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Title: Rethinking the conditions of music in British aestheticism
Author: Grimshaw, K. A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6425 1626
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2016
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Despite continued critical interest in British aestheticism, scholarship has been much slower to respond to the context of music. This is in spite of music featuring centrally in one of aestheticism's most oft-cited formulations, Walter Pater's statement from "The School of Giorgione" (1877): 'All art constantly aspires to the condition of music.' In fact, this thesis advances from the premise that these two items might be connected; and that our occasionally indiscriminate critical application of this phrase tacitly forecloses the debate, thus shutting our ears to the conversations between music and aestheticism in their own historical moment. Accordingly, this thesis aims to open out the critical tautology of Pater's maxim by rehistoricizing music's association with British aestheticism and in doing so, reveal, in ways which have yet to be recognised, the significance of their frequent convergences. In order to demonstrate the variety of these exchanges and foreground the importance of historicization, this study is framed in a very specific way through a series of case studies. This is for two reasons: firstly to draw attention to the value of adopting a long perspective on the development of British aestheticism, and secondly to draw out the common relations between the types of theoretical questions and methodologies with which music and aestheticism were mutually engaged. Whilst the interrelation of music and painting is a well-known feature of critical aestheticism, Chapter 1 presents this relationship through a more specific sequence of exchanges, drawing attention to a cultural discourse in which the practice and critique of the emergent aesthetic school of painting was mediated through a series of references and allusions to Felix Mendelssohn's piano series Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) (1829-1845). Drawing together three central figures — Mendelssohn, together with Frederic Leighton and J.A.M. Whistler — this chapter demonstrates how the complex relations between art and 'words' were dramatized contemporaneously across both painting and music in nineteenth-century aesthetic discourse. More specifically, this dialogue draws attention to the epistemological tension inherent to the act of 'naming' — the conferring of generic or descriptive titles upon the art 'work' — and the way in which these titles participated in variously enacting and problematizing its own claims for the democratisation of art. Whistler's paintings are also implicated in Chapter 2 which considers Claude Debussy's unique critical dialogue with aestheticism in the years surrounding the fin de siècle. Received wisdom suggests that British aestheticism had no significant impact in music and this chapter counters this in two interrelated ways; firstly, by demonstrating how Debussy's interest in British aestheticism translated into his work in ways which have yet to be fully recognised; and secondly, by drawing attention to the critical reception of his music in Britain in the early decades of the twentieth century where a number of reviews and critical commentaries of his work were arbitrated through the vernacular of the 'aesthetic'. Continuing my consideration of how 'aestheticism' and 'music' came to feature increasingly as mutually-influential discourses at the fin de siècle, Chapter 3 turns to the writings of Vernon Lee. Whilst Lee's interest in music has been the source of some important critical interest in the last twenty years, much of this scholarship has tended to converge on her resistance to the decadent affectivity of Wagner's music. Following more recent critical developments, this chapter suggests that Lee's attitude towards the nature of music might be best understood as the product of a careerlong dialogue with two figures: Pater and the musicologist, Edmund Gurney, whose work, The Power of Sound (1880), I suggest, provided a sustained point of reference for Lee's lifelong attempts to theorise aesthetic experience. Ultimately, Rethinking the Conditions of Music in British Aestheticism aims to recuperate these dialogues between British aestheticism and the intellectual contexts of nineteenth and early-twentieth century music so that we might recognise the value of beginning anew our own critical conversation.
Supervisor: Bradley, M. ; Regan, L. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral