Performance, Authenticity, and the Reflexive Idealism of the American Musical

Raymond Knapp

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Performance, Authenticity, and the Reflexive Idealism of the American Musical

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The article focuses on advancement in the authenticity or idealism through artificial modes of performance offered up in musicals. Musicology became established as a discipline during the nineteenth century in part as an outgrowth of German Idealism and German nationalism, which gave a direction and purpose to the young discipline. The authenticity comes out directly from the historically based valorization of subjective musical expression, and links up to both a related valorization of folk music as authentic within nationalist discourses and a strong latter-day emphasis on the recapturing of origins, whether in source studies, sketch studies, editions, or performance practice. The interpretation and re-creation influences every facet of putting on a musical, combining to create a complex layering of performances at every stage. The humor in American musicals tends to suggest that negative forces need not be taken seriously, or at least should not be allowed the final say, an attitude that emerged as a particularly American form of idealism. The reflexive idealism of the American musical has a specifically musical basis, relating to its comic tone and deriving from European musical comedy in the eighteenth century, borrowing in particular the sanguine assurances of tonality, the sustaining musical achievement of the eighteenth century. A musical may thus bring dramatic emphasis to bear on idealist potentials, arguing through plotting and musical numbers that ideals are more valuable than their potential for realization, and this matters beyond the realities that prevent their fulfillment.

Keywords: American musical; authenticity or idealism; humor; German idealism; tonality; comic tone

Article.  7061 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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