Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music: Singing Devils and Distant Sounds (Ernest Bloch Lectures)

Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music: Singing Devils and Distant Sounds (Ernest Bloch Lectures)

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 0520280393

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Why are some of the most beloved and frequently performed works of the late-romantic period—Mahler, Delius, Debussy, Sibelius, Puccini—regarded by many critics as perhaps not quite of the first rank? Why has modernist discourse continued to brand these works as overly sentimental and emotionally self-indulgent? Peter Franklin takes a close and even-handed look at how and why late-romantic symphonies and operas steered a complex course between modernism and mass culture in the period leading up to the Second World War. The style’s continuing popularity and its domination of the film music idiom (via work by composers such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and their successors) bring late-romantic music to thousands of listeners who have never set foot in a concert hall. Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music sheds new light on these often unfairly disparaged works and explores the historical dimension of their continuing role in the contemporary sound world.















elucidation (perhaps there is irony in his own intention here?). Eliot observed: “It is the function of all art to give us some perception of an order in life, by imposing an order upon it.”33 The source of this Taruskin cites as Herbert Lindenberger, who was venturing a suggestion about Berg’s operatic shaping of the rather chaotic dramatic material Büchner had left behind at his death in 1837. Might we note, a little nervously, Eliot’s idea about “imposing an order” on life and then be struck

accepted as “art”: People, even serious people, are fond of Puccini, but they do not profess allegiance to him as they do to Wagner or Mahler or Richard Strauss. When men of merit confess their liking for his music, they always do so with a touch of embarrassment, just as they might be ardent readers of Eugene Sue or Conan Doyle without quite liking to admit it.40 Later in his admiring study of the composer (in which he too felt obliged to categorize Puccini as a “minor master of the first

conventionally least “realistic” scene in the opera directs our attention to the broader musical, indeed magical or even ritualistic theater in which Puccini is always openly engaged behind the fashionably veristic facade.56 He typically relied upon a stock of ordinary characters that he could nevertheless transform and, as it were, musically ennoble, if only for a while, by releasing from them what we experience as “great” music: as the sign of a passionately lived inwardness that is the match

deemed to be self-evidently “just” mad, or bad, or merely sad according to arguably erroneous criteria. Thus might a prevailing modernist aesthetic systematically exclude the popular, nonprofessional audience and its modes of reading and experiencing the complex symphonic and operatic works that were written for it. I have, of course, proposed that a persistent effect of the aspiring visionary inwardness aroused by the nonprofessional public experience of art, in spite of Romanticism’s

has never before truly “heard,” Fritz too finds himself lost in music, in the “distant sound” that now surrounds him, and also Grete when she arrives. But this music is only atmospherics—an enigmatic series of arpeggiated chromatic chords for offstage piano and harp, its source and nature still obscure. He begins at last to realize that she, of course, is its true origin; all he can do is fully assume the role and gender behavior of Catherine Clément’s Undone Woman and die in Grete’s arms—leaving

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