Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Nick Johnson

Second Advisor

Sophie Benn


Controversy around the actualization of unwritten conventions in operatic performance has become an inescapable reality over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The “work-concept”, the term coined by Lydia Goehr, is the strongly held conception in Western music that pieces of music are concrete and immutable, and therefore should not be changed. It is because of this concept that performance controversy exists; a performance that is not viewed to have represented an opera “correctly” is responsible for infringing on the central governing tenet of Western art music performance. I seek to prove that the diametrically opposed ideas of what is correct performance and what isn’t which lay at the heart of these disagreements arose due to the influences of oral transmission. In the course of the paper, I use examples from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to show that the continued preservation of operatic conventions and traditions is highly reliant on oral transmission, and demonstrate the processes of transformation which pieces of information experience due to this. Throughout this examination, it becomes clear that oral transmission and the work-concept are locked in a paradoxical relationship: while the two are practically incompatible, they are ideologically inseparable. The work-concept itself cannot function without oral transmission, yet the work-concept is the reason why the informational processes caused by oral transmission are practically problematic.

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Music Commons