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Chapter 5 - Beethoven and Musical Self-Consciousness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

James H. Donelan
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

People talk so much about music and they say so little. I am absolutely certain that words are not adequate to it, and if ever I found that they were, I should eventually give up composition.

– Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Mendelssohn's low opinion of talk about music, a common sentiment among composers, musicians, and music lovers, did not prevent him from continuing to engage in it. He not only composed many brilliant works, and performed many more, he also attended Hegel's lectures on aesthetics and read widely on music, art, and literature. He was a close friend of Adolf Bernhard Marx, the editor of the Berliner allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, a leading journal of music reviews and essays on music, and as both an active composer and a member of Berlin society, Mendelssohn had an excellent working knowledge of current debates in the philosophy of music. People in early-nineteenth-century Europe did, indeed, talk about music a lot, and the same issue came up repeatedly: does all this talk really have anything to do with the actual composition, performance, and experience of music?

I believe that it does. Listeners from E. T. A. Hoffmann to the present have frequently reported the singular affective power of Beethoven's music and attributed some form of self-consciousness to it as well, but describing the relationship between this perceived content and Beethoven's compositional technique runs directly counter to the persistent view, expressed by Mendelssohn, Schiller, Hegel, Wordsworth, and many others, that music represents precisely the antidiscursive element contained in all art forms: the aesthetic.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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