The Beautiful and the Political

Redhead, L. 2015. The Beautiful and the Political. Contemporary Music Review, 34(2-3), pp. 247-255. ISSN 0749-4467 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Competing and polarised positions related to the possible political nature of material in contemporary music are exemplified by the work of postmodern composers and of post-war modernist composers. Whilst the former argue for the political nature of their compositions by the inclusion of contemporary issues and imagery, the latter argue for the political nature of their manipulation of otherwise politically neutral musical material. This opposition can be understood as a dialectic between content and form, and is expressed by Adorno as the opposition between representational and ‘committed’ work. This paper examines one example of each type of work—Luigi Nono’s Il Canto Sospeso (1955-56) and Johannes Kreidler’s Audioguide—and their relationship to a conception of the ‘beautiful’ in music. These expressions of the ‘political’ offer a framework through which the musically beautiful can be interrogated in the opposition of committed and autonomous artworks, and understood as an experience of alienation. Eco's exploration of Entfremdung and Kristeva's concept of abjection can both be employed to argue that the ‘political’ dimension of autonomous works offers the potential for a radical experience of beauty as a transcendence derived from present conditions, whilst committed works negate beauty as a condition of re-presenting the present.

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28 October 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

15 Oct 2018 15:52

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29 Apr 2020 16:55

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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