According to Dahlhaus, the idea that a piece of instrumental music creates its own musical world is put forward by Tieck, is picked up by Schopenhauer, and makes its way to Schoenberg through Schopenhauer's philosophy. For Dahlhaus, no substantial historical or music-technical argument can be successfully advanced for Schoenberg's behavior. In short, Dahlhaus seems to suggest that Schoenberg, sitting in judgement of himself and his contemporaries, simply comes to pronounce "enough of this, now here is the way.
To conclude his essay, Dahlhaus works through one more theological-aesthetic transformation in Schoenberg's writing on Classical and Romantic works. In discussing and analyzing earlier music, Schoenberg appears to be unconcerned with issues of historical authenticity or questions of the possibility of understanding the past as it really was. Instead, Schoenberg's working premise seems to be that if one simply works at understanding the music on its own terms, then the music will eventually yield up its meaning. Dahlhaus sees a similarity here to a fundamental principle of Torah exegesis in Jewish mysticism of the Middle Ages and early Modern Age.
This mystical exegesis of revelation assumes that a text will have various meanings to various interpreters down through the ages and that this does not necessarily lead to contradiction. There exists, therefore, the possibility that meaning can be updated in various directions. Thus, a musical text becomes similar to a sacred text, and a fundamental attitude in the interpretation of scripture becomes a basic premise in musical analysis. Dahlhaus's discussion of Schoenberg's aesthetic theology can be reduced down to three general statements: 1 by the time Schoenberg came into contact with many of the ideas that he adopted in his thinking, they already had a history of secularization that continued in the art religion of the nineteenth century; 2 Schoenberg positioned himself in the role of prophet, changing the course of twentieth-century music by proclamation; and 3 that the texts in this aesthetic theology are musical works from the Western art-music tradition that somehow contain an inextinguishable energy that connects across the ages in the language of the interpreter.
Much as one may value Dahlhaus's essay, however, it must be acknowledged that it has some problems. While one can agree generally with many of Dahlhaus's observations, there are other--and I will argue better-- solutions to the philosophical-aesthetic questions with which Dahlhaus grapples in his essay. In the following discussions I would like to suggest an alternate reading of Schoenberg's aesthetic theology--one that I believe nonetheless builds upon and complements Dahlhaus's interpretation.
The key to interpreting Schoenberg's aesthetic theology is his notion of the musikalische Gedanke. While this notion holds a central position within Schoenberg's thought world, he had tremendous difficulty bringing it to verbal expression. Two kinds of problem arise in Schoenberg's writing on the Gedanke : first, he sometimes uses different terms when he seems to have a single concept in mind; and second, he sometimes uses the same term to indicate different concepts. Thus, any one-to-one comparison of various remarks about the Gedanke are likely to lead, if not to contradiction, then at best to ambiguity.
If in each instance we mark Schoenberg's position with regard to those issues, it is possible to see him continually returning to a particular point of view, and though the terms may change from instance to instance, his positions may be seen, in relation to the general intellectual context, as relatively consistent, or at least less ambiguous or contradictory.
This approach, then, tends to read Schoenberg's remarks not as parts of some systematic theory, philosophy, or aesthetics, but rather as individual commentaries on musical, philosophical ,and aesthetic issues. Elsewhere I have outlined a position on the influence of occult sources on Schoenberg's musikalische Gedanke. Schoenberg could never bring the Gedanke to precise verbal formulation because the Gedanke is a product of intuitive contemplation, and as such is at root the result of non-verbal and super-rational perception.
As early as in his essay "The Relationship to the Text," Schoenberg can be found extolling the virtues of intuitive and irrational, or above-rational perception.
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For Schoenberg, the musikalische Gedanke resides in a realm where time and space are unified; the composer, once granted a glimpse of this spiritual phenomenon, proceeds to compose the musical work. Or as Schoenberg describes it in the same lecture quoted above:. Alas, it is one thing to envision in a creative instant of inspiration and it is another thing to materialize one's vision by painstakingly connecting details until they fuse into a kind of organism.
Alas, suppose it becomes an organism, a homunculus or a robot, and possesses some of the spontaneity of a vision; it remains yet another thing to organize this form so that it becomes a comprehensible message "to whom it may concern. Compare as well Schoenberg's discussion of the divine creation and the vision of the creator with the following remarks about the musikalische Gedanke :. I myself consider the totality of a piece as the idea : the idea which its creator wanted to present.
Here, as in other places in Schoenberg's writing, it appears that vision and idea are identical. If the use the term "vision" creates a theological context, in Dahlhaus's terms, then it may turn out that the theology is more like Theosophy.
But if one accepts the notion that Schoenberg's concept of the musikalische Gedanke was influenced by the mystical world views of Swedenborg and Steiner, then the responsibility still remains to square such occult influences with Schoenberg's acknowledged and well-documented admiration for Schopenhauer. In fact, Schoenberg provides a list of people he considers to be great men in his essay on Franz Liszt of ; this list includes Plato, Christ, Kant, Swedenborg, Schopenhauer, and Balzac.
Goethe may be seen as occupying the middle ground between these two camps. Though it is difficult to decide how Christ could be placed in such a hypothetical continuum, his very inclusion on Schoenberg's list already signals the high regard he holds for the others, and perhaps is an indicator of the high value Schoenberg places in his perception of spiritual integrity in each figure he designates as great. But the question still lingers: What do these figures have in common for Schoenberg?
Let us address that question by turning to an anecdote of Goethe's that captures the crucial issue in a nutshell. It is the well-known conversation of between Goethe and Schiller concerning Goethe's Urpflanze ; Goethe reports:. I explained to him with great vivacity the Metamorphosis of Plants and, with a few characteristic strokes of the pen, conjured up before his eyes a symbolical plant.
I raised my eyebrows, somewhat annoyed. For he had put his finger on precisely the point which separated us. The issue here is an epistemological one: Goethe believes that he can see the idea, for him it really exists "out there"; for Schiller, the influence of Kant's transcendental idealism leads him to conclude that Goethe has projected his idea onto his experience, the idea resides in the mind of the perceiver and the "thing-in-itself" remains unknowable.
But it is around this very question of the possibility of perceiving the "thing-in-itself" that Schoenberg and his cast of great men assemble. Let us consider the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg contended that there exist other worlds than the physical one that we all know. These worlds are finer than the physical one and exist behind it or, one might say, between its atoms. Spirits reside in these finer worlds, or heavens, and Swedenborg refers to these entities as angels.
These angels are the souls of the departed, who have now passed on to a higher existence. Through a kind of spiritual vision, Swedenborg claimed to be able to enter this finer realm and engage in discussion with these angels, and it was these discussions that he claimed provided him with his spiritual knowledge.
Swedenborg also believed that he had been granted this gift of seeing by God in order that he might bring a new and fuller interpretation of the Bible to mankind. The literary critic Anna Balakian contends that Swedenborg's doctrine of correspondences exercised considerable influence on nineteenth-century literature, and especially upon the symbolist poets. Though it is not clear exactly how seriously Kant took Swedenborg's ideas when he first encountered them, he ultimately came down against Swedenborg and his claims to super-sensory perception.
Kant's refutuation of Swedenborg can be found in his Dreams of a Spirit - Seer. For some followers of Swedenborg, the fact that both Kant's thing-in-itself and Swedenborg's heaven are atemporal and non-spatial in any conventional sense may be considered proof of Kant's intellectual indebtedness. For purposes of the present discussion it is not really important whether or not this assertion about Kant's thought can be proved false; it is enough that we can see Kant and Swedenborg taking positions about the possibility of viewing some other world than the most apparent one.
In fact, though he is an important figure in Schoenberg's intellectual pantheon, Kant is the only one who denies the possibility of seeing into the beyond. And this denial also accounts for the disagreement between Schiller and Goethe that arises in the story quoted above. Both Hegel and Schopenhauer had personal and relatively close contact with Goethe, with discussions centering on Goethe's neglected but important Farbenlehre. Rudolf Steiner, on the other hand, offers an interpretation of Goethean science that ultimately leads into the world of the occult.
In the period between and , Steiner edited Goethe's scientific writings for two separate Goethe editions, one of which was the prestigious Weimar edition. Steiner wrote extensive commentaries for the other edition and, in addition, wrote three monographs on Goethe's science and world-view.
In the years before , Steiner was viewed as a leading authority on Goethe's scientific writings.
The Goethe-Schiller story is therefore a crucial point of reference for Steiner. Steiner offers a complicated epistomological argument for how we can know the thing-in-itself and since space does not permit a detailed unfolding of that argument, I will summarize the main points.
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Steiner believes that the physical object and its idea exist in a unified state "out there"; it is we who, through a weakness in out perceptual apparatus, separate the two aspects from one another in the act of perceiving. We see only the physically perceptible aspect of the object and the idea is lost in the process. But our minds are the microcosm of the larger physical universe in the sense that we can see inside a reflection of what really exists outside. There is one outside world and one inside world; one physical universe and one unified thought world.
The correspondence between these two worlds allows us to recover the idea of an object that is lost in sense perception. Every human has access to the same thought world; there are not many thought worlds but a single one into which we all find our way. For Steiner then, we must, through something he terms "active thinking," work to recreate the idea within ourselves and view it together with the sensory perception.
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But, because of the nature of the unified thought world, when we actually recombine the idea and the object, we view them as they really are in the outside world. When Steiner turned to Theosophy after , and later when he established his own Anthroposophical Society in , he maintained that one can see into other worlds beyond the coarse physical one; one can learn to view the astral and causal planes of existence.
Despite this pronounced turn to an occult world-view, Steiner always maintained that these later views were founded on his understanding of Goethean science. It should also be pointed out that it was the occult Steiner that held a deep fascination for Kandinsky, and it was probably also the occult Steiner that Schoenberg came to know. With this discussion of Steiner I have added another of Schoenberg's great men, Goethe, to the voices on the question of viewing the thing-in-itself.
There is a passage in one of Schoenberg's brief essays on Josef Matthias Hauer from that suggests that Schoenberg may have known Steiner's epistomological argument. Schoenberg is discussing Hauer's aesthetic position that the twelve-tone system is in fact a universe of its own that operates according to eternal cosmic principles. But he looks for them where he will not find them.
I say that we are obviously as nature around us is, as the cosmos is. So that is also how our music is. But then our music must also be as we are if two magnitudes both equal a third. But then from our nature alone I can deduce how our music is bolder men than I would say, "how the cosmos is! Schoenberg's meaning can be distinguished from the use of that term in psychoanalysis generally by the fact that Schoenberg's unconscious does not so much consist of past experiences and innate drives as much as it provides a vision of reality reflected upon the inner consciousness.
The composer, Schoenberg might be understood to say, perceives the vision on the reflective screen of his or her own inner consciousness.