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Knowledge, Self, and the Aurality of the Immaterial

Richard Leppert

Michael P. Steinberg. Listening to Reason: Culture, Subjectivity, and Nineteenth-Century
Music. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. xiv, 246pp.


ichael Steinberg’s cultural analysis of (mostly) nineteenth-century
central European art music addresses what he terms “music’s capacity
to think, to argue, and to develop the position of a thinking, feeling
subject in juxtaposition with a multiple and challenging cultural and political
world” (p.xi). Steinberg thereby marks his project’s affinity to a distinguished
body of other recent scholarship by the likes of Lawrence Kramer1 and Berthold
Hoeckner,2 among others: but complements, not replicates. He starts with Mozart
operas and ends with Mahler symphonies, visiting along the way the music of
Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Wagner in detail, and a number of other
composers’ works more briefly, including that of Brahms,Verdi, Dvoˇrák, Janáˇcek,
Schoenberg, and Berg. Steinberg’s fundamental concern is music’s agency in the
production and maintenance of subjectivity. His temporal locus, beginning with
late Classicism, includes the history of Romanticism (broadly conceived) and
its aftermath, organized around post-Enlightenment notions of the subject qua
individual, with individuality registered as the defining principle—historical, not
ontological—of human worth. Steinberg considers the highly contingent history
1. Lawrence Kramer, Opera and Modern Culture:Wagner and Strauss (Berkeley and Los Angeles: u
California p, 2004).
2. Berthold Hoeckner, Programming the Absolute: Nineteenth-Century German Music and the Hermeneutics of the Moment (Princeton: Princeton up, 2002).

Beethoven Forum
Fall 2005,Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 176–194
© 2005 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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is that the aesthetic materiality around which he constructs his study is the least material of the arts.BF12_2. and political events and discourses. and intersubjective stakes of subjectivity were matters of intense and quite endless debate across the discursive terrain. for which reason it was of course particularly valorized during the increasingly dystopian materialism of the period he investigates. Steinberg’s book is also very much about cultural divisions in Europe: north versus south. Any pretense to being a subject requires the possession of a credible claim to one’s autonomy. The point he seeks to advance is that during the long nineteenth century (roughly 1780–1914) the internalized structure. social. but the trouble is that autonomy turns out to be rather more of an advertisement for “individuality” than a mundane reality. which is to say that claims to autonomy are more than slightly chimerical. Subjectivity. and consumption. But more. his focus is on self-knowledge and difference.indd 177 11/3/05 9:32:11 AM . all of it at once enmeshed in ideology and politics. Both are radically contingent. given material form in aesthetic discourse. Adorno. concerning both of whom more follows. from aesthetics to psychology. particularly within modernity. like history itself. (In the late modernity of our own 03. the subject’s purported autonomy keeps running headlong into the lived experience of subjection. In the end. east versus west.The instrumental realities of modernity gave birth to the modern subject and simultaneously produced the multiple sites of abjection and aporia against which the subject. In the end. and critical to Steinberg’s understanding. That is. Subjectivity sets the boundaries for the actuality of modern subjecthood. Subjects. religious. In this respect. Self. Steinberg outlines the history of the sound of trauma. which together help to establish the parameters of what counted as “quality” humanity. The musical culture of his concern is set against a broad range of contemporaneous aesthetic. of which he is keenly aware.177 Knowledge. just as self-examination produces subjectivity. In addition. criticism. as Foucault has taught us. would struggle. rather than as a fixed essence inhabiting subjects. is a property of modern history that. and its subjectivity. Freud—and to very good purpose—but also. are subjected. and this can be of little surprise. with Dr. Steinberg is concerned with the intellectual history of—the thinking about—the immateriality of feeling and selfhood. and the Aurality of the Immaterial of subjectivity as manifested in musical production. The irony here. subjectivity locates the subject in a state of perpetual self-examination. He puts a distinguished assembly of Germanspeaking composers (along with the occasional non-German cultural other) in conversation with Dr. social organization. the actuality of subjectivity as the commonly perceived fundamental determining principle of both modern being and being modern.176-194. was up for grabs. especially as made audible in music. Steinberg articulates subjectivity as a phenomenon in motion. in other words. through which he traces one historical constant.

See Roland Barthes. does not mean producing representation.5 (original emphasis). with.” in Roland Barthes. The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music. by the instrumentalization of language itself.4).“Listening. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: u Minnesota p. “What was this music ‘trying to do’?” (p. Art. the return of the repressed that insists upon being heard. in other words. and against culture and history. however ironically. the secret3 that demands to be known.BF12_2. The concretion of representation available in language (real language. in other words. there would be no urgent need for music in the first place. 1985).176-194. not “mere” language-like music) as well as in visual forms of expression (whose indexicality in modernity insists on the worth of a thousand words) would do the trick nicely. As regards Steinberg’s particular concern. Subjectivity is a cultural-historical phenomenon simultaneously acting-out in. Music pushes back. Subjectivity stands “firmly” on the slippery ground of the renegotiation of perpetual difference—one where self. other.” according to the most basic principles of Romanticist aesthetics for which music is the “language” of the unspeakable that must be spoken. Music hears history. it’s trying to speak: as an “I. as with the uncommunicability of modern communications media organized around the principles of the culture industry. the self and the world. 03.178 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt present. The “task” of music. p. the long-established ideological foundations informing the belief systems defining subjectivity are increasingly difficult to keep well hidden. pp. but also to listen. Being heard in this sense.Were all this simply a matter of making plain that which. music “makes audible what is essential in the contradictions of the developed societies: an anxiety-ridden quest for lost difference. (at best) acknowledges contradiction and even insists on it.” in regard to which he repeatedly asks the question. Subjectivity is work in progress. 4. Noise:The Political Economy of Music.indd 178 11/3/05 9:32:11 AM . whispers in large part silenced. Well. despite all claims to the contrary. Jacques Attali. not least. and Representation. music gives voice to the silences imposed 3. music can listen for the whispers drowned out by the dominant discourses of modernist historisicm.) Steinberg recognizes subjectivity as a mode of experience rife with internal contradiction and inhabiting the uncertain boundary between autonomy and integration. hadn’t as yet been said. Steinberg’s book principally addresses what he calls “the making of subjectivity. and otherness are by no means easily distinguished.247–49. In the words of Jacques Attali. 1985). however. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang. trans. is to accomplish what representation cannot: to “speak” the unspeakable. by contrast. trans. for whatever reason. following a logic from which difference is banished. It’s performed—and it has its own aesthetics.”4 Music. between.

.10). which he describes as an intersubjective psychological act. to learn the (political) art of subjectivity” (p. at the same time it lays bare what stands in the way of autonomy’s actuality. Self. “the pun in ‘listening to reason’ grasps these mutualities: listening to music takes place at the same time as music (invested with the fiction of subjectivity) listens and reasons. and not least. Here follows what he means. Barthes.179 Knowledge. which he notes is a physiological phenomenon. Don Giovanni. through the silence of listening. Steinberg argues. may let us hear the truth. but principally as a marketing ploy. 7. Le nozze di Figaro.”7 Barthes’s concern here is neither music nor music listening. Music. As a false claim for “I. it creates transference:‘listen to me’ means touch me.”5 Listening invokes the other: “The injunction to listen is the total interpellation of one subject by another: . starting with Mozart.18).indd 179 11/3/05 9:32:11 AM . 5. namely. As Steinberg explains his book’s title. know that I exist.” it serves as a distraction from everything that prevents the actual realization of what the sanction appears to promote. The threat of power to individuality. that music speaks as a “mode of intersubjectivity” (p. of course. however. precisely because the autonomy on which individuality hinges is always already fully enmeshed in what it seeks to transcend: the historicity of discourse incorporating culture. the human unconscious. and listening. Subjectivity is broadly sanctioned as a cornerstone of modernity. Ibid. The music Steinberg considers acknowledges the principle of autonomy as the foundation for modern selfhood. listening in order to reason. .BF12_2. and the Aurality of the Immaterial on subjectivity. It’s hardly surprising that Mozart’s late comedies address subjectivity with an intense focus.176-194. is not simply imposed externally. it is also and at the same time the result of the culturally defined self at odds with itself—a self that has internalized the external. and Così fan tutte differentially enact personal freedom through what Steinberg names “ongoing negotiations between individuality and power” (p.” p. 03.252 (original emphasis). The auditor. “Listening. pp. Barthes distinguishes between hearing.250–51 (original emphasis).. which thus presumes reciprocity: “’I am listening’ also means ‘listen to me’. .9). intersubjectively answers back: “listening [thus] speaks. 6. a second. as it were. given the increasing cultural urgency for the promulgation and promotion of subjectivity as the foundation for principle of general emancipation already well evident by the late eighteenth century. ideology.”6 Under conditions where the auditor is successfully interpellated by the speaker. Ibid. pp. but his point coincides with what Steinberg is after. but listening as such.246. silent interpellation occurs.

whether secco or accompanied. makes quite the point of its own self-limitation. the old order. Call it foreplay. But not as a fixed phenomenon. theater (and court) is saved for music. darkly bright music. and name what it activates: desire—the pull of subjectivity. by the optimism Mozart assigns to contradiction. Mozart. the real—the secret. after all. To the extent that recitative. relies precisely on da Ponte’s richly smart-assed turns of phrase. musical (in arias and ensembles).” when words ultimately fail. challenge the very existence of that on which they depend: official culture.176-194. and to the certainty of uncertainty. it raises the stakes of the “real” music when it finally bursts forth. sung. without quite being able to escape the usual. calling forth music as their supplément that is in truth their sine qua non.180 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt In Mozart. In short. which stage subjectivity by making it lavishly. as they always must. hence one might say an early modern relative of the Odysseus defined by 03. the new is set within the old. The saving grace. subjectivity gets staged—both literally and metaphorically—and. Mozart’s comedies. and it takes three stagings and a lot of mouthy texts (much of it very secco) to lay the ground work and at the same time justify the lavishness of these operas’ lengthy musical “moments. If the argument for theater in the late eighteenth century relies on its ability both to articulate and aestheticize official power. and the reality of (still) being subjected. in other words. Steinberg suggests that Don Giovanni is a subject with power who stands against power. isn’t so much “reporting” in these operas as exploring. and music for whomever wants to hear it.BF12_2. Recitative. Aria delivers the qualitative. kings and queens.indd 180 11/3/05 9:32:11 AM . after all. Mozart’s recitative delivers the facts. not less than the noncomic aporia of mutually assured destruction. better. In Mozart. which serves to set things up nicely for what’s going to matter a great deal more than a torrent of half-musical words. in which subjectivity plays back seat to rather more broadly determinant urgencies such as domain and orthodoxy. and that’s the point. the Baroque opera of gods and goddesses. the inner self. matched by Mozart’s wryly tuneful. Mozart’s comedies. might seem to offer the dominant culture. All of this is at once staged within hearing distance of establishment musical and theatrical convention. Spit it out as fast as possible and get to what really matters. and that not least is precisely the means and point of the enterprise of these musical intrusions into mundane experience. underwritten by the erotics of sonority promised by the aria. even excessively. tantalizes our ears with the promise of what it refuses to give us. it is quantitative and utterly mundane. that which prevents such an outcome. Dialectics at work. In Mozart. which underwrites these operas’ very existence. in essence the person. we hear the delicious instability of what counts as being both modern and a subject. each needs yet abhors its other.

but it’s not on that account just another comedy of manners. wants a piece of the subjectivity’s action. namely. In the parlance of our own sixties recently past. the pain directed outward and inward. clearly.181 Knowledge. Beaumarchais. set within a regime of crass power politics exercised at the level of the very personal. patriarchy confronts its offspring. Così fan tutte lavishes itself on the subjectivities of its happily conflicted characters but. and Mozart license. religious in fervor. in a word. after all. Figaro marks the reality that the personal is political. staged in the uncertain and contingent theater of modern marriage. In truth. Or. the putative housing arrangements within the castle are risible and obvious to everyone except young Figaro. Adopting a Foucauldian insight. ironically. A little license has to be granted to set up this elaborate and very satisfying joke. just like the pleasure. and the Aurality of the Immaterial Adorno and Horkheimer. but its reality is both contemporary and. a blockhead when it comes to recognizing his boss’s sexual predation. His investment in the politics of class and gender. the lord of the manor didn’t really have rights to maidenhead. Steinberg aptly suggests that Le nozze di Figaro “is explicitly about the subject defined as the body with rights” (p. the real war. Steinberg focuses a lot of warranted attention on Figaro as family romance. Figaro comes at all this without the allegorical baggage of Don Giovanni—there’s no hectoring statuary at the most inopportune moments.indd 181 11/3/05 9:32:12 AM . over what it means to lay claim to oneself. Figaro confronts the Jetztzeit (to borrow Benjamin’s wonderful neologism)—highlighting an urgency that cannot be captured by invoking the mere Gegenwart. precisely at the expense of their interpersonal relations. and he gets it. and. Figaro. Figaro legitimates desire. though maybe at a cost that is only sorted out in the last of these comic operas.176-194. and being pretend-autonomous.BF12_2. da Ponte. familiar. In short. We duly provide Beaumarchais. Self. Revolution (however comic) is in the air. less sadist than masochist. after all. was lost on no one who liked to read. was only too well known in Vienna and thereabouts to the East. and here Freud makes a grand entrance. but more than a bit of both. pain and pleasure also serve as the foundation for his being a genuine thorn in the side of entrenched authority. emergent modern. the set-up is not far from sit-com. Pain and pleasure serve Don Giovanni as the foundation for life. to give the matter the seriousness it deserves. living. and the results are not just Oedipal but political.20)—though without guarantees. but we do so in order to get at rather more than just the funny stuff. The opera is a little like the spate of current reality TV shows in which every turn and twist of real or would-be relationships is held up for the pleasures of seeing an endless 03. Figaro is set to the west of central Europe. with his focus on the anxieties of the bourgeoisie (never mind the virtual ontological status the good doctor grants this social class).

pp. but also. links social theory to history and as well to composers’ practice.28). Martin Clayton. “Subjectivity Rampant! Music. 2003). Or Mozart’s comedy boils down to a warning: Vorsicht! Subjectivity Rampant!8 In Così. except by means of general inference. even when he parts company). and History. “subjectivity is marked here as an unmanageable erotic energy” (p.21). hence how all this works itself out in sonority remains largely unexplained. and probably before too long. nothing is so masked and masking as subjectivity. confronts subjectivity on the contested terrain of Baroque and modern. ultimately structured in the foreknowledge of the social guarantee that at least half of all these enactments of self through desire will fall flat. (Steinberg’s discussion of Così.176-194. 03. In particular. 8. in the way that divine law is inscribed as both absolute and absolutely foreign. They assert themselves first as a foreign force. and action. musically prefiguring and opposing a Catholic representational world (p. and indeed throughout his book. and more important. addresses plot and narrative over specifically musical considerations. Structurally and retroactively they can be incorporated into a surrounding harmonic logic. These two chords are acoustic impositions.124–35. Life and experience are both masked and masking. Catholic and Protestant. as these are manifest not simply in the plot.” in The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction. from whom Steinberg has learned a great deal.BF12_2.indd 182 11/3/05 9:32:12 AM . far more than Don Giovanni or Figaro. for example. he attends to the compositional choices that shape the musical discourses surrounding the nature of the subject as marked by subjectivity. Operatic lives find their reality in the experience not of characters but of human beings whose lives are fully enmeshed by the movements of history. at heart not less than a macroeconomy of (largely unrequited) desires. In Steinberg’s words. words. ed. See Lawrence Kramer.) Steinberg here.182 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt string of missteps and deceptions. and Richard Middleton (New York: Routledge. things just aren’t what they seem. in the singing voice and the orchestra. but. sadly. Hermeneutics. Don Giovanni. What we have here is an instantiation of a Reformation and Old Testament idea of divine authority. originating and remaining outside the symbolic order that the opera will soon define through music. Both make possible what counts as the modern subject. Steinberg is interested in the materiality of his subject. but that incorporation functions itself as an ideological absorption of their externality and violence. Thus Steinberg treats the opening chords of Don Giovanni as shocks (a favorite and richly loaded term borrowed from Adorno. Trevor Herbert.

are the “worldly energies. 45–62. 1983). Music and Image: Domesticity. despite the notable authority with which Steinberg discusses music. as sung by Figaro.Allanbrook. which confirms that the young husband-to-be finally gets it.indd 183 11/3/05 9:32:12 AM . Lilt is out the window. Wye J. pp. 1988). Allanbrook. A bit of score would have allowed Steinberg the better to concretize this description for the benefit of his larger point.45). the second time a sustained F-major note.176-194. Ideology and Socio-Cultural Formation in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge up.99–103. it’s not to be danced in 9. Steinberg misses the irony of Mozart’s use of minuet rhythm. and the Aurality of the Immaterial What follows. Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart:“Le nozze di Figaro” and “Don Giovanni” (Chicago: u Chicago p. Self. On this score there’s something to be at once admired and regretted. and Richard Leppert.] The third utterance of the word is followed by an eighth-note rest (a full beat. 03. Steinberg doesn’t. is furious. there are occasional misfires. Not the least remarkable thing about this oftenremarkable book is the skill with which Steinberg. regretted to the extent that printed examples would.10 First. while the aria opens 3 in 4 time. which is tantamount to suggesting that he will invert the social order. meets the analytical demands of musicology well more than halfway. See also Frits Noske. it might as well be stated here that.183 Knowledge. long syllable on ‘coronar’ twice generates a delaying vocal ornamentation—the first time a broken F-major (tonic) chord. Steinberg’s account of all three operas works through each of the major characters. pp.Thus in his discussion of Figaro and “Se vuol ballare.” mq 67 (1981).” those of ordinary social life encompassing both the “high” of the (Catholic) aristocracy and the “low” of the peasantry. as beautifully explained some years ago in the long-famous essay by Wye Allanbrook. 106–07. Figaro. or long pause” (p.79–82.9 While I’m on the subject. He critiques Figaro 3 for textually claiming that he’ll “call the tune. that is. Musical examples would likewise help to anchor the authority of the analysis and.BF12_2. he will now call the tune. the European anthem of his aristocratic social betters.” while singing to the 4 time of the minuet. As he puts it. Throughout the text there are sentences such as: “The final. open the possibility for the reader to engage Steinberg’s argument more effectively. at the same time. Metaphorically.Wye J. in the second section of the overture. after all. it possesses none of the minuet’s graceful lilt. which follows the passage quoted. an historian not a musicologist. in Steinberg’s reading. their music in particular. “Metric Gesture as a Topic in Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. for musicologists—if not necessarily for many others—provide more than the mere convenience of not taxing so much memory.” ml 50 (1969). “Social Tensions in Le nozze di Figaro. [A note as such is neither major nor minor.” Figaro’s act I aria. 10. admired to the extent that in the total absence of a single printed musical example Steinberg finds language adequate to making clear what happens in sound. since we are in 68 time) marked with a fermata. to be sure. replaced by a nearly percussive accenting of beats.

184 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt embroidered slippers but in something closer to jackboots. Scott Burnham.12 Essentially. By so doing. More to the point.” takes up from Burnham11 and Dahlhaus.) Autonomy in Beethoven. 03. there’s a very brief transition. Steinberg’s Beethoven chapter. After Mozart. (By contrast. 12. and Carl Dahlhaus. a contradanse. precisely this quality coincides perfectly with the emergence of bourgeois centeredness and. 1989). rhythmically entirely impossible to dance to. authority for Wagner. Roger Lustig (Chicago: u Chicago p. trans. trans.BF12_2. a hint of what’s coming. Second. the heroics are abstract. In all three operas. the overthrow of this old dance (and all that it aestheticizes) in favor of something new.176-194. Mozart disrupts the minuet in a way that would cause chaos on the ballroom floor. reaches beyond aesthetics into the realm of politics and to absolutism. heroism and abstraction together produce a musical rhetoric of refusal. The Idea of Absolute Music. Mary Whittall (New York: Oxford up. if only with a wink. a vocal passage that reverts virtually to the boundary of a fast-moving recitative. however. Steinberg suggests. is anti-absolutist. Its claim is to its own formal integrity—though. With Beethoven.The music has no taint of nationalism. He’s hinting by the second-beat accents what’s coming in the aria’s B section. manifest in the music’s critique of representation. a foretaste of a swirling mob (if only from the point of view of those wearing slippers) of oppositional energy—and insistent subjectivity. He suggests that Beethovenian abstraction is compatible with the “first-generation argument about autonomous music” (pp. 1991). without warning. he accents the second beat of some measures. Steinberg points to Wagner’s move away from a concept of musical autonomy and independence to one of authority. Beethoven Hero (Princeton: Princeton up. subjectivity is no longer a game. da Ponte/Mozart take us partway down the road to modernity and the modern subject. it’s a matter of life and death. namely. Steinberg’s purpose is to “stake out the terms of analysis of Beethoven’s aesthetic as an aesthetic of abstraction” (p. some semblance of the old regime is restored. But by the end of each.indd 184 11/3/05 9:32:12 AM . Mozart then makes an abrupt switch to a duple-time Allegro. the symbolic order of the ancien régime. and specifically with Beethoven on the scene. 1995). one that would produce even more trouble on the dance floor. Steinberg maintains that abstraction is the key element of Beethoven’s heroic style. there’ll be no more fluttering of the eye. Carl Dahlhaus. and this escapes Steinberg’s notice entirely. subtitled “Beethoven: Heroism and Abstraction. to state the matter 11.61–62) and is not coterminous with Wagner’s codification of the idea and ideology of absolute music that came after the fact.61). Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to His Music. to be sure. contra the minuet. he belittles the dance and what it stands in for. Before the change.

03. 1999). Steinberg argues. which Beethoven works hard to keep offstage. so to speak. and Leon Plantinga. W.4. as Steinberg puts it. is that the Orpheus story that we might imagine referenced in this brief movement is not narrated but merely cited. not represented or repeated by or in the music. most personified bearer of Beethovenian heroic subjectivity. The music makes itself personal. Orpheus and the Furies. except to the extent that it serves as a citation for.13 “For such a first-person voice accrues as a kind of awakening critique of (baroque) power—again. but quoted. and not serving as a stand-in for something else or someone other. of “freedom and abandonment” (p.67).indd 185 11/3/05 9:32:13 AM . The baroque and the modern. it eschews the authority and central command of Catholicism for the noncentralized. Like others.“Beethoven’s ‘Orpheus in Hades’:The Andante con moto of the Fourth Piano Concerto.What this boils down to is that the heroism (gendered male) of Beethoven’s music does not represent (depict) the hero.72). Style.185 Knowledge. Representation. in polemical dialogue” (pp. which now seems capable of negotiating every obstacle except 13. Steinberg here critically engages Owen Jander. intertwined. is carried by Leonore (“the most articulated. theology of Protestantism (and this despite Beethoven’s own putative Catholicism). . Abstraction in Beethoven. Beethoven reinvents classical rhetorical.” 19cm 8 (1985).70). and self-critique. possessing its own voice. with reference to the emergent bourgeoisie in the immediate aftermath and uncertainties of 1789. itself fully complimentary to the composer’s considerable anxieties about his family’s class origins and social standing. the refusal of representation in what Wagner will name absolute music.176-194.BF12_2. as well as North German and Protestant cultural style” (p. as Steinberg puts it. Steinberg hears the music of post-Eroica Beethoven as post-heroic. individualized. 195–212.“being like Orpheus”:“Nineteenth-century audiences heard a music talking about itself in a critical and generous spirit. Self. as a correlative to the music’s production of subjectivity. Norton. and with regard to the middle movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto. altogether nothing if not permanently conflicted—a combination. Stated in the terms of religious difference. a “reinscription of the dialogical and critical rhetorics of classicism into a music of profound self-consciousness—and that in the dual meanings of selfawareness . The point for Steinberg. Beethoven’s Concertos: History.66–67). the historical gorilla standing in the wings. precisely in order to gain distance from it. Through the formal inscription of this interiority. engaged with its world and with its listeners” (p. Steinberg hears in Beethoven the spiritual underpinning of bourgeois aspiration.The heroic in the Beethoven post-heroic. nonetheless invokes that which it denies. is the present absence. . chap. Performance (New York: W. hence less absolutist or authoritarian. self-centeredness (not the same thing). rather the music is the hero. and the Aurality of the Immaterial more crassly.

“’You Must Remember This’: Memory and Structure in Schubert’s G-Major String Quartet (D.The principle issue organizing his thought is what he terms Biedermeier music’s sounding “an awareness of its past” (p. he reads Mendelssohn’s compositional practice as a mediation between subjectivity and community. melancholy. Steinberg takes up the problematics of the middle. Steinberg is at pains to understand both his personal and musical biography. especially the former to which Steinberg devotes a great deal of space. 582–603. Steinberg links these realities to music. The family part revolves in particular around the Oedipal match between Felix and his father. and the vital ghost of Beethoven. quasi-lost generation between Beethoven and Wagner. 604–18. Leonore is the most austere of bourgeois.15 these composers self-reflexively confronted history tout court and recent music history.186 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt the politics of gender” [p. D. the father/son dialectic. She is Athena” (p.” mq 84 (2000). Walter Frisch. “Schumann’s piano is the site of the private. did not lead him to become less self-conscious that he was a Jew. 887). Steinberg insists that Leonore is ever the hero. Steinberg’s effort is to sort through just what this means. to Mendelssohn’s Paulus and its conversion narrative—Steinberg’s interest is in the oratorio’s male duets.indd 186 11/3/05 9:32:13 AM . never the heroine. Protestant goddesses. Concerning Mendelssohn. she saves men for the world: “in the multiply displaced pantheon of modernity.BF12_2. temporality has become a problem that impacts the material reality of composing and the subjectivities of those who compose. which. “’One More Beautiful Memory of Schubert’: Schumann’s Critique of the Impromptus. Steinberg sees him—this composer who “looked back” so self-reflexively toward Bach (“as a musician Mendelssohn may have been a historian” [p. for example.95). and so on. reacting with varying degrees of culture shock. In particular. Put simply. 935.122])—as someone who addressed the past in order to emerge into the newness of an already evident future. 15. for Schumann history constitutes the instantiation of the uncanny.73]). The point of much of this discussion revolves once again around family drama and romance.176-194. especially. however. replete with the latter’s urging his son’s assimilation in the majority creed.” mq 84 (2000). the 14. John Daverio. which he reads as expressions of a reestablished harmony between father and son. discussing Mendelssohn at considerable length.83). nostalgia. From Beethoven to Biedermeier. in particular the history of German Protestantism set within and against the composer’s Christian conversion. and Schubert and Schumann more briefly. 03. as has been well established by scholars like Walter Frisch14 and John Daverio. If Mendelssohn ultimately orders history.

Here. Beethoven. the other by what he terms “the family history of music drama. In a way.BF12_2. Much of what Steinberg is after involves social psychology. Wagner. He considers two families. after identifying the existence and essence of absolute music. 03. with his account of the uncanny as “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us. on the couch. once very familiar. the George Washington of modern music. and the Aurality of the Immaterial secret. and. the unhomely. the “whole” that Listening to Reason organizes.176-194.187 Knowledge. once again. The Ring plays the role of attempting to rescue and redeem some form of heroic subjectivity against the corruptions of modernity.” in Sigmund Freud.As to the former. and thereby also of the unheimlich: the uncanny. claimed it for the German nation. that is.Wagner nationalizes the operatic music industry. he establishes a line of succession from musical father to musically precocious son. 1925). As for the family drama of the music itself. But whereas Chéreau’s time line encompasses 1870 to 1920. 369–70. In brief. the whole of the long nineteenth century. Collected Papers. Steinberg argues that Wagner’s music confronts the history of absolute music for which the composer claimed naming rights. history is at once privatized and domesticated.124).indd 187 11/3/05 9:32:13 AM . rather than those accruing from mere association or empathy. (London: Hogarth Press. one of the now and would-be future—institutionalized in form and sound. 5 vols. spills its secrets. that is. in which the Ring itself figures as the most prominent progeny” (p. music listens to the historical moment while an emergent nation. to be sure. aptly program a powerful ideological and distinctly political charge.“The Uncanny. not simply by telling the story in music of subjectivity’s quasi-universal decline and fall but also and more important by institutionalizing this critique in a new music. institutionalized in situ in the materially imposing reality of the Bayreuth shrine.. the heimlich. Steinberg’s Wagner chapter returns with force to the matter of family romance within the context of music drama. IV. the radical defamiliarization of the most familiar” (p. Freud assumes center stage. The “strictly” musical values of absolute music. Steinberg’s chronology is a good deal longer. where family meets Nation. the one circumscribed by the narrative. antiprogrammatic by definition. made radically inward and distinctly first-person. Steinberg riffs from the 1976 Bayreuth production by Patrice Chéreau staged as a historical allegory of German modernity set within the familial milieu of the Grossbürgertum. Sigmund Freud. Self. Joan Riviere et al.Wagner names his daddy. The story is one of perpetual crisis in which those experiencing the crisis conduct the analysis of their own suffering.133). trans. and he claims legitimacy for his annexation by insisting on the rights of inheritance. By this 16.”16 With Schumann.

Steinberg points to a special class of affective relationship common to nineteenth-century Germany. Siegfried.151). and to identification with empire. the role of the past in defining an uncertain future. composed between 1868 and 1890.176-194. For example. progeny of incest. as he will. Indeed. and Dvoˇrák. commonly associated with national and 03. taking up the private-public dialectic common to bourgeois modernity. instead to typify a larger whole concerning which no volume this size could accommodate. . constitutes the move from subjectivity to identity. Siegmund “in his unique psychological delicacy and complexity” embodies the Biedermeier crisis over history. but in gaining Sieglinde he finds his “true Self in a real Other” (p.142). if not always (see below). to a brave new world. brother-sister affections in this period. what he terms “a classic site of the countermodernizing affective bond” (p.143). Steinberg illustrates his argument through several key moments in the Ring. this serves Steinberg’s purposes well. Welcome to 1848. rife with contradiction between outward projections of power fueled by capital. Specifically. and which Steinberg understands “as massive utterances of collective voices and wills .” Within this context. As he makes clear. dangerously encroach on the incest taboo. that between brother and sister. and the overdraft is way too much to ignore. Siegmund violates a taboo. and love and interiority.BF12_2.Wagner deftly assigns to himself the inheritance of the symphonic tradition to invest. For the most part. This then constitutes the one success story of the music drama to the extent that the autonomous self finds intimacy (sameness and difference embrace). . on the one hand. momentarily producing the semblance of reconciliation. Steinberg’s chapter on the nation takes up death and commemoration in the musical guise of the requiem. His personality marks the hope and defeat of subjectivity” (p. Siegmund’s self-feminization is charged against his account as a hero. this is the pattern he follows through the book. and spend (or squander). specifically those by Brahms. Steinberg’s point is that their incestuous union. and a nasty one besides. Yet the moments (long moments.188 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt means. Father steps in and calls a halt—via murder. But the embrace comes with a bill attached. not so as to skew the results. thereby “places the Ring at the center of nineteenth-century familial and social discursive and material networks. on the other.indd 188 11/3/05 9:32:13 AM . located at the heart of the Ring plot. for which he offers fascinating source material. Siegmund’s life “traces the cultural and political transition in mid-century Germany from liberal hope to violent betrayal. some of them) are carefully chosen. often highly erotically charged. the creation of Germany and the promulgation of ambitions that reach well beyond the geography assigned to the aesthetic. Enter Siegmund and Sieglinde who don’t so much approach the taboo as run without hesitation to violate it. Verdi.

and the Aurality of the Immaterial nationalist consciousness in music. . but not so as to reinscribe. invokes the sacred. institutionally speaking. despite a title (a German Requiem) or a dedication (to Manzoni. survival. the compositions resist incorporation into that “ideological master-category” of later nineteenth-century modernity.163). Baroque forms of ecclesiastical power. it’s anticlerical.176-194. Ein deutsches Requiem (completed after a very long gestation in 1868) addresses “death. who died in 1865) is silenced. or Bohemia). Italy. mourning.indd 189 11/3/05 9:32:13 AM . but not the voice of a nation (whether Germany. at once consoling and hopeful.” Large-scale compositions. its “German-ness” doesn’t reflect nation but the nativism of Luther and Bach (the texts are taken from Luther’s Bible. Musically. in 03. The collective voice.Yet neither does any of them incline toward the default then-usual substitute for the church. arched phrases. I’ll confine my remarks to Steinberg’s discussion of the first of these compositions. further. as in the fifth section. That is. namely.189 Knowledge. meets the personal in the emotive power of long. rather to render what Steinberg names “a guarantor of subjectivity at the level of intimacy and personal devotion” (p. and not the sanctuary. and. nothing external to music is represented” (pp. say. the Requiems inhabit nothing outside themselves. though without reference to either Christ or afterlife). they present rather than represent. as Steinberg suggests. the real maternal voice (Brahms’s mother. [and] follows the Protestant duality of privacy and community” (p. Steinberg argues that these works succeed by producing a rhetoric of collectivity while nonetheless restricting the collective voice.175). evoked in the choral writing. Simply stated. Brahms makes no use whatever of Catholic liturgical texts. As Steinberg reads the work. Self. the nationalist state. with memory serving to cohere the past with present in order to voice the possibility of a more hopeful future. each keeps its distance from religious institutional authority—indeed. mediated through solo and choral writing.BF12_2.166–67)—and this. a hero of the Risorgimento).164). in the relation established between solo and choral antiphony. Verdi. these Requiems have the potential to serve as political rhetoric—and as “sustained ideological embarrassments” (p. accomplished through reference to personal and collective memory. where the soprano takes on a maternal voice. The works do not embarrass precisely to the extent that they eschew ideological posturing. . and Dvoˇrák is a church work. incidentally. they do not. broadly speaking. Community. as well as the orchestra. “the voice of the people is limited to music and emerges only in music.Verdi’s is not merely nonclerical. with the choir echoing the sentiment. the work is decidedly Protestant. the Requiems produce a voice of the people. In other words. Each is written for the auditorium. of course. her consoling agency resides now only in music. the nation. And yet. None of the Requiems by Brahms. and renewal .

equals the regeneration of non-Germanness and a certain kind of subversive femininity (p.indd 190 11/3/05 9:32:14 AM . post-Wagner.176-194. and Makropoulos Case. nation and gender are fused tropes in the operatic world: the posttraumatic regeneration of voice. his account is credible. “traumatizes voice—first by marking its femininity. He outlines musical discourses that supplant (German nationalist) identity with one of subjectivity. and. equally important. Throughout the book. 03. elasticity. In this chapter. Thus. The discussion centers on what he terms “the regeneration of the voice” in post-Wagnerian opera: Subjectivity. material.BF12_2. with briefer reference to Moses und Aron and Lulu. but one no less fraught with the suspicion of being altogether too pat. political. The works Steinberg considers are not taken to be exemplars of identity coterminous with the language of the text or the ethnicity of the composer. including gendered and national positions. the biographical history of composers’ subjectivity is set to reflect what happens (is composed to happen) within their works. granting it subjectivity. It exists. or subconscious intentionality. though the discussion of the music is too attenuated to provide the reader with much more than a glimpse as to how this is achieved in sound (approximately a single paragraph on p. Giving voice means giving movement. then by silencing it” (p. his example is Brünnhilde. It is therefore also beyond identity positions. and resonance to its subject. cultural. Steinberg looks to composers who seek to recover the voice. in opera.194). as he puts it.190 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt aesthetic experience.199). not least. here as elsewhere. His argument is built around consideration of Pelléas et Mélisande. Steinberg’s sixth chapter is concerned with what happens to opera after Wagner. beyond the subject. given the book’s organizing principle. except that in this iteration one would have to speak of something like an unconscious. Brahms’s musical father. Steinberg takes it further to argue that the German Requiem ultimately realizes a musical reconciliation between the maternal and paternal voices (Schumann. to move beyond trauma toward recovery. in relation to what he deems an effort by composers succeeding Wagner to recover “musical integrity” (p. Instead. More on this at the end.176). he connects biographical experience to the larger histories within which his composer-subjects lived: social.197). This is a path to a hermeneutics that can all too easily reduce the meaning of art to something akin to the intentional fallacy and/or to psychological transference. whose death in 1856 served as original motivation for the composition).Wagner. What tends to make Steinberg’s assessments for the most part convincing. coincides with the voice. intellectual. is that he amasses a great deal of historical source material regarding both biography and musical meaning. Bluebeard’s Castle.

” it’s precisely home that’s absent. to the historical sense of the voice that anchors the history of Italian opera. heterosexual men. as belonging in a general way to Italy. By this means. by convincing him to hand over the keys. Hungarian. (Obvious enough. Steinberg’s argument is principally dependent upon a detailed analysis of text and narrative.” though there is a historico-cultural claim for it: “Since there can never be an embodiment of pure voice. Steinberg reads the allegory as coterminous with the history of the troubled 03. especially if it has to speak French. the key to the trope of subversive femininity at the core of Italian opera. it can only be a fiction: not produced by a body.200).) Despite the inability to connect through discursive exchange. hence an over-determined feminization. and which cannot be relocated in the noncommunicative communication between Judith and her new husband.BF12_2. After Wagner. but also homeland and thus politics. the loss of the ability to communicate serves as a marker of modern aporia. set against the fact of the home’s general elusiveness to modern consciousness.indd 191 11/3/05 9:32:14 AM . one might reasonably say that she becomes the agent of his own self-penetration. Self. Judith penetrates it/him repeatedly. and resulted from their willingly surrendering power and the authority to punish to a woman. The metaphor invokes psychology and the self (what Steinberg terms “the home of the ego” [p. or Czech in order to become so” (p. and this is disappointing since. in essence. defined by Richard Krafft-Ebing as a psychic or physical condition through which pleasure was derived from pain. and the Aurality of the Immaterial Steinberg reads all these works. opera wants to be Italian. while here and there he comments on how all this works in sound. and she in turn shoves the key into the lock.212]). the putative lovers bond—as Steinberg aptly notes—in masochism. (When Bluebeard hands each key to Judith. It is the key fiction of Italian opera. and the castle. in the end. encompassing what he terms “the ability to refer to—never to become or imitate—pure voice” (p.) Judith’s own traversing of the road to masochism is confirmed after the opening of the last door. obviously enough hinge on singing. since there is of course no such thing as “pure voice. becoming simply another part of Bluebeard’s human horde but locked away even (or especially) from him. a “new” disease whose name was coined in 1886. masochism was linked to men. matters of the operatic voice.176-194. In the end. and outside the symbolic order. But with Bluebeard.200). there is no sustained discussion of the music itself. Just as hysteria was assigned to women. with its seven behind-doors secrets. Steinberg’s account of Bluebeard revolves around the argument that the text is driven by a powerful metaphor of home. he asks to be taken. real or metaphoric. there occurs a double penetration. is literally the edifice of his selfhood. when she joins the other wives.191 Knowledge. set so to speak “at home. Bluebeard’s home is his castle.

Steinberg addresses the claim to pure voice in these operas. lines of demarcation that Steinberg examines both literally and. There’s nothing he says here I’d fault. And yet the music of Bluebeard is discussed. it’s a matter of concern when singing voices go AWOL. and extraordinarily dynamically assertive—at the opening of the fifth door. But I don’t think it’s quite sufficient to leave the matter rest at that. rather than. say. in particular. Finally. by two canonical figures working within the German tradition. as it must. one unfinished and the other left incomplete due to the composer’s death. The last chapter. whose argument ultimately and fundamentally centers. in a single paragraph. Steinberg is clearly correct to hear this music (if not what it “describes. Steinberg has a point regarding the allegory he outlines—and the move he makes here is similar to others throughout the book. a passing word about Moses und Aron and Lulu. who found means to get “beyond”Wagner cited earlier. when one all too easily might associate the sonorities with big-budget epic film music.indd 192 11/3/05 9:32:14 AM . for the first and last time in the entire opera. with no way out for either the characters or their nation doubles. nonGerman. . except in passing. But when his examples are drawn solely from opera. one concerning the music that blasts forth in the orchestral tutti—gorgeously consonant. matters in the music of the human voice in Bluebeard relative to the chapter’s overarching theme of giving voice.” however literally fictive. Austria is woman. metaphorically. Judith reacts with a high C. To be fair. but I want more in a chapter devoted to “pure voice. and the Ninth in particular. as opposed to the three composers. It’s an extraordinary musical moment even now. on musical sound. This is a book of history. Steinberg is a responsible historian.BF12_2. the congruencies he presents cannot be easily ignored. But what of the human voice. by way of a conclusion. Steinberg connects Mahler’s musical project to Freud’s psychoanalytic one: “the survival of subjectivity in a world of multiply and increasingly alienated subjects” (p.The 03. the symphonies for the most part. .” namely.231). Steinberg is clear from the start that his reference is not fully encompassed by singing. the chapter’s brief coda. especially. principally concerns Mahler.176-194. the landed riches of the domain) at the focal point of the opera. Hungary masochistic man. with the fiction of pure voice is to mark the operatic zone beyond voice with a kind of meta-aesthetic of opera based on two possibilities: silence [Schoenberg] and scream [Berg]” (p.222).192 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt relations between Hungary and Austria. What. as opposed to the “voice” of the orchestra? Steinberg offers just the one point and concerning just one note: on seeing what lays beyond the open door. Steinberg’s comments revolve around the following claim: “What post-Wagnerian German opera does . with regard to these works’ discourse on subjectivity and its survival in the twentieth century. on libretti.

disappearing as they seem about to resolve. including a great deal of recent work. In this regard he has a great deal to say to both historians. Civilization and Its Discontents. Theodor W. Mahler’s engage patterns of desire in which the ego traffics. For the most part in sync with Adorno.The negotiation of this uncertain boundary. . As history. Adorno. James Strachey (New York: W. but the boundary between the one and the other perpetually blurs. its Achilles’ heel. Steinberg consistently and very effectively makes the case for the agency of music in the formation. the two don’t necessarily meld. who for a very long time have preferred to 17. trans. and contestation of society and the attendant cultural apparatus. 1961). rather about a self in the world. as well as the social. and the Aurality of the Immaterial aporia of modernity. the book is very well indexed. p. Steinberg reads the Ninth Symphony’s musical discourse on subjectivity as not “about” the self. appropriately quoted by Steinberg: “What the immanence of society blocks cannot be achieved by an immanence of form derived from it. strikes me as an uncanny combination of dreaming and interpreting. Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy. the world as it is. In sum.“We cannot fall out of this world. of the ego.”18 The tack Steinberg follows in his insightful discussion is captured in spirit by the following: Mahler’s symphonic work . and cultural history of the European nineteenth century.”17 a sentiment echoed by Adorno. His false cadences work like dream structures. to the extent that it can. maintenance. Steinberg’s reading of secondary scholarship. The book’s scholarly apparatus is responsible and thorough (and Princeton had the good grace to place the notes at page bottom). W.176-194. with the id (p. Self. this often remarkable and original book’s strong point is.235). political. . from another perspective. is consistently impressive.232). and trans.193 Knowledge. he knows the music with a command as impressive as the breadth of his keen familiarity with German philosophy and aesthetics from Kant through Adorno.BF12_2. ed.indd 193 11/3/05 9:32:14 AM . p. can neither be escaped from nor transcended. No less relevant. so to speak. 1992). They resemble symphonic cadences of Brahms in the way they seem ethically to cut off narrative and rhetorical postures that cannot be fulfilled truthfully.12. in Freud’s own words. “giv[es] the music its motivation and its urgency” (p.6. Edmund Jephcott (Chicago: u Chicago p. in Steinberg’s words. Sigmund Freud. 03. But where Brahms’s cadences form lines of argument and thereby correspond to activities of the conscious mind. intellectual. Norton. 18. Final things.

Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: u Minnesota p. knows this and. Steinberg convincingly. Put differently. I’m confident. 19.194 r ic h a r d l e p p e rt leave music out of the mix. and by means of a single example. Theodor W. In the end. but which in any event makes art more than a mirror reflecting what lies outside its parameters. It is not—nor does it pretend to be—the full story. Indeed. I cite the danger of equating. But he does this in a way that does not acknowledge what Adorno.indd 194 11/3/05 9:32:14 AM . say. Aesthetic Theory. and to be fair. Listening to Reason is a work of high integrity. 03. what gives art the right to its name.19 named art’s “remainder. it has a great deal to teach. and musicologists. is largely sympathetic to the caveat. which has pretty much disappeared into the book’s shadows. in his Aesthetic Theory. is its engagement with history. trans. the history beyond the history of music. which is to say. Any claim to a relationship approximating 1:1 does a disservice to both sides of the colon that marks the link. indeed often brilliantly. makes the case for music’s relation to the reality of which it is a part.” its rätselhaft character: that which discourse (including academic discourse) cannot not totally come to own through its own explanations. Adorno.176-194. Steinberg. it’s a book of importance. Here’s the rub: Steinberg’s accomplishment comes with a considerable I-owe-you dangling in the form of a largely unacknowledged debt owed to aesthetics. a composer’s personal trauma with the trauma heard in his music. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann.BF12_2. what makes art the domain of aesthetics. who has read Adorno very carefully. something Steinberg quite clearly invokes. 1997). his project doesn’t so much need to address directly the aesthetic “remainder” as it needs perhaps to be more explicitly open about that which he’s set aside. which at the same time reaches beyond history—at best toward some semblance of hope and Utopia (here Adorno speaks). who for much of the history of their discipline have regarded the history congealed in music as an inconvenient guest of aesthetic comportment.” incorporating not least its “enigmaticalness. Hence. ed.