Hearing with the Body: Poetics of Musical Meaning in Novalis, Ritter, Hoffmann and Schumann
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The question of whether or not music can be considered a universal language, or even a language at all, has been asked for centuries—and indeed, it is still being addressed in the 21st century. I return to this question because of the way the German Romantics answered it. Music becomes embodied in not only human language in Novalis’ concept of Poesie in “Die Lehrlinge zu Sais” (1802), but also nature and the human body in Johann Wilhelm Ritter’s scientific speculations in Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers (1810). Seen as the manifestation of the world soul, this embodiment was an attempt to come closer to naming the unnamable, and, I argue, became the perfect platform for E.T.A. Hoffmann to develop his pseudonym and literary character Johannes Kreisler and the mysterious power of music he experiences in the collection of musical critiques and essays, Kreisleriana (1810-1814), and the novel, Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr (1819/1821). Finally, I argue that Hoffmann’s musical literary style can be heard and ‘felt’ in Robert Schumann’s piano cycle, Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (1838), as other scholars have also analyzed, but that there is also a ‘mixing of discourses’ involved, including Schumann’s own words about the suite. Music is not a universal language—at least, not as understood by the mind and described through words. These writers and composer grapple with the observation that music has a powerful influence over the body—can music then be seen as a ‘language’ received and understood by the body? If so, can an interdisciplinary approach to music and language through science lead to better understanding, as was already exemplified by the collaboration among the German Romantics? This dissertation includes previously published material, which has been substantially revised and updated.