[Smt-talk] Goethe

Joseph Lubben jlubben at oberlin.edu
Mon May 20 05:43:11 PDT 2013

To All,

In the "Vermischtes" of Tonwille 5, Schenker includes a section entitled "German Form."  Too lengthy to quote here, Schenker's exposition might be summed up as: 

(1) Goethe wrote brilliantly about all other arts;
(2) He possessed neither musical capacity nor capable instructors on music, and therefore was incapable of profound understanding or clarity in writing about music;
(3) His writings on the arts in general can be applied successfully to music, by one who has the capacity to understand music as deeply as Goethe understood other arts;
(4) (implicitly) that person is Schenker.

To really get at Schenker's meaning, the whole passage should be read.  It runs from the end of p. 213 to the beginning of 216 in volume 1 of the English translation, and pp. 46-48 in the original German of Tonwille 5.

Joseph Lubben

Associate Professor of Music Theory
Oberlin Conservatory
jlubben at oberlin.edu

On May 19, 2013, at 4:02 PM, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:

> 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
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