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  • August Halm: A Critical and Creative Life in Music
  • Brien Weiner
August Halm: A Critical and Creative Life in Music. By Lee A. Rothfarb. (Eastman Studies in Music, vol. 68.) Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009. [xix, 293 p. ISBN 9781580463294. $85.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

August Otto Halm (1869–1929) was a talented and well-known musician, analyst, teacher and critic during the Wilhelmine and Weimar periods in Germany, who has received much less attention today than his contemporaries Hugo Riemann, Heinrich Schenker, Ernst Kurth, and Arnold Schoenberg. In August Halm: A Critical and Creative Life in Music, Lee A. Rothfarb fills a gap in our knowledge of this musical landscape. Although Rothfarb attempts to demonstrate Halm's enduring influence, his book does more to show why he was largely ignored by subsequent generations, namely, because of the narrowness of Halm's analytic principles, which by their nature become repetitious from chapter to chapter. The book is most useful and engaging in its historical and biographical information detailing musical movements in early twentieth-century Germany. Rothfarb's scholarship is meticulous and his analysis is insightful, despite flaws in presentation. Just as Halm wrote for a wide audience of musical amateurs and professionals, so too will Rothfarb's book be of interest to students [End Page 331] and scholars, and it is recommended for academic libraries that support comprehensive music programs.

Chapter 1 is a biographical sketch of Halm based primarily on unpublished diaries, notebooks, lesson plans, lecture notes, essays, and correspondence with friends, publishers, musicians (including Schenker), conductors, writers, and most importantly, his wife. Halm emerges as a sympathetic figure: first pressured by his family to study theology, then urged by his mentors (including Hugo Wolf) to study music, and finally disheartened by his lack of compositional ability and financial resources, he was forced to accept a career teaching in boarding schools because he could not pursue the higher educational degree required for a university appointment. Although he was also a conductor and composer, his greatest success was as a critic and author. His best-known books are Von zwei Kulturen der Musik (Munich: Georg Müller, 1913) and Die Symphonie Anton Bruckners (Munich: Georg Müller, 1914). Halm wrote for educated amateurs rather than professional musicians, but his audience encompassed both, as well as a broader music-loving public. As a teacher, he was part of a movement to incorporate traditional religion into education, and to that end, an anti-hermeneutic theme runs through his writings. According to Rothfarb, "Halm's meaning is that we ought first to strive to understand the central issues in music, its formal properties, and its other traits—expressiveness, extra-referentiality—will follow naturally" (p. 18); and thus, according to Halm, "We serve Spirit through our critical activity" (p. 19).

In chapter 2, Rothfarb discusses the foundations and applications of Halm's analytic principles. One of the strengths of Rothfarb's work is his comparison of Halm's principles to those of earlier, contemporary, and later theorists, which places his ideas in historical context. One of the weaknesses of the book, however, is that in presenting Halm's analyses, Rothfarb often does not provide music examples, and therefore references to measure numbers and musical events become meaningless. The book would be improved by more selectivity in analyses and the inclusion of corresponding musical excerpts, especially since many of the analyses serve to illustrate the same principles. Halm's analyses emphasized formal dynamism and musical logic, but were somewhat ad hoc, non-systematic, narrative readings.

In chapter 3, Rothfarb explores Halm's analytical style "between description and explanation" through Halm's contrast of the first movements of Beethoven's Piano Sonata op. 2, no. 1 and Mozart's Piano Sonata K. 332, as strong and weak in dynamism respectively. Although Halm maintained that his conclusions did not apply to all works by Mozart and Beethoven, and indeed Rothfarb uses Halm's criteria to prove the contrary, Halm revealed a general bias that drew criticism and perhaps diminished his influence. The Mozart and Beethoven analyses were a prelude to Halm's ideas of two musical cultures, represented by Bach's fugues...


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