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Absolute MusicThe History of an Idea$
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Mark Evan Bonds

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199343638

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199343638.001.0001

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Wagner’s “Absolute” Music

Wagner’s “Absolute” Music

(p.129) 8 Wagner’s “Absolute” Music
Absolute Music

Mark Evan Bonds

Oxford University Press

Richard Wagner coined the term “absolute music” in 1846 and in his “Zurich” writings of 1848–52 equated the idea with the repertory of abstract, nonprogrammatic instrumental music. He advocated a music that was socially engaged, in synthesis with other forms of human expression, including speech and gesture. In many respects, “absolute music” was a straw man for Wagner: he postulated it in order to reject it. The very term “absolute music,” moreover, though new enough in its own right, reeked of the past. After the Revolutions of 1848–49, the Absolute was a concept closely associated with the philosophical tendencies of an earlier generation perceived to have been more concerned with abstraction than action. By using politically charged terminology, Wagner was able to align absolute music with an implicitly conservative aesthetic.

Keywords:   Richard Wagner, Absolute, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Music and revolution, Music and politics

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