Cambridge Opera Journal


Two into Three Won't Go? Poetic Structure and Musical Forms in Mozart's Idomeneo

Tim Carter


By the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the typical Metastasian two-stanza aria text could be set to music in one of two ways: in the ternary form typical of the earlier da capo aria (stanzas 1–2–1) or in a binary one (stanzas 1–2–1–2). Why did Mozart choose one form over the other in Idomeneo (1781); what does this tell us about the role of his librettist, Giovanni Battista Varesco, both before and after the composer left Salzburg for Munich to finish composing the opera and to prepare its performance; and how might these issues enable some rational inquiry into questions of music and drama?

Tim Carter works on music and theatre in the early seventeenth century, in the later eighteenth century, and in America in the 1930s and 1940s. He is David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.