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9 - The Critic as Subject: Hanslick's Aus meinem Leben as a Reflection on Culture and Identity

from Part Three - Memoirs and Meaning in Social Contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 July 2013

Lauren Freede
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Nicole Grimes
Affiliation:
Marie Curie Fellow at University College Dublin (UCD), and the University of California
Siobhán Donovan
Affiliation:
School of Languages and Literatures, University College Dublin (UCD)
Wolfgang Marx
Affiliation:
School of Music, University College Dublin (UCD)
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Summary

As a genre, musical autobiographies fit comfortably in neither musicological nor literary studies. The vagaries of personal recollection make autobiographical writing problematic as a source of historical information, while the failure of many musical writers to realize that the genre is inherently subjective and highly artificial leads to the condemnation of many musical autobiographies for a lack of literary merit. To play on Goethe, whose own autobiography from 1823 served as a spiritual example for many later artists to follow: musical autobiographies reflect little Dichtung, and even less Wahrheit.

This is, admittedly, less of an issue when considering autobiographies by critics like Eduard Hanslick, given that their instrument of choice was generally the pen, and they thus display greater awareness of literary techniques. However, the role of the critic raises additional problems. As the achievements— and reminiscences—of creative artists (in this case composers, followed at some distance by performers) are generally favored in the longer term over those of their reporters and assessors, memoirs by critics tend to be mined for accounts of more famous, more “worthy” associates. That autobiographies can rarely be a collection of verifiable facts diminishes the value of texts like Aus meinem Leben even further. Hans Lenneberg neatly encapsulates this view: “The memoirs of critics are not nearly as compelling as those of creative artists unless, like Hanslick, they themselves become controversial historical personages and especially when their memoirs include descriptions of many famous contemporaries.”

Type
Chapter
Information
Rethinking Hanslick
Music, Formalism, and Expression
, pp. 187 - 211
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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