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Liszt first met Wagner in 1841, when the latter briefly introduced himself in an ‘awkward’ exchange in Paris following Heinrich Laube’s cynical recommendation ‘to lose no time in looking [Liszt] up, as he was “generous”’.1 After Liszt had heard Rienzi in Dresden (1844), a second meeting followed in Berlin, mediated by Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient. Thereafter, Wagner contacted Liszt in 1845 about funds for the planned Weber memorial in Dresden, and again in 1846, when he sent the scores of Rienzi and Tannhäuser in dogged pursuit of Liszt’s esteem: ‘I proceed quite openly to rouse you up in my favour.’2
By 1848, he began requesting personal financial help from Liszt, initially selling the copyright to his extant operas and accepting commissions, but thereafter simply requesting a series of bailouts, often in uncomfortably obsequious, manipulative prose. The year 1849 marked a sea-change: Liszt conducted the first performances of Tannhäuser since the Dresden premiere (as a late substitution for Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella that Liszt – on point of resignation – forced on the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna for her birthday) and gave Wagner a supreme endorsement by publishing two piano transcriptions from the opera, declaring to its salivating composer: ‘Once and for all, number me in future among your most zealous and devoted admirers; near or far, count on me and make use of me.’3
In 1852, Wagner described his text for the Ring cycle as “the greatest poem that has ever been written.” This chapter asks to what extent the musical innovations – responding to historical linguistics – were formative for a generation of writers as well as composers. To what extent did innovation in one medium engender innovative techniques in another? After contextualizing Wagner’s operatic reforms within his early writings and related moments within the history of the genre, it explores a cornucopia of modernist writers working in the shadow of the Ring cycle: from Wilde, D. H. Lawrence, and Aubrey Beardsley, to Yeats, Mann, and Beckett; from Mallarmé and Dujardin to Zola and Proust, to name but a few. It traces the profound influence on literature of leifmotivic techniques, as “carriers of feeling,” amid the shift to words as a dereferentialized system of signs. The role of alliteration, direct parody, interior monologue, and involuntary memory all contribute to the overall view that appropriation and influence of “reformist” techniques in literature and linguistics remained in the hands of authors, regardless of Wagner’s predictions for his own literary greatness.
As a lookout atop the Dresden Kreuzkirche during the uprising of 1849, Wagner describes the spectacle of a city in flames, and the acoustic panorama of cannon and gun fire, amid the immense bells pealing just behind his head: ‘a wonderful intoxicating polyphony’. It was also deafeningly loud and conveyed the unfolding violence and brutality below. His willing absorption may seem perverse, yet it invites us to consider ways in which the qualities of lived experience are entwined with auditory effects: the experience of proximate physical danger, the perception of violent sounds, and the vicarious experience of conflict through rhythmically moving sound masses, from regimented columns of insurgent soldiers to the ostinato-based ritual of Grail knights. With Wagner’s experience as a focal point, this chapter investigates the willing abolition of normative categories of experience vis-à-vis the perception of danger. It asks to what extent massed, rhythmic, non-musical sound complexes, viewed within the tenets of the sublime, infiltrate the sonic image of Wagner’s music. By positing cannon and bells as reciprocal signalling devices tethered to the sublime, it also suggests that these material objects perform a dazzling confusion of purposes, simultaneously communicating time, propagating war, staging opera and physically stimulating bodies.
It is hard to think of another field of cultural practice that has been as comprehensively turned upside down by the digital revolution as music. Digital instruments, recording technologies and signal processing techniques have transformed the making of music, while digital dissemination of music – through the Internet and earbuds – has transformed the way people consume it. Live music thrives and mostly relies on digital technology, but alongside it music has become integrated into the patterns of social networking and urban mobility that increasingly structure people’s lives. The digital revolution has destabilised the traditional music business, with successive technologies reconstructing it in different forms, and at present even its short-term future is unclear. (Just as this book is going to press, Apple has announced the discontinuation of iTunes, the most commercially successful response to Napster.) Meanwhile digitalisation has changed what sort of thing music is, creating a multiplicity of genres, some of which exist only online – indeed, downloads and streaming have problematised the extent to which music can reasonably be thought of as a ‘thing’ at all. Technology that is rapidly pervading the globe is re-engineering relationships between geographically removed traditions (including by removing geography from the equation). Some see this near meltdown of so many aspects of traditional musical culture as a harbinger of fundamental social change to come.
This chapter investigates digital technologies that variously assist, enable or simulate musical praxis. The first section sets up an opposition between the idea of the digital tool that augments human agency, and the machinic automatism predicated on the idea that reality is fundamentally number (dataism) and ticks along without the need for human consciousness. This gives rise to the idea that mechanical automatism is also intrinsic to human agency, a strand of posthuman thought on which the rest of the chapter turns. Accordingly, the second section shows how posing algorithmic composition as an expression of the posthuman is problematic. The final section focuses on the synthetic voices of digital assistants from online service providers that generate empathy at the price of a surrogate ‘conscience’. Accommodating this within a humanistic model is possible, but a closing case study of Tod Machover’s futurist opera, Death and the Powers (2010), raises the prospect of what might be called a ‘dark ontology’ of the digital.
The impact of digital technologies on music has been overwhelming: since the commercialisation of these technologies in the early 1980s, both the practice of music and thinking about it have changed almost beyond all recognition. From the rise of digital music making to digital dissemination, these changes have attracted considerable academic attention across disciplines,within, but also beyond, established areas of academic musical research. Through chapters by scholars at the forefront of research and shorter 'personal takes' from knowledgeable practitioners in the field, this Companion brings the relationship between digital technology and musical culture alive by considering both theory and practice. It provides a comprehensive and balanced introduction to the place of music within digital culture as a whole, with recurring themes and topics that include music and the Internet, social networking and participatory culture, music recommendation systems, virtuality, posthumanism, surveillance, copyright, and new business models for music production.
A well-known depiction of collective listening on the operatic stage occurs in Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin(1850): the Herald asks the assembled Brabantians whether there is a champion among them to defend Elsa against the accusation by her former suitor, Friedrich, that she murdered her younger brother Gottfried, the Duke of Brabant. These are uncomfortable moments for Elsa. There is an eerie silence after the first question (‘he is surely a long way off and could not hear’), and there appears – for a time at least – to be no reply to the second question either (Example 6.1). Wagner’s stage directions describe these as a ‘long silence’ and a ‘long, awkward silence’ respectively, implying that the growing tension of the second silence – with added tritone in the bass tuba – is akin to that moment after an awkward exchange in public, where the tumbleweed rolls, the wind blows.
For a long time, Hector Berlioz was thought to hold a singular, even an isolated position in music history. Among the first to offer a new perspective was Pierre Boulez, who suggested that Berlioz’s position in music history could be explained by ‘the fact that a large part of his œuvre has remained in the realm of the imaginary’. With this remark, Boulez alluded to the Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes (1844/55), and more specifically to the chapter on the orchestra that closes the treatise. Speculations on the sound of an orchestra that would unite ‘all the forces that are present in Paris and create an ensemble of 816 musicians’ were, for Boulez, typical of Berlioz: ‘mixing realism and imagination without opposing one to the other, producing the double aspect of an undeniable inventive “madness” – a fairly unreal dream minutely accounted for’.
On the threshold of our modernity, on 29 March 1901, Lionel Mapleson made two artful cylinder phonautogramsof the air. It was no ordinary air. His wax tracings captured for posterity the legendary vocal tones of the fifty-year-old Jean de Reszke and the chorus of the old Metropolitan Opera House in Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin. The atmosphere was thick with anticipation for this final gala performance of the first twentieth-century season, an event that had been offered as an extra night to subscribers, and the last time that Reszke would appear in New York in a complete opera. The newspapers reported a crush as never before in the lobby and outside on the street for ‘the strongest cast which can be brought together’, including Jean’s younger brother Édouard, David Bispham, Adolph Mühlmann, soprano Milka Ternina and Bohemian–German contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink.
At first sight, opera and science would seem to occupy quite separate spaces. The one typically unfolds on the stage of a theatre, the other most often takes place in a laboratory or lecture hall. The one draws on creative inspiration in entwining music, poetry and spectacle, the other on inductive reasoning through observation and experiment; patient activities that, for John Herschel in 1831, constituted the ‘fountains of all natural science’. And while the one offers an opportunity for emotional and intellectual engagement through the public gaze, the other cautiously validates the empiricism of verifiable experience through critical acts of witnessing. To yoke the two together, then, may appear arbitrary.
Yet such a view not only risks caricature through its stark oppositions, but also overlooks a scene of rich interconnection within nineteenth-century European social and intellectual life.