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Abstract

This dissertation shows how material practices of composer-veneration—such as the sanctification of composers’ bodily remains as relics and their houses as shrines—served as a powerful cultural force that shaped understandings of these composers’ music. In Germany and Austria, it was common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to cherish locks of hair or autograph manuscripts as relics, to visit birth- and death-sites on pilgrimage, and to idealize pathology as if artists were suffering saints. The same listeners who idealized music as transcendent found themselves fascinated by traces of the composer’s body, a form of secular object-fetishism that was expressed with the vocabulary of Catholicism. Art-religion (Kunstreligion) was not only a philosophy that made art spiritual in an age of secularism; it was also practiced by music-lovers who endowed objects and spaces with sacred meaning. My case studies on the relics and houses of Beethoven and Mozart reveal that transcendent sound and material bodies served essentially the same function: both were tickets into literate society for a German middle class that defined itself by Bildung, which promised upward mobility through self-cultivation. While musicologists have made casual references to saintly composers and hagiographic biographies, the discipline has tended to dismiss these popular practices as ephemera on the fringes of music history. I argue that the impulse to collect or consecrate material traces encouraged a biographical form of listening that sought the composer’s presence in the work.

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