Critical Theory for Musicology Study Day

  • Rebecca Day (Speaker)

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Subjectivity, Narrative, and Musical Form: Quilting the ‘problem’ of musical analysis

The role of music analysis has been challenged considerably in the recent developments of postmodern musicology: where it was once desirable to discuss a musical work’s structural meaning using formalist theories, these were then seen to alienate a work from its pre-eminent social context. This turn, however, has lead to a split between analysis and aesthetics in its demand for human interest, where analysts have since complained of oversimplification and generalization. Ultimately, then, we are left only with a sense of unease surrounding formal analysis in such a contextual discourse. It certainly cannot be denied that music is as social as it is structural, yet how might these elements of emotion, desire, and subjective identity be more effectively communicated within formal analysis? How might this gap between analysis and aesthetics be reconciled, and what might this mean for musical scholarship?

This paper aims to deal with these questions through a Lacanian response to Adorno’s ‘On the problem of musical analysis’. The processes that Adorno sees as central to the interaction between musical materials and their forms are here mapped onto those of Lacan’s formation of the subject within a modified theory of sexuation in order to first establish the symbolic boundaries of an immanent musical subject. These are then used to offer two alternative readings of Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ Sonata, each ‘quilted’ through reconceptualised ideas of (musical) narrative in order to directly connect this example of musical form to the processes of the subject, and by extension, to cultural and contextual meaning.
Period2 Jul 2016
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map