The reification of absolute music as a repertory in the middle of the nineteenth century compelled writers to recast the qualities that had for so long dominated discussions about music’s essence. Expression, beauty, form, autonomy, and disclosure would remain basic to this discourse but in new configurations. The aesthetics of the “new objectivity” (Neue Sachlichkeit) in the 1920s conceived of the musical work as a construct, not as an outpouring of personal expression. The role of beauty in all the arts declined precipitously. In the ongoing debate about form versus content, form gained the upper hand, thanks to the rise of abstraction in the visual arts. This in turn reinforced conceptions of its autonomy. For many, disclosiveness became the most prestigious quality of music, with the repertory of absolute music positioned to reveal truths in ways that other arts—representational, conceptual, spatial, material—could not.
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