Much has been written about the importance of music and music making to Nietzsche's life and works as a whole, and the relevance of his philosophy for particular composers, repertoires, and works. Meanwhile, music historians and philosophers have approached Nietzsche's musical aesthetics by way of larger nineteenth-century paradigms such as “absolute” music or the history of “metaphysics.” This article explores Nietzsche's philosophical writings on music from the 1870s as they reveal the emergence of his critical outlook on Romantic aesthetics and the musical culture of his time. Against the backdrop of more recent debates about material culture and aesthetics in current musicology, it traces the development of his critical ideas about musical expression and listening as presented in his published and unpublished texts, concentrating on the period from Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geist der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 1872) to the first volume of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (Human, All Too Human, 1878). Rather than foreground Nietzsche's relationship with particular composers or works, it illuminates his double relationship with music as actual compositional practice in society and as an idealist metaphor for philosophy.

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