The Refuge of Counterconvention

Susan McClary

in Conventional Wisdom

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2000 | ISBN: 9780520221062
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928084 | DOI:
The Refuge of Counterconvention

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This chapter critiques eighteenth-century practices in order to present a reasonably sympathetic account of why and how this world came to be rejected. One of the overriding conventions of the eighteenth century was reconciliation, but once that ideal was called into doubt, this whole set of carefully balanced cultural fantasies began to collapse. It was precisely because tonality and its forms had seemed to demonstrate the viability of a post-theological world—a world promising perfect integrity on virtually every level without divine intervention—that its dissolution proved so devastating. Negotiation and communication had started to be distrusted already by the early nineteenth century, just when emerging social conditions seemed to demand such activities more urgently than at any previous moment in European history. Feelings were now thought to resist expression through shared devices; individual artists associated social agreement with loss of autonomy; and signs of the true “organic” art came to be buried deep beneath the rhetorical surfaces demanded by audiences. Yet this crisis of secular faith bequeathed to us some of the most extraordinary cultural documents we possess. The remainder of the chapter focuses on Beethoven's String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132.

Keywords: conventions; nineteenth century; reconciliation; eighteenth century; tonality; Beethoven; String Quartet

Chapter.  8221 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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