Recruiting for the Crash: Emancipations, Webern, and the Futures of Music Theory

by Renee T. Coulombe


1. The End

As space and time collapse into the virtual, the ideologies that have underpinned and supported place, time, and cultural context are increasingly exposed. Ways of knowing collide with other ways of knowing in uneasy and violent ways. Such exposures in the West, culminating in vast critical theories of embodiment and culture, are necessitating changes not only in personal and societal behavior, but also in fundamental modes for the creation of meaning. Boundaries between seemingly distinct moments in space-time are collapsing (or, to use Paul Virilio’s term, “crash” 1), offering new ways to link the historic, the immediate, the political, and the personal. The collapse isn’t waiting: it necessitates and demands new ways of understanding.

As ideologies are exposed, fundamental concepts previously grouped under the rubric of “natural law” are exposed for what they are: linked to space-time (their historical/geographical contexts) and thus subjective, mutable, political, functional, and strategic. Fundamental changes in conceptual modes of understanding are necessary as the seemingly once-solid foundationsof our theories are exposed as changeable. The tides have shifted, and we now see the bulwark of a pier: what once appeared elegantly structured islaid bare as disconnected, inelegant, or non-functional. Exposing ideologies can lead to real political action. New modes of uncovering meaning allow us to understand not just what we know, but how we know it, and why we think it is worth knowing. This, in turn, offers theory, which in many ways constitutes a shadow of practice, the means to reassert its necessity beyond the borders of its own sphere. These changes in conceptual modes of understanding are best articulated by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who advocated, among other things, an engagement in the act of theorizing rather than the creation of theories 2 as a way to articulate the flow of forces behind cultural hierarchies and hegemonies.

This essay collapses space-time, in the Virilian sense, in order to answer questions about music that are impossible to answer otherwise. What to make of a feeling? A hunch? That which is not possible to locate in any musico-theoretical constellation? The “emancipation of dissonance3,” a concept associated with the Second Viennese School, bears in itself elements most properly analyzed in a critical, particularly feminist and queer, theoretical context. How can dissonance, a musical concept difficult to define (at best), culturally relative, and historically specific, be oppressed? Further, the emancipation of dissonance has a fuzzy historical specificity 4. Certainly Arnold Schönberg’s concept of the emancipation of dissonance differed significantly from Anton Webern’s, but the differences between Webern’s and Schönberg’s conceptions have not been closely examined. Interrogating the concept of dissonance’s emancipation, particularly given how this emancipation has been characterized and politicized in musical literature, requires looking beyond traditional musical theory. Webern’s music, particularly after the Darmstadt summer courses in 1946, has come to represent the abstract, rigorous, and pure in much musical discourse; it seems to exist beyond cultural critique, as if it were an extension of natural law. The status of natural law is re-inscribed frequently in the textual link between his music and the scientific, precise, and mathematical in music theory and critical writing. Almost all references to Webern’s atonal style contain references to scientific concepts, along with puzzled statements about their brevity (again, a crash). The composer Györgi Ligeti summarized what attracts many to Webern’s music: “The conciseness and concentration of the musical configurations and form, the non-expressionistic but at the same time sculpted expressive character, the clarity, the rigor….” 5

The Second Viennese School’s most noted contribution, serialism, spawned a number of new musical paradigms whose most obvious characteristic is the mapping of musical space in numerical operations. Serialism has had enormous impact on musico-theoretical culture: describing musical phenomena mathematically gives analysis the guise of objectivity. The discourse surrounding music theory’s search for objectivity greatly resembles another: Michel Foucault’s account of science’s search to establish the true nature of biological sex and gender. Discourses on music and sex might seem irreconcilably dissimilar, were it not for music’s fundamental association with the body and pleasure 6. The idea that categories of sex and gender can be assigned objective values has been critiqued by queer and feminist theorists alike for its banishing of the body as always outside of the analysis. Nonetheless, we rarely interrogate what has been configured as outside of musical analysis. This is hardly surprising, for such interrogation exposes ideologies underpinning Western musical discourse 7. Yet more   significantly, to interrogate the discourse surrounding the emancipation of dissonance makes such analysis a political act. Music analysis can illuminate ideologies of pleasure—it can perform real cultural work.

2. Where to Begin?

Dissonance, in twentieth-century musical culture, is the mark of the modernist masculinist composer (be they male or female). Dissonance is viewed as masculinist for reasons extensively delineated in the work of Susan McClary 8, and one can claim that Webern’s music in particular is proffered as a pinnacle of a “hard music” that can hold its own against the “hard sciences” in the academy. To attempt an analysis of Webern’s music and its impact on culture using a queer or feminist critical paradigm is to buck a particularly ingrained system. Pursuing an analysis of the emancipation of dissonance through the prism of Webern’s work is further complicated:how to fruitfully apply queer or feminist analysis to music despite the fact that the composers or analysts were/are neither queer nor feminist nor had any intention of dismantling the gendered/political/sexual systems. Is it possible to demonstrate that what Webern’s music does is queer, despite Webern, the composer, not being so? To do so requires a poststructuralist move that itself reveals music’s unique status: as an abstract art unfolding in time. It is at once fixed historically within a context of origin and immediate—in one’s iPod, on the radio, or at a concert-hall performance. Webern’s music occupies spaces and times quite separate from the composer’s, while Webern himself is a finite historical subject, neither present, nor accountable.  The “specters” of Webern “haunt” his compositions now: an eternal presence/absence 9.

 So why then does Webern’s emancipation of dissonance fundamentally differ from other emancipations? If dissonance exists within a larger rubric of “noise,” as configured by Jacques Attali 10,what new ideological space is made in musical theory by the interrogation of a consonance/dissonance hierarchy? What new knowledge might we find when we challenge musical hegemonic and hierarchized systems through queer theorizing? This is in no way to argue that consonance is representative of, or equivalent to, heterosexuality, and that homosexuality relates similarly to dissonance. Instead it is to argue that the discourse surrounding each of these categories reflects striking similarities. To examine the epistemology of each with regard to the other can yield invaluable insights.

3. “Metaphysics, Ideology, Discipline”

David E. Cohen’s article on the foundations of polyphony 11 begins by metaphorically collapsing historic and theoretic distance by examining the writings of the sixth-century philosopher Boethius and the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century music theorist Heinrich Schenker. This establishes the boundaries of his discussion outside chronological time and in the virtual space of theory. The quotation from Boethius,“But the fifth hammer, which was dissonant to all the others, was cast away 12", refers to a conception of dissonance as outside (literally, “thrown away”) music itself.The Schenker quotation couches its judgments in the language of Platonic philosophy, summarizing the consonance/dissonance hierarchy from the sixth to the late-nineteenth centuries:

Consonance itself is sufficient for itself; it rests in its euphony, signifying itself Beginning and End. Not so, however, for Dissonance, which, on the contrary, we still definitely seek a further proof of its ground of existence; for far from resting in itself, it urgently points beyond itself. It can only be grasped in relation to—that is, out of and through, a consonant unity, and it is for just this reason that only the consonant unity signifies Beginning and End for the dissonance 13.

Cohen points out that Schenker, and nearly all theorists of polyphony, was articulating:

A view or understanding of consonance and dissonance in which the relationship takes the form of an unequal, hierarchized opposition, with consonance standing as the primary and superior term, and dissonance regarded as an element that, although admittedly necessary and perhaps even valuable, nonetheless occupies a secondary and inferior position, in that it can never stand by itself as something self-sufficient, but instead always requires some sort of justification for its presence at any given moment in the polyphonic texture 14.

Those familiar with the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick will be immediately drawn to the notion of a hierarchized opposition as outlined above. She declares, in her introduction to The Epistemology of the Closet:

Categories presented in a culture as symmetrical binary oppositions heterosexual/homosexual, in this case—actually subsist in a more unsettled and dynamic tacit relation according to which, first, term B is not symmetrical with but subordinated to term A; but, second, the ontologically valorized term A actually depends for its meaning on the simultaneous subsumption and exclusion of term B; hence, third, the question of priority between the supposed central and the supposed marginal category of each dyad is irresolvably unstable, an instability caused by the fact that term B is constituted as at once internal and external to term A 15.

Dissonance has been theorized at once both innate to and opposed to music itself. Cohen detailed the ways in which early theorists established this relationship to advance a particular metaphysical system, noting, “there is, moreover, no doubt that the hierarchical relationship between consonance and dissonance posited by theory is in fact operative in most of the music actually composed and performed in the Western polyphonic tradition 16." According to Cohen, Boethius in particular found it necessary to draw dissonance as “other to” or “outside of” musical practice, because its inclusion had the power to destroy music’s primacy as expression of the divine:

The “normal” view of consonance and dissonance is already implicit, albeit in an unfamiliar form, in the earliest theory of polyphony known to us, that its presence there is due to the influence of the Boethius Musica, in which there is a subtle but pervasive tendency to privilege and prioritize consonance, and to denigrate and marginalize or exclude dissonance, and that this hierarchization of consonance and dissonance in the Boethius Musica is the expression of a particular metaphysics, the Pythagorean-Platonic metaphysics of unity and plurality, identity and difference, that dominates the thought of the Greek writer whose treatise was the source for most of the Boethian text. I further suggest that this Nicomanchean metaphysics of unity, and the extreme hierarchizing of consonance and dissonance to which it gives rise, are exemplary instances of what Jacques Derrida has called the “logocentrism” of Western metaphysics in general. Unity is the logos of Nicomanchean metaphysics, and consonance, regarded as the embodiment and exemplar of unity in music, stands as the logos of music 17.

The peculiar nature of the category that is created in opposition to a dominant category, but is denied any real “occupants,” is central not only to Foucault’s account of the creation of the category of “homosexual” but also to Sedgwick’s description of the “closet” as an imaginary, rather than empirical, space. The categories of “dissonance” and “homosexuality” are closely related in this theoretical landscape, and both create the illusion of distinct essences. The textual suppression of dissonance in early theory—literally excluded from music—is also central in linking the two theoretically. One might consider dissonance a “sound that dare not speak its name,” as it parallels a particularly central issue in queer theory: the suppression of the homosexual subject position through the enforcement of the closet at the societal level for dominant/hegemonic political and cultural ends. These categories perform similar cultural and societal functions. Following Cohen’s line of argument, for Boethius to recognize a particular musical phenomenon as “dissonant” would necessitate a metaphysical crisis in which the logos of music loses its primacy as the representation of the divine. While theory has moved away from this view of music as expression of the divine, it has not abandoned those characteristics associated with divinity in the Pythagorean-Platonic paradigm, particularly the supreme value of unity. The subjugation of dissonance under consonance, which began according to this ideology, continued until the twentieth century.

Given these centuries of subjugation, how strange, then, that the emancipation of dissonance is associated with abstraction and rigor rather than liberation. Strange, because it would seem that the loosening of control over dissonance might have liberated music from hierarchized oppositions and might have encouraged an embracing of difference. Instead, most of the music of the Second Viennese School in the atonal and serial periods substituted dissonance for consonance in a new hegemony. In the music of Schönberg and Alban Berg, the roles of consonance and dissonance may have exchanged places, but the musical language remains largely the same, and our modes of understanding that language also remain the same. The test of a good analysis continues to be: “Is it unified 18?" In pitch analysis, the most striking development in the emancipation of dissonance has been the many flavors of set technique and analysis arising in the twentieth century. This is essentially a reinvigoration of structural unity outside the tonal system. Further, it has allowed for our theories to be written as mathematical operations, removing the necessity for meaning-making in verbal language by using one systematic simulacra (mathematics) to explicate another (music) 19. This shift in dissonance from “oppressed other” to “dominant element,” and its association with modernism, has clear, if paradoxical, “gendered” implications 20.

            Can Cohen’s diagnosis of hierarchized oppositionin the earliest ideology surrounding consonance and dissonance be extended and illuminated by Webern’s emancipation of dissonance? This analytic act is fundamentally unique.In search of ideology, it is fruitful to start, as Cohen did, within the cultural context, as an interrogation of Webern “spectres 21.” Then the analysis must contend with the aspects of Webern’s music that are no longer historic, but immediate, ever-present, and thus still accomplishing cultural work.

4. Kitsch, Culture, Darstellungen

Fortunately, feminist, queer, and postmodern theories supply many tools to examine that which falls outside of systems—the cracks, crevasses, and fissures of culture.  Webern’s atonal works were in themselves responses to a hegemonic culture in which Webern found himself uneasily situated; more than any other member of the Second Viennese School, they carved out new territory: not replacing consonance with dissonance, but exposing and imploding the hierarchized opposition between the two. The implosion/explosion of this hierarchy in Webern’s music seems to have led him toward new structures and forms. Illuminating the ways in which Webern’s atonal pieces are abstract seems far less interesting than finding out what they are abstracted from. For his music, the milieu of pre-World War I Vienna reveals much more than all the numbering of note-rows ever could.

The era during which Webern was supposedly “abandoning tonality 22" was a time of incredible transition in Europe. Virilio observed that the end of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the end of the concept of “space” as new modes of transportation and communications shrank previously daunting geographic separations. Such a transition had stark cultural consequences: at the beginning of the twentieth century, Vienna was the capital of an empire stressed to the brink of collapse. Scandals, disillusionment, hedonism, and mysticism all rushed in to calm the cultural jitters. These preoccupations can be associated with, to borrow again from Virilio, a “transitional culture.” As the “Proud Tower 23" of European political and cultural systems fell in one of the most violent political transformations of modern Europe, governments that had functioned for years (albeit on the surface) collapsed. As Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin observed in Wittgenstein’s Vienna:

Was it an absolute coincidence that the beginnings of twelve-tone music, “modern” architecture, legal and logical positivism, nonrepresentational painting and psychoanalysis—not to mention the revival of interest in Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard—were all taking place simultaneously and were so largely concentrated in Vienna? …In Habsburg society as a whole, artificiality and pretense were by now the rule rather than the exception, and in every aspect of life the proper appearances and adornments were all that mattered. …A coating of waltzes and whipped cream was the surface covering to a despair-ridden society in which anti-Semites denounced Felix Salten for the “Jewish babble” of the rabbits in Bambi, and police extorted protection money from women forced into prostitution by meager wages. …The idea of regarding language, symbolisms and media of expression of all kinds as giving “representations” (Darstellungen) or “pictures” (Bilder), had by 1910 become commonplace in all fields of Viennese cultural debate 24.

Artificiality, facade, pretense, Darstellungen: the purveyors of culture had become so far removed from the realities they were supposed to be describing that the representations they were using fell apart in their hands. In essence, they placed the cart firmly in front of the horse:

The very objects which were intended to save man had come to enslave him. Both the middle classes, who subscribed to the accepted aesthetic canons, and the craftsmen, who designed and produced the resulting objects, had come to be the servants of ideas gone wild 25.

The preoccupation with façade and ornament extended into the homes of turn-of-the-century Viennese society, manifesting itself most saliently in the omnipresence of kitsch 26. In 1899, Karl Kraus campaigned to save Vienna from utter destruction through his biting satirical writings. That year, he began publishing Die Fackel, which served as the platform from which he launched his vehement attacks on the status quo. It was at once the delight and bane of Viennese existence, as it pointed out the shallowness of societal discourse as well as proposed theoretical frameworks from which to develop a new debate.

            Webern quoted Kraus’s Die Fackel at the start of his second series of lectures in 1933: “To teach people to see the chasms in truisms—that would be the teacher’s duty toward a sinful generation 27." Kraus, along with the architect Adolf Loos and others, began to cut through the layers of artifice in Viennese culture with truisms.Not surprisingly, this culture also produced Wittgenstein, who was prompted to write the aphorisms at the end of Tractatus. The antidote for kitsch, it seemed, was the aphorism: small, inscrutable, indecorous, and often biting doses of truth. Schönberg, to whom the job of interpreting these pieces for a dismayed public often fell, uses the term aphorismto describe Webern’s atonal compositions. In many ways “aphoristic” is a much better term than “atonal” for describing what the works are: short, enigmatic, highly compressed, and powerful not just because of what they do articulate, but because of the volumes of information that they represent, imply, or signify. Their power operates most significantly at the level of ideologies and conception.

 Amidst the tension, compaction, and anxiety of a society blocked in by its own artifice, choked by its own ornament, Webern wrote his Op. 5–10. These same forces bore down on Loos, Kraus, Webern, Wittgenstein, and others: “In a city that prided itself as a matrix of cultural creation, life was made as difficult as possible for real innovators.”28 This explains the temporal, if not the expressive, compaction of these pieces: when speaking in a new tongue, the tendency is toward brevity. In their composition, musico-structural concepts like cadence, development, climax, or closure have been rejected, or not consistently applied. Every musical statement becomes a question—with no offered, or even implied, answer.

What about music itself? These works resist modes of analysis based on structural unity; every time they prove inconsistent or inscrutable, unbending to the assumed necessity of self-sufficient unity, they re-perform a theoretical-cultural work: they flow-and-flux in the face of totalizing hierarchies. Every time they resist the concepts of unity or self-sufficiency the analyst seeks to impose, they enact a “queering” resistance. Every performance sounds this resistance in real time. The compositions themselves urge movement beyond unity and into simultaneously conflicting meanings and experiences of reality. They exist, though always-already “haunted” by the composer who created them, through their technologically enhanced immediacy, to accomplish their work.

The fact that Webern’s atonal pieces are seen to be, as Regina Busch wrote, “so in need of redemption by means of interpretation,” 29 tells us more about our own motivations for analysis than the pieces themselves. Because ideologies are culturally-historically-geographically specific, theory can only be “theoretical” if it recognizes its subjective, mutable, porous nature. Such recognition requires that music theory be transformed by critical theories into an object that motivates the theorist to consider it bound to historical specificities while at the same time continually producing new meanings.  It must transcend its current status as “succession of innumerable typologies” that “are never innocent.”30 Changing not what we look at, but how we see, becomes the central focus for all theoretical discourse in the culture of immediacy. Queer theory will be particularly useful in music theory’s transformation as an art practice that has for so long suppressed difference and duality. Queer theorizing offers the opportunity to truly interrogate the ideological filters through which we have experienced music in analysis. At the simultaneous re-inscription and negation of historical context in music through recorded technology, we have the opportunity for analysis to communicate beyond its boundaries as a system of discourse that is inextricably linked to other cultural forms. Theorizing becomes in itself a form of cultural work, a political act, an aesthetic of quantifiable value.

5. The Beginning

If we are to nuance our thinking around the function dissonance has played in Western musical metaphysics, ideology, and discipline, we would do well to heed Foucault’s prescription for reexamining sexuality:

If repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge, and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it except at a considerable cost: nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, an irruption of speech, a restating of pleasure within reality and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power will be required 31.

Looking at Webern’s emancipation of dissonance as a transgression of the laws of tonality and resistance to unequal oppositions locates it squarely alongside the emancipation of many suppressed cultural, social, and artistic practices during the twentieth century. If the emancipation of dissonance irrupts “the entire history of tonal music,” an act which “amounts to an attempt to make people believe in a consensual representation of the world 32,” what music theory could become in this emancipation transcends music itself. As simulacra, music is in a unique position to model new ways to make meaning in culture: “Music is prophecy 33.” Our theoretical work could extend then, through music analysis, to the ways in which culture interacts with the objects it creates, inscribes, and re-inscribes. Crash, collision, kinesis: from this wreckage, we may construct a new “theory,” a new praxis, a new practitioner.

Portions of this essay were presented in 2000 at the sixth annual Feminist Theory in Music conference at the Boise State University as part of the Society for Music Theory’s Committee on the Status of Women panel and the American Musicological Society’s special panel at the annual meeting in Toronto. The author would like to acknowledge the late Philip Brett, whose support and feedback at the Feminist Theory in Music Conference presentation made this published work possible. This essay is lovingly dedicated to Professor Brett, without whose pioneering work in queer musicology this essay simply would not exist. I wish to acknowledge the personal debt I owe to Professor Brett who, as colleague at the University of California, Riverside, and member of my doctoral committee, inspired me to always look beyond what is in music scholarship, to what could be.


1. Paul Virilio, “The Third Interval: A Critical Transition,” in Rethinking Technologies, ed. Verena Andermatt Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). Virilio links the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century shrinkage of space with the late twentieth century shrinkage of time. As the technologies that extend our senses integrate themselves into previously human functions (computers substitute memory, etc.), our thoughts and information are now traveling closer and closer to the speed of light. The relative effect is to speed time up to the point in which the arrival precedes the departure, and thus makes departure unnecessary. (back)

2. See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatteri, “Capitalism and Schizophrenia,” Anti-Oedipus: (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983); and A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987). (back)

3. The phrase “emancipation of the dissonance,” long associated with the Second Viennese School and composers Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern, did not originate with Schönberg. The concept was articulated, somewhat anachronistically, by Webern in The Path to New Music, a series of transcribed lectures delivered in 1933, as a sort of organizing metaphor governing the Second Viennese School’s compositional output. Webern, The Path to New Music, ed. Willi Reich, trans. Leo Black (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: T. Presser, 1963). (back)

4. Even Thomas Harrison’s 1910, The Emancipation of Dissonance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), which articulates a specific period for this phenomenon, reveals the complexity of this metaphor with an extensive discussion of the socio-political and cultural forces at work.  To a certain extent, however, all discussions of this emancipation are anachronistic—the trace, emergence and echo of this metaphor encompass almost the entire twentieth century. (back)

5. Györgi Ligeti, cited in Allen Forte, The Atonal Music of Anton Webern (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 3. Ligeti, who, “[a]fter being exposed to two tyrannies in his youth, Nazi and Stalinist…left Hungary following the 1956 Russian suppression of his country’s independence and found himself, in Western Europe, confronted by another stern ideology, that of the Darmstadt-Cologne avant-garde.” Paul Griffiths, “Györgi Ligeti,” Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, (back)

6. On the links between music and sex, see for example Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, ed. Philip Brett (New York: Routledge, 1994); and En Travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera, ed. Corinne E. Blackmer and Patricia Juliana Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). (back)

7. For more on the ideologies underpinning Western musico-theoretic discourse, see David E. Cohen, “Metaphysics, Ideology, Discipline, Consonance, Dissonance, and the Foundation of Western Polyphony,” Theoria 9 (1999): 1–85, also discussed later in this essay. (back)

8. See Susan McClary, “Terminal Prestige,” Cultural Critique 12 (spring 1989): 57–81; and McClary, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). See also Elaine Barkin and McClary, “Feminist Forum,” in Perspectives of New Music 30, no. 2 (summer 1992): 203–38, in which Barkin’s “Either/Other” and McClary’s “Response to Elaine Barkin” directly argue this point. (back)

9. Jacques Derrida’s conception of cultural “haunting” and “hauntology” provides an enormously useful tool for describing the relationship between composers and their work. See Derrida, Spectres of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994). (back)

10. Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985). (back)

11. Cohen, “Metaphysics, Ideology, Discipline.” (back)

12.Boethius, cited in ibid., 2. (back)

13. Heinrich Schenker, cited in ibid., 1. (back)

14. Ibid. (back)

15. Eve Kosofksy Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 9. (back)

16. Cohen, “Metaphysics, Ideology, Discipline,” 3. (back)

17. Ibid., 10. (back)

18. Of course, postmodernism has assailed unity to a small degree in music analysis. See Jonathan Kramer, “Beyond Unity: Toward an Understanding of Musical Postmodernism,” in Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz Since 1945: Essays and Analytical Studies (Rochester, New York: University of Rochester, 1995), 11–33; and Kramer, “Postmodern Concepts of Musical Time,” Indiana Theory Review (Bloomington, Indiana) 17, no. 2 (fall 1996): 21–61. (back)

19. See Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music; and Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994). (back)

20. See Ellie Hisama, Gendering Music Modernism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Hisama takes the perspective of modernist women composers. (back)

21. Forte, The Atonal Music of Anton Webern. Immediately in the preface to his text, Forte addresses the need to understand the cultural context in which Webern was composing. (back)

22. Kathryn Bailey, “Anton Webern,” Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy ( (back)

23. Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower: A Portrait of Europe Before the War 1890-1914 (New York: Macmillan Company, 1962) provides considerable comparative analysis of the political, social, and cultural forces erupting in Europe during the First World War. (back)

24. Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), 31–64. (back)

25. Ibid., 100 (back)

26. While my use of the term “kitsch” predates the historical moment in which this concept is first fully applied (especially in relation to the commodity culture of the early- and mid-twentieth century), I believe it can be appropriately applied to the impulse behind the early-twentieth-century Viennese excess. Kitsch is a term of German origin that has been used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style. The term is also used more loosely in referring to any art that is pretentious or in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass. Though its precise etymology is uncertain, it is widely held that the word originated in the Munich art markets of the 1860s and 70s, though was first popularized in the 1930s by theorists Theodor Adorno, Hermann Broch, and later Clement Greenberg, who each sought to define avant-garde and kitsch as being opposites. (back)

27. Webern, The Path to New Music, 1. (back)

28. Janik and Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, 35. (back)

29. “Who could expect of a composer like Webern—at times culpably naïve, withdrawn from reality—with a music so ‘abstract,’ pertinent and consistent, music-theoretical concepts or utterances? Hardly anyone, in fact, seems to have dared to expect this kind of thing of Webern so far. Whether they have sprung from the soil of serial music or not, all the systematic investigations, the numbering of note-rows, classifying of pitches, durations and so on, considerations of ‘structure,’ they all seem like precautions against the music. Since the music is not trusted, the traditional music-theoretical concepts presented by Webern are also regarded as unsuited for coping with the music.” Regina Busch, “On the Horizontal and Vertical Presentation of Musical Ideas, and On Musical Space,” Tempo 154 (1985): 2. (back)

30. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, 18. (back)

31. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (New York: Random House, 1978), 5. (back)

32. Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, 46. (back)

33. Ibid., 11. (back)