Special Events

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas and the Music of the Literary: Romantic Irony as the Undoing of Genre

Thursday, The Heyman Center

Beethoven’s “Tempest” sonata, an emblematic work for piano
written in 1802, has been at the center of heated debates on the
nature of musical form. In this sonata Beethoven introduced a
“whole new approach” to composition that continues to challenge
generic notions of what is known within musicology as “sonata
form.” Edgardo Salinas’s paper reinterpreted Beethoven’s stylistic
evolution through the prism of the literary critique articulated by
the early Jena Romantics. Seen in this light the “Tempest” stands
in a relationship of “cognitive consonance” with the modern notions
of self-reflexive form spelled out in Schlegel’s theory of irony
and Hölderlin’s analysis of Greek tragedy. For the Jena Romantics,
irony was meant to expose the arbitrariness of any system of representation
and, by the same token, best expressed the emptiness
at the core of the subject sanctioned by Kant. The supreme
Romantic gesture lay in understanding that the modern self is
haunted by an inner absence that only poetry can momentarily
soothe. In the “Tempest,” Beethoven staged a dramatic absence
that, ironically, works as the structural core of the entire form and
ostensibly epitomizes the crisis of the subject that constitutes the
metaphysical foundation of all Romanticism.