Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
Drawing on philosophies of humor and on literary theory, I distinguish musical wit from its terminological companions on many grounds, especially wit's quickness within time. Wit is thus formulated as an event created by the interaction of listener and music in time, one that establishes complex or unusual relationships between seemingly incongruous elements. The events of Haydn's Joke Quartet, op. 33 no. 2, are used to argue that the wit that occurs in Haydn's quartets is primarily ludic--playful--while the slow movements of the op. 76 quartets provide a more subtle experience of wit. I close by examining the ways that beliefs about the musical work, the composer, and the self as perceiver influence or preclude the experience of musical wit. Wit's conflict with seriousness proves to be less about what music means, and more about when it can convey meaning.