Romantic Music and the Transmigration of Soul

Thursday Lecture Series, Supernatural

  • Carmel Raz
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].

The survival of musical works as participants in cultural life depends upon the reenactment of patterned sounds through performance or (in the era of mechanical reproduction) playback. But what precisely is reproduced for listeners in such transhistorical resoundings? Music has at least since the Romantic era been conceived of as, among other things, a stimulus to feeling, whether in the form of a generalized “aesthetic experience” or as the transmission of emotions. Are the feelings and experiences inspired by music, then, communicable across time, exhibiting as much (and as little) stability as the patterned sounds that occasion them?

My paper approaches these questions through a reconsideration of the Romantic categories of spirit and soul. I revisit key aspects of Romantic aesthetics in order to construe music as a series of related transmigrations—between human and nonhuman souls, between human souls and musical sounds, and between musical sounds and the later generations who reanimate them (and by which they are animated). Cast in the form of a dialogue with the characters in Friedrich Schelling’s spirit-seeing novel Clara, or, Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World (c. 1810), and drawing on more recent interlocutors such as Elizabeth Grosz and W.E.B. Du Bois, my paper brings contemporary concerns with emergence and the incorporeal to bear on the understanding of music as a form of communication between, as Clara’s narrator puts it, “related souls…separated by centuries.”