Lauri Suurpää

Heroic Duty and Tragic Love in the Third-Act Quartet of Mozart’s Idomeneo

Following the conventions of Metastasian ‘seria’ libretti, Mozart’s Idomeneo features tension between duty and love. This paper examines how this tension appears in the third-act Quartet, Andrò ramingo e solo. Duty is now deemed primary and love appears to be unobtainable; the opera’s four main characters each reflect on the love that he or she feels, all forced to concede that duty and its requirements outweigh the hopes for love. This paper traces how this conflict is reflected in the Quartet’s form, voice leading, and expression.
The Quartet’s form consists of two extended rotations. The first follows principles of sonata-form exposition, albeit in a somewhat modified manner, while the second rotation includes features of both the development and the recapitulation, but departs from the sonata-form conventions to the extent that the sonata-form terminology does not have much explanatory power. Modal mixture features significantly in both rotations: in the first rotation the music moves from E-flat major, the tonic, to the minor-mode dominant, B-flat minor, while in the second rotation the tonic major and minor are juxtaposed. The formal idiosyncrasies and modal mixture subtly interact with the voice-leading structure, where the reaching of tonal goals is often postponed. The musical obstacles that defer the arrival at the voice-leading goals, as well as the way in which these goals ultimately arrive, reflect the tension underlying the text.
The Quartet’s musico-poetic network creates a narrative, which suggests two reactions to the conflict between duty and love: on the one hand, heroic acceptance of duty, on the other, frustration over the inevitable loss of love. The Quartet sets the text twice, once in both of its rotations, and the music affects the text’s dramatic effect. As a result, the expressive meaning of the same textual lines is interpreted differently in the two rotations.