Back to index
Pederson, Sanna

Enlightened and Romantic German Music Criticism, 1800-1850

Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1995
(spederso@sas.upenn.edu)

Factors that helped consolidate music criticism in crucial ways -- the concept of aesthetic autonomy, the idea of a public sphere, and a national ideology -- all started emerging around 1800. Fifty years later the concept of criticism in its "strong," philosophical sense collapsed along with Hegelian idealist philosophy. At that time, the failure of the 1848 revolutions marked a significant crisis not only for the nation but also for the institutions of art and criticism.

During this period, music criticism maintained some basic premises. For Friedrich Rochlitz and his Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, music criticism functioned as part of the Enlightenment project to disseminate information and to promote reasoned debate. The foundational principle of the public sphere -- that is, the ideological space between the state and the private home, where indviduals would be free to meet and discuss matters of common interest -- was not rejected by later critics. However, the contradictions inherent in the concept of the public sphere also remained constant; particularly enduring issues involved what qualified the critic to overrule the public, and what criticism was supposed to do for composers and their music. The criticism of A. B. Marx and Robert Schumann finessed these problems and made authoritative critical judgments not by invoking the Kantian sensus communis of all human beings, but rather the sensus communis of the German nation. This nationalistic approach to questions of aesthetic value had two components: it positioned foreign music as "other" or inimical to the values of German music, and it consolidated German music as a central feature of German identity.