Eduard Hanslick on how opera works

Theory of Music

In this extract from The Beautiful in Music Eduard Hanslick discusses the relationship between words and music in opera.

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We will now ascend from the declamatory principle in the Recitative to the dramatic principle in the Opera.  In Mozart’s operas there is perfect congruity between the music and the words.  Even the most intricate parts, the Finales, are beautiful if judged as a whole, quite apart from the words, although certain portions in the middle might without them become somewhat obscure.  To do justice in a like degree, both to the musical and the dramatic requirements, is rightly considered to be the ideal of the Opera.  But that for this reason there should be perpetual warfare between the principles of dramatic nicety and musical beauty, entailing never-ending concessions on both sides, has, to my knowledge, never been conclusively demonstrated.  The principle involved in the Opera is not undermined…

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