[Smt-talk] Goethe

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be
Sun May 19 13:02:08 PDT 2013

Michael (and all),

I have followed this (short) thread with some puzzlement about what your 
opinion could be about Goethe, about music theory, about positivism, etc.

Do you believe, with Helmholtz, that Goethe was but a poet speaking of 
science and that science should be reserved to scientists, music theory 
to theorists, or on the contrary that we should admit some level of 
poetry, of intuitive musicianship? Is your question whether music theory 
may be a matter of talent, of innate capacity, or one of science, of 
reflexion, of education?

Helmholtz obviously could but oppose Goethe's "scientific" point of 
view. He described is as "poetry", but should perhaps have termed it 
"intuition". But Helmholtz himself was convinced of the value of 
scientific induction, and at first (i.e. in his talk /Über Goethe's 
naturwissenschaftliche Arbeiten/of 1853) wrote rather despisingly of 
Goethe's approach to /Naturwissenschaften/, those we would today 
describe as "exact sciences". In his second paper, however, /Goethe's 
Vorahnungen.../ of 1892, he was forced to recognize the value of 
Goethe's hypothetico-deductive approach, even if he still considered the 
approach (and especially its hypotheses) poetic of artistic. The fact is 
that, in between, Darwin had given some truly scientific validation of 
Goethe's idea of the organic evolution from /Urphänomenen/. But this may 
not be the core of your point.

The influence of Goethe's ideas in the 19th century could hardly be 
overestimated. It probably remains quite more vivid today than what many 
of use imagine. The idea that a work of art (any work of art) arises 
from an overall plan, rather than as a mere concatenation of formal 
units; that a painting is not painted from left to right and from up to 
down, but rather as the elaboration of an overall sketch; or that a 
piece of tonal music is not a mere concatenation of harmonic "functions" 
(as Ildar Khannanov would describe them), but as the elaboration of a 
tonal plan, of a /Grundgestalt/, as Schoenberg viewed it; etc., etc.; 
all that stems from Goethe's organic conception.

Schenker obviously was deeply influenced by Goethe. Schoenberg perhaps 
less obviously, but probably as deeply. I would think that Helmholtz was 
too much biased to allow us to consider Goethe merely as a poet, or 
music theory merely a matter of innate talent. If music theory was 
influenced by Goethe (and it certainly was and remains), it is not a 
matter of influence from poetic theory, rhetoric, sociology, or the 
like, but rather from one of the most powerful philosophical thinking of 
the late 18th- and early 19th-century.

Your message, if I understand it correctly, appears to indicate that 
20th-century music theory on the North-American Continent was much more 
"positivist" than I ever figured; but even if that were true, it would 
concern, say, the 1970's and 1980's, I'd say.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 18/05/2013 16:26, Michael Morse a écrit :
> Dear One & All,
>   Warm thanks for the references on Goethe. It strikes me that music 
> theorists in the last century or so may be slow to acknowledge either 
> the validity and pertinence of non-theorists' thoughts about music, 
> and their actual influence in particular. If there is any substance to 
> this suggestion, it may be because we were in the positivist century, 
> in which the capacity of a discourse for non-pollution from outside 
> influence was proof of the independence that qualified a science, or 
> at least a rigorous, objective discussion. Of course ideas from 
> mathematics and sometimes systematic linguistics were welcome; that's, 
> uh, different. But an approach to music theory influenced 
> by poetic theory, rhetoric, or sociology was--is?--infra dig, not so 
> much intrinsically worthless as subject to instant reclassification as 
> music history, musicology, or criticism. (Perhaps the only thing even 
> faintly sympathetic about Susan McClary's musical Lysenkoism is her 
> plaint that she was hoist on this particular petard.)
>   These may be merely partisan prejudices, however. The core question 
> of who should speak about music how fascinates me, however. "Who" in 
> that statement means what kind of person, informed by what kinds of 
> experiences. What, for example, constitutes talent in music theory? 
> Have any of you ever taught someone who was very keen on music theory, 
> perhaps even wanted to become a theorist, but simply didn't have "the 
> right stuff"? What *is* "the right stuff"? And, back to the Sage of 
> Weimar®: who outside the circles of those trained in music theory is 
> in a position to contribute to it intellectually?
> Michael W. Morse
> Trent University
> Peterborough, Oshawa

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20130519/c4ffe31d/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list