Robert HATTEN: "The Opening Theme of Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio" (9/10)


Postmodernist approaches may consider this to be mistaken or impossible from the start, but I have found the results to reward the effort. It is less a leap of faith for me to attempt to approach Beethoven's meanings in this way than it is for me to accept some of the associative leaps I find in the new musicology, especially when they go beyond plausible intentions by historical individuals, to the unwitting psychological and cultural biases in which cultural subjects are somehow, inevitably trapped. I want to understand what Beethoven might have wanted to mean, not to psychoanalyze his efforts or to reduce him to a pawn of cultural forces beyond his control. Though my approach recognizes the stylistic and intertextual relationships that guarantee coherence of types and strategies from one work to the next, it also acknowledges the ways in which a composer can create works whose individuality lead to growth (or even change) of cultural values or meanings. I would not, however, dissolve the "autonomous" work into a mere node at the intersection of cultural practice, viewed through the peephole of present day subjectivity, but rather reconceive the individual work as emerging from a dialectic of stylistic and strategic motivations grounded in an historical context.
Thus, in pursuing my semiotic approach, I part company from at least this strain of the new musicology. I believe that one needs not only a plurality of evidence and method, but a unifying rigor that comes from a model of musical meaning. That model should help explain how meaning is coherent and consistent, and help lead us to reconstruct deeper levels of meaning that might not have passed through our untrained cultural filters. In turn, it will lead us to a consistency in our reconstruction, from which we can move more confidently toward further interpretations-- continuing in dialectical fashion the productive interaction between a growing stylistic competency and an expanding sensitivity to interpretive nuance-- between the generalization of the type and the subtleties of the token.

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 2 : Page 9 / 10

© 1997 by AS/SA

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