Insidious Irony and Thematic Disintegration in the "Tarantella" from John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1

Cara Stroud, Florida State University

The finale to Corigliano's Gazebo Dances, a boisterous tarantella, at first seems an unlikely choice for a symphonic theme in a movement that depicts the tragic loss of a friend to AIDS. The tarantella quotation in the second movement of Corigliano's Symphony No. 1, with its bouncy leaps, rambunctious dance rhythms, and its tonal emphasis on C major, contrasts sharply with the somber and expressive mood established in the first movement of the symphony. Ultimately, the tarantella theme is torn apart -- destroyed by musical disruptions that gradually distort and remove original features of the theme. In an ironic narrative archetype, features can retrospectively take on the role of incipient, or emergent, transgressions, especially if they act in a way to tear apart the order established at the beginning of the work. I systematically explore how multiple layers of irony enact to play out an ironic narrative in the "Tarantella" movement, which, in turn, points to multiple layers of musical irony active in the piece and to tragic cultural ironies in society's response to AIDS.

In this ironic landscape, the pastoral becomes the grotesque, a dance spins out of control, and the solid foundation of a diatonic pitch center crumbles in the face of atonal uncertainty. The ironic narrative archetype is only one layer to be uncovered in a story that draws together ironies at different interpretive levels, from the intra-musical archetype to the extra-musical biographical and cultural context.