Musical Meaning and Human Values

Musical Meaning and Human Values

Keith Chapin
Lawrence Kramer
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Musical Meaning and Human Values
    Book Description:

    Musical understanding has evolved dramatically in recent years, principally through a heightened appreciation of musical meaning in its social, cultural, and philosophical dimensions. This collection of essays by leading scholars addresses an aspect of meaning that has not yet received its due: the relation of meaning in this broad humanistic sense to the shaping of fundamental values. The volume examines the open and active circle between the values and valuations placed on music by both individuals and societies, and the discovery, through music, of what and how to value.With a combination of cultural criticism and close readings of musical works, the contributors demonstrate repeatedly that to make music is also to make value, in every sense. They give particular attention to values that have historically enabled music to assume a formative role in human societies: to foster practices of contemplation, fantasy, and irony; to explore sexuality, subjectivity, and the uncanny; and to articulate longings for unity with nature and for moral certainty. Each essay in the collection shows, in its own way, how music may provoke transformative reflection in its listeners and thus help guide humanity to its own essential embodiment in the world.The range of topics is broad and developed with an eye both to the historical specificity of values and to the variety of their possible incarnations. The music is both canonical and noncanonical, old and new. Although all of it is classical,the contributors' treatment of it yields conclusions that apply well beyond the classical sphere. The composers discussed include Gabrieli, Marenzio, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wagner, Puccini, Hindemith, Schreker, and Henze.Anyone interested in music as it is studied today will find this volume essential reading.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4681-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Examples and Figures
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. 1-9)
    Lawrence Kramer

    As Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde discovered, there is a great deal to be said about the little wordand. To speak of musical meaning and human values might be to ask how these things, in any of their numerous varieties, reinforce or oppose one another—or, rather, reinforceandoppose one another: the ambiguity of music as cosmic or natural harmony and as siren song is as durable as music itself. To speak of musical meaning and human values might be to ask how music expresses values per se or reflects their historical being. Or it might be to ask...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Due Rose, Due Volte: A Study of Early Modern Subjectivities
    (pp. 10-31)
    Susan McClary

    Modernism comes in many guises. In the early twenty-first century, we are most likely to associate the word with the recent postmodernist turn, with cultural upheavals a hundred years ago, or with the radical questioning of Enlightenment values entailed in the emergence of Romanticism. Pushing the term even further back, many humanities disciplines now refer to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as the “early modern” period. In musicology, however, the widespread use of period terms such as “Renaissance” and “Baroque” (themselves problematically borrowed from other disciplines and applied somewhat arbitrarily to music) has made it difficult to perceive...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Sublime Experience and Ironic Action: E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Use of Music for Life
    (pp. 32-58)
    Keith Chapin

    Try as he would, E. T. A. Hoffmann never lived exactly the life he wished. In a well-known “Highly Random Thought” fromKreisleriana, one finds a motif that Hoffmann often varied in his literature and letters: “What artist has ever troubled himself with the political events of the day? He has always lived in his art alone, and only in it did he stride through life.” Hoffmann, it would seem, looked away from politics and worldly action. If he ever did dabble with the rabble, it was only because the Napoleonic Wars forced him to do so. Thus the less-than-random...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Devoted Ear: Music as Contemplation
    (pp. 59-78)
    Lawrence Kramer

    Central Europe, the late eighteenth century: the slow movements of cyclical instrumental works embarked on a metamorphosis. Instead of expressing sustained states of feeling drawn mainly from the varieties of serenity and pathos, some slow movements began to explore the possibilities of internalized drama. Others enacted a process of contemplation. One group sought to grasp interiority as something complex and heterogeneous; the other labored to elevate the spirit through acts of attention.

    These two aims sometimes overlapped. Each was consistent with the era’s increasing interest in the psyche as a structure, a realm, and a puzzlement. But this interest covered...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Music and Fantasy
    (pp. 79-101)
    Marshall Brown

    Lawrence Kramer’s brave new book,Why Classical Music Still Matters, climaxes with an account of the saving grace of Beethoven’sPastoralSymphony. The music, he says, imagines “an unbroken continuity of tradition.” Is this really imagining? Well, not exactly. “Imagining it, that is, in music.” What kind of imagining is that? “It is never just a simple image of a lost paradise…. Rather …”¹ Kramer’s moment of hesitation stems from the association of imagination with images, hence with visual experience. Imagining “in music” is never “simple.” To be sure, pictorialism was an old tendency in music, but with the exception...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Whose Brahms Is It Anyway? Observations on the Recorded Legacy of the B♭ Piano Concerto, Op. 83
    (pp. 102-115)
    Walter Frisch

    The relationship of Brahms to musical meaning and human values has perhaps never been imagined more vividly than in Hermann Hesse’s 1927 novelSteppenwolf. In a fantasy theater the narrator Harry Haller encounters Mozart, who waves his arms to disclose a misty desert landscape in which a melancholy old man with a long beard trudges at the head of a line of ten thousand followers, all dressed in black. “Look, there’s Brahms,” says Mozart. “He is striving for redemption, but it will take him all his time.” Haller realizes that the men in black are those who had to play...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Civilizing Process: Music and the Aesthetics of Time-Space Relations in The Girl of the Golden West
    (pp. 116-149)
    Richard Leppert

    In 1907 Puccini made the first of two visits to New York; he had come to supervise the first performances ofManon LescautandMadama Butterflyat the Metropolitan Opera. He was also in search of a subject for his next project. Accordingly, while in the city, and despite his very limited English, he attended numerous plays, including three by David Belasco, whoseMadama Butterflyhe had seen staged in London in 1900. One of the Belasco productions caught his eye,The Girl of the Golden West, which is the general subject of this essay.¹ In particular, I am interested...

  11. CHAPTER 7 A Farewell, a Femme Fatale, and a Film: Three Awkward Moments in Twentieth-Century Music
    (pp. 150-169)
    Peter Franklin

    Having chosen to write about three of my favorite musical works—all of them lacking canonic authority, but all, I believe, rich in meaning and human value—I find myself up against the problematic mismatch between personal taste and History. Taking another look, recently, at the prologue to Lawrence Kramer’sOpera and Modern Culture, I was led to wonder if I were not simply slipping into the role of Don Giovanni in Kramer’s allegorical reading of that operatic antihero: defying a form of institutionalized Authority in search of ferocious reserves of musical subjectivity that no authority can touch, only to...

  12. CHAPTER 8 “Pour Out … Forgiveness Like a Wine”: Can Music “Say an Existence Is Wrong”?
    (pp. 170-184)
    Walter Bernhart

    It has been claimed that the dreadful wolf’s-glen scene from Weber’sDer Freischützof 1821 marked a decisive departure in the presentation of villainy on the opera stage, introducing a new musical vocabulary for representing evil: tremolos, trills, bassless diminished chords, chromaticism, eerie pianissimo pizzicatos in the double basses, unisono playing, low clarinets, gloomy drumrolls, obsessive repetitions, and the like. In a stimulating paper on “villains, outsiders, and failures in opera,” Stefan Kunze finds no evidence of the representation of true villainy in opera prior to Samiel and Caspar inDer Freischütz. Negative characters in earlier works—from Monteverdi’s Poppea...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 185-222)
    (pp. 223-224)
    (pp. 225-226)