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Published in the original German in 2003, this excellent English translation provides a valuable introduction for anglophone readers, further assisted by Michael Spitzer’s ‘Introduction to the English-language edition’, which provides a historical overview reaching back into the 15th century.

Ten authors, distinguished in the fields of music and philosophy, each provide a chapter on a key German philosopher of the last three centuries, the chapters arranged chronologically, starting with Kant.

As the book is very well edited, its layout provides a clear picture of the evolution of German philosophy over the period (with very little repetition), albeit through the particular prism of the philosophers’ ideas concerning music. other than Kant, there are the usual suspects – Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Adorno – and others, such as Hegel and Heidegger. Ernst Bloch receives due recognition for his influence on many great musicians.

For Kant and the other philosophers of the 18th and earlier 19th centuries, European music (all other traditions are ignored) is conceived as following universally acknowledged rules: of harmony, social function and so on. This attitude only started to fall apart at the end of the 19th century, when a political element emerged, followed by the inevitable clash of concepts, most famously with Adorno’s espousal of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, and vehement rejection of Stravinsky, leading to his Philosophy of New Music, preached in his Darmstadt lectures in the 1950s.

The book also offers a picture of German society in the ‘land of poets and thinkers’ (Land der Dichter und Denker) as they called themselves, with a lack of modesty which often progressed into dogmatism and intolerance (though i was sneakily pleased to learn of Schopenhauer’s personal preference for Rossini, whose music he liked to play in transcriptions for flute). Adorno careered off into his own personal black hole, dragging Stockhausen and Boulez after him, though the latter seems to have crawled back out. and now we are all left scratching our heads. Not an easy read, but definitely worth the effort.

DELLA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica

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