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Music's debt : a study of poetic influence in mid-eighteenth century German instrumental music Jang, Laurie


The aim of this study is to examine the correspondences of style, technique and aesthetic in poetry and music as it pertains to the musical thought and works of composers centered in Berlin 1740-1760. With the trend toward rational enquiry, the re-affirmation of the Aristotelian theory of imitation, and a return to the ideal of a union of the arts, 18th-century theorists and composers were once again preoccupied with the consanguinity of the "sister" arts of poetry and music. In particular, analogies were made between their materials of expression and the methods by which they achieved their ultimate goal of the imitation of human passions. The "problem" of textless music--i.e., its lack of semantic content--became a primary issue for aesthetic discussion and led to a re-evaluation of music's intrinsic qualities as a medium of expression. Berlin composers working in mid-century were especially susceptible to such aesthetic developments. Led by writer/critics Lessing, Nicolai, and Mendelssohn, a unique literary renaissance characterizing the city was generating wide-spread critical debate on matters concerning the significance and meaning of art. Two major points of discussion among the literati were 1) that since classical times the arts of poetry and music had strayed too far apart, and 2) that music especially needed the support and cognitive power of a poetic text to remain a viable artistic medium. The consequences of these ideas on Berlin composers is immediately apparent in the development of the lied. In this new musical genre which achieved great popularity in Berlin, expression through text and music were considered synonymous as composers worked to close the gap between the two in their technique and methodry. However, the impact of these aesthetic beliefs is not as easily discernible in the instrumental music of mid-eighteenth century Berlin. While it was undisputed that musical tones in themselves contained some indeterminate expressive force, the rationalists' demand for concrete meaning in art led composers to develop and assess their music in terms of poetic criteria. An analysis of their works will illustrate that poetic structure, technique, and materials of expression assumed a primary role in the creation of their art. This study hopes to clarify the relationship between poetry and music through an examination of mid-eighteenth century Berlin's lied aesthetic, and selected instrumental works by J.J. Quantz and C.P.E. Bach composed in Berlin during this period.

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