Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    The Figure of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) in the History of Emotions
    Kiernan, Frederic Murray ( 2019)
    The music of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) was not well known until the late twentieth century. In academic and public discourse alike, Zelenka has often been described as having led a miserable life, as a melancholic, hypochondriac misanthrope. While the accuracy of these claims has sometimes been questioned, no scholar has undertaken a genealogy of this construction of Zelenka. This thesis offers such a genealogy, arguing that the influence of stereotypes from Zelenka’s biography has accrued over time, while demonstrating that eighteenth-century source materials shed little light on Zelenka’s personality. The thesis also explores the question of why understanding who Zelenka was "as a person" has become such a point of concern in modern Zelenka reception. The thesis takes the figure of the composer-as-a-person as one part of a bipartite construction, the other being the metonymical composer-as-creative-unity (represented by a body of compositions), and it shows how these two parts have mutated and shifted in relation to one another since the eighteenth century, and have thus constituted a changing historical figure of Zelenka. However, this thesis constructs this history on a theoretical apparatus situated within the overlap of reception study and the history of emotions, an overlap which emphasises the close relationship between histories of interpretation and histories of feeling. This helps to explain how emotions have played a role in the historical development of the figure of Zelenka, and also how this inter-subjective entity has become part of the emotional conditions in which Zelenka’s music has been received. This thesis draws on extensive archival research, statistical approaches from music psychology, semi-structured interviews with scholars and musicians (or scholar/musicians), and it also proposes an innovative historical application of the BRECVEMAC model from music psychology to analyse reviews of recordings. This mixed-methodological approach helps to demonstrate that historical constructions of Zelenka-as-a-person influence the emotions of scholars, musicians and listeners in the present day, while also providing new ways of studying responses to music from within the history of emotions. By doing this, the thesis refreshes our historical view of Zelenka, and shows how “figures” of composers from the past can exert a coercive emotional influence over present-day musical, pedagogical and historiographical practices.