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Faculty of Music


Professor Elaine Sisman
(Columbia University, New York)

Don Giovanni's Indifference and Other Failures of Rhetoric

Don Giovanni is described or accused of being indifferent three times in the course of the opera. In the last of these he regards the Statue in the graveyard with indifference and disdain [indifferenza e sprezzo] upon deciding its voice is a hoax. This talk considers the Don’s indifference, partly linked to the sprezzatura of Castiglione’s courtier, as one of the sources of his spectacular rhetorical failures over the course of the opera. These desertions of his self-described “fertile talent” when without passionate inspiration link him to another famously persuasive figure who fails rhetorically—Orpheus. And Orpheus's "ordeal," as set out by Gluck and Calzabigi, in turn allows these failures to be placed within a generic field that appears to take persuasion itself as the very breath of life, art, and love, as in Bach’s dramma per musica pitting Apollo against Pan.


Elaine Sisman is the Anne Parsons Bender Professor of Music at Columbia University. The author of Haydn and the Classical Variation, the Cambridge Handbook Mozart: The ‘Jupiter’ Symphony, and editor of Haydn and His World, she has published numerous essays on music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She has been awarded the Alfred Einstein Award of the American Musicological Society, is a member of the Joseph Haydn-Institut (Cologne) and Mozart-Akademie (Salzburg), and serves on the editorial boards of The Musical Quarterly and The Journal of Musicology.  In 2006 she completed a term as president of the American Musicological Society, which elected her to Honorary Membership in 2011. Her most recent publications are “Haydn’s Solar Poetics: The Tageszeiten Symphonies and Enlightenment Knowledge,” JAMS 66/1 (2013) and “Music in the Material World: Cultural Traces and Historical Cases,” in Cultural Histories of the Material World, ed. Peter N. Miller (Ann Arbor, 2013).


Wednesday, 21 May, 2014 - 17:00 to 18:30
Event location: 
5.00pm, Recital Room, Faculty of Music