Music Criticism in Vienna, 1896-1897: Critically Moving Forms

By Sandra McColl | Go to book overview
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On 7 January 1848 the first concert feuilleton by Eduard Hanslick appeared in the Wiener Zeitung.1 Henceforth the feuilletonistically beautiful dominated criticism. A new art, the art of criticism, was created; it was the art of critically moving forms.2

This comment by Robert Hirschfeld, Hanslick's much younger contemporary, describes in colourful fashion the ushering in of what has been elsewhere described as 'the classical age of Viennese music criticism'.3 Hirschfeld's intention in so designating the 'new art' of the music feuilleton is, however, double-edged. On the one hand he seems to be praising Hanslick's initiation of an unprecedented age of literary virtuosity in use of language and images; on the other hand, however, he implies that musical events gave rise to works in a different artistic medium, the music feuilleton, in which the same literary virtuosity which made it entertaining and enjoyable to read fed parasitically upon the hapless musical works and performances. In short, the strength of the feuilleton was also (at least potentially) its weakness.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'feuilleton' as:

In French newspapers (or others in which the French custom is followed), a portion of one or more pages (at the bottom) marked off from the rest of the page by a rule, and appropriated to light literature, criticism, etc.; an article or work printed in the feuilleton.4

In Viennese newspapers of the late nineteenth century, this 'portion' was usually the bottom of the first page, with the result that when the feuilleton of the day was devoted to music, as was frequently the case, musical opinion was given a prominence which it no longer enjoys. Feuilleton is more, however, than merely a portion of a page. Duden's

Here it must be borne in mind that Hirschfeld was writing a history of music criticism in the Wiener Zeitung,, and that, while this was indeed Hanslick's first feuilleton and his first article in the Wiener Zeitung, it was far from the beginning of his journalistic career, which had begun in Prague and in which he was already active in Vienna before his days with the Wiener Zeitung. I am grateful to Geoffrey Payzant for providing me with information from his unpublished research concerning Hanslick's pre- 1848 journalistic activity.
Robert Hirschfeld, 'Musikalische Kritik in der Wiener Zeitung', supplement to Wiener Zeitung, anniversary edn. ( 8 Aug. 1903), 60.
Norbert Tschulik, "Musikkritik in Osterreich", published as the introduction to Manfred Wagner (ed.), Geschichte der österreichischen Musikkritik in Beispielen (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1979), 8.
OED, 2nd edn. ( 1989). It gives, among examples of the word's usage in English (which it traces to 1845), a sentence from Nation, 16 June 1892: 'He writes a feuilleton on current musical topics for the Vienna Neue Freie Presse.'


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