Absolute music

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As absolute music (Latin absolutus "detached", "independent"), the Central European musical aesthetics described the ideal of instrumental music since around 1850 , which only follows its own musical laws and is independent of non-musical ties to a text, a stage design or a program is purposeless. In a broader sense, the term denotes a value judgment about the “essence” of music or the highest quality of “purity” and “perfection” in music.


This ideal was developed over 50 years ago for the music styles of the time. Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder and Ludwig Tieck formulated in 1799: "In instrumental music, however, art is independent and free, it only dictates its own laws, it fantasizes playfully and without a purpose, and yet it fulfills and achieves the highest ..." ETA Hoffmann ( Review of Beethoven's 5th Symphony , 1810) linked this with a priority of music among the arts : it alone is "purely romantic " in the sense of the autonomy of the work of art .

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner coined the expression absolute music as an antithesis to musical drama and total work of art , the ideals that he himself represented. Absolute music is a historical mistake in that music has been isolated from the other arts and from life. With Ludwig van Beethoven's 9th Symphony , the climax of this development had been reached and had already been overcome with the addition of chorus and text. Wagner's musical drama was the logical consequence ( program for Beethoven's 9th Symphony , 1846). Music should not be an “end” itself, but must remain a “means” ( opera and drama ).

Eduard Hanslick

Eduard Hanslick , on the other hand, developed a positive aesthetic of Absolute Music in his essay Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (1854): The beauty of a tone poem is “a specifically musical element ... that is independent and unneeded by an external content, only in the tones and their artistic content There is a connection. “There is nothing to beat instrumental music; “Only it is pure, absolute musical art.” He also related this ideal primarily to the instrumental music of the Viennese classical music , especially that of Beethoven.


The contrast between “absolute music” and “ program music” became decisive for the music- aesthetic discussion in the age of musical romanticism . Proponents and opponents of the ideal referred to Beethoven's works and defended their own musical direction as the only legitimate continuation of his tradition. Franz Liszt as the classical principles of composition considered Motivic work , thematic development, implementation and reprise a sonata form rather than immutable rules, but as a convertible term poetic thoughts which alone the free imagination of the composer derive ( Berlioz and his Harold symphony , 1855).

In the 1920s, absolute music, which some appeared to be the outdated legacy of the last century, was countered by everyday music as the ideal of social integration of everything musical. The New Music of the 20th century, on the other hand, tried to increase the liberation from the extra-musical by liberating the music from known functions and associations.

The Austrian composer Günther Rabl understands “absolute music” as electroacoustic music , in which the process of making music with the means of tape and the computer is independent of the time flow of the music itself.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Albrecht von Massow : Absolute Music. In: Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (Ed.): Terminology of Music in the 20th Century. Franz Steiner, 1995, ISBN 3-515-06659-4 , p. 13.
  2. Quoted in Carl Dahlhaus: European Romanticism in Music, Volume 2. JB Metzler, 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-01982-0 , p. 175.
  3. Quoted from Michael Neumann: On the way to the islands of appearance: the concept of art and literary form in Romanticism from Novalis to Nietzsche. Vittorio Klostermann, 1991, ISBN 3-465-02514-8 , p. 306.
  4. ^ Karlheinz Barck, Martin Fontius (Ed.): Aesthetic Basic Concepts (ÄGB): historical dictionary in seven volumes, volume 4. Metzler, 2002, ISBN 3-476-00913-0 , p. 295.
  5. ^ Albrecht von Massow: Absolute Music. In: Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (Ed.): Terminology of Music in the 20th Century. Franz Steiner, 1995, ISBN 3-515-06659-4 , p. 14.
  6. Lenz Meierott (Ed.): History of Music. A study and reference book. 8th edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1993, ISBN 3-525-27811-X , p. 469.
  7. Michael Zelenka: Rabl absolutely . ( Memento from 7 July 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Film portrait about Günther Rabl