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Absolute Music, Mechanical Reproduction

Arved Ashby

Publication Year: 2010

Recordings are now the primary way we hear classical music, especially the more abstract styles of "absolute" instrumental music. In this original, provocative book, Arved Ashby argues that recording technology has transformed our understanding of art music. Contesting the laments of nostalgic critics, Ashby sees recordings as socially progressive and instruments of a musical vernacular, but also finds that recording and absolute music actually involve similar notions of removing sound from context. He takes stock of technology's impact on classical music, addressing the questions at the heart of the issue. This erudite yet concise study reveals how mechanical reproduction has transformed classical musical culture and the very act of listening, breaking down aesthetic and generational barriers and mixing classical music into the soundtrack of everyday life.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book was a joy to write— because of the importance and timeliness of its subject, certainly, but also because it brought me into contact with quite a few enthusiastic and very knowledgeable people. Book and author profited especially from the expert insights, assessments, and corrections, not to mention kind encouragement, ...

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pp. 1-26

“When you buy a record there are always cuts that leave you cold. You skip them. You don’t approach a record as a closed book that you have to take or leave. Other cuts you may listen to over and over again. They follow you. You find yourself humming them under your breath as you go about your daily business.”1 ...

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1. The Recorded Musical Text

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pp. 27-59

Just what is a musical performance? This is a difficult question, one that music scholars have been slow to ask and even slower to answer. We could begin our definition by saying a performance of Western art music transpires with a reading that is more or less normative and executed according to the composer’s instructions. ...

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2. Recording, Repetition, and Memory in Absolute Music

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pp. 60-90

Edison’s early cylinders wore out after only several plays, so aural history begins with one particular refinement of his invention: the electroplated “phonogram” disk devised by Charles Sumner Tainter in 1881. Emil Berliner further developed this method for commercial markets, making multiple stampings from master discs ...

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3. Schnabel’s Rationalism, Gould’s Pragmatism

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pp. 91-122

To judge from their recordings, Artur Schnabel and Glenn Gould were extraordinarily different musicians. Their most obvious points of contrast concern keyboard address. Gould is commonly faulted for emphasizing pianism over service to the composer: “Gould had total command of his instrument,” reads one review, ...

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4. Digital Mythologies

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pp. 123-161

Music aesthetics became closely intertwined with recording and distribution technologies in the second half of the twentieth century. This fact is acknowledged in popular music but also holds true in art music: large-scale changes in recording techniques precipitated change in compositional aesthetics, and vice versa, ...

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5. Beethoven and the iPod Nation

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pp. 162-193

The long-playing record, popularly known as the LP, appeared shortly after World War II. Columbia Records introduced it to the American market as a medium for classical music, under the assumption that longer discs had greater commercial potential with Beethoven than they might with Bing Crosby: ...

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6. Photo/phono/porno

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pp. 194-220

Susan Sontag called photography an “ethics of seeing,” and by analogy recording could be termed an “ethics of hearing.”1, Photography’s traditional truth- telling powers stem from its long association with photojournalism. Recording owes such truth implications to the absolute-music heritage, the work concept, ...

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7. Mahler as Imagist

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pp. 221-252

Mahler’s symphonies, though never truly neglected, didn’t achieve wide popularity until the later decades of the twentieth century. Why they were so late finding broad appeal remains an absorbing question. Was it simply a matter of musical style? ...


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pp. 253-298

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 299-308


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pp. 309-317

Production Notes

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p. 333-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780520945692
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520264809

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2010