Idealism and the Aesthetics of Instrumental Music at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century

Mark Evan Bonds
The growing aesthetic prestige of instrumental music in the last decades of the eighteenth century was driven not so much by changes in the musical repertory as by the resurgence of idealism as an aesthetic principle applicable to all the arts. This new outlook, as articulated by such writers as Winckelmann, Moritz, Kant, Schiller, Herder, Fichte, and Schelling, posited the work of art as a reflection of an abstract ideal, rather than as a means by which a beholder could be moved. Through
more » ... sm, the work of art became a vehicle by which to sense the realm of the spiritual and the infinite, and the inherently abstract nature of instrumental music allowed this art to offer a particularly powerful glimpse of that realm. Idealism thus provided the essential framework for the revaluation of instrumental music in the writings of Wackenroder, Tieck, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and others around the turn of the century. While this new approach to instrumental music has certain points of similarity with the later concept of "absolute" music, it is significant that Eduard Hanslick expunged several key passages advocating idealist thought when he revised both the first and second editions of his treatise Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. The concept of "absolute" music, although real enough in the mid-nineteenth century, is fundamentally anachronistic when applied to the musical thought and works of the decades around 1800.
doi:10.17615/8kbn-9m49 fatcat:xwxbdibq25foffgg2hkuym2xja