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Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music

Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music: Singing Devils and Distant Sounds

Peter Franklin
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 214
  • Book Info
    Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music
    Book Description:

    Why are some of the most beloved and frequently performed works of the late-romantic period-Mahler, Delius, Debussy, Sibelius, Puccini-regarded by many critics as perhaps not quite of the first rank? Why has modernist discourse continued to brand these works as overly sentimental and emotionally self-indulgent? Peter Franklin takes a close and even-handed look at how and why late-romantic symphonies and operas steered a complex course between modernism and mass culture in the period leading up to the Second World War. The style's continuing popularity and its domination of the film music idiom (via work by composers such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and their successors) bring late-romantic music to thousands of listeners who have never set foot in a concert hall.Reclaiming Late-Romantic Musicsheds new light on these often unfairly disparaged works and explores the historical dimension of their continuing role in the contemporary sound world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95803-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    Imagine, then, the hushed throng in a large European concert hall, waiting upon the conductor’s signal to an orchestra ranked in glittering array before him, in the nineteenth-century fashion. Perhaps, like Christopher Small, we should be suspicious of this curious social ritual, apparently celebrating power and heroic mastery before a docile mass of habituated admirers.¹ The silence is broken by a music whose solemn processional only gradually begins to be interrupted by rhetorical out-bursts of more urgent emotion. These seem to initiate greater animation, as if in preparation for catastrophe, before calming once more. A more sensuous unfolding now quietly...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Setting the Scene: Grandiose Symphonics and the Trouble with Art
    (pp. 1-22)

    Having invoked the autobiographical mode as a tool in my introduction, I should confess at once that this book is one in which I intend to indulge my passion for this period of Western musical history that I love and which, I suspect, many secretly cherish even as they avow that they probably shouldn’t. As we have seen, it has accordingly been labelled transitional, decadent, over-inflated, and characterized by a desire always to be satisfying what Richard Taruskin has described as its apparently obsessive drive toward “maximalism.”¹ In putting it this way—by confessing a more than modestly scholarly interest...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Pessimism, Ecstasy, and Distant Voices: Listening to Late-Romanticism
    (pp. 23-52)

    One way to challenge oppressive historical narratives is to propose alternatives, albeit in the spirit of dialectical debate rather than of crude iconoclasm. Instead of seeking “modernist” impulses in the music of late-Romanticism (prejudged otherwise to be a manifestation of ‘decadence’ or ‘maximalism’), we might, for example, propose that official European Modernism was itself entirely a late manifestationofRomanticism: from the perspective of the audience it was perhaps even a late, decadent phase of Romanticism. The modernists may have worn the patched jacket of the suburban intellectual rather than the silk dressing gown of the metropolitan aesthete, but the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Sunsets, Sunrises, and Decadent Oceanics
    (pp. 53-81)

    My reading, in chapter 1, of Richard Leppert’s argument inThe Sight of Soundsuggested that the represented and culturally privileged Music of which he writes there typically performs a key social task akin to repression. Discursively and practically it apportions power unevenly between masculine “contemplation” and feminine “performance,” at the expense of genuine musical attention on the one hand and the pleasure of unrestrained bodily engagement on the other (something associated with the threatening disorder of the popular sphere). This is a view that seemed aligned with Christopher Small’s critique of the ethos of the public symphony concert devoted...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Making the World Weep (Problems with Opera)
    (pp. 82-109)

    Turning now to the field of nineteenth-century opera, where late-romantic music’s dramatic stories and scenic skills were played out live on stage, along with the “symphonic” orchestral discourse they had variously provoked or “realized,” we are obliged to confront the ogre. I refer not to the genre, but to Wagner, whose influential presence as a composer, often considered the most notorious “singing Devil” of them all, has of course already been invoked. As the late-romantic most widely, tendentiously, and also meticulously studied (the literature continues ever to expand), any serious engagement with him must almost inevitably be attended by anxieties,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Late-Romanticism Meets Classical Music at the Movies
    (pp. 110-139)

    When the latter part of the previous chapter was first delivered as a lecture, an awkward but fair question came back from the audience. Was I in fact proposing that Puccini should be considered as transparent, as hermeneutically impenetrable as we have seen Ellen Lockhart suggesting that critics and directors have found him to be (“inhospitable terrain for the hermeneutic wanderer”)? Her ironic suggestions as to how reinterpretiveRegietheaterstagings of Puccini operas might be done convince me that the precise nature of the text that is being “reinterpreted” is what we should really be questioning here. Following Lockhart’s lead,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Bitter Truth of Modernism: A Late-Romantic Story
    (pp. 140-170)

    Some scene setting is required for my final engagement with late-romanticism in one of its more reactive and perhaps terminal modes. Here a late-romanticism that has taken critical self-awareness to a point where, as in the first movement of Korngold’s symphony, it seems almost to enact its own invalidation and submit to the linear “history of modern music” which it has been my aim to problematize. But the late-romantic crisis involved here, like the post–First World War “Opernkrise” that it shadowed, was located in the interwar years, its outcomes terminally threatened, unsupported by factions or followers. Given its often...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-190)
  12. Index
    (pp. 191-197)