Listening to Reason

Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music

Michael P. Steinberg
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sj4g
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  • Book Info
    Listening to Reason
    Book Description:

    This pathbreaking work reveals the pivotal role of music--musical works and musical culture--in debates about society, self, and culture that forged European modernity through the "long nineteenth century." Michael Steinberg argues that, from the late 1700s to the early 1900s, music not only reflected but also embodied modern subjectivity as it increasingly engaged and criticized old regimes of power, belief, and representation. His purview ranges from Mozart to Mahler, and from the sacred to the secular, including opera as well as symphonic and solo instrumental music.

    Defining subjectivity as the experience rather than the position of the "I," Steinberg argues that music's embodiment of subjectivity involved its apparent capacity to "listen" to itself, its past, its desires. Nineteenth-century music, in particular music from a north German Protestant sphere, inspired introspection in a way that the music and art of previous periods, notably the Catholic baroque with its emphasis on the visual, did not.

    The book analyzes musical subjectivity initially from Mozart through Mendelssohn, then seeks it, in its central chapter, in those aspects of Wagner that contradict his own ideological imperialism, before finally uncovering its survival in the post-Wagnerian recovery from musical and other ideologies.

    Engagingly written yet theoretically sophisticated,Listening to Reasonrepresents a startlingly original corrective to cultural history's long-standing inhibition to engage with music while presenting a powerful alternative vision of the modern.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3573-7
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-17)

    Musical form and cultural life have begun to recognize and speak to each other in recent years, owing in part to the initiatives of performing arts organizations and universities. Opera, especially regional opera, is booming. “Opera studies” is a growing and exciting field. Concert halls have had more difficulty rejuvenating their audiences and have responded with creative (and sometimes desperate) programming. The preconcert lecture, a rarity only a decade ago, is now more the norm than the exception. To be sure, theur-preconcert lecture tended to offer a kind of pop-analysis, recalling in its economy and focus the opening monologue...

  6. Chapter One STAGING SUBJECTIVITY IN THE MOZART / DA PONTE OPERAS
    (pp. 18-58)

    The three operas that W. A. Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote together between 1786 and 1790 add up to a triadicmise-en-jeuof old-regime cultural power with a new argument, musically and dramatically conceived, for subjectivity. To argue that these operas stage subjectivity is in turn to put into play the powerful ambivalences of both these terms.

    Subjectivity involves here the enactment of personal freedom. This enactment proceeds through ongoing negotiations between individuality and power. The negotiation is never-ending first because the threat of power to subjectivity persists, in the form of both external and internalized presences. Consequently, subjectivity...

  7. Chapter Two BEETHOVEN: HEROISM AND ABSTRACTION
    (pp. 59-93)

    In the preface to his 1987 studyLudwig van Beethoven: Approaches to His Music, Carl Dahlhaus made an empirically sound and nonetheless arresting observation. There has never been a “‘great’ biography of Beethoven,” he wrote, “fit to stand beside Philipp Spitta’sBachand Hermann Abert’sMozart.” Moreover, he asserted, there is likely never to be one. These biographies combine “life and work” into a total and coherent whole, and into a cultural monument. The biography and history of the cultural icon itself—“Beethoven”—is perhaps the third element in the equation of life and work. Beethoven is a key figure...

  8. Chapter Three CANNY AND UNCANNY HISTORIES IN BIEDERMEIER MUSIC
    (pp. 94-132)

    Early in 1839, Ferdinand Schubert consigned the unknown manuscript of his deceased brother’s C major symphony (currently known as no. 9 or “the Great”) to three musical authorities: Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, and the publishing house of Breitkopf and Härtel. Schumann was traveling in Vienna at the time. Mendelssohn was in Leipzig, where he would conduct the premiere of the work in March. Mendelssohn dubbed the work “the Great” (“die Grosse”) on the occasion of its second Leipzig performance on 22 March.¹

    This triple transmission of the text of Franz Schubert’s C major symphony strikes me as an anchoring moment...

  9. Chapter Four THE FAMILY ROMANCES OF MUSIC DRAMA
    (pp. 133-162)

    Wagner’sRing of the Nibelungtells the stories of two families, or rather two kinds of families. The first story follows the extended family of the god Wotan, including those who share in his accession to power and pomp (his wife’s family and his illegitimate daughters) and those who are fundamentally excluded (his twin children and, eventually, their son) or at one time banished from its aura (his favorite daughter). Wotan’s nemesis, the dwarf Alberich, the Nibelung who gives the whole enterprise its name, generates a family tree of his own, a more economical one that highlights the resentful bond...

  10. Chapter Five THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE AT THE MOMENT OF THE NATION
    (pp. 163-192)

    Between 1868 and 1890 three major composers, emerging from confessionally and geographically diverse areas of Europe and associated with fundamentally diverse compositional practices, departed from their ongoing musical projects and genres and produced large scale works for orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists in the form of the requiem mass. I refer to Brahms in Germany in 1868, Verdi in Italy in 1874, and Dvořák in Bohemia in 1890.¹ In terms of requisite musical personnel, these are the largest-scale works of their composers’ careers. They are also large rhetorically, as massive utterances of collective voices and wills. Emerging from the age,...

  11. Chapter Six MINOR MODERNISMS
    (pp. 193-225)

    In the introduction I suggested that the mutuality of form and ideology in Wagner produced a crisis of musical integrity. For Wagner, musical purity equals cultural purity. Music drama becomes the guarantor of the German absolute, of that style of German national assertion at once triumphalist and anxious in the years around 1870. Through the subtlety of his aesthetic and psychological inventions, Wagner may himself undermine the strength and consistency of his own doctrinal claims. The claims, however, remain intact. Moreover, they remain intact simultaneously as aesthetic and political claims. For this reason it strikes me as counterhistorical to separate...

  12. Chapter Seven THE MUSICAL UNCONSCIOUS
    (pp. 226-236)

    The imaginary arc rendered by Gustav Mahler’s late, completed symphonies, numbers five through nine, composed between 1901 and 1909, suggests the formal sequence of a gigantic classical symphony in four movements. According to this map—tendentious as it might seem, the Fifth Symphony would offer a sustained orchestral statement and narrative, corresponding to a self-assured, expository initial movement: a new beginning, a rededication of Mahler’s symphonic exploration with a difference. The difference involves the resolution of the problem of representation. The dramatic logic of the first four symphonies might be described as the path of the subject and outsider through...

  13. Index
    (pp. 237-248)