In broad cultural terms, it is tempting to interpret the end of the age of Enlightenment as a loss of innocence, a loss of innocent faith in the transparency of the world. Romanticism then emerges as the opening up of a new space, both within and beyond, a space fashioned by loss but enchanted by longing. Mozart meets us at the threshold of this space, which is more or less the burden of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s assessment of Mozart in relation to Haydn and Beethoven. Transcendence and interiority are both intimated, rather than achieved. This is how I have chosen to hear those emergent passages that seem to lift off from the prevailing musical discourse, like a visitation of altered consciousness. But even more generally, Mozart’s music can be heard to hover: between innocence and experience, ideality and sensuousness, comedy and tragedy, sympathy and mockery, intimacy and transcendence. It offers no blind faith yet no paralyzing doubt; it is not just a longingly imperfect reach for the infinite (Schiller’s sentimental art) nor just a comfortably perfect grasp of the finite (Schiller’s naïve art); it is childlike yet knowing.
—from “Knowing Innocence,” the final chapter of Mozart's Grace (Princeton UP, 2013), 165–66.
Scott Burnham is Scheide Professor of Music History at Princeton University. His scholarly interests include the history of tonal theory, problems of analysis and criticism, and 18-and 19th-century music and culture. Burnham's previous book, Beethoven Hero (Princeton UP, 1995), won the 1996 Wallace Berry Award from the Society of Music Theory.
Mozart's Grace won the American Musicological Society's 2014 Otto Kinkeldey Award, given annually “to a musicological book of exceptional merit published during the previous year.” It is the longest running of the society's awards, having been presented since 1967.
The citation notes how Burnham's work “explores a beloved composer, whose music we adore. It does not provide the usual enumeration of the composer’s stylistic fingerprints, nor a typology of formal procedures. Instead, the author focuses on individual moments that, he feels, reveal what is most important about this music. Most of the book consists of close readings of many of his favorite passages. The analyses are sensitive, perceptive, and steeped in evocative language: the author succeeds in finding words to convey the ineffable, the things we sense when we experience this music. A rich study whose style verges on the poetic at times, the book addresses the elusive trope of beauty through the categories of grace, thresholds, renewal, and knowing innocence.”