Temporality in Schubert's Music: Adorno, Heidegger, and the Problem of Repetition

Katie Cattell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Pleas to examine Schubert’s music on its own terms, rather than through a Beethovenian lens, are both widespread and acknowledged to date from Robert Schumann onwards. Despite this, it is equally accepted that the comparison between Beethoven and Schubert remains remarkably prevalent in Schubert scholarship. In sympathy with these calls, this thesis takes several concepts now widely understood to be central to Schubert’s musical processes (the fragment, repetition, wandering and homecoming) and explores their philosophical consequences in Schubert’s music.

Much of what now constitutes the vocabulary for discussing Schubert’s music can be traced back to Theodor W. Adorno, particularly the 1928 essay ‘Schubert’. Adorno’s approach to Schubert is doubtless fruitful, even close to a century later. As this thesis explains, the essay opens up a potential line of Adornian thought running counter to the dominant Adornian narrative about nineteenth-century music, which is entrenched in the Beethovenian-Hegelian paradigm. Instead, the thesis suggests Adorno’s use of thought inherited from early German Romanticism, applied in particular to his reception of both Schubert and Mahler, offers an alternative conception of Austro-German nineteenth-century music through the fragment, can lead to a different reading of Schubert’s musical time.

This alone, however, cannot overcome Adorno’s problematic attitude towards repetition. With that in mind, the thesis turns to Martin Heidegger. Despite Heidegger’s lack of engagement with music, he offers a potential for reading Schubert’s overwhelming use of repetition as an active process. Heidegger’s work places repetition, like wandering and homecoming, against a backdrop of ‘being’ – providing a different temporal model for interrogating Schubert’s use of form: one of ‘being’ rather than becoming. Through using the work of both Heidegger and Adorno, a further understanding will be gained of such philosophical categories and the way they operate in Schubert’s music.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Johnson, Julian, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 2021

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