In discourse about music in the period 1550–1850, commentators approached the quality of autonomy in two ways.Those who emphasized music’s material autonomy stressed the unique nature of music’s material elements among all the arts. Music, as Johann Gottfried Herder insisted in the late eighteenth century, “must have its own freedom to speak for itself alone,” for it “has developed itself into an art of its own kind, without words, through itself and in itself.” Those who emphasized music’s ethical autonomy, in turn, stressed the freedom of music from any moral or social purpose. Both lines of thought were new in this period, and both served to advance the notion of l’art pour ll’art, which in turn shaped later notion of absolute music as it came to be conceived around the middle of the nineteenth century.
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