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Music as Thought

Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven

Mark Evan Bonds
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Music as Thought
    Book Description:

    Before the nineteenth century, instrumental music was considered inferior to vocal music. Kant described wordless music as "more pleasure than culture," and Rousseau dismissed it for its inability to convey concepts. But by the early 1800s, a dramatic shift was under way. Purely instrumental music was now being hailed as a means to knowledge and embraced precisely because of its independence from the limits of language. What had once been perceived as entertainment was heard increasingly as a vehicle of thought. Listening had become a way of knowing.

    Music as Thoughttraces the roots of this fundamental shift in attitudes toward listening in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Focusing on responses to the symphony in the age of Beethoven, Mark Evan Bonds draws on contemporary accounts and a range of sources--philosophical, literary, political, and musical--to reveal how this music was experienced by those who heard it first.

    Music as Thoughtis a fascinating reinterpretation of the causes and effects of a revolution in listening.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2739-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    While browsing in the philosophy section of a bookstore a few years ago, I noticed a large image of Beethoven on the cover of a book. My first thought was that the item had been misshelved. On closer inspection, I saw that this was indeed a book about philosophy: volume seven of Frederick Copleston’s classicHistory of Philosophy, covering the period “from the Post-Kantian Idealists to Marx, Kirekegaard, and Nietzsche.” But none of those figures was on the cover—it was only Beethoven. What made this all the more puzzling is that Beethoven is never mentioned in the text, not...

  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxiii)
  6. PROLOGUE An Unlikely Genre: The Rise of the Symphony
    (pp. 1-4)

    The emergence of the symphony as the most prestigious of all instrumental genres in the closing decades of the eighteenth century was in many respects an unlikely development. It was a relatively young genre at the time, having evolved only in the 1720s from the opera overture (often called a “symphony”) into an independent, multimovement work. The symphony and overture continued to be so closely related that the two terms remained interchangeable into the 1790s. The number, character, and sequence of movements in a symphony, moreover, did not stabilize until the 1770s, when the familiar format of four movements (fast...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Listening with Imagination: The Revolution in Aesthetics
    (pp. 5-28)

    Historically informed performance practice has become a commonplace in the concert world in recent decades. Orchestras routinely perform Beethoven’s symphonies on period instruments, and even nonperiod orchestras play in a manner that reflects a heightened sensitivity to performance traditions of the composer’s time. Historically informed listening, on the other hand, has been much slower to develop. It rests, after all, on the consumer rather than the producer and is in any case far more difficult to reconstruct, for the evidence of how people actually listened to specific works of music in any given time and place is scant and by...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Listening as Thinking: From Rhetoric to Philosophy
    (pp. 29-43)

    The aesthetics of idealism opened up new approaches to listening just at the time when Beethoven began to make his mark on the musical world. His early Romantic contemporaries were now describing the act of listening in radically new terms, as an active rather than a passive process. The act of listening to music had never been conceived in quite this way before. Two very different accounts of listening, one from 1739, the other from 1792, capture the contrast between these two modes of listening. Both resonate with passion, but they rest on two very different aesthetic premises. “When I...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Listening to Truth: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
    (pp. 44-62)

    The nineteenth century’s new paradigm of listening created the need for a new kind of didactic discourse about music, aimed at those members of the public eager to elevate their knowledge and tastes. The very notion of explicating a work of instrumental music in depth—E.T.A. Hoffmann’s most immediate goal in his review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—was a fundamentally new kind of enterprise. There were antecedents, to be sure: Johann Nikolaus Forkel had given a series of lectures in what amounts to music appreciation in the 1770s, but this kind of undertaking was the exception rather than the norm.¹...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Listening to the Aesthetic State: Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 63-78)

    Not all listening turned inward. The most basic philosophical problem of the age—the reconciliation of subject and object, of the “I” and the “Not-I”—was playing itself out on a larger scale as well, in an extended and often heated debate about the relationship of the individual to society as a whole. The all-encompassing breadth of the symphony proved particularly conducive to turning the minds of engaged listeners toward the broader challenge of reconciling personal autonomy with social order. The monumental yet timbrally diverse nature of the genre led many of Beethoven’s contemporaries to hear the symphony as a...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Listening to the German State: Nationalism
    (pp. 79-103)

    The ideal of a cosmopolitan, aesthetic state outlined by Schiller and Goethe held powerful sway over the European imagination throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. But even the most optimistically inclined were prepared to concede that such a state was destined to remain an ideal, far removed from theRealpolitikof the post-Napoleonic era. Some, like Hegel, envisioned an aesthetic state emerging out of existing polities, such as Württemberg, Bavaria, or Prussia. Most, however, conceived of this aesthetic state as “Germany,” an imagined entity coinciding more or less with the aggregate of all German-speaking lands. Like the cosmopolitan...

  12. EPILOGUE Listening to Form: The Refuge of Absolute Music
    (pp. 104-116)

    The politicization of instrumental music—or, to be more precise, the politicization of listening to instrumental music—was a new phenomenon during Beethoven’s lifetime, and it intensified steadly over the decades that followed. The symphony, heard as an idealized expression of social unity and political democracy, came to be perceived in increasingly wider circles as a means by which to criticize the inherently particularistic and authoritarian nature of a politically fractured Germany dominated by the nobility and aristocracy. With a gradual loosening of censorship and surveillance in practice if not in principle, critics felt increasingly emboldened to communicate their interpretations...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 117-152)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 153-166)
  15. Index
    (pp. 167-169)