The Artist-Operas of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith: Politics and the Ideology of the Artist
Duffy, Michael J., IV, Notes
The Artist-Operas of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith: Politics and the Ideology of the Artist. By Claire TaylorJay. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2004. [viii, 225 p. ISBN 0-7546-0578-7. $74.95.] Music examples, tables, illustrations, bibliography, index.
Claire Taylor-Jay presents a fascinating picture of the changing political landscape of Germany in the early twentieth century and its effect on music and opera in this well-crafted volume, adapted from her dissertation ("Politics and the Ideology of the Artist in the Kunstleropern of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith" [Ph.D. diss., University of Southampton, 1999]). As the title of the book suggests, it examines the artistoperas, or Kunstleropern, of Hans Pfitzner, Ernst Krenek, and Paul Hindemith in light of the political climates of their respective times. Her work provides a multifaceted historical context for the discussion of the operas. Although there have previously been several book-length studies wholly or partially dedicated to Pfitzner's Palestrina, Krenek's Jonny spielt auf, or Hindemith's Mathis der Maler, the work fills a lacuna in the literature by discussing the works as representative of a genre. After an extended examination of the "artist and society in the early twentieth century" (pp. 7-23), Taylor-Jay cites the "antagonism between artist and society" (p. 26) as the defining characteristic of Kunstleropern. It is this antagonism that Taylor-Jay explores in the plots of the three operas. In the introductory chapter, she writes of the tendency to view the main characters of these operas as autobiographical projections of the composer, but perhaps more importantly, she states, "he [the composer] nevertheless presents a view about art which may be based on his own stated aesthetic premises" (p. 24). Taylor-Jay aims to "compare the philosophies expressed by [the three composers] . . . with those espoused by political movements in the period roughly between the First and second World Wars" (p. 34). She claims, "Each work manifests a vision of the artist's position in an ideal society, suggesting, in the same manner as a political party, a world for which one should strive" (p. 34). In subsequent chapters, she succeeds in illustrating how this statement applies to each opera.
In the middle three chapters, Taylorjay describes the political portrayal of the artist characters, society, and their interaction in these three operas. Pfitzner, a vehement conservative living in the time of the anti-democratic German monarchy, employed a reactionary aesthetic in Palestrina.
Taylor-Jay argues convincingly as she links Pfitzner's stark contrasts between the musical treatment of Palestrina and that of the Council of Trent to the composer's political conservatism and his artistic ideals. Her analysis of the music associated with Palestrina centers around five leitmotifs. She acknowledges other scholars' readings of the meanings of the motifs, but she asserts that "it is difficult to tie any one of these motifs down precisely to a definite 'meaning,' because of their appearance in a variety of contexts" (p. 62). However, she does offer that taken together, the "nexus of five leitmotifs is used to signify his [Palestrina's] genius" (p. 62). Her discussion of "Pfitzner and the concept of genius" (pp. 67-72) eloquently and persuasively articulates her argument that according to Pfitzner, the genius is ideally nonpolitical and that he demonstrated this in his portrayal of Palestrina.
The hurried, dissonant sounds and relative cacophony of the beginning of the prelude to the second act of Palestnna mark a distinct change from the first act and its emphasis on Palestrina and his struggles as the dramatic action shifts to the Council. Taylor-Jay's analysis of the prelude (pp. 75-76) accounts for the tonality and orchestration of the music in light of novelist Thomas Mann's thoughts, who wrote of his admiration of Pfitzner in his commentary Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Thomas Mann, Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man, trans. Walter D. Morris [New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1983]). Contrary to the static music in the first act, Pfitzner represented a wide range of characters from different nations throughout the second act with rapidly changing music. In a wellconsidered assertion, Taylor-Jay argues the Council represents the democracy that Mann loathed while admitting that the version of democracy portrayed is a farce (pp. 76-80).
In contrast with Pfitzner, Krenek used music as a vehicle for democracy. In her assessment of Krenek and music critic Paul Bekker, Taylor-Jay states: "Not only does he [Krenek] argue the case for composers to be closer to their audience, but by doing so, he suggests, they will achieve a political aim" (p. 106). Not unexpectedly, TaylorJay's discussion of the artist's position in Jonny spielt auf is somewhat more complicated than her treatment of Palestrina because so much of the drama in Jonny spielt auf centers around the two artist characters of Jonny and Max, but her argument in this chapter is no less convincing. She explores two possible readings of Max as a romantic or modernist composer (pp. 114-118), and in both readings she demonstrates that Max is oblivious to society. Jonny, in contrast, makes music and interacts more with other characters. She summarizes Krenek's portrayal of the artists: "the difference between the negative picture of Max as an out-of-toucb aesthete and Jonny's vibrancy could hardly be more explicit" (p. 119).
Taylor-Jay uses the radio scene in Jonny spielt auf to illustrate how Jonny's "jazz" music is more in touch with the people than Max's art music. On the opera's use of "jazz," she offers: "What was known in the Weimar Republic as 'jazz' was not the improvised jazz performed in the USA by such musicians as Armstrong and Ellington . . . but popular dance-band music" (p. 101). Taylor-Jay identifies a number of political themes in Mathis der Maler, including the portrayal of an ideal German people, or the Volk, and an apparent resistance to the Nazis. Eschewing a definitive political or aesthetic characterization of Hindemith, she demonstrates how the composer has been viewed as both liberal and conservative. While comparing Hindemith and Pfitzner, she points out that, unlike Pfitzner, who aimed to remain separate from the world, Hindemith was concerned with edificatory communication from the composer to the listener (p. 155). She also maintains that through his book Unterweisung im Tonsatz (Paul Hindemith, The Craft of Musical Composition, trans. Arthur Mendel and Otto Ortmann [New York: Associated Music Publishers, 1945]), Hindemith connected himself to tonal and political traditions. Nonetheless, she does not deny Hindemith's efforts at progress: "At the same time, though, Hindemith tries to show his progressiveness: his music and theory are not simply reactionary, but a new, modern form of an eternal truth" (p. 158).
Taylor-Jay's discussion of Mathis's place in society centers on the vision scene in tableau 6 of Mathis der Maler. In her account of Albrecht's appearance as Saint Paul to convince Mathis he must resume painting in order to help the people, she avows that Mathis's previous feelings of conflict between his philanthropic desires and his artistic nature were resolved. Commenting on the implications of Albrecht's new life of poverty and Mathis's austere condition, she writes, "art's true place is with the people, and ... its position in Mainz society, where it functions as a symbol of wealth and privilege, is false" (p. 165). Taylor-Jay thus illustrates that Hindemith's portrayal of Mathis is that of a humanitarian whose paintings are beneficial to society.
Though one may question the accuracy of Taylor-Jay's declaration at the beginning of the final chapter that "Palestrina, Jonny spielt auf, and Mathis der Maler are succinct articulations of their era's concerns about the role of art and the artist in modern society" (p. 193), she argues credibly in the middle three chapters that these concerns are prominent in each opera. Throughout the rest of the final chapter, she discusses the creation of the artists' identities in the Künstleroper genre with implications for composers and audiences.
Aside from a few typographical errors and an inaccurate footnote citation on page 54, where Taylor-Jay cites page 133 of Peter Franklin's article "Palestrina and the Dangerous Futurists" (Musical Quarterly 70, no. 4 [Fall 1984]: 499-514), the book demonstrates attention to detail in addition to sound argument. In summary, TaylorJay presents an innovative and thoughtprovoking reading of these three Künstleropern, illustrating the conflict between the artist and society, and she does so in a way that shows these works in the political context of their creation.
MICHAEL J. DUFFY IV
Northern Illinois University…
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Publication information: Article title: The Artist-Operas of Pfitzner, Krenek and Hindemith: Politics and the Ideology of the Artist. Contributors: Duffy, Michael J., IV - Author. Journal title: Notes. Volume: 61. Issue: 4 Publication date: June 2005. Page number: 1005+. © 2009 Music Library Association, Inc. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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