Goltizahn How involved were you with the translation? Popular passages Page 8 — Indeed, all composers have drawn nearest the true nature of music in preparatory and intermediary passages preludes and transitionswhere they felt at aesthetuc to disregard symmetrical proportions, and unconsciously drew free breath. Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music was written by the influential yet obscure Berlin socialite and former piano prodigy Ferruccio Busoni inthe essay provides a fascinating insight into turn of the century thinking and is a compelling and prescient manifesto for the possibilities of music once freed from aestbetic constraints. Page 4 — We have formulated rules, stated principles, laid down laws; — we apply laws made for nfw to a child that knows nothing of responsibility! Page 27 — Minor— by the bifurcated garment.

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And what do you expect? In them a problem of the first magnitude is formulated with apparent simplicity, without giving the key to its final solution; for the problem cannot be solved for generations—if at all. But it involves an innumerable series of lesser problems, which I present to the consideration of those whom they may concern. For it is a long time since any one has devoted himself to earnest musical research.

It is true, that admirable works of genius arise in every period, and I have always taken my stand in the front rank of those who joyfully acclaimed the passing standard-bearers; and still it seems to me that of all these beautiful paths leading so far afield—none lead upward.

The spirit of an art-work, the measure of emotion, of humanity, that is in it—these remain unchanged in value through changing years; the form which these three assumed, the manner of their expression, and the flavor of the epoch which gave them birth, are transient, and age rapidly. Spirit and emotion retain their essence, in the art-work as in man himself; we admire technical achievements, yet they are outstripped, or cloy the taste and are discarded. There is nothing properly modern—only things which have come into being earlier or later; longer in bloom, or sooner withered.

The Modern and the Old have always been. Sculpture relinquishes the expression of the human pupil, and effects of color; painting degenerates, when it forsakes the flat surface in depiction and takes on complexity in theatrical decoration or panoramic portrayal. Architecture has its fundamental form, growth from below upward, prescribed by static necessity; window and roof necessarily provide the intermediate and finishing configuration; these are eternal and inviolable requirements of the art.

Poetry commands the abstract thought, which it clothes in words. More independent than the others, it reaches the furthest bounds. But all arts, resources and forms ever aim at the one end, namely, the imitation of nature and the interpretation of human feelings. It is a virgin art, without experience in life and suffering. It is all unconscious as yet of what garb is becoming, of its own advantages, its unawakened capacities. And again, it is a child-marvel that is already able to dispense much of beauty, that has already brought joy to many, and whose gifts are commonly held to have attained full maturity.

And we have talked of them for a long time! And the lawgivers will not see this marvelous attribute, lest their laws should be thrown to the winds. This child—it floats on air! It touches not the earth with its feet. It knows no law of gravitation. It is wellnigh incorporeal. Its material is transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature herself. It is—free. They can neither recognize nor acknowledge it. They disavow the mission of this child; they hang weights upon it.

This buoyant creature must walk decently, like anybody else. It may scarcely be allowed to leap—when it were its joy to follow the line of the rainbow, and to break sunbeams with the clouds. It will become the most complete of all reflexes of Nature by reason of its untrammeled immateriality. Even the poetic word ranks lower in point of incorporealness.

It can gather together and disperse, can be motionless repose or wildest tempestuosity; it has the extremest heights perceptible to man—what other art has these? Therefore, representation and description are not the nature of music; herewith we declare the invalidity of program-music, and arrive at the question: What are the aims of music? What the lawgivers mean by this, is perhaps remotest of all from the Absolute in music.

But Form, in itself, is the opposite pole of absolute music, on which was bestowed the divine prerogative of buoyancy, of freedom from the limitations of matter. In a picture, the illustration of a sunset ends with the frame; the limitless natural phenomenon is enclosed in quadrilateral bounds; the cloud-form chosen for depiction remains unchanging for ever. Music can grow brighter or darker, shift hither or yon, and finally fade away like the sunset glow itself; and instinct leads the creative musician to employ the tones that press the same key within the human breast, and awaken the same response, as the processes in Nature.

The composers sought and found this form as the aptest vehicle for communicating their ideas; their souls took flight—and the lawgivers discover and cherish the garments Euphorion left behind on earth. A lucky find!

Is it not singular, to demand of a composer originality in all things, and to forbid it as regards form? He did not quite reach absolute music, but in certain moments he divined it, as in the introduction to the fugue of the Sonata for Hammerclavier.

Indeed, all composers have drawn nearest the true nature of music in preparatory and intermediary passages preludes and transitions , where they felt at liberty to disregard symmetrical proportions, and unconsciously drew free breath. Even a Schumann of so much lower stature is seized, in such passages, by some feeling of the boundlessness of this pan-art recall the transition to the last movement of the D-minor Symphony ; and the same may be asserted of Brahms in the introduction to the Finale of his First Symphony.

But, the moment they cross the threshold of the Principal Subject, their attitude becomes stiff and conventional, like that of a man entering some bureau of high officialdom. Therefore, Bach and Beethoven [E] are to be conceived as a beginning, and not as unsurpassable finalities.

In spirit and emotion they will probably remain unexcelled; and this, again, confirms the remark at the beginning of these lines: That spirit and emotion remain unchanged in value through changing years, and that he who mounts to their uttermost heights will always tower above the crowd.

Wagner, a Germanic Titan, who touched our earthly horizon in orchestral tone-effect, who intensified the form of expression, but fashioned it into a system music-drama, declamation, leading-motive , is on this account incapable of further intensification. His category begins and ends with himself; first, because he carried it to the highest perfection and finish; secondly, because his self-imposed task was of such a nature, that it could be achieved by one man alone.

They—like all things in creation—may form only a circle; but a circle of such dimensions, that the portion visible to us seems like a straight line. In reality, program-music is precisely as one-sided and limited as that which is called absolute.

In place of architectonic and symmetric formulas, instead of the relation of Tonic to Dominant, it has bound itself in the stays of a connecting poetic—sometimes even philosophic—program. From the different plant-seeds grow different families of plants, dissimilar in form, foliage, blossom, fruit, growth and color. And so, in each motive, there lies the embryo of its fully developed form; each one must unfold itself differently, yet each obediently follows the law of eternal harmony.

This form is imperishable, though each be unlike every other. Thus turned aside, at the outset, from the path traced by nature, it finally arrives at a wholly unexpected climax, whither it has been led, not by its own organization, but by the way laid down in the program, or the action, or the philosophical idea. And how primitive must this art remain!

True, there are unequivocal descriptive effects of tone-painting from these the entire principle took its rise , but these means of expression are few and trivial, covering but a very small section of musical art.

Begin with the most self-evident of all, the debasement of Tone to Noise in imitating the sounds of Nature—the rolling of thunder, the roar of forests, the cries of animals; then those somewhat less evident, symbolic—imitations of visual impressions, like the lightning-flash, springing movement, the flight of birds; again, those intelligible only through the mediation of the reflective brain, such as the trumpet-call as a warlike symbol, the shawm to betoken ruralism, march-rhythm to signify measured strides, the chorale as vehicle for religious feeling.

Add to the above the characterization of nationalities—national instruments and airs—and we have a complete inventory of the arsenal of program-music. Movement and repose, minor and major, high and low, in their customary significance, round out the list. But not the moving cause itself of these spiritual affections;—not the joy over an avoided danger, not the danger itself, or the kind of danger which caused the dread; an emotional state, yes, but not the psychic species of this emotion, such as envy, or jealousy; and it is equally futile to attempt the expression, through music, of moral characteristics vanity, cleverness , or abstract ideas like truth and justice.

Is it possible to imagine how a poor, but contented man could be represented by music? And Music is a part of the vibrating universe. When the scene presents the illusion of a thunderstorm, this is exhaustively apprehended by the eye. Nevertheless, nearly all composers strive to depict the storm in tones—which is not only a needless and feebler repetition, but likewise a failure to perform their true function.

The person on the stage is either psychically influenced by the thunderstorm, or his mood, being absorbed in a train of thought of stronger influence, remains unaffected.

The storm is visible and audible without aid from music; it is the invisible and inaudible, the spiritual processes of the personages portrayed, which music should render intelligible. Suppose a theatrical situation in which a convivial company is passing at night and disappears from view, while in the foreground a silent, envenomed duel is in progress. Here the music, by means of continuing song, should keep in mind the jovial company now lost to sight; the acts and feelings of the pair in the foreground may be understood without further commentary, and the music—dramatically speaking—ought not to participate in their action and break the tragic silence.

Measurably justified, in my opinion, is the plan of the old opera, which concentrated and musically rounded out the passions aroused by a moving dramatic scene in a piece of set form the aria. Word and stage-play conveyed the dramatic progress of the action, followed more or less meagrely by musical recitative; arrived at the point of rest, music resumed the reins.

This is less extrinsic than some would now have us believe. Notation, the writing out of compositions, is primarily an ingenious expedient for catching an inspiration, with the purpose of exploiting it later. But notation is to improvisation as the portrait to the living model. It is for the interpreter to resolve the rigidity of the signs into the primitive emotion.

But the lawgivers require the interpreter to reproduce the rigidity of the signs; they consider his reproduction the nearer to perfection, the more closely it clings to the signs. To the lawgivers, the signs themselves are the most important matter, and are continually growing in their estimation; the new art of music is derived from the old signs—and these now stand for musical art itself.

If the lawgivers had their way, any given composition would always be reproduced in precisely the same tempo, whensoever, by whomsoever, and under whatsoever conditions it might be performed.

But, it is not possible; the buoyant, expansive nature of the divine child rebels—it demands the opposite. Each day begins differently from the preceding, yet always with the flush of dawn. As matters stand to-day, the lawgiver has the best of the argument.

My final conclusion concerning it is this: Every notation is, in itself, the transcription of an abstract idea. The instant the pen seizes it, the idea loses its original form. The very intention to write down the idea, compels a choice of measure and key.

The form, and the musical agency, which the composer must decide upon, still more closely define the way and the limits. It is much the same as with man himself. Born naked, and as yet without definite aspirations, he decides, or at a given moment is made to decide, upon a career. From the moment of decision, although much that is original and imperishable in the idea or the man may live on, either is depressed to the type of a class.

The musical idea becomes a sonata or a concerto; the man, a soldier or a priest. That is an Arrangement of the original. From this first transcription to a second the step is comparatively short and unimportant. And yet it is only the second, in general, of which any notice is taken; overlooking the fact, that a transcription does not destroy the archetype, which is, therefore, not lost through transcription.

Again, the performance of a work is also a transcription, and still, whatever liberties it may take, it can never annihilate the original. For the musical art-work exists, before its tones resound and after they die away, complete and intact. It exists both within and outside of time, and through its nature we can obtain a definite conception of the otherwise intangible notion of the Ideality of Time.

Taking the signification in which the term is applied and almost exclusively employed in German, a musical person is one who manifests an inclination for music by a nice discrimination and sensitiveness with regard to the technical aspects of the art.

And so an artist who plays with perfect technical finish should be deemed the most musical player.


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And what do you expect? In them a problem of the first magnitude is formulated with apparent simplicity, without giving the key to its final solution; for the problem cannot be solved for generations—if at all. But it involves an innumerable series of lesser problems, which I present to the consideration of those whom they may concern. For it is a long time since any one has devoted himself to earnest musical research. It is true, that admirable works of genius arise in every period, and I have always taken my stand in the front rank of those who joyfully acclaimed the passing standard-bearers; and still it seems to me that of all these beautiful paths leading so far afield—none lead upward.


How were you introduced to Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, what made you decide to publish your own version of the text? The original German text dates from , and the first English translation by Theodore Baker is from While the original is still perfectly readable, the language is very of its time and we saw an opportunity to make the text more accessible for a modern audience. There have been quite a few reprints of the English translation since it was originally published, but none that have revisited the text to the extent that we have with this edition. This publishing programme draws parallel with the highly active period of critical writing around musical modernism in the early twentieth-century, mainly in Europe, which was widely disseminated in the form of modestly-produced pamphlets. Busoni was a key figure in this discourse and his ideas resonate just as much - perhaps more so - today.

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