Symphonic Pastorals

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Aaron S. Allen, Associate Professor of Musicology and Director, Environment & Sustainability Program (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: A popular misunderstanding of the symphony is that the genre is devoid of the meanings conveyed in texted music such as songs and choruses. The idea of the symphony as ‘absolute music’ – ‘abstract’ or ‘pure’ sound, music for its own sake, in contrast to the narrativity of ‘programme music’ – stems particularly from the influence of twentieth-century critics such as Donald Tovey, Leonard Bernstein and Carl Dahlhaus.2 Regarding Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (Pastoral), Tovey claimed that the work would have been the same without a programme and that it was a straightforward classical (that is, absolute) symphony like Beethoven’s others; Bernstein advised audiences to ignore Beethoven’s narrative and focus instead on pure musical processes, such as motivic development (see Will 2002a: 19-20). Dahlhaus argued that the symphony as a genre was ‘a prototype for the development of the theory of absolute music around 1800’ and that absolute music was the core of nineteenth century aesthetics (1991: 10). In other words, the symphony might be a sort of text that exists only in relation to itself, as if it were a New Critical abstraction. While the appeal and diffusion of this symphony-as-absolute-music concept have been widespread, recent scholarship has revised that history (Pederson 2009 argued that Dahlhaus exaggerated the idea of absolute music).

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
symphonies, pastorals, music, aesthetics, music history

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