Back to the Future

Since 19th-century music is usually the music that we know best, and often like the best, and since too this volume appears to be printed as a textbook, we may have more than one reason for wanting to read a new book that could change the definition of its topic and our way of looking at it, and even the way the subject is taught.

The late Professor Dahlhaus taught in Berlin and had broad impact through his many writings. In Nineteenth Century Music: we can see both his erudition and his profoundly German nature; and these qualities themselves are extended to such a degree that we must also experience an ambivalence about them.

As for erudition, Dahlhaus makes the other histories of 19th-century music that I've seen pale by comparison; and that's not so much a musical or technical matter as it is a cultural one. Dahlhaus isn't after lists of works or dates or opus numbers or key signatures as he is firmly after the cultural and social and political context of Beethoven and Rossini, Wagner and Verdi, and the music of the period stretching from 1814 to 1914. For Dahlhaus, the history of music is-or should be nested in the context of social history.

I admire Dahlhaus's willingness to sacrifice exhaustiveness in order to gain breadth. He's willing to deal with a composer such as Chopin by synecdoche—we take the part for the whole. Chopin's gone in not much more than one page;...

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