Absolute Music: The History of an Idea

Absolute Music: The History of an Idea

By: Mark Evan Bonds (author)Hardback

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What is music, and why does it move us? From Pythagoras to the present, writers have struggled to isolate the essence of "pure" or "absolute" music in ways that also account for its profound effect. In Absolute Music: The History of an Idea, Mark Evan Bonds traces the history of these efforts across more than two millennia, paying special attention to the relationship between music's essence and its qualities of form, expression, beauty, autonomy, as well as its perceived capacity to disclose philosophical truths. The core of this book focuses on the period between 1850 and 1945. Although the idea of pure music is as old as antiquity, the term "absolute music" is itself relatively recent. It was Richard Wagner who coined the term, in 1846, and he used it as a pejorative in his efforts to expose the limitations of purely instrumental music. For Wagner, music that was "absolute" was isolated, detached from the world, sterile. His contemporary, the Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick, embraced this quality of isolation as a guarantor of purity. Only pure, absolute music, he argued, could realize the highest potential of the art. Bonds reveals how and why perceptions of absolute music changed so radically between the 1850s and 1920s. When it first appeared, "absolute music" was a new term applied to old music, but by the early decades of the twentieth century, it had become-paradoxically-an old term associated with the new music of modernists like Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Bonds argues that the key developments in this shift lay not in discourse about music but rather the visual arts. The growing prestige of abstraction and form in painting at the turn of the twentieth century-line and color, as opposed to object-helped move the idea of purely abstract, absolute music to the cutting edge of musical modernism. By carefully tracing the evolution of absolute music from Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages to the twentieth-century, Bonds not only provides the first comprehensive history of this pivotal concept but also provokes new thoughts on the essence of music and how essence has been used to explain music's effect. A long awaited book from one of the most respected senior scholars in the field, Absolute Music will be essential reading for anyone interested in the history, theory, and aesthetics of music.

About Author

Mark Evan Bonds is the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he has taught since 1992. He has served as editor-in-chief of Beethoven Forum and has published widely on music, aesthetics, and the philosophy of music.


Introduction 7 ; Part One ; Essence as Effect: To 1550 23 ; 1. Orpheus and Pythagoras 23 ; 2. Isomorphic Resonance 30 ; Part Two ; Essence and Effect: 1550-1850 39 ; 3. Expression 41 ; The Separation of Powers 41 ; Music and Language 48 ; Music as Language 58 ; Mimesis 69 ; 4. Beauty 79 ; 5. Form 90 ; Form as Number 91 ; Form as Content 98 ; 6. Autonomy 103 ; Material Autonomy 103 ; Ethical Autonomy 108 ; 7. Disclosure 112 ; The Composer as Oracle 112 ; Beautiful Insights 117 ; Cosmic Insights 121 ; Part Three ; Essence or Effect: 1850-1945 127 ; 8. Wagner's "Absolute" Music 129 ; 9. Hanslick's "Pure" Music 140 ; Hanslick the Conventional 156 ; Hanslick the Radical 171 ; Hanslick the Ambivalent 181 ; 10. Liszt's "Program" Music 205 ; 11. Polemics 214 ; 12. Reconciliation 231 ; 13. Qualities Recast 244 ; Expression 246 ; Beauty 263 ; Form 264 ; Autonomy 278 ; Disclosure 284 ; Epilogue: Since 1945 292 ; Appendix: Hanslick's Vom Musikalischen-Schonen: ; Early and Selected Later Reviews and Commentary 294 ; Works Cited ] 304

Product Details

  • ISBN13: 9780199343638
  • Format: Hardback
  • Number Of Pages: 400
  • ID: 9780199343638
  • weight: 652
  • ISBN10: 0199343632

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