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Title: Historicizing Absolute Music: Toward an Anti-Philosophy of Absolute Music
Authors: Principi, Dylan J
Advisors: Morrison, Simon A
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: Absolute music
Topic Theory
Subjects: Music history
Music theory
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation traces the intellectual history of topic theory since 1980 in order to observe how the nineteenth-century idea of “absolute music” continues to determine the evolution of musical interpretation. On one hand, this dissertation will be valuable to anyone with an interest in topic theory. Scholars of eighteenth-century music were analyzing topics for fourteen years before Robert Hatten gave his definition of a topic as “a complex musical correlation originating in a kind of music . . . used as part of a larger work.” Since then, the study of topics has spread to musical repertoires earlier and later than the eighteenth century, both within and far beyond the borders of Western Europe. Topic theory has sustained a presence on conference proceedings since its inception, and the rise of digital humanities will perpetuate that presence. Yet in spite of the publication of The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory, no one has described topic theory as a practice, charted its developments, mapped out its debates, or articulated its promises. On the other hand, the intellectual history of topic theory offers a window onto something broader that undergirds musicological thought in general. An increasing number of thinkers are grappling with the problem of musical exceptionalism—the belief that music is special among the arts. In the nineteenth century, musical exceptionalism yielded the concept of “absolute music,” described by Carl Dahlhaus as an ideology that posits music as a pure concept by excising its “extramusical” elements. In practice, absolute music has always been defined negatively, in terms of what it is not. Meanwhile, the category of the “extramusical” is notoriously slippery, since it has been used to separate numerous things (lyrics, emotion, narrative, historical context) from “music itself.” Employing Alain Badiou’s method of “anti-philosophy,” this dissertation argues that the binary between music and the extramusical, which topic theory exploits, has been used not only to guarantee the “truth” or “rigor” of certain musical interpretations but also as a political cudgel. In the end, the distinction is an illusion made possible by language and has nothing to do with the ontology of music.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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