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Hermann Danuser

Horizons of Metamusic: The Case of Richard Strauss

In a year of worldwide celebration of Richard Strauss’ 150th anniversary it appears necessary to question whether the interests of music analysis and music theory do justice to the artist’s reputation, or whether one should rather speak of an explicit lack of exposure and enquire as to its reasons. Without any doubt this year’s symposia and congresses dedicated to Strauss’s music, together with the recently undertaken critical edition of his works in Munich represent important stimuli to the theoretical apprehension of his oeuvre, the results of which will be revealed in future. Undeniably, political and aesthetic reservations concerning Strauss’ character and his work – which include on one hand his national anchoring in German culture and his cooperation with national socialism, and on the other hand his connecting of symphonic music to programmatic ideas as well as the  multi-mediality of the operatic genre – have proven to be impediments to both analysis and theory.

Meanwhile, I recognize another obstacle in the concept of modernity, which one-sidedly focuses on issues of musical material and compositional structure, thus neglecting the meta-musical problem of a self-referential understanding of modernity. My keynote talk will address this issue. I would like to demonstrate how the inclusion of meta-musical ideas alters the analytical perspective on musical structures, in order to show the considerable potential of such an approach for future music-theoretical research. For this I would like to take examples of Strauss’s two main genres into consideration – first, a symphonic poem, then, an opera. In Also sprach Zarathustra the focus will be on Nietzsche’s “Mitternachtslied,” since the examination of this self-referential poetry reveals analoguous musical structure in Strauss’ work. Furthermore, the significance of Strauss’ last opera Capriccio lies in its affiliation with the genre of meta-opera, which reverts back to Casti’s/Salieri’s 18th-century Prima la musica poi le parole and centres around a reflection on music by the means of music.