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Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and the Music of the Literary: Romantic Irony as the Undoing of Genre

General Programming

dateNovember 18, 2010 timeThursday, 12:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Columbia University

Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata, an emblematic work for piano written in 1802, has been at the center of heated debates on the nature of musical form. In this sonata Beethoven introduced a “whole new approach” to composition that continues to challenge generic notions of what is known within musicology as “sonata form.” Edgardo Salinas’s paper reinterpreted Beethoven’s stylistic evolution through the prism of the literary critique articulated by the early Jena Romantics. Seen in this light the “Tempest” stands in a relationship of “cognitive consonance” with the modern notions of self-reflexive form spelled out in Schlegel’s theory of irony and Hölderlin’s analysis of Greek tragedy. For the Jena Romantics, irony was meant to expose the arbitrariness of any system of representation and, by the same token, best expressed the emptiness at the core of the subject sanctioned by Kant. The supreme Romantic gesture lay in understanding that the modern self is haunted by an inner absence that only poetry can momentarily soothe. In the “Tempest,” Beethoven staged a dramatic absence that, ironically, works as the structural core of the entire form and ostensibly epitomizes the crisis of the subject that constitutes the metaphysical foundation of all Romanticism.

  • Edgardo Salinas Department of Music History The Juilliard School