'Music of Friends': Q&A with Prof. Edward Klorman

In 1829 Goethe famously described the string quartet as "a conversation among four intelligent people."

Professor Edward Klorman (Music) expands on this metaphor in Mozart’s Music of Friends: Social Interplay in the Chamber Works (Cambridge), drawing on a wide variety of documentary and iconographic sources to explore Mozart's chamber works as "the music of friends."

A Graduate Center alumnus, Klorman recently spoke with the GC about the book's origins, its companion online resources, and the role of his alma mater in shaping his work.

"If Mozart’s chamber works are 'the music of friends,' then perhaps my book is 'the music theory of friends,' since I learned so much from discussions and feedback with GC faculty and students throughout the process," he says.

In this book, you analyze chamber music within its performance context. What led you to this topic?
I was playing viola in a quartet as a Juilliard student, and our coach used the most wonderful interpretations and imagery: one violin begins singing a sweet melody, when other violin enters in a love duet. The viola keeps trying to “butt in” and turn the conversation more serious, but the cello just can’t be bothered by the whole exchange. 
I’ve always been struck how intuitive such anthropomorphic language is to many performers — but that it’s not usually something a musical scholar would write.

This book gave me a way to bring the scholarly and performance perspectives together. By examining the historical and theoretical underpinnings of performers’ experiences of this repertoire, I’ve united two parts of my musical life.

Does the idea of playing music as a type of social discourse date from Mozart’s time, or is this a contemporary interpretation?
In Mozart’s lifetime, many quartets were published in Paris with the title “quatuors dialogu├ęs” — literally “dialogued quartets.” To compare chamber music to conversation was a high compliment, since the Enlightenment salons elevated conversation to a highly refined art form. Whether a group of friends and familiars socializes through conversation or chamber music (or perhaps both at the same time!), the interest is on the witty exchanges and liveliness of the repartee.

Could you explain how readers can use the website as a companion to the book?
The website (www.MozartsMusicOfFriends.com) is fun to explore as a standalone resource or together with the book. There’s a large trove of paintings and drawings that give some idea of what these musical salons might have looked and felt like. And there are videos that allow you to hear the musical examples while watching explanatory animations.

Appropriate for “the music of friends,” those videos include musical performances by a number of close friends and colleagues, including the clarinetist Professor Charles Neidich (Music), so it was a real treat to play together with them as part of the project.

How did your time at the GC as a student influence your current work?
I earned my Ph.D. from the GC in 2013 and was just recently appointed to the faculty. The music programs are truly legendary, both for musical scholarship and performance. For someone like me, with interests in the cross-pollination between these perspectives, it’s an ideal setting. The music theory program is a remarkably open place.

This book grew out of my dissertation, and it’s rather an unusual topic for a music theorist. But I received nothing but support from my mentors (now my colleagues) to pursue my own perspective with this project.
If Mozart’s chamber works are “the music of friends,” then perhaps my book is “the music theory of friends,” since I learned so much from discussions and feedback with GC faculty and students throughout the process.
To learn more, see Klorman’s author video:

Submitted on: MAY 23, 2016

Category: Faculty Activities | General GC News | Music Ph.D. - D.M.A