The Game of Styles

Valentina Sandu-Dediu, Alegeri, atitudini, afecte. Despre stil şi retorică muzicală (Choices, Attitudes, Emotions. On Style and Musical Rhetoric), Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 2010

Volume awarded with the Union of Romanian Composers and Musicologists Prize for Systematic Musicology, 2010


      Romanian musicology has amassed until now a few studies on specific musical style, stylistic or rhetoric problems, but a synthetic work on style and rhetoric in music was much anticipated for a long time. Only a broader approach precedes the attempt of Valentina Sandu-Dediu, but this was reduced to a historical perspective, presenting the styles of different epochs (Vasile Iliuţ, O carte a stilurilor muzicale /A Book of Musical Styles, 1996).
       The ideas gathered in the volume Choices, Attitudes, Emotions were fed by the author’s “obsessions” with style, easily noticeable in Valentina Sandu-Dediu’s previous works: the style of a piece (Wozzeck – profeţie şi împlinire /Wozzeck – Prophecy and Fulfillment, 1991), analysis of a stylistic category (Ipostaze stilistice şi simbolice ale manierismului în muzică /Stylistic and Symbolic Stances of Musical Mannerism, 1997), a composer’s style (Ludwig van Beethoven, 2000) or the stylistic configuration of a composition school (Muzica românească între 1944-2000 /Romanian Music 1944-2000, 2002).
       The synthetic character and the coherent organization of an extremely dense amount of information are the defining traits of this volume, although the author acknowledges in the introduction that she did not have the ambition to compile a “treaty on musical style”. In order to describe the concept of musical style from various perspectives – the initial proposition of the volume – the author filters through influential theories of American and European origin and at the same time investigates the applicability of models borrowed from literary stylistic. The result? A kaleidoscopic image: style as breach and as choice, as historical epoch versus constant compartment of the human spirit, personal style, style as phenomenon and analytical model etc.
       An investigation of style in European music from a chronological point of view leads to a nuanced presentation of certain style concepts or rhetoric mentalities specific to each epoch, from the classical antiquity to the twentieth century. One can also observe references to the postmodern present: “Anything is possible in the 2000s, even transcriptions and appropriations of Mozart… in an Egyptian fashion. During the last years on the European market certain CDs have appeared, entitled Mozart in Egypt, in which famous themes of the Viennese classic are veiled in oriental harmonies, rhythms or orchestrations. […] Listening to such a thing, one could feel either outraged or amused, but in any case knowledgeable of what can happen to Mozart nowadays in an era of total globalization”.
       Neither is the territory of interpretative stylistic left unexplored. As a starting point, Valentina Sandu-Dediu resorts to interrogations that captivate both musicians and music lovers alike: “What does the style of the interpretation mean nowadays? In the academic context or in the criticism of concert music, it is often heard that x or y does not know the style, does not play correctly a Bach fugue or a Beethoven sonata. But who exactly states what does stylistic «correctness» mean?”
       The fervor-filled discourse is the result of a well-planned rhetoric strategy, whose efficiency is also sparked by the didactic exercise of the author. Almost unnoticeable slides change the frame of definitions or precise explanations to that of personal opinions, sometimes delivered with a lot of humor, as in the case of the commentary on interpretations of Third Sonata for Piano and Violin “In Romanian Folk Style” by Enescu: “I would be very curious to listen to Japanese or South-American interpreters for this Enescian score”.
       The playful spirit is apparent in different aspects of this eclectic volume: the subjection of discourse to rhetoric phases (inventio, dispositio etc.), the delightful pastiches of journalistic style at the end, the title referencing mannerist practices (the letter as a double sign, for instance) are some of the stimuli for the reader’s imagination.

Florinela Popa
(English Version by Simina Neagu)

Review published in Romanian, in Dilemateca, nr. 48, May 2010