Abstract

Eduard Hanslick's Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (1854) is the single most important document in the history of the construct known as absolute music, the idea that music functions as an entirely self-contained and self-referential art. Hanslick deleted—and did not replace—the final paragraph of the first edition, cutting most of it for the second edition of 1858 and the remainder for the third edition of 1865. This original ending evokes imagery that stands out from most of the rest of the treatise, including references to the “great motions of the cosmos” and “profound and secret connections to nature.” Scholars have pointed to the apparent inconsistencies of both tone and substance in this paragraph over and against the rest of the treatise to explain its later deletion but have not suggested why Hanslick might have ended his treatise in this way originally. The evocation of “connections to nature” points to the influence of Naturphilosophie, a mode of thought particularly prevalent in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century that posited a basic unity of all nature. Proponents of Naturphilosophie, including such major figures as Schelling, Ritter, Goethe, and Ørsted, believed that the basic forces of nature were all interconnected. Ernst Chladni's demonstrations of the geometric patterns that could be created by sound under certain conditions fascinated his contemporaries and provide an example of how motion, sound, form, and beauty might all be interrelated. Hanslick saw tönend bewegte Formen (“forms set in motion through tones”) as the essence of music, and his original ending suggests that the kind of motion resulting in sound was related to the motions at work in physics, light, magnetism, and other forces, the “great motions of the cosmos.”

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