Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music

By Mercer-Taylor, Peter | Notes, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music


Mercer-Taylor, Peter, Notes


Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music. By Michael P. Steinberg. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. [xiv, 246 p. ISBN 0-691-11685-7. $29.95.] Illustrations, index.

With Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music, Michael P. Steinberg offers a provocative, intermittently brilliant rooting of nineteenth-century music-that is, "the long 19th-century" that encompasses Mozart at one end and Schoenberg at the other-in contemporaneous cultural and intellectual history. Few major German composers of the era go unexamined, and few readers are likely to walk away from the book with their understanding of this repertoire, and the culture from and for which it speaks, unrevised. For all the abundance of the book's musical insights, Steinberg's perspective is that of a cultural historian, and he shares generously of his extensive and multifaceted expertise, lodging the book's musical dramatis personae in a kaleidoscopic array of fine-grained engagements with the thought and lives of philosophers, historians, journalists, poets, librettists, dramatists, psychoanalysts, set designers, and directors.

The book's unifying thread is music's "capacity to organize subjectivity" (p. 4), a formulation whose definition is the principal task of Steinberg's introduction. "Subjectivity" cannot be understood, in Steinberg's conception, simply as a property of the "subject" whom Enlightenment epistemology posited as observer and autonomous agent outside of the surrounding world; it represents, rather, "a mode of experience where self and world are difficult to distinguish. Subjectivity resides at the borders of autonomy and integration, and must be allowed culturally, politically, and discursively to live there" (p. 7). And it was by the Romantic theorists who ushered Germany into the nineteenth century, as Steinberg demonstrates, that music "was first anointed as a privileged discursant of subjectivity" (p. 11).

Steinberg's first chapter traces the rise of musical subjectivity through the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas. Don Giovanni (considered first) is here seen to stage the victory of Protestant modernity, with its spirit of subjective resistance, over the Catholic baroque's conflation of sacredness and political power. Steinberg hears the overture's opening chords, for example, as a critique of the baroque ideology of representation in their invocation of the unrepresentable, comprising a force of "other-worldly negativity" (p. 29) associated as strongly with Don Giovanni himself as with the Commendatore (and held only temporarily at bay by the "worldly affirmation" of the ensuing Allegro). Le nozze di Figaro stages the victory of subjectivity in plot and musical style alike (Figaro himself is seen, for example, to work from stylistic mimicry toward a musical language of his own), though its coupling of liberty with marriage provides a myth of harmonious social integration that will prove unsustainable in Cosi fan tutte, whose franker confrontation with the issue of desire leaves no simple answers.

Chapter 2 examines Beethoven's heroic style, placing at its aesthetic heart an element of "abstraction" that distinguishes it fundamentally from the ideology of "absolute music" later codified by Richard Wagner. Through encounters with the Eroica Symphony, the Andante con moto movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto (crucial here is "the piano's stealthlike and subversive appropriation of the work's narrative voice as a first-person voice" [p. 66]), Fidelia, and the Ninth Symphony, Steinberg argues for a conception of Beethoven's heroic style that "feeds no political ideology, [and] likewise provides no concrete charter of political emancipation" (p. 62). The third chapter seeks to distinguish Mendelssohn's "canny" sense of history from Robert Schumann's "uncanny" one. In a discussion touching on the Hebrides, Antigone, and the Lobgesang, Steinberg traces Mendelssohn's pursuit of an unproblematic mingling of subjective autonomy and an ideal of community, a mingling compatible with the composer's discernment, in Bach, of the "spirit of subjective modernity" (p.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century Music
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.