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Abstract

“Speaking of Magic: Enchantment and Disenchantment in Music’s Modernist Ordinary” tracks a predominant fantasy of music in global liberal-capitalist culture: music as “the only real magic.” Although discussion of music’s “magic” has been characterized as a vestige of Romanticism, I argue that it became a cornerstone of ordinary or everyday music discourse at the turn of the twentieth century, around the time that sociologists defined “modernity” as mostly bereft of magic and configured the aesthetic, and especially music, as its remaining stronghold. Juxtaposing claims of magic in ordinary music discourse with a coeval archive of these “disenchantment” narratives, I trace music’s institutionalization as a rare magic in the long historical moment from around 1900 to the present. This history reveals that music remains commonly experienced as “the only real magic” to the extent that it offers not only enjoyable but deeply ameliorative forms of affective connection felt to be scarce in other domains of life. As such, it points to the immense healing power that music has accrued over the last century while also adumbrating the conditions of scarcity from which this potency has emerged. Chapter 1 puts a set of “disenchantment” narratives penned by sociologist Max Weber and his long line of heirs into conversation with a contemporaneous archive of ordinary/everyday music discourse, from newspaper reviews and liner notes to Instagram posts and tweets. Although magic is traditionally aligned with the extraordinary and the exceptional, this chapter shows it to be foundational to music’s modernist ordinary, arguing that since the first decades of the twentieth century “the only real magic” has come to be one of music’s normative forms in “modern” cultures. The subsequent chapters elaborate this preliminary account of magic in two specific musical contexts while also elaborating these musical contexts through magic. Chapter 2 tells the untold story of the recital encore by tracking invocations of magic in exaltations of the solo concert’s encores over its printed program and provides a novel reading of Weber’s theory of magic’s persistence via the recital encore. Chapter 3 recounts a peculiar passion for national anthems that is rooted not in overtly political matters but rather in magic, further developing Weber’s theory through the lens of massed singing. The dissertation concludes by returning to an underexplored tension in Adorno’s disenchantment narrative that brings into relief the potency music has accumulated as “the only real magic” while also pointing toward its constrictions. By excavating a vast repository of unscrutinized music discourse, this dissertation shines a spotlight on what often goes without saying in musicological contexts: magic is modernity’s wish for music.

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