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Edward Said on The Power of Music Beyond the Shutting Off of Sound

Journal entry by jeanne

Review and Essay by Jeanne Curran, Susan R. Takata, and Olivier Urbain
Copyright: Jeanne Curran, Susan R. Takata, and Olivier Urbain: October 2001.
and Individual Authors. "Fair Use" encouraged.


This essay is based on Edward Said's "From Silence to sound and Back Again: Music, Literature, and History." in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Edward W. Said, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2000. ISBN: 0-674-00302-0 at p. 507.

At pp. 508-509, Said discusses Wagner's choice of predecessors and how he represented them to himself in the process of his own struggle with creation. We create by building upon the work of others. Wagner was "determined to create his onw antecedents from predecessors who seem inevitably to point to him. In the process he also excoriates composers and forms that stood in the way; no one needs to be reminded of his attacks on French and Italian opera, . . . " and explains his perspective of their limitations that he is destined to overcome. The key was the word, which Beethoven achieved in the Ninth Symphony with "Freude."

Said continues: "Wagner saw himself as providing the actual universal drama to which Beethoven was only able to adumbrate the skeletal beginning. But that description also quite shrewdly demonstrates how it is that when words are added to music they provide an extremely rich extra dimension, one that appears to sustain itself beyon 'the finite shutting off of sound.' " For Wagner, the "word" prevented the silencing of music.

More soon . . . .

Concepts for Conceptual Linking:

  • parology (check spelling) - concept like standing on the shoulders of giants, Merton -

Discussion Topics:

  • In what sense did Wagner's concept of the power of the "word" with music prevent the "shutting off" of sound?

    Consider what Said says at pp. 509-510: "to overcome silence, to extend musical expression beyond the final cadence, Beethoven opened up the realm of language whose capacity for explicit human utterance says more on its own than music can. Hence to Wagner the tremendous significance of the eruption of voice and word into the instrumental texture of the Ninth Symphony. What he saw there was a humanized embodiment of language defying the silence of finality and of music itself."