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Developing Variations

Developing Variations: Style and Ideology in Western Music

Rose Rosengard Subotnik
Copyright Date: 1991
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Developing Variations
    Book Description:

    Combines into a cohesive statement the author’s pathbreaking critical essays on Western music.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8349-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    R. R. S.
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxxiv)

    On the night of the seventh game of the 1975 World Series, when my native team, the Boston Red Sox, was taking the field against the Cincinnati Reds (and Carlton Fisk’s sixth-game home run was still glorious news), Edward Lowinsky called me down to his home on the South Shore of Chicago. He had just read an essay that I was about to submit for publication and wanted urgently to warn me that if I did not delete one particular reference to Beethoven, I would bitterly regret it in the future. That essay is chapter 2 of this volume. The...

  6. Part I. Ideological Criticism

    • Chapter 1 The Role of Ideology in the Study of Western Music
      (pp. 3-14)

      Some time ago, an established American musicologist complained to me that I approached the study of music with a philosophical orientation and was therefore bound to falsify music and music history. My immediate reactions to this remark were disbelief that a philosophical orientation should be held grounds for adverse criticism of humanistic scholarship, and shock that my critic saw such an orientation as a flaw in the validity of my work rather than as the symbol of an ideological difference between his conception of scholarship and my own. The remark struck me as patently naive and, on reflection, as an...

    • Chapter 2 Adorno’s Diagnosis of Beethoven’s Late Style: Early Symptom of a Fatal Condition
      (pp. 15-41)

      It is not altogether surprising that as late as 1975, American musicology still lacked a formal introduction, in its own journals, to the social and cultural criticism of the so-called Frankfurt School. Although the Institute for Social Research, around which the Frankfurt School originally centered, was founded in 1923, the first full-length American study of the School appeared only fifty years later, with the publication ofThe Dialectical Imagination(Boston, 1973) by Martin Jay. What is more surprising is that even though Mr. Jay’s book has aroused considerable attention in other disciplines, American musicology has continued to show little interest...

    • Chapter 3 Why Is Adorno’s Music Criticism the Way It Is? Some Reflections on Twentieth-Century Criticism of Nineteenth-Century Music
      (pp. 42-56)

      Three objections seem to be leveled against the musical writings of the German dialectical philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69) with particular frequency. Why, it is asked, does Adorno show next to no informed awareness of music before Bach? Why is he so reluctant to engage in purely musical analysis? And why is his language so impossibly contorted?

      Perhaps the most informative way of accounting for the apparent limitations to which these questions point involves seeing all of them as responses to discontinuities that are fundamental to modern culture as Adorno envisions it. For, despite his historical rather than systematic orientation,...

    • Chapter 4 Kant, Adorno, and the Self-Critique of Reason: Toward a Model for Music Criticism
      (pp. 57-84)

      Despite one provocative essay on Bach, the period in which Adorno takes a sustained interest as a music critic really only begins at the end of the Enlightenment in “Beethoven’s social climate,” to use his own words, “with its touch of Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, and Hegel.”³ It is characteristic that in this description of the period, Adorno made reference to music, society, and philosophy. All three figured centrally in his conception of music criticism; and where his music criticism is concerned, at least, it can be argued that it is to this same period that his engagement with each of...

  7. Part II. Stylistic Criticism

    • Chapter 5 Musicology and Criticism
      (pp. 87-97)

      I have been charged with addressing the situation of scholarship in nontraditional areas of musicology.¹ Given the limitations of space and of my experience, I shall focus here on the character and problems of an area in which I myself have worked, that of scholarly music criticism.

      Defining this field is itself a problem, especially if one tries to do so through reference to existing American scholarship; for outside of journalistic criticism, which is not my concern here, American music criticism is an elusive and fragmentary phenomenon. For the most part it consists in scattered, highly divergent essays by individual...

    • Chapter 6 Evidence of a Critical Worldview in Mozart’s Last Three Symphonies
      (pp. 98-111)

      Let it be said at once that this essay is not an attempt to deduce logically or to prove in any scientific way the philosophical import of Mozart’s last three symphonies. That is not possible. My attempt here simply is to point out signs of what I have come to understand as an important aspect of meaning in these works.

      Nor is there room below for a detailed exposition of the methodological principles out of which this study has grown. Instead it will be taken as more or less axiomatic that formal conceptions and choices can be construed as powerful,...

    • Chapter 7 Romantic Music as Post-Kantian Critique: Classicism, Romanticism, and the Concept of the Semiotic Universe
      (pp. 112-140)

      In the attempt to develop a critical language capable of characterizing musical classicism adequately, a useful starting point is provided by the notion that in certain respects this style suggests as its structural model a cognitive system: logic, assuming logic is defined broadly. For both the characteristic classical structure (which could be referred to loosely as a sonata structure) and the logical demonstration seem to propose the same ideal of the semiotic structure as a semiotic universe, a universe that can be described succinctly as an autonomous intelligible whole.¹ Just as a logical argument contains its own premises and conclusions,...

    • Chapter 8 On Grounding Chopin
      (pp. 141-166)

      The notion that society lies at the heart of music — at the heart not only of its significance but also of its very identity—is a notion, I have come to realize, that is for me not a hypothesis, not a thesis the scientific proof of which is the goal of my study. In fact I would say that this notion does not lend itself to any popularly conceived model whereby an inductive investigation of a hypothesis leads to scientific conclusion, whether one thinks of it as a general notion (the notion that music and society in general are intimately...

  8. Part III. Perspectives on Western Musical History

    • Chapter 9 The Cultural Message of Musical Semiology: Some Thoughts on Music, Language, and Criticism since the Enlightement
      (pp. 169-194)

      The rate at which new critical methods reach the various arts often seems dictated by something like a Marxian law of unequal development; for better or worse, music is almost invariably the last art to be affected. Thus, whereas structuralism is already a bit outmoded in certain literary circles, it is only now beginning to have a noticeable impact on the study of music, thanks mostly to the efforts of French musicologists, who for some time have manifested a particularly strong attraction to systematic, as opposed to historical, forms of music criticism. The publication of Jean-Jacques Nattiez’sFondements d’une sémiologie...

    • Chapter 10 Tonality, Autonomy, and Competence in Postclassical Music
      (pp. 195-205)

      Lawrence Kramer’s objections to my sketch of postclassical music history center principally on my treatment of tonality as a historically evolving construct. Kramer would have it that tonality is a constant entity undergoing “constant metamorphosis” but unchanged in its essentials since the latter part of the Enlightenment (or, perhaps, even earlier?). This conception of tonality as an ahistorical complex, admitting only of change in surface detail and precluding any associated sense of historical direction or significant qualitative differences between styles, reveals so clear a structuralist orientation that one wonders less why Kramer attacks my critique of structuralism than why he...

    • Chapter 11 The Historical Structure: Adorno’s “French” Model for the Criticism of Nineteenth-Century Music
      (pp. 206-238)

      If Adorno asserts through his criticism that Beethoven’s third-period style prefigures the end of humanity and that Schoenberg’s twelve-tone conception signals the arrival of that end,¹ what does he think happened to the music in between? Typically, Adorno himself left no cohesive answer to this question. Nevertheless, an analysis of his principal essays on nineteenth-century music does suggest a comprehensive view of that music which might surprise Adorno himself — especially if one declines to examine Adorno through his own dialectical apparatus, and tries instead to develop fresh means of criticizing both Adorno and nineteenth-century music by reading his writings, as...

    • Chapter 12 Individualism in Western Art Music and Its Cultural Costs
      (pp. 239-264)

      In teaching the introductory music course at the University of Chicago, I have generally opened the first class by playing recordings of two pieces, asking the students to observe similarities and differences between them.¹ The first is John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post March”; the second is the “Soldier’s March” from Igor Stravinsky’sHistoire du Soldat.²Except for some foreign exchange students, virtually no one fails to find the former piece at least somewhat familiar. The majority can name the composer, and occasionally one or two students even know the name of the particular piece. Very seldom, on the other hand,...

    • Chapter 13 The Challenge of Contemporary Music
      (pp. 265-294)

      The challenge of contemporary music is not to society but to itself.¹ The challenge is to recognize its own lack of autonomy and to use this recognition as an opportunity for contributing to a new paradigm for music that would preserve its own most humane values.

      This challenge is historically conditioned. It is accessible to analysis in philosophical terms, but only insofar as such an analysis acknowledges the particularity of the cultural context in which the challenge operates. One could ignore this context, and attempt an abstract, ahistorical account of the challenge posed by any new music only by assuming...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 295-360)
  10. Index
    (pp. 361-372)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 373-373)