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Hanslick on expression in music (1854)

October 21, 2008

In this extract Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904) discusses music and expression.

Curled up half asleep in their easy chairs, these enthusiasts let themselves be carried away and rocked to and fro by the pulsations of the sound, instead of considering it with sharpened attention. as it more and more increases, subsides, exults, or dies away, it transports them into an indefinite state of feeling, which they are so innocent as to consider purely spiritual. They form the “most grateful” public and the one that is fit to discredit most surely the value of music. The aesthetic feature of spiritual enjoyment escapes their listening entirely.

Composing is an activity of the human mind, working in the material capable of becoming the symbol of spirit. We have found this music material abundant, elastic and pervious to the imagination of the artist….But the tonal combinations, in whose relationships the beautiful in music consists, are secured not by the composer’s stringing them together mechanically, but by the free creativeness of his imagination. Thus the spiritual power and individuality of this particular imagination imprints itself upon the result as character. As the creation of a thinking and feeling spirit, accordingly, a musical composition has to a high degree the potentiality of being itself full of spirit and feeling. We shall demand this spiritual content in every work of art, yet it is not to be ascribed to any consideration other than the tonal configurations themselves.

E Hanslick, On the Beautiful in Music: A Contribution to the Revisal of Musical Aesthetics (1854), 11th edition.

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