The Virtuoso Under Subjection: How German Idealism Shaped The Critical Reception Of Instrumental Virtuosity In Europe, C. 1815X131850

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The purpose of this dissertation is to offer a novel reading of the steady decline that instrumental virtuosity underwent in its critical reception between c. 1815 and c. 1850, represented here by a selection of the most influential music periodicals edited in Europe at that time. In contemporary philosophy, the same period saw, on the one hand, the reconceptualization of music (especially of instrumental music) from -pleasant nonsense[DOUBLE VERTICAL LINE] (Sulzer) and a merely -agreeable art[DOUBLE VERTICAL LINE] (Kant) into the -most romantic of the arts[DOUBLE VERTICAL LINE] (E. T. A. Hoffmann), a radically disembodied, aesthetically autonomous, and transcendent art and on the other, the growing suspicion about the tenability of the free subject of the Enlightenment. This dissertation's main claim is that those three developments did not merely coincide but, rather, that the changes in the aesthetics of music and the philosophy of subjectivity around 1800 made a deep impact on the contemporary critical reception of instrumental virtuosity. More precisely, it seems that instrumental virtuosity was increasingly regarded with suspicion because it was deemed incompatible with, and even threatening to, the new philosophic conception of music and via it, to the increasingly beleaguered notion of subjective freedom that music thus reconceived was meant to symbolize. Thus while the virtuoso could be and often was celebrated as a direct embodiment of free subjectivity, he was more typically dreaded as a threat to it. Chapter One reviews the conceptual links between music and subjectivity in the early German Romantics, Schelling, and Schopenhauer, as well as in Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. The topic of Chapter Two is the impact of early-nineteenth-century aesthetics of music and the philosophy of subjectivity on the critical reception of virtuosity in performance, with focus on the denigration of performance (and thus also of virtuosity) in favor of composition, the imposition of interpretation as the guiding ideal of performance, and the binary opposition between -expressivity[DOUBLE VERTICAL LINE] and -empty virtuosic technique[DOUBLE VERTICAL LINE]. Chapter Three revisits some of the same issues but in the context of the reception of virtuosity in composition and adds some new ones, such as the valorization of clear-cut formal structures and historically established genres at the expense of program music, improvisation, and most genres of virtuosic music. Finally, Chapter Four examines the hyper-masculine tropes in the reception of some virtuosi, their female rivals, and Chopin, from the perspective of the contemporary gendering of the subject, of music, and of musical instruments.

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Virtuosity; Subjectivity; Idealism


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Peraino, Judith Ann

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Webster, James
Villarejo, Amy

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Ph. D., Musicology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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