Magazine article Musical Times

In Deep

Magazine article Musical Times

In Deep

Article excerpt

In deep Metaphors of depth in German musical thought from E. TA. Hoffmann to Arnold Schoenberg Holly Watkins Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 201 1); xiii, 335pp; £60, $99. isbn 978 ? 10701091 8.

According to Holly Watkins, the history of music-analytical practice seems to demonstrate that 'the rules of the analytical game are clear: whoever provides the most convincing proof of a piece's coherence, extirpating all traces of disjunction or fragmentation along the way, wins.' This formulation underlines the backwardlooking, classical bias of that 'game' in spectacular fashion. As Watkins drives the point home - 'the search for coherence entails the search for deep structure, which, in turn, is tacitly assumed to be synonymous with music's depth' - it's possible to wonder whether she will then proceed to argue that, by definition, 'metaphors of depth' are no longer valid for music which embraces 'disjunction or fragmentation' ; or even that, as the gospel according to Schenker decrees, the results of 'disjunction or fragmentation' can never be 'proper' music at all. Add in the possibility that to trace a path from Hoffmann to Schoenberg, from tonal to post-tonal, is also to trace the emergence of aesthetic and technical modernism from the shadows into full sunlight, and the study of 'metaphors of depth' during this time could centre on the fight of classical values for survival against forces that seek to supplant, disable, or merely complement those values.

Reinforcement of such a scheme begins to emerge as Watkins defines Hoffmann's concern 'to prove that Beethoven's music was rationally organized', and to combat superficial impressions of Beethovenian incoherence 'by taking a "deeper look" ', suggesting that 'the frequent disjunctions of Beethoven's music and the sense of disorientation they produce are precisely what inspire the search for a deeper unifying principle'. Geological analogies about digging down or mining for essences are part of this strategy, as are the arguments of AB Marx that depth, as something 'inner' rather than 'lower', explains 'music's dynamic forward motion, its innate "drive to continue"'. Writing about Beedioven, and seeking to reclaim him for classicism rather than cast him adrift as a modernist avant h lettre, Marx could eloquently claim that 'a deeper investigation reveals with ever more illumination the logic of the whole'. Yet pondering the nature of thematic process and formal generation can just as easily promote an enriched sense of ambiguity in which 'the logic of the whole' grows less predictable and less monolithic with every analytical reflection. And so a response to music like Johann Friedrich Hebart 's, more in terms of motivic identity and process than harmonic layers and levels, could still support the claim that 'music's inherent temporality and multitude of different "ideas" (i.e. themes and motives) make it supremely amenable to interpretation as a representative of the dynamic inner life', while appearing to bring the sense of a governing, unified, integrated, deeper background design into question. 'Hebart's view that mental life is characterized by an oscillation between states of relative equilibrium and states of greater flux' is poised to shift the focus of analytical attention from stable depths to unstable surfaces.

Watkins is persuaded that 'Marx's manner of describing music, in which perplexing contrasts or disjunctions were reconceived as emanations of a complex but psychologically coherent subject' neady focuses the paradoxical nature of an impulse to reconfigure coherence as involving 'contrasts or disjunctions' which can cease to be 'perplexing' and become appealing and satisfying as long as their contribution to some larger, potentially more flexible model of coherence - as distinct from unity? - is perceived. And when it comes to 'poetic depth' in Schumann this involves something even more distant from deep structures and possible counterstructures in Beethoven: Watkins offers an intriguing essay on the fourth movement of Schumann's Nachtstücke op. …

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