share pessimism about the opposite sex. For Alfonso this is illustrated in the opening scene when he sings “è la fede della femina come l’araba fenice, che vi sia ciascun lo dice, dove sia, nessun lo sa” (Faithfulness in a women is like the Arabian Phoenix, everyone says it exists, where is it)[8]. The secco recitative is interrupted at this moment and the music launches into an arioso section. This further enforces the declamatory nature of the statement (see Example 3). This can also be seen in the “Che razza d’animali” text that was discussed. These almost sexist sentiments, such as the mere characterization of women as an almost animal-like separate race, are only present to challenge the Guillermo and Ferrando into changing their ways. 


Don Alfonso only states one comment which could be viewed as sexist alone on stage. After Ferrando and Guillermo have left he sings, “Nel mare solca e nell'arena semina e il vago vento spera in rete accogliere chi fonda sue speranze in cor di femmina.” (He who plows the sea, sows the desert and tries to catch the wind in a net places his hopes in the heart of a woman)[9]Interestingly this is placed in quotations within the score, which implies that it is a restatement of a proverb. In this case the philosopher is using it to illustrate that people must not put hopes in others, for their own actions are all they can control. 


Edmund Goehring tells us, “The same kind of oversimplification is at work in the argument that describes Don Alfonso as the rebarbative philosopher of the Enlightenment...Of the many differences that distinguish Alfonso from the stock philosopher, the most significant is that only he has a view of human nature that places checks on the exercise of human reason.”[10]While Don Alfonso does differ unquestionably from the stock eighteenth century philosopher, it is not in the way Goehring suggests. Don Alfonso uses reason to place checks on the excess of sentiment not reason. Reason is used to combat the vapid sentiments mentioned earlier when they are in excess. 


The scholar Bruce Brown presents another view of this clash between love and reason. He writes, “Attempts such as Da Ponte’s to reconcile love with reason lost much of their credibility in the nineteenth century, which ushered in more rigid views of bourgeois morality and new constructions of sexual roles. The mockery in Cosi of fidelity in love, by the philosophical Alfonso and the worldly-wise Despina, was not likely to encounter open sympathy in the Vienna of Joseph II’s successors, at a time when personal and political freedoms were coming to be equated with radical notions emanating from Revolutionary France.” [11]The opera clearly shows a discontinuity between love and reason. It does not show that love and reason cannot be combined, but it shows that reason can be used the check the vapid sentiments presented by the lovers and make them a more functional part of society. Individuals like Ferrando, Guillermo, Dorabella and Fiordiligi who lack the check of reason cannot function in society in their love-dazed state. This is evidenced on many occasions. One of which is the threat by Ferrando and Guillermo to draw their swords against their friend Don Alfonso. This is hardly the behavior of functioning members of society. [12]


Don Alfonso is a philosopher and an unlikely candidate for having abandoned reason. He is the one to initiate Ferrando and Guglielmo into the ‘brotherhood of reason.’ The writer Edward Said states, “Like Sarastro, Don Alfonso is a manager and controller of Behavior- although, unlike Sarastro, he acts with neither solemnity nor high moral purpose.”[13]It is true that Don Alfonso does not act with solemnity; take his line “Io crepo se non rido” (I’ll die if I don’t laugh) for example. He does however have a higher moral purpose; he wishes to make his friends’ behavior guided by reason. It is moral to try to educate and thus Don Alfonso has morality for bringing his friends to the path of philosophical reason. It is probably that his character simply feigns irrationality in order to initiate Ferrando and Guillermo into the brotherhood of reason. This notion gives more meaning to his line following the departure of the two lovers, “Non son cattivo comico” (I’m not a bad actor). Don Alfonso is not only pretending the two men are going off to war, but also acting as if  he has abandoned reason. 


In the end of the opera Don Alfonso blatantly states that what he has done has been to make all parties involved wiser. After he is revealed as the orchestrator of the plot he sings, “V'ingannai, ma fu l'inganno disinganno ai vostri amanti, che più saggi omai saranno, che faran quel ch'io vorrò. Qua le destre, siete sposi. abbracciatevi e tacete. 


Tutti quattro ora ridete, ch'io già risi e riderò.”(I have deceived you, but it was your lovers who disguised themselves, they will now be wiser. Here is the rite, you are married, embrace each other and do not quarrel. In a few hours you will laugh as I do.) [14]Don Alfonso has led them on the path to wisdom through experience. 


Despina also shares an apparent cynicism regarding the opposite sex. Despina’s pessimism appears in her first aria, “In uomini,” In this aria she states, “In uomini, in soldati, sperare fedeltà, non vi fate sentir per carità” (In men, in soldiers, you hope the find fidelity? Don’t let any one hear that for pities sake)[15]. This is further reinforced by the comic frivolous character of the accompanying figure in the strings. The sung text “Non vi fate sentir per carità”[16]is also mimicking a laughing gesture reinforcing this characterization of Despina. [17][18]


As a maid in the late eighteenth century she would have acquired her knowledge   from worldly experiences, not through philosophical pursuits. One can only speculate but it is logical to assume she would have had many different employers of various dispositions and backgrounds and would have been able to assimilate knowledge from them. Musically, Mozart shows this by mimicking a pastoral drone figure at the beginning of her first aria (see Example 5). This is also evident from her aria text, “Una donna a quindici anni, dee saper ogni gran moda” (A girl of fifteen should know the trends)[19]Though she has acquired knowledge in a different way than Don Alfonso, she would still have followed the path of reason. In the 18thCentury a female philosopher would have been very rare, epically in the lower classes; thus a person with life experience would have been the closest equivalent needed to teach Dorabella and Fiordiligi. The scholar Lior Barshack in his article, The Sovereignty of Pleasure states, “They (Dorabella and Fiordiligi) perceive desire as an alien force that is about to invade the human, moral order”[20]The two women could not reconcile love and reason and needed the help of another. In this way Don Alfonso’s character educates the men in the ways of reason and his female counterpart educates the members of her sex. 


The entrance of the two men in costume is another example of irrationality. Barshack states, “The Albanian origin of the two competitors of Guillermo and Ferrando represent the externality of the sensuous to the established order of society- Despina mistakes the two men for Turks, the enemies of civilization against whom Ferrando and Guglielmo have left to fight.” [21]It is probable that the chosen disguise represents the foreign nature of desire. Despite the Holy Roman Empire’s conflicts with the Ottomans, Mozart did not view the Turks as an enemy of civilization; he in fact glorified their clemency in The Abduction from the Seraglio. In order for the foreign nature of desire to be reconciled, the lovers must be educated by their respective philosopher teachers.


The end of Act l comically displays the follies of the irrational. The finale starts with a calm reminiscence by Fiordiligi and Dorabella about their soldiers. Guillermo and Ferrando interrupt, entering in a rage, singing, “Si mora, si si mora” (we die, yes we die)[22]. They then proceed to take poison and feign an imminent death. Clearly the actions of the masquerade lack reason. It would be completely irrational to take poison after being refused one time by a person they have just met. This illustrates the point made regarding Don Alfonso’s proverb. Here Guillermo and Ferrando are learning not to place their hopes in the reactions of others.


Later in the finale Mozart and Da Ponte blatantly parody irrational thought. This occurs when Despina enters as the Doctor and uses a magnet to attempt to heal the poisoned men. As the doctor, Despina attributes her magnetic cure to Mesmer. Franz Mesmer was a physician who pioneered the use of magnets in treatment. Bruce Brown tells his readers, “The historian Robert Darnton has described Mesmer’s movement as specifically anti-enlightenment in spirit…”[23]This is clearly correct because it is an irrational way of treating a patient and will accomplish nothing. Mozart also highlights this fact with a comic trill in thirds symbolizing the magnet’s force (see Example 6). The text sung here also contains a subtitle joke regarding reason. Despina sings, “Chi poi si celibra la in Francia fu”[24](who {Mesmer} was then celebrated in France). In 1790 France was in a state of chaos. The Bastille had been stormed the year before and the provisional government lacked the power to accomplish any substantial tasks. The events in France where far from being guided by reason. Mozart and Da Ponte used this to highlight the folly at the end of Act One. Despina sings that the magnets were popular in France as a subtitle satirical criticism of the lack of reason in France in 1790.[25]


Dorabella and Fiordiligi’s choice of new lovers in “Prendero quel brunettino” [26]is clearly not reasonable. They say they will simply joke and innocently court their new lovers. The men they plan to court have already shown themselves to be too bold for simple walks and jokes. Mozart highlights their new-found worldliness by having them mimic the trill figure used by Despina (see Example 7).  This shows that they have learned part of Despina’s lesson; they will follow reason and not place their hopes in men whom they may never see again. [27][28]


The finale of Cosi fan Tutteshows how all have learned to follow reason. Da Ponte writes, 

Fortunato è l'uom che prende

ogni cosa pel buon verso

e tra i casi e le vicende

da Ragion guidar si fa.

Quel che suol altrui far piangere

fia per lui cagion di riso;

e del mondo in mezzo ai turbini

bella calma troverà.

Fortunate is the man who takes

Every case for the good

And between cases and events

With reason guides himself.

That which makes other cry

For him causes a smile:

And in the middle of a turbulent world

He shall find beautiful calmness. [29]


This finale contains a clear Enlightenment message; one should always guide themselves with reason. The events of the opera prior to this have shown viewers that if reason is not adhered to, chaos will result. The scholar Barshack states, “It has been often noted that the vows of reconciliation in the finales of Figaroand Cosi are hardly credible”[30]6. It is not the credibility that is important about the finale, it is the message that it is trying to impart to us, in this case to be guided by reason. This moral is stated with confidence by all the characters singing it. The confidant nature of their statements is reinforced by the decision to place the finale in C major, a key associated with triumph. Much of the texture contains alternations between voice and orchestra (see Example 8). This serves as grammatical punctuation to the text provided by Da Ponte. [31]


All of the humiliations that the lovers have endured served to teach them to follow the path of reason. The scholar Edward Said tells us, “it resembles the "demonstration" plays written by Marivaux among others. (Referencing Rosen)“They demonstrate-prove by acting out-psychological ideas and 'laws' that everyone accepted," Rosen adds, "and they are almost scientific in the way they show precisely how these laws work in practice."[32]Both Rosen and Edward Said make a correct assumption. The work teaches a lesson, the lesson of the sovereignty of reason. This scholastic nature was highlighted by Mozart and Da Ponte when the work was subtitled, La Scola degli Amanti. 


Andrew Steptoe also comments on this didactic nature. He writes, “These delusions and facades are shattered by subsequent events, which bring enlightenment as well as despair. The bulk of the plot documents the temptation and seduction of the women by their disguised lovers. The process is presented with such orderly detachment and clarity that the subtitle, La Scuola degli Amanti, is well justified.”[33]By the end of the work Don Alfonso and Despina have taught the lovers reason. This change in the lovers evident by the finale shows Don Alfonso and Despina truly can educate which gives verisimilitude to the subtitle La Scoula degil Amanti.


Bibliography

Brown, Bruce. W.A. Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Cosi Fan Tutte. Leipzig: C.F.Peters,1940.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Cosi Fan Tutte. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel,1881.

Said, Edward W. “Cosi Fan Tutte at the Limits.” Grand Street 62 (1997): 96-103.

Steptoe, Andrew. “The Sources of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’: A Reappraisal.” Music & Letters 62 (1981): 281-294. 

Goehring, Edmund. Three Modes of Perception in Mozart. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.


[1]Steptoe, Andrew, “The Sources of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’: A Reappraisal.” Music & Letters 62 (1981): 293.

[2]Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Cosi Fan Tutte. (Leipzig: C.F.Peters,1940).

[3]Steptoe, “The Sources of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’: A Reappraisal,” 294.

[4]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[5]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[6]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[7]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[8]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Goehring,Three Modes of Perception in Mozart, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, 64.

[11]Brown, WA Mozart Cosi Fan Tutte, 2

[12]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[13]Said, Edward W, “Cosi Fan Tutte at the Limits,” Grand Street 62 (1997): 103.

[14]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[15]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[16]Ibid.

[17]Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Cosi Fan Tutte(Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel,1881).

[18]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[19]Ibid.

[20]Barshack, Lior,“The Soverignty of Pleasure: Sexual and Political Freedom in the Operas of Mozart and Da Ponte,” Law and Literature 20 (2008): 53.

[21]Ibid, 53.

[22]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[23]Brown, WA Mozart Cosi Fan tutte 

[24]Ibid.

[25]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[26]Ibid.

[27]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[28]Ibid.

[29]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[30]Barshack, “The Sovereignty of Pleasure.” 52.

[31]Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte.

[32]Said, Edward W, “Cosi Fan Tutte at the Limits,” 97.

[33]Steptoe, “The Sources of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’: A Reappraisal,” 293.

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