Dissertation Index

Author: Cahn, Steven J.

Title: Variations in Manifold Time: Historical Consciousness in the Music and Writings of Arnold Schoenberg

Institution: SUNY at Stony Brook

Begun: unspecified

Completed: August 1996


Questioning the entrenched and monochromatic view of Schoenberg's historical consciousness, that he saw himself as history's instrument for the advancement of music, this study finds Schoenberg's historical consciousness to be multifaceted. Among these many facets, the most important common factor is creativity, which should be animated by historical consciousness, not squelched by it. In this respect, Schoenberg's thought is resonant with that of Goethe, Kant, Hegel, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Zunz, Krochmal, Nietzsche, Bergson, Musil, Rosenzweig and Cohen. Like Schoenberg, each of these thinkers espouses the boundlessness of possibility, variation and creativity in the world. Yet Schoenberg's works also bring into relief the conflicted coexistence of historical consciousness and artistic creativity.

To illustrate the devitalizing aspects of history, Schoenberg's views are compared to similar views of Rosenzweig and Musil. Polemics between Schoenberg and those who see decline in modern art, such as Schenker, Riemann and Spengler, reveal Schoenberg's antipathy to excesses of history. Nietzsche's The Use and Abuse of History informs this analysis (chapter one).

We next consider how historical consciousness can foster creativity. Karl Popper argues that Schoenberg entangled art with historicist ideology. This view is incomplete because it neglects the idea which Schoenberg inherited from modern Judaism's turn to history, that historical understanding promotes cultural regeneration (chapter two).

To show how works may embody one or more historical positions, Schoenberg's compositions are considered in light of his attempts at historical narrative, which are analyzed with respect to four themes: continuity, discontinuity, social historyand the phenomenology of creativity (chapter three).

Affinities between art and history suggested in the work of Humboldt, Bergson, Croce, Musil, D'Arcy Thompson, Lakoff, Edelman and Gruber are related to Schoenberg's writings (chapter four). These findings ground the analyses of four works: Erwartung, Die glueckliche Hand, Vorgefuehl, Op. 22, No. 4 and A Survivor From Warsaw (chapter 5).

The Five Piano Pieces, Op. 23, are discussed in terms of conflicts that arise when aesthetic and historical assessments of a musical composition disagree, and in terms of how Schoenberg addressed such conflicts (chapter 6).

Schoenberg's evolutionary and intuitionistic view of musical perception, as described in Harmonielehre, is considered vis-a-vis the contrasting evolutionary views of Mach and Bergson (chapter seven).

Keywords: Philosophy of History, Essayism, Modern Judaism, Historicism, Serialism, Atonality.


I. On Creative Imagination and Historical Consciousness
II. On Historical Consciousness as an Ideological Source
III. The Emergence of Schoenberg's Historical Consciousness
IV. On the Interaction of Phantasy and Historical Consciousness
V. Historical Consciousness in Schoenberg's Music
VI. Schoenberg's Five Piano Pieces. Op. 23: Judgment and Purpose
VII. Between Pitch Class and "Empfindungswelt"

Selected Bibliography


Steven J. Cahn
College-Conservatory of Music
University of Cincinnati
Box 0003
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0003
(513) 556-7820
fax (513) 556-0202

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