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Encyclopedia > Absolute music

Absolute Music (sometimes abstract music) is a cool and very hip term used to describe music that is not explicitly "about" anything, non-representational or non-objective. In contrast with program music, absolute music has no words and no references to stories or images or any other kind of extramusical idea. Program music is music intended to evoke extra-musical ideas, images in the mind of the listener by musically representing a scene, image or mood [1]. By contrast, absolute music stands for itself and is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world. ...


A related idea (from 19th c. composers, but often contested) considers 'Absolute' as a form of divinity itself which could be evoked by music.


The aesthetic ideas underlying the absolute music debate relate to Kant's aesthetic disinterestedness from his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, and has led to numerous arguments among musicians, music historians and critics, including a famous war of words between greatest composers such as Brahms and Wagner. Immanuel Kant Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 – February 12, 1804) was a Prussian philosopher, generally regarded as one of Europes most influential thinkers and the last major philosopher of the Enlightenment. ... Johannes Brahms Johannes Brahms (May 7, 1833 – April 3, 1897) was a German composer of classical music. ... Wagner may refer to more than one place in the United States: Wagner, South Dakota Wagner, Wisconsin Wagner may refer to more than one person: Richard Wagner, German composer Cosima Wagner, daughter of Franz Liszt and wife of Richard Wagner Heinrich Leopold Wagner, dramatist and author John Peter Honus Wagner...

Contents

The Spiritualist Debate

A group of early Romantics comprising of Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Jean Paul Richter and E.T.A. Hoffmann gave rise to the idea of what can be labelled as spiritual absolutism. In this respect, instrumental music transcends other arts and languages to become the discourse of a ‘higher realm’ - propagated greatly in Hoffmann’s famous review of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, published in 1808. These protagonists believed that music could be more emotionally powerful and stimulating without words. According to Richter, music would eventually ‘outlast’ the word. This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Johann Wolfgang Goethe  , IPA: , later von Goethe, (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German polymath: he was a poet, novelist, dramatist, humanist, scientist, theorist, painter, and for ten years chief minister of state for the duchy of Weimar. ... Jean Paul Jean Paul (March 21, 1763 – November 14, 1825), born Johann Paul Friedrich Richter, was a German writer, best known for his humorous novels and stories. ... ETA Hoffman Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann (January 24, 1776 - June 25, 1822), was a German romantic and fantasy author and composer. ... Ludwig van Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized December 17, 1770 – March 26, 1827) was a German composer of Classical music, the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras. ...

“Music is the echo from a transcendent harmonius world; it is the sigh of the angel within us. When the word is silent… and when our mute hearts lie only behind the ribcage of our chest, then it is only through music that men call to each other in their dungeons, and write their distant sighs in their wilderness.” - Jean Paul Richter

As most religions prepare mankind for a Heaven or after-life of some description, instrumental music - according to the early Romantics - alludes to a similar state of spirituality, often referred to as ‘Utopia’.


The Formalist Debate

‘Formalism’ is the concept of ‘music for music’s sake’ and refers only to instrumental music without words. In this respect, music has no meaning at all and is enjoyed by appreciation of its ‘formal’ structure and technical construction. The 19th century music critic Eduard Hanslick argued that music could be enjoyed as pure sound and form, that it needed no connotation of extra-musical elements to warrant its existence. In fact, these extra-musical ideas detracted from the beauty of the music. The 'Absolute', in this case, is the ‘purity’ of the art. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

“Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound.” - Eduard Hanslick

Formalism therefore rejected genres such as opera, song and tone poems as they conveyed explicit meanings or programmatic imagery. Symphonic forms were considered more aesthetically pure. (The choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as well as the programmatic Sixth Symphony, became problematic to formalist critics who had championed the composer as a pioneer of the ‘Absolute’, especially with the late quartets). Ludwig van Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized December 17, 1770 – March 26, 1827) was a German composer of Classical music, the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras. ...


Carl Dahlhaus describes absolute music as music without a "concept, object, and purpose". Carl Dahlhaus (June 10, 1928- May 1989), a musicologist from Berlin, has been one of the major contributors to the development of musicology as a scholarly discipline during the post-war era. ...


Opposition to Instrumental Music

The majority of opposition to the idea of instrumental music being ‘absolute’ came from Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. It seemed ludicrous to these men that art could exist without meaning, for then it had no right to exist. Richard Wagner Wilhelm Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 – 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, music theorist, and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or music dramas as they were later called). ... Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) (IPA: ) was a 19th-century German philosopher. ... Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (IPA: ) (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher and, with Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, one of the representatives of German idealism. ...

“Art for art sake [is about as purposeful] as a worm chewing its own tail.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
“Instrumental music is not strictly art at all.” - Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Wagner considered the choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to be the proof that music works better with words, famously saying: Wagner may refer to more than one place in the United States: Wagner, South Dakota Wagner, Wisconsin Wagner may refer to more than one person: Richard Wagner, German composer Cosima Wagner, daughter of Franz Liszt and wife of Richard Wagner Heinrich Leopold Wagner, dramatist and author John Peter Honus Wagner... Ludwig van Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized December 17, 1770 – March 26, 1827) was a German composer of Classical music, the predominant musical figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras. ...

“Where music can go no further, there comes the word… the word stands higher than the tone.”- Richard Wagner

Contemporary Views

Today, the debate continues over whether music has meaning or not. However, most contemporary views, reflecting ideas emerging from views of subjectivity in linguistic meaning arising in Cognitive Linguistics, as well as Kuhn's work on cultural biases in science and other ideas on meaning and aesthetics (e.g. Wittgenstein) on cultural constructions in thought and language[1]), appear to be moving towards a consensus that music provides at least some signification or meaning, in terms of which it is understood. The decay of spiritualism in the 21st century has also led to a weakening of the absolutist position. In linguistics and cognitive science, cognitive linguistics (CL) refers to the currently dominant school of linguistics that views the important essence of language as innately based in evolutionarily-developed and speciated faculties, and seeks explanations that advance or fit well into the current understandings of the human mind. ... Thomas Samuel Kuhn, philosopher and historian of science Alfred Kuhn, a social systems theorist Fritz Kuhn, German Green Party politician Fritz Kuhn, leader of the German-American Bund Richard Kuhn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1938 An Atlantic Island A French manufacterer of agricultural machinery, especially mowers and... Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), pictured here in 1930, made influential contributions to Logic and the philosophy of language, critically examining the task of conventional philosophy and its relation to the nature of language. ... Signification is the act of signifying or being a sign or meaning. ...


Some scholars such as Berthold Hoeckner feel that the very idea of absolute music was culturally generated; it was fostered by some German composers to in an attempt to make it universally accepted.

“The absoluteness of absolute music has never been an obstacle, but is the very condition of its meaning.” - Berthold Hoeckner

The cultural bases of musical understanding have been highlighted by in Philip Bohlman's work, who considers music as a form of cultural communication:

There are those who believe that music represents nothing other than itself. I argue that we are constantly giving it new and different abilities to represent who we are.[2]

Bohlman has gone on to argue that the use of music, e.g. among the Jewish diaspora, was in fact a form of identity building.


Susan McClary has critiqued the notion of ‘absolute music’, arguing that all music, whether explicitly programmatic or not, contains implicit programs that reflect the tastes, politics, aesthetic philosophies and social attitudes of the composer and their historical situation. Such scholars would argue that classical music is rarely about ‘nothing’, but reflects aesthetic tastes that are themselves influenced by culture, politics and philosophy. Composers are often bound up in a web of tradition and influence, in which they strive to consciously situate themselves in relation to other composers and styles. Lawrence Kramer, on the other hand, believes music has no means to reserve a “specific layer or pocket for meaning. Once it has been brought into sustainable connection with a structure of prejudgment, music simply becomes meaningful.” Susan McClary (born 2 October 1946) is a musicologist considered to be a significant figure in the New Musicology. She is noted for her work combining musicology and feminism. ...


Music which appears to demand an interpretation, but is abstract enough to warrant objectivity (e.g. Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony), is what Lydia Goehr refers to as ‘double-sided autonomy.’ This happens when the formalist properties of music became attractive to composers because, having ‘no meaning to speak of’, music could be used to envision an alternative cultural and/or political order, while escaping the scrutiny of the censor (particularly common in Shostakovich, most notably the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies). Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский, sometimes transliterated as Piotr, Anglicised as Peter Ilich), (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893 (N.S.); April 25, 1840 – October... Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (Russian Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович) (September 25, 1906 – August 9, 1975) was a Russian composer of the Soviet period. ...


Absolute Music and Linguistic Meaning

On the topic of musical meaning, Wittgenstein, at several ponts in his late diary Culture and Value[3], ascribes meaning to music, for instance, that in the finale, a conclusion is being "drawn", e.g.: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), pictured here in 1930, made influential contributions to Logic and the philosophy of language, critically examining the task of conventional philosophy and its relation to the nature of language. ...

[one] can point to particular places in a tune by Schubert and say: look, that is the point of the tune, this is where the thought comes to a head." (p.47)

Recently, Jerrold Levinson has drawn extensively on Wittgenstein to comment, in the Journal of Music and Meaning: Jerrold Levinson is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park. ...

Intelligible music stands to literal thinking in precisely the same relation as does intelligible verbal discourse. If that relation be not exemplification but instead, say, expression, then music and language are, at any rate, in the same, and quite comfortable, boat.[4]

See also

Kazimir Malevich, Black square 1915 Abstract art is now generally understood to mean art that does not depict objects in the natural world, but instead uses color and form in a non-representational way. ... Musique concrète (French; literally, concrete music), is a style of avant-garde music that relies on natural environmental sounds and other non-musical noises to create music. ...

References

  1. ^ Béla Szabados (Fall/Automne 2004). "Wittgenstein the Musical: Notes toward an Appreciation". AE: Canadian Aesthetics Journal / Revue canadienne d'esthétique: Volume 10. 
  2. ^ Shula Neuman (April 2, 1998). "The Meaning of Music". The University of Chicago Chronicle: Vol. 17, No. 13. 
  3. ^ Ludwig Wittgenstein tr. Peter Winch 1984 (1944). Culture and Value (German: Vermischte Bemerkungen). 
  4. ^ Musical Thinking (Fall 2003,). "Jerrold Levinson": vol. 1, section 2. 

The University of Chicago is a private university located principally in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. ... Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (IPA: ) (April 26, 1889 in Vienna, Austria – April 29, 1951 in Cambridge, England) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking ideas to philosophy, primarily in the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. ...

Further Reading

  • Chua, Daniel Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
  • Cook, Nicholas Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • Dahlhaus, Carl The Idea of Absolute Music trans. by Roger Lustig (Chicago/London 1989; orig. Kassel, 1978)
  • Goehr, Lydia The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992)
  • Kivy, Peter ‘Absolute Music’ and the ‘New Musicology’ in Musicology and Sister Disciplines. Past, Present, Future. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of the International Musicological Society, London 1997 ed. D. Greer, I. Rumbold and J. King (Oxford, 2000)
  • Kramer, Lawrence Subjectivity Rampant! Music, Hermeneutics, and History in The Cultural Study of Music. A Critical Introduction ed. M. Clayton, T. Herbert and R. Middleton (New York and London, 2003)
  • Williams, Alastair Constructing Musicology (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., Aldershot, Hampshire, 2001)
  • Wolff, Janet The ideology of autonomous art, in: Music and Society in The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception ed. R. Leppert and S. McClary (Cambridge, 1987)

  Results from FactBites:
 
Absolute music - definition of Absolute music in Encyclopedia (658 words)
Absolute music is a term used within the classical music field to describe music that is not explicitly "about" anything.
As such, most classical music is absolute music, as is suggested by titles which often consist simply of the type of composition, a numerical designation within the composer's oeuvre, and its key.
A common term for non-vocal popular music, and thus for practical purposes a term for absolute music in a popular context, is "instrumental" or "instrumental section".
Absolute Music II (2229 words)
A detailed study of the music of Japheth is an absolutely fascinating study - especially for a musician who has been taught this stuff in a general fashion in their music appreciation classes - or in their own studies as they listen and/or perform music from Japheth / European, etc.
China: Literary references to music show a musical history of at least 4000 years; the Chinese are credited with being the first to develop a science of acoustics and a theory of music; made use of the pentatonic scale.
Greece: influenced Western music theory, aesthetics and concepts; many of the early musical terms come from the Greek language; texture was largely monophonic; theory was based largely on mathematics of Pythagroean ratios; had instrumental and vocal notation.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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