Abstract

Performance discourse in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (i.e., writing about interpretative performance in treatises, reviews, dictionaries, articles, and philosophical works) is distinct from that in both earlier and later periods. Although a full early Romantic paradigm of interpretative performance, as articulated in Hegel's Aesthetics, came about piecemeal and was instantiated in different ways in different kinds of sources, the texts examined in this essay communicate two particularly salient features. These are, first, the idea that interpretative performance involves a profound spiritual transformation on the part of the performer, requiring the merging of his own soul with that of the composer; and second, the idea that performance both establishes and collapses apparently intractable dualisms. This structural feature of performance discourse, as well as its content, links the idea of performance to contemporary discussions of consciousness in such a way that performance emerges as a simulacrum of early Romantic subjectivity. At the same time, this discursive structure also finds its way into the more mundane world of pedagogy. Performance thus emerges as more central to the intellectual milieu of Romanticism than has previously been recognized. The structures of discourse established at the turn of the nineteenth century persist in classical music culture today, but devoid of their historical underpinnings.

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