Thinking Music in Terms of ‘Progress’: The West German Post-War Debates
Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music
The speaker is Julia Zupancic (LMU Munich)
When we speak of ‘progress’, we usually refer to technological, economic or political developments. Less familiar is the impact notions of progress had (and possibly still have) in the realm of music, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this paper, I want to present some key examples of how ideas of musical progress became manifest in the West German debates of the 1950s. In the post-war period, ‘progress’ was a major category in discussing and reviewing music or, to be more precise, in discussing the so-called ‘New Music’ on which this seminar will focus.
As a starting point, I will examine the then widespread notion that musical works are ‘progressive’ insofar as they refuse (or negate) certain aspects of traditional music (e.g. formal models, compositional techniques etc.) often considered out-dated and exhausted. Most prominently, this angle on progress was conceptualised in the writings of Theodor W Adorno and Heinz-Klaus Metzger. Further on, I want to show how serial composers like Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen expressed their own aesthetic views and compositional strategies in a way that clearly suggests an underlying narrative of progress. In some cases, notably those of representatives of (serial) electronic music like Stockhausen, Herbert Eimert and Gottfried Michael Koenig, the more recent history of music was portrayed as an emancipatory process – an image well known from 19th- and early 20th-century music historiography. Throughout my presentation, I will point out essential features and different levels of the 1950s discussions on musical ‘progress’. While explicitly dealing with music, these debates are undeniably linked to their political environment, the aftermath of the Second World War and the East-West conflict in particular.
Julia Zupancic has recently submitted her PhD thesis, which investigates the aesthetic discourses in post-war West Germany (1949–1961), focusing on the then widespread notion of a musical ‘progress’. Having studied at the universities of Freiburg, Bristol and Munich, her PhD project is supervised at LMU Munich. From September 2014 to March 2017, she was based in the UK as a Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Leeds. Her research interests include music of the 19th and 20th centuries, music and aesthetics, music history and historiography.