Topoi and Melodic Morphology in the Operas of Donizetti
Rodney Stenning Edgecombe
For as long as there has been literature in the world, there have also been genres, the institutions by which writers separate and formalize the many expressive purposes they have in hand. And for as long as there have been genres, there have been topoi. These components, half-structural and half-thematic, mediate the materials that the different genres have evolved to embody. Sometimes topoi are all but co-extensive with the forms that house them, as when, say, the Anacreontic ode fuses its identity with the carpe diem topos it vectors (as, incidentally, it does in Orsini’s ballata from Lucrezia Borgia–1833). But, more often than not, genres grow out of an aggregation of topoi, each relating to a specific aspect of the larger design. For example, epics often centre on ideas of contest, contest takes the form of battles, battles have ceremonious preludes, and from this chain of requisites is born the topos of the arma capiendum, in which the epic hero vests himself for battle. That constitutes only a small part of an epic’s compass, of course, but the pattern repeats itself with regard to all the other elements in the form. It also repeats itself from epic to epic, so that topoi help, in a sense, to lead the reader to a proper reading of the text in hand. So central has the arma capiendum proved in shaping an epic design that it figures in the Iliad, the Aeneid, the Thebaid, and even in such mock-heroic take-offs as Pope’s Rape of the Lock.
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