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The rich conceptual and experiential relays between music and philosophy—echoes of what Theodor W. Adorno once called Klangfiguren, or "sound figures"—resonate with heightened intensity during the period of modernity that extends from early German Idealism to the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. This volume traces the political, historical, and philosophical trajectories of a specifically German tradition in which thinkers take ...
The rich conceptual and experiential relays between music and philosophy—echoes of what Theodor W. Adorno once called Klangfiguren, or "sound figures"—resonate with heightened intensity during the period of modernity that extends from early German Idealism to the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. This volume traces the political, historical, and philosophical trajectories of a specifically German tradition in which thinkers take recourse to music, both as an aesthetic practice and as the object of their speculative work.
The contributors examine the texts of such highly influential writers and thinkers as Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bloch, Mann, Adorno, and Lukács in relation to individual composers including Beethoven, Wagner, Schönberg, and Eisler. Their explorations of the complexities that arise in conceptualizing music as a mode of representation and philosophy as a mode of aesthetic practice thematize the ways in which the fields of music and philosophy are altered when either attempts to express itself in terms defined by the other.
Contributors: Albrecht Betz, Lydia Goehr, Beatrice Hanssen, Jost Hermand, David Farrell Krell, Ludger Lütkehaus, Margaret Moore, Rebekah Pryor Paré, Gerhard Richter, Hans Rudolf Vaget, Samuel Weber
JOST HERMAND and GERHARD RICHTER
Therefore art stands in need of philosophy that interprets it in order to say that which it cannot say, whereas art is only able to say what it says by not saying it. Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie
Any thinking about music will always have come too late. The future perfect tense of this construction specifies the temporal situation in which the project of theorizing music necessarily occurs, namely, in a time that is out of joint. Like the grammatical future perfect, music's being is neither fully present nor fully past nor merely in the future, but rather is lodged in that temporal space of which one can only ever say that it will have been. This is so because music unfolds in time, even as time, and vanishes for good with the last notes of its performance. Even in an age in which music can be recorded, archived, and infinitely reproduced by a plethora of technical devices, this phenomenon persists. Music comes into its own in time, exists and formally generates itself in time, and thematizes, as one of its central concerns, the very experience of time. If the time in which music takes place, that is, the time that belongs to music, gives music over to time while, at the same time, setting time to music, then any philosophical engagement with music must come to terms with the out-of-jointness of the time that affords us both the pleasure and the intellectual possibility of thinking music as a variously modulated leitmotif.
Unlike literary writing, painting, or other aesthetic practices, music leaves behind no immediate material traces. Rather, it is coextensive with its own performance regardless of whether the time and space of that performance are shared by a listener. To think about music, therefore, is to engage the notion that music exists in and for itself, as a potential or executed performance of figures and sounds that, strictly speaking, have no need of a witness. As Walter Benjamin reminds us in 1923, "nowhere does a consideration of the receiver prove fruitful for the cognition of a work of art.... No symphony [is directed toward] its circle of listeners." Benjamin's observation reenacts the epistemo-critical shift from an aesthetics of intentionality and of affect anchored in an examination of the subject's response to an artwork, to an aesthetics of form concerned with an artwork's formal criteria of beauty and the critical judgments that it may sponsor independent of any particular subject's response. At the same time, the transitory nature of the representational traces that traverse an aesthetic structure defy the hermeneutic attempt to arrest the meaning of that structure.
If a special affinity does, in fact, exist between music and philosophy, then the tenor of that relationship necessarily is modulated by the fundamental tensions permeating every aesthetic form and saturating music in medium-specific ways. In other words, the pleasure derived from a work of art, especially a musical one, although certainly open to analysis, will raise the question of art's raison d'être once any attempt is made to understand that work by means of the precepts of reason alone, whether the attempt is made merely with an eye to its illustrative function vis-à-vis this or that philosophical or political agenda, or in a totalizing attempt to translate aesthetic form and its irrational pleasures into a rational system of concepts. Benjamin's friend, Theodor W. Adorno, illustrates this conundrum in his Aesthetic Theory as follows: "When one asks a musician if music is a pleasure, the reply is likely to be-as in the American joke of the grimacing cellist under Toscanini-'I just hate music.'" The following dilemma then emerges: "Whoever enjoys artworks concretistically is a philistine; expressions such as 'a feast for the ears' [Ohrenschmaus] give him away. Yet if the last traces of pleasure were extirpated, the question as to the purpose of artworks would be an embarrassment." As such, any philosophical explication of music first of all must acknowledge that "art stands in need of philosophy that interprets it in order to say that which it cannot say, whereas art is only able to say what it says by not saying it." The challenge of remaining faithful to the difficulty of this task confronts any speculative analysis of musical aesthetics.
The difficulty of speaking philosophically about music increases when one considers the proximity of music to discursive language and the attendant conceptual content that it simultaneously extends and withdraws. Does music have a language? If so, is it a language of its own? What kind of language is it? If it can be conceded that music is or has a form of language-and the jury among musicians and theorists of music alike remains out on this point-how would the language of music relate to the language of speculative thought, its grammatical categories and organizing principles, its logic and its vocabulary? In his "Fragment on Music and Language," Adorno argues that "music resembles language [Musik ist sprachähnlich] ... in that it is a temporal sequence of articulated sounds that are more than mere sounds. They say something, often something human. The more sophisticated the music, the more penetratingly they say it. The succession of sounds is related to logic: there is right and wrong." He continues: "But what has been said cannot detach itself from the music. Music forms no system of signs [kein System aus Zeichen]." Thus, although music and language share certain modes of signification that, broadly speaking, could be construed as belonging to the vast realm of textuality, the content of music cannot be considered as belonging to the temporal gesture of its performance and cannot be paraphrased without being erased. In its refusal to supply reliable hermeneutic access to its arrangements of acoustic signs, music singularly denies itself, if not to citation, then certainly to summary and paraphrase.
This refusal to be summarized or paraphrased should not, however, simply be regarded as a deficit, since it constitutes a triumph as well as a failure. The triumph resides in the musical artwork's insistence on remaining faithful to the difficulties that lie at the heart both of musical composition and of philosophical thought. In following this logic, we may recall Adorno's comments in Negative Dialectics when, apropos of his musical mentor Arnold Schönberg and the Second Viennese School, he writes:
An experience that Schönberg noted with regard to traditional music theory is confirmed in the case of philosophy: one actually only learns from it how a movement begins and ends, nothing about the movement itself, its course. Analogously philosophy would need first, not to turn itself into a series of categories, but rather, in a certain sense, to compose itself. It must, in the course of its progression, relentlessly renew itself, as much from its own strength as from the friction with that against which it measures itself; it is what happens in philosophy that is decisive, not a thesis or a position; its fabric, not the deductive or inductive single-tracked train of thought. Therefore philosophy is in essence not summarizable. Otherwise it would be superfluous; that most of it allows itself to be summarized speaks against it.
Far from merely equating music with philosophy, Adorno here emphasizes the shared compositional form and meticulously constructed aesthetic elements that, in the most rigorous and liberating musical and philosophical works, mitigate against a freezing of their sounds and signs into an apparently fixed and scanable database of meaning capable of being expressed independent of the resistant rhetorical singularities of their forms. From this perspective, what the musical compositions of such figures as Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, and Schönberg share, or ought to share, with the philosophy of such thinkers as Marx, Ernst Bloch, and Adorno is a resistance to paraphrase and a refusal to play along with the commodity fetishism of regressive listening that characterizes capitalism and the ideology of lucidity that demands submissive transparency.
Genealogies of German Musical Aesthetics
Although such considerations may seem to situate our discussion firmly within the twentieth century, any contemporary philosophical reading of musical aesthetics must occur within the historical context of those multiply refracted genealogies that have fostered an awareness of music as a phenomenon worthy of speculative attention. The principal foundation for a document-based scholarly commentary on music was the invention of an Italian monk, Guido d'Arezzo, who, during the first half of the eleventh century, developed a system of musical notation based on a four-staff line enabling composers to record their works in manuscript form for the first time. Although music can be traced back to ancient times when its rhythms were used to synchronize the heart beats of tribal members during collective rituals, a significant aesthetics of music did not emerge until around 1800. Even the Enlightened discourse of the eighteenth century had not considered the phenomenon of musicality worthy of sustained attention. In the area of vocal music, the expectation was that music would reinforce the semantic content of its corresponding text without imposing itself too noticeably as an autonomous form of artistic expression. In the area of instrumental music, the phenomenon of musicality was even more sorely neglected because, to many thinkers of the Enlightenment, the absence of words that could be channeled into accessible concepts made music largely superfluous, an empty ringing or, worse yet, a courtly form of diversion to be strenuously avoided by those hoping to achieve freedom from court and church ritual through rationally mediated truth.
Not until the period of Romanticism was instrumental music increasingly valorized as an intellectual form, and a theoretical discourse specifically devoted to an aesthetics of music began to take hold. Although he was the chief representative of a new form of instrumental music around 1800, Beethoven exerted a less pronounced influence on the development of a genuine aesthetics of music than did the writers and theorists affiliated with German Romanticism. Their theoretical works engaged the idea of a pure or absolute instrumental music that, in its emancipation from the semantics of the word, was felt by many to exemplify both the nuanced rejection of a teleological form of Enlightenment and the highest expression of the aesthetic. In the wake of these developments, vocal music lost its primacy in Germany and was replaced by a plethora of chamber-musical and symphonic musical genres claiming for themselves a certain "subjective inwardness," as Hegel termed it.
Hegel's conjuncture of music and the subject with an eye toward establishing the systematicity of the aesthetic as a category of the Absolute emerges forcefully in the section of his Lectures on Aesthetics devoted to music. There, he writes: "The subject is gripped by this element [of sound] not merely according to this or that specificity or merely through a determined content, but rather is elevated into the work and put to work there according to its simple self and its spiritual being. For instance, in the case of striking, easily flowing rhythms, we feel like clapping the beat, and dance music even goes straight to our legs: in general, the subject is enlisted as this person." For Hegel, music does not simply reflect or capture the subject through the performance of a specific acoustic content; it elevates the self into its very unfolding. In music, the essence of the self comes into its own; when listening to music, the self abandons itself to itself, hears itself as that which comes to itself by involuntarily abandoning itself to melody and rhythm. Music, as an aesthetic manifestation of Spirit, allows the self to move on its way to the Absolute at a pace and rhythm that the speculative discourses of abstract aesthetic systems hardly can match.
That this trend toward regarding music as a paradigm of the individual subject was most pronounced in Germany hardly comes as a surprise, considering the specific cultural and intellectual episteme of Germany between 1800 and 1820. After all, during that time the dissolution of the venerable Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation under the pressure of French conquerors left behind a volatile situation of ideological and cultural confusion largely characterized by a retreat into what Friedrich Engels termed "effusive misery." The most important reactions to this situation are arguably to be found in the various forms of a nuanced German Idealist philosophy (especially Hegel and F. W. J. Schelling) and in the Romantic valorizations of the imagination (above all in the works of Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and E. T. A. Hoffmann), tendencies that, in 1819, Arthur Schopenhauer attempted to condense into an aesthetic system in his main philosophical work, The World as Will and Representation. In this aesthetic system, Schopenhauer reserves for music the highest place in the hierarchy of the arts, in part because, thanks to its forces of internalization and inwardness, it involves the human subject less in the dark contingencies of the empirical world than do arts such as literature and painting, which should be considered more referential and "realistic."
The result of such speculative thinking was a collective belief in the inner elective affinity between music and philosophy, a conviction that remained vibrant in Germany far into the second half of the nineteenth century. Again and again, writers and thinkers in that country sought to emancipate both music-that is, instrumental music-and philosophy from empirical "shackles" and to elevate them to the realm of the merely abstract, even to the realm of the timeless Absolute. In the wake of these cultural trajectories, the following decades witnessed an almost perpetual generation of important new chamber-musical or symphonic works and philosophical treatises-all of which contributed to the image of Germany outside its borders as the country of composers and thinkers, while within Germany, largely because of the impact of Goethe and Schiller, the somewhat erroneous self-image as a country of poets and thinkers (the land of "Dichter und Denker") persisted.
Of the causal elements that contributed to this cultural-historical development, the following seem most salient to us: first, an insufficient anchoring of music among the German bourgeoisie in a country that, for the longest time, had neither a national capital nor a broad-based, liberal middle class; second, a weakly developed "bourgeois realism" in the arts at a time when this was the dominant artistic paradigm in other countries; and third, a consequent cult of the lonely, underappreciated genius or at least cultural outsider who appeals to his refined bourgeois aesthetic sensibilities by producing works of art that strive for the Absolute, whether in absolute music or in philosophical abstractions.
As a result, one self-consciously lonely man followed the next in nineteenth-century Germany, without any sustained avant-garde movements such as those in France or England. In the discursive realm of philosophy, the series begins with Schopenhauer and ends with Friedrich Nietzsche, while in music it begins with Franz Schubert and ends with Anton Bruckner, Hugo Wolf, and Gustav Mahler. Even the most significant German composer of operas, Richard Wagner, remained, for the longest time, a lonely and unrecognized man who ecstatically allowed the writings of Schopenhauer to suffuse him, permitted Nietzsche to praise him, and, finally, withdrew to his lonely temple of music in the small town of Bayreuth rather than perform his operas in Berlin, Hamburg, or even Frankfurt. Even he was not a societally oriented composer in the tradition of Giuseppe Verdi in Italy or Georges Bizet in France; instead, he was proud of his lonely greatness, albeit no longer in the older sense to be found in Idealism or the older forms of Romanticism. Viewed from this perspective, Nietzsche puts it well in the musical aphorisms of his 1878 collection Human, All Too Human, when he writes that music is always "at home" with those peoples "who have no 'society' but who have all the more individuals with a tendency toward loneliness, toward semi-dark thoughts and the veneration of everything unspeakable." Such people he calls the "actual musical souls."
Excerpted from Sound Figures of Modernity Copyright © 2006 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Excerpted by permission.
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