Moral Motivation and Music As Moral Judge
Listeners often ascribe desire to the inner workings of music. Music theorists claim that dissonance wants to resolve to consonance, that it has an obligation to do so. Thus music often emerges as a signifier of an abstract moral agency. Moreover, music in opera tends to offer a moral interpretation of the acts of the characters on stage. After a brief consideration of music in relation to (moral) will, this essay turns to a morally ambiguous opera, Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643), which features a fictionalized version of Seneca, one of the great philosophers of virtue. The various interpretations of Seneca’s character illustrate how potentially fraught with contradiction the notion of music as moral judge really is.
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