Abstract

The emerging interdisciplinary field of disability studies takes as its subject matter the historical, social, and cultural construction of disability. After a brief introduction to disability studies, this article explores the interconnected histories of disability and music as they are manifested in three theoretical approaches to late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Western art music (the musical Formenlehre and the tonal theories of Schoenberg and Schenker) and in three works by Beethoven and Schubert. Around the turn of the nineteenth century in Western Europe, disability began to be understood not as something natural and permanent but rather as a deviation from a normative standard, and thus subject to possible remediation. In the same time and place, art music also underwent a significant shift (reflected in the more recent theoretical traditions that have grown up around it), one that involved an increasing interest in rhetorically marked deviations from diatonic and formal normativity, and the possibility of their narrative recuperation. The article describes ways in which language about music and music itself may be understood both to represent and construct disability. More generally, it suggests that disability should take its place alongside nationality, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation as a significant category for cultural analysis, including the analysis of music.

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