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Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music

Singing Devils and Distant Sounds

Peter Franklin

Publication Year: 2014

Why are some of the most beloved and frequently performed works of the late-romantic period—Mahler, Delius, Debussy, Sibelius, Puccini—regarded by many critics as perhaps not quite of the first rank? Why has modernist discourse continued to brand these works as overly sentimental and emotionally self-indulgent? Peter Franklin takes a close and even-handed look at how and why late-romantic symphonies and operas steered a complex course between modernism and mass culture in the period leading up to the Second World War. The style’s continuing popularity and its domination of the film music idiom (via work by composers such as Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and their successors) bring late-romantic music to thousands of listeners who have never set foot in a concert hall. Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music sheds new light on these often unfairly disparaged works and explores the historical dimension of their continuing role in the contemporary sound world.

Published by: University of California Press


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Title Page, Professors, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

Imagine, then, the hushed throng in a large European concert hall, waiting upon the conductor’s signal to an orchestra ranked in glittering array before him, in the nineteenth-century fashion. Perhaps, like Christopher Small, we should be suspicious of this curious social ritual, apparently celebrating power and heroic mastery before a docile mass of habituated admirers.1...

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1. Setting the Scene: Grandiose Symphonics and the Trouble with Art

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pp. 1-22

Having invoked the autobiographical mode as a tool in my introduction, I should confess at once that this book is one in which I intend to indulge my passion for this period of Western musical history that I love and which, I suspect, many secretly cherish even as they avow that they probably shouldn’t. As we have seen, it has accordingly been labelled transitional, decadent, over-inflated, and characterized by a desire always to be satisfying what Richard Taruskin has described as its apparently obsessive drive toward “maximalism.”1...

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2. Pessimism, Ecstasy, and Distant Voices: Listening to Late-Romanticism

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pp. 23-52

One way to challenge oppressive historical narratives is to propose alternatives, albeit in the spirit of dialectical debate rather than of crude iconoclasm. Instead of seeking “modernist” impulses in the music of late-Romanticism (prejudged otherwise to be a manifestation of ‘decadence’ or ‘maximalism’), we might, for example, propose that official European Modernism was itself entirely a late manifestation of Romanticism: from the perspective of the audience it was perhaps even a late, decadent phase of Romanticism...

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3. Sunsets, Sunrises, and Decadent Oceanics

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pp. 53-81

My reading, in chapter 1, of Richard Leppert’s argument in The Sight of Sound suggested that the represented and culturally privileged Music of which he writes there typically performs a key social task akin to repression. Discursively and practically it apportions power unevenly between masculine “contemplation” and feminine “performance,” at the expense of genuine musical attention on the one hand and the pleasure of unrestrained bodily engagement on the other (something associated with the threatening disorder of the popular sphere)...

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4. Making the World Weep (Problems with Opera)

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pp. 82-109

Turning now to the fi eld of nineteenth-century opera, where late-romantic music’s dramatic stories and scenic skills were played out live on stage, along with the “symphonic” orchestral discourse they had variously provoked or “realized,” we are obliged to confront the ogre. I refer not to the genre, but to Wagner, whose influential presence as a composer, often considered the most notorious “singing Devil” of them all, has of course already been invoked...

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5. Late-Romanticism Meets Classical Music at the Movies

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pp. 110-139

When the latter part of the previous chapter was first delivered as a lecture, an awkward but fair question came back from the audience. Was I in fact proposing that Puccini should be considered as transparent, as hermeneutically impenetrable as we have seen Ellen Lockhart suggesting that critics and directors have found him to be (“inhospitable terrain for the hermeneutic wanderer”)? ...

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6. The Bitter Truth of Modernism: A Late-Romantic Story

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pp. 140-170

Some scene setting is required for my final engagement with late-romanticism in one of its more reactive and perhaps terminal modes. Here a late-romanticism that has taken critical self-awareness to a point where, as in the first movement of Korngold’s symphony, it seems almost to enact its own invalidation and submit to the linear “history of modern music” which it has been my aim to problematize...


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pp. 171-190


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pp. 191-197

E-ISBN-13: 9780520958036
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520280397

Page Count: 214
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 867819222
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music

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Subject Headings

  • Music -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Music -- Philosophy and aesthetics.
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