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Tuesday, February 18, 2020


I have been thinking about why the most literary century of music is the nineteenth. It would seem that this is when music becomes more "absolute," more divorced from its origins in singing. Absolute conception of music lead to a disparaging of program music, etc...  We have Schopenhauer's exaltation of music without text.

But this is the same period where literary-musical relations get much richer, in fact. The art song as we know comes to fruition right here, with Schubert. This is the century when opera flourishes, as well. For all the disparaging of program music, we have Berlioz... The "tone poem" gets invented at the end of this period. The genre of the mélodie gets invented in France.

There was art song before romanticism, or course, and opera, and vocal music in the liturgical setting.  Music was mostly vocal before the baroque, in some sense. There were madrigals. But the great literariness of music is the product of a period that also features seemingly anti-literary conceptions.

Even Schonberg, I read yesterday, needed the narrative movement of an opera to structure a larger composition. So this dependence on the literary persists through modernism. The literariness of music in the age of madrigals seems like a different thing to me.

So maybe the divorce of music from poetry is what makes this possible? We have to think of poetry as something unsonglike first, before we can set it to music again? That would be the key to everything. I feel like I have made a major breakthrough in my thinking. Lorca is set to music in a period in which there is no natural relation between poetry and music: this connection must be re-forged in new ways, even though he is steeped in one of the oldest art song traditions in Europe, that of Spain.


Also, I woke up to find out I got a raise of 3 large bills. That is rare in my university, and took some special pleading by my chair to the dean. We have a chair from another department this year, and no other previous chair has done this for me. They have done other significant things for me, like proposing me for awards and DP, but have not been able to get me this much (almost 5%).

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