19th Century Music Vol. 41 No. 2, Fall 2017
19th-Century Music covers all aspects of Western art music between the mid-eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. We welcome—in no particular order—considerations of composers and compositions, styles, performance, historical watersheds, cultural formations, critical methods, musical institutions, ideas, and topics not named on this list. Our aim is to publish contributions to ongoing conversations at the leading edge of musical and multidisciplinary scholarship.
Flowers over the Abyss: A Musical Uncanny in Nineteenth-Century Criticism
The term unheimlich (uncanny) comes into usage in German music criticism in the nineteenth century and is often used to describe instrumental music, particularly sections of works featuring the ombra topic. While the idea that instrumental music can be uncanny regardless of text or program is not novel, this work differs from most existing scholarship on the musical uncanny in that it presents a possible precursor to the twentieth-century psychoanalytic uncanny. Instead, it examines Schelling’s definition of the uncanny in the larger context of his ideas in order to form a basis for theorizing a version of this aesthetic category that is active in the nineteenth-century critical discourse about music.
In the early nineteenth century, music becomes uncanny because it discloses what should remain hidden from finite revelation. Critics understand passages of instrumental ombra music as uncanny moments when music calls attention to itself as the sensuous manifestation of the Absolute. They remark on these passages’ effacing of boundaries and sense of becoming, residues of eighteenth-century uses of the topic in operatic supernatural scenes and as part of a chaos-to-order narrative in symphonic music. The article concludes with the reception of the opening of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the finale of Schubert’s Octet, D. 803, using critics’ comments as a basis for extrapolating, through new analyses, as to the features that might make the particular works remarkable as examples of music’s uncanny power made manifest.
Writing at the Speed of Sound: Music Stenography and Recording beyond the Phonograph
J. Mackenzie Pierce
Music shorthand systems devised by Michel Woldemar, Hippolyte Prévost, and August Baumgartner adapted the quill strokes of speech stenography to the seemingly analogous domain of music. Eschewing conventional staff notation in favor of cursive lines that indicated pitch, register, interval, and duration, music stenographers endeavored to record in real time instrumental improvisations and fleeting inspirations that would otherwise have been lost forever due to a lack of recording technology. To advocates of such methods, more efficient technologies of musical writing were indispensable for capturing fugitive musical thoughts and acts: music stenography aided Hector Berlioz, for example, in the composition of his Requiem. For others, including Rossini, Fétis, and contributors to the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the claims and merits of stenography were a source of controversy as well as fascination.
Grounded in a corpus of seventy music stenographies that have been largely ignored by musicologists and historians of technology alike, this article asks how musical intuitions became musical texts, thereby entering print-based networks of circulation. Although the importance of “genius” and “work” as historical concepts regulating the production, ontology, and reception of nineteenth-century music has long been acknowledged, the material basis of these concepts has been overlooked until recently. The efforts of musical stenographers demonstrate that the inscription and circulation of material texts provided the means by which musical inspiration could be registered and stored, constituting a material substrate on which such idealist concepts depended. Whereas historians of sound recording have focused on seismic historical and cultural shifts wrought by the introduction of the phonograph in 1877, the preoccupation with capturing music in the decades preceding and following this date suggests an alternate conception of text-based sound recording.
“A History of Man and His Desire”: Ferruccio Busoni and Faust
Relying on knowledge of Karl Engel’s edition of the Volksschauspiel, Karl Simrock’s version of the puppet play, Gotthold Lessing’s Faust fragments, and versions of the Faust legend by Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, among others, Ferruccio Busoni crafted his own hybrid libretto that depicts a mystical and broadminded Faust. Busoni’s music reflects the richness of Faust’s mind, combining heterogeneous timbres, forms, and styles. Busoni juxtaposes a Gregorian Credo, Palestrina-style choral settings, a reformation hymn, a Baroque instrumental dance suite, an organ fantasia, recitatives, a lyrical ballad, and orchestral variations, with impressionistic symphonic writing, and experimental passages. While stylistic heterogeneity can be heard throughout many of his mature instrumental and vocal works, Busoni also used this heterogeneity in a descriptive way in Doktor Faust to characterize Faust.
At the same time, Busoni sought to write “a history of man and his desire” rather than of a man and the devil. It is Faust’s own dark side, rather than the devil, that distracts him and prevents him from completing his greatest work. With Kaspar removed from the plot, Mephistopheles, who as spirit is not always distinct from Faust the man, becomes Faust’s alter ego. This duality is expressed musically when Faust assumes Mephistopheles’s characteristic intervals.
Although Busoni’s incomplete Doktor Faust, BV 303, has already been studied by several scholars, including Antony Beaumont, Nancy Chamness, and Susan Fontaine, there is still no detailed analysis of Busoni’s treatment of Faust. Through analyses of autobiographical connections, Busoni’s early settings of Faustian characters, and the text and music in Doktor Faust, with special attention on the Wittenberg Tavern Scene that has no precedent among the versions of the Faust legend, this article reveals Busoni’s vision of Faust as a broadminded, and yet conflicted character, shaped idiosyncratically to convey Busoni’s personal artistic ideals. In so doing, the article not only contributes to ongoing discourse about Doktor Faust, but also expands knowledge about ways the Faust legend was interpreted and set musically in the early twentieth century through intertextual comparisons.