The Triumph of Time in the Eighteenth Century: Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo and historical conceptions of musical temporality

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Abstract

Music is routinely held to be in a privileged position to reflect a particular historical consciousness of time and human temporality. This notion appears itself to be historical, in that it arises from the ‘temporalization’ of time widely attested to have occurred in Western Europe during the eighteenth century. Accordingly, numerous commentators have argued that music becomes increasingly temporalized across the century. Yet if music may convey human temporality without mediation, it remains unclear to what extent ‘pre-temporalized’ works from the early eighteenth century may be taken as temporally significant, given that the notion of time is not supposed to be such an issue during this period. This essay examines the methodological issues attendant to the claim for music's intrinsic historical temporality through an examination of a piece that appears explicitly to thematize the idea of time: Handel's oratorio-cantata Il trionfo del Tempo, which exists in three different versions spanning the fifty years between 1707 and 1757. Although my reading raises questions about the epistemological security of any claim for music's (or indeed language's) expression of historical temporality ‘as it really was’, I argue that a hermeneutic engagement with this problem is both valuable and indeed necessary for understanding music of the period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-281
JournalEighteenth-Century Music
Volume11
Issue number2
Early online date7 Aug 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014

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